Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 9 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

Update on W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

This brief post is made just to update my readers on the latest news concerning the railroading of W. Thomas Smith, Jr., and futher responses to the allegations against his reporting from Lebanon.  We’ll be following Tom, and I feel that he will continue to be the prolific and interesting writer he has always been.

Facts: The Story Behind the Story – Part I, W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

Facts: The Story Behind the Story – Part II, W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

War of the Words, Kay B. Day

This last article contains a discussion on blogging and editorial guidelines and stipulations.  I will weigh in later on this subject.  Each of the articles above are well worth the time.

Man of the Year

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

Time has named Vladimir Putin person of the year.  George W. Bush looked the man in the eye and found him to be “very straightforward and trustworthy.”  On the other hand, I look Putin in the eye and see Lucifer.  Obviously, since he is fond of assassinating people by administering lethal doses of Polonium-210, he is not the choice of The Captain’s Journal for man of the year (we have jettisoned the gender-neutral “person” of the year moniker as stupid).

There are powerful arguments for General David Petraeus for man of the year.  But even Petraeus doesn’t make it to the top of the list.  Who then do we advocate for man of the year?  He is Corporal Raymond D. Hennagir.

Corporal Hennagir is a brave warrior who lost both legs and four fingers to an IED, and his story is one of An Unforgettable Reunion.

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – For 10 weeks, ever since Cpl. Raymond D. Hennagir was blown up, he had longed for this moment, this homecoming, when the rest of his platoon would return from Iraq.
He missed them, his brothers. Hennagir, a 21-year-old Marine from Deptford, N.J., felt he had let them down by stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED), blowing off both legs and four fingers on his left hand – now, he said, in his darkest Marine humor, just “a pink mist and a memory.”

Hennagir desperately wanted to mend enough so that the Marine Corps would let him travel to Camp Lejeune for this day, Aug 26.

That wish motivated him, maybe even kept him alive, through the summer’s 16 surgeries and three skin grafts. The pain was so intense that he was sure his screams were heard all through the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

“There were times when I wondered if the kid was ever going to get a break,” said his uncle Jim English, a 20-year Navy veteran, who would stare helplessly out the hospital window.

And now here Hennagir was. The late-August sun was blazing. He sat in his wheelchair, his baggy new jeans from American Eagle tucked up under his lost legs.

Read all of the story – it will make you weep for the brave men who have suffered TBI, lost limbs, and lost lives, and weep for their loved ones.  And it will make you proud of their bravery.

But Corporal Hennagir is also a surrogate, and our nominating him man of the year is a vote for all of the wounded and all those warriors who have given it all for the cause.  Men like Lance Corporal Dale G. Peterson, Lance Corporal Walter K. O’Haire, and Lance Corporal Jonathan E. Kirk of 2/6 who lost their lives in Fallujah during the summer of 2007 are also men of the year.  It is men like these for whom I am truly thankful.

Kurds Desire Long Term U.S. Presence

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

In Standing up the Iraqi Army, we made the case that the state of the Iraqi army necessitated the long term presence of U.S. forces in order to protect Iraqi borders and ensure national sovereignty.  The U.N. recently extended the security agreement for U.S. forces in Iraq through the end of 2008.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq for one year, a move that Iraq’s prime minister said would be his nation’s “final request” for help.

Authorization for the 160,000-strong multinational force was extended until the end of 2008 because “the threat in Iraq continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security,” according to the resolution.

Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Hamid Al Bayati called it a historic day for the country because the council renewed the mandate “for the last time” after long and hard negotiation. He expressed hope that the council would deal with Iraq without any military authorizations after 2008.

“We realize that Iraq still needs more time and intensive efforts to enable our armed forces to take over the security responsibilities all over Iraq from the multinational forces,” he said, noting that Iraqi forces took responsibility for Basra two days ago and now control nine provinces.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad formally introduced the resolution Tuesday afternoon and soon after the council met to approve it.

After the 15-0 vote, Khalilzad cited “positive developments in Iraq” including reduced violence. He welcomed the council’s support for the Iraqi government’s desire “to sustain this momentum” and keep the force in the country.

The resolution requires a review of the mandate at the request of the Iraqi government or by June 15, 2008. It reiterates a provision of past resolutions that the council “will terminate this mandate earlier” if Iraq requests that.

It also says the Security Council would have to consider Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s request, in a letter on Dec. 7 to the Security Council’s president, that “this is to be the final request … for the extension of the mandate” for the U.S.-led force.

Asked whether the United States wanted to keep the door open to maintaining its troops in Iraq longer, Khalilzad said the extension is at the request of the Iraqi government “representing the will of the Iraqi people.”

“We hope that … with progress in Iraqi security capabilities that Iraq’s goal of self-reliance can be achieved as soon as possible,” he said.

Permanent bases have seemingly been rejected by the Iraq national security advisor.  “We need the United States in our war against terrorism, we need them to guard our border sometimes, we need them for economic support and we need them for diplomatic and political support,” Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said.  “But I say one thing, permanent forces or bases in Iraq for any foreign forces is a red line that cannot be accepted by any nationalist Iraqi,” he told Dubai-based al Arabiya television.

