Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 9 Comments

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

Radicalized Christian Terrorism

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

The report on Hasan and the Fort Hood shootings has been released, and without rehearsing the pitiful whitewash that it was, one comment by intellectual lightweight Togo West bears a little unpacking.

Mr. West, at a second Pentagon news conference with Admiral Clark, said the problem with “self-radicalization” in the military was not rooted in Islam. “Suppose it were fundamentalist-Christian-inspired,” Mr. West said. “Our concern is not with the religion. It is with the potential effect on our soldiers’ ability to do their job.”

Hmmm.  Not rooted in Islam.  “Fundamentalist-Christian-inspired” terrorism.  So.  Let’s have a test question after we set some boundary conditions.  First, let’s loosely define Christian as anyone who believes in the Trinitarian formula outlined in the Council Of Nicea and the Council of Chalcedon (and perhaps also who holds to basic Christian soteriology as taught in the historical confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, Canons of Dort, Heidelberg Catechism, or for my Roman Catholic readers, the Council of Trent).

Next, let’s define religiously inspired terrorism as the belief that God has commanded that one’s faith must be promulgated by violence.  Now that these basic stipulations have been made our house is in order for the test question.  Can anyone name an instance of “fundamentalist-Christian-inspired” terrorism?  Anyone?  Even a single instance?

For the more stolid readers, leave the Crusades out of this.  They were primarily a defensive operation as a result of Muslim aggression.  Besides, give me something in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries, please.  And please don’t chime in with Timothy McVeigh.  In his last interview the day before his execution, he made sure everyone knew that he was an atheist.

We can begin.  Now that the test question has been posed, are there any takers?  Give me one instance of Christian-inspired terrorism.  Just one.  Maybe intellectual lightweight Togo West can give me his data.  I’m waiting.

So Much for NGO Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

From the Houston Chronicle:

A Texas search and rescue team and other similar units mobilized to help earthquake victims in Haiti have been told they are not needed.

Members of Texas Task Force 1 have been on standby in Houston since Thursday to head to the devastated island nation.

But the United Nations mission in the country has declared the search and rescue teams already in the nation are sufficient to handle to the task and the Texas team and others prepared to deploy would not be needed.

The Texas unit, which has been on standby at Ellington Field in southeast Houston, was made up of 80 members including doctors and engineers. Four dogs were also part of the team.

Helicopter_Haiti

On the other hand, thousands of Marines have landed in Haiti, and when all is said and done, tens of thousands of U.S. forces will have contributed to the effort.  To be sure, there are security problems that contribute to logistics problems.  No one has been more diligent to focus on logistics than me.

But in a time when we are so concentrated on the use of NGOs to aid in counterinsurgency in Afghanistan (and other trouble spots across the globe), isn’t it telling that NGOs cannot even get a pass into Haiti to assist when it isn’t technically a war zone or counterinsurgency effort?  Quite obviously, the assertion that teams are no longer needed is a lie, and we simply cannot support or deploy the teams.

For those who have followed my objections to the MEU and sea-based forcible entry concept for Marines, I am not and have never been in favor of humanitarian missions for the Marines.  The Marines are trained infantrymen, and they are needed in Afghanistan.  It’s better to do Haiti and similar missions with the National Guard or other forces.  But in the absence of feasible solutions for Haiti other than U.S. Marines, the advocacy for NGOs participating in counterinsurgency (and in particular Tom Barnett’s views on the Leviathan-Sysadmin bifurcation) suffers a deadly blow, does it not?

So much for NGO engagement.  We cannot even find a way to use trained rescuers and doctors in a natural disaster, much less when people are actively engaged in an insurgency.

Marine Force Protection in Garmsir?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

In the Afghanistan town of Darvishan, Garmsir District, an incident occurred between the townsfolk and the Marines.

Anti-American violence eased Wednesday in the southern Afghanistan town of Darvishan, where the Taliban fanned demonstrations following rumors of desecration of the Koran in a U.S.-led operation.

U.S. military officials said there was no truth to rumors that the Islamic holy book had been mistreated, but protests had turned deadly before U.S. and Afghan officials met with community and tribal elders to diffuse tensions and security forces discouraged potential demonstrators from entering the town.

