Small Wars Journal

Three Cups of BS? (Updates 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

Update 6:

Questions Over Greg Mortenson's Stories: CBS 60 Minutes, 17 April 2011

Hat tip to Galrahn at Information Dissemination via Twitter. Carolyn Kellogg at the Los Angeles Times (Investigation throws 'Three Cups of Tea' author Greg Mortenson's charity work into doubt) reports that:

An investigation by "60 Minutes" to be broadcast this weekend will cite multiple sources that contend some of the most inspiring stories in Greg Mortenson's books "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones into Schools" are not true.

Much more at the LAT and "60 Minutes".


Greg Mortenson's response so far, via the Central Asia Institute web page:

An Important Message from Greg Mortenson

Afghanistan and Pakistan are fascinating, inspiring countries full of wonderful people. They are also complex places torn by conflicting loyalties, and some who do not want our mission of educating girls to succeed. I stand by the information conveyed in my book, and by the value of CAl's work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students. I continue to be heartened by the many messages of support I receive from our local partners in cities and villages across Afghanistan and Pakistan, who are determined not to let unjustified attacks stop the important work being done to create a better future for their children. For further questions, concerns and inquires, please email

Update 2

Mortenson Under Fire from '60 Minutes', Bozeman Philanthropist Denies Allegations by Gail Schontzler, Bozeman Daily Chronicle. BLUF: "He denied several "60 Minutes" allegations, and defended his financial dealings, but appeared to concede that one key story in his book was not literally true."

Update 3

Board of Directors, Central Asia Institute: Responses to 60 Minutes Questions. "Following (at the link) are questions that were asked by producers of the program 60 Minutes, exactly as they were asked of us, and the answers that we are providing to 60 Minutes."

Three-cup Monte by Carl Prine at Line of Departure. BLUF: "Like the best swindles, Dr Greg keeps his rap simple: The sexy svengali who tickles, teases and touches your soul while his mitt wiggles into your purse; the Ponzi peddler paying a fortunate few to fleece the rapacious many; the book cooker who dangles dubious data and dividends to draw Dow dollars; the quack selling pharmaceutical enhancements to the same guy who never gets the chance to try them out at the clip joint."

Update 4

60 Minutes: Questions over Greg Mortenson's Stories - CBS transcript

Update 5

Does It Matter If The Military's Fave Scholar Sells Three Cups of Snake Oil? - Spencer Ackerman, Danger Room. BLUF: "... Danger Room pal Niel Smith argues that the Army has institutionalized counterinsurgency so poorly that officers can fool themselves into embracing caricatures of it. And that's how Mortenson's tea can taste a lot like snake oil."

Update 7

Via the Central Asia Institute website:

Greg Mortenson's Message to Supporters - CAI

CAI Board of Directors Statement 04/16/11 - CAI

CAI Board of Directors Response to "60 Minutes" Questions - CAI

Greg Mortenson's response to "60 Minutes" Questions - CAI

Update 8

Stranger than Fiction: What We're Really Losing with Greg Mortenson's Fall by Joshua Foust, PBS. BLUF: "Just because you can't help everyone doesn't mean you should help no one. Sadly, Mortenson's good work is going to be overshadowed - possibly destroyed - by this scandal (albeit one that looks like it was largely of his own making). And the losers, besides wide-eyed Americans who've lost an unassailable hero, will ultimately be the people his schools were helping."

Greg Mortenson Speaks interview by Alex Heard, Outside. "The embattled director of the Central Asia Institute responds to allegations of financial mismanagement and that he fabricated stories in his bestselling book Three Cups of Tea."


AK (not verified)

Thu, 05/26/2011 - 4:06pm

I still think that what really gets to the point is why again, our troops were required to read a book that did the equivalent of describing successes in a part of Afghanistan/Pakistan that is as different from the Sunni areas as Marin County (Blue voting pattern) is from Fresno (Red voting pattern)

Am no expert, just puzzled that our troops, who are risking their lives and living in discomfort, were not given the best researched information possible, and by an author with a long and verifiable track record in the same religious and cultural zone they're expected to operate in.

Ken White (not verified)

Thu, 05/26/2011 - 2:44pm

Education does not build dependency -- unless that Education is purposely or accidentally reinforcing ideas of dependency as being beneficial. Charity doesn't build it but overarching government provision of 'benefits' certainly does.

Add the fact that most people regardless of race, creed or nationality are inclined to take freebies from others not of their ilk and will often in fact ask for more -- and can thereby become dependent. Think "Yankee go home - but leave money..." This can build a sense of not dependency but rather of a belief that the donating party is somehow obligated to continue the largesse. This belief is exacerbated when the donor organ is seen as quite wealthy as opposed to being charitable when one cannot afford it.

I think Michael C. Sevcik is absolutely correct in that national and international / bureaucratic penchant for fraud and abuse -- plus waste. Such aid may or may not build dependency depending on circumstances but it certainly reinforces greed most always.

Michael C. Sevcik (not verified)

Thu, 05/26/2011 - 12:02pm

Grant, AK, In the know, etc.,

Not sure I'm buying the line of thought that charity and education builds dependency. I'm remembering somewhere that Boston had public school as far back is the mid-17th century...long before most institutions were mature in the USA. Most Ivy League colleges were established well before the American Revolution. Lots of original settlers first built a church which doubled as a school house...except in Wisconsin. Our beloved cheese-heads built beer-joints & taverns which doubled as schools during the day. You can see this legacy at Badger football games, Camp Randall Stadium!

All kidding aside, I believe that the more charity is nationalized/ internationalized and becomes bureaucratic; the more likely there is fraud & abuse. I'm thinking that charity of all kind should be local (both giving and taking) and this would take care of most of the abuse. Clearly, Afghanistans economy is dependent on US & NATO tax payer funded aid; with opium a close second in terms of financial impact on the economy.

Not sure which is causes more "dependency."

AK (not verified)

Thu, 05/26/2011 - 10:48am

To sum all this up:

Our troops are trying to use the win-hearts-and-minds/secure territory counter insurgency methods.

Why were they required to read a book by a guy whose reported successes were in areas (Gilgit-Baltisan) that were

1) Already peaceful and did not require military presence & activity to keep bandits and insurgents away?

2)Culturally different (Ismaili/Shia for starters)from the Sunni areas our people are in

Its annoying enough that Mortenson turned out to be a very questionable source of information.

But even if he had been a straight arrow and handled every penny responsibly, his work was in regions utterly different from the ones our troops have been assigned to.

Thats like a political pollster using information about Marin County, California to get some notion of how to create a campaign strategy that would gain votes in Fresno, California.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 05/25/2011 - 1:44pm

An article and a lengthy discussion in the comments section from Carl Prine's Lines of Departure.

Detailed discussion of counterinsurgency methods and its history, all the way back to Vietnam.…

Cached page in text…

Prine writes:

Given that rich library printed on these issues and our own bloody slogs through Iraq and Afghanistan, why has the U.S. military embraced Mortenson and his nutty notions?