Strong words, these are.  But the Kurds see things a little differently.

A top Iraqi Kurdish leader Tuesday said the Kurds want a deal with Washington that would protect their rights as well ensure long term American troops presence in the country.

On his arrival from a visit to Washington, Omar Fatah, deputy prime minister of Iraq’s northern Kurdish government, said they want a “strategic agreement with the Americans” similar to the one between Washington and Baghdad signed last month (editorial note: this refers to the Maliki agreement with and Iraqi cabinet approval of the petition before the U.N. referred to above).

That was for a long-term economic and political agreement that would also keep U.S. forces in Iraq beyond 2008.

“We expressed our pleasure about the agreement between Washington and Baghdad, ” said Fatah, adding Iraqi Kurds want a similar deal. “We want an agreement that would see that Kurds are not oppressed again,” he said, referring to atrocities committed by the former regime against them.

Fatah said during his visit he also told U.S. leaders the Kurds were in favor of a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq.

U.S. forces will be required long beyond 2008, and the Kurdish north is the likely beneficiary of the money and work that will flow as a result of this presence.  Another benefit of this arrangement is the role that U.S. forces will play in regional stabilization.

The Warrior’s Sabbatical

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

Robert Burns reports on senior command changes occurring in Iraq.

The U.S. military in Iraq is undergoing its biggest changeover in senior commanders since Gen. David Petraeus launched a new counterinsurgency strategy nearly a year ago.

The high-level shifts come at a particularly delicate stage in the war as U.S. troop levels begin to decline, Iraqis are handed more security responsibility and Petraeus seeks to ensure that the gains achieved over the past several months continue.

The leadership changes are likely to be disruptive, at least for a brief period, as the new set of commanders — even those with Iraq experience — adjust to rapidly changing conditions.

Read the post at the Small Wars Journal Blog for a rundown of all of the changes coming to the U.S. command in Iraq.  Burns continues with a spot-on comment concerning Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno (actually, the comment comes from Frederick Kagan).

Topping the list of departures is Petraeus’ second-in-command, Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, who is due to leave in February when the 3rd Corps finishes its command tour and returns to Fort Hood, Texas. He will be replaced by Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of 18th Airborne Corps, from Fort Bragg, N.C.

“He’s really done an amazing job with this counterinsurgency,” said Frederick Kagan, a military historian at the American Enterprise Institute, referring to Odierno. “He has it all at his fingertips, and there is no way that anyone could come in and immediately be functioning at that level.”

I have responded to the SWJ Blog with the following comment (for those readers who do not frequent both web sites).

This command change is is a major announcement. There was a recent discussion thread at the Small Wars Council concerning what exactly has changed in 2007 (Steve Metz and Col. Gian Gentile participated, among others). To quickly summarize my views, the answer may be that little changed. The surge was a continuation of the same things that we had been doing. Warfare has its ebb and flow, and society has a large inertia, as does momentum in warfare. The year 2007 might very well have reaped many benefits from doing the things that the Army and Marines do so well, although it may not have looked like it at the time. This isn’t to diminish the contributions of Petraeus or any other strategic modifications of adaptations, nor his powerful leadership, but merely to point out that the predecessors to the class of 2007 conducted intensive operations as well. I think that this is Col. Gentile’s point. Whatever the real reason(s) for the turnaround, this isn’t a debate I wish to have in the context of this comment. I want to focus on the commanders of the class of 2007.

If for no other reason than I have closely followed the class of 2007 commanders and know much about them, I feel that there is something special about this class. I will take two commanders as examples. Major General Walter Gaskin recently reported that attacks against Iraqi and U.S. troops in Anbar had decreased from 460 a week a year ago to 40 per week now.

Gains in Anbar Permanent

This is a decrease of an order of magnitude. A more astonishing turnaround I cannot imagine. One of Gaskin’s accomplishments, as best as I can determine, is to take very good people – e.g., Col. Simcock, Lt. Col. Bill Mullen in the East (now Col.), Lt. Col. Jason Bohm in the West, and others – and give them latitude, tools, and manpower. In short, he empowered them. But isn’t this what good leaders do?

Next I will turn to Lt. General Ray Odierno. Not only has he served with distinction, but he and I see eye to eye concerning the use of the concerned citizens program across Iraq. No, I am not naive concerning the fact that this provided a window of opportunity, and final political solutions must come from within Iraq itself. But this was the best solution given the circumstances. Further, he lead the effort with his troops while his son had lost an arm to the campaign in Iraq. Whatever else one might think of the campaign or its justification, Ray Odierno is a father with a son who lost a limb. No, I am not trying to stupidly stare or gape. Ray Odierno’s son is a still proud warrior. I bring this up to say that I hold Odierno (and of course his son) – literally – in heroic proportions. I continue to be in awe of him.

