Friday, October 30, 2009

U.S. official resigns over Afghan war

U.S. Foreign Service Officer Matthew Hoh has resigned his position in Zabul, Afghanistan over protest about the direction of the war in Afghanistan.  His protest is not about how the war is being pursued, but is about the why and to what end we are still involved.  

Mr. Hoh, 36, is an intelligent man with Marine Corps combat experience in Iraq.  Plus he has served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. Until his resignation, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province.

He has stated in an interview that there are others who are considering the same step he has taken however, he is the first to have done so.

A traitor?  Did he jump ship too soon?  Or is he a hero who has brought the feelings of many to the attention of the general public?

Let's discuss.  I would love to hear your opinions.

U.S. official resigns over Afghan war

Foreign Service officer and former Marine captain says he no longer knows why his nation is fighting

Washington Post Staff Writer 
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When Matthew Hoh joined the Foreign Service early this year, he was exactly the kind of smart civil-military hybrid the administration was looking for to help expand its development efforts in Afghanistan.

A former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed.

But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.

"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."

The reaction to Hoh's letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials, concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer," Holbrooke said in an interview. "We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him."

While he did not share Hoh's view that the war "wasn't worth the fight," Holbrooke said, "I agreed with much of his analysis." He asked Hoh to join his team in Washington, saying that "if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure," why not be "inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won't have the same political impact?"

Hoh accepted the argument and the job, but changed his mind a week later. "I recognize the career implications, but it wasn't the right thing to do," he said in an interview Friday, two days after his resignation became final.

"I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love," Hoh said. Although he said his time in Zabul was the "second-best job I've ever had," his dominant experience is from the Marines, where many of his closest friends still serve.

But many Afghans, he wrote in his resignation letter, are fighting the United States largely because its troops are there -- a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected. While the Taliban is a malign presence, and Pakistan-based al-Qaeda needs to be confronted, he said, the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war.

U.S. official resigns over Afghan war continued...

Resignation Letter from US Foreign Service Officer Matthew P. Hoh

Related Commentary:

Time to move on from Afghanistan - We don't admire quitters, but no one wants to be the last person to believe in a mission, either - by Garrison Keillor

I like how pundits who spend their time casting doubt on the assessments and opinions of those with in-depth understanding of Afghanistan and NATO operations there jump at the chance to sing the praises of others with in-depth understanding of Afghanistan and NATO operations when they conveniently advance assessments and opinions that match up with conclusions they themselves have already reached. (Here's but one example.)

On Huffington Post, Earl Ofari Hutchinson urged the president to listen to Mr. Hoh lest Afghanistan ruin his domestic agenda and severely wound Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.

Malou Innocent of the libertarian Cato Institute, also writing on Huffington Post, said that Mr. Hoh had largely echoed her view that the conflict involves “a local and regional ethnic Pashtun population fighting against what they perceive to be a foreign occupation of their region; that our current strategy does not answer why and to what end we are pursuing this war; and that Afghanistan holds little intrinsic strategic value to the security of the United States.”

But on his blog Forward Movement, Jules Crittenden argues that Mr. Hoh has given in to despair, that defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda will require far more patience and resolve and that drawing down in Afghanistan now will show America’s enemies that “If you bleed them, they will run.”

On The Captain’s Journal, TSAlfabet wrote, “As I predicted months ago, this Admin will not commit the resources to win this fight, so getting out, as horrible as that would be, is less evil than sacrificing troops to a half-hearted approach that is under-resourced and, therefore, doomed to failure.”

Andrew Exum, an occasional adviser to General McChrystal who blogs at Abu Muqawama, counseled caution in making too much of Mr. Hoh’s resignation.

A summary from the Diplopundit says:

Resignation of Matthew Hoh /Admire Mr. Hoh and Respect Sacrifices Made for His Country / Take His Opinions Seriously / Senior Officials Have Spoken With Him / Respect His Right to Dissent /Had Limited, Non-Career Appointment / Political Officer in PRT in Zabul/Believe We're on Track to Achieving Goals President Has Set Before Us/No Resignations By Career Foreign Service Officers Over Afghanistan/Allegation of Desecration of Qu'ran Denied by Pentagon

Thursday, October 29, 2009



Just landed back in Laos, this time doing research on an important dispatch regarding 

energy sources for Afghanistan.  Much research on this piece.

Meanwhile, just published a short piece at National Review.  Please read "


Probably will land back in Afghanistan next week, but might delay that slightly for an energy conference in 

Kathmandu, Nepal.  In any case, will be back in Afghanistan soon.

