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]

The Battle for Marjah

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

The battle for Marjah is underway, apparently thus far without serious resistance from the Taliban.  So what is going on in Marjah?  Our friend Tim Lynch at Free Range International gives us his perspective.

Operation Moshtarak, the assault on the Marjah District in the Helmand Province started today.  The press has been looking at it for months from various angles with stories stressing that secrecy has been lost, or that civilians will be killed, or with speculation on why the military is publicizing Operation Moshtarak in the first place. These stories all contain grains of truth but none of them is even close to telling the real story.  Here it is: when the Marines crossed the line of departure today, the battle for Marjah had already been won.

That is not to say there will be no fighting – there will be – pockets of Taliban will need to be cleared out along with a ton of IED’s.  Just as they did last summer in Now Zad the Marines spent months talking about what they were going do in Marjah while focusing their efforts at shaping the fight behind the scene.  Like a master magician General Nicholson mesmerized the press with flashy hand movements to draw attention away from what was important.  The press then focused on the less important aspects of the coming fight.  Just like a magic show the action occurred right in front of the press in plain view yet remained out of sight …

The current Marjah operation is a replay of the Now Zad operation last summer.  Back then the Marines were in the news, constantly saying they did not have enough Afghan security forces (Karzai sent a battalion the day he read that story despite virulent protests from RC South) and that they didn’t have enough aid money (the embassy responded by sending more money and FSO’s).  Those complaints were faints – the Marines welcomed the Afghans, ignored most of the FSO’s and because they have their own tac air, artillery, and rocket systems they were able to cut out both the big army command and control apparatus in Bagram and the Brits who head RC South at the Kandahar Airfield.

Okay, stop there.  Let’s briefly assess what Tim is saying.  I don’t believe this analysis.  Not that I know enough to dispute it, but it isn’t compelling – not yet.  Tim goes on to explain that Scout snipers and Recon have been in Marjah killing Taliban for quite a while, and many or most of the bad guys are already dead.  Shaping the battle space, we are.

SOF cannot kill enough Taliban (or any other enemy) to win a campaign.  As for killing HVTs, regular readers know what I think about that tactic.  It remains an unimpressive distraction.  The Taliban – all of them – need to be killed, not chased away only to come back later.  With Lt. Col. Allen West, I don’t believe in holding terrain.  And it would be better to leave the mid-level commanders alive and let his troops see him fail rather than give new Taliban a chance to prove their mettle at being a new commander.

Shaping the battle space.  It sounds nice, and it’s what we claimed we were doing in Now Zad.  But go back and study my Now Zad category, the most comprehensive coverage of Now Zad anywhere.  We weren’t shaping the battle space.  We were losing Marines and Marines’ legs to IEDs, Marines were sleeping in Hobbit Holes at night, and for more than one year we had inadequate force projection – all of this while the population had left, the Taliban were using Now Zad as an R&R area and daring us to a fight, and we had an unmitigated opportunity to kill the enemy without even so much as a chance of killing noncombatants.  Yet in a tip of the hat to population-centric COIN, we refused because there was no population to protect – as if the Taliban wouldn’t leave Now Zad and go back to the population.

The Marines who bravely fought in Now Zad are heroes and the fact that we own it now is a testimony to their skills, courage and honor.  The brass who developed the strategy (or lack thereof) superintended a failure.  Now Zad was a failure entirely because brass didn’t resource the effort.  We let the Marines in Now Zad suffer while we sent infantry battalions to sea on wasted MEUs.  Finally, as to this notion that the Marines constantly complained that they didn’t have enough ANA in Now Zad, there wasn’t any ANA – period.  There was no ANA in Now Zad.  It was all Marines.

Back to Marjah.  Tim gives me pause if he claims that Marjah is a repeat of Now Zad.  Joshua Foust compares and contrasts coverage of Marjah, and concludes that there are contradictory reports from even reporters in the same locale and talking to the same people.  One report stands out, though.  This campaign is heralded as the point at which the ANA stands up.

For a second day US marines and Afghan troops have been clearing houses one by one of explosives.

One villager says they knocked on his door this morning and he saw Afghan soldiers in the lead and Americans following. He says he thinks the operation is going well.

But what is the ANA really doing?  “As Marines unloaded equipment needed to build an outpost at Five Points, others manned “fighting holes” — what the Army calls foxholes. Most of the Afghan soldiers sat in their trucks, with the engines running and the heaters at full blast.”

Last, it would appear that the only thing consistent about the reports is that a dozen noncombatants have been killed.  Predictably, McChrystal has prostrated himself before Karzai.  To be sure, we should pay the family, Marine officers should sit with surviving kin, and so on and so forth.  But the public nature of the posturing after such events is becoming a silly overreach, as if we are attempting to convince the American or Afghan public that there is any such thing as riskless war – war conducted in laboratories by men wearing white coats, where mistakes are mere failures to follow procedure and can be fixed by retraining men and retooling paperwork.  It’s all a lie.  The noncombatant deaths aren’t a mistake in procedure or protocol.  They are a tragedy of war, a tragedy that can only be avoided by losing the campaign or losing our own warriors.

