Archive for the 'Afghanistan' Category



A Middle East Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 1 month ago

After watching the third and final presidential debate on Monday night, I was disturbed to hear the two candidates talk about foreign policy with such lack of focus or context.   Admittedly, Obama was intent on baiting Romney into a game-changing gaffe and Romney was intent on not committing any, such error.   Presidential debates, ironically enough, are the last place to hear what a candidate actually thinks about any particular subject.

Both candidates, for example, endorsed the comic notion that the Afghan Army will be able to take over the fight against the Taliban by 2014 as the precursor to an American retreat.  Both candidates vowed that Iran will not be allowed to field a nuclear weapon (Romney actually drew the line at “nuclear capability” which is better), but neither one mentioned that the deeper problem with Iran is its current, Islamist government and not their pursuit of nuclear weapons per se.    So, for instance, Romney seemed to accept the continuation of the Iranian Regime so long as it did not have nukes.

Reflecting on this event further I am reminded of  a post by Walter Russel Mead which is an excellent springboard, summarizing all that is wrong with the current American approach to the Middle East:

The anti-American riots that have been rocking the Muslim world since 9/11 have shaken the establishment out of its complacency. Increasingly, even those who sympathize with the basic elements of the administration’s Middle East policy are connecting the dots. What they are seeing isn’t pretty. It’s not just that the US remains widely disliked and distrusted in the region. It’s not just that the radicals and the jihadis have demonstrated more political sophistication and a greater ability to organize and strike than expected and that the struggle against radical terror looks longer lasting and more dangerous than thought; it’s that the strategic underpinnings of the administration’s Middle East policy seem to be falling apart. A series of crises is sweeping through the region, and the US does not—at least not yet—seem to have a clue what to do.

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The Israeli-Palestinian problem, for example, cannot be settled quickly; the consequence of the region’s lack of democratic traditions and liberal institutions cannot be overcome in four or eight years; the underdevelopment and mass unemployment afflicting so many countries has no known cure; the ethnic and sectarian hatreds that poison the region will not soon be tamed; the deep sense of grievance and injustice that shapes the attitudes of so many toward the Christian or post-Christian West will not soon fade away; the radical and terror groups now roaming the region cannot be easily stopped or mollified; the resource curse will continue to corrupt and poison large parts of the region; the resurgence of Islam, even in less radical forms, inevitably heightens a sense of confrontation with the US and its western allies; and Iran’s ambitions are hard to tame and impossible to accept.

Mr. Mead challenged both Obama and Mitt Romney to articulate a policy or at least initiatives that might address these problems.  Neither has done so.

At the risk of being what Mr. Mead terms “an armchair strategist” offering simple solutions, I believe that the U.S. needs to fundamentally reconsider its approach to foreign policy and the methods and tools used to pursue that policy.

First, it is not enough, unfortunately, for the United States to be in favor of “democracy” or “freedom” for those around the world.  These terms are simply too amorphous and chameleon to be useful in building a coherent foreign policy.   Instead, the U.S. should be an ardent advocate for the foundations of civil society:  respect for individual rights;  free exercise of religion; freedom of speech; respect for the rule of law rather than resort to rioting and violence; the orderly transition of political power free from intimidation.   This is a sampling of the bedrock, Anglo-American traditions that are prerequisites  for a democratic republic.    As Mark Levin argues in his latest book, Ameritopia, you cannot hope to have a real democracy without the foundations of a civil society.

The Middle East is bereft of genuine democracies (with the notable exception of Israel) because it is bereft of the foundational traditions of a civil society.   That is why it was unforgivably foolish of George W. Bush to insist on the hasty installation of a “democracy” in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Neither of these societies had the foundations needed for democracy to take root.   Yes, Iraq and Afghanistan may have the outer trappings of democracy with parliaments and elections, but form is not substance.  Iraq is headed back towards civil war as the ethnic and sectarian factions escalate violence against one another.   Afghanistan is a cardboard cut-out of democracy propped up with billions of dollars of U.S. aid and military assistance.   Once the props are removed in 2014 (or sooner), the facade will collapse.

So then, it is a tragic and self-defeating mistake for the U.S. to blindly push for elections.   In Gaza, for example, such elections mean nothing.    They mean less than nothing since they serve to legitimate blood-thirsty ideologues, putting the U.S. in the untenable position of undermining what we previously declared to be a “freely elected” government.    No matter that said government throws its political opponents off of rooftops.

Rather, the U.S. must be very specific, unapologetic and insistent about the type of democracy and “freedom” we are talking about– an Anglo-American civil society that can support the pressures of representative government and tolerate religious diversity and dissenting opinions.

Furthermore, the U.S. must take a hard look at the nations as they are and not how we wish them to be.   It took hundreds of years for civil traditions to develop in the West.   It may take much longer in the Middle East, burdened as it is with Islamic notions of subjugation, subservience and nihilism.