Your Writer,


* * * * *


A military watchdog gets it wrong on the debate over camouflage.

By Michael Yon

Some things are not as they seem. Many people, for instance, seem to think 

Stars & Stripes is a military lapdog, but this is untrue. If Washington had a yearbook, Stars & Stripes might be voted “most apt to slam the military.” Stars & Stripes is a watchdog.

Drew Brown is a 

Stars & Stripes writer with much battlefield experience. Drew’s stories on Iraq have always rung true, as have his stories on Afghanistan. However, his recent story from Afghanistan about Stryker camouflage left room for respectful disagreement, or perhaps a “context adjustment.” One might suspect that the editorial process changed the tone.

The story begins:

Army to phase in tan-colored Stryker vehicles

By Drew Brown, Stars and Stripes

Mideast edition, Monday, October 26 2009

ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan — More than six years after sending the first Stryker armored vehicles into desert combat, the Army has decided that it’s probably a good idea to start painting them tan so they will blend in with the environments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The tone here is off, depicting the situation without the context or dimension that it deserves.

Long-time readers are aware that I do not hesitate to bite the Army when the watchdog hat is on. Given my frequency in combat with our folks, any lack of gear, or poor gear, is as bad for my health as for the troops’. Hence I have been yelling at Washington that we need more troops in Afghanistan, and more helicopters.

However, controversy should only grow in fertile ground. And having spent more time in combat with U.S. forces than any writer/journalist/photographer during the Iraq War — something likely to be duplicated in Afghanistan — my observation is that the U.S. military, on the whole, is incredibly well resourced. I have probably spent more time with Stryker units than any journalist living or dead, and the fact is that while it may now be the case that Strykers should be painted brown, there are good reasons this wasn’t done earlier.

The story is datelined to Zabul Province, Afghanistan, and true enough, the color out there should be desert brown. (Or perhaps, in some places at some times, white.) But elsewhere in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, civilians mostly live near water, so colors around their homes generally are green during the green months. In Afghanistan, the “Green Zone” (GZ) is the area around the rivers and lakes, and much or possibly most of the fighting occurs in these green areas. The enemy fights more when the GZ is green than during the winter brown.

Just as important, predicting camouflage needs for Strykers can be incredibly difficult. Stryker units tend to get moved around more than other combat units because Stryker units can project so much force quickly. Afghanistan’s geography doesn’t help: Down in the Helmand River valley where Brits, Danes, Yanks, and others are fighting, you can go from strict GZ to 100 percent desert-brown conditions in just a few seconds. The border between verdant and seemingly endless cardboard brown is usually only the width of an unpaved road — literally, a line in the sand and rocks. One side of the road can be dry as bone, while just meters away on the other side of the road, the mud tries to suck the boots off your feet. (The Brits have the opposite problem; they have very good desert-brown camouflage, but do most of their fighting in the GZ.)

Also, even if brown is a better overall camouflage for Afghanistan — though this is unclear even to many experienced soldiers and me — it is unfair to imply (by datelining the story to Zabul Province and referring to more than six years of Strykers in desert combat) that the Army has had Strykers there during the entire war. The first rotation of Strykers to Afghanistan arrived only some months ago; before that, they were in use only in Iraq.

In Iraq, Generals Casey and Petraeus wisely used Strykers as their “QRF” (Quick Reaction Force) during the severe fighting of 2006–2007. Stryker soldiers fought all over the place. They moved constantly. The brigade commander would have needed ESP and the vehicles chameleon skin to keep up with the changing environments.

Drew and I both covered Operation Arrowhead Ripper with Stryker units during the scorching summer of 2007. We spent far more time in the cities than in the desert. Some Stryker soldiers might have had different experiences, depending where they fought.

Also, Stars & Stripes’s insinuation that U.S. military leaders would leave our troops without appropriate materiel does not square with those leaders’ recent performances. I am confident that if commanders were screeching about getting those Strykers painted, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would get it done, and bets are on that the next rotation will be brown if that is what commanders want. General Petraeus, meanwhile, is the boss of CENTCOM, where all Strykers in combat are operating. In Iraq, it was common to see General Petraeus on the battlefields, and he rode in a Stryker on at least one occasion during Operation Arrowhead Ripper. I saw him there. And though I don’t know Gen. Stanley McChrystal, he has a solid reputation. He wasn’t shy about asking for more troops, so it’s hard to imagine he would hesitate about getting some buckets of paint.

