Free Men Bear Arms

Herschel Smith · 15 Dec 2014 · 3 Comments

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

Hezbollah as Iranian Occupier

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Iranian flag displayed on equipment used to build a new road through southern Lebanon mountains with money from Iran.

Abu Muqawama had a post a few days ago entitled the resistance as oppressor, saying in part:

In the eyes of many Lebanese, the resistance is now an occupying power. How will Hizbollah — which has in the past divided the world into the oppressors and the oppressed — adjust to the ugly new reality where they are seen as the former?

To which The Captain’s Journal responded (in the comments) that Hezbollah has always been an occupying force.  But let’s back up a bit.

As the reader knows by now, Hezbollah flexed their muscle in Lebanon a few days back with the Lebanese Army basically watching events without responding.  Walid Phares argues (persuasively) that the mini-war was fought over a closed circuit telecommunications system and whether they would be allowed to have such a thing (since it violates the law).  Well, not only can they have it, but now they have been given essential veto power over all government decisions.

Abu Muqawama referred to Hezbollah as at one time a “resistance” force, wondering how they would transition to a new role.  John Robb – who is also smart and always an interesting read – does essentially the same thing.

May’s dispute between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah is an interesting example of the contest between hollow states and virtual states over legitimacy and sovereignty. As in most conflicts between gutted nation-states and aggressive virtual states, Hezbollah’s organic legitimacy trumped the state’s in the contest (an interesting contrast between voluntary affiliation and default affiliation by geography). The fighting was over in six hours.

Catch that?  “Organic legitimacy.”  Nice phrase, and it sounds erudite to boot.  The only problem is that this is as wrongheaded as it can possibly be.  W. Thomas Smith gives us another view of things in his most recent article at Human Events, entitled Lights Out Temporarily in Lebanon.

The proverbial lights have gone out in Lebanon: But for those of us having faith in that country’s swelling pro-democracy majority, the lights will only be out temporarily.

For now, however, it’s dark: In the wake of last week’s shameful concessions to the terrorist group, Hizballah, on the part of the Lebanese government and the legitimate army — which barely fired a shot in defense of the Lebanese people — Hizballah has achieved a never-before-realized strengthening of its position in that country.

This upper hand was achieved by force and against the will of most of the Lebanese people: Christians, Druze, and yes, Muslims, both Sunni and many Shiia. What makes it worse is that the international community — which has been warned time-and-again, heard appeals for assistance from various pro-democracy groups, and vowed to support the government, the army, and the will of the majority – did nothing to prevent Hizballah’s thugs from attacking the state and winning.

Let’s boil it down: Hizballah — trained and financed by Iran and operationally supported by Syria — contends it is a legitimate “resistance” against foreign aggression. The group also considers itself to be a fair and viable Shiia political party (it does indeed hold seats in the parliament), and a social movement providing services to Lebanon’s Shiia population (but no one receives social services without pledges of allegiance and promises of service to Hizballah.). In reality, Hizballah is a heavily weaponized, Talibanesque army of terrorists with tremendous global reach and existing as a sub-kingdom within the sovereign state of Lebanon.

Hizballah was ordered into action nearly two weeks ago after the state dismissed the security chief of Beirut International Airport (after discovering he was Hizballah), and attempted to shut down Hizballah’s extensive telecommunications system.

Refusing to accept the government’s decisions, Hizballah launched a series of attacks, May 7, from its stronghold in Beirut’s Dahiyeh, as well as from other so-called “security squares” across the country which the legitimate army and police had previously deemed off-limits to national policing.

Deploying from Dahiyeh, Hizballah fighters retrieved pre-staged weapons and quickly seized most of largely Sunni west Beirut (The group wisely avoided the Christian areas of east Beirut.). Fighting also broke out in the Chouf mountain region — where in several clashes, Hizballah’s forces were mauled by pro-government civilian fighters — the Bekaa Valley, and in-and-near the northern city of Tripoli.

Several of my sources have since independently confirmed that many captured and killed soldiers operating with Hizballah were indeed Syrian and Iranian: One source confirmed many of the captured soldiers “spoke Farsi and were unable to speak Arabic.” Another said Hizballah fighters operating in Beirut were “specifically ordered” not to communicate in the presence of Lebanese civilians because it would be discovered they were foreign (Iranian) soldiers.

“Syrian intelligence officers never quit Lebanon [after Syrian troops were officially kicked out in 2005],” Sami Nader, a political science professor at St. Joseph University in Beirut, tells HUMAN EVENTS. “And all the security and military apparatus put in place is an integrated system equipped and managed by the Iranians.”

Farsi.  The Persian language.  Hezbollah was never a resistance movement.  To be sure, they funded medical care and other necessities, but only for a price.  Their price was absolute loyalty.  Hezbollah is nothing more than troops of Iranian occupation.  They always have been foreign occupiers, and as long as they exist, they always will be.  They have no organic legitimacy, no matter how sophisticated it sounds to say so.

More ROE Problems

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Problem

From Military.com (h/t Andy McCarthy at National Review’s Corner).

A top Taliban commander linked to the deaths of British soldiers has escaped German special forces because they were not allowed to kill him under their rules of engagement.

It highlights growing fears that NATO forces in Afghanistan are not fighting to the same set of rules as each other.

The commander who escaped is known as the Baghlan Bomber after masterminding a 2007 attack on a factory in Baghlan province which killed 79 people.

German special forces recently had him in their sights in Afghanistan.

But he escaped capture by the elite KSK troops and the German government will only let their soldiers fire in self-defence.

The bomber has also organised ambushes against British military convoys.

Assessment

Any review of the standing rules of engagement CJCSI 3121.01A (along with supporting or source documentation, LOAC, LAW, white papers, opinions, etc.) or rules for the use of force CJCSI 3121.02 or the theater-specific rules of engagement for Iraq (Wikileak) brings immediate attention to the position – whether right or wrong, implemented correctly or not – that the combatant may defend himself.

What isn’t apparent is that he can take any offensive action.  This is why General Kearney gave two U.S. snipers such undeserved grief about eight months ago for positively identifying and targeting a Taliban commander (threatening charges of murder against them).  The Taliban commander had not picked up a weapon and targeted the snipers.  After this, we had predicted that the billet of sniper would disappear from the scene in the Army (and maybe Marines).

