The Perfect Rifle

Herschel Smith · 06 Nov 2014 · 8 Comments

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

Squad Rushes in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

I have always been a bit puzzled about the debate over training for counterinsurgency.  Other than the bifurcation of the armed forces into Leviathan – Sysadmin as per Thomas P.M. Barnett (a move which I oppose), and without any concrete recommendations for exactly how the COIN proponents would revise or amend the training or organizational structure, the suggestion remain vacuous.  We have nothing to evaluate.  But conventional tactics remain important.

LAKARI, Afghanistan — Marines with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3, along with the Afghan National Army conducted an early-morning raid on the bazaar.

“The purpose of the raid was to disrupt freedom of movement with the bazaar and to exploit the enemy force logistic base,” said Capt. Junwei Sun, commander, Co. F, 2/8. “This seizure means we invaded Taliban territory, discovered their caches, disrupted their log operations and squeezed them out of the area.”

The Taliban used the open-air market to store mass quantities of drugs, homemade explosives and precursor weaponry. Taliban insurgents also tax shop owners as a further means to make cash. Agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency flew in shortly after the Marines and ANA began clearing more than 300 structures in the bazaar. They seized approximately 270,000 pounds of poppy seeds, 33 bags of opium, 13 bags of hash, nearly 50 barrels of precursory explosive materials, bolt-action rifles and more than 20 IEDs. They also discovered 130,000 pounds of fertilizer that could be used for explosives.

One DEA agent said it was a good haul and a very clear message was sent to the Taliban.

“The Taliban needs to realize that this area doesn’t belong to them anymore,” said Sun. “If they choose to fight, they will be killed.”

Clearing all the structures took approximately 12 hours and the Marines had to use explosives to gain entry into some stores. The stores ranged from a barber shop and garage to clothing and household items. Each room was marked to distinguish that it had already been cleared and whether drugs or explosive material had been found inside.

The raid was intended to only last four to six hours but due to the size of the seizure being larger than expected, the Marines set up security positions throughout the bazaar in order to stay overnight. The next morning, a platoon patrolled through and around the bazaar.

Approximately four hours into the patrol, first and second squad were ambushed from a tree line 800 meters across open farmland. Members of 3rd Squad were to the south along the road and canal to Lakari village when shots began firing toward the other two squads.

“This was the first fire fight for most of my guys,” said Cpl. Brian Short, 23, squad leader and a Mount Vernon, Ohio, native. “They did really well.”

Short, a Mount Vernon High School graduate, made maneuvered his squad toward the other two under fire. Jumping over a wide stream, navigating through grapes vines, okra plants and a corn field, Short’s squad spotted the other two squads and the enemy tree line. With the entire platoon supporting each other, the Marines began squad and fire-team rushes to within 300 meters of the enemy position.

“I wasn’t really that scared. I just wanted to destroy the enemy so my guys wouldn’t get hurt,” said Lance Cpl. Shane M. Lantry, a 3rd Squad team leader and Floyd, N.Y., native. “All the training we get really helped.”

Take note of the situation.  The Marines, most of them, hadn’t yet earned their combat action ribbon.  Taking fire for the first time, they found themselves in the position of doing squad rushes against an ensconced enemy.  They did it successfully due to their training.

Other examples abound.  At the Battle of Wanat as we have seem, weapons failures (e.g., jamming) contributed to loss of Observation Post Top Side.  Clearing jams very quickly under duress is a must-have skill in highly kinetic operations and with the .223 closed bolt system of arms.

It’s true that language training could be much better, and we have discussed the need for improved indigenous language classes prior to deployment.  But until some COIN proponent can describe in detail changes he would make to pre-deployment training, the beauty of the situation is that they are training on all of the right things: shooting at ranges, accuracy, clearing jams, rates of fire, fire and maneuver tactics, use of combined arms, and closing with and destroying the enemy, or in this case, squad rushes (the deployment of fire by the SAW gunners while the balance of the fire team advances, until the fire team stops the advance to deploy fire for the SAW gunner or other fire teams to advance, and so on).

As for sitting and drinking chai with the locals – well, that comes naturally.  It requires only a little culture training based on one Marines’ experience.  Speak to the men, don’t look at their women, keep your promises, and so on.  Doing squad rushes is much more complicated to get right, and deadly if you don’t.

Concerning that Robust Afghan National Security Force

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

Joshua Foust has given us a rundown of what he sees as contradictions in Andrew Exum’s prose concerning Afghanistan.  Particularly salient is one specific paragraph that Andrew uttered.

Nowhere that I went was I able to get a really coherent definition of what it means to hold and what it means to build, and how you do that. And I don’t think we’ve cracked the nut operationally on how we do those things. So first off, I think there’s some confusion as far as what that means. Second off, without question, we do not have the resources to hold much terrain in Afghanistan. We’ve got very limited international forces in Afghanistan, and we’re actually not using them to their best effect if we’ve got them “holding.” So if the Marines in Helmand are holding terrain right now, that’s a waste of resources. The “hold” function should be executed by a robust Afghan national security force.

