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]

Coolness Factor

BY Herschel Smith
4 years ago

It’s been a while since Friday night music was a regular affair.  We’ve discussed some heavy things, and it’s time for a break.  Yet even in our R&R time we learn that in spite of the fact that the population-centric counterinsurgency boys hate us, we’re cool.  Yes, our coolness factor is off the charts.

Want proof?  Take a look at Joe Bonamassa doing a little tune you may recognize, and doing it with a high degree of coolness.  This ain’t really like that three man band from Texas from whom he borrows this.  Nope.  Different sound, his own stuff.

Yep.  You get only the coolest from The Captain’s Journal, so this should be a regular stop for you on your way through the web every day.

Mullah Omar Orders Attacks on Civilians

BY Herschel Smith
4 years ago

From Voice of America:

Coalition officials in Afghanistan say they intercepted a message from Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, ordering his followers to never surrender and kill any civilians suspected of helping the coalition forces …

According to the spokesman for the NATO-led ISAF forces, General Josef Blotz, Mullah Omar sent the letter from his alleged Pakistani hideout to his fighters in Afghanistan.

Blotz says the letter encourages Taliban insurgents to fight coalition forces to the death without surrender or withdrawal, attempt to capture coalition forces whenever possible, recruit anyone with access to the coalition and work to get more heavy weapons.

He also says part of the new orders target Afghan civilians. “Capture and kill any Afghan who is supporting and/or working for coalition forces or the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.  Capture and kill any Afghan women who are helping or providing information to coalition forces,” he said.

Blotz says these new orders reverse Mullah Omar’s edict from last year to avoid civilian casualties. “This proves the Taliban are willing to ignore their own code of conduct when they sense that they are losing influence and control.  And make no mistake, that is what is happening as more Afghan National Security Forces take to the streets and more ISAF forces arrive to assist them,” he said.

It’s doubtful that Mullah Omar has ordered the deaths of cooperating civilians because he thinks he is losing.  On the contrary, he isn’t worried about hearts and minds.  They have the initiative, and their campaign of terror has worked.  Consider a recent entry during a patrol from Bill Ardolino who is embedded with the Marines in the Musa Qala district.

As the Marines and Afghan national security forces (ANSF) walked through the village, most of the locals paused what they were doing to watch the patrol with casual interest. Some children poked out from tiny metal doorways set in hardened mud walls to gawk or smile. Here and there, a local businessman or elder moved from under a thatched straw lean-to to greet the Afghan security personnel, usually followed by a handshake with the Marines. Within 20 minutes of navigating the narrow tan streets and alleys, the group broke the perimeter of the village, cutting eastward into the incongruous patch of vibrant green farmland that splits the sandy ridges and imposing mountains towering above the valley.

Their destination was a shura (conference) of village elders scheduled to take place at Panda Ridge, a Marine patrol base on the other side of the valley. The meeting’s topic was grim. The previous Saturday, on June 26, the Taliban detonated a buried roadside bomb amidst an American convoy traveling through a section of the village lining the opposite riverbank. No one was injured in the initial blast, but the insurgents set off a second bomb as Americans and villagers gathered to assess the damage. One Afghan boy was killed instantly, at least dozen villagers were wounded, some seriously, and two Marines were riddled with shrapnel, but will survive. Despite immediate aid rendered by a Navy corpsman and the quick arrival of a medevac helicopter on the dry riverbed, two more small children died on the operating table at Camp Bastion. Navy surgeons were able to save three others.

The aftermath of the explosion has presented a stiff challenge to Marine counterinsurgency efforts focused on protecting the population in Karamanda: villagers living closest to the blast have become wary of the Marines and Afghan government forces. Some protective parents on the western side of the wadi have now instructed their children to avoid the patrols.

The civilians are aligning not with the side who does the best at digging wells, providing schooling, doing governance, and engaging them in Shuras, but the side they believe will win.

Close Air Support of COP Kahler at Wanat

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

From the Wikileaks link for the defense of COP Kahler at Wanat (unfortunately, you must bear with the capital lettering, there is nothing I can do about it):

