Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 9 Comments

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

Memorial Day 2009: Remember the Families

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

Our friend Mike at Cop the Truth is the most faithful follower of losses of airborne troopers of any person on the Internet.  The Captain’s Journal has tried to be the same for Marines.  Not openly, mind you, but silently and discretely.  Beginning in 2005 and going through the present, whenever a Marine was killed in the Anbar Province in Iraq (and now beginning in Afghanistan), I have tried to make it a point to read the account, his family’s reaction, and the official press release – and then pray for his family.

The years in Anbar were very hard, and with fully one quarter of the more than 4000 deaths coming from Marine fatalities in the Anbar Province alone (for losses of more than 1000 Marines due to combat action), the last several years have been hard.  The year 2006 and the followup year of 2007 (when my son was deployed) were especially dark.

One commendable thing about posting to blogs and opinion sites is that while I attempt to keep the writing tilted towards good analysis and commentary (even if containing advocacy), occasionally I give myself the freedom to engage in dissemination of deeply personal views.  And it’s okay to do that.

If you are one of those sad souls who believes that when a person dies his body cools to ambient temperature and then that’s the end, then I don’t have much for you.  You may take Memorial Day and ponder the sacrifice of those who died too young for this great nation of ours.  This all seems rather empty to me.  But if you are like me, a believer in orthodox Christianity, I encourage you to say a prayer of thanks to God for our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who keep us safe, past, present and future.  Another way of saying it is that while those warriors have bravely died on the field of battle, they aren’t now dead.

Those who have gone before us are in God’s hands.  While certainly unorthodox, I recommend that the focus of your prayers and giving this Memorial Day be the families of American warriors who have given their all, along with those warriors who have disabilities from their combat.  Pray that the Lord would assuage the pain of their losses, whether limbs lost, brain function lost, or sons or daughters lost on the field of battle.  I am not suggesting that you convert this Memorial Day into Veteran’s Day.  I am suggesting that you remember those who still suffer on behalf of our deceased warriors.  Our deceased warriors no longer suffer.

This Memorial Day, do more than ponder silently, which is therapeutic for no one except you.  Intercede on behalf of grieving families for God to bless them today and throughout the year.  Have a great Memorial Day 2009.

Army Delays in Body Armor Testing

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

From Stars and Stripes:

The Army’s policy of testing body armor at its own laboratory instead of private facilities is causing delays in approval and is raising costs for manufacturers, The New York Times reported.

Army officials told the paper on Tuesday the decision to test armor at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland was made as part of an effort to upgrade safety standards. However, they said they might still hand some of the work back to private labs if delays became common.

According to the Times, manufacturers said the cost of the tests has in some cases tripled, and results that might be returned within 24 hours from a private lab are taking as long as a week to be returned from the Army lab.

Asia Fernandez, who owns Armacel Armor in Camarillo, Calif., told the Times that the Army charged more than $50,000 to perform safety tests on a new product. Testing at a private lab, she said, would have cost less than $15,000.

“It’s a little rocky right now,” said David P. Reed, the president for North American operations at Ceradyne, the Army’s largest body-armor contractor. The Army lab, at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, “is not really as responsive as we’d like to see,” he told the paper. Reed added that so far the delays have not hurt troops because the Army had been stockpiling armor.

However, congressional aides told the paper they were looking into the accusations to ensure that there are no delays in getting critical gear to servicemembers in the field.

It is, after all, the Army.  To expect that the Army would keep people in their employ who were technical experts in all areas of application is unreasonable.  Also, this report doesn’t say that the Army did not perform adequate testing.  But the efficiency with which it is done calls into question the propriety of having this function done in-house.  The Captain’s Journal has addressed this before.

Given the lack of confidence inspired by the federal government, independent consultative support is necessary to restore the public confidence in the system.  Support, that is, who doesn’t stand gain from whatever conclusions that are reached.  This is necessary for not only proof of principle for future body armor designs, but for currently deployed armor we well.

While not exactly addressing the same issue, we have recommended independent consultative support for body armor technology.  This wouldn’t preclude corporate-based testing by the manufacturer, but it would necessitate an independent assessment and some kind of oversight; not oversight that the Army could deliver alone, but as assisted by engineers and technical experts.

In further news, proposed legislation may force the issue.

Representative Niki Tsongas has introduced legislation that would require the Pentagon to develop lighter body armor for soldiers in an effort to reduce the thousands of orthopedic injuries reported each year as a result of lugging heavy gear.

The Lowell Democrat, a member of the Armed Services Committee, introduced the bill Tuesday and has enlisted the support of other key lawmakers, including Representative Neil Abercrombie, the Hawaii Democrat who chairs the panel’s Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, her office said today.

The legislation would set up a special task force to evaluate various personal protection technologies that could provide the same level of defense as current body armor, but with reduced weight, according to the bill.

Tsongas told the Globe that in the course of her investigation of the issue, including in committee hearings and discussions with an Army captain who serves on her staff, she found that the amount of gear that troops must carry is sometimes too much to bear.

“There is a tendency to take it off,” she said in a brief phone interview.

And many soldiers exhibit lasting health effects from wearing their personal gear for long periods of time.

In 2007, the Army reported 257,000 injuries attributed to the stress of bearing heavy loads during repeated deployments. The service’s vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, estimates that such injuries are currently sidelining 20,000 soldiers.

“With the increased emphasis on Afghanistan in the coming years the load that soldiers must carry will no doubt become more of an issue,” said John Noble, a spokesman for the two-term congresswoman.

Tsongas’ bill would also establish a separate program in each branch of the military dedicated to the research and procurement of body armor. Such efforts are now included in multi-billion dollar research accounts that cover all types of military equipment.

By establishing a stand-alone funding stream Tsongas believes Congress will be able to monitor how much money is being spent on body armor and better identify shortcomings.

“This is so we know exactly what is there and that it is being spent appropriately,” she said.

This also follows closely with our previous recommendations to lighten the load that Soldiers and Marines carry.  Our first target has been the weight of the SAPI plates (Side Arms Protective Inserts), the heavy ceramic plates help by the carrier in the front, back and sides.  The soft ballistic panels carried throughout the carrier is not a significant actor in the overall system weight.

The Army also happens to be testing lighter armor at the present.

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — The Army will test lighter body armor next week with plans to field up to 100,000 sets beginning in August, said Lt. Col. Robert W. Myles Jr. of Program Executive Office Soldier.

The tests will take place May 11-22 in Yuma, Ariz., and will involve 10 Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and 25 Soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division, Myles said Wednesday.

Soldiers can carry a load of about 100 pounds of gear, body armor and ammunition. The Improved Outer Tactical Vests that Soldiers currently wear weighs about 31 pounds with all four ballistic plates, Myles said.

