The Perfect Rifle

Herschel Smith · 06 Nov 2014 · 8 Comments

Rifles and their advocates are in the news and blogs these days.  It doesn't take a handgun to perform home defense.  A man using a rifle recently detained three burglars until police arrived.  It could have been any type of rifle. Rifle Shooter Magazine recently did a piece on the best bolt action rifles of all time.  Brad Fitzpatrick covers a number of the ones you would expect to see, including the Remington 700, Winchester model 70, Weatherby and so on.  But he includes one…… [read more]

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

When U.S. intelligence analysts were claiming that a Taliban offensive in Afghanistan would not occur due to focus on Pakistan, The Captain’s Journal laid out the case for dual Taliban campaigns (one focusing on Pakistan and the other on Afghanistan), and pointed out that the spring “offensive” would be waged differently than in direct, head-to-head kinetic engagements with U.S. forces.  The influx of foreign jihadists into the tribal areas of Pakistan (particularly the NWFP and FATA) has brought fighters into the cultural milieu that, unlike the older Taliban fighters, have no moral inhibitions regarding suicide tactics.

The chart to the left is a simple strategic organizational chart that shows the logical connections between the direction of the Pakistani Taliban (e.g., lead by Baitullah Mehsud and others) and the Afghani Taliban (e.g., lead by Mohammed Omar).  The strategy is multifaceted with dual fronts, but the campaign has as its centerpiece the interdiction of NATO supply lines.  The campaign will involve guerrilla tactics (combat from the shadows), insurgent tactics (governance and winning hearts and minds), and the use of terror tactics such as suicide bombers.

 We had previous indication that NATO supply lines were both important and vulnerable.  Mehsud’s forces have already shown that they can be effective against these critical routes.  Now, the Asia Times has information that both exonerates our analysis and gives new detail to the strategic plans.

After more than six years, coalition forces in Afghanistan are preparing for an all-out offensive against the Taliban centered on their safe havens straddling the border with Pakistan.

This, allied with intensive North Atlantic Treaty Organization and US operations already this year, has led to much speculation on whether the Taliban will launch their annual spring offensive, with even senior NATO officials suggesting the Taliban will instead bunker down in a war of attrition, much as they did during a rough phase in 2004.

This will not be the case, according to Asia Times Online’s interaction with Taliban guerrillas over the past few weeks. But instead of taking on foreign forces in direct battle in the traditional hot spots, the Taliban plan to open new fronts as they are aware they cannot win head-on against the might of the US-led war machine.

The efforts of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and its 47,000 soldiers from nearly 40 nations will focus on specific areas that include the Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies in Pakistan, as well as South and North Waziristan in that country, and Nooristan, Kunar, Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces in Afghanistan. The ISAF is complemented by the separate US-led coalition of about 20,000, the majority being US soldiers. This does not include a contingent of 3,600 US Marine Corps who this week started arriving in southern Afghanistan. They will work under the command of the ISAF.

For their part, the Taliban, according to Asia Times Online contacts, will open new fronts in Khyber Agency in Pakistan and Nangarhar province in east Afghanistan and its capital Jalalabad.

This move follows a meeting of important Taliban commanders of Pakistani and Afghan origin held for the first time in the Tera Valley bordering the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan. (Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders famously evaded US-led forces in the Tora Bora soon after the invasion in 2001.)

Pakistan’s Khyber Agency has never been a part of the Taliban’s domain. The majority of the population there follows the Brelvi school of thought, which is bitterly opposed to the hardline Taliban and the Salafi brand of Islam. The adjacent Afghan province of Nangarhar has also been a relatively peaceful area.

Conversely, the historic belt starting from Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province and running through Khyber Agency to Nangarhar is NATO’s life line – 80% of its supplies pass through it. From Nangarhar, the capital Kabul is only six hours away by road.

Over the past year, the Taliban have worked hard at winning over the population in this region and have installed a new commander, Ustad Yasir, to open up the front in Nangarhar.

The Taliban (both Pakistan and Afghanistan) have come together with al Qaeda and settled on a centerpiece for the campaign, i.e., the interdiction of NATO supply lines through the NWFP and onward towards Kabul.  The tactics involve “winning the population,” which although not delineated in the Asia Times report, probably involve the disbursement of money among other things.  While this tactic is successful it will be continued, but in the event of its failure, the Taliban will likely revert to terror tactics beginning with the tribal elders and then the balance of the population.

This area on the Afghanistan side of the border is already problematic.  As we discussed in Taking the High Ground in Afghanistan, in Eastern Afghanistan North of the Khyber pass, the 173rd combat team has daily clashes with insurgents, but lack the forces to take the high ground.  Insurgents rarely attack US fighters unless and until they have managed to position themselves at a higher altitude than their foe. “I would say that 95% of the time they hit us from the high ground – when our backs are turned,” says Tanner Stichter, a soldier serving in the Korengal Outpost. “We have a very difficult time finding these foreign fighters – as they remain hidden” … “The US forces, along with the Afghan army and police, need to go on the offensive now - before the weather breaks,” insists police chief, Haji Mohammed Jusef. “This time of year is the best time for us to take the high ground and deny it to the enemy.”

The Afghan Taliban no longer become involved in direct head-to-head engagements with the U.S. forces, but remain hidden in some of the same caves they used to drive the Soviet Army from Afghanistan.  Rather than conventional or even necessarily insurgent tactics, the capability to remain hidden is more guerrilla style combat.  In addition to the guerrilla tactics, the Afghan Taliban have mixed the tactics of terror and technology to the battle space, including standoff weapons such as IEDs and suicide bombers, differentiating this campaign from classical insurgency campaigns of the past (except for Iraq, where it took many more forces to be successful).

In Pakistan the picture is much the same but slightly different in areas given the boldness with which they are able to operate.

MANSEHRA, Pakistan (AP) — Long-haired gunmen burst into the white stone building and killed four charity workers helping earthquake victims, then wrecked the office with grenades and set it on fire. Police came, but did not intervene.

