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]

Iraq, Obama and The Surge

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

Obama has now announced the end of combat operations in Iraq.  But following plans set in motion even before Obama took office, troop reductions are occurring as fast as the logisticians are allowing.  Logistics dictates such things regardless of promises made during election campaigns.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs pretended today that Obama supported the surge – the increase in troop presence – in 2007.


But forever cataloged for us is what Obama said about the surge when it really counted.

Matthew Burden at Blackfive notes that there has been robust debate over exactly what happened in Iraq.

Many deserve credit for today.  Among them are many who won’t hear the President’s speech.

Today should be Travis Patriquin Day.  If you don’t know about Travis, go here to read why there is a town square named after him in one of the most (formerly) dangerous cities in Iraq.  There are a lot of debates about whether it was the Sunni awakening, the Marines tactics, General Petraeus’ strategy, McMaster in Tal Afar, etc. for the turn around in Iraq.

But you can’t really debate what Patriquin did.  He was the ignition switch.

I would be in that camp that argues for the Marine tactics being the necessary and sufficient root cause of the success in Anbar (even though the campaign would have been longer and bloodier without the tribes).  But I would also give a moderately different take on what Matt calls the “ignition switch.”  While acknowledging Patriquin’s service and sacrifice, I am told by Army intelligence that the ignition switch for the tribal evolution away from support to AQ was in no small part our kinetic operations against the smuggling lines of Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, even killing members of his extended family.  He sided with us in order to keep from losing everything.

I have been told by officers as high as Colonel (unnamed, in Iraq at the time) that the plan General Petraeus took to Iraq was dead on arrival because the logistics officers told him it was impossible.  His genius was in his ability to quickly amend his plan.  But as Colonel Gian Gentile and I have discussed, the success of the radical shift in strategy Petraeus brought to Iraq is the populist narrative.  Many or even most of the things done in 2007 were being done prior to that, especially in the Anbar Province.

But what’s significant about the surge is the increase in troop levels.  While al Qaeda fighters were being killed and chased from the Anbar Province, when they attempted to flee to Baghdad they found a heavy U.S. troop presence to greet them.  Instead, they had to flee North to Mosul (with some to the Diyala Province), leaving the seat of power in place in Baghdad.  What I have never heard since the surge is any respectable officer or NCO argue for fewer troops or claim that the additional troops didn’t help.  Whatever else one believes about what did or didn’t occur in Iraq, no one with any intellectual weight or notoriety claims that the additional troops were a detriment to the campaign.

Yet even as recently as two years ago (one year after the surge), Obama adviser Professor Colin Kahl was arguing against the virtues of the surge and for an early withdrawal from Iraq.  And while Secretary Gates warns against premature victory celebrations, and while Ryan Crocker argues against refusal to continue engagement of Iraq – even militarily – Obama has sent the unserious Joe Biden to meddle in the internal political affairs of Iraq.

It is reported that outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made commitments to the U.S. to exclude the Supreme Islamic Council under Ammar al-Hakim and the Sadrists under Muqtada al-Sadr from a new government in Iraq, in return of U.S, support for his candidacy as prime minister.

These two groups are historically and strongly tied with Iran. Incidentally, both these groups refuse to support al-Maliki for a second term as prime minister.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is in charge of the Iraq dossier, arrived in Iraq last night to celebrate the termination of the combat role of the U.S. forces but, more significantly, to push forward the political process.

Joe is being played for the stooge, and Maliki cannot be trusted, but what’s more interesting than this is his admission of Iran’s influence inside of Iraq contrasted with his denials for so many years.  Iran is protesting the continued presence of any U.S. troops at all.  Iran is of course still very much interested in its regional hegemony, and Iraq is still very much an open book.  But consistent with candidate Obama’s position, its future won’t be very much a function of U.S. military force.  That part remains unchanged since before the election.  Oh, and we all knew that the troops were responsible for the success in Iraq.  Obama has told us nothing that we didn’t already know, and his administration is acting consistently with his previous positions, Robert Gibbs’ clown act notwithstanding.

Marines Posture Over Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

The Orange County Register has an interesting article on the next U.S. Marine Corps installment of their defense of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV).

CAMP PENDLETON – On a cool day in late June, the Marines asked local media to board this seaside base and learn more about a new 80,000-pound hulking war machine – the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle or EFV.

They handed out information packets with glossy brochures, touting the $16.7 million amphibious machine as far more lethal, agile and sophisticated than the current assault vehicle, now nearly 40 years in service.

A video promo for the EFV ended with a slide of these words from Commandant Gen. James Conway: “The EFV is essential to the Marine Corps mission. There are programs that are absolutely and vitally important. One of those is our EFV.”

It was a polished presentation and the Marine Corps will need its best sales pitch with prototypes currently being tested. In a tough economy, the Corps is trying to sell the beast of a vehicle, first to the American people, and second, to members of Congress, who ultimately will write the check for it.

The price tag is steep: $13 billion for the entire program with detractors already having put the fighting machine in the crosshairs. And, immersed in land-locked battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps itself stands at a crossroads.

If approved, the hulking ship-to-shore vehicle would solidify the amphibious future of the Corps.

If rejected, it raises the question: Will the Marines be rendered another land army?