Command Sergeant Major Jeffrey Mellinger, an ex-Ranger like McChrystal, is the senior NCO at Army Materiel Command. AMC oversees all Army materiel ranging from bandages, night vision, and weapons to tanks and helicopters. CSM Mellinger has seen a lot of combat, and I have done countless missions with him in Iraq, including missions in Strykers. Never once during that time did I think that Strykers should be brown, and if CSM Mellinger thought they should have been brown, he would surely have told his successive bosses, Generals Casey and Petraeus. CSM Mellinger still regularly travels to Iraq and Afghanistan and would not hesitate to recommend a change if soldiers on the ground were asking for it.

CSM Mellinger knows more about Army gear than anybody I know, and he’s my number-one source for advice on what to wear during fighting. When I asked Mellinger about camouflage, he said that “what works today won’t work tomorrow,” and that “there is no perfect camouflage.”

The CSM for the Strykers now in Afghanistan is Robb Prosser. I’ve done probably 100 combat missions with Robb in Strykers in Iraq, and now he is the senior NCO for those Strykers in Afghanistan. Never once did I hear Robb say that Strykers needed to be brown.

The Strykers currently in Afghanistan probably should be painted brown, but it is not true that the military dragged through these years without noticing, or that Gates, Petraeus, McChrystal, Mellinger, and Prosser didn’t ask for something they needed. Stars & Stripes plays a valuable role as a military watchdog, but this time, they’re barking up the wrong tree.



Strykers are what, 10' tall. You could paint them day-glow orange and it would not make a difference. THe enemy is not engaging from the air or frim 3000 meters away, They are within RPG range and color of the vehicel will not make a differenct in detection at that range. Color of the vehicle is a tempest in a teapot argument. OD Green or Brown is not goin to make a signifant difference on vehicles beeing seen or engaged.

Craig Maefs October 28, 2009


Again, those who aren't in harms way critiquing how the government should outfit it's soldiers without the input of those commanders (or soldiers) who are actually in the battlefield. They then complain about how much it costs to outfit and the military.

Ms. Tamara Montgomery October 28, 2009

Why is this even an argument?

Craig Maefs is right, Strykers stick out like a sore thumb no matter what color they are. Having them painted tan, or OD green, most likely makes zero difference. I am a HUGE fan of Michaels but any more I'm starting to wonder why A. This warrants a blog posting, B. Why Michael has to constantly remind us that he's covered more combat than any other journalist in Iraq and A-Stan. For a former Special Forces guy he seems to have been lacking modesty more and more over the past few months, starting with that British embed situation. Michael's done a lot, he shouldn't have to beat his chest. Just my opinion.

Matt von H October 28, 2009

From a serving soldier

In the British Army we use a lot of cam nets on our vehicles. They are cheap and easy to change depending on the situation, you can also make up mixed brown and green nets as a kind of all purpose cam when going in and out of the green zone. The texture and change of shape that the nets give really does make the vehicles blend in surprisingly well.

Rob Ferguson October 28, 2009

Here, Here!

I couldn't agree more about Star's and Stripes. Not sure if I would characterize them as watch dogs... at times just Dogs. More times than not I have found myself at odds with their depictions of what just happened. Next to you Michael I have probably done the second most mission in a Stryker. In fact I will be back in Iraq the following week with... you guessed it. Another Stryker Battalion. Personally I think they should be painted like NASCAR race cars. Give the boys something to do in the off time. Because it is an Urban combat vehicle and most of the time the color doesn't matter. The power of the Stryker is its speed and ability to deliver the Warrior at the critical point of battle faster than the enemy can react. Taking the initiative in any fight and destroying them at a time and choosing of the commander in charge. 

How do you like me now Drew? The battlefield commanders have more on their minds than picking out the drapes and accessories. Find something else to write about. This isn't a body armor story.

Michael Slee October 28, 2009


"my observation is that the U.S. military, on the whole, is incredibly well resourced. " 

But evidently not with boots. 

That's ridiculous.

xoxoxoBruce October 28, 2009

Former Cav Scout

I can only say thank you. You back up your well written piece with actual facts. Bravo! I hope that your piece is read by more eyes than Stars and Stripes. 

J. F. Sucher, MD October 28, 2009

Give Him A Break

Matt von H it's his blog. He can write whatever he wants to in it. Not all of his stories are going to be of interest to everybody, but it will to those that care. I am sure some Stryker team would have a fit if their vehicles were painted day-glo orange. The enemy doesn't always get within RPG range. Camoflauge does serve a purpose in the military, even on vehicles and aircraft!!