As an example of this, consider this piece by Robert Kagan in The Washington Post.   Kagan argues in favor of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt mainly because it was “democratically” elected:

The Obama administration has not been wrong to reach out to the popularly elected government in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood won that election, and no one doubts that it did so fairly. We either support democracy or we don’t. But the administration has not been forthright enough in making clear, publicly as well as privately, what it expects of that government.  (Emphasis added)

First, it is not beyond dispute that the Muslim Brotherhood won the election “fairly” when it is essentially the only, organized political party in the country.   There is evidence that a sizable number of Egyptians do not support the Muslim Brotherhood but no, unified opposition party could be organized in the relatively short time allowed before the vote.    In any event, to say that an Islamist party received the most number of votes in an election does not lead ineluctably to the conclusion that it is a “democracy” that we are obligated to support.   In fact, Kagan goes on to point out that the U.S. must make it clear what a “democracy” entails:

Out of fear of making the United States the issue in Egyptian politics, the Obama administration, like past administrations, has been too reticent about stating clearly the expectations that we and the democratic world have for Egyptian democracy: a sound constitution that protects the rights of all individuals, an open press, a free and vital opposition, an independent judiciary and a thriving civil society. President Obama owes it to the Egyptian people to stand up for these principles. Congress needs to support democracy in Egypt by providing aid that ensures it advances those principles and, therefore, U.S. interests.

I would differ with Kagan to the extent that U.S. aid money is provided directly and up front to an Egyptian government that is showing every indication that it intends to implement its Islamist beliefs.  Egyptians must see that voting in an Islamist government will have certain and severe consequences.   In any event, the United States cannot be in the business of funding our enemies and, regardless of Kagan’s view that the Muslim Brotherhood is not clearly against us, a weak or failing Islamist regime in Egypt is better than one that is buying up the latest weapons systems (e.g., German submarines for example) with U.S. tax dollars.   Kagan and those like him are desperate to see a civil society where none exists and, so, are easily taken in by democratic happy talk that Egyptian President Morsi (and other Islamists in the region) are all too adept at feeding to willing dupes.

The second, radical change to U.S. foreign policy must be to view everything in terms of U.S. national interests and the tactics and lines of effort that best advance those interests.

For example, for the better part of four years, the Obama Administration has confused the agenda of the United Nations with that of the United States of America.   While it would be hoped that the international body that the U.S. founded at the end of World War II and funds disproportionately would be at least sympathetic to U.S. national interests, this is decidedly not the case.  The U.N. has largely been subverted and overrun by authoritarian member states with interests that directly conflict with those of the U.S.   In an ideal world, the U.S. would explicitly repudiate the U.N., evict it from its expensive quarters in Manhattan and rent out the space to a new organization made up of democratic U.S. allies.   Alas, the best we can hope for is to limit the damage of the U.N. by ignoring it, working around it and forging coalitions of allies to negate the U.N.’s malign influence in the world.

In the Middle East and around the globe, the U.S. needs to re-evaluate its position in the light of our national interest.  We must, for example, reconsider our relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of their unrelenting funding of Salafist and Wahhabist ideologies directly hostile to the U.S. and the West in general.   We cannot elevate the Saudis to the high status of ally or even “friend” when they are bankrolling our enemies.   This need not mean open conflict with them, but it surely must mean a reduction in relations.  (The fact that the U.S. is set to soon surpass the Saudis as the world’s largest oil producer should translate into tangible, state leverage).

Syria is another example where the U.S. must evaluate the opportunities and risks for involvement based primarily upon national interest rather than the threat of a “humanitarian crisis” or “instability.”  Even a Syria riven by civil war and instability will stalemate Iran’s ability to fund and support Hezbollah and bring greater opportunities for U.S. influence in the region as a whole.   The U.S. has been at war with Iran since 1979 and rarely have we had an opportunity to deal the regime in Tehran such a critical blow as exists in Syria.

Throughout the Middle East U.S. policy is plagued by a lack of a driving force.  The U.S. intervened in Libya under the pretext of potential civilian casualties but recoils from Syria with actual casualties.    The U.S. dithers over supporting former President Mubarak in Egypt while supporting the  no-less tyrannical Saudi royal family.   The U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars on a corrupt government in Kabul but argues whether to pull funding from Israel if it does not halt new housing settlements or show enough “flexibility” on Arab demands for land.   It is high time to clarify who our friends and enemies are and why.  Israel is not merely a kindred democracy, for example.   They are a vital ally because they directly serve U.S. interests in the region as a bulwark against Islamists.  There is, perhaps, no greater return on U.S. investments than Israel given the plethora of hostile, Islamist states in the region.   But here again, the U.S. policy is to adopt the hectoring, self-righteous tone of the international community, treating Israel and the Palestinians on equal terms for no good reason.

It is my hope that Mitt Romney wins the election and does so in convincing fashion.   The next four years could be pivotal as a showdown with Iran cannot be delayed beyond the next term in office.  War is everywhere in the Middle East and the next President will need to have a clear-eyed view of what America’s interests are and how to achieve them.   The last 11 years have certainly taught us that “nation building” and “elections” are not effective tools of American power.   May President Romney absorb the lessons and chart a better course in 2013.

Court Throws Out Conviction Of Bin Laden Driver

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 2 months ago

From The Seattle Times:

A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out the conviction of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden who served a prison term for material support for terrorism.

In a 3-0 ruling, the appeals court said that material support for terrorism was not an international-law war crime at the time Hamdan engaged in the activity for which he was convicted.

Hamdan was sentenced to 5 1/2 years, given credit for time served and is back home in Yemen, reportedly working as a taxi driver.

