U.S. Marine Corps Combat Action in Sangin

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 8 months ago

From NPR:

The first time U.S. Marines went on patrol from this base in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban were ready. The militants shot and killed a 21-year-old lance corporal just 150 feet from the perimeter.

The Marines patrolling through the green fields and tall mud compounds of Helmand province’s Sangin district say they are literally in a race for their lives. They are trying to adjust their tactics to outwit Taliban fighters, who have killed more coalition troops here than in any other Afghan district this year.

“As a new unit coming in, you are at a distinct disadvantage because the Taliban have been fighting here for years, have established fighting positions and have laid the ground with a ton of IEDs,” said Lt. Col. Jason Morris, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. “You have to evolve quickly because you have no other choice.”

[ ... ]

“We kind of snuck our nose in the south to see what the south was about and we found out real quick that you don’t go south unless you have a lot of dudes,” said Sgt. Adam Keliipaakaua, who was leading the patrol.

[ ... ]

The Marines now have a better idea of where they will be ambushed around their base and have doubled the size of their patrols to increase the amount of firepower they can direct toward the Taliban. On Thursday, the Marines killed 15 militants in an hourlong firefight, according to NATO.

Those who patrol through the main bazaar in the district center now know to look to the skies. They said the Taliban often fly white kites over the local mosque to signal the presence of the Marines.

The Taliban like to attack using so-called “murder holes” — small holes carved into strong mud walls that allow the insurgents to shoot without exposing themselves …

To avoid walking into a firefight, the Marines look to see whether kids are around. Their absence could mean an impending attack, but the Taliban also use children as spotters, so the tactic isn’t foolproof.

“A little kid will run around the corner and run back, and a minute later you are being shot at,” said Keliipaakaua.

But the threat of an ambush pales in comparison to the biggest danger lurking in Sangin and much of Afghanistan: the scores of IEDs buried in roads, trails, compounds and even canals. Many are largely constructed out of wood or plastic, making them very difficult to detect.

Three days after Ceniceros was killed, another member of 3rd Platoon, Cpl. David Noblit, stepped on an IED in a compound located in dense vegetation across the street from Patrol Base Fulod. Noblit survived the explosion but lost both his legs (for a discussion of Ceniceros, see portions of the article edited for length).

The battalion has been hit with about 40 IED attacks and has found more than 100 other bombs before they exploded.

“You want to vary up your routes to go where the enemy doesn’t expect you to travel,” said Esrey, 33, of Havelock, North Carolina. “I can walk through water ankle-high, but the bad guys probably know that’s where I want to go, so I want to go somewhere the water is chest-high.”

But the Taliban are always watching and adapting as well. One of the last Marines from the battalion who was killed stepped on an IED buried underwater in a canal.

“The tactics keep changing because they’re smart and they watch us,” said Esrey. “They don’t have TV here. We’re their TV.”

Analysis & Commentary

First, spotters and signalers are a common problem with the Taliban, as they were in Ramadi, Iraq.  They have not been dealt with as harshly as I have recommended.  A spotter or signaler is no different than a combatant, and they were treated as combatants by Marines in Iraq whether they held a weapon or not.  Then again, dealing with the spotters as I have recommended (and the Marines actually did in Iraq) would require a change to the rules of engagement.  Our generals are smarter than those successful Marines in the Anbar Province, and so we don’t do things like that anymore.

Second, having a “lot of dudes” is the equivalent of my recommendations in previous coverage of Marine combat action in Sangin.  There are many locations in Afghanistan that need attention and additional troops, from the Paktika province to Kunar and Nuristan, and indeed, the whole Pech River Valley area.  The border needs more mentored ANP, and even the North is coming under increasing Taliban attention.

I have made no secret of my full court press for more troops.  But in this case, the U.S. Marines have the Helmand Province, and it makes no sense to have Marines on MEUs pretending that they are going to conduct a major, full scale, water-borne amphibious assault against some unknown (or non-existent) near-peer enemy while their brothers lose their legs in Afghanistan.  In fact, I would suggest that it is immoral to send Marines into harm’s way without the requisite support and manpower.  The support and manpower exists.  It’s currently located at Camps Lejeune and Pendleton preparing to board amphibious assault docks and waste millions of dollars floating around the seas and stopping at every port so that Marines can get drunk.  We can do better than that for the Marines under fire in Afghanistan.

Finally, it makes sense to fight the Taliban where they are.  If we don’t they will simply relocate to the areas we are trying to secure (such as Kandahar) and fights us there.  It is conducive to minimum noncombatant casualties to conduct combat operations in Sangin rather than in Kandahar if possible.



  • Sparsh

    Herschel,

    To the best of my knowledge the United States has approximately 500 rifle companies. Even if every single one of these were in Afghanistan, they would be insufficient for proper counter-insurgency and counter-infiltration operations in a country of that size and terrain. This gross lack of infantry is evident in every account of platoon-to-company level operations that I have read including the one linked in your post.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Well, we didn’t technically have enough Marines in Anbar either. If you’re referring to the requirements of FM 3-24, I never bought into that ratio. We did better than that in Iraq, and we can do better in Afghanistan. But there is a tipping point where there is enough troops, and we aren’t there yet.

  • anan

    Captain, in Al Anbar the Marines were augmented by 7th and 1st IADs [8 IA combat maneuver brigades] plus over 10 thousand provincial Iraqi Police . . . all trained and mentored by the Marines. This is was what crossed the tipping point in Al Anbar [know we don't see eye to eye on this.]