Lawyers and theoreticians (and some very disconnected Army Generals) wish to connect snipers and distributed operations to the notion of assassinations.  The Congressional Research Service has weighed in on this very thing.

In time of war, assassination appears to be distinguished in some discussions from cases of lawful killing, because the former is carried out in a “treacherous” manner.  “Treacherous” is not defined in the Hague Convention IV, but does not appear to be interpreted to foreclose operations in time of war involving the element of surprise.  However, putting a price on the head of an enemy appears to be regarded by some as an act which would render a resulting killing an assassination, as distinguished from a lawful attack on legitimate military targets, including the enemy chain of command.  A review of historical discussions of assassination suggests that this may be, in part, because by putting a price on the head of an enemy, one could be encouraging treachery by those close to the target.

So putting a price on someone’s head may be interpreted as encouraging “treachery,” but the rules do not appear to foreclose operations in time of war involving the element of surprise.  But this is an interpretation, and without clear direction from command, military leadership reflexively returns to the rules of engagement which do not include any concept of offensive operations.  Self defense is the hub upon which the rules turn.  Snipers and countersnipers are always on offensive maneuvers, having nothing to do with immediate self defense (unless something has gone wrong).

Most NATO forces have approximately the same rules of engagment.  Polish snipers have previously worked under different rules when operating in Fallujah.

Eighteen elite Special Operations snipers hid inside the city, picking targets and reporting back on enemy movements. Polish snipers working alongside U.S. forces had been given less restrictive rules of engagement by their government, said a senior U.S. intelligence official with direct access to information about them. “The Poles could kill people we couldn’t,” he said. For example, he said, American snipers couldn’t shoot unless they saw a weapon in the target’s hands, while the Poles were allowed to fire at anyone on the streets of Fallujah holding a cell phone after 8:00 p.m. “They had an eighty percent kill rate at six hundred yards,” the intelligence official said. “That’s incredible range.”

The work of snipers is roughly the same as was the case here which is why the comparison is being made.  The offending practice is offensive operations.  Thus, no matter who is escaping and how certain one is of the identity of the enemy, if no weapon is being brandished, no shot can be taken.

The Taliban commander lives to kill U.S. or NATO warriors yet another day, and lawcraft wins again over against the proper conduct of war.

Prior: Rules of Engagement

Force Projection as the Precondition for Security in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

The Guardian recently carried an important story of a tribal meeting in Afghanistan, and while the tribal elders were not in communication with Fort Leavenworth, it was nonetheless a laboratory for counterinsurgency.

Shura is the Pashto word for a meeting. Every week the local elders gather at the Bermel district centre for a shura, where they discuss their problems, grievances and anything else that comes up. I was at one last November, on Thanksgiving, and I wanted to go along and see what progress had been made.

At the outset the leader of the Bermel Shura thanked the Americans for their help with development in the area. “Security is improving,” he told the room, full to capacity, and “the Taliban do not like what you are doing”.

Regardless of his opening statement about security, he highlighted the ever-present fear of the Taliban, and of reprisals.

“Maybe what I say will be reported to the Taliban after two hours. There are a lot of Taliban in the mountains,” he said.

“It is my request that the coalition forces put pressure on the Pakistan government, because without the support of the Pakistan government, the Taliban cannot cross the border.”

I felt like I was listening to a broken record. Here, again, Pakistan was being blamed for the troubles of Afghanistan. He went on to say that he felt the Taliban were weak, too weak to attack properly this year, but they “have power to shoot rockets at us, to replace the IEDs.”

 An Afghan National Army commander addresses the elders of Bermel district, Paktika province at their weekly Shura. Photograph: John D McHugh Then an Afghan National Army commander stood up to speak. He told his countrymen that his goal was for security and peace.

“When somebody is doing bad things in your village, you should correct him,” he told the men, and “if that is no good, you must report him to coalition forces.”

He spoke at length, as seems to be required at a shura. He reminded the villagers that they must be active in the fight against insurgents.

“We have suffered for 30 years. When some foreigners come, you should stop them. If I go to your village, all the people will know I am not from your tribe. When I am talking to you guys you will recognise immediately that I am not from the Waziri tribe. Why don’t you follow the Taliban day and night?”

He insisted that the people must support the Afghan army in their battle against the Taliban.

Next it was the turn of Captain Rivaux of the civil affairs team. He started by expressing his disappointment with the week. He spoke of problems with contracts, elders encouraging their villagers to disrupt work on roads and flood protection. “I hear a lot that the security is improving, but it’s really not,” he said.

Captain Rivaux should be congratulated and advised to continue his good work.  To use an expression by Michael Yon, The Captain’s Journal has been on PAO “happy tours,” and we don’t like happy tours.  He isn’t a PAO, yet he is in contact with someone other than his military counterparts (as a civil affairs officer).  He is willing to engage in truth-telling, and then to point to disappointing behavior.  The Captain’s Journal likes field grade officers who tell the truth.  Continuing:

“You are all part of the plan for security,” he pointed out. “When you let the enemy move through your village, you might as well pick up a gun and go with him, because you are helping them.”

Then he went on to tell them a story. “The people in Bandar, the Taliban came to their village, and they picked up rocks, and they said, you have your guns, but we will protect our country with stones. And the Taliban were outnumbered by the people with rocks. And they left. No one was injured.”

Just as the last time I was here, the Afghans did not look impressed. They listened, but there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for attacking the Taliban with rocks.

After the meeting, I stayed behind to talk with some of the elders. They spoke freely to me, but still the Taliban fear was present. One of them asked me not to show his face in my photographs, or use his name. They told me of their hopes for Afghanistan. They are tired of fighting they said.

I asked about their feeling towards the American troops, whether they really thought that they were helping, or if they were contributing to the problems. They told me that they were “very, very thankful” for the support of the US troops. One of them said: “If the Americans leave Afghanistan, we will be left with a lot of suffering.”

It seems to me that there is plenty of suffering in Afghanistan already, so I hate to imagine what he thinks would happen to make things worse.

