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]

26th MEU Stuck at Bahrain

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

In The 26th MEU, the USS San Antonio, and Military Equipment, we detailed our objections to the job that Northrup Grumman had done in constructing the amphibious transport dock USS San Antonio, with its snarled electrical cables, unreliable steering, and general poor craftsmanship throughout the physical plant. It is wasteful of time and resources, and certainly hampers the ability of the U.S. Marines to perform during their duties.

In a time when pirates are endangering shipping lanes in the extremely busy Gulf of Aden, the U.S. Marines should be engaging and killing pirates. Ralph Peters, OpFor and The Captain’s Journal have weighed in describing the solution to the problem of pirates. But the Marines are wasting time in Bahrain rather than contributing to the global war on terror or protecting shipping lanes.

The USS San Antonio has yet another major mechanical problem. It has sprung an oil leak, and is in port in Bahrain to repair and weld piping.

Their ship is stuck at a Bahraini port, but that doesn’t mean extra liberty for some leathernecks with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Marines and sailors with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based MEU who are aboard the amphibious transport dock San Antonio “continue to train aboard and from that vessel,” according to a MEU spokesman.

The ship’s maiden deployment with the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group out of Norfolk, Va., was interrupted Oct. 31 when it entered a yard in Bahrain to fix major oil leaks. Navy officials projected the maintenance would be finished within two weeks. This marks the latest problem for the ship, which has been plagued with performance problems, and was delivered late and $1 billion over budget.

But problems with the ship — criticized Monday by Navy Secretary Donald Winter, who said he “continues to be unsatisfied” with its performance — have not stopped its Marine inhabitants from participating in training exercises and classes.

“This training includes leadership, martial arts, physical training, infantry and other job-skills training they would normally conduct underway,” MEU spokesman Gunnery Sgt. Bryce Piper said in an e-mail. “Accessibility to land actually expands these Marines’ opportunities to conduct physical and small-unit training outside the confines of the ship, and unit leaders exploit these opportunities whenever possible.”

Elements of the MEU’s battalion landing team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, and Combat Logistic Battalion 26, are on the ship, but they were not scheduled to participate in current training exercises, Piper said.

The 26th MEU set sail for a six-month deployment aboard the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, the San Antonio and dock landing ship Carter Hall Aug. 29. Those ships are currently in the 5th Fleet area of operation.

As expected, the Marines and Navy put a good face on this, but many Marines are surely grumbling under their breath, while their brothers suffer in Afghanistan, pirates plague the Gulf of Aden, and Islamists continue their takeover of Somalia. The long war is proving to be too difficult to encounter these kinds of problems during deployment. With radiograph, dye penetrant testing, and visual inspection, there is absolutely no excuse – none – for welding problems to become manifest while at sea on a new ship. This demonstrates that there is a QA problem somewhere that badly needs to be fixed.

But this also raises the important question of whether the existing MEU structure is the best way to implement the strategic vision of the Marine Corps Commandant for an expeditionary force. It might be wise to train to perform naval-based and amphibious operations, and perhaps this should be among the regular qualifications of Marines of all billets. But first of all, the use of an MEU with all of its expense, to work out the problems associated with a new ship is a questionable value judgment. Second, the use of a Battalion Landing Team (BLT) to spend seven months aboard a ship performing humanitarian missions, shows of force and practice maneuvers while their brother suffer in Afghanistan and pirates maraud the Gulf of Aden forces the question of whether command deployed this MEU in the most efficient manner to perform the most important mission.

Talking with the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

Via the Small Wars Journal Blog, Paul McLeary’s Talking with the Taliban at Aviation Weekly has an interesting quote.

I recently spoke with Nathaniel Fick, a former Marine officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught at the counterinsurgency school in Kabul, and who is currently a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, who thinks that negotiating with the Taliban right now is a bad idea. “If we open negotiations with the Taliban right now, we will be doing so from a position of weakness,” he says. “The trick for the next administration is to take the tactical and operational and strategic steps to get us into a position of strength where negotiation is an option.”

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal will notice a familiar theme. Five months ago we published The Failure of Talking with the Taliban concerning our deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam for the town of Musa Qala. We said:

The history of negotiations with the Taliban has been disastrous, and every time they have been tried, the losers end up being Afghanistan and the ISAF because the “negotiations” are not occurring from a position of strength.

