Archive for the 'Army' Category

Sustainable Defense Task Force

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

To be fair concerning the brief things I am about to say (and quote), you may go directly to the Sustainable Defense Task Force Report and read the analysis and recommendations yourself.  For now, the summary report at the Marine Corps Times will suffice.

An independent team has made a series of recommendations to Congress to reduce future Defense Department budgets, in light of the country’s growing deficit — including big cuts to the Corps.

The team, dubbed, The Sustainable Defense Task Force, was tapped for the project by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Their suggestions could reduce defense spending by $960 billion from 2011 to 2020.

Ideas include:

• Roll back the size of the Army and Marine Corps as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down. The U.S. could save $147 billion over the next decade by reducing the Army’s end strength from 547,400 to 482,400 and the Corps’ from 202,000 to 175,000, the task force says.

• Reduce the number of maneuver units in the Army and Marine Corps. The task force suggests reducing the number of Army brigades from 45 to 42 and the number of Marine infantry battalions from 27 to 24. Doing so would contribute to the $147 billion in savings as the services reduce their end strengths.

• Delay or cancel development of Navy variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The U.S. could save $9.85 billion from 2011 to 2020 by canceling the purchase of JSF jets for the Navy and Marine Corps and buying more affordable F/A-18 jets instead. Doing so would leave the Corps without jump jets once the AV-8 Harrier leaves the service, but the task force argues that capability “has not proved critical to operations in recent wars.”

• End the fielding of new MV-22 Ospreys. The Corps could save $10 billion to $12 billion over the next 10 years by buying new MH-60S and CH-53K helicopters, analysts say. The K variant of the CH-53 is not expected to hit the fleet until at least 2015, but the Navy began replacing outdated CH-46 helicopters early this century with the MH-60 on amphibious assault ships.

• Kill the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program and field cheaper alternatives. The Corps could save at least $8 billion in the next decade by refurbishing cheaper, existing amphibious assault vehicles instead of continuing development of the yet-to-be-fielded EFV, the task force says.

• Reduce military recruiting budgets. The task force does not provide a service-specific breakdown, but says that with a military drawdown underway, the U.S. will not need to spend as much money finding new recruits. Recruiting budgets could be reduced by $5 billion over the next decade.

Some of the proposals — killing the EFV to save money, for example — are hardly new. But the report also includes a second set of proposals authored by Benjamin Friedman and Christopher Preble, analysts at the conservative Cato Institute in Washington.

In a five-page section at the back of the task force’s 56-page report, the two analysts propose a “strategy of restraint — one that reacts to danger rather than going out in search of it.” If adopted — a big “if” — it would result in deep cuts to the Army and Marine Corps, with the Army reduced from about 560,000 soldiers to 360,000, a 36 percent reduction, and the Corps reduced from 202,000 Marines to 145,000, a 28 percent decrease. The cuts would make the Corps smaller than it has been at any time since 1950, when there were about 74,300 Marines on active duty before the U.S. took an active role in the Korean War.

[ … ]

“We are spending more on our military than we have at any point since World War II,” Preble said. “It’s absurd to think that the type of threats that we‘re dealing with today in 2010 are greater than what we dealt with in 1950 or 1960 or 1970. It’s absolutely absurd.”

No, here is what’s absurd.  Pretending that this has anything to do with saving any significant amount of money via defense cuts.  Recall that we have discussed this depiction of defense spending as a function of GDP (via Instapundit).

This graph also comes from the Cato Institute.  Maybe the analysts at the Cato Institute should talk to each other a little more.  You know, maybe some staff meetings or hallway discussions or something.  Maybe they should do lunch.  With the Obama administration having thrown several trillion dollars into toilet to be flushed away without doing any good whatsoever, the focus on defense spending is disingenuous and hypocritical.  Right before the executive summary, the following quote is strategically placed.

Conservatives needs to hearken back to the Eisenhower heritage, and develop a defense leadership that understands military power is fundamentally premised on the solvency of the American government and vibrancy of the U.S. economy,” Kori Schake, Hoover Institution Fellow and former McCain-Palin Foreign Policy Advisor.

Nice try.  Let’s cut billions out of defense spending in order to counterbalance the trillions we throw away on social engineering programs so that if we ever really do need defense again after we have managed to control ourselves and stay out of fights with the enemy, maybe we will have spent so much on non-defense we will have curtailed our drunken appetite for throwing money away and we can get down to business defending ourselves.

The problem is that the enemy gets the majority vote.  Say what you want about the expeditionary warfare concept, the 100 or so nations in which we currently have troops deployed and based, and the supposed meddling we do in the affairs of others.  It keeps the fight abroad instead of at home.  For those who wish to wait for the fight to come to our doorstep, be careful what you wish for and consider just what it would be like.

I have been as hard on the big plans for the Marine Corps as anyone.  I dominate Google rankings for expeditionary warfare and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  I oppose it (the EFV) in all its manifestations.  I have advocated a much lighter, and more air-mobile Corps, with reliance on forcible entry via air (a new helicopter fleet) rather than via sea, to allow the Navy to set up shop after the Marines have secured a beachhead.  Relying on the hugely expensive and very heavy EFV is profoundly unwise.  I have also opposed the money for the F-35 because it isn’t half the aircraft that the F-22 is, and it has had halting production efficiency.

But the authors have crossed the Rubicon.  They’re talking about massive reductions in infantry battalions.  Don’t be fooled.  Good Infantry Battalions can’t be stood up easy, cheap or fast.  We are left with our pants down if we follow the advice of this report sanctioned by this group of bipartisan lawmakers.  And for the record, while I like the generally libertarian approach to domestic lawmaking, Ron Paul’s views of national defense are naive and childish.  Any study co-sponsored by Barney Frank and Ron Paul should immediately raise your hackles.