The Army will evaluate four new types of body armor, each weighing about 24 pounds, as well as body armor already worn by Soldiers, Marines and Special Operations Forces, he said.

The body armor will be evaluated based on ballistic tests, form, wear and comfort, and cost, Myles said.

As a stop-gap measure, the Army will soon issue a battalion of Soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division the lightweight body armor that Special Operations Forces wear, he said.

“We want to lighten the load as quick as possible; that’s our No. 1 goal,” Myles said.

In January, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, told reporters that an increasing number of Soldiers were becoming nondeployable in part due to musculoskeletal injuries from the heavy loads they carry.

“You can’t hump a rucksack at 8,000-11,000 feet for 15 months, even at a young age, and not have that have an impact on your body,” Chiarelli said during a roundtable with reporters.

Exactly right.  And lighter armor should have been issued much earlier, including the same type worn by SOF if that is lighter than the IBA and MTV (the IBA with panels and SAPIs is about 31 pounds, the MTV with panels and SAPIs is about 32 pounds with groin and neck protectors).

The article doesn’t make clear what the weight modifications involve, and the recommendations we have made include the same level of ballistic protection with less weight.  It’s all a matter of funding and research.  The health and maneuverability of our warriors is of paramount importance to any campaign, even more so than non-infantry related gear and equipment.  The functionality of infantry gear and equipment may redound not only to the success of the campaign and deployability of the troops, but to their very lives.  This makes it worth the investment, whatever that cost is.

Prior:

More on Battle Space Weight

University of Virginia Student Designs New Body Armor

DoD Testing Requirements for Body Armor and Army Recall

Changes in Body Armor for Marines

Body Armor Wars in the Marine Corps

Body Armor Goes Political

Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward

Strategic Desisions Concerning Marines and Expeditionary Warfare

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

From Government Executive:

The Marine Corps is pursuing a number of initiatives to give its units more fire support and more mobility to meet operational demands, with one near-term project being a less-sophisticated version of the Air Force’s powerful AC-130 gunship, Gen. James Conway said on Friday.

The Marine Corps commandant said the service is working on a longer-term proposal to use the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships to provide high-volume fire support for Marine forces ashore. In addition, Marines are looking to modify their Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles to enable them to operate in Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, Conway told a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum.

Conway said the Marines “have lusted for years” over the AC-130′s capability but could not afford the sophisticated Air Force gunships. Instead, they are taking advantage of their KC-130J transport-tankers in a program called “Harvest Hawk,” he said. It consists of a “roll-on, roll-off package” that can be installed in hours and gives the KC-130s the ability to fire a 30mm rapid-fire gun and Hellfire missiles in support of ground forces, Conway said. “I think you’re going to see one in [Afghanistan] before the end of the calendar year.”

A Marine spokesman said later that “this is not intended to be a gunship” but a response to an urgent need of Marines in Afghanistan who want persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. “The ISR is the priority, but we also want the capability to use some weapons against targets we can see,” the spokesman said.

The commandant said he has an agreement with Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, to examine use of a “box of rockets” that could be installed on an LCS to provide fire support for Marines ashore. It could replace the capabilities the Marines expected from the Advanced Gun System developed for the DDG-1000 destroyer, whose production is being stopped at three ships.

LCS is designed to accept a variety of “mission packages,” which include weapons, sensors, controls and operators that enable a ship to perform a variety of combat assignments. A Marine fire-support package was not one of the three original missions developed for LCS but has been discussed recently.

One proposal has been to use the non-line-of-sight launch system being developed as part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems. But that system does not have the range the Marines would need, Conway said. Systems that would have the range could not provide the volume of fire needed, he added. He did not provide any indication of when a satisfactory system could be available.

Commentary & Analysis

The Commandant has been in a fight with the Navy for a while now over the issue of its refusal to go closer to shore than 25 miles – the horizon – and thus his call for support of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  In order to do forcible entry, Marines need to project firepower on shore, and this vehicle must be able to function on both the land and sea.

But The Captain’s Journal has opposed the EFV for reasons going beyond its design and maintenance problems and cost overruns.  Basically, this vehicle will never be used as a staple of land operations.  Its primary use will be from sea to shore and then slightly beyond.

The Littoral Combat Ship is anything but a combat ship.  It has a small crew and essentially no forward force projection capability.  It is a horrible platform for support of the Marines or a Marine Expeditionary Unit, and backfitting it with a “box of rockets” will likely prove to be problematic and not what the Marines were after.

Let’s assume that as a policy position we need forcible entry from the sea.  Delivery of Marines without heavy firepower is probably not a good idea, and we have recommended a delay in the retirement of the CH-46 (from which Marines can fastrope) and investment in a new generation of Marine attack helicopters.  The Navy must be pressed to be more involved in the delivery of heavy equipment (such as MRAPs, tanks, armored personnel carriers, etc.) after the Marines have accomplished forcible entry and if the strategy involves a protracted engagement.

We have also recommended a new generation of Marine vehicles similar to the Army Stryker.  Heavy investment in a generation of vehicles, fighting or otherwise, that has as its sole use operation in littoral waters is probably not a wise investment of limited resources.  No one intends for protracted land use of the EFV, and that itself is a telling observation.  It is basically a useless platform without the necessity for forcible entry or the threat of it.

As for the air transport turned gunship, the Marine spokesman’s words are confusing and probably unnecessary.  A gunship is exactly what is desired and needed.  This kind of adaptive innovation is to be commended, and the Marines in Afghanistan will benefit from this improvisation.

Concluding, TCJ doubts that the LCS can successfully deliver high volume fire in support of Marines on shore, doubts the necessity for a fighting vehicle that has as its sole use operation in littoral waters, and has recommended other means of forward force projection (such as use of the F-35 off the deck of the Amphibious Assault Docks, additional Navy involvement to land heavier vehicles, and a new generation of Marine attack helicopters).  All of the above would seem to be a better use of limited monies that either the EFV or the modified LCS.

As for the necessity for forcible entry from the sea, it was Colin Powell who observed that:

Lying offshore, ready to act, the presence of ships and Marines sometimes means much more than just having air power or ship’s fire, when it comes to deterring a crisis. And the ships and Marines may not have to do anything but lie offshore. It is hard to lie offshore with a C-141 or C-130 full of airborne troops.

Nice words, but a very expensive way to level threats at other nations.  A Battalion of Marine infantry sitting on board an Amphibious Assault Dock for seven to nine months doing nothing is an awful waste of resources (and also a sitting duck for land-based surface to surface missiles).  The expeditionary concept should be applied sparingly and with frugality.  The capabilities of the Marines are needed across the globe in real time active and ongoing operations, not “could be,” “would be,” “maybe” and “we want it not to be” operations.

