Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 7 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]

Michael Yon, Chambered Rounds, and Cassandra

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

Regarding U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Patrolling with no Rounds Chambered in Weapons, and also Followup on Patrolling Without Rounds Chambered in Weapons, I received this communication:

I approved a frontrunner on this written by my associate editor who had seen Michael post about it on his dispatch thread on Facebook.

As a journalist who has earned a living for many years as an indie, I’d like to let you know I vetted this story via Michael, via a soldier who had to by necessity remain anonymous, and by doing exhaustive searches on military message boards wherein the claim was documented.

My editor and I had multiple phone conversations about everything from the title (I insisted on specificity) to the exact claims, one reason I parsed the title as “Some soldiers in Afghanistan may patrol with no rounds chambered in weapons.”

In the end we ran the story because not for the first time we felt concern about the politics affecting the prosecution of this war. My own concern involved the wellbeing of our men and women in the war zone.

What dismayed me, aside from some rather unpleasant comments, was the inaccuracy of some in the media who memed the story, yet failed to hold the line on the claims. Some simply did not even read the story accurately and I believe we were careful and truthful in our claims.

I do not know the writer Cassandra. I do know that, having glanced at her compositions, she would be better served by working in a fast food restaurant. I am assuming she really is a she. Those who do not fully identify themselves leave the door open as to their actual identity.

I stand by the story we ran. It is accurate. I have worked for wire services and written for Pulitzer prize winning publications as an independent for more than two decades.

There is not a editor in the land who would not have approved our original story because it was true.

I’d also like to say that of all the journalists and war correspondents I interact with and there are many, Michael Yon has my utmost respect.

I just wanted you to  know that.

best regards,
Kay B. Day, editor
The US Report

Cassandra should take notice.  In never pays to compose prose in a hysterical rant.  It also pays to assume that you know nothing when you must assume that you know something.  Just because Cassandra didn’t know that this report was vetted doesn’t mean that it wasn’t.  Not all writers call her for approval before running a report.

Parts Problems with the M249 SAW?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

Are there parts problems with the M249 SAW?

A former employee of an Indiana defense contractor has filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming the company ordered him to approve parts for machine guns used by U.S. troops that didn’t meet quality standards, and that he was fired for complaining about it.

In his lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Evansville in February 2009 and unsealed in March, Andrew T. Pool accuses Dugger-based Northside Machine Co. of fraud and wrongful termination. He is seeking reinstatement with back pay and unspecified damages.

In a court filing Wednesday, the company contends that it never told Pool to falsify test results and that Pool never complained to management before he was fired. It asked a judge to dismiss his lawsuit.

Northside Machine supplies trigger assemblies and other components to defense contractor FN Manufacturing for use in its M240 and M249 machine guns, which are widely used by the military. FN Manufacturing is not accused of wrongdoing.

Attorneys for Pool and the company declined to comment Wednesday, and a spokesman at FN Manufacturing in Columbia, S.C., did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

According to a 2006 report by the Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded research group that studies military matters, 30 percent of troops surveyed reported that the M249 had stopped firing during combat, a higher percentage than with any other weapon included in the report. Problems with the light machine gun and other weapons were reported during the July 2008 battle in Wanat, Afghanistan, in which nine U.S. troops died and 27 were wounded.

U.S. Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings Jr. declined to comment on any possible link between such weapons failures and alleged substandard parts, citing the ongoing litigation. The Virginia-based Center for Naval Analyses also declined to speculate about any such connection and said its report hadn’t diagnosed the underlying causes of complaints about the M249.

There are two issues here.  First off, if substandard parts are being manufactured and accepted as meeting specification, then this is both an ethical and legal problem.  Any industry that accepts failure to meet specifications for parts deserves to go out of business.  This allegation should be run to ground, so to speak, and either the company or the employee punished, depending upon who is telling the truth.

But there is the second issue of reports of the M249 failing to operate in combat, apparently up to 30%.  All I can do is report what I know from a certain Marine.  According to his reports – and he saw a lot of combat – his M249 SAW never once jammed or stopping firing for any reason during combat, period.

