Showing posts with label cold war. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cold war. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Book Review: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

Ghost Wars took a long time for me to read. Somewhere around 5 years actually. Some time at Ft Benning, it seems like a lifetime ago, I purchased this book then started reading it. Got about a third of the way through then lost interest. Put the book aside on the shelf.

Not too long ago I picked the book back up. This time I had a much better understanding of Afghanistan from reading various books and such as well as real life experience. Also I am a touch older and just maybe more patient. Anyway I finished the book yesterday.

This book starts in the end of the Soviet Afghan War. It goes into great lengths discussing the intertwined, hypocritical and generally dysfunctional relationships between the CIA, their Afghan "Warlord" partners, Pakistan, Pakistani Intelligence, the Arab gulf states particularly Saudi Arabia and Osama Bin Laden. It goes through how this combination of more or less cooperative forces ultimately defeated the Afghan Communists (though one could argue what defeated them was Russian aid ending but I digress) then created a coalition government then fell into civil war and total chaos. Ultimately this lead to the rise of the Taliban then Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda element arrived. It also touches on the rise of modern fundamentalist terrorism as it related to the rest of the story. To the usual format.

The Good: Very informative. It also covers a period in Afghanistan's recent history that is easy to gloss over. The period after the Soviet Afghan war is admittedly easy to miss but it lead to the rise of the Taliban then 9/11 which lead to our misadventures in Afghanistan. I got a ton out of this book. A real understanding of how many things came to be. Through understanding it really cleared up a lot about the period after 9/11.

The Bad: While it would be difficult to talk about all of these topics separately and I suppose the generally chronological method of the book makes sense but it left the reader jumping from Washington DC on one page to Saudi Arabia on the next then back to an Afghan hovel. It got a bit hard to follow at times. Also this is not a book for a beginner on the topic. To read this book you need a pretty decent understanding of Afghan history in general and the Soviet Afghan War to make much sense out of this book.

The Ugly: This book is long and dry, really long and really dry. The book (not notes) was just under 500 pages. It is a fairly large book with small font so it probably reads like closer to 600.

While it is informative the book is pretty darn dry. Even being interested in the topic I had a hard time digging through the book. There were parts where it picked up but it probably averaged slightly more interesting than a college Algebra text.

Overall Assessment: If you can manage to slog through it this book does offer value. It would probably be the 4th or 5th book I would recommend a person read about Afghanistan if they were sufficiently interested. However you definitely have to work to get it. Most people would probably be better off putting their time and money into a book that is easier to read.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thoughts on Insurgencies- What Made the Mujahedeen Successful

Thoughts on Insurgencies- What Made The Mujahedeen Successful?
I am going to try to discuss some of the reasons the Mujahedeen were so successful in Afghanistan against the Soviet’s. Some might draw parallels to the US experience here and I would say they have a case in some areas, though not in others. In no particular order here we go.
•    Rural Afghan’s are, particularly in the South and East of the country, strongly tribal in nature and very militaristic. When not fighting outsiders the tribes seem to, almost without exception, fight each other. It is about the closest thing to a cultural pastime as this country has.
•    They started out reasonably trained in small unit and individual tactics. Why, well I think consistent tribal warfare is the answer. This was probably the most helpful in the beginning because if you take anybody and toss them into a guerilla war after a year, should they be alive, they have some skills and knowledge.
•    They fought to their strengths and as such avoided their enemy’s strengths. Knowledge of local terrain coupled with hitting weak targets and vanishing worked pretty well. It helps when you can use the same hill Grandpa used to fight the British coming along the same road. This leads back to my last comment about training and knowledge.
•    Physical fitness. Between their rough lifestyle, reliance on foot transportation, moderate calorie intake and lack of medical care (that meant the sick and crippled were either useless in the village or dead) Afghan’s of military age were physically fit. They could haul butt up the side of a mountain carrying a medium machine gun after an ambush and leave the soviet’s panting at the bottom.