Six Afghan civilians were killed about 20 miles south of Darvishan when a large group of villagers heading for the Garmsir District center failed to heed repeated warnings to turn back and tried to force their way through a military checkpoint, U.S. Marine officers said.

One person was shot by a Marine and five others were shot by Afghan soldiers, officials said.

An Afghan policeman was critically wounded Wednesday when suspected Taliban gunmen ambushed him on the outskirts of Darvishan as he drove to work.

“It was generally calm here today,” Lt. Col. John McDonough, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, said at a staff briefing at Combat Outpost Delhi, on the edge of Darvishan. “Let’s work to keep it that way.”

U.S. Marines were pelted with rocks and sprayed with gunfire Tuesday in Darvishan as Taliban-led rioting roiled the town, which is located in southern Helmand province. One Afghan gunman was killed by a Marine sniper. No Marines were killed or seriously injured.

Pelted with rocks and sprayed with gunfire.  A followup Reuters report was a little more specific concerning the circumstances surrounding this event.

The incident, which took place on Wednesday but was not reported until Friday, was the second demonstration to turn violent in two days in Helmand’s Garmsir district, suggesting mounting civil unrest in a part of the country where U.S. Marines under NATO command made major advances last year.

“ANA and ISAF forces warned a crowd of between 200 and 400 assembled civilians to keep its distance from the outpost,” a NATO statement said, referring to the Afghan National Army and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

ISAF is manned in the area by U.S. Marines.

“A number of civilians in the crowd disregarded instructions, resulting in forces firing warning shots. Deliberative escalation of force procedures were followed, but one individual continued to ignore instructions, striking members of the combined force with a stick,” the statement said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale said both Afghan troops and the U.S. Marines subsequently fired at the crowd. An investigation was under way to determine which force’s bullets had struck each the five people who were wounded.

Civilian casualties caused by NATO troops are one of the most emotive issues in Afghanistan’s eight-year-old conflict.

The incident came a day after another violent demonstration in Garmsir. During that earlier demonstration, U.S. Marines say they fired only at a sniper, who had shot into their base. Afghan officials say Afghan troops killed eight protesters and wounded 13 who were trying to storm a government building.

Afghan and U.S. officials say the initial unrest was prompted by rumors that U.S. troops had defaced a holy book during a raid. U.S. and Afghan officials met with locals in the area to restore calm and deny the rumors in strong terms.

“A lot of this came from a massive Taliban-initiated hoax,” Breasseale said. “People started behaving dangerously and unfortunately things like this happen.”

Dawood Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand governor Gulab Mangal, said Wednesday’s demonstration had taken place outside a base where U.S. and Afghan officials were discussing the unrest from the day before.

He said Taliban infiltrators in Wednesday’s crowd fired at the U.S. and Afghan troops, prompting the Afghans to return fire. The NATO statement made no mention of shots fired from the crowd.

Or more correctly, it appears that there were at least two different incidents similar in nature.  Either way, several things jump out of the reports and I would offer the following observations concerning the events and the Marines’ reaction.  First, there is nothing new about insurgent-instigated chaos.  This kind of thing occurred in Iraq too, and in the Anbar Province, it was dealt a quick blow whenever and wherever it happened.

Second, the Taliban feel utterly protected by being amidst the population.  While it may be backed with all of the nice intentions mankind can muster, the unintended consequences of less robust rules of engagement are that more noncombatants die.  Many, if not most, of these townsfolk would never have been there if they had believed that they were in mortal danger, and the Taliban wouldn’t have been there to instigate the event(s) if we were giving chase to them and they were running for their lives.

When townsfolk can pelt the Marines with rocks and Taliban fighters can run amok in the crowds, U.S. forces are not respected.  It’s an ominous sign – that the most feared fighting force on earth, the 911 forces of America, the most deadly, rapid and mobile strike forces of any nation anywhere, can be pelted with rocks and hit with sticks without any fear whatsoever.  This isn’t likely to ensure belief by the population that they will be “protected” by our forces.  So much for effective counterinsurgency viz. Field Manual FM 3-24.  Oh, and as for attempting to find out who actually shot who in this “investigation,” we have yet another instance of flag and staff level officers trying to micromanage the campaign.  Let me state in the clearest possible terms – IT DOESN’T MATTER.