But if Captain Rivaux is disappointed, the problems in Afghanistan are in a way the same as they were in the Anbar Province, and in a very important way different.  The Sunni tribes in Anbar were heavily armed and very stubborn.  The U.S. Marines had their hands full for many months, and al Qaeda never had a chance when they embarked upon their campaign of brutality.  But when Shiekh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha finally began his fight with al Qaeda he had the protection of U.S. forces day and night (such as an M1A1 tank parked in his front yard).  Force projection (and population protection) was and still is a precondition for the population standing on their own.  Captain Rivaux’s disappointment is real and energetic, but misplaced.  Afghanistan needs U.S. troops.

Another related report comes to us from Reuters.

The Taliban in Afghanistan are getting weaker, the U.S. ambassador tells local councillors in the eastern city of Ghazni, but he is met by a wall of shaking heads and tutting noises; ‘no, no’, some reply.

While Afghan government and international forces point to some success in restricting Taliban guerrilla attacks across the south and east, suicide bombs — 140 last year — roadside bombs, kidnappings and threats have created an atmosphere of fear.

“We don’t want food, we don’t want schools, we want security!” said one woman council member.

“Ok, let me ask you,” replied U.S. ambassador William Wood. “Are the Taliban weaker now?”

“No,” the councillors said, shaking their heads.

“But are these Taliban or criminals?” Wood asked.

“Taliban,” they replied.

This is a stupid conversation.  Just stupid.  We should be asking the population whether security is better rather than telling them it is so.  The conversation heads even further down hill when the word ‘but’ is used, and frankly, it makes no difference to the people whether the troublemakers are criminals or Taliban (or both), because winning hearts and minds doesn’t apply to the troublemakers whether their motivation is religion or wealth.  They’re either jihadists or members of organized crime.  They must be killed.

Force projection is the precondition for the population being able to stand on their own.  They cannot fight the Taliban right now.  They must see safety come to their towns and villages, and they must be armed, trained, and convinced that the U.S. won’t desert them.  Oh, and by the way, did you take note of what they say that they need?  Food?  Schools?  No.  Security.  We have a long way to go.

Concerning Iranian Weapons in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Kazakhstani Soldiers received 14 Iranian 107 mm rockets and fuses at Forward Operating Base Delta, Dec. 4, from the Iraqi civil defense corps. The rockets, manufactured in 2006, were the first Iranian rockets to be turned over to coalition forces at FOB Delta (courtesy of DVIDS).

Michael Rubin’s Bad Neighbor is required reading for anyone presuming to speak intelligently on the issue of Iranian weapons in Iraq.  He gives a first hand account of Iranian meddling in Iraq in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  This is well known to those who have studied Iraq, and contrary to the latecomers to the Iraq news cycle, the burden of proof should be on those who claim that Iran is not sponsoring fighters inside Iraq.

But some of the latecomers to the issue of Iranian meddling (mostly the main stream media) are in a dustup over some recent reporting concerning the same.  We’ll give a very quick synopsis and link the sources so that the reader can assess the whole narrative for himself.  Tina Susman reporting and blogging for the LA Times made some comments on a press briefing by Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner to the effect that it was odd that speaking of seizing a significant weapons cache in Karbala, he didn’t mention any of the weapons as being Iranian.

A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran. A U.S. military spokesman attributed the confusion to a misunderstanding that emerged after an Iraqi Army general in Karbala erroneously reported the items were of Iranian origin.  When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all.

Caught red handed, they were, assuming that all weapons must certainly be Iranian, ready to trot out more “evidence” until it was correctly examined.  A little later, MSNBC (Keith Olbermann) used this post as a source to level a number of charges at the Multinational Force (this was the big day … none of these weapons were Iranian … “you do realize, they are making all of this up about Iran” … and so on).

Well, Tina didn’t like this very much, and responded with a few slaps of her own at Olbermann.

This should set the record straight for those who have no plans to read the blog item or view the MSNBC report: the Los Angeles Times did not report that Bergner’s May 7 briefing was supposed to be “the big day” that the American military showed off the Iranian weapons it has long said are being smuggled into Iraq. The Times did not report that Bergner had told us this briefing was going to be a “dog and pony show” offering conclusive evidence of Iranian involvement in Iraq’s unrest.

As reported by us, this was just another of the regular briefings that Bergner and other U.S. military and Iraqi officials hold for the Iraqi and international media.  

The Times also did not report that U.S. officials had re-examined the caches listed by Bergner and found none of them to contain Iranian-made or Iranian-supplied items. We stated that one group of munitions — not necessarily among those cited by Bergner — had been scheduled for viewing by some media during an event in Karbala arranged by the Iraqi military. But U.S. explosives experts, taking a closer look at the items, concluded they did not include Iranian items.

This event had nothing to do with Bergner’s briefing. In fact, that Karbala cache detonation occurred May 3, four days before Bergner’s briefing, so the items he cited could not have been the same ones scheduled to be shown to the media since they already had been destroyed …

As for the alleged Iranian weapons themselves, there’s still no plan to show them off, even though both U.S. and Iraqi officials insist they have not backed off their allegations. The Iraqi government, though, has clearly decided it is better to tread softly when confronting its powerful eastern neighbor on such an inflammatory issue. As Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s advisor, Sadiq Rikabi, said recently, Iraq is the weakest member in the Iran-U.S.-Iraq party. Even if Tehran and Washington want to level accusations at one another, Iraq needs to get along with each of them and prefers quiet talks to public feuding.

Maj. Gen. Bergner’s most recent comments should also be noted, lest we fall into the trap of thinking that the sole job of the Multinational Force is to make either Tina Susman or Keith Olbermann happy, responding to their every whim.

Before discussing the latest events in Iraq, I would like to briefly address a misinterpretation of comments made last week about a large weapons cache that was found in Karbala by Iraqi security forces. Because of the great quantity of weapons in that particular weapons cache, some speculated that the find was connected to collections of Iranian weapons which we have found num-…and shown numerous times over the past 12 months. The story of the Karbala weapons cache and the previous reports of collections of Iranian-made weapons are not linked. They were not linked in our remarks last week and that was…we were very clear in our comments last week that specifically said that in our remarks. However, over the course of the last several months, we have publicly discussed numerous times and shown numerous times the evidence – on four separate occasions – of what we have found and continue to find: Iranian-made weapons in the hands of criminals in Iraq. We have also discussed what we have…we have also discussed the evidence that we have found that Iraqi militants are being trained in Iran and receiving funding through [the] Iranian Quds Force to conduct violent attacks in Iraq. We have highlighted these finds in public because they are an issue of influence and sovereignty related to how a neighboring country can support or undermine security and stability. With this evidence, the Government of Iraq has recently engaged its neighbor and again sought fulfillment of Iranian commitments previously made to stop the flow of weapons, training, and funding. Prime Minister Maliki has established a committee to collect and analyze the reports of Iranian activity and to develop a unified approach. We will continue to provide information and evidence we have collected to the Government of Iraq to be considered along with their own evidence from the Iraqi security forces.