David Weirich October 28, 2009


That's a context-free photo. It doesn't tell us anything about why those boots are in that condition, or how normal that is. For all we know, they were replaced the second he got back from patrol. Or, maybe, they're that guy's 'lucky boots' that he refuses to replace! The point is, that photo in itself is meaningless.

jic October 28, 2009

Stripes is anti-military

Agree Stars and Stripes is a rag not a watchdog. I glance at it in Iraq or Kuwait only because it is free. Most stories are from LA Times or AP (we think that means anti-American Press) and is surprisingly anti-military and will lead with any story that puts the military or the war in a bad light. Anyone wonder why stars and wipes has never published one of Michael Yon's dispatches? They ain't interested in anything positive about the ground-pouders or the Generals. Keep it up Michael

Mick October 28, 2009

Spare us

If someone think (or it's their "opinion") that Michael is "chest-beating" when he mentions the fact that he knows two of the most senior NCO's currently responsible for Strykers, it's hardly "lacking in modesty". In other words, Michael has access to two guys who a) know what they're talking about b) will talk to him about the relevant subject then it's merely responsible to cite sources. In a field where most "sources" are anonymous, it's refreshing to have people like CSM Mellinger and CSM Prosser go "on record". It ain't chest-beating; it's responsible journalism and bloody well hard to find these days except in these pages. I haven't seen it in Stars and Stripes (at least the European edition I used to read) since Bill Mauldin was their cartoonist. 

One has to wonder about the current tone about the Afghan theater found in most media and the "elites".

Boat Guy October 28, 2009

Not to change the subject, but...


I just read a fairly troubling article in the Washington Post about a former Marine and Iraq combat veteran who resigned from his State Department post in Afghanistan in protest of how the war effort is being conducted. The article is available at the following link: 

There is a link within the article that leads to a PDF of Koh's resignation letter. 

I know that your researching energy sources for Afghanistan now, but would you consider a dispatch with your take on Koh's resignation and point of view? I am a tremendous fan of your work, both dispatches and books. Keep up the great reporting! 



James October 28, 2009


jic, That's the norm for some areas of operation, the photo is not meaningless. We are the best funded, most highly trained military in the world, and I just saw $7000 disappear out of my account for replacement gear from my husband because not all members of the Army are getting what they need. That was part of McChrystal's point, and Congress just raided the defense fund for earmarked memorials and stuff. I'd rather have had it go to better quality ammo, replacement clothing, and food. The photo has meaning.

casstx October 28, 2009

optical illuisons

While we're on the subject ofocolor schemes, maybe we should be taking a different approach, say by projecting optical illuisons that make the vehicle appear farther or smaller than it actually is. I saw a t-shirt once that you couldn't look at for more than a few seconds because the optical illuison played havoc with your vision. The netting idea makes perfect sense also, since it can be changed readily and is simple to adapt. Ghillie suits are remarkably effective. But to be perfectly honest I don't see how any paint is going to make a difference under 100 yds. with someone shouldering an RPG at you.

Leonard October 28, 2009


So we're going to paint our 2-ton vehicles a color that actually blends in with the surroundings while the troops on the ground who actually need to hide from the enemy at times have to keep wearing the assinine ACU pattern? This makes total sense. 

How about we quit worrying about trying to hide the strykers and start worrying about a good camo pattern for our personnel!!

I hate ACUs October 28, 2009

or better yet

Or better yet, since the ACU pattern is so great, why dont we paint the strykers digital ACU colors?

I hate ACUs October 28, 2009

Fat Rats

Who give a fat rats what color. The Taliban seems to know where they are and when they're going to be there, troops and vehicles. 

Tempest in a teapot.

Jim October 28, 2009


Painting the vehicles tan is actually good for another reason than just camoflage, namely temperature. Other nations have done this and the temperature inside the vehicles dropped 10-20 degrees Celsius. White would be even better, but ISAF vehicles are no longer allowed to be white.

E October 28, 2009

It's a blog - you write about what you're thinking

Better yet, it's Michael Yon's blog so he can write about whatever he wants to write about. If Stars and Stripes writes a 1 page article about the color of Stryker's, then I'm pretty sure anybody else can voice their opinion about the color of Strykers too. 

Energy?? I'm big onto that. They should go wind turbines for sure.