As for more robust rules of engagement, hearken back to Recon by Fire and the informative video I posted more than two years ago.

Analyzing Martha Coakley’s Afghanistan Remarks (and reactions on the right)

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

Media Matters analyzes reactions on the so-called right to Coakley’s Afghanistan remarks (that Afghanistan is terrorist-free).  Distort Coakley’s comments, the right does, from the Weekly Standard to Foxnews and others.  Then they marshal evidence from McChrystal to Jim Jones and then Petraeus to show that at most there may be 300 “al Qaeda” fighters in Afghanistan proper.  Even Charles Krauthammer gives her the benefit of the doubt.  Media Matters ignored my own post on Coakley showing that the Marines in Helmand were battling fighters from both sides of the border (although I occupy first page on a Google search).

Alas, the issue is not that complicated, but it does require a bit of attention to detail.  It’s important in that it matters from the perspectives of both national security and the lives of sons of America who are fighting in Afghanistan as we speak.  Thinking of the enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a name (such as al Qaeda) is dangerous because of its oversimplification of the problem.  To be sure, there are Arabs, Chechens, Somalians, and other foreign fighters (e.g., German) who currently take sanctuary in the Hindu Kush.

But as I have noted before, the Taliban (including the indigenous Pashtun population) has evolved into a much more radicalized and globally committed group after at least eight years of exposure to this thinking.

… 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.

Admiral Mullen explains the same thing in slightly different words.

The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, is expressing concern about the growing ties between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida.

Admiral Mullen told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that President Barack Obama’s new strategy in that country is aimed at creating an environment that will not permit al-Qaida to return to Afghanistan.

“There is a strategic goal the Taliban have, to move back and take over the country, and secondly, in that goal, in that environment, that that is fertile ground for al-Qaida, who continues not to be just in Pakistan, but is now moving into Yemen, is connected very well in Somalia, and in other parts of the world,” said Admiral Mullen. “Their strategic objectives remain the same – to threaten us, to threaten the west, and that fertile ground to do that would be Kandahar and Kabul again, if we do not get this right.”

Mullen underscored his concern by noting growing ties between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida.

“While al-Qaida is not located in Afghanistan, it is headquartered clearly in Pakistan, what I have watched over the last couple of years is this growing integration between al-Qaida and the Taliban, and the various networks of the Taliban, whether it is [Jalaluddin] Haqqani, or [Baitullah] Mehsud or [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar, and that has alarmed me in its growth and integration over the last couple of years,” he said.

Asking the question whether al Qaeda and the Taliban are in Pakistan or Afghanistan is like asking whether the water is on the right or the left side of a swimming pool.

The conversation on Pakistan versus Afghanistan presupposes that the Durand Line means anything, and that the Taliban and al Qaeda respect an imaginary boundary cut through the middle of the Hindu Kush.  It doesn’t and they don’t.  If our engagement of Pakistan is to mean anything, we must understand that they are taking their cue from us, and that our campaign is pressing the radicals from the Afghanistan side while their campaign is pressing them from the Pakistani side.

Advocating disengagement from Afghanistan is tantamount to suggesting that one front against the enemy would be better than two, and that one nation involved in the struggle would be better than two (assuming that Pakistan would keep up the fight in our total absence, an assumption for which I see no basis).  It’s tantamount to suggesting that it’s better to give the Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan as Pakistan presses them from their side, or that it’s better to give them safe haven in Pakistan while we press them from our side.  Both suggestions are preposterous.

This is why Coakley’s misunderstanding is critical.  Reasonably intelligent people must be engaged in assessing the facts on a rather detailed level in order to arrive at a reliable understanding of the issues.  Catch phrases, buzz words and bean counting is no replacement for scholarship.  And that’s why Coakley’s comments are no mere gaffe.  They are honest comments that betray a stolid understanding of national security.

Martha Coakley: Afghanistan is Terrorist-Free

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

Martha Coakley has given us some good news.

“I am not sure there is a way to succeed.  If the goal was and the vision in Afghanistan was to go in because we believe the Taliban was giving harbor to terrorists, we supported that, I supported that goal. They are gone, they are not there anymore, they are in apparently Yemen and Pakistan.  Let’s focus our efforts on where Al Qaeda is.”

Maybe someone should tell the U.S. Marines who would like even more troops to stop the flow of terrorists into Afghanistan.

KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan — Only a few hundred American troops are policing the southern border of one of Afghanistan’s major smuggling areas, leaving open a vast expanse of desert that the Taliban use to shuttle in weapons and fighters from Pakistan.

This dusty hamlet 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of the border in Helmand province was the Taliban’s key transit point from Pakistan before the Marines arrived in July. Since then, the Marines have set up a series of patrol bases east and west of Khan Neshin to disrupt the Taliban’s supply lines.

But the battalion deployed at only about 50 percent of its authorized strength, and one of its three companies is posted in central Helmand. That leaves several hundred Marines to cover roughly 6,000 square miles (15,000 square kilometers) — an area larger than Connecticut.

As a result, the Marines may have trouble curbing Taliban supply lines as thousands of fresh troops pour into the province as part of President Barack Obama’s surge.

“I would like to push closer to the border, but I can only go as far as I can support,” said Lt. Col. Michael Martin, commanding officer of 4th Marine Division, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

“Like Napoleon, you don’t want to overextend your capabilities, or you will get your butt handed to you,” said Martin, whose troops are spread out among a handful of patrol bases along the Helmand River, marking the coalition’s most southern presence in the province.

Some 8,500 additional Marines are slated to arrive in Helmand by mid-2010 as part of the 30,000-troop buildup. But any decision to send more Marines south to patrol the largely uninhabited border area would leave fewer troops for the major population centers farther north.

Many Taliban fighters fled to Pakistan following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and found sanctuary in the mountainous belt that runs between the two countries. Obama has pressed Pakistan to target the militants, but many analysts believe the government has resisted because the Taliban could serve as useful proxies if the coalition effort in Afghanistan fails.

That leaves the Marines with the difficult task of disrupting the flow of Taliban fighters into Afghanistan largely without Pakistani help.

“We are trying to make it as difficult as possible for the Taliban to stay connected to their sanctuary in Pakistan,” said Capt. Timothy Newkirk, executive officer of 4th LAR’s Bravo Company, which is based in a 200-year-old mud fort in the town of Khan Neshin.

They (the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban, both of whom harbor AQ and other transnational insurgents) are sharing resources, just as they said they would.

It’s all about the logistics

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

From The New York Times:

Senior White House advisers are frustrated by what they say is the Pentagon’s slow pace in deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and its inability to live up to an initial promise to have all of the forces in the country by next summer, senior administration officials said Friday.

Tensions over the deployment schedule have been growing in recent weeks between senior White House officials — among them Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff — and top commanders, including Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan.

[ ... ]

One administration official said that the White House believed that top Pentagon and military officials misled them by promising to deploy the 30,000 additional troops by the summer. General McChrystal and some of his top aides have privately expressed anger at that accusation, saying that they are being held responsible for a pace of deployments they never thought was realistic, the official said.

Other White House officials said to be frustrated by the deployment pace include Thomas E. Donilon, the deputy national security adviser, and Denis R. McDonough, the national security chief of staff. “Gates and Mullen made a clear statement that this would be achieved by summer’s end,” a senior administration official said, referring to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

[ ... ]

Last month in Kabul, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the deputy commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, did not back away from that schedule, but he told reporters of the difficulties he faced even in getting all the forces in by fall. He said that bad weather, limited capacity to send supplies by air and attacks on ground convoys carrying equipment for troops from Pakistan and other countries presented substantial hurdles.

“There’s a lot of risks in here, but we’re going to try to get them in as fast as we can,” he said at the time. “There’s a lot of things that have to line up perfectly.”

On a visit to Afghanistan last month, Admiral Mullen pressed military logisticians on how they would be able to meet the schedule. But even Admiral Mullen, who said he was “reasonably confident” that the logistics would work out, acknowledged the tall order before the military, saying, “I want a plan B because life doesn’t always work out.”

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said Friday that the military was moving as rapidly as it could and that reports of tension with the White House amounted to a “fabricated and contrived controversy.” Mr. Morrell said that “the preponderance of the forces will be there by the middle of the summer and we are moving heaven and earth to get all of them there by the end of the summer.” He added that the Pentagon anticipated “that 92 percent of them will be there by the end of August and we hope to even improve upon that.”