"Well, Ive been studying the art of the con for many years. I have covered the grifter… and the embellisher.…

"And Im friends with felons who make their bones as bamboozlers (I just dont introduce them to my wife or let them see my checkbook).

'Their secrets to success are as old as the confidence game itself: No one can take money from a mark unless he thinks hes getting something for nothing.

AK (not verified)

Wed, 05/25/2011 - 1:14pm

Again, for nation building, once again, I advise looking at Scotland as well as the US.

Poor nation, little natural wealth. But in the 16th and 17th centuries, influenced by the Protestant/Calvinist reformation, Scotland, with no outside funding, started to create schools, village level and added a new university, Glasgow, to its existing University of Edinburgh.

The aim was for as many ordinary folk as possible to be able to read Scripture and do their sums.

Scotland thus created human wealth--literate, energetic people who left to make their careers all over Europe and on the high seas, as sailors, ships engineers, accountants, merchants, soldiers, officers.

One of the mentors of Peter the Great was a Scots officer who commanded one of the important Muscovite regiments.

Scots brought the Reformation back home with them and with little or no outside funding, sparked the educational efforts that led to the Scottish Renaissance.

And the Scots Renaissance contributed to the American achievement.

AK (not verified)

Wed, 05/25/2011 - 1:05pm

"The only thing that would have topped it off is if (Mortenson)received a medal from the President"

He got a medal.

Stones Into Schools has a color photo of him wearing a medal--The Star of Pakistan--around his neck.

Makes the concept of silent service look better every day.

What I find annoying and amusing is how very quickly Mortenson was able to get admitted to a hospital and then (reportedly) remain there for at least a week or more.

That too may be one of the advantages of having large quantities of money.

By contrast, the folks at Kaiser Perm count their beans. They would not keep someone in the hospital for more than a day or two unless for something clearly and demonstrably drastic.

Not likely at the VA, either.

The inpatient cuisine would not be much to speak of--unless one arranges for someone loyal to make food runs.

G Martin

Wed, 05/25/2011 - 9:04am

I wonder what our charity efforts would be if we would have been founded with the help of charity. Even if exaggerated, our national narrative is that we did things on our own. We allowed equality of opportunity and got out of people's ways. Why do we think building girl's schools, giving them money, and making decisions for them will lead to anything positive? Where has that same formula worked in inner city America or Sub-Saharan Africa? Our "feel good" efforts are just that: they make us feel good. The current generation receiving this aid will say they feel good- but the later generations will bomb us in our malls because of their deep-seated hatred of everything we stand for: an obtuse people who don't understand how the dog-eat-dog world really works and thinks we can throw money and good will at problems to make them go away- or at least make us feel good that we tried "something".

The problem with Mortensen isn't his lying- the problem is with his concept of how people advance and progress. Charity creates a dependency. Fixing complex problems like lack of opportunities for women or lack of education takes much more than building a school- and we are doing nothing about the underlying fundamental issues that contribute to the problem by building a school and giving them money.

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 05/24/2011 - 2:16pm

That money will go to his defense fund, so some low life lawyer who went to school on a government loan that he never paid back will be getting the money that we all hoped was going to help kids get educated in South Asia. You have to give Greg credit though, it was a great scam while it lasted. The only thing that would have topped it off is if the received a medal from the President, or was invited to speak at the UN, or got a Nobel Peace Prize. He had to know his story was going to unrabble eventually (sort of like the myth of Lance Armstrong is now being exposed), so I wonder if he had plans to deal with this?

Michael C. Sevcik (not verified)

Tue, 05/24/2011 - 2:04pm

While millions of you out there bought the book, "Three Cups of Tea." The dummy I am, I also bought "Stones into Schools." The entire issue takes on such a sad tone when you read or hear the comments Mortenson and his die hard followers. Deeds, not words.

While he cannot change history, Greg Mortenson would do well to donate all contributions, offerings and book royalties to a legitimate charity.

Hmmmmm, how likely is that?

AK (not verified)

Tue, 05/24/2011 - 1:17pm

People who are on the ground and facing the full risks deserve the very best--weapons, medicine, and yes--they deserve the best possible information. I have met people who love and are worried sick about their sons in Afghanistan. It makes me cringe to imagine that people at risk of their lives might have been required to read a book that turns not not to have been fully accurate. Its that cringe factor that spurred me to write.

If we take care to do extensive R&D on equipment and weapons that are issued to our troops, that same level of care should be taken to when vetting any book that is to be required or strongly recommended reading for our personnel.

Our personnel in Afghanistan are dedicated, often bone tired, and their lives are at risk.

If they are told that a particular book is required or recommended reading, that book should be fact checked. Its author should have a long and verifiable track record and have earned the respect of persons in that area.

One concern about Mortenson is that he and CAI did not do much collaborative work with other agencies in those areas. This is not a good role model for what we are doing--our troops have to function as teams, not as single, inspirational leaders.

And if we are building infrastructure in Sunni Afghanistan, people who have already done long term work in those areas are the ones who should be consulted.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 4:51pm

AK, informative article, but the comments were most entertaining, starting with comment 13 where a Pakistani identifies that Greg's book is B.S. long before 60 mins. Thanks for posting.

eugnid (not verified)

Mon, 04/25/2011 - 12:42am

It was clear that something was dubious about the man when he first appeared in print and on media. But then what does it matter? Did he have something useful to say? Should the discussion go on? Or, are we all such lemmings that when our "admired leader" exhibits clay feet we drop to the ground and pis in our pants?

The battle of ideas-- not personalities must go on. Alas, it is here that one wonders how personal rather than reasoned it all is. A former SecDef told me that in the Pentagon it's always a grab for the balls as everything is "personal." Well, there are the consequences: over-spent and over-incompetent decade of warfare. The discipline of a scientific meeting where the data is the end, not the means, is something the military ought to learned because "our" kids are NOT dispensable for food fights.

Much of the negative reaction to cups of BS is because of the BS it was made into by COIN guys trying to gain time. This is a shot in the thigh and it is over reactive, looking too much lie an attempt to "damage control." Military never look dumber than when they try to damage control image rather that defend ideas as they defend positions.

AK (not verified)

Sun, 04/24/2011 - 12:00pm

Another book that gives some history and perspective:

Under a Sickle Moon, by Peregrine Hodson.

Just after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Hodson obtained sponsorship by the Jammat i Islami and with their help, liased with a Mujaheed group in Teremangel. The group's plan was to trek into Afghanistan and carry a load of weapons for other mujaheed in Afghanistan. This was pre Charlie Wilson.

Hodson spoke some Persian, he had obtained endosement by the Jamaat, he was there to take photos and write a newspaper account to bring publicity--all things that the locals desperately wanted and needed.

Yet despite all these advantages, Hodson had to cope with distrust from some of his comrades, angry baiting because he was not a Muslim, and the entire group was betrayed by a member who arranged for them to be robbed of their cargo of weapons so that a local warlord could confiscate them.

