Lessons from Afghanistan, by W.B.

SurvivalBlog is the best in it’s field because it draws upon the different skill sets and experiences of it’s readers. On that note, I would like to offer up my own experience for the benefit of other readers. I am a former Army Infantry Sergeant with combat service in Afghanistan and am currently a private security contractor. I was not a prepper before my service there. However, witnessing a post-collapse environment first hand made me confront some painful realities. I hope to God that my experiences will aid fellow preppers by giving them insight in to one type of collapse and it’s repercussions.

-You must have someone with some sort of medical experience in your retreat group. While dealing with Afghani civilians and prisoners or war, it was painfully obvious of their lack of all but the most primitive healthcare. In that country, there are countless deaths that could have been easily prevented by access to medical professionals and antibiotics. Wounds improperly sutured that become infected are a perfect example. If you have no antibiotics, what would you do?

-Medical supplies go very quickly when someone is wounded or sick. In our small medical clinic, items such as gauze, rubber gloves, painkillers, and antibiotics were always in short supply. Further, many with chronic medical conditions died for lack of supplies. When there is no bottled oxygen, insulin, or critical medications, people will die. I’m sorry, this is just what I saw.

-In a grid down situation, sanitation will quickly become a nightmare. In Afghanistan, trash quickly piles up with no one to pick it up. Soon, it becomes putrid, especially food and medical waste. Further, rats and feral dogs eat the trash and become ill which can bite humans. You must have a plan on how to effectively deal with waste or risk diseases and illness.

-Amongst the Afghanis, I have seen more than a few missing fingers, hands, and burns. This comes from improper handling of explosives and improper protective equipment while working. In a grid down situation, it goes without saying that the smallest injury could be fatal if an infection set in. You must wear personal protective equipment for everything you do that could harm you.

-When deployed, Soldiers commonly suffer from pink eye (conjunctivitis), cellulitis, Urinary Tract Infections other improper hygiene medical issues. Don’t overlook basic hygiene. If you only have three persons defending your retreat and one is on bed rest with an infection, your eight hour guard duty shifts just went to twelve hours. That may not seem substantial, but trust me, it is.

-Post collapse, expect a number of forgotten diseases to re-emerge. Amongst Afghani civilians, I have personally seen Tuberculosis and Polio. In a land with few antibiotics and hospitals, public health will fall apart. There are hospitals and clinics in Afghanistan, but most have to drive for hours across dangerous terrain to get to them. Further, fuel is scarce, so many needlessly die from preventable diseases.

-True security requires manpower. Positions must be effectively manned 24/7, 365 days a year. If they are not, any competent enemy will infiltrate your position. Split the day in to shifts, keep in mind that the longer the shift, the harder it is to stay alert. Leaders must inspect positions, as people will fall asleep on duty. This is why the shorter the guard shift the better, as men will remain more alert. When Soldiers man an Observation Post (OP), they generally pass off observation duties every hour because their eyes get tired from looking through optics. Remember, you have to be lucky all the time, the enemy has to be lucky once.

-The value of proper body armor cannot be overstated. I know men who would be dead now if it wasn’t for modern ceramic rifle plates. In a world where there is no ambulance to rush you the ER, do you want to risk a preventable mortal wound? At a minimum, buy a plate carrier to hold a front and back plate. On the topic of ballistic protection here is a useful fact for your general knowledge. Fired from 200 yards away, it takes one of the following to stop a 7.62x51mm (.308) ball round: 15 inches of pinewood boards, 10 inches of sand, or 3 inches of concrete. These are real figures that I have personally verified.

-Optics save lives. By “optics”, I mean rifle scopes, binoculars and spotting scopes. In Afghanistan, no one opens fire without first confirming “PID”, Positive Identification of the target by looking through a scope or binoculars. At distance or in low light, it is harder than you might think to distinguish friend from foe.

-In Afghanistan, the bad guys don’t always look like bad guys. As a matter of fact, they go to great lengths to avoid looking like bad guys. This is a key idea. When planning on attacking a position, the Taliban will attempt to infiltrate it with spies who pose as workers or they will even use children for this. Keep this in mind when a group of women and children approach your retreat.

-Night Vision Devices (NODs) are an absolute game-changer. Without them, the night is a scary place. The Taliban are terrified of our ability to operate at night. But understand the limitations of NODs. The Taliban knew that the best time to attack NATO was at dawn or dusk. NODs aren’t as useful then because of their light-gathering ability.