But military officials acknowledged that they were taken aback by the president’s initial insistence that the troops be in place within six months. Last fall, military officials repeatedly said that it would take as long as a year to 18 months for all the troops to be in place.

You would think something as important as logistics in a land-locked country had been addressed and analyzed before.  Yes, I’m sure it has.  I very sure.  I’m very, very sure.  I’m certain it has.  I’m very certain.  I’m VERY, VERY CERTAIN.  It’s just that the idiots at the White House won’t listen to the Milbloggers.

Logistics rules.  The logisticians tell the Generals what to do, and not even the President overrules them.  It’s just the way it works.  Military logisticians will meet the schedule or they won’t.  Either way, more histrionics at the White House won’t change anything.  The Obama administration is now trafficking in a world where reality matters.

But there is one more thing.  The hollering and objections for lack of timeliness of a man who wasted precious months considering the alternatives to more troops in Afghanistan rings rather hollow.  It’s a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

No Secrets to Marine Plans for Marja

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

We have covered the issue of the progressive campaign for Helmand, the poor resourcing of the Now Zad district until recently, and the inadequate resourcing of the border regions.  But the Marines have made no secret of their intent with regards to Marja.

Haji Zair, 45, has just been appointed the new district governor of Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in the center of Afghanistan’s Helmand province. His first goal is just to be able to live there.

The area is still controlled by the Taliban, the last major bastion of the fighters in the southern part of Afghanistan’s most violent province, and for now, Zair only enters the district by day, retreating to his home outside by nightfall.

“The Taliban cannot resist the Marines. They have crushed the Taliban all over the province,” said Zair. “I hope the situation will get better and I can go and live there.”

Some 10,000 U.S. Marines are already Helmand. Most arrived in the first half of last year as part of an earlier escalation ordered by Obama. Obama’s latest push to turn the tide against a worsening insurgency will nearly double the Marines contingent over the next few months.

Last July, in the biggest operation of the eight-year-old war, around 4,000 Marines pushed south of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, into Taliban-controlled areas, setting up patrol bases along the way to try and secure the area.

They left one area largely untouched: Marjah, a town surrounded by a dense warren of irrigation canals.

With the new reinforcements on their way as part of Obama’s 30,000-strong troop drive announced last month, the Marines’ commander does not bother to keep his plans a secret.

“Well it’s pretty obvious, there’s only one place left: that’s Marjah. I don’t think its any great leap of logic to say where we’re going next,” said Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of all the Marines in southern Afghanistan.

“We’re bringing in 10,000 Marines. It’s not a secret. There’s only one place left in the entire area of operations where the enemy is at,” he said.

Marjah is strategic, lying just west of the provincial capital. The town is surrounded by lush farmland crisscrossed by canals that water the opium poppy crop, making it a hub for the narcotics trade in central Helmand.

Taliban insurgents are thought to have sought refuge in Marjah after a U.S. Marine operation in Garmsir to the south in April 2008 scattered fighters into other areas. Militants drove out the weak police force, killing the police chief and wounding the then district governor and created a relative safe-haven.

British and Afghan forces carried out isolated offensives there, but without enough forces to hold the ground, they could not prevent the Taliban from reclaiming the area once they had left. Now with much larger numbers, the U.S. Marines plan to go into Marjah and stay there.

“We’re preparing for a fight,” said Nicholson. “Really the enemy has three options in Marjah.”

“One is to stay and fight and probably die. The second one is to make peace with his government and reintegrate. And the third one is to try to flee, in which case we’ll probably have some people out there waiting on them as well,” he said.

The focus on Marjah and other towns along Helmand’s “green zone” — the lush area either side of the river — plays into overall commander General Stanley McChrystal’s new war strategy of protecting population centers and driving insurgents from towns.

Militants are still able to wage their campaign outside towns, frequently attacking smaller patrol bases and laying an increasing number of roadside bombs.

Last year was the deadliest for foreign forces in Afghanistan since the war began. More than twice as many Americans died in 2009 as in 2008, and violence has continued into this year despite the winter that normally sees a lull.

A U.S. Marine and a British journalist were killed by a roadside bomb on Saturday in the Helmand valley.

Nicholson said he hoped the influx of new troops would eventually allow him to move beyond the towns.