Prior:

Announcing the Marjah Offensive

No Secrets to Marine Plans for Marjah

Atmospherics, Intelligence and Local Spotters

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

One of our favorite war correspondents, C.J. Chivers, gives us a view of the U.S. Marines’ fight in the Helmand Province against a shadowy insurgency which uses centuries-old communications techniques.

KARARDAR, Afghanistan — The Marine infantry company, accompanied by a squad of Afghan soldiers, set out long before dawn. It walked silently through the dark fields with plans of arriving at a group of mud-walled compounds in Helmand Province at sunrise.

The company had received intelligence reports that 40 to 50 Taliban fighters had moved into this village a few days before, and the battalion had set a cordon around it. The Marines hoped to surprise any insurgents within.

But as the company moved, shepherds whistled in the darkness, passing warning of the Americans’ approach. Dogs barked themselves hoarse. The din rose in every direction, enveloping the column in noise. And then, as the Marines became visible in the bluish twilight, a minivan rumbled out of one compound. Its driver steered ahead of the company, honking the van’s horn, spreading the alarm. Spotters appeared on roofs.

Marine operations like this one in mid-January, along with interviews with dozens of Marines, reveal the insurgents’ evolving means of waging an Afghan brand of war, even as more American troops arrive.

Mixing modern weapons with ancient signaling techniques, the Taliban have developed the habits and tactics to evade capture and to disrupt American and Afghan operations, all while containing risks to their ranks.

Bruce Rolston reacts with some head-shaking at one of the supposed signaling techniques – kite flying.

The only quibble I have is with some of of the low-tech “signals” Chivers offers. One of the photo captions refers to shepherd’s whistles, and the article refers to kites. This is probably an indication either Chivers or someone he interviewed has been paying too much attention to the fever-dreams of fobbits.*

Kite flying is ubiquitous in Afghanistan, but it would be a lousy choice of signal of an enemy presence, relying for success in a pinch on two fairly unreliable things: wind, and boys (not to mention daylight). Even if it worked, presumably you’d have to do something special, like fly a different kite, to distinguish it from all the other kites. Its use as a signal of the presence of troops seems to be another one of those Afghan “urban legends,” a classic example of false correlation in intelligence reporting. Kite flying is fairly unusual to Westerners, so patrol reports can often mention it just as an observation …

I once made the rare mistake of passing on an RFI on local kite-flying patterns along these lines from a higher headquarters to our guys uncritically. I was rapidly slapped down by one of the guys in Tacnet email for passing on a junk request, something along the lines of “the kids are flying kites around me now. They were flying them yesterday. If I walk to the next village they’ll be flying there. They’ll be flying them tomorrow if there’s any wind… tell them to factor that into their analysis and get back to me when they have something useful to ask me.”

Bruce goes on to point out that infrequent patrols can lead to misunderstanding of the atmospherics.  Valid point.  But the Marines – the ultimate foot warrior – are not usually bound to vehicles, and are more diligent still to ensure contact with the population (even if they ensure force protection for sleep or down time).  More likely, they will soon learn that kite flying is more common in Afghanistan than the U.S.

That doesn’t detract from the salient point of the article and it shouldn’t cause us to lose attention to a critical aspect of these engagements, namely that these networks must be dismantled.  A well placed sniper’s bullet to a spotter on the roof or the arrest of one of the farmers or shepherds (and long term detention) should convince them that there isn’t any mileage in siding with the insurgents.

What evidence do I have that such an approach would work?  It should be remembered that the usual objection to robust tactics is that they don’t comport with population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine.  It should also be remembered that the doctrine is, after all, just doctrine.  It’s usually left to the Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field to find what works.  In Ramadi as I have pointed out before, it was robust tactics.

Costa … dedicated a portion of his time to cracking the insurgents’ methods of communication.

“Generally there was a guy putting up gang signs, which could either send a rocket-propelled grenade through your window or some other attack your way,” said Costa, who began to realize the significance of unarmed people on Ramadi’s streets providing information via visual cues.

“You’re watching something on the street like that happening, and you’re like, ‘What the hell is that guy doing?’” he recalled. “And then the next thing you know, insurgents start coming out of the woodwork.”

“Signalers” — the eyes and ears of insurgent leaders — informed the insurgent strategists who commanded armed fighters by using hand and arm gestures. “You could see the signaler commanding troops,” Costa recalled. “He just doesn’t have a weapon.”

To curb insurgents’ ability to communicate, Costa decided on a revolutionary move: He and his unit would dismantle the enemy’s communication lines by neutralizing the threat from signalers. Sparing no time, he set a tone in Ramadi that signalers would be dealt with no differently from their weapon-wielding insurgent comrades.

“We called it in that we heard guys were signaling, and the battalion would advise from there,” he said, recalling the first day of the new strategy. “We locked that road down pretty well that day.”

In ensuing weeks, coalition forces coordinated efforts to dismember the insurgent signal patterns entrenched in Ramadi. This helped tamp down violence and create political breathing room, which in turn allowed the forging of key alliances between local tribal sheiks and coalition operators. The subsequent progress was later dubbed the “Anbar Awakening,” a societal purging of extremism by Anbaris that ushered in a level of stability unprecedented since U.S. operations in Iraq began.

