Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Road to Hell is Paved......

Sarobi, Afghanistan
French Patrol, Afghanistan

French Soldiers

Michael Yon has a new post describing his latest adventure in Afghanistan. His story reads like something Kipling would have written as he traveled what Yon describes as the Wilds.

His story begins:

The Wilds, Afghanistan

Since leaving the British embed, I’ve gone unilateral. I flew back and forth between Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, drove around and talked with people down south, then flew up to Kabul. In Kabul, I met Tim Lynch and Shem Klimiuk (a retired USMC and ex-Aussie paratrooper, respectively), and we drove in an unarmored truck east to Jalalabad. The canyon-filled drive would be dangerous even if there was no war, but there is a war – a rapidly growing one — and Tim pointed out burnt spots on the road where ambushes had occurred. I was unarmed, and counting on the military experience of my two guides as well as their combined seven years experience in Afghanistan. In the weeks that I would spend with Tim and Shem, we drove more than a thousand miles up and down Afghan roads without the slightest drama, except that Tim scares me with his driving. If you are rich and want the adventure of a lifetime, contact Tim Lynch. You might die. But if you live, you’ll come back with a new perspective on Afghanistan.

His travels took him and his companions to the spot where ten French soldiers were killed in an ambush in August.

On our first trip, we drove from Kabul to Jalalabad. The road passes through a village called Sarobi. Sarobi has become known as the place where ten French soldiers were killed on 18 August, 2008, although they were not actually killed in Sarobi, but near Sper Kundy. The French soldiers were on a reconnaissance patrol in the Uzbin Valley, about 40 kilometers east of Kabul. At approximately 15:00 local time, they were spread out over a steep slope and started taking fire from the ridges above. The gunfire was fierce and accurate. After 90 minutes, the French vehicles ran out of ammunition, and they abandoned a counterattack. They fought for four hours without reinforcements, which were slow to come because the French troops lost radio contact and could not call in air support or reinforcements

Yon manages to come face to face with the enemy and describes it.

And so the meeting began. The man on the left said his name is Mohamood Farooq, and the man on the right identified himself as Abdul Samad. Both of them were from Sper Kundy. Mohamood said he was “Taliban,” while Abdul claimed he was not. In fact, Abdul said he hated the Taliban. Mohamood Farooq is also the name of a Taliban commander whose family had recently been killed in an airstrike that was targeting Farooq but missed. Apparently this was a different Farooq because I asked about his family and he said his family was fine.
It was Ramadan and there was white on Abdul’s lower lip that looked like salt from dehydration. Z, the interpreter, said he was so thirsty he could drink a lake. Mohamood and Abdul were respectful and direct. I did not sense that these men would try to harm us. I sensed they only wanted to tell their side of the story.

Abdul said that the villagers had liked the French and the Americans before the fighting, but now they hated them. Abdul called himself the Malik of Sper Kundy, meaning the head man. Mohamood and Abdul both said they were teachers. Abdul taught math and English. Abdul said he was from the Sahak tribe, and both men were Pashtun (the largest ethnic and linguistic group in Afghanistan). Abdul pointed out that there were no Taliban in Sper Kundy, which contradicted Mohamood who teaches in the same school and claimed on sidebar to Z to be Taliban. Abdul said there was Taliban in neighboring villages, though. Abdul said that about 350 families live in Sper Kundy for a total of about 1,200 people, which seemed like a small population for so many families.

I asked them to describe the fighting with the French.

Yon's report is filled with photos taken of the men he met and of pictures taken by the Taliban of their spoils of war, French weapons and uniforms stripped from the dead.

Michael pays tribute to the French soldiers who came to our aid, just as American forces came to France's aid in two wars. He then offers his gut instinct of where the Afghanistan War is headed.

Is this war winnable? I don’t know, but my gut instinct is that Afghanistan/Pakistan will devolve into something worse than Iraq ever was.

Afghanistan is considered “The Good War” only by people who don’t realize (or refuse to acknowledge) how difficult the situation is. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And that seems to be the road we’re on in Afghanistan.

But for the moment, let’s forget geopolitics, and remember the soldiers who gave their lives not just for their country, or Afghanistan, but also for us.

Americans love to visit the beaches of Normandy and pay tribute to their countrymen who died for France. Well, here are the names of the ten French soldiers who were lost in combat on 18 August 2008, in a battle for Uzbin Valley. They, too, deserve our gratitude and respect.