As for the class of 2007, I hope and pray that you enjoy your rest, however short it may be. It is a well-earned rest – a warrior’s sabbatical. Godspeed to your rest.

The Warrior’s sabbatical, indeed.

Review and Analysis of Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Campaign

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

In Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection, and Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan, we discussed ongoing counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan in light of the battle for Musa Qala, Afghanistan’s “battle of Fallujah” that never occurred.  We discussed the heavy bombing approach, the evacuation of families from the city, the lack of adequate force projection to take and hold Musa Qala, the British desire to negotiate with the Taliban, and disparate doctrines held by Australia (more forces are necessary) and the U.S. (advocating the small footprint COIN approach).

Continuing with this theme, we noted that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was prepared to talk tough to NATO in order to get more troops dedicated to the campaign in Afghanistan.  While various main stream media reports and blog entries are hailing Musa Qala as a great victory, Gates has directly admitted that the campaign needs to undergo a transition.  “Gates called for overhauling the alliance’s Afghan strategy over the next three to five years, shifting NATO’s focus from primarily one of rebuilding to one of waging “a classic counterinsurgency” against a resurgent Taliban and growing influx of al-Qaida fighters.”

So how did this summit of NATO leaders turn out?  The British still want to pay enough money to split the Taliban, but intend to send no more troops into theater.  The Australians, along with every other NATO member who has troops in theater, will draft a ‘plan’ to make the Afghanistan campaign more successful, but intend to send no more troops.  Gates was reduced to platitudes like: ” … while the United States also ha[s] no plans to send more troops in the short-term, [we will be] trying more creative ways to encourage other NATO members to increase their presence in Afghanistan.”

While the Taliban would most surely like to have held Musa Qala, they determined that withdrawal and reversion to more clandestine tactics were strategically superior.  “As Afghanistan has headed into its bitterly cold winter, the Taliban have retreated from direct combat operations and have resorted to roadside bombs to target coalition forces, says Major Michael Bassingthwaighte, a commander in Australia’s Reconstruction Task Force based in Tarin Kowt …  With the coming of winter, many Taliban fighters had fled across the unpatrolled border into Pakistan or to distant homes for the Islamic holiday period of Eid.  He expects the tempo of Taliban combat operations to increase after the poppy harvesting season finishes in April, a period when the Taliban find it hard to recruit fighters.”

The Afghanistan campaign suffers most particularly in the South.  The south continues to move steadily in the wrong direction. Instability has spread to a number of previously benign provinces. Some countries, especially European ones that have contributed to NATO’s forces, are unenthusiastic about the shooting war they find themselves involved in. After a summer of repeatedly retaking the same two districts of Kandahar province, the Canadian commander, Brigadier-General Guy Laroche, commented: “Everything we have done in that regard is not a waste of time, but close to it”.

There are signs, too, that as the insurgency meshes itself tightly with the drugs trade, a sizeable proportion of the population may feel it has a vested interest in prolonged insecurity which allows narcotics production to flourish.

The winter is at least a moment to pause and reflect on strategy for next year. At Musa Qala, NATO and Afghan forces easily defeated the Taliban but as diplomats in Kabul, the capital, concede, a far greater challenge is then defending against reinfiltration. Securing territory means getting the support of local people. In Helmand, for example, this requires teams of anthropologists and political officers to deal with a mosaic of tribal interest groups, an approach used by American forces elsewhere in the country. That means a greater emphasis on reconciliation and negotiation with local Taliban leaders, as well as training Afghan forces so they are able to take the lead in military operations.

Politically the challenges are no easier. The Afghan public, particularly in the south, is gloomy about the future. Dismay over corruption and wrangling between different ethnic groups suggest that Afghan leaders, such as President Hamid Karzai, will need substantial support from outsiders for a long time yet. America is backing the idea of sending a “super envoy” to co-ordinate international efforts in Afghanistan. But the government remains unable even to reach out across areas of the south. Where it cannot reach there may need to be more controversial “tribal solutions”, such as village militias to provide local security and efforts to empower tribal elders and local systems of justice.

But it must be remembered that the tribal solution was implemented in Anbar from a position of strength.  Far from being unable to reach areas of Anbar, Marines were deployed all over the province, engaged in kinetic and constabulary operations as well as public relations, reconstruction and engagement of the population in paying labor.  We have also argued at The Captain’s Journal that the solution to the poppy problem is not to spray or use other means to kill the crops.  This might be seen as out-terrorizing the terrorists.  The solution to the insurgency problem is to target the insurgents, and the solution to the drug problem is interdiction and reconstitution of the agricultural industry in Afghanistan.  But this requires force projection.  It also requires largesse, civil affairs, diplomacy, and other arms of “soft power.”  But soft power is founded on the pretext of hard power, not the other way around.

There is currently a policy review underway for the Afghanistan campaign.  “Amid rising concerns about lagging progress in Afghanistan, the top U.S. commander in the region has launched a review of the American mission there with a major focus on counterterrorism efforts, a senior U.S. military official said Sunday.  Adm. William Fallon, the head of U.S. Central Command, has ordered senior staff to conduct a thorough review of the six-year-old war against al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan, the senior official confirmed to CNN.  The review has been under way for several weeks, and Fallon is not considering any new recommendations until its completion, the official said.  The study, first reported by The New York Times, is focused on efforts by U.S. troops along Afghanistan’s rugged border with Pakistan.”

