The Federal Government And War With The American People

Herschel Smith · 27 Mar 2018 · 11 Comments

Every time a new contract is issued for weapons and ammunition, the typical cacophony of comments follow.  Those who think that the FedGov has too many guns and too much ammunition weigh in, and invariably (perhaps some of them are trolls or paid commenters?) some people weigh in with support. Terrorism.  Bad people.  Every agent with a gun needs range rounds and personal defense (PD) ammunition (JHP or whatever).  Think of how many rounds you shoot per year, and multiply that times the…… [read more]

Pentagon Despair Over NATO and Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

The Captain’s Journal doesn’t like to be negative, but it is necessary to engage in truth-telling.  For more than half a year The Captain’s Journal has been in a state of near despair over the failure of NATO to deploy forces to Afghanistan, employ a realistic set of rules of engagement, and implement a coherent, consistent counterinsurgency strategy.  There are seasons in counterinsurgency, and the campaign will soon suffer under the weight of U.S. and NATO being viewed as occupiers rather than liberators.  Timeliness is everything in COIN.

The Pentagon is months behind us, but it appears that the sentiment is now mutual.

American officials are in a state of near despair about the failure of Britain’s European allies to do more to beef up Nato combat power in Afghanistan.

A Pentagon adviser told The Telegraph that US commanders wish they had never agreed to Nato taking charge of major combat operations against the Taliban in the lawless south of the country.

They believe that different military rules of engagement and different approaches to reconstruction have made it impossible to devise a unified strategy for fighting and nation building, leaving the way open for the resurgence of the Taliban.

So what do rules of engagement have to do with the campaign in Afghanistan?  The Germans know full well what a restrictive set of ROE can do to efforts to militarily defeat the enemy.  Not long ago they had to allow a Taliban commander to escape because he wasn’t brandishing a weapon while escaping.  Troops can act in self defense, but many cannot conduct offensive operations.  Continuing with the Telegraph report:

The Pentagon consultant pointed to the different national rules which mean that troops from several Nato allies like Germany are banned from conducting offensive military operations, or conducting patrols at night.

The adviser said: “There’s frustration, there’s irritation. The mood veers between acceptance and despair that nothing is changing. We ask for more troops and they’re not forthcoming in the numbers we need.

“The mistake was handing it over to Nato in the first place. For many countries being in Afghanistan seems to be about keeping up appearances, rather than actually fighting a war that needs to be won.

“Was that necessary diplomatically? Probably. Is it desirable militarily? I don’t think so and nor do most others who are involved with Afghanistan,” he said.

The consultant, who advises the Pentagon on security coordination with the Afghan military, said American ire is not directed at the British, who are “doing what they can”.

Ali Jalali, the Afghan interior minister between 2003 and 2005 endorsed that view that the Taliban can only be defeated and marginalised from Afghan life if there is a new strategy and a unified military command.

In an interview with The Telegraph he said: “In the absence of an overall counterinsurgency strategy, what the international community and the Afghan government are doing is not designed to win the war, rather not to lose.

“That is a major problem. There’s no campaign plan. We need a unified command of all forces that can do three things: fighting, stabilising and peacekeeping. Unless you speak with one voice it is not going to work. We need more troops to stabilise the country.”

There has been a serious strategic malaise in Afghanistan since the inception of NATO presence.  So in addition to advocating more troops, we have advocated a division of command, with the U.S. taking over at least the Southern region (or permanent command of the campaign).  But the same countries who know that there is strategic malaise continue to encourage it by refusing to adopt any other strategy or ROE, or even consider a reorganization of forces.

It gets worse.  Even among the staunchest of allies there is a reluctance to face the real causes of failure.

“The problem,” says one officer, “is that we are focusing on protective mobility. We are definitely going down the road the Russians went in the Eighties, with over-reliance on massive armoured vehicles.”

The debate is starting on the ground because soldiers are frustrated that they can march their hearts out all day to track the enemy, only to be blown up by a mine. They query how a lumbering convoy of 100 armoured vehicles can ever surprise an enemy who knows every rock and cave in his own back yard. The time has come, suggest some, to fight the way the enemy fights – but smarter.

In the Rhodesian insurgency, tiny units called fire forces, working in groups of four or eight, would drop into enemy territory by parachute or helicopter, unheard and unseen.

With the aid of local trackers, they remained concealed for days, watching the enemy’s movements and waiting patiently for the optimum time to strike. Again and again the guerrillas were horrified as their safety cordon unravelled, with colleagues falling dead around them.

By contrast, our strategy is static, based on bases in fixed locations. Troops leave them to go on patrol in full view of the enemy – which had fatal consequences this month. “It’s bloody hard to deceive the enemy with a column of ground movement that can be picked up 500 metres beyond the base,” says one veteran. “The effect of four helicopters disgorging 100 soldiers from an unexpected direction would have a huge impact, and would lead to a reduction in the opportunities to blow us up with mines.”

So the British are advocating distributed operations now.  Then, they point the finger of blame at the lack of air transport.

The reason why the US Marines were so successful in southern Helmand this spring was because they were able to land 600 troops in one lift in one night. In the two weeks I was with them, the Paras could only muster one air assault of two helicopters that had to go in three lifts, hugely increasing the risk of the enemy assembling an anti-aircraft team to attack them.

