Archive for the 'Afghanistan' Category



Green On Blue Bloodbath In Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 3 months ago

Lt. Col. Michael Styskal, who commands Marines in southern Afghanistan has recently said “the threat within right now is worrying me. And the Marines, they know what the threat is, not so much on the outside — there could be a threat on the inside.”  It’s a well-placed worry.  Sgt. J.P. Huling, a Marine from Ohio, was killed earlier in May in Afghanistan in another incident of so-called green on blue violence.

From a report on August 10, 2012, an Afghan police officer shot and killed three U.S. Marines after sharing a meal with them before dawn Friday and then fled into the desolate darkness of southern Afghanistan, the third attack on coalition forces by their Afghan counterparts in a week.  The Afghan police commander opened fire on the three Americans after inviting them to dinner at his outpost under the pretext of having a meeting to discuss security.

This attack was followed up in the Helmand Province with another one in which six U.S. service members were killed, and yet again where an Afghan police officer killed at least 10 of his fellow officers on Saturday.

Chief spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, Brig-Gen Gunter Katz, told AFP “Those isolated incidents don’t reflect the overall security situation in Afghanistan.”  But these attacks clearly do reflect on the overall security situation, and in fact, they are a function of it.  The situation itself is a function first of jettisoning the strategy of killing the enemy in favor of population-centric counterinsurgency and state-building, and second of announcing a drawdown date and pretending that the enemy will build a nation favorable to the United States.

Regarding the degrading security situation in Afghanistan, in a suicide bomb attack this month, Command Sergeant Major Kevin J. Griffin, 45, was one of two soldiers who died of wounds in Sarkowi, Kunar Province. The other soldier was Major Thomas E. Kennedy, 35, of West Point, N.Y.  Air Force Major Walter D. Gray, 38, of Conyers, Ga., also died in the attack and Army Colonel James J. Mingus was badly wounded

That’s two Majors and one Command Sergeant Major killed, with one Colonel wounded in a single attack.  This attack was another suicide attack, and friend Dirty Mick writes with his take on the incident.

I knew exactly where this was because it is Governor Wahidi’s compound in the provincial capital of Kunar (Asadabad). We would go there a couple times a week because the PRT Commander would have his meetings with the governor, we would provide security, and push patrols with Civil Affairs and DOS to go check on the medical center, court house etc. Now, what’s interesting is we had no problems there (not even mortars) when I was there from Dec. 09 to Sept 10 and the same from goes with the previous PRT. The only incident I can remember specifically was a half assed grenade attack (It’s mentioned in Bing West’s book The Wrong War.). Now I can’t cite specifically how the various PRTs have operated since I left but when I was there I can tell you for sure an aggressive posture was frowned upon. My Navy commander chewed my Army’s chain of commands ass my first week in theater for pointing my M4 (I was a gunner at the time and couldn’t get the m2 on him) at a local and yelling at the guy who got too close to my vehicle at a traffic circle. Then another incident on a dismount patrol where the Navy got upset because I stopped a vehicle at an intersection by raising my weapon and walking torwards the vehicle (he wasn’t paying attention to my hand signals and the vehicle was going at a high rate of speed). I was specifically called out during a mission brief by my Navy Commander saying this wasn’t Iraq and we’re here to practice COIN. Also Navy SOP was to have the crew serves on the MRAPs on Amber Status (I think the Corps calls it condition 3) when we were in downtown Asadabad (we never followed that guidance). Now do I think this is reason why guys got killed? I honestly can’t say, I wasn’t there and I don’t know the current SecFor elements SOPs or how they work with the Navy. But I thought I would pass on to you how general patrols worked when I was there.

I have a buddy I served with in Kunar and is right now in Khandahar and this is what he told me: It was the PRT that got hit. What happened was two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the bottom of those extremely steep steps by the hydroelectric powerplant, on the way to FOB Fiaz. 3 KIA US Army, 1 US civilian state department KIA, 9 US Army WIA, 1 State department WIA, 1 ANA and 1 TERP WIA. Herschel I don’t know if these are the exact details but he was very specific. So pretty much a whole squad got wiped out. I would ask that if you decide to publish this to wait until more details arrive (Editorial comment: We waited until MSM reports flowed in concerning the incident). I don’t how accurate the info (for all we know it was a different unit) is but from what my friend told me it seems about right. Also the KIAs and WIAs is very specific so I would wait because I think it’s an OPSEC issue (Editorial comment: We did wait).

Anyway I thought I would pass the word because I was shocked when I read this article this morning and also how close they got to the Governor’s compound.

Another reader (and veteran of RC East) Jean writes in with this: “The initial report had it happening at the provisional capital, but I think it occurred across the river in Sarkonoi, not far from Joyce. If it was the Command team, they slipped by the PSD, that rarely happens.”  Remember Dirty Mick’s comments and file it away for future reference.  An aggressive posture was frowned upon.  And I do also know that Dirty Mick was involved in other combat operations in various parts of Kunar.  So the enemy was certainly aggressive.

Ganjgal Revisited

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 3 months ago

Prior Study: Reprimands in Marine Deaths in Ganjgal Engagement

There’s something rotten afoot.

Like other U.S. trainers with the Afghan force that day, former Army Capt. William Swenson had expected light resistance. Instead, the contingent walked into a furious six-hour gunfight with Taliban ambushers in which Swenson repeatedly charged through intense fire to retrieve wounded and dead.

The 2009 battle of Ganjgal is perhaps the most remarkable of the Afghan war for its extraordinary heroism and deadly incompetence. It produced dozens of casualties, career-killing reprimands and a slew of commendations for valor. They included two Medal of Honor nominations, one for Swenson.

Yet months after the first living Army officer in some 40 years was put in for the nation’s highest military award for gallantry, his nomination vanished into a bureaucratic black hole. The U.S. military in Afghanistan said an investigation had found that it was “lost” in the approval process, something that several experts dismissed as improbable, saying that hasn’t happened since the awards system was computerized in the mid-1970s.

In fact, the investigation uncovered evidence that suggests a far more troubling explanation. It showed that as former Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer’s Medal of Honor nomination from the same battle sailed toward approval despite questions about the accuracy of the account of his deeds, there may have been an effort to kill Swenson’s nomination.