But then, he was properly trained to operate the SAW, and he properly trained his boots just like he was trained.  He carried a paint brush on patrols, and when they stopped for a water break, the first thing he did (before water) was to clean his weapon with brush, Q-tips, fingers, etc.  This required disassembling his weapon, at least partially.  Then, he would remove every inch of belt from his SAW ammunition boxes and check to ensure that every round was seated properly in the belt (because they can rattle loose during fast movement on patrols).

For the M16A2 and M4s, he would assist in stretching out the ammunition clip springs to ensure that they had the capability to feed ammunition without jamming after they cleaned each weapon of dust.  Finally, each and every clip was checked to ensure that it wasn’t completely loaded (each clip was loaded minus a few rounds to prevent deformation of the spring).

Before deployment, he demanded new action for his SAW, as he had monitored and cataloged its behavior for months, and refused to deploy without new action.  He got the new action, and thus he knew that the weapon was reliable if correctly maintained and properly employed.  It was correctly maintained and properly employed – and given a name that I will not repeat over this blog.

His view?  Well, simply put, those who complain about the M16A2, M4 and SAW are either lazy or not properly trained.  The system of weapons is just fine, says he.  He killed many bad guys with them.  Oh, and by they way.  The M249 SAW is an area suppression firearm, but he deployed with an ACOG on his SAW.  The 2/6 Battalion Weapons Warrant Officer was awesome, said he.

Followup on Patrolling Without Rounds Chambered in Weapons

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

The practice of blogging makes one fairly insensitive to strange things being said about you.  But occasionally, things made up by other writers approach the threshold of bizarre and at least mildly humorous.  Recall that Michael Yon reported that he had received a letter alleging that U.S. troops were being ordered to patrol without rounds chambered in their weapons.  I followed up Michael’s report by saying:

I talked to a certain Marine who said something like the following concerning his time in Fallujah in 2007.

“First of all, we employed aggressive ROE, which is why we dominated Fallujah so completely and quickly from the deadly chaos that it was under a different unit early in 2007.  This aggressive ROE saved lives – ours and theirs.  But as to the issue of weapon status, here it is.  When we went on patrol, we had:

  1. Bolt forward
  2. Round in chamber
  3. Magazine inserted
  4. Weapon on safe

Obviously, since the SAW is an open-bolt weapon, the exact same rules could not apply (bolt forward), but a round was always chambered.  He further said that “Marines got hazed if they were found without a round in the chamber,” and that this stupid rule would get troops killed.

After publishing this article I sent the link to Lt. Col. Tad Sholtis, saying that if the report was true, the ISAF had really big problems.  Sholtis responded that he didn’t think so, and later e-mail me the denial that there was a blanket order like that to all U.S. forces or ISAF forces.  I have no reason to doubt his account, though it should be noted that he didn’t deny that there were specific units that engaged in this practice.  He couldn’t possibly know what every unit had ordered.  I amended the article to publish Shotis’ response in the interest of complete openness.

Enter someone named Cassandra who blogs at Villainous Company.  Behold the hysteria.

I found this post fascinating when it came out. Note the total lack of specificity: no rank, unit, or location. Absolutely no attempt to provide context or to verify the “information” provided. Interestingly, a blogger who defended Yon back in April decided that if this unsourced rumor (and absent a single shred of corroborating evidence, that’s essentially all it was) had any meaning then perhaps he ought to do a little fact checking. He received this response …

And then she proceeded to reproduce the note that Sholtis sent me.  It’s strange how someone can get something so totally wrong.  The only answer I have is that a writer takes certain presuppositions to a subject and that tends to cloud all of the facts.

I didn’t “decid(e) that if this unsourced rumor had any meaning then perhaps (I) ought to do a little fact checking.”  Michael cannot divulge sources any more than I can in circumstances like this.  If the note had been sent to me, I would have published it too after a bit of investigation, and I would have done so without divulging sensitive information like rank, unit or name, all of which could have been used against that individual.

Furthermore, my note to Tadd Sholtis was sent after I published my article, not before (as if I was waiting on Sholtis’ e-mail as my ‘fact-checking’).  Finally, the e-mail proves very little except that it isn’t a force-wide order, something I could have already surmised without Sholtis’ e-mail.  Cassandra also seems to equate support for individuals with support for the campaign.  For instance, after General McChrystal called Marjah a bleeding ulcer, she published the standard lines from the PAOs, namely that the quote had been taken out of context.