Or in other words, “do you honestly expect us to trot out proof every day of assertions we have previously made, as if without enough evidence to convince you of these facts, we aren’t doing our jobs?  We do have day jobs.”  Keith Olbermann is obviously just a court jester and cannot be taken seriously.  Tina Susman is a reporter, but this is why all of this “reporting” and exchange of meaningless banter is so disappointing.  There is a real story which underlies what is happening.  It comes to us from the Gulf News.

Conflicting statements between the Iraqi Defence Ministry spokesman and the ruling Shiite coalition led by Abdul Aziz Al Hakim have raised concerns.

While the spokesperson for Baghdad operations, Qasem Atta, confirmed that Iranian-made rockets and mortars were found in Baghdad and are used by the Mahdi Army, coalition leaders denied any existence of real evidence of Iran’s involvement in supporting Shiite armed groups.

Al Maliki’s position also contradicts with the Shiite coalition led by Al Hakim.

Munder Al Khuza’ai, a strategic researcher, told Gulf News: “I believe there is a division within the Shiite coalition bloc.

“[One] is led by Al Hakim and [former premier] Ebrahim Al Ja’afari who oppose the US and the Iraqi Defence Ministry.

“The [other] is represented by Al Maliki and the national security advisor Muwafaq Al Rubaie who support using pressure on Iran for backing Iraqi militias.”

“I am confident that forming a governmental investigating commission about Iranian interference in Iraq’s security is supported by Al Hakim because it was expected that the Iraqi government would take strict actions against Iran especially after finding Iranian weapons in Basra and the Sadr City,” Al Khuza’ai said in reference to Al Hakim’s opposition to form the commission to gain more time to hold talks with the Iranians.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry, which is controlled by militias affiliated to Shiite coalition parties, refused to show evidence convicting Iran of supporting the Mahdi Army with weapons, unlike the Iraqi Ministry of Defence which condemned Iran and displayed evidences gathered from Basra.

There are many reasons for the ruling Shiite coalition’s denial to all evidence provided against Iran, said political analysts.

“Firstly, recognising Iran’s intervention means condemning the Shiite coalition leaders who have close … ties with Iran for two decades,” Imad Jabara, a political analyst, told Gulf News.

“Secondly, it would justify the US policy of striking Iranian influence inside Iraq, and thirdly, it would send a positive message to Sunni armed groups that had long talked about an Iranian interference” in Iraq, Jabara said.

Iraqi journalists in Baghdad said most Shiite political forces were proud of Iranian support to the political process and that Iran was among the first countries which recognised the new situation in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussain’s regime, yet now there is a feeling of embarrassment because Iran is accused of destroying the whole Iraqi political process.

There is posturing and positioning within the Shi’ite political blocs in Iraq.  They know full well the role of Iranian funds, weapons and personnel.  Everyone in Iraq knows it.  Trotting out the evidence means some very significant things, including the Sunni bloc forcing their hand to rid Iraq of Iranian influence, something they have wanted from the beginning.  It also means termination of some very deep seated and long lasting ties with Iran (including not just the IRG but Quds, and with every single Shi’ite political bloc, not just the Sadrists).  Iraq is going through the equivalent of political convulsions right now, and in response reporters are counting numbers and second guessing statements in press briefings.  And of course, Keith Olbermann is entertaining us, wishing that he was a real reporter.

There is more, as there always is.  Army Colonel H. R. McMaster, advisor to General David Patraeus, has recently set out a certain course for understanding the role of Iran inside Iraq.

Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who has served multiple tours in Iraq, yesterday described Iran’s activities as part of an unofficial talk on the evolution of the Iraq war he delivered at the American Enterprise Institute here. Although he emphasized that “Iraq’s communities have largely stopped shooting at each other” and that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq “is on its way to defeat,” he said Iraq remains a “weak state,” and that Iranian involvement was intended to keep it so.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

McMaster, who led a successful campaign in the northern Iraqi city of Tall Afar in 2005, said Iran has trained Iraqi militia members as snipers and organized them in “assassination cells” to kill certain people opposed to Iranian influence.

There is also the little thing of twenty Katyusha rockets (you know, the same kind that Hezbollah has) recently hurled at the British base at the Basra airport.  But so that The Captain’s Journal doesn’t also get hung up on trotting out evidence, we’ll summarize by saying that the real story lies waiting for Tina Susman and people like her to draw out.  Sitting in the Green Zone (or in Los Angeles) and dissecting press briefings is below the true reporter and analyst.

Army (Exoskeleton) or Marines (V-22): Who Wins?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

The Captain’s Journal proudly stirs the pot and agitates yet another interservice kerfuffle over money – or rather, how it is spent.

We have a category for the V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft, and long ago strongly suspected that it would be an outstanding success in its debut deployment in Iraq.  It has been, but a recent analysis at the National Journal entitled Future Corps (an analysis which itself it worth protracted study time) points to larger problems with the aging Marine air fleet and the role of the V-22.

At the end of April, a squadron of the Marine Corps’s new V-22 Ospreys returned from the aircraft’s first overseas deployment, a seven-month tour in Iraq. The Corps trotted out pilots and ground crews to talk up the $67 million machine, a hybrid of helicopter and propeller plane whose revolutionary tilt-rotor technology took 25 years to develop and claimed 30 lives in crashes along the way.

Largely overlooked in the coverage and the controversy over the V-22 itself, however, is the fact that the aircraft was never meant to stand, or to fight, alone. The Osprey is simply the single most expensive element of an ambitious plan to re-equip the Marine Corps to execute a new kind of sea-based blitzkrieg.