“If the government wanted to charge Hamdan with aiding and abetting terrorism or some other war crime that was sufficiently rooted in the international law of war at the time of Hamdan’s conduct, it should have done so,” wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. All three judges on the case were appointed by Republican presidents.

The war crime for which Hamdan was convicted was contained in the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

“The government suggests that at the time of Hamdan’s conduct from 1996 to 2001, material support for terrorism violated the law of war referenced” in U.S. law, said Kavanaugh, but “we conclude otherwise.”

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the department is reviewing the ruling.

Hamdan met bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1996 and began working on his farm before winning a promotion as his driver.

Defense lawyers say he only kept the job for the $200-a-month salary. But prosecutors alleged he was a personal driver and bodyguard of the al-Qaida leader. They say he transported weapons for the Taliban and helped bin Laden escape U.S. retribution following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Not much more needs to be said about this.  Pause and consider: ” … and is back home in Yemen, reportedly working as a taxi driver.”  Really, is it any wonder that our boys currently in Afghanistan don’t know why they’re in theater, and consider it a successful deployment when they don’t even fire a weapon at the enemy?  If everyone has lost the will to defend the homeland, why would we expect any different from our warriors?

Lara Logan, Attack In Benghazi, And My Readers

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 2 months ago

I’m sorry for the scatterbrained post title, but there are several things we need to cover.

First, note what Lara Logan says about Afghanistan (and the more sweeping issue of the state of Islamists in Asia and Africa).

Eleven years later, “they” still hate us, now more than ever, Logan told the crowd. The Taliban and al-Qaida have not been vanquished, she added. They’re coming back.

“I chose this subject because, one, I can’t stand, that there is a major lie being propagated . . .” Logan declared in her native South African accent.

The lie is that America’s military might has tamed the Taliban.

“There is this narrative coming out of Washington for the last two years,” Logan said. It is driven in part by “Taliban apologists,” who claim “they are just the poor moderate, gentler, kinder Taliban,” she added sarcastically. “It’s such nonsense!”

[ ... ]

Our enemies are writing the story, she suggests, and there’s no happy ending for us.

It must come as a shock to hear a main stream reporter say these things to the Obama administration.  I’m sure those in attendance were shocked.  Lara Logan (reporting on Afghanistan) and Sharyl Attkisson (on Fast and Furious) working for CBS have done good work (although David Codrea and Mike Vanderboegh were the sources for Sharyl’s work and haven’t received enough credit for it).  Jake Tapper with ABC is also a very good reporter, but there aren’t many in the MSM that have earned the respect they demand.

But I have a problem with Lara’s account.  She says, “Our enemies are writing the story,” as if the Taliban are some sort of honorable warriors who have outwitted the U.S. with all of its heralded might.

No, we have abandoned the battle space.  The Taliban are a bunch of ignorant child molesting abusers and seventh century vandals and ne’er-do-wells.  Our loss is our fault and we beat ourselves, and as long as Lara’s prose is interpreted that way, she has added to the conversation.

But of course, readers of The Captain’s Journal didn’t have to wait on Lara to give us this information.  I have been singing this song for five or more years now, calling Generals McChrystal, Rodriguez and others on the carpet for their failures and propaganda (recall where I called out Rodriguez and his stupid claim that the Taliban weren’t able to launch a spring offensive in 2008).

Speaking of things that my readers already know, it’s almost amusing to see how the administration and their detractors have done this kabuki dance over who knew what when on the Benghazi attacks.  This was all totally unnecessary and so much wasted time.

All one must do to figure out what happened is visit this web site and study the educated comments posted in reply to the articles.  For example, study the comments from Dirty Mick and Jean from one month ago (right after the attack happened) and you will learn about a complex ambush, the use of combined arms, no real QRF, enemy fighters already in position, etc.  We knew then that this was a preplanned attack whether they admitted it or not.  The only thing that wasn’t clear at this point was that the existing security team included contract employees (former SEALs), and that more security had been requested.

Again, you know it from reading it here almost as soon as the smoke clears.  You don’t have to wait on the spin.

Losing Morale In Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 2 months ago

Michael Yon recently penned a piece entitled Stuck In the Mud, written in the same spirit as my own Doing The Same Things For Too Long In Afghanistan.  Michael details better than I did the deleterious and debilitating effects that technology has had on our war efforts.  Visit my own article, and then visit Michael’s article.  Michael adds flesh to the skeleton of my own views.  My friend John Bernard continues Michael’s thoughts by observing:

This is another important piece chronicling the perverse nature of an ill-advised battle strategy chosen by a mindless body politic and their morally defunct General Grade surrogates.

If the strategy (COIN) was such a magnificent contrivance, there would be no discussion about progress; it would in fact be self-evident. Instead we have journalists like Michael Yon, who is not of the exact same camp as I am. He and I have talked and he has held out hope for a properly run COIN operation even in the midst of the demonically possessed while I believe every iteration is doomed to failure.

This, his latest piece, provides even more insight into this nightmare called COIN, conceived in the hearts of spiritually soiled men and in meetings governed by a coward’s concern for global perceptions! This travesty of strategy, as a principle of theater-wide application ought to be outlawed by this Nation!

Readers know my own views.  I disagree with population-centric COIN as a strategy.  It is a tactic, and at that, a poor one.  But I must caveat what John says.  While I agree with John that COIN practiced the way we have in Afghanistan is doomed to failure, if it is practiced in a different way it can succeed in certain parts of the world.