For those who read my analysis of this incident, we know that whether there was a larger context of mixed successes in Helmand is not relevant.  The PAOs objected to the title of the article, not the fact that the quote was never made.  In fact, the quote was indeed made, and it raises all of the legitimate questions thereto, e.g., Do they not understand the time frames for classical counterinsurgency?, Did they never communicate the long nature of classical counterinsurgency to the administration?, and so forth.  I have smart readers rather than apparatchiks, and jonesgp1996 gave us this important link: Secrets from inside the Obama War Room based on the questions I raised.

So you can make up your own mind on this.  I (and my commenters) gave you critical links and hard questions on Marjah, while still others ignored the report.  Returning to the issue of patrolling with no rounds in the chamber, there is this report from Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes:

The Rumor Doctor heard from a soldier in a military police company in eastern Afghanistan who said his unit was under orders not to have a round in the chamber when going outside the wire.

The unit the company had replaced was under a similar order, which company noncommissioned officers said came from higher, the soldier said.

Rumor Doctor tried to e-mail the company commander in question but was referred to first to Task Force Bastogne, under which the company falls, and then Combined Joint Task Force 101.

“While it is not our policy to comment on the specifics of those force protection measures, I can tell you that individual unit commanders have the flexibility and latitude to increase or decrease their force protection posture as needed and as appropriate for the situation,” Master Sergeant Brian Sipp, of CJTF-101 public affairs said in an e-mail.

So Rumor Doctor gave ISAF public affairs the name of the unit in question. Shortly afterward, the soldier on the ground informed the Rumor Doctor that soldiers in his company were suddenly authorized to chamber a round outside the wire.

So, among the things learned from this incident: (1) Michael was proven right, (2) the hysterical rant about my commentary – with things being made up about my article as if this person thought she was inside my mind -  is still as weird and creepy as it was when it was written, and (3) perhaps most important, Sholtis believes that there isn’t a big problem, and I still demur.  Sure, Tadd didn’t know that an entire company had been issued this order when he wrote back to me.  However, if there is only one Soldier who is being ordered to patrol without a round chambered, that is a big problem.  That Soldier has loved ones too.

Warlord Builds Afghan Empire with U.S. Dollars

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

From The New York Times:

TIRIN KOT, Afghanistan — The most powerful man in this arid stretch of southern Afghanistan is not the provincial governor, nor the police chief, nor even the commander of the Afghan Army.

It is Matiullah Khan, the head of a private army that earns millions of dollars guarding NATO supply convoys and fights Taliban insurgents alongside American Special Forces.

In little more than two years, Mr. Matiullah, an illiterate former highway patrol commander, has grown stronger than the government of Oruzgan Province, not only supplanting its role in providing security but usurping its other functions, his rivals say, like appointing public employees and doling out government largess. His fighters run missions with American Special Forces officers, and when Afghan officials have confronted him, he has either rebuffed them or had them removed.

“Oruzgan used to be the worst place in Afghanistan, and now it’s the safest,” Mr. Matiullah said in an interview in his compound here, where supplicants gather each day to pay homage and seek money and help. “What should we do? The officials are cowards and thieves.”

Mr. Matiullah is one of several semiofficial warlords who have emerged across Afghanistan in recent months, as American and NATO officers try to bolster — and sometimes even supplant — ineffective regular Afghan forces in their battle against the Taliban insurgency.

In some cases, these strongmen have restored order, though at the price of undermining the very institutions Americans are seeking to build: government structures like police forces and provincial administrations that one day are supposed to be strong enough to allow the Americans and other troops to leave.

In other places around the country, Afghan gunmen have come to the fore as the heads of private security companies or as militia commanders, independent of any government control. In these cases, the warlords not only have risen from anarchy but have helped to spread it.

For the Americans, who are racing to secure the country against a deadline set by President Obama, the emergence of such strongmen is seen as a lesser evil, despite how compromised many of them are. In Mr. Matiullah’s case, American commanders appear to have set aside reports that he connives with both drug smugglers and Taliban insurgents.