Lewis in Orlando October 28, 2009


I said that the photo *in itself* was meaningless, because it was without context. Thank you for giving us that context.

jic October 28, 2009

Innovation In Time Of War

World War Two lasted half as long as this one and produced 500% more innovation, invention and technical ability. What's gone wrong over 60 years? Why is the scientific community now so slow in offering solutions to problems which have solutions? Is it money? Is it stupidity? Is it plain bloody bone laziness? 

As far as Strykers go - why havn't we got paint that changes colour to suit the immediate environment? Don't give me 'Star Wars'! To produce 'chameleon paint' should be no more than a weekend home work project for a sixth form chemistry class. Ye Gods! 

Gismo Fly October 28, 2009

About those boots ...

I would guess that soldier is real proud of those boots. You have to do a lot of walking to get boots to look like that. You know who has nice boots? Ans: New guys and people who live inside a safe area.

Belasarius October 28, 2009


As always, this dispatch has been reprinted with permission from the author, Michael Yon.

Please support this mission by making a direct contribution. Without your support, the mission will end. Thank you for helping me tell the full story of the struggle for Iraq and Afghanistan.

To read more on Michael Yon, or more information regarding the military, please go to the Michael Yon Dispatches Gather Group

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Lost History Of Helmand

This is the surreal and forgotten story of American policy in Afghanistan since the end of World War II. "Its aim was to use science to try and change the course of history and produce a modern utopia in Afghanistan. The city of Lashkar Gah was built by the Americans as a model planned city, and the hundreds of miles of canals that the Taliban now hide in were constructed by the same company that built the San Francisco Bay Bridge and Cape Canaveral."

The work of trying, with nightmarish results, to turn Afghanistan into a "modern" country patterned after the suburbs of the '50s went on for decades.

This article was written by Adam Curtis, a filmmaker who produced the documentary, "The Power of Nightmares."  His work also includes The Century of the Self, The Mayfair Set, Pandora's Box, The Trap and The Living Dead.

Adam Curtis uncovers the secrets of Helmand

Heroin, hippies and hero engineers

The Lost History Of Helmand

If you look beyond the soldiers, and into the distance, what you are really seeing are the ruins of one of the biggest technological projects the United States has ever undertaken. Its aim was to use science to try and change the course of history and produce a modern utopia in Afghanistan.

By Adam Curtis

October 21, 2009 "
BBC" -- 13 October 2009 -- When you look at footage of the fighting in Helmand today everyone assumes it is being played out against an ancient background of villages and fields built over the centuries.

This is not true. If you look beyond the soldiers, and into the distance, what you are really seeing are the ruins of one of the biggest technological projects the United States has ever undertaken. Its aim was to use science to try and change the course of history and produce a modern utopia in Afghanistan. The city of Lashkar Gah was built by the Americans as a model planned city, and the hundreds of miles of canals that the Taliban now hide in were constructed by the same company that built the San Francisco Bay Bridge and Cape Canaveral.

Here is what Helmand province looks like today.

The story of this strange forgotten project started with the holocaust which had the unforeseen consequence of making Afghanistan very rich.

The fur trade in Europe which had been predominantly run by Jews was closed down. It moved to New York where there was a growing demand for astrakhan coats - made with the fur of fat-tailed sheep from Afghanistan. Here is a classic piece of Afghan promotion of their key export. And a fat tailed sheep.

As a result dollars poured into Afghanistan and by 1946 the country had $100 million in reserve. The King, Zahir Shah, decided to spend the money on a dam. His aim was to create a modern state - and with it spread the power of the Pashtun tribes. So he hired the giant American firm Morrison Knudsen who had built the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, and they began surveying Afghanistan's biggest river - the Helmand.

Here is a page from the Morrison Knudsen Magazine that expresses the ambition and scale of the project. Little America in Afghanistan.

I want to thank Nick Cullather from Indiana University both for this and for many of the extraordinary details in this story. He is a brilliant historian.

To continue....


Two others from this series: 

KABUL: CITY NUMBER ONE - I am researching the extraordinary history of the West's relationship to Afghanistan over the past 200 years. It is a very complex, and sometimes weird, story. These are notes on some of the characters and episodes involved.

KINSHASA: CITY NUMBER TWO - As well as our relationship with Afghanistan, I am researching the legacy of other  European empires - in Africa. We think of those empires as history but actually they still haunt our everyday lives in the strangest of ways.

