The Perfect Rifle

Herschel Smith · 06 Nov 2014 · 8 Comments

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

Counterinsurgency: Moving the Discussion Forward

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

This is cross-posted as a comment at the Small Wars Journal Blog, since some of my readers don’t frequent that site.

Thanks to Mark, Gian, Ken, Rob and the SWJ Editors for learned and interesting responses.  I have taken the time to study fully the comments at AM by “Looking Glass” and Gian.  I would like some feedback concerning this exchange.  With respect but frankly, it doesn’t impress me as particularly useful.  To keep reiterating the belief that such-and-such an organization “just doesn’t get it” is no replacement for specifics.

It appears to me that Gian’s points at AM are more to the point.  His gripes, whether from perceived or real inadequacies, seem like they should be more directed at a particular chain of command rather than the entire organization.  Some in the Army surely must “get it.”

I cannot speak with knowledge on these issues, as readers know.  But I am aware of many things that occurred in support of operations in Fallujah in 2007.  I am amazed at the extent of latitude and the degree of empowerment that obtained in order to be successful with operations from April to October, and this, all the way down to the infantry boots on the ground, from Lance Corporal to Gunny.

More helpful that constantly repeating the mantra that some people “just don’t get it,” the better and more effective option would seem to be to propose concrete remedies and means of institutionalizing the lessons learned – and hence, my original article which Dave kindly linked (leading to very much undeserved attention on me, but not so for the issue).

I am not so sanguine as Mark that we are achieving a balance in our perspective.  I wish it was so, but very much doubt it.  I agree with Gian that balance can mean just about anything depending on the wishes and biases of the hearer.  I agree with balance too, and the link that Ken gave us concerning the reasons for wanting more F-22s makes me sick to my stomach.  But the fact remains that it outperforms the F-35 at every point.  Secretary Gates had that right balance, sticking to his guns that production is to be halted after 183.  The Air Force can get my with less than they want.  Gates also has the right balance concerning the need to plan and train for a full range of exigencies.  We were all happy with the renewal of his charge under the new administration.

But where is all of this going?  We want to avoid the notion of Gnostic secrecy an reading tea leaves, but some things have been made clear.  Admiral Mullen has fairly directly said that more money should go to State (diverted from the military, of course) for the conduct of the softer side of COIN and nation building in lieu of the military pulling this duty.  The new administration has also made no secret of its support of the notion of the civilian national security force, and State Department employees deployed abroad in support of our international efforts.  How this might come to pass is an enigma at this point, since the recent threat by Condi Rice to do the same thing lead just about to riots in the streets.

Now for the really important question.  When is the last time you heard any branch of the U.S. military say that they could do with less money?  My initial post was more a call to jettison the theory and pick up the red pen.  Prepare to find the programs that you wish to cut – military programs, that is.  Money simply doesn’t exist to fund a civilian national security force, send State employees abroad, pump more money into our reconstruction efforts, and yet fund the Army future combat system (which is in danger), the Marine Corps expeditionary fighting vehicle, the Navy littoral combat program, and so on the list goes.

Organization, titles, promotion boards and such, are all interesting topics for professional military to engage.  But I feel that soon, very soon, the discussions will become much more pragmatic.  The conversations must get very particular, focused on the nuts and bolts of things rather than the theory.

Dr. Nagl’s (who sent links to some of his work on the subject) discussions about attendance at town council meetings and other approaches to community involvement are interesting and insightful, but the evolution and adaptation has occurred, at least in the Marines.  By 2007 the tactics had evolved to direct involvement by officers (rather than mere attendance) at council meetings, gated communities, biometrics, payment to the SOI, combined COP/IP precincts, and so the list goes.  The evolution was rapid, and COPs was used in Ramadi and throughout Anbar prior to implementation in the balance of Iraq anyway.

In a time of scarcity of funding and even Admiral Mullen saying that he supports the redirection of funds to State, the question of how to institutionalize lessons and yet prepare for future exigencies is a “getting your hands dirty” question.  What programs do we wish to cut?  What programs do we promulgate?  What courses should be offered, which ones cut?  What focus does the war college pursue in the next few years?  What weapons systems are cut?  Which ones promulgated?  Does the Navy pursue the big ship focus, or do we allow them to go off on their own mission of littoral combat (perhaps in support of failed states as the COIN proponents would like)?  And if we allow the Navy to go off and do their own thing, what happens when China crosses the Taiwan strait?