Hodson was not trying to achieve a cultural hard sell--he was with a group bringing in weapons, not trying to build a girls school.

And he met with a multitude of difficulties.

Compared with Under a Sickle Moon, Mortenson's book seemed like a wish fulfillment fantasy--too much of it took the form of cliches--stuff that people want to hear, vs what they need to hear.

Hodson came home to the UK, published this book and went into private practice as an attorney. No self promo.

And Hodson did not make himself the hero of the story. He got out of the way and described the people and landscape and lets the reader decide for him or herself.

And he quoted a proverb learned from his own days on the hippie trail:

'Beware of fat people in thin countries.'

AK (not verified)

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 10:55pm

If one wants a short and succinct description of good cause work in Gilgit-Balit,find a copy of 'Around the Roof of the World' first published in 1996, University of Michegan Press, edited by Nicholas and Nina Schumatoff

(ISBN 0-472-10741-0)

In Chapter 6, Hunza:Lost Kingdom of the Himlayas, there is a chapter by John Clark, dated 1956. Professor Clark was a geologist, and had served in the Army Corps of Engineers.

He stayed in Hunza,in Baltit creating a clinic and village crafts program, and had the support of the ruling family. He also imported vegatable seeds to assist the people in growing a wider variety of crops.

On page 72, Clark mentioned 'The Agha Khan School boys staged a torch light parade' when the king arrived in town. He does not say whether the school included girls.

But this area appeared to be particularly liberal, even in the 1950s. Clark described how a man brought in his sick wife for treatment. Clark explained that she would need to be given an oitnment each day. The man replied, "We know we can trust you with our wives. I am much too busy with my farm to come with her every day. You treat her, and it will be all right."

Clark tells us, "If this had happened one hundred miles to the south, the woman and I would both have been killed. These people were much more sensible and truly moral than the rigidly fanatic Muslims." (page 666-67)

Clark was told to leave, not by the Hunzans, but by agents of the central government in Pakistan--it was feared that he was a potentially disruptive influence.

Before making a book required reading for our troops, it would be well if our joint chiefs of staff had ordered their librarians to do background searches on literature describing the regions Mortenson claimed to have visited and see whether others had done earlier, and less ballyhoed, outreach work.

Even in liberal Hunza, Professor Clark spent more than a year living with the Hunzans in the Gilgit/Baltit region, carefully working through existing kinship networks. He accomplished much on a shoestring budget--but it was not easy and he had to be patient.

And even then, the central government in Pakistan chose to evict him.

carl (not verified)

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 1:49pm

This is in response to Gian and Anon way up at the top.

What do either of your replies have to do with my point that the small wars principle of Don't Be a Jerk (I stole that phrase) and learn the people as best you can, predates and does not depend upon Mr. Mortensen? That has been a principle since William Johnson, the Raj, the North brothers and the CAP platoon chronicled by Bing West. None those guys ever heard of Greg Mortensen.

Your responses seem to have more to do with the powers that be inside the beltway and in the Army glomming onto a popular account and why they did so. That is a more important question as is speaks to how they think and the quality of their thinking and their ability to express their ideas well without resorting to holding up something written by an Oprah guest. (If Mr. Mortensen wasn't an Oprah guest he should have been.) There are plenty of guys on the spot who can articulate Don't Be A Jerk and other important things without recourse to this weeks bestseller. I think that is partially what Madhu said.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 04/20/2011 - 10:26am

Three perspectives:

From a man who has also been an educationist in the Third World and who had trusted and used 'Three Cups of Tea' to inspire his own students…

A Seattle journalist who supported Mortenson in his early career and now feels implicated…

Business Insider…

Russell (not verified)

Tue, 04/19/2011 - 11:21pm


I agree with your ideas about aid, and, after reading Dark Star Safari, by Paul Theroux, would say you have some sound backing. However, if it just to facilitate something the locals really want and are willing to take up and run with the project, like schools, then maybe we should wait to see. Have any of the former students come back to work as doctors, teachers or nurses yet? I think maybe. All in all though, we should be wary of what you suggest happening.

G Martin

Tue, 04/19/2011 - 11:52am

The issue with "Mortenson ...employing truly local people build projects and win hearts and minds" (ignoring the problems with the whole "hearts and minds" theory) is that it is MORTENSON (or CAI) doing this. This effort is reliant on charity $ from the West. These $ could dry up. They arguably undermine local efforts to develop home-grown and sustainable systems. This "arrested development" makes us feel good in the West, but it doesn't allow these populations to build lasting solutions that they can be proud of- unless you buy in to the concept that providing an education to them will assist in jump-starting the other aspects of their failed (from our viewpoint) way of life.

Somehow families with kids in the early days of the U.S. got by without English or French charities building schools for us. Education emerged much later once we established and grew other istitutions that could support and sustain an educational system. Why we feel the need to force our current values (in this case "education") onto others is beyond me. We didn't have this value at the same point in our national development- why do we think others need it? We have no patience in the West and no end to the amount of "prosperity guilt".

A case can be made that education in and of itself will produce little but dissatisfaction with one's state in the world. Students have led revolutions in the past that didn't necessarily usher in peace and harmony. I fail to see where building schools with charity $ does anything more than make us feel good and build dependence in the host nation's people. I really do think the logic that we use- that seems intuitive- that education will make things better for people- especially "girls"- is flawed.

Jonathan F (not verified)

Tue, 04/19/2011 - 7:56am

I saw five schools - three in Baltistan within a day's travel of Skardu and two in the Azad Kashmir earthquake zone. (see…)
The positive change was that the schools existed and were full of students being taught by local teachers -- they were only schools functioning in those villages.
One of the things that people who have not spent time on the ground in that part of the world don't get is that in in Pakistan - like Afghanistan, Nepal and India -- there are thousands of "ghost schools" that the government has funded but which exist only paper, and thousands of teachers who never turn up to teach but collect salaries all the same. (the same is true of rural clinics and doctors).
Mortenson did have a lot to teach US military and civilian leaders - especially the importance of employing truly local people -- ie not people from the capital city or provincial capital, who are considered foreigners -- to build projects and win hearts and minds... This is something that US troops and marines on the ground there understand well but their bosses do not...

Peter, it is worse than that, the talking heads are pushing their agenda to get more book sales, just like Greg did with his fraudalent account in 3 Cups of BS. Now we have senior officers from all the services (some that have no business directing ground wars) visiting forward bases and promoting the latest pet theory, instead they should be listening to their Sgts, Lts, and CPTs to see what is "really" happening on the ground and then use their advanced education and big staffs to develop appropriate strategies based on that reality, not the latest pet theory out some think tank. In my view our advanced education simply advances the latest trend in group think, it doesn't encourage critical thinking. I'm almost ready to reverse my position on the value of sending our officers to universities and instead recommend we fix our war colleges.

