Archive for the 'General McChrystal' Category



Rules of Engagement too Prohibitive to Achieve Sustained Tactical Success

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

George Will reports at The Washington Post:

… occasionally there are riveting communications, such as a recent e-mail from a noncommissioned officer (NCO) serving in Afghanistan. He explains why the rules of engagement for U.S. troops are “too prohibitive for coalition forces to achieve sustained tactical successes.”

Receiving mortar fire during an overnight mission, his unit called for a 155mm howitzer illumination round to be fired to reveal the enemy’s location. The request was rejected “on the grounds that it may cause collateral damage.” The NCO says that the only thing that comes down from an illumination round is a canister, and the likelihood of it hitting someone or something was akin to that of being struck by lightning.

Returning from a mission, his unit took casualties from an improvised explosive device that the unit knew had been placed no more than an hour earlier. “There were villagers laughing at the U.S. casualties” and “two suspicious individuals were seen fleeing the scene and entering a home.” U.S. forces “are no longer allowed to search homes without Afghan National Security Forces personnel present.” But when his unit asked Afghan police to search the house, the police refused on the grounds that the people in the house “are good people.”

On another mission, some Afghan adults ran off with their children immediately before the NCO’s unit came under heavy small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and the unit asked for artillery fire on the enemy position. The response was a question: Where is the nearest civilian structure? “Judging distances,” the NCO writes dryly, “can be difficult when bullets and RPGs are flying over your head.” When the artillery support was denied because of fear of collateral damage, the unit asked for a “smoke mission” — like an illumination round; only the canister falls to earth — “to conceal our movement as we planned to flank and destroy the enemy.” This request was granted — but because of fear of collateral damage, the round was deliberately fired one kilometer off the requested site, making “the smoke mission useless and leaving us to fend for ourselves.”

Analysis & Commentary

This letter seems to have been written in the spirit of The NCOs Speak on Rules of Engagement.  Legendary Marine Chesty Puller recognized that the NCO corps was the backbone of the U.S. Armed Forces, and would sometimes bypass his officers and go directly to his NCOs.  There is nothing better than getting feedback directly from NCOs.  The observations are more direct, the learning is more instinctive and developed by real life situations, and the politics is less important than the people.  This is an important contribution to our understanding of the tactical impediments to the campaign in Afghanistan.

But note that The NCOS Speak concerned Iraq where the rules were in my estimation too restrictive but still more robust than in Afghanistan.  In spite of the bad examples from Iraq, Marines performed recon by fire, tanks fired point blank into buildings occupied by insurgents, and in Ramadi spotters were dealt with just like insurgents.  They were engaged as if they were bringing a weapon to bear – because in fact they were.

This report from Afghanistan is dreary and depressing for its reiteration of all of the problems we have rehearsed here, including the unreliability of the ANA.  But the contribution is serious and unmistakable.  We cannot achieve sustained tactical success with the current rules of engagement.  They simply aren’t rules suited to win a counterinsurgency campaign.  But the report is more stark for the sad and anecdotal report of the state of the population.  The villagers are laughing at U.S. troops.  So much for winning their hearts and minds by avoiding collateral damage.  When the population is laughing at your weakness, the campaign won’t last much longer.  It will soon be over, one way or the other.

Pace of Afghanistan Campaign Alarms Senior Military Officers

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

From Rajiv Chandrasekaran at The Washington Post:

Residents of this onetime Taliban sanctuary see signs that the insurgents have regained momentum in recent weeks, despite early claims of success by U.S. Marines. The longer-than-expected effort to secure Marja is prompting alarm among top American commanders that they will not be able to change the course of the war in the time President Obama has given them.

Firefights between insurgents and security forces occur daily, resulting in more Marine fatalities and casualties over the past month than in the first month of the operation, which began in mid-February.

Marines and Afghan troops have made headway in this farming community, but every step forward, it seems, has been matched by at least a half-step backward.

Two-thirds of the stalls in Marja’s main bazaar have reopened, but the only baker fled the area a week ago after insurgents kidnapped his son in retaliation for selling to foreign troops and the police.

Men have begun to allow their burqa-clad wives to venture out of their homes, but an effort by female Marines to gather local women for a meeting last week drew not a single participant.

The Afghan government has assigned representatives to help deliver basic services to the population, but most of them spend their days in the better-appointed provincial capital 20 miles to the northeast.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Lt. Col. Cal Worth, the commander of one of the two Marine infantry battalions in Marja. “But there’s still a long way to go.”

The slow and uneven progress has worried senior military officials in Kabul and Washington who intended to use Marja as a model to prove that more troops and a new war strategy can yield profound gains against the Taliban. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, told officers here in late May that there is a growing perception that Marja has become “a bleeding ulcer.”

The central question among military leaders is whether Marja will improve quickly enough to be proclaimed an incipient success by the fall, when the Pentagon will begin to prepare for a year-end White House review of the war that will help to determine how many troops Obama withdraws in July 2011.