Prior:

Arguments Over the EFV and V-22

Navy and Marines to Part Ways Over Expeditionary Strike Groups?

Kill the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff criticizes air strikes:

The United States cannot succeed in Afghanistan if the American military keeps killing Afghan civilians, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday.

In remarks to scholars, national security experts and the media at the Brookings Institution, Admiral Mullen said that the American air strikes that killed an undetermined number of civilians in Afghanistan’s Farah Province two weeks ago had put the U.S. strategy in the country in jeopardy.

“We cannot succeed in Afghanistan or anywhere else, but let’s talk specifically about Afghanistan, by killing Afghan civilians,” Admiral Mullen said, adding that “we can’t keep going through incidents like this and expect the strategy to work.”

At the same time, Admiral Mullen said, “we can’t tie our troops’ hands behind their backs.”

Admiral Mullen’s comments on the civilian casualties from the Farah air strikes, which have caused an uproar in Afghanistan, reflect deep concern within the Pentagon about the intensifying criticism from Kabul against the American military. Admiral Mullen, who noted that commanders in the region had in recent months imposed more restrictive rules on air strikes to avoid civilian casualties, offered no new solutions in his remarks. He only said that “we’ve got to be very, very focused on making sure that we proceed deliberately, that we know who the enemy is.”

By midafternoon on May 4, after a battle between Afghan police and army forces and Taliban fighters had raged for hours, Marines Special Operations forces called in air strikes.

Three F-18 fighter-bombers, flying in succession over several hours, dropped a total of five laser-guided and satellite guided bombs against Taliban fighters who were firing at the American and Afghan forces, said the official, Col. Gregory Julian, in an email message late Sunday.

Villagers, however, have reported that an even heavier bombardment came after 8 p.m. when they said the fighting appeared to be over and the Taliban had left the village.

The military has disputed this version of events, saying the Taliban fighters continued to fire at American and Afghan troops, requiring additional air strikes. These came from a B-1 bomber, which dropped three 500-pound satellite-guided bombs on a tree grove, four 500-pound and 2,000-pound satellite-guided bombs on one building, and one 2,000-pound satellite-guided bomb on a second building, Colonel Julian said. Villagers have said they sought safety from the initial air strikes in a compound of buildings, but it was not clear whether these were the same buildings the American aircraft later bombed. Villagers said the bombings were so powerful that people were ripped to shreds. Survivors said they collected only pieces of bodies.

In all, Colonel Julian said, eight targets were attacked over a seven-hour period, but he denied reports from villagers that a mosque had been damaged in the strikes. Colonel Julian and other American military officials have said that the Taliban deliberately fired at American and Afghan forces from the rooftops of buildings where civilians, including women and children, had sought shelter, to provoke a heavy American military response.

Colonel Julian said at the peak of the fighting that day, some 150 Afghan soldiers and 60 Afghan police, along with their 30 American trainers, as well as two Marine Special Operations teams that made up a quick-reaction force, were battling about 300 militants, including a large number of foreign fighters.

Afghan government officials have accepted handwritten lists compiled by the villagers of 147 dead civilians. An independent Afghan human rights group said it had accounts from interviews of 117 dead. American officials say that even 100 is an exaggeration but have yet to issue their own count.

Analysis & Commentary

There remains an uproar over this incident because of noncombatant casualties, and some of it even over military analysis web sites.  The focus of much of the discussion is on how counterinsurgency cannot succeed with noncombatant casualties, and that successful counterinsurgency must be population centric.  True enough within context, this point misses the mark by a wide margin and succeeds only in parroting doctrinal talking points without a true understanding of what this incident can tell us about the campaign.

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal can do better.  Be circumspect, smart and deliberate, and consider the question of what we might learn from this incident?  Considering the recent few months of the campaign, what information may we cobble together to place this incident within its proper context?  How can we avoid the traps into which most apparatchiks fall, of advocating either bombing them into submission or implementing procedures to avoid noncombatant casualties altogether because it isn’t “population centric?”

First of all, there is no doubt that fathers and mothers of children who have perished, or children of fathers or mothers or siblings who have perished at the hands of U.S. military action, intentional or not, will forever be our enemies.  It is understandable, and would be the same with most readers.  Noncombatant casualties makes enemies.

Of course, many things make enemies, including promises to stop the Taliban and failing to meet those promises.  But in this case there is something deeper going on, something that requires a bit of thought and trending.

In the Battle of Wanat where nine U.S. Soldiers perished and twenty seven were wounded, the Taliban massed some 300 or more fighters at one time in the area.  Were it not for Close Combat Aviation (CCA) and Close Air Support (CAS), the casualty rate would have been even higher.  Vehicle Patrol Base Wanat and Observation Post Top Side were what one might consider “far flung.”  It was an area of operation that had heretofore not seen U.S. troops, but in which the Taliban were numerous and Taliban control unquestioned.

When the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit was deployed to the Garmser region of the Helmand Province in 2008, they killed approximately 400 Taliban who had massed in Garmser, at times calling their fire fights “full bore reloading.”

In Marines, Taliban and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, we covered the exploits of one Force Recon platoon who documented the fact that in their engagements with the Taliban the enemy fighters swelled to over 400 during ambushes and even during Taliban attacks on Forward Operating Bases.  This is remarkable.  This is basically half a Battalion of Taliban forces conducting what Force Recon called very good infantry tactics, including enfilade and interlocking fires, combined arms, and all of the other infantry tactics on which most good infantry is trained.

Finally, in Trouble in the Afghan Army: The Battle of Bari Alai we discussed the probable treachery of the Afghan Army during a Taliban attack on Observation Post Bari Alai in which three U.S. Soldiers perished along with two Latvian Soldiers.  More than 100 Taliban fighters massed for the attack on the Observation Post.

Now go back and study the report above that has Admiral Mullen so concerned.  The Taliban massed approximately 300 fighters for the fire fight with what turns out to be a fairly small U.S. force.  They had Afghan troops alongside, but as we learned at Wanat, no Afghan troops perished that fateful night.  The Afghan Army is shot through with drug abuse, and during the fight for Observation Post Bari Ala, it is believed that the Afghan troops laid down their weapons in a pre-arranged agreement with the Taliban.