S: UKN A: SAF L: FRIENDLY: 42S XD 73985 80487 23:54 ROCKL: ENEMY: 42S XD 74488 80992 T: 12 2353 JULY 08 U: TF ROCK: C.CO R: SAF, 155MM TF ROCK REQUESTS CAS AND CCA ISO TIC 2358z: COP HAS RECEIVED EFFECTIVE SAF AND RPG ATT. ONE VEHICLE IS ON FIRE ATT. ALL PERSONNEL HAVE BEEN MOVE FROM THE VEHICLE. 0000z: COP KHALER HAS SUSTAINED 2XCASUALTIES ATT. 0004z UPDATE TO CASULATIES NOW HAVE 3XURGENT SURGICAL CASUALTIES. 0006z: AAF ARE LOCATED 100M WEST OF COP KAHLER. CURRENTLY ENGAGING WITH 155MM AND 120MM, CONTINUING TO RECEIVE EFFECTIVE SAF AND RPG 0014Z BONE-23 ON STATION 0016z: COP KAHLER IS CONTINUING TO RECIEVE EFFECTIVE SAF AND RPG. OP KAHLER IS UNDER EFFECTIVE SAF AND RPG. 0022Z DUDE-27 ON STATION 0024z: COP KHALER HAS A TOTAL OF 9 CASUALTIES ATT. STILL RECEIVING EFFECTIVE SAF. 0028Z SIJAM DEVIRTED 0029z: AAF ARE MANUVERING IVO OP KHALER. AAF ARE VERY CLOSE TO THE WIRE OF COP KHALER. AAF CONTINUING TO ENGAGE WITH EFFECTIVE SAF AND RPG. 0035z: CAS IS PREPAIRING TO REATTACK CAS TGT A. 0048Z DUDE-15 ENROUTE 0053z: COP KHALER IS RECEIVING SPORADIC SAF ATT. CCA CURRERNTLY MOVING INTO THE VALLEY ATT. 0056Z BONE-23 DROPPED 3xGBU-38s 0100z: CAS (DUDE-27) IS PREPAIRING TO CONDUCT A SHOW OF FORCE IN THE VALLEY. 0102Z CASEVAC AND SWT (2x OH-58 WEAPONS TEAM) PERPARING TO LAUNCH 0103z; CAS (DUDE-27) HAS COMPLETED SOF ATT. 0104z: MEDEVAC IS CURERNTLY INBOUND ATT TO COP KAHER FOR 1ST LIFT. 0108Z W/U JBAD ENROUTE TO COP KAHLER 0113Z BONE-23 DROPPED 1xGBU-38s 0122z: WILL UTILIZE THE OH’S TO ESCORT MEDEVAC A/C AND WILL CONTINUE TO USE AH’S TO SUPPORT COP KHALER. 0123z: AAF ARE CURRENTLY LOCATE WITHIN 400M TO THE WEST OF THE OP. CONTINUING TO UTILIZE AH’S ISO COP KAHLER. 0125z: MEDEVAC IS CURERNTLY W/D AT COP KAHLER ATT FOR FIRST LIFT. 0128z: ABLE COMPANY IS CURENTLY ENROUTE TO RE-ENFORCE COP KHALER ATT. 0138z: CHOSEN QRF HAS ARRIVED AT COP KHALER ATT. ABLE CO QRF WILL MOVE DIRECTLY TO COP KAHLER IOT RE-ENFORCE COP KHALER. 0152z: INTEL REPORTS HAVE INDICATED AN IED THREAT IN THE WANAT VALLEY IVO 42S XD 744 795 AND 42S XD 746 776. 0157z CASEVAC A/C ARE CURRENTLY W/D COP KHALER ATT. ABLE CO QRF IN MOVING INTO WANAT VALLEY ATT. 0203z: COP KHALER IS STILL RECEIVING SAF AND RPG’S ATT. 0215Z DUDE-27 ENGAGED ENEMY TARGETS WITH 1xGBU-31 0234z: CAS IS CURERNTLY ENGAGING CAS TGT. CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO-20. 0235Z DUDE-27 HAD DROPPED 4xGBU-38′s 0302Z HARDLUCK (2xAH-64′S) W/U BAF ENROUTE TO COP KHALER 0312Z DUDE-27 HAD DROPPED 1xGBU-31 0324z: UPDATE FOR COP KHALER: AAF IN WANAT ENGAGED COP KAHLER AND THE HEDGEROW ELEMENT FROM THE NORTH SIDE OF THE WANAT BAZAAR, THE MOSQUE, AND FROM DWELLINGS IN PROXIMITY OF THE COP. THE AAF MOVED THROUGH THE POPULATION. GOV WAHIDI (KONAR GOV) HAS ALREADY BEEN NOTIFIED AND DOING HIS OWN PRESS RELEASE. 0324z: COP KHALER OP IS RECEIVING EFFFECTIVE PKM ATT/CURERNTLY HAVE AN ADDITIONAL 3XWIA AT THE OP. 0327Z: D/O ELEMENT IS CURRENTLY ENROUTE ITO P/U ADDITIONAL CASULTIES. ~ 0355z: (AWT:HL76/74) LINKED UP WITH MEDEVAC (DO36/34) EN ROUTE TO FOB BLESSING. 0356z: CAS (B-1:BE11) CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 PREPARING TO ENGAGE CAS TGT M. 0410z: ABLE 6 LINKED UP WITH CHOSEN 6, CONDUCTING RECONSOLIDATION, REORGANIZATION, AND EMPLACING SECURITY. 0413z: CCA (AWT:HL76/74) ON STATION CONTROLLED BY CHOSEN 6. 0415z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 PREPARING TO ENGAGE CAS TGT L, CAS TGT O, AND CAS TGT P. 0434z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 PREPARING TO ENGAGE CAS TGT J AND CAS TGT K. 0452z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 PREPARING TO ENGAGE CAS TGT R AND CAS TGT S. 0530z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 ENGAGING CAS TGT Q AND CAS TGT Q.1 0549z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 PREPARING TO ENGAGE CAS TGT T AND CAS TGT V. 0600z: C6 REPORTS LRAS AND ITAS DESTROYED IN THE ATTACK, NO GBISR AVAILABLE AT COP KAHLER. 0607z: CAS RIP- CAS (A-10:HG53) ON STATION CONTROLLED BY VINO 20. 0642z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 ENGAGING HG TGT A. 0645z: CCA (AWT:HR50/53) ON STATION CONTROLLED BY C6. 0658z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 ENGAGING HG TGT B 0758z: PREDATOR OBSERVES THREE AAF MOVING EAST IVO XD 779 837. 0815z: PREDATOR PREPARING TO ENGAGE THREE AAF IVO XD 779 837 WITH HELLFIRE. 0821z: PREDATOR ENGAGED WITH HELLFIRE. CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 24 PREPARING FOR RE-ATTACK. 0855z: REINFORCEMENT ACFT W/D COP KAHLER. 0903z: (AWT:HL74/76) ON STATION ISO COP KAHLER. 0940z: CURRENT FORCE AT COP KAHLER: 43 CHOSEN PAX 30 ABLE PAX 4 LLVI PAX 17 BATTLE PAX 5 ENGINEERS 1 THT 2 MEDICS 3 ETT 3 TERP 19 ANA 1130z: ROCK TAC(-) W/D COP KAHLER 1226z: PREDATOR, WARRIOR-A, AND CAS OBSERVING TWO PERSONNEL MANEUVERING IVO XD 742 792. 1442z: PREDATOR IDENTIFIED THREE PERSONNEL CARRYING EQUIPMENT IVO XD 7924 8248. 1448Z PT67(299) PT72(595) (WANAT RE-SUPPLY) W/U BLE ENROUTE COP KAHLER ~ 1555z: B-36 PID 2 AAF PAX MANUVERING INTO A FIGHTING POSITION LOCATED NORTH-WEST OF B-36 POSITION. CURRENTLY ENGAGING PID AAF PAX WITH SAF AND CCA IS MOVING TO B-36 POSITION ATT. 1559z: CCA IS CURRENTLY ENGAGING PID AAF PAX ATT. 1612z: LOCATION FOR PID AAF 42S XD 7424 8054. 1651z: TWO NEW INTEL EFFORTS HAVE BEEN MADE.ONE REFERENCES ICOM TRAFFIC AND THE OTHER IS A THREAT REPORT FOR COP KHALER. 1757z: AFGHAN COMMANDOS ARE CURERNTLY BEGINING CLEARENCE OPERATIONS OF DRAWS AROUND COP KHALER. 1846zCAS(SLASHER) HAS CHECKED ON STATION ATT. 1921:z BAJA (F-18) HAS REPORTED THEY HAVE RECEIVED SOME TYPE OF S/A FIRE THAT ORIGINATED 6 KILOMETERS TO WEST COP KHALER IN THE HIGH GROUND. 2121z: SLASHER HAS SPOTTED 4XPAX MOVING IVO 42S XD 778 807. CONTINUING TO OBS PAX ATT. 2147z:SLASHER IS STILL OBSERVING PAX. PAX ARE MOVING IN A MILITARY TYPE(STYLE) OF FORMATION. 2152z: SLASHER IS PREPAIRING TO ENGAGE PID AAF PAX. PID HAS BE EN DETERMINED BY PATTERNS OF LIFE IN THE AREA, PAX ARE MOVING IN ENGAGEMENT AREA AND PAX ARE TRYING TO AVOID CF A/C. 2156z: SLASHER IS ENGAGING PID AAF PAX ATT. 2201z: CCA IS MOVING INTO SLASHER ENGAGMENT AREA ATT. 2315Z: COP KHALER IS CURENTLY CONDUCTING STAND-2 ATT. 0110z:COP KHALER HAS BEEN REC EIVING INCREASED ICOM CHATTER. MAJORITY OF ICOM CHATTER IS IN NURISTANI AND UNABLE TO BE TRANSLATED. 0214z: AFGHAN COMMANDOS ARE CURRENTLY CLEARING HOUSES AND STRUCTURES TO THE NORTH AND SOUTH. MULTIPLE AK-47′S AND BLASTING CAPS HAVE BEEN FOUND FROM THE SEARCHES. IT APPEARS THE AAF USED A LARGE HOUSE TO STAGE FROM FOR THE ATTACK. 0226z:PRED CURENTLY HAS EYES ON 8XPAX MOVING IVO 42S XD 80070 82425. ~ 0350z: SUB-EFFORTS WILL BE USED FROM THIS POINT FORWARD.

