Archive for the 'Kandahar' Category



In Kandahar: “These people don’t give a damn about us”

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

From MSNBC (lengthy excerpt with important ending):

Over the last six months, U.S. troops have wrested the school away from insurgents. They’ve hired Afghan contractors to rebuild it, and lost blood defending it.

But the tiny school has yet to open, and nobody’s quite sure when it will.

American commanders have called the Pir Mohammed primary school “the premier development project” in Zhari district, a Taliban heartland in Kandahar province at the center of President Barack Obama’s 30,000-man surge.

The small brick and stone complex represents much of what American forces are trying to achieve in Afghanistan: winning over a war-weary population, tying a people to their estranged government, bolstering Afghan forces so American troops can go home. But the struggle to open Pir Mohammed three years after the Taliban closed it shows the obstacles U.S. forces face in a complex counterinsurgency fight — one whose success depends not on firepower, but on the support of a terrified people.

Similar battles are taking place across the country. In Marjah, for example, a former Taliban stronghold in neighboring Helmand province, several schools have opened since American-led troops overran the district in February. But many parents are still too afraid of violence and Taliban threats to let their children attend.

In Senjeray, too, “there are teachers … and we’ve found them and talked to them,” said Capt. Nick Stout, a company commander from the 101st Airborne Division’s 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment. “We say, ‘When the school’s built, do you want to come teach?’ And they say, ‘No, no, I don’t, not at all.’”

Perched amid majestic mountain crags at the base of a fertile river valley, the village of Senjeray resembles a walled fort, 10,000 people living in a labyrinth of steep, hardened mud walls.

Pir Mohammed sits at the southeastern edge of the village, a pair of modest, single-story buildings that once served hundreds, maybe thousands of children. A small plaque at the entrance engraved with black words on light gray marble indicates U.S. troops refurbished the school “in friendship with the People of Afghanistan” in November 2002 — one year after the American invasion.

Canadians finished the school and opened it in 2005. But in 2007, Taliban fighters attacked it, breaking windows and busting doors off hinges. They took away a dozen students, cut the fingers off some and killed the parents of others, said Bismallah Qari, a 30-year-old black-bearded mullah from Senjeray.

The Taliban opposes Western-style education, and apparently saw the school as a symbol of government authority. Qari said the Taliban also believed children would be forced to study Christianity there.

Since then, Senjeray’s children have had only one place to go: a handful of Islamic madrassas run by conservative mullahs like Qari that some American commanders say are radicalizing a new generation of Afghan youth, turning them away from President Hamid Karzai’s government and the NATO coalition.

Speaking through an interpreter as American troops searched a recently filled hole in his madrassa they suspected held a weapons cache, Qari said he wanted his kids to attend Pir Mohammed, too, but “we can’t do it.”

“The Taliban won’t allow us to go there,” he said. “They’ll kill us, they’ll kill our children.”

Pir Mohammed occupies ground highly valued by the insurgency — part of a corridor the Taliban use to traffic arms and guerrillas through villages along the Arghandab River and into Kandahar city.

In April, American troops seized the school in a military operation backed by Afghan troops. They found it in ruins, its rooms reduced to toilets littered with needles, apparently for drug use.

When Stout’s unit arrived in May, he deployed two platoons to protect the school round the clock. On their second day, a U.S. soldier was shot in the lung, but survived.

For weeks, firefights erupted almost daily.

U.S. engineers knocked down walls and trees nearby where insurgents hide. Afghan security forces set up checkpoints on surrounding roads. And armored American trucks stood guard to defend the school’s crumbling outer walls.

The school itself was turned into a de facto military base: Stout’s men stacked sandbags in the windows and installed machine gun nests on the rooftops. They filled rooms with metal boxes of ammunition and anti-tank rockets, and slept on cots inside it.

The American occupation drew the ire of village elders. In mid-July, more than 300 turbaned men from Senjeray urged the provincial governor to pressure the Americans to leave Pir Mohammed. Stout said that in meetings afterward, elders told him the Taliban had pressured them to do so. Nevertheless, they reiterated the plea — and made a crucial promise in return.

“They were saying, ‘Look, if you get out of the school, we’ll protect the school,’” Stout recalled. “They said, ‘We got it. We’ll keep attacks from happening. And people will go there.’”

Withdrawing, in fact, was exactly what Stout wanted. It fit with the wider strategy of letting Afghan forces take on security, and freed Stout’s troops to secure more ground elsewhere.

So the American platoons pulled out in mid-August, leaving their Afghan counterparts in charge.

Instead of the peace the elders promised, attacks actually increased, Stout said. Within days, the school suffered two grenade assaults and a pair of shoulder-fired rocket strikes, one of which killed a seven-year-old boy playing outside.

At meetings that week with mullahs and elders, Stout’s team displayed a poster-sized photo of the wounded boy just after the explosion, his face bloodied with shrapnel.

“We said, ‘Look, how does this sit in your stomach? Does this bother you?’” Stout recalled. “We told them: ‘These people clearly don’t care about you, your family, or your livelihood.’”

The elders agreed, and Stout made a proposition: “Come bleed with us and defeat the bigger problem, help drive the insurgents out.”

At that, the elders drew back.

Some said they didn’t know who had carried out the attack. Others said there were no insurgents in Senjeray. Most said they were mere farmers, and if they cooperated with the Americans, the Taliban would cut their heads off.

Stout rebutted with a grim warning: “As long as you guys tolerate this, as long as you turn your backs, your children are going to continue to suffer.”

The elders nodded. They promised to escort American troops through Senjeray, where attackers hidden on rooftops tossed grenades at U.S. patrols nearly every time they passed by.

But in the weeks that followed, nobody ever turned up.

Qari, the local mullah, said Senjeray’s residents were caught in the middle and could not control the insurgency.

“We told the Taliban we don’t want your support, and we don’t want the support of the U.S. Army,” he said. “We told them: ‘We can ensure our own security, just leave us alone.’”

Part of the difficulty of winning over people in Afghanistan is that NATO-led forces are trying to do it in full body armor.

American troops live in fortified bubbles surrounded by blast walls and dirt-filled barriers. Their window onto the country is often an alien landscape that’s hard to see through inches-thick bulletproof glass covered in dust.

On the ground, American strategy often rests on fragile agreements between two groups worlds apart: young muscle-bound troops with crew cuts and tattoos and conservative white-bearded elders in turbans.

There may be no place tougher to win hearts and minds than Zhari. Here is where the Taliban movement was founded 16 years ago. A few miles to the west is Singesar, where Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar once ran an Islamic school.

“Obviously there’s a lot of Taliban sympathy out there,” Stout said. “These people don’t give a damn about us … and quite frankly, why would they? We’re strangers, we’ve been here for a few months, we walk around the town with guns, 40 pounds of body army and (a lot of) grenades.”

Afghan troops, too, acknowledge the cold reception in Senjeray, where they are seen as foreigners trying to finish off an old war. Much of the Afghan army’s rank and file here is drawn from the north — Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara — who fought the overwhelmingly Pashtun Taliban in the 1990s.

“The people in this town hate us,” said Lt. Said Abdul Ghafar, an ethnic Tajik soldier based at Pir Mohammed. “The Taliban tell them we’re not real Muslims, that we’re infidels. So the children throw rocks at us and won’t even say hello.”