In a tactic reminiscent of neighboring Afghanistan, Islamic militants are attacking aid groups in the Pakistan’s volatile northwest, and local authorities appear incapable — or unwilling — to stop them.

The threat has forced several foreign agencies to scale back assistance to survivors of the October 2005 earthquake that killed at least 78,000 people and left 3 million homeless — risking the region’s recovery from the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.

The Feb. 25 attack on employees of Plan International, a British-based charity that focuses on helping children, was the worst in a series of threats and assaults on aid workers in the northern mountains where Taliban-style militants have expanded their reach in the past year.

Nearly a month later, menacing letters are still being sent to aid organizations. Although all four victims in Mansehra were Pakistani men, Islamic extremists despise the aid groups because they employ women and work for women’s rights.

Local officials in Mansehra, who spoke on condition they not be identified for fear of retaliation, said letters from extremists distributed March 13 and 14 also warned schools to make sure girls are covered from head to toe and to avoid coeducation.

The militants also may be trying to discredit Pakistan’s central government, and to enforce a radical religious agenda in a conservative region where jihadist-linked groups were themselves a source of aid after the quake.

But this direct kinetic engagement of the population doesn’t prevent the Taliban and al Qaeda from also being involved in the use of terror tactics in an effort to destabilize the government.

Rawalpindi, Mar 21 (ANI): The Pakistan Government has directed law-enforcement agencies to strengthen security to counter expected bomb attacks in Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore, Kohat and Multan. According to the intelligence reports, eight to 10 teenage suicide bombers have been sent from South Waziristan to target sensitive installations and security forces in different areas.

The suicide bombers sent by a Taliban leader, may crash an explosive-laden vehicle, either car or motorcycle, into their targets, the intelligence report said.The expected targets of bombers are Western diplomats, stock exchanges in Lahore and Islamabad, police rest-houses and clubs, Jamia Al-Muntazir of Model Town, Lahore, CSD stores, cinemas in Rawalpindi Cantt, Chaklala Airbase, Naval Headquarters in Islamabad and army welfare shops in Multan, Lahore and Kohat Cantonment according to the report.  Security agencies have already been put on high alert across the country to foil any subversive activity. (ANI)

Rawalpindi is the home of the headquarters of the Pakistan Army, and the Taliban are aiming to strike right into the heart of their enemy.  The use of suicide bombs wouldn’t be a deviation from a strategy they have already proven they are willing to employ.  As of March 11, 2008, there had already been sixteen suicide attacks in Pakistan this year.

There has been speculation about whether there will be a so-called spring offensive in 2008.  The Taliban and al Qaeda have settled on a strategy; their fighters have the high ground in Afghanistan North of the Khyber pass due to lack of NATO forces; teenage suicide bombers have been dispatched to the very heart of the Pakistan Army headquarters; and they are attempting to win hearts and minds in the area of the NATO supply routes.  There is no question when the spring offensive will occur.  It has already started, and while the desire might be for direct kinetic engagements in order to preserve the typical 10:1 kill ratio, the campaign will be harder than that.  It will be a war of insurgents, guerrillas and irregular warfare.  The only question will be whether there will be enough NATO forces to secure the population, kill the enemy and win the campaign.

Prior:

Baitullah Mehsud: The Most Powerful Man in Waziristan

Taliban Campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda

Marines, Afghanistan and Strategic Malaise

Pashtun Rejection of the Global War on Terror

Everyone Thought the Taliban Would Not Fight!

NATO Intransigence in Afghanistan

Tribal Region of Pakistan a Dual Threat

More on Suicide Bomber Kill Ratio

Taking the High Ground in Afghanistan

Basra Today: The Beheading of Women

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The Telegraph gives us a glimpse into the state of Basra today.

Five years on from the invasion of Iraq, the apparent success of the American surge and growing stability in Basra are providing cautious grounds for optimism. There has been a palpable change in the atmosphere in Basra since Britain formally handed over control of the province to the Iraqis last December.

After the initial euphoria that greeted British troops when they participated in the campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, things quickly turned sour as they found themselves caught up in a vicious power struggle between militias.

By last summer, the last British battle group found itself under siege at Basra palace, and was obliged to make a tactical withdrawal to the air base on the city outskirts, where it remains.

But the main purpose of the British mission had always been to train the Iraqis to a level where they could take responsibility for their own security, and that is now slowly starting to happen, as I found when I visited Basra.

Now that British forces have withdrawn from the city centre, it is difficult to know precisely what is happening there, but local contacts and British intelligence sources report that the situation is far calmer than last year, with Shia religious parties assuming responsibility for security.

The intent should have been to eradicate the radical elements or subdue them.  Note the wording of this last statement: ” … with Shia religious parties assuming responsibility for security.”  The British didn’t turn over security to the radical Shia militia; nor do the Jaish al Mahdi or the SIIC  care about security.

The main purpose for the 4,000 British troops is to provide back-up for the Iraqi security forces when required.

The overall situation in Basra has been greatly helped by the recent six-month extension to the ceasefire agreed by Moqtada al Sadr’s militias, although one senior British diplomat said there had been “a number of moments when things have been very dodgy”.

And although the mood is calmer, the militias are still intimidating local people. Walls in the city bear graffiti warning: “If we catch women without the veil, we will cut off your head.”

Some security.  The deplorable British strategy in Basra and retreat in the face of radical Islamists has resulted in the targeting of women.

One hundred and thirty-three women were killed last year in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, either by religious vigilantes or as a result of so-called “honour” killings, a report said on 31 December.

The report, released by Basra Security Committee at a conference on women’s rights in the city, said 79 of the victims were deemed by extremists to be “violating Islamic teachings”, 47 others died in “honour” killings and the remaining seven were targeted for their political affiliations.

“The women of Basra are being horrifically murdered and then dumped in the garbage with notes saying they were killed for violating Islamic teachings,” Bassem al-Moussawi, head of the committee and a member of Basra’s Provincial Council, told the conference.