-If you have a firearm, you must have at least the basic spare parts for it. While at a test fire range, a soldier in my unit snapped his weapon’s firing pin due to the extreme cold. If we hadn’t had a spare, he weapon would have become a paperweight.

-In Afghanistan, the Taliban and less scrupulous Police will set up simple roadblocks to kidnap, rob, or murder. There is a reason why in the military, roads are known as an “LDA”, or Linear Danger Area. In a post collapse situation, how long would it take armed gangs to construct roadblocks along main roads? How would you circumvent these?

-In Afghanistan, corruption is rife amongst the Police and Army. Thus, is a post collapse environment, be very careful of who you trust. Just because some claims to be an authority figure, doesn’t mean that they are. The Taliban would sometimes steal Police and Army uniforms to infiltrate bases.

-Ask any combat veteran about his worst fears and encountering a competent sniper will be at the top of the list. However, this works both ways. Even a man with a scoped rifle in a designated marksman role can be a game-changer. A well- concealed sniper can defeat a much larger adversary, especially if they panic. In your retreat group, it is crucial to have at least one competent long range marksman with a suitable rifle.

-Ammo storage? As much as humanly possible. Rounds go fast. Also, store numerous quality magazines, cleaning supplies, and spare parts. In Afghanistan, I didn’t see anyone trading gold or silver, but weapons and ammunition were almost accepted currency in some places.

-Gas engine vehicles are quieter than diesels. Whenever we tried to sneak up on a village in our diesel vehicles, the enemy would be gone before we got there. When assaulting, a better idea to dismount your vehicles about a mile away and move in under concealment. The only exception to this is if you have a key weapon mounted on the vehicle.

-In Afghanistan, pickup trucks are used as improvised fighting vehicles, troop transports, and ambulances. Don’t underestimate the utility of a pickup truck. For an improvised fighting vehicle, the Taliban generally line the bed with sandbags and mount an automatic weapon on the top of the cab.

-Gasoline/diesel, along with food, will become the key resource. In post collapse Afghanistan, gasoline/diesel allowed mobility and kept the electricity on. Mobility was key because he who controlled the road, controlled movement of people and goods.

-In his book, CPT Rawles calls water the key resource. He’s right. If one of our patrols ran out of water and couldn’t re-supply, they were in deep trouble.

-Water is heavy, around 8 pounds per gallon. You must have a plan to transport it if need be. The average soldier carries around one gallon on patrol with more in his vehicle. When digging fighting positions or marching, 1gal/day is a very conservative estimate so plan accordingly.

-Just because you are careful with water, doesn’t mean others will be. I have seen women and children collecting water from a river that has dead animals in it upstream. It pays to do some reconnaissance on your potential water source.

-When storing bottle water, it’s better to leave in a cool, dark place if possible. If left exposed to sunlight for weeks on end, it can get moldy.

-As anyone who has been to a bazaar in Iraq or Afghanistan will tell you, there are generally no receipts or exchanges. If you don’t inspect your purchase, you made a grave mistake. It was not uncommon to encounter Afghanis with disabled vehicles. Why? They purchased watered down Gasoline/Diesel.

-As I mentioned earlier, I never saw anyone using gold or silver as a de facto currency. What was used? American Dollars, Euros, firearms and ammunition, gasoline/diesel, canned goods, hand tools, and skill sets. By skill sets, I mean it was not uncommon to see an Afghani mechanic trade a repair job on a vehicle for a goat or canned food. Remember, skill sets are more important than expensive gear.

-Post collapse, the first winter will be devastating. In Afghanistan, before the winter came, it was common to encounter civilians needing MREs and canned goods because their crops had failed. In a world without modern pesticides, irrigation, and mechanized farm equipment, would you bet you and your loved ones lives on your crops succeeding?

As a people, the Afghanis have suffered greatly over the past three decades. In my observation, the power of their faith plays a crucial role in their survival. Regardless, of your faith or beliefs, it is important to thank God for every day. Also, don’t hesitate to take a moment to ask for his wisdom and strength to make it through a tough time.

In closing, I would like to thank CPT Rawles and all of the contributors to SurvivalBlog. I apologize if my view is grim, but it’s what I saw with my own eyes in a nation that had underwent a form of internal collapse. My distilled message is this, you need a tribe to survive. In Afghanistan, villages band together and survive. You need the varying skill sets, ideas, and manpower of a group to make it through a collapse. Thank you for your time and consideration and God bless all of you and the United States of America.