We are the voices behind The Boardwalk Podcast, back for another discussion before we begin our next season covering all things Afghanistan. Ask us anything!
Hey, everybody. We are Stu, Kyle, and Zach from The Boardwalk Podcast. After leaving the Army between 2015 and 2016, the three of us met in Kandahar where we worked together as civilian contractors supporting US and Afghan efforts during Operation Resolute Support, the successor to Operation Enduring Freedom. We worked together at Train, Advise, Assist Command-South (TAAC-South) headquarters on Kandahar Airfield. We did one of these AMAs about a year ago and got some great questions from the Reddit community about the military, the intelligence community, and the War in Afghanistan. We also had some great questions about other world events, specifically the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The podcast has evolved from an avenue for simply discussing the number of ways the war was doomed from the beginning to becoming more of a narrative, telling the story of the war with journalists, policy experts, analysts, other veterans, and Afghans. As we prepare for our "Season 4" premiere on February 28th, we figured it would be a good time to come back and answer more questions you all might have about the Afghan War, the military, the intelligence community, amateur podcasting, or whatever else may tickle your fancy.
Here is our proof: https://imgur.com/a/v5EFxiO
Since there are three of us answering these questions, we will be sure to identify who is answering, especially if we have differing views. Answers without an identifier are a good indicator that the answer is universal among the three of us.
The last AMA we did had about a dozen or so replies asking about our military and contractor service. Stu served in the Army from 2011-2016 as an All-Source Intelligence Analyst and deployed 3 times to Afghanistan. After leaving the Army, Stu contracted in Afghanistan until 2020 as an intelligence analyst and intelligence operations integrator. As a contractor, Stu was a provincial analyst for Zabul and Uruzgan provinces. Kyle served in the Army from 2011-2016 as a Cryptologic Linguist and deployed to Afghanistan 2 times. After leaving the Army, Kyle contracted in Afghanistan as a political-military analyst for 9 months. Zach served in the Army from 2008-2015 as an All-Source Intelligence Analyst and deployed once to Iraq. As a contractor, Zach was a provincial analyst for Kandahar Province and an aviation threat analyst for 17 months.
Kyle here - it largely depends on who you ask. When the prior government was overthrown you saw a lot of citizens trying to escape. There was a recent story where a rumor went around that Turkey was needing volunteers following the earthquake and Afghans showed up to the airports in droves hoping to be selected to go to Turkey. Those rumors about seeking afghan volunteers were false.
But the Taliban has both a loyal following and a great portion of the population that exists almost beyond the idea and reach of any kind of central government. A lot of the educated Afghan populace and certainly any Afghan with ties to the coalition’s military force don’t want to live under Taliban rule. For most, life will continue as it always has with subsistence farming in their local community. Even under the former government the rural Afghan’s life was almost unaffected unless caught in the war. Even when the US was there, the Taliban were the de facto rulers in much of the country. It’s just speculation, but the backlash you see against the Taliban government largely comes from Afghans with access to news and social media and telecommunications and the internet. Much of the population just wants to be left alone.
TL:DR: it depends on who you ask and for most life will go on as before.
What is internet access like, or rather freedom of information, among average civilians in Afghanistan? What are education levels like among average civilians in Afghanistan?
Kyle here and that’s a great question. US occupation spurred the creation of many cell phone networks. Most Afghans, with the exception of the most rural, have cell phones and SIM cards. In 2016 3G was fairly rare except in the very populated areas. I’m not sure if the Taliban is working to restrict internet access or prohibit certain sites, but I can assure you Afghans on all sides of the conflict are very active on Twitter, but you need to follow the English speaking Afghan accounts which generally lead you to the Pashto and Dari posters if you’re not familiar with the language.
Education was slightly improved under US occupation for those in more populated areas. It expanded middle and high school to girls. Despite this, most estimates place literacy rates around 40% which is well below the world average. Illiteracy was very much taken advantage of by corrupt Afghan military and police commanders who were literate. Now the Taliban has banned girls from attaining education beyond elementary school, but there is infighting within Taliban leadership about this. Hope that helps and take care.
