Archive for the 'General Rodriguez' Category



General Rod’s War

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 5 months ago

Surprisingly, no military blog of which I am aware picked up and commented on a Newsweek article on General David Rodriguez.  Part of this article is repeated below.

If the past 18 months of U.S. military gains withstand the upcoming troop drawdown in Afghanistan, people can thank Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez. Few Americans are likely to do that. In fact, not many even know the publicity-shy general’s name. “He’ll never tell you that this whole thing was his baby,” says his top aide, Col. Kimberly Field. “But it was.” Although Rodriguez’s mediagenic boss, Gen. David Petraeus, gets most credit for the Afghan surge’s success, it was actually Rodriguez—General Rod, his troops call him—who drafted the operational plan even before President Obama announced the executive decision to send in 30,000 additional U.S. troops in November 2009. “You never hear of General Rod as long as General Petraeus is within a hundred miles,” says one of Rodriguez’s staff officers. “But he could care less.”

You wouldn’t think the 6-foot-5 paratrooper was easy to ignore. “He looks kind of scary,” one of his officers confesses. But his staff officers describe him as gentle, low-key, even humble. And low-maintenance: in contrast to some three-stars, they say, Rodriguez doesn’t demand to be treated like royalty. In fact, his unassuming nature is one of his most valuable strengths: he knows how to listen. “I tell everybody, ‘If we used our two ears and one mouth in the same ratio we had them, we would be better off,’ ” he told NEWSWEEK in an exclusive interview. As Rodriguez drew up and refined his plans for the surge, he took the unconventional step of consulting civilian and military Afghan officials, who helped him identify the key terrain that had to be secured. “We have all the technology and skills, but they know the human terrain,” he says. “You just have to ask them and listen. They know what they have to do to win this fight.”

Rodriguez called his plan Operation Omid (the Dari word for “hope”), and it has centered from the very start on enabling the Afghan government forces to stand on their own. The country’s security forces have grown by 94,000 new police and soldiers since the surge began, Rodriguez says, and their total strength is expected to reach 350,000 by next year. Afghanistan’s highly regarded chief of Army staff, Gen. Shir Mohammad Karimi, credits Rodriguez with building professionalism and loyalty in the Afghan National Army (ANA). “He’s patient and tolerant,” says Karimi, “but most important, he listens to Afghan ideas, suggestions, and recommendations.” For one thing, Karimi says, Rodriguez is now paying closer attention to sparsely populated Nuristan province, where the Americans pulled out in late 2009. “Rod frankly says that Afghan proposals are sometimes better than those he worked on with his own staff,” he adds.

[ ... ]

Rodriguez says he’s confident that Afghan soldiers at the platoon and company level are up to the job of taking over from U.S. forces. “We’re going to get them in the front line from the bottom to the top,” he says. “We’ve got to keep the momentum going while we are doing less and less.” Still, he acknowledges, building up the ANA’s command-and-control capacity will take a little longer. His friend and counterpart General Karimi promises that the ANA will be ready to replace the withdrawing U.S. forces—as long as his men have what he calls “enablers”: artillery, air, helicopter gunship, medevac, and logistical support from the Americans, together with U.S. intelligence feeds. Rodriguez says Karimi can count on all those until at least 2014, the deadline President Obama has set for a final withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. The backup Karimi’s men need will leave only at the tail end of the pullout, at the same time as U.S. Special Operations troops and a quick reaction force, Rodriguez says.

Newsweek is certainly feeling the general-love in this piece.  The fawning nature of this article really is objectionable, and it isn’t clear why Newsweek would have felt the freedom to go to the general’s top aide to get the perspective that “this whole thing was his baby” without any balancing opinions.

I don’t get into the general-love that most Americans feel.  Throughout history, we have set our generals on pedestals, in positions of higher honor that they usually deserve.  As for this piece on Rodriguez, after reading how we have him to thank for our military gains, and after listening to the description of him (6′-5″ paratrooper, “he looks kind of scary …”), I found myself waiting for the account of how Babe the blue ox drags his gigantic axe behind him, you know, the one he uses to fell giant trees.