    The way to cross the tipping point in Helmand is by increasing the size and quality of 215th ANA Corps and provincial AUP. BG Ghori’s 3rd Bde, 215th ANA Corps, proves this can be done. And they didn’t even have the advantage of Marine training and mentors for the most part. ;-)

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Yes, anan, and there were U.S. NG troops in Ramadi as well. I am not minimizing their role. But as for the deaths, there were more than 1000 Marines who perished there. It was a Marine Corps operation through and through.

    As for the IPs, I know all about them. But the IPs would have been summarily executed were it not for the Marines. Again, setting up a security apparatus required killing lots of bad guys and making it clear that more would die except for peace-making on the part of the indigenous insurgents. Only then was it clear to them that the foreigners had to go.

    Anan, you know my view. Less ANP, not more. Less ANA, not more. Make this a battle for incentive and we will be on our way to meaningful security forces. Caught smoking hash? Good. You’re fired without pay. Caught sleeping on duty? Good. You’re fired without pay. Caught refusing to go on night patrol? Good. You’re fired without pay. Your pay goes to the people who do their jobs.

    Outfitting the ANP and ANA with more trash and scoundrels doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s playing make-believe.

  • anan

    Captain Smith, maybe we don’t disagree that much. I favor far longer training cycles for ANP and ANA officers and NCOs; who generally speaking are a motivated and enthusiastic lot. I also favor longer basic training for enlistee applicants.

    To achieve this, MG Karim’s ANA Training Command and MG Pattang’s ANP Training Command need to be able to train several times as many ANSF at any given time.

    On ANSF officers:

    Only a small percentage of applicants are accepted for officer training currently and those who get accepted tend to be highly motivated.

    My proposal for be would be to admit many tens of thousands of ANSF officers in “two in the box” training. Partner two officers together, assign them to the same position in the same ANSF unit [i.e. a platoon would have two commanders, a company would have two deputy commanders, or a battalion HQs would have two G2s]; have one attend college/training while the other fights, then reverse, then reverse again, then reverse again. Both officers would be in continual contact and collaborate on local relationships and combat execution.

    -1-6 months . . . both A and B are in training
    -7-12 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -13-18 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -19-24 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -25-30 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -31-36 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -37-42 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -43-48 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -49-54 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -55-60 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -61-66 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -67-72 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -73-78 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -79-84 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -85-90 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -91-96 months . . . A in the fight, B in the fight

    After 8 years you have two college educated ANSF mid grade experienced officers, each with 4 years combat experience. Ideally, all ANSF officers should have to go through a two in the box until they get a bachelor degree. Standards should be exceptionally high and enforced. An ANSF officer with a bachelors degree is more likely to be respected by Afghan civilians, Taliban, Pakistan and the region. More ANSF officers increase regional perceptions about the likelihood of ANSF victory over the long run against the Taliban.

    NCOs:

    Both the ANA and ANP have many exceptional NCOs. Problem is they are not respected by ANSF mid grade officers, or Afghan civilians, or Pakistanis because most are not well educated and are not allowed to go through extensive elite training.

    My proposal:
    -increase NCO pay to near officer pay
    -make promotion to NCOs extremely sought after and difficult; have high expectations of NCO performance
    -force all NCOs to go through 6 months elite NCO training, including extensive foreign language training. Only graduate the best NCOs after the 6 month course. Part of this should be passing at least a 7th grade literacy exam.
    -force all NCOs to eventually pass a 12th grade exam, even if that means rotating them taking them out of combat for additional training. [i.e. 6 months initial NCO training, followed by 6 months in combat, followed by 6 months additional NCO training, then passing the 12th grade literacy exam, one of the subjects being a foreign language]
    -the advantage of elite NCO training is that all the students would be highly motivated NCOs. Students tend to emulate and perform comparable to the group they are part of because of the power of good company. This is a major reason Stanford students perform better than students from other universities.

    Afghans value education much more than westerners or most internationals. Providing ANSF education increases morale, self confidence and motivation.

    Educated ANSF officers and NCOs could do a much better job training and motivating their troops as well as coordinating with ISAF [wouldn't need translators], calling in air strikes, de-confliction, COIN, business development, generating confidence among Afghan civilians and internationals, winning respect from Pakistanis and the Taliban.

    Regarding ANSF applicants who want to join as privates or E-1:

    ANSF privates will follow the lead of their officers and NCOs and improve their own performance, although that will take some time.

    Previously they had to go through 16 weeks training for the ANA and 12 weeks training for the ANP. That has been cut to 8 weeks [now increased to 9 weeks] for the ANA and 6 weeks for the ANP. Partly because of a lack of ANP Training Command and ANA Training Command funding, and partly to surge the size of the ANSF.

    I would force all E-1 ANSF applicants to go through a minimum of 16 weeks training to work all the bad habits out of them.

    To achieve this, ANA and ANP Training Commands would need to train far more basic training candidates at any given time.

    To give a basic idea of how under resourced ANSF training is; when Pres Obama was elected the entire ANP only trained 1 or 2 thousand at any given time. By contrast the Iraqis have trained about 40 thousand ANP at any given time for 5 years.

  • anan

    Typo:

    -1-6 months . . . A in training, B in training
    -7-12 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -13-18 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -19-24 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -25-30 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -31-36 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -37-42 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -43-48 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -49-54 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -55-60 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -61-66 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -67-72 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -73-78 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -79-84 months . . . A in the fight, B in training
    -85-90 months . . . A in training, B in the fight
    -91-96 months . . . A in the fight, B in the fight

    In two years, two mid grade officers with 4 years college and 4 years experience.