Kdog101, I'm not sure where you're going with your question. I wasn't there initially, but read the same histories most of us have and talked to a few who were there. My take it on based on what I think I know now is that the Northern Alliance of course welcomed our assistance against the Taliban, and at the same time were willing to accept incentive (bribes) bags of money from the CIA (so we did have to convince them to support us, and we only convinced the militia, we didn't focus on convincing the populace as a whole. Right?

At that time the Taliban were incredibly abusive (they didn't know how to govern). AQ were simply guests that the Taliban were obligated to protect based on their agreement and culture, so understandably the AQ and Taliban coalition were both legitimate targets (couldn't get to AQ without going through the Taliban) from our perspective.

The initial operations went well, but reportedly the offensive was losing steam, and we didn't have the will to pursue AQ into Pakistan. Then the strategic decision was to shift from a partially successful punitive operation to nation building to consolidate gains and hopefully prevent the AQ from returning to Afghanistan. In my opinion that was a major mistake, but of course many disagree. So is it better to have AQ in Pakistan where they're relatively safe, or in Afghanistan where we can kill them? I digress.

Anyway in very simple terms we had a mission change, and the only reason I'm supportive of the hearts and minds (as I described it) is nation building requires the support of the nation (the people). Furthermore, while the Taliban wouldn't pass muster by U.S. standards, they haven't been static since the initial invasion. They learned and adapted and more likely than will govern better now than they did in the past based on the popular revolt against the Taliban. Note that popular revolt against the Taliban doesn't widely exist now, and a lot of Afghans support them. Since our mission is COIN and nation building, yes HAM is important.

You said we didn't have to convince anyone to do anything initially, but I don't think that is an inorrect reading. The CIA and their bags full of money were used to convince NA to support us, and we bribed our way to the point where the demographics changed and then there was less support. The gallant efforts by SF and the CIA initially were successful to a point at the tactical level, but UBL and the remaining AQ senior leadership still escaped and wasn't pursued. The initial success was also running out of steam, so I think it is wishful thinking to believe we would be able to continue operating like we were in 2002. I probably didn't scratch your itch, but maybe provided enough to generate some more questions.

kdog101 (not verified)

Mon, 04/18/2011 - 11:59pm

Bill M. you said:
"Winning hearts and minds isn't about making the populace like us or their government, but convincing the populace that if the counterinsurgenty wins it will be more beneficial to them than if the enemy wins, and more importantly convincing them that we're going to win, so they'll get off the fence and provide support to the counterinsurgent."

In the beginning of the Afghan conflict we did not have to convince anyone to do anything. They had already wanted to fight Al Queda and the Taliban. Why is that not enough for us? Then we can stay focused on our goal of disrupting serious terror threats versus swatting flies all day.


Mon, 04/18/2011 - 11:55pm

Ideas tend to tie up a lot more neatly and vehemence in your convictions about our expansive foreign policies is a lot cheaper when you don't have to carry the bodies these pretty ideas create.

Think tankers, experts, and all have their place. We should look for expertise where ever we can find it, but not at the expense of valuing our junior leaders' experience. What is more, these leaders are less likely to be the cheap cheerleaders that some pundits can be, encouraging costly policies whose results they profess to understand, but they really have no imagination of.

Publius (not verified)

Mon, 04/18/2011 - 10:22pm

Hey, even if the guy's a total fraud, I'd say let's be careful we don't get rid of anything that might be valuable. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

But you know what's really bad about this whole story? As has been noted already, it's the propensity of senior military officers to go with whatever's "hot," with whatever's in the news, rather than with their own people who've got hard-won skills.

This whole soap opera tells us just how shallow our senior military officers--who'd rather listen to Australians, Brits, think-tank clowns, any civilian who's gotten into the public eye--instead of their fellow American officers. Whenever I hear of Petraeus, he of the retinue of various and sundry civilian advisers, I wonder just what our military has become.

I hope officers reading this enjoy being told what to do in war by people from think tanks who are being paid a lot of money just to be smart. Just think, your life and the lives of your troops may hang on the opinions of Fred and Kimberly Kagan. Or Andrew Exum's, for that matter.

Interesting wars we fight these days. And of course we're doing such a great job, too.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 04/18/2011 - 6:41pm

Jonathon F, where did you see the school? Was the school there when you got there? How do you know it made a positive change? What positive change?

No one in 60 minutes said he didn't build schools, they did point out a couple were disasters (still a better track record than the Army doing it). The issues were with integrity of the story (parts of it were fabrications), but more importantly misuse of CAI's finances. The reports came from CAI insiders who were quiting in droves because of fiscal mismanagement. Flawed personalties can do good things, but Greg isn't exactly the hero he made himself to be. Buyer beware.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 04/18/2011 - 6:27pm

Oh my god how dare he print the picture of his bodyguards and call them his Taliban abductors!

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 04/18/2011 - 6:17pm

they went to 30 out of 54 schools...

Jonathan F (not verified)

Mon, 04/18/2011 - 3:59pm

Maybe Mortenson or the guy who wrote his book exaggerated the mountaineering story, but the schools are real - I have seen them for myself. And the difference they make.
And if the CBS folks, and others here and elsewhere who have jumped on the bandwagon wanted to check the story properly, they could have gone out to Pakistan and Afghanistan and seen for themselves....
Instead they've followed the Pak government's line, that their "ghost schools" are real and Mortenson's are fake.

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 04/18/2011 - 10:24am

Shorter comment for those who don't want to wade through the verbiage:

The important question isn't whether or not the book is accurate, it is whether the theories it espouses actually work. Does building schools in fragile or failing states, or unsecured regions, help promote stability and stop radicalism? And even if it does, do we know, institutionally, how to recreate the effects?

Lots of literature on this. And it doesn't support the dreamier theories.

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 04/18/2011 - 10:20am

@ Pol-Mil FSO

Point taken : )

Rereading my 9:00 comment from April 17, I'm a bit embarrassed. I come across as a complete nut. I didn't draw connections in the way <strong>Carl Prine</strong> has in his post at Lines of Departure.

1. Even if the stories are 100 percent true, there is a literature that shows how Western efforts at democratization and modernization have unpredictable effects, especially in unstable zones and within fragile or failing states.

There are problems with Western development theory and it seems to me that the military is trying to militarize that which doesn't work very well - if at all - when tried at a macro level by our aid agencies and the State department.

2. To <strong>Move Forward's</strong> points about education and madrassas:

Various American and other governments, as well as international aid agencies, have tried again and again and again and again to revamp the educational system in Pakistan in order to promote regional stability or to further American strategic aims.

Every time - and I mean every single time, this relationship goes back decades - something went awry. Monies disappeared, schools weren't built, the curriculum itself was worse than that of the local madrassas, and so on and so forth. So to hear this canard repeated by <strong>Sec. Gates</strong> in a hearing ten years into a war set me off.

And why do people keep repeating this canard? Why do they not know this history?