Marine officers began to develop the concept, often called “operational maneuver from the sea,” a quarter-century ago at the height of the Cold War, when the rise of advanced anti-ship missiles was already threatening any fleet massed for a conventional, large-scale landing in the style of Iwo Jima. Today, the V-22 and key technologies like it are finally entering service in a world radically different from the one in which they were conceived–a world in which some of the weapons that the Soviets developed 25 years ago are now in the hands of guerrillas and terrorists in developing countries.

For the Marine Corps, looking forward to a large-scale pullback from Iraq even as it takes on a new mission in Afghanistan, the vision is not merely about new technology. It is about returning to the Corps’s historic role as a shipborne rapid-reaction force after five years of grueling ground warfare alongside the Army.

“We’re not a second land army,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Benes, the director of expeditionary warfare on the Chief of Naval Operations’ staff. “We can always be used to complement the [Army's] mission on the ground, and we don’t shy away from a fight,” he emphasized. “But our real traditional role of being a naval force is what we want to get back to.”

To carry out this old role in a new way with new equipment, however, will be expensive. Like the Army, the Marine Corps has worn out in Iraq much of its inventory of weapons, aircraft, and vehicles, most of which were bought during the Reagan-era buildup. Unlike the Army, which has packaged its main modernization programs into a single, high-profile, hard-to-explain and heavily criticized Future Combat System, Marine modernization is scattered across a half-dozen programs, some small enough to fly below most media and congressional radars. What’s more, because the future Marine force will be carried into battle on Navy ships built with Navy money, about a sixth of the total cost to realize the Corps’s vision will not be counted in the Corps’s budget …

“There were a lot of arguments for and against the V-22,” said Robert Work, a retired Marine colonel who is an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “Five years ago, I was not a fan. But the bottom line is, now there really is no other option. The war has essentially worn out the Marine Corps helicopter fleet. The V-22 is the answer we’re going to make work” …

The Osprey’s speed and range are arguably overkill for Iraq, where most missions are short-range hops in and out of the many U.S. bases. Its aptitude for altitude, however, has already proven useful: Insurgents have shot down conventional U.S. helicopters with machine guns, but the V-22 can climb to 13,000 feet, too high to hit with small-arms fire. Insurgents have occasionally used shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which can reach higher targets, but flying higher than conventional helicopters gives Osprey pilots more reaction time to drop flares and evade.

A rumored deployment of V-22s to Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are spread thin over vast distances and at high altitudes, should be a better test of the V-22′s performance. But where the Osprey really shines is at even longer ranges. When the marines first deployed from their ships to Afghanistan in 2001, for example, they had to move in laborious stages from the Indian Ocean with the help of landing areas in Pakistan. With the V-22, the same force could have flown over Pakistani territory and hit the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in two hours.

And for the Army future combat system?  It includes things like the exoskeleton.

A complex interconnected array of computers, motors, servos, electronic feedback loops, load bearing members and batteries which deplete far too quickly, the exoskeleton is supposed to assist the Soldier in the field by amplifying human movements.

The Marines say “uh, huh.”  Batteries which wear out, a system that is heavy and bulky and uncomfortable, weeks or even months of training required to use it, the inability to perform mounted patrols, untold and yet to be determined equipment interference problems – where is the body armor, hydration system, backpack, weapon and ammunition going to go – and the likelihood that upon (the highly probable) malfunction it will be jettisoned in the field, and the Marines will probably respond: “The V-22 flies.  You might not like what we spent to get it there, but at least we didn’t throw money after that monstrosity.  Are you proud of yourselves?”

Why not spend the money on technology for lighter ballistic (SAPI) plates to decrease battlespace weight for the U.S. warrior?  We have previously said that this needs to be done.  Is anyone listening?

Afghanistan, Roads and Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is at a state of development where the construction of roads is a significant player in counterinsurgency due to the creation of avenues of movement, interdiction and access to the population.  David Kilcullen recently wrote about this at the Small Wars Journal Blog.  It is a detailed look into this aspect of counterinsurgency and well worth the time to study it, but only a small portion is reproduced below.

On the face of it, road-building appears to be a generally-recognized form of force projection and governance extension, hence the extreme frequency of its historical use by governments, colonial administrations, occupying powers, and counterinsurgency forces through history. It is also worth recognizing that there is little that is specifically American (or Afghan) about the engineering aspects of the approach described above.

But the effects accrue not just from the road itself, but rather from a conscious and well-developed strategy that uses the road as a tool, and seizes the opportunity created by its construction to generate security, economic, governance and political benefits. This is exactly what is happening in Kunar: the road is one component, albeit a key one, in a broader strategy that uses the road as an organizing framework around which to synchronize and coordinate a series of political-military effects. This is a conscious, developed strategy that was first put in place in 2005-6 and has been consistently executed since. Thus, the mere building of a road is not enough: it generates some, but not all of these effects, and may even be used to oppress or harm the population rather than benefit it. Road construction in many parts of the world has had negative security and political effects, especially when executed unthinkingly or in an un-coordinated fashion. What we are seeing here, in contrast, is a coordinated civil-military activity based on a political strategy of separating the insurgent from the people and connecting the people to the government. In short, this is a political maneuver with the road as a means to a political end.

The Captain’s Journal left the following short comment to this article.

Very interesting, and thanks for your thoughts. I especially like the idea of using roads for force projection (easier and quicker transit for forces, easier presence with the population, visibility, etc.), and in this way, roads seem to have become a force multiplier.

Of course, VBIEDs are an issue involved with roads that would not otherwise be if the roads weren’t there (which is certainly not an argument for not having the roads). I would like to know your thoughts on dealing with the problems such as VBIEDs that are unique only to roads. Also, in spite of the difficulty of emplacing roadside IEDs, they still do as reports indicate.

Following up on this concern, from a Reuters report, it makes a difference how the road is constructed.

Spend 30 minutes talking to a U.S. military officer in Afghanistan and chances are he or she will mention one factor as crucial to the stability of the country: roads.

Geographically challenging, with vast desert plains to the south and soaring mountains in the Hindu Kush to the north and east, Afghanistan is remarkably devoid of proper roads given its size and a population approaching 30 million.

There are just 34,000 km (21,000 miles) of useable roadway in the country, of which less than a quarter is paved, according to the CIA World Factbook. By comparison, there are about 10 million km of paved roads in the United States.

