Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 11 Comments

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

Review and Analysis of the Afghanistan Campaign

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

Major General Charles Dunlap, Jr., defends the heavy use of air power in Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Tanks and armor are not a big deal — the planes are the killers. I can handle everything but the jet fighters.” This recent conversation between Taliban commanders, intercepted by U.S. intelligence officers, does much to explain the frenzied efforts of their propaganda machine to ban the use of the weapon they fear most: airpower …

What is frustrating them? Modern U.S. and coalition airpower. Relentless aerial surveillance and highly precise bombing turn Taliban efforts to overrun the detachments into crushing defeats. And the Taliban have virtually no weapons to stop our planes.

Instead, they are trying to use sophisticated propaganda techniques to create a political crisis that will shoot down the use of airpower as effectively as any anti-aircraft gun.

Indeed, it may have been the very heavy use of air power thus far which has prevented total loss of the campaign given the underresourced effort (with respect to infantry), but while air power can participate heavily and even prevent the loss of the campaign in this case, it cannot win. Troops on the ground must accomplish that task, even if they utilize air power to assist them.

The Captain’s Journal has called for more troops in the campaign, stating that the recent addition of a few thousand troops will not be nearly enough (and General McKiernan agrees with this assessment). But contrary to our position, Fred Kaplan weighs in on why he believes that a surge will not work in Afghanistan.

… the situation in Iraq bears little resemblance to that of Afghanistan. Barnett Rubin, a professor at New York University and author of several books about the country, spells out some of the differences:

Iraq’s insurgency is based in Iraq; Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents are based mainly across the border in Pakistan. Iraq is urban, educated, and has great wealth, at least potentially, in its oil supplies; Afghanistan is rural, largely illiterate, and ranks as one of the world’s five poorest countries. Iraq has some history as a cohesive nation (albeit as the result of a minority ruling sect oppressing the majority); Afghanistan never has and, given its geography, perhaps never will.

Moreover, the Taliban’s insurgency is ideological, not ethno-sectarian (except incidentally). Therefore, while some warlords and tribes have allied themselves with the Taliban for opportunistic or nationalistic reasons, and therefore might be peeled away and co-opted, the conditions are not ripe for some sort of Taliban or Pashtun “Awakening.” Nor is there any place where walls might isolate the insurgents.

Kaplan then tells us what he believes is possible for the campaign.

The ultimate military goal—one lesson from Petraeus’ strategy in Iraq that is worth learning and might be applicable—is to protect the Afghan population, and that requires putting a lot of troops in the neighborhoods of towns and villages, to provide security and build trust. It might be possible to do this in Afghanistan, just as it was done in many Iraqi neighborhoods with one important difference—it has to be done by the Afghan National Army, not by us.

There are a few reasons for this. First, we simply can’t do it. Stephen Biddle—a military analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, who was an adviser on some aspects of Iraq strategy—estimates that securing the Afghan population would require about 500,000 troops. That’s 10 times the combined number of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan now. We don’t have anywhere near this level of manpower to spare (the three extra U.S. brigades under consideration would amount to about 12,000 troops), and even if we did, and even if we wanted to send them, we’d have no way to maintain them. (In Iraq, Saddam Hussein left behind a robust logistical network, including paved highways and lots of air bases with long runways; Afghanistan has nothing of the sort.)

Second, unlike in Iraq—where sectarian clashes required U.S. troops to step in (Sunnis wouldn’t trust Shiite troops, and Shiites wouldn’t trust Sunni troops)—the Afghan army is seen as, and actually is, a national institution. Given the right resources, it could do the job … And that leads to something that we and other countries could do—pour lots and lots of money into Afghanistan, so the government can equip, train, and pay a much larger national army.

These are some pregnant paragraphs by Kaplan, and bear some unpacking to acertain both the wisdom and folly in them. Kaplan is right concerning the absence of an awakening of the sort that occurred in the Anbar Province. This is the subject of a debate we’ve had at the Small Wars Council, and we maintain our position that while a few insignificant Taliban may be able to be peeled away from the force, in the end it will have little if any effect on the effort. The ideological connection between the Taliban and al Qaeda that led to safe haven in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 remains, and rather than be introduced to the foreign notion of radical Islamic Sharia as did the Anbaris, the Taliban have no need of such an introduction.

So if the U.S. isn’t (and shouldn’t be) interested in forming another fledgling democracy in an otherwise strictly Islamic region, why should we care if they rule their people via Sharia? The answer comes not in Sharia, but in the symbiotic connection between the Taliban and al Qaeda we mentioned above, i.e., friendship with and support of globalists.

The Taliban of Afghanistan prior to 9/11 were not so much focused on global jihad as was al Qaeda, but the seeds for the ideology were present enough for the Taliban to grant safe haven to al Qaeda. With the advent of the Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan (TTP), a new order has come about and the Taliban have clearly said that their focus is global. Terrorists are flooding in from around the world to be trained for global jihad in Baitullah Mehsud’s camps. The Tehrik-i-Taliban are hard core radicals, and shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! “We are al-Qaida!” There is no distinction.

In spite of the demand by the principles of counterinsurgency to build roads, schools, power grids and infrastructure, the population has clearly said that they demand security from the Taliban threat instead. The Anbar awakening occurred with indigenous, non-al Qaeda fighters who had no love for extremism. It didn’t occur with al Qaeda. To believe that an “awakening” can occur within the Taliban is analogous to faith that al Qaeda will turn against itself. They – al Qaeda and the Taliban – are one and the same.

Kaplan’s proposal that it will require half a million U.S. troops to provide security for the population of Afghanistan isn’t far off the mark set by Australian Major General Jim Molan.

International forces in Afghanistan are repeating mistakes made in Iraq by failing to commit sufficient troops, a recently retired Australian army general said Tuesday.

Maj. Gen. Jim Molan said he could see parallels between the worsening situation in Afghanistan and the months after the defeat of the Iraqi military when he commanded 300,000 troops in Iraq as Chief of Operations for the U.S.-led multinational force in 2004 and 2005.

