Archive for the 'Britain' Category

One Kilometer Outside Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 10 months ago

British troops are poised to hand over control of Musa Qala to the U.S. Marines.

British troops are to hand over control of the largest town in north Helmand to US forces as part of a major “rebalancing” of UK forces in Helmand, the Defence Secretary said yesterday.

Speaking on a visit to Helmand, the Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, said that Musa Qala would be handed over to US forces in the next month and that “further changes” are likely to ensure that British forces have the “greatest effect in countering the threat posed by the insurgency and protecting the civilian population.”

The decision to hand over Musa Qala to US forces had been one of a series of options under consideration by senior Nato commanders. In January The Times reported that British troops were likely to be pulled out of Musa Qala, Kajaki and possibly the iconic town of Sangin …

British troops originally moved into Musa Qala in June of 2006 to counter Taleban attacks that threatened to overwhelm weak local security forces in the town. In late 2006 British forces withdrew from Musa Qala under the terms of a controversial deal that saw local tribes promises to exclude the Taliban and govern the town.

However, Taliban fighters retook Musa Qala in February 2007 and held it till December when it was retaken in a major offensive by a mixed US and UK force. The retaking of the town was aided by the defection of a local Taleban commander, Mullah Abdul Salaam, who was subsequently installed as the local district governor.

Twenty-three British soldiers have died in and around the town. General Messenger said that British forces would leave behind a success story.

There is a problem within the Ministry of Defence (and the higher echelon of the chain of command) in Britain.  Musa Qala is not a success story.  The British warrior is a good as any on earth, but the officer corps has a troubling predilection to grant themselves special dispensation to turn their own failures into successes (it happened with the campaign in Basra).

Let’s take a quick detour through recent history.  The British were on the front end of the attempt to make deals with the Taliban, and even earlier, the local tribes.  A deal was indeed struck with the locals to turn away the Taliban.  The promise didn’t obtain, and the Taliban took control of Musa Qala.

In a tip of the hat to more deal-making, the British befriended one Mullah Abdul Salaam, a so-called “former mid-level Taliban commander” who promised to bring his fighters to bear upon the Taliban during the initial assault of U.S. and British troops to retake Musa Qala.  In fact, upon the initiation of the assault, Salaam “stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.”  In other words, he screamed like a little girl.

This whole incident has been a stain on the British effort, and is not indicative of the high quality enlisted men in the British military.  The CTC Sentinel at West Point had some very direct words to the MoD regarding Musa Qala in July 2008.

Since the initial withdrawal from Musa Qala in 2006, the British image for military capability in general and counter-insurgency competence in particular has suffered a number of setbacks, by no means all in Afghanistan. The success of Iraqi forces in Basra in 2008 was widely seen as them doing a job that the British had left unfinished for political reasons. Britain’s relations with Kabul have suffered a number of setbacks, from the removal of diplomats following direct negotiations (bypassing Kabul) with the Taliban at Musa Qala in 2006 to Kabul’s rejection of Lord Paddy Ashdown to be the new UN envoy in Afghanistan … If the United Kingdom fails in Musa Qala, its relations with coalition partners and Afghans alike is likely to be harmed, and it may have a further impact on its international standing.

One and a half years ago the relations between Salaam and the British troops had soured.  The British had accused him of corruption and thuggery, while he had accused the British of undermining his “authority.”  Salaam was “feathering his own nest” while reconstruction is not forthcoming from the largesse poured into Musa Qala.  It would appear that relations have not gotten any better in the last year.  “At their latest meeting, Mullah Salaam is complaining that the Household Cavalry Regiment Battlegroup, which has been here for nearly six months, simply isn’t violent enough.”

This is from a man who couldn’t convince his own “fighters” to make good on their promises to take Musa Qala back from the Taliban.  Yet it also appears that Salaam hasn’t added one iota to the security around the area in the time that he has been “governor” of the area.  Government officials still can’t move more than one kilometer outside of Musa Qala because of security problems.

It’s time for some serious counterinsurgency in and around Musa Qala, and this means that Salaam must go, or be relegated to the sidelines as the irrelevant lackey that he is.  If the British didn’t have the resources to pacify the area, then the U.S. Marines might be able to squeeze the enemy out of hiding and kill them – and retake the roads in the area.  And so much for tribal engagement and deals with the Taliban as the answer to every problem in Afghanistan.


The British and Musa Qala

The Example of Musa Qala

Musa Qala and the Argument for Force Projection

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

About that Rescued New York Times Reporter

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 4 months ago

Jules Crittenden has a roundup of reactions to the British Special Boat Service troops’ rescue of the NYT reporter (also see The Washington Post).  Its’ impressive to me that the British took on this responsibility.  But it is the solemn duty of a country to mourn its lost, grieve its wounded, and bear the national burden of moral judgments during a time of war.  To be sure, there are limits as we have discussed in the release of the photo of young Joshua Bernard.  The concern there is not national exposure but protection of the family.

But as a country laments and engages in outrage, sometimes it’s simply appropriate to listen rather than critique.  My own feeling about this is that I support embedded reporting.  Ernie Pyle did it, and still maintained his independence from the story lines coming from the public relations efforts.  Ernie Pyle died too, but embedding is still the way to go.  But when embedding is done the reporter is obligated – morally and legally – to follow the rules set in place by those who are protecting him or her.