We discussed these very issues in McChrystal Calls Marjah a Bleeding Ulcer, and raised (at least) the following questions:

Did General McChrystal not cover the basics of classical counterinsurgency doctrine with his civilian bosses?  Did he or any of his reports mislead the administration into believing that Marjah or any other town in Afghanistan would be pacified in 90 days?  Did he or his reports – or anyone in the administration – really believe that this government ex machina we brought to Marjah would work?

Forgetting classical counterinsurgency doctrine which normally presumes that COIN will take ten or even more years, for anyone who has been listening and watching for the past several years, the most successful part of the campaign in Iraq, i.e., the Anbar Province, took about three and a half years from the inception of Operation Al Fajr until late 2007 when Fallujah was finally stable at the conclusion of Operation Alljah.

Security in Ramadi preceded Fallujah slightly, Haditha preceded Ramadi by a little and Al Qaim was secure before Haditha.  But the whole of the Anbar Province took over three years and the efforts of the best fighting force on earth, the U.S. Marine Corps, in which more than 1000 Marines perished and many more were wounded or maimed.  No one in his right mind would claim that the U.S. Marine Corps did not understand or implement a successful strategy in the Anbar Province, where the Marines had to fight their way through an indigenous insurgency (finally co-opting their services) to get to the 80-100 foreign fighters per month flowing across the Syrian border.  Iraq is still not entirely stable, and its security will be a direct function of the extent to which we confront Iran in its quest for regional hegemony.

This report is so bizarre, so jaw dropping, and so disturbing, that it naturally leads to many other very important questions.  Does McChrystal believe that the COIN operations will be successfully concluded within a year or even a year plus a few months?  Did he communicate that to the administration?  If so, does the administration believe it?  Was time frame ever brought up?  Did the administration simply lay down expectations without reference to historical precedent for successful COIN campaigns and without asking General McChrystal?

 Commenter jonesgp1996 gave us the following link in response to my questions: Secrets from Inside the Obama War Room.  This important exchange is included.

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

“Yes, sir,” Mullen said.

The president was crisp but informal. “Bob, you have any problems?” he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.

The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,” he said. No one said anything.

“Tell me now,” Obama repeated.

“Fully support, sir,” Mullen said.

“Ditto,” Petraeus said.

Thus the panic at the Pentagon and in Kabul, and thus the belief on the part of the horrible Hamid Karzai that NATO cannot win, and his attempt to distance himself from NATO efforts.  There you have the man who campaigned on the “good war” in Afghanistan, and the counterinsurgency experts who told him that COIN can be done with presto governments and ANA troops within 18 months.

McChrystal Calls Marjah a Bleeding Ulcer

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

From Military.com:

Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top allied military commander in Afghanistan, sat gazing at maps of Marjah as a Marine battalion commander asked him for more time to oust Taliban fighters from a longtime stronghold in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

“You’ve got to be patient,” Lt. Col. Brian Christmas told McChrystal. “We’ve only been here 90 days.”

“How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?” McChrystal replied.

A charged silence settled in the stuffy, crowded chapel tent at the Marine base in the Marjah district.

“I can’t tell you, sir,” the tall, towheaded, Fort Bragg, N.C., native finally answered.

“I’m telling you,” McChrystal said. “We don’t have as many days as we’d like.”

The operation in Marjah is supposed to be the first blow in a decisive campaign to oust the Taliban from their spiritual homeland in adjacent Kandahar province, one that McChrystal had hoped would bring security and stability to Marjah and begin to convey an “irreversible sense of momentum” in the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Instead, a tour last week of Marjah and the nearby Nad Ali district, during which McClatchy Newspapers had rare access to meetings between McChrystal and top Western strategists, drove home the hard fact that President Obama’s plan to begin pulling American troops out of Afghanistan in July 2011 is colliding with the realities of the war.

There aren’t enough U.S. and Afghan forces to provide the security that’s needed to win the loyalty of wary locals. The Taliban have beheaded Afghans who cooperate with foreigners in a creeping intimidation campaign. The Afghan government hasn’t dispatched enough local administrators or trained police to establish credible governance, and now the Taliban have begun their anticipated spring offensive.

“This is a bleeding ulcer right now,” McChrystal told a group of Afghan officials, international commanders in southern Afghanistan and civilian strategists who are leading the effort to oust the Taliban fighters from Helmand.

“You don’t feel it here,” he said during a 10-hour front-line strategy review, “but I’ll tell you, it’s a bleeding ulcer outside.”

Throughout the day, McChrystal expressed impatience with the pace of operations, echoing the mounting pressure he’s under from his civilian bosses in Washington and Europe to start showing progress.

Is this a bad joke or a sorry episode of The Twilight Zone?  It’s a serious question.  Names are supplied, so the author apparently doesn’t mind us fact-checking him.  Is this report for real?  Did McChrystal really say those things and interact with another officer in this manner?  Seriously?  This is an important milestone in the campaign.  Apparently, we now know the real expectations for the campaign.  No one can seriously continue to claim that the withdrawal date is a mere ruse for the American public.  They really believe it.  They really intend for it to obtain.