Landing so many Marines had nothing whatsoever to do with their success in Helmand.  The Marines stayed around to conduct continued counterinsurgency operations, as we discussed in U.S. Marine Style Counterinsurgency.  If the Marines had all marched on foot to Garmser – not, by the way, a ridiculous notion – it wouldn’t have mattered.  They could have sent word to the Taliban by courier that they were coming.  The Taliban were dug in and waiting for the fight.  Helicopters simply made it easier on the infantry.

The British are pointing to distributed operations, air power, discrete mobility, and all manner of tricks and toys that they believe will enhance the campaign.  To be sure, we also believe that materiel availability should be increased, and we have been a proponent of distributed operations in the past, along with the robust projection of air power.

But it should be remembered that upon the initial engagement of the Marines in Garmser, the British complained about the hard tactics by the Corps.  More helicopters can be supplied to the theater, but without force projection and an increase in troops, the materiel won’t matter.  Ali Jalali is right.  NATO is in the theater to keep from losing.  This very strategy will ensure loss.

Kilcullen on Footprint in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

In Concerning the U.S.-Iraq Security Arrangement we discussed the ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq over exactly what the U.S. force presence should look like in the future.  We concluded with the position that an empowered Iran would result from a rapid stand-down of U.S. forces in Iraq, and that a once-in-a generation opportunity existed to impede Iranian intentions of hegemony by our continued existence in Iraq.

David Ignatius recently had an article where he discussed the “right Iraqi footprint,” citing David Kilcullen.

I’ve been helped in thinking about the future of Iraq by conversations over the past week with Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, a retired Australian army officer and an expert in counterinsurgency. He was a key member of the team that drafted Gen. David Petraeus’s Iraq campaign plan. He was speaking in a private capacity at an academic conference sponsored by the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies — and he stressed that he was offering ideas about the future, rather than a critique of past or present strategy.

Kilcullen’s key point is that we need to use the breathing space the surge has created to transition to a presence in Iraq that is less costly and more sustainable. By congressional estimates, we’re spending about $400 million a day on the war; at that rate, we are walking into the trap Osama bin Laden described in 2004, when he said he wanted to draw us so deep into conflict that we would eventually leave the region exhausted and bankrupt, the way the Soviets departed Afghanistan.

Kilcullen argues, as Abizaid did, that our heavy military occupation of Iraq has created enemies unnecessarily. It’s human nature: People don’t like to see another country’s army patrolling their streets. It’s the “antibody response,” he says. “Our large-scale presence, although essential for current stability, also creates an angry reaction — and therefore can’t be a permanent solution. We need to focus on what General Petraeus has called ‘sustainable security.’ ”

The alternative to our big, uniformed force in Iraq is a lighter, smaller, more nimble residual force. This force could concentrate on the tasks that most Iraqis and Americans seem to think are sensible — fighting al-Qaeda terrorists and training the Iraqi military and other proxy forces. “Over the long run, we need to go cheap, quiet, low-footprint,” argues Kilcullen.

Is The Captain’s Journal out of accord with Kilcullen?  Not by a long shot.  In fact, we heartily concur with Kilcullen’s position, as any regular reader knows (see Observations on Timeliness from the Small Wars Manual, where we feared that the protracted operations were leading to the perception of the U.S. as occupier rather than liberator).

There are seasons in counterinsurgency, and a finite period of time in which to accomplish certain important milestones and results.  We were advocating the “surge” and “security plan” from the inception of The Captain’s Journal.  We have also been among the first to raise warning flags about Operation Enduring Freedom, advocating vigorously for more troops, a change in rules of engagement for NATO troops, and a comprehensive strategic approach.

This buildup of troops, we have known for some time, could only come from a decrease in troop presence in Iraq.  But we also know that after pacification of parts of Iraq and standing up the internal Iraqi system, further troops presence would only cause a diminution of the view of the U.S. mission among Iraqis.  The Marines in Anbar should be standing down very soon, if they haven’t already.  The season of combat is over, the season of transition teams and proper governance is in full swing, and even that will be standing down soon.

We advocated more rapid confrontation of the problematic Shi’a South for the same reasons that we advocated a rapid buildup in Afghanistan.  Seasons run their own course, and cannot be repeated or slowed.  Kilcullen is right on the money concerning footprint.  It should have started large in Iraq, and had to wait on the surge.  It will end small, but the very concerns we are addressing here speak volumes about the campaign in Afghanistan which is older than Operation Iraqi Freedom.

It is necessary to end with the right force size and mission in Iraq, and this doesn’t mean complete withdrawal any more than it means continued heavy force projection.  The campaign in Afghanistan has yet to see the right size force.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

Some of our warriors have given the ultimate sacrifice in the service of America in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.  In the picture below (h/t Tony Perry, credit AP), the casket of Marine Sgt. Michael T. Washington arrived Thursday at a funeral home in Auburn, Washington.  He was based out of Twentynine Palms, and died supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Now notice further the Marine standing in the doorway saluting.  It is his father, Michael W. Washington.  The picture leaves us without words, except to reiterate prior prayers and condolences.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

It is because of such men we are free.  Semper Fidelis.

**** UPDATE ****

Jim Spiri writes to say “In all my travels and all the photos I have ever taken, none has been more powerful than the photo you have shown today.  There are no words left.  It is the strongest photo I have ever seen.”

U.S. Helicopters Interdicted in Khyber Pass

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has been tracking the Khyber Pass and the Torkham crossing to determine how active they are with respect to enemy interdiction of U.S. supplies and materiel.  Things have appeared to be relatively quiet, but this is deceiving.  Action has occurred without making its way to the news – at least not until recently.  But there are two separate versions of the story.  The first comes to us from Reuters.