If we kill the F-22 program, are we prepared to invest half of what we would have in the refurbishment of the existing fighters to repair the stress corrosion cracking and fatigue wearing?  Down in the trenches, it’s fairly easy to say that we should be good at raids and room clearing, but further, do we focus on squad rushes or language training?  I might say some of both, but the difficulty is that the existing language training is awful.  It’s a compilation of simplistic phonetics with grunts, sounds and noises (focused on sentences such as “where is the man of the house?”).  It would be better if we did nothing if we cannot do it right.

I will not go on, but hopefully you get the picture.  I am not advocating that the military set policy.  But if internecine warfare continues between the branches, and even within the branches, and the new administration cannot be presented with a coherent, practical and affordable vision for the future, you’d better believe that it will be done by someone else.

Ken White has said that “Either the Armed Forces present a viable proposition to the new administration or the politicians will provide their own proposition.”  Just so.  You should listen to him, and the need to get pragmatic very soon is upon the professional military community.  Even beginning to build a consensus means turning aside from the theory and embracing the fact that time has run out, and that the details of the vision are needed tomorrow.

The Likely Failure of Tribal Militias in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know that we oppose simplistic applications of the Anbar awakening to Afghanistan.  The reasons are involved and complicated, and the reader is advised to stop by our category The Anbar Narrative for a fuller explanation.  But one reason that the concept of tribal militias may fail in Afghanistan can be found in a report by the Asia Foundation (h/t Small Wars Council).  In the report the following table of results can be found.

Local militias – for whatever reason, corruption, internecine warfare, etc. – rank at the lowest of all institutions in which the Afghan population has confidence.  Training and institutionalizing the Afghan Army and ridding the police of corruption – along with more U.S. troops to kill Taliban and provide security for the population and confidence for the Army until the process is complete – are the best bets to a stable and secure Afghanistan.

Blogs You Should Check Out

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Every once in a while it’s appropriate to mention the blogs I find and follow.  One such blog is Rogue Gunner, a Brit, and an interesting and lively chap.  Ex-military, conservative viewpoints, and champion for the warrior.  Stop by and say hello.

Another such blog is an upstart named This Veteran’s Life, garrisoned by a Marine and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Finally, I am keeping in touch with T.T. Carnehan at Long Warrior, who is currently deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and is an absolute MUST read.  Quoting a letter from a 2nd grader from his blog:

Keep your blood while you still have it. Fight with all your might. Kill people, steal weapons. You know, I used to be a soldier myself. I have mechanical hands now though. I was also a prisoner for 5 years.
Attention,
Sergeant Matt

And yet another real event he witnessed in Afghanistan.

Oh by the way, I saw a fully loaded passenger bus with a pickup truck and a station wagon strapped to the roof. The bus was on a jack while the driver changed a tire.

A fully loaded passenger bus with a pickup truck and station wagon strapped to the roof – on a jack.  And why didn’t you get a picture, Carnehan?  It would have been worth something.

At any rate, with our mechanical hand we salute all three of these blogs and ask that you send us any weapons that you steal.

Doctor Honors Fallen Marine Son by Deploying to Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

I have been following this story (by Tony Perry of the L.A. Times) for quite a while.  This man meets the very definition of heroic.

When his son, Marine Lt. Nathan Krissoff, was killed two years ago in Iraq, Dr. Bill Krissoff found a unique way to honor his memory.

He closed up his lucrative orthopedic practice in Truckee, Calif., and, at age 60, joined the Navy medical corps in hopes of being assigned to Iraq to treat Marines and other military personnel.

It took presidential intervention to get Krissoff a waiver from the military’s age limits on enlistees.

Now, Lt. Cmdr. Krissoff, 62, is on the verge of deploying to Iraq with a Marine unit. And on Thursday night, President Bush — in his farewell address — included Krissoff among Americans who display “the best of our country — resilient and hopeful, caring and strong.”

Krissoff’s younger son, Austin, is also a Marine officer, now based at Camp Pendleton. He soon will return to Iraq for a second deployment.

“The way I see it, Austin and I are carrying on with Nathan’s unfinished business in Iraq,” Krissoff said Friday in a telephone call from Camp Lejeune, N.C. “We’ve picked up the fallen standard.”

Krissoff’s wife, Christine, will remain in northern San Diego County during the seven-month deployment. Many of their nonmilitary friends do not understand the couple’s decision, she said.