Swenson’s original nomination was downgraded to a lesser award, in violation of Army and Defense Department regulations, evidence uncovered by the investigation showed.

Moreover, Swenson’s Medal of Honor nomination “packet,” a digitized file that contains dozens of documents attesting to his “heroism … above and beyond the call of duty,” disappeared from the computer system dedicated to processing awards, a circumstance for which the military said it has “no explanation.”

The unpublished findings, which McClatchy Newspapers has reviewed, threaten to taint a military awards process that’s designed to leave no margin of doubt or possibility of error about the heroism and sacrifices of U.S. service personnel. They also could bolster charges by some officers, lawmakers, veterans’ groups and experts that the process is vulnerable to improper interference and manipulation, embarrassing the military services and the Obama administration.

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Interviewed by military investigators five days after the battle, Swenson implicitly criticized top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan by blasting their rules of engagement. Angered that his repeated calls for artillery and air support were denied during the ambush, he charged that in trying to prevent civilian casualties for political reasons, the rules were costing U.S. soldiers’ lives.

“We are not looking at the ground fighter and why he is using these air assets,” Swenson said, according to a transcript obtained by McClatchy. “We just reduced an asset that’s politically unpopular. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there saying, ‘I would really like that asset.’ There are probably a lot of people who got killed as a result of not having that asset.

“I’m not a politician. I’m just the guy on the ground asking for that ammunition to be dropped because it’s going to save lives,” he continued.

Further, several key parts of the Army’s draft account of Swenson’s deeds — a central pillar of a nomination file — conflict with the Marines’ account of Meyer’s acts.

Further, several key parts of the Army’s draft account of Swenson’s deeds — a central pillar of a nomination file — conflict with the Marines’ account of Meyer’s acts.

The Army’s version, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy, said it was Swenson — not Meyer — who led the recovery of U.S. and Afghan casualties from the Ganjgal Valley.

“The need for a ground recovery of all remaining casualties had now become clear,” the Army’s draft narrative said. “Facing this extreme and dire circumstance, and going above and beyond the call of duty, CPT Swenson gathered available combat power to lead a return up the wash.”

The Army’s draft narrative also corroborated the reporting of a McClatchy correspondent who survived the ambush that the belated arrival of U.S. helicopters had allowed trapped American personnel to escape, and that they weren’t saved by Meyer.

“A team of scout helicopters … arrived in the valley. CPT Swenson … began to talk the aircrafts’ fires onto the various enemy targets,” the draft narrative said. “The enemy sporadically engaged coalition forces while they were overhead. This provided (Swenson and those with him) the slim opportunity they needed” to pull back.

The problem of conflicting narratives would have been eliminated with the quiet death of Swenson’s nomination, which was put in some two months before Meyer was nominated.

Analysis & Commentary

Thanks to loyal reader and veteran of RC East in Afghanistan, Dirty Mick, who sends this link along.  He also points out that “if the army sorts out this paperwork snafu this will be the 6th MOH recipient (There’s only 10 in the whole GWOT so far) awarded for warriors that have served in Kunar Province. Staff Sergeant Giunta, Sergeant Meyer, Sergeant Miller, Lieutenant Murphy, and Sergeant First Class Monti (Which happened on the Kunar/Nuristan border in Gowardesh Valley). Has there been heavy fighting in other provinces? Of course but I think this is proof of the gravity of RC East and how it should have been the focus of the surge. With the massing of forces that we’ve talked about in the past (The last part of an ambush I was in had 60-70 fighters but combined with the other two TICs we got into it totalled to about a 100 and I was just on a PRT) against army units and the terrain I think N2KL should’ve been the focus of the surge as opposed to RC-South. The whole situation out there is truly tragic. ”

Tragic indeed.  But I’m still not convinced that Kunar / Nuristan should have been a sole focus of the surge.  Had it been, Now Zad, which was an R&R area for Taliban, Marjah, Garmsir, Musa Qala, Sangin and other areas would have withstood the reflexive bulge of fighters had we cleared RC East.  What I did recommend, however, is that [a] the Marines send more men to Now Zad instead of send them on wasteful MEUs, [b] the Marines move on to RC East after initial clearing operations were completed, [c] and more Soldiers and Marines be sent to Afghanistan, including to the Nuristan and Kunar Provinces.  Any reading of my Pech River Valley shows the attention I have recommended for RC East as well as Helmand and Kandahar.

But what I am thoroughly convinced of is that the report that the nomination for MoH got “lost” is a lie.  I don’t believe it.  If the Army awarded an MoH to Swenson, they would have impugned not only the self-serving screw-ups working at Joyce that fateful and horrible day (who denied artillery support because it might harm noncombatants while allowing white phosphorous to hide their retreat), it would reflect badly on the rules of engagement promulgated by Stanley McChrystal.  As I’ve pointed out before, culpability isn’t an either-or in this instance, it is both-and.  Both the men at Joyce and Stanley McChrystal are culpable for the deaths at Ganjgal.  They should all be in Leavenworth.  But as pointed out by one commenter, “The real reason those officers were not Court Martialed is they “wear the ring” of the Army Service Acadamy, that is they are “ring knockers”, this is a direct insult to those in command who wear the ring but shirk from their duty’s. You shall never ever see a “ring knocker” critized (sic) much less punished for “crimes” committed by other “ring knockers” Why do you think Will Swenson resigned??. He tesifiefed (sic) against the “ring knockers” and was extremely critical of their lack of action, his career was esentially (sic) ended, do not believe otherwise.”

There is more troubling information concerning the degree to which Swenson’s and Dakota Meyers’ accounts cohere.  This must be worked out.  More investigation must be done, and the truth must not be allowed to be buried, or just as bad, left untold.  But part of this truth is just how this MoH recommendation got “lost” … er, trashed.

