Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 11 Comments

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

The Blond Talib

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

I don’t know how long this video will stay published, but for those who catch it before it is pulled, check it out at 42:21 through 42:29 (h/t to Bill Roggio, source SpyTalk).

Folks, this is no ordinary fellow just out for a leisurely stroll or walkabout to see the countryside.  His presence is obviously no issue for the fighters around him.  He is known by those around him, but obviously this Talib is a young, Western jihadist.  The blond Talib.  How did he get there?  Who convinced the rank and file to trust him?  Where did he come from?  Why is he there in the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan?

Marine Corps Prepares for Budget Cuts

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

When it comes to defense spending generally, I have pointed out before that the percentage of defense budget versus GDP has shrunk over time for the U.S.  The notion of defense spending that is out of control is a perception created by a liberal administration bent of printing and spending trillions of dollars on entitlements and redistribution of wealth rather than defense .  Little more needs to be said about that because of the obvious disparity in interests of this administration.

However, that doesn’t mean that any particular branch of the service has spent money wisely.  Regarding the concept of expeditionary warfare floated by Commandant Conway, I have pointed out how inherently contradictory it is.  Conway believes that the Corps is getting too heavy, yet he invests an incredible amount of money in the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  He believes that the Corps needs to be capable of many kinds of warfare with its equipment, but invests in implements of warfare intended to perform only one task: forcible entry under conditions of heavy fire from numerous opposing forces.

The EFV is designed for a near peer state (or close to it), and its presupposition is active enemy fire while ferrying troops ashore while providing covering fire.  It is a reversion to 65-year old amphibious warfare doctrine with updated equipment.  But if the state upon which we intend to conduct forcible entry is capable of rocket fire against navy vessels (positioned 25 miles offshore over the horizon in order to increase the likelihood of survival), the EFVs will become deadly transport vehicles for Marines.  If the nation-state is in fact not capable of such opposing fire, then the EFV is not needed.

The U.S. will never again conduct a major, large scale, amphibious-based forcible entry that relies upon sea-based approach for the initial assault.  I have recommended an alternative, namely amphibious-based forcible entry via air based on a new Marine Corps helicopter fleet.  After securing the beach head, Naval assets can ferry heavier equipment to shore if necessary.  Air-based entry, including transport (helicopter and V-22 Osprey) and attack helicopter is the way to go, and would address even the example of the synthesized nation-state / terrorist entity, namely Hezbollah in Lebanon who is presumed to have such rockets due to Iranian assistance.

But the Marines are preparing for major cuts, and if it comes down to it, it appears that the wasteful billions spent on large scale amphibious assaults will be addressed by cutting the very things needed in the twenty first century.  Troops are needed, and a replacement for the M16 is needed, and we need an end to the so-called Terminal Lance problem.  Many of the well trained infantry who took Iraq in 2004 – 2007 have left the Corps, and the most of the Marines who are in Afghanistan have not seen combat.

But in the end, ambitious programs get the dollars and the grunts pay for the wishful 65-year old thinking of outdated officers who cannot abandon their doctrinaire ideas.

For a sneak peek into the Marine Corps’ future needs, one can look at the recent past. As 4,000 marines in January were amassing for a large-scale attack on Marja, Afghanistan, another 4,000 marines were sailing to Haiti to assist in relief operations in the earthquake-devastated nation. Thousands more were carrying out other missions around the globe.

Marine officials say that the force in the coming decades will be just as busy, but it will have to do the job with fewer resources.

“We have an expression in the Corps: ‘We sometimes have to do more with less,’ and I honestly think that’s what we face in the not-so-distant future,” said Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps.

Flexibility in equipment, organization and training will be critical, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told industry representatives at a National Defense Industrial Association conference. Marines can expect to prepare for irregular warfare, conventional warfare and terrorism. “We will never know which one we’re facing until the game is called,” he said.

The Defense Department has adjusted doctrine and strategies to reflect this new “hybrid” reality. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped to expedite changes in force structure and equipment, but they also have drained the treasury.

“As monies get tight, we’re going to have to look at equipment sets that are entirely interoperable, lighter, cheaper ideally, but that will nevertheless get the job done to defend this great country,” said Conway in remarks at the NDIA annual dinner in McLean, Va.

Though its budget request for fiscal 2011 totals $26.6 billion with an additional $7 billion in supplemental war funding, the Marine Corps is fast approaching a crossroads that will force its leaders to make some difficult decisions. Anticipating smaller budgets in the coming decade, officials will have to determine how to modernize war-torn gear while pursuing advanced technologies.