Four U.S. helicopter engines worth more than $13 million have been stolen while they were being trucked from Afghanistan to a port in Pakistan to be shipped home, the U.S. military said.

Most supplies for the U.S. military in landlocked Afghanistan, including fuel, are transported through Pakistan, and militants in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been stepping up attacks on shipments.

A U.S. military spokesman said the engines were being transported by a Pakistani trucking company when they went missing some time in the month before April 10.

It was not known if the shipment went missing on the Afghan side of the border or in Pakistan, Sergeant Mark Swart said on Thursday.

“We don’t have the information on exactly where it disappeared. We just know that it did not get to the port,” he said.

The next comes from Rediff.

Taliban militants in Pakistan’s restive tribal belt captured three US military choppers while they were being shipped in a dismantled state from Peshawar to Jalalabad in Afghanistan and sold one of the helicopters for several hundred thousand dollars, a media report said todays.

Pakistani officials confirmed the development while the US embassy spokesperson refused to comment, saying the information ‘appears to be only hearsay’, The News daily reported.

Some diplomats in Islamabad were aware of the Taliban operation but were not ready to speak on record. One of the hijacked helicopters had already been sold to an unidentified customer in Afghanistan, the report said.

The components of the helicopters arrived in containers at the Karachi Port and were taken by road to Peshawar. The containers then entered the tribal areas for the journey to Afghanistan.

When the containers entered the restive Khyber Agency, Taliban stopped the convoys and took away the helicopter components. Pakistani paramilitary forces tried to confront the Taliban but ‘suffered heavy losses due to darkness’.

The incident happened in the same area where Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin was kidnapped in February this year.

Or are these two separate events?  One account has four helicopter engines making their way from Afghanistan to Karachi to be shipped to the U.S., the interdiction occurring prior to April 10.  The next account has three dismantled helicopters making their way from Karachi to Afghanistan, the interdiction occurring some time in February.

Either way, helicopters or helicopter parts were interdicted, either to or from Karachi.  Or, these are two separate accounts.  But the strategic plan to make the Khyber pass a problematic transit route is still active by the Taliban.


Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan

The Khyber Pass

The Torkham Crossing

Shi’ite Awakening Targets Iran?

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

Writing for Foxnews, Alireza Jafarzadeh has an article entitled Shiite Awakening in Iraq Targets Tehran.  His commentary is important and bears reiterating here before we analyze it.

Over the weekend — while the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was in Tehran making headlines with yet another incentive package offered by China, France, Germany, Britain and Russia and the United States — three million Shiites in Iraq were making another, more important “Iran headline.” United Press International reported from Baghdad that “More than 3 million Iraqi Shiites signed a petition sponsored by the leaders of the People’s Mujahedin [MEK] of Iran opposing Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs.”

“Expulsion of all members and agents of the Iranian regime’s IRGC, Intelligence, and the terrorist Qods Force from all governmental or non-governmental institutions of Iraq, especially the security systems and the police,” the declaration demanded.

UPI added that “The declaration, which also called for the lifting of a measure curtailing the activity of the MEK in Ashraf City in eastern Iraq, was announced at the fourth conference for the Solidarity Congress of the Iraqi People” held in Ashraf City, Iraq. The Congress was attended by “Several Iraqi politicians from the Sunni Islamic Party of Iraq of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the Islamic Unity Party and several other blocs, including the Iraqi Accordance Front,” according to UPI.

The development has wide-ranging implications for Iraq and for the volatile debate over Iran policy in Washington and other western capitals.

For a long time, a myth essentially manufactured in Tehran has been making the rounds in policy circles on both sides of the Atlantic, according to which the situation in Iraq must be viewed in the framework of Sunni vs. Shiite. More specifically, it is argued that Iran has the ultimate sway over Iraq’s Shiites, and any firm countermeasure against Tehran’s meddling risks prodding the ayatollahs into unleashing the Shiite population and plunging Iraq into bloody civil war for years to come. In support of this misguided argument, some pundits are saying if you think things are bad now, just imagine the mayhem if Iran brings its army of Iraqi Shiites to the streets.

This is a false prophecy. It has nevertheless hampered the formulation of an effective policy or plan to neutralize Tehran’s inroads in Iraq. That failure has dire consequences as it will enable Tehran to make further inroads in Iraq and consolidate its domination of that country.

The reality is that Tehran’s sway over Iraqi Shiites is limited to its proxies, who have infiltrated all spheres of the Iraqi government and Southern provinces. They are augmented by an army of well paid mercenaries, operating within and without the government in various terrorist groups which are financed, trained, and armed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force. In the streets of the Shiite cities and neighborhoods, ordinary Iraqis describe the ayatollahs’ meddling as the “poison from the East.”

The scope of the Shiite opposition goes far beyond the 3 million signatories, because unlike petitions signed on the corners of K Street in Washington, these Iraqis and their families could very well pay with their blood for such a public and emphatic rebuke of Tehran.

Last April in an opinion piece in the Boston Globe, Dr. Saleh al-Mutlaq, the head of the influential Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, and a member of the Iraqi Parliament, charged the al-Maliki government “was caving in to pressure from Iran to make life difficult for the MEK.” He wrote that “the MEK people enjoy popular support inside Iraq, particularly in Diyala province, where they have worked to promote reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite communities.”