Prior:

Reprimands in Marine Deaths in Ganjgal Engagement (highly recommended for the comments of family members of veterans who perished at Ganjgal)

AR 15-6 Investigation of Marine Deaths in Kunar Province

More Thoughts on Marines and Rules of Engagement

Taliban Ambush in Eastern Kunar Kills Four Marines

22 NATO Supply Trucks Destroyed in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

From Military.com:

The Taliban said they detonated a bomb on a fuel tanker Wednesday and then opened fire on other NATO supply trucks in a morning attack that destroyed 22 vehicles loaded with fuel and other goods for U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.

In western Afghanistan, a NATO helicopter crashed, injuring two troops serving with the U.S.-led military coalition, NATO said. The helicopter went down early Wednesday at an undisclosed location in the relatively peaceful west. No other information has been released about the crash, which is under investigation.

The Taliban said they attacked NATO supply trucks parked overnight in Samangan province in the north.

“We put explosives on a fuel tanker. When it exploded, we fired on the trucks,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in a telephone call.

Sidiq Azizi, a spokesman for the province, said many tankers and semi-trailers caught fire after the bomb went off around 2 a.m.

By midday, heavy black smoke still poured from the Rabatak area of the province where the truckers had stopped to rest. Firefighters were spraying water on the burning vehicles.

[ ... ]

The tankers in the convoy were transporting fuel south toward the Afghan capital, Kabul, from neighboring Uzbekistan to the north.

Earlier this week, three NATO supply trucks were destroyed by militants in Sayd Abad district of Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan.

This is a troubling development, specifically because of the fact that this supply line isn’t the Khyber Pass or Chaman.  Logistical lines should have changed long ago, specifically to focus on the Northern route (one reason that the current Northern route is so expensive is that, foolishly, we don’t use Turkmenistan) and a different Southern route (i.e., from India through Pakistani controlled Kashmir and then to Kabul, with troop protection through Kashmir).

But as we stand down in Afghanistan that wouldn’t matter.  Logistical lines within Afghanistan itself will become even more problematic, to the point that the only viable means left will be air logistics to Kabul and Kandahar air field.

Sad.  This is what half-ass commitment to the campaign looks like.  You can thank your current administration for that.

A Different Perspective On Rules Of Engagement And McChrystal?

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

Courtesy of Andrew Exum:

From that day forward, I watched as the war slowly fell apart at the hands of our Army’s middle management — typified by that battalion commander. Case and point, GEN McChrystal’s tenure in Afghanistan. To me, the most compelling part of the Rolling Stone article is the scene where a sergeant down range writes an email to McChrystal stating he believes GEN McChrystal doesn’t get the war and has ordered policies that are killing men on the front lines. GEN McChrystal gets on the next flight to this sergeant’s FOB and goes on patrol with the sergeant’s unit. Afterwards, he holds an After Action Review with the sergeant and his men in the outpost’s makeshift chowhall. During the AAR he notices a laminated list posted on the chowhall’s wall that reads something like “Rules of Engagement As Ordered By COMISAF.” Upon reading the list, McChrystal says aloud “these aren’t my rules.” And thus my point, somewhere between GEN McChrystal issuing orders and the point at which these front line soldiers received them, the Army’s middle management bureaucracy altered them to be significantly risk adverse (sic).

This is a first hand account, anecdotal, but I presume reliable, concerning a surprise for General McChrystal concerning how his rules were applied.  So does this account rehabilitate McChrystal’s image (which seems to be its point)?

I will grant the proposition that staff and field grade officers (at least some of them) were risk adverse (sic – averse).  I will grant the proposition that there were modifications, amendments, clarifications, additional stipulations, and so on and so forth, in the unit-level ROE as compared to the theater-specific ROE, just as there is between the standing ROE of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the theater-specific ROE.

What I refuse to grant is that any of this “altered them to be significantly risk adverse.”  McChrystal’s ROE were risk averse to begin with, and a recapitulation of the rules of engagement will show that missions had to end because there was a “chance” that an illumination round would fall on a domicile.  When the Marines went into Marjah, General Rodriguez attempted to micromanage an entire Marine Air-Ground Task Force like they were children.  “Less than six hours before Marines commenced a major helicopter-borne assault in the town of Marja in February, Rodriguez’s headquarters issued an order requiring that his operations center clear any airstrike that was on a housing compound in the area but not sought in self-defense.”  Listen to that again.  Rodriguez’s operation center had to approve offensive air strikes.  Seriously.  You simply can’t make this stuff up.

The problems came from the top.

“If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.”

I can compute the probability that a falling satellite will land on McChrystal’s head, and it is non-zero.  Thus, there is a “chance” of that happening.  This guidance is stupid, issued by stupid men, applied in a stupid campaign if that’s the way it is going to be conducted.  Are the staff and field grade officers (and their JAGs) responsible for the ROE?  Yes.  Should the men at Joyce (who made the decision to deny air support to the Marines as Ganjgal) have spent time in Leavenworth?  Yes.

Does any of this obviate the responsibility McChrystal had for the ROE?  No, not one bit.  This isn’t an either-or proposition, it is both-and.  And frankly, we don’t seem to have learned our lessons.

The number of British soldiers being shot dead in Afghanistan is spiralling as new tactics ban them from shooting at the Taliban until they are fired at themselves.

Eleven have been killed by enemy gunfire in Helmand in the past three months compared with two in the same period during 2011.

Soldiers blame efforts to slash the number of civilian casualties ordered by the US general in command of Coalition forces.

The Ministry of Defence yesterday denied the rules of engagement for British troops had changed.

But a spokesman for Coalition forces said British soldiers were told to change procedures after a tactical review.

Troops yesterday said they are now more vulnerable at road-junction checkpoints or while patrolling Taliban heartlands.

They say that previously they could shoot first but are now allowed only to return fire.

One corporal said: “When I arrived in Helmand, my officers said our tactics were going to change. They said if I saw somebody carrying a rifle or a rocket launcher, I shouldn’t fire at him. Only if he shot at me or a member of my patrol, and I could see a muzzle flash, could I use my weapon.

“I was shocked and so were my mates. We are trained to close in and kill the enemy, not to let him stroll on, watch us and let him choose the best time to ambush us.

Absurd.  Even if you argue that the head of a family ought to be allowed to carry a personal defense weapon, an RPG doesn’t fit that category.  We still have good men deployed in Afghanistan, and we are letting the enemy “choose the best time to ambush us.”

