Free Men Bear Arms

Herschel Smith · 15 Dec 2014 · 3 Comments

Mike Vanderboegh: You know the Founders were as suspicious of unrestrained democracy as they were of absolute monarchy. Both can be tyrannical. Both can be deadly. Both are threats to life and liberty and property. This is why they crafted a constitutional republic. The Founders knew that the mob could be manipulated by cynical elites to rob other citizens of their liberty, their property and their lives – cynical elites, wealthy men, powerful men, with unceasing appetites for more and more…… [read more]

Maliki Hands al Sadr a Victory

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

In yet another tip of the hat to al Sadr to hold his coalition together, Maliki has ordered the Iraqi and U.S. troops surrounding (blockading) Sadr city to stand down.  At least in part, this blockade was an effort to find the recently kidnapped U.S. soldier-translator.  U.S. and Iraqi forces had been carrying out raids into Sadr city searching for the soldier.

This is more politics of weakness.  Maliki is utterly dependent upon al Sadr to maintain his fragile coalition.  Sadr city does not mistake for a moment the significance of this move by Maliki.  In a statement released by al Sadr’s office, the Shi’ite sectarian leader said “your patience and unity brought victory.”  Impromptu celebrations were seen throughout Sadr city upon lifting the “blockade.” 

On the one hand, Maliki is weak in the face of the coalition-building forces in Iraq such as al Sadr, and on the other hand weak in attempting to control al-Qaeda violence and Shi’ite death squads in the Anbar Province.  Even those areas of Iraq that have been turned over to Iraqi control have regressed.  Anbar Province town of Saba’a al-Bour is a literal ghost town, with ninety percent of the inhabitants having fled the death squads and al-Qaeda fighters.

Iraq plans to ask the U.N. security council to extend the mandate governing the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq for another year.  So U.S. troops remain caught in the middle with rules of engagement that require an investigation any time an American fires his weapon.

Rules of Engagement for Marines in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

In The Deadly Strategy of Propaganda, I had earlier predicted that the combination of enemy propaganda, false charges against U.S. servicemen, and the movement towards a more politically correct warrior would cause hesitation among the troops and thus lead to conditions less safe than would otherwise have been the case.

Via e-mails home prior to his death, the recently deceased Marine Captain Robert Secher gives us a sad story of the mismanagement of the war in Iraq, and there are many noteworthy things from this moving investigative story.  To pick just one, note the ”rules of engagement” under which the Marines were operating in the al Anbar Province:

Anytime an American fires a weapon there has to be an investigation into why there was an escalation of force. That wouldn’t have stopped us from firing, but it prevents us from just firing indiscriminately. We have to have positively identified targets. That is why I am now a big fan of having the Iraqis with us. They can fire at whatever the hell they want, we call it the “Iraqi Death Blossom.” These guys receive one shot and the whole unit fires at everything in sight until the attached American unit gets them to control their fire. That’s fine with me.

Captain Specher’s assessment is that the ROE prevents us from “just firing indiscriminately.”  Perhaps Specher’s comments are on target for all of his reports, but we don’t know unless all of his reports are interviewed.  Note that the ROE described above are similar to the ROE for police in the U.S.  When an officer fires his weapon, he is given office duty and relieved of his firearm until an internal affairs investigation has been completed.  In the case of U.S. Marines in the most dangerous place on earth, there is an investigation into why there was an escalation of force “any time an American fires his weapon.”

This is no longer a war.  As if anyone needed further proof, the situation in Iraq had devolved into a huge police action in which around 25 servicemen per week are losing their lives, while the enemy hides behind women and children, fires from homes, and kills U.S. servicemen with IEDs.

War, Counterinsurgency and Prolonged Operations

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

Sun Tzu, ”The Art of War,” II.6:

“Thus, while we have heard of blundering swiftness in war, we have not yet seen a clever operation that was prolonged.” 

Sun Tzu, “The Art of War,” II.21:

Hence what is essentialy in war is victory, not prolonged operations.  And therefore the general who understands war is the Minister of the people’s fate and arbiter of the nation’s destiny.”