As for that notion that the ANA are “up to the job,” I guess General Rod isn’t referring to those ANA boys at Kamdesh who curled up in a fetal position on their bed to wait out the fight.  As for General Rodriguez himself, recall that he and his staff were the ones who decided that they wanted to micromanage every aspect of the Marines’ engagement in the Helmand Province, including ROE.  As for Nuristan, I guess General Rodriguez was the first out of the gate to describe how it was important.

Whatever else one thinks of General Rodriguez, let me make one thing absolutely clear (and this is one thing that sets me apart from his staff, all of whom who should be spending more time carrying a rifle on patrol).  If there is any success in Afghanistan, to the extent that there is success in Afghanistan, it shouldn’t be ascribed to General Rodriguez or his staff (any more than it should be ascribed to General Petraeus).  There is no debate about the contributions of Generals Petraeus or Rodriguez on the pages of The Captain’s Journal.  Any success redounds from the blood, sweat and tears of Army specialists and Sergeants and Marine Corps Lance Corporals and Corporals in the field under fire.

No one in their right mind would argue this last point.

Reprimands in Marine Deaths in Ganjgal Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 10 months ago

Recall that in 2009 three Marines and a Navy Corpsman approached the remote Kunar village of Ganjgal where they were ambushed in what was surely a planned incident.  At the time even the women and children could be seen firing weapons, spotting or carrying munitions.  The Marines made repeated calls for artillery and air support over the next couple of hours, with support denied due to the fact that the authorizing Army officers could not verify that noncombatants wouldn’t be harmed.  We know this because a McClatchy reporter was with the Marines.  In other words, whatever obfuscation that the Army can throw at this incident cannot supersede the conclusions that we can draw directly from McClatchy’s report.

And obfuscation came.  The Army did an investigation that concluded, among other things, that the officers were out of the command center for decision-making during this engagement.  But in fact they were out only some of the time, and did indeed refuse on multiple occasions to authorize supporting fires.  They also had the presence of mind to authorize white phosphorus rounds to provide smoke and thus give cover for retreat, so they knew about the danger.  They just didn’t authorize support.

The families have pursued a conclusion to this, and they may have finally gotten it.

The Army “severely reprimanded” two of the three officers cited for negligence after a flawed mission in eastern Afghanistan resulted in five U.S. deaths, according to a congressman who pushed for the information’s release.

The Army officers were cited for poor planning and oversight of a Sept. 8, 2009, operation in Ganjgal, a remote village near the Pakistan border with Kunar province. Three Marines and a corpsman were killed on the battlefield after they were repeatedly denied air and artillery support while pinned down by more than 100 insurgents. A soldier died the following month of medical complications related to wounds he suffered in the ambush.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Army recently shared with him documents indicating two of the three officers cited last year in a joint Army-Marine Corps investigation were deemed primarily responsible for the mission’s failures and given reprimands, likely career killers.

“There was nothing else we could do,” Jones said of the discipline. “This was a very tragic situation that never should have happened.”

Jones, whose congressional district includes thousands of Marines at Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps air stations New River and Cherry Point, got involved in October after family members of the fallen troops expressed disgust that the Army refused to disclose whether anyone was held accountable for mistakes that led to their loved ones’ deaths. On Jan. 28, he sent letters to the families of each service member informing them what he learned.

Army officials declined to comment on the disciplinary action. The officers are entitled to privacy unless they are charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, said Col. Thomas Collins, an Army spokesman.

The Ganjgal investigation, conducted by Army Col. Richard Hooker and Marine Col. James Werth, determined that the “negligent” leadership of three officers at nearby Forward Operating Base Joyce contributed “directly to the loss of life which ensued.” They refused direct calls for help from U.S. forces on the ground and failed to notify higher commands that they had troops under fire, the investigation found.

The officers were members of Task Force Chosin, a unit comprising soldiers from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, N.Y. The military has not released their names, but they are likely captains or majors.