 [In my opinion physical fitness is the most lacking trait of American militia/ guerilla wanna be’s (I don’t mean “wanna be” in a derogatory way, just that since we don’t have a guerilla war going on it is kind of just a self imposed label instead of a title). Seriously if these guys spent half as much time exercising as they do arguing about what pouches to have on load out gear or which rifle to use in internet forum’s they would be much better off. I get particular amusement when somebody who is a disgusting fat body and probably hasn’t ran a whole mine this year talks about being a “light fighter” and using “hit and run tactics”. Many of these individuals are good, well meaning people and I probably poke too much fun. I hope that if any of them read this instead of taking it personal they look inward. If this side rant is hitting too close to home I recommend that you get onto a reasonable but ambitious physical fitness program and exercise some self control at meal time to get into fighting shape. ]

•    A proliferation of small arms, particularly rifles. Every military aged male did not have a rifle but a heck of a lot of them did. Eventually they started capturing weapons and getting them shipped in by foreign backers but for awhile it was just rural Afghan’s and their rifles.
•    A cohesive and resolute group vision. Rural Afghan life is very traditional and tribal, especially in the Pastun areas to the South and East, and its values stood in stark contrast to what the Afghan communists and their Soviet backers sought to impose. They were, and the Soviets never quite got this, absolutely unwilling to compromise and would rather just fight.
•    There are probably more but a couple of these are already more generic of all guerillas than is my intent. Now let us not forget the two factors which had a massive impact on events and were largely outside of the Muj’s control.
•    Safe haven’s. In particular the ability to seek medical treatment, shelter their families, train, plan and recover in Pakistan had a direct and immeasurable effect on the war. The Soviet’s launched a few rockets and probably a few raids but in the big picture the Muj were safe to recover and plan in Pakistan and parts of Iran.
•    Outside Aid. Despite some fantasy ideas to the contrary it is difficult to keep a force fielded without feeding and equipping them. While guerilla logistics are pretty simple and light they still need weapons, bullets to shoot, explosives and food to eat. Being able to keep at least part (this improved as the war progressed) of their force through the whole fighting season was essential to building up cohesive organizations and conducting significant operations. Even if you want them really bad guns, food and bullets don’t just appear. Also as these wars go on for years stocking enough of anything except maybe shoe laces to get you through one is wishful thinking.
•    A long term vision. In a sound bite and paragraph quote world they thought in terms of seasons and years. The Muj were never going to win in a sense where they militarily forced the Russians out. They could however continually make it uncomfortable for the Russians to be here (I am in Afghanistan as I write this, oh irony) until their government decided it was time to throw in the towel.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Random Thoughts on Pistols and Reality

Blogs die regularly. Folks get tired of posting or otherwise move onto other things. I sure miss Hermit's writing and in my last updating of the links page Sgt Jarhead's now defunct blog got deleted. He was nice enough to leave a comment saying he was done blogging but will pop in now and then. I sure appreciated that. However on the bright side new blogs also pop up. If I was sappy I would compare it to the circle of life. In any case I am really enjoying Arctic Patriot.

Yesterday Arctic Patriot paraphrased the old quote "a pistol is only good for fighting your way back to the rifle you shouldn't have left in the first place" in a comment here. I am not going to say that the quote isn't catchy (sure I've said it at least once in some context or another) or the idea isn't sound. However if we lookat it the idea, while sound, just doesn't work in the real world. For example if I knew that when leaving Applebees at 1905 next Saturday evening two men with guns would try to rob Wifey and I a rifle would be a handy thing to have. Then again I would also like AWT on station, a sniper section in overwatch, a mechanized Infantry platoon to conduct the assault supported by a pair of M1 Abrams tanks, a thousand pound IED on the spot where the robbers are going to wait, and to watch the whole thing play out on the little screen in my Bradley. Clearly that would be total overkill but fighting fair is for children and idiots, plus I don't pick up the tab for munitions. More realistically if I was forwarned about the pair of robbers with handguns instead of bringing a folding stock AK and wearing body armor to go get buffalo wings and a tall Coors Light draft at Applebees; we would instead choose to avoid the situation by getting Pad Thai a few miles away or maybe ordering a pizza and staying home.

The issue is that we don't know when something bad is going to happen. Violent criminals don't make appointments any more than the stomach flu or worn automobile parts do. We do our best to be prepared and deal with these things when they appear. Also open carrying rifles are verboden in many areas and in the ones where it is legal folks generally don't do it. In rural America seeing somebody walking down a road with a rifle during deer season is pretty normal. However I haven't seen a single AK in a grocery store even in the red blooded gun toting PNW or the deep South. For that matter I haven't seen a shotgun in a McDonalds or Starbucks either. Legally and or culturally carrrying long guns while conducting everyday affairs just isn't an option.

Even if you are out in the sticks, on a farm or 'retreat' pistols are the weapon which will not be left in a gun cabinet, truck or barn. Though you could in theory carry whatever long guns get in the way during chores, work and everyday life. Try to carry a rifle while feeding animals, stacking hay, etc. It just doesn't work. Pistols are, for better or worse what we are left with as a defensive weapon when outside of our home. Like calling the cops, by the time you get to the gun safe/ closet/ trunk to grab your favorite rifle one way or another you won't need it any more.