Actually, a bit of study yields the conclusion that the Taliban have always wanted to mass troops (2005 report):

As the Taliban start shooting, O’Neal’s platoon scurries for cover. But there’s no panic. “They think, without a doubt, they have us outnumbered,” recalls O’Neal, a native of Jeannette, Pa., and leader of 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company. “We’ve got only 23 people on the ground, and I would say the Taliban had over 150 before the day was over” …

Taliban fighters, meanwhile, appear to gain courage from numbers, the ability to swarm a smaller enemy unit. A sense of safety in numbers, however, is often the Taliban’s undoing if a US platoon can fix an enemy’s position long enough for aircraft or other infantry units to arrive. This is the backbone of US military strategy in Zabul, and one reason why the Taliban have lost so many fighters this year.

It is fairly well known now that the additional troops deployed to Afghanistan are going to the population centers around Kabul and Kandahar – of course, in a tip of the hat to population centric counterinsurgency doctrine.  So the balance of Afghanistan is left to the Taliban to raise revenue, recruit fighters, train, interdict our logistics lines, implement their governance and basically control as they see fit.

Then, since the U.S. is massing troops in and around the population centers, far fewer are left for the rural terrain.  The most that can usually be accomplished is squad, platoon and company-sized engagements, or even smaller units to embed with the Afghan forces.  This is very close to what is considered distributed operations.  Few patrols in Taliban-controlled areas, no ensuring that the Taliban feel the strong presence of forces, just bare minimum to “train” the Afghan forces.

Yet when the Taliban are able to mass forces of as much as half a Battalion, the expectation is that much smaller units of U.S. forces will engage them without causing noncombatant casualties, while at the same time, the Taliban are clearly using human shields.

Clearly, we are asking the impossible of U.S. troops.  The Obama administration doesn’t want to deploy more than about 68,000 U.S. troops to the theater, and as long as this small footprint obtains, heavy use of air power will be necessary to keep smaller units from being completely overrun when the Taliban mass troops.

There is a solution to this dilemma, but it requires more troops to disengage the Taliban from the population.  The number of troops we have at the moment is not enough to do this mission.  Hence, while noncombatant casualties are a sad thing and certainly counterproductive, the answer is not to inform the smaller units of U.S. forces that they cannot use air support.  As much as The Captain’s Journal hates to see noncombatant casualties, more Marines and Soldiers in coffins would be much worse.

Trouble in the Afghan Army: The Battle of Bari Alai

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

The Strategy Page gives us an account of an ambush by Taliban on a U.S. convoy in which both U.S. SOF and elements of the Afghan Army fought back.  Concluding the account:

The quick reaction force called for air support, but the warplanes scanned the area with their targeting pods and reported that the Taliban had collected most of the local civilians and were holding them at gunpoint, as human shields.

The Afghan commandos of the quick reaction force then crossed the river and forced the Taliban out of the village, and away from their human shields. The villagers, once free of their captors, told the Afghan troops where the Taliban had set up more fighting positions, and the Afghan soldiers soon chased the Taliban away. Meanwhile, other Afghan and U.S. troops of the Quick Reaction force went ahead to where the supply convoy was still pinned down. The Afghans, and a team of U.S. Special Forces troops, outmaneuvered the ambush force, killed five of the Taliban, and captured six of those they had wounded. Several other Taliban got away.

As the supply went on, they hit two roadside bombs. One vehicle was destroyed, But no one was hurt. Throughout the entire action, no troops (American or Afghan) or civilians were killed. It was the training and leadership of the Afghan troops, and the use of air power (for reconnaissance, not smart bombs) that played a major role in the success of the operation.

Afghan “commandos.”  This report makes it sound as if these troopers can fastrope, perform room clearing operations with stacks, do squad rushes, perform fire and maneuver warfare, lay down enfilade or interlocking fires, and hump a pack and body armor 30 – 40 kilometers.  Maybe they can even do HALO jumps.  “Commandos.”

As is sometimes the case with the Strategy Page, this report also sounds as if it could be an ISAF or U.S. press release by Public Affairs Officers.  Whether this report is exaggerated, there is another side to the Afghan Army.  We have discussed the drug abuse and addiction in the Afghan Army, and also linked very informative but depressing video of attempts to train the Afghan Army.  There is an even more recent report of treachery within the Afghan Army, costing the lives of three American warriors.

A pre-dawn attack by the Taliban that killed three American soldiers and six other coalition troops earlier this month is raising new questions about many of the Afghan soldiers who were supposed to be fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

Officials are investigating whether the Afghan troops may have colluded with the Taliban in the brazen assault on the remote coalition outpost along the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Their findings could complicate further the already difficult challenges U.S. trainers are having with the Afghan Army.

American officials have questioned 11 Afghan Army soldiers and one Afghan interpreter who were taken prisoner after the battle and later released. Many U.S. troops in the area suspect that the Afghan POWs may have passively helped their Taliban attackers by laying down their arms, or even actively colluded with the enemy in the attack.

Details of the battle have been sketchy, since all three Americans at Observation Post Bari Alai were killed in the fight. Of the four Latvian NATO soldiers who were also defending the post, two were killed and a third was badly wounded and evacuated to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. According to a U.S. official, the remaining Latvian soldier was “shellshocked” by the attack and has been flown back to Latvia for treatment.  Three Afghan National Army troops also were killed.

U.S. officials are declining to comment on specifics until their investigation is complete. But conversations with American troops familiar with the situation reveal that in the early morning hours of May 1, more than 100 Taliban fighters launched a coordinated uphill attack on Bari Alai, a tactically critical, fortified mountaintop outpost that overlooks the convergence of the Hel Gal, Durin, Marin, and Kunar River Valleys, as well as a bridge that spans the Kunar River.

While Taliban fighters pinned down coalition troops with machine gun fire, their comrades scaled the mountainsides and advanced on the post. Coalition troops killed 19 Taliban fighters, according to U.S. officials.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. William D. Vile, 27, who was wounded, continued to return fire as he called on his radio for reinforcements and artillery support. He was killed by an explosion and has been posthumously recommended for the Silver Star Medal, the Army’s third highest decoration for battlefield valor.

The blast breached the perimeter of the post, and the Taliban poured inside. Sgt. James D. Pirtle, 21, and Specialist Ryan C. King, 22, were killed defending the base and were both posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

After overrunning the post, the Taliban fighters captured 11 Afghan soldiers and one Afghan interpreter and transported them into the Hel Gal Valley, where they were held captive.

In the days following, U.S., Afghan, and Latvian forces embarked on joint operations to recover the dozen POWs. On May 6, approximately 400 coalition troops made a forceful push toward the Hel Gal Valley, where the POWs were believed to be held. But the mission was halted two hours after it began when the Taliban freed all 12 POWs after coalition forces broadcast radio messages demanding their return.

