Free Men Bear Arms

Herschel Smith · 15 Dec 2014 · 3 Comments

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

Cyber Command for Department of Defense

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

SECDEF Gates plans for a new Cyber Command.

The Pentagon is planning to create a new military command to focus on cyberspace and protect its computer networks from cyber attacks, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The move comes as the White House is poised to release a broader study on the nation’s cyber security. Officials in recent months have increasingly warned that the nation’s networks are at risk and repeatedly are being probed by foreign governments, criminals or other groups.

The Pentagon has been reviewing for at least a year just how it needs to reorganize military efforts on cyber issues, one official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. Another official said that under the new plan, being finalized now, a sub-command could be set up under the U.S. Strategic Command.

Located at Offutt Air Force Base just south of Omaha, Neb., the command oversees space issues and is responsible for protecting and monitoring the military’s information grid, as well as coordinating any offensive cyber warfare on behalf of the country.

Defense Department networks are probed repeatedly every day and the number of intrusion attempts have more than doubled recently, officials have said. Military leaders said earlier this month that the Pentagon spent more than $100 million in the last six months responding to and repairing damage from cyber attacks and other computer network problems.

In the Pentagon’s budget request submitted last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon will increase the number of cyberexperts it can train each year from 80 to 250 by 2011.

It’s the right move.  It may result in draconian new rules and regulations on IT practices and data fidelity and security, but the defense contractors should remember that their own sloppy IT practices in part led to this.  It’s about time we fully engaged China in their Unrestricted Warfare against the U.S.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Prior:

China’s Escalating Unrestricted Warfare Against the U.S.

China and the U.S. at War

China’s Unrestricted Warfare Against the U.S.

Backwards Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

Well known and well-traveled independent journalist Philip Smucker has written an article in the Asia Times Online that warrants our utmost attention.  But first, here is Philip’s take on the road situation in Afghanistan and its significance to successful counterinsurgency.  This is required listening for anyone who really wants to understand the current counterinsurgency situation in Afghanistan.

<a href="http://www.joost.com/34hjrq2/t/Philip-Smucker">Philip Smucker</a>

Now to the Asia Times article.

In an instant … the mountainside above the rocky town of Doab erupted in muzzle flashes. For the next several hours, American soldiers in a convoy of 18 vehicles scrambled for cover as rockets and mortars rained down from the mountainsides and US helicopters swept in to evacuate the injured. Along with several of his best soldiers out of Fort Hood, Texas, Lieutenant Dashielle Ballarta, 24, displayed composure in the face of fire as his mortar team fell to Taliban bullets. Indeed, over the next five hours, three insurgent commanders with an estimated four dozen fighters would ambush the American soldiers at three different locations along a road with sheer drop-offs of 300 meters.

Only the fast reactions of US soldiers and medics would avert what commanders said could well have been a “slaughter” of American and Afghan forces. In the end, the Americans would boast that “we kicked some ass up there”, but the insurgents would also claim victory; dancing on the splintered remains of an abandoned US Humvee and vowing to keep the Americans from establishing a foothold north of their base in Kalagush, Nuristan.

This province, with its jagged peaks that rise two kilometers high into the blue skies above Pakistan, is known as Afghanistan’s “forgotten province”. But the intensity of the March 30 attack on a US military humanitarian aid convoy suggests that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have designated northern Nuristan as a key infiltration route and supply line for a growing insurgency.

Though Washington officials have castigated Pakistan for allowing al-Qaeda and Taliban “safe havens” to thrive along its own western borders, which abut Nuristan, this province’s vast terrain provides a similarly strong enemy sanctuary.

“The Taliban and al-Qaeda are moving through Nuristan at will,” said Lieutenant Colonel Larry Pickett, 46, a resident of McComb, Illinois, who dove for cover and took aim at the Taliban attackers in Doab, who had signaled their intentions a night earlier. “The north of the province is wide open and there is nothing to stop them.”

Some Western intelligence officers and Pakistani officials believe that the insurgents in Nuristan are part and parcel of a global guerrilla movement and may be protecting important al-Qaeda figures, possibly Osama bin Laden himself. “We can’t prove that Osama bin Laden is not there,” said Robin Whitley, 33, a US military intelligence officer in Kalagush. “A lot of people are on the lookout for a six-foot-four Arab, but when you don’t have anybody up there, you just don’t know.”

The convoy of 16 US Humvees and four Afghan trucks filled with security guards, left Kalagush on March 29 for a road convoy into the Doab district of Nuristan province. Leading the American contingent was naval commander Caleb Kerr, 37, who heads up Nuristan’s Provincial Reconstruction Team, Lieutenant Colonel Sal Petrovia, 37, and Lieutenant Colonel Pickett. Also along for the ride were Pentagon intelligence agents, including an unarmed member of the Human Terrain Team. The overnight mission intended to meet with local Nuristani officials, look at larger development projects and assess the possibility for more assistance …

The American strategy in Nuristan reverses the old US Marine Corps version of counter-insurgency; “clear, hold and build”. It stresses building first, with the hope that Nuristanis will eventually “see the light” and side with the Afghan government.

“There is a ton of bad guys in Nuristan, but we don’t have the resources to go after them all right now,” said Kerr. “We will not win by killing more people.”

The overnight development survey to Doab appeared to be going well until midnight when translators, who were listening to three distinct languages on radio intercepts, picked up chatter that indicated “the enemy” was planning to ambush US forces.

In the morning, meetings with senior officials continued and American engineers surveyed a new hospital and several schools.