In the future, I have a better idea for saving money.  Rather than pay these analysts to reiterate this same claptrap, next time pay me ten percent of what you would otherwise spend and I’ll cut through the crap in one tenth of the words.  One tenth the words for one tenth the cost.  If Congress doesn’t recognize that as a deal, they can’t be trusted with our money.

Prayers and Sympathies to Families at Foot Hood, Texas

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

I don’t have much wisdom to give at the moment, and I’m sure that details will come out in the future that will elicit more commentary from pundits across the blogosphere.  Right now, remember the families of the slain Soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, in your prayers.

Systemic Defense Intelligence Failures

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

Bill Gertz reports on intelligence leading up to the Taliban attack at COP Keating, Kamdesh Afghanistan.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr. recently testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that there were three intelligence reports indicating Taliban forces were preparing to attack a remote U.S. combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan, according to defense officials.

Gen. Burgess appeared before a closed-door meeting of the committee on Oct. 22 and was asked by senators about the advance warning of a Taliban attack, first reported in The Washington Times, and whether the intelligence warnings were ignored.

About 100 Taliban fighters carried out the attack on the outpost near the town of Kamdesh on Oct. 3 in what U.S. Army spokesmen said was a surprise strike that left eight U.S. soldiers dead.

Gen. Burgess explained in testimony to the committee that the military had three intelligence reports on the issue, but that the reports were among many human-source reports that had not been verified by other means, such as electronic intelligence. As a result, the reporting was not deemed “actionable” intelligence, said defense officials familiar with the testimony.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Democratic and Republican spokesmen for the Senate Intelligence Committee had no comment, citing rules limiting discussion of closed-door committee meetings.

A DIA spokesman also declined to comment.

One official said the reports indicate that there was an intelligence failure by analysts who he suspects were “waiting for the smoking-gun report from technical systems.”

“The bottom line is that in spite of all our intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan, U.S. forces have been surprised twice by massed Taliban forces in a pre-planned attack against two of our outposts,” the official said. “That begs the question of whether we have a problem of analysis.”

Partially declassified intelligence reports revealed that in the period before the Oct. 3 battle, a new Taliban subcommander in Kamdesh named Ghulan Faroq had been appointed and was in charge of attacking Combat Outpost Keating. The reports also indicated that days before the attack, insurgent fighters in Kamdesh were resupplied with ammunition for large-caliber guns.

Commentary & Analysis

One year and nine months ago we discussed the claim made by General Rodriguez, apparently relying on Army intelligence, that the Taliban were focusing on Pakistan rather than Afghanistan and thus there wouldn’t be a Taliban spring offensive in 2008.  We predicted otherwise, and quite obviously defense intelligence got it wrong while we got it right.  Reinforcing this analysis several months later, Colonel Pete Johnson said that the notion of a Taliban spring offensive was a myth that was going to be debunked.  Yet there has been a spring offensive every year, with the security situation in Afghanistan continuing to degrade and the Taliban controlling more and more of both the terrain and the population.

In our analysis of the Battle of Wanat we pointed out that the AR 15-6 Investigation and Findings of Wanat pointed towards intelligence failures in the time leading up to the battle.

One key breakdown in force protection pertained to intelligence. Multiple villagers, including tribal elders, had told multiple U.S. troops that an attack on VPB Wanat was imminent, but the assumption that such an attack would be probative caused little concern among the leadership. But the enlisted ranks included men who knew what was coming. Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling suspected that his days were numbered, while he and his band of brothers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team prepared for a mission near Wanat, Afghanistan. “It’s gonna be a bloodbath,” he told his father, Kurt Zwilling, on the phone in what would be their last conversation.  In fact, there had been daily reports of 200-300 fighters massing to attack COP Bella in the first 10 days of July before transfer of operations to VPB Wanat

We have also discussed in detail the Taliban massing of troops, bringing at times near half-Battalion size forces to bear on U.S. troop garrisons as a favorite tactic.


Now regarding the Taliban attack at Combat Outpost Keating at Kamdesh, Afghanistan, we learn that defense intelligence had three reports of imminent danger but failed to act on this intelligence.  What “smoking gun report” would have convinced them to take action we aren’t told in the Gertz investigation, but it’s important not to get buried in the details of the specific intelligence failure.

This failure is part of a larger problem in defense intelligence.  The problem is both significant and consequential.  It is significant in that it points to a systemic problem, and consequential in that the affects range from denying the presence of a Taliban offensive to the deaths of nine Soldiers at Wanat and eight at Kamdesh.

The point is granted that this administration is at war with the CIA.  But issues at the tactical level, e.g., Taliban massing of forces, imminent attacks, etc., must be acted upon without reference to certainty.  Intelligence is meant to be shared, and if further verification and validation is needed, the proper assets must be deployed to address the need.

I have previously weighed in on the cult of special forces advocating a shift away from (the current fad of) replacing kinetic operations by infantry with Special Operations Forces.  But regarding the proper use of special operators (as I see it), this is an instance of ideal application of several Rangers assigned to and embedded with infantry platoons.  Recon missions based out of the smaller COPs might add to the local intelligence rather than having to rely on electronic and technological verification of other intelligence information.

In any case, just as we are attempting to define the boundary conditions for riskless war, our Army intelligence is attempting to craft riskless analysis.  There is no such thing, and in the mean time, we are failing our Soldiers and Marines in the field at the tactical and personal level.