Take the time to read Michaels report and reflect on the road ahead.
The Road to Hell


pavocavalry said...

i have always taken a dip in sarobi on way from torkham to kabul with my afghan guards reinforced with a lot of on my blog....about the french ambush in sarobi i did write a piece :--

26 August, 2008
The French Ambushed at Sarobi,French Faux Pas,Mini Dien Bien Phu,A.H Amin,French Army,NATO,Afghanistan,Ambush,Guerrilla Warfare,A.H Amin,Agha Amin

The French Ambushed at Sarobi

Agha H Amin

According to a press report " The French soldiers were on a reconnaissance mission when they were ambushed by a force of about 100 militants in the mountains of Sarobi. France's top military official, Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, said most of the French casualties came in the minutes after the soldiers ascended a mountain pass. Al Jazeera reported the Taliban movement had confirmed attacking an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patrol in the district, blowing up several vehicles. According to French Defense Minister, Herve Morin, 30 militants were killed and 30 wounded. (Refers Weiterf├╝hrende links).

The funny albeit ironic part was Sarkozy telling the soldiers that military procedures would be altered to prevent similar losses in the future. "Even though the toll is so high, you should be proud of what you are doing. The work that you're doing here is indispensable," the president told the troops, "we're gong to make sure that the means are put in place to ensure that this doesn't happen again."

According to AFP Ten French NATO soldiers were killed in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday, the deadliest ground attack on foreign troops here since the US-led war was launched in 2001.The shock ambush also left 21 French troops wounded, and prompted French President Nicolas Sarkozy to announce he would immediately head to the country, where recent monthly death tolls for foreign forces have topped those for Iraq.

"In its struggle against terrorism, France has just been hit hard." That actually was the aim of the group which attacked the French in Sarobi region after all !

According to the same AFP report "The initial patrol was reinforced with quick reaction forces, close air support and mobile medical teams. During the engagement a large number of insurgents were killed," ISAF said."There was fierce fighting throughout the night," said Afghan defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, who said at least 13 Taliban fighters had been killed in the clashes.The extremist Taliban said it had attacked ISAF troops in Sarobi and blown up several vehicles. "We have inflicted heavy casualties," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told AFP.

The above is routine press gimmicks which can be written sitting in the comfort of the AFP press residence in Kabul's posh Wazir Akbar Khan district . As a regular traveler on this road the ambush struck me as unique and deliberate.Having traveled on this road at least 15 times in a month at all times , day and night , my first conclusion was that this was an unusual occurrence.Since I have employed guards who hail from one of the most notorious side valleys of the main Kabul River i.e the Tagab Valley my mind immediately traveled to Alasay district of Tagab region in Kapisa Province.I had frequently been in that area in the last few months in the process of confirm or disregarding my hypotheses of recommending the CASA 1000 transmission line route from Jabal us Siraj to Sarobi via Nijrab and Tagab.What I saw in the survey was horrifying.Tagab was the hub of insurgents.Traditionally Safi , a very important Pashtun tribe of Afghanistan have led many major tribal revolts in Afghanistan for many 100 years.They produced die hard Khalqi leftists, and that includes my guards and staff,they produced diehard Hizb e Islami Hikmatyarites and they produced die hard Talibs.My respect for Safis led to my decision to have only Safis with me on all my consultancy tasks in Afghanistan.They were good in work,in smoking joints, in drinking Tuborg beer or Grants Whiskey and any major or minor voice,you name it.As good Muslims they prayed regularly although maintaining regularity in being my booze companions.They were solid as steel under fire and cool as ice in face of the direst straits.My gut feeling after reading press reports was the conclusion that this was the work of the Safis of Tagab and more particularly those of Alasay district.Masters in minor tactics , classic guerrilla warriors the Safis were the backbone of the pre 1978 and post 1978 Afghan Army and particularly prominent in special forces.Many defected to the hireling Mujahids but with conviction , while many contributed to Afghanistan's revolution by participation in the army and in various key ambassadorial posts like Moscow had a Safi Afghan Ambassador in the leftist regime period in Afghanistan.I must add that my bootlegger the indomitable Barroo , a diehard Khalqi and ex Afghan Khad Intelligence , trained at Kiev and Tashkent , is also a Safi.I can never repay his generosity in giving me many cases of good stuff on loan when my bills were stuck up for many months.

It may be noted that Tagab and Alasay the two Safi districts of Kapisa Province have a strong Talib as well as Hekmatyars Hizb e Islami presence . So who did it is 50-50 and the two could have even combined to do it.After all there is no love between Taliban and Hekmatyar and the French.The Taliban cannot forgive the French for Daisy cutting themn withn over four tons of meat slicer bombs operating from Manas Airbase in 2001 and 2002.Hikmatyar will never forgive the French for loving Ahmad Shah Massoud his nemesis.

There is one thing about France and Frenchman in Afghanistan which makes their presence in Pashtun areas particularly vulnerable.Its their fame or infamy in having been very close to the late and great Ahmad Shah Massoud.In Taliban propaganda particularly the French were regarded as allies of Non Pashtun against Pashtuns.Although important to my mind this was not the main cause of the French faux pas at Sarobi !