When asked what kind of condition the freed Afghan troops were in, Marine Lt. Col. Ted Adams replied, “Good condition. Too good, actually,” — a sentiment echoed by other officers, which has led many to suspect that the POWs were complicit in the enemy attack.

This battle is moderately less costly than the Battle of Wanat (in which nine U.S. soldiers perished and fifteen were wounded), but similar in that it shows both the massing of large numbers of Taliban fighters, and the lack of effectiveness of the Afghan Army.  In this battle only three Afghan soldiers perished, and at Wanat, none did.

The going forward strategy in Afghanistan seems to be similar to the Iraq strategy in 2004 and 2005 – train the indigenous forces.  It didn’t work in Iraq, and Iraq has a much stronger governmental institutional skeleton than does Afghanistan.  The U.S. administration is loath to increase troop strength beyond 68,000, but standing up the Afghan Army is bound to be a problematic and troublesome affair.  They are not only shot through with corruption and drug abuse, they are apparently guilty of treachery as well.  Finally, based on the casualties we have seen at both Wanat and Bari Alai, they simply can’t be trusted in battle.

Prior:

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

On the Front Lines in Afghanistan

Where the Taliban Roam

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

From the Australian.

When Hamid Karzai drove to Kabul airport to fly to the US last week, the centre of the Afghan capital was closed down by well-armed security officers, soldiers and police. While in Washington, Afghanistan’s President delivered a speech on ways of fighting terrorism. The title of his lecture shows a certain cheek. Karzai’s seven years in power since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 have been notable for his failure to prevent their resurgence.

If his motorcade out of Kabul had taken a different route and headed south, he soon would have experienced the limits of his Government’s authority. It ends at a beleaguered police post within a few minutes’ drive of the capital.

Drivers heading for the southern cities of Ghazni, Qalat and Kandahar check their pockets to make sure they are not carrying documents linking them to the Government. They do so because they know they will not have travelled far down the road before they are stopped and their identity checked by black-turbaned Taliban. On their motorcycles, squads of six to eight men set up checkpoints along the road. Sometimes they even take a traveller’s mobile phone and redial numbers recently called. If the call is answered by a government ministry or a foreigner, then the phone’s owner may be executed on the spot.

The jibe that Karzai is only mayor of Kabul has some truth to it. It is not only when travelling south that the Taliban is in control. I wanted to go to Bamyan in central Afghanistan, which is inhabited by the Hazara, an ethnic group that was savagely persecuted by fundamentalist Taliban during its years in power.

But it turned out that I could no longer travel there by road. Mohammed Sarwar Jawadi, a member of the Afghan parliament representing Bamyan, who spent two years in a Taliban prison before escaping, tells me that Bamyan is safe enough. The problem is the route.

“There are two roads going there, but do not take the southern one because it is controlled by the Taliban,” Jawadi says. There is an alternative, safe enough so long as “you bring plenty of armed guards”.

The best experts on the dangers of the road in most countries are not the police or the army but the truckers, whose lives and livelihoods depend on correctly assessing the risks. The situation deteriorated 18 months ago, says Abdul Bayan, owner of a transport company in Kabul called Nawe Aryana. His trucks carry goods across the country, but they face ever increasing danger, particularly if they are carrying supplies for NATO or foreign forces.

The reader can read the entire report for themselves.  This brief introduction shows what The Captain’s Journal has been saying all along concerning logistics routes, et. al.  There has been robust debate among counterinsurgency experts over where to deploy the additional troops, or even what justification to use for more troops.

Here is the justification.  Until we deploy the right number of troops in the places where the Taliban have sanctuary, rest, recruit, raise their revenue, and interdict our lines of logistics, we will not bring this campaign to a satisfactory outcome.  Deployment of additional troops to ensure that Hamid Karzai continues to be the mayor of Kabul doesn’t help anything.

There is a huge and time sensitive problem with force size and lines of logistics.  But despite what the counterinsurgency experts are saying, until and unless we deploy enough troops in the places where the Taliban roam, we will not succeed.

Betraying the Sons of Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

Professor W Andrew Terrill, Research Professor of National Security Affairs, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, has a good history of the Sons of Iraq program, including the near and present danger that Iraq faces by refusing to make good on the promises to the Sons of Iraq.  The Washington Post gives us an even more personal account of the evolution of this fated program.  After cataloging the exploits of one particularly powerful and renowned insurgent, the fall from grace hits hard.

They were polite but insistent; he, the wounded Yasser and another brother had to come with them. Khalil asked to change into a clean gown known as a dishdasha, then sent word to another brother, Shaker, to tell militiamen loyal to him not to start trouble.

He was taken to neighboring Balad, where, Khalil said, cheering members of the Iraqi security forces began shouting slogans for Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric.

Loyalties in Thuluyah are mercurial and suspicions entrenched, even more so since the arrest of Khalil, whose absence has emboldened his rivals and confused his supporters. Maliki, in no uncertain terms, said that Khalil “will be released.” But as Jabbouri, a critic of Khalil, pointed out, the future tense can be rather indefinite.

In the town, residents once too fearful to speak have begun airing their resentment of Khalil’s past. Some suggested that Osama bin Laden had bought Khalil the Nissan Armada parked in his driveway. Others, even his fellow tribesmen, blame him for hundreds of deaths in 2006 and 2007. As a way of explanation, they contend that he was al-Qaeda in Iraq’s fifth-ranking leader. Only that much bloodshed, they insist, would have delivered him that much power.

To Khalil’s supporters, his arrest was simply motivated by politics, prompted by Sunni rivals fearful of his promised run for parliament in elections to be held by January. Even Hammoud acknowledged as much. Hammoud’s brother sits on the new provincial council, and the new governor belongs to the same party.

“Now with the situation in Iraq, everyone wants to win, everyone wants to prepare for the next elections. Every party — how do you put it? — is already challenging the other,” said Shaalan Mohammed, a friend of Khalil’s, sitting at his house.

Khalil’s brothers Shaker and Maher nodded their heads in agreement.

“But I still have a question,” Shaker said. “Why did the Americans take part?”

Just months ago, Lt. Col. David Doherty, a U.S. military spokesman in northern Iraq, praised Khalil’s role in the battle against the insurgency. “He has helped maintain peace and stability in the region,” Doherty said, “while supporting the populace’s need for the same.”

Hammoud said the town’s mayor had warned him not to file charges against Khalil because the U.S. military last year had declared Khalil “a red line” — untouchable.

In the interview from detention, Khalil still called himself “America’s man and one of its most important supporters in the fight against al-Qaeda and other armed groups.”

But these days, U.S. military officials are less generous. Another spokesman denied that the military had ever given him an amnesty, as Khalil claimed. Military officials now say he played no role in the Sons of Iraq, even as fighters in Thuluyah maintain that he is still their leader.