This theme has been periodically repeated ever since. From On Negotiating with the Taliban:

As for the mistaken effort to get the Saudis to collaborate and win the peace, the Taliban clearly aren’t interested. Why should they be, since they are winning? Negotiating in this instance is a sign of weakness.

Hamid Karzai recently continued his boyish, pathetic swoon over Mullah Omar, saying that he would go to “any length” to protect Omar during negotiations. But how does the Taliban reciprocate this unseemly display by Karzai? “Taliban spokesman Qari Yousif told CNN that Karzai’s offer is meaningless because he has to rely on the British and the Americans to provide his own security.” In other words, Karzai is offering to negotiate from a position of weakness rather than strength, says the Taliban – the same thing we said five months ago.

So Nathaniel Fick is right, but of course, so were we.

More on Lines of Logistics for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

Three days ago The Captain’s Journal published How Many Troops Can We Logistically Support in Afghanistan?, and since Glenn Reynolds linked it at Instapundit, it got plenty of web traffic. As of that date, although we had been covering Torkham, Khyber, Karachi, Chaman and the lines of logistical supply to troops in Afghanistan, we had not seen any American main stream media reports detailing the logistical difficulties and issues.

Enter the Washington Post, which today published an article entitled U.S. Seeks New Supply Routes Into Afghanistan. The same themes we discussed appear in this Washington Post report, although they also detail some new action to create other routes of supply.

TORKHAM, Afghanistan, Nov. 18 — A rise in Taliban attacks along the length of a vital NATO supply route that runs through this border town in the shadow of the Khyber Pass has U.S. officials seeking alternatives, including the prospect of beginning deliveries by a tortuous overland journey from Europe.

Supplying troops in landlocked Afghanistan has long been the Achilles’ heel of foreign armies here, most recently the Soviets, whose forces were nearly crippled by Islamist insurgent attacks on vulnerable supply lines.

About 75 percent of NATO and U.S. supplies bound for Afghanistan — including gas, food and military equipment — are transported over land through Pakistan. The journey begins in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi and continues north through Pakistan’s volatile North-West Frontier Province and tribal areas before supplies arrive at the Afghan border. The convoys then press forward along mountain hairpin turns through areas of Afghanistan that are known as havens for insurgents.

Drivers at this busy border crossing say death threats from the Taliban arrive almost daily. Sometimes they come in the form of a letter taped to the windshield of a truck late at night. Occasionally, a dispatcher receives an early-morning phone call before a convoy sets off from Pakistan. More often, the threats are delivered at the end of a gun barrel.

“The Taliban, they tell us, ‘These goods belong to the Americans. Don’t bring them to the Americans. If you do, we’ll kill you,’ ” said Rahmanullah, a truck driver from the Pakistani tribal town of Landikotal. “From Karachi to Kabul there is trouble. The whole route is insecure.”

The growing danger has forced the Pentagon to seek far longer, but possibly safer, alternate routes through Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, according to Defense Department documents. A notice to potential contractors by the U.S. Transportation Command in September said that “strikes, border delays, accidents and pilferage” in Pakistan and the risk of “attacks and armed hijackings” in Afghanistan posed “a significant risk” to supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan …

The United States has already begun negotiations with countries along what the Pentagon has called a new northern route. An agreement with Georgia has been reached and talks are ongoing with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, according to an Oct. 31 Pentagon document. “We do not expect transit agreements with Iran or Uzbekistan,” the Transportation Command told potential contractors.

Whichever company gets the contract will have to provide security forces to protect the convoys. Port World Logistics, the transport company currently handling supplies going from Pakistan to Afghanistan, uses a Pakistani service, Dogma Security, and has also had some assistance from the Pakistani government’s Frontier Corps, according to a statement from the public affairs office of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.

The new contractor will also be required to have intrusion detection devices and a real-time satellite tracking and tracing system that reports the location of each vehicle every 30 minutes.

Although it’s disappointing that it took approximately one year of harping on this subject, it’s good to see that it is getting the attention it deserves. The Captain’s Journal is glad to provide the best analysis well before it can be obtained open source.