3. @ <strong>Grant Martin</strong> - <em>The Beautiful Tree</em> is a book about the world's poor teaching <em>themselves.</em> I've linked to it before around here and I think it tends to get less attention because it doesn't involve aid agencies or government programs, it doesn't involve the West, and there is no big outsider hero to run in and save the day. It is about people doing for themselves, if they can, if they are able. And they are more able than sometimes we realize. And sometimes our good hearted attempts to modernize do more harm than good.


I'm not convinced "we" can persuade many nations (the people) to act the way we want them to by bribing them with goods and services. This is the responsibility of the State, not the foreign force (unless it is an occupying power). In most cases the State must skillfully use force (and sometimes a lot of it) to defeat an insurgent, but the key here is the skillful use of force and when working the hearts the minds stuff, understand what it is and have a strategy for doing it, not simply going through the motions by building roads, schools, med clinics, etc. and then wondering why the people are still shooting at us.

Winning hearts and minds isn't about making the populace like us or their government, but convincing the populace that if the counterinsurgenty wins it will be more beneficial to them than if the enemy wins, and more importantly convincing them that we're going to win, so they'll get off the fence and provide support to the counterinsurgent.

There are serious limitations to what "we" can accomplish unless we accept the legal role of being an occupying power and all that comes with it. In countries where occupying powers come from completely different cultures they'll probably have to be prepared to use extreme force (by our standards) to get the populace to submit to its will in order to establish some semblance of order. Since we're not prepared to do this, and if the host nation government is ineffective and refuses to change then I too think using the COIN approach is likely to fail. All strategies are conditions based, and if the conditions are not supportive of the strategy the strategy will most likely fail. Certain conditions must exist, we can't simply follow doctrine blindly. If it is true that Karzai's government is ineffective, then developing a strategy that depends on good goverance would seem doomed before the ink dried on the paper it was being printed on.

It is worth noting that France in Algeria and the Brits in Malaya were operating on their sovreign soil, so as colonial rulers they were able to somewhat legitimately implement rather harsh emergency measures that we tend to shy away from.

Grant, I think your last post about political correctness (my term for it) is profound and absolutely correct. In our society we're compelled to respect the unrespectable. If I was a devout Muslim and I knew what American culture was like (like I do), then the last thing I would want is American influence in my community.

I've written a piece about how the publishing world may also have had a key part in creating this phenomena which was over the top, in order to have a best seller. It's over on my blog, The Kitchen Dispatch.

I do find similarities between this and the Frey debacle a few years ago. I've detailed this and other things in the structural form that I noticed when comparing the two books.


Mon, 04/18/2011 - 1:10am

Grant, great post. This may be a sign of lunacy, but I think one of the best parenting quotes of all times comes from Tom Eckert in "Red Dawn," something to the effect of, "I was hard on you boys, sometimes I made you hate me. Maybe now you understand why."

Tough love.

Eventually, too, parents need to understand when to walk away and let the brats fall on their face until they scar up, figure it out, and start picking themselves up off the ground. Either they'll come back to thank you or hate you for the rest of their lives, but you're not doing any better by enabling them. True for kids, true for Karzai.

G Martin

Sun, 04/17/2011 - 11:23pm

I thought this post on the 60 min. site was prescient:

<EM>I'm the director for another system of schools in Pakistan that is quite different from the CAI model. We don't take donations and we rely on our students to set the direction and earn the costs, which are quite low. It is a simple grass roots all volunteer organization but we have 30 schools and approximately 4000 students, mostly women. Five dollars they earn will pay the tuition for one year and we are looking to lower that. Our students become happy, proud, and confident.

My problem with the CAI model is that it is top down. What is the value of pumping million dollar Western style education into village cultures? They want and must learn how to solve their own complex problems and work their own way out, gaining strength as they go.

We at Little World Community Organization are regular people rolling up our sleeves to stand with the impoverished and assist their gallant and hopeful efforts to grow whole again.

Greg Zaller</EM>

This to me is "the problem" with our efforts in Afghanistan in a nutshell. We are CAI: attempting top-down change with tons of money, STRATCOM, and other resources- and mainly doing very little that is sustainable and long-term. It makes us feel good, but little else. Shouldn't we care if many schools CAI built (or ISAF for that matter) aren't being used, are teaching kids a "militant" religion, or are being used to support insurgents' business dealings?

Meanwhile, others have argued we should do more "bottom-up" efforts and work on supporting the Afghans as opposed to leading them by the nose in the "Western way" of doing things- much like's description of how they do things.

And that- Move Forward- is why I think the "progress" shown by the "surge" could be ephemeral. It shouldn't surprise anyone that we have some positive metrics in districts wherein we've poured tons of troops and money. What is more important is that we set in motion progress that will be sustainable.

And, as a soldier who has deployed twice to Afghanistan in the last 4 years- I not only APPRECIATE smart citizens and soldiers debating and sharing ideas about our efforts there- I think it is our duty to do so. If we aren't doing the right things then supporting us in doing the wrong things won't make our Army better in my opinion. THAT would be fratricide to me.

In terms of "why" we in the Army are now acting like the UN or the DoS has done traditionally- I posit that we, as an Army, are turning into what our country has been for some time: incapable of "tough love". I see it in Cub Scout Pack Meetings, soccer practices, school programs and church functions. Grizzled Army senior NCOs can't seem to discipline their own kids. Single mothers who are service members get punched in public by their uncontrollable boys. Senior DoD officers continue to bail out their grown children from jail and support them in their self-destructive behavior and life-styles.

This behavior of people who should know better seems to play itself out on the national stage as well. We can't show tough-love and allow people to do things on their own in order for them to fail and learn from their mistakes. I think we as an Army have become as ineffective as the NGOs have been in Africa for decades, but we shouldn't be surprised: the same top-down and external development and governance efforts haven't worked very well there either.

MikeF (not verified)

Sun, 04/17/2011 - 10:09pm

Move Forward,

A couple of things for you to consider,

1. SWJ is run by volunteers. While that may change one day, we do this as second jobs in our free time for the sole purpose of providing a collaborative learning environment for everyone ranging from the warfighter to the peacekeeper.

2. There is a wealth of combat experience here with many just returning or leaving on their fourth or fifth tour. SWJ's Cavguy is just about to head out the door to A'stan.

3. We recognize that no one has a monopoly on the future or current histories. To whit, many things happened in Iraq in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Determining the percentage of causality is the most important thing we can help facilitate if we strive to do better in the future.

4. I am a big fan of groups like CAI. Specifically, I love that they can build a school for $15000 rather than $150,000. But, the question for all of these groups (to include micro-financing, Peace Corps, mosquito nets in Africa) is can these successful grassroots agencies work at the macro-level. Thats the accurate definition of a true social entrepreneur- proven track record. In the next two months, we'll spotlight some other groups doing good work. We'll just have to wait and see if the work is efficient.