With insurgents, there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).  With counterinsurgents, we seem to want to reinvent our doctrine when it isn’t necessary.  Just ask the enlisted men what they did “back in the olden days.”

Remembering the Battle at COP Keating

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

The video below is well worth the study time, and tells us even more first hand information about the battle at Kamdesh, and specifically how the Soldiers at COP Keating responded to the attack.  It would be good if the Army released the AR 15-6 investigation, but in lieu of that we can piece together enough information to draw conclusions regarding terrain, combat readiness of the U.S. Army, combat readiness of the Taliban, etc.

Obviously, this was an intense fire fight with ammunition being fired so quickly that shooters were unloading weapons as fast as re-loaders could work.  The Taliban were very effective, and notice that one of the first things they did was to render the mortar pits incapable of use due to suppressing fire.  They were good shots, had large weaponry (e.g., recoilless rifles), and were very well prepared to occupy good terrain and engage in serious conventional-style combat with U.S. forces.

Prior:

Second Guessing the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh

Covering for the Rules of Engagement?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

It is important to recall the incident in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan that occurred approximately five months ago in which three Marines and one Navy Corpsman were killed in an Ambush.  They twice requested air support and artillery, only to be twice denied it from hundreds of miles away because noncombatants may have been in the area.

Taking a slight detour back to General McChrystal’s tactical directive, the new rules place a premium on protection of the population, even to the extent of backing away from fire fights if it is possible that noncombatants will be involved.  In McChrystal’s own words, “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.”

I later predicted as a result of the investigation conducted as part of the follow-on to this incident:

… here is something that has no chance of happening.  No investigation will find that a tactical directive written or endorsed by a four star general was responsible for anything bad.  The directive will be exonerated and the field grade officers responsible for denying artillery had better begin looking for another line of work.

Doing daily searches of ROE, the Kunar Province and other specific keywords it has taken a while to find anything related to this incident.  I have spoken with the McClatchy reporter who covered this incident, Jonathan Landay, and we have both been waiting for release of the investigation (AR 15-6).  As a related issue, I had also stated that I got independent confirmation of the truthfulness of Landay’s report.   The Washington Post has given us the first (and maybe only) look into the findings.

In the third incident that has resulted in a reprimand, four Marines were killed near the eastern Afghanistan village of Ganjgal when they were ambushed on their way to a meeting with local villagers. Senior Marine officials alleged that the Army battalion in the area was slow to provide artillery support to ward off the attack. After an investigation, the battalion executive officer, who was the senior officer on duty at the time, received a letter of reprimand, Army officials said.

The next promotion board will not go well for this field grade officer, and probably the next, and the next.  His career in the Army is essentially over – just as I predicted.  But he was following the spirit (and even the letter) of McChrystal’s rules.  Remember that my objection to the tactical directive isn’t that there is a proviso for protection of noncombatants.  No Marine or Soldier wants to kill noncombatants.  That isn’t what he’s trained to do.

My objection goes to the notion that a four star general is in any position to write an authoritative tactical directive for Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field under fire, thus removing their judgment from consideration.  It is the ultimate “I don’t trust you” insult, and it kills troops.  “I support the troops” isn’t just a lie for the Daily Kos folks.  It’s the ugly secret for some flag officers.

And you heard the prediction here first.  Here is another prediction.  We won’t see the release of the full AR 15-6 investigation so that we can learn the full truth about the failures that fateful day which killed three Marines and a Navy Corpsman.

Prior:

Rules of Engagement category

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan II

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan

Second Guessing the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

There are still lessons to be learned from the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh in the Kunar and Nuristan Provinces of Afghanistan, respectively.

Nuristan

The Executive Summary of the AR 15-6 Investigation into the complex attack at COP Keating has been released.  It begins:

On 3 October 2009, Soldiers of Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry, repelled an enemy force of 300 Anti-Afghan Forces (AAF) fighters, preserving their combat outpost and killing approximately 150 of the enemy fighters. US forces sustained eight killed in action and 22 wounded, all but three of whom returned to duty after the attack. The Soldiers distinguished themselves with conspicuous gallantry, courage, and bravery under the heavy enemy fire that surrounded them.

Combat Outpost (COP) Keating, originally established as a base for a Provincial Reconstruction Team in 2006, was located deep in a bowl in Nuristan Province, surrounded by high ground, with limited overwatch protection from nearby Observation Post (OP) Fritsche. The mission for COP Keating during the rotation of B Troop was unclear to the Soldiers of B Troop who understood counterinsurgency doctrine and the need to engage with and protect the local population. But owing to limited manpower and tactical reach off of the compound, the mission devolved into one of base defense and by mid-2009 there was no tactical or strategic value to holding the ground occupied by COP Keating. As a result, the chain of command decided to close the remote outpost as soon as it could. (bold added)

But while this summary hints at population-centric procedures, COP Keating was intended to patrol and oversee a stretch of Pakistani border to interdict the flow of insurgents coming into Afghanistan.  By any account, being located on a transit route for insurgents brings legitimacy to the outpost.  A command decision was made, however, to close the COP due to lack of proper manpower.  This delay caused additional problems.

