The Strategy of Chasing the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 12 months ago

In Why we must chase the Taliban and Refusing the Chase we covered how the ROE was preventing U.S. troops from engaging the insurgency when it was possible that noncombatants could be involved, and that this tactical approach had caused the need to chase the insurgents when they took cover in civilian areas and then later escaped.  We must chase the Taliban and kill every last one of them, we are told by some Afghanis.

But we don’t have the troops, helicopters or logistics to continue the chase into the valleys, mountains and fields of Afghanistan.  From Lt. Col. Scott Cunningham, commander of the 1st Squadron, 221st Cavalry, of the Nevada National Guard, we have another indication of insurgent tactics that brings up the issue of chasing the enemy.

The enemy in Afghanistan is elusive. They will rarely attack unless they have absolute superiority. Because of that, we usually maneuver with enough soldiers and firepower to defeat any potential threat we may encounter. Getting cut off by a superior force is a recipe for disaster. A TIC, or “Troops in Contact” is unlikely in any given patrol, but essentially inevitable over the course of an entire deployment. It can be either an IED, long-distance harassing fire or a close-up ambush. Depending on the enemy tactic, the maneuver unit will immediately attempt to pin the enemy down, and then use artillery, helicopters, or aircraft weapons on him, or flank them with maneuver forces.

The enemy has the tendency to attack from long range and then run away, often into villages, where our rules of engagement prevent us from effectively engaging him, or into the mountains where the weight of our gear prevents rapid pursuit.

One more important account comes to us from a Marine who was embedded with the Afghan National Army in the Kunar Province.

Upon getting into the village, we did the usual – looked around at the terrain and figured out how we were going to set up security with our sparse forces (2 Marines and perhaps a dozen ANA), before looking around for the village elder to talk to. We eventually got ourselves set up and found an elder, who invited me, my terp, and the ANA leader inside “The White House” for tea, nuts, and candies. No matter how poor, down and out an Afghan is, they’ll always have some small provisions for guests. It was a pretty gloomy, rainy day and the old fella seemed kind of down, though it’s never easy to really read people when you can’t understand a word they are saying. Eventually, his nephews, young men in their 20’s, came out and proceeded to show us pictures of their father, who apparently had been the head man in the village, but had been killed by the insurgents just a few months before. At that point, the older gentlemen teared up and had to leave the room. The story was that the Taliban killed him because he had been a powerful figure in the local area, and wasn’t showing enough support to them. It’s those moments where you really realize how alone those people are. They may have had each other, living in a huge house built of stones fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, but once we left the area that day they were really on their own. Our base may have been less than a mile away, but we didn’t really know what went on in that village at night. “Protecting the people” in Afghanistan is a tough thing to do.

Especially in a land where the people will not combat the insurgents themselves, it becomes necessary to take additional measures to target the insurgents.  In this case it might come down to distributed operations.  Additional troops will be needed, and Scout Sniper, Force Recon and DMs (Designated Marksman) will be used extensively along with the rest of infantry.  But we must lie in wait, perform reconnaissance, find them before they find us (or the people), chase them into the valleys and hills, and be prepared to work in smaller units where force protection may not be the most important of the doctrines.

Of course, the embedded Marine in Kunar hasn’t the resources necessary to do these things.  At least in part, that’s the point.  The new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy will heavily target the population centers such as Kandahar.  But I fear that we don’t even have enough troops to secure Kandahar.  Population centric counterinsurgency is a romantic idea, but in lieu of unflagging support from the American people, perfect logistics, never-ending good will among the U.S. military and no problem with repeated deployments for a campaign that seems to  never end, another strategy must be employed.

We must consider more robust ROE and chasing the enemy into his domain.  I fear that absent such a radical shift in strategy we will lose.  We simply don’t have the resources necessary to perform the magic outlined in FM 3-24.  This is what Lt. Col. Allen West is saying, I think.



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  • skiritai72

    With all due respect, as an infantryman I read your blog regularly. I find it extremely informative and yet not as supportive as I would expect. I am sure that if we all had the ability to armchair quarterback all wars then the heroism of Iwo Jima, Normandy, and numerous other battlefields would never have happened. The things that have made all of the branches of the U.S. military famous is the ability to adapt and do less with more. As for the restrictive ROE, you are slightly miss representing our ROE. It is still the commander on the grounds call, and no one is questioning it. I am here and all the ROE does is make you think about what force is needed and appropriate. I respect your patriotism and love of country, just remember we soldiers, sailors, and marines read this and would like a little more positive support.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Normally for my military readers (those who state as such) I like to get a note from *.mil network domain (which I always hold in confidence). Please send me a note and let me know where you are and what billet you fill.

    Funny that anyone would be able to come away from my prose with the idea that I am anything less than supportive. Positive – not so much. Not until I see administration support for the campaign (and the military) and a change to the ROE.

    As for that ROE, it is more than just counsel or advice as you well know. Rules are things by which people must live, prosecutions happen, NJP occurs, careers end, and so on. Rules killed four Marine in the Kunar Province when they begged for arty and didn’t get it because of the rules. Rules do more than make you think. They govern your actions.

    Best to you.

  • Warbucks

    There has got to be some tiny percentage of dare-devil, tiger spirits, take-no-guff-from-nobody, ANA’s that can be profiled, yanked out of country, trained and well convinced that they represent the path of greatness, the rule of law, the basis of trust between the East and the West, and the leaders we in the West will support to emerge the power elite of their country.

    Let them work as collective teams who enjoy special, secrete status with Western powers, and through working in collective teams, build a brotherhood open to those they choose to spread the trust and power of enlightenment.

    Make this enterprise and training undertaken for these elite groups we train, convincing, by the authority we then grant them in partnering them with our own personnel to direct operations back in country.

    Break them away and out of control of the current ANA structure. The corruption of the current ANA structure needs to be destroyed from the bottom up by these enlightened elites we train.

    Hold secrete meetings with Karzi to extract Karzi’s acquiescence to this undertaking.

    We say we fear such an elite force we may create. But what are we creating now?

  • Warbucks

    As anyone who knows me knows, I am a strong supporter of the work efforts of United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington DC.

    It is not easy to remain non-partisan in this world and offer war advise or peace advice with such bold titles as USIP is using in December 7th’s 2 hour seminar:

    They are calling this event “THE WAY FORWARD IN AFGHANISTAN”:

    http://cl.exct.net/?qs=638cbfcf487f22c881a0bb973e711966ed65870b285e65401684558159d0bbde

    I suspect USIP has over reached with this bold title (The Way Forward…yada, yada, yada) which sounds like it was provided by the State Department liaison officer and is hopeless naive.

    Apparently, the USIP event is over subscribed and providing a live web cam coverage of the event to anyone with a computer. I think you have to obtain a ticket through the ticket agency I linked above.

    Let’s see how a non-partisan organization who often finds its talent from the ranks of theologians, scientists, retired active duty military, and a broad based group of legal and technical experts, is able to seriously take us forward. Or, is their 2 hour seminar title just some overplay on words by some PR people?

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You are currently reading "The Strategy of Chasing the Taliban", entry #4285 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Lt. Col. Allen West and was published December 3rd, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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