The Troubling Case of Bowe Bergdahl

By Jay Holmes

Since his release from Taliban captivity on May 13, 2014, in exchange for five senior Taliban leaders, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has been in the spotlight of the U.S. media. The Obama administration and much of the American media hailed the initial reports of his release as a victory and an obvious cause for celebration. However, within hours, questions began to emerge concerning the wisdom of exchanging five senior Taliban leaders for a U.S. Army soldier who had, according to his army comrades, apparently deserted his post in premeditated fashion.

 

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl image by U.S. Army

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
image by U.S. Army

 

Bergdahl has now become something of a transient touchstone of American politics. Members of both Houses of Congress have pointed out that President Obama violated federal law when he authorized the release of Guantanamo prisoners without giving Congress the required thirty day notice. The law is quite clear on this point. The law was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013 and was signed by President Obama. We know that the President did in fact read the law before signing it because he complained about the restriction that the law placed on him at the time of the signing.

Whether anyone in the Department of Justice or Congress will do anything about that clear violation of law is doubtful. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has attempted to explain away the violation by saying that the President had complained about the law when he signed it, and that the circumstances were urgent.

I fear I must take responsibility for this particular instance of President Obama’s misbehavior. He was simply copying an old ploy that I invented when I was in third grade. When the nuns would assign me homework, I would complain about it and not do it. The following day, I would explain that urgencies—baseball practice, family events, reading time with better books, etc.—had prevented me from doing the homework. I stopped using that ploy when I got to high school. If I had known way back in third grade that future presidents and press secretaries would unleash such a powerful weapon against the American people, I never would have created this devastating device. I offer my sincere apologies.

The public’s response to the Bergdahl case has ranged from “Shoot the bastard!” to “He’s a hero, though I can’t explain why.” Much of this mixed reaction has little to do with legalities or illegalities. The basic controversy stems from the fact that five very dangerous Taliban leaders were released from Camp Cheerful in Guantanamo, Cuba, to obtain the release of a member of the U.S. Army who apparently deserted his post. The public’s anger concerning Bergdahl is based on statements made by Bergdahl’s platoon mates and a 2010 Pentagon investigation that concluded that there was “incontrovertible evidence” that Bergdahl walked away from his unit. Bergdahl has not been convicted of desertion or of any other violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and he might or might not ever face a court martial.

 

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with Taliban. image from Voice of Jihad Website

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with Taliban.
image from Voice of Jihad Website

 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey now explains that, “The questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover any U.S. service member in enemy captivity,” and that, “Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family.” I trust and respect General Dempsey, and I accept his position as rational. Precisely how much the U.S. was willing to give the Taliban in exchange for Bergdahl is another matter.

On June 30, 2009, Bergdahl vanished from his army post in Afghanistan. In statements that he made to his battalion mates and emails that he sent to his family prior to leaving his post, he made it clear that he was angry with the United States of America, and that he was ashamed of being American. So what would make any sane member of the U.S. Army turn into an American-hating deserter? The question might not quite apply in this case. He may have not been all that sane to start with.

A glance at Bergdahl’s background raises questions about whether he was ever fit to enter the U.S. Army in the first place. Prior to joining, Bergdahl had traveled to France and had attempted to enlist in the French Foreign Legion. To their credit, the Legion rejected his application. Somehow, the U.S. Army failed to detect the same issues, or it ignored whatever had concerned the French Foreign Legion.

Once Bergdahl arrived in Afghanistan, he began learning to speak Pashto. According to his battalion mates, he became more anti-social and spent more time with Afghans than with his platoon mates.  Bergdahl’s father is certain that he became socially isolated from his comrades while in Afghanistan. The very fact that Bergdahl was willing to wander off alone into the wilds of Afghanistan calls into question his ability to make rational decisions.