To be more precise, In Fallujah in 2007, al Qaeda fighters had been driven from Ramadi, and had such control over the city that the inhabitants were persuaded to send their own children out to encircle the Marines when they patrolled, raising black balloons in order to show the insurgents where the Marines were for the purposes of mortar targeting.  FOB Reaper was built while my son and others passed sand bags over their heads, being shot at by snipers for much of the time.  Fallujah was utterly controlled by al Qaeda fighters.

Enter the 2/6 Marines for a 7 month deployment.  They went in hard, patrolling heavily, laying down massive fire at times, engaged in forced (and at times violent) searches of homes, performed census operations, locked the city down from vehicular traffic with only two checkpoints into and out of the city, shot insurgents as they attempted to boat over the Euphrates river into Fallujah (my son engaged in those operations), and other things that I simply cannot discuss.

As part of this operation, they had the assistance of the IPs who did everything they could to earn the trust of the Marines, looked up to them, and admired them and their work.  This leads me to my next point.  My son observed that the people of Fallujah were Islamic in name only.  They weren’t committed, and according to my son, were virtually as Westernized as Americans.

We can practice counterinsurgency (not population-centric per se, but a different brand of counterinsurgency like my son did in Fallujah) to an extent that is inversely proportional to strength of belief in Islam.  For example, we couldn’t conduct COIN operations in Egypt, home of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Operations in foreign countries have to be much more brief than we have done in Afghanistan, must find and kill the enemy more effectively, and must lead to the understanding that we may have to do it again within ten or twelve years, which is what the U.S. Marines are for.  The Army’s (and administration’s) notion that we can build a state that never … ever … considers itself an enemy of the U.S., and that is the only definition of success, has in part led to the debacle we have witnessed in Afghanistan.

Population-centric counterinsurgency is based largely on nineteenth and twentieth century Western psychology.  If I reject the pronouncements of those studies, and I do, then I must reject in large measure population-centric COIN and state building.

Finally, take note of Michael’s more recent piece entitled America’s Dumbest War.  Take careful note of the comments.  It’s as if a herd of PAOs dropped by to talk about how the guy who wrote the letter is an idiot and couldn’t possibly have known the full truth.

These commenters missed the point entirely.  First of all, I have reason to believe the Soldier’s comments, at least in part, based on communications with an officer currently in Afghanistan concerning travel, new directives, etc.  But second, what if only part of it is true?  A problem, yes?  Finally, what if none of it true?

Still a problem.  When we get to the point that the grunts feel this way, we have lost the campaign.  If the grunts feel this way, their parents and spouses do to.  When you’ve lost the fighters’ morale, you’ve lost everything.  Technology is useless at that point.  I have said before that one of the most debilitating effects of lousy rules of engagement is the effect they have on morale.  The same thing goes for our strategy.  If they see none (except for the exhausted talking points), they will lose hope.

No, not lose hope.  They have already lost hope.  Bring them home.  The campaign is over.

The Collected Wisdom of Fools: Defense Department and ANA Infiltration

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 2 months ago

I keep telling myself to forswear any more posts about Afghanistan.  It is beyond merely beating a dead horse.  It is akin to saddling the horse up.

Still, this article in The Hill (hat tip to Instapundit), while dealing with the problem of enemy infiltration of the ANA, is really about the complete and utter cluelessness of the Department of Defense, its leadership and the lack of direction in U.S. policy in general.

Here is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff– the highest ranking member of the military, the one responsible for advising the President on military matters:

U.S. and coalition commanders are no closer to knowing how deep the Taliban has penetrated Afghanistan’s security forces despite increased efforts to flush out infiltrators who are carrying out attacks against Americans.

“As for what percentage of the insider threat is related to infiltration or radicalization, I mean, it’s really difficult to determine,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said Thursday.

“I’m sure a certain percentage of it is. And we’re treating it … as a threat,” he told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.

Taliban double agents, posing as members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), are responsible for executing some of the deadly “insider” attacks that have killed 51 coalition troops, mostly from the United States.

Really, General Dempsey?  It is “really difficult to determine” what percentage of the ANA is infiltrated by the Taliban?   But you are sure that “a certain percentage of it is.”   That’s just swell.  From purely a public relations perspective, you need to fire whomever is advising you, General.   There is absolutely no need to have the JCS Chairman get up in front of a bunch of reporters and say idiotic things like this.   Isn’t White House spokesman Jay Carney available for this kind of thing?  At least he gets lots of practice.

I am not interested here in examining the problems and solutions to infiltration of government forces by an insurgency.   There were certainly comparable problems with this in the Iraq Campaign.  But notice that in Iraq the approach of U.S. forces to the problem was commonsense:  don’t trust any of the Iraqis units being mentored.   There was not the same air of desperation in Iraq to train up security forces by a date certain as there clearly is in Afghanistan.   This is just one of the many evils unleashed by El Presidente’s foolish 2014 withdrawal date.   My interest here, however, is in the depths of inanity to which otherwise sane and presumably rational men will sink in obedience to the political dictates of the Child President.

Continuing on in this same article, lest anyone think that General Dempsey has a monopoly on foolishness, here is Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, no less:

But as Washington continues to eye the finish line in Afghanistan, the spate of insider attacks — no matter who is carrying them out — will likely continue all the way through the final withdrawal in 2014.