“It’s not a complicated thing,” she said. “It’s about serving our country.”

Nathan Krissoff was killed Dec. 9, 2006, by a roadside bomb outside Fallouja, west of Baghdad.

No, not really so complicated.  It’s all about honor, sacrifice, dignity, and having courage and a servant’s heart.  As one who has had to wonder late at night if a Marine Officer and Chaplain were going to show up at my door, this man and his wife have been through what I feared, and have come out on the other end honoring their son by sacrificing even more.  I’m left speechless, but honored to have heard Krissoff’s story, and of his son’s life.

Navy Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Bill Krissoff, seen in a family photo at Camp Pendleton, joined the Navy medical corps to honor his Marine son Nathan, who was killed by a roadside bomb west of Baghdad in 2006. The doctor, who is on the verge of being deployed to Iraq, was praised by President Bush in his farewell address as among Americans who display “the best of our country — resilient and hopeful, caring and strong.

Dr. Bill Krissoff, far right, is seen in a family photo with, from left, his son Austin, who is a Marine Corps officer; his wife, Christine; and his son Nathan, a Marine who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. To honor Nathan, Krissoff closed up his orthopedic practice in Truckee, Calif., and, at age 60, joined the Navy medical corps in hopes of being assigned to Iraq to treat wounded troops. It took presidential intervention to get Krissoff a waiver from the military’s age limits on enlistees, but now he is on the verge of deploying to Iraq with a Marine unit.

It’s Time for a Change in the COIN Debate

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

In Gian Gentile v. Abu Muqawama, Round 582 (really, I cannot possibly rehearse the post or the lead-up debates to the post, so you’ll have to go and read it yourself), the latest comment to date by Mark O’Neill is interesting.

Dear Gian,

I agree with your point regarding debate and discussion, but I believe that the entire ‘argument’ has stretched passed (sic) any initial usefulness that it may have had. My reason for this assertion is that an objective reading of the ‘debate’ so far reveals far more in common that it does difference.

This begs the question as to what purpose there is in continually re-hashing or re-packagaing the ‘arguments’. Each new iteration does not illuminate any new point of debate, so what purpose are we meant to conclude lies behind it?

If I am wrong, (and I may well be), and the sustainment of the argument is actually part of a sustained IO campaign for genuine ‘change’ of some description, it is worth remembering that the audience switches off when nothing new is being broadcast. There is a fine line in delivery between effective IO and repetitive mantra that turns people off. Perhaps John Nagl et al are ‘playing’ that card a little better at the moment…

With respect to your position (or MG Dunlap’s) being heart felt, I am glad to hear it. It would otherwise be a truly cynical exercise to pursue your arguments. The problem may be that that passion is more of an advantage in the arena of physical endeavour than in the arean of intellectual debate where it often clouds logic and objectivity.

My question to move the debate forward is, “given the enduring reality of the two wars in Iraq and Afgahistan (implicit in this is the need to ‘win’ them), combined with the harsh realities of the current US budgetary position, what do you practical policy developments should be enacted now?” .

I think that for all of us, addressing questions of this nature are far more useful to leaders and policy makers than ‘chicken little-isms’ and arcane debates about who was doing COIN and who was not in 2004/05/06.

regards,

Mark

I couldn’t disagree more.  The argument hasn’t stretched passed (sic) it’s usefulness.  Rather, it has reached it’s graduation point.  I feel it.  The entire COIN community feels it.  It’s just a matter of truth-telling.  It’s a matter of giving the debate it’s certificate and moving it to the next grade.

The field manuals have been written, the experience has been obtained, the debates have been engaged.  Time to move on to the applications.

It is now time for the proponents of each side to weigh in on the real issues.  Training, money, field equipment, preparation for the officers and (maybe more importantly) the NCOs.  If Gian is concerned about the lack of ability to engage field artillery in conventional fights with near peer states, then it’s time to make a statement (white paper, opinion piece, or otherwise) on specific recommendations for new qualifications, activities and certifications to maintain appropriate skills.  Enough of the theory.

Next, if Nagl is as tired of the theory as I am (oh God I hope so), let’s hear some specific recommendations on what changes he considers most important to maintain the ability to engage near-failed states.  Language training?  We at The Captain’s Journal have long advocated strengthened work in this area.  Culture training?  Training in the ability to engage communities?  What would this look like?  Why hasn’t he made a specific recommendation to this effect?  Why hasn’t Gian made a specific recommendation concerning the lack of ability to engage near-peer states.