Admiral Mullen to Obama: Logistics Rules Dude!

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

In keeping with our theme of logistics of late, it bears mentioning that we’ve pointed out before that Obama’s ego may be writing checks that the U.S. military can’t cash. The logistics officers know how difficult it is to move the U.S. military and materiel, and Forbes gives us the thoughts of a logistics officer thinking merely about deploying a Brigade to Iraq (from an article several months ago).

While mission and TPFDD specifications vary, each brigade is allotted a standard cache of equipment and supplies. “There are 1,870 pieces of heavy equipment–plus or minus–required for every brigade, and that’s just for the machinery,” says Cashner.

Among the heavier items are 919 wheeled vehicles, including trucks and Humvees, and 424 tow vehicles. There are forklifts, generators and cranes to hoist and lower equipment when the brigade rumbles through Iraq. And there are 514 brigade tanks, including Bradley fighting vehicles, perhaps the most challenging items to move.

“Each [Bradley] weighs 70 tons,” says Cashner. “An African male elephant weighs 5 tons. So one tank weighs the equivalent of 12 male elephants.”

While the tanks, trailers and tow trucks rumble across Fort Riley toward the railhead staging platform, soldiers are loading boxes onto the trains. They pack spark plugs and spare engine parts, and stack some 2,850 shipping boxes containing everything from packaged omelets to chicken cordon bleu. They must load enough food to feed the 3,800-man brigade three square meals for the first three days of deployment.

The first rail car leaves at N+48. The 800-mile trip from Kansas to Texas takes 18 hours. All considered, it will take at least 500 to 600 rail cars to transport the combat brigade’s stuff from “fort to port.”

Once at the port in Texas, the brigade’s equipment and supplies will be packed on to massive container ships, each one 15 stories tall and about 1,000 feet long–the length of three football fields.

“To move the brigade, military logistics officials must marshal, at the very least, 19 cargo ships,” said Cashner. “They are humongous carriers with open decks, and you literally drive up the ramps and park your vehicles.”

The container ships carrying the bulk of the brigade or division equipment ship out one after the other, and often stop for additional supplies at Hampton Roads, Va., home to several military harbors. Roughly a week later, they arrive at one of the military’s so-called “power performance platforms,” massive debarkation hubs, in either Shuaiba, in Kuwait, or in Qatar, from where the equipment will travel by land to Iraq.

Meanwhile, late last year, with talk of troop withdrawals, logistics officials at U.S. Central Command started to ponder how they would retrieve the almost unfathomable array of equipment and supplies they have poured into Southwest Asia over the past five years. “It’s very easy to take things off the ship,” Cashner said. On the returning journey, though, everything from tanks to hand tools must be repaired, cleaned and labeled for customs. Getting out, just like getting in, could take years.

Admiral Mullen has recently weighed in with somewhat less detail but just as strongly about what it will take to bring the troops home from Iraq.

Admiral Michael Mullen said it will take at least two years to safely withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, an estimate that may conflict with President-elect Barack Obama’s goal of pulling most forces out within 16 months.

Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said at a Pentagon news conference that the time wasn’t yet right to begin negotiating with elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Mullen, the president’s principal military adviser, said it was possible to meet the three-year withdrawal deadline set in a status-of-forces agreement that was approved by the Iraqi Cabinet yesterday. He confirmed that the agreement calls for all U.S. forces to be out by the end of 2011, regardless of conditions on the ground.

“It’s very doable, but it’s not the kind of thing that we could do overnight,” Mullen said. “To remove the entire force would be two to three years, as opposed to something we could do in a very short period of time.”

As for Obama’s goal of removing U.S. combat forces within 16 months, with just a residual force remaining to train Iraqis and conduct counter-terrorism operations, Mullen said he would follow whatever orders the commander-in-chief gives him.

“Should President-elect Obama give me direction, I would carry that out,” he said. “That’s what I do as a senior member of the military.”

The questioning obviously pushed Adm. Mullen in the direction of trying to explain why what he said could be reconciled with a new commander in chief whose orders might contradict what he just said. Says Adm, Mullen, “I’ll try my best to do what I am told to do.”