How utterly sad and despicable.

The Ugly Future for Afghanistan: Civil War and Militias

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 4 months ago

This lengthy and well-written piece by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker is must reading.

Filkins attempts to give an overall assessment of Afghanistan’s future as American forces shrink and the country must increasingly rely upon the Afghan National Army for its security.   By all means, read the entire article, but the gist of Filkins’ assessment can be succinctly summarized as, “bleak.”

Filkins explores the question of whether Afghanistan is destined to return to a state of civil war as American combat troops leave.   While he makes no firm conclusions, the answer is an inescapable “yes.”   While American policymakers and military leaders boldly talk up the prospects for turning over security responsibilities to the ANA while hoping to garner a power-sharing deal with the Taliban, it is clear from the article that a debacle of enormous proportions is looming in 2014 (if not before) when American force levels are expected to drop to just fifteen thousand from an expected sixty-eight thousand after the September 2012 draw-down.

Some Western and Afghan experts say that fifteen thousand American troops would not be enough to secure Afghanistan, particularly when it comes to the use of airpower. The Afghan Air Force is far less advanced than the Soviet-trained force was at a similar moment. American officers told me that air strikes—bombs and rockets—are usually restricted to units in which Americans direct the fire. A force of fifteen thousand Americans would probably not be large enough to spread trainers and air controllers throughout the Afghan Army (and not throughout the police, who are at tiny checkpoints scattered around the country). “If they go below thirty thousand, it will be difficult for them to do any serious mentoring, and without the mentors they won’t call in airpower,” Giustozzi, the Italian researcher, said.

American officers have another concern. Currently, Afghan units are stationed where the Americans are, in hundreds of small bases, mostly in populated areas. Some American officers say that the Afghans will find it difficult to disperse themselves as fully, because of problems with supplies and communications. Once the coalition forces leave, those officers say, the Afghans are likely to consolidate their units on bigger and fewer bases. If that happens, the Afghans could end up ceding large tracts of territory to the Taliban—much as the Afghan Army did after 1989.

Filkins interviews several Afghans in and outside of the Afghan government who all candidly admit that each of the rival factions that fought each other prior to the 2001 American invasion are actively preparing for the resumption of civil war when U.S. forces leave.

Afghan and American officials believe that some precipitating event could prompt the country’s ethnic minorities to fall back into their enclaves in northern Afghanistan, taking large chunks of the Army and police forces with them. Another concern is that Jamiat officers within the Afghan Army could indeed try to mount a coup against Karzai or a successor. The most likely trigger for a coup, these officials say, would be a peace deal with the Taliban that would bring them into the government or even into the Army itself. Tajiks and other ethnic minorities would find this intolerable. Another scenario would most likely unfold after 2014: a series of dramatic military advances by the Taliban after the American pullout.

“A coup is one of the big possibilities—a coup or civil war,” a former American official who was based in Kabul and has since left the country told me. “It’s clear that the main factions assume that civil war is a possibility and they are hedging their bets. And, of course, once people assume that civil war is going to happen then that can sometimes be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

One Afghan, Abdul Nasir, made this point quite clear:

These days, Nasir said, the nineties are very much on his mind. The announced departure of American and NATO combat troops has convinced him and his friends that the civil war, suspended but never settled, is on the verge of resuming. “Everyone is preparing,” he said. “It will be bloodier and longer than before, street to street. This time, everyone has more guns, more to lose. It will be the same groups, the same commanders.” Hezb-e-Wahdat and Jamiat-e-Islami and Hezb-e-Islami and Junbish—all now political parties—are rearming. The Afghan Army is unlikely to be able to restore order as it did in the time of Najibullah. “It’s a joke,” Nasir said. “I’ve worked with the Afghan Army. They get tired making TV commercials!”

A few weeks ago, Nasir returned to Deh Afghanan. The Taliban were back, practically ignored by U.S. forces in the area. “The Americans have a big base there, and they never go out,” he said. “And, only four kilometres from the front gate, the Taliban control everything. You can see them carrying their weapons.” On a drive to Jalrez, a town a little farther west, Nasir was stopped at ten Taliban checkpoints. “How can you expect me to be optimistic?” he said. “Everyone is getting ready for 2014.”

In the process of his interviews, however, Filkins did discover one, unsettling truth:  the most effective force against the Taliban so far have been local militias.

The most effective weapon against the Taliban were people like Mohammad Omar, the commander of a local militia. In late 2008, Omar was asked by agents with the National Directorate of Security (N.D.S.)—the Afghan intelligence agency––if he could raise a militia. It wasn’t hard to do. Omar’s brother Habibullah had been a lieutenant for Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, one of the leading commanders in the war against the Soviets, and a warlord who helped destroy Kabul during the civil war. The Taliban had killed Habibullah in 1999, and Omar jumped at the opportunity to take revenge. Using his brother’s old contacts, he raised an army of volunteers from around Khanabad and began attacking the Taliban. He set up forces in a string of villages on the southern bank of the Khanabad River. “We pushed all the Taliban out,” he told me.

The Taliban are gone from Khanabad now, but Omar and his fighters are not. Indeed, Omar’s militia appears to be the only effective government on the south side of the Khanabad River. “Without Omar, we could never defeat the Taliban,” a local police chief, Mohammad Sharif, said. “I’ve got two hundred men. Omar has four thousand.”

The N.D.S. and American Special Forces have set up armed neighborhood groups like Omar’s across Afghanistan. Some groups, like the Afghanistan Local Police, have official supervision, but others, like Omar’s, are on their own. Omar insists that he and his men are not being paid by either the Americans or the Afghan government, but he appears to enjoy the support of both. His stack of business cards includes that of Brigadier General Edward Reeder, an American in charge of Special Forces in Afghanistan in 2009, when the Americans began counterattacking in Kunduz.

This is a strange twist in U.S. strategy.  While the State Department, the White House and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan all blather about the progress of the ANA and the expected success of the transition to Afghan security forces, the American Special Forces seem to be busy setting up militias all over Afghanistan, perhaps in the grim realization that these militias are the only native force capable of actually eradicating the Taliban.