    By contrast current officer candidate school candidates only get 20 weeks training, which is fine if they already have a bachelors degree. Unfortunately most officer candidates only graduated 12th grade, albeit with good grades in many cases.

    I would force all officer candidate school applicants to go through “two in the box” training until they get a bachelors degree.

    Why isn’t this done now? Because you need to be able to train 8 times as many ANSF officers at any given time to give every ANSF officer applicant “two in the box” training versus 20 weeks training. In other words, “two in the box” training costs a lot more money than ISAF and the international community are willing to spend on MG Karim’s ANA Training Command and MG Pattang’s ANP Training Command.

  • TS Alfabet

    Interesting ideas for training, Anan.

    But even assuming the absolute brilliance of a better training regimen, it will never happen because the U.S. is not in A-stan in anything like the significant numbers needed to take the fight to the bad guys and (with some apparent exceptions like Helmand) the combat forces we have in theater are confined to FOB’s or otherwise hamstrung by tactical limits. (And, of course, by the president of A-stan who is calling for further restrictions on ROE’s and use of force and the confinement of U.S. forces to bases… lovely, that). President Obumble is not going to increase forces or resources into A-stan; we will be lucky if he does not start cutting forces in just 10 months’ time! So, bottom line, there will be no training of anyone that is going to take anywhere near 4 years let alone 8 years’ time.

    I really am not disparaging the training plan. It is just academic, that’s all. Possibly brilliant, but like most things academic, disconnected from reality because the U.S. lacks the will and– most importantly– the leadership to put it into action.

    But let’s consider something the Marines in Helmand are doing that is actually a force-multiplier that is happening now and with apparent success. According to Tim Lynch over at Free Range International:

    [Quote]The Marines took the funds from the “Interim Security for Critical Infrastructure” and stood up armed neighborhood watch groups organized by blocks. The ISCI program was apparently designed to allow commanders to hire local “security contractors” for guarding critical infrastructure which is stupid. The Marines view the people as the most “critical infrastructre” they have in their AO so they spend those program funds on armed security of the people by the people. On blocks with ISCI guards ( identified by the arm bands) there are no Taliban. [End Quote].

    Sound familiar? Sounds awfully like the Sons of Iraq program. Of course, the fact that the Marines have to do this in work-around fashion rather than as a fully-funded and supported initiative from Petraeus is telling. Notice that the goal of keeping out the Taliban is achieved without any expensive and multi-year training. These are simple townspeople who are willing to defend their own neighborhoods at the ample risk of their own lives. Read the entire article. It is clear that the people are desperate for the Marines to stick around so the Taliban cannot come back and do the usual head-chopping of collaborators.

    We simply do not have the time or resources to pour into large-scale training of the ANA and ANP. It will take 10 years or more to get anything like a professional army in A-stan. And why does A-stan need it anyway? It is a largely de-centralized nation that inherently distrusts central authority. (and with good reason given the corruption and brutality of central government cronies and thugs). We are hanging on in A-stan by a thread. We should be putting every nickel and dime we have down at the local commander’s level– Battalion and Company– and giving them absolute discretion to use that money to do whatever they need to do to secure their area and wipe out the irreconcilables. Detailed census of the population, population control techniques, neighborhoods walled off and secured with local militia… you name it. Central government and Karzai cronies be damned. If we can turn things around in this fashion, then, maybe, we can start to think about longer-term issues.

    But the training regimen you lay out, Anan, seems inspired.

  • anan

    “it will never happen because the U.S. is not in A-stan in anything like the significant numbers needed to take the fight to the bad guys and (with some apparent exceptions like Helmand) the combat forces we have in theater are confined to FOB’s or otherwise hamstrung by tactical limits. (And, of course, by the president of A-stan who is calling for further restrictions on ROE’s and use of force and the confinement of U.S. forces to bases… lovely, that). President Obumble is not going to increase forces or resources into A-stan; we will be lucky if he does not start cutting forces in just 10 months’ time! So, bottom line, there will be no training of anyone that is going to take anywhere near 4 years let alone 8 years’ time.”

    Who says that the trainers have to be American? Taliban/AQ threaten other countries more than the US. Turkey wanted to do more on the training side from the start but didn’t want to be saddled with the long term bill for ANSF operations costs. Fact is that the US and NATO didn’t cooperate with Turkey on ANSF training.

    Turkey, today, plans to train about one third of all Afghan e-5 NCOs, or 900 out of 2700 of the E-5 NCO training slots . . . which are 14 weeks long per training cycle. Turkey is probably willing to train several thousand ANSF at any given time on Turkish soil. Turkey already trains 600 ANP officers per cycle [Turkey has indicated that they are willing to increase this number], 100 ANA Commandos per cycle, and many others inside Turkey.

    India has repeatedly offered to train ANSF inside Afghanistan and within India. Gates asked India not to train ANSF this year . . . again.

    Russia has repeatedly offered to train ANSF, including large numbers of ANSF inside Russia. They have been repeatedly turned down.

    The reason some ANA officers are trained at all is thanks to Turkey, India and France, which played a large role in founding the ANA 4 year training academy or NMAA.

    “the U.S. lacks the will and– most importantly– the leadership to put it into action”

    The US will have to pay a large part of the bill, but most of the trainers will likely not be American.

    The entire NATO Training Mission Afghanistan only has 3,500 people today and 5,200 planned at end state. Of the 5,200 at end state, one thousand with be Canadians, many will be Turks, French and Brits; a majority will not be American.