The “Small Wars Manual,” 2-9(d):

“The initiation of a campaign before adequate preparations have been made, may well be as fatal in a small war as in regular warfare.  Prolonged operations are detrimental to the morale and prestige of the intervening forces.  They can be avoided only by properly estimating the situation and by evolving as comprehensive, flexible, and simple a plan as possible before the campaign begins.”

Letter from al Qaeda high command to Zarqawi:

” … prolonging the war is in our interest.”

Concerning timeliness and adequate force projection, the counsel to us from the “Small Wars Manual” is clear and without compromise:

? … when forced to resort to arms to carry out the object of the intervention, the operation must be pursued energetically and expeditiously in order to overcome the resistance as quickly as possible.  The campaign plan and strategy must be adapted to the character of the people encountered.  National Policy and the precepts of civilized procedure demand that our dealings with other peoples be maintained on a high moral plan (sic).  However, the military strategy of the campaign and the tactics employed by the commander in the field must be adapted to the situation in order to accomplish the mission without delay.?

“The force must be of sufficient strength and so proportioned that it can accomplish its mission in the minimum time and with minimum losses.?

We turn now to contrast this point of doctrine with the recently released draft U.S. Counterinsurgency Field Manual, FM 3-24.

Section 7-11: “Military leaders emphasize to subordinates that, on the battlefield, the principles of honor and morality are inextricably linked.  They do not allow subordinates to fall victim to the enormous pressures associated with the strain of prolonged combat …”

Section 7-12: “Leaders remain aware of the emotional toll that constant combat takes on their subordinates and the potential resulting psychoneurotic injury.  Such injuries can result from cummulative stress over a prolonged period, witnessing the death of a comrade, or killing other human beings.”

Section 8-51: “COIN forces may have to provide logistical and security support to judicial activities for a prolonged period …”

Section D-3: “Because Congressional support is necessary to the success of any prolonged involvement of U.S. forces in actual operations overseas, the central legal basis for such involvement within domestic law is often provided in a Congressional resolution.”

Section D-26: “Even when judicial functions are restored, COIN forces, (sic) may still have to provide logistical and security support to judicial activities for a prolonged period of time …”

In our best efforts to date, are we still failing to learn the art of war from the warriors who have gone before us?

Iraq Prime Minister Maliki Openly Duplicitous

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

On October 25, 2006, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki said that there was no timetable for a U.S. pullout of Iraq, while also tipping his hat towards demands for the Shi’ite militias to stand down as he said:

“… all armed groups and militias were damaging to the security of the state and said that their displays of arms should end as the national security forces were solely responsible for state security.”

The very next day on October 26, 2006, Maliki slammed U.S. troops and involvement, specifically recalling a meeting with al Sadr, claiming that:

Iraqi troops, left to their own devices, could re-establish order in six months, not the 12 to 18 months that the top U.S. commander, Gen. William Casey, had predicted Tuesday.

Maliki then rejected any notion of pressure to pacify Iraq, specifically denouncing a timeline to bring peace to Iraq and force the militias to stand down.  He also said that the significant problem in Iraq was not the Shi’ite, but rather, al Qaeda.

Maliki knows that the Shi’ite Militias are killing on the order of one hundred people per day, and that the Iraqi military would be hopeless at the present without U.S. forces.  Maliki’s statements are not about getting at the truth.  They are about the politics of weakness.  Just as Maliki’s bluster over the targeting of al Sadr’s militia was a show of support for al Sadr, his statements on Wednesday and Thursday were designed to appeal to both the U.S. and his base, keeping his fragile coalition together.  Maliki has no problem with duplicity, and thus he has shown that he has what it takes to be a politician.

The U.S. went into Iraq believing in the healing powers of democracy, healing powers that simply aren’t there.  They are a phantom, a figment of of our imagination.  Democracy is a consequent, not a cause.  Iraq lacked the theoretical, theological, philosophical and societal framework to support democracy.  And yet, the U.S. has imposed the very political system on Iraq that has caused Maliki to have to appeal to his base to hold the coalition together.

If Maliki broke the back of the Shi’ite militia, he would lose al Sadr’s support, and hence the position of Prime Minister because he would then lack a coalition.  It is not just that Maliki won’t break the militias.  He can’t and still be Prime Minister.