Related article:

Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Looses Spark - Michael Yon Dispatch which discusses the sad situation with the Kajaki Dam in Helmand Province:

The top-secret mission was Oqab Tsuka, involving thousands of ISAF troops who were to deliver turbines to the Kajaki Dam to spearhead a major electrification project. The difficult mission was a great success. That was 2008.  During my 2009 embed with British forces, just downstream from Kajaki Dam, it became clear that the initial success had eroded into abject failure.
In fact Canada pledged millions of Canadian dollars to the Kandahar economy once the power was plugged into the grid and supplying business in the city.  But the Canadians seem doubtful that power will be switched on before 2014—by which time they will have pulled their troops out of Afghanistan.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Loses Spark


Afghan "leaders" are fighting over what little scraps of power there are to be had.  Karzai is becoming a disgrace.  The November 7 runoffs should be plenty interesting...

Please see the latest dispatch.  Short and sweet, this one: 

Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Looses Spark


Very Respectfully,

Michael Yon

* * * * *

Anybody seen a better future around here?

Anybody seen a better future around here?

21 October 2009

In 2008, I was trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal preparing for a return to Afghanistan. A message came from a British officer suggesting to end the trip and get to Afghanistan. Something was up, and I didn’t bother to ask what. Days of walking were needed to reach the nearest road. After several flights, I landed in Kandahar and eventually Helmand Province at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. The top-secret mission was Oqab Tsuka, involving thousands of ISAF troops who were to deliver turbines to the Kajaki Dam to spearhead a major electrification project. The difficult mission was a great success. That was 2008.  During my 2009 embed with British forces, just downstream from Kajaki Dam, it became clear that the initial success had eroded into abject failure. And then the British kicked me out of the embed, for reasons still unclear, giving me time to look further into the Kajaki electrification failure.

After communications with many American and British officers, a sad picture emerged.

The following message was provided by a well-placed officer. The message has been slightly edited by me for clarification.


ISAF's initiative [at Kajaki] to light up southern Afghanistan following the successful delivery of a third turbine to the Kajaki hydro-electric dam has run into major problems which could set the project 24 months behind schedule.

Last September, US and British special forces spearheaded a 100 vehicle convoy from Kandahar 180 miles across open desert, much of it owned by the Taliban, to Kajaki.  The Operation, codenamed Oqab Tsuka, included 4,000 British, US and Canadian troops in what was hailed as the biggest demonstration since 2006 that ISAF is delivering progress in the south.

The heavily guarded convoy contained what was called T2 (Turbine 2) and was successfully delivered to the US AID built dam after a six-day operation which saw significant fighting by British paratroopers and advance clearance operations by special forces. As it crawled north up the Sangin valley the Brits mounted the biggest deception operation seen since World War Two.

With just one road available which was an obvious target for insurgents' IEDs, special forces located a second, more difficult and remote route. After confirmation that it could be used, a battle group was flown into the area of the main route, giving the enemy the clear perception that the convoy was heading that way. Then a dummy convoy headed up the road, while the Brits used the alternative route out of sight.

But despite last year's success it is now becoming clear that little progress has been made. At the time of the operation a US contractor, known as Kajaki Joe, stated that the turbine would be installed by April 2009 with all three turbines in action by September 2009. However, problems with engineers and missing elements of the turbine have caused significant delays.

When the turbine was delivered only one turbine was in action, another was being overhauled on site with the aim being to install the new one and commission all three into service. Now exactly a year on a report submitted to US AID in Lashkar Gah has suggested that the turbine which was being overhauled needs replacing. Sources in Lashkar Gah say this is a gross overestimate of the situation and that there will be no mission to deliver another turbine.

In 2006 US AID representatives in Lashkar Gah asked the British to play down the project and not to raise people’s expectations about when power would be delivered. The British Foreign Office was quick to try and hijack the public relations spin of last year's success, even though the UK gave no funding to the project.

The overall aim of the turbine mission was to support the power grid in southern Afghanistan. In fact Canada pledged millions of Canadian dollars to the Kandahar economy once the power was plugged into the grid and supplying business in the city.  But the Canadians seem doubtful that power will be switched on before 2014—by which time they will have pulled their troops out of Afghanistan.


