Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tale of Two Cities: Marja, Afghanistan & Hemet, California

I was overcome with a sense of irony of dramatic proportions today as I was reading two items from my limited print media at hand. I'll try to tie these two dots together.

The first came from a Newsweek cover story by Christian Miller, Mark Hosenball, and Ron Moreau Scandal in Afghanistan

It is an account of how America has spent more than $6 billion since 2002 in an effort to create an effective Afghan police force, buying weapons, building police academies, and hiring defense contractors to train the recruits. But the program has been a disaster. Fewer than 12 percent of the country's police units are capable of operating on their own. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the State Department's top representative in the region, has publicly called the Afghan police "an inadequate organization, riddled with corruption."

The worst of it is that the police are central to Washington's plans for getting out of Afghanistan. The success of America's counter insurgency strategy depends on the cops, who have greater contact with local communities than the Army does. The Afghan National Army (ANA) takes the turf, but it is the Afghan National Police (ANP) that has to hold the turf.


The U.S.-backed government in Kabul will never have popular support if it can't keep people safe in their own homes and streets. Yet in a United Nations poll last fall, more than half the Afghan respondents said the police are corrupt. Police commanders have been implicated in drug trafficking, and when U.S. Marines moved into the town of Aynak last summer, villagers accused the local police force of extortion, assault, and rape.

..... The public's distrust of the cops is palpable in the former insurgent stronghold of Marja. Village elders welcomed the U.S. Marines who recently drove out the Taliban, but told the Americans flatly they don't want the ANP to return. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who took over in November as chief of the U.S. program to expand and improve Afghanistan's security forces, says,
The people of Marja will tell you that one of their greatest fears was the police coming back. You constantly hear these stories about who was worse: the Afghan police that were there or the Taliban. This is not about seizing land or holding terrain; it's about the people. You have to have a police force that the people accept, believe in, and trust.
More than a year after Barack Obama took office, the president is still discovering how bad things are.

Okay, that's Marja, Afghanistan. What's the story in Hemet, California?

Well, it turns out that we have a case of counter insurgency (COIN) warfare going on right in my back yard, where a close relative is living. The Los Angeles Times reports on Hemet's Shadow War to the effect that,

For decades, Hemet was best known as a sleepy retirement community where dairy cows lolled in green fields and sprawling mobile home parks lined the streets. Elderly folks piloting oversized cars at 20 mph were considered more of a problem than gangsters and thugs.

Over the last few months, police have been stalked and attacked by what investigators believe is a gang eager to avenge the department's aggressive efforts to crack down on it.

Roadblocks have gone up behind the Hemet Police Department. Sidewalks outside have closed, blast-proof glass is going in, and $155,000 in barricades and fences are being installed.

Such is the new reality for police here, where life has increasingly taken on the feel of a war zone. Police Chief Richard Dana during an interview in his office Thursday,
We have a gang that is focused on doing violence to the Police Department, and it has to end here or it will spread to Nebraska, Kansas and beyond. We are going to make this ground zero for stopping this kind of violence."
Local police have fought back aggressively, identifying about 2,000 gang members and 100 gangs in Hemet and the San Jacinto Valley and working hard to deny them sanctuary.

.... at least one gang appears to be turning the tables on them, engaging police in a shadow war of potentially deadly booby traps, vandalism and harassment.

Since December, police have been targeted in at least four attacks.

  • The first happened when someone redirected a natural gas pipeline at the headquarters of the Hemet-San Jacinto Gang Task Force, filling the office with fumes. Police said a single spark could have leveled the entire building.
  • In February, a homemade gun was planted on the gate outside the task force office. When an officer tried to open it, the weapon fired a single shot that missed his head only because the gate didn't open correctly.
  • On March 5, a suspicious device was found attached to the unmarked car of a gang task force member. Police declined to give specifics, but said the device was deadly.
  • And Tuesday night, in an attack police believe is related to the others, someone torched four code-enforcement pickup trucks in the City Hall parking lot two blocks from police headquarters. 
There have also been threats to blow up a police car. Chief Dana's residential mail box has a fresh bullet hole. Dana says,
We have caught people watching the station from the library parking lot. We have had officers followed by known bad guys. We can question them, but it's not illegal to sit in a parking lot.

You are walking around trying to protect people and the whole time you have a target on your back. You can call us about an emergency and then shoot us when we show up. They want to kill a police officer, but they don't want to take any risks, so they are using booby traps.
Dana said he rewards officers who track gang members. Such efforts, he said, have denied the gangs territory and kept a lid on violence. But it's been difficult. The department has been hit hard by budget cuts and is down from 91 to 68 officers. Dana says,
The morale is about as bad as it's been. How much of that is due to the assaults and how much is due to force reduction is hard to say. You are getting paid less, you work more, and now someone is trying to kill you.