If a reporter wants to get the scoop or turn the story without the aid of or reference to our troops (Nir Rosen comes to mind), then my feeling is that when you play the dice you take your chances.  In a world that increasingly looks for cradle to grave security from the state, taking chances is seen as a way to strike it rich but a way to do so while relying on the government as a safety net.  It shouldn’t be that way.

But on a more personal level (as a Marine father), it needs to be remembered that every casualty is a son of America.  It’s easy to depersonalize casualties for those who are not close to someone who has lost a child to the war(s).  The country blocks out the information, but when it’s in front of you every day it’s a difficult task to accomplish.  As casualties mount, the country increasingly needs to see the moral imperative for the losses.

It’s just the way it is.  War is a costly and awful thing, and a country must be dedicated to the cause for what it sees as good and morally justified reasons in order to maintain commitment.  I cannot possibly see how the UK can justify the loss of one of its sons for a New York Times reporter.  Some discussions on this issue will foray into policy.  I’m not talking about policy.  I’m talking about value judgments.  In order to understand this from the perspective of a British parent who has lost his son to save a reporter, one needs to think viscerally and personally.  Policy just won’t do.  Sometimes it’s appropriate to ponder over the dark things that other people experience.  It helps to form values.

Miliband Encourages Terrorism

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 11 months ago

Sanjeev Miglani with Reuters gives us the news about the visit of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband to India.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband may yet end up achieving the opposite of what he intended in India when he called for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the interests of regional security.

To some Indians, linking the attacks in Mumbai – which New Delhi says originated from Pakistan – to the issue of Kashmir is not just insensitive, it is also a wake-up call. The lesson they have drawn is this: for all the world’s sense of outrage over Mumbai, India will have to deal with Pakistan on its own, and not expect foreign powers to lean on its neighbour in the manner it wants.

Miliband’s visit was a “jarring reminder to India to stop off-shoring its Pakistan policy,” writes Indian security affairs analyst Brahma Chellaney in the Asian Age. He then goes on to call for a set of measures including a military option short of war to weaken Pakistan …

But this may well be a pointer to a stiffening mood in India as it heads into an election that could bring the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party into power. And then all bets would be off as to what would be India’s policy towards Pakistan.

Over the weekend, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani gathered a bunch of military chiefs, security analysts and party bosses, and the verdict from that meeting was India had been too soft on Pakistan.

“After Mumbai, any self-respecting government would have adopted a much more robust response which alone could compel Pakistan to not only bring to book those behind the incident but also to wind down the infrastructure of terror,” the BJP said in a statement. “Instead India adopted the mildest of response, not like an emerging global player.”

Thanks to Miglani for a good report.  So that the import of what Miliband has done in India doesn’t escape, let’s rehearse a bit.

Miliband has taken the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, recently conducted out of Karachi, Pakistan, and connected them to the solution to Kashmir.  This is simply breathtaking.  In order to placate Pakastan and ensure regional stability, Miliband counsels coming to an understanding over Kashmir.

But the fact that such a tactic would encourage exactly the opposite escapes Miliband.  We have discussed the Pakistani duplicity before, where the ISI and Pakistan Army has used and is currently using the Taliban as a buffer for what it sees as its real enemies, Afghanistan and especially India.  Coming to a “mutual understanding” over Kashmir, especially as it relates to the connection of Mumbai with Kashmir, would only encourage the strategy of use of the Taliban and the terror tactics they promulgate.  When success is achieved, the action is confirmed.

Regardless of whether a mutual understanding is achieved over Kashmir, the connection of it to the Mumbai attacks is the worst possible foreign policy imaginable for Britain or any Western country.  And what Miliband accomplished was not the connection of Kashmir to Mumbai, but rather, the hardening of India and its worldview.

Nice job.  The law of unintended consequences.  Learn it.  As for Miliband, the Brits have an administration that perfectly follows in the footsteps of Neville Chamberlain.  Chamberlain didn’t think about unintended consequences either.

The British Deal with the Mahdi Militia

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 5 months ago

The Times Online has given us a further glimpse into secret deals between the British and the Mahdi militia that kept the Brits out of the recent battle for Basra.

A secret deal between Britain and the notorious al-Mahdi militia prevented British Forces from coming to the aid of their US and Iraqi allies for nearly a week during the battle for Basra this year, The Times has learnt.

Four thousand British troops – including elements of the SAS and an entire mechanised brigade – watched from the sidelines for six days because of an “accommodation” with the Iranian-backed group, according to American and Iraqi officers who took part in the assault.

US Marines and soldiers had to be rushed in to fill the void, fighting bitter street battles and facing mortar fire, rockets and roadside bombs with their Iraqi counterparts.

Hundreds of militiamen were killed or arrested in the fighting. About 60 Iraqis were killed or injured. One US Marine died and seven were wounded.

US advisers who accompanied the Iraqi forces into the fight were shocked to learn of the accommodation made last summer by British Intelligence and elements of al-Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia Muslim cleric.

The deal, which aimed to encourage the Shia movement back into the political process and marginalise extremist factions, has dealt a huge blow to Britain’s reputation in Iraq.

A spokesman for the MoD said that the reason why troops were not sent immediately into Basra was because there was “no structure in place” in the city for units to go back in to start mentoring the Iraqi troops.