“The biggest error that we made in the second year of the war in Iraq, 2004, was that we didn’t have unity of effort or command, and we didn’t have a comprehensive plan and we didn’t have sufficient troops,” Molan, who retired from the army this year, said in a lecture to a conservative think-tank.

“We are making exactly the same mistake now, and although none of us has done much, the Americans have moved in and solved the unity of effort by putting one of their people in command of everything,” he said of U.S. Gen. David D. McKiernan, who took over the NATO command in Afghanistan in June.

“There’s a chance now they’ll get a comprehensive plan up — it’s going to be difficult working with NATO … and I think we are years away from getting anything that approaches sufficient troops into Afghanistan,” he added.

Molan estimated about 500,000 troops were needed in Afghanistan, where there are currently 65,000 foreign troops and 62,000 Afghanistan National Army soldiers.

“The aim of the Taliban is to get into the cities and fight us like they’re fighting us in Iraq,” Mola said.

“Iraq is what Afghanistan will be if the Taliban get back into the cities and nothing will change,” he added.

Australia is the largest contributor to Afghanistan outside NATO. There are 1,000 Australian troops in the central Asian country.

Molan dismissed the Australian government’s argument that it did not have sufficient troops to send more.

“I believe we can afford to put more troops in and I believe we can afford to sustain them, but it would require governments to back that idea up,” Molan said.

But he said the onus was on NATO to commit the thousands of additional troops required to win the conflict.

Quite obviously the U.S. doesn’t have half a million troops to provide security for Afghanistan. Australia must change as well as the balance of NATO (regarding rules of engagement). Currently, Australia allows only its special forces to engage kinetic operations, and other Australian forces are limited to force protection—rigidly imposed to the point whereby participants have been required to sign formal documents declaring that they have not provoked combat operations.

But if NATO should do more, so should the U.S. whose generals have claimed that Operation Enduring Freedom is an underresourced campaign for several years. The Captain’s Journal has gone on record stating that the U.S. is losing the campaign because of degrading security. Following this article, Andrew Lubin wrote to tell us that:

The downside of “getting the word out” is that lots of people don’t like to read it. You wrote a good piece (and have always done so); and I hope you will continue. Did you see yesterday’s lead editorial in the NY Times “Afghanistan on Fire”…you need to read it. I spent June over there; it’s worse than you can imagine; it’s like Iraq in 2004-2005.

Now Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies has written a comprehensive report entitled Losing the Afghan-Pakistan War?: The Rising Threat. In this analysis Cordesman concludes that the Taliban have turned much of Afghanistan into “no-go zones.”

The map above shows insurgent activities in 2007, and the rate of attacks in 2008 has been higher than in 2007. The darker red indicates the areas with permanent Taliban presence. The “border” between Afghanistan and Pakistan effectively doesn’t exist.

The erstwhile capital city of the Taliban, Kandahar, is in obvious need of protection against the thugery and oppression by the Taliban.

The neat rows of new homes in the gated community sit behind freshly painted three-metre-high cement walls and rows of manicured shrubs.

Pavements lined with imported eucalyptus trees border smoothly paved streets that fill at twilight with cyclists and walkers. Further back, another cluster of houses is being built, including an eight-bedroom villa with a pool, wraparound deck and balcony supported by doric columns.

Residents at the Aino Mina housing development also have access to a mosque, two private schools, football fields, playgrounds and private armed guards on duty 24 hours a day. A hospital, supermarket, pizza parlour and golf course are also planned.

But, despite luxuries rivalling those found in exclusive suburban communities in the United States, many owners are trying to sell or rent out their homes. Others have temporarily abandoned properties. The reason is as simple as the long-standing estate agent’s maxim: location, location, location.

This upmarket residential neighbourhood is situated on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Kandahar – one of the most volatile and lawless provinces of Afghanistan. Others call the area the heartbeat of the Taliban, the place where the group formed in the early 1990s and where it is, by all accounts, re-establishing itself today.

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Sayed Hakim Kallmi, a 40-year-old hotel manager, said as he stood on the pavement outside his dream home in Aino Mina. He was watching his son and three of his six daughters play with neighbours. “There’s no security here” …

Taliban operatives have made no secret of their campaign to intimidate residents of Aino Mina. Ahmadi, who described himself as a spokesman for the group, said: “We seriously warn people not to buy here. Those who stay there and who buy there will be held responsible for the actions we take against them later.”

Residents and workers in the development say the Taliban have targeted the area and maintain an unmistakable presence. During a sweltering July afternoon, a thickly bearded man in a shalwar kameez with a turban wrapped around his head rode a motorcycle along the nearly empty streets of Aino Mina with an AK-47 strapped across his back. The motorbike and the AK-47 both are long-favoured hallmarks of the Taliban.

Despite the rider, a handful of construction workers at the project hauled wheelbarrows full of dirt, lugged slabs of concrete and scaled bamboo ladders. Naik Mohammed, 28, pointed to a two-story townhouse and said Taliban militants had recently looted the elegant dwelling and demanded protection money from its occupants.

“They told the owners to pay $200,000 and they would allow them to live there peacefully and they won’t kill them,” Mohammed said. “The family left the next day.”

Admiral Mullen himself – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – has said that time is running out on Afghanistan. The push to treat the campaign against the Taliban as a counterterrorism operation against so-called high value targets with limited force presence and small footprint has enabled Taliban control of the human terrain. The fact that neither the U.S. nor NATO has 500,000 troops to dedicate to Operation Enduring Freedom is not an excuse for continued failure to ramp up troop presence to capture and kill Taliban and train Afghan troops to do the same.

The objection that the U.S. cannot contribute 500,000 troops must be placed in context. There are currently just over 32,000 troops in Afghanistan, somewhere around one fifth of the forces in Iraq. Before the defeatists howl that the campaign cannot be won, it is prudent to take the campaign seriously and listen to the Generals when they declare it to be an underresourced campaign.