Oh Good Lord! After admitting that the campaign is under-resourced, he claims that the Marines are wasting resources by holding Helmand.  The Marines, according to Andrew, should turn over to a “robust Afghan national security force.”

Do tell?  So which robust Afghan National Security Force are we discussing, Andrew?  Would it be those Afghan National Police?

Afghan villagers had complained to the U.S. Marines for days: The police are the problem, not the Taliban. They steal from villagers and beat them. Days later, the Marines learned firsthand what the villagers meant.

As about 150 Marines and Afghan soldiers approached the police headquarters in the Helmand River town of Aynak, the police fired four gunshots at the combined force. No larger fight broke out, but once inside the headquarters the Marines found a raggedy force in a decrepit mud-brick compound that the police used as an open-pit toilet.

The meeting was tense. Some police were smoking pot. Others loaded their guns in a threatening manner near the Marines.  The U.S. troops ousted the police two days later and installed a better trained force they had brought with them on their recently launched operation into southern Helmand. The original force was sent away for several weeks of training the U.S. is conducting across Afghanistan to professionalize the country’s police.

And more data:

“The police are just worthless,” fumed Fulat Khan, 20, when Haight said his troops were backing up the local cops. “Anytime there is a fight in the community, the police just laugh and watch it. We need an organization or a number we can call so somebody can come here and help us.”

No?  Or maybe Andrew is referring to that 85% of the Afghan National Army that would be lost if they implemented drug testing.  No?  Maybe he is referring to that ANA that actually colluded with the Taliban to kill U.S. troops at the Battle of Bari Alai?

No?  Pray tell, Exum.  Where do we get these robust Afghan National Security Forces?  Do we wave a magic wand of strategic words from CNAS and make them appear out of thin air?  If Mr. Obama wants them to exist badly enough, does it make it so?

Exum embarrasses himself by presuming to tell the Marine Corps that they are wasting resources or anything else (as if the USMC cannot figure out how to spend their time).  He is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, and despite Exum’s stolid miscalculations, the Marines must hold Helmand.

Investigating the Battle of Wanat

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

The Battle of Wanat has been in the news lately.  Tom Ricks has posted an analysis of the battle from his reading of a thus far unreleased document – a study by an Army Historian at the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth named Douglas R. Cubbison.  There is an interesting comment thread at the Small Wars Journal blog on this topic.  Ricks finds that the result of the battle – 36 casualties, 9 dead and 27 wounded – resulted in large degree from a failure to implement the principles of counterinsurgency.

I have also reviewed Mr. Cubbison’s study.  We’ll get to more thoughts on the battle of Wanat and the study in a moment.  Before that, there are rumblings of a Congressional investigation of this event.

Two congressional leaders are urging the Pentagon to launch a new investigation into a deadly attack in Afghanistan last year.

That attack killed nine people, including 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, a graduate of Damien High School and the University of Hawaii.

Jonathan Brostrom

Brostrom was in charge of 45 American soldiers and 20 local troops in a remote Afghanistan outpost. About 200 enemy fighters over ran that outpost last July killing the nine Americans and wounding 27 others.  In an interview with KITV a year ago, Brostrom’s father, David, said he had been concerned about his son’s safety even before the lieutenant died.

“They’re fighting in a situation where they don’t enough troops on the ground and it’s been like this for a long time,” David Brostrom told KITV in July 2008.

Brostrom’s father is a retired Army colonel who spent 30 years flying Army helicopters.  David Brostrom said during a home leave, his son told him he feared for the safety of his men without enough manpower to maintain security.

“That’s when I started to worry about him,” David Brostrom said.

At David Brostrom’s urging, Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Virginia Sen. James Webb have called for an independent investigation by the Department of Defense’s solicitor general.

An earlier Army investigation left commanders blameless.

“We have to see if there are grounds for some disciplinary action,” Abercrombie said.

A later report by the Army Combat Studies Institute was critical of command decisions before the attack, saying the single platoon lacked necessary manpower and equipment even enough water to carry out its mission.”

Col. Brostrom’s point is that a little bit of investigation may save lives and prevent injuries in the future,” Abercrombie said.

Returning to the study from Leavenworth, Mr. Cubbison is certainly credentialed and capable, and has done an outstanding job of weaving together a consistent account of the battle from multiple sources.  He is to be commended for a comprehensive and scholarly study and analysis (not to mention that we were pleased to see that The Captain’s Journal merited two citations in the massive bibliography).

I have always believed that the campaign in Afghanistan is under-resourced, a sentiment underscored by Lt. Brostrom’s remarks.  In addition to the need for better logistics and more troops (needs that Mr. Cubbison noted and in fact highlights), I hold that opening the VPB (Vehicle Patrol Base) Wanat was ill advised under the circumstances (waiting approximately one year while negotiating with the tribal elders for approval, this approval not forthcoming due to the fact that they feared being targeted by Taliban fighters because they were seen cavorting with the U.S.).  This delay allowed the Taliban to mass troops to near half Battalion size, a practice we have observed occurs whenever the Taliban believe that they can grossly outnumber U.S. troops.

