Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 11 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]

Interview with Lt. Col. Allen West

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

Courtesy of CBN, spend the time to watch this excellent interview with Lt. Col. Allen West.

Lt. Col. West retired from the army in 2004 after a distinguished  20-years-plus career that included a number of honors, the Bronze Star among them. He has served in several combat zones, including Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was battalion commander for the Army’s 4th Infantry Division. Lt. Col. West also served in Afghanistan, where he trained Afghan officers to take control of their country’s security.

Sons of Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

From CNN:

There is a well-known saying in Afghanistan: “You can rent an Afghan, but you can’t buy him.”

Some experts on the region believe a U.S. program to pay Taliban fighters to quit the organization is buying temporary loyalty.

President Obama on Wednesday signed a $680 billion defense appropriations bill, which will pay for military operations in the 2010 fiscal year. The bill includes a Taliban reintegration provision under the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which is now receiving $1.3 billion. CERP funding also is intended for humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects at commanders’ discretion.

The buyout idea, according to the Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is to separate local Taliban from their leaders, replicating a program used to neutralize the insurgency against Americans in Iraq.

“Afghan leaders and our military say that local Taliban fighters are motivated largely by the need for a job or loyalty to the local leader who pays them and not by ideology or religious zeal,” Levin said in a Senate floor speech on September 11. “They believe an effort to attract these fighters to the government’s side could succeed, if they are offered security for themselves and their families, and if there is no penalty for previous activity against us.”

But Nicholas Schmidle, an expert on the Afghanistan-Pakistan region for the non-partisan New America Foundation, said that while the plan has a “reasonable chance for some success,” the old Afghan saying will eventually be borne out.

“So long as the Americans are keenly aware of this, you’re buying a very, very, very temporary allegiance,” he said. “If that’s the foundation for moving forward, it’s a shaky foundation.”

Nick is a smart analyst, and he is right concerning the temporary nature of services.  But I don’t even think it will get that far.  Let’s very briefly deal with Carl Levin’s assertion that this “replicates” the sons of Iraq program.  No it does not.  And again, NO IT DOES NOT.  One more time.  NOITDOESNOT.

The sons of Iraq program followed heavy kinetic operations to ensure that joining the insurgency was unappealing.  It was implemented from a position of strength, not weakness.  The troops were in place, we were committed to the campaign, and the U.S. Marines weren’t leaving the Anbar Province until they had achieved success.  The U.S. Marines were the stronger tribe, and the indigenous insurgents knew it.

We are in a position of relative weakness in Afghanistan, more troops are needed, and the Taliban now control the countryside (while they have eyes for the larger cities such as Kandahar).  A program like this will only work if the Afghans are convinced that we will be there for the long haul and help to protect them against retaliation and retribution from the Taliban.  Some of the Afghans may team with us – but none will go it alone.

Michael Yon’s thoughts are salient.

We ask Afghans for help in defeating the enemies, yet the Afghans expect us to abandon them. Filkins pointed out that Afghans don’t like to see Americans living in tents. Tents are for nomads. It would be foolish for Afghans in “Talibanastan” to cooperate with nomadic Americans only to be eviscerated by the Taliban when the nomads pack up. (How many times did we see similar things happen in Iraq?) The Afghans want to see us living in real buildings as a sign of permanency. The British forces at Sangin and associated bases live in temporary structures, as do the Americans at many of their bases. Our signals are clear. “If you are coming to stay,” Afghans have told me in various ways, “build a real house. Build a real office. Don’t live in tents.”

A great many Iraqis wanted assurances that we would stay long enough to help their country survive but were not planning on making Iraq part of an American empire. It thus became important to convey signs of semi-permanence, signaling, “Yes, we will stay, and yes, we will leave.” Conversely, Afghans in places like Helmand tend to have fond memories of Americans who came in the middle of last century, and those Afghans seem apt to cooperate. That much is clear. But Afghans need to sense our long-term commitment. They need to see houses made of stone, not tents and “Hesco-habs.”

Throwing satchels of cash around and expecting the Afghans to do our heavy lifting for us isn’t a plan for success.  It’s a sign of the ignorance of the people managing this effort.  And it’s a sign of a national sickness – the idea that we can print and spend enough money to get us out of almost any problem.  Finally, for an Afghanistan that has few resources, throwing money around only devalues the existing supply rather than creating new and real wealth.  It’s just a bad idea all around, but especially so without the necessary force projection by U.S. troops.

Fewer Troops is Better: Riding Unicorns Over Rainbows

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

From David Adams and Ann Marlowe, via the WSJ.

From the beginning of 2007 to March 2008, the 82nd Airborne Division’s strategy in Khost proved that 250 paratroopers could secure a province of a million people in the Pashtun belt. The key to success in Khost—which shares a 184 kilometer-long border with Pakistan’s lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas—was working within the Afghan system. By partnering with closely supervised Afghan National Security Forces and a competent governor and subgovernors, U.S. forces were able to win the support of Khost’s 13 tribes.

Today, 2,400 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Khost. But the province is more dangerous.

Mohammed Aiaz, a 32-year-old Khosti advising the Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team, puts it plainly: “The answer is not more troops, which will put Afghans in more danger.” If troops don’t understand Afghan culture and fail to work within the tribal system, they will only fuel the insurgency. When we get the tribes on our side, that will change. When a tribe says no, it means no. IEDs will be reported and no insurgent fighters will be allowed to operate in or across their area.

Khost once had security forces with tribal links. Between 1988 and 1991, the Soviet client government in Kabul was able to secure much of eastern and southern Afghanistan by paying the tribal militias. Khost was secured by the 25th Division of the Afghan National Army (ANA), which incorporated militias with more than 400 fighters from five of Khost’s 13 major tribes. The mujahedeen were not able to take Khost until internal rifts among Pashtuns in then-President Mohammed Najibullah’s government resulted in a loss of support for the militias in Khost and, eventually, the defection of the 25th Division in April 1991.