The landmark declaration signed by three million Shiites also has a clear message for Washington: Iraqi Shiites reject the false assertions of those who have been speaking on their behalf. They are telling Washington to stand firm and confront Iran’s meddling, without fear of a Shiite backlash.

This is an important article and warrants some serious reflection.  The Captain’s Journal agrees with Jafarzadeh, and has called for the dismantling of Iranian forces and diminution of Iranian influence in Iraq so many times that it is not possible to find and link all of our articles.  We have no fear of a Shi’ite backlash, whether it happens or not.  As students of counterinsurgency are quick to point out, winning and losing are concepts that must be replaced with a spectrum acceptable outcomes.

Let’s be clear.  An empowered Iran is not an acceptable outcome of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  This “awakening” of sorts is a good step.  But more important than the seeds of a Shi’ite awakening is the most significant name missing from the list of proponents.

The name is Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one time military leader of Badr and now head of Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.  The Captain’s Journal mistrusts him as much as we do Sadr, and maybe more so, since Sadr at least makes his sentiments and intentions known.  Hakim has managed to play the political game well enough to be befriended by the administration, both in the U.S. and Iraq.

But he is no friend of a strong, sovereign Iraq.  Rather, he is in the hip pocket of the Iranians.  And there is a huge difference between the Sunni awakening and the Shi’ite awakening to which Jafarzadeh refers, and he alludes to this difference in his very article.

The reality is that Tehran’s sway over Iraqi Shiites is limited to its proxies, who have infiltrated all spheres of the Iraqi government and Southern provinces. They are augmented by an army of well paid mercenaries, operating within and without the government in various terrorist groups which are financed, trained, and armed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force. In the streets of the Shiite cities and neighborhoods, ordinary Iraqis describe the ayatollahs’ meddling as the “poison from the East.”

Poison it is.  And Hakim knows just who the IRG and Quds are.  He knows names, persons, locations, caches, routes of supply, training camps, and all manner of things that makes Iran powerful in Iraq.  The Sunni awakening was a true awakening, where common people rose up against a brutal enemy – al Qaeda.  Neither side was embedded within the government like the tick that is Hakim and the SIIC.

Only time will tell whether the common people rising up against the continuing Iranian influence (including the SIIC) will be enough.  Unlike al Qaeda, the SIIC is embedded within the Iraqi system.  Hakim himself could rise up against Iran and repudiate their influence, demanding his followers do the same.  Will he?  It’s Doubtful.  He belongs to Iran, and there has been absolutely no stomach with Maliki or the U.S. advisers to pressure Hakim regarding his alignment with Iran.

U.S. Marine Style Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

We have covered the hard core, robust kinetic engagement of the U.S. Marines in the Helmand Province in and around the city of Garmser, Afghanistan.  The British drove them to the fight, everyone else watched and the Taliban died.  But is this all there is to U.S. Marine style counterinsurgency?  Not even nearly.  Michael M. Phillips of the Wall Street Journal has given us a thinking man’s discussion of counterinsurgency in After Battle in Afghanistan Villages, Marines Open Complaint Shop.

During a month of house-to-house combat, First Lt. Steven Bechtel’s men fired about 500 mortar rounds at Taliban insurgents.

Now, he’s paying the price.

Just two days after the main Taliban force was routed, Lt. Bechtel put aside his weapons and opened what amounts to a wartime complaints desk in a mud-brick hut. The lieutenant and his men spend their time cataloging the destruction and issuing vouchers to compensate villagers for their losses, whether caused by U.S. missiles or Taliban grenades.

“We’re very sorry for the damage to your doors, but we had to make sure the Taliban didn’t leave any bombs or weapons inside,” Lt. Bechtel last week told Abdul Majid, a 70-year-old with a weathered face, a dense white beard and a cane made from a tree limb.

“It’s no problem,” Mr. Majid responded. “You’re paying for it.”

The First Battalion of the Sixth Marine Regiment was recently deployed to Afghanistan as part of a force, 3,000-strong, helping to turn the tide against a resurgent Taliban. What resulted was a conventional battle that raged through the villages and poppy fields of Garmsir District, a major waypoint for insurgents leaving safe havens in Pakistan, a sign of how far Western gains have slipped recently.

The fighting sent civilians fleeing into the surrounding desert. After the violence ebbed, the villagers returned, in many cases to homes cracked open by artillery, bombs, missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. Soon they were lined up at Lt. Bechtel’s door, testing the Marines’ ability to shift gears on the fly, from combat to the struggle for popular allegiance. Winning over the locals has always been a goal; now, it’s happening in double-quick time.

“It just switched suddenly one day,” says Lt. Bechtel, a soft-spoken 24-year-old from Naples, Fla., who decided in the eighth grade that he wanted to be a Marine. “All of the sudden there were civilians in the area.”

More than 200 villagers have applied for compensation already, and a vendor has set up shop outside the coiled razor-wire barrier selling cigarettes and soda to the petitioners. At the first coils, the villagers, all men or boys, must lift their shirts or robes to show that they aren’t wearing suicide vests. At the guard post, a Marine sentry pats them down before they’re allowed to approach the office.

The walls inside are adorned with posters of sumptuous feasts and the holy city of Medina. They’re property of the compound’s owner. The Marines commandeered the man’s residence during the fighting, and now scores of men from the battalion’s Alpha Company camp in his buildings and sandy yard, for which they pay the equivalent of $60 a month in rent. The troops promise to leave as soon as they have built a base of their own. But the owner comes by almost daily to demand his house back, or at least more rent.