Did General McChrystal not cover the basics of classical counterinsurgency doctrine with his civilian bosses?  Did he or any of his reports mislead the administration into believing that Marjah or any other town in Afghanistan would be pacified in 90 days?  Did he or his reports – or anyone in the administration – really believe that this government ex machina we brought to Marjah would work?

Forgetting classical counterinsurgency doctrine which normally presumes that COIN will take ten or even more years, for anyone who has been listening and watching for the past several years, the most successful part of the campaign in Iraq, i.e., the Anbar Province, took about three and a half years from the inception of Operation Al Fajr until late 2007 when Fallujah was finally stable at the conclusion of Operation Alljah.

Security in Ramadi preceded Fallujah slightly, Haditha preceded Ramadi by a little and Al Qaim was secure before Haditha.  But the whole of the Anbar Province took over three years and the efforts of the best fighting force on earth, the U.S. Marine Corps, in which more than 1000 Marines perished and many more were wounded or maimed.  No one in his right mind would claim that the U.S. Marine Corps did not understand or implement a successful strategy in the Anbar Province, where the Marines had to fight their way through an indigenous insurgency (finally co-opting their services) to get to the 80-100 foreign fighters per month flowing across the Syrian border.  Iraq is still not entirely stable, and its security will be a direct function of the extent to which we confront Iran in its quest for regional hegemony.

This report is so bizarre, so jaw dropping, and so disturbing, that it naturally leads to many other very important questions.  Does McChrystal believe that the COIN operations will be successfully concluded within a year or even a year plus a few months?  Did he communicate that to the administration?  If so, does the administration believe it?  Was time frame ever brought up?  Did the administration simply lay down expectations without reference to historical precedent for successful COIN campaigns and without asking General McChrystal?

The notion that Marjah is a bleeding ulcer is preposterous when compared to Ramadi in 2006 or Fallujah in 2007.  Someone or some group is not thinking clearly, and this lack of clarity may be the doom of the campaign when it finally becomes apparent to everyone else that we are in the “long war.”  It will not be finished for a long time to come, even if America stands down.  The enemy gets the final vote.

In Defense of Michael Yon: An Open Letter to Milbloggers

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 6 months ago

My friend Michael Yon has had some difficulties of late.  From his Facebook page, an embed has been halted.  He has also expressed deep reservations about the senior leadership in Afghanistan, weighing in with some fairly hard hitting prose (pieced together from Facebook and NRO):

Today, I do not trust McChrystal anymore than some people trust the New York Times, Obama or Bush. If McChrystal could be trusted, I would go back to my better life. McChrystal is a great killer but this war is above his head. He must be watched … Crazy Monkeys: Senior Public Affairs people often make me think of crazy monkeys. (Like some monkeys I’ve seen in India.) They break into the cockpit and start flipping switches with no idea what the switches do. They keep doing it until something breaks or you beat them back. And just when you think you’ve beaten …them all back, another monkey slips in. (This time by name of Admiral Smith.)

The disembed from McChrytal’s top staff (meaning from McChrystal himself) is a very bad sign. Sends chills that McChrystal himself thinks we are losing the war. McChrystal has a history of covering up. This causes concern that McChrystal might be misleading SecDef and President. Are they getting the facts?

Next time military generals talk about poor press performance in Afghanistan, please remember that McChrystal and crew lacked the dexterity to handle a single, unarmed writer. 100,000 troops — probably that many contractors — and no room for one writer. How can McChrystal handle the Taliban?

To make matters worse, it seems that some prominent folks in the Milblogging community are taking Michael to task for what they consider bad form.  Uncle Jimbo (Jim Hanson at Blackfive) is indignant.

Now he is telling us that Gen. McChrystal is over his head and needs to be watched? I’m sorry but if I have to choose between the eminently qualified and competent McChrystal and Yon, there’s not even a question … I can’t believe he is questioning McChrystal’s character. That’s BS and low.  He has claimed he was told there was no room for him to embed, well that is not what I heard. It appears he was again removed for violating the embed rules. At some point you need to own up to the fact that it’s not the rest of the world…..it’s you. That point is now.

Disclaimer: I have not embedded…ever. I am not going to embed because I don’t want to. I like being in the rear w/ the gear. I have plenty of stamps on my passport, have toured the most craptastic places on the planet, and now don’t deploy anywhere w/o room service. I respect what Michael Yon has done, I just think he is acting like a jackass.

Jim links others in the Milblogging community who are discussing Michael’s most recent words.  Milblogging.com holds that Michael owes us some facts, and Laughing Wolf at Blackfive also weighs in negatively.  I have never been embedded either (although not for lack of trying).  But I sent a son off to war, and I defy anyone to tell me that it’s any less difficult to deploy a son to combat than it is to deploy yourself.  Jim Hanson has a right to weigh in – and so do I.