It’s a large Army and a volunteer Army. The pool of enlistment applicants is by no means infinite. If the Army were to exclude every youngster that seemed a little odd or that had previously acted immaturely, it would be a very small Army. I can forgive the U.S. military for its imperfect recruiting methods. Many of our nation’s military heroes did not always act like saints. The U.S. military will not find perfect screening tools for candidates. Such tools do not yet exist.

My personal judgments concerning Bergdahl’s conduct are not important. The opinions of his battalion mates should not be quite so easily dismissed. Thus far, it is clear that the majority of men that served in combat with Bergdahl are certain that he is a deserter. The Army is stating that this case will be fully investigated. But the president has the power to order this or any other investigation to be abandoned, or to deliver whatever conclusions he desires to have delivered. Both President Johnson and President Nixon directly intervened in major courts martial cases during the Viet Nam War for political reasons. President Clinton intervened during the Iraq No-Fly Zone operations. I don’t doubt that President Obama will do the same.

On the other side of the coin, the five criminals that were released had previously dedicated themselves to the anti-Western, anti-reason, Stone Age agenda of the Taliban. I expect that they will continue to do so.

 

Taliban Five, a.k.a. Taliban Dream Team Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mohammad Fazl, Khalrullah Khalrkhwa, Mohammed Nabi

Taliban Five, a.k.a. Taliban Dream Team
Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mohammad Fazl, Khalrullah Khalrkhwa, Mohammed Nabi

 

The Pentagon cannot resolve the underlying issues of the Bergdahl controversy. They are political in nature. The propaganda efforts put forth by the spin-demons in D.C. have been amusing but not terribly effective. Democratic Party stalwart and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein has contradicted the White House’s assertion that they were forced to act quickly because Bergdahl was in imminent danger. It looks like a major political disaster in the making, but my best guess is that it will all soon fizzle. In all likelihood, the public relations fallout will not greatly influence political events in the U.S. A great number of both the president’s detractors and supporters are dogmatic in their politics, and neither this nor any other event will easily influence their loyalties. The president and other politicians understand this and act accordingly.

On the bright side, there is a glimmer of hope in this and in every other political disaster in the U.S.There are significant indications that young voters are less likely to settle for a constant diet of dogma to satisfy their political wishes. In spite of our best efforts to fail, we may have succeeded in raising a generation of Americans that are somewhat less politically gullible than previous generations have been. Call me a wild optimist, but it seems to me that the defective political products that have sold so well in the American political market place might not sell so well in the near future. The buyers are becoming more leery. Let’s hope that that trend will continue.

In the meantime, the Bergdahl case won’t have much influence on our policies or operations in Afghanistan. The Haqqani terrorist branch of the Taliban have their five extra zealots back, and they will continue to grow and to exert whatever influence they can in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although it’s infuriating to see terrorists set free, it won’t matter much in practical terms. The White House does not wish to burn much more of its shrinking political resources in Afghanistan. We are leaving regardless of what changes might occur there. Whether or not the Afghani tribal leaders will be willing and able to allow government to occur in our absence remains to be seen.

Have the Taliban Evolved? The Attack on Camp Bastion

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes*

On September 14, 15 Taliban fighters dressed in US Army style uniforms attacked the UK’s Camp Bastion in Helmand Provence, Afghanistan. The attackers were armed with PKM machine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades and exploding suicide vests. The camp has a perimeter of over 35 km and is a major logistics center for Allied operations in Afghanistan. US Marine Corps Aviation squadrons occupy part of the British base, and sadly, two outstanding Marines lost their lives that night.

Sgt. Bradley Atwell and Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, image from marinecorpstimes.com

Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Raible and Marine Sgt. Bradley Atwell were both killed by an explosion while counter-attacking the Taliban. We offer our sincere condolences to the loved ones of these two great Marines.

The attack is seen by some as something of a hallmark event in the Afghan War. Some feel that it indicates an “evolution” in tactics by the Taliban. The Taliban executed a well-planned attack against a large, well-defended position and managed to destroy several expensive Harrier attack jets, in addition to killing two Marines.