The first time a villager comes to the complaint office, the lieutenant or his No. 2, Sgt. James Blake, a 25-year-old from Merrimack, N.H., jots down the claim on a piece of yellow legal paper. The petitioner takes the note to a Marine patrol in his neighborhood. The Marines verify the damage and send the man back to Lt. Bechtel.

At the second meeting, the Marines tally up the cost, using data on an Excel spreadsheet that the lieutenant, who majored in mechanical-engineering at Virginia Military Institute, compiled using prices gathered from the local market.

The Marines have a penchant for personal responsibility and equipment and ordnance accountability.  Every round is intended to kill the enemy, and yet every round is tracked for its affect.  Tear down a door?  We pay.  Kill a goat?  We pay.  Break a window?  We replace it.  And … we track it all in EXCEL.  The same thing was done in Fallujah during Operation Alljah.

The tired and badly simplistic phrase “winning hearts and minds” should be forever forgotten in favor of what they Marines have done in Anbar, Iraq and Helmand, Afghanistan.  It is about kinetics, security for the population, cultural understanding, family honor, property ownership, boundaries of behavior, and holding the terrain to ensure long term stability and governance.

Today’s warriors not only have to be qualified at warcraft, they must be warrior scholars, capable of cultural assimilation, at least pseudo-qualified in anthropology and psychology, and prepared for stability operations.  And the Marines are not only up to the task, they are the best in the world.

Lastly, the WSJ article leaves this account with a caveat.

On a single day last week , the Marines pledged $12,100 in reparations. “I’d rather be shooting mortars,” says Sgt. Blake. “But I understand why we’re doing this, paying for the damage we caused. And I like helping people out as much as we can.”

Mr. Majid, the elderly petitioner, patted Lt. Bechtel on the shoulder and removed his own blue turban — gestures of gratitude — when offered 36,000 afghanis, or about $720, to repair his house and restore his fields. Afterward, he requested medicine for his headaches and help feeding his family. By the time he left, Mr. Majid had a new radio, a few packaged military meals, Tylenol for his head and antidiarrhea medicine for his grandson.

There’s one flaw in the Marines’ campaign. While they freely issue compensation vouchers, they don’t have any actual money to give out yet. The cash, the Marines tell the villagers, will be here on July 1. The date has already slipped once, from mid-June, and some people doubt they’ll ever see the money. “If we don’t pay them on the first,” Sgt. Blake said, “it’s going to be bad.”

You better believe it.  The money had better be there because it affects the reputation of the U.S. Marines and the COIN effort underway in Afghanistan.  Time for the DoD to “belly up to the bar.”


The Warrior Scholar

Marines in Helmand

Taliban Mass Around Kandahar

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

We recently covered the break of approximately 400 low- and mid-level Taliban fighters from prison by motorcyclists and suicide bombers.  The families of these fighters were said to be slaughtering sheep in anticipation of their return.  Now for the consequences of the laxity in prison and judicial operations.  The freed Taliban fighters are massing in villages around Kandahar and digging in anticipating a fight with the Afghan Army or ISAF.

The Taliban dug into defensive positions in a cluster of villages near Kandahar yesterday in apparent preparation for a battle on the doorstep of Afghanistan’s second city.

The brazen gambit came days after the Taliban smashed into Kandahar’s main prison, freeing 400 militants, and deepening the sense of crisis in the country.

Local elders said fighters had flooded into Arghandab, a rural sprawl of farmhouses and vineyards that stretches north-west of Kandahar city. “They have blown up several bridges and are planting mines everywhere,” Muhammad Usman, a taxi driver who had evacuated a family, told reporters in Kandahar.

The Afghan army flew 700 soldiers into Kandahar and Nato redeployed Canadian soldiers in response to the Taliban actions. But the US-led coalition – which operates under a separate chain of command – disputed the seriousness of the threat, saying it had deployed a patrol to Arghandab and found “no evidence that militants control the area”.

A Nato spokesman, Mark Laity, said the alliance had a “very mixed picture” about the size of the buildup. “We assume insurgents are there but we have little evidence of hundreds. You have some displaced people who are panicky, some bad guys who are exaggerating and so it’s hard to know what is happening,” he said.

Laity said Nato aircraft had dropped leaflets on the area urging residents to stay indoors. “We’re emphasising potential threats,” he said.

The Taliban have long prized Arghandab, whose pomegranate orchards and vineyards make for ideal guerrilla fighting ground. Soviet troops never managed to capture the area during the 10-year occupation that ended in 1989. But it has been vulnerable since the death last year of two leaders of the local Alokozai tribe, Mullah Naqibullah and Abdul Hakim Jan – one from a heart attack, the other in a suicide bombing …

One commander, Mullah Ahmedullah, said escaped prisoners from Friday night’s jailbreak were among their ranks.

“We’ve occupied most of the area and it’s a good place for fighting. Now we are waiting for the Nato and Afghan forces,” he told the Associated Press.

So the ISAF has “deployed a patrol” to the area and found no evidence that the Taliban control anything.  This sounds similar to the claim that there wasn’t going to be a spring offensive.  The Captain’s Journal will make a prediction.  First, when fighting starts, it will then be ascertained that the Taliban didn’t give away their force size to this patrol (as if they are supposed to walk up and surrender intelligence to the ISAF).  Second, the Taliban will make this as much of an asymmetric fight as they capable.

