Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 7 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]

The Failing UK Strategy in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

Abu Muqawama links a stinging report in the Telegraph.  Writing in the British Army Review, an official MoD publication, Major SN Miller, stated: “Lets not kid ourselves. To date Operation Herrick [the British codename for the War in Afghanistan] has been a failure”. (Editorial comment: Can professional journalists not learn the basic rule of quotation marks belonging outside the period?).

The reader should spend the time to study this Telegraph report in its entirety.  Noteworthy is that AM reflexively goes into a discussion of the fact that a number of British officers he knows have taken to reading FM 3-24 because the UK hasn’t given the right training to their own officers.

But note also that there is little if any of this in the discussion in the Telegraph.  What you do find is that:

Maj Miller, who has served in Afghanistan, also attacks the Department For International Development (DFID) for pumping millions of pounds of taxpayers money into a government where he claimed “corruption, inefficiency and incompetence” are “endemic” …

“Self-protection has become the main tactic, reinforced by air strikes that can backfire and undermine the campaign.

“Even as the Army renders itself more and more immobile with heavier vehicles and infantrymen weighing as much as a medieval knight, still the fantasy of the “manoeuvrist approach is peddled in staff courses.

“There is nothing manoeuvrist about weeks of petty, attritional fire fights within a few kilometres radius of a Forward Operating Base. The reason for all this is clear – zero casualties has become the tacit assumption behind operations.

“The Taliban are not being “coerced”, “deterred”, or “destabilised”. They simply disperse, knowing that the British cannot sustain pressure, and they return like the tide when the British troops withdraw, after a short period, back to their bases” …

“Until the government properly resources the war in Afghanistan, our strategy will fail.

The picture is not one of not knowing how to do it.  It’s one of under-resourcing, FOB-centric, casualty-averse operations, and corruption within Afghanistan itself (ironically, we covered CNAS’s own contribution to under-resourcing in CNAS Releases Afghanistan Study).

To be sure, FM 3-24 touches on much of this, but most of it is common sense.  Skirmishes with Taliban fighters (versus what the U.S. Marines are doing in Now Zad) is wasteful of time, money, resources, and the good will of the Afghans.

The issue is not publishing the UK version of FM 3-24.  The issue is will and fortitude.  And by the way, while we have hit on the UK hard for their failure in Basra (due in part to their ROE and belief in the applicability of their experience in Northern Ireland to anywhere else on earth), we have also noted the brave UK warriors under duress.  The problem is no more in the enlisted ranks than it is the lack of a field manual (publishing the UK version of FM 3-24 won’t solve the world’s problems, nor the problems of the UK Army).  The problem is in the politics and the officer corps.

See also British Hated Because of Musa Qala (and associated links provided).

Boss Mongo and TCJ on Various Subjects

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

We have been fairly diligent to propose (and keep proposing) that the high value target campaign in Afghanistan be stopped, Special Operations Forces (SOF) be reattached to infantry, and SOF participate in the softer side of counterinsurgency while infantry also participates in the raids and other kinetics involved in supporting the campaign.

Boss Mongo at Mongo’s Montreaux (I know, cool pseudonym, great name for a web site, I wish I had thought of it first) disagreed.

Let’s talk basics. Conventional Forces, represented here by the Infantry, are regimented, hierarchical, and inflexible. SOF operations and culture–where merit, competence and aptitude often win out over rank–is anathema to CF. As for “no special privileges” like greater authoritiy than CF to call in indirect and air support: those “special privileges” are generated because the force receives special training and has special capabilities. What do you think the S in SOF is for? Is the argument that a 26-year old squad leader should have the same access to the wide array of US effects as a 44-year old, specially trained operator?

If, in our current COIN fights, SOF/GPF integration is so all-fired important, let’s turn the paradigm around: let’s attach infantry companies (commanded by captains) to SF companies (commanded by majors). Better yet, let’s attach infantry battalions to SF Groups and SEAL Teams. That would ensure that the forces are integrated. Of course, the infantry guys would be ruined forever (from thier commander’s point of view) because they’d learn to think for themselves, would prioritize mission accomplishment over placating the command, and would go to the gym and do PT in any clothes they wanted (the horror, the horror).

Starbuck pointed out the case of a sergeant major who admitted to using a multi-million dollar unmanned aerial vehicle to covertly inspect the uniforms of Soldiers at remote combat outposts. Yeah, the organization that promoted that guy and put him in a position of such responsibility and authority could properly utilize SOF.