There is more at the link.  Note that at 0100 Zulu time, CAS (Close Air Support) DUDE-27 (call sign) prepared to conduct a show of force within the valley.  DUDE-27 later attacked with GBU-31 (see 0215 hours Zulu), or in other words, a JDAM.  This show of force was conducted after COP Kahler had taken nine casualties, was receiving heavy incoming fire, and had stated that the AAF (Anti-Afghan Forces) were “very close” to the wire.

I find it simply remarkable that CAS was conducting a show of force with casualties being sustained.  It had been stated that AAF were maneuvering IVO (in the vicinity of) COP Kahler 32 minutes prior to the decision to conduct a show of force.  DUDE-27 didn’t deploy its JDAMS then.  DUDE-27 conducted a show of force.  Perhaps there is an explanation, and if so, I am willing to post it.  Until then, this is simply remarkable.  Just remarkable.  A show of force.

Wikileaks and the Afghanistan War Diary

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

By now it isn’t news that Wikileaks has leaked tens of thousands of war records in what they call the Afghanistan War Diary.  It consists of a catalog of thousands of daily incident reports (each incident of an IED, contact with the enemy, casualties, etc., is summarized in an incident report).  The reports make for a choppy and stilted read, but for those who are willing to endure it, there is information here and there that compromises operational security.  Joshua Foust points out that the names of certain collaborators are in these reports, but that likely doesn’t matter to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.  All of the information is classified and it should not have been released.

But it has been, and having spent some time now examining these reports, there are a few things that can be gleaned from them concerning specific operations and engagements.  For example, C. J. Chivers adds to the context concerning the battle for Combat Outpost Keating in the Kamdesh District of the Nuristan province.  I went immediately to the incident report for the Battle of Wanat, and I will be making some observations concerning this engagement based on the incident report from Wikileaks.  Neither Chivers’ observations nor mine (forthcoming on Wanat) fundamentally changes what I know or think about the campaign.

There is more, however.  Why were these reports released?  I couldn’t help but yawn as I read through many hundreds of them.  For the person who has been even marginally aware of happenings in the campaign, not much comes as a surprise.  As I read through many of them, I recall thinking, “Yes, I remember this.  I discussed it (on the record) with Major Cliff Gilmore,” or “I learned absolutely nothing from this report,” or “I wrote about this eight months ago.”  The catalog is not the treasure trove of war crimes that it is made out to be.  Far from it.

Richard Norton-Taylor with The Guardian waxes breathless on what he wishes to be the case.

More than a decade ago, when the cold war was well and truly over, American and British strategists began to celebrate what they called a “revolution in military affairs”. Information technology and “precision weapons”, products of the microchip, would lead to a new, western, way of warfare. Public opinion, it was said, would no longer tolerate civilian or military casualties.

The logs we publish today, a detailed chronicle of a violent conflict that has lasted longer than the Vietnam war, longer than the two world wars, shatter the illusion that conflicts could be meticulously planned and executed, and the assumption that bloodshed would be acceptable only in very limited quantities.

They demonstrate, too, that despite the opportunities provided by new technology, media groups with a global reach still cannot offer their public more than sporadic accounts of the most visible and controversial incidents, and glimpses of the background.

That is what government officials and military commanders have been saying for years and what they continue to say. The reality, as the logs show, is very different. They provide unprecedented insight, through the wood and the trees, painting a picture, via a myriad micro-episodes, of brutality, cynicism, fear, panic, false alarms and the killing of a large number of civilians – many more than of foreign troops or insurgents – by all sides in the conflict. And, inevitably, “friendly fire”. It is a story of deep-seated corruption by senior members of the Afghan police, of black operations by coalition special forces engaged in assassinations of dubious legality, of spies, and of unmanned but armed drones controlled by “pilots”, including private contractors, sitting in front of computers thousands of miles away in air-conditioned rooms in the Nevada desert.

It creates an illusion of war games isolating the drones’ controllers, national military commanders and politicians in their offices in London or Washington from the real violence and confusion on the ground in Afghanistan.

[ ... ]

The Taliban-led insurgents soon realised they were on a hiding to nothing when four years ago they first engaged British, US (though few of those were so exposed at the time) and other foreign troops in open gun battles. They adapted their tactics and their weaponry, resorting to increasingly powerful improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which are now responsible for well over half of the deaths and serious injuries to foreign troops in Afghanistan. There are increasing signs, however, that insurgents, growing more confident, are reverting to rifles, putting more pressure on foreign soldiers by shooting at them from a distance.

According to the logs, special forces have killed “high value” targets without any attempt to capture them. The records say that British soldiers killed or wounded civilians on occasions by firing “warning shots”. They describe how US forces have killed British troops and Afghan forces by mistake, and how Afghan soldiers have killed their comrades by accident. They describe the difficulty in promoting “hearts and minds”, in dampening suspicions in a country where central government and its officials, let alone foreign forces, are distrusted, and where tribal loyalties and ethnic divisions cross internal administrative boundaries.

Military and government spokesmen may have covered up, misled, simply been ignorant of what was taking place. This is why the publication of the logs are so important.

Military commanders and officials no longer try to maintain the fiction which they were tempted to not so long ago. They came to admit that the war in Afghanistan is messy. The logs reveal just how messy it really is.

The ANP is corrupt.  Is this news?  So General McChrystal pressed SOF hits on high value targets.  Anyone who has followed the war knows this, and I have argued against this tactic as inefficient and ineffective, and favored alignment of SOF with infantry and in contact with the population.  This is a well worn debate, not something new and unique.  There is no news here.  So Pakistan’s ISI is complicit in assistance to the Taliban and even supportive of incidents within Afghanistan itself.  Who doesn’t already know this?  Again, there are unintended casualties in counterinsurgency campaigns.  Is this really a surprise to anyone?  War is messy.  Did the British think otherwise?

The Guardian knows better, as does Julian Assange who defends his work by noting the “real nature of this war” and the need to hold those in power accountable.  To anyone with a computer, some time and a little interest, none of this is news.  The folks at the Guardian are either stupid (believing that war is bloodless) or they are lying (having followed the body count just like I have).  Furthermore, they are either poor countrymen, holding that counterinsurgency is worth it as long as they sacrifice their own and no Afghans are killed, or ignorant, knowing nothing about the necessity to fight and kill the enemy.