The mistake the Najibullah government made was not integrating advisers to train the tribal militias and transform them into a permanent part of the government security forces. During the Taliban period between 1996-2001 the 25th Division dispersed amongst the tribes. Many fled to Pakistan.

When the U.S. invaded in 2001, the 25th Division, reformed under the command of Gen. Kilbaz Sherzai, immediately secured Khost. But the division was disbanded by the new Afghan government for fear of warlordism.

Today, some elements of the 25th still work for the Americans as contract security forces. However, the ANA now stationed in Khost is mainly composed of northern, non-Pashtun Dari speakers, and it is regarded as a foreign body. Without local influence and tribal support, the ANA tends to stay on its bases.

Part of this is our fault. We built the ANA in our own Army’s image. Its soldiers live on nice bases and see themselves as the protectors of Afghanistan from conventional attacks by Pakistan. But to be effective, the ANA must be structured more like a National Guard, responsible for creating civil authority and training the police.

We saw how this could work in the Tani district of Khost starting in 2007. By assisting an ANA company—with a platoon of American paratroopers, a civil affairs team from the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team, the local Afghan National Police, and a determined Afghan subgovernor named Badi Zaman Sabari—we secured the district despite its long border with Pakistan.

Raids by the paratroopers under the leadership of Lt. Col. Scott Custer were extremely rare because the team had such good relations with the tribes that they would generally turn over any suspect. These good tribal relations were strengthened further by meeting the communities’ demands for a new paved road, five schools, and a spring water system that supplies 12,000 villagers.

Yet security has deteriorated in Khost, despite increases of U.S. troops in mid-2008. American strategy began to focus more on chasing the insurgents in the mountains instead of securing the towns and villages where most Khostis live.

Analysis & Commentary

Make friends with the right people, empower their men, and ride unicorns over rainbows.  Presto!  Counterinsurgency made simple.  Note that at least one strategic argument all along is that Afghanistan isn’t like Iraq and the tribal awakening may not in fact apply, so it will be harder in Afghanistan than it was in the Anbar Province.  Now Adams and Marlowe turn that argument on its head.  Not only is the tribal awakening possible, but it should be easier in Afghanistan than in Iraq, and more troops are certainly not necessary.

Grim at Blackfive has a roundup of views that complement Marlowe’s plan, but on a more sophisticated level.  But as with Marlowe’s view, Grim’s discussion relies on tribal engagement.  Regular readers know that I reject the narrative (of now mythical and magical proportions) that the campaign for Anbar was all about the tribes.  It was much more complicated than that.

In Haditha it required sand berms to prevent the influx of foreign fighters into the city, combined with a local police chief strong man named Colonel Faruq to bring the town to heel.  In al Qaim it required heavy kinetic operations by the U.S. Marines, combined with a local police chief strong man named Abu Ahmed to keep out foreign fighters and bring local insurgents under control.  In Fallujah in 2007 it required heavy kinetic operations by the U.S. Marines followed on by gated communities, biometrics, and block captains (or Muktars) and strong men police all over the city.

Whereas Captain Travis Patriquin’s outline for counterinsurgency in Anbar seems to have carried the day when it comes to narrative, even in Ramadi (where the tribal awakening supposedly got its start), Colonel MacFarland’s observations are telling concerning the tribes upon his arrival to Anbar.

… the sheiks were sitting on the fence.

They were not sympathetic to al-Qaeda, but they tolerated its members, MacFarland says.

The sheiks’ outlook had been shaped by watching an earlier clash between Iraqi nationalists — primarily former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party — and hard-core al-Qaeda operatives who were a mix of foreign fighters and Iraqis. Al-Qaeda beat the nationalists. That rattled the sheiks.

“Al-Qaeda just mopped up the floor with those guys,” he says.

While Captain Patriquin wanted to talk to Sheik Risha, U.S. forces were engaged in heavy combat to shut down his smuggling lines, even at the expense of killing his tribal and family members.  The U.S. Marine Corps operations in Iraq are best described by diplomacy with a gun (and this is consistent with the literally countless interviews of Marines that I have conducted).  When it was all finished, more than one thousand Marines had perished in Anbar, and tens of thousands of both indigenous insurgents and foreign fighters had died.  There were no unicorns or rainbows in Anbar, popular myths to the contrary.

In spite of the sophistication of the Anbari tribes compared to the Afghan tribes, even they couldn’t hold off al Qaeda without heavy kinetics by the Marines.  The Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan were also said to have a strong sense of unity and organization, that is, until Baitullah Mehsud had some 600 tribal elders assassinated.  The Pashtun tribal structure is said to have been decimated by the Pakistan Taliban.

Upon the initial liberation of Garmsir by the U.S. Marines in 2008, the tribal elders pleaded with the Marines to join with them to fight the Taliban.  The 24th MEU did, at least until their deployment ended.  The British weren’t able to hold Garmsir, and no U.S. Marines followed up the 24th MEU into the Garmsir (in a tip of the hat to the “economy of force” campaign).  Thus did Operation Khanjar have to be launched in 2009 to do some of the same things that the Marines did in 2008.  Even now with U.S. Marines present in the Helmand Province, fear of retribution for cooperating with the Marines against the Taliban is pervasive.

There are certain elements of Marlowe’s analysis that are salient.  You cannot find more criticism of the ANA and ANP than I have lodged, and I objected to the use of ANA soldiers from Tajik areas to control Pashtun tribes before Marlowe did.  But for those naive analysts who believe that reorganization of the ANA is the answer to our problems in Afghanistan, you only need to know that the U.S. Marines are still trying to talk the ANA troops aligned with them to go on night time patrols.

There may also be some virtue to the notion of better engagement of the tribes.  Steven Pressfield has a continuing stream of conversation and analysis at his blog on this very topic (to be fair, I should also mention that Joshua Foust has another view on this, and both positions are well worth studying).  But after the tribes are engaged and the ANA has been reorganized, the tribes cannot stop the Taliban and allied foreign fighters alone, and the ANA is far from ready to take on defense of their country from internal threats.