    South Korea could easily provide another two thousand trainers if asked. Obama, to my knowledge, has not asked them. [South Korea contributes the Parwan PRT and helps the AUP manage the Parwan battlespace. There is no ANA in Parwan.] South Korea and Japan both want American help on North Korea and China; and are willing to do things for America to get it.

    If India contributes 3 thousand trainers, South Korea and Turkey another 2 thousand trainers; NTM-A would have 10 thousand trainers. [Up from about a thousand or less when Obama was elected.]

    This is just the low hanging fruit. Add in another thousand from Pakistan [Pakistan has repeatedly offered to train the entire ANA and ANP], and another thousand from Russia, and another 500 from China; and now you really have a turbocharged NTM-A.

    TS Alfabet, remember that all of Afghanistan use to only have one thousand college freshmen per year in 2001 versus 40 thousand now. Afghanistan has plenty of college graduates and college students who could serve as instructors, TAs, or translators.

    None of these ideas are impractical. But they need American long term funding [that would help raise matching grants from Japan, South Korea, China, India, Europe, Australia, Canada, Russia etc.]

    Please note that NTM-A only provides trainers, not embedded advisors; which the ANSF also needs a lot of.

    “Notice that the goal of keeping out the Taliban is achieved without any expensive and multi-year training. These are simple townspeople who are willing to defend their own neighborhoods at the ample risk of their own lives. Read the entire article. It is clear that the people are desperate for the Marines to stick around so the Taliban cannot come back and do the usual head-chopping of collaborators.”

    The current Karzai ANSF strategy calls for the employment of 30,000 “local forces” . . . of which you are citing one example. However, “local forces” cannot fight high end Taliban formations such as Sirajuddin, LeT, Iyas Kashmiri’s Lashkar al Zil [brigades 055, 095, 313], IMU, TTP, TNSM, Peshawar Shura.

    Have been told that platoon level attacks against the ANSF and ISAF in Helmand are increasingly rare which is why “local groups” are practical. However, “local groups” cannot work in large parts of Afghanistan without a lot of tough fighting first.

    “We simply do not have the time or resources to pour into large-scale training of the ANA and ANP.”
    Yes we do. Total ANSF budget per year would be $10 billion. Not too much for the international community to fund and far cheaper than the cost of keeping ISAF forces in Afghanistan.

    “It will take 10 years or more to get anything like a professional army in A-stan.”
    A major step up in the ANSF training program would likely start affecting the fight in a major way within two years. The point of “two in the box” was to get an ANSF officer [that alternates between two people] in the fight in 6 months.

    “And why does A-stan need it anyway?”

    I think the Captain could elaborate on the answer. In one word “Pakistan.” Who do you think is backing the Taliban? Retired officers from what countries are serving as embedded combat advisers for the Taliban?

    Notice how every Pakistani Army officer is college educated; and I mean extremely high end college educated. Pakistan’s military is dirt cheap. Once the ANSF has enough college educated officers that can take over the vast majority of ANSF training; the cost of ANATC and ANPTC will come down dramatically and start to look a lot more like the cost of training the Pakistani security forces.

    “It is a largely de-centralized nation that inherently distrusts central authority. (and with good reason given the corruption and brutality of central government cronies and thugs).” Do not overstate this. In the most recent public opinion poll that came out a few days ago, 91% of Afghans had a favorable view of the ANA. The ANA is extremely popular and respected among Afghan Pashtuns.

    “We should be putting every nickel and dime we have down at the local commander’s level– Battalion and Company– and giving them absolute discretion to use that money to do whatever they need to do to secure their area and wipe out the irreconcilables. Detailed census of the population, population control techniques, neighborhoods walled off and secured with local militia… you name it. Central government and Karzai cronies be damned. If we can turn things around in this fashion, then, maybe, we can start to think about longer-term issues.”

    There are basic problems with what you propose. 146 K ANA and 121 ANP and the NDS all report to President Karzai. No strategy can work without the full support of Karzai and his ANSF. Much the way MNF-I could do didley squat in Iraq without the support of Maliki and his ISF.

  • TS Alfabet

    Anan,

    I will not argue the particulars of training ANA or ANP. As I said previously, I am willing to grant you, arguendo, that your training plan is perfection itself. So far as that goes.

    But you did not address the main gist of my argument which renders yours academic: we are on a fast track to losing in A-stan and there is no time, not even the 2 years that you claim might be possible under ideal conditions, for the kind of training regimen to make any, timely difference.

    If you have read much of the Captain’s Journal you will note the number of posts detailing the atrocious state of the ANA. Drug use. Desertion. Infiltration by Taliban sympathizers. Refusal to engage the enemy. The ANP do not even rise to the level of the ANA. It will be a very, very long time before the ANA is anywhere close to being an effective, counter-insurgent force.

    As I said above, the most effective counter-insurgent force we can get up and running in a short period of time is the kind of neighborhood militias that the Marines are putting together in Sangin. You make a point about these militias lack of firepower and sophistication, particularly against the more deadly insurgent groups. I got news: that’s a feature, not a bug. We don’t need the militias to take on large formations of Taliban; we don’t WANT them having that kind of weaponry or organization. The Marines have more than enough firepower that they have been itching to use if only the Taliban would take the battlefield in larger formations. No, the problem has been the same one we faced in Iraq: we can effectively clear out a city but cannot effectively prevent the bad guys from seeping back in and exacting retribution against the population. Population control measures– including neighborhood militia– allow us to actually make progress in securing ground and gaining the cooperation of the locals.