Under different circumstances, i.e., rapid base construction and deployment of the troops, VPB Wanat might have been much more successful and would have been advisable.  It might have been things that occurred one year prior to manning the base that doomed it.  I also believe that the physical location of OP (Observation Post) Top Side with its lack of control over the surrounding terrain, was extremely ill advised.  Had an OP been needed and a good site not located, VPB Wanat might have had to be constructed in a different location.  Remember that eight of the nine who perished that fateful night did so either defending or attempting to relieve OP Top Side.

Mr. Cubbison also goes into some detail considering other tactical and weapons failures (specifically at OP Top Side).  Due to rate of fire issues, there were numerous weapons systems failures (e.g., jamming) of SAWs, M4s and M16A2s.  I know one Marine who has trained his “boots” hard in the art of rate of fire and other measures to keep their SAWs from jamming and the barrels from melting.  Clearing jams within mere seconds is necessary for proper functioning of the Soldier and Marine and his .223 closed bolt system of arms, and Soldiers and Marines must be extensively trained to accomplish this under duress.

Mr. Cubbison goes into other important details such as placement of mortars that could have potentially effected a different outcome had different choices been made.  There were numerous tactical and logistical issues with which to contend in his important analysis.

In my humble opinion, Mr. Cubbison’s analysis goes awry when tackling the elements of population-centric counterinsurgency.  Colonel William B. Ostlund documents the kinetic engagements during the deployment in his analysis of lessons learned.

Ultimately, the task force was involved in 1,100 enemy contacts. Those engagements required:
●5,400 fire missions (expending 36,500 rounds).
●3,800 aerial deliveries (bombs and gun runs).
●23 Javelin anti-tank missiles.
●108 TOW missiles.
●Hundreds of grenades thrown.
The enemy routinely engaged at the maximum effective
range, but on at least five occasions were close enough to touch Americans. Twenty-six members of Task Force Rock gave their lives in Kunar Province. Other noteworthy Soldier statistics include:
●143 wounded.
●Three nominated for the Medal of Honor.
●Two nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross (one awarded by the time of this publication).
●25 Silver Stars awarded.
●90 Bronze Star Medals with Valor awarded.
●Over 300 Army Commendation Medals with Valor awarded.

Mr. Cubbison reviews this data and remarks that:

“TF Rock was unable to provide commensurate statistics for Shuras conducted, VETCAPS and MEDCAPS performed, quantities of Humanitarian Supplies distributed, economic development projects initiated, schools constructed, or similar economic, political and diplomatic initiatives.”

Later, he also concludes that population-centric counterinsurgency is not consistent with such heavy kinetics.  I have always attempted to be open, honest and clear with my readers on this issue.  I reject the single center of gravity focus of the Clausewitz school and favor the notion of lines of effort in any counterinsurgency campaign.  There is absolutely no reason to place protecting the population over against killing the enemy.  Moreover, many COIN campaigns can be more neatly placed into phases, with heavier kinetics dominating the initial stages and more population-centric tactics dominating the subsequent stages.

I don’t see the heavy kinetics as a failure on the part of TF Rock.  As The Captain’s Journal has also stated many times before, we see force projection and the actual need to apply force as inversely proportional.  The small footprint model almost guarantees that heavy kinetics will ensue, pointing back once again to the resourcing of the campaign, not TF Rock’s effort in the campaign.  In Brostrom’s case, he didn’t even have enough troops to ensure force protection, let alone force projection.  In any case, while Mr. Cubbison did indeed focus some attention on the issue of population-centric COIN, Tom Ricks has very badly misinterpreted the study if he concluded that the weight of the study is pointed towards this aspect.  The balance of the report is pointed at tactical, logistical and weapons related issues.  Mr. Ricks is only seeing what he wants to see, a sign of bad analysis.

Finally, as to the issue of Congressional investigations, I have mixed feelings about this.  Colonel Brostrom wants to see justice, or at least, lessons learned, as a result of the death of his beloved son.  I understand.  But Congressional investigations invariably turn into witch hunts, with blame focused on everyone but Senators and Congressmen.  More often than not nothing good comes from them.  The Captain’s Journal has some readers in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  While there are good people in both – and you know who you are – you also know what becomes of Congressional investigations.

If I was convinced that anything fruitful would come from such a thing I would press for it.  I am not, and will not.  The campaign for Afghanistan is under-resourced, and it’s difficult to carry out the mission in such circumstances.  This theme has been consistent with us, and will continue to be as long as we have breath.  Instead of doing investigations, send more troops and equipment.

Prior:

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

Battle of Wanat Disputed?

The Marines Must Hold Helmand

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

Spencer Ackerman points to a Washington Post article on the paucity of Afghan National Army troops and lack of viable Afghan National Police in recent Marine Corps operations in the Helmand Province.

“Six, you’ve got six,” Marine 1st Lt. Justin Grieco told his military police training team, counting the handful of Afghan police officers present for a patrol in this volatile region of southern Afghanistan.

The men filed out of the dusty compound gate into the baking afternoon sun. On the patrol, U.S. military police officers outnumbered the Afghans two to one — a reflection of the severe shortfall in Afghan security forces working with Marines in Helmand province.

President Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan is heavily dependent upon raising more capable local security forces, but the myriad challenges faced by mentors such as Grieco underscore just how limiting a factor that is — especially in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan.

The extent of the push by 4,500 Marines into Taliban strongholds of southern Helmand will be determined, to a degree, by whether there are enough qualified Afghan forces to partner with and eventually leave behind to protect Afghan civilians. Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, commander of the Marine forces here, said urgent efforts are underway to dispatch additional Afghan forces to Helmand.

But here in Helmand’s Garmsir district — as in much of the south — Afghan forces remain few in number, as well as short of training, equipment and basic supplies such as fuel and ammunition. Some Afghans quit because they are reluctant to work in the violent south; others are expelled because of drug use. The Afghan troops here, heavily dependent on Western forces, are hesitating to take on greater responsibilities — and, in some cases, are simply refusing to do so.

The Afghan National Police officers mentored by Grieco’s team, for example, are resisting a U.S. military effort to have them expand to checkpoints in villages outside the town center of Garmsir as the Marines push farther south, taking with them the Afghan Border Police officers, who currently man some of those stations.

Without the Marines, we cannot secure the stations,” said Mohammed Agha, deputy commander of the roughly 80 Garmsir police officers. “We can’t go to other villages because of the mines, and some people have weapons hidden in their houses. We can’t go out of Garmsir, or we will be killed.”

Spencer goes on to observe that:

So the operation was planned months ago and yet the Afghan security forces and civilian officials needed to follow on the Marines’ gains nevertheless appear to be absent or incompetent …

Now perhaps there’s furious behind-the-scenes negotiation to enlist more Afghan support. Indeed, if part of the point of the Helmand operation is to demonstrate to the Afghans — civilians and insurgents alike — that there’s a capable counterinsurgency strategy in place, it would hardly make sense to focus just on the clearing aspect of the strategy.

Spencer is knowledgeable on Afghanistan, so his surprise at the lack of viable ANA and ANP is surprising.  The statements in bold above should be considered in the context of the previous data we have gathered:

Afghan villagers had complained to the U.S. Marines for days: The police are the problem, not the Taliban. They steal from villagers and beat them. Days later, the Marines learned firsthand what the villagers meant.

As about 150 Marines and Afghan soldiers approached the police headquarters in the Helmand River town of Aynak, the police fired four gunshots at the combined force. No larger fight broke out, but once inside the headquarters the Marines found a raggedy force in a decrepit mud-brick compound that the police used as an open-pit toilet.

The meeting was tense. Some police were smoking pot. Others loaded their guns in a threatening manner near the Marines.  The U.S. troops ousted the police two days later and installed a better trained force they had brought with them on their recently launched operation into southern Helmand. The original force was sent away for several weeks of training the U.S. is conducting across Afghanistan to professionalize the country’s police.

And more data:

“The police are just worthless,” fumed Fulat Khan, 20, when Haight said his troops were backing up the local cops. “Anytime there is a fight in the community, the police just laugh and watch it. We need an organization or a number we can call so somebody can come here and help us.”

Add to this the problem that the ANA are drug-addicted and incompetent (it has been estimated that the ANA would lose as much as 85% of their force if drug testing was implemented), and the problem is that no matter how furiously we negotiate or gather qualified and competent ANA or ANP, there are none to be had.  Obama’s exit strategy which relies on very rapid functional turnover to Afghan forces is doomed to failure if pressed without any modifications.  The ANA won’t be ready until years down the road (2014), if then.

There is no tactical or logistical failure in the Helmand operations.  It’s not that we simply failed to deploy the ready-made ANA and ANP to Helmand along with the Marines so that they could hold terrain that the Marines take.  This meme is getting tiresome, and it’s time that CENTCOM acquiesce to the truth.  It is that the Marines are in it for the long haul, just as it was with Anbar.  There are no ANA or ANP to whom we can turn over.  The Marines must hold Helmand.

Marines Find Afghan Insurgents Bolder Than Iraqi Insurgents

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

From the NYT:

In three combat tours in Anbar Province, Marine Sgt. Jacob Tambunga fought the deadliest insurgents in Iraq.

But he says he never encountered an enemy as tenacious as what he saw immediately after arriving at this outpost in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. In his first days here in late June, he fought through three ambushes, each lasting as long as the most sustained fight he saw in Anbar.

Like other Anbar veterans here, Sergeant Tambunga was surprised to discover guerrillas who, if not as lethal, were bolder than those he fought in Iraq.

“They are two totally different worlds,” said Sergeant Tambunga, a squad leader in Company C, First Battalion, Fifth Marines.

“In Iraq, they’d hit you and run,” he said. “But these guys stick around and maneuver on you.”

They also have a keen sense of when to fight and when the odds against them are too great. Three weeks ago, the American military mounted a 4,000-man Marine offensive in Helmand — the largest since President Obama’s troop increase — and so far in many places, American commanders say, they have encountered less resistance than expected.

Yet it is also clear to many Marines and villagers here that Taliban fighters made a calculated decision: to retreat and regroup to fight where and when they choose. And in the view of troops here who fought intensely in the weeks before the offensive began, fierce battles probably lie ahead if they are to clear the Taliban from sanctuaries so far untouched.