I have a history of Milblogging that is marked with potholes as well, and have taken on some staff and flag level officers.  Two years ago I took on General Rodriguez for his fanciful claims about the Taliban being in such trouble that they couldn’t and wouldn’t mount a spring offensive in Afghanistan.  I pointed out even before the Taliban offensive began that their singular focus at that time would be the interdiction of logistical lines, and recommended that we engage the Caucasus region for a Northern route into Afghanistan (we are only belatedly coming around to my counsel).  I was right, of course, but you make no friends in the chain of command when you claim that your own analysis is better than that of Army intelligence (and a flag level officer), whether true or not.

Next, recall that I parodied the notion that an internal investigation into Marine deaths in the Kunar Province having to do with denial of artillery support because of rules of engagement would in any way ever hold the purveyor of that ROE – General McChrystal – responsible. Again, one wins no friends with such hard hitting prose.  Better yet.  General Rodriguez and General McChrystal are close friends.  I’m sure that neither one appreciated my comments concerning the other.

I have very specific reasons to believe that my hard hitting style, my critical nature, and my cataloging of the various blunders in both Iraq and Afghanistan have cost me readership and standing within the Milblogging community.  Beyond that, there are the cold relations with high level officers.  Jim Hanson almost immediately received a response from General McChrystal in response to his letter concerning rules of engagement.  I had to send his public affairs officer a letter three different times to get a response to a OPCON question from – you guessed it – the PAO rather than McChrystal.

All of this points to the question of what obligations we have as Milbloggers (beyond operational security and other basic issues).  I can’t speak for all Milbloggers, but I can speak for myself.  I am not trying to turn a discussion about Michael Yon into one about myself, but I am trying to relate.  I have a moral obligation to support the warriors we deploy to do our violence for us (and that includes our warriors in the chain of command).  I have an obligation to tell the truth, and I have done that as best as I know.  I have an obligation to fulfill my commitments: I have told Michael Yon that I would pray for his safety, and I have done that.

I am under absolutely no obligation whatsoever to support any particular personality, any strategy, any tactic, technique or procedure, any set of rules, or any doctrine.  I will do the best I can to hold those in the military and also those who fund them accountable.  This is oftentimes unpleasant, but I will issue no complaints.  I have chosen my path.

Similarly for those who know Michael, he spoke against those who said that Operation Iraqi Freedom was lost, or that it was won; he said that Afghanistan would be problematic even before I did (he saw it first hand); he talked about the job that the British were doing in Basra even when I was lamenting the poor strategy; he has also reported on problems with allies in Afghanistan.  In short, Michael Yon has been an honest broker of information and analysis, whether pleasant or not, whether his analysis agreed with my own or not.  Perhaps I feel a kinship with him even though I have never met him.

Either way, Jim Hanson sets two people in juxtaposition – General McChrystal and Michael Yon, and says that he’ll take McChrystal.  I’m not at all troubled by the dilemma.  I refuse to play.  But I am particularly troubled by the notion, even if faintly present, that I am somehow obligated to march in lock step with the senior officers.  If I am not obligated to march to their beat, then neither is Michael Yon.  He can give account for himself and his own words.  He will take his lumps at times, and if he broke some rule or other (as Hanson charges), then he will suffer whatever consequences there are for that infraction.  But as a journalist there is no reason to expect that he will be any less critical of things than say the New York Times, albeit for different reasons.

Jim Hanson tells us that he believes differently concerning Michael’s recent embed experience (“ … that is not what I heard”).  This is all well and good.  He can believe what he wants.  I generally have a high bar for information I use or purvey on the blog.  I wasn’t there, I don’t know anyone who was, and even if I did know someone who was there, I also know that the story can become muddled in translation.  What happened to Michael is his business, not mine.  As for whether McChrystal “needs to be watched,” I’ll pass on that and let Michael explain his prose.  I have expressed very detailed disagreement with General McChrystal’s ROE and what I see as his micromanagement of the campaign.  I don’t retract or apologize for a single word of my prose.

Michael will continue in my estimation to be the Ernie Pyle of our generation and this incident will pass.  It’s also my estimation that these open letters to Michael are a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  We Milbloggers have better ways to spend our time than cannibalize our own.  The most important thing to come out of the affair is another chance to say what we all know but tend to forget when it comes to the nation and military that we love.  I am under no obligation to shill for the chain of command.  Neither is Michael – and neither are you.

McChrystal’s PAO Responds Concerning Battlespace Control

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 6 months ago

About one month ago I had some very specific questions concerning OPCON.  After three attempts to get General McChrystal’s PAO to respond, I finally received this.  As I stipulated in the original article, I will post the entire response without editorial comment.

General McChrystal is currently out of the country.  I assume you’ve been following this issue closely, so I also assume that you know that the Commander has addressed this question several times previously.