“I’m pretty confident that when we get the rest of our Marines in here, when we get the rest of the Afghan security forces in here and we get the rest of the British — because the UK is building up as well — we will have enough security forces here to get after those last pockets where the enemy’s at.”

No, it isn’t a secret, just as the campaign in the Now Zad district wasn’t a secret, and when it was finally fully engaged with the right number of Marines, the Taliban had scurried away knowing that death awaited them if they didn’t leave.  Partial success, that was.  We cleared Now Zad, but the killers were allowed to escape to Marja and other whereabouts.

Nicholson’s statement is troubling.  The second option – “make peace with his government and reintegrate” – makes it clear that he is treating this as a classical insurgency / counterinsurgency campaign.  I fear that we have not yet understood that it is that, but much more.  There is a religious element, and if a man has fought for years in Garmsir, Now Zad and Dahaneh, and is now in Marja waiting to die at the hands of the U.S. Marines, or to flee across the border to his religious zealot allies, the Pak Taliban, then he cannot possibly be reintegrated with his government.

Nicholson knows that, but it appears that he isn’t smart to the possible game of fake peace.  The decoy.  The great ruse.  The Taliban know that we are short timers there, and that the ANA cannot possibly fill in behind the Marines.  Making peace with elements of the Taliban sounds like a nice idea, but it comes with all sorts of hazards and unintended consequences.

Rules of Engagement Problems in Kunar Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

For those who haven’t followed events in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, as reported at the end of December, approximately nine people were killed in the Kunar Province during a raid by U.S. forces.

Nine people killed in a military action targeting militants in eastern Afghanistan apparently were members of an insurgent network, a U.S. military official told CNN on Tuesday.

“The operation was against a network of folks, who had been tracked for a while, involved in producing IEDs as well as some criminal activity,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

“As a result of the action, the best info that we have is that nine of those militants in that network were killed. That’s based on weapons and IED components at the scene,” and it appears the nine were males, the official said.

The narrative quickly turned ugly, from the U.S. forces killing students execution style, to small children being taken from their bed in the middle of the night, handcuffed, and executed.  U.S. Special Forces have in fact been called swine for this behavior.  The fact that the narrative has contradicted itself (it wasn’t children at all who died, but children who witnessed their fathers being killed) isn’t important for critics who listen too carefully to Taliban propaganda.

Spencer Ackerman has worked himself into a lather over these events.  “What we do know is that eight adolescent and teenage boys died horrifically nine days ago. Regardless of the circumstances, this is a tragedy; depending on the circumstances, it’s possibly also a war crime.”

War crimes.  It is not so frequent an occurrence that Spencer Ackerman and I agree, but in this case, I too and deeply and profoundly concerned about events in the Kunar Province.  You might recall that four Marines died approximately four months ago as a result of a fire fight in which they twice requested air and artillery support, only to be twice denied that support because noncombatants might be involved.

The ISAF weighed in almost immediately and said that the McClatchy report about being denied air and indirect fire support was false.  I have a reliable report that indicates to me that the ISAF report is false and the McClatchy report true.  The Marines were denied air and artillery support and died as a result of that lack of support.

I have watched this issue closely for these four months, and have yet to see any indication of the release of an official report on this event.  If the McClatchy report is false, it should be easy to show.  On the other hand, if the CENTCOM and the ISAF have something to hide in this incident, I would expect them to behave exactly like they have.  Tell us nothing.

In the mean time, both Spencer Ackerman and I are profoundly concerned about ROE issues in the Kunar Province – just for very different events.  And I am still watching and waiting.

Mass in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

From The New York Times:

Trucks gayly painted with hearts and doves jam up at crowded wayside bazaars. Billboards advertise cell phones and advise drivers to keep their donkeys off the road.

It’s not readily evident that this is probably the world’s most dangerous highway, a prime target for Taliban insurgents attempting to sever a vital, 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) artery with ambushes, executions and roadside bombs.

Widely seen as symbolic of Afghanistan’s progress and security, or lack of it, Highway 1 suffered a dramatic increase in bomb attacks in 2009, but also a marked improvement along a critical 90-kilometer (55-mile) stretch after U.S. forces arrived in strength.