Well, first of all, let’s distinguish between what I’m suggesting and what I’m not (since it’s impossible to lay out every recommendation and every caveat in a single article).  I’ve never understood the heavy land use of SEALs, and it seems to me that they should stay primarily in the water.  I don’t deny that there needs to be covert operations, and certainly a relatively small unit of commando-style soldiers needs to be maintained (with robust qualifications – HALO jumps, sniper qualifications, etc.).  I do not see the need for Rangers, since airborne qualifications are not unique to them, and air field seizure can be trained at the 82nd and 101st level (my father served in the 82nd).  My opinion is that women shouldn’t be allowed to have combat billets, so that problem would be dealt with under my scenario.

Now, to what I have proposed.  Much of SOF (not all, and certainly not SF with language skills) can be and should be reattached to infantry.  It is in the best interests of a robust military forces for kinetics not to be relegated to certain units, like Thomas P.M. Barnett has proposed with his Leviathan v. Sysadmin.

Boss Mongo gives good reason to question the institutional and bureaucratic makeup and reticence of the U.S. Army, but that’s just an organizational issue, one that can and should be corrected.  It works to have force recon and scout sniper attached to Marine infantry.  Change is hard, but regardless of what position one takes, it should be recognized what the debate is about.  It’s about a division of labor and qualifications into Leviathan and Sysadmin, whether one admits it up front or not.  It’s happening, and it has already happened to some extent.  The question is whether to reverse it or continue down this path.

Next, Boss Mongo gives us a good rundown on why we must entrust the battle against the insurgency to the ISF.  The point is granted, but I still have great reservations in the ISF, and even deeper reservations in the political structure, probably because I am so opposed to Maliki (who has failed to deliver on promises to incorporate the Sons of Iraq into the security apparatus).

But here is one for you.  While I cannot attest to this first hand (since I wasn’t there), I interviewed dozens of Marines coming back from Fallujah in 2007 (when my son was deployed).  They implicitly trusted the Sons of Iraq and worked with them as IPs.  No problems, slept with them, worked with them, ate with them, fought with them (initially against them, and then alongside them against AQ).

The ISF was the problem.  Their ranks were filled with lazy ne’er-do-wells and scurrilous, treacherous scumbags.  The Marines would only sleep in their vicinity with another armed Marine on watch and separated by concertina wire.  There’s the ISF for you.

Finally, Boss takes a shot at Iraqslogger.  TCJ agrees and was down on them long ago.  After all, what do you expect when someone like Eason Jordan leads the outfit?

TCJ says that Boss Mongo should keep up the good work, keep up the writing, and watch his six.

Marines Take the Fight to the Enemy in Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

NOW ZAD, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – U.S. Marines maneuver through a wall to conduct site exploitation after a precision aerial attack during a combat operation in the abandoned village of Now Zad, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, April 3, 2009.

The residents of Now Zad were forced to abandon their homes nearly three years ago out of fear for their lives due to the strong presence of insurgents. By conducting combat operations here, Marines are bringing Now Zad closer to the reintroduction of Afghan-led governance.

The Marines of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, have served in Now Zad since November 2008.

Now Zad, Afghanistan is in the news.

The 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marine Regiment had deployed to Afghanistan last spring to train Afghan police. But when Karell’s platoon arrived in Now Zad, the largest town in a remote northern district of Helmand province, they’d rolled into a ghost town.

The Afghans who used to live here, more than 10,000, had been gone for several years, their abandoned mud-brick homes slowly melting into the dusty valley. Insurgents were using the place for R&R. At night, all you heard were the jackals, ululating like veiled, grieving women. The fact that Now Zad had no civilian residents, much less any police, had somehow escaped the notice of the coalition planners who had given the Marines their mission.

“They saw what they wanted to achieve but didn’t realize fully what it would take,” Task Force 2/7′s commander, Lt. Col. Richard Hall, said at the time. “There were no intel pictures where we are now because there were few or no coalition forces in the areas where we operate. They didn’t know what was out there. It was an innocent mistake.”

So, with no police to train or civilians to protect, the Marines in Now Zad were left with the job of evicting the insurgents who had taken over the town.

Joshua Foust has an interesting take on this kind of narrative.