However, in my view the attack is not quite a hallmark event. While the Taliban demonstrated some ability to evolve in their tactics, one must assume that they use some of the abundant time at their disposal to think about their situation and try to identify opportunities. This was hardly a revolutionary combat event. The base has been there for years, and it’s more remarkable that the Taliban took this long to organize an attack against such a valuable and vulnerable Allied asset.

I’m grateful that the Taliban are not commanded by Viet Cong guerillas, Wehrmacht Panzer leaders, Imperial Japanese Army officers, or an L.A drug king pin. If they were, it would be hard to imagine them doing relatively little damage in exchange for fifteen of their own warriors. I’m grateful that few Taliban are capable of reading anything other than the Koran. If they were, they would be far more effective and far more dangerous.

The attack on Camp Bastion will have no impact on US or British policies in Afghanistan. The Allies are in fact already reducing force strength in preparation for a departure from Afghanistan. It’s not like they are going to leave a day early in response to anything that the Taliban or other hoodlums in the area might do.

Some analysts are certain that the attack was “masterminded,” if you can call it that, by the Haqqani brand of Taliban, which has been popular in Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent months. Which particular tribal thug ordered out this particular cadre of suicide fighters is of no great significance because frankly, neither the US nor the British governments intend to do much of anything about it. What would the response be? Would the US military or State Department hold an extra twenty minute meeting with Afghan Gangster in Cheif Muhammad Karzai? What stern phrases would Karzai utter in that meeting? Would he pose for one of his cute “right index finger pointing to heaven while I grimace” pictures? Is there anyone left in Washington or London who could be so gullible as to believe anything that he or his band of thieves would say? I hope not.

My best analysis is that the Taliban were in fact not attempting to impact the Allied mission in Afghanistan by conducting this latest suicide attack. They were more likely trying to impact their own standing within Afghanistan and the region. Once the allies leave Afghanistan, the Taliban face the task of re-asserting their dominance, and they need all the PR help they can get. The Taliban would hate to see anyone else get the profits from those poppy fields.

In the mean time US and Allied military personnel will continue conducting operations against the Taliban and their many local clones while doing their utmost to appear polite and friendly to a population of people that care little about “polite” and know less still about “friendly” when it comes to outsiders. It’s a damned shame that more Allied soldiers and marines will lose their lives while everyone waits for the final departure from this very expensive theatre of the macabre.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Antonio Wilccoxen, an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon gunner, and fellow U.S. Marines with 1st Platoon, Company I, Battalion Landing Team 3/8, Regimental Combat Team 8, walk through a poppy field during a security patrol from their patrol base in Helmand province’s Green Zone, west of the Nar-e Saraj canal, March 31. Elements of 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed to Afghanistan to provide regional security in Helmand province in support of the International Security Assistance Force. Image from Department of Defense via publicintelligence.net.

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*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Pakistan and the Tangled Web

By Jay Holmes

On Saturday, November 26, 2011, NATO conducted airstrikes against what later proved to be two Pakistani border observation posts. Twenty-four Pakistani soldiers were killed in the two air attacks, and NATO’s always tenuous relationship with Pakistan suffered a major blow.

The two Pakistani positions were fairly well dug in to withstand light weapons fire from Taliban or from any other brand of the many armed bandits that have inhabited the area for centuries. The lightly constructed Pakistani bunkers were not built to withstand the cannon fire that NATO or US aircraft can bring to bear, and most of the inhabitants were killed.

Two similar, but much smaller and less publicized, incidents had already occurred during the last few years. In both of these previous incidents, Pakistan and the USA agreed that Pakistani forces (without orders from above) had opened fire on NATO forces before NATO returned fire.

The reaction from Pakistan to this most recent incident was instantaneous and about as predictable as the results of the cannon fire, itself. Pakistani politicians quickly entrenched themselves in their positions before any investigation could be conducted. Pakistan closed the two critical border crossings from Pakistan to Afghanistan to trucks that carry supplies to US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Less than half of the coalition’s supplies arrive via Pakistan, but the closure is a considerable inconvenience for them.