Despite the presence of US-funded police in the town, dozens of insurgents managed to converge on the Americans from neighboring valleys, without being detected even by aerial drones specifically tasked with monitoring such movements. After seven years of careful observation, Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents have learned to attack US forces when they are in remote terrain, far from their home base and short on air power.

At 11:15 am, just when the US air cover pulled off the scene to refuel, insurgents, holed up in hidden bunkers, began to fire rockets, mortars and small arms at the largest American patrol position; a circle of jeeps with guns pointing out. Sergeant Mathews, 24, from Chicago, quickly unpacked his mortar system, but enemy fire blasted his legs out from under him.

Platoon leader Lieutenant Dashielle Ballarta sprinted over. As medics assisted two wounded soldiers, the young lieutenant grabbed the mortar and pointed it towards muzzle flashes on the mountain. “It was pretty much ‘grab-and-point’ as the insurgents were so close he couldn’t calibrate their distance,” said Lieutenant Colonel Sal Petrovia, who had raced down to join the patrol team. “Our medics were treating the wounded, Specialist Shane McMath and Sergeant Mike Mathews, for 15 minutes behind a Humvee when the opposite mountainside opened up with muzzle flashes. They had snipers and I think they had been waiting for us to move to one side of the Humvees.”

After stabilizing the injured, the convoy moved down the road towards a pre-designated helicopter landing zone. A huge boulder blocked their exit. The Americans had to settle for a make-shift landing zone on a terraced wheat field, where a chopper could only send down a rope and harness.

“As we were preparing the wounded to be lifted out, we started taking fire again, this time on the retaining wall above the heads of the wounded soldiers,” said Lieutenant Colonel Petrovia. “The medics, Kurt Willen, 25 and David Myers, 23, covered the bodies of the two wounded soldiers and the rescue chopper had to back away as we called in two Apaches to suppress the enemy fire.”

Fighting continued as the US convoy snaked away, jeeps limping along with blown-out tires and dragging another disabled vehicle.

As the convoy negotiated switch-backs above cliff faces some four kilometers forward, insurgents launched yet another assault, rocketing the disabled vehicle, which still had four soldiers in it. Three-inch thick glass windows shattered and rockets bounced off the metal armor. “I looked around the bend and I could see Captain Tino Gonzales trying to keep his rear covered, ducking and dodging behind a tiny boulder as bullets pinged off the rock,” said Petrovia, who finally decided to abandon the disabled vehicle. An Apache was ordered to destroy it to prevent the Taliban or al-Qaeda from gaining access to sensitive military information.

At 8 pm, well after sunset, the US convoy puttered back into its base at Kalagush. Commanders said they had been taken aback by both the weaponry and the number of insurgents that had attacked them in Doab.

This is important and compelling journalism.  Take particular note of the comment that the plan reverses the clear-hold-build strategy “with the hope that Nuristanis will eventually “see the light” and side with the Afghan government.”

Sadly, I believe that it won’t work.  The force projection must first be implemented to ensure that the road-builders have safety, the aid workers have security, the infrastructure doesn’t go to financing the Taliban, and the soft counterinsurgency doesn’t in effect work directly against the kinetic operations at which the U.S. Army is working so hard.

Philip also reviewed David Kilcullen’s book Accidental Guerrilla.  At the end of his review, he asks:

It may be that the imminent American surge in forces (at least 20,000 more troops on the way) could provide some of the answer, but if the US military goes in hard, particularly into the indomitable terrain of Nuristan, will it just end up creating more “accidental guerrillas?” One wonders what the Australian expert would advise on this point, just as US intelligence on al-Qaeda movements in Nuristan is increasing. As Kilcullen notes, “Our too-willing and heavy-handed interventions in the so-called ‘war on terror’ to date have largely played into the hands of this al-Qaeda exhaustion strategy.”

I think that this issue is largely a nonstarter.  This issue may in fact be salient for some international engagements, but we were far from it in Iraq, and are extremely far from in in Afghanistan.  On the contrary.  We may have found the hornets nest, and the hornets must be eradicated.  Reader and commenter TSAlfabet recently asked the following question.

Assuming that more than the 21,000 additional troops will not be forthcoming and, further assuming that the U.S. will apply some kind of cordon & secure strategy as discussed, where would you focus those efforts, at least initially? Kandahar? Helmand? In other words, since it is highly unlikely that the Administration is going to invest the necessary forces to secure all of the desired areas, what, in your view … are the most critical areas of A-stan that must be pacified and held in order to have a shot at prevailing long-term?

Great question.  The Marines are obviously needed for the major combat operations in Now Zad.  But more Marines are on the way, and they should be deployed to the Nuristan and Kunar Provinces (where the Korangal Valley is).

Firebase Phoenix overlooking the Korengal Valley

These are adjacent provinces, in the East area of responsibility, very near the Pakistan border and subject not only to indigenous Taliban fighters, but an influx of Taliban from Pakistan.  We’ve struck the motherload.

Prior:

Counterinsurgency Successes in Afghanistan

More on Combat in Korangal Valley Afghanistan

China’s Escalating Unrestricted Warfare against the U.S.

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

From the Wall Street Journal:

Computer spies have broken into the Pentagon’s $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project — the Defense Department’s costliest weapons program ever — according to current and former government officials familiar with the attacks.

Similar incidents have also breached the Air Force’s air-traffic-control system in recent months, these people say. In the case of the fighter-jet program, the intruders were able to copy and siphon off several terabytes of data related to design and electronics systems, officials say, potentially making it easier to defend against the craft.

