The conflict in Afghanistan played a key role contributing to the success that is CASS Global today. In terms of security services in Afghanistan, the seasoned veterans who represent CGS filled every role imaginable. Special Operations to include Green Berets and Rangers, Country Managers, Private Security Bodyguards, Convoy Escort, etc. If it existed we were involved in it either directly or via personnel who later went on to join us.
However, as this convoluted counter insurgency has provided so much material on how to / and not to conduct security operations and has advanced this company to the highest of levels, an extended article is warranted.
I was the luckiest of individuals. I was in the process of collecting material for a second book focusing on small unit counter insurgency operations. (Which is not unlike Executive Protection operations by the way) So the Army agreed and opened all doors, allowing me pretty much free rein over where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do for which I shall be forever grateful. I spent months in country, embedded with Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition units through standing in the operating room while the human carnage that is war was operated on about 4 feet away. Two air assaults in three days, extended dismounted operations, and weeks spent with Provincial Reconstruction teams working with the locals and attending a dizzying array of “Shuras” or local council meetings. As an added bonus, due to my technical status as “civilian”, I was able to access large portions of the country that were denied to the military. I wandered up through Chicken street in downtown Kabul, sat with the heroin addicts in the bombed out buildings, and moved through the Salang valley, practically skipping from one rusted Russian tank to the next, mementoes of yet another disastrous war in this chaotic nation. I also had the unique experience of seeing the military presence from a local’s point of view. In short, I was on extended sabbatical, and was getting paid to think about small unit security operations. It was one of the most profoundly insightful times of my life. The lessons learned will be with me forever and are ruthlessly beaten into every person who works with CASS Global.
The photos that follow, all taken by me in country, will hopefully highlight the classroom that was Afghanistan. A number of the lessons learned, as pertains to CASS Global security, are also included..
One of the many faces of Afghanistan. En route to Bagram Air Base after landing in Kabul. Friend or Foe? One never really knew and profiling here was a dangerous game. You were just as likely to get shot by a young boy or old man like the one pictured here as you were to die at the hands of a 25 year old. Each individual had to be taken on a case by case basis and assuming anything was a very dangerous proposition. We have carried the same lesson into Global ops with us.
Flight to Gardez, in Eastern Afghanistan, which was to be my staging area for the months to come. Jagged mountains with practically no infrastructure meant that it would be a checkerboard war, with each area completely independent of the others. You could be winning in one village and losing your ass in the next one only a mile or two over the hill. For CASS Global, it means never taking anything for granted. Ever.
A “Shura” or council meeting, attended by the American commander and the local chieftains. An excellent policy implemented by the American Army which achieved decidedly mixed results. I have always been fond of this photo as it sums up (to a degree) my feelings about the war. The American, bright and enthusiastic, keen to go, while the rest are bored, plotting against each other, or against us. Partly, it was our own fault for trying to instill Western values in a society that wanted nothing to do with us. We would build schools, and they would use the school as a covered area for horses. They have a very limited sense of community, unlike Hometown USA, and thus lived in a carnivorous, what-can-I-get-for-ME-TODAY” mindset which completely defeats the concept of collective good. Both sides were right, and both were wrong, dependent upon your point of view. The key here is try not to impose your personal value system on somebody who isn’t interested….it doesn’t work. A bitter lesson well learned by CASS Global.
The eternal problem……Afghans cowering behind the rocks while Americans advance into combat. I probably spent as much time looking down “friendly” barrels of AK-47s toted by the Afghan National Army as I did the Taliban. And we always dispatched a security element to ensure we didn’t get shot up by our own side. Huge problem with no simple fix due to a score of underlying reasons. Allowing Karzi to rig an election (while studiously ignoring his drug baron half brother) only made it worse. Big lesson learned for CASS Global. Washington called the shots on a war half way around the world….I got to see the insanity of some of those moronic decisions. CASS Global pushes responsibility and authority down and forward. After all, the guy looking at the dragon from 20 yards is probably in the best tactical position to defeat him. Washington couldn’t figure out that little nugget of gold. We do.
Forming up for the attack following a pre dawn air assault. Here is one area where we got it right. When positive identification was made on hard line Taliban individuals or other elements who were actively trying to kill Americans or Afghan government forces, military units were dispatched with the direct intent to kill them. Regardless of the level of fanaticism, being on the receiving end of punishing attacks such as this eventually causes even the most hardened terrorist to stop and give pause. In CASS Global terms, it implies that we as a company seek to take action against those who overtly and fanatically oppose the doctrine of common sense. Allowing a disruptive element to throw rocks at you or your client and doing nothing about it (figuratively, financially, physically, legally, etc) only confirms your status as a sitting duck and easy target. NEVER cede the Initiative.
The reality of the enemy. An Ak-47, an extra magazine, and a pair of flip flops. All too often, this is what we found ourselves fighting. Classic guerilla warfare.Decentralized, small group, and difficult to locate. Against which, at one point, we were deploying B-2 stealth bombers. Is this REALLY the best option in terms of expenditure of force, dollar cost, and the potentially for breeding more bad guys through the accidental bombing of innocents? Kind of like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut…
The trick to counter insurgency (and warfare in general) to include Private Security is to develop and maintain Low Level Intelligence Networks. If we know where they are, then it requires only a small element to go and destroy them. The lesson for CASS Global is “its not what you hit them with but rather where you hit them”. The development of Low Level Intelligence Networks is an ongoing and never ending task with us. It is also one of our most valuable tools.