Operational control of Marine or special operations forces is not based on concern about these forces “going rogue” or underperforming in recent operations.  It is about unity of command and effort, which has been an
enduring concern with the nations and branches supporting operations in Afghanistan and was identified as an area of improvement in General McChrystal’s August 2009 initial assessment.

To use a musical analogy, the best violin and cello and trumpet and drum players in the world don’t make a world-class orchestra until they’re playing under a conductor who can integrate individual talents into the opportunities and challenges of a particular composition.  In the case of Afghanistan, those opportunities and challenges are best understood and addressed by the theater commander responsible for integrating localized security efforts into comprehensive improvements in security and Afghan capacity across the country.

Advocates of withholding OPCON from the theater commander will argue that forces can be trusted to be team players under different command arrangements.  As you point out, this trust has been justified in the past, although personally I don’t know whether operational success can be attributed to exceptional command arrangements or whether such success occurs despite these arrangements.  Nevertheless, what advocates often overlook is that the trust that they expect from theater commanders is a two-way street, and there is no great risk in giving theater commanders the benefit of the doubt in that relationship. Providing OPCON to a theater commander does not mean that that commander will be prone to ignore the lessons of history and misuse uniquely capable forces, any more than withholding OPCON will risk having component commanders use those forces in a doctrinally correct but ultimately counterproductive ways because of the component commander’s relative ignorance of the operational situation.

You must first read the original article in order to understand this response.  The reader can judge the clarity and adequacy of this response for himself.

Battlespace Control and Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 7 months ago

In Reigning in SOF in Afghanistan I addressed the issue of General McChrystal having brought Special Operations Forces under his direct control in Afghanistan, or in other words, putting into place a structure that would ensure unity of command over all U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  The ostensible reason given for this was continuing noncombatant casualties and the need to reduce them by making SOF accountable to someone directly inside Afghanistan.

I demurred, rehearsing the idea once again that the attempt completely to end noncombatant casualties had contributed to the unnecessary deaths of U.S. servicemen.  Pristine, riskless war is a preening moralists dream and a warrior’s nightmare.  But I did support the idea of organizing all troops under a singular command structure.

I support the consolidation of forces because SOF shouldn’t be operating out of the chain of command.  If there is a direct action raid and a father or a son is killed in the middle of the night, the infantry (or those attached to the infantry, i.e., SOF) should have done it, under the direction of the immediate chain of command, and they should all be present the next morning to explain to the village why it happened.  If you don’t harbor insurgents, this won’t happen.  There is nothing like a little time with the villagers by those who did the killing … expending effort policing, teaching and admonishing.

But this isn’t the end of the story, and it appears that the reason given for the reorganization is mere cover.  First, consider what the always interesting and knowledgeable Tim Lynch tells us about Marine Corps operations in the Helmand Province regarding their use of Special Operations Forces.

While the Marines handled the close fight around Marjah they used the varsity Special Operations assets to go deep. Getting those organizations to work for you in a subordinate role is not just hard; it is one of the most impressive accomplishments of the Marine deployment to date. I’ve known General Nicholson and the senior members of his operations staff all my adult life and this last accomplishment impresses me more than anything else they have done since arriving in Afghanistan. That’s how hard it is to get the big boys to play nice.  One of the consistent complaints concerning the Joint Special Operations forces in Afghanistan is their penchant for running operations without informing or coordinating or even talking to the battle space commander responsible for the area they were working. Tim of Panjwai once got a call from the Canadian HQ in Kandahar back in the day when he was on active duty and in command of a company deployed deep inside the Panjwai district:

“Why are you currently fighting in the town of XXXX?” he was asked.

“Sir, I’m on my COP and were I not here and engaged in some sort of fight I assure you sir, that you would be the first to know.”

“Then who the hell is in XXXX wearing Canadian uniforms shooting the place up?”

It was the varsity SF guys running their own mission with their own assets for reasons known only to them.  Tim and his troops had to deal with the mess they created after they were long gone.  To this day they have no idea what went on or if the mission which cost them in lost credibility, lost cooperation, and the loss of hard earned good will was worth it.

The Marines made a deal last summer – which went something like this: “We want you guys operating in our AO and we will give you priority on our rotary wing, intelligence and fire support assets, but you have work with us integrating everything you do with our campaign plan.”  It was not an easy sell and at first there was reluctance from the varsity to cooperate.  But they gave it a shot, and they started chalking up success after success and nothing attracts more talent into the game like success.  While the Marine snipers and their recon brothers have been bleeding the Taliban around Marjah, the varsity has been going deep and going deep often.  All the big boys have joined the game now, the SAS, the SEAL’s, The Unit and other organizations who you have never heard of and never will hear about.   It is true that killing lots of fighters is not that relevant in the COIN battle.  Yet you still need to target and kill competent leaders along with any proficient logistic coordinators who pop up on the radar screen.  The varsity SOF guys have been doing that for months.