4A. In Greg's specific case, he offers some great tips on initial entry. Primarily, having the tribal/village elder/leader ask for you to come live there is preferred over forced initial entry when possible.

5. Most importantly, we empathize with your love for the Army and the soldiers, but that does not mean that you are alone. Trust me, we feel the same.

This was an odd weekend. What we posted was initial spot reports. We'll have to wait and see how it plays out.


Bill M,

Liked your first comment about hearts and minds. Not sure about the second. It's easy to assess who has many thousands of capable tanks these days and it is only the U.S. and allies. It's also simple to predict how rapidly threat armor forces could grow based on defense budgets. Can anyone envision any scenario where the Army or Marines land armor on mainland China??

No argument can discount the value of tanks used in COIN and against future weaker foes. It's how many active duty tanks and tanks per combined arms battalion or BCT that is debateable...especially when equally large and numerous GCVs also are a possibility.

Dave M,

My comments are solely a response to the common refrain that we should choose a counter-terror approach in Afghanistan that includes only airpower and SOF/SF. The other common comment is there was no proof that the surge or COIN in Iraq worked when the death tolls after initial fights, long-term casualties, and ethnic strife all were reduced.

Will add that temporary success of B-52s and SOF/SF in 2001 Afghanistan and in bombing Vietnam/Cambodia obviously did not suffice. It is equally clear that bombing Libya alone is insufficient.

But given current committments can anyone envision land forces there to do the job right? It took over a decade to get it right after Desert Storm. Political and public lack of support may dictate a similar lapse before the next major use of ground power once Afghanistan finishes.

The only reason I make comments is because I love the US Army and the Soldiers who have born the burden of the past decade. But as Libya and Secretary Gates comments show, there will be strong pressure placed by budget-cutters to reduce the Army's size and budget.

It does not help the Army's cause to deny value in one of the prevalent areas where it is likely to fight in the future. It likewise seems unwise to repeatedly question the value of efforts current servicemembers are performing in Afghanistan and Iraq. Seems like fratricide to me.

Surferbeetle (not verified)

Sun, 04/17/2011 - 9:40pm


Your mix of serious, funny, and serious is as always well done ;)

<ol><i>"Winning minds also includes killing the enemy (demonstrating dominance), and has little to do with the random acts of touching most of our civil military operations are about."</i></ol>

On a serious note, your comment regarding <i>"...random [CA] acts of touching..."</i> speaks to the ongoing need for thoughtful specification for, and application of, specialist CA vs generalist CA demographics by our planners, and more broadly, to our military's overreach into the realms normally occupied by local governments, NGO's, USACE, USAID, and DoS.

So why bother to allocate scarce resources to CA? DoS and USAID are hopelessly undermanned and underfunded. NGO's are high priced talent that does not always mix well with DoD. On the other hand CA is a population of folks that are trained, armed, dedicated to the DoD mission, controllable, and able to operate across permissive, semi-permissive, and non-permissive environments (in concert with Infantry, SF, etc).

Ideally, for your example of schools, you could use CA specialists with no shit proven real world civilian skills in the political, education administration, and construction arenas. Folks who get paid good money back home to ensure that schools are sited properly (demographics, etc) and have sustainable linkages to teachers, operations & maintenance funding and pro's, utilities funding, etc prior to the first mud brick being placed. Once the feasibility studies are complete, construction cost estimates, contract negotiation, design engineering, build operations, and quality assurance/quality control/monitoring/evaluation need to be performed, again by professionals. Professional political folks are also needed to provide focused top cover throughout by targeting and mobilizing the partnered power brokers/government. The Army does not really manage or employ CA that way however....and as a result you regularg get what you describe. Does that mean the typical 18-25 year old CA generalist types are bad people? No of course not, it just means that organizational design/human resources in this particular part of the Army is not meeting the needs of Commanders on the the ground. An answer, direct commissioning or warranting of CA specialists with needed skills, is verboten however.

The Army could also draw upon local governments, USACE, USAID, DoS and NGO's in order to employ the needed professionals required to sustainably accomplish the building, staffing, and maintaining of schools. To do that, and build the necessary human bridges to success, takes non-security based skills, time, and patience...often more than the 12 month timeline of our OER and NCOER systems...

IOW no quick easy answers, just plain old hard specialized work added to the already very, very demanding work of providing security...


gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 04/17/2011 - 9:09pm

Bill M:

nicely argued set of posts.

But I have to say that I just have a hard time accepting (from studying history and current operations) that a local population can be "convinced" or "won over" to the government's side. Such words imply the notion of persuasion through the provision of security and services; what makes you think that such things can work?

Moreover, perhaps it can work if we are willing to stay there for a long, long time. But such thinking represents to me the dominance of the tactics of pop centric coin over strategy. It may be that the place simply isnt worth a long term state building effort.



Move Forward: One more thing. If you are concerned about SOF and Regular force integration then your comments are not helpful. Again, I am not sure what brought your comments on but I fail to see their relevance in this discussion.

Posted by Move Forward,

"Naysayers simultaneously undermine the Army's future and budgets as AirSea pursuits look increasingly attractive and less expensive in blood and treasure. The days of the Cold War Fulda Gap, Desert Storm, and OIF I are not the Army's future and its time for armor historians to recognize that and find ways to achieve greater and alternate future relevance."

First off you have no idea what the future will be, nor do any of us know if the surge in Afghanitan was successful yet (maybe it will be).

Armor can play a role in the full spectrum of operations from peace enforcement, stability operations to major war. I think Army leaders realize the Fulda Gap scenario has long passed, but that didn't preclude the use of armor for Desert Storm or OIF I and then subsequent COIN operations in Iraq. I am glad the men had armor supporting their multiple Falujah operations, it would have been bloodier if we didn't. If we're dumb enough to send ground troops into Libya, armor will be essential. If Egypt is eventually ruled by the MB and they declare war on Israel and Israel needs our help (unlikely) we'll need armor and I think of a number of other potential scenarios (outside of the Fulda Gap) where armor will be a key element of the combined arms team. Don't confuse today's operations in Afghanistan with tomorrow's operation in some other location. We need to maintain a full spectrum of capabilities.

Move Forward: I am not sure what brings on comments about SOF. I do not recall saying anything about SOF in my above post. My comments specifically were about Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who have been doing this work for the past 10 years without reference to SOF or Regular forces. My comments were about the military broadly and not SOF specific. I know full well that these complex conflicts require the full range of our military capabilities as well as civilian government capabilities. I am not sure why you feel you have to make the comments you do.