The first quarter of 2008 should reveal the results of this policy review.  Unless the campaign in Afghanistan is taken as seriously as it has been in Iraq, the policy review will not have been successful.  There are troops available for deployment in Afghanistan, but they are currently in Germany and South Korea.  Will the Pentagon have the courage to engage in global strategic thinking, or will the deliverance of this study be more platitudes about being creative?

See also Future COIN in Afghanistan, Small Wars Journal Blog

W. Thomas Smith, Jr., and His Reporting from Lebanon

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

In blogging as well as life, quick reactions that lack hard analysis are rarely beneficial or valuable.  This is why I don’t participate in blog bursts.  If you want snappy, timely blogging that lacks substance and takes on the appearance of tantrums, you can go elsewhere.  If you want your analysis later and correct, you can stop by The Captain’s Journal.  At least that is the intent, whether my articles fully comport with this ideal or not.

Tantrums fairly well describes the reaction(s) to W. Thomas Smith’s alleged dishonesty concerning his reporting from Lebanon.  But before I respond to his critics, let’s cover some detail regarding the alleged dubious reports by Smith.

That reporter who questioned the Smith account of his experiences in Lebanon was Christopher Allbritton.  You can study his letter to Kathryn Lopez (editor at National Review), but the only substantive, factual allegation I can find against Smith is the following:

… he’s a liar. Hezbollah never invaded east Beirut on the 29th. And they don’t have 200 “heavily armed” militiamen downtown. I passed by today. There are about 40 guys down there with no weapons at all. They sit around, smoking shisha in jeans and t-shirts.

Smith responded (in part) with the following clarification (I have redacted Smith’s response as well as Allbritton’s charges for the sake of brevity):

A reporter recently contacted NRO questioning the accuracy of two blog posts I filed for “The Tank” while I was in Lebanon this past September and October.

On September 25, I filed a post, in which I described a “sprawling Hezbollah tent city” near the Lebanese parliament as being occupied by “some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen”: According to the e-mail, my detractors said that, “…there are rarely 200 people there at all — much less ‘heavily armed,’” and, “…at least once a week I walk or jog through this area. I have never seen a civilian carrying a weapon.”

I can’t possibly know what someone else saw or witnessed or where they were jogging or on what day. But I do know this: The Hezbollah camp in late September — and up until the time I left in mid-October — was huge (“sprawling”). And though the tents were very large and many of them closed, I saw at least two AK-47s there with my own eyes. And this from a moving vehicle on the highway above the camp. And in my way of thinking, if a guy’s got an AK-47, he’s “heavily armed.”

Did I physically see and count 200 men carrying weapons? No. If I mistakenly conveyed that impression to my readers, I apologize. I saw lots of men, lots of them carrying walkie-talkie radios, and a tent city that could have easily housed many more than 200. I also saw weapons, as did others in the vehicle with me. And I was informed by very reliable sources that Hezbollah does indeed store arms inside the tents. And they’ve certainly got the parliamentarians and other government officials spooked and surrounded by layers of security.

My detractors’ argument that they had never seen weapons in the camp does not mean there is an absence of weapons. But don’t take my word for it. For further reading, I would recommend this recent AP article (and multiple others) about the increasing prevalence of armed civilians in Lebanon. I would say I was justified in believing not only my sources, but also my own eyes in this case …

Second, with regard to the post I filed September 29, in which I reported that between 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah gunmen had “deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling ‘show of force’”: My detractors have said this event, “simply never happened,” because “every journalist in town would have pounced on that story, and he’s the only one who noticed?

In retrospect, however, this is a case where I should have caveated the reporting by saying that I only witnessed a fraction of what happened (from a moving car), with broader details of what I saw ultimately told to me by what I considered then — and still consider to be — reliable sources within the Cedar Revolution movement, as well as insiders within the Lebanese national security apparatus. As we were driving through that part of town, I saw men I identified as Hezbollah deployed at road intersections with radios. I was later told that these were Hezbollah militants deploying to Christian areas of Beirut, and there were four or five thousand of them …

Let me briefly mention some of my sources in Lebanon: extremely reliable men and women, who also enabled me to gain access to members of parliament, mayors and other municipal leaders, the grandson of a late president of Lebanon, one of the highest-ranking (perhaps the highest-ranking) Muslim clerics in Beirut, multiple high-ranking military and intelligence officers, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the head of the national police, and the special forces and counterterrorist strike force commanders.