The OCR also has an interesting multimedia presentation in which the following question, among others, is posed: “Would helicopters and Ospreys ferrying troops to shore, landing behind enemy beach positions, remove the need for a beach landing under fire?”

Indeed.  Has the OCR been reading The Captain’s Journal?  It isn’t that I don’t see the tactical value of the EFV.  Clearly, I do.  It’s that I don’t yet see the strategic value of the EFV, and that I have recommended a different paradigm.

I do not now and have never advocated that the Marine Corps jettison completely their notion of littoral readiness and expeditionary warfare capabilities, but I have strongly advocated more support for the missions we have at hand.

Finally, it occurs to me that the debate is unnecessary.  While Conway has famously said that the Corps is getting too heavy, his program relies on the extremely heavy Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, that behemoth that is being designed and tested because we want forcible entry capabilities – against who, I frankly don’t know.

If it is a failing state or near failing state, no one needs the capabilities of the EFV.  If it is a legitimate near peer enemy or second world state, then the casualties sustained from an actual land invasion would be enormous.  Giving the enemy a chance to mine a beach, build bunkers, arm its army with missiles, and deploy air power, an infantry battalion would be dead within minutes.  1000 Marines – dead, along with the sinking of an Amphibious Assault Dock and its associated EFVs.

No one has yet given me a legitimate enemy who needs to be attacked by an EFV.  On the other hand, I have strongly recommended the retooling of the expeditionary concept to rely much more heavily on air power and the air-ground task force concept.  It would save money, create a lighter and more mobile Marine Corps (with Amphibious Assault Docks ferrying around more helicopters rather than LCACs), and better enable the Marines to perform multiple missions.  I have also recommended an entirely new generation of Marine Corps helicopters.

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

There is also a good video of the EFV in action:


But the tactical capabilities of the EFV are not at issue.  It’s the place that it occupies in the strategic plan.  I still reject the Commandant’s dilemma, i.e., that we fund the EFV or the Marines become obsolete.  This is the thinking of outdated, mid-20th century, South Pacific strategy, not that of the 21st century.  The U.S. Marines will always be needed, but the paradigm must be retooled.  It must be.  All Marine Corps readers, listen to me, and listen to me well.

I continue to pose the following questions to the strategic thinkers in the Marine Corps.  Where are we going to invade?  What country, or what failed state?  What are the tactical capabilities of this country or failed state, and why do we need floating tanks?  Does this state have shore to ship missiles?  Have you thought much about a fighting vehicle that has all of the capabilities of the EFV (MK44 cannon, stabilized turret, etc.) but without the need for flotation?  Why can’t troops come ashore via air delivery (e.g., fast-roping) rather than sitting in a floating tank?

I have proposed that the U.S. Marines transport behind enemy lines and take the beach head, thus allowing the Navy to deliver more land-based vehicles to the campaign rather than the Marines fighting their way on shore through a hail of missile and artillery fire and water borne mines, and in response, we get the stuck record of the current argument:  “Give us the EFV or we cease to exist.”

Sorry, I don’t buy it.  Do better.

Shift in Theological Landscape in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

From The Guardian comes what I see as a very important story, one that goes well beyond anecdotal stories about children, schools, the treatment and women, and the brutality of the Taliban – although those elements stand out as well.

This week’s Guardian article about an alleged poisoning incident at a girls’ school in Kabul reminded me of a similar incident during the Soviet occupation. I was at primary school and remember watching girls being carried over to an adjacent hospital.

The rumour that later spread at school explained the incident as follows: one of the pupils, from a family of mujahideen sympathisers, had poisoned the school’s well in protest against the communist-inspired syllabus. The story sounded plausible at the time, in the absence of free media, reliable investigation or international witnesses offering a different, perhaps more objective, take on it.

The parents’ reaction was pragmatic. The following day, pupils returned to school, carrying plastic flasks filled with water from home. But this response did not mean parents supported the government. It was true that the syllabus was inspired by communist ideology. But there was a way around that, too. Children simply learned to differentiate between useful scientific knowledge and political propaganda. To receive an education, Afghans – then as now – had no choice but take the risk of exposing children to state propaganda and its spin-off, insurgent violence.

The two incidents – with the water and the “poison gas” – are separated by decades but their similarity makes it tempting to repeat the old cliche that nothing changes in Afghanistan. But in some ways they are strikingly different, revealing profound changes in three decades of conflict and the way it is perceived.

The key difference is that in the old story the conflict was neat, involving two clearly opposite sides: a communist regime of non-believers versus an Islamist resistance of believers.

In the new story, all parties involved in the perceived incident are believers, including the Islamic Republic that is responsible for the school, the pupils who attend it and the perpetrators who allegedly carried out the attack.

Another striking difference between the two stories relates to the gender issues. The old story had a female protagonist who was a school insider. In the current story, by contrast, girls appear only as victims and the perpetrator is perceived to be an outsider. We can assume that the girls of my school were still able to sympathise with the mujahideen, since they had never lived under their command. But the current generation of schoolgirls knows better and there has been no suspicion of an insider act carried out by a girl. These differences are subtle but reveal shifts in the emotional landscape of the people, and the way they relate to the present conflict.