It is too early to say what might have caused the incident. The US military, in conjunction with NATO investigators, will review gun camera film, radio tapes, and combat reports. The pilots and the Afghan and US Special Forces that were operating near the area where the air strikes occurred will be questioned multiple times. NATO and the US will be under pressure from politicians to quickly spit out an answer, but the Pentagon and the White House, along with other coalition governments, will want the most accurate report possible.

So far, a few key facts are striking. To start with, there is no denying the impact of twenty-four dead Pakistani soldiers. Most elements of the not-altogether-unified Pakistani military establishment are doing everything they can to use the incident to assert more control over the Pakistani government, and more influence over the Pakistani people.

When I listened to early responses from Pakistani spokesmen, I immediately realized that they were being deceptive, but the precise nature of the deception is not yet clear to me, and may not yet be clear to the Pakistani government, itself. One glaring bit of evidence of deception in the Pakistani response is that it carelessly emphasized that, “The attacks by NATO were absolutely unprovoked. Everyone in the outposts were asleep, nobody was awake so nobody in the outposts could have fired first.”

While I have never been a member of the Pakistani military, it’s still quite obvious to me (and to anyone who has spent a day or more in any military service) that a military team would never all sleep simultaneously unless they were on leave together. Even in a base in a peaceful area, soldiers and sailors stand watch around the clock. The notion that Pakistani troops would all be asleep on the Pakistan/Afghan border in the middle of the night is beyond absurd. The only reason I can think of so far for such a desperate lie would be that the Pakistani government is covering up some provocation by a shooter or shooters in or near the outposts.

Once Pakistan had announced that they were certain the coalition attacks were deliberate and unprovoked, the Afghan government responded by reminding everyone that they had, on multiple occasions, protested to Pakistan about Pakistani troops allowing Taliban to operate next to Pakistani border outposts, and essentially use the Pakistani border outposts as human shields while firing on Afghan and coalition forces inside of Afghanistan.

Both the US Special Forces and the Afghan Special Forces have stated that they are certain they were fired on by shooters at or near the outposts. The Pakistani outposts are distinguishable from Taliban outposts only by the fact that the Pakistani outposts are more hastily constructed and less elaborately furnished. The Special Forces troops may have believed that they were taking fire from Taliban outposts.

US and Pakistan military counterparts did communicate before and during the air attacks. So far, it seems that neither side had a clear picture of what was occurring. At one point, the Pakistani military informed a US Special Forces sergeant that there were no Pakistani troops in the area. The Pakistanis would have no reason to transmit such a message, unless the two sides were not clear on the location in question. Given the lack of reference points and the lack of clear demarcation on the Pakistan/Afghan border, it would not be difficult to make such a mistake. Tribes in the area where the attack occurred don’t recognize the border or any such thing as “Pakistan” or “Afghanistan,” and the border, itself, remains in dispute.

While we here in the West get to hear a wide variety of viewpoints concerning this incident, Pakistanis are not being allowed to hear what Western media outlets are saying. The Pakistani authorities have blocked Western news broadcasts since the incident occurred.

Once a proper investigation has been completed, we might know more about what occurred, but there are some things that the investigation cannot change.

1)    The families and friends of the dead Pakistani troops will remain angry. The Pakistan government will do its best to direct that anger away from itself and toward the US.

2)    While the Taliban and the many “Tali-clone” gangster groups are the root cause of the incident, they will do their best to profit from the deaths of the twenty-four Pakistani soldiers.

3)    The government of Pakistan will respond to any investigation based on its internal political needs rather than any determinable facts.

4)    The public response from Pakistan vs. the private response from Pakistan to the USA may vary wildly.

5)    If there is any duplicity on the part of the Pakistan military and intelligence services, it will not be unanimous. They are more concerned with their own internal power struggles than they are with either the Taliban or the USA.