”Last year the insurgents were very successful in interdicting convoys. They can’t stage that type of attack anymore,” says Lt. Col. Kimo Gallahue, who commands a U.S. battalion guarding the highway just south of Kabul. ”Since August we’ve been ripping through the enemy. Mass matters.”

The situation is starkly different as the highway veers farther south into the Taliban heartland. Overall, roadside bomb attacks have risen by more than 50 percent — from 308 in 2008 to 469 last year. But 394 were discovered before they detonated, up from 254 the previous year, according to a command spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Vician.

Since the U.S. invasion of 2001, this vital land link between the country’s two largest cities has been hotly and violently contested. About 35 percent of Afghanistan’s population lives within 50 kilometers (30 miles) of the Kandahar-to-Kabul stretch, giving weight to the notion that ”as the highway goes, so goes the country.”

Battered by war and weather, the road got a $250 million makeover five years ago, halving the 12-hour, 483-kilometer (301-mile) drive between Kabul to Kandahar which have the two largest NATO bases. The U.S., Japan and Saudi Arabia then followed with an overhaul of the stretch from Kandahar to the western city of Herat.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar has good reason to target the road, says Col. David B. Haight, commander of U.S. forces in Wardak and Logar provinces which adjoin Kabul.

”If you were Omar, wouldn’t you want to attack the country’s most strategic highway, an icon of commerce economic progress? He sees traffic on the road and he doesn’t like it. He has tried to disrupt it but he can’t stop it,” Haight said.

”There’s never a day off. That road is very critical,” he says, noting that the U.S. military has intercepts from Omar to subordinates stressing the importance of the two provinces because of their locations along or near the highway.

In 2008, the Taliban did unleash intense strikes against the highway’s southern approach to Kabul where Gallahue’s troops now operate. In a series of spectacular attacks, three U.S. soldiers died in an ambush, one of them dragged off and mutilated beyond recognition, and in a separate action an entire 50-vehicle convoy ferrying supplies for U.S. forces was set ablaze and seven of its drivers beheaded.

That year, the U.S. military deployed a skeleton force of some 600 troops to stem a resurgent Taliban at the gates of Kabul in Wardak and Logar. This was boosted to more than 4,000 in early 2009, with seemingly significant effect.

This report is noteworthy for the roads and logistics issues which we have discussed, but more to the point, mass matters in contemporary counterinsurgencies.  In the two most significant counterinsurgency campaigns in our lifetime, increased force projection was needed as I have advocated for three and a half years.  So much for the notion that the large footprint model turns the population against the U.S. and creates more insurgents than we kill.  There may be some turnaround point where this occurs, but we have yet to test that theory in real life situations.

How long did it take to learn counterinsurgency in Iraq?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

The Small Wars Journal blog post COIN Toss is better reading for the comments than the TNR article it links.  Gian Gentile questions the assertion that we didn’t learn counterinsurgency in Iraq until 2004 (2005, 2006 or whenever)?  Questioning conventional wisdom again, he is.

Gulliver treats us to his customary exercise in asininity by questioning how much reading Gian has done, but Gian presses the question – and he is correct to do this.  Of David Ucko’s book, Gian states:

Because your book, David, conforms to the Coin template. It accepts the notion without evidentiary proof that the American Army did not start learning and adapting until a certain point, then after that it did. You say 2005, then I ask again why 2005 and not 2003? What proof do you have? Don Wright’s and Tim Reese’s book, “On Point II,” argues the opposite that the majority of Army combat units were learning and adapting and adjusting to Coin very quickly, almost as soon as they hit the ground in Spring and Summer of 2003. I heard a very senior American Army General who commanded a Division in Iraq in 2003 (not General Petraeus by the way) state basically the same thing that his Division learned and adapted quite well to the various situations that confronted them on the ground.