Good post, and I would argue that many of our NCOs and officers will tell you in private that many of their school building efforts were failures and the reasons why, but because most commands naively embrace the hearts and minds theory without really understanding it, they prohibit honest assessments. So instead building schools has become an automated response by most units, because it makes for a few good Kodak moments, and then when the school fails that isn't reported on. Bernard Fall challenged our metrics in Vietnam when he visited a few villages that were listed under friendly control, and most locations we builty schools there, but in many of these locations the communists appointed the teachers. In Afgahnistan I spoke to one town leader who complained that the Mullahs were the only teachers available and they weren't qualified to teach, and all they did was preach the values of the Islam of the kids (in a school we built). Building schools as an action by itself means absolutely nothing, they can become C2 structures for the enemy, IED factories, or radicalization centers if the enemy gets to appoint the teacher(s), OR they could become centers for learning that gradually help transform a society.

The problem with "hearts and minds" is that most our military folks now think it was about getting locals to "pretend" to like you. Hand out books, candy, offer some medical treatment, and then drive off with everyone smiling and waving at you, hearts and minds are won. That is a much of crap, and it isn't what hearst and minds mean in a counterinsurgency. I recall our folks getting excited in Iraq when we would ride into towns and villages in our vehicles and folks would wave and smile at us (in 2003), but I reminded the guys I was working with that I seen photos of Iraqis doing the same thing when the Iraqis rode into their town/village. It is a reflective action by the people in hopes that we won't shoot them. If they're cold to you, then you really screwed up.

What does winning hearts and minds mean in a counterinsurgency?

Winning hearts means "convincing" the populace that their interests will be best served if the counterinsurgent wins. Interests vary based on culture, but economic, health, protecting their way of life (not imposing ours) and security issues play a role. The government (not the U.S. military) must align common interests between the populace and the government to create a strong bond between them. This appears to be a bridge too far at the moment in Afghanistan, so we have defaulted to local forms of governance with hopes we can eventually link them to future and better national government.

Winning minds is the process of convincing the populace the counterinsurgent is going to "win" in the short and "long" term. The short term is convincing the populace the counterinsurgent can protect them from the insurgent (the value of the surge and establishing COPs in Iraq, and now the VSO in Afgahistan). The long term is convincing people that the counterinsurgent is going to win. It isn't logical for people to support the side perceived to be losing in the long run because it puts them and their families at great risk. Even GEN Petreus said the Afghan people are waiting to see who they think will win after America leaves, and then they'll make their decision what side they're on.

Of course the insurgent is trying to do the same thing, and if you look at this way then you can actually assess if you or the insurgent is winning the hearts and minds of the populace, and adjust your strategy appropriately. Winning minds also includes killing the enemy (demonstrating dominance), and has little to do with the random acts of touching most of our civil military operations are about.

I'll buy into the building schools argument if we secure the village first, and they stay there, and then the government appoints "qualified" teachers that provide a real education that the locals value. Then we're doing something that actually contributes to the hearts and minds approach in a meaningful way. To date we have wasted millions of dollars with our random hearts and minds efforts that are not tied into a holistic strategy. Is hearts and minds important? You bet it is, but first you have to understand what it means.

COL Dave Maxwell,

The Washington Post article leading the news articles today cites that the "surge" has enabled progress in places like Sangin and Arghandab.

Such progress would have been impossible using only a few SOF/SF forces spread far too thin. Because Sangin was previously populated by fewer British forces, it is anecdotal evidence of the surge's success. Add to that the clearance of the road to Kajaki dam which previously could not be accommplished with fewer forces.

In addition, the article cites extensive use on line charges to blast new roads and clear old ones. It also mentions use of Iraq-like blast barriers and sand berms with concertina on top as success lessons of the Iraq surge.

The fact that insurgents thought to flood roads to preclude ground vehicle QRF support would seem to indicate insurgent perception of their value. Add increased use of Army aviation and joint UAS and you easily could argue there is a place for technology in this conflict.

The heavy-handed approach involved in clearing (sans civilian casualties) coupled with the ongoing hold phase enabled by more forces, seems to have led to a more receptive attitude of locals as mentioned early in the Washington Post article. It also is indicative that all the naysaying about COIN and the general purpose force not doing it effectively is B.S.

If it was only SOF/SF forces able to pass along these kinds of lessons, it would be far less effective than having thousands of Soldiers/Marines/Airmen/Sailors learning them and using them on their next rotation.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 04/17/2011 - 7:53pm


Nice post, very nice.

Interesting that you mention the B52s as the best option recommended by the border police as the best way to change such behaivor. It reminds me of General Abrams and the Vietnam War where Abrams used to often quip that his "strategic reserve," or "reserve artillery" were the B52s.

Bing has argued that at least in Vietnam the purpose of the American military was to kill the communist enemy in order to protect the population. Now in Aghanistan the purpose of the american military is to persuade the local population to turn away from the Taliban enemy. See the difference?

Also see the foolishness of the American Way of Coin which is symbolized by the American army trying to weaponize Mortenson and his little book as a text of cultural knowledge; as if cultural knowledge can become weaponized.

Bing's book is spot on correct: American Coin doesnt work, and our strategy in Afghanistan is deeply flawed for thinking that it does.


What this episode I hope exposes is how we become enamored with people like Mortenson.  It becomes fashionable to have someone like "advising" us.  It gives us the appearance of being open minded and thinking outside the box.  I am all for creativity and thinking outside the box - - actually doing it is what is important and not just giving the appearance of doing so.  This in a way falls into the criticism of the alleged American Way of War that is technologically based always with the belief that there is a silver bullet or at least a superior technology that will allow us to be victorious.  The same kind of mindset might permeate in our COIN thinking - if we just find the right way to do thinks, e.g., just drink three cups of tea (have patience and cultural respect) with the indigenous people we can win their hearts and minds.

What I hope is not lost on everyone  is that we have Sergeants, Captain, Majors, and Lieutenant Colonels who have have more experience drinking tea and building schools than someone like Mortenson.  The things he espoused were not revelations; nor are the things that others who fall into the category of outside adviser as well also advise us to do.  The difference is they have name recognition and they write and talk about it.  However, as I said we have NCOs and Officers who in the last 10 years have much more experience actually doing things and it is those Sergeants, senior company grade and mid field grade officers to whom our generals should be listening.  Our PME institutions are filled with experienced Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines and we should be treating them as our own think tank resource while they are in school, encouraging them to to write but most importantly paying attention to what they have experienced, what they have to say and what they think about how to do things better in the future.

And one last thing.  Just because Mortenson and others who have been debunked (such as I have previously mentioned, Larry Cable) does not mean that all the tactics, techniques, and procedures they are associated with should be debunked. The truth is most of what they had to say fell into the common sense category and if we had listened to those Sergeants and Officers who were already doing those things we would not have been enamored with these kind of people.


Sun, 04/17/2011 - 6:11pm

The result of 60 Minutes shinning a light on Mortenson will lead to even more scrutiny which will either clear him, or more likely, uncovers what happens when the best laid plan of alturism meets up with tons of easy money.

Bing West wrote in his recent book "The Wrong War" about the embrace of Mortenson and how the battle of Ganjigal, where Marine Cpl Dakota Meyer was nominated for the MOH, was an example of what he called, "the limits of friendly peruasion." He went on to chastize the generals for giving Mortenson "rock star status," while ignoring any such "glittering
reception" for Meyer.