“Sectarian groups are trying to force a strict interpretation of Islam… They send their vigilantes to roam the city, hunting down those who are deemed to be behaving against their [the extremists’] own interpretations,” al-Moussawi said.

Prior:

Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement

The Rise of the JAM

Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles

Western Anbar Versus the Shi’a South: Pictures of Contrast

British Versus the Americans: War Over Strategy

Strengthening Iran

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

In a thought-provoking opinion piece at Foxnews, Alireza Jafarzadeh argues that Iran is the de facto winner in Iraq.

Five years after the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, we are faced with the grim reality that despite gains in recent months in curtailing sectarian strife and improving security, Tehran has emerged as the de facto winner in Iraq. Without a major shift in the political and security status quo, that will not change. That’s the bad news. The good news is, there is still a window of opportunity to reverse the ayatollahs’ gains if the United States, with a sense of due urgency and creative realism, adjusts its policy.

Back in early 2003, as U.S. forces prepared to invade Iraq, the rulers of Iran moved to turn Iraq into the frontline in their confrontation with the United States. Their goal? To make Iraq their avenue to spread Islamic extremist rule in the Middle East. Although Iran’s nuclear weapons program is of great consequence, Iraq is the crucial battleground that will make or break the ayatollahs’ grand vision of establishing a global Islamic rule.

Tehran’s No. 1 foreign policy agenda is, and always has been, to export its extremist brand of Islamic rule to the rest of the Middle East and the world. Iraq, given its Shiite-majority population, important Shiite shrines, and extensive border with Iran, was the natural cornerstone of this grand agenda. These global ambitions are hard-coded into their constitution.

So it is no surprise that Ali Khamenei, the mullahs’ Supreme Leader who determines Tehran’s strategic and macro policies, saw the 2003 Iraqi invasion as a golden opportunity. In an April 2003 issue, Newsweek reported that “U.S. intelligence has tracked roughly a dozen Iranian agents directly from Tehran to Al Kut in the last month … what really unsettles U.S. officials is the dawning sense that the Iranians planned in advance to move in as soon as Saddam’s men were gone.”

It is remarkable that there is a “dawning sense that the Iranians planned in advance to move in as soon as Saddam’s men were gone.”  As Michael Ledeen has pointed out to me many times before, the insurgency didn’t begin in Fallujah.  It began in Tehran and Damascus.  The Iranian Time Bomb (The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction) remains required reading if you wish to fathom the depths of evil embodied in the Iranian regime today, and is one of the most comprehensive works on the radical Iranian mind to date.  My cherished copy is signed “From a fellow-suffering Dad to another, Michael.”  In April of 2004, Michael Rubin also pointed out the depths of the problem and pointed to personal experiences as confirmation of his own similar analysis.  It is lengthy, but absolutely necessary reading, if you wish to understand the state of Iraq today.

I arrived in Baghdad in July 2003. With temperatures soaring to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, most CPA staff remained inside air-conditioned headquarters, located in a former Saddam palace. Junior American diplomats tended to stay at their desks, while ambassadors traveled in armored cars among well-armed personal security details. What was good for security, however, was bad for political intelligence. After 35 years of dictatorship, Iraqis avoided talking to armed men, and the CPA staffers, penned up in their palace complex and out of touch with average Iraqis, missed evidence of increasing Iranian influence.

My first night in Baghdad, several Iraqis intercepted me in the Rashid Hotel lobby. Three years before, I had taught for a year in Iraqi Kurdistan; friends had planned a reunion. We talked, ate, and drank until shortly before the 10 p.m. curfew; throughout the evening, Arabs and Kurds alike warned that Iranian intelligence was taking advantage of the U.S. failure to secure Iraq’s borders. Later that month, several Iraqis warned me that over 10,000 Iranians had entered Iraq. Coalition officials I spoke to seemed unconcerned, suggesting that the influx was simply Iraqi refugees returning home. But these American diplomats seemed unable to differentiate between returnees speaking Iraqi Arabic and people proficient in Persian, who spoke little or no Arabic; many of the Iranians coming into the country fell into the latter category.

Over subsequent months, I frequently visited the Iranian frontier. Traveling back roads along a smugglers’ route in Iraqi Kurdistan, I encountered no U.S. patrols within 100 miles of the border, though American officials had vowed to police the frontiers. And, when I returned to Baghdad, I saw the results of open borders. I often visited Sadr City, a sprawling Shia slum named for Moqtada Al Sadr’s slain father. Among posters of Moqtada Al Sadr, Khomeini, and other religious figures, hawkers sold everything from U.S. Agency for International Development rations to stolen cars to forged documents, such as passports and manifests. Safe-passage documents for traveling from Iran to Iraq cost only $50.

Sadr himself has become a recipient of Iranian cash. Iran’s charge d’affaires in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, maintains close relations with Sadr. According to the April 6 edition of the Arabic newspaper al-Hayat, Qomi is not actually a diplomat but rather a member of the Revolutionary Guards, the elite Iranian terrorist network dedicated to the export of jihad; Qomi previously served as a liaison to Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Italian intelligence reports show that many Revolutionary Guards have moved to southern Iraq in recent months to organize and train Sadr’s armed wing. This Iranian operation reportedly hides its true intentions under the guise of religious charities in Karbala, Najaf, and Kufa, while financial support is channeled to Sadr through Ayatollah Kazem Al Haeri, a Qom-based cleric and close confidant of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. (The Office of the Supreme Leader retains a budget for which Khamenei is not accountable to Iran’s president or parliament.) Italian intelligence has identified one of Haeri’s students as Khamenei’s personal representative to Sadr.

Sadr is not the only Islamist Shia leader receiving aid from Tehran. When I visited Nasiriya, a dusty town in southern Iraq, local clerics complained bitterly about Iranian intelligence officials swarming into town, creating a network of informers and funneling money to anti-U.S. forces. At a town-hall meeting in Nasiriya last October, tribal leaders repeatedly condemned the United States for failing to confront the “hidden hand”–Iranians coming into the city.