I used to think that a shotgun was a good first weapon. I liked that idea because they are affordable, versatile and within their envelope of performance pretty darn effective. However the issue I failed to see clearly is that it is pretty hard to discretely answer the front door with a shotgun or take it to the corner store for milk. While the shotgun is great for a lot of things it will inevitably be left in a closet or trunk while I pistol can be with you. A gun that can be with you only part of the time probably isn't a very good choice as your only gun.

Pistols are pretty crappy weapons. Since they are small and light they relatively difficult to shoot well and have weak little bullets. The gallows joke (Q: what is the first thing someone does after getting shot with a handgun? A: Whatever they were doing before they got shot.) is more true than most folks want to admit. However REALITY is that if you want to have a firearm on you during the course of your everyday life, in the city, the suburbs, a small town or way out in the sticks it will almost without exception be a pistol. REALITY is that unless you are at home or your business where you keep a long gun ready to go (as you should) if you get into a gunfight a pistol is what you will have to defend yourself with.

I am certainly not saying you shoudln't own or train with shortguns and rifles. They have a very valuable role in home defense and darker scenarios. What I am saying is that like it or not a pistol is what you are far more likely to actually use in a fight. I am also saying to put some thought into the pistol you choose to carry and train and practice regularly. It might save your life.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Random Thoughts On Fitness, Finances and Life

I wish people would realize that if your body doesn't work you don't have jack squat. My current sickness has been a big reminder of this. No matter what preparations I had made when I was down for the count it didn't matter at all. People who try to do all sorts of great stuff but have significantly limiting medical issues that are at least slightly lifestyle based are missing the point. They can have all the pre positioned supplies and skills but without the functional use of their body it is all for not. Instead of working to shoot a squirrel in the butt at 800 meters work on being able to maneuver wearing full kit. Instead of focusing on (while wonderful) redundant food storage and production capabilities think about being able to carry a pair of 5 gallon buckets full of food up the stairs from the basement.

Common sense says most people aren't 25-30 with perfectly healthy bodies. Of course if you are older or have some injuries or whatnot it isn't easy. However you must be brutally honest to figure out what sort of conditions and past injuries you can improve upon. Many "pre existing conditions" and "life long injuries" are miraculously cured by moderating your caloric intake (particularly fat and booze), exercising regularly and getting to a reasonable body weight.

Without the capability to use your body you are screwed plain and simple. Do whatever you can to improve or keep that capacity.

As for money today. It seems that things are just sorta slogging along. The boat has a slow leek that the bilge pumps can keep up with and the engines are making nasty sounds but still working. No clear and definite stuff seems to be happening, certainly not positive stuff. Some ominous things that could be bad but like anything else if you look hard enough for it you will find something. I think a lot of us look that hard and claim it as clear indicators that doom is days away.

Unemployment is high and shows no signs of getting better. Business owners and corporations are scared that some crazy regulation is coming down the pike (it may well be) so they are staying lean and holding cash instead of putting it back into operations. As this is not likely to change soon I don't expect the unemployment situation to improve dramatically for some time.

However despite all the gloom and doom we read and often pass on most folks are still working and all that jazz. As for what to do I think a lot of common sense personally conservative stuff still applies. Your mortgage/ property taxes or rent payment aren't going away. Sorry but lets be real. It makes sense to try and get out of debt because even if inflation may be looming increased costs of everything, inflation (arguably the same thing but you know what I mean) and potential future job losses may make those somewhat cheaper dollars harder to get.

Even if you are fortunate (don't believe the hype 9.5% unemployment [we could discuss the validity and significance of reported unemployment numbers but lets just rock with it for this discussion] means 91.5% of people are employed) enough to keep your current income there is a real likelihood that not so long from now it will buy significantly less. Maybe you will keep the exact same income and it will buy less or maybe your income will drop a bit, who knows. Think about what you would do if you lost 10, 20 or even 30 percent purchasing power.

Maybe you want to live cheaper now to get ready for what may come but darn sure you want to have the capacity to live cheaper pretty darn quick. It is easy to buy steak and shrimp this week then beans n rice next week, particularly if you are used to producing and consuming decent tasting food from cheap staples. Same thing with going out to a fancy night on the town this week and having a DVD at home next week. However it is a lot harder to ditch the payment on the new fancy car you need to get to work, the Visa bill or heaven forbid a home you can't really afford. If by good choices and some luck you are still in a comfortable position by all means enjoy the benefits of it. I am not classist and don't begrudge you anything. Just saying that it is good to be in a position where you can drastically (I think a 30% change in purchasing power would be pretty darn drastic) change your normal operating expenses.

