McChrystal, SOF Raids and Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 7 months ago

Tim Lynch weighs in on insurgent networks:

Nothing will sour the morale of combat troops faster then the realization that the commander at the top receives frequent visits from the Good Idea Fairy.   Which is a good start point for explaining why  General Stanley A McChrystal took to the pages of Foreign Policy last week to explain the unexplainable.  The story starts with McChrystal’s observation that the SF tier 1 guys found al Qaeda difficult to collect, fix and target because they were so decentralized.  So McChrystal made up his  own “network” and his centralized, vertically integrated, fixed chain of command network beat the AQI with their horizontally integrated decentralized chain of command.  I’m not buying that about Iraq but the focus of the article was how this genius system was implemented in Afghanistan by the regular military and what do you know the “mo better” network has since delivered us the current spate of good news about the Taliban getting tired of fighting.

The article linked above and all the other recent reports stress that the rift between the Taliban fighters and their leaders who are safely ensconced in Pakistan stems from the losses being inflicted on them in the Helmand and Kandahar Provinces.  The pressure being brought to bear on the fighting Taliban has very little (if anything) to do with the nighttime high speed low drag tier 1 special forces raids designed to “decapitate” Taliban leadership.  The whole decapitation strategy is suspect as numerous observers have noted over these many years of SOF raiding and I ask again if somehow a military adversary managed to “decapitate” our leadership would we be weaker or stronger? …

HVT raids do produce results but it seems to me that what has brought the fighting Taliban to their knees is hard fighting infantry who have moved in with the people and deprived the villains of maneuver room while killing ever increasing numbers of them using ROE completly different from the horseshit inflicted on them by McChrystal.

So let’s talk about this for a few minutes.  Just occasionally we are enriched by someone who has both location and smarts – or shall we say, good judgment.  Nir Rosen, who was always and remains a jerk, had location.  He was also embedded with the Taliban.  I wasn’t impressed, and said so.  I thought he was a jerk then, and I was proven right. Whether I have good judgment is up to my readers, but I certainly don’t have location.  Michael Yon now has location again, and he also has good judgment.  Tim Lynch has both as well.  If you really want to know not only what is going on in Afghanistan but how to interpret it, read Tim’s work.  It’s that good.  Really.  Read Michael Yon, then read Tim Lynch.  Between them you will usually find what you need to give clear perspective.

Tim expressed doubt that the tooth fairy ideas expounded by McChrystal worked in Iraq or Afghanistan like McChrystal claims.  Let me be more blunt.  He sees the world myopically.  So the insurgent and counterinsurgent can operate according to swarm theory.  They can engage in distributed operations where authority is pressed downward.  So what?  We already knew this.  McChrystal seems to advocate the idea that it was the HVT raids that won the campaign in Iraq.  How what he did with a few operators differed from what infantry did all over Iraq from 2004 – 2008 isn’t explained.  And I know something of the hell the boys of 2-6 went through in Fallujah in 2007, and they did it without SOF operators.  Didn’t need them, didn’t want them.  They would have been in the way.

[Here I should VERY BRIEFLY share a story.  My son was on post and a band of un-uniformed SOF troopers came through Fallujah on the way to Ramadi to pick up some bad guy, driving an unmarked vehicle, throwing dust as they drove, and they were stopped by my son.  He told them, "If you ever, ever come through my AO again un-uniformed, and in an unmarked vehicle, driving like a bat out of hell, I will light you up like a f***ing Christmas tree, and then laugh about it as they pick up the body parts."  And the SOF troopers didn't come through Fallujah again on 2-6's watch.]

If my friend Gian Gentile casts doubt on the surge narrative, I cast doubt on the HVT narrative.  Neither won the campaign in Iraq.  Hard core infantry operations in the cities, villages and countryside of Iraq, along with all of the things discussed in McChrystal’s paper done by all of infantry and not just SOF, won the campaign.  And finally, yes, along with Tim, I think that the micromanagement by McChrystal’s staff was horseshit.  Plain and simple.

Tim goes on to discuss the tactics that won Iraq, and that will win in Afghanistan if we turn the troops loose.

A great example of this would be Naw Zad which is currently home to the headquarters of Charlie Company 1st Battalion 8th Marines.  The rest of the battalion is handling Musa Quala which, like Marjah, was infested with Taliban but is now safe enough for the battalion commander to walk around the bazaar without body armor and helmet.  The Captain at Naw Zad (and he’s there on his own because he’s that good) is surrounded by Taliban.  He has an area of influence which he is constantly expanding and he does this with aggressive patrolling.  He has the clearance to shoot 60mm mortars and run rotary wing CAS guns (Cobra or Apache gunships employing their guns only; rocket or Hellfires have to be cleared) without coordinating with his battalion COC.  He has no problems at all with the current rules of engagement and has never been denied fires when he has asked for them.