Army Rejects Call for Independent Assessments of Body Armor

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

About eight months ago the GAO issued a report concerning body armor (SAPI plate) recall, and outlined a number of findings concerning the testing the Army had performed.  We summarized a few of the findings in DoD Testing Requirements for Body Armor and Army Recall.

COPD is “Contract Purchase Description,” PEO is “Program Executive Officer,” and BFD means “Back Face Deformation.”  This last concept becomes important in the overall picture.  Turning to the specifics of the report, several key findings are outlined below for the purpose of providing examples of the investigation.

The inconsistencies that we identified concerned the treatment of over velocity shots.  During first article testing conducted on February 20 and November 7, 2007, shots on six of the plates were over the required velocity. Because none of the shots resulted in a complete penetration, the shots should have been considered fair, and the test should have proceeded, according to the COPD. During the November 7, 2007, test, the testing facility official complied with the COPD and correctly proceeded with testing. However, even though the scenario was exactly the same for the February 20, 2007, test, the testing facility official conducted retests on additional plates. The testing facility official documented all of the shots, including the retests, and provided the test results to PEO Soldier for scoring.  When scoring the test results for the February 20, 2007, first article test (design M3D2S2), the PEO Soldier scoring official chose to use the test results for the retested plates when he computed the test score. Use of the retested plates resulted in a score of 5.5 points, and the contractor passed the first article test. Had the scoring official followed the fair shot acceptance criteria as stated in the COPD and used the initial plates that withstood the over velocity shot, the contractor would have accumulated an additional 1.5 points (complete penetration on the second shot) and would have failed the first article test with 7 points.

Translation: When an over-velocity shot is taken on a plate, the testing may proceed if the plate is not penetrated under the assumption that a lower velocity shot would not have penetrated either.  This is a reasonable assumption.  However, if the plate is penetrated by the second shot it fails the testing, even if weakened by the initial shot.  The PEO made the decision to exclude the plates that had sustained over-velocity shots on the initial testing and to perform retests, but not consistently (as later records show).  A second example of the Inspector General’s findings pertains to measurements of BFD (back face deformation).

PEO Soldier instructed the testing facility to deviate from the COPD and use an offset correction technique (a mathematical formula used to adjust the BFD) when measuring the BFD. The testing facility official used this technique during 2 of the 21 first article tests conducted under Contract 0040. The COPD required that the testing facility officials measure the BFD at the deepest point in the clay depression after the bullet impacted the plate. However, PEO Soldier officials stated that contractors complained that the BFD measurement was not fair if the deepest point in the clay was not behind the point of impact. Therefore, a PEO Soldier official instructed the testing facility in an April 25, 2005, e-mail to use the offset correction technique if the deepest point in the clay depression was not behind the bullet’s point of impact.

Translation: The contractors complained when the measurement of deepest penetration was made at any point other than the point of bullet impact, which is the point of highest risk to the Soldier.  Therefore, the PEO made a decision that a correction would be applied to account for this effect and bring consistency to the program.

The Captain’s Journal initially concurs with both of the program deviations discussed above, since it isn’t fair to penalize one plate as compared to another if an over-velocity shot happened to be taken against it, and also since the highest risk to the Soldier does happen to be the point of bullet impact.

And it is also fair to point out that these aren’t the only problems discussed in the report.  But there are deeper problems that discussed even in the report.  With respect to the over-velocity shots, our judgment is that not enough SAPI plates are being included in the test samples (i.e., the sample size is not large enough) and the boundary conditions (such as shot velocity) are not being well-managed.  With respect to the deformation, the question naturally arises why the most severe deformation is occurring anywhere other than the point of bullet impact?  What’s happening to the ESAPI plates that is causing deformation in other than impact locations?

These questions (and other such technical questions) are not posed or answered in the Inspector General’s report, since the investigation is done by a government office.  The investigation focuses on programs, QA, adherence to procedures, consistency of application of rules and the like.  True enough, there are problems with some of the above.

But Senators and Representatives who have infinite trust in the power of government to solve problems leave the technology to the experts when a government office is the the sole arbiter of the strength of any technical program – and technological expert doesn’t usually define government offices.  In this particular case, as we have suggested before, there is no shame in assistance from industry experts.

Questions have been raised above which point to the need for completely independent consultative services focusing on QA, programmatic controls, statistical analysis of sample size, control over testing boundary conditions, and most especially the SAPI plates themselves and the underlying fracture mechanics of bullet impacts by finite element analysis.

At this point the business of body armor investigations wasn’t complete at the Government Accountability Office.  Hence, in October 2009 they issued Warfighter Support: Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding.  In the executive summary they state:

To determine what effect, if any, the problems GAO observed had on the test data and on the outcomes of First Article Testing, the Army should provide for an independent ballistics evaluation of the First Article Testing results by ballistics and statistical experts external to the Department of Defense before any armor is fielded to soldiers under this contract solicitation. Because DOD did not concur with this recommendation, GAO added a matter for congressional consideration to this report suggesting that Congress direct DOD to either conduct such an independent external review of these test results or repeat First Article Testing.

To better align actual test practices with established testing protocols during future body armor testing, the Army should assess the need to change its test procedures based on the outcome of the independent experts’ review and document these and all other key decisions made to clarify or change the testing protocols during future body armor testing. Although DOD did not agree that an independent expert review of test results was needed, DOD stated it will address protocol discrepancies identified by GAO as it develops standardized testing protocols. DOD also agreed to document all decisions made to clarify or change testing protocols.

To improve internal controls over the integrity and reliability of test data for future testing as well as provide for consistent test conditions and comparable data among tests, the Army should provide for an independent external peer review of Aberdeen Test Center’s body armor testing protocols, facilities, and instrumentation to ensure that proper internal controls and sound management practices are in place. DOD generally concurred with this recommendation, but stated that it will also include DOD members on the review team.