Better roads are essential not only for the economy — so that farmers and merchants can get produce to markets more easily and importers can bring vital foodstuffs into the landlocked country — but also for security, since police and the army can get more quickly to remote, unstable areas.

Paved roads also make it much harder for the Taliban to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — nearly 750 of which detonated across Afghanistan last year, causing hundreds of deaths. Planting them on pot-holed, dirt tracks is easy.

“I can’t tell you how important roads are,” said Colonel Pete Johnson, the commander of U.S. forces in southeast Afghanistan, where development lags central and northern areas and paved roads are minimal.

“If we pave roads, there’s almost an automatic shift of IEDs to other areas because it makes it so much more difficult for the enemy to emplace them … Roads here mean security,” he told Reuters in an interview last week.

The Reuters report concludes with an assessment of the inefficiency of the process used to contract and build the roads, as well as lack of international funding.  But the report on roads by Col. Johnson tells us that for the time being, dirt roads mean IEDs while paved roads mean a shift of tactics or forces elsewhere due to the difficulty of emplacing IEDs into pavement.

In the future we might expect the insurgents in Afghanistan to become more efficient at roadsidebombs like their counterparts in Iraq, but for now, UAVs, patrols, and other tactics will be used to find those who emplace the IEDs, which after all, is the root of the problem.  The chase must continue.

Successful Marine Operations in the Helmand Province

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

This is the sixth in a series following the U.S. Marines through the Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

U.S. Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit try to take shelter from a sand storm at forward operating base Dwyer in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan Wednesday, May 7, 2008. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

Report

The Marines are continuing their success in the Garmser area of the Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

Rosie DiManno
Columnist

KABUL–American jarheads are either prudently pacifying a swath of Helmand province or kicking out the doors and ratcheting up the insurgency.

Depends on whom you ask.

From the distance of the capital, it’s impossible to confirm anything firsthand. But the commander of the 24th U.S. Marine Expeditionary Unit came all the way to Kabul yesterday, both to proclaim initial combat success and to quash reports of extensive hardship visited upon a fleeing populace.

According to Lt.-Col. Kent Hayes, the known scorecard reads thusly: Marine casualties: 0. Civilian casualties: 0. Displaced persons: “Very, very few.”

Those citizens, Hayes adds, were already on the move when Marines set out to clear key transit routes – for arms and fighters crossing over the border from Pakistan, just to the south – in Garmser district. “I can’t even speculate as to the reason why, or where they went. I can tell you that they have not been leaving from any area that we have control over.”

While Hayes wouldn’t give out Taliban body counts from the past fortnight, the provincial governor puts the figure at 150, most of them allegedly foreign fighters.

Hayes merely agrees not to quibble with that.

“As practice, the Marines don’t use that as our way of determining success. We judge our success by what our mission was. The bottom line is, we fight them, we defeat them.”

British troops, who have charge of Helmand under the International Security Assistance Force – Canadians next door in Kandahar – had not been able to secure that area.

The U.S. Marines, 2,400 strong and many of them battle-hardened from combat in Iraq, were recently parachuted in at the urging of NATO, desperate for fighting-capable reinforcement.

… the Taliban are shoving back hard, which is a rarity since the insurgents avoid conventional confrontations, unable to counter heavy weapons and supporting air strikes.

“They are consistently engaging us in small numbers. It’s just continual, constant contact. And we’re defeating them. What we have set out to do, we have accomplished.”

No Afghan troops have been involved in this mission.

Hayes insists the effectiveness of the aggressive American approach is already evident on the ground. “We have seen that they are starting to have trouble reinforcing and getting arms.”

Intelligence gathered, some of it from Afghan military authorities, indicates the Taliban are pulling in their own reinforcements from other districts, perhaps other volatile southern provinces, maybe inadvertently easing the threat in places such as Kandahar, though this remains to be seen.

“Because we’ve seen fighters coming in from other areas, the rest of Helmand, rather than from just around Garmser, that is telling us about the success we’re having, that we are affecting and disrupting them,” said Hayes. “We are defeating the enemy when they oppose us and, when they reinforce, we’re defeating them as well.”

Garmser has long been used as a planning, staging and logistics hub by the neo-Taliban. Choking off Garmser is the Marines’ mission, though some diplomatic – even military – observers have questioned the long-term impact of a muscular offensive that alienates the local population …

There is no indication how long this Marine-led operation will last or how far south the Taliban will be chased.

“This is the start,” said Hayes. “We started in Garmser. As far as ending it, I will tell you that it’s not time-driven. We will leave Garmser at the time and place of our choosing.”

Analysis & Commentary

As a brief comment on the method of transport of the Marines to the theater and then to Helmand, they did not parachute in.  The unit is not airborne (except for MARSOC).

As we previously noted, the caterwauling about the aggressiveness of the Marine operations is expected and will subside when the success of the mission becomes apparent.  Regarding the history of success, it is too easy to forget who pacified the Anbar Province.

It is a very positve sign that the Taliban are deploying forces to Garmser to assist in their defenses, and it casts light on the propaganda recently spewed by the Taliban concerning this operation, proving it to be lies.

The Taliban have suffered their first major loss in this year’s offensive, but they are putting on a brave face, even spinning the setback as a triumph in their broader battle against foreign forces in Afghanistan …

The Taliban … claim the loss of one base is not critical, and anyway, for NATO to hold on to its gain it will have to commit thousands of troops to the outpost, which is located in the inhospitable desert, if it is to effectively guard the lawless and porous border through which the Taliban funnel men, arms and supplies.

It doesn’t help the Taliban if the Marines are generally confined to this area of operations if they too are so confined because they have decided that Garmser really does play an important role in their plan.  In other words, the Taliban are as tied down as the Marines, and in this case they are losing.

The report of Taliban moving fighters into this area is confirmed by other accounts.

Maj. Tom Clinton Jr. said the Marines would be in Garmser for several more weeks. It means the Marines might not take part in an operation that was planned in another southern province this month.

“The number of fighters that stood and fought is kind of surprising to me, but obviously they’re fighting for something,” Clinton said, alluding to poppies. “They’re flowing in, guys are going south and picking up arms. We have an opportunity to really clear them out, cripple them, so I think we’re exploiting the success we’re finding.”

U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, has said he needs three more brigades — two for combat and one to train Afghan soldiers, roughly 7,500 to 10,000 additional soldiers.