“We will have to balance investment between current and future challenges,” Flynn said.

Marine leaders said they remain focused on supporting operations in Afghanistan, and they are planning to stay the course through 2015. But doing so may be compromising the Corps’ preparedness for future contingencies.

“It may well be that we don’t have everything we want but only what we have to have. And we will have to cut away some capability and do without some things that we think are absolutely essential to the various missions that are out there,” Conway said.

To reduce that risk, the Corps is seeking gear that will have applicability across the full spectrum of warfare. All new equipment will have to have utility in high- and low-intensity conflict, counterterrorism and disaster relief operations.

“If you have something that operates across all four of those mission tasks, we’re really going to be interested,” Flynn said.

Officials insist that vehicles need to be lighter to allow the force to get to the fight and also enhance the Marine Corps’ amphibious capability to maneuver from the sea to the shore. In addition, weapon systems must be affordable and help the service decrease its dependence on fossil fuels.

That wish list is a tall order, officials acknowledged, especially given the exponential growth in the cost of military hardware.

“They have to come in at the amount that we have budgeted, on the schedule we have allotted, with the performance that we have been promised, because there isn’t going to be a second bite of the apple,” warned Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command.

Marine officials are still uncertain whether recent acquisition reforms will help reduce costs.

President Obama last year signed the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 into law. The legislation is meant to fix the Pentagon’s troubled procurement system by giving officials increased oversight of major defense programs.

“It demands more reports going to the Hill,” said Brogan. “A lot of burden flows down to program managers.”

The new law puts more pressure on procurement officials to keep programs on budget, agreed Bill Taylor, program executive officer for land systems, which is the Marine Corps’ largest acquisition portfolio.

“Historically, it’s a fact that our programs come in over budget and years late. Report after report has indicated that the key to successful acquisition programs is getting things right at program inception with sound systems engineering, cost estimation and legitimate developmental testing,” said Taylor.

Burden.  That’s the way reportability to Congress is being described.  Burden.  As for the Obama administration, they need to stop printing money and giving it away on entitlement programs.  As for the DoD, they need to create a viable procurement program.  As for the Marine Corps, they need to develop doctrine that represents and reflects twenty first century concerns – and be able to explain it to the taxpayers.  That is not a burden.

Security in Mazar-i-Sharif?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

A report on Mazar-i-Sharif from The New York Times.

In a country still gripped by war, the families picnicking around the azure-domed shrine in the central square here are perhaps the clearest sign that this northern provincial city has distinguished itself as one of the most secure places in the country. An estimated one million people visited Mazar-i-Sharif for Afghan New Year celebrations in March and in the weeks after without incident.

It helps, of course, that Mazar-i-Sharif and the surrounding Balkh Province lie far from the Pakistani border and the heartland of the Taliban insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan. But there is something else that sets Mazar-i-Sharif apart, almost everyone here agrees, and that is the leadership of the provincial governor, Atta Muhammad Noor.

Some regard Mr. Noor, 46, a former mujahedeen commander and an ethnic Tajik, as a thinly disguised warlord who still exercises an unhealthy degree of control across much of the north and who has used that influence to grow rich through business deals during his time in power since 2001.

But there is little doubt that Mr. Noor has also managed to do in his corner what President Hamid Karzai has failed to achieve in other parts of Afghanistan: bring development and security, with a good measure of public support, to regions divided by ethnic and political rivalries.

For that, Mr. Noor has slowly gained the attention and support of Western donors and become something of a study in what kind of governing, imperfect as it is, produces results in Afghanistan.

Since 2001, American and other Western officials have tried to buttress the central government under Mr. Karzai as a means of securing Afghanistan by weakening powerful regional warlords and bringing lucrative customs revenues into the state coffers. Mr. Karzai has installed political allies as governors around the country, yet many have failed to provide security or services and have indulged in corruption, alienating Afghans from the government at all levels.

Supporters of Mr. Noor say he has made the transition from bearded guerrilla fighter to business-suited manager. Though many presume he has used his position of power to make money, Mr. Noor speaks out against corruption and has apparently checked it enough to maintain public support. That support has enhanced security, and the security has allowed others to prosper, too, another important reason that he has maintained popular backing.

Such is his support that Mr. Noor is the one governor whom President Karzai has been unable to replace, or has chosen not to, even after Mr. Noor campaigned against him in the presidential election last year.