I think we’re starting to reach the point at which you can only tell the same story so many times: U.S. military comes to town, finds out things are worse than they realized, learns their training sucks, and must adapt. Cue gunfire, the agonizing death of comrades, and the realization that you finally get it, and the guys who come to replace you in a few months will be better off as a result. Rinse, repeat.

Well, perhaps intelligence missed it.  Perhaps it would have been better to have known what Now Zad was like before deploying.  But Marines are generally trained at the range (iron sights at 500 yards), close and hand to hand combat in MCMAP, room clearing, language, culture, checkpoints and traffic control, squad rushes, fast roping, and other infantry tactics.  It’s unlikely that they will face anything in Now Zad for which they cannot adapt.

The Captain’s Journal has a different take on things.  Notice the tip of the hat to population-centric counterinsurgency with the horrible notion that there were no civilians to protect.  We have been as strong an advocate as possible of the idea of protecting the population from the Taliban.  But recall that in the context of the Army’s presence at the Korengal Valley we also discussed enemy separation from the population – and targeting the enemy – as another line of operation.

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.

Intelligence failure or not, Lt. Col. Hall shouldn’t be apologizing for the fact that there are no civilians in Now Zad to protect.  This exigency should be the occasion for celebration.  It happened for the Marines in Garmser, and it’s happening again in Now Zad.  God must love the Marines.

In counterinsurgency, rarely does the opportunity present itself to have an unhindered killing field to defeat an enemy militarily.  This is it.  Several hundred hard core Taliban fighters have garrisoned themselves in Now Zad without any civilian inhabitants whatsoever.  This question was asked earlier and answered by us in Major Combat Operations in Now Zad Afghanistan.  Why are the Marines there?  Answer: Because the Taliban are.

But in this marvelous AP report, we learn – again – that there aren’t enough troops to clear and hold.  More are needed, and this is General McChrystal’s job.  Finally, when population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine makes us question why Marines are killing the enemy, as Col. Gian Gentile would point out, the doctrine is no longer our friend.  We must allow the forces to discover the center of gravity.  In this case, we don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Prior Featured Article: Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops

Now Zad Video

Mullah Mohammed Omar Reasserting Control Over Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

From the WSJ:

Mullah Omar, supreme leader of the Taliban, is reasserting direct control over the militant group’s loose-knit insurgency in Afghanistan, ordering attacks and shuffling field commanders in preparation for the arrival of thousands of additional U.S. troops, according to U.S. officials and insurgents in Afghanistan.

Until recently, the ground-level conduct of the Taliban’s war against the U.S.-led coalition has been left to local commanders acting on their own. Mr. Omar, who heads a Taliban leadership council called the Quetta “shura” — named after the city in southeast Pakistan where it is believed to be based — has typically focused on choosing Taliban leaders and funneling money, religious guidance and strategic advice to fighters.

But since the start of the year, Mr. Omar, through his direct lieutenants, has ordered a spate of suicide bombings and assassinations in southern and eastern Afghanistan that presage a bloody phase to come in the Afghan war, according to U.S. officials and Afghan insurgents …

In another unusual attack in mid-May, nearly a dozen suicide bombers struck targets in the provincial capital of Khost in eastern Afghanistan, leaving 12 people dead, not including the bombers. U.S. officials say the attack was ordered by the Quetta shura …

Mr. Omar’s push to centralize command has irked some rank-and-file Taliban, insurgents say, potentially leaving them more amenable to U.S. and Afghan outreach efforts. Drawing on a tactic first used in Iraq, the U.S. has been reaching out to moderate Taliban fighters in the hopes of reconciling them into Afghanistan’s political process.

However, Mr. Omar’s re-emergence could also lead to a more centralized and coordinated — and violent — insurgency that would pose an even greater threat, U.S. officials and insurgents say.

We have previously discussed the disaggregation of the Taliban into drug runners, petty thieves, local warlords, and distributed operations of small units of Taliban fighters.  We said that this would make battling the Taliban more difficult.

There is a flip side to this coin.  Despite romantic (maybe pedantic?) notions of swarm theory on the evolution of insurgencies (viz. John Robb at Global Guerrillas), every insurgency is different, from religious devotion to criminality, from (foreign) state sponsorship to complete independence from government influence or largesse, from responsibility being pushed downward to lower- and mid-tier commanders to (in this case) re-centralization of authority and power.