“It was straight luck that we didn’t have a lot more guys hit,” said Sgt. Brandon Tritle, another squad leader in Company C, who cited the Taliban’s skill at laying down a base of fire to mount an attack.

“One force will put enough fire down so you have to keep your heads down, then another force will maneuver around to your side to try to kill you,” he said. “That’s the same thing we do.”

For now, the strategy of the Taliban who used to dominate this village, 15 miles south of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, is to watch and wait just outside, villagers and Marines here say.

“They all escaped,” said Sardar Gul, a shopkeeper at the Nawa bazaar. Mr. Gul and others who reopened stores after the Marines arrived estimate that 300 to 600 Taliban fled to Marjah, 15 miles to the west and not under American control, joining perhaps more than 1,000 fighters.

Marine commanders acknowledge that they could have focused more on cutting off escape routes early in the operation, an issue that often dogged offensives against insurgents in Iraq.

“I wish we had trapped a few more folks,” the commander of First Battalion, Fifth Marines, Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, told the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who visited Nawa. “I expected there to be more fighting.”

So Marines are bracing for a fight against guerrillas who, they discovered in June, are surprisingly proficient at tactics the Marines themselves learned in infantry school.

“They’d flank us, and we’d flank them, just like a chess match,” said Sgt. Jason Lynd, another squad leader in Company C.

Analysis & Commentary

So why weren’t we better prepared for Taliban tactics?  I have detailed at least half a dozen instances of massing of troops against smaller-sized U.S. units, while their hit and run, guerrilla-style warfare is well known.  It is a smart enemy that counts the cost of whatever tactic they employ at the time.  But the real context for the question of preparedness goes deeper.

About five months ago, this generation’s Ernie Pyle, Michael Yon, posted a very important PowerPoint presentation is a post entitled The Eagle Went Over the Mountain.  This post got plenty of readership, as it was linked by Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.  Glenn titled his link IED attacks in Afghanistan, and the initial parts of the PowerPoint presentation were indeed about IEDs.  But the balance of the presentation was so much more than that, and upon reading it I exchanged e-mail with Michael about it.

We agreed that this presentation might very well be the most significant and important tactical advice coming out of Afghanistan in the past two or three years – lives would be saved if this advice got into the hands of NCOs and officers preparing troops for the field.  Michael didn’t feel that I was stepping on his work at all.  As quickly as possible, I copied down the presentation and created my own post, Marines, Taliban and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (and Jules Crittenden linked my post).

I summarized some of the findings of the report: the Taliban had fire control, were able to develop interlocking fields of fire, were experienced in the use of combined arms, fire and maneuver warfare, and many other important observations.  The penultimate point of the presentation is stunning.

Iraq has allowed us to become tactically sloppy as the majority of fighters there are unorganized and poorly trained.  This is not the case in Afghanistan.  The enemy combatants here will exploit any mistake made by coalition forces with catastrophic results.  Complacency and laziness will result in mass causalities.

Concluding, the report advises the Marines to remember the tactics, techniques and procedures taught in School of Infantry.  This report serves as a primer for preparation for kinetic engagements in Afghanistan.

There are a number of Milblogs, but not too many well-visited Milblogs.  This is a small community.  Within a couple of days of release of this report, the author of the report contacted me and gave me a veritable ass whipping for release of the report.  You see, the report is FOUO – “for official use only.”  I also took it on the chin in blog comments over release of this report.  But the context of this fight is interesting, as I compared my release of a report on enemy tactics to the release of a new Army field manual describing in detail U.S. satellite patrols in urban terrain (a tactic that I understood but discussed only in the broadest of terms given the sensitivity of the subject – that is, up until the description of it in an Army Field Manual).  I described enemy tactics, Leavenworth described U.S. tactics in a field manual on a federal web site.

Furthermore, my release of the PowerPoint presentation coincided with Michael Yon’s release and Glenn Reynold’s link of it, providing more site visits that Michael or I could ever hope to bring alone (with Michael’s web authority justifiably far outweighing my own).

So I, Michael Yon, Glenn Reynolds and Jules Crittenden are all in it together when the feds come for us.  Or maybe this perspective is all wrong.  After all, Taliban fighters already know how to maneuver to develop enfilade fire.  No Taliban is going to sit in Southern Helmand (let’s say, Garmsir where there is no electricity), and read my web site to find out how to fight the U.S. Marines.  But what discussion of this presentation can do is assist military planners and trainers to do their jobs.

Do we really need to perform this function?  Well, why are the Marines currently in Southern Helmand surprised at the tactical ability of the Taliban fighters?  Apparently the U.S. military across the board is not very good at sharing lessons learned.  Maybe it has to do with something called FOUO.  As it turns out, it would have been better had this presentation gotten an even wider distribution than it did.  The right people still didn’t see it.

Follow and Kill Every Single Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

Readers know our position regarding the changes to the rules of engagement for Afghanistan.  While there is much to be said for the protection of the population in the development and deployment of the new revisions to the ROE, we have observed that there are operations that wouldn’t have been conducted under the recent revisions, including the highly successful operations by the 24th MEU in Helmand in 2008 (and including certain tactics in the Anbar Province of Iraq).  Their highly kinetic assault on Garmsir would not have occurred due to the fact that it could not be proven that non-combatants were not still resident in the town.