Consistent with our own recommendations, they counsel in the strongest possible terms that outside independent consultative support be obtained.  But as soon as the GAO released its report, the DoD released a statement claiming confidence in the safety of the SAPI plates – a completely irrelevant rejoinder to the overall recommendations of the GAO report to procure consultative support for the program.  The same day that the DoD announced that they had full confidence in their body armor tests, they announced several new QA positions concerning ballistics and body armor testing.

The Army is sounding defensive and unwilling to open their program to outside expert inspection and assessment.  Here at The Captain’s Journal we haven’t recommended draconian measures such as jettisoning the Army test program, or complete replacement of the SAPI (at least until an equivalent, lighter weight ballistic insert can be developed).  We have only recommended the engagement of outside consultative services for the Army, just as did the GAO.

For the Army to reject that recommendation is very small and in extremely bad form.  When counsel has been given to open your programs to outside inspection and that counsel is rejected, it constitutes poor engineering.  There are many industries which “live in a glass house,” so to speak: nuclear, commercial air transport, pharmaceutical and medical, just to mention a few.  There is no valid technical or budgetary reason whatsoever that the Army cannot open their program to inspection by people who know as much or more than they do.

Packing Army (Marine) Style

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago



Drenched in sweat, Army Capt. Aaron Hall peeled off his soggy socks and applied a liberal dose of foot powder before slipping on a dry pair and rallying his troops back to their throbbing feet. For an outfit used to being ferried from fight to fight in armored vehicles, a 50-mile march through the Appalachians was a little much.

Perhaps no unit better exemplifies the challenges presented by the Army’s transition from desert warfare in Iraq to rugged mountain campaigns in Afghanistan than the 3rd Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade, whose tanks and Bradley assault vehicles were among the first to rumble into Baghdad in the 2003 invasion.

Under a 2007 plan to grow the Army and diversify its forces, 4th Brigade is the only mechanized unit being ordered to ditch its tanks and Bradleys and relearn how to move through a war zone on foot.

Which is how Hall and his soldiers found themselves zigzagging through the mountains of north Georgia, trying to cover 50 miles in three days. Even after serving last year as a platoon leader in Iraq, Hall wasn’t used to that kind of exertion.

“Whenever they said ‘road march,’ it was pretty much get in your Bradleys and ride 20 miles,” said Hall, 28, of Canton, N.C. “Now, it’s put on your boots and your rucksack and start walking. We’re our own transportation.”

Commanders say the retooled brigade should be ready to deploy again late next year.

About 40 percent of the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment’s soldiers are holdovers from the unit’s previous incarnation as the 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment.

After the unit returned from its third Iraq deployment in December, its tank drivers, gunners and mechanics transferred to other units as the switch to light infantry took hold. Many infantrymen trained to fight with Bradleys, tracked vehicles that resemble small tanks, stayed and now are getting used to fighting on foot.

As a mechanized infantry unit, each soldier had a designated seat in a vehicle. As light infantry, a rifle company of 135 troops has just five vehicles — Humvees and trucks — to share.

1st Sgt. Chad Brown learned to count on the Bradley’s speed and lethal weaponry during his three tours in Iraq. His soldiers would travel to drop-off points shielded by the vehicle’s thick armor, then conduct foot patrols under cover of its mounted machine gun and 25 mm cannon.

“Going from mech my whole career to light infantry, there is a concern of, ‘Oh man, where is the heavy firepower?'<2009>” said Brown, 34, of Kingsley, Mich. “I’ve been shot at sitting in Humvees and in Bradleys, and obviously I feel much more comfortable sitting in a Bradley.”

For soldiers used to the protection of armored vehicles, getting them comfortable with the added exposure of maneuvering on foot is mostly about back-to-basics training, as that’s how troops just entering the Army learn to fight, said Maj. John Grantz, executive officer of the 3-15 Infantry.

Captain Hall is doing Marine-style humping.  But wait … WAIT … WAIT!  Maybe not.

In the interests of prompting, promulgating, promoting, protracting and prolonging highly destructive inter-service rivalries, I must ask the question, “where is the body armor?”  You know, that extra 32 pounds of weight (with the IBA) that drags you down?  And I see a day-pack (with hydration), but not the full backpack that comes in at 75+ pounds.  Tisk … tisk …

Recall our Marine in Helmand with 120 pounds plus a mortar plate? khanjar_ii

Okay, so much for the internecine rivalries.  I will be out of pocket for the weekend carrying a little bit less weight on my back through the Pisgah National Forrest and avoiding anything electronic or web-based including this web site.  Have a great weekend.  Go Army!  Go Marine!

Combat Action in Nuristan and Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

Two videos, the first from the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan.
Watch CBS Videos Online

Next, this video was posted a few weeks ago, and is a followup to our article Video of U.S. Marine Operations in Helmand and Now Zad (see second video).  This video is low resolution and looks as if it was taken with a helment camera.  Bear with it.

Taliban and Security in the Wardak Province

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

World Politics Review gives us a glimpse into operations in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan.

The most surprising thing, initially, is how difficult and time-consuming even the most basic tasks are — like getting around between coalition camps, for instance.

I had left Forward Operating Base Airborne — where I am based with U.S. Army units from the 10th Mountain Division and a French army training team — for a short trip to a nearby combat outpost, only a few miles away. The objective had been to take water, food, and building materials to the new outpost. The trip, which had promised to be relatively easy and painless, ended up consuming the entire morning, and was both inordinately tiring and far more dangerous than I had expected for such a minor mission.