Why has this debate remained in the ethereal rather than landing in the real world of money, Soldiers and Marines, training, equipment and maintenance, squad rushes, language, satellite patrols, culture training, and so on?  It appears to me that the debate is easy when it concerns the theory and the manuals.  It becomes real work when it graduates to application, and hence, it hasn’t yet graduated.  It’s too easy to debate theory.

UPDATE:

Mark,

Sorry I took direct aim at the COIN debate at the expense of your comment (one too many beers late at night). The post was made a bit tongue-in-cheek to emphasize the point that it’s precisely because people like me are completely unable to engage the debate at this level that professional military needs to.

Ken White has weighed in before (and I agree completely) that the Leviathan – Sysadmin organization advocated by Barnett is a profoundly bad idea. Again, I agree. Ken seems to be willing to debate the details.

Andrew Exum has weighed in with killing the F-22 program completely. I disagree, but at least there is detail to his proposals. Finally, the Navy has weighed in with detail concerning their (ill-advised, I believe) littoral combat program (ill-advised because we are giving up control of the seas for the support of near-failed states).

One final example to support my thesis. Officer selection and promotion boards. Now, there’s where the rubber meets the road. Have you seen any debates more intense and application-oriented than that? But is it true that the only way to institutionalize lessons learned is to promote the right people to Colonel? Really?

Other than a few examples I have given, the real debate needs to graduate to the next level. What weapons systems does the advocate wish to be cancelled? What systems promulgated? What training stopped? What training started? What new certifications and qualifications implemented?

Until we get into the details, the debate remains less than as interesting and important as it could be. Again, I am certainly not the chief zeitgeist monitor for anything (ask anyone at the SWC who will be happy to tell you how many times I am wrong). Just advocating more detail to the debate. On this, I cannot see any down side to the proposal.

UPDATE #2 (Col. Gentile responds):

Dear Herschel:

Thanks for the post and your important points and call for moving the debate forward with some meat-on-the-bones so to speak.

Simply put, I think Colin Gray in his recent SSI essay, “After Iraq: A Search for Sustainable National Strategy” has it right in terms of what US Strategy should be and the components of it, namely how to structure the American military for the future around a set of imperatives.

So permit me to cite Gray shamelessly since my thinking (humbly admitted) is in line with his on these matters.

“1. Control of the global commons (sea, air, space, cyberspace), when and where it is strategically essential.

2. The ability to dissuade, deter, defeat, or at least largely neutralize any state, coalition of states, or nonstate political actor, that threatens regional or global order.

3. Adaptable and flexible strategy, operations, tactics, logistics, and forces. Future wars and warfare will occur all along the spectrum of regularity-irregularity. Asymmetry will be the norm, not the exception, even in regular conventional hostilities.

4. Continuing supremacy in regular conventional combat. Prediction of a strategic future that will be wholly irregular is almost certainly a considerable exaggeration.

5. Competence in counterinsurgency (COIN) and counterterror (CT). These activities should not dominate American defense preparation and action, but they comprise necessary military, inter alia, core competencies.

6. Excellence in raiding, thus exploiting the leverage of America’s global reach.

7. First-rate strategic theory and strategic and military doctrine. Ideas are more important than machines, up to a point at least.

8. A national security, or grand, strategy worthy of the name, in which military strategy can be suitably ‘nested.’

9. Policy choices and tactical military habits that do not offend American culture.

10. A fully functioning ‘strategy bridge’ that binds together, adaptably, the realms of policy and military behavior.”

Gray’s excellent essay is available online at the SSI home page and to see how he develops these imperatives further recommend it be read in its entirety.

My own thoughts as far as specifics in terms of possible organizational change for the US Army I believe that the best model available is still Macgregor’s which is centered around a ground force of marines and army that has strategic, operational, and tactical mobility along with firepower and protection that can draw on its own and joint fires in a distributed fashion. Such a force also has a robust infantry capability as well. It certainly won’t satisfy those who essentially want a light-infantry based force to conduct more nation-buildings and irregular wars of the future. But such a force like Macgregor’s that is built around the maneuver element of brigade sized battle groups can fight in the modern security environment. And if it can fight, it can do other missions called upon to do. It is not to say that in the future the American Army might have to do more nation-building missions, counterinsurgency etc. I fully accept that possibility. The question is how to organize the American army for a very uncertain future. It might be smallwars of nationbuilding and counterinsurgency but it might be more than that so we better have an American Army that can fight and win all of the wars assigned to us, not just a niche vision of the future.