When the Marines eventually leave Garmser, any gains the 24th has made could be quickly erased unless other forces from NATO or the Afghan government move in.

“We can’t be a permanent 24/7 presence. We don’t have enough men to stay here,” said Staff Sgt. Darrell Penyak, 29, of Grove City, Ohio. “We would need the ANA (Afghan army) to move in, and right now the way we’re fighting, there’s no way the ANA can come in. They couldn’t handle it.”

Afghanistan’s army and police forces are steadily growing, but are still not big — or skilled — enough to protect much of the country. Spokesmen for both forces said they were not aware of plans to send forces to Garmser.

Col. Nick Borton, commander of British forces in the southern part of Helmand, recently visited U.S. positions in Garmser, where he told the Americans he’d be happy if they stayed on.

“If they’re here for only a short time, we can’t build very much off that,” he said. “Their presence for a few days doesn’t really help us.”

A representative of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. government aid arm, told Marine battalion commander Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson that “people lose faith if you pull out.”

The next day, at a meeting of Marines and Afghan elders, the bearded, turban-wearing men told Marine Capt. Charles O’Neill that the two sides could “join together” to fight the Taliban. “When you protect us, we will be able to protect you,” the leader of the elders said.

This last paragraph is stunning.  Note well how closely what the Afghan elders said matches professional counterinsurgency doctrine.  “When you protect us, we will be able to protect you.”  This statement comes from the elders very soon after operations by the Marines, and it is indicative of pregnant possibilities.

Yet the Marines must leave, presumably to conduct other kinetic operations elsewhere in Afghanistan.  The force size is not large enough, and it seems doubtful that the British will be able to hold the terrain once the Marines leave.

This most recent account of the Marines in Helmand breathes life into a languishing campaign with rapid and remarkable success, but it also shows the need for force projection and properly resourcing the campaign.  Taking the terrain will help little if we cannot hold it, and leaving will possibly hurt counterinsurgency efforts when the Taliban re-enter the town and kill those who have cooperated with the Marines.  Taking the terrain next time may not be so easy.

Prior:

Marines Mired in Red Tape in Afghanistan

Marines Engage Taliban in Helmand Province

Operation Azada Wosa – “Stay Free”

Following the Marines Through Helmand

Following the Marines Through Helmand II

The Tangled Web of Allegiances

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

The Captain stumbled across an analysis today that precisely mirrors his own concern, entitled US/Iraq: Tangled Web of Allegiances Leads Back to Tehran.

If politics makes strange bedfellows, then the relationship between Iran, the United States and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq is the strangest ménage à trois in international relations today.

Violent Shia-on-Shia hostilities officially came to an end this week when a formal ceasefire was declared between government forces of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, but sporadic fighting still continues. And questions remain about the role that the U.S. is playing.

In testimony before Congress a month ago, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, and the U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker characterised the conflict in Iraq as a “proxy war” to stem Iranian influence.

Declarations by both the U.S. and al-Maliki’s government about Iranian sponsorship of Sadrist activities are often used to paint Iran as a destabilising force in Iraq — the meddling neighbour encouraging unrest to boost its own influence. U.S.-backed Iraqi government excursions against Sadr are defended by citing unsubstantiated evidence of Iranian agents’ influence.

But this perspective has yet to be explained in terms of one of Iran’s closest allies in Iraq, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), who, as part of al-Maliki’s ruling coalition, also happen to be one of the U.S.’s closest partners.

The U.S. military says that it killed three militants in Baghdad’s Shia Sadr City slum on Sunday, alleging that the targets were splinter groups of the Mahdi Army who had spun out of Sadr’s control and were receiving training and weapons from Iran.

Last week, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said it was clear that Tehran was supporting “militias that are operating outside the rule of law in Iraq”. Many fear that the rhetoric is part of an effort to ratchet up tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

But the constant barrage of criticism lobbed at Iran and the so-called “special groups” of Sadrists still fighting against the government and U.S. forces tends to overlook the fact that the coalition of parties ruling Iraq are largely indebted to Iran for their very existence and continue to be closely connected with the Islamic Republic.

There seems to be no solid explanation about the double standard of U.S. denunciation of Iranian influence and U.S. support and aid to one of the strongest benefactors and allies of that influence — the government coalition of al-Maliki.

“I’m not confident we know what the hell we’re doing when we’re making these actions,” Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

The two strongest parties in al-Maliki’s coalition, his own Dawa Party and ISCI, have both been based out of Iran and are both Shia religious parties …

ISCI and Iran, for example, support a Shia super-region in the south as part of a loosely federated Iraqi state. The homogenous super-region would likely facilitate Iranian influence. Both Sadr and the U.S. oppose the idea in favour of a strong central government.

The Captain says that the folks with the Multinational Force are far too smart not to have figured this out by now.  It all comes down to a lack of political will.  While spot on concerning the other allegiances (with Dawa and ISCI), the analysis above is far too complimentary of Sadr and his militia, and his criminal elements must be taken down.  Ralph Peters agrees (or more correctly, the Captain agrees with Ralph Peters), in his commentary on Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, our mortal enemy, must be destroyed. But we – Israel, the United States, Europe – lack the will. And will is one thing Hezbollah and its backers in Iran and Syria don’t lack: They’ll kill anyone and destroy anything to win.

We won’t. We still think we can talk our way out of a hit job. Not only are we reluctant to kill those bent on killing us – we don’t even want to offend them.

Hezbollah’s shocking defeat of Israel in 2006 (when will Western leaders learn that you can’t measure out war in teaspoons?) highlighted the key military question of our time: How can humane, law-abiding states defeat merciless postnational organizations that obey only the “laws” of bloodthirsty gods?

The answer, as Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us, is that you have to gut the organization and kill the hardcore cadres. (Exactly how many al Qaeda members have we converted to secular humanism?).

Entranced by the military vogue of the season, we don’t even get our terminology right. Defeating Hezbollah has nothing to do with counterinsurgency warfare – the situation’s gone far beyond that. We’re facing a new form of “non-state state” built around a fanatical killing machine that rejects all of our constraints.

No one is going to win Hezbollah’s hearts and minds. Its fighters and their families have already shifted into full-speed fanaticism, and there’s no reverse gear. Hezbollah has to be destroyed.