Hello guys, I’m new to following the pod (within the last week) so forgive me for any questions you’ve already answered or seem obvious!
Do you find your personal experiences in Afghanistan to be detached from the reality of an every day Afghan? In other words, do you feel like what you witnessed/experienced as warfighters from, for lack of better term, an invasion force painted a picture of what life for everyday afghans is like? Do you in any way think it’s possible you saw only the very worst of the country?
Also, are any of you fluent in more than one of the languages/dialects of the country? Do you find a large disparity in the opinions of afghans on the direction they want their country to head based on their cultural identity?
Zach - First, thanks for following. As for your question, I'm not sure if anyone can relate to the reality of an everyday Afghan except for Afghans. We have an understanding of some of their cultural views and practices, and may even understand why they make certain decisions. But we can't say we have the same lived experiences. I think we saw the middle ground of the country if we saw it at all. Most of our time was relegated to being on a base or in an airplane. As for languages, everyone picks up a phrase or two, but for the most part we were heavily reliant on translators. Kyle does know Russian, which is more useful than one might initially think.
Have there been any consequences to the many lies the armed forces told everyone about the situation in Afghanistan?
Well, the Taliban is running the show in Afghanistan again and thousands of people are dead. So there have been a few consequences. But none for the leadership that did the lying.
What’s your favorite Afghan meal?
This is Zach. Chopan kabob is an all timer for me.
Kyle - Kabuli Pulao
Do folks have access to the internet on their phones? If so to what degree does it seem people able to educate themselves remotely instead of having to rely on whether or not the govt. decides to allow people in schools?
Zach - Internet access is available in all provinces with varying levels of stability. All the figures we have found suggest only about a quarter of Afghans use the internet, specifically on their phones. We have followed certain Afghans who do exactly this, using technology to help provide education to remote and/or underserved areas of Afghanistan. I great account to follow for such activity is The Helmand Journal. He is doing a lot of good work and has opened at least a half dozen schools that I can think of. But he's only one person.
First off, thanks for everything you guys do with the podcast and whatnot. It's hard sometimes to get personal accounts and opinions from the warfronts when you live in the middle of the US and don't travel much.
What were your initial motivations in enlisting in the military? How much did you support the military going in, and how disillusioned were you by the time you left?
Bonus question for levity, what are y'all's favorite ice cream flavors?
Kyle - I went in during a really big unemployment crisis in 2011. I was young and had no idea what to do with my life and thought I wanted to see what the Army is about despite reading all the famous war novels warning against it. I really just wanted to try it and go and have the experience. They were offering a bonus to linguists and going to study languages in Monterey CA seemed nice. And it was nice and it was difficult and at the end of it I could speak Korean. Well, Kim Jong Il died at the time and the army asked any native Korean speaker to switch to a linguist job and they’d promote them. So I finished school and since everyone had been promoted into the slots above me, my only chance at promotion was to switch jobs. Lol. Hard to explain but that was the first sign it was a shit show. Then I was assigned to fort hood which is a terrible place to be. Then I worked the Afghan mission in spy planes or remotely with drones. I met a lot of good people who are my friends to this day, but you quickly realized all the missions didn’t really matter because at the time no one could tell you why we were even in Afghanistan. I knew I wanted out so used my security clearance to do more Intel work when I realized that everyone knew the war was a failure and we just had to keep going through the motions. See documentary: hypernormalisation. We all knew it was a sham and kept going. I realized I wanted no part it in it, quit, went home and became an RN and got my masters degree with my GI bill. All that killing and death and hard work for a mission everyone knew didn’t matter.
Zach - My parents both retired from the Army and tried to steer me away from joining. After pissing away an academic scholarship, I went to the recruiter. I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do but I knew I wasn't ready to continue trying to be a student. I took the ASVAB, scored really high, and joined. I don't know if I had a choice but to support the military when I joined, considering its impact on my upbringing. It's safe to say I certainly became disillusioned by the time I got out, but not necessarily with the military, but rather with senior leaders and policymakers.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Kyle - Cherry Garcia is the best ice cream, but chocolate chip cookie dough is second.