Across the seas in the offices of the Pentagon, it might be prudent to jettison the notion that we will bring democracy to Iraq.  A much more sensible and pragmatic goal would be to bring stability to Iraq.  In the end, we want an ally in the global war on terror.

Five Ways to Prevent Iraq from Getting Even Worse

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

At the Small Wars Journal, there is a discussion thread that points to a Time article entitled “Five Ways to Prevent Iraq from Getting Even Worse.”  The article recommends a change in course under five headings:

  • Clean out the rogues.
  • Deal with al-Sadr.
  • Bring the Sunnis back.
  • Wake up the neighbors.
  • Get tough: then get out.

Each rubric deserves a long discussion and not all of them are right (talking with Iran or Syria), but two are of particular interest here.  On the first, the author says in part:

The Bush Administration’s strategy has hinged on standing up credible Iraqi security forces to take over responsibility for the country’s security. So far there are 311,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers and police, of varying capabilities. While that’s close to the goal of 325,000, the real problem is less about quantity than loyalty. To anybody paying attention, it’s clear that the security forces, broadly divided between the police under the Interior Ministry and the army under the Defense Ministry, are the main vectors of the widening civil war. The bureaucracies and the fighters have been infiltrated by militias, notably the Mahdi Army of Shi’ite radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iran-backed Badr Organization, affiliated with the dominant party in the Shi’ite coalition that controls parliament. Many policemen and soldiers are more loyal to their sect leaders and militia bosses than to the Iraqi government. In Baghdad, for instance, many police vehicles and Interior Ministry offices bear stickers and posters of al-Sadr. Sunni victims of sectarian violence routinely accuse the police and army of looking the other way when the militias unleash havoc–or worse, joining in the killing.

To continue the discussion, the Small Wars Journal Editor grabbed a post that John Robb made at Global Guerrillas concerning this same article:

TIME’s Aparisim Ghosh reports that General Peter Pace belatedly has convened a group of young officers to answer the question: Why are there almost as many U.S. troops in Iraq now as there were two years ago when, in the interim, more than 300,000 Iraqi security forces have been recruited and trained?

I provided one answer to this question two years ago, when I wrote about loyalist paramilitaries (October 2004). The answer involved two elements. The first was outsourcing security, particularly in the British controlled south and Baghdad to “loyalist” paramilitaries. The second was incorporating paramilitary members into the new Iraqi security forces, particularly since they were more willing to fight than the general population. In classic US fashion (a reflection of the paucity of strategic thinking in our general staff), training to the numbers (quantity) and the early effectiveness of the unit in a fire fight (expediency) was deemed more important than loyalty of the unit to the government. The long term implications were not considered.

The result is that over the last two years the US military has actually created an environment that is conducive to a bloody and chaotic civil war. By partnering with paramilitaries, we accelerated the development of those forces that would take the war to the Sunnis.

This is certainly thematically analogous with our counsel, and I have called leaving al-Sadr alive the biggest mistake of the war.  I have spoken clearly on the issue of force size and projection and the lack of troops necessary and adequate to effect security, and I have spoken out against the reliance on proxy fighters and pointed out that the Iraqi troops sometimes hinder rather than help the U.S. efforts.  But John Robb points to yet another unintended consequence of this reliance on proxy fighters.  We accelerated the development of the very forces who would undermine the government we were attempting to create.

At the time of writing of this post, Fox News is reporting from an embedded reporter with the Army in Baghdad while they are searching and arresting a senior Police officer who has been operating with the Militias he was supposed to be policing.  Police by day, arbiter of death by night.

As an answer to al-Qaeda in the al Anbar Province, the Iraqi government has a compact with some of the tribes to assist in patrolling and policing the cities.  While the Strategy Page (highly respected, and properly so) said of this arrangement that Iraq gained the equivalent of three divisions, I said that at best they had three divisions of recruits, and that some of these may not be worth having.

This is truly a land of many wars, with Shi’ite-on-Shi’ite violence, Shi’ite-on-Sunni violence, Sunni on al-Qaeda violence, al-Qaeda on Sunni, Shi’ite and U.S. violence, Shi’ite-on-Kurd violence, Shi’ite-on-U.S. violence, and Iran-on-U.S. violence.