Apparently, Mullah Omar believes that reassuming tactical control over his fighters is in his and the Taliban’s best interest.  If he is successful, this might mean more difficulty in battling the Taliban in the South.  The claim that some insurgents would be more amenable to outreach efforts due to this re-centralization of power appears to be wishful thinking.  The Captain’s Journal simply doesn’t believe it.

Analysts Miss Iran’s Hidden Revolution

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

Commenter and loyal reader TSAlfabet and TCJ are in a debate over what democracy in Iran might bring.  It’s the same debate that Michael Totten is having with himself at Commentary Magazine.  On the one hand, we should all support democracy programs in Iran, and Mir Hossein Mousavi seems light years better than Ahmadinejad.  But Michael Totten doesn’t trust him, although he does point out that Michael Ledeen believes that there has been a transformation in his views.  Either way, the disposition of the current upheaval in Iran likely doesn’t change anything regarding the push for a nuclear weapon.

But democracy is a good first step in Iran’s evolution towards being a viable twenty first century state.  Fox News recently reported (James Rosen) that Washington was abuzz with talks about how the Iran analysts and foreign policy experts had missed how Iran had transitioned from the Islamic revolution to a fascist, repressive state.  This hidden revolution was recently discussed in the New York Times, no doubt leading to the current debate over the expert analysts entirely missing it.

Just after Iran’s rigged elections last week, with hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets, it looked as if a new revolution was in the offing. Five days later, the uprising is little more than a symbolic protest, crushed by the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Meanwhile, the real revolution has gone unnoticed: the guard has effected a silent coup d’état.

The seeds of this coup were planted four years ago with the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And while he has since disappointed his public, failing to deliver on promised economic and political reforms, his allies now control the country. In the most dramatic turnabout since the 1979 revolution, Iran has evolved from theocratic state to military dictatorship.

Disenchantment with clerical rule has been growing for years. To the urban youths who make up Iran’s most active political class, the mullahs represent the crude rigidity of Islamic law. To the rural poor, they epitomize the corruption that has meant unbuilt schools, unpaved roads and unfulfilled promises of development.

The problem with the Fox News report is that not everyone missed it.  In 2004 Michael Ledeen said that we shouldn’t dismiss the prospects of democratic revolution in Iran.  In 2008 he clearly linked them with fascist dictatorships, and in 2007 he said concerning Iran, “the economy – insofar as it has to do with the daily lives of most people – is a disaster, the rulers are hated, the population is young, and there is a long tradition of self government” (page 208 of The Iranian Time Bomb; as a fellow Marine father, my copy is signed “From a fellow-suffering dad to another – Michael”).

Finally, writing for Pajamas Media, Michael said early in 2009:

… despite all their efforts to crush any sign of internal rebellion, many Iranians continue to publicly oppose the mullahs.  A few weeks ago, students at universities all over the country demonstrated in significant numbers, and as one Iranian now living in Europe put it to me, “they were surprised that the regime was unable to stop the protests, even though everyone knew they were planned.”   This is the background for the new wave of repression, accompanied by an intensification of jamming on the Internet, and an ongoing reshuffle of the instruments of repression;  Khamanei and Ahmadinejad have no confidence in the efficacy or blind loyalty of the army or of large segments of the Revolutionary Guards.  Most public actions are carried out by the Basij, who are judged more reliable, and repression is less in the hands of the traditional ministries than in new groups freshly minted in the Supreme Leader’s office.

In short, we are dealing with a regime that is very concerned about its future, and is not very comfortable with its friends, allies, and proxies.  The mullahs know that most Iranians would like to see their leaders treated the same way as the nine executed on Christmas Eve, and, like all tyrants, the Iranian despots are trying to demonstrate that they dominate both Iran and the region.

These are just a very few of the quotes cobbled together over ten minutes or so of research.  The debate that commenter TSAlfabet and TCJ are having and Michael Totten is having with himself is several steps above the current panic among so-called “experts” in Washington who wonder why they missed it so badly.  We’re further ahead in our discussion because we didn’t miss it.  Neither did Michael Ledeen.  So why is this administration listening to “experts” who miss major events like the next Iranian revolution?

Meanwhile, the revolution isn’t over quite yet, no matter what the NYT commentary asserts.

General McChrystal to go on Afghanistan Public Relations Offensive

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

Gareth Porter has penned a commentary in the Asia Times on several subjects.  It’s long and much of it not very worthwhile reading.  But it’s necessary to read it entirely in order to understand his mistaken calculus.