Hey fellas, I was a sigint guy that worked with taac south quite a bit, now in the cyber world. Do you think the intel community as a whole is losing the race when it comes to attracting talent? What do you think the ramifications could be of a “lesser” IC? Looking at all of you and myself, contracting pays okay but once you have a truly marketable skill, your earning potential explodes and the government just doesn’t match that.
Zach - It seems the military as a whole is losing the race to attract good talent. I got paid about 5x more to do my job as a contractor than I did as a soldier. Why stick around when I know where the payday is? Furthermore, I now work in a completely different field in the civilian world. There are overlaps to my time as an analyst but I did not get my job because I was an analyst. I got my job because I had experience leading people from my days as a squad leader. That's becoming more common, at least among my friends. The military, specifically the Army, is starting to learn you can't treat soldiers like shit for $35,000 a year and expect them to stick around. If not for contracts, the situation would probably be worse.
Kyle - That’s a good point, but for many who want to get into the Intel field the military is the only way they can. And it’s weird to think of Intel being privatized considering, outside of corporate espionage, intelligence is in service of the state and I think it’s strange any of it is contracted out to private entities. True intelligence is conducted by the guys on the ground, often local nationals, who risk life and limb to tell us things for either patriotism or the USD. The “analysts” are just bureaucrats with a job title that sounds cool to people who don’t know and the roles in the Intel agencies are better suited to Mormon types who are squeaky clean and idealistic and believe in the cause. Because I never believed in the “cause” I’m not a very safe asset for the state to keep around. I work in a totally unrelated field now.
So to launch off of Zach's comments, what's the team's take on why senior military leaders continued to state that the war was winnable (also see nearly two decades of "turning the corner")?
What does the team make of the holdups with passing the Afghan Adjustment Act?
Nobody wants to be the guy holding the bag when the bottom falls out. Duffel Blog for reference.
Politicians holding up a bill to help those who helped us sounds about right.
Wondering about the pull out disaster. Do you have opinions about how it came about? Failure in DC or in the field? Any hindsight about what could have been done differently?
Oh boy, where to start? The decision to evacuate from Kabul instead of Bagram was heavily criticized, and unfortunately we all learned why. Removing servicemembers from Afghanistan before diplomats was also a poor decision. Acting as if everything was okay up until nothing was okay might have been the worst real-time decision. There were reports of State Department personnel acting as if everything was business as usual while the Taliban marched into Kabul.
A withdrawal should have started much sooner and been conducted out of Bagram. The Departments of State and Defense should have begun identifying and moving out SIV holders earlier. But that would have required an objective understanding of just how bad things were on the ground.
“withdrawal out of bagram” = big e4 mindset. Not possible to secure a geo area that large with the force policy makers left the DoD. No contribution from foreign militaries an hour north. HKIA was the only real option.
We couldn't accomplish anything with 2500 advisors in country. Which is why 5000 soldiers and marines were sent back in for the evacuation. If Bagram requires more people, and it would have, then you send more people.
If us govt ceased afghanistan's deposit than how afghans surviving without any financial aid since fall of Kabul? I mean from where they r getting money if no country has financial or trade ties with them?
The Afghan people continue to receive aid through NGOs, albeit at a greatly reduced scale. And Afghanistan continues to trade with its neighbors. Despite public calls to outlaw opium production, that has not been the case, which provides an illicit and covert money supply for Afghans and the Taliban. If you're asking about the frozen funds designated for Afghanistan, we don't see that getting released any time soon.
What was the greatest act of humanity that you witnessed?