The editors of the Guardian are not stupid or ignorant.  They are ideologically motivated, just like Julian Assange.  The embarrassing part for both of them is that, having admitted that “despite the opportunities provided by new technology, media groups with a global reach still cannot offer their public more than sporadic accounts of the most visible and controversial incidents, and glimpses of the background,” the literate among us know better.  The media is preening and polishing their moral credentials.  They shouldn’t be.  More than anything else, this is a story about letting ideology get in the way of reporting, and about the failure of that same media to do the basic job of compiling information and analyzing it.

Nawa, Marjah and Kandahar: A Tale of Three Cities

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

Rajiv Chandrasekaran with The Washington Post addresses the question why counterinsurgency works in some places but not others.

MARJA, AFGHANISTAN — The distance from here to success is only 15 miles.

There, in the community of Nawa, a comprehensive U.S. civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy has achieved what seems to be a miracle cure. Most Taliban fighters have retreated. The district center is so quiescent that U.S. Marines regularly walk around without their body armor and helmets. The local economy is so prosperous, fueled by more than $10 million in American agriculture aid, that the main bazaar has never been busier. Now for sale: shiny, Chinese-made motorcycles and mobile phones. There’s even a new ice cream shop.

But here in Marja, the same counterinsurgency strategy has not suppressed the insurgent infection. Dozens of Taliban fighters have stayed in the area, and despite aggressive Marine operations to root them out, they have succeeded in seeding the roads with homemade bombs and sniping at patrols. The insurgent presence has foiled efforts to help and protect the civilian population: Taliban threats — and a few targeted murders — have dissuaded many residents from availing themselves of U.S. reconstruction assistance.

In my five trips to the area over the past year, Nawa has felt like progress, while Marja still feels like a war zone. Together, they illustrate the promise and limits of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and the central challenge facing the new U.S. and NATO commander in Kabul, Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Marja and Nawa have much in common. Both are home to about 80,000 people, almost all of them ethnic Pashtuns. Both are farming communities where opium-producing poppies have been the cash crop of choice. Both are socially conservative southern Afghan backwaters, where tribal chiefs hold sway and women are rarely seen in public, even in head-to-toe burqas.

Both were stricken by the Taliban insurgency four years ago. And over the past year, both have been treated with America’s new counterinsurgency formula: Each community has been flooded with U.S. Marines and Afghan security forces, at troop levels that meet or exceed what counterinsurgency theorists prescribe. Each has received a surge of cash and civilian experts in an effort to provide public services, rebuild infrastructure and dole out basic economic assistance. Each has been described as a priority by the central government in Kabul.

So why did all this work in one but not the other?

Rajiv then poses some answers from the ISAF, as well as a few of his own.

U.S. military officials contend that Marja needs more time to resemble Nawa. The Nawa operation began last July; efforts in Marja didn’t start until February. But when the Nawa campaign was five months old — where the Marja mission is now — the district was just as quiet as it is today. The improvements in Nawa occurred quickly, and they seem to have lasted.

By now, Marja was supposed to be a success story as well, demonstrating to a skeptical public in America and Afghanistan that countering the insurgency with more troops, more money and a new strategy could resuscitate a foundering war. Perhaps more important, counterinsurgency proponents in the Pentagon and the State Department hoped to use both towns to make the case to President Obama that counterinsurgency works in Afghanistan and that he should attenuate — or postpone outright — his planned drawdown of troops starting next July …

It is tempting, and perhaps fair, to view Marja as an outlier with unique tribal and geographic challenges. A patch of desert in Helmand province that was transformed into farmland by canals designed by American engineers in the 1950s, Marja was populated from scratch by the country’s late king with settlers from a variety of tribes. The rank and file moved to Marja, but the chiefs didn’t. This decades-old experiment in Afghan social engineering has now complicated efforts to find the same sorts of tribal leaders who influence the population in other Afghan communities. They simply don’t exist in Marja.

Although there were poppy fields and bomb facilities in Nawa, too, they did not match what existed in Marja; as a result, Nawa may have been easier for the Taliban to abandon. Timing further complicated the Marja mission. When the Marines landed in Nawa, last year’s poppy harvest was finished; they arrived in Marja two months before this year’s harvest. “Our presence in Marja created an economic catastrophe for the Taliban that led them to fight back,” said a senior Marine officer involved in both operations. “The guys in Nawa had a full belly when we showed up.”

Marja also served as a retreating ground for insurgents in Nawa who did not forsake the Taliban. It is only a short drive away. For insurgents in Marja, there’s no similar sanctuary. To the south and west, it’s open desert all the way to the borders with Pakistan and Iran. “For the Taliban, Marja was a case of fight, or drop your weapon and pretend you’re a civilian,” the officer said. “There was no place for them to go.”

Rajiv interviewed residents of Nawa who emphasized that the insurgents simply chose to flee Nawa, while they decided to stay and fight in Marjah.  He sums this point up by observing:

In that sense, the insurgents themselves possess the power to give us more Nawas. That may not mean Marja is a lost cause, but it does mean it will take much longer to achieve similar results.

Consider Garmsir, the district south of Nawa. It, too, was infested with insurgents, some of whom chose to stay and fight. The Marines arrived there in the summer of 2008 to begin counterinsurgency operations, and it was not until earlier this year — about 18 months later — that the area was deemed by Marine commanders to have been cleared of the Taliban. “Garmsir is a better model for what will happen in Marja,” the senior Marine officer said. “Nawa is the gold standard, not the example.”

By this point in his analysis, Rajiv has invoked geography, tribes (or lack thereof), lack of adequate forces, poppy, Taliban permission, and thirty year old social engineering experiments.  What is otherwise an interesting commentary becomes befuddled by lack of focus.  Moreover, the narrative on Garmsir is badly off.  The Marines of the 24th MEU did indeed show up in Garmsir in 2008, but after killing some 400 insurgents and bringing stability to Garmsir, they left and turned over to the British.  The notion that it took the U.S. Marines 18 months to secure Garmsir is just factually mistaken.

But Rajiv’s pointer to time is more to the point.  In the Anbar Province, Ramadi was heavily influenced by tribal affiliation and yet Fallujah was not.  Different tactics, techniques and procedures were used, but the Marines were successful in both instances.  Tribes are not necessary for the proper practice of counterinsurgency.  Every city, district, hamlet and township will be different, and the timing will vary, but the singular nexus between all of these locations and counterinsurgency is adequate time to properly conduct the campaign.

The British strongly believe in the idea of government in a box, or so I am told.  The U.S. Marines know better, and should have warned Generals McChrystal and Rodriguez that their “presto the magic COIN” ideas wouldn’t work, at least not on a timetable consistent with Obama’s targets for withdrawal.  But if we look confused in Helmand, Kandahar seems no better.