“I expect that there will be more of these high-profile attacks,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told reporters Thursday. “The enemy will do whatever they can to try and break our will using this kind of tactic. That will not happen.”

Oh.  I see, Leon.  So you’re not scared of those big, bad Taliban.   Let them keep infiltrating the ANA in order to kill more U.S. service members.   No matter how high the toll, the United States is determined to stand by its commitment to the Afghan people and to fight the forces of evil to the bitter end.   All the way up to, er….2014.   That would be another 15 months or so.  The Taliban can be forgiven if they are not as intimidated as Leon would like.   The bad guys may not be taking window measurements at the presidential residence in Kabul just yet, but is there anyone who cannot see the utter chaos in the Pentagon that has left our most senior leaders grasping at rhetorical fig leaves like this?

Let there be no mistake about the source of this folly.  The Pentagon has been given a completely untenable mission in Afghanistan– beat down a home-grown insurgency using less than half the necessary forces with half their collective arms tied in R.O.E. red tape behind their backs; training an Afghan national army heavily infiltrated by the enemy and on a timeline for surrender known to everyone.   El Presidente Obama is squarely to blame for the bloody and expensive failure unfolding in Afghanistan.  (There’s that dead horse).

Nonetheless, in more heroic and patriotic times, I would hope that there would be military officers who would rather resign than play the Fool.

Doing The Same Things For Too Long In Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 3 months ago

Michael Yon does well with his rehearsal of how the Taliban would have pulled off their attack on Camp Bastion, but he does a lot more than that.

In every respect, Southern Afghanistan is a dark part of the world. Without moonlight, most villages are black at night.  The brightest places in the country are our bases.  Cultural lights present little danger to Taliban moving at night.  Our air assets, including our aerostat balloons, are often their biggest concern.

This war is mature.  The enemy knows us, and we know them.  After 11 years, the Taliban realizes that most helicopter traffic ceases during red illum.  Most birds will only fly for urgent MEDEVAC, or for special operations.  The enemy closely observes our air traffic.  Operations slow under red illum, so air traffic declines, and the chances of being spotted by roving aircraft are reduced.

There is a misconception that UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) such as Predators can detect everything.  They cannot.  Their field of vision is like looking through a toilet paper roll.  The UAVs are great for specific targets, such as watching a house, but imagine patrolling.  It is like trying to visually swat mosquitoes using no ears, no sense of touch, and only the ability to look through a toilet paper roll.  You will get some, and miss many.

We only have enough UAVs to cover small splotches of the country, and there are bases, roads, operations, and targets spread throughout Afghanistan and elsewhere that need watching.  The enemy can spoof observers by using a “pattern of life” (POL) for camouflage.  So even if our UAV operators see apparently unarmed natives moving, it is no guarantee of early detection.

Our UAVs over Afghanistan fly with their strobes flashing to avoid collisions.  If a Predator or Reaper crashes into a commercial airliner because it was flying blacked out while staring at the ground, that is a problem.  The enemy can see our UAVs from miles away.

A key realization: the enemy uses cheap night vision gear in the form of cameras that have night functions.  When our IR lasers, our IR strobes, our IR illumination or our IR spotlights are radiating, they can easily be seen using cheap digital cameras.  I recently told this to some Norwegian soldiers, who were as surprised as our soldiers to learn it.  I learned this from the enemy, not from our guys.  The Taliban even use smart phone cameras to watch for invisible lasers.  The enemy in Afghanistan has been caught using cameras for night vision.  It is just a stroke of common sense: I have been doing it for eight years since I noticed an IR laser one night in Iraq.

A Norwegian trooper explained that one dark night in Afghanistan, they got ambushed with accurate but distant machinegun fire.  When they turned off their IR strobes, the fire ended.  When they turned the IR strobes back on, the fires resumed.  When they turned them off for good, it was over.

Many of our people believe that the enemy does not use night vision.  There was a time when this was true, but the war has matured and this is now false.  If your firefly is strobing on your helmet, or if you are carrying a cracked IR chemlight, do not be surprised if you take accurate fire during a black night.  When JTACs mark targets with IR lasers, or when aircraft such as Predators lase for Hellfire shots or for target ID, they look like purple or green sunbeams through night vision optics and they are crazy bright.  You cannot miss them.

To maximize chances of success for an assault such as that at Bastion last Friday, the Taliban know that it is best to start early, on a moonless night, just after red illum has begun.  Other Afghans engaged in normal masking movements can provide POL camouflage.  The enemy knows that only “Terry Taliban” is skulking around after midnight, so they start early when possible.

By 7PM last Friday, the night was very dark, and by 8PM, it was thick and black, making it a perfect time to close in on the target.  Camp Bastion would appear lit up like Las Vegas, standing alone, glowing like a giant bubble of light in the “Desert of Death.”  On the darkest nights, the lights of Bastion sometimes reflect orange off the clouds above, and they can be seen for miles around, causing Afghans to ask why the base glows like the morning sun, yet they do not have a drop of electricity.  The days of goodwill and hope are over.

Go read the rest of Michael’s report.  He is at his best, and this is a very good one, with his knowledge of the terrain, the conditions on the ground, and technology on display.