Killed in the battle were four members of Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, out Okinawa, Japan: 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, 25; Gunnery Sgts. Aaron Kenefick, 30; and Edwin Johnson, 31; and Hospitalman 3rd Class James Layton, 22. Hours after the battle began, they were found in a ditch shot to death, stripped of gear and weapons.

A former corporal, Dakota Meyer, is nominated for the Medal of Honor for charging into the kill zone to find the four military trainers and carry them to safety.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, 41, survived the battle despite suffering several gunshot wounds. He died Oct. 7, 2009, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington after his body rejected a blood transfusion he received in Afghanistan, said his widow, Charlene.

Charlene Westbrook questioned why the third officer cited for negligence wasn’t reprimanded, and said she is frustrated the Army hasn’t explained the rationale for its disciplinary decisions.

“We were searching for answers, not for the same thing we’ve been told before,” she said. “It’s very frustrating and, again, another betrayal, I feel.”

Collins said the families were provided complete, redacted copies of the investigation report last year. There is no indication they were ever promised an update on disciplinary actions, he said.

Reprimands in the Ganjgal case were delivered after similar discipline was rescinded last year for mistakes made in Wanat, Afghanistan, during an ambush July 13, 2008. Nine soldiers died and 27 were wounded in the battle.

Perhaps the families have partial conclusion (and I confess, I didn’t know until this report that Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook had also perished) .  I had previously recommended that the Army field grade and staff level officers involved in this incident find a different line of work.  And now they must do exactly that.  I had said that the source of this problem – rules of engagement and micromanaging the military – would not be targeted, and General McChrystal wouldn’t even so much as be mentioned in the AR 15-6.  I was right on all accounts.

When he took over the campaign in Afghanistan, McChrystal quickly issued a severely debilitating tactical directive, but in fact added to the cultural milieu with his own interpretation:

“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.”

As for micromanaging the military, when the Marines first entered Marjah in the Helmand Province, General Rodriguez, then second in command in Afghanistan, decided that he wanted to micromanage a completely separate command structure, that of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF).  “Less than six hours before Marines commenced a major helicopter-borne assault in the town of Marja in February, Rodriguez’s headquarters issued an order requiring that his operations center clear any airstrike that was on a housing compound in the area but not sought in self-defense.”

The officers on duty that fateful day the Marines were killed in Gamjgal were responsible for their decisions.  It gives me no joy to report or comment on their demise as officers in the U.S. Army.  But the climate of micromanagement of forces in theater set in motion by Generals McChrystal and Rodriguez was also responsible for the incident at Ganjgal.  Incidents can (and in fact most often do) have more than a single root cause.

I will forever hold General McChrystal responsible for the deaths of three Marines, a Navy Corpsman and a Soldier in this incident.  Until he admits to the debilitating nature of his command and visits these families to watch them weep, this incident is unresolved, and the families have no closure.  He can join as many boards of directors as he likes.  There is unfinished business, and the ghosts of four Marines and a Soldier are watching.

Prior:

Taliban Ambush in Eastern Kunar Kills Four U.S. Marines

More Thoughts on Marines and Rules of Engagement

AR 15-6 Investigation of Marine Deaths in Kunar Province

More Rules of Engagement Examples from Afghanistan II

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

Via CBS News:

To the U.S. soldiers getting pounded with thunderous mortar rounds in their combat outpost near Kandahar, it seemed like a legitimate request: allow them to launch retaliatory mortar shells or summon an airstrike against their attackers. The incoming fire was landing perilously close to a guard station, and the soldiers, using a high-powered camera, could clearly see the insurgents shooting.

The response from headquarters — more than 20 miles away — was terse. Permission denied. Battalion-level officers deemed the insurgents too close to a cluster of mud-brick houses, perhaps with civilians inside.

Although the insurgents stopped firing before anybody was wounded, the troops were left seething.

“This is not how you fight a war, at least not in Kandahar,” said a soldier at the outpost who described the incident, which occurred last month, on the condition of anonymity. “We’ve been handcuffed by our chain of command.”