Security experts and officials said that a full-scale military encirclement and invasion – as American troops had done in Iraq’s Fallujah – was not an appropriate model to tackle the Taliban in the southern capital. All elements of the campaign were being adjusted in response to conditions encountered by the Nato-led coalition.

Gen Petraeus’s decision to revise the entire strategy comes just weeks after he arrived in Afghanistan following the abrupt dismissal of Gen Stanley McChrystal for insubordination.

Gen McChrystal had planned a summer conquest of the Taliban in Kandahar to reinvigorate the battle against the Taliban.

But the operation has been repeatedly delayed by concerns that it would not adequately restore the confidence of city residents in the security forces.

Gen Petraeus is reported to believe that the operation must be a broad-ranging counter-insurgency campaign, involving more troops working with local militias.

The plan he inherited was criticised for placing too much emphasis on targeted assassinations of key insurgent leaders and not enough on winning over local residents.

Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, rejected speculation that the Kandahar operation had been derailed during a visit to London but said that preparations were ongoing across a broad range of areas. He refused to subscribe to suggestions that the operation was being delayed but that efforts were being upgraded.

“Kandahar is not a military operation like Fallujah,” Mr Holbrooke said. “Its a different kind of thing. And with David Petraeus on the ground, he’s scrubbing it down, he’s looking at it again.“

Kandahar is no Fallujah, huh?  Holbrooke has no idea what he’s talking about, and he also has no idea what “kind of thing” awaits Kandahar.  The McChrystal plan for Kandahar wasn’t anything near the Marine conquest of Fallujah in operations Fajr or Alljah, and the comparison is clownish and ludicrous.  McChrystal had planned for a series of checkpoints to control entry and exit, with Afghan National Police aligning with troops, and with ANP taking the lead in all home entry and other operations.  There was never to be any “invasion” in McChrystal’s plan.

That he couldn’t get Karzai’s buy-in to the plan and that the population feared Taliban reprisal more than they trusted ISAF ability to defeat them, is the reason for the tactical pause, well known among troops in Afghanistan and almost unheard of stateside.  McChrystal’s plan would never have worked anyway.  The consummate SOF man, his plan relied too heavily on a program of high value target hits and arrests (as has his entire campaign in Afghanistan).

With the thugs and criminal gangs controlling Kandahar (led by Hamid Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai), it’s doubtful that a soft approach will work.  It’s also doubtful that Petraeus has enough troops to implement anything other than a soft approach.  Finally, it isn’t clear that Petraeus has enough time to implement any approach at all in Kandahar.  The tactical pause has wasted most of the summer months, and the end of the year (the target for showing progress in Afghanistan) is only half a year away.

Undisciplined Gun Play by ANA Troops

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

The CBS News article is titled Wild Gun Battle, but that doesn’t even begin to describe what this video depicts.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A frontline U.S. military base in southwest Afghanistan was the scene of a wild gun battle Saturday morning, initiated by Taliban insurgents against a private Afghan security convoy, but which quickly drew in Afghan National Army troops and U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division.

The gun battle lasted nearly an hour-and-a-half with Afghan National Army soldiers and armed contractors from the private Afghan security firm known as Compass, shooting light machines guns from the hip, Rambo-style and indiscriminately, across a wide open field where the initial Taliban attack began.

The fighting started when insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade into what appeared to be a large sports utility vehicle belonging to Compass. The destroyed vehicle was left burning about a quarter mile from the front gate of Forward Operating Base Howz-e-Madad, a rapidly expanding, U.S. military compound in the Zhari District of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

Compass, which is contracted to protect trucks transporting materials to U.S. military installations in the region, is routinely targeted by Taliban insurgents, even more so than U.S. and Afghan troops, according to Lt. Col. Peter Benchoff, commander of the 2-502nd, part of the 101st Airborne Division.

Because of the indiscriminate firing by both Compass security personnel and Afghan army soldiers, some of which in several instances nearly hit passing civilian vehicles, Benchoff, concerned about potential civilian casualties, sent a quick reaction force out of the base in heavily armored vehicles to try to diffuse the situation.

But when the base itself was targeted by the Taliban, U.S. soldiers had to return fire.

No American soldiers were killed or wounded in the attack, but at least one Compass contractor was injured.

I have written extensively on the Afghan National Army: the incompetence, the drug abuse, the undisciplined behavior, etc.  But the behavior is a good followup to that depicted below.

We are in the very best of hands when we turn over to the ANA on Obama’s time table.

White House Shifts Afghanistan Strategy Towards Talks with the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

From The Guardian (The report is fairly lengthy, but it’s important to read it all.  Stay tuned until the end for a very special surprise!):

The White House is revising its Afghanistan strategy to embrace the idea of negotiating with senior members of the Taliban through third parties – a policy to which it had previously been lukewarm.

Negotiating with the Taliban has long been advocated by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and the British and Pakistani governments, but resisted by Washington.

The Guardian has learned that while the American government is still officially resistant to the idea of talks with Taliban leaders, behind the scenes a shift is under way and Washington is encouraging Karzai to take a lead in such negotiations.

“There is a change of mindset in DC,” a senior official in Washington said. “There is no military solution. That means you have to find something else. There was something missing.”

That missing element was talks with the Taliban leadership, the official added.

Barack Obama, apparently frustrated at the way the war is going, has reminded his national security advisers that while he was on the election campaign trail in 2008, he had advocated talking to America’s enemies.

America is reviewing its Afghanistan policy which is due for completion in December, but officials in Washington, Kabul and Islamabad with knowledge of internal discussions said feelers had been put out to the Taliban. Negotiations would be conducted largely in secret, through a web of contacts, possibly involving Pakistan and Saudi Arabia or organisations with back-channel links to the Taliban.

“It will be messy and could take years,” said a diplomatic source.

Earlier this year Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, distinguished between “reintegration”, which the US supported, and “reconciliation” or negotiating with senior Taliban. Holbrooke said: “Let me be clear. There is no American involvement in any reconciliation process.”

The US has no agreed position on who among the leaders of the insurgency should be wooed and who would be beyond the pale. The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, would be a problem as he provided Osama bin Laden with bases before the 9/11 attacks.

The US would also find it problematic to deal with the Pakistan-based insurgents led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose group pioneered suicide attacks in Afghanistan. The third main element in the insurgency is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has hinted he is ready to break ranks.

A source with knowledge of the process said: “There is no agreed US position, but there is agreement that Karzai should lead on this. They would expect the Pakistanis to deliver the Haqqani network in any internal settlement.”

The US has laid down basic conditions for any group seeking negotiations. They are: end all ties to al-Qaida, end violence, and accept the Afghan constitution.

A senior Pakistani diplomat said: “The US needs to be negotiating with the Taliban; those Taliban with no links to al-Qaida. We need a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan, and it will have to be negotiated with all the parties.

“The Afghan government is already talking to all the shareholders‚ the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Mullah Omar. The Americans have been setting ridiculous preconditions for talks. You can’t lay down such preconditions when you are losing.”