In America, the military reports to civilian authority. But what Adm. Mullen couldn’t explain to the stolid reporters present at the news conferences is that it isn’t really up to him, and it isn’t even up to Obama, political promises nothwithstanding. The concerns are far more pedestrian than that.

It isn’t about giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed. We can order a five year old child to perform mathematical manipulations with calculus, or the world’s strongest man to pick up an elephant. In both cases try as they might, the expectations cannot be met by either one.

Regardless of the order given at the top and conveyed by Adm. Mullen, there is one thing clear from what we know. The logistics officers decide what can and can’t be done, and they will tell that to their chain of command, and Adm. Mullen will then have to tell that to Obama. That’s the way it works. Adm. Mullen knows that, and while he was attempting to show his servitude to the civilian authority structure, he was also giving us a not-so-coded or hidden message: Logistics rules, dude!

Interpreters, Language and Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

For a smart analysis of what knowledge of the indigenous language can do for you in counterinsurgency, see our previous article The Enemy of My Enemy. We have long been a proponent of more and better language training for both enlisted men and officers preparing to deploy to Iraq. But we still badly need good interpreters, and yet stupid decisions will soon undermine the interpreter program in Iraq.

The U.S. military has barred Iraqi interpreters working with American troops in Baghdad from wearing ski masks to disguise themselves, prompting some to resign and others to bare their faces even though they fear it could get them killed.

Many interpreters employed by the U.S. government and Western companies do everything they can to avoid being recognized on the job because extremists have tortured and killed Iraqis accused of collaborating with the enemy.

“The terps are the No. 1 wanted here,” said A.J., a 36-year-old military interpreter, using the shorthand for his profession. “More than the Americans. More than anyone.”

The interpreters have come to symbolize the bravery of Iraqis who have aided the American project in Iraq. About 300 U.S. military interpreters have been killed since 2003, according to Kirk Johnson, a former official in Iraq with the U.S. Agency for International Development who has fought to make it easier for interpreters and other Iraqis to come to the U.S.

U.S. military officials said they began to enforce the mask ban in September because security in Baghdad has improved dramatically.

“We are a professional Army, and professional units don’t conceal their identity by wearing masks,” Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a U.S. military spokesman.

Some U.S. soldiers said enforcing the policy makes them feel terrible.

“It’s a life-and-death issue for them,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Ziegler, who works in Dora, a district in southern Baghdad.

“We can’t work for the U.S. Army if we don’t wear a mask,” said Maximus, 28, who has worked as an interpreter for the military on and off since 2003. “If they recognize our face, they’re going to kill our families.”

“Maximus” is not exaggerating. Consider the 2007 example of an interpreter for the British Army in Basra.

A man said to have been an interpreter for the British Army in Basra has been killed by militia gunmen on the very day that his wife learnt she was pregnant with their first child.

Nine or ten masked men went to the home of Moayed Ahmed Khalaf in the al-Hayaniah district of Basra and beat him in front of his wife and mother, four sources told The Times. They then dragged him away, telling the frantic women that they would bring him back shortly. Khalaf’s body was found on Al Qa’ed Street later that night. He had been shot multiple times, according to Colonel Ali Manshed, commander of the Shatt-al-Arab police station.

A cousin, a close friend and two other interpreters all told The Times that Khalaf, 31, had worked for the British at their Basra airport base. Colonel Manshed said that everyone questioned by the police had said Khalaf was an interpreter, adding: “He was a good man, everyone liked him and there was no other reason to kill him.”

The best way to use the desire to have interpreters who don’t hide their identity is to use masks as metrics as was done in Fallujah in 2007. The more interpreters feel the need to wear masks, the more work needs to be done in order to ensure security. The less interpreters wear masks, the greater indication that is of success. In Fallujah it was the Iraqi Police who wore masks – in this case, it’s the interpreters.

But this brings up another point. None of them (IP or interpreters) are uniformed U.S. Army or Marines. Said Lt. Col. Stover, “We are a professional Army, and professional units don’t conceal their identity by wearing masks.” Odd statement, this. The Army and Marines don’t conceal their identity, so what is Col. Stover talking about? Again, the IP and interpreters aren’t our Army. Why wouldn’t we understand and be sensitive to cultural and local issues such as the need for security and protection of identity? At some point this becomes more than just stupid. It’s immoral to force interpreters to risk their family’s safety unnecessarily.