By January, the anti-U.S. Badr Corps, trained and financed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, had established a large office on Nasiriya’s riverfront promenade. Below murals of Khomeini and the late Ayatollah Mohammad Bakr Al Hakim hung banners declaring, no to America, no to Israel, no to occupation. Two blocks away in the central market, vendors sold posters not of moderate Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, but of Supreme Leader Khomeini. By January 2004, Zainab Al Suwaij, the granddaughter of Basra’s leading religious figure, was reporting that Hezbollah, which has close ties to the Revolutionary Guards, was operating openly in southern towns like Nasiriya and Basra, helping to stir up violence. The next day, at his daily press briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, “No, I don’t know anything about Hamas and Hezbollah in Iraq. … We’ll stop them if we can get them.” Coincidentally, I visited Basra on January 14 without informing the local CPA coordinator. One block from the main market, Sciri and Hezbollah had established a joint office. A large Lebanese Hezbollah flag fluttered in the wind.

The Iranian government has not limited its support to a single faction or party. Rather, Tehran’s strategy appears to be to support both the radicals seeking immediate confrontation with the U.S. occupation and Islamist political parties like Sciri and Ibrahim Jafari’s Dawah Party, which are willing to sit on the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council and engage with Washington, at least in the short term. The Iranian journalist Nurizadeh wrote in April 2003, “[President Mohammed] Khatami [and other Iranian political leaders] … were surprised by the decision issued above their heads to send into Iraq more than 2,000 fighters, clerics, and students [to] the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and al-Dawah Party.” My own experience backed up his claims. This February, I spoke with a local governor from southern Iraq who wanted to meet me after he learned that I lived and worked outside CPA headquarters. The governor complained that the CPA was doing little to stop the influx of Iranian money to district councilmen and prominent tribal and religious officials. The money, he said, was distributed through Dawah offices established after a meeting between Jafari and Iranian security officials.

Coalition forces under the leadership (or lack thereof) of Paul Bremer continued to empower Iran through her proxy Moqtada al Sadr.  As I reported in Rise of the JAM, Sadr was actually in the custody of the 3/2 Marines in 2004 and the Marines were forced to release him.  For a stunning account of the sad and sorry role of the British in convincing the authorities to release him, see the Charlie Rose interview of John Burns (approximately 17:20 into the interview).

In addition to the Jaish al Mahdi, the SIIC is also Iran-backed, but has also learned more quickly to play the political game in Iraq and is thoroughly embedded within the political scene.  Returning to the seminal opinion piece for this article, Alireza Jafarzadeh argues that the good news is that there is a window of opportunity to change the scene in Iraq.  The U.S. must take strong action against Iran, including her proxy forces inside Iraq.

We have argued for the fomenting of regime change in Iran by whatever means are necessary, including a full blown insurgency within Iran.  Others have argued for less draconian measures such as the fostering of democracy.  This later option isn’t likely to work due to the recalcitrance of the State Department and their general opposition to the global war on terror.

Whatever option is chosen by the administration, the time is short and the window of opportunity finite.

Prior: Iranian Hegemony in Iraq

Taking the High Ground in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The Washington Times recently had an article that causes one to stop and ponder some hard facts.

Three politicians in Pakistan yesterday described a nation in crisis, struggling against poverty and terrorism as a new civilian government takes over after years of military rule.

During a teleconference with guests of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in downtown Washington, the politicians also faulted the United States for failing to secure Afghanistan and creating more instability in their neighboring country.

“You can’t blame Pakistan for the problems we are facing,” Mushahid Hussain of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q said from Islamabad.

“We have been at the eye of the storm since 1979,” he added, citing the spillover effects of the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Western and Arab nations funneled millions of dollars to Afghan freedom fighters to defeat the Soviets in the 1980s, and then the United States withdrew until al Qaeda terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The Bush administration responded by invading Afghanistan and liberating it from the brutal Taliban rule, which sheltered al Qaeda.

Since then, Mr. Hussain said, the United States “has outsourced” the war to NATO. He criticized the United States for “fire brigade” policies and NATO for failing to “show the will to win” against resurgent Taliban terrorists.

The U.S. can most certainly lay some blame on Pakistan for her problems, for when a country has a budding insurgency and chooses to let them have free reign in part of the country (in this case, at least the NWFP and FATA), the result can only be a worse insurgency.

On the other hand, the charge of outsourcing the campaign in Afghanistan to inept NATO forces who lack a strategy or even any counterinsurgency experience sticks hard as we have pointed out before.  In Eastern Afghanistan North of the Khyber pass, the 173rd combat team has daily clashes with insurgents, but lack the forces to take the high ground.

Platoon leaders in regular clashes with insurgents here say that their foe is under the direct sway of al-Qaeda. “When we are in a village, we always know that al-Qaeda and the Taliban will soon be back to try to undercut us and try to one-up us,” said Sergeant Mark Patterson, whose platoon in the Korengal Valley has been in some of the heaviest fighting anywhere in Afghanistan. US forces based out of the “KOP”, or Korengal Outpost, face a higher concentration of al-Qaeda-backed insurgents than most regions of Afghanistan, not least because an Egyptian lieutenant of al-Qaeda operates among them, say US officers.

While US forces rarely see their enemy, their mission is to fight for the hearts and minds of the same people al-Qaeda and its affiliates try to win over. While the insurgents try to operate with the cover of the what Chinese leader Mao Zedong once called the “sea of the people”, US forces are trying to pry away that popular backing.

“We are constantly pushing into areas where the enemy operates freely – encroaching upon them and taking away their population base,” says Commander Larry LeGree, who is charged with building roads into insurgent strongholds in the foothills of the Hindu Kush.