Some Afghan policy specialists are sceptical about whether negotiations would succeed. Peter Bergen, a specialist on Afghanistan and al-Qaida, told a US Institute of Peace seminar in Washington last week that there were a host of problems with such a strategy, not least why the Taliban should enter negotiations “when they think they are winning”.

Audrey Kurth Cronin, a member of the US National War College faculty in Washington, and the author of How Terrorism Ends, said talks with Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network were pointless because there would be no negotiable terms.

She said there could be talks with Hekmatyar, but these would be conducted through back channels, potentially by a third party. Given his support for jihad, she said, “it would be unreasonable to expect the US and the UK to do so”.

Asked how Obama’s Afghan strategy was progressing, a senior former US government official familiar with the latest Pentagon thinking said: “In a word, poorly. We seriously need to be developing a revised plan of action that will allow us a chance to achieve sufficient security in a more sustainable manner.”

Officials have mentioned possible roles in negotiation for the UN and figures such as the veteran UN negotiator, the Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi, who heads, along with the retired US ambassador Thomas Pickering, a New York-based international panel which is looking at such a reconciliation.

Another name mentioned is Michael Semple, an Irishman based in Boston at Harvard’s Kennedy School who has extensive contacts with the Taliban.

Michael Semple?  Bwaaaaaahahahaha … gasp … Bwaaaaaaahahahahahaha … (gasp, tries to catch breath, snortle, gasp) … Bwaaaaaahahaha.  Remember Michael Semple’s involvement in Musa Qala?  Let’s rehearse just a bit.  Semple was expelled from Afghanistan for back-channel negotiations with supposed mid-level Taliban commanders in an attempt to cause an uprising against hard core Taliban back in late-2007 and early-2008.

He was negotiating with one Mullah Abdul Salaam.  He promised to bring the tribes along with him in his revolt against the Taliban, and retake Musa Qala from the Taliban without so much as a shot being fired.  In reality, he and a few of his men cried like little girls and ran for cover.

There was no uprising. When Afghan, British and US units closed in on Musa Qala last month, Mullah Salaam stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.

“He said that he would bring all the tribes with him but they never materialised,” recalled one British officer at the forefront of the operation. “Instead, all that happened was a series of increasingly fraught and frantic calls from him for help to Karzai.”

Instead of the peaceful, serene transition to a Taliban-free area, the battle for Musa Qala caused the loss of two NATO lives along with seven Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne being wounded.  Even after that, Musa Qala has been problematic, with the Taliban not going completely away.  The British are mostly hated around the Musa Qala area for the grand bargain, and are blamed for the lack of security.

Note the observations of the Pakistani diplomat.  We are “losing.”  We are losing because we lack a clear strategy, are looking for the exit, and lack the will to project force.  This strategy of reintegrating the Taliban is absurd because there is no reason to reintegrate if they are winning (or if they have the perception that they are).  Furthermore, none of the main actors mentioned in the report above are going to reintegrate or accept the conditions necessary for a government that is free of alignment with globalist Islamists.

This strategy is only further indication of the depths to which the morale of this administration has sunk.  That Michael Semple’s name has come up is a depressing landmark for the trail of confusion down which we are stumbling.  The desire to disengage from Afghanistan has become desperate, and this desperation will only further hurt military morale.  No one wants to die on the way out of a war.

Prior reading on Musa Qala:

One Kilometer Outside of Musa Qala

British Hated Because of Musa Qala

The Example of Musa Qala

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection

Update:

For more reading, Joshua Foust deals with Michael Semple in:

A Children’s Treasure of Worthless Experts

Talking About Negotiations First is Exactly Backwards

Update #2: Jules Crittenden finds himself in agreement with Taliban propaganda.  I think he’s right.

Marines on Patrol in Haditha

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

A photograph from 2005.

Good Counterinsurgency, Bad Counterinsurgency and Tribes

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

I linked and commented on Ralph Peters’ commentary Pick Your Tribes in Winning in Afghanistan, and since then so did the Small Wars Journal blog.  Indeed, there has been quite a discussion of late on the issue of tribal engagement as a solution to the insurgency in Afghanistan.  One commenter asks whether I support Peters’ rejection of the necessity to implement Western style government in Afghanistan.

I do not support the necessity of building Western style democracies in Afghanistan or anywhere else, but weighing in as an expert in the human and cultural terrain in Afghanistan would make a liar out of me.  The reader should consult the many writings of my friend Joshua Foust (his most recent discussion of the engagement of the tribes can be found here).  Christian Bleuer is also a wonderful resource.  I think it’s remarkably silly for folks to weigh in on human, cultural and anthropological terrain unless they are studied in that field.  I am not, and they are.  So don’t consult me on that issue.

My fundamental point was that understanding the exigencies of the human terrain is not a prerequisite for killing insurgents, and the initial stages of the campaign can be accomplished – in fact, must be accomplished – without reference to the human terrain.  Let me explain further.

I have weighed in before concerning The Anbar Narrative, in which I challenge (and reject out of hand) the populist myth that has been built up around the tribes in Anbar (while also acknowledging that the tribes were important in Ramadi).  Concerning Fallujah 2007, a part of the campaign with which I am familiar, I have written (among other things):

By early 2007 both foreign fighters and indigenous insurgents had been driven from Al Qaim, Ramadi and Haditha, and they had landed squarely in Fallujah.  When the 2/6 Marines arrived in Fallujah in April of 2007, they had to construct some of Forward Operating Base Reaper while laying on their backs and passing sand bags over their bodies (to eventually be used for walls) because of the constant fire coming their way.  The previous unit had begin patrolling only at night because of snipers, and because they didn’t own the daytime, IEDs controlled their night time patrols, thus relegating them to sitting in their FOBs for the last three weeks of their deployment awaiting relief.  The population was so allied with AQI that their children were sent out with black balloons to demarcate patrol locations so that insurgent mortars could target the U.S. Marines (even at grave risk to the children).

Operation Alljah was started, and the Marines went in hard (I am not linking the Wikipedia link on Operation Alljah because of know with certainty that much of the data is simply erroneous or mistaken and incomplete.  The link is essentially worthless).  HMMWVs with loud speakers were deployed to every Mosque in the city bellowing U.S. positions and propaganda.  Heavy and aggressive patrols were conducted, and heavy fires were employed any time any insurgent used weapons against the Marines, including everything from fire team and squad level weapons to combined arms.

Policing of the population was aggressive, ubiquitous and around the clock.  In order to address the vehicle-borne IED problem, the use of automobiles was prohibited within Fallujah proper until such time as security was established.  Concrete barricades were set up throughout the city, and census data was taken on the entire population, much of it at night so that the population was awakened to Marine presence in their homes.