What Davis and Marlowe are missing is the general evolution of the campaign and the warp and woof of the Afghan countryside now as compared to the utopia they describe.  The Taliban have grown stronger, and it will take heavy kinetics, patrolling, policing and engagement of the population by other-than-ANA forces to dislodge them.

There aren’t any easy solutions, but the general reluctance to send additional troops being demonstrated by this administration cannot possibly be a doctrinal or strategic basis for denying the necessary resources to complete the campaign.  U.S. troops are the currency upon which the campaign will succeed or fail.

Video of COP Keating (Kamdesh)

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

Following up on Kamdesh Troops Were Sitting Ducks: The Importance of Terrain, this video is a stark reminder of just where COP Keating was located.  They were completely walled-in by the terrain.  Perhaps the ease of vehicle movement and delivery of logistics was the reason for locating COP Keating where they did.  But they didn’t have even a single hill which abuts the COP (or or on which the COP is at least partially built).  Every direction is up.  It would have been better to have utilized a hill and go to the hassle of building, walking and driving on sloped terrain.

Resignation at the State Department Over Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

By now it’s old news that Marine Captain Matthew Hoh, veteran of Iraq who later joined the State Department, has resigned over the campaign in Afghanistan.  He sees no reason whatsoever for the U.S. to be engaged there.  Jules Crittenden opines of Hoh’s letter:

It highlights some of the very real problems of the situation in Afghanistan, but concludes that remaining in Afghanistan requires, “if honest,” that we have to invade Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Sudan, etc. Maybe we will before this long war is done. Hard to say. It wouldn’t be the first time, whether in a short four-year war or a 45-year-long one, that we’d had to fight multiple fronts to reomve tyranny and secure freedom in the world. Hoh also includes a Vietnam reference that, tellingly, assumes that failure in Afghanistan is as inevitable as many believe failure in Vietnam was.

The long war.  That phrase that so many people are afraid to use, and which has been used so many times here at The Captain’s Journal.  Jules understands.  And I understand that Captain Hoh is an honorable man for sticking to his principles.  He has a right to decide how he wants, just as I have a right to decide against his views.  What I don’t get is why Captain Hoh is getting so much attention.  So another State employee doesn’t want to see us in Afghanistan.  How many more hundreds are there?

Finally, I find it rather embarrassing and gushy that State worked so hard to retain him.  If he is so decidedly against the campaign in Afghanistan that he feels that he cannot work at State, then he should go rather than be begged to stay.  The fact of the matter is that this thinking is systemic to not only State but the entire administration.

Do you disagree?  Read this depressing comment at Neptunus Lex (from It’s All Verbatim).

My office has been an integral part of these “Af/Pak Principal Strategy Sessions”

Let’s just say most of the proposals of the table (excluding the Joint Staff J7 & J3/5, DIA and the more rational sects of the NSC) are totally divorced from reality.

It’s painful, really. NDA’s prevent me from delving into it fully, but some of the proposals would cause the regulars here to go completely ape-shit. I sit along the wall, and let my boss do the talking. It is absolutely incredible how naive this administration (and yes, senior members of the NSC and State) are.

USD(P) isn’t innocent, either. DoD’s policy shop is cooking up some the craziest policies I’ve seen in a long time. There is a concerted effort to create “Stop Loss 2.0″ – basically you would be re-classed from whatever specialty/MOS/AFSC/rate, regardless of branch/age/rank, and thrust into, say, military police, MI, or EOD. Not offered; you’d be required to jump over. Even the 10% we vets know exist that shouldn’t and couldn’t do MI, EOD et al. If you refused, they would whip out the UCMJ. This is actually being considered as a way to surge without actually surging. Joint Staff J1 and J3/5 were under heavy pressure to report we were under strain, and couldn’t handle a 40K/60K/80K push. J1 came back and told the WH/NSC point blank: we have more than enough. They didn’t like that and are now finding excuses to not surge period, not even the 10K trial balloon they tossed up last week.

They’re stalling. I spend my entire morning, 5 days a week in the EEOB and State with these fuckers. You heard it here first.

Then again, maybe I do understand why Captain Hoh is getting so much attention.  It’s just that the other hundreds who feel just like him at State don’t have the integrity to resign.

Army Rejects Call for Independent Assessments of Body Armor

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

About eight months ago the GAO issued a report concerning body armor (SAPI plate) recall, and outlined a number of findings concerning the testing the Army had performed.  We summarized a few of the findings in DoD Testing Requirements for Body Armor and Army Recall.

COPD is “Contract Purchase Description,” PEO is “Program Executive Officer,” and BFD means “Back Face Deformation.”  This last concept becomes important in the overall picture.  Turning to the specifics of the report, several key findings are outlined below for the purpose of providing examples of the investigation.

The inconsistencies that we identified concerned the treatment of over velocity shots.  During first article testing conducted on February 20 and November 7, 2007, shots on six of the plates were over the required velocity. Because none of the shots resulted in a complete penetration, the shots should have been considered fair, and the test should have proceeded, according to the COPD. During the November 7, 2007, test, the testing facility official complied with the COPD and correctly proceeded with testing. However, even though the scenario was exactly the same for the February 20, 2007, test, the testing facility official conducted retests on additional plates. The testing facility official documented all of the shots, including the retests, and provided the test results to PEO Soldier for scoring.  When scoring the test results for the February 20, 2007, first article test (design M3D2S2), the PEO Soldier scoring official chose to use the test results for the retested plates when he computed the test score. Use of the retested plates resulted in a score of 5.5 points, and the contractor passed the first article test. Had the scoring official followed the fair shot acceptance criteria as stated in the COPD and used the initial plates that withstood the over velocity shot, the contractor would have accumulated an additional 1.5 points (complete penetration on the second shot) and would have failed the first article test with 7 points.