The point of building so many roads into remote areas along the Afghan border, say US officers, is also to “create a firewall” against al-Qaeda efforts to infiltrate with men and guns. At the same time, the Afghan forces that are meant to patrol these roads are being “mentored” by their US colleagues.

Yet the firewall can quickly turn into an ambush for US and Afghan fighters in the low ground. There are so many infiltration points available on the Pakistani border – particularly as the snow melts – that real issue is “who controls the high ground”, according to a senior Afghan security official.

Insurgents rarely attack US fighters unless and until they have managed to position themselves at a higher altitude than their foe. “I would say that 95% of the time they hit us from the high ground – when our backs are turned,” says Tanner Stichter, a soldier serving in the Korengal Outpost. “We have a very difficult time finding these foreign fighters – as they remain hidden.”

The first response of US infantry when they are hit from insurgent positions in the hills above them is to call in air power and heavy artillery. This is not always effective as insurgents operate out of well-hidden redoubts – often the same positions used by guerrilla fighters in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s.

American forces, whose air power is far superior to any in the world, often end up pummeling the rocks in frustration. “I’ve watched on – you know – Predator feeds from the drones firing 155 shell after 155 shell and slamming into a house,” says Lieutenant Brandon Kennedy, a recent graduate of West Point military academy. “They watch fighters come running out of these same structures. It is fairly difficult to accurately engage these guys.”

Both US fighters and their Afghan proteges agree that they could do with controlling more of the high ground along the border with Pakistan.

The US forces, along with the Afghan army and police, need to go on the offensive now- before the weather breaks,” insists police chief, Haji Mohammed Jusef. “This time of year is the best time for us to take the high ground and deny it to the enemy.”

We’ve covered the road construction before, in that roads cut both ways.  Sure, they allows goods, services and troops to travel to outlier locations, but roads also provide the Taliban with perfect opportunities to emplace IEDs.  No amount of force protection or winning hearts and minds can give the population security.  Killing or capturing the enemy is necessary for security.  Two problems continue to hamper the campaign: (1) lack of a comprehensive force-wide strategy due to NATO involvement, and (2) lack of force size.  These are themes we have written on extensively, and the only change coming is 3200 Marines, who are deploying in Afghanistan at the moment.  More on the Marines later in the week.

Prior:

The Marines, Afghanistan and Strategic Malaise

Everyone Thought the Taliban Would Not Fight

NATO Intransigence in Afghanistan

A-10 Supports Campaign in Yugoslavia

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

An A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off on a mission against targets in Yugoslavia. The A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs are the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces.  High resolution photo from DVIDS.

a_10_in_yugoslavia.jpg

Our readers know what a fan we are of the A-10 and upgraded A-10C.  Her gun is marvelous and causes me to dream about a ride in one of these beautiful aircraft.  To bad she is a one-seater.  Our readers also know what an opponent we are of commitments around the globe when we are waging a war on terror.  This A-10 is doubtless doing great work, but it could also be put to better use in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Can the Tanker Refuel the V-22?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Today a defense and security policy analyst and consultant firm in the Washington, D.C. area searched on the following words: “new tanker cannot refuel V-22.”  He found our article taking some issue with Abu Muqawama on the award of the refueling tanker contract to Northrop Grumman rather than Boeing.  He learned nothing from our article, but we learned from his search.  Hmmm … said we, and we cracked our knuckles and did a little work to see just what treasures we could dig up.

As it turns out, the Boeing press release protesting the award of the contract contains some pregnant statements, one of which is:

“It is clear that the original mission for these tankers — that is, a medium-sized tanker where cargo and passenger transport was a secondary consideration — became lost in the process, and the Air Force ended up with an oversized tanker,” McGraw said. “As the requirements were changed to accommodate the bigger, less capable Airbus plane, evaluators arbitrarily discounted the significant strengths of the KC-767, compromising on operational capabilities, including the ability to refuel a more versatile array of aircraft such as the V-22 and even the survivability of the tanker during the most dangerous missions it will encounter.”

Defense Industry Daily has asked Boeing a number of questions on this press release, including:

… which aircraft were left out, and what factors would allow the KC-767 to refuel them where the A330 MRTT could not. We have also requested elaboration on what would make the KC-767 more survivable, given that both aircraft would be equipped with the same defensive systems.

The V-22 Osprey has proven its worth in Iraq.

The Osprey seems to have become a favorite of commanders who need to get to places quickly, including Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq. Petraeus used one to fly around the country on Christmas Day to visit troops.

“Gen. Petraeus flew in the jump seat and was very impressed by the aircraft’s capabilities,” according to Col. Steve Boylan, a spokesman for the general.

“The rate of climb is exceptional, and it can fly about twice as fast as a Black Hawk [helicopter], without needing to refuel as frequently,” Boylan said. “Beyond that, its automatic-hover capability for use in landing in very dusty conditions, even at night, is tremendous.”

Petraeus chose the Osprey for that mission because it was the only aircraft in the inventory that could fly around the country without refueling and not rely on runways, Boylan said.

We don’t know anything else about the new tanker, since no one has contracted The Captain’s Journal to oversee the procurement process for the new Air Force refueling tanker.  But we have always been fans of the Osprey.  As a Marine blog, if the new tanker cannot refuel the V-22, then we say “screw it.”

v22_at_night.jpg

More on Suicide Bomber Kill Ratio

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

In Terror Tactics, we observed that the difficulty in emplacing IEDs had caused a more discrete tactic, that of suicide bombers.  We also observed that this had caused an inversion of the kill ratio in the Iraq campaign.

… in both Iraq and Afghanistan, direct kinetic engagements are being avoided.  The kill ratio which has been maintained throughout both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom is approximately 10:1.  This has caused huge losses for al Qaeda (and the Taliban in Afghanistan), and they have largely transitioned to a tactic which is much more surreptitious and difficult to stop: the suicide bomb

The Taliban haven’t completely turned off the faucet of kinetic operations against NATO forces, but when they engage they usually lose.