Personally we can eat pretty decently with good healthy food we are used to eating for very little money. Also I am working on home brewing which helps.  I love Chimay but it is expensive even in the best of times. I can have good quality beer for less than the cheapest commercially produced stuff which is pretty cool.

We have a house guest right now. Wifey's Vice Sister who will hereby be referred to as  Miley came to help out for awhile when Walker comes. Interestingly enough her father has been our only other house guest in Germany to date. Other then the realization that I can't walk to or from the shower naked (well I could but it would be sorta awkward) it is cool. Wifey has really enjoyed her presence while I was gone and is just ecstatic that she is here.  She has said before that she needs a wife and proclaimed earlier today that Miley is filling that role nicely. Though I have spent a good amount of time around Miley it is always at those busy family things where there are a ton of people and lots of stuff going on. I am enjoying being able to hang out with her in a less hectic situation.

Anyway back to the point somehow we got to talking about gold yesterday. It occurred to me that we have at least theoretically (since it doesn't pay dividends or benefit from compound inflation and we aren't going to sell it) we have made good money on the gold we purchased a couple years ago. Not a couple points or an above average 10 percent but about 70 percent. We could sell and have done far better than we would have anywhere else over the same period of time. Heck I ordered some silver about a month ago and the price has gone up a couple bucks an ounce since then. I think there is money to be made right now if you have the cash and some tolerance for risk. Personally I have a bit of cash and a decent tolerance for risk, if just because my investment time line is so long.

I think in a way this whole economic crisis is good for us. It is kind of good for America at large because hopefully it will remind people to live in a reasonable fashion somewhere below their means and save a bit for the future instead of being in some sort of home equity/ credit based drunken orgy of consumer spending. Furthermore I think it is good for survivalist/ preppers to learn or be reminded that we need to be realistic and prepare for numerous likely scenarios as well as stockpiling bulk grains and semi automatic rifles. The sort of cold war era/ Y2K preparations that skip all kinds of likely issues and goes strait to Mad Max modern world is gone and we're all killing each other over Krispix thinking is seriously and fatally flawed. A reminder to also cover the more realistic bases is a good thing.

I am bored of writing for tonight. Going to drink a glass of water and have some home made pizza then go to bed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Knives and Guns

I have been meaning to get back to a couple of posts and it seems like as good a time as any to do it.

From the EDC Knives Post:

I should have known this one would get a bunch of comments. Most folding knives in the general range I am talking about cost between $35 and $100 which is an amount that lends itself toward a lot more experimentation than $500+ for guns. Thanks a ton for the input.

Wrote Spyderco an email today. I have been a long time user of their products buying 4 knives (to the best I can recall) from them over the course of about a decade and it seems a shame to leave that sort of relationship on a sour note. If they will make it right I will give them another shot. Good customer service gets my loyalty and overshadows whatever else happened. 

Also noted that they switched their clip design away from that crappy rivet thing in favor of multiple bolts going into steel holes.

I am pondering the purchase of a Cold Steel knife. I own one of their amazing though expensive Kukri's and few of their other random fixed blade knives hanging around and have never had a bad experience with them. A large tanto point Voyager with the 50/50 blade might just be the ticket.

On the Two Guns for an Unknown Scenario post:
First of all I should have titled it two guns not rifle and pistol as that was sort of an assumption everyone would choose a rifle and a pistol as I did. Most everyone chose a rifle and a pistol for some very good reasons but a few folks went in other directions. Also most folks picked mag fed auto loaders for both rifle and pistol but a few folks went in other directions.

As Anon 4:39 said more or less I didn't ask you to criticise my choices and I am not going to criticize any of yours. For the vast majority I nodded my head in a maybe not my choice but I can totally see the thinking behind it sort of way.

Thanks a lot for participating in this and making it fun instead of getting into some tired dogmatic arguments. 

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Fall of the Wall

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember it on the nightly news when I was a kid. Not well but guys standing on a big concrete wall with sledge hammers and a lot of people who were all happy and stuff. I think the impact of the Cold War (certainly best symbolized by the Wall itself) upon Germany is at least to those in my approximate generation completely under rated.