“We do believe Mullah Nadhim’s arrest is a matter for the government of Iraq and are confident he will be treated fairly under Iraqi law,” Maj. Derrick Cheng said.

“Citizens here are treated fairly under Iraqi law,” he added …

At the city council, long considered as corrupt as it was impotent, some members once too meek to offer anything but praise for Khalil have assumed a newfound swagger. Jabbouri, a lawyer and former general who was one of the few to speak out about Khalil, sat under a lazy fan, exuding the sense of someone proved right.

Asked if he was happy about Khalil’s arrest, he paused for a long moment.

“Definitely,” he finally said.

“He forgot that the Americans are going to leave one day,” he said. “It’s like a fiancee and her groom. Before he marries her, he promises her a lot. After the marriage, he forgets everything. The Americans have pulled the carpet from under his feet.”

The opinion expressed by the Major Cheng is stolid and dangerous.  It’s stolid because not even citizens in the U.S. are always treated fairly under the law.  No one believes that all citizens of any country are always treated fairly and with justice.  It’s dangerous because if the Iraqi people hear and believe the idea that we believe that all jurisprudence in Iraq is fair and just, then we’re in the pocket of the Iraqi administration and have lost all power and authority.  It would have been better to say nothing at all.

A whole host of bad decisions has led up to this point.  Professor Terrill believes that the worst decision in the campaign was the dismissal of the Iraqi Army.  I strongly disagree.  Moqtada al Sadr was actually in the custody of the 3/2 Marines in 2004 and released because command pressed for it.  Sectarianism is alive and well in Iraq, and leaving Sadr alive was, without any competition, the worst mistake of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  It may yet cost us the campaign.

Second, I worry about the cost to our souls of the betrayal of the Sons of Iraq.  We have too easily amended the public discourse in America to fret over the moral fidelity of enhanced interrogation techniques that were applied only to a handful of terrorists.  That promises were made to the thousands of Sons of Iraq is not important to us, and yet it says something very profound and deep about our honesty, integrity and continued support for an administration in Iraq that is as sectarian as is the culture.  It says something when we are able so quickly to dismiss and betray those who fought alongside us against al Qaeda.

Finally, the Anbaris and Sunnis in other parts of Iraq will not forget, and since this is probably not the last counterinsurgency campaign we will fight in the twenty first century, we had better hope that the balance of the world forgets our broken promises.  The next “awakening” may be much harder coming.

One way to fix the DoD procurement problems

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

In Pentagon Plans Huge New Bureaucracy we discussed the addition of 20,000 new government jobs in the Department of Defense to set up yet more bureaucracy regarding weapons and systems procurement.  The Telegraph gives us a nice counterexample – a bright moment in an otherwise apoplectic organization that has too much inertia to be innovative.

The devices have been embraced by the military because they are relatively easy to use, can safely carry secure software and are far cheaper than manufacturing a version specifically for the army.

Capable of holding more than 30,000 programmes, Apple’s best-sellers are being used for everything from translating to working out the trajectories of snipers.

The military is also working on how they can be used as guidance systems for bomb disposal robots and to receive aerial footage from unmanned drone aircraft, according to the Independent.

The US Marine Corps is currently funding an application that would allow soldiers to upload photographs of detained suspects, along with written reports, into a biometric database. The software would match faces, in theory making it easier to track suspects after they’re released.

While members of the British military who have seen the Apple instruments in action are envious, the Ministry of Defence remains wary of security implications and has “no plans” at present to go down the American path.

But Lieutenant Colonel Jim Ross, the director of the US Army’s intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors operation, believes the iPod “may be all that the personnel need”.

“What gives it added advantage is that a lot of them have their own personal ones so they are familiar with them,” he told the paper.

Another advantage is the price. The iPod touch (which soldiers can use over a secure WiFi network) retails for around $230 (£150) and the iPhone for $600. Bulk orders placed by the Pentagon bring further savings.

This kind of latitude and flexibility is usually threatening to a chain of command that wants to control every little detail and ensure uniformity.  But uniformity is not the goal here, and this example ought to be emulated throughout all four branches of the service.  The best way to begin to hold the Department of Defense bureaucracy accountable for timeliness and results is to bypass them.  In order to play the game, they will have to adapt to the more flexible chain of command which is entrusting its officers and NCOs with more responsibility and authority.  In the end, everyone will be a winner.

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

The Wall Street Journal gives us an account of several terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days in Afghanistan that bear our attention.  But before that, a few preliminaries.

As best as I can determine, the U.S. Army is on a mission to find itself, or self actualize, or something else like that.  So is the Corps, just in a different way.  The Corps is trying to figure out this whole Expeditionary concept with very expensive amphibious fighting vehicles that would never be used except for an amphibious assault (an assault the target of which we simply can’t fathom at the moment).

But the Army mission is entirely different.  The Army is trying to divide itself into Thomas P.M. Barnett’s Leviathan and Sysadmin, with the SF / SOF being the Leviathan and the balance of the forces being the softer side.  The Leviathan does direct action kinetics.  They don’t participate in the softer side of counterinsurgency; they play offense, while the general purpose forces play defense.

The Marines have no such division of labor (except perhaps the division of infantry and otherwise).  I have weighed in explaining my opposition to this model.  It is almost as bad an idea to separate the SOF from COIN as it is to separate general purpose forces from direct action kinetics.  Both are profoundly misguided, still-born notions.

Naturally, I objected when the narrative concerning General McKiernan began to devolve into nay saying and charges of incompetence.  I strongly supported McKiernan, and then even more so.  My reaction to General Stanley McChrystal was that the Afghanistan campaign will turn into even more of a SOF direct action program against high value targets, in which case I believe that it’s better to leave Afghanistan entirely and deploy back to the states (for both SOF and GPF).  It won’t work.

I also had not seen any valid objection or problematic instance concerning General McKiernan’s leadership – at least, not until now.  But a few more words before we dive into the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad counterinsurgency.  To be sure, while there were many instances of direct action kinetics by the Marines in Anbar, Iraq (after all, they are Marines), all counterinsurgency is not kinetics.  Sometimes the methods are soft.  Other times, the methods may follow Edward Luttwak and Ralph Peters more so than Nagl and Petraeus.

There are many examples of things that can make families and particularly heads of households very uncomfortable, such as aggressive raids in the middle of the night, cordon and knock doors down and root around homes for weapons caches rather than cordon and knock, and other tactics that don’t bear discussion in a forum like this one.

But no matter how hard or soft a tactic or set of tactics, they all have one thing in common: behavior modification.  No tactic is applied in a vacuum.  They all have as their goal reliance on the government, information sharing, development of intelligence, and other such things as are conducive to the campaign.