This would be welcome news indeed, if it is true, because it finally faces the truth that Afghanistan today simply cannot function as a modern, centrally governed nation state.   This is not to say that it never has in the past (clearly it has) nor that it will never function as one in the future, but only that the combination of religious fanaticism, the interference of Pakistan (and Iran to some extent), the ethnic divisions and the drug trade militate in favor of local control.    And this seems to be the main trade-off where militias effectively keep out the Taliban but bring their own set of problems:

Kunduz Province is divided into fiefdoms, each controlled by one of the new militias. In Khanabad district alone, I counted nine armed groups. Omar’s is among the biggest; another is led by a rival, on the northern bank of the Khanabad River, named Mir Alam. Like Omar, Alam was a commander during the civil war. He was a member of Jamiat-e-Islami. Alam and his men, who declined to speak to me, are said to be paid by the Afghan government.

As in the nineties, the militias around Kunduz have begun fighting each other for territory. They also steal, tax, and rape. “I have to give ten per cent of my crops to Mir Alam’s men,” a villager named Mohammad Omar said. (He is unrelated to the militia commander.) “That is the only tax I pay. The government is not strong enough to collect taxes.” When I accompanied the warlord Omar to Jannat Bagh, one of the villages under his control, his fighters told me that Mir Alam’s men were just a few hundred yards away. “We fight them whenever they try to move into our village,” one of Omar’s men said.

U.S. policy in Afghanistan, then, must take a hard look  at our national interests.   The primary, national interest for the United States in Afghanistan is to ensure that international terrorists do not find safe havens from which to plot and launch attacks against U.S. interests.   If militias will ensure that their territory will not be used for Islamist terror activities, that is enough.   We may be able to exercise some leverage over warlords and militias by doling out more arms and money to those who refrain from humanitarian abuses, but it is not in our national interest to force-feed an entire nation on Western morality and values as we have done for the last 11 years.

In fact, some Afghans appear to be leaning in the direction of a decentralized approach:

One political change that might prevent civil war, some opposition leaders say, would be the imposition of a federal system in which power would devolve to the provinces. Such a move could essentially cede dominion to the Taliban in the south and the east but protect the rest of the country. In 2004, when the new Afghan constitution was ratified, under American supervision, the central government, in Kabul, was given extraordinary powers, including the right to appoint local officials. The hope then was that a strong central government would unite the country.

If a federal system were to be adopted, some Afghan leaders say, it might matter less to the Tajiks and other minorities if the Taliban were allowed to govern Pashtun provinces in the south and the east. (How it would matter to the Pashtuns, and particularly to Pashtun women, isn’t much discussed.) As it is, many of the most prominent leaders of Afghanistan’s minority groups appear to be preparing for civil war.

While I disagree that the U.S. needs to “cede dominion to the Taliban in the south and the east” (there is no reason to think that Pashtun militias could not be set up in these regions as in other areas), the fact remains that Afghanistan is headed for division one way or another.  Current U.S. policy is wishful thinking and a criminal waste of American lives and treasure.

As a parting thought, it is even possible that by empowering local militias and tribes in this fashion, the U.S. may be able to deal a severe if not fatal blow to the Islamists across the border in Pakistan.  It is axiomatic that insurgencies work in both directions.   If Pakistan can support, for example, the Haqqanis in infiltrating into Afghanistan, so, too, can the U.S. support Pashtun militias on the Afghan side of the border to infiltrate and take away territory from Islamists in the FATA.   This provides U.S. policymakers with a unique lever in the tense relations with Pakistan.   This approach also allows a dramatically smaller footprint for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, enough one would expect, to deprive Pakistan of its logistical choke-hold.

If there is a new Administration in 2013, a new approach in Afghanistan is at least possible.

Savage Religious Beliefs: The Abuse Of Women

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

Fresh from a sermon today where the pastor said, “Don’t you ever strike a woman and call yourself a Christian” (a statement with which I heartily agree), we read this:

A shot rings out, but the burqa-clad woman sitting on the rocky ground does not respond.

The man pointing a rifle at her from a few feet away lets loose another round, but still there is no reaction.

He fires a third shot, and finally the woman slumps backwards.

But the man fires another shot.

And another. And another.

Nine shots in all.

Around him, dozens of men on a hillside cheer: “God is great!”

Officials in Afghanistan, where the amateur video was filmed, believe the woman was executed because two Taliban commanders had a dispute over her, according to the governor of the province where the killing took place.

Both apparently had some kind of relationship with the woman, said Parwan province governor Abdul Basir Salangi.

“In order to save face,” they accused her of adultery, Salangi said.

Then they “faked a court to decide about the fate of this woman and in one hour, they executed the woman,” he added.

Both Taliban commanders were subsequently killed by a third Taliban commander, Salangi said.

“We went there to investigate and we are still looking for people who were involved in this brutal act,” he said.

It is not clear from the video when it was filmed.

The killing took place in the village of Qimchok, not far north of the capital Kabul.

Just as troubling is the fact that this occurred not far from the so-called capital of Afghanistan.  And was it ever really in doubt what would happen if we failed to kill the enemy before withdrawing from Afghanistan?

Lessons To Draw From Afghanistan (Or, How Obama Really Lost The Campaign)

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 5 months ago

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, writing for The Washington Post, excerpts his book, beginning his article with the following indictment.

The day after he arrived in Kabul in June 2009, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, gathered his senior officers to discuss the state of the war. They barraged him with PowerPoint slides — the frequency of Taliban attacks and their impact; the number of local security forces; and an evaluation of the Afghan government’s effectiveness in each province. The metrics were grim, the conclusion obvious: The Americans and their NATO allies were losing.

The part of the country that concerned McChrystal most was the city of Kandahar and the eponymous province that encompasses it. Founded by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C., Kandahar city has long been the symbolic homeland of ethnic Pashtuns. In the 1990s, just as every other band of conquerors had done for the past thousand years, the Taliban used it as a springboard from which they captured Kabul and much of the rest of the nation. If the Americans were going to retake Afghanistan, they needed to start with Kandahar.