The Marines handled SOF differently than does Army, Navy or Air Force.  Unity of command is essential to the MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) and MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) mission oriented approach.  Having SOF in their battle space without knowing, approving and integrating their efforts into a unity of approach isn’t the Marine way.  And given McChrystal’s appreciation for unity of command in Afghanistan, he surely approves.

Or does he?  First, there was this comment on the Small Wars Journal blog (regarding this Washington Post article about Army complaints concerning Marines’ autonomy in Helmand).

The rumor is that the Commandant, Gen Conway, spoke to Gen Petraeus and McChrystal and asked them, “What are you not getting that you want?” In other words, if you want some other result, tell the Marines what you want and they will change course. But let us handle it our way. The problem is that McChrystal does not respect, appreciate, or want the MAGTF. He wants to use the Marines in piecemeal fashion in suppport of Army forces.

I heard it second hand. Someone should ask this question of the Commandant.

I followed up reading this comment with a letter to General McChrystal’s Public Affairs Officer, asking the following question(s).

I would like to pose a question for General McChrystal.  If he would like to respond, I will post his response without any editorial comment, remarks or redaction.  Here is the question:

As you are no doubt aware, there is apparently a push to exert more control over the Marine Corps operations in the Helmand province.

Furthermore, there are indications – however reliable or not – that the MAGTF concept (philosophy and organization structure) is under-appreciated.

But mission-based, strict Marine Corps chain of command philosophy is the cornerstone of the MEU and MAGTF approach, and it has redounded to significant successes wherever it has been implemented, from the Anbar Province to Helmand (and many engagements prior to those).  Can you give us your perspective on the Marine Corps operations thus far in Helmand, and speak to the issues raised in the subject article?

Thank you.

This letter was written five days ago and to this date there has been no response (and the commitment to post the response in full with no redaction or editorializing still holds).  Still another source tells me that I have missed the real point behind the reorganization of SOF.  Briefly, there is a desire not to have second-guessing going on with CENTCOM when commanders in Afghanistan made a decision to use SOF for some particular purpose or mission.  The reorganization of SOF into the chain of command in Afghanistan moves them out of the chain of command at CENTCOM, and directly into the chain of command of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Furthermore, commanders in a particular battlespace do not have operational control over SOF or their missions.  They may not, in fact, have any knowledge of such actions until they are dealing with the consequences after the missions.  The degree of control and the unity of command that the Marines have exercised in Helmand is seen as a lesser version of the same problem as CENTCOM controlling SOF.

To be sure, there may be reasons that the chain of command in Afghanistan would want direct control over the SOF, given that they are the most timely and responsive units that any military in the world can deploy.  But just as surely, the Marine Corps doesn’t want control over SOF (excluding perhaps MARCENT), as much as it wants them matrixed to their chain of command during missions if and when they participate.

There are several very important issues with which we are faced.  First, while Tim Lynch may be lauding the Marine Corps philosophical approach to warfare – and while I may agree – there are some very powerful commanders who apparently do not have that same appreciation.  Second, there is apparently internecine warfare within the U.S. military, and just as apparently the Army doesn’t appreciate at all the degree of autonomy afforded the Marines in Helmand.  Third, the Marines have been highly successful in Helmand, just as in Anbar.  Success has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.

Fourth and finally, consider how badly the main stream media missed this.  Not a single MSM reporter performed further research into why this reorganization took place or what motivation brought it about.  This speaks poorly about our ability to trust their reports.  A corollary, of course, is that the Milblogs are providing increasingly salient and incisive analysis.

Prior:

Reigning in SOF in Afghanistan

Abolish SOCOM

The Cult of Special Forces

Reigning in SOF in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 7 months ago

From The New York Times:

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has brought most American Special Operations forces under his direct control for the first time, out of concern over continued civilian casualties and disorganization among units in the field.

“What happens is, sometimes at cross-purposes, you got one hand doing one thing and one hand doing the other, both trying to do the right thing but working without a good outcome,” General McChrystal said in an interview.

Critics, including Afghan officials, human rights workers and some field commanders of conventional American forces, say that Special Operations forces have been responsible for a large number of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan and operate by their own rules.

Maj. Gen. Zahir Azimi, the chief spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said that General McChrystal had told Afghan officials he was taking the action because of concern that some American units were not following his orders to make limiting civilian casualties a paramount objective.

“These special forces were not accountable to anyone in the country, but General McChrystal and we carried the burden of the guilt for the mistakes they committed,” he said. “Whenever there was some problem with the special forces we didn’t know who to go to, it was muddled and unclear who was in charge.”

Spencer Ackerman seems to support McChrystal’s consolidation of forces into one chain of command because of the need to protect the population as the center of gravity of the campaign.  I do not.  To be clear, I do not support the consolidation of forces into one chain of command for the reason that the population is the center of gravity (see Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN).  I do indeed support the consolidation of forces.