Colonel Imad, who heads the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, the most experienced division, commanded one of the quick-reaction battalions summoned to assist British-trained local forces, who faltered from the outset because of inexperience and lack of support.

He said: “Without the support of the Americans we would not have accomplished the mission because the British Forces had done nothing there …

You can accuse the Americans of many things [said one MoD source], such as hamfistedness, but you can’t accuse them of not addressing a situation when it arises. While we had a strategy of evasion, the Americans just went in and addressed the problem.”

Another British official said that the deal was intended as an IRA-style reconciliation. “That is what we were trying to do but it did not work.” The official added that “accommodation” had become a dirty word.

US officials knew of the discussions, which continued until March this year. They facilitated the peaceful exit of British troops from a palace compound in Basra last September in return for the release of a number of prisoners. The arrangement fell apart on March 25 when Mr al-Maliki ordered his surprise assault on Basra, catching both the Americans and British off-guard.

Let’s observe at the outset what we have observed before in British Rules of Engagement and Brave Warriors. The British armed forces contains some of the best grunts on earth. It’s the leadership that’s the problem, as it has always been.

Next, there are so many layers of MoD subterfuge in this piece that the gullible would become confused. Fortunately, we at The Captain’s Journal aren’t gullible. The article makes it sound as if the once peaceful Basra allowed the Jaish al Mahdi and the British to cut a deal, allowing the Brits to “peacefully” redeploy to the airport. This is pure fabrication and fairy tales. From the beginning of the British effort in Basra there has been a continual degradation of security (see Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement).

Concerning the MoD accusation of American “hamfistedness,” this tactic has become comical if not completely tired and worn out. The U.S. Marines won Anbar. The British lost Basra. For the Brits to wax eloquent about American hamfistedness is rather like complaining that the Little British Car doesn’t go as fast as the American Muscle Car. It’s prideful whining while brave men die and lose limbs, brain function, hearing and eyesight. It’s sickening.

As for the IRA-style reconciliation, it has been long known that the British pulled their irrelevant experience from Northern Ireland into the campaign for Iraq. It failed them from the outset, but the outmoded paradigm was never relinquished by British senior military leadership. Again, it’s the leadership (from Des Browne on down) that is to blame.

Finally, reputations are quick to be lost and hard to gain back. The British have come away from the campaign badly damaged, and yet they still carry forward the failed policies of negotiations – this time with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The British reputation can be rebuilt, but not like that.


The Example of Musa Qala

British Leadership Without a Clue

Competing Strategies in Afghanistan

The Good and Bad in Basra

More British Trouble in Basra

Flushing Out the British Narrative

Continued Chaos in Basra

Talking with the Enemy

Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement

The Rise of the JAM

The Example of Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 6 months ago

We have previously covered the secret negotiations between MI6 agents and mid-level Taliban commanders, the result of which was the agreement between British forces and one Mullah Abdul Salaam who had promised military help when British and U.S. forces retook Musa Qala late in 2007.  The military assistance never materialized, and instead of engaging in the battle, Salaam and his “fighters” stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.  “He said that he would bring all the tribes with him but they never materialised,” recalled one British officer at the forefront of the operation. “Instead, all that happened was a series of increasingly fraught and frantic calls from him for help to Karzai.”

For this he was rewarded with rule of Musa Qala.  But not more than half a year later relations between Salaam and the British have badly degraded.  The British have accused him of corruption and thuggery, while he has accused the British of undermining his “authority.”  Salaam is “feathering his own nest” while reconstruction is not forthcoming.  As for the most recent account of the situation in Musa Qala, the Times recently penned an important article on the crumbling dream of utopia in Musa Qala.  It is a sorry tale of lack of electricity, lack of services, wasted and lost reconstruction money, complaints from city elders, and comparisons with life under the Taliban (where it is being said that life was easier and without corruption).

The security is still problematic since the retaking of Musa Qala.

Musa Qala seems a desolate place of broken houses and rubble, though we are assured it has a clinic, a mosque and a paid workforce. The building in which we sleep was once a hotel and then the headquarters of the Taleban, but is now little more than a concrete shell, pock-marked by bullet-holes. The town’s security depends on its resident defence force – 5 Scots (the Argylls) and the Afghan National Army.

Its population is testimony to its instability – estimates vary from 3,000 to 20,000. We sleep outside, under mosquito nets, taking care to shade our torches in the night, woken occasionally by the sound of artillery fire (which we hope is ours not theirs).

This remains a highly charged war zone. Three days ago, while we were in the district centre – the army camp on the outskirts of Musa Qala – three platoons of D Company of the Argylls came back from a 48-hour patrol to the north of the town, in the course of which they came under heavy fire on three separate occasions. Private David Poderis, 37, showed us tangible evidence of the Taleban’s ferocity in the form of two neat bullet-holes in his helmet.

Finally, the CTC Sentinel at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, July 2008, has an important article by David C. Isby entitled “The High Stakes Battle for the Future of Musa Qala.”  A very few of his observations are pointed out below (while the entire article is recommended reading).

The Musa Qala Taliban were not destroyed in battle, but moved largely to adjacent districts in 2007. Helmand member of parliament Nasima Niazi has claimed that the Taliban remain active in Musa Qala despite the reoccupation. Security outside the district center remains uncertain [page 11].