    My point about the not needing a large-standing Afghan army is entirely geared to the short term. Yes, obviously, if the U.S. can prevail decisively against the Taliban in the next 10-12 months (which about the limit of time we have in A-stan), then, maybe just maybe, we can start thinking in the medium term about the next adversary in the form of the Pakistani army. But most indicators are that there will not be a free A-stan 2 years from now. My comments are all geared toward the main point that the Captain made in his post: we have too few Marines on the ground right now. And the world’s most brilliant training plan is not going to change anything about the lack of Marines anytime soon, or soon enough to make a difference.

    As far as your comment, “No strategy can work without the full support of Karzai and his ANSF. Much the way MNF-I could do didley squat in Iraq without the support of Maliki and his ISF.” Sorry, it just ain’t so. If the U.S. decided tomorrow to concentrate its funding through discretionary commander funds, there is not a damn thing that Karzai or his sorry-ass ANSF could do about it. The U.S. is the ONLY reason that Karzai can even pretend that he is the head of state. We can only pray to a loving God that Karzai would tell us to leave A-stan. (In fact, I am almost sure that this is exactly what Obama prays each and every night as it is the only thing that could provide the “exit strategy” that he so desperately has been seeking since Day 1). How long would it take the Taliban to surround Kabul and sever Karzai’s head without U.S. forces and money? In the end, if the U.S. says the rules have changed and the money is going to flow through U.S. commanders as they see fit, Karzai and his cronies will adjust accordingly. Your comparison to Iraq is off as well. There were many times when Maliki objected to U.S. tactics and strategy and the U.S. told him in so many words, Piss Off bub. The only thing Maliki ever did without U.S. approval (besides wiping himself) was the attack on the Sadr gang in Basra and even then, he had to call in the U.S. to save his bacon out of the fire. As for the ISF, the Marines and others were so disgusted with most of the ISF that they had to team up with former Sunni insurgents in Anbar Province in order to secure places like Fallujah and Ramadi and Hit. Maliki and the ISF did everything they could to prevent the Anbar Awakening and the formation of Sons of Iraq militias. The U.S. didn’t need Maliki’s cooperation. That dog won’t hunt.

    We are perilously close to the edge in A-stan. We have months to turn this thing around, not years. Not even 2 years. So, I say again, the training idea is nice and all, but we cannot afford to engage in anything that does not immediately contribute to crushing the Taliban.

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  • anan

    “we are on a fast track to losing in A-stan and there is no time, not even the 2 years that you claim might be possible under ideal conditions, for the kind of training regimen to make any, timely difference.”

    Things are far from as grim as you think. For Russia, India and Iran, the Taliban/AQ pose a larger threat than they do for America. Turkey is also threatened. Unlike other NATO members, Turkey isn’t in Afghanistan for NATO or America; Turkey is in Afghanistan for Turkey and will remain in Afghanistan no matter what America does.

    Karzai knows this, and believes that these other countries will step in and help him fight the Taliban regardless of what America does.

    The ANSF aren’t as bad as you think either. Some examples:
    -203rd ANA Corps [granted they and their Rakkasans partners fight against the toughest fighters on either side of the Durand . . . Siraj Haqqani, LeT, TTP, TNSM, IJU, and some of Iyas Kashmiri's Lashkar al Zil] This is the only good Corps in the ANA
    -Khost and Paktia AUP . . . some pretty tough fighters among them
    -9 ANA combat commando battalions [all planned to have 4 combat commando companies each . . . to my knowledge they have never lost an engagement even if Karzai wastes them on Afghan ego along the Pakistani border to fight Pakistani Taliban]
    -Kabul AUP [fully in the lead with the ANA in strategic overwatch]
    -Panjir and Bamiyan AUP [fully in the lead with no ANA in their provinces . . . and major success stories]
    -Parwan AUP [close to taking complete lead, no ANA in province, South Koreans mostly focus on development in the province]
    -Kapisa AUP [some parts of them are quite good . . . other parts suck . . . all mentored by French lead ISAF]
    -some of the Kunduz AUP . . . they fight some pretty high end international Taliban . . . however the Kunduz AUP want artillery and heavy weapons which Karzai isn’t giving them
    -1st Bde, 209th ANA Corps [German/Swede mentored . . . maybe some Finns as well although I think the Fin embedded advisors have transferred to another brigade] . . . Kept the Taliban away from their part of Northern Afghanistan
    -BG Ghori’s 3-215 Bde in Helmand
    -Australian/Dutch mentored 4-205 ANA
    -ANA Special Forces
    -22 ANCOP combat battalions

    A major step up in ANSF development would likely impact the battlefield in a significant way within 12 months. [6 months worth of graduates from 6 months NCO course, and 6 months worth of new officers, 7 or 8 months of new combat ANA battalions]

    “number of posts detailing the atrocious state of the ANA. Drug use. Desertion. Infiltration by Taliban sympathizers. Refusal to engage the enemy. The ANP do not even rise to the level of the ANA. It will be a very, very long time before the ANA is anywhere close to being an effective, counter-insurgent force.” I track ANSF more closely than the captains and dare say I can provide many more stories of poor ANSF units. Remember that there are massive variations in quality between different ANSF units. Many parts of the ANSF are already very effective COIN units. 203rd ANA Corps fights conventional battles with the toughest of the Pakistani Taliban right now. [Referring to units lead and advised by retired officers from another national military.]

    The ANA generally speaking isn’t that infiltrated by Taliban. Drug use is about 9% according to Caldwell. A huge problem but not overwhelming.

    “the most effective counter-insurgent force we can get up and running in a short period of time is the kind of neighborhood militias that the Marines are putting together in Sangin.” You need a combination. In many parts of Afghanistan, the enemy fights a lot better than the Mullah Omar centric QST in Helmand . . . and the ANSF don’t have Marines to back them up. There are many parts of Afghanistan where groups of hundreds or more international Taliban fight openly.