But I want to take off to discuss corollary points.  Americans tend to think that every problem is technological, and thus, that every solution must likewise be technologically based.  The fact that Marines carry heavy kit means that loads must be lightened so that females can be in the infantry, and thus we send massive amounts of money to DARPA to design ridiculous robotic assistance for troopers.

Mules to carry supplies for the Marines are animals rather than technology, and so DARPA builds ridiculous things like the big dog, which uses an incredible amount of electricity and sounds like a million Africanized bees.  The Air Force must proceed apace to pilot-less aircraft since everyone knows about UAVs now, and finding IEDs requires sophisticated sensors rather than dogs.

But in reality, with their expeditionary mission, the Marine infantry will always carry heavy kit, and DARPA cannot and should not negate the differences between men and women.  Robots on the battlefield are a very large set of failure modes waiting to be actualized, animals will always be needed in war, and there will always be pilots in the Air Force.  And … solving the problem of IEDs means killing the IED-makers.

Sometimes technology can make things better for us, but just for a period of time.  Sometimes it can be our enemy, and reliance on it can make us incapable of making war without it.  As for failures, I am an engineer by training and trade, and I can outline failure modes (from which you cannot recover) until you can’t listen any more.

The Taliban have learned our habits, our vulnerabilities, and practices – good and bad – and have mentally processed our methods.  As my friend John Bernard said recently, concerning making war, we are trained to turn the enemy on his heels and then capitalize on that by not allowing him to regain his balance.  But we didn’t do that in Afghanistan.

Rather than kill the enemy, our mission is now to protect the population in a tip of the hat to state-building and population-centric counterinsurgency.  That mission has worn thin, and we are even now watching ISAF command jettison the very doctrines that we brought to the campaign.

If I thought we would resource and retool the mission, I would be the first to say stay.  But we won’t, and the mission is over.  Oh, we will be back.  We will endure Afghanistan / Pakistan / Hindu Kush II, and maybe III.  Perhaps then we will have the heart necessary to win the campaign.

But as Michael and I have both written, it’s time to come home.  The Taliban have our number, and the very troops we have put in place to prevent their return are killing U.S. servicemen.

U.S. Military Suspends Joint Patrols With Afghans

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 3 months ago

From CBS News:

The strategy for getting U.S. forces out of Afghanistan depends on training Afghan soldiers and police to protect the country themselves, but on Monday the U.S. military suspended most joint field operations with Afghan forces because so many Americans are being killed by the men they are training.

Afghan government troops — our allies — have turned their guns on NATO forces 36 times this year, killing 51, most of them Americans. That is more attacks than the last two years combined.

The order effectively suspends “until further notice” most of the operations which U.S. and Afghan troops conduct side by side. At higher headquarters, Afghans and Americans will still work together, but in the field small unit operations putting Afghan soldiers alongside Americans — the guts of the U.S. strategy to turn the fighting over to Afghans — will be suspended unless an exception is granted by a commanding general.

The order was issued after a long weekend in which four American and two British troops were killed by so-called “insider attacks” — Afghans turning their guns on their supposed allies.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey called the surge in insider attacks “a very serious threat to the campaign.”

In addition, two Marines were killed and eight fighter jets destroyed by enemy fighters who penetrated a heavily fortified base.

A very serious threat to the campaign.  You think so?  As for the Harriers destroyed by the Taliban, it cost us up to $240 million.

But regarding the suspension of patrols, is that the sound of state-building and population-centric counterinsurgency being flushed down the toilet?  Coriolis acceleration is too weak to effect the direction that water spins in a toilet.  So you can imagine it going whichever way you like.

Haqqani Network Designated As Terrorist Group

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 3 months ago

From CBS News:

The Obama administration on Friday declared the insurgent Haqqani network a terrorist body, a move that could undermine Afghan peace efforts and test fragile U.S.-Pakistani relations.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she notified Congress of her decision, which bans Americans from doing any business with members of the Pakistan-based militant group and blocks any assets it holds in the United States.

“We also continue our robust campaign of diplomatic, military, and intelligence pressure on the network, demonstrating the United States’ resolve to degrade the organization’s ability to execute violent attacks,” she said in a statement.

According to a senior U.S. official, it will likely take seven to 10 days for the designation process to be completed. The Haqqani network has been behind a large number of the attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan, and which U.S. officials have long pushed Pakistan’s leaders to target more aggressively.

Designating the Haqqani network a terrorist organization is a complicated political decision as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan and pushes for a reconciliation pact to end more than a decade of warfare.

Enraged by a string of high-profile attacks on U.S. and NATO troops, Congress set a Sunday deadline for the administration to make a decision. U.S. officials say there were disagreements within the administration over what to decide.

The U.S. already has placed sanctions on many Haqqani leaders and is targeting its members militarily but has held back from formally designating the al Qaeda-linked network a terrorist group amid concerns about hampering peace efforts in Afghanistan and U.S. relations with Pakistan.

The Haqqani network is also believed to be holding U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl captive – the only U.S. service member held by militants in the region.

Analysis & Commentary

This move shows the degree of disconnectedness from reality of the Afghanistan campaign.  We are ten years into the effort, and as my coverage has shown, Jalaluddin Haqqani, his son Sirajuddin, and their network of fighters, have been at the center of the problem from the beginning.  His camps trained al Qaeda fighters, and it was from Haqqani that many of the jihadists from around the globe learned their military skills.