The British 2006 campaign in southern Afghanistan has already become part of military history—marked by a popular 2007 exhibition at the National Army Museum in London—but the results of that fighting have not helped the United Kingdom’s image as NATO’s foremost practitioner of counter-insurgency and stability operations, employing tactics refined since Malaya in conflicts worldwide. Rather, the image was of besieged “platoon house” outposts under Taliban attack and of too few deployed forces being desperately under-resourced. British forces in Afghanistan lack an ability to fund quick response development programs in a way comparable to the United States, and, according to the Economist, “a growing number of British officers grudgingly recognize that America is learning the lessons of irregular warfare, drawn mainly from British colonial experience, better than the modern British Army” [page 11 & 12].

Since the initial withdrawal from Musa Qala in 2006, the British image for military capability in general and counter-insurgency competence in particular has suffered a number of setbacks, by no means all in Afghanistan. The success of Iraqi forces in Basra in 2008 was widely seen as them doing a job that the British had left unfinished for political reasons. Britain’s relations with Kabul have suffered a number of setbacks, from the removal of diplomats following direct negotiations (bypassing Kabul) with the Taliban at Musa Qala in 2006 to Kabul’s rejection of Lord Paddy Ashdown to be the new UN envoy in Afghanistan. British differences with the government in Kabul have increased, and Britain has become the focus of much of the frustration with coalition efforts [page 12].

Isby goes on to discuss the importance of Musa Qala for Kabul and then for the UK.

For the United Kingdom, it is a chance to show that the second largest coalition member in terms of troops in Afghanistan can demonstrate results on the ground commensurate with their status in bilateral and multilateral security relationships. As British policy is to channel aid through Kabul where feasible, this provides an opportunity for aid to be directed in Musa Qala in order to show a long-term commitment at preventing the Taliban from returning to burn schools and kill Afghans. If the United Kingdom fails in Musa Qala, its relations with coalition partners and Afghans alike is likely to be harmed, and it may have a further impact on its international standing.

We have already pointed out that the British grunts are among the bravest on earth, but the problems here are associated with strategy and force projection.  The campaign didn’t begin well in Musa Qala, with the British appointing by fiat a man who had neither moral authority nor personal investment in the area.  The situation has degraded since then.

Musa Qala is a thorny set of problems, but this could also have been said of the Anbar Province.  But the U.S. Marines had continual force projection for a protracted period of time, and when kinetic operations needed to be mixed with biometrics and gated communities, this transition was instantaneous.  Then when Lt. Colonels had to be at city council meetings, they participated as warrior-scholars.

When Marine Lt. Col. Bill Mullen showed up at the city council meeting here Tuesday, everyone wanted a piece of him. There was the sheikh who wants to open a school, the judge who wants the colonel to be at the jail when several inmates are freed, and the Iraqi who just wants a burned-out trash bin removed from his neighborhood.

As insurgent violence continues to decrease in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar Province – an improvement that President Bush heralded in his visit to Al Asad Air Base Monday as one sign of progress in the war – the conversation is shifting in Anbar. Where sheikhs and tribal leaders once only asked the US to protect them from Sunni extremists, now they want to know how to get their streets cleaned and where to buy generators …

The changes here have allowed provincial and local governments to get established over the past few months, US officials here say. And now, true to the tribal culture that permeates Iraqi society, Sunni sheikhs here want to create a relationship of true patronage with what they consider to be the biggest and most powerful tribe here: the Marines of Anbar Province.

The U.S. Marines have had significant success in the Garmser area of operations in the Helmand Province, but the 24th MEU will be rotating out soon.  Whether the replacements are U.S. Marines or British forces, the strategy must be one of being the most powerful tribe in Helmand.  Only then can a society be [re]constructed so that forces can turn over to legitimate governmental authorities and stand down.  It is a proven paradigm, and without it, we will fail in Afghanistan.

There is no magic to perform, no secret Gnostic words to utter, no tricks.  Troops are necessary, and warrior-scholars who can fight a battle as well as govern a city council meeting.  Under-resourced forces and shady deals with corrupt, second rate, has-been Taliban commanders (or religiously motivated hard core Taliban commanders) simply won’t do the job.  The CTC Sentinel has it right concerning the need for the British (and NATO) to get Musa Qala right.  The CTC Sentinel might be overestimating the importance of Musa Qala to the campaign.  The real importance of Musa Qala is the shining example it gives us as to the wrong way to do counterinsurgency in a tribal region fighting a transnational insurgency.


Musa Qala and the Argument for Force Projection

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

The Failure of Talking with the Taliban

British Rules of Engagement and Brave Warriors

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 6 months ago

In the fall of 2007 British troops in the Garmser area were involved in a firefight in which their rules of engagement placed them in danger, and likely caused the deaths of several troops.

A mission involving British soldiers in Afghanistan in which two men died after coming under heavy enemy fire, had to be stopped for an hour to enable officers to discuss what rules of engagement they were using, an inquest heard today.

The night-time operation near Garmsir on September 8, 2007, described by one soldier as “Operation Certain Death” was led by Major Jamie Nowell.

Giving evidence to the inquest in Trowbridge, Wiltshire today, Nowell said the problems started when he told his air support to open fire on four militants spotted in a trench.

He was then told over the radio that his airborne colleagues were not permitted to engage the enemy.