But the Pentagon had not sent most of the new U.S. forces that had arrived in Afghanistan to Kandahar. The first wave — a Marine brigade comprising more than half of the 17,000 additional troops President Obama authorized in February 2009 — had been dispatched to neighboring Helmand province, which McChrystal and his top advisers considered of far lower strategic significance.

“Can someone tell me why the Marines were sent to Helmand?” the incredulous McChrystal asked his officers.

The answer — not fully known at the time to McChrystal and his officers — would reveal the dysfunction of the U.S. war effort: a reliance on understaffed NATO partners for crucial intelligence, a misjudgment of Helmand’s importance to Afghanistan’s security, and tribal politics within the Pentagon that led the Marines to insist on confining themselves to a far less important patch of desert.

The consequences were profound: By devoting so many troops to Helmand instead of Kandahar, the U.S. military squandered more than a year of the war. Had the initial contingent of Marines been sent to Kandahar, it could have obviated the need for a full 30,000-troop surge later that year, or it could have granted commanders the flexibility to combat insurgent havens in eastern Afghanistan much sooner, allowing them to meet Obama’s eventual withdrawal deadlines without objection.

Instead, U.S. forces will begin heading home this summer with much of the east in disarray and security improvements in Kandahar still tenuous. Helmand is faring considerably better, but the gains there are having only a modest impact on Afghanistan’s overall stability.

Without the diversion into Helmand, U.S. troops could have pushed into more critical areas of the country before a clear majority of Americans concluded that the war was no longer worth fighting.

Analysis & Commentary

This is horse shit.  Obama and McChrystal have culpability, and we’ll get to that in a moment.  But the tale being spun here makes it sound like a few more sprinkles of magic counterinsurgency pixie dust and the whole thing would have gone much easier.  Perhaps unknown to many who didn’t follow the warp and woof of the campaign, this issue about why the U.S. Marines went to the Helmand Province is not a new debate.  Neither is the story that McChrystal was presented with the decision to send most of the Marines to Helmand as a fait accompli.  Logistical and institutional inertia made it impossible to change things.  Or at least, that’s the story.

Rajiv is telling a tall tale, and the issue was much more complicated than he hints.  I discussed this almost three years ago, and the same thing is true today that was true when I penned the defense of Marines in the Helmand Province.  McChrystal and the Pentagon were under the influence, even control, of the advocates of population-centric counterinsurgency.

Bring stability operations to the population centers, and good governance, goods, services, participation in government on the local level, redress of grievances, and so on, and it will render the outlier Provinces and lower population centers irrelevant, with insurgents unable to topple the central government from those far flung places.

But recall, this is the same Stanley McChrystal that allowed David Rodriguez to micromanage the Marines on their way through Marjah.  “Less than six hours before Marines commenced a major helicopter-borne assault in the town of Marja, Rodriguez’s headquarters issued an order requiring that his operations center clear any airstrike that was on a housing compound in the area but not sought in self-defense.”

Killing the enemy wasn’t a priority.  Rajiv even says so later in the article, exclaiming “the military’s counterinsurgency strategy was supposed to place troops near civilian population centers to protect residents from insurgents, not chase bad guys in the desert or remote valleys.”  But arguing for doing just that, I observed that the insurgents who destabilized Kandahar and other areas of Afghanistan came from Helmand, Kunar, Nuristan and other far flung places where we needed to chase and kill them.

In fact, the larger scale Marine Corps operations in Helmand were predated by intensive fights by the 24th MEU in Garmsir where they killed some 400+ Taliban fighters.  The hue and cry of the people at that time had nothing to do with wells, schooling, governance or anything of the sort.  “We are grateful for the security.  We don’t need your help, just security.”  Similar words were spoken at a meeting in Ghazni with the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan: ““We don’t want food, we don’t want schools, we want security!” said one woman council member.”

Corporal William Ash, a squad leader from 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), along with a stray dog lead a patrol through a city in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. When the platoon moved into the area, they found two stray dogs, and each time the Marines head out on patrol the dogs are right at the Marines’ side.

In fact, I remarked at one point how ironic it was that McChrystal, who was so concerned about inadvertent casualties that his ROE wouldn’t even allow illumination rounds for night time combat, and who wanted separation of the insurgents from the population in order to engage, was so unpersuaded by the Taliban invitation to join them in a fair fight in Now Zad, where they had completely run off the population and were using the place as an R&R haven.

So did the Marines have enough men to engage Kandahar and Helmand at the same time in order to prevent having to play whack-a-mole counterinsurgency?  Recall that while I was the only blogger at the time covering and commenting on Now Zad that while the men there were losing legs, arms and their lives, living in hobbit holes two or three Marines to a hole, I could not recall any time in the last four years driving across Camp Lejeune when there were so many barracks being built, so many Marines in the states, and so many units living in multiple different locations on the base because there wasn’t enough housing for them in the same barracks.

Recall that I also said that there were Marines who had finished entire periods of enlistment who, while spending time on wasteful MEUs floating across the seas and stopping in every port to become drunk, had neither been to either Iraq nor Afghanistan in the entire four years.

Yes, there were enough Marines to have pulled this off.  A Regimental Combat Team or two could have locked down Kandahar like they did in Fallujah in 2007, conducted census operations, and found and killed the Taliban fighters.  Kandahar could have been essentially cleared with enough focus and effort.

But McChrystal’s strategy not only abandoned far flung Provinces to focus on population centers … leaving the roads to the insurgents just like the Russians did … it abandoned the Pech River Valley in Kunar and Nuristan, along with the entire Hindu Kush mountains.  Every military strategist now acknowledges that this was an error, and we are back into Nuristan.

But only for a while.  After all, we have given a date for withdrawal.  With obfuscation like Rajiv’s article, it’s easy to forget that the administration which began its tenure with a commitment to “the good war” saw that commitment evaporate in the face of hard questions.  What was an effective campaign slogan soon became a byline, and rather than meet the military needs for a full scale surge, we saw a half-ass surge that gave them only some of what had been requested.

At the same time, an end date was set, with the enemy now knowing just how long it would take to run out the clock.  Puerile national security advisers turned Afghanistan into the WTF? war, and men who gave so much in this awful region of the world now see no reason for the loss, and are simply happy to have brought their men home.