Also, Lt. Col. Stover isn’t quite right concerning the notion of U.S. forces not concealing their identity. It is customary and routine for Special Operations Forces not only to wear garb that conceals their identity, but also to issue pro forma declarations about everything related to their operations being OPSEC (Operational Security). This is certainly an overreaction, but true nonetheless. We are affording our own forces protections that we won’t allow our contracted interpreters.

How Many Troops Can We Logistically Support in Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

Glenn Reynolds links the Small Wars Journal on a potential surge in Afghanistan, and Michael Yon weighed in saying that in his opinion the proposed 25-40K troops won’t be enough.  Then Glenn asks a salient and insightful question: How many troops can we support, logistically, in Afghanistan?  Glenn has been carefully examining the reports.

The Captain’s Journal has a right to weigh in on this subject because first of all, we have been advocating a surge for Afghanistan for at least one year, manned partly by an expeditious withdrawal of Marines from the Anbar Province as recommended by Commandant Conway (we are, after all, a Marine blog).  Second, we make very few forecasts,  but when we do, we have good track record of accuracy.  When Army intelligence was claiming that there wouldn’t be a spring offensive in Afghanistan, we said that there would be a two-front Taliban offensive, one by the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan and the other in Afghanistan by the followers of Mullah Omar.

We also described the strategy of interdiction of NATO supplies into Afghanistan many months before it began to occur.  Afghanistan is land-locked, and transportation of supplies and ordnance to U.S. and NATO troops occurs basically in three ways.  Ten percent comes into Afghanistan via air supply.  The other ninety percent comes in through the port city of Karachi, of which the vast majority goes to the Torkham Crossing (and then to Kabul) via the Khyber pass, with some minor portion going to Kandahar through Chaman.

This interdiction of supply routes by the Taliban is an integral part of their offensive.  The Taliban have been successful in stopping and confiscating some of the supplies, and Pakistan officials have temporarily stopped transit of sealed containers through Khyber.

A Pakistani driver sits beside parked trucks loaded with supplies for American and NATO forces, Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008 in Peshawar, Pakistan. Pakistan has temporarily suspended oil tankers and trucks carrying sealed containers from using a key passage to Afghanistan, an official said Sunday, a move that will likely impact supplies heading to U.S. and NATO troops. (AP Photo/Muhammad Iqbal)

So returning to the question of logistical support of U.S. troops, there has been an impact from insecurity thus far, and assuming a closing of the transit routes by Taliban fighters, no logistics would be sustainable.  But ironically, an increase in force projection in Afghanistan will bring its own logistical rewards and unintended [good] consequences.

We tend to see the struggle through Western eyes, and where we see territorial borders, the Taliban and al Qaeda see nothing.  It is we who see the phantom, not the Taliban.  The enemy is a transnational insurgency and knows no borders, and operations against them in Afghanistan will cause pressure in Pakistan as well.  Fighters from Pakistan have been sent to assist fighters in Afghanistan on a regular basis, and Baitullah Mehsud has made it one of his duties to support the anti-government efforts in Afghanistan.  Logistics and the degree to which supply routes remain operational will be a function of pressure on the Taliban, and the coupling of these two variables is inversely related.

Does this analysis not sound convincing because it is open source and proferred by a non-professional?  Very well.  Listen to a jihadi say it: “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, its only real allies in the region.”

While analysis at The Captain’s Journal relies mainly upon open source information from jihadist web sites, Pakistani, Afghan and other news sources, 95% of which can be Taliban propaganda on any given day, we were right on the danger in Khyber based on these sources, as well as the fact that there would be a two-front spring offensive.  The trick is to know when it’s propaganda and when it’s not.

The U.S. should continue to work on alternative means of supply, as well as pressure the Pakistan Army to continue operations against the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Khyber and in and around Peshawar.  But the surest way to put pressure on the Taliban is to conduct kinetic operations against them in Afghanistan.  Pressure on the Taliban anywhere will redound to open supply routes.

UPDATE: Welcome to Instapundit readers, and thanks to Glenn for the interest.