[ ... ]

Despite claims from some relatives of military personnel killed in Afghanistan that the directive has limited the ability of troops to defend themselves, the officials said a review by the U.S. military of every combat fatality over the past year has found no evidence that the rules restricted the use of lifesaving firepower.

“We have not found a single situation where a soldier has lost his life because he was not allowed to protect himself,” one of the officials said.

If troops are in imminent danger, there is no restriction on the use of airstrikes or mortars. “The rules of engagement provide an absolute right of self-defense,” the official said.

For troops on the ground … the directive has lowered their morale and limited their ability to pursue insurgents. They note that Taliban fighters seem to understand the new rules and have taken to sniping at troops from inside homes or retreating inside houses after staging attacks.

“Minimizing civilian casualties is a fine goal, but should it be the be-all and end-all of the policy?” said a junior Army officer in southern Afghanistan. “If we allow soldiers to die in Afghanistan at the hands of a leader who says, ‘We’re going to protect civilians rather than soldiers,’ what’s going to happen on the ground? The soldiers are not going to execute the mission to the best of their ability. They won’t put their hearts into the mission. That’s the kind of atmosphere we’re building.”

The principal problem, senior officials say, is that U.S. and allied units across Afghanistan have carried out the directive in ways that are more restrictive than McChrystal intended. Fearful of career-ending sanctions if they violate the order, commanders at every subordinate level down the chain have tightened the rules themselves, often adding their own stipulations to the use of air and mortar strikes.

Less than six hours before Marines commenced a major helicopter-borne assault in the town of Marja in February, Rodriguez’s headquarters issued an order requiring that his operations center clear any airstrike that was on a housing compound in the area but not sought in self-defense. But before the order was given to the Marines, the British-run regional headquarters in southern Afghanistan amended the language to include any strikes “near” houses, according to two U.S. sources familiar with the incident.

The issue of divergent and overly-restrictive “interpretations” of the ROE being given down the chain of command is a red herring.  The issue is a diversion from the real issue of overly restrictive rules and micromanagement of the campaign at the highest levels of command.

In More Rules of Engagement Examples from Afghanistan, I observed:

McChrystal’s advocates argue that McChrystal’s tactical directive was misunderstood and applied too restrictively at lower levels of command (the rules have been distorted as they pass down the chain of command).  But that dog won’t hunt.  His tactical directive remains available for viewing, and his words set the context for its application: “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.”  The reader can make up his own mind.

As for warriors who have lost their lives to the rules of engagement, I give you three Marines and a Navy Corpsman, and for me, General McChrystal will always be responsible for their deaths.  Others may have participated by their incompetence, but it all began with McChrystal.

But the real addition to the knowledge base for ROE in this example comes by way of prissy excuse and demur.  Note that the report attempts to exonerate McChrystal’s direct report, General Rodriguez by explaining how the rules got revised after issuance.  But here is the real question.  Why the hell is General Rodriguez second guessing Marines in the field in combat operations?

The real problem is not that the rules got twisted.  The real problem is that General Rodriguez took it upon himself to micromanage Marines who have successful combat experience from Iraq.  The Marines no more needed General Rodriguez at any point during this operation than they needed a business secretary in corporate America issuing orders to them.  Instead of providing logistics, materiel, equipment and resources, General Rodriguez made himself a nuisance to the operation.

This micromanagement is an increasing problem in the U.S. military, and it follows the American corporate model.  But it seems to have taken on gigantic proportions with General McChrystal, an aspect that needs to change now that he is gone.  Unfortunately, General Rodriguez is still around to meddle in affairs where he is not needed and is serving no useful purpose.

Postscript: General Rodriguez has been the subject of previous articles, specifically where he trotted out Army intelligence to decidedly inform us that there would be no 2008 spring offensive in Afghanistan, while I said that there would be, and it would be directed at logistics, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The reader can decide for himself who hit the target and who didn’t.


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