John Robb cleverly adds to our list of reasons to reject the use of proxy fighters in a land so divided as this one, and therefore I see no reason to jettison my thematic rejection of the strategy to date: we have relied too heavily on proxy fighters, we bypassed urban areas and dropped conventional operations, thus too quickly adopting counterinsurgency operations, we have not been timely by dragging the war out four times as long as it should have taken, and our force projection has been woefully inadequate.

Despite the failure at the top of the military chain of command, U.S. troops are the best in the world and they prove their bravery daily.

Concerning incorporation of the Sunnis into the mainstream of Iraqi culture and government, I predicted that this was coming, and that it would involve much emotional anguish in the U.S. due to peace-making with those who had killed U.S. troops.  Michael Rubin gives us a more pragmatic set of reasons to be concerned about this direction:

While it’s fashionable to say de-Baathification caused the Sunni insurgency, in reality terrorist violence is proportional to that policy’s reversal. In order to maintain security after the April 2004 siege of Fallujah, the coalition restored former Baathists. Car bombings increased 300 percent within a month. In Mosul, once deemed a model city of reconciliation, Gen. David Petraeus appointed senior Baathist Gen. Mohammed Kheiri Barhawi to be police chief. Petraeus’ decision was a triumph not of pragmatism, but of naïveté. Barhawi provided intelligence, equipment and arms to terrorists, finally handing over every police station in the city to the insurgents in November 2004.

Far from winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis, re-Baathification antagonized them. Not all Iraqis had joined the party, and the refuseniks suffered for their morality. Non-Baathist Ph.D.s could not even work as schoolteachers and had to beg for food. After Saddam Hussein’s fall, they joined schools in droves, eager to rebuild their country. Re-Baathification meant firing competent new teachers to reinstall corrupted predecessors who, as the Baath Party archives show, had created blacklists of 14-year-old students under their charge.

Realists may say foreign policy should be centered on U.S. interests, not justice. Here, too, though, re-Baathification has failed. It has not assuaged insurgency. Not only does offering concessions to violence encourage violence, but also by extending an olive branch to unrepentant Baathists, diplomats may have furthered Iranian influence and worsened militia violence. Many Iraqi Shiites distrust Washington, not for occupying Iraq in 2003, but for failing to do so 12 years earlier when they rose up to oust Hussein, only to suffer retaliatory massacres. It should not surprise that Iraqi Shiites look at U.S. outreach to Baathists as a sign that the younger Bush will betray them just as his father once did.

While some arrangement must be made with the Sunnis in order to go forward with a unified Iraq – if there is to be one – the use of Sunni proxy fighters, arming the Sunnis, and in any way aiding a civil war between the Sunnis and Shia are certainly not among those helpful suggestions for a plan for the future.

Leadership from the Semper Fi Barber Shop

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

Seeing our son off to Mohave Viper yesterday for 30 days of training (here is another good description), and waiting for him to get a “medium-reg” haircut in the Semper Fi barber shop in Jacksonville, N.C., this caught my eye hanging on the wall.  I thought I would share it with you.

A dead soldier who has given his life because of the failure of his leader is a dreadful sight before God.  Like all dead soldiers, he was tired before he died and undoubtedly dirty.  And possibly, frightened to his soul — and there on top of all of that, never again to see his homeland.

Don’t be the leader who failed to instruct him properly, or who failed to lead him well.  Burn the midnight oil, that you may not in later years look at your own hands and find his blood still red upon them.