The delayed closing of COP Keating is important as it contributed to a mindset of imminent closure that served to impede improvements in force protection on the COP. There were inadequate measures taken by the chain of command, resulting in an attractive target for enemy fighters. Over time, and without raising undue concern within the US intelligence system, the enemy conducted numerous probing attacks, learning the tactics, techniques and procedures of B Troop, and pinpointing location of weapons systems and key infrastructure and material, such as generators and barracks.

Compounding the situation for the Soldiers on COP Keating, intelligence assessments became desensitized to enemy actions over several months. During the five months of B Troop’s deployment to COP Keating, the enemy launched approximately 47 attacks – three times the rate of attacks experienced by their predecessors. On several occasions intelligence reports in advance of an attack indicated there was a large enemy force that would strike, but the attack that followed generally consisted of a few number of fighters who used indirect and small arms fire for an engagement that averaged five to ten minutes in duration. Owing to this experience with the enemy in vicinity of COP Keating, the perception prevailed that reports of massing enemy forces were exaggerated and improbable.

Approximately eight months ago (and approximately four months before the attack on COP Keating at Kamdesh) I outlined in detail six different battles in Afghanistan where the Taliban has massed between 100 and 400 fighters, or close to half a Battalion size force.  There is absolutely no reason to have assumed that massing of enemy forces was improbable.  In fact, there is never again a reason to assume that in any engagement in Afghanistan.  As for the intelligence failures, John Brookins notes of previous testimony on Capital Hill about Kamdesh:

Gen. Burgess explained in testimony to the committee that the military had three intelligence reports on the issue, but that the reports were among many human-source reports that had not been verified by other means, such as electronic intelligence. As a result, the reporting was not deemed “actionable” intelligence, said defense officials familiar with the testimony.  We don’t trust our human intelligence people to make a call. We rely way too much on sigint more than anything. If it’s not in a signal some don’t think it’s real. It’s as if someone can’t lie over the radio or phone.

Recalling our analysis of the Wanat engagement, intelligence failed the 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company by ignoring the signs of an imminent attack by massed Taliban forces.  The Vehicle Patrol Base (COP) Kahler was located in low terrain, and worse still, the insufficient force protection at Observation Post Top Side took eight of the nine who perished that fateful night (including Soldiers who attempted relief of Top Side).  The video below (from approximately 1:00 to approximately 2:00) shows the terrain and natural features of the location at Wanat.

Military Historian Douglas R. Cubbison has written an extensive and smart study of the Wanat engagement, and provides some useful insight into the circumstances surrounding the battle.  But as smart as his study is, I diverged from his conclusions when he pointed towards the lack of nonkinetic engagement with the population as a significant contributor to the failure at Wanat.  Rather, I see this counsel being implemented at a different phase of the campaign for Eastern Afghanistan, with the problems being more directly related to combat tactics.  Marine officer and commenter Slab noted of my remarks concerning terrain:

The platoon in Wanat sacrificed control of the key terrain in the area in order to locate closer to the population. This was a significant risk, and I don’t see any indication that they attempted to sufficiently mitigate that risk. I can empathize a little bit – I was the first Marine on deck at Camp Blessing back when it was still Firebase Catamount, in late 2003. I took responsibility for the camp’s security from a platoon from the 10th Mountain Div, and established a perimeter defense around it. Looking back, I don’t think I adequately controlled the key terrain around the camp. The platoon that replaced me took some steps to correct that, and I think it played a significant role when they were attacked on March 22nd of 2004. COIN theorists love to say that the population is the key terrain, but I think Wanat shows that ignoring the existing natural terrain in favor of the population is a risky proposition, especially in Afghanistan.

COP Keating at Kamdesh suffered from the same sort of force protection and terrain problems.  The best video I have found of COP Keating has been removed, but another useful one can be seen below (the video is obviously being taken from Observation Post Fritsche.

This is an issue for all such Combat Outposts in this part of Afghanistan.

COP_Michigan

Combat Outpost Michigan, Kunar Province, Afghanistan

The full AR 15-6 apparently found that a series of command errors occurred at COP Keating.  There is a larger push to hold field grade officers accountable for these kinds of tactical errors.

The military does not release figures on disciplinary actions taken against field commanders. But officials familiar with recent investigations said letters of reprimand or other disciplinary action have been recommended for officers involved in three ambushes in which U.S. troops battled Taliban forces in remote villages in 2008 and 2009. Such administrative actions can scuttle chances for promotion and end a career if they are made part of an officer’s permanent personnel file.

The investigations are a departure for the U.S. military, which until recently has been reluctant to second-guess commanders whose decisions might have played a role in the deaths of soldiers in enemy action. Disciplinary action has been more common in cases in which U.S. troops have injured or killed civilians.

In response to the recent reprimands, some military officials have argued that casualties are inevitable in war and that a culture of excessive investigations could make officers risk-averse.