Analysis & Commentary

This report is remarkably depressing.  The irony is that there is not a single problem discussed above with the U.S. campaign in Kandahar that couldn’t have also been said of the U.S. campaign in Fallujah or Baghdad in 2007.  We weren’t loved in the least.

But note what the focus of the discussion is not.  It isn’t about wasting time, resources and blood defending an inanimate object that can neither hurt you nor love you (i.e., the school).  It isn’t about the need to chase the insurgents and kill them.  It isn’t about force projection of U.S. troops.

Note now what the discussion is about.  The problem, says Stout, is that our boys are wearing 40 pounds of body armor and carry grenades.  The problem is that they don’t “give a damn about us.”  Stout’s focus is not on the legitimacy of U.S. troop actions, but of the ANA.

Is this the depth of strategic thinking among our officer corps?  We are failing in Kandahar because we are wearing 40 pounds of body armor and carrying grenades?

In Fallujah in 2007, the IPs are the ones who didn’t give a damn about what the population thought of them.  The fact that they knew they had the backing of the U.S. Marines made all the difference, and force brought legitimacy for the IPs.  The notion that body armor separates the Soldiers from the people is patently absurd.  What are we supposed to think about this?  That the solution to winning their hearts and minds is to jettison the body armor and grenades?  How many unnecessary deaths would that cause and how laughable would the U.S. Army appear to the population?  How does it say “we’re here to win” if we get rid of our weapons and allow ourselves to be shot?

In Fallujah and Baghdad in 2007, there was no focus on holding terrain or even attempting to stand up a legitimate government until the insurgency had been dealt a significant blow.  Recalling what we did in Iraq (from an Army officer):

One thing that I think many people forget about Iraq (or maybe it wasn’t reported?) is that in 2007 and 2008 we were killing and capturing lots of people on a nightly basis. Protecting the populace was A priority. When speaking to the folks back home, in order to sell the war, perhaps we said that it was the priority. But on the ground, I do not recall a single Commander’s Update Brief spending any time at all discussing what we had done to protect anyone. We were focused on punching al-Qaeda in the nuts at every opportunity and dismantling their networks. The reconcilables got the message loud and clear that they could take money and jobs in return for cooperation, or they would die a swift death when we came knocking down their doors in the middle of the night. The rest of the populace made it clear to them that they should take the offer. The only protection that the population got from us was good fire discipline so that we did not kill non-combatants. We made it clear that the government intended to win this thing and we did not send that message by delivering governance or digging wells. We shot motherf******s in the face.  Pop-COIN blasphemers, your scripture is false teaching.

This wasn’t just SOF.  This was everyone.  This posture is what I don’t currently see in our campaign for Afghanistan.

Going Soft on Kandahar

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

Recall from several months ago that operations were launched into Marjah, and the “government in a box” that General McChrystal thought would be so successful was a flop.  He then called Marjah a bleeding ulcer after only a few months of counterinsurgency, like some impatient child waiting for candy.  It became apparent that Marjah would be long term counterinsurgency work (is there any other kind?), but that didn’t stop General Rodriguez from postulating that it was the slowness of governmental services that caused the delays in turning Marjah into Shangri-La.  It certainly couldn’t be the model, so it must be the execution of the plan.  Or so Rodriguez concluded.

This reminds me of a story.  A man walks into the emergency room at a hospital claiming that he is dead.  The doctors argue with him until they figure out a way to prove to him that he is not.  They ask him, “Do dead men bleed?”  “No”, said he.  “Of course not!  Don’t be stupid!”  They proceed to place a small cut on his arm to show him that he bleeds, and upon seeing his blood he exclaimed “Well I was wrong.  I guess dead men do bleed!”  Presuppositions rule, no?

And true to this non-Biblical parable, the current planning for Kandahar assumes that Marjah just wasn’t done right.  How to do it this time?  Well, recall that the Marines went into Marjah softer than their experience in Anbar dictated, more along the lines of how the British advocate counterinsurgency and how they did it in Basra.  This was a requirement of senior leadership in Afghanistan.  Also note that we have recently discussed the lessons learned from this, but the takeaway for Kandahar is much different than I would have advocated.

Kandahar is a city built mostly of mud, clay and straw — the available building materials in this harsh climate. The city’s wide avenues and narrow warrens seem to be perpetually suspended in a haze of dust from the desert that is not far in any direction.

Although razor sharp mountain peaks pierce the horizon in almost every direction, their steep, rocky flanks sweep down into an awe-inspiring scene: valleys and flatlands, green and lush with wheat, as well as grape fields and pomegranate orchards, all fed by the Arghandab river. It flows from the north through Arghandab district, down through Zhari and Panjaway.

All three of those districts, and Kandahar City, are now the focus of operation “Hamkari,” the military’s much-touted counterinsurgency strategy that has brought an influx of thousands more U.S. troops.

Brig. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges is one of the architects of the operation. “Hamkari,” he said in an interview, is a Pashto and Dari word for “cooperation.”

Officers chose the word, he said, because Afghans have a negative association with the word “operation,” which brings to mind the bloody assault on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in neighboring Helmand province in February.

“They said if you use the word, ‘operation,’ the average Afghan will take that to mean Blackhawks, artillery … inevitable civilian casualties,” he said.

But the word “Hamkari” also denotes a change in strategy. The Marjah offensive earlier this year aimed to deliver Afghan security forces and government institutions as soon as the military operation ended. But more than six months later, both objectives are proving more difficult than military planners expected.  [Editorial comment: The military planners haven't been reading The Captain's Journal]

Recognizing this, military strategists in Kandahar are focusing more on building Afghan government and security institutions in tandem with military operations. They say both aspects of the operation are necessary in order to secure the population from Taliban control.

Hodges likened Hamkari to a “rising tide of security.”

The so-called “military planners” should be fired for incompetence.  So the plan is to bring a “super-superlative government in a box on steroids” since the regular old “government in a box” didn’t work.  Look for the plan to fail.

Nawa, Marjah and Kandahar: A Tale of Three Cities

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

Rajiv Chandrasekaran with The Washington Post addresses the question why counterinsurgency works in some places but not others.

MARJA, AFGHANISTAN — The distance from here to success is only 15 miles.

There, in the community of Nawa, a comprehensive U.S. civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy has achieved what seems to be a miracle cure. Most Taliban fighters have retreated. The district center is so quiescent that U.S. Marines regularly walk around without their body armor and helmets. The local economy is so prosperous, fueled by more than $10 million in American agriculture aid, that the main bazaar has never been busier. Now for sale: shiny, Chinese-made motorcycles and mobile phones. There’s even a new ice cream shop.

But here in Marja, the same counterinsurgency strategy has not suppressed the insurgent infection. Dozens of Taliban fighters have stayed in the area, and despite aggressive Marine operations to root them out, they have succeeded in seeding the roads with homemade bombs and sniping at patrols. The insurgent presence has foiled efforts to help and protect the civilian population: Taliban threats — and a few targeted murders — have dissuaded many residents from availing themselves of U.S. reconstruction assistance.

In my five trips to the area over the past year, Nawa has felt like progress, while Marja still feels like a war zone. Together, they illustrate the promise and limits of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and the central challenge facing the new U.S. and NATO commander in Kabul, Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Marja and Nawa have much in common. Both are home to about 80,000 people, almost all of them ethnic Pashtuns. Both are farming communities where opium-producing poppies have been the cash crop of choice. Both are socially conservative southern Afghan backwaters, where tribal chiefs hold sway and women are rarely seen in public, even in head-to-toe burqas.