Cryin’ Cause the Story’s Sad

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

The L.A. Times looks at women in combat, and while the whole article is worth reading, here is one quote that waxed interesting.

“I felt like the Gestapo,” she said. “All I could think of was ‘What would I feel like if somebody did this to me?’ “

Regular readers know our position on women in combat. Women in the military is one thing, but women in combat is quite another. Russia had women in the infantry during its war with Afghanistan, and found that women suffered a disproportionately high number of lower extremity injuries and men did foolish things attempting to pair up with and take care of women. There is the thing of testosterone, and it’s different because God made it that way. The PT requirements are different between male and female Marines because they have to be, and the Marines don’t allow women in infantry.

The day that the Marines have women in the infantry will be the day that the U.S. Marines as we know it ceases to exist. OF course, all of this is controversial, and it could be that The Captain’s Journal has made a number of women mad over this post. As for kicking in doors in counterinsurgency, to be sure, one has to know when to show respect for a sheikh and when to treat him like the rest of the population – when to bust in doors, and when to sit and watch ball games on TV. It should all redound to winning the counterinsurgency campaign, and whatever is deemed appropriate at the time should be done.

As for the woman who couldn’t stop feeling like the Gestapo, the immediate reaction here at TCJ comes from a tune by Joe Walsh, and the line is “and we don’t need the ladies cryin’ cause the story’s sad.”

For the women reading this post, just relax with some weekend music instead of being angry with us.

The Afghanistan Kajaki Dam and Hydroelectric Plant

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

Our friend Joshua Foust at Registan asks some salient questions concerning the Kajaki dam.

Remember that time Michael Yon bravely reported the “top secret” mission to refurbish the Kajaki hydro plant? The same top secret mission ISAF bragged about in a press release on the very same day? It seemed like a wonderful thing, a stunning blow both to the Taliban in Helmand (who couldn’t stop its transportation and installation), and to the naysayers who are convinced there is no hope for the country.

Yes, we sure do. In fact, The Captain’s Journal recalls a week before Yon wrote about the dam project when we authored:

The British Approach to Counterinsurgency, and

Defense Analysts Echo The Captain’s Journal Concerning Kajaki Dam

And what The Captain’s Journal said was important and prescient. But first, back to Joshua’s questions. He cites a recent New York Times article that updates the situation around the dam project.

It has been a rare instance of a fulfilled promise in the effort to build up Afghanistan’s infrastructure. But even with the step forward, the improvements to the dam, in an inaccessible area of northern Helmand Province, are still being held hostage by the Taliban’s growing ability to mount offensives in recent years. The overall power project has been repeatedly delayed because of the difficulty of security and logistics. And the rest of the original $500 million proposal to augment the capacity of the dam itself has not been approved, cast in doubt by the Taliban’s gains.

“In the case of the Kajaki Dam or others, the security situation impedes the delivery of the service,” the American ambassador to Afghanistan, William B. Wood, told reporters in Washington in June. “The reason that there isn’t more light at night and more warmth in winter for south Afghanistan is because the Taliban has not let us do everything, work as effectively as we’d like to on the Kajaki Dam.” …

The huge operation was criticized in the British news media, which questioned the exposure of British soldiers to such high risk to save an American government assistance project.

Yet for the Afghans employed here, and the frustrated residents of cities like Kandahar, who have lived with barely a few hours of electricity a day for the past seven years, NATO was belatedly meeting its commitment to bring development to southern Afghanistan…

Mr. Rasoul is now in charge of the next stage, with an American engineer, George H. Wilder, 62, who works for the American contractors in charge of the project, the Louis Berger Group. They work and live in a small construction camp next to the dam, protected by a battalion of British and Afghan soldiers who keep the Taliban, who hold the surrounding villages, at bay. Everything the workers and soldiers need comes by helicopters that fly high over the brown, barren mountains and then spiral down over the green-blue reservoir into the camp to avoid enemy fire.