As the more timid among us gasp for air and cry out “get thee to thy fainting couch!” the contrast between the Anbar campaign – about which the Captain should know just a little – and the balance of Operation Iraqi Freedom comes fully into the light once again.  No quarter was given to recalcitrant fighters by the U.S. Marines, whether al Qaeda, Ansar al Sunna, or indigenous Sunnis.  Al Qaeda was killed or captured, and the indigenous Sunnis were killed or battered to the point of exhaustion and surrender.  Not coincidentally, they (they Sunnis who live in Anbar) are now our friends.  This is the way it works.

Badr was co-opted into the ISF without so much as evidence that their loyalties lied with Iraq (and while they still received pension paychecks from Iran), and the Multinational Force has played patty cake with the Sadrists since 2003.  Whether Hezbollah in Lebanon or ISCI or JAM in Iraq, they are all manifestations of the long arm of the Iranian regime.  Ralph’s declarations that Hezbollah must be destroyed – and the Captain’s declarations that Iranian influence must be rooted out of Iraq – will probably go unheeded.  It all comes down to a lack of political will.  And upon this, in our estimation, rests the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Does COIN

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

The Daily Sentinel in Iowa has an outstanding article on the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducting counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

Kingsley native Jeff Knowles looked down at the protective flak jacket, then turned to the soldier next to him.

“Am I supposed to put this on now?”

The soldier grinned, “If you don’t I will.”

Body armor is not in Knowles’ typical wardrobe as an employee of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

But then again, working with farmers in Afghanistan to help rebuild their agricultural system isn’t his typical work either.

Knowles, who now lives in Hawaii, spent six months in the war-scarred nation talking with farmers about what they grow and what their needs are.

He was honored last week by USDA secretary Ed Schafer for his service in Afghanistan in 2005-06.

Hearts, minds and apricots

Knowles’ travels were part of a partnership between the USDA and the U.S. Department of Defense in their campaign to “win hearts and minds” of the Afghan people.

“I think it’s one of the best things we’re doing in the country,” Knowles said via a phone interview from his USDA office in Hawaii. “If we can help improve quality of life for farmers — and 95 percent of the Afghan people are farmers — we’re doing something real.”

Living conditions are rough. And most farmers are subsistence farmers, growing crops like wheat, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, apricots, apples and almonds.

But getting enough water for crops is a major issue …

It was in Hawaii that Knowles decided to volunteer for a six-month stint in Afghanistan.

“It was really intriguing to me — they were facing problems with erosion, heavy and widespread, and a lot of their irrigation system was destroyed,” he said. “It seemed that my entire career was pointing to this. The things I’d been working with for close to 30 years were the things they needed in Afghanistan.”

The USDA is still sending people to Afghanistan as well as Iraq to help people stabilize their farming economies.

“I’d still like to go back, maybe to an area where we haven’t been yet — like the unstable part along the Pakistan border,” Knowles said. “I feel like I have unfinished business.”

The entire article is worth the read.  The DoD and USDA are to be commended for this innovative use of soft power to win hearts and minds.  If kinetic operations have been languishing (and are helped by the presence of the Marines in Helmand), at least one element of soft power has been implemented.  The State Department should watch and learn, and then follow the lead of the USDA.  This has given us a good example of what soft power can accomplish in counterinsurgency.

Jeff Knowles, far right, a native of Kingsley, interviews a farmer in southern Ghazni province of Afghanistan. Knowles, an employee of the USDA, spent six months in Afghanistan working to help stabilize the farming economy. This month, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture honored Knowles for his service there.

Following the Marines Through Helmand II

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

This is the fifth in a series following the Marines through the Helmand Province.

Marines on patrol near Garmser, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Marine operations are expanding outward from Garmser into other parts of the Helmand Province.

Fighting between U.S.-led coalition forces in southern Afghanistan and the Taliban is intensifying, as U.S. marines push to cut the insurgents’ supply lines in Helmand province, officials in Kabul said Tuesday.

The coalition said in a statement that its troops opened fire and called in air strikes Monday after observing militants trying to set up an ambush. A dozen militants were killed, the statement said.

The troops also discovered weapons and ammunition in a search of compounds in the area, the statement said.

More specifically, operations are pushing towards the Pakistan border.

International and Afghan troops forged ahead with an offensive against the Taliban near the Pakistan border on Tuesday, with a governor insisting 150 rebels had been killed in the past week.

US Marines and British troops under NATO command launched a significant new operation two weeks ago in Garmser district in southern Helmand province, a key battleground for a Taliban-led insurgency and an opium-producing centre.

Soldiers in a separate US-led coalition have also reported several engagements in the area in the past week. They said Tuesday they had killed a dozen rebels in Garmser on Monday.

The international forces helping Afghanistan fight an insurgency led by the Al-Qaeda-backed Taliban normally do not issue death tolls from their engagements, saying they want to avoid a “body count.”

But Helmand governor Gulab Mangal told AFP on Tuesday that 150 Islamic rebels, most of whom he said were Al-Qaeda-linked Arab and Pakistani fighters, had been killed in military action in Garmser in the past week.

“In the past seven, eight days, we have killed about 150 insurgents, most of them foreign fighters,” he said, citing “intelligence.”

“We have intelligence reports that more than 500 enemy fighters, most of them foreign terrorists, are in the district,” he said. “The operation will continue until the district is cleared of these destructive elements.”

The Marines said: “While we are continuing operations to clear the Taliban from the Garmser district, it is not ISAF nor US Military policy to comment on enemy casualties as we do not consider this a reliable measure of success.”

Information is difficult to independently confirm in Garmser, a remote desert province where there are few roads and government authority is limited.

The military says Garmser is a rebel gateway into Afghanistan, bring fresh recruits and weapons from Pakistan where extremist rebels are said to have bases …

A local resident contacted by AFP by telephone said “more than 100 Taliban have been killed in the past several days.”

“They were killed in several different attacks and air bombardments,” said the man, who identified himself as Abdul Baqi.

He was speaking from Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital located about 50 kilometres (35 miles) north of Garmser, where he was taking refuge from the fighting.

Prior:

Marines Mired in Red Tape in Afghanistan

Marines Engage Taliban in Helmand Province

Operation Azada Wosa – “Stay Free”

Following the Marines Through Helmand


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