The battle of wanat where nine U.S. soldiers were killed and fifteen wounded is indicative of more than just that the Taliban can conduct larger scale operations when they desire. No Afghan troops died in the engagement, since the U.S. forces took the brunt of the punishment. It will be protracted period of time before Afghan troops can be relied upon perform kinetic operations sufficiently enough to push back Taliban presence in Afghanistan without significant U.S. force projection.

Further, religiously motivated fighters (jihadists and globalists) and thugs and criminals who extort thousands of dollars from the population must be captured or killed. We can no more reconcile with these elements than we did with al Qaeda in Anbar. While al Qaeda attacked and brutalized the Anbaris, the indigenous insurgents for the most part did not. Their attacks were reserved for U.S. forces until being killed or captured to the point that their ranks were decimated by U.S. Marines, the rest being co-opted by U.S. dollars and protection. Al Qaeda was never offered dollars for reconciliation.  They were simply killed.  Concerning reconciliation with an insurgency, it is important to get this distinction correct.

Other Resources:

A Wild Frontier (The Economist): Yet a devious Pakistani strategy of failing to crack down on cross-border violence is not the only reason it persists, nor the main one. A better explanation, given the fraught, radicalised and ungoverned state of north-western Pakistan, and the many dead soldiers there, is that the army could not make a much better fist of controlling the border, even if it did its damnedest. And moreover, it may be afraid to pursue its campaign more vigorously, for two reasons. Pakistani officials suggest that, despite battling the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas, the army is reluctant to attack the Afghan Taliban, allegedly led from Peshawar and from Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province, for fear of worsening security problems in those places. Secondly, the campaign is unpopular, in the army and elsewhere, precisely because Pakistanis think it is being waged for America.

A Modernized Taliban Thrives in Afghanistan (Washington Post) : Just one year ago, the Taliban insurgency was a furtive, loosely organized guerrilla force that carried out hit-and-run ambushes, burned empty schools, left warning letters at night and concentrated attacks in the southern rural regions of its ethnic and religious heartland. Today it is a larger, better armed and more confident militia, capable of mounting sustained military assaults. Its forces operate in virtually every province and control many districts in areas ringing the capital. Its fighters have bombed embassies and prisons, nearly assassinated the president, executed foreign aid workers and hanged or beheaded dozens of Afghans. The new Taliban movement has created a parallel government structure that includes defense and finance councils and appoints judges and officials in some areas. It offers cash to recruits and presents letters of introduction to local leaders. It operates Web sites and a 24-hour propaganda apparatus that spins every military incident faster than Afghan and Western officials can manage

U.S. Seeks Sweeping Changes in Command Structure for Afghanistan (The Captain’s Journal): Without drastic changes in the nature of the mission of NATO troops, it is doubtful that even placing them under the command of General Petraeus will change much. This is partly why we have recommended more U.S. troops. Petraeus must have access to resources that will operate with regard to unity of command, unity of strategy and unity of mission. Time is short in the campaign, Pakistan’s intentions cannot be trusted, and the security situation is degrading.

Fighting a Technologically Advanced Insurgency (The Captain’s Journal): Both the U.S. DoD and the British MoD should invest as necessary to stay ahead in technology. But we must not miss the point concerning technology. Playing the game of one-step-ahead is a deadly and costly way to run a campaign. The solution to the problem of Taliban technology is to conduct intelligence driven raids against the Taliban who perpetrate the use of such technology. Rather than the so-called high value targets with recognizable names, the real high value targets are the Taliban perpetrators, the fighters, technicians and practitioners.

The Cult of Special Forces (The Captain’s Journal): But the advent of each new story about SOF that kills some high profile name, while riveting for the non-military reader, continues the same lesson that Rumsfeld took into Afghanistan with his vision of airmen with satellite uplinks guiding JDAMS to target, CIA operatives, and alliances with rogues in the country who could knock out the Taliban. Afghanistan is a failing campaign precisely because of this view. Counterinsurgency requires infantry and force projection, those things necessary to ensure security for the population.

Interview with Taliban Spokesman Maulvi Omar (The Captain’s Journal):

Q: What is the difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban? Have they any relation?

A: There is no difference. The formation of the Taliban and al Qaeda was based on an ideology. Today, Taliban and al Qaeda have become an ideology. Whoever works in these organizations, they fight against kafir (infidel) cruelty. Both are fighting for the supremacy of Allah and his Kalma. However, those fighting in foreign countries are called al Qaeda, while those fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan are called Taliban. In fact, both are the name of one ideology. The aim and objectives of both the organizations are the same.

U.S. Seeks Sweeping Changes in Command Structure for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

About five months ago The Captain’s Journal published Command Structure Changes for Afghanistan, which Glenn Reynolds linked at Instapundit. We were prescient and properly predicted that in order to give General Petraeus the power and authority to implement a coherent counterinsurgency strategy with unity of effort throughout the organization, U.S. forces would need to be completely under his command at CENTCOM. Glenn had a nose for news too in taking interest in this subject, and it appears that the U.S. is pushing for just what we recommended (and even a little beyond).

The Bush administration is pushing for sweeping changes to the military command structure in Afghanistan, so that the head of international forces would report directly to US Central Command instead of Nato.

The changes would have huge repercussions for Nato, whose officials have stated that Afghanistan is a “defining moment” for the organisation’s ability to conduct large-scale operations abroad.

The Independent has learnt that the proposal to streamline the complex chain of command, enabling US General David McKiernan to be answerable to superiors at Centcom in Tampa, Florida, rather than Nato, is before Robert Gates, the American Defence Secretary.

Mr Gates is due in the UK today after a visit to Afghanistan where he spoke about the deteriorating security situation with senior Western officers and Afghan ministers. At the same time, in a mark of the seriousness with which the Americans view the situation, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, flew to Pakistan from where Taliban fighters are mounting cross-border raids.