There were many mistakes in the campaign: a half-ass surge, a childish national security adviser, McChrystal having surrounded himself with juveniles, overbearing rules of engagement, under-resourcing, strategy that could have been created with a random number generator any given day, poor communication to the American people as to the reasons for the campaign, failure to hold Pakistan accountable for harboring the enemy, loving up on corrupt politicians like Hamid Karzai and his brother Wali Karzai, sending billions of dollars to enlarge and ensure the corruption, and on and on the list goes.

But pointing a finger at the hard work of the U.S. Marines in Now Zad, Musa Qala, Sangin, Garmsir and other places in Helmand isn’t just unfair.  It’s scurrilous and dishonest.   The administration bears the responsibility for the failure.  Campaign slogans aren’t just word games, they are promises to be kept by men in authority and power.  The Soldiers and Marines who have perished demand better of our leaders.

Return To Nuristan – Only To Leave Again

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 5 months ago

An informative report from Reuters:

U.S. troops returned to the area in Afghanistan they call the “dark side of the moon” this week, a remote Hindu Kush region that controls several access routes to Kabul and where the coalition suffered one of its biggest reverses in the decade-long war.

This part of Nuristan province, in the mountainous far east of Afghanistan, could be the target of a planned Taliban offensive, coalition commanders say.

Carrying “speedballs” – black body bags packed with mortars, ammunition and heavy machine guns – a company of U.S. soldiers landed by helicopter on a narrow ridge and trudged up to a tiny Afghan army post overlooking icy peaks and plunging river valleys, as hostile as breathtaking.

With U.S. intelligence pointing to a possible attack by as many as 1,800 Taliban, the soldiers set up weapons over a backyard-sized square, while Afghan army soldiers in camouflage and plastic sandals pointed out fires and torchlight in the distance in the chill night air.

“We’ll get some eyes overhead to check it out. If it’s Taliban, we’ll get a plane up in the morning and drop a bomb on it,” said U.S. Major Jared Bordwell as some of his men from the 1-12 Infantry Regiment dropped down in the dust and tried to get some sleep.

American soldiers withdrew from Nuristan, or the “land of light”, after around 300 insurgents overran an isolated combat outpost near Kamdesh village – below where Bordwell’s men were huddled – on October 3, 2009, killing eight soldiers and wounding 22.

The former U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, decided in 2010 to give up remote combat outposts and shift American troops to protect larger population centers.

But it was through here that the Taliban shifted men and weapons for a suicide assault on Kabul’s diplomatic and government quarter in April, circling beyond the reach of U.S. and Afghan army positions to the south in neighboring Kunar province, coalition commanders say.

Stanley McChrystal managed the campaign for just over one year, what we should refer to as “the lost months.”  During this time the Kunar and Nuristan provinces, and all along the Hindu Kush, were left to the Taliban and allied fighters to retrain, regroup, recruit, and raise support, while he played population-centric counterinsurgency in the cities.  The attack on Kabul is minor and had little effect on the city.  And that specific attack will be small compared to the effect these provinces will have on Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves.  Another way of saying this is that the media using the Kabul attack as some sort of benchmark is both mistaken and frightening.  It will get much worse.  Continuing:

With Nuristan now a Taliban staging post and haven, the province is a vital pocket for U.S. forces based in Kunar, with only a few hundred Afghan soldiers and police over an area of 5,800 square km.

“Nuristan remains for me a challenge, a black hole. My line in the sand stops at the Kunar and Nuristan borders,” said Lt-Colonel Scott Green, a wiry former Ranger who oversees Nuristan.

But he will not be in the region for long – NATO troops are due to be withdrawn from north Kunar by October. Green and his men, who are based in Kunar and in Nuristan temporarily, will be among those withdrawn.

So his reduced-strength 1st battalion has to counter insurgents while simultaneously building Afghan capability and “retrograding” – closing up U.S. bases – all within months.

It is one of the most hostile areas in war-torn Afghanistan in a landscape that is equally hostile. Taliban and al Qaeda fighters pass through easily, from either Pakistan or from bases located out of easy NATO reach inside a 4 km-wide border buffer zone.

As many as 2,500 Taliban are thought to be in the province, controlling most districts, and around 300 are foreign, mostly Pakistanis or Chechens, Afghan commanders say.

The insurgents control what few roads there are and have three ways to move deeper into Afghanistan, through either the Kunar, Waygal or Parun valleys, which then wind down into provinces nearer to Kabul.

It is recognized that the surge was under-resourced.  It is recognized that the Kunar and Nuristan Provinces are currently in trouble due to neglect.  It is recognized that they may not survive as nominally Afghan-controlled provinces without U.S. troops.  So U.S. troops are back – and plan to leave within about four months.

This is yet another sad tale of troops who know the value of the Hindu Kush, waning support for the campaign back home, and non-existent (or never-existent) support from the administration to properly prosecute this campaign.

Later in the report, an Afghan militia member shows up to inform them that the locals were very worried about the U.S. troop withdrawal.  Of course they are.  Command attempts to paint a happy face on the overall picture by saying that Kunar may in fact be okay.

Just a happy face couched in a sad report.

Enemy Sniper at COP Pirtle-King in Kunar

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 5 months ago

From the Chicago Tribune, and this will require extensive citation, but it’s well worth it.

“Welcome to Combat Outpost Pirtle-King. Here we only move around at night. If you must move in daytime, make sure you stay close in against the northern walls, as most attacks come from there,” he says. “If you must move in the open, do it at a run.”

NATO commanders cite security gains, eleven years in the war, ahead of a 2014 withdrawal by most foreign combat troops, but there are still pockets like this, where the insurgent threat is so potent that U.S. soldiers can barely move.

COP Pirtle-King, or PK, is a low collection of rockfill walls, trenches and camouflage net, built to help secure the sole road running through the strategic Kunar River Valley and intersect insurgent supply routes from Pakistan.

But the forested mountains on both sides provide perfect cover for the insurgents, including a persistent sniper whose aim has been steadily getting closer to the handful of U.S. and Afghan troops here.