The problems started as soon as the convoy of armoured vehicles and trucks left the camp’s gate. A suspicious object was spotted nearby on the road, and a group of Afghan soldiers — mentored by the French — was sent to investigate. Because the Taliban and other insurgent groups cannot take the Coalition on in a straight battle, they have multiplied roadside bomb attacks. These now cause the most Western casulties, leading Coalition convoys to proceed with extraordinary care.

When the road was eventually declared clear, the convoy turned onto it, rumbling along at little more than 10 mph. Army vehicles and trucks beat up the dust and shook painfully, the French-made VABs (véhicule de l’avant blindés, or armored vanguard vehicles) struggling against the unpaved Afghan road.

A French machine-gunner leaned out of the gunner’s window next to me at the back of the vehicle, his hands resting impassively on his gun. The only thing that gave away his excitement was the trembling of his voice as he occasionally translated the chatter coming over his crackling radio into English for me.

The convoy stopped repeatedly as the French, who are supposed to be here only in an advisory capacity, kept sending the Afghans ahead to check out an area before the convoy could roll on. Locals, whether passing by or standing outside their shops and fields, looked on, occasionally giving a nod, a wave or even a smile. Some just stared — impassively, sullenly, perhaps even with some hostility: Wardak province has been very violent since things started to fall apart in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007.

My gunner still waved at almost everybody, evidently very aware that this campaign is now about winnings hearts and minds. He seemed less aware of the scorching heat, or else he had grown oblivious to it, to say nothing of the clouds of dust the VAB churned up in his face, and the violent shaking of the vehicle that kept bumping my helmet-covered head against the roof.

Upon reaching the combat outpost — perhaps the size of a soccer field surrounded by three-foot-wide walls — the soldiers quickly unloaded the supplies off the VABs. They then stopped for a cigarette break, during which their focused professionalism quickly dissolved into playfulness, chatter, and a happy performance of Happy Birthday for one of the sergeants.

Then the atmosphere quickly reverts back into soldiering, as the French commander explains to the American team returning with us how we are to proceed and how the convoy should respond should it be attacked.

Which is precisely what happens almost the moment the vehicles are out of the gate. The whoosh of an incoming rocket, then two more, is followed by a burst of crackle over the radio. The machine-gunner shouts to me — “Get down, get down!” — his head turning back towards the front of the vehicle, his hands ready on his gun. I automatically lower myself inside the VAB, wondering numbly whether I should perhaps take at least a few photos.

We aren’t hit and neither is the base, but the convoy is now stuck. There is no more firing, but mortars are soon launched from inside the base, and the two A-10 bombers covering the convoy are called in. We sit there for minutes as nothing seems to happen. And then we rumble on. We do not stop anywhere on the way back, and in fact take a different route than the one we used to come. It is unclear where the rockets were fired from, or even who fired them.

Stepping out of their vehicles, some of the soldiers begin to enthusiastically discuss the events. “Did you hear how they came?” they ask one another. “Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh: one, two, three!”

A French officer walks over. “You okay?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I nod, exhausted, black from the dust, my skin badly sunburnt on my neck.

He grins. “Monsieur, c’est normal ici, tu sais?” (“Mister, that’s normal here, you know?”) Apparently they come under attack every day.

Did this report impress you the same way it did me?  Good men all around, but bad strategy.  What’s missing in this account is something like the following:

Following the desire to protect the population as well as provide for force protection, the 10th Mountain had sent several squads out on what they termed “distributed operations” to find and kill the enemy.  The dispatching of troops occurred during dark so as to preclude direct observation by insurgents.  The Soldiers were deployed with night vision gear, and had found concealment prior to combat operations beginning.

Upon initial mortar fire, the squads from the 10th Mountain Division went into action, having observed the terrain for the last eight hours.  They apparently knew where the fire was coming from, and had not only prepared to initiate offensive combat operations upon detection of insurgent movement, but had also called in close air support in anticipation of the kinetic engagement.

Six insurgents were killed in the ensuing operations, and two were captured.  Subsequent interrogation revealed information that led to the discovery of an extensive weapons cache.  PAO “so-and-so” remarked that subsequent aggressive patrolling by the 10th Mountain Division in the AO was intended to assure the population that their security was improving and would make further gains upon cooperation to find and kill or capture the Taliban fighters who were causing the instability.

Why is it that we’re reading accounts of the 10th Mountain squirreling away in FOBs and logistics routes which are regularly subject to mortar attacks?  Why does the Taliban have the initiative rather than the 10th Mountain Division?

Tired Narratives on Afghanistan: Holy Warriors, Militias and SOF

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

Jonathan Kay has been to a conference of “experts” on the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Here is the narrative.

I’ve spent the last two days at a conference in Freeport, Bahamas, sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, listening to dozens of specialists discuss the best way to pacify the Taliban-infested border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It’s been a humbling experience, as well as an educational one: I seemed to have been the only person on the speaking roster who hadn’t spent a good chunk of his or her life in south Asia. (Emphasis on “or her”: It surprised me how many women have adopted this remote, misogynistic corner of the globe as their focus of study.) Alongside the various ambassadors – current and former – there was a former police chief from Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, a former CIA operative, and a variety of brand-name global terrorism experts. Other speakers had done in-depth reporting from the region for Western publications, or run grass-roots NGOs. Most of the attendees agreed that the Taliban was strong, and getting stronger — and not one offered a simple solution.

A basic problem, it emerged, is the sheer complexity of the military dynamic in eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. While journalists often talk about the Taliban as if it were a single, unified force, there are in fact many Talibans.