Any move to make the Afghan war an American-run operation would be controversial in some Nato countries. There is already public disquiet in countries such as Italy, Germany and Canada over the conflict.

Nevertheless, altering the command structure is an option in a wide-ranging plan by Washington to acquire greater control of the mission in Afghanistan. A violent Taliban resurgence has made the past three months the most lethal for Western forces. President George Bush has recently announced that several thousand troops will be moved from Iraq to Afghanistan, and General David Petraeus, who led the “surge” in Iraq, credited with reducing the violence there, is returning to the US in overall charge of both missions.

But it is the proposed change to the command structure in Afghanistan which is seen by the Americans as crucial to whether or not the Afghan mission succeeds. Officials point out that in Iraq, General Petraeus was in sole command, which allowed him to carry out his counter-insurgency plan. In Afghanistan, however, different Nato countries are in charge of different regions, often with different rules. Forty nations ranging from Albania and Iceland to the US and Britain are involved in Afghan operations. The force in southern Afghanistan, the main theatre of combat, includes troops from Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Australia, Romania and nine other nations.

US forces sent to Afghanistan recently from Iraq claimed that operations were being stymied because of the multi-layered command structure. Colonel Anthony Anderson, commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines complained publicly: “We are trying to keep our frustration in check … but we have to wait for the elephants to stop dancing”, a reference to the alleged clumsiness of the international command.

Lt Col Brian Mennes, commander of Task Force Fury, a parachute battalion serving in Kandahar, said at the end of his tour: “We don’t understand where we are going here, we desperately want to see a strategy in front of us.”

The British and Canadians are contributing mightily to the campaign in Afghanistan. But as examples of strategic incoherence, the German rules of engagement only allows firing in self defense, and Australian infantry troops are required to sign formal documents declaring that they have not provoked combat operations (their special forces are the only troops allowed to engage in kinetic operations).

Without drastic changes in the nature of the mission of NATO troops, it is doubtful that even placing them under the command of General Petraeus will change much. This is partly why we have recommended more U.S. troops. Petraeus must have access to resources that will operate with regard to unity of command, unity of strategy and unity of mission. Time is short in the campaign, Pakistan’s intentions cannot be trusted, and the security situation is degrading.

New Body Armor for the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

The Captain’s Journal has the best coverage on the web of Marine Corps body armor. Naturally, after Body Armor Wars in the Marines Corps, we were a bit surprised to see a new design for the MTV (Modular Tactical Vest), but weren’t surprised at all that the major component of the weight – the Small Arms Protective Inserts, or SAPIs (or ESAPIs for enhanced 7.62 mm stopping power) – remain the same.

In Body Armor Wars, we made the point that there was essentially no difference between the weight carried by the IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) and MTV tactical vests. They both carry SAPI plates (for 7.62 mm) and soft panels for shrapnel and very small arms protection (9 mm). But the complaints rolled in, and Marine Corps Commandant Conway was determined to reduce weight. Enter the revised version of the MTV.

The new plate carriers are essentially a slimmed-down version of the MTV, with larger arm holes, thinner shoulder straps and a shorter chest profile. The reduction in weight and lower silhouette of the plate carriers “would allow greater mobility with reduced thermal stress in high elevations, thick vegetation and tropical environments,” SysCom said.

The SAPI plates remain the same, but the soft panel coverage is reduced. Upon initial review, we asked, where is the coverage for the shoulders, groin and neck? It isn’t there, and while the weight is reduced, the protection is as well.

Having worn both the IBA and MTV, it is difficult to put on and take off. Neither the front nor the back opens, and so taking 32+ pounds and slipping it over your head with tight clearances leads to scarred noses, bruises on the forehead, and just plain frustration (the 32+ pounds doesn’t include hydration system, ammunition drums, etc.).

But the MTV is still a vast improvement over the IBA carrier. The Captain’s Journal has made the solution clear months ago. Reducing soft panel coverage is low hanging fruit and doesn’t help with protection while providing only marginal weight benefit. The real challenge is to reduce the weight of SAPI plates. Money should be directed at new technologies to reduce weight while also maintaining the current level of protection. As for the MTV, it will be a while before the revised version is issued, and perhaps it will never enter the training regimen for the Marines.

There should be a doctoral candidate in materials engineering somewhere who needs funding and would enjoy studying the fracture mechanics of SAPI plates, and it seems that the Air Force should be willing to relinquish one of its shiny new F-22s for the research, design and testing of lighter body armor for our men in uniform. To save the backs and maybe the lives of our Marines? Is this not a worthy cause? Is some member in charge of defense appropriations in the House of Representatives not willing to take this upon himself for the sake of our Marines? Then we don’t have to strip and bastardize the armor so that the Marines can carry it on their bodies.

Resupplying the USS Iwo Jima

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 26 conducts a vertical replenishment with the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), Sept. 7, 2008. Iwo Jima is deployed as the flagship of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group and is supporting maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. (Department of Defense photo by Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katrina Parker).

Still Not Enough Troops for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

The Captain’s Journal has been an advocate Operation Enduring Freedom for more than eight months, along with the commanders on the ground in Afghanistan. The top brass has heard, but apparently we haven’t been loud enough. General McKiernan is doing his part (as did his predecessor General McNeill who said Afghanistan was an under-resourced war).

The senior U.S. general in Afghanistan said Tuesday he is fighting the war with too few ground troops, and that even the reinforcements President Bush announced last week are insufficient. He said the shortage compels him to use more air power, at the cost of higher civilian casualties.

Speaking just hours after a new U.S. commander took charge in Iraq, Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, told reporters that he realized the only way he would receive the additional ground forces he needs is for Washington to decide to divert them from Iraq.

McKiernan spoke in an interview with reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who arrived here Tuesday evening after presiding at a ceremony in Baghdad where Gen. Ray Odierno took over for Gen. David Petraeus as the top commander of the 146,000 American troops fighting that war.

McKiernan said his Washington bosses had “validated” his request for three more ground combat brigades, in addition to the Army brigade that Bush announced will deploy to Afghanistan in January instead of going to Iraq.