Good response.

UPDATE #3:

Dr. John Nagl writes and sends me to the following links for evidence of having addressed the detail of the debate.

Armed Forces Journal, A Better War in Iraq

World Policy Institute, Striking the Balance: The Way Forward in Iraq

Thanks to Dr. Nagl for the links.

U.S. Soldiers on Afghan Border Patrol

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

U.S. soldiers on patrol along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Shootout in Karachi

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

We have discussed the Talibanization of Karachi, and while the alleged number of Taliban in Karachi (400,000) is probably exaggerated, there is no doubt that extremism has taken root in Karachi.  It was the launch point for the Mumbai attacks, and as we have also discussed before, the port city through which all NATO supplies into Afghanistan through Pakistan flow.  Recently the police and Taliban fighters had a shootout in Karachi in which numerous police casualties occurred.

Pakistani police have arrested more than a dozen Islamist militants in the southern city of Karachi after a gun battle following a pre-dawn raid on their hideout, officials said.

Two policemen were killed and nine wounded before the militants’ resistance was broken after several hours of shooting.

The raid came as tension is running high between Pakistan and India in the wake of a militant attack on the Indian city of Mumbai in November, and there is pressure from the international community for Pakistan to crack down harder on jihadi groups.

A senior police official who declined to be identified said the detained men had links with Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, who is based in lawless ethnic Pashtun lands on the Afghan border …

“We were getting reports for a long time that some jihadi elements were active in this area. Today, we raided the area and arrested many of them,” Ahmed said.

One Pakistani official also said (coincidentally before this shootout) that “The Taliban won’t cause real trouble in Karachi because it’s their funding point – they get their infrastructure here, the money, the SIM chips, the mobile phones.”  Perhaps this official should re-evaluate his position on whether the Taliban wish to cause “real” trouble.  Funding point or not, the Taliban will be able to focus their activities on the implementation of Islamic writ and anti-American activities – including the closing of the port city to NATO supplies – with enough fighters.

Finally, it isn’t clear whether the police believe their propaganda or not, but one thing is certain.  In arresting approximately a dozen Taliban, the Karachi police haven’t yet seen the tip of the iceberg, much less arrested many of the Taliban.

Prior:

The Talibanization of Karachi

Targeting of NATO Supply Lines Through Pakistan Expands

6-4 Cavalry COP in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Soldiers with the US Army’s 6-4 Cavalry prepare to leave on a patrol
from Combat Outpost Lowell in eastern Afghanistan January 7, 2009
.

Commandant James Conway’s Vision for the U.S. Marine Corps

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Having been busy in the Anbar Province since 2004, the Marines had become a second land Army, or at least, so Commandant General James Conway had feared.  We’ve been listening hard, and in the midst of seemingly disorganized talk about littoral combat, the force being “too heavy,” the need to go back to the Corps’ expeditionary roots, and the desire to leave Anbar and take on the task of Afghanistan, frankly it has been difficult to weave together a narrative for the future of the Corps.

Commandant Conway has taken a huge step forward in systematizing that vision with his presentation at the national symposium of the Surface Navy Association, even if he didn’t intend to address this point.

Marines shipping out to Afghanistan this year eventually will spend twice as much time at home as deployed, Commandant Gen. James Conway said Thursday.

Conway said he doesn’t know yet exactly how many Marines will go to Afghanistan, but he said it would be fewer than 20,000. And as the Corps swells to 202,000 active-duty Marines, a goal the service expects to reach later this year, those deployed troops could spend about 14 months at home for every seven months they spent in theater, he said.

But that’s only partly meant to afford troops more time off with their families, Conway said. Just as important, he wants Marines to have more time to train for operations they’ve been too busy for since the force has been locked down in Iraq.

“You don’t have time to do mountain warfare training, or jungle training, or cold weather training, and most importantly to us, we’re not doing amphibious training with our brothers in the Navy, because we just don’t have time,” he said. “Now, we’ve got to fix that.”

Conway made his presentation at the national symposium of the Surface Navy Association, outside Washington, D.C., to an audience composed mostly of active and retired naval officers and defense contractors.