Translation: When an over-velocity shot is taken on a plate, the testing may proceed if the plate is not penetrated under the assumption that a lower velocity shot would not have penetrated either.  This is a reasonable assumption.  However, if the plate is penetrated by the second shot it fails the testing, even if weakened by the initial shot.  The PEO made the decision to exclude the plates that had sustained over-velocity shots on the initial testing and to perform retests, but not consistently (as later records show).  A second example of the Inspector General’s findings pertains to measurements of BFD (back face deformation).

PEO Soldier instructed the testing facility to deviate from the COPD and use an offset correction technique (a mathematical formula used to adjust the BFD) when measuring the BFD. The testing facility official used this technique during 2 of the 21 first article tests conducted under Contract 0040. The COPD required that the testing facility officials measure the BFD at the deepest point in the clay depression after the bullet impacted the plate. However, PEO Soldier officials stated that contractors complained that the BFD measurement was not fair if the deepest point in the clay was not behind the point of impact. Therefore, a PEO Soldier official instructed the testing facility in an April 25, 2005, e-mail to use the offset correction technique if the deepest point in the clay depression was not behind the bullet’s point of impact.

Translation: The contractors complained when the measurement of deepest penetration was made at any point other than the point of bullet impact, which is the point of highest risk to the Soldier.  Therefore, the PEO made a decision that a correction would be applied to account for this effect and bring consistency to the program.

The Captain’s Journal initially concurs with both of the program deviations discussed above, since it isn’t fair to penalize one plate as compared to another if an over-velocity shot happened to be taken against it, and also since the highest risk to the Soldier does happen to be the point of bullet impact.

And it is also fair to point out that these aren’t the only problems discussed in the report.  But there are deeper problems that discussed even in the report.  With respect to the over-velocity shots, our judgment is that not enough SAPI plates are being included in the test samples (i.e., the sample size is not large enough) and the boundary conditions (such as shot velocity) are not being well-managed.  With respect to the deformation, the question naturally arises why the most severe deformation is occurring anywhere other than the point of bullet impact?  What’s happening to the ESAPI plates that is causing deformation in other than impact locations?

These questions (and other such technical questions) are not posed or answered in the Inspector General’s report, since the investigation is done by a government office.  The investigation focuses on programs, QA, adherence to procedures, consistency of application of rules and the like.  True enough, there are problems with some of the above.

But Senators and Representatives who have infinite trust in the power of government to solve problems leave the technology to the experts when a government office is the the sole arbiter of the strength of any technical program – and technological expert doesn’t usually define government offices.  In this particular case, as we have suggested before, there is no shame in assistance from industry experts.

Questions have been raised above which point to the need for completely independent consultative services focusing on QA, programmatic controls, statistical analysis of sample size, control over testing boundary conditions, and most especially the SAPI plates themselves and the underlying fracture mechanics of bullet impacts by finite element analysis.

At this point the business of body armor investigations wasn’t complete at the Government Accountability Office.  Hence, in October 2009 they issued Warfighter Support: Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding.  In the executive summary they state:

To determine what effect, if any, the problems GAO observed had on the test data and on the outcomes of First Article Testing, the Army should provide for an independent ballistics evaluation of the First Article Testing results by ballistics and statistical experts external to the Department of Defense before any armor is fielded to soldiers under this contract solicitation. Because DOD did not concur with this recommendation, GAO added a matter for congressional consideration to this report suggesting that Congress direct DOD to either conduct such an independent external review of these test results or repeat First Article Testing.

To better align actual test practices with established testing protocols during future body armor testing, the Army should assess the need to change its test procedures based on the outcome of the independent experts’ review and document these and all other key decisions made to clarify or change the testing protocols during future body armor testing. Although DOD did not agree that an independent expert review of test results was needed, DOD stated it will address protocol discrepancies identified by GAO as it develops standardized testing protocols. DOD also agreed to document all decisions made to clarify or change testing protocols.

To improve internal controls over the integrity and reliability of test data for future testing as well as provide for consistent test conditions and comparable data among tests, the Army should provide for an independent external peer review of Aberdeen Test Center’s body armor testing protocols, facilities, and instrumentation to ensure that proper internal controls and sound management practices are in place. DOD generally concurred with this recommendation, but stated that it will also include DOD members on the review team.

Consistent with our own recommendations, they counsel in the strongest possible terms that outside independent consultative support be obtained.  But as soon as the GAO released its report, the DoD released a statement claiming confidence in the safety of the SAPI plates – a completely irrelevant rejoinder to the overall recommendations of the GAO report to procure consultative support for the program.  The same day that the DoD announced that they had full confidence in their body armor tests, they announced several new QA positions concerning ballistics and body armor testing.

The Army is sounding defensive and unwilling to open their program to outside expert inspection and assessment.  Here at The Captain’s Journal we haven’t recommended draconian measures such as jettisoning the Army test program, or complete replacement of the SAPI (at least until an equivalent, lighter weight ballistic insert can be developed).  We have only recommended the engagement of outside consultative services for the Army, just as did the GAO.

For the Army to reject that recommendation is very small and in extremely bad form.  When counsel has been given to open your programs to outside inspection and that counsel is rejected, it constitutes poor engineering.  There are many industries which “live in a glass house,” so to speak: nuclear, commercial air transport, pharmaceutical and medical, just to mention a few.  There is no valid technical or budgetary reason whatsoever that the Army cannot open their program to inspection by people who know as much or more than they do.

Taliban and al Qaeda Ideological Alignments

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

In Connection Between the Taliban and al Qaeda we discussed the first hand account by David Rohdes of the New York Times after he was kidnapped by the Afghan Taliban, transported to Pakistan, spent time among both Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, and then finally escaped some seven months later.  His experience, coupled with data we had previously cataloged and analyzed, is convincing and compelling evidence of the hardened and more extremist theological alignment of the Taliban, and thus of their alignment with transnational insurgents and global actors such as al Qaeda.

Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of “Al Qaeda lite,” a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan.

Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.

But questions remain.  There are some (not identified in this article) that have weighed in saying that Rohdes is merely offering perspective or speculation, not facts.  There are others who have gone on record with analyses (parsing the Taliban into many different factions) that seems at the outset to cast doubt on Rohdes’ observations, at least, in a normative sense.  Myra MacDonald, for instance, outlines the main insurgent groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and weighs in questioning whether some of them share the global aspirations as al Qaeda.  In this same analysis she links Vahid Brown writing for Jihadica who even questions whether the Taliban and al Qaeda may be diametrically opposed.

Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban and al-Qa’ida’s senior leaders have been issuing some very mixed messages of late, and the online jihadi community is in an uproar, with some calling these developments “the beginning of the end of relations” between the two movements.  Beginning with a statement from Mullah Omar in September, the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta-based leadership has been emphasizing the “nationalist” character of their movement, and has sent several communications to Afghanistan’s neighbors expressing an intent to establish positive international relations.  In what are increasingly being viewed by the forums as direct rejoinders to these sentiments, recent messages from al-Qa’ida have pointedly rejected the “national” model of revolutionary Islamism and reiterated calls for jihad against Afghanistan’s neighbors, especially Pakistan and China.  However interpreted, these conflicting signals raise serious questions about the notion of an al-Qa’ida-Taliban merger.

We covered the al Qaeda rejection of the nationalistic model for jihad in The Globalization of Jihad in Palestine, and there is no question that the infighting between insurgent groups can become deadly.  It’s this supposed rift between factions of the insurgency that the U.S. administration wants to exploit.

… the Obama administration has indicated that it intends to make a fresh attempt to engage more moderate Taliban groups in talks with the Afghan government – in a determined effort to woo at least some of them away from the fighting that is claiming increasing numbers of American and other Nato forces’ lives.

Mullah Mutawakkil, once a confidant of the one-eyed Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, was held at a US base in Kandahar in 2002 after he gave himself up to American troops.

Now he is being politely wooed by a stream of senior US officials who make discreet visits to his villa, which is guarded by armed police, to hear his thoughts on what the Taliban mood is like and whether any of its leaders are ready for talks.

A soft-spoken and intelligent man who was one of the Taliban regime’s youngest ministers, Mullah Mutawakkil is cautious about what can be achieved, but even so his thinking is music to tired Western ears.

He believes that the Taliban would split from what he called their al-Qaeda “war allies” if a deal was within reach. Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph in the guest room of his Kabul home, he insisted that a settlement to end the war was possible – and that it would be the West’s best chance of stopping terrorists from turning Afghanistan back into their base again.

“If the Taliban fight on and finally became Afghanistan’s government with the help of al-Qaeda, it would then be very difficult to separate them,” he warned.

But there is, he says, another option. Taliban leaders are looking for guarantees of their personal safety from the US, and a removal of the “bounties” placed on the head of their top commanders. They also want a programme for the release of prisoners held at the notorious Bagram US air base in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay.

In return, he says, the Taliban would promise not to allow Afghanistan to be used to plan attacks on America – the original reason for American invervention (sic), and the overriding aim of US policy in the region.

A Morton’s Fork to be sure.  Settle with Taliban who might bring back al Qaeda safe haven, or send more troops in what may prove to be an increasingly unpopular war.  But perhaps not.  Perhaps the choice is clearer.  Commenter Amm Sam at Jihadica offers a clear and unvarnished view of the debates between the globalists and the nationalists.

The Taliban’s statements of late have to be understood in the context of the US debate on what strategy to pursue in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar is trying to influence the debate by signaling to the Obama Administration that they aren’t a threat – but should we take Mullah Omar’s word for it? Of course not. If you look at the discourse of the Taliban, from spokesmen and commanders to the footsoldiers quoted in David Rhodes’ excellent 5-part NYT series, you see that the Taliban as a semi-coherent movement has drifted into the global jihadist perspective over the last several years. They are still primarily focused on the region, but less so now than ever.

Only now do we see this shift from Omar in the heat of Washington deliberations on Afghanistan.

In fact, the Haqqani group, the Taliban who held foreign al Qaeda fighters in such high esteem in the Rohdes account with the New York Times, is operationally allied with Mullah Omar who is said to be ready to jettison al Qaeda’s presence after a return to power.

Most violence in the province has been linked to the Haqqani network, which operates out of havens on both sides of the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border and has taken responsibility for dozens of attacks around Afghanistan.

The group was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who made his name as a leader of the Islamist uprising against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. More recently, the militants introduced the use of suicide bombings to Afghanistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, Jalaluddin’s son, said his fighters didn’t want to capture heavily populated areas because the operations would likely result in significant casualties among insurgents and civilians. Still, he made clear his group had no intention of abandoning its focus on Khost. “Every now and then we want to carry out coordinated group attacks,” he said.

An American military official who recently served in eastern Afghanistan said the U.S. had intercepted communications suggesting the Haqqani leadership was closely coordinating its activities in Khost with Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s leader, who is believed to be in Pakistan. “It’s a division of labor, with each group focusing on a different part of Afghanistan,” the official said.

The official said some U.S. intelligence officers suspect that the Haqqani leadership had offered to conquer Khost in exchange for a promise from Mullah Omar that the family would be allowed to rule large swaths of eastern Afghanistan if the armed group eventually retook control of the country.

And it’s now believed that the Taliban and / or al Qaeda are helping the Gaza insurgents to fabricate much more sophisticated bombs for use in their terrorist efforts.  The battles between certain factions of the Taliban and al Qaeda must be seen as internecine spats – as intramural struggles.  They don’t represent a terminus.  They are quite public debates over strategy and tactics rather than policy and doctrine.  It’s important not to conflate one with the other.  Believing that any faction of the Taliban would actually risk their lives to battle al Qaeda because of the former’s focus on the region and the focus of the later on the globe is not only unwise, it is profoundly bad logic.