“This is a war where the other side is trying, too,” said one Army officer who commanded troops in Afghanistan and requested anonymity in order to speak freely.

As many as five battlefield commanders have received letters of reprimand in the past month or have been the subject of an investigation by a general who recommended disciplinary action. A sixth commander received a less-severe formal letter of admonishment. None of the investigations or letters of reprimand has been released publicly.

Regarding COP Keating, leaving Soldiers garrisoned at an ill-defended outpost that (contrary to claims, did serve a purpose) is intended to be abandoned is a huge error in judgment and points to inept logistics and planning.  Regarding COP Kahler, poor terrain, poor force protection, poor intelligence and a delay of almost 12 months (allowing the Taliban to do their own intelligence work and mass forces) again points to horrible errors in judgment.  But the idea of using smaller, less defended Combat Outposts to put Soldiers and Marines more in touch with the population comes from counterinsurgency doctrine, and it is here that the failure is occurring.

When a particular location has not been subjected to intensive kinetics to place the insurgents on the defensive and reduce their influence and power, it is naive to plan population-centric tactics and procedures.  We are attempting to employ the later phases of the campaign in earlier phases (contrary to the claims of the certainly still grieving David Brostrom, father of 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom).  Counterinsurgency is being practiced absent a conventional mindset, leading to poor force protection.  We can wish for the utmost in contact with the population.  But winning hearts and minds won’t work unless and until the insurgents’ control over their hearts and minds is challenged with kinetics.  The enemy is certainly telling us that when they can mass forces of nearly half a Battalion against platoon size U.S. forces.  The population has no reason to side with the U.S. when the Taliban are stronger.

Four important lessons can be learned from the deadly engagements at Wanat and Kamdesh.  First, terrain is of critical importance to far flung Forward Operating Bases and Combat Outposts in the rugged, mountainous regions of Afghanistan (or anywhere else there is undulating terrain).  Second, the Taliban have shown the propensity and capability to mass troops to near half a Battalion size force.  The proper force protection must be planned and implemented to prepare for such engagements.  Third, as a corollary to the second, FOBs and COPs must be properly manned with U.S. combat forces to accomplish the mission.  Thus far, U.S. command has demonstrated a predilection to underestimate proper manning of smaller outposts.  Fourth, our intelligence apparatus has shown a predilection to intransigence.  The response time and sensitivity of our intelligence must improve or more lives will be lost due to inept analysis.

Prior:

Systemic Defense Intelligence Failures

Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops

Kamdesh: The Importance of Terrain

Attack at Kamdesh, Nuristan

Wanat Video 2

Wanat Video

The Battle of Wanat, Massing of Troops and Attacks in Nuristan

The Contribution of the Afghan National Army in the Battle of Wanat

Investigating the Battle of Wanat

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

Honoring the Navy Corpsman

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

Every Marine infantryman and parent or spouse of a Marine infantryman knows the value of a Navy Corpsman and the high esteem in which they are held by the Marines.  They are technically in the Navy (while the Marines are only part of the Department of the Navy).  They have had extensive medical training, and essentially serve as the doctors for the Marine infantry.  But these doctors aren’t just there for medicine.  They carry a rifle, they engage in combat, and they do all of the things that Marine infantrymen do.  When the Marines go on twenty mile humps with full body armor, backpacks and weapons, the Corpsmen do all of that and more.  The Corpsmen take all of their medical gear in addition to their other load.  In many units they carry the nickname “doc.”

One such Corpsman I know returned from Iraq with my son’s unit, 2/6 Golf Company, in 2007.  His last name was Prince, and he was a prince of a guy.  He was very kind and friendly, well trained, in excellent physical condition, and had absolute commitment to his fellow Marines.  He showed me his wound from Iraq within several days of returning.  A round from an AK-47 had entered through the front part of his lower thigh, ricocheted up his thigh, and exited out of the very upper part of the back of his thigh.  Entry and exit wounds (now scars) were at least a foot apart.

Corpsman Prince stayed in Iraq and did his own rehabilitation during the deployment.  The hardest thing about the experience, he told me, was getting enough pairs of clothing after each successive pair became blood stained.  The more interesting thing about what happened that day with Corpsman Prince was what happened to his fellow Marines.  He wasn’t the only one who was wounded in that engagement.  Several other Marines were also wounded, and Prince had to treat them before he could treat himself.  He did so while bleeding out.

Navy Corpsmen are worth their weight in gold, and even if the Commander in Chief isn’t smart enough to know how to pronounce their billet, we have the utmost respect for them.

Announcing the Marja Offensive

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

From the WSJ:

In a rare break from traditional military secrecy, the U.S. and its allies are announcing the precise target of their first big offensive of the Afghanistan surge in an apparent bid to intimidate the Taliban.

Coalition officers have been hinting aloud for months that they plan to send an overwhelming Afghan, British and U.S. force to clear insurgents from the town of Marjah and surrounding areas in Helmand province, and this week the allies took the unusual step of issuing a press release saying the attack was “due to commence.”