Josh asks the following question:

This remains remarkable: a Berlin Airlift for southern Afghanistan, if you will. But the fundamental objection to it remains: is it smart to build an expensive, borderline indefensible power station when you cannot provide basic security and services to the nearby villagers? This turbine camp represents, along with all the hope and sunshine, an enormous, juicy target for militants or drug lords seeking a way to poison the entire southern effort. While it’s nice that the camp “rarely comes under [direct] fire anymore” thanks to some impressive soldiering by the British, how long will those gains stay in play once the turbine is installed and the power substations set up? Will an entire battalion be required to defend each? … Am I alone in thinking we could be spending our time, money, resources, and (most importantly) manpower in a much better way?

One commenter to Joshua’s post appears to be on drugs, when he dreams a psychedelic vision wherein Obama talks the Taliban into siding with the U.S. and guarding the dam as if they were productive members of society. But inebriated commenters notwithstanding, The Captain’s Journal pointed out in the above two links one week before Michael Yon covered this affair (and it was a brave operation indeed by British forces) that similar to the irrigation canal that was blocked by al Qaeda in Iraq by merely shoveling dirt into it, and the electricity supplies that were terminated by simply destroying the local electrical grid, the Taliban don’t have to destroy the dam or the generators. All they have to do is kill the operators or destroy the electrical grid by cutting transmission lines or blowing up towers.

It’s easy, unfortunately, and it ruins the hard fought reconstructions efforts. We also said:

The point is that in order for infrastructure to work, the enemies of that infrastructure must be targeted. The dam won’t long operate if its operators are all killed, or if other replacement parts have to undergo such intensive operations in order to be deployed at the plant. Infrastructure is good, as is good governance. But for these softer tactics in counterinsurgency to be successful, the Taliban must be engaged and killed. The softer side of counterinsurgency might win a lasting peace, but cannot win kinetic operations.

We’ve got the order wrong. We’re attempting to do reconstruction before ensuring security; similarly, efforts to rebuild Highway 1 from Kabul to Kandahar are failing due to the holes in the tarmac caused by unmolested Taliban.

The Captain’s Journal is sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no magic, there are no buttons to push, no deep Gnostic incantations to utter. Security must be provided to the population in order to win counterinsurgencies, and this means killing the hard core Taliban. There are believed to be on the order of 20,000 of them in the Helmand Province alone.

The Role of the Pakistan and Afghanistan Police in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

Major Cliff Gilmore, USMC, currently in Fundahar working with the Afghan police, sends this anecdotal account of the state of affairs inside the Afghan police.

One young Afghan policeman told me several weeks ago that until he attended the newly established police training course he didn’t really understand what a “police officer” is. In his experience police were just local thugs armed with rifles provided by the local tribal leader who set up check points along the road to collect tolls for profit. The concept of police who exist to “protect and serve” appealed strongly to him, helps keep my personal hope alive and builds my confidence that we are making steady progress toward the goal of building a principled police force that is trusted by the community and committed to defending it.

With a reputation for thuggery and corruption like this, it’ll be a long time before our counterinsurgency efforts will be able to rely on faithful assistance from the Afghan political or security infrastructure. The Afghan army isn’t much better, and it should be noted that in our recent Analysis of the Battle of Wanat we didn’t mention that the run up to the battle found the Afghan army holding meetings with the local population while deliberately neglecting to include the U.S., and collusion between the local police chief and the Taliban who would eventually attack Vehicle Patrol Base Wanat.

Pakistan doesn’t fare much better. Just a few days ago U.S. cargo was interdicted in the Khyber pass by Baitullah Mehsud’s Terik-i-Taliban, and several HMMWVs were taken and driven around with Taliban banners. Take careful note of one picture of the Taliban with a HMMWV.

Photograph by AP

No one is on the phone to Police informing them of the Taliban with a stolen U.S. HMMWV. It appears to be quite the party at the roadside of this village.  In fact, in the North West Frontier Province as many as 400 police officers have resigned in fear for their lives.

Ismaeel Khan is one of hundreds of cops in the restive valley of Swat who have recently resigned after being threatened by Taliban militants to either quit or face “dire consequences.”

“Around 400 cops, including myself, have resigned from our posts as we all still want to live,” Khan, 42, a head constable in Swat police, told IslamOnline.net.

Militants of the pro-Taliban Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TSNM) of Maulvi Fazlullah issued a warning to local policemen last month to resign from their posts.

“We don’t want to fight you (local policemen) as you are our own people,” read one of several pamphlets circulated by TSNM militants.