On the highest level are the hard-core, mass-murdering jihadis — men whose cause is inseparable from that of al-Qaeda; who are intermarried into al-Qaeda, and have even adopted Arabic as their primary language. Everyone in the room agreed that ordinary politics means little to these men: Holy War is in their blood.

In the middle tier are the tribal militias, village-defense forces, drug gangs and other Taliban-of-convenience. These groups shift their allegiance around opportunistically depending on who seems to be winning at any given moment.

Finally comes the hapless foot soldiers — illiterate peasants paid by the month to tote a gun and go where they’re told.

Each group calls out for a different strategy. In the case of the dedicated jihadis, the only thing to be done is kill them — which means boots on the ground, special forces, and drones. The militias, by contrast, respond quickly to shifts in popular opinion, propaganda and outreach. And the low-level foot-soldiers can be lured away by jobs — which means economic projects and nation-building.

Who has taught them this narrative?  Where did they get it?  As for Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters have proven resilient despite repeated operations against them.  No turning to the right or to the left.  As for Afghanistan, the indigenous insurgency in the South has proven resilient enough that the U.S. Marines in Garmser had to kill some 400 of them before relative peace came to the city in what at times was described as full bore reloading (only to be lost later because the British couldn’t hold the area).

Where is this group of hard core holy warriors which is so small that drones and SOF can take them out, and the multitudinous groups of militia that turn on a dime to shifts in opinion (rather than extort monies and enforce Sharia at the point of a gun)?

The conference of “experts” is parroting wishful thinking rather than realities on the ground in Afghanistan, in which the U.S. Marines are having to engage in heavy combat in order to pacify an indigenous insurgency in the South.  There’s nothing like a conference of “experts” in a tropical getaway to make things interesting for us.  Unfortunately, it would have been better for them to have had the conference in Now Zad.

The more interesting and relevant narrative for us comes from the Strategy Page.  Note before we get to it that The Captain’s Journal called the interdiction of supplies through Khyber and Chaman before it was in vogue, called for engaging the Caucasus before Russia, called the campaign stalled (and even losing) in 2008 while General Rodriguez waxed on about how the U.S. was taking the fight to the Taliban.

Now finally, remember that we have called repeatedly (there are too many articles to link) for re-attachment of the SOF to the infantry, getting the infantry out of their FOBs into kinetics, classical counterinsurgency and population engagement, everywhere, all of the time with all resources.

Now to the Strategy Page.

Many in the Special Forces and regular forces have urged that there be more operations featuring closer cooperation and coordination between Special Forces and the more traditional combat troops. It’s expected that this will now be happening in Afghanistan.

In addition, Special Forces (and special operations troops in general) will get more resources. This is part of a trend, as commanders have found that efforts are more successful when Special Forces personnel are taking the point. This has led to some special operations troops getting special privileges, like wider authority to call in artillery fire and air strikes. Thus this “unleashing” of the Special Forces and other special ops units (SEALs and foreign commandos) will lead to some interesting situations.

They’re listening, and we’re partly there folks.  No special privileges though.  Re-attach them to infantry, just like Force Recon is attached to Marine infantry.  Just another billet to do specialized things.  The Army is dumbing down their expectations and taking the vast majority of their fighters out of the fight while also taking their SOF fighters out of the counterinsurgency operations.  Time to end that nonsense.  Get back to the basics.

IEDs, Patrols and Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago gives us a very important look into IEDs, patrols and counterinsurgency from Camp Carwile, Afghanistan.  The entire report is duplicated below since all of it contributes to our own analysis.

CAMP CARWILE, Afghanistan – The United States has 39,000 troops in Afghanistan and thousands more on the way, but soldiers are finding it increasingly difficult to keep the area around the capital safe from roadside bombs and gunfire.

Last Monday, four American soldiers stationed at Camp Carwile, just a few hours outside Kabul, were killed by roadside bombs that blew their armoured Humvees into the air. Two days later, three more patrols were hit by bombs. In that incident, no one was killed.

U.S. patrols are using cellphone jammers to try to thwart radio-controlled bombs, and they are installing vehicles with metal detectors. But while these techniques may be effective on dirt roads, on highways insurgents are switching to pressure-plate bombs that explode when driven over; setting off bombs with command wire; and putting explosives in concrete and steel culverts under paved roads.

Taliban fighters set up beyond the tree line hundreds of metres away and wait for American patrols.

“Sometimes they dig a hole in the main asphalt highway, put in the bomb, fill it in, melt tires overtop, and then spread dirt over that section,” says Lt. Alvin Cavalier, whose platoon scours roads for improvised explosive devices. “No one can say they aren’t effective.”

Besides the threat of IEDs, soldiers say they’re constantly targeted by mortars and gunfire, and efforts to cultivate relations with villagers are meeting with difficulty.

“We took out this high-value insurgent target a month or so back, and people here were acting like he was Robin Hood,” says Sgt.-Maj. Dewayne Blackmon. “The whole town was in mourning over his death. They closed all the stores like he was a local hero. How do you change something like that?

“I understand it, I really do,” Blackmon continues. “The Taliban shows up and says, `If you cooperate with the Americans, we will kill you.’ They don’t know how long we are really going to be in Afghanistan. So what choice do they have?

“This war isn’t going to be won on technology. We need to be doing a better job relationship building.”

Even relations between U.S. and Afghan soldiers are sometimes fractious. Afghan soldiers are no longer allowed on the U.S. section of Carwile after some were discovered stealing from American soldiers, and now, while U.S. troops live two or three to a room in wooden cabins and enjoy amenities such as a gym, large-screen TV and ping-pong table, Afghan troops live together in a single canvas tent, exposed to bone-rattling winds whipping off the nearby mountains.