A skillful politician, Mr. Noor has also gained the upper hand over some formidable political rivals, solidifying his power in the region as they left to take up posts in Kabul, including even Mr. Karzai’s ally, the Uzbek militia leader Abdul Rashid Dostum.

In an interview in his lavish party offices, Mr. Noor denied rumors that he takes a cut of every investment that flows through the region and said he made his money legally — he has interests in oil, wood trading, fertilizer and construction, among other things. “In legal ways, I did do a lot of work,” he said. “I did my own business.”

Instead, he criticized Mr. Karzai’s management of the country and said the president never followed through on plans to regulate revenue collection, policing and relations between the central government and the provinces. He derided Mr. Karzai’s efforts to curb corruption, saying the president should not appoint corrupt people in the first place.

Mr. Karzai had also failed to act as the Taliban insurgency spread into the north in recent years, he said.

“If we don’t have the cooperation of the people, you cannot stop it,” he said of the insurgency. “There has to be a deep contact between the people and the government. If officials are not embezzling or taking bribes, then definitely the people will trust the government.”

It isn’t clear whether Noor’s scolding of Karzai is an instance of the pot calling the kettle black.  This is also very far to the North – in Northern Alliance territory (and the Taliban aren’t likely to be able to take the area, especially with Abdul Rashid Dostum still there).  But there is one thing that is becoming more apparent with the passage of time.  Our alignment with Karzai is more than just an alignment with corruption.  It’s an alignment with incompetent corruption.

Karzai is showing himself more and more as a man who cannot govern, a man who cannot accomplish even the basic things necessary to make a state function, and a man who cannot be taken seriously.  Without U.S. forces present, his government would likely become chaotic and fall within months.  Afghanistan (or parts of it) can be governed, but Hamid Karzai cannot do it.

Counterinsurgency: Can it be something other than Population-Centric?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

Regular readers know about my advocacy of the idea of lines of effort versus the idea of a strict, unchanging center of gravity (usually taken to be the population in counterinsurgency).  Recall also the corruption in Afghanistan we have recently discussed in the context of Wali Karzai, Hamid Karzai’s gangster brother in Kandahar.  Someone else is thinking outside the box and questioning religiously-dictated COIN dogma, the impetus being the corruption in Afghanistan.  Spencer Ackerman (h/t SWJ) gives us the observations of an unnamed CIA operative.

Ask a person in Afghanistan, “Who are you?” and they will tell you about their tribe, ethnicity or sect –but not nationality. Deployed to Afghanistan and Pakistan as an operator for a CIA CT codeword program, I remember asking a local about himself whether he considered himself “Afghan.” He laughed and said, “Afghanistan is a line on a map — drawn by the British. There are no Afghan people,” he continued, “except in Kabul but only because it pays so well.”

One contributing factor toward this lack of understanding is how most cultural advisors to high-level US decision makers, as I learned from personal experience at Defense Department Forward Operating Bases, State Department Embassies and CIA Stations, come from a Kabul-centric background. After all, each proved educated and wealthy enough to leave Afghanistan, learn English, acquire a security clearance and secure lucrative western government employment.

Nonetheless, a vast majority of people in Afghanistan do not view as legitimate any national authority from Kabul. Further, Afghanistan lacks the infrastructure of commerce, transport and communication that facilitate the development of national identity. Finally, people throughout Afghanistan do not view Hamid Karzai as a legitimate leader, and that sentiment has hardened in the aftermath of the massive fraud uncovered in connection with the recent election.

Instead—and this is vital for policy makers to understand—the very tribal leaders we seek to influence in our efforts against the Taliban are actually threatened by our support of Karzai. Regardless of our intent, they perceive our actions as empowering his tribe and their tribal allies to dominate the other tribes via the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) and National Police (ANP) once the coalition eventually withdrawals its forces.

He recommends a system of tribal engagement similar to Major Jim Gant.  Ralph Peters also believes that Hamid Karzai is doomed – destined to be relegated to the dustbin of history (he would be smart if this happens to flee the country, as it is deadly at the top in Afghanistan).

I am and have been no particular proponent of one strategy versus another, except the hot pursuit of the enemy.  If tribal engagement works to our advantage, then so be it.  I am no admirer of the corruption among the elite and powerful in Afghanistan, or anywhere else for that matter.  It might also be educational to recall the counsel of Lt. Col. Allen West.

You will find many of the elements we have discussed here, including zones of hot pursuit of the enemy, ROE hindering our efforts, and many others.  Population-centric counterinsurgency obviously won’t work in Afghanistan.  Truth be told, our efforts weren’t exclusively population-centric in the Anbar Province of Iraq either.  That’s only a popular myth for the masses.