Many local insurgents were killed, and also even more foreign fighters.  Insurgents from Chechnya, men with skin “as black as night,” and even “men with slanted eyes” were killed in Fallujah in the summer of 2007.  The city was locked down and the atmosphere made very uncomfortable for the population – until, that is, they began cooperating with the U.S. Marines Corps.  I know many more things that I simply cannot share concerning this operation, but things that I have communicated to Colonel Gian Gentile …

I am not at liberty to discuss the balance of the TTPs employed by the Marines in Fallujah 2007.  But if you think that I am over-reaching, consider Schmedlap’s comments (while not specific to Anbar, still representative of the reality versus the myth that has developed around the campaign in Iraq).

One thing that I think many people forget about Iraq (or maybe it wasn’t reported?) is that in 2007 and 2008 we were killing and capturing lots of people on a nightly basis. Protecting the populace was A priority. When speaking to the folks back home, in order to sell the war, perhaps we said that it was the priority. But on the ground, I do not recall a single Commander’s Update Brief spending any time at all discussing what we had done to protect anyone. We were focused on punching al-Qaeda in the nuts at every opportunity and dismantling their networks. The reconcilables got the message loud and clear that they could take money and jobs in return for cooperation, or they would die a swift death when we came knocking down their doors in the middle of the night. The rest of the populace made it clear to them that they should take the offer. The only protection that the population got from us was good fire discipline so that we did not kill non-combatants. We made it clear that the government intended to win this thing and we did not send that message by delivering governance or digging wells. We shot motherf******s in the face.  Pop-COIN blasphemers, your scripture is false teaching. Here is some truth:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; – Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (KJV)

It’s time to kill.

Who wins in the long run is something the Afghans themselves will have to work out.  We shouldn’t be siding with anyone right now.  All politics is local, and in Fallujah 2007, the ISF was told to go home.  They weren’ wanted, weren’t needed, and weren’t welcome.  The Marines didn’t trust them, and only slept around them with a Marine awake and standing duty, along with concertina wire between Marines and ISF.  On the other hand, the Marines worked seamlessly with the IPs.

I have exchanged e-mail with Tom Ricks, one of the priests of COIN, who also sees every event in Iraq as proof that AQ is coming back and Iraq is falling apart, explaining that Fallujah will never again accept AQ in their city.  Maybe the Diyala Province, maybe Mosul, but not Fallujah.  The IPs won’t allow it to happen.  It’s a local thing, and you would just have to know what the 2/6 Marines set into motion in order to understand why AQ can never go back there.  Ever.

Speaking of local, Tim Lynch explains for us in simple yet elegant terms what’s so problematic with this policy of engagement.

This “inspired” idea of using locals to provide security will fail because nobody responsible for it will get off the FOB to provide daily detailed supervision. I can’t stress enough the importance of daily, full time, supervision. The Skipper’s EOD program works because he provides daily, detailed supervision, while EOD programs elsewhere in the country languish.  CPT America is re-building the entire Provincial irrigation system because he provides daily, detailed supervision, while the same projects elsewhere in the country barely break ground.  If we can’t get the various government agencies to operate off of the FOB then there is only one viable option. Armed, outside the wire, experienced, contractors.

I just don’t know how else to say it.  There are some in Afghanistan who are doing COIN.  The boys in the Korengal Valley did (they are gone now, unfortunately).  The Marines in Helmand are.  But confinement to FOBs is death to the campaign.  And that means the “special” SOF boys who ride helicopters to direct action kinetics for the night, and then back to the FOB for a warm meal and a bed for the night.  They aren’t contributing to the campaign.  They are a drain and drag on the national treasury. Period.  The Marines in Fallujah in 2007 spent weeks at a time in distributed operations, in units as small as a fire team, embedded with IPs at local Police Precincts, killing insurgents, taking note of the human terrain, and ensuring that their AO was locked down.  The SOF needs to figure out a way to contribute like this.

Tim is also in the news in The Star for recommending just such a program.  Go read it.  Now, as for a good example of COIN, The New York Times had just such a gem.

American troops in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province called in a helicopter strike against Taliban fighters who ambushed them here Tuesday night, killing several. The missile strike narrowly avoided doing serious damage to a mosque where some of the fighters were hiding, underlining both the risks and the potential benefits of using air power to support ground troops.

Under rules of engagement strictly enforced by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal that have provoked resentment among troops, American forces are required to exercise extreme caution when calling in airstrikes, and generally avoid mosques entirely. But in this case, American commanders defended the action, saying that they believed no civilians had been killed and that there was no way of knowing the building was a mosque.

If Afghanistan is getting a reputation as a war in which the “soft” side of counterinsurgency is driving out the use of force — and that is certainly the perception among some soldiers in the south — this is an instance of the “hard” side being brought to bear in the way familiar to any officer who fought in Iraq during the surge.

The American patrol set out from a base in Yahya Khel district center at 6 p.m. Tuesday, planning to provoke a fight with a team of Taliban sharpshooters suspected to be operating around the village of Palau. The troops, from Angel Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, dropped off a team at a small Afghan army outpost and then moved by foot toward the village.

Just before dusk, the patrol was ambushed, not by the expected long-range marksmen, but by a team of gunmen who attacked with rifles and grenades from as close as 50 feet away. Two American soldiers were wounded. Half an hour later, at the outpost, Angel Company’s commander, Capt. Joshua Powers, received permission over the radio from Col. David Fivecoat, the battalion commander, to call in fire from attack helicopters. The pilots had watched a group of fighters move from the area of the gun battle to a courtyard in a small village north of Palau. They told Captain Powers that they could make out a machine gun and several rifles. At 8:38 p.m., one of the helicopters fired a Hellfire missile into the cluster, then shot another man who was on the roof of the building abutting the courtyard. Over the next half hour the helicopters attacked two more groups of suspected fighters in the area with cannon fire.

In the dark, Angel Company walked north from the outpost to assess the damage. In the courtyard, the corpses of two men were illuminated by burning weapons and motorcycles. While his medic tended to a third man, severely wounded and clad in camouflage, Captain Powers radioed his battalion with bad news: The building by the courtyard was a mosque. The pilots had not known, since no loudspeakers were visible and identifying writing was visible only from the ground. There was shrapnel damage to the walls, and the roof had a hole in it from cannon rounds.

The patrol, along with a group of Afghan soldiers and their commander, Lt. Col. Mir Wais, stayed the night outside the mosque. The Taliban would undoubtedly claim that civilians had been killed, Captain Powers explained, and he wanted to be there when the villagers woke up to show them the weapons and combat gear. “If we hold this ground, we can show them the evidence right away,” he said. “The first story is usually the one that sticks.”

The pilots thought they had killed half a dozen fighters at a second site the helicopters had attacked, but the bodies were already gone when the patrol arrived. Captain Powers acknowledged that this meant there was no way to know for sure whether civilians had been killed, but thought it unlikely: the site was secluded, and among charred motorcycles there were rocket-propelled grenades and camouflage vests with rifle magazines. At the first site, all four bodies — the two in the courtyard, the one on the roof, and the wounded man, who later died — wore camouflage fatigues and similar vests, containing grenades, ammunition, makeshift handcuffs and a manual on making homemade explosives.

