Archive for the 'Logistics' Category



Using Water As A Weapon Of War

BY Herschel Smith
2 months, 4 weeks ago

Next City:

In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population.

According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water infrastructure has been targeted by both sides in the conflict, leading to crippling disruptions in water supply over the last several months in cities such as Aleppo, Homs and Hama. The disabling of water treatment plants has led to a reported increase in waterborne diseases such as typhoid.

According to Chatham House researcher and fellow Nouar Shamout, the war has only worsened an already complicated and precarious water situation. ISIS, the Islamist rebel group that has seized control of many parts of Syria and northern Iraq, controls key parts of the water infrastructure in the regionally crucial Euphrates River system, including Al-Raqqa dam, which supplies one-fifth of Syria’s electricity and controls irrigation flows downstream.

Shamout writes:

The Euphrates River, which provides 65 per cent of the country’s water needs, is also experiencing a dangerous decrease in its flow rates. This is likely to be due to a combination of factors: decades of poor water management, current neglect of water infrastructure on the Euphrates, and the absence of any coordination between Syria and upstream Turkey regarding the river flow. As a result, in late May, the river dried up downstream of Al-Raqqa city, depriving many downstream towns of water. The water level of Al-Assad Lake — Syria’s largest reservoir, which provides irrigation for some 500 square miles of agricultural land and all of Aleppo’s drinking water — has dropped by six meters since ISIS took control in January. If the lake loses one more meter the water system will stop working. This will leave more than four million inhabitants without access to safe water. This could result in a humanitarian catastrophe that would overwhelm agencies on the ground.

The article devolves at that point, with analysis by Peter Gleick about how water is one of the causes of the current conflict.  In fact, the conflict is caused by militant Islam and criminal warlords (and Islam, given its history and inherent problems and self contradiction, welcomes criminal warlords).

But up until that point the article is worth heeding in its warnings.  For those of us who believe that the current system and infrastructure cannot and will not continue due to the ideological and moral rot at its core, there are a number of object lessons.

First of all, without logistics – and this includes ordnance, food, ammunition, water, clothing, hygiene products – an army cannot even survive, much less be effective and succeed.  But this goes for men and their families too.

Consider the recent example of Toledo, Ohio:

Water in Toledo, Ohio, and surrounding areas remained officially undrinkable Sunday evening, more than 24 hours after a do-not-drink order went into place for 500,000 people.

Water at a Toledo treatment plant tested positive for a toxin on Saturday, leading the governor to declare a state of emergency in three counties, state officials told the Los Angeles Times.

[ ... ]

Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency for residents of Lucas, Wood and Fulton counties early Saturday after two water samples from a Toledo treatment plant tested positive for microcystin, a toxin possibly caused by an algae bloom in Lake Erie.

[ ... ]

Earlier Saturday, state officials warned residents in Toledo and surrounding areas not to drink, or even boil, the water tainted with microcystin, which can cause nausea and impair liver function.

This incident presumably has natural causes, and yet it has literally shut down Toledo’s water supply.  Consider the damage that could be done with intentional and malicious actions by, say, terrorists bent on inflicting death and destruction.

The same could be said of terrorist actions against the nation’s electrical grid, as we’ve discussed before here, here and here.  Without electricity, the nation’s financial system and manufacturing infrastructure comes to a halt.  But the issue of water and other essential logistics is even more pernicious in that the lack of it means certain death, and very quickly.

In addition to death without it, it means certain violence and pandemonium among those who are deprived of it.  Those who are left without the requirements for life will lose patience quickly with efforts to find them, and thievery and killing ensues.

If the lack of water and other requirements for life is pernicious because of the very nature of basic necessities, what man can do with that need is even more pernicious because nature isn’t evil.  Man is.

Suppose that the state decides to approach the basic necessities of life as a means to ensure their own survival and power?  You and your clan are then at the mercy of the authorities unless you have the means to provide those necessities yourself without state support (and it goes without saying, without state interference).

The Islamists have already learned to do that, and in fact used the electrical grid, drainage systems, sewage systems, and water supply as weapons of war during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The Syrian authorities and ISIS are not the first to do this.  The Roman Empire long before had learned to use water as a means of control over the population.

… powerful individuals followed legislation on rural water use with considerable interest. Water was always central for crops and animals, and the access to and right to use rivers, torrents, lakes, ponds,springs and wells was of paramount importance. Thus there should always have been much attention paid to legislation dealing with irrigation and rural water rights and servitudes.