The Strategy Page gives us their view of the situation in which the Marines are engaged in the Helmand Province.

The U.S. Marine advance into Helmand province is being slowed down by the new Rules Of Engagement (ROE), which forbid the use of bombs or missiles in any situation where there might be civilians. The Taliban will typically spend the night, or longer, in a village or walled compound, and that’s where U.S. troops will typically trap them. But bombs and missiles cannot be used on these places, so U.S. troops have to besiege the place, or just move on, leaving the Taliban alone. Some marines get creative, like having the jet fighters or bombs make a high speed pass over the Taliban held buildings. The fearsome noise will sometimes unnerve the Taliban and cause a surrender, but not as much as it used to. Another favorite tactic is having the fighter (usually an F-16 or F-18) come in low and use its 20mm cannon. But these air craft only carry a few seconds worth of ammunition. Moreover, having these jets fly that low makes them liable to crashing (this has happened, at least once) or being brought down by enemy fire (has not happened yet). But the cannon fire sometimes induces the Taliban to give up, or try to flee.

The other option, when you have the Taliban cornered, and using human shields, is to go in and fight them room-to-room. That gets more Americans killed, as well as putting the Afghan civilians in danger. This room-to-room tactic has not been used much, as commanders don’t want to take the heat for losing troops in that kind of fighting. If there is a lot more of this house to house fighting, and civilians get killed, the ROE may be changed again to forbid any kind of combat if civilians are present. This reduces the anger of locals from civilian deaths involving U.S. forces, but makes it much more difficult to hunt down and destroy the Taliban gunmen. The Taliban are still vulnerable, as they have to move in order to operate, and the Afghan Army or police can often negotiate a surrender, or go in and root them out by force. But the best troops available for chasing down the Taliban gunmen are the U.S. and NATO ones.

Room clearing tactics are costly to the Marines (viz. Fallujah), and aversion to this approach is understandable.  But the best troops are of course the U.S. and NATO, since the police are mainly corrupt and the Afghan National Army is mainly drug-addicted and inept.  The police and the ANA cannot be relied upon to chase the hard core Taliban.  Regarding the Taliban that are allowed to escape because of this change to the ROE, locals have some words to the wise.

“People are withholding judgment,” said the political analyst in Lashkar Gah. “They cannot say whether this operation is good or bad. They are afraid that the (U.S.) forces will stay here for some days and then leave, so we will be alone with the Taliban again.” Many are also waiting to see what the Americans can bring in the way of real development.

“It is still just the beginning,” said Mullah Shin Gul from Nad Ali district. “The Americans need to begin reconstruction, by agreement with the people. They should establish centers here in the districts, and they should follow every single Taliban and kill him. In a short while it will be too late. The people will lose trust.”

The doctrine of population centric counterinsurgency believes, in part, that focus on the population will marginalize the insurgents, causing them to wilt away and eventually rejoin the population and side with the government.  True enough for low level insurgents, men who have willingly taken up arms for political and religious motivations don’t usually willingly lay them down.

Because of the new ROE there has been a reluctance to engage locations in which known Taliban are located, allowing them to escape and fight another day.  Such tactics may gain the support of the locals for the time being, but they ensure the continuation of the fight.  Like the locals said, we must follow and kill every single Taliban.  Taking prisoners is not productive.

Prior:

Obama Administration Searching for an Exit Strategy

Marine Take the Fight to the Enemy in Now Zad

Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops

The Coming War in the Caucasus

Update:

Over at Fabius Maximus, a site I know little if anything about, a commenter and the author presume to know something about the intentions of this article.  Let’s listen in for a few minutes.

I totally disagree with this guy’s belief that the US has no choice but to exterminate the Taliban, or even that this is a good goal: “Follow and Kill Every Single Taliban“, Herschel Smith, The Captain’s Journal, 26 July 2009.

At the same time, his analysis of how the Taliban is funded (here) seems probably correct to me …

Fabius Maximus replies: They sound just like governments everywhere. Heroin is the primary product of Helmand Province. Mother Nature made it so, and only vast sums of money wil change that. Recent US history shows that we would rather spend 10x that amount on fighting to control the area rather than a smaller sum to change its economy.

The real question is why folks read trash like “The Captain’s Journal”. There are many real experts writing about the situation in central asia, but America’s bloodlust is stirred by nutjobs yelling “Follow and Kill Every Single Taliban.” It’s a symptom of a nation increasingly ruled by its own paranoia and hubris.

Alas, so much confusion, so little time to work through the problems.  The comment was left by someone calling themselves atheist, and Fabius Maximum takes off of the remark to invite himself to criticize someone he doesn’t know and has never read.

This question of globalists and hermeneutics within Islam is a complicated issue, one I have addressed before with Professor Steve Metz of the U.S. Army War College.  The set of those who are irreconcilable enemies is certainly a subset of Islam, and even a subset of those currently engaged in fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  Recall that The Captain’s Journal strongly supported the notion of concerned citizens in Anbar, later to become Sons of Iraq.

