Tag Kenny

Kenny in LA

My friend Kenny’s been back from his tours in Afghanistan for a while now. While he was there he sent me photos every now and then and I would post them on this blog. To close that series of posts I wanted to share these photos of Ken from a road trip he took to LA his friend Samimi took. They’re wonderful.

For a taste, compare the photo below to this one he sent me in 2010.

Redeployed: Afganland VI

My old friend Sgt. Butler redeployed to southern Afghanistan this summer. We’ve been in touch lately and he’s send me some great photos of the rural world he’s been living in and what exactly he’s been up to. We even got to video chat this week for almost and hour. It’s still surreal to be able to open a little portal from New York to Afghanistan so my sister and I could talk to Kenny as he ate his gross cafeteria dinner.

Kenny is in the part of the army they used to call PsyOps. That started sounding little too video-gamey so they changed it to the innocuous sounding “4th Military Information Support Operations Group” even though they do the same work they used to. And although I like to imagine Kenny participating in some Manchurian Candidate operation or dosing village water supplies with LSD he says what he actually does is pretty boring, “I watch TV and movies on my computer all day.” He would occasionally get assigned as an RG-33 driver when the Special Forces guys need to get Kabul. Kenny says:

The first time that I was put on a mission to drive I got in and told the truck commander, that’s the guy who sits shotgun and calls the shots, that I had never driven before he had me switch out with someone else. Then they just kept putting me on missions as the driver and eventually I just had to drive.

But lately his group has been focused on preparing to wrap up the bigger Afghanistan mission and that means training local police forces so they can take over when our army finally leaves. Ken sent these photos of some of the local police recruits. Check these dudes out!

Operation: Kenny’s Back Home

After long last Sgt. Butler is back home in Montana.

We celebrated, how else!, by heading up to Rimini for a little militia training. He taught Teal and I sling transfers, the proper Special Forces shooting stance, and how to rescue a hostage in a vehicle take down. The SF shooting stance is pretty ridiculous looking and feels awkward as hell. “Try it in the heat with body armor,” Kenny says. Apparently that’s worse.

Here’s the stance:
With your feet shoulder length apart and facing forward, bend deep at knees, and stick your butt out—way out—lean forward and hold your gun with your elbows up by your shoulders. You should look something like like the Mouse Trap Game diving man with a gun in his hands. It’s ridiculous looking, but surprisingly stable and it immediately improved my aim.

Teal (who keeps a delicious blog) has the Hipstamatic app on her phone and took these rad vintage looking photos. She also got to try out her brand new cap and ball revolver. (You can see it in the upper left photos.) It took forever to load and regularly misfired, but when it would shoot it made a terrifically satisfying cracking POP! and threw out a cloud of white smoke.


Don’t worry. We’re not really a militia, but I was curious about what Ken learned during some Special Forces training he received in Afghanistan. Ken and I have been shooting together forever, and despite of what it looks like in these photos, we’re very careful to be as safe as we know how to be. We’ve handled guns for many years and we only shot at the snow.

Christmas in Afganland

Merry Christmas from Afghanistan

Here’s a little Christmas card from Kenny who’s been stationed in Afghanistan since around August. There is Kenny, bating Santa with cookies and beer.

Christmas cards and stocking hung on the wall.  Announcements board and lots of food that people get sent to them and don’t want so they leave out for others to scavenge from at their leisure.

Also Kenny was promoted to Sergent a few days ago. When I asked if that was like an orange belt in karate, Kenny set me straight, “it is the lowest level leadership position on the enlisted side.”

Vae Victis: Afganland IV

In a recent e-mail exchange with Kenny, I asked him a few questions about this great lecture given by David Kilkullen. What really grabbed my attention in the hour long talk was his saying that 85-90% (that number seems astronomically high to me) of the insurgency in Iraq are not committed to the Taliban’s ideas and are fighting for very different reasons.

It was this fact that allowed them to be co-oped by U.S. interests. I knew about the efforts to co-opt with the payoffs the US made to locals in the past but wanted to know about how it is in Afghanistan, in 2010.

So I asked Kenny: Are pay-offs still going on where you are? What’s the picture of the place you’re in? Would you agree that 90% of the insurgents are non-committed?

This was his answer:

In Afghanistan, and especially in Pashtunistan, the Pashtun tribal belt that encompasses this area and across the border into Pakistan, family is the most important tie, next being tribe or sub-tribe. Outside of those immediate ties there is not much allegiance to ideology of any kind, including nationalism. Hence the problem of trying to create legitimacy of the Afghan government in the eyes of the provincials. So yes, people and clans can be co-opted or persuaded to change sides very easily. The problem becomes how to keep them on one side once the U.S. and NATO leave. So pay-offs are still used but not as much as they once were. Now we are trying to create a sense of legitimacy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Which is difficult but not impossible. The hard part will be to see if the Afghan government outlasts a U.S. presence. I am not sure that it will.

So to answer your question, no, I do not think that a majority of “Taliban” are motivated by ideology. In Afghanistan we call them enemy forces, or anti-Afghan forces. Because there is some awareness that these fighters are not necessarily Taliban. Many of them are criminals, ex-warlords, or drug smugglers. They used to all get wrapped up into the term Taliban, and still do I imagine, but like I said there is recognition now that many of the groups causing violence are not ideologically motivated but motivated by personal gain. So it is important to recognize who they are, as we should have been doing from the beginning of this mess. Fighting an insurgency is coincidentally very similar to fighting high rates of crime. You have to target them and respond to them in the same way.

Anyway, Kilcullen I imagine was talking mostly about Iraq where there was also a counterinsurgency. I’ll try to keep this brief as I see I went on and on already. In Iraq you had people motivated by pride and honor more so than ideology. So that when the U.S. killed an Iraqi, a family member was honor-bound to try and counteract that somehow or take revenge. Even if that didn’t mean killing a U.S. citizen or serviceman, what it meant was that the family member had to try, or make an appearance of trying to kill an American.

So here is an example:
U.S. gunfire or bombs dropped in Baghdad accidentally kill a civilian boy. That boy’s father or brother is now bound to attempt to exact some revenge. So a U.S. convoy drives by his house one day, he sees the opportunity and fires at the convoy. Maybe just firing on full automatic in the general direction of the convoy, maybe not even trying to intentionally kill a soldier or Marine. Just enough that he can be satisfied that he did something to avenge his dead brother/son. The Americans now mark that house as hostile to the U.S. and go back later and arrest everyone at that house and their neighbors. Thus an insurgency is born. This is what used to happen frequently in Iraq, however tactics have since changed due to the acknowledgment of such tactics ineffectiveness.

I couldn’t tell you if that is the case or not here in my particular area since there is little to no violence from any group, criminal or Taliban. At least not that we have seen. But like I said at the beginning I would guesstimate that Kilcullen is close. Most of these people just want to live quiet provincial lives and grow their crops. If one of their family members is killed it is very easy for the Taliban to co-opt them into doing something for them, whether it be reporting on U.S. presence or movement, or being a suicide bomber. Which is much easier to get them to do once an Afghan’s family member has accidentally been killed by U.S. forces, it hardly even qualifies at that point as being co-opted. That does not make them hard line Taliban or ideologically motivated. It makes them an upset father or brother whose family member was killed.