He said the brigade coming in January will merely fill an immediate need for more help in eastern Afghanistan and cited a need for at least 10,000 additional ground troops, beyond the 3,700 due early next year.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are headed in opposite directions: violence is down substantially in Iraq and U.S. troop levels are declining, whereas the fighting is heating up in Afghanistan and more U.S. troops are needed. It will fall to the next U.S. president to decide how to balance resources on both fronts.

McKiernan said he believed it was a question of when, not whether, he would get the troops he has requested.

“It’s a question of political decisions to be made to divert capabilities from Iraq to Afghanistan,” he said.

He disputed the notion that the U.S. and NATO war strategy has failed and needs to be overhauled.

“Our strategy of approaching counterinsurgency operations is a valid strategy here,” McKeirnan said. “Our problem is we don’t have enough resources to do it with.”

Several thousand more troops for Afghanistan have been announced, but it clearly isn’t enough. Without the needed boots on the ground, the over-reliance on heavy-handed air power is risking alienation of the population with unnecessary collateral damage and civilians casualties.  In counterinsurgency, loss of the population means loss of the campaign.

That constant contact with the enemy and security for the population is necessary should be obvious based on our Marines in Helmand coverage and commentary, and it was a counterinsurgency lesson re-learned by the commanders in the ISAF upon the initial engagement with the Taliban (h/t Small Wars Journal Blog).

Lt. Col. Kent Hayes knows all about the blood, sweat, and excruciating effort needed to lay the initial security piece of the counterinsurgency puzzle. The rangy executive officer for the 24th MEU explains that the Marines’ original plan to act as a roaming strike force in Helmand had to be torn up after the first battle with the Taliban. The enemy unexpectedly stayed and fought fiercely for more than a week rather than relinquish Garmsir. An estimated 400 insurgents died. Marine commanders immediately realized that the town was a critical resupply and logistics hub for insurgent operations throughout the province.

“Our original mission was to act as a quick-reaction force for the ISAF commander in Kabul so he could throw us at any escalating crisis in this area,” Hayes says. But Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, understood the strategic importance of Garmsir and instead ordered the marines to stay in the town and implement a classic counterinsurgency operation of “clear, hold, and build.” Hayes says that his troops are “not normally in the business of owning ground, but I guess you could say we’ve rented Garmsir for a while” …

Hayes is unequivocal in naming the key to the 24th MEU’s success in Helmand province: “It’s a real simple concept–we learned during this mission that the best way to combat this type of enemy is to mass forces and stay. We actually replaced a small British force that was spread thin trying to cover too much ground with too few troops. Instead, we flooded a town that was strategically important to the enemy with overwhelming forces. That’s the way you can win this kind of fight–with boots on the ground.”

The message could not be clearer. We need boots on the ground.  The Marines have proven that counterinsurgency can be successful in Afghanistan with the appropriate force size and strategy.

Aboard the USS Iwo Jima

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

The 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment aboard the USS Iwo Jima.

Fighting a Technologically Advanced Insurgency

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

There are many differences between insurgencies in the twenty first century and those of 100, 50, 30 or even 10 years ago.  In addition to the transnational nature of the fighters, the easy and quick access to technologically advanced and standoff weapons introduces elements that makes previous centuries of counterinsurgency experience almost meaningless.  Examples of such elements are cell phones, IEDs and in particular, EFPs.  Our quarter century old enemy Iran is busy in Afghanistan as they were (and still are) in Iraq.

The comments by the commander, who would not be named but operates in the south east of the country where there has been a surge in Taliban attacks, were a rare admission of co-operation between elements within the Iranian regime and forces fighting British and American troops in Afghanistan.

“There’s a kind of landmine called a Dragon. Iran’s sending it,” he said. “It’s directional and it causes heavy casualties.

“We’re ambushing the Americans and planting roadside bombs. We never let them relax.”

The commander, a veteran of 30 years who started fighting when the Soviet Union was occupying Afghanistan, said the Dragon had revolutionised the Taliban’s ability to target Nato soldiers deployed in his area.

“If you lay an ordinary mine, it will only cause minor damage to Humvees or one of their big tanks. But if you lay a Dragon, it will destroy it completely,” he said.

A “Dragon” is the local nickname for a type of weapon known internationally as an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) or “shaped charge” and has been used with devastating effect in Iraq by Iranian-backed groups. It is shaped so that all the explosive force is concentrated in one direction – the target – rather than blasting in all directions and weakening its impact.

A former mujahideen fighter who knows the Afghan arms market well and who asked to be known as Shahir said the Dragon mines came directly from Iran.

Iran has denied these allegations, but Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador in Kabul, said the British Army, which is deployed in south-western Afghanistan, had intercepted consignments of weapons which they believe were “donated by a group within the Iranian state”.

The only other possible source, the arms expert said, would be Pakistan’s Tribal Areas where a relatively sophisticated arms industry has grown up. “Until now,” he said, “no-one in the Tribal Areas has been able to copy these mines. Both the metal and the explosives are different, very high quality and very effective, obviously not Chinese or Pakistani.”

He said there were two routes for Iranian weaponry getting to the Taliban. “There are people inside the state in Iran who donate weapons. There are also Iranian businessmen who sell them.”

The Taliban are also employing technologically advanced communications in order to avoid electronic interdiction and eavesdropping.

Taliban fighters targeting British troops in Afghanistan are using Skype voice-over-IP phones to evade detection.

Security sources have told the Evening Standard that unlike traditional mobile calls, which can be monitored by RAF Nimrod spy planes, Skype calls are heavily encrypted.

Taliban leaders had previously been known to use satellite phones, which could be tracked and located by western forces.

The British and American governments are said to be investing resources to crack voice-over-IP (VoIP) codes.

“The trouble with this technology is that it is easily available but devilishly hard to crack,” a security source told the Standard. “The technology can now be accessed on mobile internet devices and the country’s mobile phone network is expanding rapidly.”