Nowell explained that his men were under “429 A” rules of engagement, which meant they could engage the identified enemy while the men in the air were on “Card A” which permitted them to fire only in self-defence.

“I could not understand how it happened,” he said.

“Eventually the aircraft was put on 429 A, but it took 60 minutes. The opportunity to engage with the Taliban was lost.”

The incident “dented the confidence of commanders on the ground” he said, but had “no real impact” on the operation as a whole.

A short time later, one of Nowell’s platoons came under heavy fire from the Taliban.

Wiltshire coroner David Masters said it would have “put lives at risk”.

Of course this foolishness put lives at risk, and contrary to Nowell’s confusion, with the preeminence of lawfare over warfare in the battle space today, it isn’t at all difficult to understand how this happened.  Since it put lives at risk, and also since the platoon came under fire after the Taliban weren’t engaged, it’s likely that, notwithstanding the assertion that this had no “real impact” on the operations, lives were lost because of this fiasco.

The rules of engagement (outside of a few countries like Poland which allows significant freedom for snipers) look much the same for most Western countries.  We have discussed this in More ROE Problems in which we gave the opportunity to study the standing rules of engagement CJCSI 3121.01A, the rules for the use of force CJCSI 3121.02, and the theater-specific rules of engagement for Iraq, and challenged the fact that the ROE and RUF contain no notion of offensive operations.  Self defense is the hub upon which all of the rules turn.  This also formulated the basis, no doubt, for General Kearney’s misbegotten idea to charge two U.S. snipers with murder because they had targeted a known Taliban who happened not to be holding a weapon at the time.

It is intractable, this refusal to address offensive operations, and it is pathological, this notion that lawfare should hold such an esteemed and prestigious perch in the middle of combat.  The Captain’s Journal has worked tirelessly to knock lawfare off of this perch, but lives continue to be sacrificed to this nonsense.  Britain apparently suffers from the same stupid ideas of lawyers sitting in sterile offices writing rules for warfare they have never experienced, and to which they will never risk their lives.  If it sounds ridiculous for Generals to charge snipers with murder, and pilots to refuse to target the enemy, it’s because it is.  Some things are not complicated.

But there is good news, too.  While the British experience in Basra was calamitous, and the panicked calls for negotiations with the Taliban by Brown and Miliband were embarrassing, The Captain’s Journal has always claimed that these failures were the fault of high level leadership, not of the rank and file warrior.  True enough, there is another side to this engagement after the commanders waxed on about rules written down on paper.  It is a story of bravery.

Sergeant Craig Brelsford was taking part in a night-time mission dubbed “Operation Certain Death” behind enemy lines, trying to destroy vantage points near the Taliban stronghold of Garmsir in Helmand Province.

As he and his comrades crept across the landscape of bombed-out buildings and drainage ditches under cover of darkness, the enemy opened fire, immediately felling four of a section of seven soldiers.

The battle that ensued on September 8, 2007 lasted several hours, left two dead and saw three others badly injured.

It became one of the most-documented examples of the bravery of British troops and resulted in clutch of gallantry awards for the regiment, including three MCs, a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross and five Mentions in Dispatches.

One of those killed was Private Johan Botha, 25, from South Africa. According to reports shortly after the incident, Taliban fighters tried to grab his body as a trophy, but the men from A Company the 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment, fought to stop them from as little as 15 yards away.

Sgt Brelsford, 25, from Nottingham, led a team of the men who nicknamed themselves the Spartans back into a stream of bullets and rocket-propelled grenades in a bid to retrieve Pte Botha’s body.

He was killed within minutes, leaving his mother to collect his posthumous MC award for bravery.

Another soldier to receive the MC was Private Luke Cole, 22, who despite suffering serious thigh and stomach injuries, managed to drag himself to a colleague to provide life-saving first aid. He then picked up a rifle to lay down suppressive fire and stop the Taliban taking Pte Botha’s body.

The platoon commander, Captain Simon Cupples, 25, helped to pull two men to safety, including Pte Cole, for which he was later awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross – an honour for bravery second only to the Victoria Cross.

At the inquest into Pte Botha and Sgt Brelsford’s deaths yesterday, he described crawling in the darkness, trying to locate casualties under Taliban fire.

He said he asked Sgt Brelsford, leading another section, to push forward to find Pte Botha while he extracted the other two wounded men.

A few minutes later, he heard a cry of “Man down”.

Capt Cupples said: “All the blokes that night, they all went forward, there was incredible bravery.”

Second Lieutenant Michael Lockett was knocked unconscious during the firefight, but recovered and led another team to extract wounded soldiers, an act for which he too received an MC. “During this incident my life and those of my colleagues were in danger more times than I can remember,” he told the hearing.

As you grab a pint tonight, sit alone for a while and imagine yourself in the middle of this firefight.  Say a prayer thanking God for such men, along with similar brave American warriors.  Ask for peace for their families, and pray that God continues to grace our lives with warriors of this caliber – in spite of ourselves.

British Leadership Without a Clue

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

We have previously discussed the unilateral surrender of both Secretary David Miliband and Secretary Des Brown to the Taliban.  Continuing the parade of the confused is Britain’s top military officer, who initially does a very good job of advocating the implementation of soft power.

Britain’s top military officer described Afghanistan as “medieval” on Tuesday and said it could take decades before the country shows steady development.