    In Helmand and Kandahar the Taliban tend to be locals who follow Mullah Omar. In many other parts of Afghanistan the Taliban is much more international, fight a lot better, and are not necessarily that influenced by the Quetta Shura. This is one reason Karzai is upset that the main focus is on his fellow Southern Afghan Pashtuns rather than east of the Durand against the hated Pakistanis. Karzai would prefer a larger focus on Eastern Afghanistan.

    Most of the 17 K Marines are stuck in part of Helmand. Helmand is home to only 4% of Afghans but about 35% of all Afghan violence based on the most recent stats from Baba Tim. Helmand is not representative.

    A lot about this war is in the shadows. Ask yourself who created the Taliban and Al Qaeda and allied groups and for what purpose. The Taliban are proxies for who? The largest war in Asia right now is the Pakistani civil war. Much of the Afghan war flows from this larger war. Who trains the Taliban officer corps? Who pays them? The Taliban annual budget might be more than the entire annual revenue of the GIRoA. Notice that the Taliban fighters have short rotations, are provided a lot of R&R, and then rotate back. They have hundreds of camps where they train. Who trains them at these camps?

    You seem to harbor an illusion that the Taliban could take all of Afghanistan. This is unlikely [unless Pakistan and the Arabs step up their support for Al Qaeda and the Taliban]. The Taliban could capture large parts of the South and the East, but the ANSF would fight the Taliban like heck for most of the country . . . and they would have a lot of international backing. Many in the GIRoA and ANSF do not believe in the current strategy of fighting the Taliban in all 34 provinces at the same time. They believe in concentrating on a smaller ink stain and then gradually pushing outwards over a decade or more in a very long and challenging war.

    I don’t think Karzai and the ANSF agree with you on their dependence on the US. I think they are partly delusional. But they seem to think that if they concentrated into a smaller ink stain and had more overt Russian/Indian support, they might surprise on the upside.

    Again, part of your problem is that you are too focused on what the US does. If Russia and India focused on training the ANSF . . . that would make a huge difference.

    On Iraq, Maliki and the ISF did a lot of things in 2006, 2007 and 2008. And no, Petraues didn’t diss Maliki. Without Maliki’s support, Petraeus couldn’t have supported the Sawha and sons of Iraq. Maliki could always order the arrest of anyone he didn’t want MNF-I to negotiate with.

    The success of the ISF enabled MNF-I to draw down to 1.5 brigades combined for Ninevah and At Tamin in late 2006. Also enabled close to half of 2nd, 3rd and 4th IAD to redeploy south for the surge into greater Baghdad and Diyala in early 2007. Similarly the success in Al Anbar allowed Marine mentored 4-1 IA bde to deploy to western Baghdad by late 2006.

    When Marine mentored 1st IAD battalions first showed up in Diyala, the US commander of MNF-I in Diyala called the Marines up and said . . . where did these IA show up from? How did they get this good? We didn’t know there were any IA this good in Iraq.

    By early 2007, many MNF-I mentors were boasting that their IAD was the best in Iraq. 2nd IAD, 3rd IAD, 4th IAD, 8th IAD, 1st IAD and 7th IAD mentors were making this boast. By mid 2007 then Col Twitty was publicly boasting that 2nd and 3rd IAD were two of the best divisions from any foreign military he had ever worked with.

    In the summer of 2007 Gen Jones publicly stated that the Iraqi Special Operations Forces were as good or better than any in the middle east. Gen Petraeus confirmed under oath that he agreed with this assessment on 9.11.2007.
    Non 5th IAD Iraqi Army played a major role in the June 16, 2007 offensive in Diyala. The example of these out of area quality IA lit a fire under 5th IAD and inspired it to transform and improve itself.

    By 2006, then MG Uthman’s 8th IAD was the best division in the entire IA, and responsible for Najaf, Karbala, Babil, Wasit and Al-Qādisiyyah. They played a role in “persuading” Mookie to publicly endorse a ceasefire with the GoI/ISF/MNF-I. The Babil SWAT, Karbala QRF and Najaf provincial police were all significant success stories by 2006.

    Many ISF were deeply dysfunctional too, with large variations in quality between different ISF units.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    There is almost too much here to address, but I’ll weigh in again with a synopsis of the comments.

    First, I agree with TSAlfabet’s comments. And I’ll also say that I have sent him about fourteen e-mails asking him if he would like to be a blogger on TCJ, only to get no response thus far. In reality, being a clear-headed thinker comes with responsibilities, one of those being the duty to advocate and analyze such that one convinces others to see things in a way that they otherwise would not have. There is no other reason for blogging. I’m still waiting on TSAlfabet’s response.

    Second, anan, some of your arguments are effective, some are not. You might help yourself by addressing main themes in a little more succinct fashion, where the comments don’t become longer and more involved than the original article. It would also add a lot to your comments if you would source your information. You supply a lot of data, and sometimes I find your data questionable. It would not be so if you would provide sources.

    Third, as I said, some of your arguments stand on their own, others do not. Take for example your idea of greater involvement of India in Afghanistan. I support this, TSAlfabet supports this, and every clear-thinking man should. But that doesn’t solve the problem, and not even nearly. Empowering Russia, whom I still take as an enemy of the U.S. and who will eventually invade Georgia again and harm the U.S. in any way it thinks it can, is not the right approach to any problem.