The latest intrusions provide new evidence that a battle is heating up between the U.S. and potential adversaries over the data networks that tie the world together. The revelations follow a recent Wall Street Journal report that computers used to control the U.S. electrical-distribution system, as well as other infrastructure, have also been infiltrated by spies abroad.

Attacks like these — or U.S. awareness of them — appear to have escalated in the past six months, said one former official briefed on the matter. “There’s never been anything like it,” this person said, adding that other military and civilian agencies as well as private companies are affected. “It’s everything that keeps this country going.”

Many details couldn’t be learned, including the specific identity of the attackers, and the scope of the damage to the U.S. defense program, either in financial or security terms. In addition, while the spies were able to download sizable amounts of data related to the jet-fighter, they weren’t able to access the most sensitive material, which is stored on computers not connected to the Internet.

Former U.S. officials say the attacks appear to have originated in China. However it can be extremely difficult to determine the true origin because it is easy to mask identities online.

A Pentagon report issued last month said that the Chinese military has made “steady progress” in developing online-warfare techniques. China hopes its computer skills can help it compensate for an underdeveloped military, the report said.

The Chinese Embassy said in a statement that China “opposes and forbids all forms of cyber crimes.” It called the Pentagon’s report “a product of the Cold War mentality” and said the allegations of cyber espionage are “intentionally fabricated to fan up China threat sensations.”

The U.S. has no single government or military office responsible for cyber security. The Obama administration is likely to soon propose creating a senior White House computer-security post to coordinate policy and a new military command that would take the lead in protecting key computer networks from intrusions, according to senior officials.

The Bush administration planned to spend about $17 billion over several years on a new online-security initiative and the Obama administration has indicated it could expand on that. Spending on this scale would represent a potential windfall for government agencies and private contractors at a time of falling budgets. While specialists broadly agree that the threat is growing, there is debate about how much to spend in defending against attacks.

The Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35 Lightning II, is the costliest and most technically challenging weapons program the Pentagon has ever attempted. The plane, led by Lockheed Martin Corp., relies on 7.5 million lines of computer code, which the Government Accountability Office said is more than triple the amount used in the current top Air Force fighter.

Six current and former officials familiar with the matter confirmed that the fighter program had been repeatedly broken into. The Air Force has launched an investigation.

Pentagon officials declined to comment directly on the Joint Strike Fighter compromises. Pentagon systems “are probed daily,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Butterbaugh, a Pentagon spokesman. “We aggressively monitor our networks for intrusions and have appropriate procedures to address these threats.” U.S. counterintelligence chief Joel Brenner, speaking earlier this month to a business audience in Austin, Texas, warned that fighter-jet programs have been compromised.

Foreign allies are helping develop the aircraft, which opens up other avenues of attack for spies online. At least one breach appears to have occurred in Turkey and another country that is a U.S. ally, according to people familiar with the matter.

Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft are already flying, and money to build the jet is included in the Pentagon’s budget for this year and next.

Computer systems involved with the program appear to have been infiltrated at least as far back as 2007, according to people familiar with the matter. Evidence of penetrations continued to be discovered at least into 2008. The intruders appear to have been interested in data about the design of the plane, its performance statistics and its electronic systems, former officials said.

The intruders compromised the system responsible for diagnosing a plane’s maintenance problems during flight, according to officials familiar with the matter. However, the plane’s most vital systems — such as flight controls and sensors — are physically isolated from the publicly accessible Internet, they said.

The intruders entered through vulnerabilities in the networks of two or three contractors helping to build the high-tech fighter jet, according to people who have been briefed on the matter. Lockheed Martin is the lead contractor on the program, and Northrop Grumman Corp. and BAE Systems PLC also play major roles in its development.

Lockheed Martin and BAE declined to comment. Northrop referred questions to Lockheed.  Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven’t sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

“The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid,” said a senior intelligence official. “So have the Russians.”

The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn’t target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. “There are intrusions, and they are growing,” the former official said, referring to electrical systems. “There were a lot last year.”

Shame on Northrop Grumman and Lockheed for their lack of control over their IT systems, and the Pentagon response is lousy as well.  Sure the Pentagon systems are probed daily.  That’s not the point.  China is currently in unrestricted warfare against the U.S.. and this aggresive pattern requires a robust response.  How long will we continue to make technology available to China, either through system vulnerabilities or intentional commercial technology transfer?

Prior:

China and the U.S. at War

China’s Unrestricted Warfare Against the U.S.

Navy and Marines to Part Ways Over Expeditionary Strike Groups?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

I want to touch on several issues in this post.  First, Galrahn at Information Dissemination authors yet another interesting post on Navy strategy, or the lack of it.  It should be required reading for all of my readers.  His discussion of Navy strategy and issues surrounding the Navy is second to none.  He says that the Navy has proven that they are unable tactically to solve piracy.  But while I agree with his dismissal of the Littoral Combat Ship as being the answer, I don’t agree with this assessment.

I have said before that the things required of us to defeat the pirates are less attractive to 21st century America that the alternative of having pirates, and thus we have chosen for piracy to exist.  The tools exist: Amphibious Assault Docks, LCACs, Harriers, Helicopters associated with ESG, etc.  And just to make it clear, if we really wanted to be effective, we could deploy the newer generation of Riverine Command Boats along with the Amphibious Assault Docks, or some smaller water craft (with assault capability).  Hanging pirates on the high seas, videotaping the events and posting it to YouTube would end piracy, and it is given to the Congress of the U.S. in the Constitution to make such laws.  Finally, such laws would supersede all ambiguous treaties in this matter.  In followup to previous posts on piracy, Navy SEAL teams are not an answer.  There aren’t enough, it is too expensive, and it isn’t logistically sustainable.