As for David Rohdes, everything and everyone else takes second place (or less) to direct, first hand knowledge to someone who has been there and seen these things first hand.  Rohdes is now in the position of being a subject matter expert – perhaps the foremost and most knowledgeable one in the world.  Rejection of his analysis because it creates discomfort for one strategic option (i.e., separating the “good” Taliban from the bad) is paramount to rejection of the preeminent scholar in the field of study.  From his time with the Taliban, Rohdes has earned the equivalent of a Doctorate in Jihadist Islamic studies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Finally, the fact that certain jihadi web sites may be “abuzz” with emotion over a coming split between the Taliban and al Qaeda simply isn’t important.  It’s as irrelevant and insignificant as the silly and gross exaggerations of U.S. and NATO casualties inflicted by the Taliban at the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Voice of Jihad).

Turkey Pen Gap, Pisgah National Forrest

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

Smith’s backpack beckoned, saying “You know you can’t leave without me.  You know you need me.  Come.  Come to me … you have no choice.”

2009E 136

So Smith picked up his stuff again, hit the trail with Josh, and took in the beautiful vista.

2009E 138

Lt. Col. Davis Responds to Smith on Going Deep in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

Following up Smith’s commentaty Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis on Going Deep Rather Than Long in Afghanistan, Davis posts the following rejoinder.

I recently received a very kind invitation from Herschel Smith to reply to a posting he recently made of a report on strategy analysis and recommendations i wrote earlier this month.  He wrote, “I’m sure that you don’t appreciate one bit my excoriation of your views. I expect a full throated response, and will approve whatever comment you make.”  I must say that his willingness to actively invite me to write a “full throated” response to his posting is one of the reasons I hold this web site in such high esteem and only wish other venues for the forging of ideas were held to such equally high standards. 
 
In my view, one of the biggest weaknesses of our country’s intellectual elite today is an arrogance that holds there is only one answer to any question: mine!  Once a writer or opinion-maker stakes out his or her view, all dissenters are painted as fools or idiots because no alteration of their stated views could possibly be right!  Rather, I hold that there are many smart people in this country, irrespective of their race, political persuasion, gender, age, or social position, most of whom are genuinely and passionately love America.  But not one of them has the corner on all the best ideas.
 
Regarding the report i wrote on Afghanistan, I obviously believe that I have some darn good ideas or I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of publishing them, particularly when i know they are contrary to some other pretty high ranking and well known people.  But my expectation is that other smart people could undoubtedly add to my good ideas and in other cases help illumine why something isn’t so good as i thought once a new piece of heretofore unknown piece of information is provided.  That’s why I really admire this web site.
 
So many of the readers of this blog have tremendous combat experience as well as institutional knowledge which in many cases far outstrips some of our national civilian and uniformed leaders.  Your views and opinions carry a lot of weight.  Conversely, however, while some of us have a lot of tactical experience we don’t have the broad knowledge and experience on higher levels that some of the less experienced leaders do have.  If we could get the higher up folks to have an open mind about the on-the-ground experience of the tactical group, and the latter group to be willing to consider the larger, associated strategic views of the former group, the end result could be something damn good!
 
So in that light, I do offer some comments to Mr. Smith’s “excoriation” of my views, but also just as eagerly request some of you to reply to this exchange to pass along information which could either bolster an idea – or new info which could shoot it down.  The bottom line in this mess that is Afghanistan, there is no “good” solution; it’s just a matter of which one carries the least number and degree of negative consequences.
 
One of the biggest complaints of Mr. Smith’s posting was the apparent contradiction my paper showed.   First, he notes:
 
“On the other hand, he feels that is is necessary to address the objection that a return to Taliban control would mean a return to safe haven for al Qaeda.  But if it’s true that his plan would prevent a return to Taliban control, and also if it’s true that occupying forces give the Taliban their currency (and without us they wouldn’t have a raison d’être), then it shouldn’t be necessary to predict what would happen if the Taliban returned to power.”
 
Not so.  As I point out in the paper, it is very much necessary to point out the potential negative consequences.  Too often people suggest their plan is better than others out there by detailing the negative consequences that would befall us if we followed the flawed plan, but then present their views as though there are no negative possibilities; that “if we only followed my plan, all would be good!”  Rather, I feel it is responsible and necessary to discuss the pros and cons of my ideas.  Given that I am recommending that 18 months after implementing my plan we redeploy the bulk of our combat troops, I want to address what would happen if a ‘worst-case-scenario’ happened and the Kabul government fell and Taliban returned to power (more on that in a moment).  So it is no contradiction, but is instead a responsible requirement to point out potential negatives.
 
Second he writes, “On the one hand the corrupt ANA and ANP are one of the biggest problems (and to be fair, our own coverage of ANA and ANP has been unforgiving, but still truthful).  On the other hand, reliance on them along with some HVT strikes by SOF is the cornerstone of his plan.” Indeed I do suggest we rely on them.  But the given that they are weak and corrupt is why later in my report i recommend that we keep the number of ANSF at currently approved numbers and aggressively train them to be able to more capable rather than jacking their numbers up to 400,000 which would certainly result in higher numbers of equally incapable ‘partners.’
 
Next Mr. Smith posts, “On the one hand, Davis observes that we don’t have enough troops to secure Afghanistan, noting the large scale engagements such as the battle of Wanat (see our own article on battles in Nuristan and Wanat in the context of massing of enemy troops).  On the other hand, a smaller ANA and fewer U.S. troops are somehow superior to what we now have and would be able to hold the terrain.”  Nowhere in my report do I say or suggest that with fewer troops we’d be able to “hold terrain.”  Rather, I wrote:
 
“One of the unquestioned assumptions is that if we send 40,000 more combat troops we will gain the upper hand against the insurgent forces.  I contend it is not the iron-clad truth most believe.  By sending in large numbers of “foreign” troops, we unwittingly play directly into the historic fears of the Afghan people and appear to validate the Taliban’s IO campaign.  Evidence suggests many of the insurgent fighters gain their reason for living from our presence and from fighting us.  They possess the ability to view themselves in heroic, patriotic ways in this existential struggle, much as did the Partisan movements in France, Yugoslavia, and White Russia during World War II.  The underground fighters of World War II were willing to endure any hardship, pay any price, and sacrifice their lives to gain their freedom.  We must deny the Taliban this huge psychological advantage.”
 