Having worked on USAID projects in Helmand and Ghazni I studied many ambushes but this ambush was unique.It had that immaculate tactical perfection which only a Safi can execute.A coup de clat as the French may like to admit it.Tagab provided the best approach to Sarobi . Logar's Azra area being the second best route and Lataband route being the southern entry point.

I came to know the French while visiting Camp Escerito as a sub contractor.Compared to Italians and Greeks my first impression was that they carried themselves with an air of arrogance and superiority.I could be wrong but this was the impression.This made me decide to avoid the French . My friend the Pakistani liasion officer with the Americans at Bagram also agreed that the French were a little arrogant although not bad company when you came to know them.Although my military history hero was Napoleon.But then again he was an Italian Corsican more than a French.It was Frances luck that Napoleon was French or came to be a Frenchman despite having been initially Paoli the Corsican separatists disciple.

In March 2008 I received an engineer visitor from Pakistan.He told me that he had been searched in a very crude and aggressive way by French troops at the Pul I Charkhi checkpoint on Sarobi Kabul road near Kabul.He also lamenIt was at that time that I discovered that the French were patrolling this stretch of the country.As all who have lived in Afghanistan know all NATO countries have different armoured cars .Thats how they are recognized.Plus they have a flag also painted on the armoured cars.The locals of Sarobi Kabul must have noticed the fact that the Americans have been replaced by French with change in type of armoured cars.The French were targeted on this road.There are no coincidences in history.The Americans got a bloody nose in Tagab many times but never on the main Kabul Sarobi Road.

The incident is significant because foreign security forces have been targeted on the main economic lifeline of Afghanistan and the NATO/US forces.This makes this incident appear very deliberate.A message was intended and delivered with the crack of hot lead.Thats why the French mini Waterloo at Sarobi is a watershed.As an ex soldier I am terribly hurt when a civilian politician tries to wet nurse soldiers and that too about tactics ! The French fought well , my Afghan sources tell me ! The Safis once again proved their tactical brilliance ! But its not Sarkozy's business to rub salt in the wounds of his soldiers.It is my conviction that this remark must have hurt the French soldiers more than all bullets fired by the indomitable Safis in anger !
Posted by pavocavalry at 4:51 PM
Labels: A.H Amin, Afghanistan, Agha Amin, Ambush, French Army, Guerrilla Warfare, NATO, The French Ambushed at Sarobi
Zeemax said...
Very informative. Interestingly I had never heard of Safi Afghans before.

August 27, 2008 3:22 AM
pavocavalry said...
they are the pride of Afghans , Ghiljai branch of Pashtuns,regardless of their party they are formidable.but what do the psuedo journalists,these europeans and americans know about all this,they dare not leave kabul and go where the action is ! my dear we have footed this entire tract with no big badges on our shoulders ! these french are not the french of napoleons time after all !

August 27, 2008 8:11 PM
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historyguy99 said...

Thanks for the interesting comment Pavocavalry.

Your prospective compliments Yon's report.

pavocavalry said...

i first visited afghanistan in 1970 to visit was full of hippies , all europeans , camping at will and no one attacked them.....and then when the april revolution took place a war was started against the de facto regime of afghanistan...the pakistani government joined for money and to get legitimacy for the bastard child military regime...the saudis joined so as to provide a distraction to its growing islamist threat..the USA to avenge vietnam ...all started before the soviet invasion in the carter at that time the best weapon any one here had was a . its a far cry .....islam militarised thanks to the CIA and ISI and the Saudis.....the scenario far more complex.....and now non state actors pushing state actors to a lower when i ask the afghans how they compare the soviets with the americans hear what they say :--

1-no heavy bulky body armour
2-mixing with people...sharing chocolates with them
3-engaged in building housing apartments while americans make strategic roads

tailpiece:-- in all contracts in afghanistan the sub contractors have some link with talibans in pashtun area....i had clinics from Louis Burger in 2004 in Helmand and all my sub contractors in an NGO called RDA were taliban...the NGOs owner was an afghan the missing link.....with links to drug mafia the al qaeda will become and is becoming more and more deadly ....and travel in a 400 ton launch from gwadar to somalia and u cannot count the morphia paste carrying launches and dhows.....the financial chain of hawala transfers is unbroken and all this led my american friend doug scherer a second secretary in kabul to conclude :"" my seniors in the state department are w_____t p_______s

Zeemax said...


Further to my comment quoted above, it was reported in a documentary on FATA by Talat Hussain that Safi is a prominent tribe in Mohmand Agency of FATA, and the local Taliban Commander (Sher Bahadur?) is a Safi.