Seven Taliban militants have been killed in Afghanistan at the weekend after two separate attacks on police posts in the south and east, officials said Sunday.

In eastern Nangarhar province, four militants were killed in an exchange of fire early Sunday after attacking a police post near the border with Pakistan, provincial spokesman Noor Agha Zwak told AFP

Three others were killed on Saturday in the former Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala in restive Helmand province, police said.

“They attacked our police post. Our guys returned fire and three Taliban were killed,” provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal told AFP.

Taliban rebels stormed and captured Musa Qala early last year, making it their biggest military base from where they directed attacks on Afghan and foreign troops across the war-ravaged country.

Afghan and NATO forces recaptured the remote town in a large-scale operation involving thousands of troops in December. Two NATO soldiers were killed in the fighting.

Elsewhere, the US-led coalition, which has thousands of troops fighting here alongside a 40,000-strong NATO-led force, said it had killed “several” militants on Friday in an operation in eastern Khost province.

“A number of armed militants were killed when they posed a credible threat to coalition forces,” the military said in a statement. Five other militants were captured, it added.

Yet about the same time in Afghanistan, the kill ratio was reversed with terror tactics.

A suicide car bomber killed two Danish and one Czech NATO soldiers, an interpreter and three civilians in southern Afghanistan on Monday, officials said.

The Taliban have threatened to step up their campaign of suicide attacks this year to wear down Afghan and Western public support for the presence of foreign troops in the country.

The bomber attacked a convoy from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) near the village of Girishk in the southern province of Helmand, an ISAF spokesman said.

“Three ISAF soldiers, one ISAF interpreter and three Afghan civilians were killed by the blast,” said spokesman Captain Mark Gough. “Four ISAF soldiers and approximately six Afghan civilians were wounded.”

Suicide vests are now the weapon of choice in Iraq.  Coalition forces can no more stop suicide tactics when the weapon (human plus ordnance) gets into theater than they can stop the Taliban from targeting the cell phone towers.  The tenth cell phone tower has been attacked since the start of the campaign against them, and some cell phone networks have begun to turn off service at night in compliance with Taliban orders.

The solution lies in aggressive offensive operations against the insurgents.  The combination of humans and ordnance must be stopped where they are born, and no later than at the borders (Pakistan, Syria), and if they do make it into theater, the enablers and save havens must be targeted.  No amount of force protection can succeed when offensive operations are strategically necessary.

Obama and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The Captain’s Journal is extremely disappointed in the former Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.  But before addressing our disappointment, some background.  Normally as a Milblog we are dealing with issues in counterinsurgency, weapons and tactics, policy, strategy, and connections in the global war on terror.  Only infrequently do we weigh in on political matters.  In this case, it seems appropriate to break with tradition if only momentarily.

If we can leave behind the ugly picture of Jeremiah Wright screaming “God damn America” from the pulpit of his church or humping the pulpit (video here), Obama’s tactics for addressing his Pastor’s indiscretions are irrelevant, as are his claims that he wasn’t present when the words of hate were screamed.  The focus on examples misses the point, although there are probably copious quantities to go around.

Jeremiah Wright has said very clearly that he is a proponent of liberation theology.  This strand of thought began mid-twentieth century in Latin America as a synthesis of Marxism and Christian trappings and words.  It has since evolved beyond that into a bizarre mixture of this plus a glorification of pre-Christian cultures and religions,  concern for earth worship, struggle for the land, and ecology.

But at its heart it still holds premier the notions of redistribution of wealth and class warfare.  If Obama could somehow claim that he doesn’t hold to any of these things or that his pastor has somehow moderated the messages he delivered from this more radical bent, then it can be countered that Obama has shown that he knows what the social gospel is, declaring that Wright’s “character is being assassinated in the public sphere because he has preached a social gospel on behalf of oppressed women, children and men in America and around the globe.”

The social gospel is the earlier American version of Marxism mixed with the trappings of Christianity.  We turn to one of the foremost scholars on theology and American history, C. Gregg Singer in his A Theological Interpretation of American History for a few words on the social gospel.

Sin [is] no longer a “want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” but the result of ignorance in which man failed to live up to the highest and the most noble that was within him … according to this conception the church was to help each individual work out for himself that salvation which nature had placed within his grasp and which he should direct toward socially desirable ends.  Salvation was henceforth regarded as largely social in content and purpose, and only incidentally individual in nature.  True enough, a major change of purpose and motivation was to take place in individual lives, but this was not an end in itself, but only a means toward an end – the perfecting of society here on earth.

Jeremiah Wright’s church espouses exactly this liberation theology / social gospel even now on its web site.  A survey of their mission statement reveals nothing of redemption, salvation, regeneration, faith and repentance, but rather of world change through the collective.

We are called out to be “a chosen people” that pays no attention to socio-economic or educational backgrounds. We are made up of the highly educated and the uneducated. Our congregation is a combination of the haves and the have-nots; the economically disadvantaged, the under-class, the unemployed and the employable.  The fortunate who are among us combine forces with the less fortunate to become agents of change for God who is not pleased with America’s economic mal-distribution!

The fact that, say, Job and Noah were very wealthy men is not relevant to Wright because it doesn’t easily fit within the framework of his system of income and wealth redistribution in the name of religion.  Obama clearly knows that his church stands for this socialism, as he said it himself.  When the truth is laid bare, Obama is shown to be little more than a proponent of class warfare.  Wright’s church isn’t about being a catalyst for redemption.  It’s all about “show me the money.”

Back to the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.  He has formally endorsed Obama for President (far left in the photograph below).

sergeant_major_far_left_in_photo.jpg

Just eight months after taking off his uniform, the recently retired 15th sergeant major of the Marine Corps is jumping into the campaign fray, stumping for Sen. Barack Obama and echoing the Democratic candidate’s call for pulling troops out of Iraq.