This colorful character, seen here with a Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher to the front and an AK-47 to the rear, validated the theory of collateral damage. The Taliban killed a member of his family by mistake, and for that they paid heavily. A staunch American supporter he was fluent in local dialects and customs, was an invaluable source of intelligence, and was totally committed to the destruction of the Taliban. In hostile environments, CASS Global seeks similar type individuals who are dedicated to our mission success. After all, an enemy of my enemy is my friend. The other lesson is to remember that resorting to violence can serve as a catalyst for the law of unintended consequences. Be careful about whom you choose as your enemy. We strongly believe local personnel are enormous force multipliers in terms of providing security for CASS Global clients in difficult sections of the world.
The cowboy and the merchant in the bird market.Two of the most important people in Afghanistan as they represent, to quote Nixon, “the silent majority” whom only wish to live their lives in peace. They are the most important because they are neither pro-government nor pro-Taliban. They are uncommitted.
The Afghan National Government, backed by the USA has done an abysmal job of providing civil services to individuals like these. The Taliban, moving at night, have effectively created a shadow government, complete with courts, justice, etc. Societies crave order, even if it is violent, over existence in a void. Which is why dictators survive so long…..even tyranny is better than living in a social vacuum.
CASS Global understands that the most powerful are in fact the uncommitted. Thus a feature of many of our programs, especially in the Energy sector, is the direct targeting and interaction with individuals like this so that they may clearly identify the route which will most benefit themselves. To this end, CASS Global upon occasion resembles a community outreach service, but the return on investment, in terms of corporate support, are priceless. For when you own the silent majority, you own the world.
Humanitarian assistance, even at the most basic level, is a fantastic tool to have in the toolbox of corporate capabilities. In this particular case, a medic is tending a civilian who has been shot by the Taliban during an ambush. The elimination of pain and the knowledge to a family that a favorite son has been treated by the Americans buys fantastic quantities of intelligence. This is one of the most profoundly impactful undertakings the US executes in Afghanistan. It is also one of the reasons that the Army treats local villagers for no charge. CASS Global runs similar programs in at risk locales in the world. Medical treatment is a small price to pay for the elimination of attacks on our interests overseas.
One of the guiding principles of CASS Global states that you can’t run any operation from thousands of miles away. And if you are not prepared to put boots on the ground at all levels of an organization, then eventually the structure becomes unbalanced (usually top heavy and remote) and the whole foundation collapses. Therefore, regardless of rank, position, or experience, everybody “pulls the sled” together. Our leaders eat last, are always the first ones in, and usually the last ones out. If it is a really difficult mission, then our percentage of senior staff goes UP not down.
As a second point, sometimes it is necessary to get out of one mindset into another. I am completely unarmed in this photo, and no military is anywhere near me. I have my Afghan driver and myself. To fully appreciate the reality on the ground it is not possible to do so behind the comforting steel of Armored Personnel Carriers. By moving to locations where others either won’t or can’t go, it provides a much broader background upon which to create a successful mission. We can only TRULY start to develop successful strategies after we have evaluated the situation from all sides, including the more uncomfortable ones. It works.
To every action, there is a consequence. In this case it was paid in blood. On a busy day the whole floor was bright red, as the following photo will attest to. For the unaware, this was created by a SINGLE human being.
For those who have never been there, it is easy to “talk tough”. Many security companies adopt what we feel is an overly aggressive manner which looks impressive but does little to actually mitigate risk. After spending a few weeks in the operating room knee deep in the carnage, I tend to think long before acting hard. The same holds true with all the operational staff of CASS Global. Far too often we forget that we are dealing in human lives, and NOTHING can duplicate the experience of spending 18 hour days, day in and day out, in the trauma ward at a combat hospital. It is quite frankly a very sobering experience and ages men rapidly. I chose to include this as it helps to clearly define CASS Global as a company, and a very sober and serious one at that. There is no joy in the application of controlled violence against a potential aggressor, and there will always be unintended results. We are very competent at our jobs, but bring a sobriety of judgment that is occasionally lacking among some of our peers.
It makes us a more professional organization.
The best methodology to win. As Churchill once said, “it is better to jaw-jaw than war-war.” Never be afraid to sit down at the table of those who may be against you and simply talk. You might be surprised. For all the complexity of the techniques that we can employ, none is as successful as interactive human communications. We train our staff to listen well in order to identify the problem. From there we develop a set of possible solutions, allowing all parties to get most of what they want (but very rarely does anybody get everything they want) and move forward. If we can mitigate risk to the point where all parties accept us 80% of the time, love us 10% of the time, and hate us 10% of the time, I have in fact just described good governance. Its one of the reasons we are so forceful in effective communications training with our staff. If it can work in the horror show that is Afghanistan, as shown here, it can work anywhere.
Lastly, there must be a sense of shared challenges and dangers. Otherwise nobody trusts you. If we can’t take the same risks as Joe, the system self destructs. We must have the initiative to step forward and execute what needs to be done, regardless. Its all about leadership and CASS Global is awash in competent leaders.
I suppose you could say we have “earned” our spurs in terms of learning how to mitigate violence. If one learns how to swim in the surf, then future laps done in a placid indoor pool seem easy. CASS Global has taken all of the lessons learned, both good and bad, learned over the last decade and applied them to the select niche of corporate and private security. To be blunt, any organization who has NOT conducted similar audits is frankly behind the times.
Of course there was risk involved, but that is how one gets better.
CASS Global. Willing to risk to make you better.