Faced with the threat of so-called plunging fire, soldiers have adjusted routines to carry out most tasks at night, apart from sporadic daytime patrols and manning a trio of guard towers where guns angle up to point high into the rocks above.

When not filling sandbags and extending their walls or doing vehicle maintenance in darkness, they sleep through the daytime heat or just read books and talk within the dusty walkways inside the walls, waiting to repel the next attack.

[ ... ]

Dushman shoots from somewhere on a green spur known as “the finger”, above curved hills known as “A Cup” and “C Cup”, but only vaguely similar to breasts. Sometimes fire comes from both sides of the valley, from the south and north.

“That kind of crossfire is usually a sign it’s not Taliban, but more likely Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin. They’re a bit more together,” says Danison. “We have pushed them back into the hills though. They used to fire from pretty much right in front.”

U.S. troops in full body armor run across the central vehicle park and any open area to reach their rooms or shift between fortified positions, and use the exposed wooden latrines and showers at their own risk.

“If you have to go, we recommend you wait until night,” Danison says. “Here at Pirtle-King, we’re pretty much in a fishbowl, so we typically operate at night. It just mitigates any exposure during the day.”

In a cluster of small rooms more like a submarine than a ground base, as many as 15 soldiers sleep in bunks stacked four high against a plywood wall marked outside by a target drawn where a Taliban rocket grenade hit but did not detonate.

“Bet you can’t do it again,” reads a sign spray-painted in black. A double-head axe on the wall is called the “Alamo Axe”, in a dark-humored reference to last ditch defense in the unlikely case the Taliban ever tried to overrun the post.

Pirtle-King, named after two soldiers killed at a smaller observation post near here in 2009, is one of a handful of bases here due to be shut down as U.S. troops withdraw from the area and handover to Afghan forces in the Kunar Valley.

Battalion Commander Lt-Col Scott Green says Kunar will make the transition successfully, as Afghan security forces were making strong improvements, including running the majority of patrols beyond the walls of Pirtle-King.

This is simply remarkable.  So here are some questions.  Does the Army send its Soldiers through the equivalent of Marine Corps School of Infantry, where land navigation, map reading, small unit maneuver and other aspects of warfare are learned?  Does the Army continue this training when the Soldier is deployed to his unit (what the Marines would call a fleet Marine)?  So, for example, do Soldiers know how to use night vision, and use that equipment to conduct room clearing operations and night time small unit maneuvers?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then the following question is salient.  Why are the Soldiers sitting in the COP?  What a field grade officer (or staff level officer) should have done for the work-up for this deployment is rehearse every one of those things, and live out in the field for most of the work-up.

The next step would be to dispatch small teams of two, three or four Soldiers (what in the Marine Corps would be a fire team) in distributed operations until the COP was emptied out except for a replacement platoon, until the head of that sniper was brought to the CO on a stick.  Of course, he would need the weapon too in order to do ballistic matching and other forensics.  Then, patrols through the valley should be ubiquitous and non-stop to show the population that U.S. Soldiers do not hide in COPs from enemy snipers.

But then, such a field grade or staff officer probably wouldn’t last very long.  Making time.  That’s all these Soldiers are doing.  Punching their time cards.  And it isn’t their fault.  The strategy is unseemly and even immoral because it places Soldier’s lives at risk to do little more than make time.

Here’s hoping that they make their time and come home safely.  No one wants to be the last man out.  As for this area of Kunar, the sniper will make easy work of the ANA.

The Mask Over Defeat in Afghanistan Slips A Bit More

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 6 months ago

The Obama Administration and its Statist Media enablers have been bravely trying their best to disguise the unfolding calamity that is Afghanistan today.

A few weeks back we had the Administration crowing about a “strategic agreement” that had been signed by the U.S. and Afghan governments, even though that agreement did not provide any specifics about the type or level of commitment Afghanistan would receive from the U.S.   It was simply an empty agreement to someday come to a specific agreement.  Maybe.

This article in The New York Times dealing with logistical issue and a related article dealing with the withdrawal of combat forces, however, show that the mask is slipping.

CHICAGO — President Obama was struggling to balance the United States’ relationship with two crucial but difficult allies on Sunday, after a deal to reopen supply lines through Pakistan to Afghanistan fell apart just as Mr. Obama began talks on ending the NATO alliance’s combat role in the Afghan war.

***

American officials said the main sticking point was the amount NATO would pay for each truck carrying supplies from Karachi, on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast, to the Afghan border. Before the closing, the payment per truck was about $250. Pakistan is now asking for “upward of $5,000” for each truck, another American official said.

Considering the huge proportion of supplies that had previously flowed through Pakistan to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, this is no small matter.

The fact that Pakistan is now demanding twenty times the previous amount for each truck is an obvious non-starter and shows just how hostile the Pakistanis are at this point.

In the NYT article by David Sanger, Obama is playing a political game with the lives of U.S. forces:

By early 2011, Mr. Obama had seen enough. He told his staff to arrange a speedy, orderly exit from Afghanistan. This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.

The key decisions had essentially been made already when Gen. David H. Petraeus, in his last months as commander in Afghanistan, arrived in Washington with a set of options for the president that called for a slow withdrawal of surge troops. He wanted to keep as many troops as possible in Afghanistan through the next fighting season, with a steep drop to follow. Mr. Obama concluded that the Pentagon had not internalized that the goal was not to defeat the Taliban. He said he “believed that we had a more limited set of objectives that could be accomplished by bringing the military out at a faster clip,” an aide reported.

After a short internal debate, Mr. Gates and Mrs. Clinton came up with a different option: end the surge by September 2012 — after the summer fighting season, but before the election. Mr. Obama concurred. But he was placing an enormous bet: his goals now focus largely on finishing off Al Qaeda and keeping Pakistan’s nuclear weapons from going astray. Left unclear is how America will respond if a Taliban resurgence takes over wide swathes of the country America invaded in 2001 and plans to largely depart 13 years later.

None of this is a surprise to TCJ readers.   There has never been a doubt that Obama was essentially going through the motions in Afghanistan.   Nonetheless, it is surprising to see the Statist flagship paper stating it so plainly.


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