Even an idiot can see we need more troops

As an American I am embarassed and frustrated. War is not a play toy and neither are our soldiers. This administration needs to either go all in on Afganistan or pull out. For the record I do not believe we should pull out. If we cannot provide basic electrical power in less than two years or now 4 or 5 years there is a big security issue. It is absolutely clear to the biggest idiot that more troops are needed to do in Afganistan what has been accomplished in Iraq. It blows my mind that the administrations only strategy is wait wait wait. They are getting really good at doing nothing. I just pray our men and women do not pay an extra high price for their foolishness. Let's get the troops the resources they need. I am sorry buy Biden is an bumbling idiot when compared to McChrystal or Petraeus. Petraeus' leadership and ideas turned an Iraq around that all the dems had given up on. Now they think they know better then the generals that are making things happen. Unbelieveable. I pray for our troop, and for the rest of us if Afghanistan is abandoned. Wake up Obama it is real easy listen to your generals that have proven themselves time and time again, and quit wasting time picking a fight with Fox News. Do your job for goodness sake. 

Thanks again for your reporting Michael

David October 20, 2009


Present ROE = no more troops

TomasUSMC October 21, 2009

More troops on a hopeless mission?

However much I would love to sound a rousing gung-ho with a few tally-hos' from my armchair whilst watching our lads get their legs blown off, I really doubt that whatever government ends up with the reigns of power and the open tap of funding in Kabul the way or life for the afghan populace will increase. Take this issue of the turbines. I've worked on a few dam projects in the 3rd world and this type of infrastruture needs constant engineering support - and who will provide this with remnants of the Taliban roaming around? The sooner Kabul takes responsibility and gets a decent army together the sooner we can pull out - surely this must be a huge and the main priority for our 'leaders'

Pete October 21, 2009


This is the toughest test and a nation that is so in the stone age it makes me wonder where they have been for the last 100 years. I think they will love and prosper in freedom, once they know we are there for the long haul, otherwise they are watching to see what we and the world does. If we cut and run they will go back to being mules and good peasants. If we stay and rebuild the schools and allow a glimmer of education they will grow because they have been in the dark so long. It all depends on what happens in the south with the advances of the Pakistan soldiers on the north. I hope we have an agreement to bring in the heavies and eliminate the troops that are gathering to fight the Pakistan Army.

Phil  October 21, 2009

Remember Vietnam

This is not really much of a surprise, zero has never really promised anything to anyone other then the destruction of America. He will probably make lbj and his wiz kid, mcnamara look like real combat leaders. Anyone that actually expects anything or any action on the Afgan or any other issue that has any merit, well, it is all smoke and mirrors and not even a real good job at that.

Ole Sarge October 21, 2009

retired grocer from USA

The American voter seems to get more and more stupid every election. We seem to get what we deserve. One President that`took the balanced budget he inherited and couldn't wait to give away to his rich friends only to elect a president planning to spend even more. He has two wars going on with no plan to win either one. We have a congress and senate filled with criminals,sex perverts and every other kind of scum you can think of. I am really overcome with a sense of doom. I really feel the worst for the troops that are out there fighting in this mess with no reaol leadership at the very top.

Charles October 21, 2009


Mr Grocer, 

I look at the situation and am much more optimistic. The current president is preceding at the scheduled pace for troop drawdown in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government. You say he has no plans to win either one, but the situation in Iraq is more or less going to plan. What is your definition of victory in Iraq? As for the current domestic spending, just a few months ago, economic experts of all stripes were worried about the possibility of a massive and sustained depression. Nine months later, the stock market has stabilized and hopefully employment will soon start to pick up. Its a big concern though. As for Afghanistan, I would much prefer a deliberate and thought out strategy. McChrystal has given his military requirements to the president who then has to look at the entire political-economic-military situation to determine what is in or country's best strategic interest. Michael on this very site has suggested that any commitme to this region has to be generational and the outcome would still be in doubt. Not many Americans are probably willing to bet our treasure and troops on such a bet. Lets see what the Afghan political situation is before we commit more troops to this difficult situation.

Drew October 21, 2009

He hates our Military as Clinton did.

I knew if this man got in our Men and Women were in trouble so Please pray and pray hard for their safety and keep their families in your Prayers.Thank you Michael for keeping us informed of the problems that are facing them. 


JeanOctober 21, 2009

Double Bogey

Hey all, even Tiger doesn't birdie or par every hole he plays. Be positive, we kicked butt militarily and I bet the additional transport General Patraeus is sending might improve the dam completion projections. 

Michael, thanks for the full disclosure. 

I feel like this needs to be a Monty Python moment...Allllllllll-ways look onnnnnn the bright side of do...da do do do do do... 

David October 21, 2009


what happened to working together? A year ago, they were being 'hailed' but now they seem to be walking away, hands in pockets, whistling contently like it's not their problem. Where is ISAF-NATO in all this, what's their stance and why have they taken a back seat and let the individual parties step away. Do we need more troops there, yes. Do we need more choppers and resources, yes. But, most of all, teamwork and unity is what will win this and it's currently the missing key. Get it together guys, it's amazing what can be done as a team but individuals will be overrun.