“The institutions of the government, in security and military terms, are not yet strong enough to be able to provide security,” said Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. “But the situation is unsustainable and clearly needs to be resolved.”

Many Afghans say the Americans and their NATO partners are making a grave mistake by tolerating or encouraging warlords like Mr. Matiullah. These Afghans fear the Americans will leave behind an Afghan government too weak to do its work, and strongmen without any popular support.

“Matiullah is an illiterate guy using the government for his own interest,” said Mohammed Essa, a tribal leader in Tirin Kot, the Oruzgan provincial capital. “Once the Americans leave, he won’t last. And then what will we have?”

Mr. Matiullah does not look like one of the aging, pot-bellied warlords from Afghanistan’s bygone wars. Long and thin, he wears black silk turbans and extends a pinky when he gestures to make a point. Mr. Matiullah’s army is an unusual hybrid, too: a booming private business and a government-subsidized militia.

His main effort — and his biggest money maker — is securing the chaotic highway linking Kandahar to Tirin Kot for NATO convoys. One day each week, Mr. Matiullah declares the 100-mile highway open and deploys his gunmen up and down it. The highway cuts through an area thick with Taliban insurgents.

Mr. Matiullah keeps the highway safe, and he is paid well to do it. His company charges each NATO cargo truck $1,200 for safe passage, or $800 for smaller ones, his aides say. His income, according to one of his aides, is $2.5 million a month, an astronomical sum in a country as impoverished as this one.

“It’s suicide to come up this road without Matiullah’s men,” said Mohammed, a driver hauling stacks of sandbags and light fixtures to the Dutch base in Tirin Kot. The Afghan government even picks up a good chunk of Mr. Matiullah’s expenses. Under an arrangement with the Ministry of the Interior, the government pays for roughly 600 of Mr. Matiullah’s 1,500 fighters, including Mr. Matiullah himself, despite the fact that the force is not under the government’s control.

But Mr. Matiullah’s role has grown beyond just business. His militia has been adopted by American Special Forces officers to gather intelligence and fight insurgents. Mr. Matiullah’s compound sits about 100 yards from the American Special Forces compound in Tirin Kot. A Special Forces officer, willing to speak about Mr. Matiullah only on the condition of anonymity, said his unit had an extensive relationship with Mr. Matiullah. “Matiullah is the best there is here,” the officer said.

I’m sorry for the extended quote, but it was necessary to set the stage for the follow-on observations.  First, if it is suicide to travel the roads without Matiullah’s men, that is a sad commentary on the relative strength of the insurgency, even now.  Second, setting aside the issue of having to work with the more unseemly elements of society in counterinsurgency operations, there is something huge that is being lost in this whole affair.  It is contact between U.S. troops and the population.

A Marine Regimental Combat Team could not only do a better job of securing the countryside and roadways, it could also interact with the population in the process, possibly setting into motion something that could last beyond their own presence.  As it is, money is the driving force for this warlord, and without it it remains to be seen whether he and his army can survive.

As for the money, there may be too much of it being thrown around.  Counterinsurgency needs more discretion and less recklessness than we see in the report.  Furthermore, I am willing to bet that a RCT can provide safe passage for logistics for much less than Matiullah and his men.

Finally, note how panicked we seem.  We’re throwing money around without regards to quantity or recipient, like scared protectorate of the mafia looking for an escape hatch.  It doesn’t bode well for the campaign.

Tactical Appraisal of Israeli Flotilla Raid

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

In early 2009 the USS San Antonio interdicted and boarded an Iranian ship bound or Gaza, and it was found to be transporting weapons for waging war with Israel.  I supported this move, and in fact even more exhaustive measures to contain rogue states and ensure American security (or the security of our allies).  So support of Israel’s right to ensure its own national security is not in question.

But immediately upon hearing about the Israeli flotilla raid, my reaction was the same as it is now.  Without rehearsing the gory details, Israeli Marines fast-roped onto the boat bound for Gaza, one at a time, in broad daylight, armed only with nonlethal weapons, to a group prepared to beat them over the head and throw them overboard.