Tim goes on to discuss issues of weight for the Marines.

I was able to spend a lot of time talking with the officers and men currently serving in Naw Zad and here is what they bitch about:  They don’t like the weight they are forced to carry and strongly feel the use of  body armor should be determined by the mission and enemy.  Wearing it in blistering heat or while climbing the massive mountains is so physically debilitating that they have felt on several occasions that they were unable to defend themselves. Many of their Marines are suffering chronic stress fractures, low back problems as well as hip problems caused by carrying loads in excess of 130 pounds daily.  ”We’re fighting the Mothers of America” said one; if we lose a Marine and he was not wearing everything in the inventory to protect him that becomes the issue.  Trying to explain that we have removed the body armor to reduce the chances of being shot is a losers game because you can’t produce data quantifying the reduction in gun shot wounds for troops who remain alert and are able to move fast due to a lighter load.

I have mixed feelings on this, as my son’s life was saved by his ESAPI plate.  But as readers know, I have griped about battlefield weight as well.  Remember this Marine carrying a mortar plate along with the rest of his gear?

Whatever is done or can be done about battle space weight, Tim’s discussion about injuries is sure to be ignored by advocates of women in combat.  I have pointed out before the difference between the Army mentality (mechanized infantry) versus Marines (foot borne infantry), but even this breaks down in places like Korengal where those Soldiers may as well have been Marines.  But I have pointed out that the Russian campaign in Afghanistan was plagued by a huge number of lower extremity injuries to women, and if these injuries (including higher up into the whole body, i.e., hips) are happening to the most physically fit troops on earth right now in Afghanistan, does anyone really, seriously want to advocate the notion that women can do this with 130 pounds of gear?  Did God not design men and women differently, and would we not want to celebrate this diversity rather than try to expunge it?  What kind of man imagines gender-neutral physical features, and for what reason?

And speaking of Now Zad, make sure to catch Tim’s pictures documenting his time in Now Zad.  He observes:

Fox company 2nd Battalion 7th Marines (Fox 2/7) arrived in Naw Zad to reinforce the Brits in late 2008 and were able to expand the security bubble but not by much.  The Brits, Estonians and Marines fought side by side to expel the Taliban from this fertile valley but were hampered by restrictive ROE pushed down from on high by senior officers in Kabul who lacked common sense and experience at counterinsurgency warfare. The Marines and their allies lost a lot of men because they did not have the mass or firepower to do the job correctly.  Way back then there was a lone voice in the blogsphere pleading with all who would listen to free up the combat power and let the Marines in Naw Zad fight.  His name is Herschel Smith and his posts at the Captains Journal can be found here.  It is worth your time to read them all.

This statement by Tim is, quite honestly, very moving for me.  I’m a fairly rough and unemotional man, but I recall with significant emotion my time studying the boys in Now Zad, their living in what they termed hobbit holes, the multiple trauma doctors with them due to the massive loss of limbs and other traumas suffered by undermanned Marines, and so on, until I almost couldn’t take it any more.  Tim gives us a picture of the Dahaneh pass, and I know that my good friend John Bernard lost his son near Dahaneh: “KIA (Dahaneh 08/14/09) and who is now safe and resting in the arms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I miss him!”  I know that you do John.  Many loved ones were lost near this AO while massive flotillas full of Marines were going from port to port as “force in readiness” for God only knows what.

  • jules

    I have a question about the insurgency, it might have been answered before but… How does one overcome tribal loyalty, especially in Southern Afghanistan where as one marine put it, “the taliban oppress the people but they’re pashtun so its ok, but if we use the wrong phrase they lose their minds”. The army and police are also largely tajik or other minorities from the north and speak Dari, as opposed to the Pashto spoken in the South.

  • Guest

    I was actually fighting in Dahaneh when this was written. Definitely raised real issues. The amount of gear we had to carry was truly nothing more than a hindrance. We had to carry heavy EMC equipment that we knew didn’t work just because some higher up that’s never done real combat ops thought it was a cool idea. Our Captain may have had the ability to approve mortars and CAS but we had major clearing operations that needed to be done that our BC denied. Lt. Col. Dan Canfield was a sorry excuse of an officer and left all of Charlie Company with our ass in the wind. He didn’t care about his men whatsoever and didn’t give two shits how many of us that might have to pay the price for it.


You are currently reading "McChrystal, SOF Raids and Now Zad", entry #6455 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,General McChrystal,Now Zad and was published February 28th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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