Donald Sensing makes the point in the comments section that piracy isn’t a national security issue for the U.S.  Perhaps so, right now, but as the pirates continue to give honorariums to al Qaeda which is currently in control of most of Somalia, it might be in the near future.  As the problem continues it grows worse.

On to the part about Naval strategy.  I tend to believe that if the strategic thinking is there, the Navy is not doing a very good job of communicating it.  Now comes a strange twist from the Navy about the future of its participation in the ESG.

The Navy is breaking up the deployments of amphibious ships and surface combatants formerly known as expeditionary strike groups, part of a top-down review that could have far-reaching consequences for how sailors and Marines spend time at sea.

For the past six years, ESGs paired a big-deck amphib and two small-deck gators with two or three surface combatant escorts. Now, the gators and warships will go separately.

As of March 9, the gator groups were renamed “amphibious ready groups,” reviving a term that was shelved several years ago, and combined with the name of their accompanying Marine expeditionary unit, said Lt. Cmdr. Phil Rosi, a spokesman for Fleet Forces Command. Although these were the first changes to come from a joint Navy-Marine ESG working group, they won’t be the last, he said.

“The name change and the deployment construct is the first step in the process — we have, in conjunction with the Marine Corps and [the] ESG working group, been working through roles, missions, capability, training … there’s a lot more that still is being worked out.”

For example, the Navy would have called the amphibious assault ship Boxer’s group the “Boxer ESG,” but now it’s called the “Boxer ARG/13th MEU.”

But ESG isn’t going away entirely. An ARG/MEU still can be called an ESG, Rosi said, if it’s being commanded by an admiral or general officer.

Under normal circumstances, a Navy captain will command the ships and a Marine colonel will be in charge of the leathernecks.

Rosi said Fleet Forces Command and the ESG working group still are determining who will decide when an ARG/MEU’s mission requires a one-star officer and elevates the unit to ESG status.

The Navy decided to break up the previous ESGs because the amphibs and combatants usually didn’t work closely enough on their deployments to justify sailing together, Rosi said.

So surface combatants will begin sailing separately as “surface action groups” — another older term — although officials don’t yet know how that could affect their deployments. He also said it wasn’t clear yet whether the surface groups would include set numbers of ships — a certain number of cruisers, destroyers or frigates — or how their missions could change.

“There’s no definite cookie-cutter construct,” Rosi said.

Rosi said ARG/MEUs and surface groups will retain their ability to operate together when needed, but they won’t sail in groups as they have since 2003.

Retired Capt. Jan van Tol said it’s “unfortunate” that the Navy is returning to an older style of surface deployments, but he said he wasn’t surprised because top commanders never fully realized a strategy to deploy amphibs with warships.

“It’s completely back to the future. I guess ESGs weren’t as useful as we thought,” said van Tol, who commanded three ships, including the amphibious assault ship Essex, before becoming an analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

ESGs were ideal groups for handling low-intensity missions such as the international campaign against piracy off Somalia, he said, because they combine the speed and firepower of surface ships with many “lily pads” for helicopters on the gators. The amphibious assault ship Boxer, for example, is operating with the destroyer Bainbridge and frigate Halyburton off the Horn of Africa.

What’s more, ESGs were a way to overcome the “artificial divorce” in the surface force between amphib and “cru/des” sailors, van Tol said. He recalled a time when he was the captain of the Essex and his ship participated in a missile-launching exercise with the destroyer John S. McCain, giving the ships’ crews a chance to work together.

Then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark pushed for ARGs to become ESGs in the early 2000s, based on an earlier concept from the 1990s called an Expeditionary Task Force.

But with Clark retired, few top-level Navy and Marine Corps leaders stayed committed to pairing amphibs and combatants.

“It’s dying due to lack of interest, which is a pity,” van Tol said.

Several fairly brief observations.  I will reserve comment for now on the extreme expense of deploying an entire Battalion of Marine infantry on board an Amphibious Assault Dock and floating around the Persian Gulf for seven months as “ready reserve” for CENTCOM or “force in readiness.”  It deserves fuller analysis, much more than I can provide here.  The public has absolutely no idea how expensive this endeavor is.

But this account above is about as strange as it gets.  We’re bored, says the Navy, or something thereabouts.  We learn nothing useful about any paradigmatic change in strategy that caused this divorce, or some new boundary condition or external pressure that is causing the need to separate larger warships from ESGs.  It’s about personalities, or some such foolishness.  Maybe.  We don’t know.  We just learn that it’s going to happen.

Finally, as I stated in Concerning U.S. Defense Cuts, “The Captain’s Journal agrees with Galrahn and the importance of force projection – whether hard or soft power – with the Marines Expeditionary Units (including the “combined arms” concept of multiple naval vessels with various defensive and offensive capabilities … Concerning Galrahn’s warning on the need for fuel, this highlights all the more the need for ports and air superiority for refueling tankers.  Concerning overall air superiority, if the sole focus of our national defense dollars is in counterinsurgency, littoral combat and small wars, the MEUs will be left to the slaughter once the ordnance begins raining down from the sky.”

I am continually re-evaluating the need for MEUs, especially when there is such dire need for Marine infantry in Afghanistan.  I am only softly committed to MEUs.  Someone can try to convince me, but it may be a tall task.  But if we are going to do MEUs and ESGs, we had better consider the danger and risk of deploying Amphibious Assault Docks (AAD) without the accompanying Naval force protection.