Shorn of large numbers of American troops in isolated bases throughout the country, the Taliban lose targets to engage and the motivation to influence others to join their cause.  If there is no “occupation” to resist, where is the reason to keep fighting?  The initial reaction many would have to that is, “Good grief!  Without our forces there, they’d just take over!”  But would they?  The reason many fight for the Taliban today is to fight against the United States, and most of the Taliban support comes from regular citizens.  Again, absent the motivation to fight against the US, their motivation to fight for the Taliban goes way down.  Remember, there was no love for the way the Taliban ruled with an iron hand prior to October 2001 – and the regular people of Afghanistan certainly do remember that today.  So i posit that it is a risk, but one we can live with for reason discussed below.
 
Next I’ll summarize a few of the criticisms Mr. Smith posed, replying to them generally.  He raises a number of very valid comments on the difficulty of logistics and transport.  These are very vexing issues which will exist no matter which course of action the President approves.  Under a Go Big there will be more troops to provide security – but also significantly more targets the Taliban can attack.  Under Go Deep the reverse is true.  The redeployment of the bulk of US conventional forces doesn’t mean all forces leave.  Further, that makes our effort to train the ANSF to acceptable levels rises in importance.  But the bottom line is that there will be risk to any course of action. 
 
We often fail to adequately consider the role played here by the enemy.  The deciding factors aren’t just whether or how many US Troops remain in Afghanistan or what they do.  Regardless of what we want to do the enemy will seek to do all they can to mess it up.  They want to kill us and they want to drive us out and whether it’s Go Big, Go Deep or something else, as long as we are there they will aggressively try to defeat our plans.  So again, the issue for us is which risk is the most manageable and which ‘worst case scenarios’ are we able to live with.  In my view, the worst of a Go Deep is manageable while the worst of Go Big could be disastrous.
 
Finally, Mr. Smith says, “The reality of the situation is that going deep is not an option, but rather, a daydream.  “Going deep” is a nicely packaged strategy for failure.  There is going big or going home.”  This is purely a personal opinion.  I contend that the facts as laid out throughout my report refute Mr. Smith’s charge, but he is certainly welcome to his personal opinion.
 
I would like to end by addressing one of the central issues of this entire debate regarding the number of troops recommended for Go Big and what they could accomplish.  As a hook, I’ll address an article from today’s (22 October 2009) Washington Post.
 
On today’s front page, above the fold Washington Post (In Helmand, a model for success?), there is a story by Rajiv Chandrasekaran about a possible template for success in Afghanistan that could portend success if McChrystal’s strategy is followed.  This article illuminates some of the most crucial parts of my report and helps convey why i believe Go Big, aside from what we would all wish to happen, would be very unlikely to succeed. 
 
In today’s article Rajiv wrote:
 
“But even if Nawa remains peaceful, replicating what has occurred here may not be possible. Achieving the same troop-to-population ratio in other insurgent strongholds across southern and eastern Afghanistan would require at least 100,000 more U.S. or NATO troops — more than double the 40,000 being sought by McChrystal — as well as many thousands of additional Afghan security forces…  Then, three months ago, the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment arrived. To U.S. commanders, the change in Nawa is the result of overwhelming force and overhauled battlefield strategy. The combined strength of U.S. and Afghan security forces in the district is now about 1,500 for a population of about 75,000 — exactly the 1-to-50 ratio prescribed by U.S. military counterinsurgency doctrine.”
 
But note what’s not described: any forces for training.  Rajiv notes that we would need over 100,000 troops just to perform the security mission.  Now look back to the section in my report where the same figure of 100,000 was mentioned, but note the function of those troops:
 
“To most, 40,000 additional troops seem like a large number, particularly when compared to the 20,000 of the Iraq surge, but according to high ranking officers who have previously commanded combat troops in Afghanistan, 40,000 is not enough.  Marine Colonel Dale Alford said at a September counterinsurgency conference in Washington that it would require somewhere on the order of 10 brigades just to train the Afghan National Police (ANP) and another eight to work with the Afghan National Army (ANA) – on top of what we have today (p.8).”
 
In Rajiv’s correct accounting, it would take approximately 100,000 fighting troops to do the security mission to the same level of effectiveness as described in Nawa, plus the 10 brigades to train the ANP and eight brigades to train the ANA.  And for how many years would you need so many people?  How long will Nawa survive in its current stable state without the presence of those 1,100 Marines?  One of the biggest condemnations of the long term viability of this strategy is seen in this passage:
 
“The insurgents who left Nawa in July now operate from in and around the town of Marja, 10 miles away, amid a series of north-south canals carved into the sandy desert by the U.S. government in the 1950s and ’60s as a way to counter Soviet influence in Afghanistan.  The canals helped turn the Helmand River valley into Afghanistan’s breadbasket. But wheat fields have been replaced by the highest concentration of opium-producing poppies in Helmand, and the canals now serve as defensive moats that U.S. combat vehicles cannot cross, protecting the drug smugglers and insurgents who have taken shelter there. “Nawa is only going to get so far as long as their next-door neighbor is Marja,” said Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the top Marine commander in Helmand.  But clearing out Marja would require more troops than the Marines currently have in Afghanistan.”
 
