My son Daniel did a combat tour of Fallujah in 2007, but his other deployment with the Marine Corps was a MEU to the Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf (which both he and I think is a horrible way to throw away money if we're never going to use the Marine Corps for anything on these MEUs except for humanitarian missions - but that's another topic). As the pre-deployment workup for this MEU, the Battalion underwent extensive training in evidence collection protocol and procedures. At the time I [read more]
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.