Both were stricken by the Taliban insurgency four years ago. And over the past year, both have been treated with America’s new counterinsurgency formula: Each community has been flooded with U.S. Marines and Afghan security forces, at troop levels that meet or exceed what counterinsurgency theorists prescribe. Each has received a surge of cash and civilian experts in an effort to provide public services, rebuild infrastructure and dole out basic economic assistance. Each has been described as a priority by the central government in Kabul.

So why did all this work in one but not the other?

Rajiv then poses some answers from the ISAF, as well as a few of his own.

U.S. military officials contend that Marja needs more time to resemble Nawa. The Nawa operation began last July; efforts in Marja didn’t start until February. But when the Nawa campaign was five months old — where the Marja mission is now — the district was just as quiet as it is today. The improvements in Nawa occurred quickly, and they seem to have lasted.

By now, Marja was supposed to be a success story as well, demonstrating to a skeptical public in America and Afghanistan that countering the insurgency with more troops, more money and a new strategy could resuscitate a foundering war. Perhaps more important, counterinsurgency proponents in the Pentagon and the State Department hoped to use both towns to make the case to President Obama that counterinsurgency works in Afghanistan and that he should attenuate — or postpone outright — his planned drawdown of troops starting next July …

It is tempting, and perhaps fair, to view Marja as an outlier with unique tribal and geographic challenges. A patch of desert in Helmand province that was transformed into farmland by canals designed by American engineers in the 1950s, Marja was populated from scratch by the country’s late king with settlers from a variety of tribes. The rank and file moved to Marja, but the chiefs didn’t. This decades-old experiment in Afghan social engineering has now complicated efforts to find the same sorts of tribal leaders who influence the population in other Afghan communities. They simply don’t exist in Marja.

Although there were poppy fields and bomb facilities in Nawa, too, they did not match what existed in Marja; as a result, Nawa may have been easier for the Taliban to abandon. Timing further complicated the Marja mission. When the Marines landed in Nawa, last year’s poppy harvest was finished; they arrived in Marja two months before this year’s harvest. “Our presence in Marja created an economic catastrophe for the Taliban that led them to fight back,” said a senior Marine officer involved in both operations. “The guys in Nawa had a full belly when we showed up.”

Marja also served as a retreating ground for insurgents in Nawa who did not forsake the Taliban. It is only a short drive away. For insurgents in Marja, there’s no similar sanctuary. To the south and west, it’s open desert all the way to the borders with Pakistan and Iran. “For the Taliban, Marja was a case of fight, or drop your weapon and pretend you’re a civilian,” the officer said. “There was no place for them to go.”

Rajiv interviewed residents of Nawa who emphasized that the insurgents simply chose to flee Nawa, while they decided to stay and fight in Marjah.  He sums this point up by observing:

In that sense, the insurgents themselves possess the power to give us more Nawas. That may not mean Marja is a lost cause, but it does mean it will take much longer to achieve similar results.

Consider Garmsir, the district south of Nawa. It, too, was infested with insurgents, some of whom chose to stay and fight. The Marines arrived there in the summer of 2008 to begin counterinsurgency operations, and it was not until earlier this year — about 18 months later — that the area was deemed by Marine commanders to have been cleared of the Taliban. “Garmsir is a better model for what will happen in Marja,” the senior Marine officer said. “Nawa is the gold standard, not the example.”

By this point in his analysis, Rajiv has invoked geography, tribes (or lack thereof), lack of adequate forces, poppy, Taliban permission, and thirty year old social engineering experiments.  What is otherwise an interesting commentary becomes befuddled by lack of focus.  Moreover, the narrative on Garmsir is badly off.  The Marines of the 24th MEU did indeed show up in Garmsir in 2008, but after killing some 400 insurgents and bringing stability to Garmsir, they left and turned over to the British.  The notion that it took the U.S. Marines 18 months to secure Garmsir is just factually mistaken.

But Rajiv’s pointer to time is more to the point.  In the Anbar Province, Ramadi was heavily influenced by tribal affiliation and yet Fallujah was not.  Different tactics, techniques and procedures were used, but the Marines were successful in both instances.  Tribes are not necessary for the proper practice of counterinsurgency.  Every city, district, hamlet and township will be different, and the timing will vary, but the singular nexus between all of these locations and counterinsurgency is adequate time to properly conduct the campaign.

The British strongly believe in the idea of government in a box, or so I am told.  The U.S. Marines know better, and should have warned Generals McChrystal and Rodriguez that their “presto the magic COIN” ideas wouldn’t work, at least not on a timetable consistent with Obama’s targets for withdrawal.  But if we look confused in Helmand, Kandahar seems no better.

Security experts and officials said that a full-scale military encirclement and invasion – as American troops had done in Iraq’s Fallujah – was not an appropriate model to tackle the Taliban in the southern capital. All elements of the campaign were being adjusted in response to conditions encountered by the Nato-led coalition.

Gen Petraeus’s decision to revise the entire strategy comes just weeks after he arrived in Afghanistan following the abrupt dismissal of Gen Stanley McChrystal for insubordination.

Gen McChrystal had planned a summer conquest of the Taliban in Kandahar to reinvigorate the battle against the Taliban.

But the operation has been repeatedly delayed by concerns that it would not adequately restore the confidence of city residents in the security forces.

Gen Petraeus is reported to believe that the operation must be a broad-ranging counter-insurgency campaign, involving more troops working with local militias.

The plan he inherited was criticised for placing too much emphasis on targeted assassinations of key insurgent leaders and not enough on winning over local residents.

Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, rejected speculation that the Kandahar operation had been derailed during a visit to London but said that preparations were ongoing across a broad range of areas. He refused to subscribe to suggestions that the operation was being delayed but that efforts were being upgraded.

“Kandahar is not a military operation like Fallujah,” Mr Holbrooke said. “Its a different kind of thing. And with David Petraeus on the ground, he’s scrubbing it down, he’s looking at it again.“

Kandahar is no Fallujah, huh?  Holbrooke has no idea what he’s talking about, and he also has no idea what “kind of thing” awaits Kandahar.  The McChrystal plan for Kandahar wasn’t anything near the Marine conquest of Fallujah in operations Fajr or Alljah, and the comparison is clownish and ludicrous.  McChrystal had planned for a series of checkpoints to control entry and exit, with Afghan National Police aligning with troops, and with ANP taking the lead in all home entry and other operations.  There was never to be any “invasion” in McChrystal’s plan.

That he couldn’t get Karzai’s buy-in to the plan and that the population feared Taliban reprisal more than they trusted ISAF ability to defeat them, is the reason for the tactical pause, well known among troops in Afghanistan and almost unheard of stateside.  McChrystal’s plan would never have worked anyway.  The consummate SOF man, his plan relied too heavily on a program of high value target hits and arrests (as has his entire campaign in Afghanistan).

With the thugs and criminal gangs controlling Kandahar (led by Hamid Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai), it’s doubtful that a soft approach will work.  It’s also doubtful that Petraeus has enough troops to implement anything other than a soft approach.  Finally, it isn’t clear that Petraeus has enough time to implement any approach at all in Kandahar.  The tactical pause has wasted most of the summer months, and the end of the year (the target for showing progress in Afghanistan) is only half a year away.