Kyle - Only guy I’d call a hero was an airman on board one of our ISR planes. They were setting up a strike on a high value target. Everything was ready. They’d been after this guy for months and wanted him dead. They clear the strike on this dude’s car. Missile goes off the rails time to target is stated. This airman sees one or two kids in the backseat. Calls for a strike cancel and they send the missile to another laser on the side of the mountain. People were pissed bc they didn’t get their guy but he saved two kids lives that day. Absolute hero.
Holy shit, this actually made me a little emotional. How did he see the kids in the backseat? Did he use FLIR?
Yeah it was on FLIR like normal but he saw someone moving in the backseat and then eventually a couple of kids got out. Wild.
Late to the AMA, what effects do you think troop and battle space rotations had on the "winnability" of the Afghan war? What challenges did these rotations present for you as contractors and the continuity brain trusts in your AOs? Do you think the government and/or the military has the ability to internalize the lessons learned from the entirety of the Afghan war? Which INT is the most accurate, timely, and reliable? How would you like to solve the gaps between tactical collectors/analysts, strategic analysts, and decision makers?
Deployment cycles certainly had an effect on the war's winnability. Wesley Morgan's book The Hardest Place directly addresses the difficulties faced in the Pech Valley due to our rotations. We consider theater-level changeover to be a bigger issue. A new ISAF commander would show up and they would have a new plan, which means it's time to scrap the old one. Any progress made over the previous year would be halted to pivot to the new priorities. And an even bigger contributing factor, probably the biggest, to the war being lost was the inability to build a stable government. That responsibility fell on the State Department.
Hi all, I'm a former British Royal Air Force engineer, I served two tours in Kandahar, 2008 and 2013, there's a good chance we bumped into each other (on the boardwalk!). When there, it was my job, among other things, to maintain the arrestor equipment on the runway, but beacause the air traffic control was operated by US staff there was usually a breakdown in comms which resulted in a few close calls involving aircraft! My question: what is your most memorable interaction with any of the UK forces out in Afghan?
This is Zach. I didn't make it out to Kandahar until 2016, and I'm not sure there were any Brits in TAAC-South. But, we did have a situation where an Australian major (he's a cousin to us after all) was trying to tell an American civilian to calm down and called her a cunt. Cultural differences are a son of a bitch. I'll never forget that.
How much money have you made going there? You mentioned contractors got paid 5x more than soldiers. So I’m assuming no one really goes there unless it’s for the money.
Contracts in general varied from year and job. I made upwards of $180k when I was there. The largest contract I heard of was for logisticians. Some of them were still clearing north of $300k a year at the end. I met one such person in 2016. He’d been contracting for 12 years and was heading home for good. He had a house in Dallas and 2 cars paid in full with no additional debt. He was retiring at 33.
Do you think this partially explains why the Pentagon / Defense Department keeps failing their audit?
If so I’d wager that it’s a small contributor.
Are y'all active in r/army ? And also, are y'all familiar with their lord and savior u/CSM_Airbone? If not, please check his comment history.
This is Zach. I'm a casual observer in the r/army subreddit. And ol sarmage is a hero and an inspiration.
Kyle - I always wanted to destroy the earth and kill innocent people. Sometimes I’d find M1 Abrams tanks in the motor pool and start them up just to let them idle and burn fuel. Once they taught me the startup procedure for the F16s id let them idle, too. Severe psychopathy and other diseases of the DSM V restricted me from most other jobs, but a few lies to the doctor at MEPS and they put me right into military intelligence. Of course now that I left the military industrial complex I am homeless. I use public libraries to do research for and record this podcast. I rob people and panhandle to get by. Thanks for the question.
This is a response to a troll question who deleted his comment after my masterful response. It's all sarcasm for anyone looking to pile on.
You might’ve been asked this last AMA, idk but do you support the pull out of Afghanistan? If not, how long would you had preferred that war to continue on? Also, if pulling out was so easy and blah blah then why didn’t previous presidents do it. Afghanistan was a needless war for the last 10 yrs only there to support the military industrial complex, and if I’m wrong please let me know. So trump could have pulled out but didn’t. Why didn’t he? Obama could’ve pulled out. Why didn’t he? Why does everyone blame Biden for finally be strong enough of a leader to pull out of Vietnam? Also, besides making more wealth for the complex as y’all chose to do after you got out of the army, what good was it to stay in Afghanistan?
