Men, Not Machines, Win Wars

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 10 months ago

As one who has argued for the involvement and importance of air power and conventional artillery, I don’t want to overplay this hand.  I say what I am about to say circumspectly.  I know the limitations of what I am about to say, and I’d rather have air power on my side than just about anything else.  That is, anything except an infantryman.

So am unimpressed with this report.

US forces are massing on the Pakistan border in eastern Afghanistan amid reports of an imminent drone missile offensive against fighters from the feared Haqqani Network, a Taliban faction which operates from safe havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan Agency, Pakistan Army sources have confirmed.

The scale of the American build-up, including helicopter gunships, heavy artillery and hundreds of American and Afghan troops, caused panic in north Waziristan where tribal militias who feared they could be targeted gathered in the capital Miranshah to coordinate their response.

Local officials in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) warned that Pakistan’s armed forces would repel any incursion across the border by American forces, but military sources in Islamabad and Afghan officials suggested the build-up was part of a coordinated operation.

It’s not a coordinated effort, “hundreds” of troops will not significantly alter the outcome of the campaign, and sending helicopters into Pakistan will get them shot down by insurgents under the current protocol.  Not that I’m opposed, mind you, to sending helicopters into Pakistan, but this isn’t some bloodless, clinical way to run a war, any more than sending helicopters with 30+ Navy SEALS around in Afghanistan to get shot down.  Frankly, I was surprised it took as long as it did before tragedy happened with our elite troopers.

This report adds some clarity.

There were no signs of troop movement on the Pakistani side, locals and officials said, suggesting no plans for a complementary offensive in the neighboring North Waziristan region. Pakistan has long resisted U.S. pressure to launch an operation against extremists that use North Waziristan as a safe haven.

A senior Pakistani military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that Pakistanis hadn’t been briefed in advance about what the U.S.-led forces were up to but were “informed upon inquiring.”

Although few clear details emerged of what the U.S. and its allies were planning, rumor of the gathering forces spread a mixture of panic and bravado in Pakistan. Many North Waziristan residents believed that a surgical U.S. airstrike was imminent, while some said they were prepared to fight U.S. troops if they crossed over.

A senior NATO official dismissed the Pakistani fears, saying that the alliance wasn’t authorized to operate outside Afghanistan and wasn’t trying to threaten Pakistan.

“No, we’re not massing on the border,” said the official, who wasn’t authorized to be quoted by name.

Pakistan isn’t acting to press the Haqqani network on their side of the border, we still respect the border and won’t cross it, and thus the Haqannis still have safe haven.

I recall this depressing report on Marine Corps operations near Sangin.

It is a conversation, the military surgeon says, that every U.S. Marine has with his corpsman, the buddy who is first to treat him if he is wounded by an insurgent’s bomb.

The Marine says, “‘If I lose my manhood, then I don’t want to live through it,'” according to Navy Lt. Richard Whitehead, surgeon for 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, which is fighting in one of the most treacherous combat areas of Afghanistan.

“They ask us not to save them if their ‘junk’ gets blown off,” said Whitehead, using a slang term for genitals. “Usually, we laugh. We joke with them about it. At the same time, you know that you’re going to treat them anyway.”

This is a world of fear, resolve and dark humor that is mostly hidden from accounts of the human cost of the war in Afghanistan. American troops who patrol on foot in bomb-laced areas know they might lose a leg, or two, if they step in the wrong place. But for young men in their prime, most unmarried and without children, the prospect of losing their sexual organs seems even worse.

Whitehead said: “It’s one of the areas we can’t put a tourniquet on.”

Sangin, the district of southern Afghanistan where the Marine battalion is based, was a Taliban stronghold for years. It has one of the highest concentrations of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in the country. Robust Marine operations in the past year have weakened the insurgency in Sangin, and troops now seek to build up the authority of local government and community leaders.

But elusive fighters routinely strike with booby traps on trails and around patrol bases. Lt. Col. Thomas Savage, the battalion commander, said there was a rough average of five IED strikes, finds or interdictions a day in Sangin, in Helmand province. Estimates vary, but some Marines say roughly one in 10 IEDs hits a target.

Sixteen of the battalion’s Marines have died and at least 160 have been injured during a seven-month deployment that ends in October. Of those, about 90 were sent home because of the severity of their wounds, said Whitehead, the battalion surgeon. One lost both testicles, four Marines lost one testicle and two had penis injuries.

We’re sending “blast panties” or “ballistic boxers” to help, but that only helps to stop infection and decrease the damage of shrapnel.  It doesn’t save a Marine’s gonads.  Know what we’re also sending?  Robots.  That’s right, robots.

Listen.  I’m all for robots, and helicopters, and drones, and all manner of new-fangled gadgetry and high tech toys.  But we’ll win in the Helmand Province when we send Marines on distributed operations to sit in concealment and wait to find the IED emplacers, and we shoot them where they stand.  And we find the makers, and we take them out in their homes and in the roads.  We’ll find out who these bastards are when we enter their homes, and get in their faces – when we do census operations, when we press the villagers.  When it becomes too dangerous to emplace IEDs, the insurgents will stop doing it.  Governance and digging wells didn’t work in Iraq, and it won’t in Afghanistan.

And when we inform the Pakistanis that if they shoot at our troops chasing the Haqqani fightes in Pakistan we’ll turn the ground they are standing on into a sea of glass, then we’ll be on our way to ending the Haqqani threat, machines and ballistic underwear notwithstanding.




You are currently reading "Men, Not Machines, Win Wars", entry #7766 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Haqqani Network,IEDs,Marine Corps and was published October 18th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

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