Skype is owned by eBay and has around 300m user accounts worldwide.

Sir David Pepper, head of government listening centre GCHQ, has previously complained that internet calls are “seriously undermining” his organisation’s ability to intercept communications.

There are suggestions as to what might be effective means to stop this use of Skype.

Simple – move to compressed data on their system.

Compressed Skype calls make life a lot easier for pattern recognition software to detect key words in the digital data stream, simply because the $trings of data are shorter.

There’s been a few reports on the subject over the last few years, but Skype has avoided making any comment for fear of upsetting its users.

Now that the issue is coming into the open, however, I strongly suspect Skype won’t have much choice.

Unless, of course, it wants to see ISPs in dodgy areas of the world like Afghanistan block the use of Skype on their Internet connections, so depriving the Net telephony company of valuable call revenue…

Maybe it’s this simple – and maybe not.  Both the U.S. DoD and the British MoD should invest as necessary to stay ahead in technology.  But we must not miss the the point concerning technology.  Playing the game of one-step-ahead is a deadly and costly way to run a campaign.

The solution to the problem of Taliban technology is to conduct intelligence driven raids against the Taliban who perpetrate the use of such technology.  Rather than the so-called high value targets with recognizable names, the real high value targets are the Taliban perpetrators, the fighters, technicians and practitioners.

 But in order to conduct intelligence driven raids against such people, we first have to have intelligence.  In order to gain the proper intelligence, the population must have security.  Maj. Gen. Jeffery J. Schloesser has said that there are as many as 11,000 insurgents operating in the Eastern part of Afghanistan.  This size insurgency requires a larger projection of power by infantry to ensure the progress of the counterinsurgency campaign.  Killing and capturing Taliban will end the threat posed by EFPs and Skype.

The Cult of Special Forces

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

The Autumn 2008 Edition of the Australian Army Journal contains an important article by Major Jim Hammett, entitled We Were Soldiers Once: The Decline of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps? Several key paragraphs are reproduced below.

There are indicators that the feelings of angst prevalent within the Infantry Corps have festered to the point of public dissent and critical questioning of the Corps’ raison d’etre. This is reflected not only by questions posed to our leadership (including the Minister for Defence and the Chief of Army) across three theatres of operation, but also by recent articles published in mainstream media. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence would suggest that disillusionment regarding the employment and future of the Infantry Corps has been a significant contributing factor to the discharge of personnel from the Corps …

The Infantry have not been tasked with conducting offensive action since Vietnam; Special Forces have been engaged in combat operations almost continuously since 2001. When comparing the role of the Infantry with that of Special Operations Forces (SOF), in contrast to the nature of deployments, the logical deduction is that either the role of the Infantry is now defunct, or that only SOF are considered capable of the role …

‘This cult of special forces is as sensible as to form a Royal Corps of Tree Climbers and say that no soldier, who does not wear its green hat with a bunch of oak leaves stuck in it should be expected to climb a tree’. Field Marshall Sir William Slim was remarkably prophetic when he cautioned against the inclination to consider some tasks capable of being fulfilled by Special Forces only. The parallels between Slim’s ‘Royal Corps of Tree Climbers’ analogy and the current trend of operational deployments accurately summarise the frustrations of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps, who, despite the lack of a ‘green hat’ (or possibly Sherwood Green or ‘Sandy’ beret), consider themselves more than capable of ‘climbing trees’ …

Notwithstanding recent combat actions performed by Infantrymen in Afghanistan, the role of the Infantry component of the Reconstruction Task Force is limited to force protection—rigidly imposed to the point whereby participants have been required to sign formal documents declaring that they have not provoked combat operations— whilst their fellow countrymen from the Special Operations Task Group actively pursue engagement with enemy forces, having been publicly praised by defence and governmental hierarchy for previous tours of duty that involved daily contact with the enemy. In the same theatre, armies with whom we possess a standardisation program (US, Britain and Canada) are employing their Infantry aggressively against the enemy. The lack of Australian participation in combat has drawn adverse comment and questions from the international press …

Since 11 September 2001 Australia’s allies have become embroiled in violent conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia. Australia has professed itself a staunch ally of the Americans in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed has received significant political kudos for what has been termed as unwavering support. At the coalface, however, such sentiments are dismissed as political rhetoric, as serving members from the United States, Britain and Canada lay their lives on the line in support of their government’s objectives whilst the Australian Infantry appear to do little more than act as interested spectators from the sideline.

Notwithstanding the mutual accolades provided between international political bodies in the interests of diplomacy, Australia’s contributions to both Iraq and Afghanistan have been derided and scorned by soldiers and officers alike from other nations who are more vigorously engaged in combat operations. In Iraq, the much heralded deployment of Al Muthanna Task Group-1 was met with incredulity by British forces deployed on Operation TELIC V. The stringent force protection measures and limitations to manoeuvre applied to the newly arrived (yet very well equipped) Australians were in stark contrast to the British approach of using the benign Al Muthanna province as a respite locality for (not very well equipped) troops who had been in sustained action in either Basra or Al Amarah.

The initial caution of such a deployment is both prudent and understandable, however the ongoing inaction and lack of contribution to counterinsurgency and offensive operations has resulted in collective disdain and at times near contempt by personnel from other contributing nations for the publicity-shrouded yet forceprotected Australian troops.

The restrictions and policies enforced on Infantrymen in Iraq have resulted in the widespread perception that our Army is plagued by institutional cowardice. Rebuttal of such opinions is difficult when all staff at Iraq’s Multi-National Division (South East) Headquarters are formally briefed that the Australian contingent’s national caveats strictly prohibit offensive operations, attack and pursuit. Of the phases of war, this leaves only defence and withdrawal.

Commentary & Analysis

In the Weekly Standard in March of 2007, Michael Fumento had an interesting article entitled The Democrats’ Special Forces Fetish: A Fatuous Promise to Double the Size of Our Elite Military Units. It is worth reading for the volume of information in the article, as well as for a good knock-down argument for why it is impossible to double the size of the Special Operations Forces.