Even the success wrought by over a thousand Marines can only scatter the enemy a mere 10 miles away.  That’s the distance between the Pentagon and the I495/I395 mixing bowl in DC!  In order to clear all the enemy out of the area of Nawa and neighboring Marja, however, we’d need more Marines than we have in all of Afghanistan!  The obvious next question: if it took so many troops to clear and hold that one small piece of the country, how will you secure the rest of the country?  If the insurgent enemy remains safe a scant 10 miles from an entire Marine combat battalion, how much of a success would we gain even if we did consolidate all the Marines in Afghanistan to clear and hold those two areas?
 
The facts on the ground here emphatically support the thesis of my report: it would take more troops than the US has in its active duty force to properly clear and hold – and concurrently train the ANSF – the country (while also meeting other world-wide requirements).  If we send the 40,000 troops and embark on a COIN strategy, we will see the Nawa pattern repeated in islands throughout the country.  Where you send in such overwhelming force and conduct such aggressive patrolling schedules (as mentioned in Rajiv’s story), you’ll be able to clear and hold it from the enemy.  But around those islands the Taliban will simply scoot out 10 to 20 miles and set up shop again, and continue to use hit and run tactics on those additional troops, and concurrently live with virtual impunity in the thousands of other villages and towns where no NATO troops will live.
 
But again I ask the question: what would those insurgent fighters do if all our combat troops redeployed from Afghanistan?  The most common answer – like that given by NATO Commander Rasmussen yesterday – is that “if the Taliban take power tomorrow, terrorism can prosper and one day or another will strike all western democracies.”  But I think the history of Afghan tribal politics following the British withdrawal in 1842 and the Soviets in 1988 shows that the unity they now enjoy as a result of their focus on attacking and driving out the American invader will evaporate with the removal of the foreign troop presence. 
 
Also it is key to point out that today the insurgents exist as a shadowy, elusive force that we cannot effectively destroy because we cannot effectively find them.  The day they take power and exist in the open – and in large, concentrated locations – they become lucrative targets for Western military might and again become enormously vulnerable to our greatest technological strengths (precision weapons).  On that day we have meaningful leverage over them that would mitigate against their giving safe haven to a resurgent AQ: why would they fight 10 years to get back in power only to again take the very same action that resulted in their destruction the first time, knowing that they would still be utterly powerless to stop our precision attacks? 
 
It doesn’t matter if we think it’s a grand idea to “defeat” the Taliban or not.  Given the stark realities of the limited number of active duty troops the United States possesses, how many of them it would take to “defeat” the insurgency, and for how many years they be garrisoned there; not to mention the geography of the country, the resilience of the enemy fighters – and the absence of any geostrategic importance such a barren country has for us (outside of our interest in attacking any and all terrorist threats against our country which applies everywhere in the world such a threat might metastasize) – we can’t accomplish that tactical task within given resources.
 
What we must do, then, is to accomplish the driving strategic imperative – to identify, track, and destroy all terrorist organizations and individuals who seek to harm the US or its interests – in a way that can succeed with the resources we have and under conditions presented.  My “Go Deep” plan offers one viable possibility.  There are obviously others.  But I ask this final question in closing:
 
What is the likely outcome, given all the foregoing information, if we cling stubbornly to our desire to destroy the Taliban and “win” in Afghanistan by deploying those 40,000 troops?  I believe the most likely outcome would be the expenditure of enormous amounts of money, an increase in the rate of degradation of our Armed Forces, an increase in the strength and effectiveness of the insurgent forces, a continual stream of American blood draining into the Afghan dirt as casualties mount, and ultimately, after the loss of public support in Western nations – most notably ours – we withdrawal in humiliation that even our best marketing experts won’t be able to disguise. 
 
That’s my view anyway!  Would love to hear yours…
 
–davis

The Connection Between the Taliban and al Qaeda

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

David Rohde with The New York Times was kidnapped months ago by the Afghan Taliban while attempting to gain an interview with a Taliban commander.  He is writing about his first hand experiences in The New York Times in what may be the most compelling reading I have done in months.  I highly recommend that you set aside some time and study his account.

There is much to be learned from David, but one thing in particular has stuck out in his articles thus far.

Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of “Al Qaeda lite,” a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan.

Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.

[ ... ]

The trip confirmed suspicions I had harbored for years as a reporter. The Haqqanis oversaw a sprawling Taliban mini-state in the tribal areas with the de facto acquiescence of the Pakistani military. The Haqqanis were so confident of their control of the area that they took me — a person they considered to be an extraordinarily valuable hostage — on a three-hour drive in broad daylight to shoot a scene for a video outdoors.

Throughout North Waziristan, Taliban policemen patrolled the streets, and Taliban road crews carried out construction projects. The Haqqani network’s commanders and foreign militants freely strolled the bazaars of Miram Shah and other towns. Young Afghan and Pakistani Taliban members revered the foreign fighters, who taught them how to make bombs.

[ ...]

After about 15 minutes, the guards returned to the car and led me back to the house. The missiles had struck two cars, killing a total of seven Arab militants and local Taliban fighters. I felt a small measure of relief that no civilians had been killed. But I knew we were still in grave danger.

Baitullah Mehsud’s threats against Washington and London may or may not have been bluster, but there is no doubt that they would have eventually attempted to pull off an attack directly in the homeland.  As I have previously noted:

… they have evolved into a much more radical organization than the original Taliban bent on global engagement, what Nicholas Schmidle calls the Next-Gen Taliban. The TTP shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! “We are al-Qaida!”  There is no distinction.  A Pakistan interior ministry official has even said that the TTP and al Qaeda are one and the same.

We have known about the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) for some time, but what we learn from David Rohde’s report is that the TTP swims freely among the Afghan Taliban, and vice versa.  And so does al Qaeda.  They swim freely among both groups of Taliban, and are even revered by them.

If anyone has been harboring secret hopes that the Taliban (Pakistan or Afghan) would reject the presence of al Qaeda if they returned to power, those hopes should be forthwith abandoned.  David Rohde has given us a clear enough picture to reach this conclusion with certainty.


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