Marines and other U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan “for some time to come,” Conway said, acknowledging that the situation there “will get worse before it gets better.” He hasn’t ruled out negotiations at some point with the resurgent Taliban fighters there, but the problem now is that the Taliban thinks it’s winning, Conway said, and it wants to bargain as the victor.

“Of course, we can’t allow them to do that,” he said.

Conway sees a Corps that has as many as (but no more than) 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the balance of the force Stateside for 14 months at a time.  Not only is this time intended for family, but he sees retraining to conduct all manner of warfare, from conventional to COIN, from jungle to mountain and cold weather.

He wants a well-trained and rested force.  This is a good vision.  What isn’t apparent is whether his vision includes the Navy’s vision for littoral combat.  It’s one thing to support amphibious warfare with amphibious assault docks, amphibious assault vehicles, helicopters, and all of the other things necessary to support a Marine expeditionary unit.

It’s quite another to buddy up with the Navy as it pursues its vision of littoral combat in the vicinity of near-failed states.  At The Captain’s Journal we see jettisoning aircraft carriers, guided missile destroyers, and larger surface warfare as a very dubious proposition.  Hopefully, Conway can find a way to partner with the Navy in preparation for amphibious warfare without involving the Corps in questionable programs in which the Corps has no business.

Finally, the amount of time preparing for amphibious warfare should be limited to be commensurate with the actual probability of engaging in such warfare.  Jungle and cold weather mountain training makes sense.  The Corps might actually be engaged in such things at any point as the ready reserve for CENTCOM.  Unless we can find a nation-state against which we believe we might launch an amphibious assault, it’s prudent to spend less time and effort on it.

Will Russian-Afghan Logistics Dictate Foreign Policy?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

We have raised the issue of Georgian and more broadly European involvement in the search and decision-making for a new logistics line for Afghanistan.  As to the proposed supply line through Georgia, we observed that:

… interestingly, this leaves us vulnerable yet again to Russian dispositions, even with the alternative supply route.  Georgia is the center of gravity in this plan, and our willingness to defend her and come to her aid might just be the one thing that a) kills the option of Russia as a logistical supply into Afghanistan, and b) saves Georgia as a supply route.  Thus far, we have maneuvered ourselves into the position of reliance on Russian good will.  These “thawed relations” might just turn critical should Russia decide again to flex its muscle in the region, making the U.S. decisions concerning Georgia determinative concerning our ability to supply our troops in Afghanistan.  Are we willing to turn over Georgia (and maybe the Ukraine) to Russia in exchange for a line of supply into Afghanistan, or are we willing to defend and support Georgia for the preservation of democracy in the region and – paradoxically – the preservation of a line of supply to Afghanistan?

Stratfor weighs in on the logistical maelstrom (at the time of writing of this article, the Stratfor analysis was still available through Google organic search, but not by direct URL for non-registered users).

With little infrastructure to the east, the Pentagon is forced to go north, into Central Asia. Though some fuel is shipped to Western forces in Afghanistan from Baku across the Caspian Sea, there is little indication that existing shipping on the Caspian could expand meaningfully. Additionally, there would be the challenge of transferring cargo from rail to ship back to rail on top of the ship-rail-truck transfers that are already required in Afghanistan.

But even if Caspian shipping was not a problem and if there was sufficient excess seaworthy capacity, there remains the problem of Georgia. Though politically amenable at the moment, it is unstable; furthermore, with some 3,700 Russian troops parked in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russian military forces are poised to sever the country’s east-west rail links.

These realities will likely drive the logistical pathway farther north, through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and through Kazakhstan to Russia proper (some U.S. transports already utilize Russian airspace).

Turkmenistan presents its own challenges, as it is particularly isolated after years of authoritarian rule and continues to suffer from the legacy of what was essentially a state religion of worshipping the now-deceased Turkmenbashi. His successor, Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov (who is rumored to be the Turkmenbashi’s illegitimate son), continues to struggle to consolidate power and is left with a series of delicate internal and external balancing acts. In short, enacting new policies under the new government remains problematic to say the least.

There is another choice: Use a Russian or Ukrainian port of entry where organized crime will be a particularly serious problem (as well as espionage with any sensitive equipment shipped this way), or use a more secure — and efficient — port that will require a rail gauge swap from the European and Turkish 1,435 mm standard to the 1,520 mm rail gauge standard in the former Soviet Union.