The Democrats’ reflexive push to treat counterinsurgency as counterterrorism is one reason that The Captain’s Journal doesn’t cover or analyze hits against so-called high value targets (HVT). The war on terror isn’t about personalities, even though some of their favorite think tanks do wish to treat it as a police campaign against individuals.

But beyond this, there has grown up around SOF a sort of cult following and hero worship that clouds informed judgment and clear thinking. SOF, it is believed – perhaps based on the Rambo persona – can do anything, and tend to be the real warriors deployed when the fighting gets tough. Hard core kinetic operations is reserved for SOF. Gone are the days when special operations has to do with specialty billets such as language, reconnaissance, airborne, and other qualifications that is is just too expensive to grow in the armed forces. Enter the days of SOF as supermen.

But the advent of each new story about SOF that kills some high profile name, while riveting for the non-military reader, continues the same lesson that Rumsfeld took into Afghanistan with his vision of airmen with satellite uplinks guiding JDAMS to target, CIA operatives, and alliances with rogues in the country who could knock out the Taliban. Afghanistan is a failing campaign precisely because of this view. Counterinsurgency requires infantry and force projection, those things necessary to ensure security for the population.

While Fumento’s view might be applicable to the Army, Navy and Air Force, since The Captain’s Journal is a USMC blog, we’ll take a uniquely Marine view of things. While some Recon Marines have been split off from their units, Recon primarily still supports infantry, and the Marine force structure is uniquely aligned to conduct kinetic operations, whether conventional or counterinsurgency.

In order to help explain this, a conversation is given below. In this conversation, TCJ is The Captain’s Journal, M is some unnamed Marine, and City is the location in which this Marine happened to be during his deployment. It is left to the reader to surmise whether this is a real or fabricated conversation.

TCJ: Did y’all ever conduct distributed operations in the city?

M: Units of how large?

TCJ: Two, or three, or a fire team.

M: No. If you went into the city with less than a squad you died. Usually a platoon, always at least a squad. If a squad, the fire teams conducted a satellite patrol to throw the enemy off.

TCJ: What about snipers? Didn’t you have and use them?

M: Yea, we have the DM (designated Marksman) specialization who is also still part of his unit.

TCJ: How did he deploy into the city?

M: A platoon or squad delivered him to his location. When he was finished a day or two later we picked him up and escorted him back to the FOB or outpost. If he got into trouble, we were a radio call away.

TCJ: What if the population saw you deliver this DM and knew he was there?

M: So what?

TCJ: Well, if they knew he was there, so did the insurgents, and they would then know to avoid that area altogether.

M: Right. So whether the DM shoots or merely uses his known presence to pacify an area, you’ve met your objective, right?

TCJ: I understand. So the idea is to provide maximum force protection while also contacting the population.

M: Look. Combat in the Marines is engaged by the infantry. Infantry lays maximum metal down range when needed, beginning with the SAWs.

TCJ: So no one, including Recon, sees more combat than infantry?

M: It’s all still infantry. Recon is attached to infantry. DMs are attached to infantry. Artillery supports infantry. No one person is more special than anyone else. They are all billets, and the Marine does his job and fulfills his billet. Everyone is billeted to support infantry, and infantry protects everyone else. Infantry is king. It’s the focus of everything.

Major Hammett’s disdain for the lack of respect for and utilization of his infantry is both obvious and understandable. While Australian forces were inside the borders of Afghanistan prior to U.S. forces post 9/11, they were special operations forces. No infantry has been deployed to engage in kinetic operations in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

For a picture of what the Democratic proposal for structuring the armed forces of the United States would look like, see the one painted by Major Hammett. Special operations conducts black operations against high value targets, and infantry sits in the States training. The war on terror will not be treated as a counterinsurgency campaign. It will be understood to be a policing action requiring the SWAT team of U.S. special operations forces.

There are some who favor equipping, training and preparation for a near peer conflict who might like this picture. But before jumping too quickly, the reader should consider the unintended consequences of such an approach. According to Major Hammett, such consequences can be (but are not limited to) an Army that suffers from the perception of “institutional cowardice” and (as Major Hammett discusses later in his paper) the loss due to lack of job satisfaction of the very soldiers who the institutionalists wish to retain, and loss of the very soldiering that they wish to press due to inexperience.

YouTube Bans Al Qaeda

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

Senator Joseph Lieberman deserves our thanks for tireless work to convince Google, owner of YouTube, to ban al Qaeda.

Senator Joseph Lieberman claims to have struck a mighty blow against the forces of al Qaeda this week by pressuring YouTube to forbid users from uploading terrorist training videos.

The popular video site updated its “Community Guidelines” yesterday, warning terrorist cells they’re at serious risk of violating the site’s Terms of Service — and may even face having their YouTube accounts permanently terminated.

The Connecticut Senator celebrated victory for his three month campaign in a press release circulated September 11 titled, “Google Tightens Standards for YouTube Videos in Response to Lieberman’s Pressure.”

“YouTube was being used by Islamist terrorist organizations to recruit and train followers via the Internet and to incite terrorist attacks around the world, including right here in the United States, and Google should be commended for recognizing that,” Lieberman said in a statement. “I expect these stronger community guidelines to decrease the number of videos on YouTube produced by al Qaeda and affiliated Islamist terrorist organizations.”

Google makes no mention of Lieberman in its community blog outlining the policy change.

“We’ve updated the Community Guidelines to address some of the most common questions users ask us about inappropriate content. Included in the update are a few things to steer clear of, like not directly inciting violence or encouraging other users to violate the Terms of Service.”

Lieberman writes he is grateful for the response, but continues to urge Google to remove all videos produced by “Foreign Terrorist Organizations”, not just those that violate its community guidelines.