Winning in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

Ralph Peters penned a piece entitle Pick Your Tribes with the New York Post.  But more on Ralph’s views in a minute.  In our walkabout today, let’s first visit Bruce Rolston.  Contrasts and compares, he does.

Two respected Afghan bloggers, talking past each other. MK at the Inkspots, arguing for focussing (sic) on improving local justice systems instead of services:

Despite knowing this, and nearly a decade into the effort, we still struggle to set up even the simplest credible dispute resolution mechanisms. I don’t mean an elaborate and fully developed national justice system: I mean local adjudicative bodies that have local legitimacy that need to be backed by our (or where, possible, GIRoA) firepower to enforce their decisions and protect them from being assassinated.

This isn’t to suggest that military control of territory and population, building effective local security forces, or tackling corruption aren’t just as important (or more, depending phase of operations in a given area). But it seems that as we’ve come to realize that development assistance is of limited utility in winning Afghans over to our side, we’re a bit stymied as to what ‘effective governance’ means in concrete terms. Seems like solving local land disputes would be an excellent place to start.

In the other corner, Tim Lynch on staying away from dispute resolution and focussing on services instead:

The local people have every right to upset about the performance of the government in Kabul. But they have no interest in seeing any kind of central government which is strong enough to meddle in their affairs. An example, Afghans will go to great lengths to avoid having their problems brought into the legal system. Regardless of the crime be it murder or little boys stealing apples from a neighbor the Afghans know how to handle it and feel personally disgraced when the authorities step in to apply the rule of law. Their family business them becomes public and their problems known to people outside their clan which brings disgrace upon the sons of the family. They are going to bitch about the central government no matter who is in charge and how effective it becomes. The best we can do is concentrate on making regional government functional at basic things like irrigation, sanitation, health care delivery and other municipal services.

I’ll side with Tim any day, and I don’t think it’s so much a matter of talking past each other as it is they simply have different views.  We don’t all have to agree all of the time.  We’ll come back to this in a moment in our walkabout.  Next, let’s visit Bruce’s discussion of Kandahar in its present state.

Carl Forsberg and the Kagans sort out the tangle of armed Afghans working in and around Kandahar, and how the Karzai clan continues to tighten their grip independent of official government forces in the area.

The formation of a powerful conglomerate of PSCs under the political control of local powerbrokers like Ahmed Wali Karzai would undermine the long-term stability of southern Afghanistan and the strength of Afghanistan’s legitimate security institutions. There is a very real risk that these institutions will be relied on by the Karzais and their allies as the guarantors of Kandahar’s security. If the Kandahar Security Company were in fact to grow to 2,500 armed men as Ruhullah suggests (and this is certainly feasible) it would be more than twice the current size of the Afghan Uniformed Police in Kandahar, and would exceed the size of the expanded police force that ISAF and the MOI are planning to add to the city.

Ah.  There we see the thug and criminal Ahmed Wali Karzai again.  Recall next in our walkabout that I have discussed this bastard before.

In order to win Kandahar, we must not run from fights; we must destroy the drug rings (not the local farmers), and especially destroy the crime families, including killing the heads of the crime families; we must make it so uncomfortable for people to give them cuts of their money that they fear us more than they fear Karzai’s criminal brother; we must make it so dangerous to be associated with crime rings, criminal organizations, and insurgents that no one wants even to be remotely associated with them; and we must marginalize Karzai’s brother …

Anyone associated with drug rings, criminal activity or the insurgency must be a target, from the highest to the lowest levels of the organization, and this without mercy.  Completely without mercy.  There should be no knee-jerk reversion to prisons, because the corrupt judicial system in Afghanistan will only release the worst actors to perpetrate the worst on their opponents.  This robust force projection must be conducted by not only the SOF, but so-called general purpose forces (GPF).  The population needs to see the very same people conducting patrols and talking with locals that they see killing criminals and insurgents.  This is imperative.

Ah.  There is the issue of prisons, one that has proven problematic just as I said it would.  And Ahmed Karzai is someone to be marginalized, and whose fighters must be disarmed or killed.  Now for the home stretch in our walkabout.  Ralph Peters has some observations concerning picking tribes and exploiting the existing culture that may interest you.  But as I said above, I will side with Tim before anyone.  Ralph and I don’t always agree on everything, but I want to pick up on a few points he made.

Aid those already on your side, not your enemies: Our attempts to bribe our enemies with wells, make-work and welfare are doomed to failure. Reward your allies with aid projects; let the hostiles envy them — and figure it out on their own.

Unconditional aid to tribesmen who just want your butt gone won’t buy you lasting gratitude (that rarest human sentiment). Your generosity’s read as weakness, not goodness.

Which leads us to:

Your enemies must seek negotiations first: Olive branches are worthless against fanatics convinced they can win. If negotiations are to play a role, it can only be after you’ve pounded the insurgents so ferociously that they seek talks. If you move first, it’s read as desperation. Your enemies will act accordingly.

Finally, recall my warnings:

We can revert to the softer side of counterinsurgency if all of this seems too barbaric.  We can run from fights with the insurgents, we can continue to pour tens of millions of dollars into a failing and corrupt system, and we can continue to prop up a parasitic government.  But in the end, we must count the costs in lives, lost limbs, lost reputation, and national wealth.

Mark my words, do it clearly, and do it now.  We will go in and stay in as the strong horse, and we will force the conclusion that suits our interest, or we will lose the campaign.  If this is too brutal for some, then withdraw, but don’t send our warriors on a fool’s errand.  The leftist web sites will call me a war mongering, barbaric brute and sociopath who wants our Soldiers to violate the rules of war.  All manner of venom may come my way.  I don’t care.  I really don’t care.

Rarely are things so clear cut and measurable by metrics as this.  Again, count the costs.  Start now, and keep the data.  Count the men who die, the men who lose arms, legs, hearing and brain function due to IEDs, and take measure of the situation in Kandahar in the future (how “legitimate” is the government after our costly efforts in Kandahar?).  I will be proven right or wrong, but the best thing about putting prose down on paper is that it can be judged in the future.

Has Ralph been reading The Captain’s Journal?  Our current COIN strategy closely follows our international policy as of late.  Heap praise and largesse on your enemies, and pour derision and scorn on your “friends.”  This is exactly backwards.  Force projection requires that the hard aspects of COIN take place first, and the enemy will want to befriend you.  Don’t ever be first out of the gate to do this.  This is the way it works.  Any attempt to speed up or circumvent the process by making it seem more gentle and cultured than it really is will redound to defeat.  The tribes are a necessary but secondary aspect of the campaign.  Force projection comes first.

Campaign for Kandahar Won’t Look Like War

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 3 months ago

From the AP:

In the make-or-break struggle for Kandahar, birthplace of Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency, U.S. commanders will try to pull off the military equivalent of brain surgery: defeating the militants with minimal use of force.

The goal of U.S.-led NATO forces will be to avoid inspiring support for the Taliban even as the coalition tries to root them out when the Kandahar operation begins in earnest next month.

The ancient silk road city — a dust-covered, impoverished jumble of one- and two-story concrete and mud brick — may not look like much of a prize.

But Kandahar, with a population of more than a million, was once the Taliban’s informal capital and an al-Qaida stronghold. It has served for centuries as a smuggler’s crossroads and trading hub linking southern Afghanistan to the Indian subcontinent.