Again, one could substitute electricity, food and other necessities here, but the best example is the most extreme.  Don’t believe for a second that the modern counterinsurgency theorists haven’t thought of basic needs as keys to populations, e.g., see Kilcullen’s own prose on this subject.

This era’s unprecedented urbanization is concentrated in the least developed areas of Asia, Latin America and Africa.  The data shows that coastal cities are about to be swamped by a human tide that will force them to absorb—in less than 40 years—almost the entire increase in population absorbed by the whole planet, in all of recorded human history up to 1960. And virtually all this urbanization will happen in the world’s least developed areas, by definition the poorest equipped to handle it—a recipe for conflict, crises in health, education and governance, and food, energy and water scarcity.

Rapid urbanization creates economic, social and governance challenges while simultaneously straining city infrastructure, making the most vulnerable cities less able to meet these challenges. The implications for future conflict are profound, with more people fighting over scarcer resources in crowded, under-serviced and under-governed urban areas.

There is no specific recipe for success against terrorists, whether foreign or your own government, except to know and read the signs of the times, think about your options, and be prepared.

UPDATE #1: What It’s Like To Die Of Thirst

As this barbarism continues, I asked Jeffrey Berns, president-elect of the National Kidney Foundation and a nephrologist at the University of Pennsylvania, what these children may be going through.

“Thirst, as you probably know, is one of the most potent drives for behavior we have. It may be the most potent we have, more than even hunger,” he said.

“People are going to be miserable.”

The body is about 60 percent water, and under normal conditions, he said, an average person will lose about a quart of water each day by sweating and breathing and another one to three quarts by urinating, he said. In the heat and under more difficult physical conditions, that amount increases, he said.

If it’s not replaced over time and dehydration becomes severe, cells throughout the body will begin to shrink as water moves out of them and into the blood stream, part of the body’s efforts to keep the organs perfused in fluid.

“All the cells will shrink,” Berns said, “but the ones that count are the brain cells. They don’t operate normally when they’re’ shrinking.” Changes in mental status will follow, including confusion and ultimately coma, he said. As the brain becomes smaller, it takes up less room in the skull and blood vessels connecting it to the inside of the cranium can pull away and rupture.

This man, who died of dehydration, during a wilderness survival exercise, suffered delirium and hallucinations before he succumbed, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Victims’ kidneys may shut down first, Berns said, as they continue to lack access to both water and salt. The kidneys cleanse the blood of waste products which, under normal conditions, are excreted in urine. Without water, blood volume will decline and all the organs will start to fail, he said. Kidney failure will soon lead to disastrous consequences and ultimately death as blood volume continues to fall and waste products that should be eliminated from the body remain.

Also see WRSA.

22 NATO Supply Trucks Destroyed in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 3 months ago

From Military.com:

The Taliban said they detonated a bomb on a fuel tanker Wednesday and then opened fire on other NATO supply trucks in a morning attack that destroyed 22 vehicles loaded with fuel and other goods for U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.

In western Afghanistan, a NATO helicopter crashed, injuring two troops serving with the U.S.-led military coalition, NATO said. The helicopter went down early Wednesday at an undisclosed location in the relatively peaceful west. No other information has been released about the crash, which is under investigation.

The Taliban said they attacked NATO supply trucks parked overnight in Samangan province in the north.

“We put explosives on a fuel tanker. When it exploded, we fired on the trucks,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in a telephone call.

Sidiq Azizi, a spokesman for the province, said many tankers and semi-trailers caught fire after the bomb went off around 2 a.m.

By midday, heavy black smoke still poured from the Rabatak area of the province where the truckers had stopped to rest. Firefighters were spraying water on the burning vehicles.

[ ... ]

The tankers in the convoy were transporting fuel south toward the Afghan capital, Kabul, from neighboring Uzbekistan to the north.

Earlier this week, three NATO supply trucks were destroyed by militants in Sayd Abad district of Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan.

This is a troubling development, specifically because of the fact that this supply line isn’t the Khyber Pass or Chaman.  Logistical lines should have changed long ago, specifically to focus on the Northern route (one reason that the current Northern route is so expensive is that, foolishly, we don’t use Turkmenistan) and a different Southern route (i.e., from India through Pakistani controlled Kashmir and then to Kabul, with troop protection through Kashmir).

