Reading and learning are two of my passions and it is my pleasure to share these books with you.I have read them all and have found them to be both insightful and engaging. I encourage your feedback and I hope that you enjoy them as much as I did.
Maj Chris Buckham
Wednesday, 16 April 2014
Killing Sheep: The Righteous Insurgent - Mark Blackard
The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was
published in Leatherneck Magazine. Therefore, the material is reproduced here
by the author with the permission of the magazine. If you would like to
republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor Leatherneck
Magazine (W.Ford@mca-marines.org ). Website for the Magazine is: www.leatherneckmagazine.com
I will say at the outset that when I received this book
to review I did not anticipate enjoying it. My initial thought was one of
“another author who knows all of the answers better than everyone else”. After
reading Blackard’s book I came away with a very different impression. Certainly
he is very critical of the US and its policies/procedures/attitudes within
Afghanistan and the book is not a balanced evaluation of how things are
accomplished (for example, Blackard is not adverse to making very sweeping generalizations
critical of the US command structure without trying to understand why some of
these things are in place) but he does make some very interesting
points/observations from his perspective working with the Afghans directly.
The author, Mark Blackard, arrived in Afghanistan in 2009
for a one year stint, after a twelve year career as a narcotics police officer
and two tours embedded with US marines in Fallujah, Iraq. He was employed as a
contractor working as an advisor/operator as part of the JIEDDO (Joint
Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization). His role in Afghanistan was
to act as an advisor to Afghan law enforcement (working in conjunction with,
but not for, the US military) to combat the IED (Improvised Explosive Device)
threat in the region of Jalalabad. Blackard’s book recounts his experiences
over the course of that year. He outlines his team’s successes and failures,
the effect of overlaying a US military bureaucracy over operations in the
Afghan region, his relationship and respect for his Afghan teammates and his
trust and regard for their competency working issues the ‘Afghan’ way versus
the western way. He also recounts to a great extent his frustration with the
conduct of the Afghan war by senior US military and government agencies.
Specifically, he sees them as out of touch with the realities of the Afghan
people and racist/intolerant of those who are not ‘western’.
The book is written from a tactical perspective; that is
to say that there is no attempt (or intention) of trying to evaluate the
conflict beyond the confines of his and his teams immediate experiences.
Blackard’s writing style is very informal in keeping with his overall approach
to life and operations. He defines things very much in a black and white
fashion. That is to say that there is very little room in his evaluations for
actions that are not in keeping with his perception of how things should be
conducted. For example he is very harsh in his criticism of the death of Afghan
civilians resulting from US operations. He views these all as murder and
perceives the US as having little to no regard for these actions. If effect, as
far as Blackard is concerned, the US military leadership does not care about
these losses (referring to them simply as collateral damage).
While Blackard’s observations and arguments are
simplistic, he does touch upon a number of valid issues that will continue to
affect the conduct and effectiveness of asymmetric (and symmetric) conflicts in
1.First and foremost, the growing level of risk
aversion amongst military and civilian leadership. Without doubt this is one of
the greatest challenges facing the west today as it affects every aspect of how
operations are conducted from planning to execution. Blackard came face to face
with this on a regular basis and his examples are enlightening and disturbing.
2.The increasing effect that utilizing technology
such as drones has on soldiers. In essence these technologies distance them from
the effects of their actions thereby enabling them to disassociate themselves
from the results. War becomes more of a video game as opposed to a gritty,
hands-on experience. This in turn affects mind sets and paradigms surrounding
conduct of war. Friendly casualties are less tolerated and there are greater
gulfs/distances created between the Afghan population and the Allied forces.
This is in turn leads to a lower level of understanding of the different
cultures which in turn affects trust and confidence between the Afghan people
and the western forces.
3.The bureaucracy of a modern military regarding administrative
oversight and C2 (command and control). Western militaries are becoming more
and more regimented and structured such that decision making and administration
are no longer timely and efficient. Blackard sites several examples of his
inability to fund/execute operations that he was mandated to perform due to
convoluted lines of command.
4.The ethical conflict relating to the realities
on the ground to the expectations of the bureaucracy. Blackard writes of undertaking
drug interdiction operations where, in order to ensure the literal survival of
the families involved, some drugs had to be left behind to provide them income.
These are challenges and realities of life in these locations and is reflective
of the types of decisions that personal are forced to face and decide upon.
Overall, Blackard’s book is an interesting and
engaging read. As stated, he is somewhat simplistic in his views. There is no
question that Blackard has no tolerance or time for those he views as
bureaucratic ‘company men’ and he thrives in the ‘wild-west’ atmosphere of
Afghanistan where he is constrained minimally by regulation and oversight. In
my opinion, his book, despite making some very valid points, loses some
credibility with his constant criticism of the US military and government thereby
undermining some of the strengths of his own arguments.