Marines Refused Service at Eatery?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

From KCRA:

Web postings claim a Stockton sandwich shop refused to serve Marines at lunch on Monday, and the talk has led to a boycott of the eatery.

Calls for the boycott were posted on Facebook pages for the Department of Defense and other sites across the Web.

Posters claim that that Marine recruiters in Stockton were refused service at this Charley’s Grilled Subs in Weberstown Mall.

Franchise store owner Jian Ortman said she’s scared. Phone calls have been coming in nonstop from across the country, some with threats.

Ortman said this in a statement:

Military recruiters came to our restaurant and had a long conversation with our employee. We asked them to take their conversation outside of the restaurant because our employee was working. We did not refuse to serve the soldiers. We told the soldiers that we support our troops, but do not support the war. I meant no insult to the men and women that put their lives in harm’s way to protect our freedom.

The owners of the sub shop said they never refused to serve the military, in fact, they say the recruiters have been there before and not only that they offer the military a discount.

Employees at the restaurant said their boss did nothing wrong.

“We give 10 percent to them, and we serve everybody, we have no hate toward anybody,” employee Sondy Nguyen said.

The two Marine recruiters declined to comment on camera. A Marine representative said in a statement that, “As Marine recruiters, we enjoy discussing the Marine Corps opportunities with anyone who would like information.”

Charley’s is a national chain with hundreds of restaurants and known for its troops support.

“Whatever happened, I think they took it too far and overexaggerated,” Nguyen said.

So far, there are no boycott signs springing up, but the phone has been taken off the hook.

Contrary to Nguyen, whatever else did or didn’t happen, the statement issued by the store owner is prima facie absurd.  It would have been unnecessary to tell the Marines to leave because of a conversation they were having with an employee.  All the owner had to do was tell the employee to go back to work.

The rest of the statement is more enlightening: “We told the soldiers (sic) that we support our troops, but we do not support the war.”  Well, it would appear that they don’t support the troops well enough to know whether the troops they evicted were Soldiers or Marines.

The White House on Karzai and Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

From NYDailyNews.com.

President Obama and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai praised each other Wednesday and insisted the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan has never been stronger, but they didn’t erase significant differences over how to govern the patchwork nation.

“There are days that we are happy. There are days that we are not happy. It’s a mutual relationship towards a common objective,” Karzai said at a joint East Room press conference. “The bottom line is that we are much more strongly related to each other today than we ever were before in this relationship.”

When the two leaders met more than a month ago in Kabul, Obama was frank and insisted Karzai crack down on corruption in his government, which the U.S. believes has hurt military and diplomatic efforts. Karzai publicly squawked about the tone of that meeting.

There are even bigger differences to be resolved. The U.S. is particularly concerned about peace talks Karzai would like to open with Taliban leaders and regional warlords while U.S. troops are in the midst of a campaign in the Helmand Valley region.

Even though the issue remains prickly for both leaders, they used the occasion to try to cast a more positive image of friendship and solidarity. Though not a full-fledged state visit, Obama even gave Karzai the red carpet treatment.

Of their differences, Obama said, “A lot of them were simply overstated,” adding, “I am very comfortable with the strong efforts that President Karzai has made thus far and I think we both agree that we’re going to have to make more efforts in the future.”

TCJ three days prior concerning Ahmed Wali Karzai, Hamid Karzai’s criminal brother who runs Kandahar like a mobster.

“The plan is to incorporate him, to shape him. Unless you eliminate him, you have to [do this],” said a senior coalition official involved in planning what is viewed as this summer’s make-or-break military operation in Kandahar. “You can’t ignore him,” he added. “He’s the proverbial 800lb gorilla and he’s in the middle of a lot of rooms. He’s the mafia don, the family fixer, the troubleshooter.”

“ISAF faces a number of political challenges as well. A majority of Afghan watchers point to Ahmed Wali Karzai as one of the biggest barriers to smooth operations in the city—he demands a cut of most commerce that takes place in the area, and the DEA alleges he has ties to the illegal narcotics industry. However, because he is the President’s brother, there is no chance of removing him from power. Similarly, Kandahar is, in effect, run by a group of families organized into mafia-style crime rings. They skim profits off almost all reconstruction projects in the city, and have developed a lucrative trade ripping off ISAF initiatives. They sometimes violently clash with each other.”

From the Guardian.