Air Chief Marshall Jock Stirrup said it would be 15 years at current growth rates before Afghanistan reached the level of Bangladesh. Civilian reconstruction efforts would have to continue long after military operations.

“This is not something that could be done in one, two or three years because we are talking about a country that is essentially medieval, that has very little in the way of infrastructure, very little in the way of human resource, that has an endemic culture of corruption,” Stirrup told journalists.

“This truly is a long-term endeavour. I don’t think it is that long-term an endeavour for the military. I think we are talking about some years but we are not talking about decades,” said the chief of the defence staff.

“In terms of developing the country from an almost medieval status, that has to be an enterprise of decades.”

Okay, so far, so good.  The Captain’s Journal is good to go with this.  Now, slick your hair back and hold onto your breeches.

Stirrup said the major threat in the country was not necessarily the Taliban or al Qaeda, but building up a level of governance that allowed the country to function properly.

Can this man really be that clueless?  There are many countries which need infrastructure.  There are many countries which need investment for two or more decades.  There are many countries close to medieval status, or worse (perhaps some tribes in the Amazon delta, or Haiti, and some locations in Africa).  And it is certainly true that soft power needs to be applied to remove whatever incentive there is for those who are not hard core religious fighters to join their ranks (e.g., money as a replacement for poverty).

But many countries suffer from poverty, and yet there is no Taliban or al Qaeda present to foment attacks upon Western civilization.  Can this man really believe that the major threat to Afghanistan is anything but al Qaeda or the Taliban?  Can he really believe that proper infrastructure will cause al Qaeda and the Taliban to stand down in their efforts to undermine Afghanistan?  If so, then he doesn’t understand their motivations.  If not, then who other than the Taliban would be more dangerous to the people?  Has Stirrup asked himself even these basic questions about his beliefs?

Pentagon Despair Over NATO and Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

The Captain’s Journal doesn’t like to be negative, but it is necessary to engage in truth-telling.  For more than half a year The Captain’s Journal has been in a state of near despair over the failure of NATO to deploy forces to Afghanistan, employ a realistic set of rules of engagement, and implement a coherent, consistent counterinsurgency strategy.  There are seasons in counterinsurgency, and the campaign will soon suffer under the weight of U.S. and NATO being viewed as occupiers rather than liberators.  Timeliness is everything in COIN.

The Pentagon is months behind us, but it appears that the sentiment is now mutual.

American officials are in a state of near despair about the failure of Britain’s European allies to do more to beef up Nato combat power in Afghanistan.

A Pentagon adviser told The Telegraph that US commanders wish they had never agreed to Nato taking charge of major combat operations against the Taliban in the lawless south of the country.

They believe that different military rules of engagement and different approaches to reconstruction have made it impossible to devise a unified strategy for fighting and nation building, leaving the way open for the resurgence of the Taliban.

So what do rules of engagement have to do with the campaign in Afghanistan?  The Germans know full well what a restrictive set of ROE can do to efforts to militarily defeat the enemy.  Not long ago they had to allow a Taliban commander to escape because he wasn’t brandishing a weapon while escaping.  Troops can act in self defense, but many cannot conduct offensive operations.  Continuing with the Telegraph report:

The Pentagon consultant pointed to the different national rules which mean that troops from several Nato allies like Germany are banned from conducting offensive military operations, or conducting patrols at night.

The adviser said: “There’s frustration, there’s irritation. The mood veers between acceptance and despair that nothing is changing. We ask for more troops and they’re not forthcoming in the numbers we need.

“The mistake was handing it over to Nato in the first place. For many countries being in Afghanistan seems to be about keeping up appearances, rather than actually fighting a war that needs to be won.

“Was that necessary diplomatically? Probably. Is it desirable militarily? I don’t think so and nor do most others who are involved with Afghanistan,” he said.

The consultant, who advises the Pentagon on security coordination with the Afghan military, said American ire is not directed at the British, who are “doing what they can”.

Ali Jalali, the Afghan interior minister between 2003 and 2005 endorsed that view that the Taliban can only be defeated and marginalised from Afghan life if there is a new strategy and a unified military command.

In an interview with The Telegraph he said: “In the absence of an overall counterinsurgency strategy, what the international community and the Afghan government are doing is not designed to win the war, rather not to lose.

“That is a major problem. There’s no campaign plan. We need a unified command of all forces that can do three things: fighting, stabilising and peacekeeping. Unless you speak with one voice it is not going to work. We need more troops to stabilise the country.”

There has been a serious strategic malaise in Afghanistan since the inception of NATO presence.  So in addition to advocating more troops, we have advocated a division of command, with the U.S. taking over at least the Southern region (or permanent command of the campaign).  But the same countries who know that there is strategic malaise continue to encourage it by refusing to adopt any other strategy or ROE, or even consider a reorganization of forces.

It gets worse.  Even among the staunchest of allies there is a reluctance to face the real causes of failure.

“The problem,” says one officer, “is that we are focusing on protective mobility. We are definitely going down the road the Russians went in the Eighties, with over-reliance on massive armoured vehicles.”

The debate is starting on the ground because soldiers are frustrated that they can march their hearts out all day to track the enemy, only to be blown up by a mine. They query how a lumbering convoy of 100 armoured vehicles can ever surprise an enemy who knows every rock and cave in his own back yard. The time has come, suggest some, to fight the way the enemy fights – but smarter.