I normally assume that the detection and defeater systems for surface-to-surface missiles on board the Navy vessels would add to the force protection for the AADs.  I also assume that an Aircraft Carrier fleet is not too distant from the AADs to provide air superiority in the case of air attack.  I am also assuming that the Navy wouldn’t hesitate to use its power to protect the Marines.

Your assignment: Think hard.  An entire Battalion of Marine infantry sitting on an Amphibious Assault Dock in the middle of the Persian Gulf like sitting ducks, with little Naval force protection, and the likely to come reduction in the Carrier battle groups by at least one.  The Navy won’t deploy with the Marines.  Can you justify this?  Seriously?  Wouldn’t it be better to deploy the Navy or find another way to use the Marines?  Why have the ESG to begin with?  What is the Navy thinking?  We don’t know – it seems as if they’re bored.  Oh wait!  As I re-read the above, there is an “ESG working group.”  Good.  I feel better already.

More on Combat in Korangal Valley Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

Following up Counterinsurgency Successes in Afghanistan, C. J. Chivers and Tyler Hicks bring us another compelling acccount of combat in the Korangal Valley, Afghanistan.

Specialist Robert Soto ran for cover last week as his platoon was ambushed in Afghanistan. Across the river, two comrades crouched behind a rock.

The Taliban opened fire. The ambush was on.

Lieutenant Smith asked Sergeant Tanner for a report. The blast had blown the sergeant off his feet, spinning him around and throwing him down. He was disoriented. He said he thought he had all of his men.

As the firing neared its peak, Lieutenant Smith ordered the men around him to disperse so they could not all be struck by a single burst of fire. Then he provided covering fire so the artillery observer and a machine gun team could run back across the first bridge, gain elevation in Aliabad and cover the squad in the field.

A soldier caught in an ambush — looking for safety while returning fire, with ears ringing and skin pouring sweat — can feel utterly alone, trapped in a box of crisscrossing lead and terrifying sound, with death an instant away.

He is actually part of something more complicated. Bullets flew down into the riverbed from three sides. But as the lieutenants worked their radios, soldiers outside the kill zone were trying to erode the Taliban’s opening advantage.

Within the platoon, the squad in the rear of the column set up its machine guns and was firing on several of the Taliban shooting positions. A group of Afghan National Army soldiers, directed by a Marine corporal, was also firing.

In American firebases on ridges along the valley, soldiers with heavier machine guns and automatic grenade launchers focused on Afghan buildings in three villages — Donga, Laneyal and Darbart — from where the trapped platoon was taking fire.

Farther back, at Company B’s outpost, a pair of Air Force noncommissioned officers was directing aircraft into position, while two 120-millimeter mortars were firing high-explosive and white phosphorus rounds at targets the platoon had identified.

Alternately crouched and standing on the open rock spur, the lieutenants rushed to influence the fight and plan an escape from the trap. Once the American response began to build and the Taliban firing subsided, Lieutenant Rodriguez told Lieutenant Smith, they would throw smoke grenades along the river bank and pull back.

This is extremely compelling reporting.  Read the entire article at the New York Times.  There are many observations to be made, but perhaps at a later time.

Counterinsurgency Successes in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

C. J. Chivers and Tyler Hicks bring us a great account of a remarkable counterinsurgency success in Afghanistan.

Only the lead insurgents were disciplined as they walked along the ridge. They moved carefully, with weapons ready and at least five yards between each man, the soldiers who surprised them said.

Behind them, a knot of Taliban fighters walked in a denser group, some with rifles slung on their shoulders — “pretty much exactly the way we tell soldiers not to do it,” said Specialist Robert Soto, the radio operator for the American patrol.

If these insurgents came close enough, the soldiers knew, the patrol could kill them in a batch.

Fight by fight, the infantryman’s war in Afghanistan is often waged on the Taliban’s terms. Insurgents ambush convoys and patrols from high ridges or long ranges and slip away as the Americans, weighed down by equipment, return fire and call for air and artillery support. Last week a patrol from the First Infantry Division reversed the routine.

An American platoon surprised an armed Taliban column on a forested ridgeline at night, and killed at least 13 insurgents, and perhaps many more, with rifles, machine guns, Claymore mines, hand grenades and a knife.

The one-sided fight, fought on the slopes of the same mountain where a Navy Seal patrol was surrounded in 2005 and a helicopter with reinforcements was shot down, does not change the war. It was one of hundreds of firefights that have occurred in the Korangal Valley, an isolated region where local insurgents and the Americans have been locked in a bitter stalemate for more than three years.

But as accounts of the fight have spread, the ambush, on Good Friday, has become an emotional rallying point for soldiers in Kunar Province, who have seen it as a both a validation of their equipment and training and a welcome bit of score-settling in an area that in recent years has claimed more American lives than any other.

The patrol, 30 soldiers from the First Battalion, 26th Infantry, had left this outpost before noon on April 10, and spent much of the day climbing a ridge on the opposite side of the Korangal River, according to interviews with more than half the participants.

Once the soldiers reached the ridge’s crest, almost 6,000 feet above sea level on the side of a peak called Sautalu Sar, they found fresh footprints on the trails, and parapets of rock from where Taliban fighters often fire rifles and rocket-propelled grenades down onto this outpost.

The platoon leader, Second Lt. Justin Smith, selected a spot where trails intersected, and the platoon dug shallow fighting holes before dark. Claymore antipersonnel mines were set among the trees nearby.