Barack Obama warned today that coalition forces in Afghanistan faced months of hard fighting, but said they had started to “reverse the momentum of the insurgency” by taking the fight to the Taliban.

From the Air Force Times.

The Taliban no longer run and hide when they see a fighter jet overhead, brazenness that airmen attribute to the nearly year-old directive to limit close-air support.

Joint terminal attack controllers, airmen on the ground who call in airstrikes, and fighter pilots report that insurgents are encouraging each other to continue firing because they know the Air Force’s F-16s and A-10s are dropping far fewer bombs now than this time last year.

Keep fighting; [coalition forces] won’t shoot” is the order that enemy leaders are giving — in Pashtun and Dari, words that the JTACs have heard over their radios.

One is almost persuaded to believe that the White House is spewing forth propaganda.

On the Proper Utilization of Resources in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

This report comes from the AP.

GHUNDY GHAR, Afghanistan — As night falls on this small hilltop base in the heart of Taliban country in southern Afghanistan, U.S. Army soldiers break out their knives and flashlights and go hunting for some of the country’s deadliest inhabitants: snakes and scorpions.

Tracking down the “creepy crawlies” that lurk in the nooks and crannies of the countryside is a favorite pastime, providing education, some entertainment — arachnid fight night! — or even a quick meal.

The expeditions help break the monotony of 10-day rotations the soldiers do once or twice a month at this rugged outpost in Kandahar province. Other than patrolling for a few hours a day, there is little for troops to do except watch movies or lift weights at a makeshift gym.

“Deployments are always 99 percent extreme boredom and one percent sheer terror,” said Spc. Chris Stoughton, a 28-year-old machine gunner with the platoon currently based at Strong Point Ghundy Ghar in Zhari district.

Staff Sgt. Aaron Christensen, a self-described reptile nut who grew up exploring the woods and coastlines of Oregon, leads the charge at night. Unlike most soldiers on their first deployment, he was just as fired up about the wildlife in the Afghan countryside as he was about potentially battling Taliban insurgents.

“I knew we had our job to do, but I was thinking in the back of my mind that I hope to see some of the cool things I have only seen in pictures or at exotic reptile shows,” said Christensen, who has owned cobras, rattlesnakes, lizards and a small alligator as pets. He even has two of his pet snakes tattooed on his left biceps.

The 30-year-old native of Portland, Oregon, has not been disappointed with what he and his fellow soldiers have found around the 200-foot (60- meter) rock and mud hill where their base is located. It is teeming with a wealth of snakes, scorpions, spiders and other wildlife.

This is a good human interest story from the AP reporter (Sabastion Abbot) that raises an issue entirely different from the one he intended.  Why are soldiers bored with little to do except look for reptiles, work out and watch movies?  I don’t want to start another round of internecine rivalry, but the Marines in Helmand aren’t so bored.

“We set out the combat patrol anticipating contact,” said Capt. E.A. Meador from Laurel, Miss., the company commander. “They always try to hit us in that area.”

After moving only about one mile from their combat outpost, the Marines received a heavy volley of enemy gunfire from multiple directions. Without hesitation, the Marines and ANA returned fire to suppress the enemy positions, began to maneuver on the insurgents and call for fire support.

Within minutes, an AH-1W Super Cobra and a UH-1N Huey were on station overhead to help suppress and engage enemy targets. The Cobra fired several five-inch Zuni rockets into one of the compounds from which the patrol was receiving sustained fire.

During the engagement, the squad leaders were encouraging and directing their Marines to ensure they were doing everything they could to stay effective and in the fight. No matter how tired they became as time wore on, the voice of experience could be heard across the battlefield.

“Push forward. Keep your dispersion,” called out Sgt. Jonathon Delgado, a squad leader from Kissimmee, Fla., as his Marines pressed through the corn field to maneuver on one of the compounds hiding the enemy.

The Marines and ANA eventually maneuvered up to and cleared the insurgent positions initially used to launch the ambush. One moment they were fighting in open fields, and the next they were clearing rooms the insurgents had used as fighting positions – two very different and challenging combat techniques. One squad, expecting to encounter some resistance, went to clear the western compound where the patrol had initially taken heavy fire. As they entered the compound, the only thing that was they found were brass casings and links from the enemy’s machine guns.

“It was tense going through the compound,” Daughtry commented. “You never know exactly what is coming around the corner.”

Marines with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, suppress enemy positions to protect the landing zone for a casualty evacuation helicopter in the middle of a six-hour firefight with Taliban insurgents.