At his confirmation hearings as the new commander in Afghanistan two weeks ago, General Stanley McChrystal said reducing civilian deaths from air strikes in Afghanistan was “strategically decisive” and declared his “willingness to operate in ways that minimize casualties or damage, even when it makes our task more difficult”.

Some McChrystal supporters hope he will rein in the main source of civilian casualties: Special Operations Forces (SOF) units that carry out targeted strikes against suspected “Taliban” on the basis of doubtful intelligence and raids that require air strikes when they get into trouble.

But there are growing indications that his command is preparing to deal with the issue primarily by seeking to shift the blame to the Taliban through more and better propaganda operations and by using more high-tech drone intelligence aircraft to increase battlefield surveillance rather than by curbing the main direct cause of civilian casualties.

United States officials at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conference in Brussels last Friday told reporters that “public relations” were now considered “crucial” to “turning the tide” in Afghanistan, according to an Agence-France Presse story on June 12.

Central Command chief General David Petraeus also referred to the importance of taking the propaganda offensive in a presentation to the pro-military think-tank the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on June 11. “When you’re dealing with the press,” he said, “when you’re dealing with the tribal leaders, when you’re dealing with host nations … you got to beat the bad guys to the headlines.”

The new emphasis on more aggressive public relations appears to respond to demands from US military commanders in Afghanistan to wrest control of the issue of civilian casualties from the Taliban. In a discussion of that issue at the same conference, General David Barno, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, said, “We’ve got to be careful about who controls the narrative on civilian casualties.”

United States military commanders in Afghanistan “see the enemy seeking to take air strikes off the table” by exaggerating civilian casualties, Barno said. He objected to making civilian casualties an indicator of success or failure, as a CNAS paper has recommended.

The US command in Afghanistan has already tried, in fact, to apply “information war” techniques in an effort to control the narrative on the issue. The command has argued both that the Taliban were responsible for the massive civilians casualties in a US air strike on May 4 that killed 147 civilians, including 90 women and children, and that the number of civilian deaths claimed has been vastly exaggerated, despite detailed evidence from village residents supporting the casualty figures.

Colonel Greg Julian, the command’s spokesman, said in late May that a “weapon-sight” video would show that the Taliban were to blame. However, Nancy A Youssef reported on June 15 in McClatchy newspapers that the video in question showed that no one had checked to see if women and children were in the building before it was bombed, according to two US military officials.

The Afghan government has highlighted the problem of SOF units carrying out raids that result in air strikes against civilian targets. Kai Eide, the chief of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, has now publicly supported that position, saying in a video conference call from Kabul to NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels on June 12 that there is an “urgent need” to review raids by SOF units, because the civilian casualties being created have been “disproportionate to the military gains”.

But McChrystal hinted in his confirmation hearing that he hoped to reduce civilian casualties by obtaining more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. Petraeus confirmed that approach to the problem in remarks at the CNAS conference last week, announcing that he was planning to shift some high-tech intelligence vehicles from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Petraeus referred to “predators, armed full motion video with Hellfire missiles”, “special intelligence birds”, and unmanned intelligence vehicles called Shadows and Ravens, which fly 24 hours a day.

Although such intelligence aircraft may make US battlefield targeting more precise, Petraeus’ reference to drones equipped with Hellfire missiles suggests that US forces in Afghanistan may now rely more than previously on drone strikes against suspected Afghan insurgents. Given the severe lack of accurate intelligence on the identity of insurgent leaders, that would tend to increase civilian casualties.

Petraeus’ past reluctance to stop or dramatically reduce such SOF operations, despite the bad publicity surrounding them, suggests that high level intra-military politics are involved.

The Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MarSOC) has been involved in the most highly publicized cases of massive civilian casualties in Afghanistan. MarSOC was only established by the Marine Corps in February 2006 and the first company arrived in Afghanistan just a year later.

MarSOC was unable to recruit the more mature officers and troops needed for cross-cultural situations, and its recruits had only a few months of training before being sent to Afghanistan.

The unit’s commanding officer had been warned by one participant in the training before the unit had arrived in Afghanistan that his troops were too young and too oriented toward killing to serve in Afghanistan, according to Chris Mason, a former US official in Afghanistan familiar with the unit’s history.

In March 2007, a company of MarSOC troops which had only arrived in the country the previous month were accused of firing indiscriminately at pedestrians and cars as they sped away from a suicide bomb attack, killing as many as 19 Afghan civilians. Five days later the same unit reportedly fired on traffic again.