Judging by the parents’ reaction to the current story, ordinary Afghans expect the Taliban to break all sorts of traditional religious taboos, including the ban on violence during the month of Ramadan. The parents’ reasoning is plausible. After all, a serious taboo such as suicide has been reinterpreted and reintroduced as an act of piety without apparently raising a single eyebrow in Kabul or beyond. Judging by such precedents, Ramadan, too, could have been reinterpreted without notice and declared a month in which jihad by violent means carried on.

Be that as it may, what we see is theological chaos and various conflicting interpretations of Islam vying for power and influence in Afghanistan. The result is an Islamic Republic in charge of a Muslim people, which is under attack by an Islamist insurgency.

Little wonder, then, that parents of Totia school girls have been left wondering who is representing Islam, and who defaming it. But this type of chaos is an expected outcome when Muslim states lose control over religion. Faced with the Taliban, the old mujahideen who are in power now are getting a taste of their own medicine. After all, they too had once used Islam to legitimise violence against civilians, schoolchildren included.

Another striking difference between the two stories is content related. In the old story, the poison incident was explained as an act of protest against the school’s syllabus but not girls’ education per se. Could it be that the old mujahideen leaders were less rigid by comparison to their contemporary reincarnation, the Taliban? Unfortunately, we cannot verify this assumption because the old jihad was highly dispersed, lacking in a coherent, clearly defined political vision, providing answers to the question of gender and public education.

The current counterinsurgency campaign relies on the classical understanding of the Maoist insurgency, with all of the attendant talks about reintegration, negotiations, a “place at the table,” culling off the ten dollar Taliban from the insurgency (Taliban with a little t), and so forth.  To be sure, there may be some ten dollar Taliban, but the negotiations are happening at the highest levels of the Taliban leadership.

I have argued endlessly that exposure to globalist elements of the transnational insurgency in the AfPak region has caused much of the Taliban to morph into something that it wasn’t, something that is more in line with hard core Islamicist teaching and globalist focus that its predecessor.  The current manifestation of Taliban ideology also seems to be more in line with a group that would be even more accepting of Wahhabist teaching and Arabic influence that even its predecessor.  The assessment above is another disturbing data point that may bear out my thesis.

America Burns, Government Chases Baseball

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

Roger Clemens is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court.  He will likely enter a not guilty plea.  I would too, as the government’s case probably has a fatal flaw.  In other news, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff doesn’t seem to be very interested, and is talking about other things.

The national debt is the single biggest threat to national security, according to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Tax payers will be paying around $600 billion in interest on the national debt by 2012, the chairman told students and local leaders in Detroit.

“That’s one year’s worth of defense budget,” he said, adding that the Pentagon needs to cut back on spending.

“We’re going to have to do that if it’s going to survive at all,” Mullen said, “and do it in a way that is predictable.”

I can only say I sure am glad that this administration has its focus on the right things and my best interests at heart.

Concerning Military Contractors

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

Hamid Karzai has ordered the disbanding of military contractors in Afghanistan.  I had written and asked Tim Lynch for his reaction, and he gives it to us here.

As the fighting season continues the good guys are losing more land and population to the various insurgent groups operating in the country.  Teams of doctors are being murdered in the remote provinces, attacks are launch inside the ANP “Ring of Steel” anytime the Taliban feels like it, and so where is the focus of the Afghan government?  On private security companies of course… yes why not?  Now is exactly the right time to make all PSC’s illegal and let the ANP and ministry of the interior (MOI) provide security to convoy’s military bases, and all the mobile security for internationals working in the reconstruction sector.  Ignoring that there are not enough Afghan security forces to go around as it is and also that their proficiency in preforming these tasks is suspect (to put it politely) what about the money?  We already pay for the ANP and ANA – if they are going to provide mobile and static security then I guess the millions of dollars being paid to private companies will no longer be needed right?  Right.  The problem is one can predict with 100% certainty what will happen if President Karzai goes through with this crazy scheme.  The logistics pipeline will start to rapidly dry up , internationals will be unable to move without their (mandated by contract) expat security teams and their projects will ground to a halt.  Military operations will have to be suspended because there will not be enough Afghan Security Forces to both fight and provide theater wide static and mobile security support. And of course there are yet more millions of dollars to add another chapter in the long saga of wasted OPM (other peoples money) by our respective governments.

I cannot for the life of me imagine how this law is going to work out.  There are (in my opinion) more international PSD teams then needed – why do EuPol police officers need PSD teams to drive them around Kabul?  They have guns and armored vehicles already and should be capable of taking care of themselves.  Why do the contract police trainers needs a whole section of dedicated PSD specialists? It is a crazy waste of money to have armed international PSD teams guarding armed ISAF personnel but it is also currently a contractual requirement.  For companies working outside the wire in the reconstruction sector the absence of international PSD teams will also have a huge impact on the ability to get insurance for their internationals at reasonable rates.  At exactly the time that internationals operating outside the wire need to be armed the laws are changing to make it illegal for internationals who are not ISAF military members to be armed.  How are we supposed to operate now?