So it’s valid to ignore the wishes of the people as long as there is a good reason for it and there is some remedy of amelioration.  Does the local population not respond to tribal Sheiks?  Do they respond better to block captains, or Mukhtars?  Fine.  Then use this to your advantage and set up gated communities and Mukhtars in responsible charge.  One understands the human terrain and works with what he has been given.

Now to the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

The karez originated in southwest Persia around 1000 B.C. The hand-dug underground canals carry water from aquifers in the hills to villages and fields. The system irrigates about 75% of Zabul’s grapes, wheat and almonds.  Villagers and soldiers uncovered a vertical maintenance shaft for canals near the base.

By MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS

Karezgay, Afghanistan

Deep beneath the desolate landscape here are miles of canals that have watered wheat fields and vineyards for untold generations. They’re also at the center of a dispute that handed the Taliban a propaganda victory and angered the very people the U.S. military hopes to win over through its troop surge.

Rushing to expand a base to fit the new forces, American commanders seized farmland and built on top of these ancient underground-irrigation systems. The blunder is an indication of how fragile the effort to win public backing for the U.S.-led war can be. In some cases, the tension is over civilian casualties; in others, it’s about the corruption of U.S. allies in the Afghan government. Here, it’s an accidental clash of infrastructure technologies separated by a few yards of dirt and 3,000 years.

Rahmatullah, an elder from near Forward Operating Base Wolverine in Zabul province, complains about the U.S. base’s expansion.

Now American and Afghan officials are scrambling to mend relations with the farmers, dispatching a mullah to pray with them, a lawyer to pay them and engineers to redesign the base to accommodate them.

“If before we put the first U.S. soldier on the ground, we alienate the closest village to the…base, we’re putting the thing in reverse before we even get started,” says Lt. Col. William “Clete” Schaper, lead engineer on the expansion of Forward Operating Base Wolverine, one of more than two dozen U.S. posts being enlarged.

The underground canals, called karez, originated in southwest Persia around 1,000 B.C. before migrating to Afghanistan. When Genghis Khan invaded in 1221 A.D., locals took shelter there. They did the same after the Soviets invaded in 1979. In some parts of Afghanistan today, insurgent fighters use the tunnels to ambush coalition troops and escape unseen.

Karezgay is in Zabul Province, or “Talibanistan,” as U.S. officers here joke. Zabul is an ideal candidate for some of the 21,000 new troops that President Barack Obama has directed to Afghanistan. Entire districts of the province are insurgent-controlled, and coalition forces here are barely sufficient to protect the highway that passes through Zabul.

The goal is for new troops to clear out insurgents, allowing Afghan authorities to win local allegiance with education, health care, security and other services. But the troops will need a place to stay, so last fall the Army started planning to expand FOB Wolverine, now a small post, to accommodate 1,000 soldiers, a helicopter battalion and a 6,000-foot runway. The base perimeter has expanded to two miles around; engineers expect that to triple in the near future. “It was an engineer looking at a map and saying, ‘We need this much room,’ and drawing a box,” says Lt. Col. Schaper.

The Army didn’t take into account the karez, which consist of hand-dug underground canals that carry water from aquifers in the hills to villages and fields. Every 50 or so feet is a vertical shaft used for maintenance. The system irrigates about 75% of Zabul’s grapes, wheat and almonds.

The karez “are the linchpin of their entire civilization here,” says Capt. Paul Tanghe, who advises the Afghan National Army battalion in Karezgay.

In December, Capt. Tanghe and other U.S. advisers noticed surveying work under way, figured out the Army had big plans and realized locals would be in an uproar. They emailed Lt. Col. Schaper, warning of the expansion’s likely impact. U.S. and Afghan officials then invited village elders to Karezgay for a meeting, called a shura, to discuss the plans.

The Taliban were a step ahead. They hosted their own shura at the mosque, where they preached an anti-U.S. message, according to Capt. Tanghe.

The elders left the mosque and walked to the district center for the government shura. Coalition officials touted the benefits of jobs and an airfield, to little effect. One by one, each elder mouthed the Taliban-approved line: The U.S. Army is here to steal land, destroy the karez and force the locals to move. One mullah charged that airplanes would cause pregnant women to lose their babies, Capt. Tanghe says.

Just one village, Bao Kala, spoke in support of the expansion, an act defying the Taliban. One night last fall, Taliban militants burst into the home of a Bao Kala elder and schoolteacher, Bismillah Amin, 42. They frog-marched him barefoot for more than a mile to a gathering of armed fighters, who ordered him to stop teaching. To reinforce the warning, they sliced off his left ear.

After the shura, the coalition sent a veterinarian to de-worm livestock in Bao Kala and funded a project to clean out its tunnels.

In late February, with the surge approaching, crews began expanding FOB Wolverine’s boundaries, absorbing neighboring fields and vertical openings of the karez system.

In March, the Army sent a hydrologist to study the impact that construction was having on water supplies in one village. “The resulting water production loss experienced by Bowragay Village karez system supports Taliban claims of base expansion negatively impacting the community and confounds counterinsurgency operations,” the hydrologist’s internal report said.

Last month, U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, the top allied commander in Afghanistan until he was ousted earlier this week, visited Zabul and found himself buttonholed by angry elders. The expansion, they said, was destroying their livelihoods. Gen. McKiernan ordered a coalition lawyer, Col. Jody Prescott, to Karezgay and arrange compensation.

Afghan officials called another shura late last month. An Afghan army mullah opened the event by reciting verses from the Koran. Soldiers posted a blue banner that read, “Islam unifies our nation.”

Lt. Col. Schaper took the podium. “Once we establish security, we’ll be able to grow the district both economically and with our education programs,” he said. “We realize it does us no good to expand the base and bring security, if we ruin your crops.”

Salamuddin, a 48-year-old farmer with a black turban and a fierce black gaze, swept to the podium to speak. U.S. barbed wire now crosses his property, he said, and 160 acres of it are on the other side. “The karez is the main source of water for the village, but the Army has taken our karez and now it’s inside the base,” he said. “The village is nothing without our karez.” He shouted to the other elders: “Do you want your rights?”

“Yes!” they yelled back.

Lt. Col. Schaper pleaded for patience. “If we can avoid karezes and orchards, we will do that,” he promised. “We are not going to come in and take anyone’s land without compensation.”

Col. Prescott spent two weeks walking property lines and assessing damage claims, while Army engineers modified the base design. The original plan, for instance, put a waste-water treatment plant on top of a karez. The new plan puts it where it won’t disturb anything.