Joe Klein is preening over Israel having learned its lesson, pressing for more traditional ship-boarding measures in lieu of this method.  Well, there are various tactics to be taken under various circumstances.  If there had been reason to believe that there would be kinetic operations, then heavier tactics are in order.  But not the ones we witnessed in the recent raid.

If there had been reason to expect kinetic operations, then fast-roping is not done one at a time.  Furthermore, it should not have been done in broad daylight.  The Israeli Marines should have owned the night.  Night vision gear, the element of surprise, quick Marine presence on board the ship due to proper implementation of fast-roping techniques, inundation with tear gas, and the ship could have been secured within seconds and without incident.

The Israeli Navy has said they will do it differently next time.  Let’s hope so, but that’s not quite the point.  There may be the need for softer tactics, or not, depending upon the situation.  The real question is why this operation was ever approved in the first place?  The raid was a tactical disaster.  What kind of tactical malaise has descended upon the IDF that they would have even thought up something like this?  Who was in charge of this, and will he be held responsible for his lack of tactical ingenuity?  What does this say about the state of tactics in the IDF generally?  The hard questions remain, and the larger issue of the state of the IDF is the real story out of this event.

Backpacker Shoots Grizzly in Denali, First Life Saved Since Firearms Legal

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

When backpacking with one particular individual, I would usually get into a discussion about firearms in national parks.  “It’s against the law,” said he.  No, said I, there is no law per se.  The Congress never voted on such a stipulation, so it isn’t law.  Some lawyer working for the federal government wrote a section of the federal code that stipulated this, and it has been treated as “law” ever since.  It may be regulation, but it isn’t law, and there is a distinct difference.

The debate never ended between us, but the Congress did indeed end the national debate by voting on this issue and they reversed the regulation, allowing national park visitors to carry firearms.  This new law – and it is a law – has only been in effect for several months, and it has saved its first backpackers.

A backpacker shot and killed a grizzly bear in Denali National Park and Preserve on Friday after the animal charged toward his hiking companion. This is the first shooting incident since a change in federal law that allows firearms to be carried in many national parks and wildlife refuges went into effect in February.

This is also the first known shooting of a grizzly bear in the wilderness portion of the park by a visitor.

According to park spokeswoman Kris Fister, the backpackers were hiking in an area about 35 miles from park headquarters when they heard noise in nearby brush. The male hiker drew a .45-caliber pistol he was carrying, and when the bear emerged and charged toward his female hiking companion, he fired about nine rounds toward the grizzly.

The bear returned to the brush, at which point the hikers headed back the way they came, until meeting a park employee and reporting the incident.

Since it was unclear if the animal was killed or only wounded, the area was immediately closed to other hikers. The bear’s carcass was discovered Saturday evening by park rangers near where the shooting took place.

The names of the hikers have not been released, pending investigation into the justification of the shooting. According to the press release issued by Fister, it is legal to carry a firearm in the original Mt. McKinley portion of the park where the incident occurred, but it is not legal to discharge it.

Run that one by me again?  It’s legal to carry it since Congress reversed the stupid policy, but it isn’t legal to discharge it in self defense?  How have the lawyers taken a perfectly good law and screwed it up with additional obfuscatory regulations?

And actually, we don’t know if this is the first life saved by the new law.  There may have been many others since criminals must now assumed that at least some percentage of their prey now pack heat.  I would expect the same results in national parks we see everywhere else when people carry firearms.  Crime will drop.

Campaign for Kandahar Won’t Look Like War

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

From the AP:

In the make-or-break struggle for Kandahar, birthplace of Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency, U.S. commanders will try to pull off the military equivalent of brain surgery: defeating the militants with minimal use of force.

The goal of U.S.-led NATO forces will be to avoid inspiring support for the Taliban even as the coalition tries to root them out when the Kandahar operation begins in earnest next month.

The ancient silk road city — a dust-covered, impoverished jumble of one- and two-story concrete and mud brick — may not look like much of a prize.

But Kandahar, with a population of more than a million, was once the Taliban’s informal capital and an al-Qaida stronghold. It has served for centuries as a smuggler’s crossroads and trading hub linking southern Afghanistan to the Indian subcontinent.