“Therefore, it is in your better interest to either leave your jobs or get ready for dire consequences.”

The pamphlets advised local policemen to advertise their names in local newspapers if they quit their jobs.

Khan, like many colleagues, was initially defiant to cow to the threats but continuing ambushes targeting military and police convoys changed his mind.

“I consulted with my other friends, who all were of the same opinion that we should quit our jobs to save our lives.”

They published a joint advertisement in a local newspaper informing the Taliban militants that they have quit the police force.

A senior police officer of the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), which borders Afghanistan, confirmed the resignation of around 350 local policemen.

“Yes, ads regarding their resignations from the police force are being published in local newspapers in order to save themselves and their families from Taliban,” he told IOL requesting anonymity.

“We cannot stop them. We are fully aware of their position. They are locals and they have to live there.”

Khan, the head constable in Swat police, believed he had no other option but comply to the militants’ demand.

“It was my job. I had been earning livelihood for my family, but I realized that there was no other option left for me because of the complete insecurity,” he told IOL.

“Even army troops who live in heavily cordoned off places are not safe, let alone us (policemen) who are locals and an easy target.”

Some 102 policemen have been killed in the past 10 months in militant attacks in Swat and neighboring areas.

It’s indications such as this that tell us why General Petraeus said that he was taking on what would be the longest campaign of the “Long War.” Given the importance of working with local police in counterinsurgency, let’s hope and pray that Major Cliff Gilmore and warriors like him are successful with the budding young police candidates who actually wish to make a difference.

Interdiction of U.S. Supplies in Khyber Pass

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has been very specific, detailed and insistent in our coverage and analysis of the Khyber pass and Torkham Crossing and the need to maintain lines of supply from the port city of Karachi through to Afghanistan. See:

Targeting of NATO Supply Lines Through Pakistan Expands

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Khyber Pass (category)

Torkham Crossing (category)

The situation is devolving into one of complete control by the Taliban in the Khyber region, and a recent hijacking of supply trucks has been carried out by Baitullah Mehsud’s forces.

Militants in northwest Pakistan hijacked 13 trucks carrying supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan on Monday as they passed through the Khyber Pass, a government official said.

Most supplies, including fuel, for U.S. and other Western forces battling a Taliban insurgency in landlocked Afghanistan are trucked through neighboring Pakistan, which is also facing growing militant violence.

Security along the road leading to the border has deteriorated this year and soldiers carried out a sweep in part of the Khyber region in June to push militants back from the outskirts of Peshawar, the main city in the northwest.

The trucks were seized at four places along a 35 km (20 mile) stretch of the road, said a senior government administrator in the Khyber region.

“About 60 masked gunmen popped up on the road and took away the trucks with their drivers. Not a single shot was fired anywhere,” the official, Bakhtiar Mohmand, told Reuters.

Mohmand said the trucks were not carrying weapons or ammunition but he was not sure what goods they were taking.

He said he believed militants loyal to Pashtun Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud were responsible.

“Baitullah’s men are behind this as they’re very well-equiped and trained,” he said.

But it’s really worse than this report indicates. The Taliban are driving around in stolen HMMWVs.

Taliban militants were driving around in captured US army Humvee armoured vehicles in Pakistan’s tribal region close to the historic Khyber Pass last night after hijacking more than a dozen supply trucks travelling along the vital land route that supplies coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The capture of the Humvees – these days the symbol of US intervention in Iraq and elsewhere – is a serious embarrassment to US commanders of the coalition forces.

Pakistani reporters in the area said the militants unloaded the Humvees from shipping containers on the backs of the trucks and drove off in them, after decorating them with flags and banners of the banned umbrella organisation Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which is led by Baitullah Mehsud. Mehsud is closely allied to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

The reporters said the hijackings had taken place “in clear view of (Pakistani) paramilitary personnel” deployed at the nearby Jamrud Fort, who “did not take any action”.

“All this happened on the international highway (linking Pakistan with Afghanistan) and you can imagine the implications this can have for us,” an official told Pakistan newspaper Dawn.

Indeed. If there was any additional indication needed as to the capabilities and intent of the Pakistani forces, this should be sufficient. The Pakistani military took no action, and likely will not in the future.


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