“The Americans keep promising they’ll help us build a hut, but it never comes,” says Fawad Seddiqi, a 20-year-old translator who works for the U.S. Army but lives in the Afghan section of the base.

U.S. troops say they have reason to be wary of local Afghan soldiers and police. In March, Cavalier headed out from Carwile with his platoon on a routine patrol to scour the roads for bombs. During the patrol, a suspected drug smuggler and Taliban conspirator was detained. But the soldiers were ordered to turn the suspect over to Afghan police.

Two hours later, when U.S. Special Forces arrived at the base to question the suspect, he’d vanished.

Analysis & Commentary

This report documents a failing counterinsurgency effort – failing because wrong strategy has informed the tactics, techniques and procedures.  To begin with, why are Special Forces being brought in to interrogate a suspect?  Because of knowledge of Dari or Pashto?  Not a knowledge that is likely any better than their translator.  This is a misuse of Special Forces, who ought to be embedded as trainers with the Afghan forces (SF) or attached to infantry (SOF).

Speaking of translators, Sgt. Maj. Blackmon is right.  The U.S. needs to build better relationships.  During the Marines’ tenure in Anbar, the Arabic translators were often considered as Marines themselves, and in fact, Iraqi translators have been allowed Stateside and joined the Marines.  What is their translator doing garrisoned with the Afghans?  A translator is perhaps the most important asset in the U.S. arsenal.  Why isn’t he happy and fulfilled in his job?  Why is a situation allowed to exist where he has unaddressed complaints?

Speaking of being garrisoned, why aren’t the forces out on foot patrol for extended periods of time?  What good does having a large screen TV and ping pong table do for the counterinsurgency effort?  Sgt. Blackmon is right again.  Technology will not win the war, from TVs to armored vehicles and cellphone jammers.  Infantry on foot will.

Every technological advantage we have will be turned against us with some low level, cheap and easy defeater by innovative insurgents.  MRAPS and other armored personnel carriers are merely ways to keep the U.S. from engaging both the enemy and the population.  Infantry belongs on foot.

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.

Camp Carwile may be a good place to rest, eat and relax in between patrols, all the while providing good force protection.  But this force protection has a purpose.  It is to allow resupply, regrouping and recuperation.  It should only be a temporary station between protracted, continual multi-day foot patrols from smaller FOBs and combat outposts.

Killing insurgents like Sir Robin Hood will convince the population that it’s too dangerous to fight the Army.  Spending time with the population will convince them that the Army is able to protect them from people like Robin Hood, who in reality, brings violence and takes what little wealth they have.  Sgt. Blackmon needn’t worry – they don’t really want Robin Hood there.  They want security.

U.S. Halts SOF Raids in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years ago

The New York Times published an article concerning temporarily halting SOF raids in Afghanistan.

The commander of a secretive branch of America’s Special Operations forces last month ordered a halt to most commando missions in Afghanistan, reflecting a growing concern that civilian deaths caused by American firepower are jeopardizing broader goals there.

The halt, which lasted about two weeks, came after a series of nighttime raids by Special Operations troops in recent months killed women and children, and after months of mounting outrage in Afghanistan about civilians killed in air and ground strikes. The order covered all commando missions except those against the highest-ranking leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, military officials said.

American commanders in Afghanistan rely on the commando units to carry out some of the most delicate operations against militant leaders, and the missions of the Army’s Delta Force and classified Navy Seals units are never publicly acknowledged. But the units sometimes carry out dozens of operations each week, so any decision to halt their missions is a sign of just how worried military officials are that the fallout from civilian casualties is putting in peril the overall American mission in Afghanistan, including an effort to drain the Taliban of popular support.

Andrew Exum got to this one before we did, perhaps partially because he is now being paid to blog a certain portion of his time at CNAS.  Maybe Nagl could throw a few dollars our direction and we can blog more.  At any rate and on a serious note, what Exum says is worth hearing concerning his position that the line between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency is a false one.

I asked a highly respected retired U.S. Army general a year ago what the appropriate role for direct action special operations forces was in a population-centric COIN campaign. His answer was that direct action SOF is highly valuable because “it’s the way you play offense.” At the same time, though, it absolutely has to be tied into a greater COIN strategy. The cool kids cannot be allowed to just run amok, no matter how much they may want to.

Oh good heavens!  “… The way you play offense.”  Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know how we approach the issue of SOF after having read:

The Cult of Special Forces

And perhaps it’s true that we are biased towards a certain position given that this is a Marine blog (and please don’t drop comments or send notes saying that there is such a thing as MARSOC now).  But still, there is a certain adolescent obsession with SOF being supermen that permeates this discussion and many like it.

SOF are not supermen.  They are (or should be, or started out) as soldiers with specialized billets.  Language, training, and cultural knowledge not typically found in the balance of the Army or Corps should mark SOF.  For SEALs, they must do things that require specialized training, such as underwater demolition requiring use of the closed circuit oxygen system rebreather, and so on.  Airmen who use satellite uplink equipment need specialized training.

To pretend that kinetics is performed by SOF while the “big Army” does something else is both elitist and insulting.  It is insulting to infantry because it says to them that they aren’t really qualified to perform kinetic operations.  But if reality is a gauge, squad rushes, satellite patrols, fire and maneuver tactics, stacks and room clearing operations, raids, use of night vision equipment, fast roping, and so on, are all things that infantry both trains on and has conducted in Iraq for years.  These are infantry specialties, and SOF cannot and should not lay sole claim to them.  As for that matter, flag and field grade officers who coddle this notion aren’t helping matters with the big Army.