What do I conclude from this dichotomous tale of these two 'sister cities', Marja and Hemet?

Thanks to President Obama's decision to appease the Military Industrial Complex and jump with both boots back into Bush's failed mission in Afghanistan, we are squandering our limited national resources in a place where they have no effect and are not appreciated. 

I've said this before, haven't I?

Apologists for America's latest and lamest military mission half a world away will argue we can do both: rebuild our own infrastructure and Afghanistan's infrastructure simultaneously. 

Well this is nothing new. I remember back when the ancestors of our contemporary jingoists argued the same thing during the Vietnam clusterfuck a generation ago: 

We can have both guns and butter.

Well, the point is we couldn't then and we can't now. It's just cant to say that we can.

We're not getting it done at home. Unemployment is over 10% in my county. There is no 'upswing' in sight. People in my city are being foreclosed. People in my company are getting their pink slips. People in my neighborhood are getting robbed. Locksmiths are making their rounds beefing up residents' doors. Will we be calling on gunsmiths next?

Earth to Obama! Call'em home.


  1. Vigil writes:

    "I will not have it said in my pages that I went absent without leave. Not as long as militarist maniacs like Mad Mike are prattling around with their hero worship in this vicinity."

    Finally! I was running out of ideas as to how to get you back to work. You can't just give up!!! Who just gives up? Glad you are back.

    Militarist Maniac

  2. I know what's next for Hemet when I read,

    They want to kill a police officer, but they don't want to take any risks, so they are using booby traps.


  3. Ya gotta forgive Mike for that maniac militarism. I think it's a dawg thing. ;-)

  4. LOL! Thanks Tom :-) You are right of course. Those darn dogs exert quite the influence. By the way, is that a cat? Better not let Vigil's beautiful Ballou see it!!

  5. If we bring in the National Guard to help rid the gangs, the Repuglickers will cry foul, saying it is a Government takeover of the town...

  6. Right Teeluck. The GOPeople would only tolerate privatized KBR-type vigilantes being deployed in this town. No guv'nt people.

  7. We have a gang that is focused on doing violence to the Police Department, and it has to end here or it will spread to Nebraska, Kansas and beyond. We are going to make this ground zero for stopping this kind of violence."

    Tooting my own horn in a blatant and unabashed attempt at self promotion but I recently wrote another Second American Civil War story in which after a collapse of federal government authority resulting from a stolen presidential election inner city gangs invade the suburbs making the recent Iraqi Civil War look like a church softball game.

    It won't take a stolen election to grind down American society though; if we do not address social issues here I believe it just a matter of time before the gangs do become full-fledged insurgents spreading into the lily white suburbs with all the middle-class white people. For all the talk of a post-racial America, whitey is quaking in their Chinese made sneakers about all the “diversity” showing itself these days.

  8. Beach Bum, are you saying the war might come home before the troops do?

  9. Check out:

    There are bonkers theories about a new American Civil War: there are predictions of it, even computer games based on it - and then there is reality.

    But reality in America is looking a little bit different than it did before the passage of the Obama healthcare bill. Public discourse has reached "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" levels and, watching it all from the outside, I am wondering where it all ends up.

    There has been an outbreak of vandalism - bricks through politicians' windows; there have been threats of violence and a lot of violent language. Democrats, in response have begun to accuse mainstream Republican commentators of stoking up the violence, and in turn they have accused the Democrats of trying to provoke a violent reaction.

    All this has made me consider in a new light something said by an oil-man who consults for one of the biggest companies in the world. Last summer he told me:

    "We run a mainframe computer simulation of the global political and economic situation, modeling various outcomes of the resource crunch that begins in the back half of the 2010s. And no matter which way we tweak it, it always comes out with the same result: civil war in America in 25 years's time."

  10. I'm with Biden and George Will; lighten the footprint and focus more on the anti-terror aspect. The French Foreign Legion stuff, not so much.

  11. Good stuff Vigil. Very stark.

    Plus ca change mon ami, plus ca change...

  12. I'm with you completely. I wonder how that oil pipe network is coming along, since I have no other reason to believe we're there. And how about us Californians, G-D forbid we raise taxes, so our water bills will soon increase.

  13. I'm not sure I'm following you, Pinks. California is in a revenue crisis. Taxes - progressive taxes - have to be raised to support programs that increase disposable income. Am I taking you too literally?

  14. Ya know what you whiney liberal assholes should come live here in Hemet and get fkn blown up... Liberals are so whiney and worthless...