They are ensconced in the Hindu Kush in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and freely operate against U.S. forces from both sides of the border.  They have done so for a decade, and are responsible for the most recent high profile attacks in Kabul.  This interview of Sirajuddin Haqqani is remarkable for its content, in that the network currently operates regionally but thinks globally based on the ideals of Islamic jihad.

And yet it is still begudging.  Note that there was debate within the administration as to whether this was undue presusre on our “ally,” Pakistan.  The State Department took this action because of Congressional pressure.  Within little more than one year, the bulk of U.S. forces will have been withdrawn from Afghanistan, and we are just now declaring one of their major military enemies to be a terrorist group.

This is a sign of desperation within the administration.  Population-centric counterinsurgency and state-building has been a failure in Afghanistan, as has temporary imprisonment of fighters in the hopes of rehabilitating them (a distinctly American imagination, with the truth here also begrudgingly acknowledged by the plans to retain responsibility for more than 600 fighters even after turnover of the prisons to Afghan authorities).

Taliban Alley

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 3 months ago

Richard Johnson makes an entry at National Post that is well worth the study time.  Richard is embedded near Tur-Muryani hill, which, if I am not mistaken, is near Sheykhan in RC East.  Some of Richard’s report is included below.

The mission on the face of it was simple and straightforward for the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) 6th Kandak – drive out to a specific highpoint overlooking the intersection of two rivers and build an outpost on Tur-Muryani hill. Unfortunately, the confluence of the Arghandab and Mizan valleys is home field for Taliban sympathizers, facilitators and the Taliban themselves — and is a main route for the materials of their war. They were likely to be less than happy at the more intense scrutiny from this new outpost, right in their back yard.

There were also a couple few hundred civilians – sympathizers or not – living in each village in the valleys to protect.

I have been living, drinking, sleeping and sharing wet wipes with U.S. Security Force Assistance Team (SFAT) 42 for the past week.

The U.S. SFAT mission here now is less aggressive, less invasive and much less visible to the average Afghan than the previous U.S. Army doctrine of military ownership of the battle space. According to their SFAT Standing Operating Procedures Manual (Feb 2012) their task now is to “improve the operational effectiveness of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), expand security gains throughout the region” that will “ultimately lead to the ANSF defeating the insurgency.” Nothing to it.

In the very early morning light the 6th Kandak and elements of their Engineer Corps from the 2nd Kandak readied itself for their mission. Men were rushing from side to side. Orders were shouted. Heavy equipment was loaded. Trucks were being fuelled. All within the narrow confines of the base.

I really felt like I had bonded with SFAT42 during the last week, but they dropped me from their road crew in lieu of someone actually useful — an interpreter. ‘NICE!’ guys?. They did arrange alternative wheels for me along with the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) team commanded by U.S. Air Force (USAF) Staff Sergeant Justice Stevens alongside USAF Senior Airman (SRA) Frankie Larez on the Common Remotely-Operated Weapons System (CROWs).

All of the U.S. SFAT and support elements moved out of COP Mizan behind the ANA units, but not until a suitable time had passed. This was an ANA mission after all. The road to the hill was a bumpy one. I concentrated on the seat in front of me and talked to JTAC SSgt. Stevens.

Staff Sgt. Stevens had been along on the last SFAT operation into the Arghandab Valley back in April. SFAT42 plus ISAF support elements, and the 6th Kandak had been air dropped by Chinook into an area near Rabajuy village on the other side of the river from where we were now headed.

“The initial mission was planned as the first unilateral Afghan operation. All we were supposed to do was support them and advise them in how to operate. I am there to just give them the ability of air support, so we don’t put them in a situation where they are getting creamed” said Staff Sgt. Stevens.

On that day Staff Sgt. Stevens — along with SFAT42 Major Ethan Allen, 6th Kandak Colonel Altafullah and Cha-Cha, (Major Allen’s interpreter) — eventually situated on the top of a ridge line watching the ANA clear the villages below.

“We were in a circle. And the interpreter stood up and an IED detonated. It was like one big thud. I thought at first it was a mortar strike. Next thing I knew I was laying on my side. It blew my headset all to shit but it probably saved my hearing … the Major and the Colonel were initially blown unconscious by the blast … the interpreter had heavy damage to his head and leg. Then the Taliban started shooting at our location. At that time I requested an immediate show of force from two F16s on station just to suppress the small arms fire. Specialist Crooks and Second Lieutenant Collins arrived. Then we dragged everybody below the ridgeline out of the line of fire.”

The interpreter had a gaping head wound and a severed leg. Lieutenant Redlus arrived and helped me with him. We bandaged his head first. At one point I had my hand in his mouth to stop him swallowing his tongue while I synched the tourniquet on his leg. I synched it so much the pain brought him around..”

Over the next 15 minutes, Staff Sgt. Stevens and two ANA soldiers carried the wounded interpreter down off the ridgeline while under sporadic fire. Eventually – Sgt. Barraza the SFAT medic – arrived with a litter and they moved down the hill to the casualty evacuation point. Staff Sgt. Stevens then ran back up the hill.

“I went back up the hill to coordinate an airstrike on the enemy. But we could not locate them. Didn’t know where the ANA where either. So even if we found the guys we thought were Taliban we couldn’t fire in case we hit the ANA.”

It was a frustrating first mission for SFAT42. Staff Sgt. Stevens was hoping that the taking of this Tur-Muryani hill would be different.