Ending the silly high value target campaign (capturing mid-level Taliban commanders, only to release them 96 hours later) won’t end unintended noncombatant casualties.  The attempt to completely end noncombatant casualties has already contributed to unnecessary deaths of U.S. troops.  I support the consolidation of forces because SOF shouldn’t be operating out of the chain of command.  If there is a direct action raid and a father or a son is killed in the middle of the night, the infantry (or those attached to the infantry, i.e., SOF) should have done it, under the direction of the immediate chain of command, and they should all be present the next morning to explain to the village why it happened.  If you don’t harbor insurgents, this won’t happen.  There is nothing like a little time with the villagers by those who did the killing … expending effort policing, teaching and admonishing.

Prior:

Abolish SOCOM

The Cult of Special Forces

COP Keating: Politics and Warfighting

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

Spencer Ackerman is conflicted over leaving COP Keating open.  Jim Hanson agrees with the commenter that has Spencer thinking – and supports the notion that a commander should be allowed to amend, caveat and stipulate in order to manage the campaign.  Starting this kerfuffle, Spencer’s commenter says:

McChrystal is well within his rights to make individual exceptions to his overarching ruling of giving up the countryside to protect the population centers — and it seems pretty dumb to give up a known avenue of approach like this rat line, especially when the governor is requesting protection.

Well, maybe.  But there is more to this than meets the eye.  I had known for some time that COP Keating had been left open for political reasons at the request of the Provincial officials.  In fact, the politics gets rather ugly.  Richard Engel tells us:

Around 25,000 votes were cast in Barge Matal, approximately ten for every person in the village.  A cynic might say U.S. forces were called in so Barge Matal would be secure enough for local officials to rig the vote.  I have spoken to cynics within the U.S. military leadership in eastern Afghanistan. They go further than that.  They believe the Afghan government used the military (which brought in the ballots by helicopter) to provide cover for vote rigging and that the Afghan request to secure Barge Matal had deadly consequences for U.S. troops.

But it gets even worse.   Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy reporter who was with the three Marines and Corpsman who perished in the Kunar Province when they were denied artillery support after being ambushed by Taliban) digs deeper.

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, kept a remote U.S. base in the country manned last year at the local governor’s request despite warnings from his field commanders that it should be closed because it was vulnerable and had no tactical or strategic value.

McChrystal’s decision to maintain the outpost at Barg-e Matal prompted the top American commanders in eastern Afghanistan to delay plans to close a second remote U.S. outpost, Combat Outpost Keating, where insurgents killed eight U.S. troops in an assault Oct. 3, a McClatchy investigation has found.

Keeping Barg-e-Matal open also deprived a third isolated base of the officer who would have been its acting commander and left its command to lower-ranking officers whose “ineffective actions” led “directly” to the deaths of five American and eight Afghan soldiers in an ambush Sept. 8, according to a high-level military investigation.

In addition, an unidentified witness told the military investigators that the operations center that failed to provide effective artillery and air cover to the U.S. and Afghan force that was ambushed in the Ganjgal Valley was focused instead on Barg-e Matal.

However, the ambush inquiry and a similar high-level Army probe into the Oct. 3 deaths at COP Keating, the worst single American combat loss in 2009, don’t mention that McChrystal’s decision to keep Barg-e Matal open made the combat outpost and the Ganjgal operation more vulnerable.

Instead, the inquiries hit lower-ranking officers — including two field commanders who’d urged McChrystal for months to close Keating and Barg-e Matal — with administrative penalties.

The two officers, Col. Randy George and Lt. Col. Robert B. Brown, and other U.S. officials had warned repeatedly that the two outposts were worthless and too costly to defend, two American defense officials and a former NATO official told McClatchy.

So via the AR 15-6 process, we are on another head hunt in order to exonerate decisions made at the very top.  Listen carefully to me.  I have previously said that COP Keating did indeed serve a purpose, i.e., to interdict fighters flowing from Pakistan into Afghanistan along this route.  That is what makes this so ugly.

McChrystal has a right to decide, stipulate, caveat, circle back around, and whatever else he wants to do.  His giving up the countryside in favor of population centers is wrongheaded, and I do not now and have never concurred with the idea of population-centric counterinsurgency when applied as an exclusive use doctrine.  Nor do I believe in holding terrain.

But again, listen carefully to me.  What neither McChrystal nor any of his reports has a right to do is leave U.S. warriors in poor terrain, with lack of adequate force protection, in inadequately garrisoned outposts, with poor logistics and little outside assistance.  McChrystal DOES have a right to issue deployment / garrisoning orders.  He DOESN’T have a right to forget or ignore basic military doctrine like force protection – not for interdiction, not for politics, not for any reason, ever.

Prior: Second Guessing the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh

Detention Policy in Afghanistan: Micromanaging the Military

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

From Justin Fishel:

One week into the invasion of Marjah, Afghanistan Marines and NATO forces are beginning to feel the restrictions put on them by their own rules of engagement. The roughly 800 Taliban insurgents who decided to stay and fight need to be carefully distinguished from tens of thousands of innocent civilians before they can be engaged by coalition forces. The goal, says NATO’s top general in Afghanistan, is to win the hearts and minds of the population, not to decimate it.