Tim is accurate and smart in his assessment as always, but he is just being nice to Karzai.  Hamid Karzai is a stooge, and there is no possible way that this will work.  Logistics and force protection will break down.  We don’t have enough troops as it is, and that goes for contractors too.  Standing down even a portion of either category will spell death to the campaign.  In fact, there are approximately as many contractors as there are troops in Afghanistan, doing everything from intelligence to cooking, from force protection to FOB construction, from fire fighting to translation.  Whether KBR, Xe, Triple Canopy, Dyncorp, or smaller companies like Free Range International, contractors are needed, and needed badly.  Karzai’s plan will be stopped  before being implemented.

But that doesn’t mean that military contractors won’t be bilked by the U.S. government.  I am no defender of any particular company, and I have no dog in any particular fight.  I owe no one anything, and so Erik Prince can solve his own problems.  Xe (Blackwater) has never given me anything, and they don’t know me.  But the folks at the State Department do, and I get regular visits from their network domain.  “Show me the money” is the latest topic of interest.

That’s right.  The State Department has reached an agreement with Blackwater.

Blackwater, the private security firm founded by Holland native Erik Prince, reportedly has reached a $42 million settlement with the State Department over what is described as “hundreds of violations of United States export control violations.”

According to the New York Times:

The violations included illegal weapons exports to Afghanistan, making unauthorized proposals to train troops in south Sudan and providing sniper training for Taiwanese police officers, according to company and government officials familiar with the deal.The deal would relieve Blackwater, now called Xe Services, from the possibility of facing criminal charges. Paying the fines will allow the firm to continue doing government contract work.

It does not, however, excuse Blackwater/Xe from the other legal issues currently pending, among them the indictment of former executives on weapons and obstruction charges and allegations the firm bribed Iraqi officials to win favor following the infamous 2007 slaying of 17 civilians.

The BBC provided more details on the more than 300 alleged violations:

• The investigation covered Blackwater’s business practices from 2005-2009 and found the company guilty of violating provisions of firearms licenses, violating terms of authorizations involving military or security training, unauthorized export of technical data and defense articles and record-keeping violations, among other things.

• A 2007 violation had national-security implications. Specifically, the company intentionally failed to disclose biographical information on Taiwanese nationals being trained as snipers. Similar instances appeared throughout the list of violations.

• In 2008, more than 100 weapons were missing or unaccounted for in Iraq. Elsewhere, weapons intended for U.S. military use were diverted to Blackwater employees.

Oooo.  Weapons charges.  Sort of like, you know, they had automatic weapons in a war zone, or something?  I’m sure that the State Department will want them to relinquish all automatic weapons.  But wait … maybe not.  You know, there is that little thing of U.S. troops being withdrawn from Iraq, and the State Department needing force protection.  From 6000 to 7000 more contractors in Iraq.  That’s how many.  The $42 million might go a long way towards funding this expense.

When private citizens do it it’s called extortion.  When the government does it it’s called arbitration.

Marine Corps Commandant Faults Withdrawal Deadline for Comfort to the Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 12 months ago

U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Conway has directly faulted President Obama’s withdrawal deadline for giving aid and comfort to the enemy in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama’s July 2011 date to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan has given a morale boost to Taliban insurgents, who believe they can wait out NATO forces, the top U.S. Marine said Tuesday.

But General James Conway, who is retiring this fall as commandant of the Marine Corps, said he believed Marines would not be in a position to withdraw from the fight in southern Afghanistan for years.

Conway’s unusually blunt assessment is likely to fan criticism by opposition Republicans of Obama’s war strategy as public opinion of the nine-year-old war sours further.

“In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance,” Conway said of the July 2011 deadline.

But is this mere speculation or opinion?  Conway continued, “In fact we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.’”  This degree of public challenge and direct truth-telling within the highest ranks of the military is fairly unique, and might be a function of not only his beliefs and the supporting evidence, but also of the fact that he is a short-timer.  General James F. Amos is currently before the U.S. Senate for confirmation as the next Marine Corps Commandant.  Conway might be thinking, “What are they going to do – force me to retire?”

The truth is refreshing, and it leaves little doubt as to the fact that the perception of withdrawal is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.  Conway attempts to address this perception in his interview, but the only one who can really accomplish that is the very one who forced the withdrawal deadline on the troops to begin with.

Dr. Steven Metz recently said of the Malayan insurgency (concerning Obama’s withdrawal strategy), “I do find it ironic that Malaya is often held up as a model for how to do counterinsurgency, yet one of the things that made that campaign successful was that the British announced their intention to withdraw.”  Based on what I know, I think that it is unproven speculation that “an announcement of withdrawal” aided the campaign, but in this case speculation isn’t needed.

There is no irony, and there is no need to hold a PhD in order to understand the exigencies defining the situation.  We needn’t obfuscate the facts with pedantic theory in order to be wise.  The enemy wants to believe that the U.S. presence will vanish sooner rather than later, and our CiC is giving them that assurance.

Pakistan’s Games of Duplicity Part II

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 12 months ago

I maintain that other than the names of Afghans cooperating with the coalition (a dangerous public revelation), the Wikileaks publication of the so-called Afghanistan War Diary revealed nothing of substance that astute observers didn’t already know.  This includes the issue of Pakistani aid and assistance to the Taliban.  Almost two years ago I published Games of Duplicity and the End of Tribe in Pakistan where I discussed this very subject.