At sunset, Lieutenant Smith called for a period of absolute silence, which lasted into darkness. Then he ordered three scouts to sit in a listening post about 100 yards away, 10 feet off the trail.

The scouts set in. Less than a half-minute later, a column of Taliban fighters appeared, walking briskly their way.

Sgt. Zachary R. Reese, a sniper, whispered into his radio. “We have eight enemy personnel coming down on our position really fast,” he said. He could say no more; the Taliban fighters were a few feet away.

More appeared. Then more still. The sergeant counted 26 gunmen pass by.

The patrol, Second Platoon of Company B, was in a place where no Americans had spent a night for years, and it seemed that the Afghans did not expect danger.

The soldiers waited. The rules of the ambush were long ago drilled into them: no one can move, and no one can fire until the patrol leader gives the order. Then everyone must fire at once.

The third Taliban fighter in the column switched on a flashlight, the soldiers said, and quickly switched it off. About 50 yards separated the two sides, but Lieutenant Smith did not want to start shooting too soon, he said, “because if too many lived then we’d be up there fighting them all night.”

He let the Taliban column continue on. The soldiers trained their weapons’ infrared lasers, which are visible only with night-vision equipment, on the fighters as they drew closer. The lasers mark the path a bullet will fly.

The lead fighter had almost reached the platoon when Pvt. First Class Troy Pacini-Harvey, 19, his laser trained on the lead man’s forehead, moved his rifle’s selector lever from safe to semi-automatic. It made a barely audible click. The Taliban fighter froze. He was six feet away.

Lieutenant Smith was new to the platoon. This was his fourth patrol. He was in a situation that every infantry lieutenant trains for, but almost no infantry lieutenant ever sees. “Fire,” he said, softly into the radio. “Fire. Fire. Fire.”

The platoon’s frontage exploded with noise and flashes of light as soldiers fired. Bullets struck all of the lead Taliban fighters, the soldiers said. The first Afghans fell where they were hit, not managing to fire a single shot.

Five Taliban fighters bolted to the soldiers’ left, unwittingly running squarely into the path of machine-gun bullets and the Claymore mines. For a moment, the soldiers heard rustling in the brush. They detonated their Claymores and threw hand grenades. The rustling stopped.

Two other Taliban fighters had dashed to the right, toward an almost sheer drop. One ran so wildly in the blackness that his momentum carried him off the cliff, several soldiers said.

Another stopped at the edge. Pvt. First Class Brad Larson, 19, had followed the man with his laser. “I took him out,” he said.

The scout at the listening post shot three of the fleeing fighters, and dropped two more with hand grenades. “We stopped what we could see,” Sergeant Reese said.

The shooting had lasted a few minutes. The hillside briefly fell quiet. The surviving Taliban fighters, some of whom had run back up the trail, began shouting in the darkness. “We could hear them calling out to one another,” Specialist Soto said.

Lieutenant Smith called the listening post back in. After two Apache attack helicopters showed up, an F-15 dropped a bomb on the Taliban’s escape route, about 600 yards up the trail. Then the lieutenant ordered teams to search the bodies they could find on the crest.

Sergeant Reese gave his rifle to another sniper to cover him while he tried to cut away a Taliban fighter’s ammunition pouches with a four-inch blade. The fighter had only been pretending to be dead, the soldiers said. He lunged for Sergeant Reese, who stabbed him in the left eye.

In all, the soldiers found eight bodies on the crest. They photographed them to try to identify them later, and collected their weapons, ammunition, radios and papers. Then the patrol swept down a gully where a pilot said he saw more insurgents hiding.

Four scouts, using night-vision gear, spotted five fighters crouching behind rocks, and killed them with rifle and machine-gun fire, the scouts said. The bodies were searched and photographed, too. The platoon began to hike back to the outpost, carrying the captured equipment.

Second Platoon, Company B has endured one of the most arduous assignments in Afghanistan. Eight of the platoon’s soldiers have been wounded in nine months of fighting in the valley, part of a bitter contest for control of a small and sparsely populated area.

Three others have been killed.

In a matter of minutes, the ambush changed the experience of the surviving soldiers’ tours. The degree of turnabout surprised even some the soldiers who participated.

“It’s the first time most of us have even seen the guys who were shooting at us,” said Sgt. Thomas Horvath, 21.

The next day, elders from the valley would ask permission to collect the villages’ dead. Company B’s commander, Capt. James C. Howell, would grant it.

But already, as the soldiers slid and climbed down the mountain, word of the insurgents’ defeat was traveling through Taliban networks.

Analysis & Commentary

Thanks to Chivers and Hicks for a great article on the campaign in Afghanistan.  Abu Muqawama gives the unit props, but asks the following question: “But what are we doing in the Korengal (sic) Valley? Does anyone know? Are we just trying to control the terrain or what?”  Good question.  There has been a robust debate concerning where the additional troops should go in Afghanistan – the urban population centers where the people are, or the rural areas where the Taliban control and recruit?  A good question, this, because it goes to the heart of the population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine promulgated over the last several years.

And in a hard situation in Afghanistan where we have both large rural areas and urban areas containing much of the population, how does this doctrine hold up?  Well, it at least leads to very puzzled questions from COIN experts.  It also shows that counterinsurgency cannot possibly be codified in a manual, no matter how hard we may try.

In Strategy in Afghanistan: Population or Enemy-Centric, we tried to strike a healthy balance.

The Captain’s Journal supports a different view.  U.S. forces are present in Afghanistan because there are enemies of the U.S. located there, and also those who harbor enemies of the U.S.  Without them, the likelihood of our presence is vanishingly small.  The enemy is our target.