Many of the Sons of Iraq were former insurgents, but fighting for money, boredom, political views or whatever.  Certainly a subset of the so-called Taliban fighters are fighting for the same things.  The question is not one of killing irreconcilable enemies.  War, including counterinsurgency, means doing violence.  Irreconcilable enemies must be killed, and in Afghanistan this set of fighters is comprised of globalists and those who would harbor them.

The only real question is how big is this subset of fighters?  Joshua Foust and I have politely disagreed before, with me viewing this group as moderately larger than him, and yet in the recent months it would appear that Foust’s view is that the size of this group is edging upwards, while my view is that the size might be edging downwards.  Perhaps we will eventually meet in the middle.  But all thinking men know that the insurgency is bifurcated.

Now to the specific post and its title.  I have found that it’s very hard to keep readers for more than a few minutes.  Even when linked at a large venue such as Instapundit, statistics show that most readers want to read an article within less than about three minutes.  Many of mine are longer, and the more difficult issue is that my posts comprise a narrative.  My readers are usually very sophisticated, and it appears that the readers over at Fabius Maximus haven’t paid attention very well.

Recall the issues surrounding modifications to the ROE for Afghanistan.  Without getting into the weeds on this issue again, recall that in subsequent posts I had pointed out that according to objective evidence, the highly successful Marine Corps operations in the Helmand Province (specifically, in Garmsir) in 2008 by the 24th MEU would not have been conducted under the revised ROE.  When you can point to successful operations that wouldn’t be conducted under ROE, there is a problem.

This points to unintended consequences.  Subsequent to this we pointed out that the revised ROE had allowed Taliban fighters to escape Marine Corps operations with the Marines unable to give chase because of lack of logistics.  Finally, in the article above we pointed out that the local residents had stated that the Marines would have to hold the area and chase and kill every last Taliban for the area to be safe.  This is the most amusing point of the comments left at Fabius Maximus.  They ascribe a comment made by a local in Afghanistan to me since I chose it as the title to an article.  Get the picture?  They didn’t even read the article.  I suppose that the commenter and Mr. Maximus know more about Afghanistan and the Taliban than the locals do.

There is a chain of thoughts necessary to follow my prose, from ROE to giving chase and required logistics and unintended consequences to tactical directives and local views on what it will take to make the area safe.  My prose is simply not intended for idiots.  Readers .. must .. work .. hard .. and .. try .. to .. stay .. up.

As for Fabius Maximus’ disparaging of The Captain’s Journal, we might remark at what bad form it is and what gross, hillbilly etiquette it takes to trash someone you don’t know, have never communicated with, and whose prose you have never read.  It sounds very much like he is the nutjob.  His readers can do better.

Patrolling Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

U.S. Marines with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Company G, 3rd Marine Division, conduct a patrol the morning of June 26.

From the USMC:

The Marines conduct both day and night operations in Now Zad because the difference can be advantageous to varying missions. The consensus among the Marines is that the eerie feeling that comes with patrolling through the mine-littered streets of an abandoned city increases exponentially at night as the wind howls through the alleyways and visibility decreases. But, they overcome any existing fears with the confidence they have in one another, and they press forward.

“As each day goes by, we get more intelligence on the enemy than they get on us – that is comforting,” said Forte.

Their patrols are not only dangerous, they require a leader with intelligence and tactical proficiency. The many natural and man-made obstacles across the battlefield in addition to the Taliban-made mines bring further complexity to their area of operation.

“Finding the best route and maneuvering the patrol through areas that could have mines anywhere is the hardest part,” according to Forte who has lead more than 25 patrols here in the last two months. “I try to think clearly and do what seems best. I just want to keep my guys alive.”

The Marines in Now Zad know what sacrifice is all about. They understand it. They live it. Their way of life is summarized in a saying that is posted in the 3rd Plt. headquarters – “I have not ceased to be fearful, but I have ceased to let fear control my life.”

I can only continue to point out the sheer lunacy of continued patrols through deserted towns which have enough of a Taliban presence to mine the town to this degree, the Taliban having cordoned themselves off from the population in order to engage in kinetic operations with the Marines.

In counterinsurgency we pray for such engagements.  With this area so dangerous that they are the only Marine unit to bring along two trauma doctors, the question why we continue to under-resource this particular location with Marines while we field entire an Battalion of Marine infantry aboard Amphibious Assault Docks in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere is unanswered, and the situation leaves me simply dumbfounded.

The Taliban are begging for a fight.  The Marines oblige, but we refuse them the troops they need to do the job.

Prior:

Combat Action in Nuristan and Now Zad

No Excuse: Marines Losing Legs in Now Zad

What Now Zad Can Teach Us About Counterinsurgency

Combat Video From Now Zad

Marines Take the Fight to the Enemy in Now Zad

Video of Marine Operations in Helmand and Now Zad

Now Zad Category

Scenes From Operation Khanjar VI

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

David Guttenfelder/Associated Press. Marines made their way through corn fields and over irrigation ditches in Helmand Province, to avoid the heavily mined roads. “I like this because it’s the moment the work day started” – Guttenfelder.