But just occasionally, international ne’er-do-wells can’t help but preen and posture and thereby reveal their identity, or at least put their exploits in the face of the American public.  This is sometimes a very big mistake, but it remains to be seen whether enough Americans care to make a difference in this instance.  This instance has to do with the recent Pakistani bragging over their relationship with the Taliban.

When American and Pakistani agents captured Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s operational commander, in the chaotic port city of Karachi last January, both countries hailed the arrest as a breakthrough in their often difficult partnership in fighting terrorism.

But the arrest of Mr. Baradar, the second-ranking Taliban leader after Mullah Muhammad Omar, came with a beguiling twist: both American and Pakistani officials claimed that Mr. Baradar’s capture had been a lucky break. It was only days later, the officials said, that they finally figured out who they had.

Now, seven months later, Pakistani officials are telling a very different story. They say they set out to capture Mr. Baradar, and used the C.I.A. to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that Mr. Baradar had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime backer.

In the weeks after Mr. Baradar’s capture, Pakistani security officials detained as many as 23 Taliban leaders, many of whom had been enjoying the protection of the Pakistani government for years. The talks came to an end.

The events surrounding Mr. Baradar’s arrest have been the subject of debate inside military and intelligence circles for months. Some details are still murky — and others vigorously denied by some American intelligence officials in Washington. But the account offered in Islamabad highlights Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan: retaining decisive influence over the Taliban, thwarting archenemy India, and putting Pakistan in a position to shape Afghanistan’s postwar political order.

“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.”

Some American officials still insist that Pakistan-American cooperation is improving, and deny a central Pakistani role in Mr. Baradar’s arrest. They say the Pakistanis may now be trying to rewrite history to make themselves appear more influential. It was American intellgence that led to Mr. Baradar’s capture, an American official said.

“These are self-serving fairy tales,” the official said. “The people involved in the operation on the ground didn’t know exactly who would be there when they themselves arrived. But it certainly became clear, to Pakistanis and Americans alike, who we’d gotten.”

Other American officials suspect the C.I.A. may have been unwittingly used by the Pakistanis for the larger aims of slowing the pace of any peace talks.

At a minimum, the arrest of Mr. Baradar offers a glimpse of the multilayered challenges the United States faces as it tries to prevail in Afghanistan. It is battling a resilient insurgency, supporting a weak central government and trying to manage Pakistan’s leaders, who simultaneously support the Taliban and accept billions in American aid.

A senior NATO officer in Kabul said that in arresting Mr. Baradar and the other Taliban leaders, the Pakistanis may have been trying to buy time to see if President Obama’s strategy begins to prevail. If it does, the Pakistanis may eventually decide to let the Taliban make a deal. But if the Americans fail — and if they begin to pull out — then the Pakistanis may decide to retain the Taliban as their allies.

“We have been played before,” a senior NATO official said. “That the Pakistanis picked up Baradar to control the tempo of the negotiations is absolutely plausible.”

As for Mr. Baradar, he is now living comfortably in a safe house of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Pakistani official said. “He’s relaxing,” the official said.

Many of the other Taliban leaders, after receiving lectures against freelancing peace deals, have been released to fight again.

There are two (or more) ways to take this.  Robert Haddick at the Small Wars Journal Blog hints that he takes the position that Pakistan’s interference in peace talks with the Taliban is harmful to coalition efforts.  Indeed, General Petraeus has even said that he believes that there will be no success in Afghanistan without talks with the Taliban.

As regular readers might suspect, I demur.  Talks with local leaders and elders may ensue with some success, perhaps holding in abatement or even stopping the flow of local insurgents to the cause of the main stream Taliban (the big-T Taliban) when these talks are coupled with force.  But the notion of negotiations with an avowed enemy who had previously given safe haven to globalist elements is preposterous, and all the more so since the Taliban have now been exposed to these globalist elements for around two decades and have adopted some of their globalist world view.  In this particular instance, stopping negotiations with senior Taliban isn’t problematic, since it isn’t likely that it would have yielded effective, long term fruit.

What is more problematic, however, is that Pakistan’s ISI knows where senior Taliban are located and continues to provide them safe haven and protection.  The Obama administration must now face the knowledge that the billions we are giving Pakistan is helping to wage war against our own troops in Afghanistan.  But a voice of reason and sanity seems to have appeared from nowhere concerning our relationship with Pakistan.  Afghanistan’s national security adviser points the way better than does our own.

There is ongoing domestic and international confusion in identifying Afghanistan’s friends and foes. The Afghan people are wholeheartedly grateful to the international community for its sacrifices in blood and treasure. Unfortunately, the military-intelligence establishment of one of our neighbors still regards Afghanistan as its sphere of influence. While faced with a growing domestic terrorist threat, Pakistan continues to provide sanctuary and support to the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network, the Hekmatyar group and al-Qaeda. And while the documents recently disclosed by WikiLeaks contained information that was neither new nor surprising, they did make public further evidence of the close relations among the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence.

The international community is present in Afghanistan to dismantle these international terrorist networks. Yet the focus on this fundamental task has progressively eroded and has been compounded by another strategic failure: the mistaken embrace of “strategic partners” who have, in fact, been nurturing terrorism.