Senior Afghan officials went so far as to hold a news conference Tuesday to discuss the offensive, although the allies have been careful not to publicize the specific date or details of the attack.

“If we went in there one night and all the insurgents were gone and we didn’t have to fire a shot, that would be a success,” a coalition spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks, said before the announcement. “I don’t think there has been a mistake in letting people know we’re planning on coming in.”

The risks could be substantial, however. By surrendering the element of surprise, the coalition has given its enemy time to dig entrenched fighting positions and tunnel networks. Perhaps worse for the attacking infantrymen, the insurgents have had time to booby-trap buildings and bury bombs along paths, roads and irrigated fields. Such hidden devices inflict the majority of U.S. and allied casualties.

[ ... ]

At times, the U.S. took a similar tack in Iraq, signaling in advance that the 2007 troop surge there would focus on Baghdad. Likewise, Pakistan’s military telegraphed its intention last year to attack insurgents in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan.

“It is a fascinating tactical decision to advertise an assault openly before it commences,” said Michael O’Hanlon, director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Analysis & Commentary

Let’s not overdo the surprise and offer too many superlatives at announcing the Marja offensive.  A similar strategy was taken for Operations al Fajr and Alljah, both in Fallujah.  The U.S. Marines have a rich history of using intimidation as one of the many tools in their bag.  My problem isn’t with announcing the offensive.  It comes at a more basic level than that.

Taking a quick detour through another perspective, Joshua Foust weighs in with a nonplussed reaction.

… there is some logic to the focus on Kandahar. It isn’t the most important city evar (sic)  (after all, the Taliban would have stopped there in 1994 if it were), but the city does have a lot of significance, if only because most Kandaharis are pissed off at our mismanagement of the place. So why do we have such a laser-focus on Helmand? Why spend all the time, resources, money, and most importantly lives to secure something no one in charge can describe as important apart from assertion?  I fear the real answer is opium.

I have also spoken strongly against targeting the poppies.  I cannot speak directly to whether the Marines are targeting poppy in Helmand at the moment, but my objections to the handling of the Marja offensive are much more basic and foundational.  If there is no one in charge who can explain why we are in Helmand, let me do it (sigh) once again.

The argument to control the streets of Kandahar makes sense if that argument doesn’t also hinge upon removing the Marines from Helmand where the fighters recruit, train, raise their support, and get ingress to and egress from Afghanistan.  In Now Zad Taliban fighters have been so unmolested that they have used that area for R&R.  The city of Now Zad – with an erstwhile population of 30,000+ civilians – is deserted with only insurgents remaining to terrorize the area so that inhabitants don’t return.  The Marines are so under-resourced that they can only fight the Taliban to a standstill.  It is so dangerous in Now Zad that the Marines deployed there are the only ones to bring two trauma doctors with them.

It is a strange argument indeed that sends Marines to Kandahar while the insurgents in Now Zad have separated themselves off from civilians and invited a fight.  So send more Marines to Kandahar to control the streets.  The Taliban bullying will stop once a Regimental Combat Team arrives.  This should not be too difficult to pull off.  As I have said before, there are so many Marines at Camp Lejeune that some units are not even in the same barracks, and more barracks are being built.  Not since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom has the Corps been so large with so many Marines garrisoned in the states.  Furthermore, if they aren’t in the states they are on board amphibious assault docks doing nothing.  Entire Battalions of Marine infantry – doing nothing for nine months.

The only limitation on troop levels in Afghanistan comes with logistics.  But more to the point, we could put the entirety of every Army on earth in Kandahar for the next two years, and upon leaving, the Taliban who have slithered away into parts of Kandahar and Helmand would simply come back, intimidate their way to power once again, and create safe haven for globalists.  Is this so heady and difficult that someone in charge cannot explain it as Foust charges?

I do not now and have never bought into the idea of population-centric counterinsurgency (when applied as an exclusive-use procedure).  Intimidating the Taliban out of Marja (so that you can protect the population and create governance) will only displace them to somewhere else.  Their fighters must be killed if we are ever to be able to leave Afghanistan.  Playing whack-a-mole in Helmand (or Kandahar – or anywhere else) only prolongs the agony, for Afghanis and for us.

Afghanistan Logistics: It Isn’t Too Late To Do The Right Thing

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

There is more logistical trouble with the supply lines through Pakistan (lines which supply approximately 85% – 90% of our needs in Afghanistan).  The first report has to do with a bridge near Peshawar.

Suspected terrorists on Thursday blew up a bridge on a link road connecting Peshawar’s Badbher village to Khyber Agency’s Bara town, officials and locals said. A police official said the blast took place at around 1:30am. The bridge over the Frontier Road was blown up as police personnel travelled through the area, the official said, adding that the terrorists escaped the scene. He said that a search was being conducted to trace the perpetrators of the blast.

The second report pertains to a tanker attack near Peshawar.

Taliban blew up a tanker carrying oil supply to NATO forces in Afghanistan on the ring road in the Chamkani police precincts early on Monday, police said. Chamkani police officials told Daily Times that an Afghanistan-bound tanker carrying oil supply for NATO forces was attacked by armed men on Monday morning. They said the assailants fired at the tanker and destroyed it with a magnet bomb.