President Barack Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy focuses on protecting population centers such as Kandahar from Taliban predation, with the hope of building support for the center government in Kabul.

The Taliban are deeply embedded in the local population, raising the risk of civilian casualties in major clashes. Neither are the Taliban regarded as an alien force. For many in Kandahar, they are neighbors, friends and relatives.

Haji Raaz Mohammad, a 48-year-old farmer from Kandahar, said he has never understood why the U.S. is trying to drive out the militants.

“I don’t know why they are doing it,” he said. “The Taliban are not outsiders. They are our own people.”

Because the task in Kandahar is so delicate, U.S. commanders talk about squeezing rather than driving out the Taliban. The military has struggled to come up with a description of the upcoming fight, avoiding terms like campaign, operation and battle because” because those words and others have annoyed Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

So the U.S. is calling it “Hamkari Baraye Kandahar,” which translates as “Cooperation for Kandahar.” Karzai simply calls it a “process.”

Whatever it’s called, U.S. military leaders say that unless it succeeds, the rest of the plan for pacifying Afghanistan is hollow.

[ ... ]

Victory in Cooperation for Kandahar may be hard to define. Eventually, U.S. military officials say, Afghans there must be persuaded that they can trust the government not to fleece them and to keep the gangsters and warlords at bay.

First of all, this won’t work in six months, which is the stated milestone for at least signs of success in Kandahar.  But we have covered this notion of public trust in thugs and criminals, and concluded that it’s not likely to happen.  Joshua Foust wrote “ISAF faces a number of political challenges as well. A majority of Afghan watchers point to Ahmed Wali Karzai as one of the biggest barriers to smooth operations in the city—he demands a cut of most commerce that takes place in the area, and the DEA alleges he has ties to the illegal narcotics industry. However, because he is the President’s brother, there is no chance of removing him from power. Similarly, Kandahar is, in effect, run by a group of families organized into mafia-style crime rings. They skim profits off almost all reconstruction projects in the city, and have developed a lucrative trade ripping off ISAF initiatives. They sometimes violently clash with each other.”

Michael Hughes weighed in saying:

One senior NATO official had calculated that the “Karzai cartel” was making more than a billion dollars a year off the Afghanistan war via lucrative contracts and sub-contracting spin-offs in convoy protection, construction, fuel, food and security. And in the process they are alienating the very people they are supposed to protect who are so distraught with AWK’s corruption that a majority of Kandaharis are now supporting the insurgency.

Reiterating my own counsel for Kandahar:

In order to win Kandahar, we must not run from fights; we must destroy the drug rings (not the local farmers), and especially destroy the crime families, including killing the heads of the crime families; we must make it so uncomfortable for people to give them cuts of their money that they fear us more than they fear Karzai’s criminal brother; we must make it so dangerous to be associated with crime rings, criminal organizations, and insurgents that no one wants even to be remotely associated with them; and we must marginalize Karzai’s brother …

Anyone associated with drug rings, criminal activity or the insurgency must be a target, from the highest to the lowest levels of the organization, and this without mercy.  Completely without mercy.  There should be no knee-jerk reversion to prisons, because the corrupt judicial system in Afghanistan will only release the worst actors to perpetrate the worst on their opponents.  This robust force projection must be conducted by not only the SOF, but so-called general purpose forces (GPF).  The population needs to see the very same people conducting patrols and talking with locals that they see killing criminals and insurgents.  This is imperative.

My own counsel and the picture painted by NATO leadership above couldn’t be more disparate.  McChrystal is giving us six months to convince the indigenous population to turn on their own relatives and embrace criminals who steal from them.  The strategy will fail.

Mullen Says Campaign for Kandahar Will Take Months

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 3 months ago

From the AP:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is predicting that it’ll be clear by year’s end whether a NATO-led counterinsurgency effort in the Afghan Taliban stronghold of Kandahar is successful.

Adm. Mike Mullen says the Kandahar campaign, which is planned to go forward next month, is vital to turning around the war. He says the southern Afghanistan city is as important to the overall war effort as Baghdad was to the U.S. troop increase in Iraq in 2007.

Mullen says improving security in Kandahar will be important. But he says the key will be improving governance in the city. That’s a reference to the importance of the Afghan government playing a lead role in providing basic services in the area.

Mullen appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Oh good!  For a moment I was worried that we were setting ourselves up for false hopes and expectations, implying that it would take only a few months to pacify a city of a million inhabitants.  Instead of only a few months, we have six.  This makes a world of difference.

Turning the sarcasm off, it may be observed how tired and pedestrian the population-centric counterinsurgency narrative is becoming.  All it takes to pacify a violent population is to give them services.  Bread and circuses, you know.  But our own history, i.e., the war for independence, is filled with the brave actions of morally committed and anchored men who would have willingly given up everything – and indeed many who did so – to fulfill the ultimate end.

As I have discussed before, it will require longer than half a year to accomplish counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, and throwing bread and circuses at the population is worn out and inept doctrine.  Counterinsurgency campaigns are replete with examples of delivery of infrastructure to the population, only to see insurgents destroy it.  Leaving the insurgency alive, or any part of it still kicking, is certain doom for the campaign.  Nothing will pacify the countryside or cities except for death of the insurgency, or said another way, death of the insurgents.

The Ghosts of Kandahar

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

As I have discussed before, in 2004 in Najaf, the U.S. Marines had Moqtada al Sadr surrounded.  The British leadership in Iraq, who felt that we simply had to learn to work with the fabric of Iraqi society, worked feverishly with Ali al-Sistani (the senior Shi’ite cleric in Iraq) to convince the U.S. political and military leadership to release Sadr.  This Charlie Rose interview with John Burns is instructive for its clarity regarding the event (see approximately 17:20 into the interview).

As later disclosed to me, Sadr wasn’t just surrounded.  The 3/2 Marines had Sadr in their custody.  They had arrested him and had held him for three days prior to being ordered to release him.  Today, six years later, a resurgent Sadr after having received religious training in Iran is doing Iran’s bidding for them.  A Shi’ite coalition is attempting to retain control over the government in the wake of the recent elections and not only exclude Allawi from power, but give ultimate authority over final political decisions to religious cleric Sistani.

A recent conversation I had with Omar Fadhil of ITM (perhaps in a preface to his latest post) might bring slightly more optimism than I bring to the table, where he sees the Maliki-Hakim-Sadr alliance as still very shaky.  Nonetheless, there are many U.S. deaths in Baghdad and Najaf that can be directly attributed to Sadr.  We are hearing from the ghosts of Najaf six years later, haunting voices, telling us that Sadr should not have been released.  They are unmistakable and relentless.  This was a bad and irreversible decision.

Such an important decision is in preparations for the Afghanistan campaign.  We are attempting to befriend and work with (even change?) Ahmed Wali Karzai, PM Hamid Karzai’s criminal brother in Kandahar.  To be sure, Wali Karzai doesn’t command an army of fighters the size of Sadr, or even an army at all.  But the similarities exist.  Leaving Sadr unmolested was an error of gargantuan proportions, and working with Wali Karzai may be judged in hindsight to be the single fateful decision that lost the battle for Kandahar.  Karzai’s political and financial fortunes rides on the backs of criminal organizations and drug money, and his friend are bought and paid for.  This is being described as a gamble.