This was a six-hour firefight.  Terry McCarthy has written about a four hour and fifteen minute patrol conducted by the 3/1 Marines.  This isn’t about branches of the military.  The Army in the Kunar and Nuristan Provinces is taking heat from the Taliban, and needs help on their many combat outposts.  It’s an issue of expectations and utilization of resources.  The question is why the Marines in Helmand and the Army is Kunar is suffering while the Army in other parts of the battlespace is bored?

Something is wrong with the management of the campaign.

Maliki Threatens Iraq Stability

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

Max Boot on Maliki and the recent Iraqi elections.

Maliki, a sectarian Shiite, won’t accept the possibility that Allawi, a secular Shiite who enjoys overwhelming support among Sunnis, could displace him as prime minister. To prevent this from happening, Maliki is making common cause with the Iraqi National Alliance, a group of religious Shiites close to Iran that includes his archenemies, the followers of Muqtada Sadr.

Maliki has also counterattacked in the courts. First he pressured a three-judge election court into ordering a recount in Baghdad that could take weeks to finish but that isn’t expected to alter the outcome. Second, and more serious, he has endorsed what are, according to Army Gen. Ray T. Odierno, Iranian-orchestrated attempts by Iraq’s Accountability and Justice Commission to disqualify winning Sunni candidates for alleged ties to Sadam Hussein’s Baath Party.

With Maliki’s support, the commission has already disqualified 52 parliamentary candidates, including one who won a seat as part of the Iraqiya list. At least eight more winning Iraqiya candidates could be disqualified. That would give Maliki more seats than Allawi and fundamentally undermine the legitimacy of the vote.

A victory for Maliki (or a Shiite ally) that is achieved through postelection manipulations would make it extremely difficult for the new government to reach out to Sunnis either in Iraq or in the broader region. It might even reignite civil war if Sunnis feel that they are being disenfranchised.

Senior officials in the Obama administration are reportedly becoming more involved behind the scenes to avert such a disaster, but so far they have made limited progress despite a visit to Baghdad earlier this year by Vice President Joe Biden, the administration’s point man on Iraq. Diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad put the emphasis on “transition” and “drawdown” rather than on ensuring the long-term success of Iraqi “democracy” (a word avoided by the administration).

That should be no surprise considering that President bama’s overriding objective is to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq. The Iraqi-American security accord negotiated by the George W. Bush administration called for the departure of all our soldiers by the end of 2011. Obama added a new twist by ordering that troop strength be cut from the current 95,000 to 50,000 by September.

The presumption was that the drawdown would occur after Iraq had installed a new government. American officials expected that postelection jockeying would end by June at the latest. But Iraqi politicians now expect that no government will emerge before the fall. Thus the Iraqi and American timelines are dangerously out of sync. Large troop reductions at a time of such political uncertainty will send a dangerous signal of disengagement and lessen America’s ability to preserve the integrity of the elections.

The delay in seating a government also endangers the possible negotiation of a fresh accord to govern Iraqi-American relations after 2011. It is vital to have a continuing American military presence to train and advise Iraqi security forces, which have grown in size and competence but still aren’t capable of defending their airspace or performing other vital functions.

U.S. troops also play a vital peacekeeping role, patrolling with Iraqi troops and the Kurdish peshmerga along the disputed Green Line separating Iraq proper from the Kurdish regional government. Kurdish politicians I met in Irbil warned that if Iraqi-Kurdish land disputes aren’t resolved by the end of 2011 (and odds are they won’t be), there is a serious danger of war breaking out once American troops leave. The possibility of miscalculation will grow once the Iraqi armed forces acquire the M-1 tanks and F-16 fighters that we have agreed to sell them. It is all the more important that an American buffer — say 10,000 to 15,000 troops — remain to ensure that those weapons are never used against our Kurdish allies.

Boot hits on some common themes we have already covered in:

Bad Developments in Iraq

Iraqi Elections

Whence Goeth Iraq?

To say that Maliki is bad for Iraq is redundant.  Chalibi is a treacherous liar, cheat and rogue.  He is out for the Shi’ite powers in Iran and Iraq, but first of all himself.  His “Justice Commission” is a front for the Iranians.  He is a scumbag in the superlative degree.  The Maliki-Hakim-Sadr alliance will only end, if it does, as it suffers under the weight of the collective pride, self worship and disdain for the common Iraqi.

It may also be true that U.S. presence is a good thing for tamping down internal sectarian violence.  But there is a very important element of the current situation that Boot is missing, and it must be incorporated into our framework in order to understand the degree of U.S. inability to change the situation.