6)    Outside interested parties such as Iran have no need for facts and will respond in their usual manner (Death to America).

7)    Where you stand depends on where you sit. The world’s media vendors’ commentary on the incident will be heavily influenced by their own agendas.

image from dailyhaha.com

While angry Pakistanis and Westerners might both be tempted to say, “It’s time for a divorce,” there are still reasons why both the West and Pakistan are better served by continuing to attempt to cooperate against the Tali-gangs. As long as the benefits outweigh the costs of this ugly marriage, the dysfunctional family will remain intact.

Do you have any questions?

We. Are. At. War.

By Piper Bayard

My heart is heavy today thinking about our soldiers killed when our enemies brought down their Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan last week. Seventeen Navy SEALs, five conventional forces, three Air Force forward air controllers, five Army helicopter crew members, and eight Afghan military personnel. I did not know them, but I know others of their ilk. To a person, they are the most honorable, high-minded people I’ve ever met. To lose these devoted men to an enemy attack is not only a tragedy for their families and friends, it is a tragedy for every American.

The Current Administration is busy sending ever more Special Forces to Afghanistan, while pulling out “regular” troops. They are doing this as a way to cook the personnel books for the upcoming election. The theory is that one Special Forces soldier is the equivalent of two “regular” troops. The Current Administration wants to be able to win votes by saying, “We have reduced our forces in Afghanistan.” That doesn’t mean we have achieved half of our as-yet-to-be-defined goal in that country. It means that much of the American public wants Afghanistan to go away, and politicians are in the business of making people think they are getting what they want.

This completely ignores the fact that there is no such thing as a “regular” soldier. Each and every job in the military is important, from the supply clerks stateside to the deployed infantry, artillery, medics, and cooks, every soldier is important to the functioning of the whole. Special Forces are trained as Special Forces. They have a specific function. They aren’t a distillation of our military; they are one part of a diversely trained, functioning military. Therefore, to “reduce our presence in Afghanistan” and try to fill the gap with Special Forces is the same as saying, “Your left leg is really strong so we’re going to cut off your right leg.”

This is my Two Cents. I’m calling out our Current Administration for putting its political interests above the interests of our nation, and above the interests of the men and women who serve our country.

We are at war. Our enemies are Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. I would ask you, Current Administration, what is our specific goal? It hardly takes a student of military history to know that a war can’t be completed if there is no defined goal, and I and others have yet to hear one. And no. While “protecting the American people” is a politician’s answer, it is not a specific military goal.

Also, every Al-Qaeda and Taliban dollar comes from opium or oil—either the opium poppies grown in Afghanistan, or the oil dollars coming in from their sympathizers. If we cut off their funding, we eliminate their relevance on the planet.

I would ask you, Current Administration, what are you doing to eliminate the opium production in Afghanistan? I know you engage people to encourage farmers to grow soybeans instead of poppies. But is it just an option you give them? Or do you destroy the existing poppy fields? Do you have buyers for those soybeans? Do you take on the drug lords as the full allies of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban?

And more, what are we doing to eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern oil? We only get around 20% of our oil from the Middle East (U.S. Energy Information Administration). Surely we can cut back our usage and develop alternative fuels by that much. We’re hardly on a petroleum shoestring in this country.

Current Administration, you are telling us to buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend, and the war is something happening “over there.” We don’t need to look back past World War II to see that, when you transmit that message, you are not behaving like an Administration at war.

Our nation is not behaving like a nation at war.

I challenge you, Current Administration, to step up and accept responsibility for the fact that we are, indeed, at war. Send whatever troops, equipment, and ordnance are necessary to root out our enemies. Stop cooking the personnel books for your election image.

I challenge you, Current Administration, to ruthlessly destroy the poppy fields and the drug lords of Afghanistan without apology, and to commit to long-term, Marshall Plan style reconstruction in Afghanistan, as we did with Japan and Germany. Fill the vacuum left behind by the elimination of the criminal enterprise with viable options people can actually eat and sell on the open market, and prevent a re-infestation of criminal, extremist vermin.