Nato has taken one of the biggest gambles of its mission in Afghanistan by reluctantly deciding to collaborate with Ahmad Wali Karzai, the notorious power-broker of Kandahar — despite allegations that the half-brother of the President is involved in the drugs trade.

The decision comes as Nato planners continue preparations for their next big push against the Taleban in Kandahar and as the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, prepares to depart for Washington, where he is expected to meet President Obama next week.

Senior coalition officers would prefer to see the back of Wali Karzai but they have come to the conclusion that their only option is to work with him. They are trying, in the words of one officer, to “remodel” a man accused of running a private fiefdom in the south.

On Saturday Wali Karzai held a meeting with the US Central Command commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus; the latest in a series of contacts designed to rehabilitate and influence the activities of the chairman of Kandahar’s provincial council.

“The plan is to incorporate him, to shape him. Unless you eliminate him, you have to [do this],” said a senior coalition official involved in planning what is viewed as this summer’s make-or-break military operation in Kandahar. “You can’t ignore him,” he added. “He’s the proverbial 800lb gorilla and he’s in the middle of a lot of rooms. He’s the mafia don, the family fixer, the troubleshooter.”

Joshua Foust is even clearer: “ISAF faces a number of political challenges as well. A majority of Afghan watchers point to Ahmed Wali Karzai as one of the biggest barriers to smooth operations in the city—he demands a cut of most commerce that takes place in the area, and the DEA alleges he has ties to the illegal narcotics industry. However, because he is the President’s brother, there is no chance of removing him from power. Similarly, Kandahar is, in effect, run by a group of families organized into mafia-style crime rings. They skim profits off almost all reconstruction projects in the city, and have developed a lucrative trade ripping off ISAF initiatives. They sometimes violently clash with each other.”

My own counsel just prior to this report was directly contrary to the plan.

In order to win Kandahar, we must not run from fights; we must destroy the drug rings (not the local farmers), and especially destroy the crime families, including killing the heads of the crime families; we must make it so uncomfortable for people to give them cuts of their money that they fear us more than they fear Karzai’s criminal brother; we must make it so dangerous to be associated with crime rings, criminal organizations, and insurgents that no one wants even to be remotely associated with them; and we must marginalize Karzai’s brother …

Anyone associated with drug rings, criminal activity or the insurgency must be a target, from the highest to the lowest levels of the organization, and this without mercy.  Completely without mercy.  There should be no knee-jerk reversion to prisons, because the corrupt judicial system in Afghanistan will only release the worst actors to perpetrate the worst on their opponents.  This robust force projection must be conducted by not only the SOF, but so-called general purpose forces (GPF).  The population needs to see the very same people conducting patrols and talking with locals that they see killing criminals and insurgents.  This is imperative.

Two very different approaches, needless to say.  It remains to be seen who is right in this affair.  There seems to be confusion or at least rapidly changing opinion within the ISAF.  Not two weeks prior to this report about co-opting Karzai, it was reported that we had elected to do just the opposite.  ISAF has concluded that nothing else can be done, and I have concluded that something else must be done in order to justify the loss of American life.

Max Boot weighed in around the time of the Washington Post article saying:

There is little doubt that U.S. and other NATO forces can win a military victory in Kandahar. But do they have a political strategy to match their military might? I am dubious. At the very least a lot more groundwork needs to be laid in the realm of strategic communications to convince the world that the coalition can win a meaningful victory in Kandahar without removing AWK from power.

And this demur was posed assuming that we were merely attempting to sideline Wali Karzai.  Now we want to work with him and mold him.  But “can a leopard change its spots?”  In the future the ghosts of Kandahar, including U.S. servicemen, will call out and answer our question, even haunting the dreams of those who controlled their fates.

What we must do to win Kandahar

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

Joshua Foust, writing for PBS, gives us an interesting analysis of the upcoming battle for Kandahar.  The entire analysis is highly recommended, but several quotes will be reproduced below.

The current plan to “retake” Kandahar from the Taliban is loosely modeled after this year’s earlier operation in Marjeh, in neighboring Helmand Province. While in Marjeh the campaign began with a massive incursion of military forces, followed by a small cadre of civilian reconstruction specialists, in Kandahar there is a concerted effort to make the push more political and less militarized — General McChrystal calls it a “process” now instead of an “offensive.” Part of the campaign involves warning citizens of Kandahar that they need to report Taliban activity, or, if they can, flee the areas most likely to be mined or bombed, thus sparing innocent casualties.

To this end, there have been a series of low-key Special Forces raids into the city proper, attempting to identify and either capture or kill known Taliban commanders. To supplement this push into the city, hundreds of troops are being arrayed in the vast farming areas around Kandahar in an attempt to “choke off” the Taliban’s supply lines. At the same time, General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of all NATO forces in Afghanistan, has been meeting with local elders and politicians in an attempt to gin up popular support for the coming offensive.

[ ... ]

ISAF faces a number of political challenges as well. A majority of Afghan watchers point to Ahmed Wali Karzai as one of the biggest barriers to smooth operations in the city—he demands a cut of most commerce that takes place in the area, and the DEA alleges he has ties to the illegal narcotics industry. However, because he is the President’s brother, there is no chance of removing him from power. Similarly, Kandahar is, in effect, run by a group of families organized into mafia-style crime rings. They skim profits off almost all reconstruction projects in the city, and have developed a lucrative trade ripping off ISAF initiatives. They sometimes violently clash with each other.

Finally, the Taliban: in part because of the miserable performance of the government, and ISAF’s inability to stem the growing insecurity around the city, the Taliban have been steadily building support. It is likely they will enjoy a lot of popularity when the big troops push finally arrives, even if it is grudging — it’s probably a safe bet that Kandaharis don’t especially like the Taliban, they just happen to be a safer, more reliable bet than the Coalition. Judging by the way all the initial meetings about the Battle for Kandahar have shaped up so far, ISAF hasn’t yet figured out how to address the concerns of regular people or present the campaign in a relatable way.

There are reports that the rules of engagement in place in Afghanistan has given the insurgents enough space to operate that they have been seen laying down their weapons, walking to another location (where a weapons cache is located), picking up another weapon, and then firing again.  There are even reports that Taliban fighters have been seen forcing women and children to carry their weapons to the next fighting location, all the while peering at U.S. troops without fear because they know that they cannot be fired upon due to the ROE.  The Strategy Page explains why the ROE has not lead to decreased casualties.

The majority of civilian combat deaths are at the hands of the Taliban or drug gangs, and the local media plays those down (or else). It’s a sweet deal for the bad guys, and a powerful battlefield tool. The civilians appreciate the attention, but the ROE doesn’t reduce overall civilian deaths, because the longer the Taliban have control of civilians in a combat situations, the more they kill. The Taliban often use civilians as human shields, and kill those who refuse, or are suspected of disloyalty.

Our view towards substantiation of the national political authority as part of the COIN effort causes us to work for the legitimization of the local authorities as part of that framework.  But rather than being the solution, it is part of the problem.

In order to win Kandahar, we must not run from fights; we must destroy the drug rings (not the local farmers), and especially destroy the crime families, including killing the heads of the crime families; we must make it so uncomfortable for people to give them cuts of their money that they fear us more than they fear Karzai’s criminal brother; we must make it so dangerous to be associated with crime rings, criminal organizations, and insurgents that no one wants even to be remotely associated with them; and we must marginalize Karzai’s brother.