Much has been said about the political will of the Afghan government, governance in our country and corruption. These are mainly domestic variables. It is true that an exhausted and desperate political elite in Afghanistan, faced with predatory and opportunistic individuals in and outside the power structures, allowed the mafia to penetrate into politics. State institutions were undermined and the rule of law weakened. Undoubtedly the absence of transparency in contracts and the presence of private security companies clearly connected to certain officials — contributing ultimately to the privatization of security and thus insecurity in our country — are matters of grave concern. But the international terrorist presence in the region is not entrenched solely because of Afghan corruption. Britain, Spain, Turkey, China, Germany and India have all been victims not of Afghan corruption but of international terrorism — emanating from the region.

It is my firm conviction that securing our people, districts and towns from terrorists; institutionalizing the rule of law; and fighting corruption are necessary steps toward building a strong and responsive state. But that is not enough. No domestic measure will fully address the threat of international terrorism, its global totalitarian ideology or its regional support networks. Dismantling the terrorist infrastructure is a central component of our anti-terror strategy, and this requires confronting the state that still sees terrorism as a strategic asset and foreign policy tool.

To be clear, Afghanistan opposes the expansion of conflicts into other countries and opposes unwarranted military interventions in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. But global efforts to counter terrorism will not succeed until and unless there is clarity on who our friends and foes are.

The conflict we are engaged in is becoming a long and expensive war for us and our international partners. The Afghan people are rightly frustrated and exhausted by a war in which the line between friends and foes is blurred. Global opinion has also turned against us. Yet surely it is understandable that we have failed to mobilize people for a cause where the fighting is in one place and the enemy is in another. How can we persuade Afghans, or the parents of young soldiers from coalition countries, to support a war where our “partners” are involved in killing their sons and daughters? While we are losing dozens of men and women to terrorist attacks every day, the terrorists’ main mentor continues to receive billions of dollars in aid and assistance. How is this fundamental contradiction justified?

This is extremely important.  Don’t miss the nuanced detail in his argument.  The “partners” involved in killing their sons and daughters doesn’t refer to collateral damage from combat, that unintentional and unfortunate side effect of war.  No, it refers to us, the U.S., as their partners, turning the other way when Pakistan behaves the way they do, and continuing the flow of largesse in spite of and not because of their help in battling the transnational insurgency which has its main home in Pakistan.

Rangin Dadfar Spanta concludes with this thought: “The aggressor understands only one language: that of force and determination.”  Just so.  One might also posit the idea that talks with the very people who have been killing their sons and daughters is the moral equivalent of funding their helpers in Pakistan.  The national security adviser is telling us that the very strategy we have chosen is sure to alienate the population, and of course, this is the opposite of what was intended.  A little more attention to the national security adviser from Afghanistan and a little less attention to our own might go a long way towards pressing forward with the right strategy in Asia.

Why Marines in Afghanistan Want the Taliban to Open Fire

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 12 months ago

Dan Morrison with KVAL.com reports from an embed with the Marines in Helmand:

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – 1st Platoon, off to our west, made contact with the Taliban before we did.

4th Squad, 2nd Platoon, had already been slogging through wadis and cotton fields for a couple of hours when we heard the firefight in the distance.

4th Squad pushed on, with Cali Bagby traveling in the middle of LCpl Brennan’s fireteam and me traveling with LCpl Singleton’s fireteam. Leading both fireteams was Cpl Woodbine, Squad Leader.

This was only my second patrol, but it was turning out to be much like the first. Crossing open fields where opium poppies had been harvested in the spring, pushing our way through tall cornfields where the Marine in front of me would completely disappear if I slowed enough to let him get more than a few meters ahead of me.

We slid down wadis and waded across, hoping the water was not deeper than a couple of feet. Some came up to our thighs, and I talked to a Marine a couple of days ago who came off a patrol during which he had stepped into an eight-foot hole in the middle of a wadi.

“Man, all I could think of was I wanted to keep my weapon out of the water and dry, and I didn’t want to drown. That would be a hell of a way to die in Afghanistan,” he said.

The two fireteams were a couple hundred meters apart; Brennan’s fireteam would advance and then set up security for Singleton’s fireteam.

Crossing yet another open field is nerve–wracking because if the Taliban ambush comes – no, when the Taliban ambush comes – more than likely it will occur when you are exposed in an open field.

Overhead we could hear helicopter gunships circling, providing support.

“Those things, the gunships and even the Quick Reaction Force MRAPs, are a mixed blessing,” Singleton told me as we walked. “They keep us safe and alive, but the Taliban won’t fire on us with those guys overhead.”

It is an odd feeling to travel with men who not only know they are walking into an ambush, but who actually want it to happen. Unless the Taliban fire on the Marines, the Marines can’t close in on them and engage in a firefight.

And they very much want to engage with the enemy.

As one senior enlisted man told me, “You gotta love the ones that need lovin’, and kill the ones that need killin’.”

As we crossed a field of cotton we began to take small arms fire, AK-47s. “Go, go, go!” Singleton yelled at me as we dashed for the relative safety of a small wadi. Hunkering down in the irrigation ditch, I watched as Naval Corpsman Daniel Lowderman, from Seattle, Washington, and Singleton scan the area with their rifle scopes.