If the enemy announced his presence and fought without the benefit of mixing with the population, the rate of the fight would be more productive.  This has occurred even recently in Afghanistan, when the Taliban evacuated Garmser of its population, dug in and unsuccessfully faced down the Marines of the 24th MEU.  During their deployment in Helmand, they killed some 400 hard core Taliban fighters in what was described at times as “full bore reloading.”  Yet the tribal elders also said that “When you protect us, we will be able to protect you,” showing little interest in reconstruction, programs and assistance.

But it will not always be this clear.  The enemy is who we are after, but to get to them at times requires focusing on the population.  Every situation is unique, and thus rather than finding a center of gravity, it is best to see the campaign as employing lines of effort.  In spite of the lack of adequate troops, the campaign will not be an either-or decision, focusing on the enemy or the population.  It will be both-and.

At times this will be extremely difficult, with the insurgency embedding with the population, shielding themselves with women and children, and hiding from U.S. forces.  Counterinsurgency thus proves to be a difficult mix of direct action military engagements, streetside conversations, visits to homes, learning the population and culture, and rebuilding the infrastructure.  There will be enough of this to go around for everyone in the campaign.

But just occasionally, the insurgents will separate themselves from the population, attempt to mass on a location, and go into conventional military formation.  When this happens and when U.S. forces can find it, it pays to kill them on the spot whether they are a direct threat or not.

Why are U.S. forces present in the Korangal valley?  The obvious answer is to kill the enemy.  It’s the perfect circumstances, crafted by the insurgents themselves.  No women, no children, no surrounding infrastructure to be destroyed, only the enemy and U.S. troops.  We dread the difficulty of population-centric counterinsurgency and pray for such engagements.

Such engagements are not to be found in the urban population centers.  Interdiction of enemy fighters and enemy-centric warfare can best be conducted when we are hunting and killing the enemy with enough troops to accomplish success.

There are other aspects of this engagement that warms our hearts.  Notice that despite the rules of engagement which do not discuss or countenance offensive operations at all, U.S. forces killed enemy fighters without first waiting for them to threaten or fire on them.  Notice also that the U.S. combatants are regular infantry.  Just so.  The campaign will be won or lost with regular infantry, not direct action by Special Operations Forces on so-called high value targets, a strategy that has not succeeded in the campaign for as long as it has been pursued.

The Importance of Logistics

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

Regular readers know all about our deep love for good logistics, and our disdain for improper planning.  We have said repeatedly that field grade logistics officers will determine how fast we can draw down in Iraq, not the administration, and not flag officers.  Logistics can be the ultimate bottleneck for warfare.  Logistics can also be the most remarkable capability in the battle space.

Staff Sgt. Alfred Luna, right, and Spec. Randy Neff count ammunition that 4th Engineer Battalion has to turn in before it departs Baghdad. The unit is getting ready to redeploy to Afghanistan, after arriving in Iraq just a few weeks ago.

Welcome to Iraq. Now go to Afghanistan.

That was the message delivered to the Army’s 4th Engineer Battalion just two weeks after arriving in Baghdad for what was supposed to be a year-long tour.

Despite the stress caused by the unusual change of plans last month, many of the unit’s approximately 500 soldiers said they realized their specialty — clearing roads of bombs and other obstacles — is more needed in the area of southern Afghanistan, where they’ll likely begin patrols in a few weeks.

“If we were in the frying pan, we’re now heading directly into the fire,” Capt. Heath Papkov, one of the unit’s company commanders, said this week as the soldiers packed their gear to leave.

Moving a unit directly from one theater of war to another on such short notice is very rare, said Lt. Col. Kevin Landers, the battalion’s commander. Usually when troops are shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, the change occurs between regular rotations abroad, after they spend several months at their home base.

The decision underscores how military commanders are scrambling to meet President Obama’s orders to draw down the U.S. presence in Iraq while deploying an additional 21,000 troops to combat the growing insurgency in Afghanistan.

Even after a spate of bombings in Baghdad in recent weeks, the overall rate of violence in Iraq remains at levels not seen since 2003, according to the U.S. military. Meanwhile, attacks on U.S. andNATO troops are on the rise in Afghanistan, and roadside bombs are the cause of 75% of coalition casualties there.

The region where the 4th Engineer Battalion is being deployed accounts for about 60% of all roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

The battalion’s transfer is “either an indication of the improving situation in Iraq or the quickly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan,” said Loren Thompson, a military expert at the Lexington Institute. “It’s probably more of the latter.”

The unit has continued its patrols in Baghdad while preparing for the move, a huge undertaking that includes the movement of millions of pounds of gear and dozens of heavy-armored vehicles. It could take 40 to 60 flights to transfer everything.

Commanders could not put a precise estimate on the additional cost of the move, but 2nd Lt. Gregory Smith, a logistics officer, said it will cost “millions and millions of dollars.”

“It’s been pretty stressful,” Smith said. “But it’s a good feeling to be going where we’re really needed.”

Logistics rules.  Without it, the battle space doesn’t work.  Period.  End of discussion.  Next time you see a logistics NCO, give him props for the good work he had done.

Postscript: I would have made an outstanding logistics officer, I think.  Yes.  Outstanding.  I’m sure of it.

China and U.S. at War

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

We have previously noted how the Chinese hackers and cyberspies are not merely snooping; they are engaged in what China considers to be Unrestricted Warfare against the U.S.  Now comes an even more disturbing account of the extent of their activities.