In the Rhodesian insurgency, tiny units called fire forces, working in groups of four or eight, would drop into enemy territory by parachute or helicopter, unheard and unseen.

With the aid of local trackers, they remained concealed for days, watching the enemy’s movements and waiting patiently for the optimum time to strike. Again and again the guerrillas were horrified as their safety cordon unravelled, with colleagues falling dead around them.

By contrast, our strategy is static, based on bases in fixed locations. Troops leave them to go on patrol in full view of the enemy – which had fatal consequences this month. “It’s bloody hard to deceive the enemy with a column of ground movement that can be picked up 500 metres beyond the base,” says one veteran. “The effect of four helicopters disgorging 100 soldiers from an unexpected direction would have a huge impact, and would lead to a reduction in the opportunities to blow us up with mines.”

So the British are advocating distributed operations now.  Then, they point the finger of blame at the lack of air transport.

The reason why the US Marines were so successful in southern Helmand this spring was because they were able to land 600 troops in one lift in one night. In the two weeks I was with them, the Paras could only muster one air assault of two helicopters that had to go in three lifts, hugely increasing the risk of the enemy assembling an anti-aircraft team to attack them.

Landing so many Marines had nothing whatsoever to do with their success in Helmand.  The Marines stayed around to conduct continued counterinsurgency operations, as we discussed in U.S. Marine Style Counterinsurgency.  If the Marines had all marched on foot to Garmser – not, by the way, a ridiculous notion – it wouldn’t have mattered.  They could have sent word to the Taliban by courier that they were coming.  The Taliban were dug in and waiting for the fight.  Helicopters simply made it easier on the infantry.

The British are pointing to distributed operations, air power, discrete mobility, and all manner of tricks and toys that they believe will enhance the campaign.  To be sure, we also believe that materiel availability should be increased, and we have been a proponent of distributed operations in the past, along with the robust projection of air power.

But it should be remembered that upon the initial engagement of the Marines in Garmser, the British complained about the hard tactics by the Corps.  More helicopters can be supplied to the theater, but without force projection and an increase in troops, the materiel won’t matter.  Ali Jalali is right.  NATO is in the theater to keep from losing.  This very strategy will ensure loss.

Competing Strategies in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

The lobbying and the public relations campaign has been essentially completed, and the stage is set for a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan.  The teammates are Hamid Karzai – who has said that the West has bungled the war on the Taliban– and the British.  But the shift in strategy will not look anything like the surge or security plan for Iraq.  Rather, the British and Karzai are pushing for negotiations with the Taliban, and the British plans have been approved by the Cabinet.

It began with the British experiment with Musa Qala, and even though it went very badly, there has been no change in the long range plans.  Upon his recent visit to the U.S., Karzai made a stop at the New York Times to make sure that he communicated that he wanted the U.S. to stop arresting the Taliban and their sympathizers.  He has repeated this narrative within the last few days, and again made it clear what the real problem is with the campaign.  Western forces are to blame for rising violence in Afghanistan.

Karzai said in an interview on Indian television that the West risks losing peoples’ goodwill and that its forces should have done more to crack down on Taliban and al-Qaeda bases outside the country.

In the interview with CNBC TV 18 aired Monday, he didn’t directly mention bases in Pakistan, but his government has singled out that country in the past.

Karzai’s criticism — including his insistence that civilian casualties must stop — is important in light of his stated plan to stand for re-election next year. The president is often criticized in Afghanistan for being too close to the United States and Britain.

The president said Western forces did not focus on “sanctuaries of terrorists” despite his government’s warnings over the past five years.

“It was a serious neglect of that, in spite of our warning,” he said, adding that other former members of the Taliban who had given up arms were unfairly hunted down within Afghan borders.

“Some of the Taliban who have laid down their arms, who are living in the Afghan villages peacefully, who have accepted Afghanistan’s new order, they were chased, they were hunted for no reason, and they were forced to flee the country,” he said, according to Reuters.

The narrative is nonsensical, since the sanctuaries to which Karzai refers are the very places to which the Afghan Taliban flee for safe haven.  Karzai wants them targeted in Pakistan, but not in Afghanistan.  Nonetheless, the narrative is given additional weight by the British.  Once eager to get back into the “good war” in Afghanistan after the Basra disaster, the British are weary and reeling from the defections of high level generals to the civilian world.  Miliband turned up the rhetoric on the campaign, reiterating the tripe that there is no military solution to the problem, and the same notions were pushed by Des Browne, who not only endorsed talks with the Afghan Taliban, but also the negotiations with the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan.

The final act in this sorry play involves British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

As the deadliest year in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001 comes to a close, Gordon Brown is ready to talk to the Taliban in a major shift in strategy that is likely to cause consternation among hardliners in the White House.

Six years after British troops were first deployed to oust the Taliban regime, the prime minister believes the time has come to open a dialogue in the hope of moving from military action to consensus-building among the tribal leaders. Since January 1, more than 6,200 people have been killed in violence related to the insurgency, including 40 British soldiers. In total, 86 British troops have died. The latest casualty was Sergeant Lee Johnson, whose vehicle hit a mine before the fall of Taliban-held town of Musa Qala.