Intriguingly, his efforts may have also unintentionally thwarted another subversive group threatening Lady Liberty from the shadows. YouTube’s revised policy now forbids “things like instructional bomb making, ninja assassin training, sniper attacks, videos that train terrorists, or tips on illegal street racing. Any depictions like these should be educational or documentary and shouldn’t be designed to help or encourage others to imitate them.”

Actually, YouTube allegedly bans a little more than the list above.

“Things like predatory behavior, stalking, threats, harassment, intimidation, invading privacy, revealing other people’s personal information, and inciting others to commit violent acts or to violate the Terms of Use are taken very seriously. Anyone caught doing these things may be permanently banned from YouTube.”

A brief search of YouTube found some radical Islamist preachings, including some from Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader Ayman al Zawahiri, but no violent clips.

So any violent videos will be banned in the future. But what about Ayman al-Zawahiri’s prose? It should be deleted. The reactionary and hysterical among us might scream censorship, and demand to know who the censor will be? The Captain’s Journal says that this is simple. The censor will do the censoring. In this case, Google would be the censor, and they have guidelines as stated above (” … inciting others to commit violent acts”).

We support free speech, including the right to criticize or lampoon the current leadership or political policies. What we don’t support is sedition and violent overthrow of the West as does al Qaeda. But it is a remarkable and positive step that Google – the very same Google who caved to Chinese pressure to censor for political views – would take this self-imposed step to censor al Qaeda. What took so long, and why can’t the decision regarding China be reversed? After all, we might be seeing signs of discernment, guts and fortitude.  Or perhaps not.

The Importance of Kandahar

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

The Asia Times has an interesting account from one Taliban concerning Kandahar, the Taliban and the Tehrik-i-Taliban.

The Taliban took over Kabul in 1996 and opened the country to al-Qaeda’s training camps, while Osama bin Laden settled in Kandahar. After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan a few months later, the Taliban agreed to lose their government but, in the tradition of the Afghan code of honor of Pashtunwali, they refused to hand over their most wanted guests to the Americans.

Seven years after 9/11, the resurgent Taliban movement is exclusively led by Kandahari clans, which still boast of their sacrifices for the Islamic brotherhood in the name of Pashtunwali, but they maintain that the Taliban have never harbored – and never will – an aggressive agenda towards the world community …

“Our code of conduct is documented in the Asasi Qanoon [Basic Law of Afghanistan]. Under article 103, it is mentioned that we don’t want any disruptions in any country of the world. The Taliban are only a national resistance movement against foreign occupation forces in Afghanistan,” said Jalil …

Along with the Taliban’s foreign minister in 2001, Mullah Abdul Wakeel Muttawakil, Jalil was not comfortable with al-Qaeda being in the country, but when questioned on the matter he initially evaded answering with a smile, saying only that “it is unnecessary to open up controversies”.

However, he did then elaborate, “Arabs are different from the Taliban. If today they boost attacks on Western targets, they do so independently. We have nothing to do with their claims. We have always limited our battle to that against NATO and although we could work in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, China or Iran, we never had any role in these areas.

Jalil’s comments did not ring true. Several Taliban commanders, including the slain Mullah Dadullah and Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, besides scores of al-Qaeda members, have maintained that the only way to win the Afghan war against NATO is to attack Western targets in Europe and America. I cited some of their statements to Jalil and asked, “Are they lying, or are you?”

“Nobody is lying. There are issues here to understand. First, there were people like Mullah Dadullah [a senior military commander killed by NATO in 2007] . He was emotional and often engaged in rhetoric – many times – different from Taliban policies, so much so that on several occasions he was warned by the Taliban leadership about his statements to the media.

“Second, it is necessary to understand that there is a sea of difference between the people who call themselves the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Taliban [led by Mehsud] and the Taliban. We have nothing to do with them. In fact, we oppose the policies they adhere to against the Pakistani security forces.

The journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, is probably pushing as hard as he can in this interview, but he probably knows that there is more to the story. Mullah Omar opposed the Tehrik-i-Taliban too (TTP – Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan) – for a while – but Baitullah Mehsud is too powerful, and now al Qaeda is aligned with the TTP and Omar settled for saying that he doesn’t command Mehsud.

The TTP commands the youngest, most violent fighters in the region compared to the old line Taliban, and the TTP has a global focus just as al Qaeda. Broadly defined, the Taliban are people who either would offer refuge to globalists like al Qaeda just as they did before 9/11, or they are themselves globalists. Either way, they pose a threat to the West.

Continuing with the real revelation in this article:

“But don’t you think that in this long process of a guerrilla war, especially as the Taliban don’t have the latest weaponry, it would make the Afghan population sick and tired of the Taliban-led resistance?” I asked.

Jalil responded quickly, “Not at all. The Taliban emerged from Kandahar, which has a special dynamic in Afghanistan, and they have never accepted foreign occupation. The Taliban still draws its military leaders from Kandahar, and look at the history of Kandahar … when I say Kandahar I don’t mean the present divisions, it means the entire regions of Helmand, Urzgan and Zabul … it has always produced the best military leaders.

“The Taliban are not a stand-alone entity. Ninety percent of the present resistance in Kandahar survives because of the masses. They provide shelter to us in their homes, feed us and provide money for us to go back and fight against the foreign forces, and they never mind if in the course of this they suffer casualties because of aerial bombardments,” Jalil said. (At least 540 civilians have been killed in the conflict so far this year, a sharp increase over last year’s total of 321.)

And our Taliban has now described the Ramadi of Afghanistan. Just as with Ramadi in 2005 – 2007, unless the U.S. forces are numerous and logistically supported well enough to project force into Kandahar – the capital of the Taliban – we won’t be successful. Just as in Ramadi, Kandahar will require combat outposts, combined combat outposts / police precincts, dismounted patrols, intelligence gathering, contact with the population, intelligence-driven raids, and (as in Fallujah during Operation Alljah) biometrics and possibly even gated communities.  Without diminishing the brave contributions of so many U.S. warriors thus far in Operation Enduring Freedom, it may be observed that the real campaign for Afghanistan is yet to begin.


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