The third report is even more important for where it occurred – the port city of Karachi.

A NATO convoy came under assault Thursday while carrying supplies through Pakistan to Afghanistan in a rare ambush inside Karachi, the relatively secure port city from which 300 to 400 of the coalition’s trucks leave each day.

Any assault on the Pakistani supply route is worrisome to the US-led forces in Afghanistan, who use it to ship three-quarters of their materials and will need it even more as the surge of 30,000 US troops progresses.

But the attack in Karachi – which is the commercial capital of Pakistan, and has largely escaped the bomb attacks troubling other major cities and the northwest – raises particular concern, especially if it marks the beginning of a trend.

From the beginning to end of the supply lines, logistics is under attack.  It still isn’t too late to do the right thing, and engage the Caucasus.

Concerning Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

Admiral Mullen weighed in with the Senate Armed Services Committee today on DADT:

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the military would follow the 1993 law known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Nonetheless, he said, his personal views were firm.

“Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do,” Mullen said …

“No matter how I look at the issue,” he said, “I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” he said.

An impassioned plea, it was.  Of course, this is technically incorrect.  Don’t ask don’t tell (DADT) means that no one lies.  You aren’t asked, and you don’t discuss it.  I have been loath to weigh in on the  issue as it has come to the forefront over the last couple of years, and I will do so only tangentially now (not weighing in on the merits or lack thereof in a particular lifestyle choice).  I have many things for which I want to be an advocate, and many notions I wish to deconstruct (such as the unproven and unsubstantiated doctrine that softer ROE necessarily wins hearts and minds).  Hot button social issues such as DADT can tend to cloud one’s judgment, making the reader dismissive to other arguments about very different and very important things.  So I don’t want you to dismiss my views on other important things because we don’t see eye to eye on DADT.

But in the end, DADT has been a mainstay of operations for a while now, and revoking this policy might mean more than a little change to the military.  It’s appropriate to convey the thoughts of at least a few contacts active in the military.  My contacts – who by the way aren’t opposed in principle to the idea of gays serving alongside them – seem to pan the idea pretty much across the board.

DADT is the perfect policy, they say.  It doesn’t prevent gays from serving in the military.  That’s just a mythical talking point of those who advocate its revocation.  DADT only prevents open discussion or practice of such things.  It is, by the way, similar to the way heterosexual relations are treated as well.  Men stay away from women altogether in uniform.  It isn’t practiced, it isn’t discussed, it is frowned upon – in theory.  This isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen, any more than DADT would imply that gay sexual relations don’t happen.  It does mean that there are certain requirements in the military that comport with good discipline, and they are enforced to the extent possible.  For a branch like the Marines which has as their cornerstone removing differences and enforcing sameness (or at least relegating them to unimportant status – e.g., no one can remove language barriers), it probably will have a significant affect.

Now for my own views.  I thought about this position within the context of the only exception that I can think of, namely, marriage.  Men and women are allowed to be married in the military.  But marriage is not performed by the Marine Corps or Army.  It is performed and recognized within and by states which have laws that govern such things.  Imposing homosexual marriage on a branch of the service just to say that there is no exception to the way gays and heterosexuals are treated under DADT is a false dilemma.  It is imposing a foreign problem on the military – a consideration that should be irrelevant to the conversation.

In a republic such as ours, laws are changed by legislative process which usually begins with advocacy.  One group or another wants a law changed or enacted, and that group presses the issue.  If gays want to marry, changing DADT isn’t the way to go.  Changing laws is the way to go.  No gay marriage (insofar as DADT applies) in the military (similar to no gay marriage in most states)  is an output (or outcome) of the debate, not an input to it.

In summary, DADT is the perfect solution to the issue.  There is to be no sexual relations with other service members, and no discussion of it.  This is true regardless of orientation.  DADT is a subset of that regulation, not an exception to it.  It doesn’t prevent gays from serving in the military.  Its revocation would serve no useful function, and therefore TCJ opposes its revocation unless someone can come up with something better than the false mantra that some service members must “lie about who they are.”

Are the rules of engagement making any difference?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

Are the rules of engagement making any difference?  They are with the Marines in Helmand.

On a base near Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, Marines are grieving the deaths of a sergeant and corporal killed by the remote-controlled bombs that have become the scourge of the long-running conflict.

Commanders try to keep the men’s rage in check, aware that winning over an Afghan public wary of the foreign military presence and furious about civilian casualties is as important as battlefield success.

“It causes a lot of frustration. My men want revenge – that is only natural,” says First Lieutenant Aaron MacLean, 2nd Platoon commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment Charlie company.

“But I keep telling them that the rules are the rules for a reason. If we simply go crazy and start shooting at everything, in the long run we will lose this war because we will lose the support of the population.”

He too is frustrated, accusing the Taliban of manipulating the rules of engagement by using women and children as shields and shooting from hidden positions before dropping their weapons and standing out in the open.