They have learned their lesson well from other kinetic engagements, and they will use roadside bombs, mines, fire and melt away, and snipers, and they will hide amongst the population.  And the lesson for ISAF and the Afghan Army?  It would be nice, this idea that they would meet on the field of battle and conduct squad rushes against a uniformed army.  But it won’t happen, and coalition forces need to be as adaptable as the Taliban have proven to be.

Sending a patrol into the area is not the ticket.  Countersnipers, robust ROE, distributed operations, night time operations, route interdiction, UAV surveillance, checkpoints, starting and fainting away and later conducting the operation on our own time table to keep the enemy guessing … these ideas are winners, along with force projection.  When command thinks they have enough troops, they need to double the force size.

If the Taliban choose to confront the ISAF in kinetic operations, then the battle plan may be easier than we thought.  But according to the reports from the field to The Captain’s Journal, it won’t happen this way.  If the Taliban fire and melt away and the fighting ends in the immediate area, it is too soon for the ISAF to claim victory.  Counterinsurgency takes time and commitment.  Keep the faith.

Concerning the U.S.-Iraq Security Arrangement

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

As the negotiating continues over a replacement agreement for the U.N. mandate (in which Iraq and the U.S. are “partners” in Iraq security), there are reports that Iraq is refusing to grant the U.S. immunity from Iraqi laws, rejecting the right of U.S. forces to operate free and independently (and without Iraqi approval), and refusing to grant use of Iraqi skies and waterways at all times.

Iraq knows that it needs U.S. troops, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said that negotiations are not dead from their perspective, even though PM Maliki has said that there is an impasse.  Making sense of the situation takes on the characteristics of the presuppositions taken to the analysis.  Or better stated, our paradigm dictates the outcome of our thought game.

Nibras Kazimi, who is a very smart Iraq analyst and doesn’t mind telling us so, has said little about this subject, partly because he has a huge blind spot.  One might have been left to wonder why he was so giddy at the failure of the Sunni insurgency.  His background comes out in his analysis, and his blind spot is Iran.  Dr iRack at Abu Muqawama (or Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution) has a lot to say about this subject, here and elsewhere.

Says O’Hanlon, among a great many other things, “Maliki’s government could call our bluff and cave into (sic) the delusion that they don’t need us.”  Kazimi, discussing the campaign in the Maysan province, naively says that it is Iran’s last stand in Iraq.  O’Hanlon chooses to dissect Iraqi politics to the nth degree of precision, yet ignores the Iranian influence.

Approximately two years ago The Captain’s Journal warned an officer that the Sunni insurgency would be defeated, but without the equivalent defeat of the Sadrists and the full blown incorporation of the SIIC into the Iraqi mainstream (including their rejection of Iran), the Iranian Ayatollahs would have their forces deployed in both Lebanon and Iraq.  Iran will have been made supreme in the Middle East.

This officer – a thinking man – promised to save this in his AKO account.  We maintain our position.  The situation warrants neither naive jocularity nor precise political analysis.  The Iranians are furious over the proposed security plan, and it is precisely because of their plans for regional hegemony.  Syrian analyst Sami Moubayed goes further.

A popular Iraqi joke speaks of an aged man who marries a young girl many years his junior, called Mana. Whenever he visits his young bride, she complains that his long beard has become too white, and plucks out its white hair. The next day, he visits his first wife Hana, who is his age, and she complains that the remaining black hairs do not compliment him, plucking them out as well. He eventually ends up with no beard, and miserably speaks to himself in front of the mirror saying, “Between Hana and Mana, I lost my beard!”

The moral of the story – which rhymes in Arabic – is that men cannot please all tastes, nor two wives. Iraqis today are using the story in reference to their Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is torn between appeasing the United States, which brought him to power and kept him there despite all odds, since 2006, and pleasing his patrons and co-religionaries in Tehran.

The Americans tell him to sign a long-term agreement between with the US, maintaining 50 permanent American military bases in Iraq. The Iranians angrily order him not to, claiming this would be a direct security threat to the region as a whole, and Iran in particular. The Americans reportedly are pressing to finalize the deal by July 30, 2008, upset that no progress has been made since talks started in February. Iran has carried out a massive public relations campaign against the deal, calling on all Shi’ites in Iraq to drown it.

Traditional foes like Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, chairman of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, and Muqtada al-Sadr, a leading Shi’ite cleric, have gone into high gear in recent weeks, pressuring Maliki not to sign. Hakim, who enjoys excellent relations with Washington, cannot stand up to his patrons Tehran – or defy his Shi’ite constituency – and say yes to such an agreement, which Iran considers a pretext for long-term US occupation of Iraq.

After a visit to Tehran this month, Maliki at the weekend made his position clear – surprising the Americans – saying, “Iraq has another option that it may use. The Iraqi government, if it wants, has the right to demand that the UN terminate the presence of international forces on Iraqi sovereign soil.”

He added, “When we got to demands made by the American side we found that they greatly infringe on the sovereignty of Iraq and this is something we can never accept. We reached a clear disagreement. But I can assure you that all Iraqis would reject an agreement that violates Iraqi sovereignty in any way.”

These bold words were given under direct orders from the Supreme Leader of Iran, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during Maliki’s latest visit to Tehran.

This portrait paints Maliki as beholden to the Iranian theocracy.  At The Captain’s Journal, we believe that this portrait is correct, and thus the game is fairly simple as long as you aren’t too naive to see it and the complexity of your analysis doesn’t cloud the issue.