    But your prose escapes reality and shoots off into a dreamland of hyperbole and gross exaggeration when you respond to criticisms of your views. Take for instance your claim that:

    ” … no strategy can work without the full support of Karzai and his ANSF. Much the way MNF-I could do didley squat in Iraq without the support of Maliki and his ISF.”

    Good heavens. Good grief. This is almost a laughable statement, and clouds the remainder of your prose, detracting from its value because of this outlandish comment.

    The U.S. was invader, occupier, controller, logistics supplier, military giant, supplier of governance and about everything else in Iraq for a very long time. The notion that we couldn’t do didley squat without the support of Maliki is simply ridiculous. The only reason that the Iraqis didn’t finally turn on him is because, quite stupidly in my opinion, we reaffirmed our support of him. Now we have a man in office who won’t let go, a clear winner who cannot be seated in the office of PM (Allawi), and political chaos, with Iraq aligning more with Iran than it should.

    Further, let me give you at least one indication of the interaction of U.S. Marines and the ISF in Fallujah in 2007. The U.S. Marines, after only brief interactions with them, saw them as treacherous, lying, stealing, cowardly, abusive scumbags who would turn on anyone around them, including each other, and refused to sleep in proximity to them unless a Marine was on duty and they were separate by concertina wire. Within not too many weeks, they were told by the U.S. Marines to get the hell out of Fallujah and don’t ever come back. They complied with what the Marines told them to do. In contrast, the Marines implicitly trusted the IPs and SOI. But not even the IPs or SOI were brave enough to come out into the open until the Marines had killed AN … AWFUL … LOT … OF … FOREIGNERS. Combat action – BY THE U.S. MARINES, NOT THE SOI or the IPs or the ISF … was the precondition to peace and stability. There simply was no other way.

    Finally, recall The Battle of Palm Grove that I linked here:

    http://www.captainsjournal.com/2010/10/18/maliki-turns-towards-iran-will-we-yet-lose-in-iraq/

    The ISF is clearly a LONG way from being able to conduct even small unit fire and maneuver warfare. They will be dependent on the U.S. for a very long time for air support, and will be a protectorate of the U.S. for a decade. Maliki is currently in power because we supported him. If we withdraw our support, he will crumble. The U.S. is not empowered right now in Iraq regarding land operations because we chose to sign the SOFA.

    In Afghanistan, Karzai is mayor of Kabul, nothing more. His brother Wali is a criminal and thug, and the family is seen as personally benefiting from his mayorship. Without the U.S. forces present, the ANP/ANA would cut and run or be killed within two months. So let’s PLEASE not exaggerate quite so much on these things, and your points will carry more weight.

    You think hard and long about these things, and your opinion can be valuable and provide insight here. But to say that the U.S. can’t do “didley squat” in a third world country is just not becoming of a clear-minded thinker. To say that we won’t, or don’t have the stomach or will might be more accurate, especially with this current administration.

    One more thing. I have covered this in GREAT detail in my Iraq analysis, but this thing with al Sadr is simply a misconception. At this point I strongly disagree with Gian Gentile, who believes that the decision of Sadr to stand down in ops was part of what pacified Iraq.

    I responded to him, and I do so to you, that Sadr’s decision was – or should have been – irrelevant. You simply cannot look at what happened as the U.S. needing to negotiate with him, or dependent on his decisions, or in need of him to do anything. Why?

    In 2004 the 3/2 Marines had him in their custody. No, not surrounded, but in custody. I repeat for emphasis. The Marines had him in their custody. They could have killed him, or imprisoned him, or spirited him away to prison somewhere where he and his “army” weren’t a threat. Our negotiations with him were necessitated by our following the stupid and sophomoric counsel of the British who persuaded the powers to release him because they thought that they were still in Northern Ireland doing policing and neighborhood watches.

    So please don’t ascribe more power to Sadr than you should, as if he was some sort of peacemaker, or we actually needed him. Good grief. We could have killed him. The fact that we didn’t is a testimony to the fact that we had the wrong people running the campaign (Bremer). Killing Sadr in 2004 would have changed the calculus such that many of the things that occurred would never had, and some of the things we now discuss would not come up in conversation. Our reluctance to kill him created our difficulty in COIN in Iraq, or at least a good bit of it. And to a man among the higher ranking officers, the U.S. believes it was a mistake to listen to the British and not to kill Sadr.

    Oh, and one more thing (I keep thinking of things to discuss). I understand your push towards officer training, and I find your desires laudable, but there is a significant aspect of military operations that you are ignoring. Western armies are what they are not because of their officers, but because of their NCOs and how they fit into the scheme.

    I have said it before and will again. NCOs (and other enlisted men) are made and created not by the military, but by their religious upbringing, their cultural melieu, the expectations placed on them during childhood, church training, and familial instruction and training. Marines are not made at Parris Island. They are made way before they ever get there. No amount of physical or tactical training can ever replace what’s in the heart and mind of a warrior and leader of other men, or even the heart and mind of a warrior who is a direct report but duty-bound because of reasons and commitments to higher causes and beliefs than simply his own well-being or personal security. See Why Arabs Lose Wars:

    http://www.captainsjournal.com/2009/04/17/concerning-the-importance-of-ncos/

  • anan

    Captain,

    Have been reading you for years, and we disagree on many things. ;-)

    You can e-mail me offline on sources since links tend to crash blogposts.

    The total size of NTM-A is only 3,500 right now and a projected 5,200 at end state. A majority at end state of the 5,200 will likely not be American. The total training side of CSTC-A [NTM-A's predecessor organization] was about one thousand when Pres Obama was elected. Note that back then CSTC-A use to include OMLTs, POMLTs, advisors, so these are being backed out.