Around 5 a.m., the men of the village started to congregate by the mosque. Captain Powers and Colonel Mir Wais addressed them, telling their story of what had happened. The men complained that the strike had frightened their wives and children and damaged the mosque, and that they were trapped between the pressures of the Americans and the Taliban. But they did not suggest that any residents of the village had been wounded or killed, and did not claim the bodies. Later in the morning, the district subgovernor, Ali Muhammad, described the night’s events to citizens gathered in the Yahya Khel bazaar. He also signed, along with Captain Powers, a letter about the attack  that would be distributed in the area after dark: a counterpoint to the Taliban’s infamous “night letters.”

The same people who ordered the strike were there to explain it in the morning, just as I suggested should happen.  The same people who fight by night are there for the locals to look at in the morning.  And look into their eyes.  If they see cut and run, they will side with the insurgents, or someone else, whomever that may be.  If they see victory and determination, they will side with the stronger horse.  We need to be the stronger horse.  Understanding the tribes, people, human terrain and other complicated aspects of the culture can come next.  In a tip of the hat to a withdrawal deadline, we are trying to get the cart before the horse.

Force projection … force projection … force projection.  It comes first.

Update:

I appreciate the attention given to this article at the U.S. Army’s site Stand-To.  A screen shot (with MWSnap) is shown below.

Winning in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

Ralph Peters penned a piece entitle Pick Your Tribes with the New York Post.  But more on Ralph’s views in a minute.  In our walkabout today, let’s first visit Bruce Rolston.  Contrasts and compares, he does.

Two respected Afghan bloggers, talking past each other. MK at the Inkspots, arguing for focussing (sic) on improving local justice systems instead of services:

Despite knowing this, and nearly a decade into the effort, we still struggle to set up even the simplest credible dispute resolution mechanisms. I don’t mean an elaborate and fully developed national justice system: I mean local adjudicative bodies that have local legitimacy that need to be backed by our (or where, possible, GIRoA) firepower to enforce their decisions and protect them from being assassinated.

This isn’t to suggest that military control of territory and population, building effective local security forces, or tackling corruption aren’t just as important (or more, depending phase of operations in a given area). But it seems that as we’ve come to realize that development assistance is of limited utility in winning Afghans over to our side, we’re a bit stymied as to what ‘effective governance’ means in concrete terms. Seems like solving local land disputes would be an excellent place to start.

In the other corner, Tim Lynch on staying away from dispute resolution and focussing on services instead:

The local people have every right to upset about the performance of the government in Kabul. But they have no interest in seeing any kind of central government which is strong enough to meddle in their affairs. An example, Afghans will go to great lengths to avoid having their problems brought into the legal system. Regardless of the crime be it murder or little boys stealing apples from a neighbor the Afghans know how to handle it and feel personally disgraced when the authorities step in to apply the rule of law. Their family business them becomes public and their problems known to people outside their clan which brings disgrace upon the sons of the family. They are going to bitch about the central government no matter who is in charge and how effective it becomes. The best we can do is concentrate on making regional government functional at basic things like irrigation, sanitation, health care delivery and other municipal services.

I’ll side with Tim any day, and I don’t think it’s so much a matter of talking past each other as it is they simply have different views.  We don’t all have to agree all of the time.  We’ll come back to this in a moment in our walkabout.  Next, let’s visit Bruce’s discussion of Kandahar in its present state.

Carl Forsberg and the Kagans sort out the tangle of armed Afghans working in and around Kandahar, and how the Karzai clan continues to tighten their grip independent of official government forces in the area.

The formation of a powerful conglomerate of PSCs under the political control of local powerbrokers like Ahmed Wali Karzai would undermine the long-term stability of southern Afghanistan and the strength of Afghanistan’s legitimate security institutions. There is a very real risk that these institutions will be relied on by the Karzais and their allies as the guarantors of Kandahar’s security. If the Kandahar Security Company were in fact to grow to 2,500 armed men as Ruhullah suggests (and this is certainly feasible) it would be more than twice the current size of the Afghan Uniformed Police in Kandahar, and would exceed the size of the expanded police force that ISAF and the MOI are planning to add to the city.

Ah.  There we see the thug and criminal Ahmed Wali Karzai again.  Recall next in our walkabout that I have discussed this bastard before.

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.

Ah.  There is the issue of prisons, one that has proven problematic just as I said it would.  And Ahmed Karzai is someone to be marginalized, and whose fighters must be disarmed or killed.  Now for the home stretch in our walkabout.  Ralph Peters has some observations concerning picking tribes and exploiting the existing culture that may interest you.  But as I said above, I will side with Tim before anyone.  Ralph and I don’t always agree on everything, but I want to pick up on a few points he made.

Aid those already on your side, not your enemies: Our attempts to bribe our enemies with wells, make-work and welfare are doomed to failure. Reward your allies with aid projects; let the hostiles envy them — and figure it out on their own.

Unconditional aid to tribesmen who just want your butt gone won’t buy you lasting gratitude (that rarest human sentiment). Your generosity’s read as weakness, not goodness.

Which leads us to:

Your enemies must seek negotiations first: Olive branches are worthless against fanatics convinced they can win. If negotiations are to play a role, it can only be after you’ve pounded the insurgents so ferociously that they seek talks. If you move first, it’s read as desperation. Your enemies will act accordingly.

Finally, recall my warnings:

We can revert to the softer side of counterinsurgency if all of this seems too barbaric.  We can run from fights with the insurgents, we can continue to pour tens of millions of dollars into a failing and corrupt system, and we can continue to prop up a parasitic government.  But in the end, we must count the costs in lives, lost limbs, lost reputation, and national wealth.

Mark my words, do it clearly, and do it now.  We will go in and stay in as the strong horse, and we will force the conclusion that suits our interest, or we will lose the campaign.  If this is too brutal for some, then withdraw, but don’t send our warriors on a fool’s errand.  The leftist web sites will call me a war mongering, barbaric brute and sociopath who wants our Soldiers to violate the rules of war.  All manner of venom may come my way.  I don’t care.  I really don’t care.

Rarely are things so clear cut and measurable by metrics as this.  Again, count the costs.  Start now, and keep the data.  Count the men who die, the men who lose arms, legs, hearing and brain function due to IEDs, and take measure of the situation in Kandahar in the future (how “legitimate” is the government after our costly efforts in Kandahar?).  I will be proven right or wrong, but the best thing about putting prose down on paper is that it can be judged in the future.

Has Ralph been reading The Captain’s Journal?  Our current COIN strategy closely follows our international policy as of late.  Heap praise and largesse on your enemies, and pour derision and scorn on your “friends.”  This is exactly backwards.  Force projection requires that the hard aspects of COIN take place first, and the enemy will want to befriend you.  Don’t ever be first out of the gate to do this.  This is the way it works.  Any attempt to speed up or circumvent the process by making it seem more gentle and cultured than it really is will redound to defeat.  The tribes are a necessary but secondary aspect of the campaign.  Force projection comes first.


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