All of this is complicated, but the linchpin is working out an agreement to use Russian territory. This presents an even more profound challenge than Russia’s real (but not unlimited) capacity to meddle in its periphery.

While there are a number of outstanding questions — where exactly U.S. supply ships might dock to offload supplies, whether a transfer of cargo from the Western to Russian rail gauge might be necessary, whether the route would transit Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan or both, etc. — these are minor details in comparison to the Russian problem. If there is an understanding with Moscow, the rest is possible. But that understanding must entail enough reliability that Russia cannot treat U.S. and NATO military supplies like natural gas for Europe and Ukraine.

Without an understanding between Washington and Moscow, none of this is possible.

The problem is that while the Kremlin has been reasonably cooperative up to this point when it comes to U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan, such an understanding may not be possible completely independent of the clash of wills between Russia and the West. There is too much at stake, and the window of opportunity is too narrow for Moscow to simply play nice with the new American administration without a much broader strategic agreement and very real concessions. Nevertheless, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Gen. Bantz Craddock, has been making overtures to Russia about improving relations.

General David Petraeus is also involved in the efforts to line up a logistics pathway to Afghanistan.  “The top US military commander for the Middle East and Central Asia has denied reports the US is planning to open a military base in Kazakhstan.

Speaking in the Kazakh capital, Astana, Gen David Petraeus also said the US had no plans to withdraw its military presence from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

The general is in Kazakhstan for talks on the role of Central Asian states in supporting America’s Afghan operations.

Gen Petraeus and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev discussed the partnership between their countries, and Kazakhstan’s role in supporting US operations in Afghanistan.  Kazakhstan has recently signed an agreement allowing the transit of non-military US supplies to Afghanistan.”

Assuming the veracity and accuracy of this report, it would appear that the probability is that the chosen line of supply directly involves Russia, although only for so-called “non-military” supplies.

But this choice might burden any upcoming decisions on the Ukraine and Georgia and whether they are allowed to enter into NATO, as well as other important European issues such as whether missiles will be deployed in Poland.  While not learning much from the Stratfor analysis, they are on target with their analysis of the affects of the decision-making as it pertains to Russia.

Stratfor says “there is too much at stake, and the window of opportunity is too narrow for Moscow to simply play nice with the new American administration without a much broader strategic agreement and very real concessions.”  Concessions indeed.  And while the route selected will be moderately to significantly less problematic that the alternatives, and while Gates, Petraeus and Craddock might actually believe (for now) in Russian good intentions, they should remember that Russia is ruled by ex-KGB, bent on regional hegemony for at least what they consider to be their near abroad.

The alternative through Georgia still exists, as long as the U.S. is willing to play hard ball and defend her sovereignty (as well as defend her as a line of logistical supply to Afghanistan).  More specifically, the line of supply is as follows.  First, supplies (including military supplies) would be shipped through the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus Strait in Turkey.

And from there into the Black Sea.  From the Black Sea the supplies would go through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan.

From here the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.  A larger regional map gives a better idea of the general flow path.

The problems are numerous, including the fact that the supplies would be unloaded in Georgia to transit by rail car or road, unloaded from rail or truck to transit again by sea, and finally loaded aboard rail cars or trucks again (after passage across the Caspian Sea) in Turkmenistan to make passage to Afghanistan.

But it isn’t obvious that this line of supply is impossible, however impractical it may be.  U.S. military leadership should remember that an alternative exists to the Russian line of supply to Afghanistan.  It will be too late to act to secure a line of supply through Georgia at some point in the future, but until then, the U.S. should carefully examine the Russian demands for this logistical aid.  The Russian demands are likely to evolve and expand, and it is this expansion that will prove to be troubling.  Russia is playing nice now.  This won’t last forever.

Prior:

New Afghan Supply Route Through Russia Likely

U.S-Georgia Strategic Partnership

The Logistical Battle: New Lines of Supply to Afghanistan

The Search for Alternate Supply Routes to Afghanistan

Large Scale Taliban Operations to Interdict Supply Lines

More on Lines of Logistics for Afghanistan

How Many Troops Can We Logistically Support in Afghanistan?

Targeting of NATO Supply Lines Through Pakistan Expands

Logistical Difficulties in Afghanistan

Taliban Control of Supply Routes to Kabul

Interdiction of U.S. Supplies in Khyber Pass

The Torkham Crossing

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan


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