At stake are some very serious consequences.  Robert Kaplan has written an impassioned plea to Obama to learn from Robert Gates and adjust his approach to Iraq.  But it won’t happen.  We have all of the infrastructure necessary to sustain a longer term presence in Iraq, thus at least providing a temporary barrier to Iranian hegemony (if you can ignore the leftist hyperventilating, this article on U.S. megabases in Iraq is informative).  But this infrastructure might go to no avail.

Obama’s ego is writing checks that the U.S. cannot possibly cash.  He has promised to bring troops home within approximately one year.  This is impossible, as the logistics officers know that it will take two years or more to deploy back to the States.  But more to the point, even if logistics could keep up with Obama’s ego, the question is “should it?”  Do we not have a unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity in Iraq to forestall the regional and ultimately the global ambitions of one of the world’s most significant dangers?

The security agreement must ensure robust rules of engagement, freedom of independent movement, and freedom from prosecution in Iraqi courts for U.S. troops.  The agreement must be pushed through the Iraqi system, as the real opponent is not the Iraqi government or people.  It is Iran, and everyone who isn’t naive or confused at the complexity of his own thought knows it.

Afghanistan Campaign Headed in Wrong Direction

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

Six months agoThe Captain’s Journal was issuing warnings about Operation Enduring Freedom being headed in the wrong direction, while General Rodriguez (and U.S. intelligence in Afghanistan) were denying that there would be any such thing as a spring Taliban offensive.  The only offensive, they claimed, would be the U.S. offensive to route the Taliban.  True, the Marines have had tremendous success in and around Garmser, but this is only localized success at the hands of a few companies of Marines.  If there is any current doubt about the need for force projection – a recurring theme as our readers know – May’s combat deaths in Afghanistan outnumbered Iraq.

It’s a grim gauge of U.S. wars going in opposite directions: American and allied combat deaths in Afghanistan in May passed the monthly toll in Iraq for the first time.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates used the statistical comparison to dramatize his point to NATO defense ministers that they need to do more to get Afghanistan moving in a better direction. He wants more allied combat troops, more trainers and more public commitment.

More positively, the May death totals point to security improvements in Iraq that few thought likely a year ago.

But the deterioration in Afghanistan suggests a troubling additional possibility: a widening of the war to Pakistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaida have found haven.

By the Pentagon’s count, 15 U.S. and two allied troops were killed in action in Iraq last month, a total of 17. In Afghanistan it was 19, including 14 Americans and five coalition troops. One month does not make a trend, but in this case the statistics are so out of whack with perceptions of the two wars that Gates could use them to drive home his point about Afghanistan.

Even when non-combat deaths are included, the overall May toll was greater in Afghanistan than in Iraq: a total of 22 in Afghanistan, including 17 Americans, compared with 21 in Iraq, including 19 Americans, according to an Associated Press count.

The comparison is even more remarkable if you consider that there are about three times more U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq than in Afghanistan. Since the Iraq war began in March 2003, there have been just under 4,100 U.S. deaths — including more than 3,300 killed in action — according to the Pentagon’s count. In the Afghan campaign, which began in October 2001, the U.S. death total is just over 500, including 313 killed in action.

We also covered the recent Afghan prison break in Kandaharreleasing 450 Taliban back into the population.  So as to remediate any doubt remaining about a resurgent Taliban, their public relations has given us a glimpse into the operation.

Yesterday, Sarposa’s entire population of 1,100 inmates – including murderers, bandits and about 450 hardened Islamic militants – was enjoying freedom after an audacious Taliban attack engineered one of the biggest mass jail breaks in history.

In a spectacular raid which confounded hopes that the Taliban was now on the back foot, a group of about 30 heavily armed insurgents launched an assault on the prison on Friday evening, using two suicide bombers to blow open the gates and then massacring at least 15 dazed guards as they tried to put up a fight.

The inmates fled into the night through the lush pomegranate groves that surround the building before coalition troops could arrive from their base on the far side of the city. Convoys of Taliban-driven getaway minibuses were waiting nearby with engines running.

Yesterday, as coalition and Afghan officials launched an urgent review of security in every jail in the country and declared a state of emergency in Kandahar, Taliban supporters around the region began slaughtering sheep in anticipation of being reunited with their jailed relations.

There is another problem regarding prisons.  The recent SCOTUS decision will make it difficult to bring arrested enemy combatants to the U.S. for formal prosecution, but building prisons in Afghanistan just got harder.

“There has been no agreement with the ministry of justice. We cannot speak about this.” Members of the Afghan parliament also pleaded ignorance of the plans.

“This issue has not been referred to parliament,” said Shukria Barakzai, a member of the lower house. She insisted that parliamentary action would be required before construction can start.

“According to the laws of Afghanistan, the land cannot be given away,” she said. “No country has a right to make a prison here. And not a single criminal should be handed over to foreigners. This prison at Bagram not only violates the constitution, it calls into question the legitimacy of the present government.”

President Hamid Karzai refused to comment on the issue.

But others say plans for the new prison have become an issue between Washington and Kabul.

“The government will not say this formally, but this issue has been raised between high-ranking authorities of Afghanistan and the United States,” said Fazel Rahman Oria, editor of Erada Daily newspaper.

“It shows the climate of distrust between the two countries.” Oria also speculated that building a massive detention facility could deepen growing resentment of the foreign military presence in the country.