Revised Tactics for Urban Warfare and Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

We have discussed the issue of “room clearing” before, and how it is not only dangerous and nervewracking, but by its very nature limited to very specific techniques and not at all flexible.  Room clearing, as we discussed in The Reasons the U.S. Won’t Clear Ramadi, involves the use of techniques that resemble SWAT tactics.  A fire team (in the USMC, four Marines, the leader with a grenade launcher on his M-16, a SAW gunner and two other members) “stacks” at a doorway and furiously enters a room after breaking the door in, firing enough rounds at the inhabitants of the room to kill everyone in the room within a few seconds.  There is no time or provision for the delineation of friend from foe.  Such a requirement would redound to the deaths of Marines and Soldiers.  Insurgents hide behind women and children, lying in wait for the U.S. troops to enter the room so that they can fire on them.  This is likely what happened in Haditha as we have discussed before.  The deaths of innocents is an unfortunate collateral effect of room clearing techniques.  It cannot be any other way.  If the decision is made that the enemy inhabits a room and the order is given to clear the room, then these techniques are employed.  The way to avoid the collateral deaths of innocents is to refrain from room clearing to begin with, not to change the techniques, thus putting the lives of U.S. troops at higher risk.  In fact, the Small Wars Manual notes that there are times when guerrillas may be near women and children and Marines are ordered not to fire because of the possibility of collateral damage.

There has been an evolution in the expectations for Marines and Soldiers in the al Anbar Province concerning urban warfare techniques.  The L A Times reports in A New Assignment for Younger Troops:

Three years after insurgents appeared as a potent force in Iraq, the U.S. military has begun to expand its counterinsurgency training by focusing more closely on younger service members and junior officers.

The new emphasis on training the lower ranks reflects the growing view among top commanders that the war cannot be won by military might alone and that U.S. troops at all levels must be taught how to win the allegiance of the local population.

After the armed resistance started in earnest, commanders and senior officers began receiving specialized instruction in defusing insurgencies. But the principles have not always trickled down to the sergeants, corporals and privates who become the face of the American military to many Iraqis.

So far, so good.  They are discussing the “strategic Corporal.”  Continuing:

In an interview in Ramadi in July, Liston, who commands the Weapons Company of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines Regiment, said his unit will kick down a door if it has an intelligence tip that an insurgent is inside.

But in most random searches, the Marines are supposed to knock.

“We talk to our guys about putting themselves in the position of having an occupying power in their country,” he said. “Would they understand if someone kicks down their door?”

But on the streets of Ramadi, the Marines of Weapons Company interpret the rules differently.

During a routine patrol in July, a group of Marines stopped in front of a house to search it. Although the Marines did not believe there were insurgents inside, the house offered good sight lines for a potential triggerman hoping to set off an improvised explosive device.

After throwing smoke grenades to obscure their movements, the Marines entered the courtyard by kicking open a gate, then battered open the home’s front door.

In one room, two women huddled with several crying children. “See Ali Baba?” one Marine asked, using the jargon for “bad guy.”

“No Ali Baba,” the frightened woman said.

A moment later, the Marine turned to another woman and asked, “Do you see IEDs?”

“No, no,” the woman replied, looking bewildered.

“[Expletive] liars!” the Marine shouted, then walked away.

Although the women did not understand English, the sentiment was clear.

Lance Cpl. Jose Torres, a member of the Weapons Company, said there is a simple reason the Marines do not knock on doors.

“The quicker we get in, the less likely we are to get shot,” Torres said after the search. “A month ago, we lost a guy to a sniper, so we don’t fool around with knocking.”

On June 21, Lance Cpl. Nicholas J. Whyte, a member of Weapons Company’s 3rd Platoon, was shot by a sniper on the streets of Ramadi, the Al Anbar capital. The bullet entered his neck and severed his spinal cord, killing him. He was 21.

Here the doctrine breaks down.  The Marines are taught first to defend Marines.  The “fire watch” concept is instilled in them from boot, through SOI, and then to the fleet.  It will be with them through their time in the Corps.  This is the way it should be.  The phrase “feeling threatened” takes on special meaning for a Marine, and if a Marine feels threatened, he will take action to defend himself and other Marines.  The Gaurdian Angel concept also becomes special for a Marine, in that there is always supposed to be someone or some group of Marines whose job it is to effect offensive operations from a position of concealment against the enemy who would harm Marines.

So the softer approach, i.e., knocking on doors, led eventually to the death of a Marine.  Now they do not knock.

Can you blame them?  What would you do?

F-18 Provides Close Air Support in Ramadi

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

Michael Fumento has some tape up on his site of an F-18 Hornet providing close air support in eastern Ramadi.  Oh … no.  Do I have to make a new category called “Navy” for this blog?  I should have already done this with “High Tech Warrior Versus New Ships.”