At the time I read this response, my reaction was “fair enough,” but I took the opportunity to send Tom a letter saying that I have found good sources to be better than anything else, and probably better than mine and his own eyes.  Good sources, I said, are around for the long haul.  They are part of the cultural milieu and social framework.  They can “see” things that we cannot.  I can ascertain subtle changes in my neighborhood, local political scene, and all manner of things far beyond the capabilities of a foreigner.  A foreigner, for instance, had better not attempt to make his way through the backwoods of Appalachia without knowing something about the people.  I, on the other hand, would be quite comfortable doing this.  It takes more than eyes to see and understand your surroundings – it takes personal history.

I thought everything was done with this story, but the confessions and self deprecation began at National Review Online.  Worse still, blogs and main stream media publications alike picked up on this story in an orgy of self righteous outrage and indignation (I am not linking them because not a single one of them is worth the time of my readers).  Frankly, it was unseemly and embarrassing – at least it would have been embarrassing for me if I had participated.

It doesn’t take a writer as prolific as Thomas Smith to regret at some point something that was said or ignored.  It only takes living with another person such as a wife or husband.  But a good example of missing the boat in the professional military writer’s community comes from no less than Michael Yon, a prolific and popular writer in his own right.

In the recent dispatch, Men of Valor Part II, I wrote the following:“ . . . by systematically and in relatively short order demolishing Iraq’s government infrastructure, firing its staff en masse, disbanding its army, our combined militaries in Iraq could only accomplish the mission by rebuilding the country from scratch.” (italics original).

As a writer, I could have used more precision with the six key words. I have seen the extent to which Coalition forces spend great energy and suffer risks to avoid destroying Iraq’s physical infrastructure. Yes, many Iraqi government buildings stand with shattered concrete and twisted rebar, hollowed by our bombs and missiles; but the vast majority of Iraqi infrastructure was intentionally spared. In fact, US forces have been (and are) forbidden to attack infrastructure. Our people use lethal force to protect Iraqi infrastructure.

I have covered in some detail the physical destruction done intentionally by al Qaeda to Iraq’s infrastructure (the damage isn’t limited to water supplies and the electrical grid, as proven by this attack against oil pipelines).  I understand what Michael Yon was trying to say in the post.  But this debate belongs stateside, four years ago, and includes the question should we have invaded to begin with (along with the horrible decisions by Paul Bremer).  This debate shouldn’t get mixed up with the bravery of our men in uniform, or better put, our warriors don’t deserve to have their carefully targeted combat described in this manner.  Given that I have a son who earned the combat action ribbon for service under fire, I appreciate Michael’s “clarification.”  He didn’t use the word “apologize” as did Smith, but I get the sense that he regrets having used those words.  He should not have used those words, and he should have clarified them, as he did.

I don’t know Christopher Allbritton from Adam, and the fact that he says that something must be so doesn’t make it so.  While Thomas Smith’s clarification is welcome and appreciated, I don’t believe it adds anything to the story.  As to Allbritton, I would not have given him the time of day had I been the recipient of his letter.  I have followed Tom’s work for years now, and while I have a sincere appreciation for his style, hard work, and passion with which he writes, I also feel a kinship with Tom first because he is a man of faith (the Christian faith as am I), and secondly because he is a Marine as is my son (someone stupidly called Tom an ex-Marine, forgetting that there is no such thing as an “ex-Marine”).  I generally have very good judgment when it comes to people, and it brings me some degree of joy that I am proven right this time around too.

There is an important update to Smith’s sources in Lebanon.

It’s one thing to be embroiled in the recent media circus surrounding my reporting from Lebanon; it’s quite another to learn that in the midst of that circus – though having nothing to do with it – one of my strongest sources while I was in Lebanon, Gen. Francois Hajj, was assassinated Wednesday.

Hajj, 55, a Maronite Catholic and the director of operations for the Lebanese Army, was killed in a car-bomb attack, on the route between his home and his office at the Ministry of Defense in Beirut. It’s been reported that he “was considered a leading candidate to succeed the head of the military, Gen. Michel Suleiman [Sleiman], if Suleiman is elected president” …

During my time in Lebanon – September and October of this year – Hajj was one of my strongest sources. And despite my railing against the often under-reported threat of Hezbollah activities in Lebanon – as well as what I perceived to be problems within the military — Hajj pulled some serious strings enabling me to gain greater access to elements within the defense structure from which I had been previously barred.

Smith describes one meeting with Hajj: “As I entered his office — his desk covered with several huge maps of Lebanon, a couple of cell phones, and a single pack of Marlboros – Gen. Hajj was discussing something (unintelligible to me because it was in Arabic) with another general. The other general and I shook hands, he left the office, and Hajj ordered coffee for the two of us. We discussed everything from current security operations in Lebanon to the recent fighting at Nahr al-Bared. He then showed me an exclusive video tape – not seen by outsiders [he told me] – of the fighting at Bared, including some truly grisly images of killed Fatah al-Islam fighters.”

While I don’t know Allbritton, I do know that an Army doesn’t long survive without good intelligence.  My judgment now is as it was before.  Sources – good sources – can sometimes be better than your own eyes.  Smith’s sources were good, and this raises a question – not about Smith, but about Allbritton.  What story, exactly, is it that he is getting, and why does it disagree so markedly with the one given by Army intelligence?   Perhaps Allbritton should be questioning the authenticity and truthfulness of his own writing.