But as we stand down in Afghanistan that wouldn’t matter.  Logistical lines within Afghanistan itself will become even more problematic, to the point that the only viable means left will be air logistics to Kabul and Kandahar air field.

Sad.  This is what half-ass commitment to the campaign looks like.  You can thank your current administration for that.

The Mask Over Defeat in Afghanistan Slips A Bit More

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 5 months ago

The Obama Administration and its Statist Media enablers have been bravely trying their best to disguise the unfolding calamity that is Afghanistan today.

A few weeks back we had the Administration crowing about a “strategic agreement” that had been signed by the U.S. and Afghan governments, even though that agreement did not provide any specifics about the type or level of commitment Afghanistan would receive from the U.S.   It was simply an empty agreement to someday come to a specific agreement.  Maybe.

This article in The New York Times dealing with logistical issue and a related article dealing with the withdrawal of combat forces, however, show that the mask is slipping.

CHICAGO — President Obama was struggling to balance the United States’ relationship with two crucial but difficult allies on Sunday, after a deal to reopen supply lines through Pakistan to Afghanistan fell apart just as Mr. Obama began talks on ending the NATO alliance’s combat role in the Afghan war.

***

American officials said the main sticking point was the amount NATO would pay for each truck carrying supplies from Karachi, on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast, to the Afghan border. Before the closing, the payment per truck was about $250. Pakistan is now asking for “upward of $5,000” for each truck, another American official said.

Considering the huge proportion of supplies that had previously flowed through Pakistan to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, this is no small matter.

The fact that Pakistan is now demanding twenty times the previous amount for each truck is an obvious non-starter and shows just how hostile the Pakistanis are at this point.

In the NYT article by David Sanger, Obama is playing a political game with the lives of U.S. forces:

By early 2011, Mr. Obama had seen enough. He told his staff to arrange a speedy, orderly exit from Afghanistan. This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.

The key decisions had essentially been made already when Gen. David H. Petraeus, in his last months as commander in Afghanistan, arrived in Washington with a set of options for the president that called for a slow withdrawal of surge troops. He wanted to keep as many troops as possible in Afghanistan through the next fighting season, with a steep drop to follow. Mr. Obama concluded that the Pentagon had not internalized that the goal was not to defeat the Taliban. He said he “believed that we had a more limited set of objectives that could be accomplished by bringing the military out at a faster clip,” an aide reported.

After a short internal debate, Mr. Gates and Mrs. Clinton came up with a different option: end the surge by September 2012 — after the summer fighting season, but before the election. Mr. Obama concurred. But he was placing an enormous bet: his goals now focus largely on finishing off Al Qaeda and keeping Pakistan’s nuclear weapons from going astray. Left unclear is how America will respond if a Taliban resurgence takes over wide swathes of the country America invaded in 2001 and plans to largely depart 13 years later.

None of this is a surprise to TCJ readers.   There has never been a doubt that Obama was essentially going through the motions in Afghanistan.   Nonetheless, it is surprising to see the Statist flagship paper stating it so plainly.

It’s Time To Engage the Caucasus Part III

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 10 months ago

From The Times of India:

The US is now less dependent on Pakistan for supply of cargo for its troops fighting al-Qaida and Taliban  militants in Afghanistan, a Congressional report said today, amid a standoff between Washington and Islamabad over supplies through the country.

The Senate committee report said that only 29% of the total Afghan cargo supply now goes through Pakistan; which about an year ago was nearly 50%.

Islamabad has closed the crucial Nato supply route from Pakistan after the November 26th airstrikes that killed 24 of its soldiers.

“An estimated 40% of all cargo transits the NDN (Northern Distribution Network), 31% is shipped by air, and the remaining 29% goes through Pakistan. An estimated 70% of cargo transiting the NDN enters Afghanistan via Uzbekistan’s Hairaton Gate,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said.

Since 2009, the US has steadily increased traffic on the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a major logistical accomplishment.

According to US Transportation Command, close to 75 per cent of ground sustainment cargo is now shipped via the NDN, it said.

As a result of increasing dependence on NDN for supply of logistics and cargo to its troops in Afghanistan, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee emphasized that there was a need to build relationship with the Central Asia countries.

“Central Asia matters. Its countries are critical to the outcome in Afghanistan and play a vital role in regional stability. As we reassure our partners that our relationships and engagement in Afghanistan will continue after the military transition in 2014, we should underscore that we have long-term strategic interests in the broader region,” Kerry said.