Also, I’m a veteran of OIF, so as a veteran how do I go about making that my only life experience and somehow droll on about it for a few more years while sucking up funds from rubes? Podcast? Book deal?
Also, do y’all have any hobbies?
Kyle here - thanks for the question. I was 100% in support of withdrawal from Afghanistan. It was clear, probably around 2011, that US nation building had failed. I think Biden should be applauded for pulling out of Afghanistan, but withdrawal should have been conducted from the more defensible Bagram Airfield as opposed to HKIA. I find it despicable that the leaders in charge of conducting the withdrawal are still in charge despite the loss of life and clusterfuck that was the withdrawal.
As for saying the war is your only life experience, I’m sure it wasn’t and it wasn’t ours, either. If you’re accusing us of profiting from it, I can assure you we make no money doing this and it only costs us money with server space and recording software. There are no ads for square space or blue apron. For sure I made more money in the war after I got out, but only for a short time until I became a sort of hippie and near-pacifist. Went back to school and work in a totally unrelated career field. We do this as a way to stay in touch and bring on experts to talk about a topic that doesn’t get a lot of play in the mainstream news cycle. Kind of amateur-hobbyist journalism and history. As for hobbies, I like to fly fish, write, play video games, mandolin, practice jiu jitsu badly, and read. I can assure you I don’t identify very strongly or at all with the vet bro community which is often obnoxious. Take care, man.
There are no ads for square space or blue apron.
This got me good😂. Also don't forget BetterHelp. And DraftKings. And Liquid IV.
I hate to love podcasts.
It costs us $366 a year to make this podcast. So if BlueApron wants to send us $366 dollars we won't stop them from hocking their overpriced meal kit business. (What the fuck even is Square Space)
(What the fuck even is Square Space)
It's a very nice website used to make very shitty websites.
How exactly were people supposed to get to Bagram from Kabul?
I don't say this to be flippant, but how was everyone supposed to get to Kabul from every corner of the country? Had those in charge accepted the reality following Doha Agreement, things are different. Instead, they sat on their hands and did nothing and we were left with August 2021.
This is Zach. I supported pulling out of Afghanistan. With that said, the way it was done was absolutely horrendous. After the Doha Agreement was signed, it was open season on ANDSF. The longer we stayed, the worse off things would have become. President Obama campaigned on leaving Afghanistan only to do an about-face when he entered office. President Trump campaigned on leaving Afghanistan and kicked the can down the road. Our belief is that military leadership kept telling them the war was winnable. President Biden's share of the blame comes from not having a withdrawal plan. With the Doha Agreement signed in February 2020, he had plenty of time to get a team together to work on such a plan. You can't campaign on your foreign policy expertise and then not have a plan. Per the Afghanistan papers, the war was essentially unwinnable after 2004.
As for money, our podcast makes none. We do this for catharsis. And I have a borderline unhealthy infatuation with golf.
Golf is the third worst industrious pollution causing industry in the world. Switch over to disc golf and stop helping destroy local water sheds.
I guess all the stuff that happened in afghanistan happened by pure luck then with no plan. Being people that served I would imagine y’all know what pulling a major operation entails and I’d reckon y’all know that things never go according to plan. I think more people (especially vets and current service members) should be grateful the old dude fucking pulled us out. Sry it wasn’t perfect to everyone liking. I hate hearing the “well, it wouldn’t have been so fucked if trump was still in office”. Like what? Dude had 4 yrs to do exactly that and cowered out.
I appreciate y’all’s green gilled beliefs that it was top brass telling them the war was winnable but cmon, we all know it was top execs telling them they’ll get their cut of the profits to just stay in. War is a racket.
Anywho thanks for the response. Hope all is well in y’all’s lives.