Your book reads almost verbatim like the Nagl/Krepinevich critique of the American Army in Vietnam in which the American Army did not learn and adapt in that war. Moonshine. It did, in many different ways. So too did the American Army start its learning and adapting in Iraq in 2003. And do you want to know why it was able to do that learning and adapting so quickly, David? Because it was an army trained and optimized for combined arms warfare. It is books like yours that elevate the principle of learning and adapting toward better population centric coin above the fundamental necessity to do combined arms. In a sense you and many of the other Coin experts are putting the cart before the horse. The ability to do combined arms at all organizational levels gives an army in whatever situation it is thrust into the subsequent ability to seize and maintain the initiative; it can act. And if it acts first in response to a hostile enemy force or complex conditions through the initiative it can learn and adapt. My worry is that all of this talk of Coin and learning Coin and learning and adapting, yada, yada, yada, has taken our eyes off the absolute necessity of combined arms competencies and replaced it with an artificial construct of learning and adapting toward better population centric Counterinsurgency. As I have argued before, the rules of this construct, however, do not allow a unit to learn and adapt its way out of doing Coin. This box that we are in continues to push us down the Coin path toward significant organizational changes, and it keeps us locked in a world of tactics and operations, unable to see and do strategy. Strategy in war of course is more important than tactics and operations. It was a failure at strategy that caused us to lose the Vietnam War, not because the American Army didn’t learn and adapt toward doing better Coin tactics and operations.

Briefly repeating what I said in Do we need a less aggressive force posture in Afghanistan:

To be sure, the importance of the “awakening” in Anbar must be one of the elements of understanding that campaign, but the popular myth has grown up around Western Iraq that makes it all about drinking chai, siding with the tribes, going softer in our approach, and finally listening to them as they communicated to us.  And the leader of this revolution in counterinsurgency warfare was none other than General Petraeus.  We were losing until he appeared on the scene, and when he did things turned around.

We Americans love our generals, but this explanation has taken on mythical proportions, and is itself full of myths, gross exaggerations and outright falsehoods.  While Captain Travis Patriquin was courting Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, elements of the U.S. forces were targeting his smuggling lines and killing his tribal members to shut down his sources of income.  The tribal awakening had a context, and that was the use of force.  As the pundits talk about the tribes, the Marines talk about kinetics.

Furthermore, the tribal awakening was specific to Ramadi.  The beginnings of cooperation between U.S. forces and local elements came in al Qaim between Marines and a strong man police chief named Abu Ahmed.  In Haditha it necessitated sand berms around the city to isolate it from insurgents coming across the border from Syria, along with a strong man police chief named Colonel Faruq.

In Fallujah in 2007 it required heavy kinetics, followed on by census taking, gated communities, biometrics and heavy policing.  Even late in 2007 Ramadi was described by Marine Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman as like Stalingrad.  Examples abound, and as late as 2008, artillery elements fired as many as 11,000 155 mm (M105) rounds in Baquba, Iraq in response to insurgent mortar activity.

Whatever else General Petraeus did for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. Marine campaign for Anbar was underway, prosecuted before the advent of Petraeus, and continued the same way it was begun.  The Marines lost more than 1000 men in combat, and this heavy toll was a necessary investment regardless of drinking chai with the locals.

Regular readers know that I am not part of the COIN bandwagon.  We didn’t learn counterinsurgency TTPs in Iraq from FM 3-24 or the advent of the right generals.  The campaign in Anbar conducted by the U.S. Marines started, was conducted, and ended like it started and was conducted.  There was no turning to the right or to the left.  It was relentless, full-orbed targeting of the insurgency and policing of the population at its root.  It had phases because counterinsurgency has them, not because of a new general.

It may be that we in fact did learn strategically in greater Iraq, but not in the way the COIN proponents claim.  When the Baghdad Museum was under assault for its wares and possessions and the public saw this, most heads of household likely thought, “Uh huh, check the box, I get it.  It’s clear now.  They either don’t have what it takes or refuse to protect my belongings.  My entire net worth will be spent on that AK-47 after all.”  And young Omar saw exactly what paid well.

Overthrowing a government while our Soldiers and Marines had to follow on in post-Saddam Iraq with rules that resemble the SCOTUS decision in Tennessee v. Garner was a mistake of mammoth proportions, and lead to countless deaths of both U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians.  Paradoxically, our aim and desire for civility lead in part to the pain they and we experienced.  Leaving Sadr alive (who was in the actual possession of the 3/2 Marines) because the British and Sistani wanted us to was a mistake.  Withdrawing from Fallujah during the first assault (al Fajr) was a mistake, and so on the process goes.

But these are strategic failures – failures of command, and failures that if anything else too closely followed COIN / nation building dogma.  No, drinking chai with the locals didn’t win Iraq.  We were successful when we allowed our fighting men to do what was necessary to win the peace.


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