The Status of Forces Agreement has lead to intelligence ambiguity in Iraq due to the fact that patrols are no longer conducted.  Our once powerful and productive information and intelligence campaign has all but dried up.  It’s difficult to assess atmospherics when you can’t go on patrol and talk with the population.  The SOFA has caused U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities to the countryside because they cannot even ensure force protection in the cities.  The Marines are entirely gone from the Anbar Province because they couldn’t even move outside of their bases without an Iraqi escort and without giving 72 hours notice.  The Marine Corps Commandant will not leave Marines in a situation in which they cannot ensure force protection.

The U.S. Army is under virtual house arrest in Iraq.  Said Colonel Ali Fadhil of the ISF, “the American soldiers are in prison-like bases as if they are under house-arrest.”  They have been given times that they cannot leave their bases, stipulations for permissions, and requirements for escorts.

I have been brutal on the Obama administration on everything from health care to the  handling of the campaign in Afghanistan.  Additionally, Obama could actually put Iraq under the charge of someone who is competent rather than Biden.  But the hand was dealt long before the Obama administration, even if Obama would have fled the country anyway.  There is little to nothing that U.S. forces can do under the current SOFA, and that is the fault of the previous administration, like it or not.

We failed to confront Iran in the regional war it has been waging more than 40 years (and for the eight years we have been in Iraq), and then we tied the hands of our warriors so that they couldn’t effect change in the situation.  They are busying themselves with lifting weights, playing ping pong and going to classes.  They have nothing else to do because we made it that way for them.

Mullah Omar Captured?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

Has Mullah Omar been captured?  Brad Thor is saying as much over at Big Government.

Through key intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I have just learned that reclusive Taliban leader and top Osama bin Laden ally, Mullah Omar has been taken into custody.

According to the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program there is a bounty of up to $10 million on Omar for sheltering Osama bin-Laden and his al-Qaeda network in the years prior to the September 11 attacks as well as the period during and immediately thereafter.

At the end of March, US Military Intelligence was informed by US operatives working in the Af/Pak theater on behalf of the D.O.D. that Omar had been detained by Pakistani authorities. One would assume that this would be passed up the chain and that the Secretary of Defense would have been alerted immediately.  From what I am hearing, that may not have been the case.

This sounds too bizarre to be believed as is.  There has to be more to it than the information wasn’t passed up the chain of command.  But in lieu of confirmation, I’ll make three observations.

First, the insurgency will not die with the capture of Omar.  While a powerful figure, his actual control over his fighters wasn’t significant.  Furthermore, the inbreeding of al Qaeda ideology, Tehrik-i-Taliban radicalism and Afghan Taliban is pretty much complete.  They all swim in the same waters.  Second, even though this is true, it is a good thing if Mullah Omar has been captured.  Third, I’ll wait on official confirmation before saying any more.  This has the distinct possibility of being a ruse or a mistake.  I lost track of the number of times that Baitullah Mehsud was allegedly killed.  Now Hakimullah Mehsud has been killed – but wait, no he hasn’t and there is evidence of his being alive.

This is why I don’t usually cover HVT killings.  In general I don’t think that they are very effective, and quite often the information is wrong.  I think I’ll just wait before breaking out the champagne.

The Ghosts of Kandahar

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

As I have discussed before, in 2004 in Najaf, the U.S. Marines had Moqtada al Sadr surrounded.  The British leadership in Iraq, who felt that we simply had to learn to work with the fabric of Iraqi society, worked feverishly with Ali al-Sistani (the senior Shi’ite cleric in Iraq) to convince the U.S. political and military leadership to release Sadr.  This Charlie Rose interview with John Burns is instructive for its clarity regarding the event (see approximately 17:20 into the interview).

As later disclosed to me, Sadr wasn’t just surrounded.  The 3/2 Marines had Sadr in their custody.  They had arrested him and had held him for three days prior to being ordered to release him.  Today, six years later, a resurgent Sadr after having received religious training in Iran is doing Iran’s bidding for them.  A Shi’ite coalition is attempting to retain control over the government in the wake of the recent elections and not only exclude Allawi from power, but give ultimate authority over final political decisions to religious cleric Sistani.

A recent conversation I had with Omar Fadhil of ITM (perhaps in a preface to his latest post) might bring slightly more optimism than I bring to the table, where he sees the Maliki-Hakim-Sadr alliance as still very shaky.  Nonetheless, there are many U.S. deaths in Baghdad and Najaf that can be directly attributed to Sadr.  We are hearing from the ghosts of Najaf six years later, haunting voices, telling us that Sadr should not have been released.  They are unmistakable and relentless.  This was a bad and irreversible decision.