F-18 Let’s Loose With Some Missiles

Report from Kirkuk

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

Three days ago I had a chance to debrief a soldier with the 101st who recently came back from deployment in the Kirkuk area.  The discussion was too long to report here, but two interesting things emerged.  First, according to this soldier, the Shia generally want us there and seem genuinely thankful that the U.S. has made the sacrafices that we have made.  The Kurdish have a wonderful relationship with the U.S., as years of protection from Saddam’s forces has made Kurdistan a thriving, peaceful, lively and self-sufficient region of the country.  The Sunni are still bitter and harbor ill feelings towards the U.S.  They are on the losing end of the deal, and they blame the U.S.  Our forces do not generally trust the Sunnis, and the Sunnis do not trust the U.S.  Ironically, they are in the position of having to rely upon the U.S. for protection from the radical Shi’ite forces who want revenge for years of oppression by the Sunnis.

The second thread of the discussion emerged when I asked him about his body armor, telling him that a new system called the Modular Tactical Vest will soon be issued to Marines.  He then embarked upon an impassioned discussion about body armor.  On his first deployment the rules allowed the soldiers to choose for or against wearing side armor plates, and many chose not to due to the obstrusive nature of them.  They use the side of the vest to hang fragmentation grenades and other gear.  Too much bulk causes their arms to hang out at an angle.  During this most recent deployment, the rules had been changed to require them to wear all plates.  Also, when I mentioned that the newer system promised to give better balance to the armor, he responded that balance was a big deal.  Because weapons and gear is hung on the front and especially the sides of the vest, Marines and Soldiers have to lean back in order to stay balanced.  When you see pictures of our men leaning backwards in order to stand or walk, you will now know why.  It is made worse by the firearms and ammunition, especially for the SAW gunner (Squad Automatic Weapon, or M249).  Finally, he discussed body armor design and add-ons, as well as angles and body parts.  They worry about things such as bullets coming into the body armor and ricocheting around the armor and up into the neck (which happened to one in their unit).

Body armor is something that a Marine or Soldier lives with every day.  He wears it; he hauls it with him and on him; he sweats in it and soaks it down; it hurts him and exhausts him; it protects him and might save his life.  It is a big deal to him.  Any advancements that can be made in heavy battlefield weight, distribution and balance, and comfort are worth the expenditure by the Department of Defense.

Sadr Loyalists Killed Followed by Bluster from Maliki

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

The Multinational Force web site is reporting that forces conducted a raid against Shi’ite death squad leadership:

Special Iraqi Army forces, supported by Coalition advisors, conducted a raid authorized by the Government of Iraq Oct. 25 in Sadr City, Baghdad to capture a top illegal armed group commander directing widespread death-squad activity throughout eastern Baghdad. 

During the raid, Iraqi Army forces came under fire and had to defend themselves.  They requested support from Coalition aircraft which used precision gunfire only to eliminate the enemy threat.

The Interior Ministry said that four people were killed and twenty wounded in the attack.  After several days of bluster by Maliki about taking on the death squads and other militia who are making trouble, he does another about-face and criticizes the U.S. for the attack.

Nuri al-Maliki told a press conference in Baghdad on Wednesday that he would demand clarification from the US on the raid, distancing himself from it as he has done in many previous operations in Shia areas.

“This is an issue to be revised with the multinational forces so that it would not occur again. There should be co-ordination in any military operation.”

Note that the attack was conducted by Iraqi forces rather than U.S., and U.S. air power was called in after they came under fire.  For a sitting Prime Minister to opine on the details of a small military operation, and more specifically to say that the government was unaware of it, would be more than a little odd in any other country.  In this instance, Maliki is tipping his hat to al Sadr who keeps him in power in the Parliamentary form of government that has been set up in Iraq.  It is more politics of weakness.  Also note that the Iraqi forces were not able to complete the operation without U.S. air support.  While it is fortunate that air power can be used, for the Iraqi forces to be able to stand on their own, they must eventually be able to conduct operations with success and without military assets that they do not have.

Some distance away in the al Anbar Province, two more Marines have died in combat operations in what is likely still the most dangerous place on earth.


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