President Barack Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy focuses on protecting population centers such as Kandahar from Taliban predation, with the hope of building support for the center government in Kabul.

The Taliban are deeply embedded in the local population, raising the risk of civilian casualties in major clashes. Neither are the Taliban regarded as an alien force. For many in Kandahar, they are neighbors, friends and relatives.

Haji Raaz Mohammad, a 48-year-old farmer from Kandahar, said he has never understood why the U.S. is trying to drive out the militants.

“I don’t know why they are doing it,” he said. “The Taliban are not outsiders. They are our own people.”

Because the task in Kandahar is so delicate, U.S. commanders talk about squeezing rather than driving out the Taliban. The military has struggled to come up with a description of the upcoming fight, avoiding terms like campaign, operation and battle because” because those words and others have annoyed Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

So the U.S. is calling it “Hamkari Baraye Kandahar,” which translates as “Cooperation for Kandahar.” Karzai simply calls it a “process.”

Whatever it’s called, U.S. military leaders say that unless it succeeds, the rest of the plan for pacifying Afghanistan is hollow.

[ ... ]

Victory in Cooperation for Kandahar may be hard to define. Eventually, U.S. military officials say, Afghans there must be persuaded that they can trust the government not to fleece them and to keep the gangsters and warlords at bay.

First of all, this won’t work in six months, which is the stated milestone for at least signs of success in Kandahar.  But we have covered this notion of public trust in thugs and criminals, and concluded that it’s not likely to happen.  Joshua Foust wrote “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.”

Michael Hughes weighed in saying:

One senior NATO official had calculated that the “Karzai cartel” was making more than a billion dollars a year off the Afghanistan war via lucrative contracts and sub-contracting spin-offs in convoy protection, construction, fuel, food and security. And in the process they are alienating the very people they are supposed to protect who are so distraught with AWK’s corruption that a majority of Kandaharis are now supporting the insurgency.

Reiterating my own counsel for Kandahar:

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.

My own counsel and the picture painted by NATO leadership above couldn’t be more disparate.  McChrystal is giving us six months to convince the indigenous population to turn on their own relatives and embrace criminals who steal from them.  The strategy will fail.

Marine Life in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

From The Denver Post, an important reminder of just what our Marines face while being deployed.

Editor’s note: David Fennell of Littleton is a major in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is stationed in Marjah, Afghanistan, as head of the Civil Affairs Group there. Before that, he served a tour in Iraq. His father, Denny, asked David to sum up his experiences as he nears the end of his deployment.

Although I’ve gotten used to things around here, this place can wear on you. Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe in our mission and its importance to both the Afghan people and security back home. Still, southern Afghanistan is a hard place.

The question Marines ask themselves most when talking with folks back home is “Where do I start?” There are no easy answers.

Sand, moon dust, terrain, weather, enemy, Marines getting hurt, Marines taken out of action, high op tempo, 24/7, working with locals, working with civilians, working with Afghan government, working with Afghan police, working with Afghan army, working with international forces (ISAF), bad food, drinking tea with locals knowing you’ll get sick, getting sick, watching for IEDs, looking for ambushes, suicide bomb threats, enemy murdering and intimidating the local population, local “friends” working with enemy, Marines getting killed, controlled IED detonations, wondering what caused an explosion, the kids, seeing bad things happen to kids, bad kids throwing rocks, bad kids taunting and making gestures that you’re going to get blown up, locals gaming the system, locals complaining about everything, locals always want more, some locals step up and the enemy takes some locals down . . .

Sand storms, bad sleep, incoming rockets, burn pits, relieving yourself in a bag, reports, reports, reports, briefs, briefs, briefs, VIP visits (generals, ambassadors, Afghanistan officials, etc.), second-guessed by others, second-guessing yourself, media, interpreters, bad interpreters, not being able to find an interpreter, losing gear, getting gear stolen, keeping Marines motivated, rewarding Marines, punishing Marines, taking care of interpreters, patrolling through canals and irrigated farms, getting your only pair of boots wet, getting your camera wet, Medevacs, finding IEDs, waiting hours for EOD to detonate IEDs, acronyms, hearing Marines in a firefight over the radio, losing communication, incoming mortars, long days, short meals, dirty uniforms, making yourself sick from your smell . . .