In the mean time, I regret that Thomas Smith is no longer at NRO.  I will miss his perspective at NRO very much.  As for Allbritton, he is a flash in a pan, and his five minutes of fame are over.  I will never read his prose again, and am sorry to have spent even the two minutes it took to read it.  Thomas Smith will land on his feet.  The quality of my judgment remains intact, and it is my hope that this humble little blog can still correspond with Tom in his future endeavors.

Christmas Letters and Cards to the Wounded

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

Not too long ago, sending anonymous Christmas letters and cards to the wounded was impossible.

The U.S. Postal Service will not deliver any letter, post card, or package that is not addressed to a specific individual. Anything sent to “A Recovering Soldier,” “Any Wounded Soldier,” or “Any Service Member” is unacceptable.

“We cannot accept any mail that is not specifically addressed to an individual or an organization at the medical center,” says Terry Goodman of Walter Reed.

Sometimes one of these letters will make it through to the medical center. If that happens, it is returned to sender. Goodman says officials are just following Department of Defense policy designed to ensure the safety of patients and staff at all military hospitals.

And don’t try to contact Walter Reed or any other military medical facility to get the name of a wounded service member to write. Because of medical privacy regulations, hospital officials  can’t give out that information.

But Soldiers’ Angels and American Red Cross have stepped up to the plate, trustworthy servants of the armed forces that they are.

A holiday greeting or a “Get Well” wish can brighten the day of a servicemember recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

However, hundreds of thousands of cards addressed to “Any Servicemember,” or a variant thereof, were returned to senders last year due to security concerns. A Defense Department policy in effect since 2001 specifically forbids the delivery of generically addressed mail to servicemembers.

This year two organizations have stepped in to ensure this type of mail makes it to servicemembers and does what it’s intended to do … boost morale.

Soldier’s Angels and the Red Cross serving the metropolitan Washington, D.C.-area will collect, screen, and deliver the well-wishes of those who want to brighten the day of a wounded servicemember recovering away from home this holiday season.

Those wishing to send a letter or a card to a recovering servicemember should send those cards to either:

Soldiers’ Angels
1792 E. Washington Blvd.
Pasadena, Calif. 91104

or 
 
We Support You During Your Recovery!
c/o American Red Cross
P.O. Box 419
Savage, MD 20763-0419

But time is short.  Your letter or card needs to be in the mail very soon.  If you feel inclined to contribute more this Christmas season, there are many good charities associated with our service.  Ralph Peters has a very moving commentary in the New York Post, Semper Fi, Semper Fi: Injured Marines Fighting On.  He ends a very personal account of his visit with wounded Marines by saying:

You can donate to the Warrior and Family Support Center project via credit card by phone at 1-888-343-HERO or on the Web at ReturningHeroesHome.org.

To give by mail, send donations to:

Returning Heroes Home
P.O. Box 202194
Dallas, TX 75320-2194

Checks should be made out to Returning Heroes Home, Inc. This is a nonprofit 501c3 endeavor; all donations are tax-deductible.

All contributions, in any amount, will help our wounded warriors. Please give to those who gave so much.

Here is a short presentation of their mission and plan for the future.

Whatever you are inclined to do, please do so soon.  I thank you, and our wounded warriors thank you.

Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

In Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection, we discussed the Afghan and NATO battle to retake Musa Qala, and expanded into the small footprint characteristic of the counterinsurgency campaign, along with an Australian officer’s call for more forces.  The battle is being hailed as a victory, with “hundred’s of Taliban dead while two British soldiers and one U.S. soldier lost were killed.  Actually, with seven U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division wounded, this constitutes a casualty ratio of 10:1 or slightly greater, which is routine in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  To be precise, hundreds of Taliban were said to be killed or captured, but many are still reported to have fled prior to the battle.

While it is a positive sign to win back Musa Qala, the operation required heavy air power, and the city was deserted of families after the battle.  The battle for Musa Qala is a poster child for the Afghanistan campaign, with the British having entered into a gentleman’s agreement with tribal leaders to prevent the return of the Taliban (in agreement for British force departing the area), when the tribal leaders clearly lacking the means to enforce their end of the agreement.  Adequate troops didn’t exist to perform reconstruction or constabulary operations for Musa Qala, and the question remains how either Afghanistan or NATO will now have the forces necessary to maintain order in Musa Qala when they did not before.

A telling indication of the U.S. expectations was given to us in preparation for a summit of NATO leaders concerning the Afghanistan campaign.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates sharply criticized NATO countries Tuesday for failing to supply urgently needed trainers, helicopters and infantry for Afghanistan as violence escalates there, vowing not to let the alliance “off the hook.”

Gates called for overhauling the alliance’s Afghan strategy over the next three to five years, shifting NATO’s focus from primarily one of rebuilding to one of waging “a classic counterinsurgency” against a resurgent Taliban and growing influx of al-Qaida fighters.