“I’ve got movement on the roof of a building,” Singleton relayed to Woodbine through his radio. “I can see the muzzle of a gun sticking out a window.”

Singleton was carrying the Mark XII, the designated marksman rifle. He requested permission from Woodbine to shoot at the target. Woodbine asked if he had positive ID, and Singleton informed him he could see the rifle muzzle. Permission was given to shoot.

“I can put one through the [expletive] hole,” Singleton said. “I don’t know now well it’s going to do, what it’s going to do, but I can try.”

Singleton stretched out in the wadi behind his weapon, his breathing became regular, and after what seemed to me like an eternity, he squeezed the trigger. Despite being ready for the shot, the sound startled me.

“Impact,” Singleton reported calmly. “Definite on the chimney. Woodbine, be advised, the first round was a solid impact, do you want me to take a second shot?”

“If you see the muzzle again take another shot,” Woodbine answered.

Platoon Sergeant SSgt Zamora, who was traveling with Brennan’s fireteam, came on the radio. “Singleton. As soon as you take the second shot we are going to move on the building.”

“Roger, that’s solid. I’m going to take two well-aimed shots just to make sure.”

Another eternity seemed to pass, then the crack of Singleton’s weapon again startled me.

“Alright team,” Zamora’s voice said on the radio, “we’re going in.”

“Hey. Yo, yo yo!” said Singleton. “Tell ‘em, tell ‘em. Hey, be advised. Stop, stop, stop.”

Singleton could see the Taliban waving a flag, but was not sure if the man was trying to surrender or was signaling other Taliban. The flag disappeared and then Singleton could see the Taliban crawling on the roof of the building.

Singleton asked for permission to shoot a third time. Although he could clearly see the Taliban, he could not see a weapon, and therefore the request for permission was denied. Unless a weapon is clearly visible, the Marines are forbidden to shoot.

The Taliban escaped.

We moved on.

Read all of Dan’s report.  A lot of water has fallen over the dam since the issue of rules of engagement first started to show itself for the campaign in Afghanistan.  My category has many such reports, but in lieu of rehearsing all of them again, it is enough simply to say what this example demonstrates for us again.  The ROE in Iraq was different than it is in Afghanistan, period.  Do you care to take issue with this characterization?

Recall our conversations on The Anbar Narrative, including a report still profiled on the Department of Defense web site, no less.

Costa described Ramadi, a city in Iraq’s Anbar province — then one of the country’s most contentious regions — as a society that had collapsed under the weight of an endemic insurgency. With an infrastructure dilapidated by years of infighting and neglect, Costa said, most of Ramadi was in ruin when he arrived.

“I had never seen anything like that before, and that was my second deployment to Iraq,” said the staff sergeant, whose first deployment was from January to August 2005 in Kharma, a city east of Fallujah in Anbar province.

“From my experience in my first deployment, the Iraqis will live, work, play — they’ll continue their normal lives — while this war is going on around them,” he said. “They’ll stay in their neighborhoods, and they won’t move.

“But in Ramadi,” he said, “they were moving.”

Costa had heard from members of the unit he was replacing that Ramadi’s citizens were moving out in droves — in “mass exodus” fashion, as he put it. When he arrived in August 2006 in Ramadi, which in 2003 boasted a population nearly the size of Sacramento, Calif., the number of residents living in the city along the Euphrates River was reduced to a mere trickle, more akin to that of a small town, he recalled.

“There were multiple buildings that are like five-, six-, seven-, eight-story apartment buildings — huge, and totally empty,” he said. “You’d walk into a house and everything’s there: There’s food in the fridge; there’s clothes in the dresser. The people just moved.”

The staff sergeant soon realized why residents had abandoned their homes. Insurgents in Ramadi, a majority Sunni Muslim city, were violently attacking local citizens. In the midst of intense fighting, they extorted shop owners’ profits. They hiked prices at gas stations and skimmed sales revenues.

“The insurgents definitely made it a bad place to live for the civilians there,” the staff sergeant, a 10-year Marine veteran, said.

For Costa, who decided as a boy to join the U.S. military to help the “greater good,” the bleak situation in besieged Ramadi presented an opportunity to uphold the principles of selfless duty.

Costa said roughly 90 percent of the missions he and his men carried out involved protecting roads, called main supply routes, travelled by coalition convoys. Primarily, the unit prevented insurgents from emplacing improvised explosive devices along the roadside or thwarted attempts by enemy fighters to ambush passing vehicles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In the end, it turned out that Ramadi did a complete 180,” Costa said. “I got pictures in September from the unit that had relieved us, and I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think I was looking at the same city.”

But the generals know better than that now, and the Marines can’t be trusted to make good decisions under pressure.  So there are different rules of engagement in Afghanistan than there were in Iraq.  The officers micromanage the campaign.

Understand?

More: Recon by Fire

Pakistan ISI Elevates Internal Threats Above India?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years ago

We have all followed the quaint Pakistani obsession with India as an existential threat.  Stolid, dark, conspiratorial and pathological though it is, it has ruled Pakistani planning and execution of its military operations for decades.  Could things be changing?