Kyle - We never said it would be better if Trump was in office and I personally despise the dude. Trump did orchestrate the Doha Agreement which started the end of the whole thing. Obama and Trump could have withdrawn any time and they both kept it going for either money and/or watered down intelligence reports to Congress. We regularly discuss how war is a racket on the podcast and most of our guests do, too. Personally I applaud Biden for finally pulling the plug, but it should have been done from Bagram which would have minimalized chances of casualties. And I don't like golf either, that's all Zach.
We didn't say things would be better if Trump were still in office. We have discussed many times the pipeline from general officer to PMC board seat member.
Why was the USA over there? Why did the USA use contractors instead of actual military? How much was spent on those contractors and how much did those contractors spend on lobbying? Why did the USA murder so many innocent women and children? Why did the USA decide it was okay to torture? Why were soldiers guarding poppy fields? How many untold civilians deaths were there? How many civilians deaths did the politicians actually know about? Why is the USA using sanctions to kill civilians? How many more people are still in there even though they've "pulled out"? Why does the USA feel entitled to withhold billions of dollars of money from the Afghanistan people for supposed reparations to 9/11, when they had nothing to do with it?
Most importantly. How can anyone fight for a country whose sole purpose is to establish U.S hegemony in the Global South ostensibly for freedom but in reality for imperialist agenda
I'll try to answer all of these.
- The US initially went to Afghanistan following the events of 9/11 to eliminate Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida.
- Contractors became a useful tool to bypass troop limits in war zones. $108b, per the Costs of War.
- Civilian deaths had numerous causes, most commonly from drone strikes, crossfire, and botched missions. Estimated civilian deaths from the Costs of War are around 70,000 people.
- The US didn't decide it was okay to torture. Certain individuals did. Torture is wrong.
- Conducting patrols through poppy fields was common. Guarding them was not.
- The US is trying to pressure the Taliban government to become more tolerant and inclusive before releasing additional funds. Mind you, our government is still sending them money, just not as much.
- We don't have a good number but there are quite a few Americans still in Afghanistan.
- That money isn't for reparations. And it's being withheld from the government for the above stated reasons.
- American foreign policy has certainly become more expeditious since World War II and that creates myriad problems. Problems that are not well known to people who enlist at 20 years old.
European here. Thanks to the unnecessary mess the U.S. has created (Bin Laden did not even hide in Afghanistan) has lead to all kinds of turmoil in the region including hundreds of thousands of young male Afghans flee to Western Europe seeking for Asylum in the last 10 years. Some of them are criminal, unfortunately in relative numbers Afghans are most likely to commit a crime among all nationalities of immigrants. (at least in my county)
Now that you bailed and Taliban has taken over, the new Taliban Gov. Won't take rejected Asylum Seekers as well as criminals back and the European high Court has even decided that it is inhumane to send anyone back to Afghanistan and now everyone stays.
So you pretty much screwed us here. What should we do with them now? can you pick them up maybe?
Btw: thanks for having our back against putin. (I hope you will)
Kyle - Hey European! Sorry for the refugees, but I can’t speak for why the EU continues to accept them. Afghans have been a refuge seeking people since prior to the Russian invasion, so there has always been an Afghan refugee issue. I think the US is obligated to help those afghans who helped us and the other NATO countries during the war effort by providing safety, housing and some job opportunities. But, as you know especially in Europe, those things are sadly hard to find anywhere even by native citizens of the west. Don’t think it’ll get better. Much of the world has been destabilized and people, either to escape war or as opportunists, will use whatever loophole they can to reach the glorious welfare states of the west one way or another. As for whether it is our fault? Yes, I believe a lot of it is the US’ fault. I’m sure it’s nice to live in Europe, though where there is no history of meddling in the affairs of poor countries.
- Bin Laden was in Afghanistan and then fled to Pakistan.
- I don't know what you should do with rejected Afghan asylum seekers. I couldn't tell you the first thing about your country's laws.
Do the Afghan people want the Taliban to govern their country?
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