And of course, you heard about the need for this transition here before you heard about it anywhere else.  But there is a catch.  Kerry is right – Central Asia matters, but our lines of logistics now rely exclusively on routes through Central Asia and Russia (whereas I had recommended a logistics line from the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus Strait in Turkey, and from there into the Black Sea.  From the Black Sea the supplies would go through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan.  From here the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan).  The added benefit of such a logistics line would be increased spending, influence and authority in the region, a region heavy in oil and natural gas.

The Caucasus region matters too.  From The Jamestown Foundation:

The “disbalance of interests” (see EDM, December 15), favoring Russia over the United States in the South Caucasus, used to be offset by superior US resources, attractiveness and credibility. But that offset has diminished as US policy turned toward de-prioritizing this region (compared with the earlier level of Washington’s engagement). Lacking a strategy for the South Caucasus, the US has taken a back seat to Russia at least since 2008 in the negotiations on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

Washington had reduced its profile and role on this issue (and on South Caucasus regional security writ large) already during the second term of the Bush administration. It folded the Karabakh conflict portfolio into other portfolios within the State Department; it handled this issue through medium-level diplomats versus Russia’s top leaders; and it separated this issue from US regional strategy, which was itself fading out. Under the Obama administration, the policy drift grew more pronounced, with domestic politics distorting US diplomacy on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

Takeaway point: “Lacking a Strategy.”  Read the whole report.  What other administration could pull off such a feat?  We have transitioned our logistics lines to the North (as I recommended almost three years ago), all the while alienating the Caucasus region in favor of Russian routes.  Meanwhile, while every other nation is preparing to cut and run from Afghanistan, including the U.K., Georgia is literally doubling down on its troop levels in Afghanistan.

What a strange world in which we live.  Georgia is begging to be our ally, assisting us in Afghanistan at their own peril, and we have the chance to increase U.S. authority and presence in the Caucasus, and choose instead to empower Russia.  Again, what other administration could pull off something like this?

It’s Time To Engage the Caucasus

It’s Time To Engage the Caucasus Part II

Moving On From Our Dependence On Pakistan

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 11 months ago

Our dependence on the lines of logistics through Chaman and the Khyber Pass, as well as Pakistan’s duplicity towards the U.S., are well-worn issues with regular readers.  The Northern logistics routes are in increased and expanding usage due to the troubles in Pakistan.

Image courtesy of EagleSpeak.  The magnitude of the challenge is well described for us by Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek, deputy commander of the U.S. military’s Transportation Command.

“This is the logistics challenge of our generation” … “The challenge of my father’s generation was escorting convoys across the north Atlantic when we didn’t know how to do that very well. Convoys in 1943 would lose 16 of their 32 ships. The Army had their challenge supplying Patton in his race across France, keeping him resupplied. Supporting operations in Afghanistan is our generational challenge.”

For the first seven years of the war in Afghanistan, almost all supplies and equipment were shipped by sea to the Pakistani port of Karachi. From there, they were trucked overland to Afghanistan, through parts of Pakistan effectively controlled by the Taliban.

In 2008, according to Harnitchek, the U.S. military lost as much as 15 percent of its supplies in those areas due to ambushes and theft. Establishing another supply route became a top priority.

Near the beginning of 2009 I explained the necessity for the Northern logistics route, and described it in detail.  The routes shown above come close, but still rely on Russia and fail to engage Turkmenistan.  I recommended that we develop a route “through the Caucasus region, specifically, from the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus Strait in Turkey, and from there into the Black Sea.  From the Black Sea the supplies would go through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan.  From here the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.”

I explained the urgency of the situation, and also described in subsequent posts on logistics how reliance on lines of logistics through Russia could affect the outcome of New START as well as endanger Georgia and cause another Russian incursion into the Caucasus (Ossetia and beyond).  Yet we are still lethargic concerning full development of the Northern logistics routes.

The urgency is still present, and we continue to see further examples of Pakistani duplicity.

As targeted killings have risen sharply across Afghanistan, American and Afghan officials believe that many are the work of counterintelligence units of the Haqqani  militant network and Al Qaeda, charged with killing suspected informants and terrorizing the populace on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Military intelligence officials say that the units essentially act as death squads and that one of them, a large group known as the Khurasan that operates primarily in Pakistan’s tribal areas, has been responsible for at least 250 assassinations and public executions.