Progress was slow on the drive. I’d felt ill all day, and had taken gravol. As we drove I drifted in and out of nausea and consciousness. In the Mizan Valley on our left the ANA were clearing the villages. I barely noticed much of this as I kept nodding off, drifting in and out listening to the radio chatter. The ANA discovered an IED. Asleep. A “boom” as they blew it in place. Awake.

When we finally reached the base of Tur-Muryani hill, I felt sturdy enough to at least get out of the vehicle. I watched the Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) guys sweep the area. I think I stood for an hour like this in the shade of the truck, breathing diesel, squinting into the bright light before finally venturing farther.

Six of us in a line climbed straight up the hill, with me dragging at the end – sucking water from my Camelbak. It was the hottest part of the day.

It wasn’t much of a hill really. Not by Scottish standards, anyway. But by the time we got to the top, we all were wheezing. Everyone collapsed for a while and found a rock to lean against. The view from the top was nothing short of spectacular. For 270 degrees we could see everything in both Valleys. I could understand why the Taliban might contest this ground.

The view into the valleys was quiet and idyllic, peaceful and green. No sign that this basin was the launching point for the almost nightly mortar, recoilless rifle, and machine gun attacks on the Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoint on a hilltop behind me. There were some goats, a lot of pomegranate orchards, some grape fields and … laundry.

An hour or so later – trying to keep out of the way of the soldiers busy setting up the security perimeter – I sat down with “Doc” Sgt. Frank Barraza. Doc is the medical part of the SFAT42 team. One part of his job is to attempt to bring the ANA field medic skills up to speed. He was happy to be feeling at loose ends right then. He has a love-hate relationship with his job. He loves to help but hates seeing what he sees.

“I have been giving them (ANA) classes on field sanitation and disease prevention. They can stop hemorrhage but disease prevention is where they fall down. They are at about Vietnam level.”

The ANA don’t have medivac helicopters to speak of, and so even though they may stop someone bleeding out on the battlefield, they struggle to get their wounded to hospital. According to Doc, a wounded soldier that would likely be in surgery within 20 minutes within ISAF could take 150 minutes at best by ANA vehicle. This is Doc’s chief area of concern.

“It is one of the things we are asking them. How are you going to get a casualty from point A to point B if he is urgent surgical? They said, ‘We won’t.’ Without American help, they die,” he said.

The ANA also struggles to find and keep good doctors and medics.

“They are in an education slump right now. The medics are some of the brightest in the country. So they are willing to learn and they want to learn. But they (ANA) are afraid to send them to schools because they are worried they will quit the army and go into the civilian world.”

This AO has always been one of lacking effective or regular patrolling or force presence.  The Taliban were supposed to have a difficult time coming back to this AO in the spring, but of course, this has been the case since there has been a Taliban, and a spring, and great expectations set in place by the ISAF.

Read the whole report.  But one remarkable thing from the report is the degree to which the ANA is dependent on U.S. air power, MEDEVAC and logistics.  There is the problem of green on blue violence, but even if one ignores those problems, it isn’t obvious that Afghanistan will last a half year out of Taliban control without U.S. troop presence.

The Self Inflicted Tragedy Of The Afghanistan Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

Mark Steyn observes:

The pitiful self-inflicted tragedy of the west’s “strategy” in Afghanistan is summed up in this opening sentence:

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A newly recruited Afghan village policeman opened fire on his American allies on Friday, killing two US service members minutes after they handed him his official weapon in an inauguration ceremony.

There’s nothing clever or sophisticated about this attack. You don’t have to plot, or disguise yourself, or break into a secure facility. They come to you, to your village. They even give you money. And then they give you the gun. And then you shoot them.

Do they cover that in Pentagon-approved must-read Three Cups Of Tea? Afghanistan is just another in the long roll-call of America’s un-won wars these past six decades – except that it’s taken longer to lose than the others, and in their barbarity the locals demonstrate an almost gleeful contempt for a lavishly endowed enemy with everything except the one thing it needs: strategic purpose. This ought to be a national scandal …

To some degree we’ve covered this in Green On Blue Bloodbath In Afghanistan.  At least now they have changed their disposition towards the ANA and ANP.

The uptick in attacks by Afghan security forces against coalition troops has hit home, with all troops at NATO headquarters and all bases across Afghanistan now ordered to carry loaded weapons around the clock, CNN learned Friday.

Gen. John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, ordered the move, according to a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the orders. The order, made in recent days, was divulged amid two more so-called green-on-blue or insider attacks Friday.

It’s ridiculous that we weren’t already behaving this way.  This is part of the impetus behind me asking why all Soldiers and Marines don’t already carry a sidearm. In Iraq when the Marines, 2/6 Golf Company, was in Fallujah (2007), they wouldn’t even sleep around ISF unless they had concertina wire and armed, on duty Marines between them and ISF soldiers.

As for the tragedy of the Afghanistan strategy, it isn’t that there wasn’t one.  It’s that the flag and staff officers from the Pentagon to Afghanistan came under the spell of the doctrines of population-centric counterinsurgency and nation-building.  For it, as Steyn observes, “We came, we saw, we left no trace. America’s longest war will leave nothing behind.”  Not even killing enough of the enemy.  We will be back again, hopefully as grown ups next time.


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