To me prior to coming here if you had to list things which were significant and involved Germany you would mention the World Wars, and Beer and maybe David Hasselhoff. Specifically I tended to focus in on WWII and The whole attempted takover of the world and genocide bit. I think elements of those things are significant but less so than the Cold War.

I say this because the effects of the Cold War were more significant and longer lasting. Yeah Germany tried to get a bigger piece of the colonial pie which Britain, France and to a far lesser degree Spain had pretty much divided amongst themselves. They pretty much took over Europe for awhile and killed a whole bunch of Jews, Gypsies and other folks. However not that long after the war their situation in relation to the war wasn't that different from that of their neighbors on both sides. A whole generation of young men were pretty much gone, lots of innocent people were dead and the national infrastructure was wrecked. The story of a German woman was probably not that different from that of a Belgian woman or a French woman. Times were hard, her sons went off and some or all of them died, for times food and fuel was limited and things generally sucked. At some point there was some bombing or shelling in the area and at some point strange young men in weird uniforms occupied the area and may or may not have done some bad stuff.

The one thing which makes Germany's national experience vis a vi WWII different is a broad sense of national shame. They let a real asshat gain power and then their country tried to take over Europe and killed a whole shit ton of people. The jewel in their crown of guilt is the holocaust. However the way this is expressed is in a sense of real reluctance at wide military action which for different reasons (mainly the shell shock of loosing a huge part of two whole generations of young men) pretty much all of Europe has.

Attempting to disconnect WWII and the Cold War into discrete events is something of a tenuous operation but not entirely undoable if some imagination is used. The war on the Eastern Front (Russia vs Germany) could well have gone differently (more that it could have gone slower for the Ruskies not so much the end result) or the Allies could have moved a little faster and Germany would have been left to recover and rebuild from the war with out a bunch of commies waiting to storm through the Fulda Gap. Interesting what if's aside the two issues can be somewhat seperated.

A good comparison for how Germany rebuilt after the war would be Japan.

It is almost impossible to imagine a country being suddenly cut in half with almost no travel (at least for average folks) in between. The image is particularly stark when you consider Berlin being cut into pieces. Your Mom lives across town, too bad maybe you can see her in a few decades.

To make the contrast between West and East Germany all the more distinct one side got massive aid to rebuild and the other got systematically stripped of anything useful and was run down. The West generally was a decent place to live and the East was not so nice by really any measurable criteria I can think of.

While Germany could have recovered from the war within the time it takes to age a good Burbon the Cold War lasted about 45 years depending on which events you count or where you were. I would submit that Germany is still feeling the after effects of reunification. The East has far higher unemployment and hasn't generally caught up to the developed and productive Western part of the country.

This quote really sums it up best " It was expected that stronger growth would begin reducing the numbers of unemployed by 1995 and that Germany would return to its postwar path toward prosperity. But the absorption of eastern Germany, and the methods by which it had been accomplished, had exacted a high price throughout all of Germany." I would submit that this price is still being felt.

In any case the damn commies (not to be confused with our kind though slightly stern Social Democrat allies:) lost which is always a good thing. 

Saturday, June 6, 2009

This Interested Me

A perspective on Afghanistan, the Taliban, Pakistan and the region in general by an ISI Colonel who spent the 80's supervising and training the Muj and the 90's 'advising' the Taliban. Can not say I agree entirely with everything in the article but it is a very interesting read none the less. The Colonel makes a lot of good points with accurate (if slightly cherry picked) historical references. It could also be true to say that his perspective is not exactly objective. In any case I got something out of this and you might also.

I have spent way too much time on here this weekend.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Thousand Dollars And A Thousand Shells

Somehow the most interesting pieces of family information come out in those wonderful talks that only occus over drinks well into the evening. We were loosely on the topic of preps since Sister #1 meantioned wanting to get a big gun safe and maybe a shotgun. Apparantly my Great Grandfather had a saying that a home should have a thousand dollars in cash and a thousand shells. He figured with those two things you can get through about anything. Of course they had plenty of food (I'm sure) and the Columbia River withing 100 meters so they didn't want for water.

A thousand dollars in cash would purchase a lot more fourty or fifty years ago but it is still a nice round number that goes pretty far. A thousand shells is still a thousand shells. With a Marlin (1894?) 30-30, a Browning semi auto 12 gauge and a Remington Speedmaster Great Grandpa was well equipped for whatever life could throw at him. While his plan to hold off the Russians from the barn as they raced up the Columbia to sieze the Bonneville dam might have been optomistic that setup would deal well with a burglar or a couple ruffians.
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