Perhaps the supporters of this myth of the SOF superman are considering reality when recalling what is beginning to be the stark differences between Army basic training and Marine boot camp.  From Thomas Ricks Making the Corps:

Army basic training is intentionally ‘user friendly’. All units at Fort Jackson, which trains support personnel – clerks, cooks, truck drivers, nurses and mechanics – are gender integrated. Men and women sleep in separate barracks, but do everything else together … the rifle ranges at Fort Jackson are named after states, not great battles. There is no shock theatre ‘pick up’. “We do not try to intimidate,” explains Lt. Col. Mark G. McCauley, Commander of the receiving area. “We do not try to strike fear in their hearts. We conduct the handoff in a calm, quiet, professional way. We want the soldiers in training to have a sense of comfort.”

‘Fun’ isn’t a word one hears on Parris Island. Here it comes naturally to the lips of trainees. “They teach us, but they also make it fun,” says Eric Escamilla, a soldier-in-training from Lubbock, Texas. Spec. Sheila Suess, his comrade in Delta Company, agrees as they eat breakfast in their mess hall. At other tables, trainees chat in conversations. No drill instructors hover, and there is no shouting anywhere in the building …

Out on the bayonet assault course, Alpha Company of the Third Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, is going through the paces. The platoon sergeant – the Army equivalent of senior drill instructor – addresses them. “Soldiers, please be interested in what I have to say,” begins Staff Sgt. Ron Doiron. “This is the only time in your military career you get to do the bayonet assault course. Make the most of it. Let’s have some fun out here” … Alpha Company takes off through the piney woods, climbing over low obstacles, sticking the tires and rubber dummies with bayonets. Jumping down into a trench, Pvt. Tralena Wolfe’s knee pops. She comes off the course, sits on a log, and cries.

As for a more timely assessment, you may go to the Army Times where Marine Captain Josh Gibbs discussed his trip to Fort Jackson.  Perhaps the Army is being used as a social engineering experiment, which would explain the interest that the Democrats normally take in increasing the size of SOF.  Only the champions of SOF can completely explain why they advocate seeing kinetics as the primary domain of SOF with [who knows what] the domain of the infantry.

But without such an explanation and justification, the following objections should suffice at the moment.

  • The model of SOF as supermen who perform raids continues the diminution of infantry, just as it has done with the Australian infantry (see We Were Soldiers Once: The Decline of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps?).
  • This model limits the kinetic power of the Army by restricting it to a small portion of the Army.
  • This model allows the politicians to use the Army as fertile ground for social engineering experiments.  The Marines still don’t allow women in combat, at least partially because of the statistically higher propensity for lower extremity injuries and reduced strength.
  • This model is more expensive than simply requiring the infantry to perform its designated role.
  • This model actually makes SOF less special, in that their normal focus on training, language and culture is replaced with more kinetics.

Now, as for counterterrorism versus counterinsurgency, regular readers know that we are nonplussed and unimpressed with the cloak and dagger missile strikes in Pakistan, and dark of the night raids in Afghanistan.  These people show up, shoot up a place, perhaps take some people, go, and the next day are not heard from or seen.  No one knows who the hell these people were, where they came from or why they were here.  All people know is that they brought violence to their community.  This is no way to win friends or influence people.

The Marine Corps infantry model is different.  In operations in the Helmand Province, the Marines were described at times as being in “full bore reloading” mode.  Over 400 hard core Taliban fighters were killed in and around Garmser.  But then they didn’t leave.  They sat with laptop PCs running EXCEL, logged and computed the losses and local worth of all of the things destroyed, and then paid cash to the people of Garmser.

Cash, all nicely set out in a tent, with carpeted entrance, inviting the tribal elders and heads of household to come in and collect the money for the broken windows, doors, etc.  Then the Marines supplied security to the area to keep the Taliban out.  Sure, the 24th MEU had to leave and unfortunately, the British apparently could not hold the terrain.

But this serves as a picture of how it’s done.  Exum is smart enough to know this.  Killing high value targets, according to our contacts, has led to the vicious cycle where Taliban operations stand down for a couple of weeks for them to sort out who their next mid-level commander is, several weeks or months of Taliban violence after they do, then raids take this man out, and so on the stupid procedure goes.  The procedure is a loser.

So why did the SOF command stop the raids for a couple of weeks?  What will they do after a couple of weeks?  Will the raids start over?  If so, why did they stop?  There isn’t anything wrong with raids as long as it is against the right targets, but expecting them all to be done by SOF without the presence there the next morning is absurd strategy.  It may make for good movies and cloak and dagger talk about who Exum calls the “cool kids,” but it makes for a bad campaign.

In the end, there is a stark difference between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.  One is performed by police, U.S., Interpol, and so forth, through banking, intelligence agencies, and diplomatic contacts.  The other is performed by the Army and Marine Corps infantry.  Or at least, it is by the Marines, and should be by the Army.

**** UPDATE ****

Michael Yon posts a provocative piece today concerning a number of things, including whether we will abandon Iraq, but also including his current take on Afghanistan and training of the Afghan Army.  Please read the entire piece, but take particular note of this one paragraph.

I’ve asked many key officers why we are not using our Special Forces (specifically Green Berets) in a more robust fashion to train Afghan forces.  The stock answers coming from the Green Beret world – from ranking officers anyway – is that they are taking a serious role in training Afghan forces.  But the words are inconsistent with my observations.  The reality is that the Green Berets – the only outfit in the U.S. military who are so excellently suited to put the Afghan army into hyperdrive – are mostly operating with small groups of Afghans doing what appears to be Colorado mule deer hunts in the mountains of Afghanistan.  Special Forces A-teams are particularly well suited to train large numbers of people, but are not doing so.

Ahem, like I was saying …

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