Scott / TX October 21, 2009

Time to act

The time to act is now, not later. The president has the information he needs already, this is just another example of a lot of talk and little action, a theme becoming more and more familiar as this presidents agenda is becoming more and more clear, despite what he says in public. Our troops are in trouble right now, and they need what they need RIGHT NOW, not when the president and his fine bunch of political advisors decide is right. Our guys and girls are suffering right now due to the gross ineptitude of our current administration.

Phillip October 21, 2009

Trackbacked / Linked

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/21/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

David M October 21, 2009


I think you chaps have missed the point. The more troops we pour in the greater the number of targets Terry Taliban has and the greater the resentment amongst the moderate afghans, thus fueling the insurgency. Surely all efforts must be on the Afghan armed forces and also moderate warlords etc and not our costly foreign troops that have to rely on translators and stand out like a sore thumb. Surely Iraq has taught us this lesson.

PeteOctober 21, 2009


I must say Childers comment ''Our guys and girls are suffering right now due to the gross ineptitude of our current administration''. Surely you mean to say ''Our guys and girls are suffering right now due to the gross ineptitude of our past administrations''

PeteOctober 21, 2009


Jeeze. . . one would THINK this would be front page. One would THINK the press would be all over this. One would THINK heads would roll. I do have unlimited faith in American ingenuity, committment and purpose; that if allowed to make this happen, it would. There is something big and ugly standing in the way.

Sara October 21, 2009

Is this an engineering issue or a military issue?

Engineering is pretty cut and dried. Engineers go in and assess a problem and find practical solutions. If Turbine 2 needed a rebuild the parts and staff and tools should have been in place 2 years ago. If that rebuild turned into a complete loss, which believe me, does at times happen, especially in the 3rd World, it should have been recognized and a report filed not long after the rebuild began. This isn't rocket science. 

getting turbines 1 and 3 on line should be another engineering job. Each is an independent unit and can provide power separately. There are plenty of GE engineers out there who can assess the situation rapidly. This sounds like more political BS. Whose engineers are responsible? Who is managing the project? This is where British and American engineers used to kick ass and take names.

matt h October 21, 2009

Lessons Learned

actually Pete; 

Iraq taught us exactly the opposite lesson. The Americans and allies were, for the most part, looked upon as honest brokers in a chaotic and sectarian environment. The Iraqis needed to build organizations that until the rebuilding of the country did not exist. Pan Iraqi, non sectarian police and militay and judicial and development organizations. They are still not there yet but it's better than it was. It could all go south again precisely because there is not a guarantor of the peace involved as we disengage. 

So far, we are still not looked upon as invaders by the majority of the people of Afghanistan. Counterinsurgency has to help stabilize the country rather than create conflict. The whole peace through strength concept. Half assed measures get half assed results as was demonstrated in Iraq.

matt h October 21, 2009

Troops Now or in 3 Weeks

There is a lot of hand-wringing about whether we begin sending new troops to Afghanistan now or wait until after the election. 

While I certainly don't like him, President Obama is putting pressure on Karzai's supporters to keep the election clean. He's basically telling them: if you cheat on this one, you're on your own. 

An election with minimal levels of corruption is going to drastically help our troops. If the people believe the government is legitimate, then the mission has a greater chance of success. 

While I understand the need to get the 40,000 troops there and in place as soon as we can (although I don't think they really need to be there during the winters when nothing really happens), a clearly legitimate election is going to serve as a dramatic force multiplier. That multiplier should more than make up for any kind of delay. 

Openly committing now removes any leverage that we have over keeping Karzai's supporters on the up and up. 

If the Afghans in power can't put their nation's interest ahead of their own personal interests even when the result will be us pulling out and their being left on their own, then it's a good sign that those Afghans in power would NEVER have been the partners we needed to make this mission work. 

The Obama administration is (rightfully in my opinion) testing the Afghans' mettle. It needs to be done before we double down on an endeavor that has a high risk of failure already.

Sean October 21, 2009

It's a cluster f*(K!

Chinese fire drill, FUBAR, or whatever you want to call it but the bottom line is we need to get our a$$es out of there. 

Michael you do great reporting but you need to find a different area of conflict where something positive can occur. It certainly won't be Afghanistan. 

True then true now. 

"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier."

Jim October 21, 2009

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