Such an important decision is in preparations for the Afghanistan campaign.  We are attempting to befriend and work with (even change?) Ahmed Wali Karzai, PM Hamid Karzai’s criminal brother in Kandahar.  To be sure, Wali Karzai doesn’t command an army of fighters the size of Sadr, or even an army at all.  But the similarities exist.  Leaving Sadr unmolested was an error of gargantuan proportions, and working with Wali Karzai may be judged in hindsight to be the single fateful decision that lost the battle for Kandahar.  Karzai’s political and financial fortunes rides on the backs of criminal organizations and drug money, and his friend are bought and paid for.  This is being described as a gamble.

Nato has taken one of the biggest gambles of its mission in Afghanistan by reluctantly deciding to collaborate with Ahmad Wali Karzai, the notorious power-broker of Kandahar — despite allegations that the half-brother of the President is involved in the drugs trade.

The decision comes as Nato planners continue preparations for their next big push against the Taleban in Kandahar and as the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, prepares to depart for Washington, where he is expected to meet President Obama next week.

Senior coalition officers would prefer to see the back of Wali Karzai but they have come to the conclusion that their only option is to work with him. They are trying, in the words of one officer, to “remodel” a man accused of running a private fiefdom in the south.

On Saturday Wali Karzai held a meeting with the US Central Command commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus; the latest in a series of contacts designed to rehabilitate and influence the activities of the chairman of Kandahar’s provincial council.

“The plan is to incorporate him, to shape him. Unless you eliminate him, you have to [do this],” said a senior coalition official involved in planning what is viewed as this summer’s make-or-break military operation in Kandahar. “You can’t ignore him,” he added. “He’s the proverbial 800lb gorilla and he’s in the middle of a lot of rooms. He’s the mafia don, the family fixer, the troubleshooter.”

Joshua Foust is even clearer: “ISAF faces a number of political challenges as well. A majority of Afghan watchers point to Ahmed Wali Karzai as one of the biggest barriers to smooth operations in the city—he demands a cut of most commerce that takes place in the area, and the DEA alleges he has ties to the illegal narcotics industry. However, because he is the President’s brother, there is no chance of removing him from power. Similarly, Kandahar is, in effect, run by a group of families organized into mafia-style crime rings. They skim profits off almost all reconstruction projects in the city, and have developed a lucrative trade ripping off ISAF initiatives. They sometimes violently clash with each other.”

My own counsel just prior to this report was directly contrary to the plan.

In order to win Kandahar, we must not run from fights; we must destroy the drug rings (not the local farmers), and especially destroy the crime families, including killing the heads of the crime families; we must make it so uncomfortable for people to give them cuts of their money that they fear us more than they fear Karzai’s criminal brother; we must make it so dangerous to be associated with crime rings, criminal organizations, and insurgents that no one wants even to be remotely associated with them; and we must marginalize Karzai’s brother …

Anyone associated with drug rings, criminal activity or the insurgency must be a target, from the highest to the lowest levels of the organization, and this without mercy.  Completely without mercy.  There should be no knee-jerk reversion to prisons, because the corrupt judicial system in Afghanistan will only release the worst actors to perpetrate the worst on their opponents.  This robust force projection must be conducted by not only the SOF, but so-called general purpose forces (GPF).  The population needs to see the very same people conducting patrols and talking with locals that they see killing criminals and insurgents.  This is imperative.

Two very different approaches, needless to say.  It remains to be seen who is right in this affair.  There seems to be confusion or at least rapidly changing opinion within the ISAF.  Not two weeks prior to this report about co-opting Karzai, it was reported that we had elected to do just the opposite.  ISAF has concluded that nothing else can be done, and I have concluded that something else must be done in order to justify the loss of American life.

Max Boot weighed in around the time of the Washington Post article saying:

There is little doubt that U.S. and other NATO forces can win a military victory in Kandahar. But do they have a political strategy to match their military might? I am dubious. At the very least a lot more groundwork needs to be laid in the realm of strategic communications to convince the world that the coalition can win a meaningful victory in Kandahar without removing AWK from power.

And this demur was posed assuming that we were merely attempting to sideline Wali Karzai.  Now we want to work with him and mold him.  But “can a leopard change its spots?”  In the future the ghosts of Kandahar, including U.S. servicemen, will call out and answer our question, even haunting the dreams of those who controlled their fates.


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