The Chinese cyber spies have penetrated so deep into the US system — ranging from its secure defence network, banking system, electricity grid to putting spy chips into its defence planes — that it can cause serious damage to the US any time, a top US official on counter-intelligence has said.

“Chinese penetrations of unclassified DoD networks have also been widely reported. Those are more sophisticated, though hardly state of the art,” said National Counterintelligence Executive, Joel Brenner, at the Austin University Texas last week, according to a transcript made available on Wednesday.

Listing out some of the examples of Chinese cyber spy penetration, he said: “We’re also seeing counterfeit routers and chips, and some of those chips have made their way into US military fighter aircraft.. You don’t sneak counterfeit chips into another nation’s aircraft to steal data. When it’s done intentionally, it’s done to degrade systems, or to have the ability to do so at a time of one’s choosing.”

Referring to the Chinese networks penetrating the cyber grids, he said: “Do I worry about those grids, and about air traffic control systems, water supply systems, and so on? You bet I do. America’s networks are being mapped. There has also been experience of both Chinese and criminal network operations in the networks of some of the banks”.

Note the malicious intent – counterfeit routers and chips found in U.S. military aircraft.  No longer restricted to just water supply systems, electrical grids and banking networks, as if that isn’t enough, we are now finding intentional electronic attacks against U.S. military hardware.

There is a Sino-American war going on, even if America is not yet engaged.

Concerning the Importance of NCOs

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

In Standing up the Iraq Army we noted the importance of NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) to the capabilities, cohesion and performance of an Army.  From Why Arabs Lose Wars, Norvell B. De Atkine, Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1999, Vol. 6, No. 2:

The social and professional gap between officers and enlisted men is present in all armies, but in the United States and other Western forces, the non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps bridges it. Indeed, a professional NCO corps has been critical for the American military to work at its best; as the primary trainers in a professional army, NCOs are critical to training programs and to the enlisted men’s sense of unit esprit. Most of the Arab world either has no NCO corps or it is non-functional, severely handicapping the military’s effectiveness. With some exceptions, NCOs are considered in the same low category as enlisted men and so do not serve as a bridge between enlisted men and officers. Officers instruct but the wide social gap between enlisted man and officer tends to make the learning process perfunctory, formalized, and ineffective.

From the Small Wars Journal, Professors in the Trenches: Deployed Soldiers and Social Science Academics (Part 1 of 5), we read the following important analysis:

Another major issue that emerged was the relationship between commissioned officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs). Commissioned officers did not believe that NCOs should or will ever assume the role played by NCOs serving the armies of western democracies. This was considered to be mostly an issue of class structure, which was reinforced by the differences in educational levels between the two groups. During the focus groups, many of the NCOs frequently complained about the unwillingness of officers (or even more senior NCO) to listen to them; offering advice was simply not considered an option. Conversely, officers – especially junior officers – frequently micromanaged, often doing even the most routine tasks themselves to ensure success.

A sure recipe for failure, at least on a relative scale.  But it may be that this is a cultural issue, unable to be amended or rectified by training, education and mentoring.  The upshot is that the questioning attitude, initiative, capability to take responsibility and education in the West ensures a strong NCO corps and thus the world’s greatest military.

How many times does Iran have to say no?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

The Christian Science Monitor notes that “Obama officials are playing cat-and-mouse these days with Iran’s envoys.  The new administration is eager to catch a meeting in any international forum that might lead to one-on-one talks.”  Unseemly, no, the picture of U.S. diplomats chasing Iranians around pining for someone to listen to them?

The Iranian leaders have ignored Obama’s clear overtures, saying on March 20 that “world powers had been persuaded they could not block Iran’s nuclear progress.”  The next day on March 24 “Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei … dismissed President Barack Obama’s New Year’s greeting to the country, delivering Iran’s clearest rebuke so far to Washington’s recent, diplomatic charm offensive.

In a speech to tens of thousands in the Iranian holy city of Masshad, Mr. Khamenei said that despite Mr. Obama’s words, the U.S. hasn’t shown any sign of “genuine” change in its “hostile” policies toward Iran, according to Iran’s state-owned Press TV.”

Michael Rubin brings us yet another instance of rejection.

Those who today recommend the Iranian nation to return to the global order are the exact people who expressed displeasure with advances of the Iranian nation in the direction of the Islamic Revolution… The recommendation to return to the global order is the same thing as capitulating to the bullying powers and accepting the unjust world order. But the Iranian nation has during the past thirty years answered no to this ignorant and illogical demand… All the pressures against the Iranian nation and the regime of the Islamic Republic have only aimed to degrade the elevated position of the spiritual demands of the revolution. Naturally, they did not succeed in this, and they will also not succeed in the future.

Even more to the point.

We tell that you know yourself that you today are in a position of weakness and you can’t achieve anything.

Does that sound like the Iranian Mullahs want to negotiate their nuclear program away?  It doesn’t matter, because the administration’s fawning over the Iranian regime has to do with presuppositions that form a worldview of advocacy.  Rightness and wrongness has nothing to do with it.

It you listen to me long enough, they think, I will be able to convince you to see my point of view and act more in accordance with what I see as reasonable at this particular moment.  But reason is in the eyes of the beholder.  The deliverance of reason, tests for truth, analysis of consistency, and so on, are fundamentally different in the thought systems of the West and the radical Mullahs, and even more different between both and the Ivy League educated elitists.  The administration will keep chasing them until they understand the fundamental flaw in their thinking, which probably means that they will not cease the unseemly displays.


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