“I stood up and I said I agree with him when he said we should pull out of Iraq. I think it’s time for the Iraqis to stand up and take charge of their own country,” retired Sgt. Maj. John Estrada said in a telephone interview Feb. 25.

“He’s not talking about snatching everybody out of there. He said he will do it over a 16-month period. He will deploy the troops to places where they’re needed, like Afghanistan. … He’s a guy who will use force reasonably,” Estrada said.

Estrada, 52, was the highest-ranking enlisted Marine for nearly four years before retiring in June 2007 after 34 years.

He formally endorsed the Illinois senator for president of the United States during a rally at a high school gymnasium in Beaufort, S.C., on Jan. 24. Estrada served twice at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and is well-known among the locals there.

He planned to campaign again for the senator in Texas on the weekend preceding the critical March 4 primary between Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

“He has this — I want to call it a unifying force. I see him uniting our country more so than the others. Old, young, across all ethnicities,” Estrada said.

One wonders how Estrada sees this “unifying force” now.  It would have been honorable if he had stumped for the renewed and revised G.I. bill being worked on by Peter King, or for lighter body armor, or for a replacement for the M16A2 / M4 / SAW, or better yet spent his time visiting wounded warriors at their bedside.  If he found it necessary, then he could have engaged in the debate about force presence in Iraq and weighed in with all of the vigor of the highest ranking enlisted man in the Marine Corps.

Instead he chose to shill for a politician, and a Marxist one at that.  It is a sad time in American history when, despite admonitions to pray for the civil magistrate (WCF XXIII), pastors publicly denounce the same and call on God to damn them.  It is made all the more sad when a respected warrior aligns himself with a person who is aligned with such things.  Respected warrior no more.

Religiously Motivated: Al Qaeda and Taliban Step up the Battle

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The following is a list of suicide attacks in Pakistan this year.

- March 11: Separate bombers shatter seven-story police headquarters and house in Lahore. At least 27 people killed, more than 200 wounded.
- March 4: Two bombers blow themselves up at navy training college in Lahore, killing four college employees.
- March 2: Bomber attacks tribesmen discussing resistance to al-Qaida and Taliban in Darra Adam Khel. At least 40 dead.
- March 1: Bomber on foot attacks vehicle carrying security officers in Bajur tribal area, killing one person, wounding 19.
- Feb. 29: Bomber strikes police officer’s funeral in Mingora in Swat Valley. More than 40 people killed, at least 60 wounded.
- Feb. 25: Bomber attacks car carrying Pakistani army’s surgeon general along busy road south of Islamabad, killing at least seven others.
- Feb. 16: Car bomber hits election rally in Parachinar. Some 40 people killed.
- Feb. 16: Attacker kills two civilians and wounds eight security personnel in Swat Valley.
- Feb. 11: Attacker kills seven people at election campaign rally in North Waziristan.
- Feb. 9: Bomber attacks election rally near Charsadda, killing 27 people, wounding 45.
- Feb. 2: Bomber rides explosives-laden motorbike into minibus carrying security personnel in Rawalpindi, killing at least seven people.
- Feb. 1: Car bomber rams into military checkpoint in North Waziristan, killing five soldiers, injuring five.
- Jan. 17: Attacker kills 11 people, wounds 20 at Shiite mosque in Peshawar.
- Jan. 15: Car bomber blows himself up trying to attack troops at checkpoint in Mohmand.
- Jan. 10: Bomber blasts crowd of police guarding courthouse in Lahore, killing 24, wounding dozens in first major attack since Dec. 27 assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
- Jan. 7: Bomber in pickup truck strikes in Swat, wounding eight soldiers and two civilians.

The Asia Times is reporting on an interesting jihadi recruitment pool for al Qaeda that may both give context to the recent list of bombings and give concern for future counterinsurgency efforts in the NWFP and FATA areas of Pakistan.

At the root of al-Qaeda’s strategy is the belief in the powerful ideology of Takfir, which deems all non-practicing Muslims infidels. This, al-Qaeda believes, fuels anti-Western forces in Muslim societies.

From Pakistan’s perspective, the tribal insurgencies in North-West Frontier Province are a thorn in the side of coalition troops in Afghanistan as the area is used as a staging ground for Taliban attacks into that country. But Islamabad believes these can at least be controlled, even if not tamed.

The real concern is the radicalization of Punjab, the largest Pakistani province and comprising more than half the country’s population, through banned militant organizations.

Thousands of activists are known to be affiliated with banned militant organizations in Punjab. Many were initially trained by Pakistani security agencies to fuel the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir.

However, after September 11, 2001, Pakistan, as a new partner in the “war on terror”, was forced by the Americans to shelve its support of the Kashmiri insurgency. As a result, militant training camps were shut down and militants left their parent organizations in the thousands.

These young jihadis are obviously committed fighters and have been kicking their heels for several years now. The fear is that if they fall into the hands of al-Qaeda, they could significantly escalate unrest in Pakistan, Afghanistan and even Iraq. Segments of these Punjab-based militant organizations have already been cultivated by the Takfiris, resulting in a new source of suicide bombers.

Frank Hoffman has remarked to us that The Captain’s Journal is ”rather famous” for our disagreements with Dave Kilcullen, counterinsurgency advisor to General David Petraeus.  Actually, at the Small Wars Journal, Kilcullen never interacted with us - the balance of the council weighed in against our notions of religious motivation in Islamic insurgency.  How nice, to be so alone all of the time.

But in the end our theories are reasonable and have been proven correct.  At the heart of our system was that there were indigenous insurgents who would be amenable to efforts enveloped by nonkinetic operations, but also those who fight for religious reasons (mostly foreign, some small amount indigenous), this later group being impervious to efforts at winning hearts and minds since they don’t engage in the struggle for any reason that can be ameliorated by our actions.  It pays to understand the difference between the two groups, because our strategy is a function of the target group.

This lesson was learned in Anbar, and regardless of any counterinsurgency advice to the contrary, U.S. forces have also implemented efforts to identify the two categories – with remarkable success.  Concerning the Pakistan suicide bombings, the U.S. is taking unilateral action to target Taliban sanctuaries.