As a post script to the battle of Ganjigal, the village elders got a road built by the Americans who also paid local fighters to provide security, even after they had killed Americans. The suggestion from the local Border Police commander was that the best incentive to change such behavior was; "Use B-52's."

Many points made in CAI responses are completely reasonable. If Mortenson was not making these speeches, the donations would be nearly nonexistent. My own mother was inspired by seeing one such speech and she was surrounded by many hundreds of potentially wealthier and well-educated donators who normally would be unreceptive to AfPak arguments.

The extensive travel Mortenson must undertake would explain potential failures to supervise a few failed and empty schools and unpaid teachers. ISAF, USAID, and other NGOs are no doubt responsible for building many structures at far more expense that also failed due to Taliban influence. CAI, rather than Mortenson the salesman, should be more to blame for individual failed schools.

Those who continued to question hearts and minds techniques based on their reading of Vietnam history and current events, are apparently unwilling to examine other historical and present lessons that insurgents across an international border are the major source of the problem and potential solution.

If we tried to kill our way out of this Afghan insurgency, without addressing those across the border it would be a pursuit doomed to failure. And the AfPak border requires respect, particularly when the owner has nuclear weapons and a capable military that is not our enemy and can be part of the solution if we don't alientate them.

The other side of the border is the bigger determinant of long term al Qaeda and AfPak success or failure because far more Pashtuns and other non-Pashtun extremists reside there. The madrassas that create many such extremists are countered by efforts like those of Mortenson and create more insurgents when we carelessly appear to kill our way to victory and hit noncombatants instead.

Meanwhile, those who question both surge's success, the utility of COPs intermingled with the population, attempts to win H & M and treat Afghans with respect are publicly undermining morale of those who are on their 3rd and 4th tours atttempting to make such progress. Perhaps it explains why SWJ would be banned from ISAF computers...

Naysayers simultaneously undermine the Army's future and budgets as AirSea pursuits look increasingly attractive and less expensive in blood and treasure. The days of the Cold War Fulda Gap, Desert Storm, and OIF I are not the Army's future and its time for armor historians to recognize that and find ways to achieve greater and alternate future relevance.

Failure to be part of a new solution as many armor officers have been, is a guarantee to be part of an Army that is predominantly National Guard in the heavy armor sector.


Sun, 04/17/2011 - 4:29pm

That the military felt like it needed to go to an outside "expert" dressed up like Owen Wilson in Little Fockers this far into its COIN adventure in order to learn how to win hearts and minds is a pretty blaring statement. The combination of arrogance, insecurity, and lack of true professional study on the part of some senior leaders results in this sort of adventure. They look for some faddish self-styled expert bold and delusional enough to preach confident solutions, while often refusing to give audience to the expertise and hard-won experience in their own ranks. A friend of mine who worked in a pol-mil liaison role at the district level in Afghanistan described how senior officers treated new college or grad school grads wearing civilian attire in Afghanistan as certain experts while treating him (also with a graduate degree, plus multiple combat tours, deep experience living and working in the region, and proficiency in two regional languages), like an idiot. Surely, the senior officers thought, those college kids must be smarter than the junior officer because he's like me, only less experienced and with less rank. Right?

Carl (not verified)

Sun, 04/17/2011 - 2:48pm

From the AP, news that 60 Minutes may be about to tell us that Greg Mortenson, guru to military brass, is a phony.

Did I say "phony"? Big fat phony is more like it.

I wrote about Mortenson's status as unofficial Pentagon advisor to Mullen, Petraeus, McChrystal et al after Mortenson's bestselling book, Three Cups of Tea, became a hit with their wives. Not just a hit. Required reading before anyone deploys to Afghanistan.

Here's an excerpt to recap before the show:


Or, as MSNBC more calmly reported: "Mortenson is someone the military's top brass listens to -- and has often consulted with. "Three Cups of Tea" has become required reading for U.S. commanders and troops deploying to Afghanistan, making Mortenson a valued but unofficial adviser to the Pentagon."

That was in 2009. More recently, in July 2010, the New York Times reported:

In the frantic last hours of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's command in Afghanistan, when the world wondered what was racing through the general's mind, he reached out to an unlikely corner of his life: the author of the book "Three Cups of Tea," Greg Mortenson.

"Will move through this and if I'm not involved in the years ahead, will take tremendous comfort in knowing people like you are helping Afghans build a future," McChrystal wrote to Mortenson in an e-mail message, as he traveled from Kabul to Washington, D.C.

Wow. I missed that the first time around. The Times story continues:

The e-mail message was in response to a note of support from Mortenson. It reflected his broad and deepening relationship with the U.S. military, whose leaders have increasingly turned to Mortenson, once a shaggy mountaineer, to help translate the theory of counterinsurgency into tribal realities on the ground.

Why am I not surprised? The book, which initially generated little interest, the Times notes:

appealed so much to one military spouse that in the fall of 2007 she sent the book to her husband, Christopher Kolenda, at that time a lieutenant colonel commanding 700 U.S. soldiers on the Pakistan border.

Kolenda knew well the instructions about building relationships with elders that were in the Army and Marine Corps' new counterinsurgency manual, which had been released in late 2006. But "Three Cups of Tea" brought the lessons to life.

"It was practical, and it told real stories of real people," said Kolenda, now a top adviser at the Kabul headquarters for the International Security Assistance Force, in an interview at the Pentagon last week.

Kolenda was among the first in the military to reach out to Mortenson, and by June 2008 the Central Asia Institute had built a school near Kolenda's base. By the summer of 2009, Mortenson was in meetings in Kabul with Kolenda, village elders and at times Obama's new commander, McChrystal. (By then at least two more military wives -- Deborah Mullen and Holly Petraeus -- had told their husbands to read "Three Cups of Tea.")

As Kolenda tells it, Mortenson and his Afghan partner on the ground, Wakil Karimi, were the U.S. high command's primary conduits for reaching out to elders outside the "Kabul bubble."

As Mortenson tells it, the Afghan elders were often blunt with McChrystal, as in a meeting last October when one of them said that he had traveled all the way from his province because he needed weapons, not conversation.

Weapons not conversation? That doesn't sound very tea-like.

"He said, 'Are you going to give them to me or am I going to sit here and listen to you talk,' " Mortenson recalled. The high command replied, Mortenson said, that they were making an assessment of what he needed. "And he said, 'Well, you've already been here eight years,' " Mortenson recalled.

Despite the rough edges, Kolenda said, the meetings helped the U.S. high command settle on central parts of its strategy -- the imperative to avoid civilian casualties, in particular, which the elders consistently and angrily denounced during the sessions -- and also smoothed relations between the elders and commanders.

For Mortenson's part, his growing relationship with the military convinced him that it had learned the importance of understanding Afghan culture and of developing ties with elders across the country, and was willing to admit past mistakes.

And the damage is done.