“I am not ready to let NATO off the hook in Afghanistan at this point,” Gates told the House Armed Services Committee. Ticking off a list of vital requirements — about 3,500 more military trainers, 20 helicopters, and three infantry battalions — Gates voiced “frustration” at “our allies not being able to step up to the plate.”

The defense secretary’s blunt public scolding of NATO, together with equally forceful testimony Tuesday by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put on display the growing transatlantic rift over the future of the mission in Afghanistan. The Bush administration over the last year has increasingly bristled at what it sees as NATO’s overly passive response to the Taliban, but European leaders have repeatedly rebuffed entreaties by Gates and President Bush to do more.

In recent months, officials said, Bush and his advisers have grown more concerned about the situation in Afghanistan, where, in contrast to Iraq, violence is on the rise and the U.S.-led coalition is struggling to adjust to changing conditions on the ground. As the White House reviews its Afghanistan policy, officials have concluded that wide-ranging strategic goals set for 2007 have not been met despite tactical combat successes.

Gates has made a stark admission; the campaign in Afghanistan has gone from one of rebuilding to one of classical counterinsurgency.  More involvement is necessary by NATO forces.  But Australia is prepared to talk tough as well.

Australia’s new Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon will deliver a blunt message to NATO countries meeting in Scotland on Friday, telling them that there will be no more Australian troops sent to Afghanistan until European countries increase their commitment.

Before the conference of defence ministers kicks off in Edinburgh this weekend, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been outlining his country’s future strategy in Afghanistan.

NATO is not winning, but they are not losing either.

Australian aid workers have told ABC Radio’s AM program that it is better to have the 40,000 allied troops in Afghanistan, but they are not enough to be the solution.

When Mr Fitzgibbon is in Edinburgh, his simple message will be that the new Labor Government could send more troops, but only if countries like Spain and Germany also send more troops to the south.

Also in preparation for the upcoming meeting, Mr Brown gave a speech in the British House of Commons.

“Let me make it clear at the outset, that as part of a coalition, we are winning the battle against the Taliban insurgency,” Mr Brown said.

“We are isolating and eliminating the leadership of the Taliban. We are not negotiating with them.”

But indeed Britain does support negotiations with the Taliban and sees a role for them to play in the new Afghanistan.  “Britain will support deals with Taliban insurgents to give them places in Afghanistan’s new government and military, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced yesterday, distancing himself from the Canadian and U.S. strategy of refusing to sit down with the Taliban.  In a speech to the House of Commons announcing a new Afghanistan strategy, Mr. Brown said that Britain will join Afghan President Hamid Karzai in making money and job offers to “former insurgents.”

Brown is referring to an effort underway by Hamid Karzai to obtain the loyalties of the lieutenants of Mullah Omar and thus split the organization.  The price for this loyalty is a place at the table in the new Afghanistan.  The U.S. brought the Anbaris into a peaceful solution to the insurgency from a position of strength rather than weakness, and the indigenous Anbaris were not, for the most part, fighting from a perspective of religious jihad.  This fact and the stark difference it presents against the backdrop of the Taliban seems to be lost on NATO and the Brits.  This circus-like atmosphere is made worse given the solution proferred by the NATO secretary general: increased involvement by Japan in the Afghanistan campaign!

Force projection is needed in Afghanistan, and this force projection will involve kinetic operations to capture and kill Taliban.  Co-opting them into a new Afghanistan defeats the original purpose of the war, and deprecates the sacrifices of the men who have died in Afghanistan to make the U.S. safe.  NATO will not be able to do the bidding of the U.S.  This is our task, and the message over the last year of the campaign is that it will be done by us and not someone else.

The Nexus of Religion and Prisons in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

In June of 2007 we discussed Constabulary Operations and Prison Overcrowding, in which I said that “I do not believe in the healing, therapeutic or rehabilitative powers of imprisonment,” but that we were facing a prison overcrowding problem of major proportions going forward if we continue to engage in constabulary operations in Iraq.

In the following articles:

Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen
Smith Responds
A Modest Proposal

I discussed my views concerning religion and insurgency, and that contrary to Kilcullen’s view that there isn’t a single fighter who actually fights for the insurgency in Iraq for religious reasons, religion can provide a robust understanding of the motivations of all peoples in all of their actions, not just insurgents.

It appears that the commanders who are concerned with pragmatic affairs and who are faced with actual, real life day-to-day problems are following counsel that is similar to my own as it regards prisons (they need to be emptied or more need to be constructed) and religion (we need to know and act on what the enemy believes).

Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, commanding general of detainee operations in Iraq, is fighting what he has called “the battlefield of the mind.” He has instituted extensive screening of incoming prisoners and has made available about 30 training and education courses, including religion and civics, to the 25,188 prisoners under his control.

At a news conference last week, he said that once a person is in custody at his facilities, Camp Cropper near Baghdad and Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, “we spend a lot of time learning about them now, studying their motivations . . . why they’re fighting, who they fight for — more so than we’ve ever known before.”