As a result, a powerful Pashtun tribe, the Shinwari, demanded to the governor of Nangahar province and Afghan President Hamid Karzai that US military operations in the province be terminated. Within a month, the 120-man MarSOC company was pulled out of Afghanistan.

Significantly, however, a new MarSOC unit was sent back to Afghanistan only a few weeks later, assigned to Herat province. Last August, a MarSOC unit launched an attack against a preplanned target in Azizabad that combined unmanned drones, attack helicopters and a Spectre gunship. More than 90 civilians were killed in the attack, including 60 children, but not a single Taliban fighter was killed, according to Afghan and UN officials.

Karzai said the operation had been triggered by false information given by the leader of a rival tribe, and no US official contradicted him.

When Petraeus took command at CENTCOM just a few weeks later, Afghans were still seething over the Azizabad massacre. That would have been the perfect time for him to take decisive action on MarSOC’s operations.

But Petraeus took no action on MarSOC. Meanwhile, other SOF units were continuing to carry out raids that did not get headlines but which regularly killed women and children, stirring more Afghan anger. Petraeus may have been confronted with the necessity of stopping all the operations if he wished to discipline MarSOC, which would have been too serious a blow to the reputation of US Special Operations Forces.

For two weeks, from mid-February to early March, the rate of SOF raids was reduced. But in early March, they were resumed, despite the near certainty that there would be more embarrassing incidents involving SOF operations. The worst case of massive civilian deaths in the war would come just two months later, and involved the MarSOC unit.

Analysis & Commentary

Right up front let’s deal with the issue of casualties caused by SOF raids – again.  The Captain’s Journal is generally opposed to high value target raids since an insurgency must be defeated from the bottom up rather than the top down.  The HVT campaign has been a remarkable failure, and should serve as a lesson in military doctrine and strategy classes for the foreseeable future.  We warned you years ago.

But this is not the same thing as saying that casualties – unintended casualties, counterproductive casualties – won’t occur regardless of the tactics being used.  Cessation of the SOF high value target campaign won’t end unintended casualties.  Either Porter’s argument is a non sequitur, or he knows this and he is simply being dishonest.  So he’s either stupid or a liar.

All one must do to understand that the limited force size requires other tactics to prevent U.S. forces from being overrun is read Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops (you won’t find this kind of analysis anywhere on the web, which is why it is still up as a featured article).  TCJ has opposed the separation of Force Recon into MARSOC, believing that it is better for the Corps in particular to keep them attached to infantry.  The same goes for Army SOF and Army infantry.  They should be re-attached.

But while we have been critical of SOF and their use, Porter is mistaken if he believes that we will turn on McChrystal and SOF when he charges McChrystal with dealing with the issue of civilian casualties “primarily by seeking to shift the blame to the Taliban through more and better propaganda operations and by using more high-tech drone intelligence aircraft to increase battlefield surveillance rather than by curbing the main direct cause of civilian casualties.”

This is stupid, and in a single article Porter has penned a hit job on McChrystal, U.S. air power, U.S. special operations forces, and especially MARSOC (of which he knows absolutely nothing).  Frankly, The Captain’s Journal doesn’t appreciate it one bit.  Furthermore, his radical bias leads him to miss the point, a point that was well taken and which would have been a worthwhile article had he drawn this point out and done some investigative labor.  He started well.  It didn’t take him long to crash and burn.

The U.S. is poor when it comes to releasing information, even information that demonstrates that enemy propaganda is false.  It’s OPSEC, or it’s FOUO (for official use only), or it’s has to make its way through a hundred layers of approval to be released.  Meanwhile, the enemy has already released their talking points.

We lose.  Game over.  We must do better at releasing the right information, and we must do it quickly.  Time is of the essence.  This goes contrary to the bureaucracy inherent in the U.S. military, and it will be a hard change to bring to the institution.  Can McChrystal accomplish this?  Time will tell.  But Porter missed the chance at a good article because he is stolid.

The Right Response to Iran

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

The Obama administration is struggling to find the right response to the elections and aftermath in Iran.

The political unrest in Iran presents the Obama administration with a dilemma: keep quiet to pursue a nuclear deal with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, or heed calls to respond more supportively to the protesters there — and risk alienating the Shiite cleric.