Needing air support but not getting it, taught not to look at Afghan women, taught not to talk to Afghan women, not knowing how to react when an Afghan woman approaches, false claims of Koran burning, false claims of night searches, false claims of civilian casualties, lies, lies, lies, protests, riots, local leaders calm protests and riots for a few prayer rugs.

Taking malaria medication, flak jackets, Kevlar, bad feet, bad knees, bad back, bad haircuts, looking forward to firefights, dreading IEDs, sand in everything, too few computers, no printers, no scanner, generators go down, e-mail goes down, “where’s your report?”, cold winter, no heat, local gets shot, local comes to Marines for help, is local a Taliban who we shot?, Marines trying to be experts in crime scene investigations, getting mail late, getting mail stolen, not getting mail at all, being hungry, saving the last Ramen noodle, losing weight, bad shaves, hot days, no A/C, sunburned faces and necks, white arms and legs, trying to get contractors to start development projects, contractors getting intimidated and robbed by Taliban, contractors getting kidnapped by Taliban, workers being killed by Taliban, hoping a Marine “makes it,” going to memorial services, hoping it’s never your Marine, rules of engagement, escalation of force, taking small arms fire from house, having to let detainee go for lack of evidence, running out of wet wipes, running out of water, losing your flashlight, running into razor wire at night, living in the “gray,” questioning how much corruption is acceptable, flies in your food, flies in your eye, trying not to be motivated by hate, broken-down vehicles, stuck vehicles, getting caught on an extended patrol without NVGs, did I do enough? did I do it right? and . . . did I mention the sand?

The names, faces and structures have changed, but the problems remain.  Lies, lies, lies, heavy body armor, injuries, surfaces too hot to touch, bad rules of engagement, getting cut by concertina wire, untrustworthy indigenous security forces,  destroyed and lost equipment, having to pay the Marine Corps for that destroyed and lost equipment out of your pitiful salary, dreading IEDs and looking forward to firefights, and so on the story goes.  At its core it’s no different than the Marine Corps experience in Iraq.

The life of a grunt is hard.  The training is hard because the life is hard; the training has to reflect the life.  The strongest, healthiest and most motivated men can only do it for so long.  They need our prayer, and they need our unwavering support.  And they need to know that what they’re doing is worth it – that the administration won’t bail on them and their brothers while the mission is incomplete.  Oh, and one more thing.  They need to know that they have a safety net if they get maimed, or that their family has a safety net if they perish.  Maintenance of their morale is our mission, our part of the campaign.

Mullen Says Campaign for Kandahar Will Take Months

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

From the AP:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is predicting that it’ll be clear by year’s end whether a NATO-led counterinsurgency effort in the Afghan Taliban stronghold of Kandahar is successful.

Adm. Mike Mullen says the Kandahar campaign, which is planned to go forward next month, is vital to turning around the war. He says the southern Afghanistan city is as important to the overall war effort as Baghdad was to the U.S. troop increase in Iraq in 2007.

Mullen says improving security in Kandahar will be important. But he says the key will be improving governance in the city. That’s a reference to the importance of the Afghan government playing a lead role in providing basic services in the area.

Mullen appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Oh good!  For a moment I was worried that we were setting ourselves up for false hopes and expectations, implying that it would take only a few months to pacify a city of a million inhabitants.  Instead of only a few months, we have six.  This makes a world of difference.

Turning the sarcasm off, it may be observed how tired and pedestrian the population-centric counterinsurgency narrative is becoming.  All it takes to pacify a violent population is to give them services.  Bread and circuses, you know.  But our own history, i.e., the war for independence, is filled with the brave actions of morally committed and anchored men who would have willingly given up everything – and indeed many who did so – to fulfill the ultimate end.

As I have discussed before, it will require longer than half a year to accomplish counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, and throwing bread and circuses at the population is worn out and inept doctrine.  Counterinsurgency campaigns are replete with examples of delivery of infrastructure to the population, only to see insurgents destroy it.  Leaving the insurgency alive, or any part of it still kicking, is certain doom for the campaign.  Nothing will pacify the countryside or cities except for death of the insurgency, or said another way, death of the insurgents.


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