The Sorry State of the Afghan National Police

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

Tim Lynch gives us this update on the state of the Afghan Police from his perspective.

There is not much good to report from Afghanistan at the moment. With armed criminality reaching epidemic proportions there is a flood of stories about the dismal state of the Afghan National Police (ANP). The Afghan police are not just ineffective – they are despised by rural people who will take the hard tyranny of the Taliban over being preyed upon by the police. This article puts the blame for Afghanistan’s dysfunctional police force on the Germans but that is BS. The Department of State has spent over 10 BILLION on their cookie cutter law enforcement training program which I have written about before. There is only one way to get the police to perform and that is to live with them, mentor them daily, and make them perform. Mentor teams who live on FOB’s and commute to the job become targets because their routine is fixed and predictable. The civilian contractors who work out of the gigantic regional training centers are essential worthless inflicting death by PowerPoint on their students.  What can they teach an Afghan cop about being an Afghan cop? Afghanistan cops are functioning as a paramilitary organization and are trained, armed and deployed as such. But some, perhaps a great many have retained the thuggish ways of warlord sponsored foot soldiers and that is obviously not too good.

The Marines continue to hold all the area they claimed in their massive operation and they too are finding the Afghan security forces to be their biggest problem.

Examining the Azcentral.com article a little more.

Afghan villagers had complained to the U.S. Marines for days: The police are the problem, not the Taliban. They steal from villagers and beat them. Days later, the Marines learned firsthand what the villagers meant.

As about 150 Marines and Afghan soldiers approached the police headquarters in the Helmand River town of Aynak, the police fired four gunshots at the combined force. No larger fight broke out, but once inside the headquarters the Marines found a raggedy force in a decrepit mud-brick compound that the police used as an open-pit toilet.

The meeting was tense. Some police were smoking pot. Others loaded their guns in a threatening manner near the Marines.  The U.S. troops ousted the police two days later and installed a better trained force they had brought with them on their recently launched operation into southern Helmand. The original force was sent away for several weeks of training the U.S. is conducting across Afghanistan to professionalize the country’s police.

What were these men thinking?  The worst thing a man can do in this situation is make U.S. Marines believe that they are under threat, and that you are the cause of it.  Yet … sending them away for training?  Really?

We have detailed the Institutional Problems with the Afghan National Police.  “The police are just worthless,” fumed Fulat Khan, 20, when Haight said his troops were backing up the local cops. “Anytime there is a fight in the community, the police just laugh and watch it. We need an organization or a number we can call so somebody can come here and help us.”

Obama is searching for an exit strategy from Afghanistan, the cornerstone apparently being the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.  Given the pitiful state of the ANA and the problems with the Afghan National Police we have seen here, his exit strategy is worse than mere wishful thinking.  It’s deceptive.  Afghanistan will be the longest campaign of the long war.

Redux on U.S. Troop Restrictions in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

Remember in Iraqi Commanders Move to Restrict U.S. Troops Under SOFA we said:

The notion that the U.S. would be restricted to logistical operations only during certain hours is outrageous, and a manifest increase in risk to the force.  When the fundamentals of force protection are being targeted by Iraq, it has come time for some hard lessons.

The WSJ gives us the view of some commanders in Iraq:

American troops withdrew from Iraq’s urban areas on June 30 as part of a security agreement that requires all American forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. But some U.S. officers said in recent days that the Iraqi government has been overly restrictive in applying the terms.

The officers said Baghdad had sharply reduced the numbers of joint patrols with the U.S., made it harder for the American military to move troops and supplies around the country, and effectively banned the U.S. from conducting raids with time-sensitive intelligence. “The basic message is, ‘you’re not wanted, go back to your base,’ ” an Army captain in Baghdad said by email.

Some U.S. officers believe the restrictions endanger the safety of their troops by making it harder to prevent insurgent attacks on the U.S. bases that sit outside many Iraqi cities. The officers also worry that advance information about the routes of U.S. convoys, which American commanders are increasingly being asked to provide to the Iraqis, could wind up in the hands of militants.

The reason for the increased risk is because information on logistical routes and times is OPSEC, and this kind of information is not divulged to anyone, especially Iraqi Security Forces who may still be badly affected by sectarianism and the presence of insurgents.

Maliki has made noises of extending the SOFA beyond 2011.

Speaking to an audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, Maliki said the accord, known as the Status of Forces Agreement, would “end” the American military presence in his country in 2011, but “nevertheless, if Iraqi forces required further training and further support, we shall examine this at that time based on the needs of Iraq,” he said through translation in response to a question from The Washington Independent. “I am sure that the will, the prospects and the desire for such cooperation is found among both parties.”

Maliki continued, “The nature of that relationship – the functions and the amount of [U.S.] forces – will then be discussed and reexamined based on the needs” of Iraq…

The chances of the SOFA being extended beyond 2011 are nonexistent given the conditions under which it is being applied.  Any re-negotiation of the SOFA must provide maximum latitude to U.S. troops.

Prior:

House Arrest for U.S. Forces in Iraq

Iraqi Commanders Move to Restrict U.S. Troops Under SOFA


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