President Obama and his advisers have struggled to strike the right tone, carefully calibrating positive messages about the protests in an effort to avoid giving the government in Tehran the excuse to portray the demonstrators as pro-American. Nevertheless, the Iranian Foreign Ministry yesterday summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents American interests in Tehran, to complain of “interventionist” comments by U.S. officials, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

In an apt summation of the administration’s position yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters: “We are obviously waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes, but our intent is to pursue whatever opportunities might exist in the future with Iran.”

The explanations for this reticence are mainly twofold.  First there is the romantic belief in the virtue of the vote.  As long as it can be demonstrated that the consequences resulted from free and fair elections, then the goal has been met to reflect the will of the people.  But the notion that it is the duty of the U.S. to spread democracy across the globe doesn’t have many supporters, and rightly so.

History has shown that democracy doesn’t always yield results that are in the interests of our own security, and the pursuit of ambitions that would have a deleterious affect on our sovereignty and security would make a two-headed monster of U.S. foreign policy.  It is – or should be – the duty of the State Department, the Armed Forces, and the intelligence community to further the security of U.S., not to sacrifice it for romantic ideals.  The administration’s observations that Ahmadinejad may have actually won the election or that we should not involve ourselves in Iran’s electoral politics are a ruse.  Even if Bush flirted with pressing the growth of democracy throughout the world, the Obama administration has demonstrated absolutely no such tendencies.

The second explanation for this reticence has to do with seeing the world through pragmatic eyes.  Oddly enough, with the silence of the administration this argument has primarily been advanced by Bill O’Reilly on behalf of the Obama administration over the past several nights.  If we are seen as taking sides against the Iranian regime, the argument goes, then the power centers of Iran (the Mullahs, Iranian Revolutionary Guard) can make things much more difficult in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thus we have had to walk circumspectly.

The problem is that this argument presupposes that Iran has made a deliberate choice to stand down in military actions in both countries as a result of some good will towards the U.S., while the very same choice is simultaneously contrary to the best interests of the Iranian regime.  This behavior, if true, would go directly against history and everything we know about the Mullahs.  There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the Mullahs have made such a good will gesture concerning either Iraq or Afghanistan.

But the likelihood is that neither of these two explanations comes anywhere close to being right.  The deep confusion, the dumbfounded silence, the childish bewilderment, betrays a more serious problem.  The administration doesn’t know how to respond because this isn’t supposed to be happening.

Rather than there being evil inherent in other regimes, it’s supposed to be the heavy-handed meddling, the arrogance and the poor foreign policy of the U.S. that has caused the problems throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.  The world is supposed to be populated by good people who have only the best of intentions, and with enough coaxing, explanations, good will, promises, arguments and lawyerly presentations, peace and cooperation will be and must be brought to the world.

Only when Obama looks across the scene, the vote has obviously been rigged, the IRG stands ready to brutalize its own people, the Mullahs still want nuclear weapons, and the Mullahs have cast their lot with Ahmadinejad as the puppet du jour.  The fruitful negotiations that the administration so desperately wants show no hope of getting off the ground, and even if they did, they would be with an illegitimate regime.

None of this comports with the world view.  As Netanyahu was recently told by an American official, “We are going to change the world. Please, don’t interfere.”  But as we are beginning to see, situations that contradict the world view don’t result in amending that world view.  They simply stupefy the administration.  Thus they stare in disbelief and silence as Iran goes up in flames.  It’s all a matter of presuppositions and world view.

Tired Narratives on Afghanistan: Holy Warriors, Militias and SOF

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

Jonathan Kay has been to a conference of “experts” on the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Here is the narrative.

I’ve spent the last two days at a conference in Freeport, Bahamas, sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, listening to dozens of specialists discuss the best way to pacify the Taliban-infested border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It’s been a humbling experience, as well as an educational one: I seemed to have been the only person on the speaking roster who hadn’t spent a good chunk of his or her life in south Asia. (Emphasis on “or her”: It surprised me how many women have adopted this remote, misogynistic corner of the globe as their focus of study.) Alongside the various ambassadors – current and former – there was a former police chief from Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, a former CIA operative, and a variety of brand-name global terrorism experts. Other speakers had done in-depth reporting from the region for Western publications, or run grass-roots NGOs. Most of the attendees agreed that the Taliban was strong, and getting stronger — and not one offered a simple solution.

A basic problem, it emerged, is the sheer complexity of the military dynamic in eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. While journalists often talk about the Taliban as if it were a single, unified force, there are in fact many Talibans.