But the Taliban know the rules. They know that Marines aren’t allowed to fire on them if they don’t have a weapon. Marines have struggled with Taliban snipers who lay down their rifles after they run out of bullets, taunting the American forces as they walk away from the buildings they used for cover. Fox’s Conner Powell is embedded with a Marine unit in the region. “We’ve seen them be extremely disciplined with their fire”, Powell said. “They’ve not returned fire when they’ve been attacked by Taliban insurgents unless they can confirm in fact that it was Taliban insurgents or snipers shooting at them.”

NATO forces are also hampered by what’s known as the “96 hour rule”. Last summer NATO instituted a new detainee policy which says that if any NATO or International Security Assistance Force soldiers, including Americans, can’t transfer captured terrorists or enemy combatants to the Afghan justice system within 96 hours, they have to be released. The problem is that in many cases there isn’t enough time or resources to move detainees, and they end up going free. Some in the military are calling it the “catch and release rule.”

[ ... ]

There are some exceptions to the rules. If a wanted terrorist is picked up by a U.S. Special Forces unit working under the confines of Operation Enduring Freedom, rather than NATO, that prisoner would be sent to a detention facility at Bagram Air Base, where U.S. interrogators would be free to question him within the guidelines of the Army Field Manual.

Justin is behind the times (see ROE category).  The Marines aren’t just now beginning to feel the restrictions of ROE.  But the last paragraph is particularly troubling, because it means that [1] we are still pursuing the silly HVT campaign in Afghanistan with our special operations forces, and [2] apparently, the Marines engaged in fighting in Marjah are under the purview of the ISAF and not Operation Enduring Freedom.  Thus, they are subject to the detention policy.

As for the use of SOF, the Marines had them (Recon, and likely Scout Sniper) inside Marjah before the infantry moved in, directly supporting the campaign on the ground.  The Army could take a page from the Marines in terms of how to use SOF.  As for the ridiculous detention policy, it’s one more example of micromanaging the campaign in Afghanistan.

Staff and flag officers don’t trust field grade officers and NCOs enough to give them the latitude to make extemporaneous decisions in the battle space which are conducive to the proper conduct of the campaign.  It’s no different than the tactical directive on ROE issued by McChrystal, as if Lance Corporals and Sergeant Majors under fire need his counsel on who the enemy is – or how long they can detain them in the absence of a judge or a judge advocate.

Prior:

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan II

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan

Covering for the Rules of Engagement?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

It is important to recall the incident in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan that occurred approximately five months ago in which three Marines and one Navy Corpsman were killed in an Ambush.  They twice requested air support and artillery, only to be twice denied it from hundreds of miles away because noncombatants may have been in the area.

Taking a slight detour back to General McChrystal’s tactical directive, the new rules place a premium on protection of the population, even to the extent of backing away from fire fights if it is possible that noncombatants will be involved.  In McChrystal’s own words, “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.”

I later predicted as a result of the investigation conducted as part of the follow-on to this incident:

… here is something that has no chance of happening.  No investigation will find that a tactical directive written or endorsed by a four star general was responsible for anything bad.  The directive will be exonerated and the field grade officers responsible for denying artillery had better begin looking for another line of work.

Doing daily searches of ROE, the Kunar Province and other specific keywords it has taken a while to find anything related to this incident.  I have spoken with the McClatchy reporter who covered this incident, Jonathan Landay, and we have both been waiting for release of the investigation (AR 15-6).  As a related issue, I had also stated that I got independent confirmation of the truthfulness of Landay’s report.   The Washington Post has given us the first (and maybe only) look into the findings.

In the third incident that has resulted in a reprimand, four Marines were killed near the eastern Afghanistan village of Ganjgal when they were ambushed on their way to a meeting with local villagers. Senior Marine officials alleged that the Army battalion in the area was slow to provide artillery support to ward off the attack. After an investigation, the battalion executive officer, who was the senior officer on duty at the time, received a letter of reprimand, Army officials said.

The next promotion board will not go well for this field grade officer, and probably the next, and the next.  His career in the Army is essentially over – just as I predicted.  But he was following the spirit (and even the letter) of McChrystal’s rules.  Remember that my objection to the tactical directive isn’t that there is a proviso for protection of noncombatants.  No Marine or Soldier wants to kill noncombatants.  That isn’t what he’s trained to do.

My objection goes to the notion that a four star general is in any position to write an authoritative tactical directive for Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field under fire, thus removing their judgment from consideration.  It is the ultimate “I don’t trust you” insult, and it kills troops.  “I support the troops” isn’t just a lie for the Daily Kos folks.  It’s the ugly secret for some flag officers.

And you heard the prediction here first.  Here is another prediction.  We won’t see the release of the full AR 15-6 investigation so that we can learn the full truth about the failures that fateful day which killed three Marines and a Navy Corpsman.

Prior:

Rules of Engagement category

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan II

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan


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