    India, Russia, Turkey and South Korea, could substantially boost the size of NTM-A above 5,200. This would make a major medium term difference in the ANSF. A 50% surge in the size of NTM-A would allow approx. 50% more ANSF to be trained at any given point of time. To break these countries down:

    Turkey is in the process of boosting their commitment [and would likely do more if the EU would stop insulting Turkey.] To convince the Turks to do more, the Turks should only be asked to send trainers while NTM-A funded the training facilities and equipment and ANSF TO/E on their own dime [a long standing discussion between the Turks and NATO.] Turkey would argue that they will be training one third of the 1U ANA NCOs [14 week course for E-5 NCOs], many of the ANA officers, one of the 4 ABP schools, many of the ANP officers and that they want more credit for what they do . . . etc. This can and should be done, even if Obama as to visit Turkey again to get another Turkish surge.

    India, well it goes without saying. Indians are very good at training large numbers of college educated officers [who are good] and 12th grade NCOs [who are so so] on the cheap.

    South Korea . . . they need America right now and are trying to win America over to their and Japan’s side with respect to North Korea and China. South Korea isn’t that good at training NCOs. But they would be good at ANSF officer training, specialty training, and Afghan Air Force training.

    Russia . . . well we disagree. I support a Russian/US and Russian/NATO partnership. I even support Russia joining NATO. Whatever our differences, Russians hate AQ and the Taliban worse than we do. Zawahiri fought in Chechnya. OBL and Mullah Omar have been complicit in terrorist attacks against Russian civilians.

  • anan

    Agree with you on the value of NCOs. But even with a weak NCO corps, officer training does make a big difference. Look at the ROK forces, and the Pakistani Army for that matter. The ANA can be as good or better than the Pakistani Army even with a mediocre NCO corps. That should be the goal.

    Building a good NCO corps is hard. The ANA has many good enlisted soldiers. Ideally these would be promoted to NCOs. Part of the problem is that ANA mid grade officers disrespect NCOs as do Afghan civilians. Some of this might be because Afgans over value education and credentials [or are snobbish on education.] The real reason for increasing NCO training to 6 months with intensive literacy training would be to convince ANA mid grade officers, Afghan civilians and junior ANA enlisted to respect NCOs since they would now be “educated” and would now have gone through an officer selection type of course.

    How to identify good potential NCOs? Look at existing ANA units. Identify the top few percent of their enlisted, the ones with heart, and put them in NCO school. Do the same with graduates from basic training [granted, it is tougher to identify good NCOs in the short length of basic training.].

    Captain, have yet to encounter an ANA mentor who couldn’t identify many good ANA enlisted who would be great NCOs. The problem was getting the mid grade ANA officers to respect their NCOs and give them responsibility. If you have talked to ANA advisers who had different experiences, would love to hear about it.

    Another reason for 6 months NCO training [currently 1,200 E-4 NCOs get 4 weeks training, a planned 2,700 NCOs get 14 weeks E-5 training, a planned 200 get senior NCO training at Bridmal ADU] is because putting the best of the best together for a prolonged period of time and segregating them from mediocrity, has value. It raises the expectations that NCOs set for themselves and their units and increases their self confidence.

    But even all of this will not get the ANA get NCOs, it merely improves what is.

  • anan

    We have disagreed on Iraq for many years. Still read you nonetheless. Much of the ISF was junk. Much of it was good. Major divergences in quality between units in the early years.

    Agree with you that Sadr didn’t voluntarily stand down, he was forced to. He was forced to in large measure for the following reasons:
    -substantial improvement in the quality of the ISF and a strong eagerness on the part of the ISF to go after him [part of why LTG Uthman's 8th IAD in the 5 provinces of the upper south was mentioned, and why I emphasize Najaf/Karbala/Babil Iraqi Police]
    -the fact that the ISF were much more popular and legitimate among Iraqis than JAM and that Mookie would be politically killed to confronting the ISF
    -Maliki and the Najaf Marjeya were more popular than Sadr and Sadr felt a confrontation would them would hurt him among his base
    -Mookie was upset that Khamenei was using him and that Mookie was not in command and control of “his own” forces. Mookie publicly bashed Khamenei for supporting Al Qaeda in mass murdering Iraqis while living in Iran.
    -There was a wave of anti Iranian sentiment among Iraqis
    -JAM was militarily being defeated by ISF and MNF-I. [Petraeus gets credit for this]

    We disagree on the contribution of the ISF towards victory in Iraq in 2007. Most MNF-I operations were joint in 2007. Already broken down what ISF units I thought stepped up in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

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  • OldWarrior

    First of all, the man who said ” a lot of dudes” I know personally and this is his 4th combat deployment and he has been to Iraq twice and also Afghanistan. One of his deployments was the Al-Anbar province in Iraq. I agree with you that that they need to deploy more units to the area instead of wasting so much effort and money on missions to nowhere useful. In my mind, if you go to war, go to war right. They are completely robbing most of these young men of the resources that are available to them. Also, as long as the Taliban is crossing over from Pakistan every minute, they will never cease to multiply and that blood vessel needs to be cut quickly. For every Taliban these men kill, another hundred cross the border to replace them. The fundamental strategy of this war is faulty, and it saddens me to see the young, brave men of the infantry, in particular, have to pay the price with their lives. -0311 Vietnam

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » Holding Terrain in Afghanistan: Pakistan’s Games of Duplicity Part III


You are currently reading "U.S. Marine Corps Combat Action in Sangin", entry #5742 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Marine Corps,Marines in Helmand and was published November 14th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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