The Cabinet on Friday approved a three-pronged plan that Mr Brown will outline for security to be provided by Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and the Afghan national army, followed by economic and political development in Afghanistan.

Pakistan defends its participation in the negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban, saying that they aren’t engaged in talks with terrorist, but rather, “peace-loving” people.  Karzai sees the Afghan Taliban as peace-loving too and unrelated to the violence, and has struck deals with some of the hard core commanders.  The Afghanis believes it’s Pakistan’s fault, and the Pakistanis believe it’s all Afghanistan’s fault.

The British are tired and want to”negotiate,” the Norwegians are engaged solely in force protection, and the Germans are paying $30,000 per month to warlords for protection.  Gates has not had yet seen fit to pull the rug from under NATO command and retake authority over the campaign, and before Petraeus even becomes fully engaged in CENTCOM, the plans to capitulate are in full swing with him lacking the organizational authority to do anything about it.

The U.S. Marines who won the Anbar Province have had significant initial success in the Helmand Province in turning back Taliban control.  But whether because of lack of forces or simple unwillingness, NATO is recalcitrant and won’t learn from the example.  The NATO strategy being pushed is not one that will simply coexist alongside the U.S. strategy, any more than this approach succeeded in Basra.  It is literally in competition with the U.S. approach, and will work against the goals of the campaign.  Operation Enduring Freedom is becoming a testimony to a squandered opportunity, and the campaign is in very bad trouble.  If the West has indeed squandered an opportunity to kill the Taliban, negotiating with them is not the answer.

Miliband Surrenders

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

In an astonishing announcement today carried by the AP and other sources, Marine General James Mattis said that “we should immediately begin negotiations with both al Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Military action can only carry us so far, and eventually political reconciliation is necessary to address the root cause of the problems that cause the jihadists.”  “I sincerely believe,” continued Mattis, “that with the right grievance amelioration, participation and representation in the government and infrastructure, our erstwhile enemies – al Qaeda and the Taliban – can be our friends.”  Finally, in a statement that brought stares of disbelief from the audience at Quantico, Mattis wrapped up by saying that “there just seems to be no military solution to any of these problems.”  For a once confident warrior among the Sunni insurgency, Mattis appeared tired and disheveled.

Er … maybe not.  If Mattis had said this he would have been rushed to the hospital, or perhaps sent to for-cause drug testing.  The Marines are warrior enough to have defeated al Qaeda, knowing that men who travel across the globe to wage holy war against you, while high on Epinephrine, must be killed.  They are also warriors enough to have battled the indigenous Sunni insurgency to exhaustion, making reconciliation with U.S. forces seem a delightful proposition.

From the top down, the Marines don’t engage in hand-wringing because any group, civilian or military, takes on the personality of its leadership.  The British have a pitiful example in David Miliband (blogs here) who today made a mockery of British warfighting capabilities and the backbone of the U.K. when he pitifully prostrated himself before the world asking for peace and happiness all around, along with complete capitulation by NATO.

David Miliband will today argue there is “no military solution” to the spread of extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas, and back the pursuit of political reconciliation in both countries.

In a speech the foreign secretary is due to deliver in Washington, a draft of which has been obtained by the Guardian, he will say that Pakistan and Afghanistan “top the list of UK foreign policy priorities”, and both represent fragile democracies facing huge challenges.

He will underline Britain’s commitment to pursuing parallel military and political strategies in Helmand province’s Gereshk valley, where 8,000 British troops are fighting the Taliban. More controversially from Washington’s point of view, Miliband will also offer British support for negotiations between Pakistan’s new civilian government and Pashtun leaders in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). The region bordering Afghanistan has become a haven for Afghan and Pakistani militants, as well as al-Qaida elements.

US officials have privately expressed growing alarm at the talks, telling journalists the accompanying drop in Pakistani counter-insurgency operations has given militants a breathing space. However, addressing the Centre for Strategic and International Studies today, Miliband will reject “the false choice” of political reconciliation or military action “Afghanistan and Pakistan need effective security forces. They need to take on, with international help where necessary, those committed to violence. But there is no military solution to the problems of the Fata or the Gereshk valley.

Rather than ousting the Taliban from Helmand, the U.S. Marines are having to do that job for them.  Miliband seems not to acknowledge the success that the Marines are having, nor the poor experience the British had with “talking” to the Taliban in Musa Qala.  In Musa Qala the British struck a deal with whom they considered to be a “moderate” Taliban to rise up like the Anbar awakening when the British and U.S. troops began their assault on the town.  Rather than rising up against the hard core Taliban fighters, the “moderate” commander sat in a home ten miles away and screamed for help.

No, there is no acknowledgement of the facts on the ground, including the fact that Taliban and al Qaeda will not reconcile, the very idea of this being a moral evil to their world view.  To be sure, the soft power of counterinsurgency must be applied to the population, but security comes first, as the Afghanis have themselves told us.

This capitulation is not only intellectually unsound, it is also very bad form by Miliband.  How the British can put such a shameful politician in office speaks volumes of what was once a great kingdom.  Neville Chamberlain has a modern day friend.  Meanwhile, General Mattis doubtless will not recommend reconciliation with the Taliban.  To be friends with the Afghan people, surely.  To have the population engaged in the political process, of course.  But not the Taliban and al Qaeda.  And there is no peace without victory.

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