A short history of how we got here. (Afghanistan edition)

A lot of people have suddenly become experts on what we should be doing vis-a-vis Afghanistan over the past few weeks. So I think that it’s important to provide context to the current state of affairs, which I will summarize briefly as “Fuck around and find out.”

Part I: Fuck Around

Jimmy Carter’s administration started funding the Mujahideen insurgency in Afghanistan agains t the Soviet-backed government there through the CIA in 1979. The Soviets intervened in 1980, and Reagan doubled down on funding the insurgents, The Reagan Doctrine, a policy of aiding insurgents against Soviet-backed governments in Asia and Latin America to “roll back” communism, led to Operation Cyclone. “one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations ever undertaken.” Billions were spent betweeen 1980 and 1992, including an ongoing supply of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

Osama bin Laden was an Arab volunteer. The Wahhabist Saudis provided a great deal of private funding for the jihad against the communists, and the Taliban spring from Wahhabist schools for Afghanis in Pakistani refugee camps. The US did not create bin Laden or the Taliban, but the CIA certainly worked with them.

Part II: Find Out

After the Soviets left, a civil war continued through the mid-1990s until the Taliban eventually controlled most of the country. Meanwhile, Wahhabists enraged by the US stationing troops in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War (including women) —in the holy land— began the movement that would become known as al Qaeda. Most of the leadership of al Qaeda came from volunteers who had assisted the Mujahideen.

And so, while there is no direct connection between al Qaeda and CIA assistance in Afghanistan, there is certainly a connection between US sponsorship of regime change in Afghanistan and what followed.

Afghanistan, Air Force, tech

Predator ops in Afghanistan-landing "paper planes" in a crosswind

scr_090915-NG-9999X-001This morning, I got a chance to participate in a blogger roundtable Q&A with Brig. Gen. Guy M. Walsh, commander of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing, Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan. Walsh, who until recently commanded the 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard out of Baltimore, took command of the new 451st Air Expeditionary Wing in Kandahar in July.

The 451st operates an interesting mixed bag of aircraft: roughly a dozen A-10 close air support aircraft, C-130j combat airlift aircraft, the HH-60 “Pave Hawk” combat search and rescue variant of the Blackhawk,  a EC-130 Compass Call  and a joint expeditionary deployment of  Navy and Marine Corps EA6-B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft to provide jamming of Taliban cell phone and radio communications and remote-detonated IEDs, and over 50 unmanned aerial systems, including Predators and Reapers.

There have been a number of Predator crashes in Afghanistan recently; over the weekend, the Air Force had to shoot down a Reaper UAV that had failed to go into fail-safe when positive control was lost, and was flying north out of Afghani airspace. According to a written statement from Office of the Secretary of Defense Chris Isleib earlier this year, “Since 1994 the Air Force has procured 195 Predators. 65 have been lost due to Class A mishaps.”  Of those aircraft lost in accidents,  36 percent were attributed to human error. And 15 percent of accidents occurred during landing.

I asked Brig. Gen. Walsh about the challenges of operating the Predator and other UASs in Afghanistan.  He said that one of the biggest challenges pilots were facing when he arrived was dealing with the handling characteristics of the Predator at the end of a mission, when it was flying extremely light, in high crosswinds.  He said it could be like “trying to fly a paper airplane.”

Continue reading