At Cropper and Bucca, he said, there is “an assessment phase, and we take 72 hours and then we work really hard on categorizations.” Based on those assessments, which include having imams evaluate prisoners on their religious beliefs, a decision is made about where to house them in the detention facility.

As Stone was describing his program, the Multi-National Force-Iraq Joint Contracting Command was advertising for 12 contract intelligence analysts to work for Stone at Cropper and Bucca for six to 18 months, beginning in March.

Their jobs will be mainly to “conduct in-processing assessment of new detainees coming into the theater internment facilities,” according to the statement of work. They will screen the circumstances of each detainee’s capture and any sworn statements or intelligence about the person contained in an accompanying packet.

After that, the work statement says, the contracted analysts will “determine what category a detainee is assigned to based on age, religion, threat level and insurgent group affiliation.” They will also decide “where to place the detainee in the segregation plan.”

Stone said the compounds are not organized by geographical areas, so most prisoners “don’t really know each other.” Because extremists are “generally the guys that know each other . . . and they come in to set up kind of a gang court,” people from the same areas are spread out across the prison.

The courses they take, almost all of which are voluntary, include basic education, vocational training and religion. The religion course, run by one of 43 imams working on the program, lasts four days.

The civics course, which each detainee must take before he is released, covers “why you should try to get an education — why you should try to have a job,” Stone said. Other courses touch “on how you control anger, the oath of peace, the sacredness of life and property and references back to the Koran,” he added. The demand for classes has “stripped” the 150 teachers he has available.

“I don’t change people,” Stone said. “Those people or God changes them, not me, but we do set in motion the ability to have that change take place.”

Stone sees the overall program as working with detainees so that “they cannot conduct an insurgency inside the wire.” He added that he hopes that detainees “someday maybe even work with us and, of course, by telling us who the bad guys are.”

One result already seen, he said, is that moderates in the prisons are identifying extremists, thus facilitating their segregation from the rest of the population. At Camp Bucca, about 1,000 extremists were identified and pulled from among the 21,000 prisoners, and “that made a big difference,” he said.

In addition to being theologically and anthropologically sound, this approach is pragmatic – and it is the approach we have advocated from the beginning.

The Wounded Warrior Program

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

At my request, Jack Holt kindly made a transcript available from the bloggers interview with Colonel Rice who leads the Army Wounded Warrior Program.  I was unavailable to participate in the interview, but here is a sample.

CHARLES “JACK” HOLT (chief, New Media Operations, OASD PA): All right, sir. Thank you very much.

COL. RICE: All right, well thank you for inviting me to talk to you about the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program. I’m honored to lead the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program and to serve the nation’s severely wounded, injured and ill soldiers and their families. This progress is here to serve those who have given so much to this country through their service.  The U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program follows the war ethos, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” We assist and advocate for severely wounded soldiers and their families for as long as they need us, wherever they are located. The primary way the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program makes a difference in their lives — in the lives of the severely wounded soldiers and their families, is by taking the time to really listen to their needs.  Every soldier in this Program is assigned a specialist who gives them  personalized recovery assistance in navigating government and non-profit  organizations on their behalf to ensure they get the help and support their families need. Our soldiers gave us their best, and we now remain committed to  giving them ours.  The U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program is part of a larger Army initiative that is focusing on providing more comprehensive services to our soldiers and their families. We are in the forefront of an important transformation that is building the health care model for the future for the military’s wounded warriors.  For more information on this program, or to obtain support services, any soldier or his loved one can call: 1-800-237-1336. They can also visit our website at: www.aw2.army.mil, where I recently posted the first entry in our new Army Wounded Warrior blog. Please take the time to learn more about the Program, our dedicated staff, and the severely wounded soldiers we serve. As director of the Army Wounded Warrior Program, my duty is also my honor, and I will continue to work every single day to make sure that no soldier is left behind.

Read the whole interview.  Those who have followed this humble blog for a while know that this is a pet issue of mine, this issues of wounded warriors, caring for our fallen and injured, and properly managing our health care for these brave men.  Regarding the so-called Walter Reed scandal, I have weighed in that General Weightman was probably not the right man to sack when the scandal broke.  The problems were an ineffective and inefficient Department of Defense bureaucracy that didn’t support the wounded warrior when he left Walter Reed and went home, not when he was there.  But be that as it may, the message today was that we are under management that cares and understands that the DoD must treat this holistically.

The advancements in battlefield medical care (e.g., Navy Corpsmen, Marines qualified as combat lifesaver, etc.) have ensured a drop in battlefield deaths, and yet a commensurate increase in battlefield wounded and “disabled.”  The goal, then, is to ensure that the term “disabled” doesn’t really apply – to rehabilitate, to retrain, and to enable.  May God grant them success.

As one final followup item, my regular readers also know that TBI (traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of the war due to IEDs) is a pet concern of mine.  Here are two very interesting links for your study.

Dog Helps TBI Victim
Battlefield Brain Injury: The Lessons from Iraq (highly technical article written by an M.D.)


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