WANA, Pakistan, March 16 (Reuters) – A U.S. aircraft fired missiles on Sunday at a house in a Pakistani region known as a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, killing at least 9 militants and wounding nine, an intelligence official said.

A U.S. Central Command spokesman said the missiles were not fired by any military aircraft. This leaves open the possibility it could have been a pilotless drone aircraft which the CIA has used in Pakistan.

The intelligence official said four missiles were fired at the house in Shahnawaz Kheil Dhoog, a village near the town of Wana in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border, just after 3 p.m. (1000 GMT).

“It was apparently an American plane that fired precision guided missiles at the house,” the official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

Three foreigners, an Arab and two Turkmen, were among those killed, according to the intelligence official.

These actions are necessary since the new Parliamentary coalition is less amenable to warring with the Taliban and al Qaeda and more amenable to talking.

“We will discuss the issue of terrorism in parliament and the parliamentary committees, which will also be open to the public through live telecast, and in those meetings the PPP will lay down all the dimensions of the problems and plans to tackle it,” the PPP spokesperson disclosed.

In this context, it is learnt that Benazir Bhutto had “several thoughts” which also pertained to the issue of the dual control over the intelligence apparatus. While it is not clear yet what shape the anti-terror policy of the new government will take, indications are that the strategy and approach pursued will be a departure from the existing one. That it will be more inclusive and non-violent. More importantly, the commitment to deal with the issue will further strengthen.

In fact, the ANP has already made peace overtures to the Taliban.  It is of the utmost importance that the motivations of the enemy are understood, because if our theories are correct, talking with the Taliban will succeed in nothing but further extending amnesty and allowing time for the enemy to regroup, retrain and recruit.

Back In Iraq, lest it be thought that al Qaeda were the only religiously-motivated insurgents, Moqtada al Sadr has recently told us precisely what he was working towards over these last three years.  “So far I did not succeed either to liberate Iraq or make it an Islamic society — whether because of my own inability or the inability of society, only God knows. The continued presence of the occupiers, on the one hand, and the disobedience of many on the other, pushed me to isolate myself in protest. I gave society a big proportion of my life. Even my body became weaker, I got more sicknesses.” (Editorial note: Sadr seems to be in poor health, if alive at all.  He is apparently in Iran where he has spent most of the last six months.  He should just stay there.)

Some finite number of foreign fighters as well as Iranians (Quds) and indigenous radical Shi’a in Iraq have fought for religious reasons, while the indigenous Sunnis have generally not.  Some very much larger percentage of Taliban in Afghanistan have fought for the same ideals.  Literally all of the Pakistani Taliban (Baitullah Mehsud) and al Qaeda fight for these same motivations, and using the wrong strategy to combat their influence will not only be ineffective, it will also be dangerous because it will prolong their life and increase their power.

COIN is Context-Driven or Situation-Specific

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Stéphane Taillat has a very smart post on his predominately French blog, but this one is in English so it will be friendly to most readers.  It is well worth the time spent to study his entire article.  The “money” quote follows:

COIN has no principles. In my mind, it’s the contrary, and that can explains this narrative. COIN is “context-driven”, so most of the procedures that seem to succeed now come from the field and were implemented at the beginning by many officer and leaders. COIN, as a mission, is a contingent phenomenon. It relies on doctrine, formation and training, tactical procedures that integrates technology, social skills and knowledge as well as situational awareness and leader’s initiatives. It cannot be deduced from principles but rather from a progressive and close intimacy with the social and psychological terrain, both local and of own units. last but not least, remember that today’s insurgencies are not like past insurgencies, as a result of which counterinsurgency can’t simply apply “lessons learned” from History without any harm.

On the whole we agree with him on the general thrust of the article.  Counterinsurgency is indeed “context-driven,” or situation-specific (although we do think that some basic ideas may be deduced from experience).  The post on COIN Analogy of the Day brought some degree of opprobrium concerning our dismissal of the British experience in Northern Ireland as being relevant to counterinsurgency in Iraq or anywhere else.  Whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, greater U.K. or English, the fact of the matter is that this was COIN among their own people.  They were the same, at least as compared to Iraq.  The religious, cultural, societal, and political framework was the same; the ethical morays were the same; the language was the same; and by and large the history is the same.

When the British landed in Basra, they may as well have been placed on a different planet.  Nothing was the same, and thus whatever the British learned in Northern Ireland instantly became irrelevant.  In 2003, the British Army fished in the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off.  In 2007 when the British retreated from Basra, they did so while telling the tall tale that since the very presence of the British themselves was causing the violence, it would be better if they just left.  In other words, no one would shoot at the Army if the Army wasn’t there.

These things are being said not just at this blog or by U.S. mouthpieces.  British Colonel Tim Collins has criticized the overall strategy, saying among other things that there were too few troops, and that “Britain’s withdrawal from a chaotic Basra has “badly damaged” its military reputation.”  The post on “COIN Analogy of the Day” was written partially in humor.  This post is not.

The American strategy was horribly bad, and if for no other reason than the inability to stand up the Iraqi Army due to cultural differences, most anyone with brain matter could have told the administration that “standing down when they stand up” was not a plan.  Fortunately, U.S. forces in Anbar did their own thing after 2004 regardless of command confusion.  And they won – this may be Stephane’s point.

Even today there seems to be yet more admissions of failure in Basra by the British envoy to Basra, while at the same time he looks for reasons and excuses (such as it was inevitable anyway) rather than force size, force projection and a learning strategy.

On a serious note, the British generals failed.  The British rank and file include warriors as brave and qualified as any armed forces in the world.  It behooves the Brits to become as open and learning about this whole affair as the U.S. has become.  Taking posts such as this one as insulting is not helpful and doesn’t make progress.  To use an American phrase, the “cookie-cutter” approach to COIN doesn’t work.


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