The rules of engagement orient U.S. servicemen to arrest combatants, while the SCOTUS gives them constitutional rights and foreign countries prohibit the construction of prisons to hold them.  And in another sign of shifting tactics away from direct kinetic confrontation and towards standoff weapons and covert action, four U.S. Marines out of Twentynine Palms died from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in what was the “worst single attack on U.S. or coalition forces in Afghanistan this year.”  The campaign badly needs force projection to kill the enemy.

Truth or Consequences: Closing the Pakistan Border

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

General McNeill has said that the insurgency in increasing in Afghanistan, but along with the factual analysis he gives us the same warning concerning the Pakistan border region we have heard for months now.

The outgoing top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Friday that attacks increased 50 percent in April in the country’s eastern region, where U.S. troops primarily operate, as a spreading Taliban insurgency across the border in Pakistan fueled a surge in violence.

In a sober assessment, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, who departed June 3 after 16 months commanding NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, said that although record levels of foreign and Afghan troops have constrained repeated Taliban offensives, stabilizing Afghanistan will be impossible without a more robust military campaign against insurgent havens in Pakistan.

The Taliban is “resurgent in the region,” particularly in sanctuaries in Pakistan, and as a result “it’s going to be difficult to take on this insurgent group . . . in the broader sort of way,” McNeill said at a Pentagon news conference.

Clashes in the east pushed U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan in May to 15, and total foreign troop deaths there to 23, the highest monthly figure since last August.

Indeed, comprehensive data released by the NATO-led command show a steady escalation in violence since NATO took charge of the Afghanistan mission in 2006, spurred in part by more aggressive operations by the alliance and most recently by U.S. Marine battalions in the heavily contested southern province of Helmand. ISAF troops in Afghanistan increased from 36,000 in early 2007 to 52,000 now, while the Afghan army grew from 20,000 to 58,000 soldiers.

Overall violence has increased and attacks have grown more complex, according to the data and U.S. military officials. The number of roadside bombs increased from 1,931 in 2006 to 2,615 last year. Attacks peaked during the months of the warm weather fighting season, with more than 400 in the peak month of 2005, more than 800 in 2006, and about 1,000 in 2007.

As violence has risen, it has remained concentrated geographically in a relatively small number of districts, the data show, in predominantly Pashtun areas. Afghanistan has 364 districts, and last year about 70 percent of all attacks took place in 40, or about 10 percent, of those districts, McNeill said. For the first half of this year, he said, about 76 percent of attacks took place in virtually the same 40 districts, with some shifts in Farah and Nimruz provinces.

The district data has helped drive the deployment of NATO forces, with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit focusing on a district in southern Helmand that shows extensive enemy activity. “We knew it was a dark hole and we had to get to it; we simply didn’t have the force,” said McNeill, noting that ISAF remains short of combat troops, helicopters, and intelligence and surveillance equipment.

Troop numbers are low compared with the size of the insurgency, which includes many part-time fighters. There are an estimated 5,000 to 20,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, plus an estimated 1,000 each for the insurgent groups led by Siraj Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, according to ISAF intelligence.

More worrisome than the Taliban expansion in Pakistan is the threat of more cooperation between homegrown insurgents and outside extremist groups, McNeill said. “The greatest risk is the possibility of collusion between the insurgents who are indigenous to that region and the more intractable, the more extreme terrorists who are taking up residence there in the North-West Frontier” Province of Pakistan, he said.

McNeill criticized Pakistani efforts to crack down on that threat, and — offering his unofficial view — described the political situation in Islamabad as “dysfunctional.”

He also criticized efforts by the Pakistan government to negotiate peace deals with insurgents on the frontier, saying past agreements have led to increased attacks across the border in Afghanistan. McNeill said the 50 percent increase in attacks in eastern Afghanistan in April compared with the same month last year is “directly attributable to the lack of pressure on the other side of the border.”

But is McNeill’s assessment true?  Well, yes and no.  It is true that “stabilizing Afghanistan will be impossible without a more robust military campaign against insurgent havens in Pakistan,” as long as NATO has only 52,000 troops in theater, and as long as restrictive ROE prevents the Germans from taking offensive actions against the Taliban, and as long as NATO lacks a coherent overarching strategy, and as long as half of the force is employed in force protection rather than counterinsurgency.  What McNeill doesn’t really know is whether the campaign could be successful – regardless of disposition of the issue of the Pakistan Taliban – with the force size present in Iraq.

We should be careful and deliberate here.  After all, The Captain’s Journal has been quick to point out that Syria and Iran must be confronted if the campaign in Iraq is to be successful.  But also to be fair (and we still take this position), Pakistan doesn’t have the goals of regional hegemony that Iran does.  In Conversation with a Jihadi, we learned from his perspective that “If NATO remains strong in Afghanistan, it will put pressure on Pakistan. If NATO remains weaker in Afghanistan, it will dare [encourage] Pakistan to support the Taliban.”

If we are engaged in fighting against a transnational insurgency, then we cannot realistically complain that the insurgency is transnational and recognizes no borders.  We can continue to pressure Pakistan, but the one available avenue of kinetic operations against the Taliban – Afghanistan – must be the focus of our efforts.  Until we have ramped up force projection within this theater, we do not know whether our actions in Afghanistan can be dispositive concerning the Taliban, and thus we have no real leverage with Pakistan.  After all, if we haven’t committed to the campaign, then why should they?  Or so they are left to think.

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