To regular readers of The Captain’s Journal, this isn’t news.  Recall that we said:

Based on recent communications with enlisted Marines (of various ranks), a perspective is developing around the current rules of engagement for Afghanistan.  There is no such thing as air or artillery support any more.  The ROE General McChrystal has set in place is killing Marines.  Sure, there was the ROE in Iraq, but Marines were genuinely encouraged to think for themselves, assess the situation, and ascertain the best course of action independently.  This is not being done in Afghanistan, where rules are micromanaging the tactical situation.  Many Marines with combat experience in Iraq are leaving the Corps for various reasons, but at least one reason for the exit can be traced to a lack of willingness to deploy to Afghanistan under the current circumstances.  Deploying Marines to Afghanistan are mostly inexperienced.

I stated that the ROE was causing a deleterious affect on morale in November 2009.  So as for whether the ROE are having their desired affect and winning hearts and minds of the locals, there is this report.

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — As his commander greeted a local leader in a district government building recently, Air Force Technical Sgt. Tyler Woodson, 20, scurried past them and ran up three flights of stairs to the roof.

There, Woodson, of Macon, Ga., surveyed the town. He saw children playing soccer in an adjacent field, trucks traveling on the main highway and, several hundred yards away, a glorious range of mountains.

He was looking for the best place to drop a bomb from an F-16, where there was no chance of striking anyone or anything.

“See over there,” he said, pointing. “It’s flat, so there’s no chance of debris falling on anyone.”

This is the new U.S. air campaign in much of Afghanistan.

Six months after Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S commander in Afghanistan, issued a directive urging troops to walk away from a fight rather than risk killing civilians, the Air Force is engaging in a campaign of restraint.

Instead of airstrikes, airmen increasingly are searching for places they can drop bombs that can be heard and felt, but where they’re unlikely to damage buildings or hurt people.

It isn’t a universal effort. In Afghanistan’s Khost and Helmand provinces, Afghanistan’s most violent, U.S. jets more frequently drop bombs that are intended to maim and kill.

In less-conflicted areas such as Nangarhar, however, soldiers are increasingly seeking tactics other than air attacks to get them out of hairy situations. Among the alternative uses of air power: buzzing enemy positions in a show of force and shooting flares or dropping warning bombs instead of directly engaging the enemy.

Privately, ground troops see that the restraint is putting them in greater danger, and they aren’t seeing results.

Afghans seem no more willing to provide information to U.S. forces, the troops say, despite U.S. efforts to minimize civilian casualties, even in a province such as Nangarhar, where education levels are relatively high.

Dropping bombs on unoccupied terrain to make loud noises, walking away from fire fights.  But the population is no more willing to help than before.  Remember that we have discussed the unintended consequences of less robust ROE, and even recently in the context of events in Garmsir, Afghanistan.

… 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.

In order to believe that the ROE is beneficial, one must believe that the higher casualties suffered now will redound to less in the future.  But this is unproven doctrine, with the ROE is Iraq more robust than it has been thus far in Afghanistan.

Loss of troop morale and no resultant benefit with the population.  You heard it here before you saw it in the battle space.


26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (675)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (28)
Air Power (9)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (6)
Ammunition (14)
Animals in War (4)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
AR-15s (38)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (34)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (26)
Australian Army (5)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (44)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (15)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (2)
Blogs (4)
Body Armor (16)
Books (2)
Border War (6)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (26)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (1)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
CENTCOM (7)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (10)
Christmas (5)
CIA (12)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (2)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (214)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (114)
Department of Homeland Security (9)
Disaster Preparedness (2)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (5)
Drone Campaign (3)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (1)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (1)
Featured (160)
Federal Firearms Laws (15)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (252)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (14)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (38)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (7)
Georgia (19)
GITMO (2)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (205)
Guns (566)
Guns In National Parks (2)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
HAMAS (7)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (7)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (11)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (1)
Horses (1)
Humor (13)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (34)
India (10)
Infantry (3)
Information Warfare (2)
Infrastructure (2)
Intelligence (22)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (169)
Iraq (378)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (33)
Islamists (37)
Israel (17)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (2)
Jihadists (71)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (8)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (2)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (2)
Lawfare (6)
Leadership (5)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (1)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (11)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (7)
Logistics (47)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (229)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
MEDEVAC (2)
Media (22)
Memorial Day (2)
Mexican Cartels (20)
Mexico (24)
Michael Yon (5)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (3)
Military Equipment (24)
Militia (3)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (10)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (16)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (13)
NATO (15)
Navy (19)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (2)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (1)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (53)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (205)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (6)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (17)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Police (115)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (136)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (74)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (74)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (27)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (139)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (22)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (17)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Survival (10)
SWAT Raids (50)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (1)
Tactical Gear (1)
Taliban (167)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (16)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (86)
Thanksgiving (4)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (10)
TSA Ineptitude (10)
TTPs (1)
U.S. Border Patrol (4)
U.S. Border Security (11)
U.S. Sovereignty (13)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (2)
Uncategorized (38)
Universal Background Check (2)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (2)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (210)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (2)
War Reporting (18)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (5)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (57)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (11)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2014 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.