Pakistan’s main spy agency says homegrown Islamist militants have overtaken the Indian army as the greatest threat to national security, a finding with potential ramifications for relations between the two rival South Asian nations and for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

A recent internal assessment of security by the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s powerful military spy agency, determined that for the first time in 63 years it expects a majority of threats to come from Islamist militants, according to a senior ISI officer.

The assessment, a regular review of national security, allocates a two-thirds likelihood of a major threat to the state coming from militants rather than from India or elsewhere. It is the first time since the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947 that India hasn’t been viewed as the top threat. Decades into one of the most bitter neighborly rivalries in modern history, both countries maintain huge troop deployments along their Himalayan border.

“It’s earth shattering. That’s a remarkable change,” said Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism specialist and professor at Georgetown University. “It’s yet another ratcheting up of the Pakistanis’ recognition of not only their own internal problems but cooperation in the war on terrorism.”

It is unclear whether the assessment of the ISI—a powerful group largely staffed by active military officers—is fully endorsed by Pakistan’s military and civilian government. The assessment’s impact on troop positioning and Pakistan’s war against militants remains to be seen.

The assessment reflects the thinking in the mainstream of the ISI. But U.S. officials worry that elements of Pakistan’s military establishment, which they say includes retired ISI officers, continue to lend support to militants that shelter in Pakistan’s tribal regions, an effort these people say is aimed at building influence in Afghanistan once the U.S. pulls out.

And there should indeed be concern that this is the thinking of only several officers within the ISI.  And also recall that there are games of duplicity to play in order to keep U.S. dollars rolling in.  If this assessment is accepted within the larger defense community, that is indeed a change agent for the better.  It remains to be seen if this assessment gets buried or if it gains traction.

Prior:

Foreign Fighters and LeT Contribute to Afghan Insurgency

The Evolving Jihadist Scene in Pakistan

Going Soft on Kandahar

BY Herschel Smith
4 years ago

Recall from several months ago that operations were launched into Marjah, and the “government in a box” that General McChrystal thought would be so successful was a flop.  He then called Marjah a bleeding ulcer after only a few months of counterinsurgency, like some impatient child waiting for candy.  It became apparent that Marjah would be long term counterinsurgency work (is there any other kind?), but that didn’t stop General Rodriguez from postulating that it was the slowness of governmental services that caused the delays in turning Marjah into Shangri-La.  It certainly couldn’t be the model, so it must be the execution of the plan.  Or so Rodriguez concluded.

This reminds me of a story.  A man walks into the emergency room at a hospital claiming that he is dead.  The doctors argue with him until they figure out a way to prove to him that he is not.  They ask him, “Do dead men bleed?”  “No”, said he.  “Of course not!  Don’t be stupid!”  They proceed to place a small cut on his arm to show him that he bleeds, and upon seeing his blood he exclaimed “Well I was wrong.  I guess dead men do bleed!”  Presuppositions rule, no?

And true to this non-Biblical parable, the current planning for Kandahar assumes that Marjah just wasn’t done right.  How to do it this time?  Well, recall that the Marines went into Marjah softer than their experience in Anbar dictated, more along the lines of how the British advocate counterinsurgency and how they did it in Basra.  This was a requirement of senior leadership in Afghanistan.  Also note that we have recently discussed the lessons learned from this, but the takeaway for Kandahar is much different than I would have advocated.

Kandahar is a city built mostly of mud, clay and straw — the available building materials in this harsh climate. The city’s wide avenues and narrow warrens seem to be perpetually suspended in a haze of dust from the desert that is not far in any direction.

Although razor sharp mountain peaks pierce the horizon in almost every direction, their steep, rocky flanks sweep down into an awe-inspiring scene: valleys and flatlands, green and lush with wheat, as well as grape fields and pomegranate orchards, all fed by the Arghandab river. It flows from the north through Arghandab district, down through Zhari and Panjaway.

All three of those districts, and Kandahar City, are now the focus of operation “Hamkari,” the military’s much-touted counterinsurgency strategy that has brought an influx of thousands more U.S. troops.

Brig. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges is one of the architects of the operation. “Hamkari,” he said in an interview, is a Pashto and Dari word for “cooperation.”

Officers chose the word, he said, because Afghans have a negative association with the word “operation,” which brings to mind the bloody assault on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in neighboring Helmand province in February.

“They said if you use the word, ‘operation,’ the average Afghan will take that to mean Blackhawks, artillery … inevitable civilian casualties,” he said.

But the word “Hamkari” also denotes a change in strategy. The Marjah offensive earlier this year aimed to deliver Afghan security forces and government institutions as soon as the military operation ended. But more than six months later, both objectives are proving more difficult than military planners expected.  [Editorial comment: The military planners haven't been reading The Captain's Journal]

Recognizing this, military strategists in Kandahar are focusing more on building Afghan government and security institutions in tandem with military operations. They say both aspects of the operation are necessary in order to secure the population from Taliban control.

Hodges likened Hamkari to a “rising tide of security.”

The so-called “military planners” should be fired for incompetence.  So the plan is to bring a “super-superlative government in a box on steroids” since the regular old “government in a box” didn’t work.  Look for the plan to fail.


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