The Army realizes it stumbled with FOB Wolverine, and that if it fails to assuage local concerns, it risks confirming the Taliban message. Commanders also see an upside. Resolving the issue could strengthen the government’s weak position in Talibanistan.

“We’re fighting a counterinsurgency, and it’s all about narratives,” Capt. Tanghe said after the shura. “It doesn’t matter what really happened. It matters what they think happened.”

Well, let’s see.  “The linchpin of their entire civilization,” and brass was aware of this.  I’ll tell you what.  Had I been in charge, the orders would have been as follows (without the many expletives): “Find the local commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, and get him on the phone now.  This base is going to be moved.  I don’t care what it takes or how long, or how much trouble it creates for the engineers.  We won’t alienate the entire province of Zabul before we even get started here.  If we have to turn this into a dozen smaller FOBs, I don’t care.  Tell the men they can walk back and forth – tell them to talk to the locals on their way.  It’ll be good for the campaign.  Find a solution, and find it now, but tell the engineers that we’ll string ‘em up if they don’t do this without destroying the aquification works.”

At any rate, trying to control the narrative is useless and an indicator of the stupidity of our presuppositions going into the campaign.  We are losing the information war, and shuting down the aquification systems that sustained their forefathers and which will sustain their children’s children won’t do.

This is just terrible, horrible, no good, very bad counterinsurgency.  No amount of money, hand shaking, talking, narrative-making, direct action kinetics, or anything else can undo such stolid interaction with the people.  SOF, general purpose forces, it doesn’t matter.  We must do better.  We simply must do better.

Update: Thanks to Dave at the Small Wars Journal Blog for picking us for quote of the day.

Questions for Mr. Obama

BY Jim Spiri
5 years, 5 months ago

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S VISIT TO RIO RANCHO, NM

Today is May 14, 2009.  President Obama came to visit Rio Rancho, NM and hold a kind of “town hall meeting” of sorts.  I did not vote for Mr. Obama, however, I felt compelled to go and be present at his visit.  There was no way I could obtain a ticket so I contacted the Governor’s office and explained that my son is currently on his fifth deployment to the war zone and that we had lost our older son, eight years ago, who was a US Marine.  In short order, I received two tickets to attend.  I wanted to speak directly to the Governor and the President, but, that would not happen on this day.  Maybe some day in the future it will, we’ll see.

As for my take on the so called “town hall” meeting, I have some comments to make.  Let me firstly say, Mr. Obama is all of our Commander in Chief, so, no matter what we think politically, left or right, Mr. Obama is the one who now controls my son’s destiny at war.  My son has now served under three Presidents in his nine year career as an Army aviator.  So I have a stake in what the current Commander in Chief has to say.  But what did this new Commander in Chief have to say today here in New Mexico…?

Observing the crowd, and listening to what was being said both verbally and non-verbally (body language), it seemed as though all I heard from the crowd was, “Mr. Obama, please pay off my credit card bills and please pay off my house mortgage.  We’ve been too irresponsible to do it ourselves and you promised to give us all this free stuff….”  That is what it sounded like to me.  But I kept my mouth shut.  I am always considerate of my surroundings, wherever I am at any given moment.

In all fairness to Mr. Obama, he said one thing I agreed with.  Credit cards are not free money.  Duh……However, for some reason the people in the audience today, almost 3000 of them, seemed to think it is the governments’ job to pay their credit card bills.  No wonder they think that, we’ve seen the current administration bail out big time bankers to the tune of trillions of dollars and rising, so, perhaps it is only fitting that the average dumbed-down New Mexican should think the same about their personal credit card debt…..What a country…!

I find it really tough to be in the crowd of 3000 whiny New Mexicans complaining about how deep in debt they got themselves in while at the same time I have to worry about my son flying combat helicopter missions in Iraq, again, protecting the rights of these New Mexicans to ask for more free money from Mr. Obama.  I remember back, exactly eight years ago to the day, when my other son, 2nd Lt. Jesse James Spiri, USMC was operated on for a serious medical situation and was told he would die and that his government would not spend one dime to help him.  And he was a United States Marine Officer.  I think there is something wrong with this picture.  Now granted, this did not happen on Mr. Obama’s watch, but what is currently happening on Mr. Obama’s watch is this.  Our nation is even the more so at war now in the middle east and my younger son is there again.  And he would go another five times if called upon.  He, like is father, is a true patriot.  If the Commander in Chief says, “jump”, we both say “how high?”.

But…Mr. Obama wanted to talk about New Mexican’s credit card debt, not my son at war, today.  I was almost called upon, but Mr. Obama chose his questioners carefully.  He did not call upon anyone that looked like me.  Rather he chose to call on people that were in unions, worked for the Congressman’s office from district 3, etc.  He should have called on me.  I would have asked him this question…

“Mr. Obama, when you are finished paying off the credit card debts of all these irresponsible New Mexicans, and bailing out all those fat cats on Wall Street and their banker friends,  will there be any money left to continue the maintaining of the CH47 helicopter fleet the Army is using whose funds you have scheduled to cut?  My son has served his country on five deployments in the war zones of the middle east and there is talk that cuts in the Chinook helicopter community is imminent.  You have asked my son to fight the country’s wars and he has done so valiantly, but now, you have his helicopters on the chopping blocks so these irresponsible New Mexicans who cannot seem to stay away from Wal-Mart and Best Buy, want you to take care of them, while they scream against those fighting for our freedom and safety…What’s up with that..?” I would ask.

But, Mr. Obama did not call upon me.  Maybe he knew who I was.  Maybe he knew what I would ask.  I’m not sure.  But I know this, when he asks my son to go to war, as my son has just done, two weeks ago, I am forced to say, “Amen”, again.

Today, I saw Mr. Obama and heard him speak.  Many say how smart he is, how intellectual he is.  I found him rather boring today.  Oh, he knew a little about how to talk to a crowd, but, on this day, there was nothing really earth shattering that he said that struck a chord with me.  He is still my Commander in Chief.  I respect his position.  But I am not impressed with his talk today.  He didn’t say anything relevant to things I’m concerned about.  Once before, my government told me there was not enough money to take care of my son, a Marine.  Now, my government is telling me there is plenty of money to bail out bankers and New Mexicans that cannot pay their credit card bill from Wal Mart.  But my government is not saying anything about taking care of the helicopters my younger son is flying in war to give these irresponsible New Mexicans the freedom to ask the current Commander in Chief for some money to pay their credit cards off.

I’m not impressed.  But I will still salute the current Commander in Chief and pray that my son will be safe in his helicopter while at war.

Sincerely,

Jim Spiri

jimspiri@yahoo.com   505-898-1680


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