On the highest level are the hard-core, mass-murdering jihadis — men whose cause is inseparable from that of al-Qaeda; who are intermarried into al-Qaeda, and have even adopted Arabic as their primary language. Everyone in the room agreed that ordinary politics means little to these men: Holy War is in their blood.

In the middle tier are the tribal militias, village-defense forces, drug gangs and other Taliban-of-convenience. These groups shift their allegiance around opportunistically depending on who seems to be winning at any given moment.

Finally comes the hapless foot soldiers — illiterate peasants paid by the month to tote a gun and go where they’re told.

Each group calls out for a different strategy. In the case of the dedicated jihadis, the only thing to be done is kill them — which means boots on the ground, special forces, and drones. The militias, by contrast, respond quickly to shifts in popular opinion, propaganda and outreach. And the low-level foot-soldiers can be lured away by jobs — which means economic projects and nation-building.

Who has taught them this narrative?  Where did they get it?  As for Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters have proven resilient despite repeated operations against them.  No turning to the right or to the left.  As for Afghanistan, the indigenous insurgency in the South has proven resilient enough that the U.S. Marines in Garmser had to kill some 400 of them before relative peace came to the city in what at times was described as full bore reloading (only to be lost later because the British couldn’t hold the area).

Where is this group of hard core holy warriors which is so small that drones and SOF can take them out, and the multitudinous groups of militia that turn on a dime to shifts in opinion (rather than extort monies and enforce Sharia at the point of a gun)?

The conference of “experts” is parroting wishful thinking rather than realities on the ground in Afghanistan, in which the U.S. Marines are having to engage in heavy combat in order to pacify an indigenous insurgency in the South.  There’s nothing like a conference of “experts” in a tropical getaway to make things interesting for us.  Unfortunately, it would have been better for them to have had the conference in Now Zad.

The more interesting and relevant narrative for us comes from the Strategy Page.  Note before we get to it that The Captain’s Journal called the interdiction of supplies through Khyber and Chaman before it was in vogue, called for engaging the Caucasus before Russia, called the campaign stalled (and even losing) in 2008 while General Rodriguez waxed on about how the U.S. was taking the fight to the Taliban.

Now finally, remember that we have called repeatedly (there are too many articles to link) for re-attachment of the SOF to the infantry, getting the infantry out of their FOBs into kinetics, classical counterinsurgency and population engagement, everywhere, all of the time with all resources.

Now to the Strategy Page.

Many in the Special Forces and regular forces have urged that there be more operations featuring closer cooperation and coordination between Special Forces and the more traditional combat troops. It’s expected that this will now be happening in Afghanistan.

In addition, Special Forces (and special operations troops in general) will get more resources. This is part of a trend, as commanders have found that efforts are more successful when Special Forces personnel are taking the point. This has led to some special operations troops getting special privileges, like wider authority to call in artillery fire and air strikes. Thus this “unleashing” of the Special Forces and other special ops units (SEALs and foreign commandos) will lead to some interesting situations.

They’re listening, and we’re partly there folks.  No special privileges though.  Re-attach them to infantry, just like Force Recon is attached to Marine infantry.  Just another billet to do specialized things.  The Army is dumbing down their expectations and taking the vast majority of their fighters out of the fight while also taking their SOF fighters out of the counterinsurgency operations.  Time to end that nonsense.  Get back to the basics.

The Captain’s Journal and the Zionist Conspiracy

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

Abu Muqawama believes that he has found the greatest blog ever.  We aren’t quite so sure.  This blog links TCJ, and surely must be able to lay some claim to being the greater than the greatest blog ever.  The greatest-est blog.

The End of Korengal

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

From Time’s Adam Ferguson.

The enemy routinely fires on the soldier’s positions from perches in the gorge. No one knows what — or who — lies at the end of the 6-mile-long valley because no one has been able to make it that far. In this photo, smoke rises from a mortar fired by American troops.

“No one has been able to make it that far.”  Too few troops, says The Captain’s Journal.  Korengal Valley is there as the prize for successful counterinsurgency with enough troops to take and hold the terrain, win the population and enforce authority.

A different view of the valley.

Spc. Andrew Harvey, a 1st Infantry Soldier, patrols along steep cliffs of the Korengal Valley’s surrounding mountains during Operation Viper Shake, Afghanistan, April 21, 2009.


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