I am (as a perusal of my posts will show) opposed to the special operations forces driven high value target campaign as being ineffective.  Anyone associated with drug rings, criminal activity or the insurgency must be a target, from the highest to the lowest levels of the organization, and this without mercy.  Completely without mercy.  There should be no knee-jerk reversion to prisons, because the corrupt judicial system in Afghanistan will only release the worst actors to perpetrate the worst on their opponents.  This robust force projection must be conducted by not only the SOF, but so-called general purpose forces (GPF).  The population needs to see the very same people conducting patrols and talking with locals that they see killing criminals and insurgents.  This is imperative.  This is imperative.

We can revert to the softer side of counterinsurgency if all of this seems too barbaric.  We can run from fights with the insurgents, we can continue to pour tens of millions of dollars into a failing and corrupt system, and we can continue to prop up a parasitic government.  But in the end, we must count the costs in lives, lost limbs, lost reputation, and national wealth.

Mark my words, do it clearly, and do it now.  We will go in and stay in as the strong horse, and we will force the conclusion that suits our interest, or we will lose the campaign.  If this is too brutal for some, then withdraw, but don’t send our warriors on a fool’s errand.  The leftist web sites will call me a war mongering, barbaric brute and sociopath who wants our Soldiers to violate the rules of war.  All manner of venom may come my way.  I don’t care.  I really don’t care.

Rarely are things so clear cut and measurable by metrics as this.  Again, count the costs.  Start now, and keep the data.  Count the men who die, the men who lose arms, legs, hearing and brain function due to IEDs, and take measure of the situation in Kandahar in the future (how “legitimate” is the government after our costly efforts in Kandahar?).  I will be proven right or wrong, but the best thing about putting prose down on paper is that it can be judged in the future.

The Battle for Kandahar and Helmand

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

Our friend Michael Yon has penned a must read at the Small Wars Journal entitled Arghandab and the Battle for Kandahar.  Myra MacDonald of Reuters picks up on Michael’s assessment and makes a salient point.

… let’s assume for the purposes of argument that Pakistan does not drop its resistance to tackling Afghan militants in its border regions. (Pakistan argues it cannot tackle everyone at once and has its hands full fighting the Pakistani Taliban; its critics say it is hedging its bets ahead of any eventual U.S. withdrawal, when it might want to use groups like the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan.)

At that point, a major U.S. military success in Afghanistan could be the only way to break the stalemate. An in that light, Yon’s focus on the Arghandab River Valley becomes essential reading.

We’ll return to Myra’s point momentarily.  Michael performs far-reaching analysis, from use of the Russian experience in Afghanistan (The Bear Went Over the Mountain) to the revised tactical directive issued by General McChrystal (ROE).  Michael doesn’t weigh in himself on the ROE.  He does honestly point out that the ROE will cause additional casualties.  Petraeus also confesses that Afghanistan will get bloodier than it is now.  It will so for more reasons than simply adding more troops (or better said, it could be less bloody than it is going to be).

The question is not whether there is ROE.  Michael points out that the Russian ROE turned the population completely against them because they essentially had no ROE.  We do, we did, and we will in the future.  The question is more nuanced than that.  I am aware from a number of sources the nature of combat and other operations in Fallujah in 2007 (and at other points in the campaign for Anbar), and the ROE were more robust than currently in place in Afghanistan; or in other words, McChrystal’s tactical directive is more restrictive than the ROE in effect while the Anbar Province was being won by the U.S. Marine Corps.  In order to believe that the revised tactical directive is beneficial to the campaign one must believe that the ensuing casualties for which it is at least a contributing cause will be less in the long run than if a more robust ROE were in place with its accompanying increased force protection.  We’ll see.  Troop morale and public opinion mean everything to the campaign.

Michael continues by pointing out that the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is fictitious.  Taliban cross with impunity through this imaginary border, and the coming battle will be for Afghanistan’s South.

In Helmand, the fight is serious, and friendly troops are spread far too thinly. Some experts believe that focusing on Helmand before securing Kandahar was a strategic error. Most districts in Kandahar are said to be under Taliban control or heavy influence. Some areas of the south are under complete, uncontested Taliban control …

The Taliban want Kandahar and are in a good position to get it. The year 2010 likely will mark a true Battle for Kandahar, though it probably will not be punctuated by the sort of pitched battles we saw in places like Mosul and Baghdad. This remains unknown.

Armies from at least three countries have ventured into the Arghandab River Valley: British, followed by Soviets, and more recently Canadians; all were unsuccessful.

Michael compares and contrasts the Russian campaign with the coming U.S. and ISAF operations, and then rehearses a bit of recent history for us.

The enemy is not defeated, but our people were now operating among them. U.S. casualties continued during the next three months but there are indications that the enemy is today in disarray. The enemy became afraid to sleep indoors where they might be killed by an airstrike—or by U.S. soldiers, who have a tendency to burst in during periods of maximum REM sleep. The Taliban were terrorized and began sleeping in the orchards at night, rigging homes with explosives, which they arm at night. (I’ve heard similar reports from Pakistan. Pakistanis have said that drone strikes are demoralizing and terrorizing the Taliban, and though drone strikes are controversial, some Pakistanis want to see the strikes increased.)

And so we have a dilemma even in Michael’s account.  These episodes of bursting in by U.S. Soldiers came to an end with McChrystal’s tactical directive, and the drone strikes into Pakistan which have so disheartened the Taliban don’t have an analogy with the ROE in use by Soldiers and Marines in Helmand and elsewhere in Afghanistan.

But Michael points out that fresh troops are indeed on the way, and that’s good.  More force projection is needed.  But I have titled this the battle for Kandahar and Helmand because the fight cannot be disentangled from Helmand any more than it can be from Pakistan.  Population centric COIN doctrine has driven us to Kandahar, but leaving Helmand alone is not an acceptable solution given that the Taliban train there, raise their support there, and take refuge in its scattered towns.

The Marines left the operations in Now Zad improperly resourced and thus the Taliban fighters garrisoned there escaped.  Marja is next, and the Marines’ claim is that “We won’t leave anywhere else uncovered. We won’t go anywhere we can’t clear, we won’t clear anywhere we can’t stay and we won’t stay anywhere we can’t build.”  Helmand and Kandahar may be seen as coupled, with operations in one place affecting operations in the other.

True enough, Pakistani Army operations on the imaginary side of the border mean something.  Back to Ms. MacDonald’s point, I have previously said that:

The conversation on Pakistan versus Afghanistan presupposes that the Durand Line means anything, and that the Taliban and al Qaeda respect an imaginary boundary cut through the middle of the Hindu Kush.  It doesn’t and they don’t.  If our engagement of Pakistan is to mean anything, we must understand that they are taking their cue from us, and that our campaign is pressing the radicals from the Afghanistan side while their campaign is pressing them from the Pakistani side.

Advocating disengagement from Afghanistan is tantamount to suggesting that one front against the enemy would be better than two, and that one nation involved in the struggle would be better than two (assuming that Pakistan would keep up the fight in our total absence, an assumption for which I see no basis).  It’s tantamount to suggesting that it’s better to give the Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan as Pakistan presses them from their side, or that it’s better to give them safe haven in Pakistan while we press them from our side.  Both suggestions are preposterous.