I challenge you, Current Administration, to not allow oil from any Middle Eastern countries to be marketed in America, unless those countries openly, consistently, and unapologetically stand as our steadfast allies against Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and all Islamic extremists.

And I challenge us as Americans to behave as a nation at war and reduce our gasoline consumption, as our grandparents did in WWII. If we cut our oil consumption by 20% and wholeheartedly develop alternatives, we will need nothing from the Middle East.

Take a moment and imagine how different our Middle Eastern policy would be if those countries were no more relevant to us than Easter Island. Isn’t that worth a few bicycle rides? A bit of car-pooling and public transportation?

If our Current Administration and we, as a nation, accept responsibility for the fact that we are at war, . . . if we develop the WWII mindset that each and every one of us is responsible for the war effort, . . . Al-Qaeda and the Taliban will dry up and shrivel into footnotes in our children’s history books. America’s strength has always been in her independence. I call on us all to remember who we are.

In the meantime, my thoughts and prayers are with our deployed troops, and with the families, friends, and commanders of the fallen. May our country step up and do them justice.

What’s your Two Cents about our Current Administration replacing our “regular” soldiers with half as many Special Forces?

Click here to learn more about the men our enemies killed last week.

All the best to all of you for a week of independence.

Tragedy in Afghanistan Not a Surprise

By Jay Holmes

Five members of the United States Army are facing Court Martial for the alleged murder of innocent civilians in Afghanistan.

The facts of the case are not completely known to the Army itself, and I know even less about it. From the information thus far available, it appears that this group of soldiers had been involved in heavy drug use, and had been noticeably unhealthy for months before allegations of murder surfaced. The local command may have some explaining to do as to the condition of their soldiers.

Whatever occurred should not be ignored. I am in no position to judge the facts since I am, for the most part, unaware of what they actually are. What I can see clearly so far is that these soldiers were living in an abnormal situation and under tremendous stress, and that the general orders that every American service person lives by were disregarded. But by whom, why and when? Did officers ignore clear signals that their subordinates were acting outside of standing orders? I don’t know.

The Court Martial members will have the responsibility to determine the facts of the case and to assign responsibility in the form of “guilty” or “innocent.” For the sake of the dead, the accused, and all of us, I hope that the Army does so justly. I do not envy the accused, and I do not envy the members of the court. But the US Army, the Department of Defense, and we as a nation have a deeper responsibility to these men, to the people of Afghanistan, and to ourselves as a nation.

War is an ugly business. It is inevitably a tale of misery, sacrifice, and human suffering in the pursuit of triumph. We, as a nation, are at times willing to enter into that realm of misery with the hope of preventing a tragedy greater than the war itself. In our decision to make war, we should never assume or pretend that the young soldiers that we send to fight our wars are capable of remaining unaffected by the hell that we send them to.

It is in the best interest of the US Army and it’s soldiers to examine this case deeply, not just to determine guilt or innocence, but to better understand the causes of whatever occurred.

As the war in Afghanistan continues on in it’s current form, the military members that are fighting it will continue to face very demoralizing and frustrating conditions. They are exposed to attacks by civilians that are not clearly distinguishable from the innocents, and many of the innocents often are not. They see endemic corruption by an incompetent and seemingly unconcerned Afghan government. Afghanistan is a well-seeded fertile field for cultivating precisely the horrible type of incident that may have occurred.

The question that we have a deep moral obligation to answer is simple. What can and should we do to prevent this type of incident from occurring? The Army might be tempted to answer that the Uniform Code of Military Justice is in place precisely to prevent this sort of misconduct. That UCMJ has been in place a long time, and perhaps has helped to make such incidents rare, but, clearly, our troops need more help than what they are getting from us or the UCMJ.

We owe ourselves a complete investigation to obtain the facts and a thorough, dispassionate analysis of the conditions and causes of the incident.