1. Journalism via Truthiness

    No, this didn't happen because of VSO. (Image via milblogging.com)

    In this article for the AP, Kimberly Dozier writes about the new Special Operations plan for Afghanistan. 

    Overall, worth a read, even though the entire plan is predicated on way too many variables (Afghanistan and its neighbors being cool with it, for one) for us to get terribly excited about it.

    But this paragraph describing VSO is just well, wrong:

    Reliance on the program already had forced it to grow so quickly, however, that U.S. commanders had put regular military forces into some of the sites. That is how Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a regular soldier with no prior Afghanistan experience, ended up at one of the sites. He stands accused of killing 17 Afghan villagers in a shooting spree last month.

    I know it’s fun for journalists to connect Bales to all kinds of things (including the possible scourge of violent sufferers of TBI and PTSD covered by Danger Roo…I think this kind of coverage is just peachy, apparently), but his presence there had nothing to do with his being part of a VSO team. I submit Exhibit A in that regard:

    Bales wasn’t part of any VSO team, but his unit was providing security for a VSO site.

    I know, weak sauce on my part. That’s cuz I have Exhibit B, this time from CNN

    The senior defense official said he is an infantry sniper trained to fire fatal shots from up to 800 meters (yards) away, and was assigned to an outpost near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar to support a Special Forces unit, according to a second military official who asked not to be named because of the investigation.

    Still weak, perhaps…it does say he’s there to ‘support,’ which could mean a lot of things. So I’ll reference Danger Room, which might cause me actual physical pain: 

    The alleged shooter was not one of those elite forces. Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, told CNN on Monday that the sergeant was assigned instead to guard Belamby.

    Unfortunately, that’s referencing the CNN article, so that’s circular. 

    But this is clear: Bales was not put into the site. Rather, Bales was supporting the site. 

    Having conventional forces provide security (and other support) for special operations forces has been part of the war on terror playbook ever since it was cool to say “extraordinary rendition.” In fact that kind of activity pre-dates 9/11 considerably.

    Everyone who’s spent any time in uniform has stories about that part of wherever they’re based that’s populated by those-who-shall-not-be-named. 

    Elite units aren’t always equipped to secure their base of operations as well as conduct those operations that get them the cred they richly deserve (and some of the hype that they don’t.) 

    Plus, it makes it really hard to be somewhat covert and all special-like if there’s a FOB or base that’s just yours. 

    They also rely on conventional forces to do a lot of other things, which Dozier does note: 

    U.S. commanders would seek to keep the same number of defense intelligence troops in country to feed data to the smaller force and would also rely heavily on the CIA for intelligence, while an as-yet-undetermined number of conventional forces would provide everything from air to logistical support to keep all the special operations teams running, officials said.

    While I would agree that the VSO (like just about every other program being implemented here in Afghanistan) expanded too quickly to be supported, and while there are instances where conventional forces are being called to conduct training operations traditionally the purview of the Special Forces, it seems fairly evident that this was not true in the case of SSG Bales.

    Granted, my evidence to support this is tenuous and based on a whole 5 minutes worth of Google research. But then, I’m not yet another reporter bent on connecting the Bales’ aberration to some kind of larger statement about failed policies in Afghanistan.  

Sunny in Kabul

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