That there is an indigenous insurgency (the so-called ten dollar Taliban) that bootstraps to the real religiously motivated fighters is irrelevant.  We had to fight our way through this group in Iraq too, and it is the nature of these insurgencies.  Complaining about it is acceptable – but using it as an excuse to abandon the campaign is not.  That every contact isn’t with Arabic or Chechen or Uzbek jihadists is irrelevant.  That doesn’t mean that Afghanistan is not a central front in the transnational insurgency called Islamic Jihad.  The Taliban are important inasmuch as they gave and would continue to give safe haven to globalists.

For this reason the campaign in Afghanistan must be successful.  Pakistan will take their cue from us and follow our lead.

The Slow Fall of Kandahar

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 11 months ago

In recently released article Why are we in the Helmand Province? I a argued for the legitimacy of the Marines’ presence in the Helmand Province, contra the pronouncements of the population-centric counterinsurgency proponents who wish to deploy U.S. troops to population centers such as Kabul, Kandahar, Herat and Jalalabad.  We must go where the insurgents recruit, train, raise their largesse and take safe haven.

Greyhawk at the Mudville Gazette later discussed the fact that we mustn’t let Kandahar become like the cities in Anbar, Iraq, controlled by the insurgents, before we take action (to which I responded on one issue raised by Greyhawk in Insufficient Numbers of Marines).  But the fall of Kandahar is proceeding apace, and my arguments for deploying U.S. Marines in the Helmand Province are not to be construed as arguments against deploying them in Kandahar, as sufficient numbers of Marines are available to accomplish both.

Tyler Hicks is reporting from Kandahar, and the streets are anything but secure and bustling with trade.

Street_in_Kandahar

Tyler Hicks has three rules when photographing in a dangerous, unstable city like Kandahar, Afghanistan. Keep moving, watch the crowd and always listen to your translator and driver.

“It doesn’t matter where you are in the city — there’s always a possibility that you’re moments away from being killed,” said Mr. Hicks, 40, who has been working in Afghanistan for The New York Times since 2001. “So you shave off risk anywhere you can. It’s that bad.”

Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, was the Taliban’s headquarters from the mid-1990s until its overthrow in 2001. Today, Islamic militants are once again operating inside the city, planting roadside bombs, almost daily, and carrying out a number of suicide attacks.

Mr. Hicks prefers working early in the morning when there are fewer people on the street, dressed in traditional clothing and traveling in a car. He often photographs from the window or limits his time on the street to just minutes, but is still able to create images with a startling intimate feel.

“Working is very difficult because no matter how much you try to fit in, once you get out of the car with your cameras, you’re identified and faced with a lot of unfriendly stares,” Mr. Hicks said.

Kandahar doesn’t see or interact with many foreign troops.  In fact, Michael Yon also reports from Kandahar on just what happens with the troops based around Kandahar.

Slowly, surely, the city is being strangled.  Signaling the depth of our commitment, security forces are thinner in Kandahar than the Himalayan air.  During the days and evenings, there were the sounds of occasional bombs—some caused by suicide attackers, and others by firefights.  The windows in my room had been blown out recently and now were replaced.  We came here to kill our enemies, but today we want to make a country from scratch …

An American convoy of MRAPs approached from the front and a soldier in the lead vehicle shot a pen-flare, causing everyone to pull off the road.  The convoys are more menacing from the outside and in fact I kept the camera down and this is exactly why Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is concerned about adding too many troops.  Can’t argue with his reasoning; convoys and troops truly are menacing despite that U.S. and British soldiers are very disciplined.  It must look far worse to Afghans.  Most Afghans never talk with foreign soldiers and those who do normally only see us in passing.  In fact, most soldiers never leave base.  Our forces at KAF (Kandahar Airfield) have a base so large that this commercial jet is about to land there after flying dangerously over this unsecured road.

It isn’t the number of troops that’s the problem, it’s what they are doing.  More correctly, the number of troops is the problem in that there aren’t enough of them to secure Afghanistan, but the ones who are there are doing the wrong things.  So there are two large  problems, and both need to be fixed in order to be successful.

Kandahar is badly in need of two or three U.S. Marine Regimental Combat Teams with Air Task Force support.  There is a need for Army mechanized troops – perhaps in other parts of Afghanistan, but the debate between mechanized and foot-borne (or dismounted) soldiering is more than merely academic.  Kandahar badly needs to see troops.  Afghans in Kandahar need aggressive policing.  They need to speak with troops, observe them patrol every day, and feel the protection afforded by Marines with rifles who will fire them at the Taliban.  They need to see the Afghan National Police teamed up with the Marines and interacting with the people rather than tearing out through the city aboard trucks like Yon observed.

Kandahar needs to be a dismounted campaign.  Living on large mega-bases and patrolling in vehicles just won’t do.  No protection from the Taliban is afforded by Soldiers in MRAPs, and no policing and population control can be conducted from the seat of a vehicle, any more than intelligence can be gleaned from mounted patrols.  Kandahar is slowly falling to the Taliban, and the only alternative to ceding this human and physical terrain to the enemy is aggressive, large scale troop presence conducting dismounted patrols.  But for the patrols to be effective, General McChrystal’s tactical directive limiting fires in certain situations must be rescinded.  The Marines and smart and adaptable, and don’t need McChrystal’s advice, as they have been doing and winning counterinsurgencies longer than has McChrystal.  The good general is trying to teach his granny to suck eggs.


26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (675)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (28)
Air Power (9)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (6)
Ammunition (13)
Animals in War (4)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
AR-15s (36)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (34)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (26)
Australian Army (5)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (44)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (15)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (2)
Blogs (4)
Body Armor (16)
Books (2)
Border War (6)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (25)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (1)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
CENTCOM (7)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (10)
Christmas (5)
CIA (12)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (2)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (214)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (114)
Department of Homeland Security (9)
Disaster Preparedness (2)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (5)
Drone Campaign (3)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (1)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (1)
Featured (160)
Federal Firearms Laws (14)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (250)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (14)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (38)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (7)
Georgia (19)
GITMO (2)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (195)
Guns (544)
Guns In National Parks (2)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
HAMAS (7)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (7)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (11)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (1)
Horses (1)
Humor (13)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (33)
India (10)
Infantry (3)
Information Warfare (2)
Infrastructure (2)
Intelligence (22)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (169)
Iraq (378)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (33)
Islamists (37)
Israel (17)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (2)
Jihadists (71)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (8)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (2)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (2)
Lawfare (6)
Leadership (5)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (1)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (11)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (7)
Logistics (47)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (229)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
MEDEVAC (2)
Media (22)
Memorial Day (2)
Mexican Cartels (20)
Mexico (24)
Michael Yon (5)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (3)
Military Equipment (24)
Militia (3)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (10)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (16)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (13)
NATO (15)
Navy (19)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (2)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (1)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (53)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (205)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (6)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (17)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Police (105)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (134)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (73)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (74)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (27)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (136)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (22)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (17)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Survival (9)
SWAT Raids (48)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (1)
Tactical Gear (1)
Taliban (167)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (16)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (86)
Thanksgiving (4)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (10)
TSA Ineptitude (10)
TTPs (1)
U.S. Border Patrol (4)
U.S. Border Security (11)
U.S. Sovereignty (13)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (2)
Uncategorized (38)
Universal Background Check (2)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (2)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (210)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (2)
War Reporting (18)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (5)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (57)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (11)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2014 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.