The Haqqani network is, of course, coddled and enabled by the Pakistani ISI.  For some inexplicable reason the otherwise clear thinking Bing West comments concerning this report that:

The administration has to adopt a tough, transactional negotiating posture with Pakistan.

What is this song of enchantment that Pakistan continues to sing to its disappointed suitors?  Is it nuclear weapons?  There is the need for robust Pentagon war gaming concerning the securing of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, as I have described.  Is it the belief that more negotiations will convince Pakistan not to support the Afghan Taliban?  Is it the belief that Pakistan isn’t really controlled by Islamic fundamentalism, or that the Army isn’t preoccupied with fabricated and delusional notions of danger from India?

Whatever it is, we are years behind schedule in divorcing ourselves from Pakistan, whether concerning logistics or reliance on their internal security over their nuclear arsenal.  The Obama administration is “scrambling to repair” relations with Pakistan, as I would have expected.  But leaving the juvenile and moving to the adult, when even most knowledgeable analysts are suggesting that we need to take a tough negotiating stance and repair relations with Pakistan, we have a problem.

These relations with Pakistan never really existed.  Pakistan’s ultimate aim has never changed, even though the campaign has evolved.  Pakistan wants its high-powered insurgents (e.g., the Haqqani network) in order to effect change in Afghanistan (on its whim) and convince India that it is a force to be reckoned with, Kashmir or elsewhere.  Pakistan isn’t an ally of the U.S., and never was.  It’s time to stop pretending that they are.  It is always difficult to face the truth, but time is short and the situation is dire.

All monies should cease, lines of logistics should shift completely to the North, and in the future if Pakistan wants to engage the U.S. as an ally, it must start over and prove itself.  We must always negotiate from a position of strength, as we learned from Sun Tzu.

When It Comes to Pakistan, We Just Can’t Handle the Truth

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 4 months ago

Here is yet another example of the now infamous double-game being played by Pakistan, our so-called ally in the war against Islamic fundamentalism:

Twice in the last few weeks, US intelligence officials have provided the Pakistanis with the coordinates of bomb factories in the rugged tribal region of Waziristan, on the Afghan border — only to see the info leak to the enemy, who evacuated the sites before the Pakistani military arrived.

***

Incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Pakistan Friday to discuss “rebuilding” the Pakistan-US relationship, and reportedly confronted his hosts with the evidence that they’d tipped off the Taliban about the bomb sites.

This is just getting tiresome beyond words.

Is it even worth keeping score any longer?  Why does the U.S. continue to allow the Pakistanis to get away with this kind of thing?

There is only one reason I can find: we just can’t face the consequences of putting the screws to Pakistan.

The Obama Administration is afraid that even a hint or threat of even reduced aid will push the Pakistanis over the edge and into the arms of the Islamofascists.   Which is to say that Pakistan would openly embrace the terrorists rather than just discreetly.

As the Captain pointed out years ago, if the U.S. had any strategic sense, it would have developed alternative logistical routes to Afghanistan that did not depend upon Pakistan.   As it is, we are precariously reliant upon the Pakistanis keeping the land route open for the bulk of supplies coming into Afghanistan.

Other than having to find a new route to keep the campaign supplied, the other consequence of denying aid to Pakistan would be the loss of what little presence Pakistan still allows to CIA operatives who help to track down and target terrorists inside Pakistan.  Is this limited capability so vitally important that we are willing to fund a government that actively works against us as much as it does with us?  Given the increasing restrictions placed on operations within Pakistan, it is doubtful that the gains at this point are worth the losses.   Would a drone strike from a CIA base in Pakistan really have much of an effect on the Afghan Campaign?   If the death of Bin Laden made no impact, what would?

Then there is the benefit of clarity.   Having Pakistan as a declared enemy in the Afghan Campaign would certainly not be welcome, but at least the U.S. could take actions in the porous border areas that it cannot with an “ally” that acts like an enemy.   Clarity can be a wonderful thing.   Ambiguity in this regard has left us in strategic knots, knowing where the Taliban are getting re-supplied and trained but unable to effectively do anything about it.

Finally, the U.S. may have far more to gain by cutting Pakistan loose and allying closely with India.  As it is, the U.S. must temper its cooperation and policies with India due to Pakistani sensitivities.   If Pakistan is determined to act like a rogue state, then the U.S. is far better off developing closer ties to India, not only in regard to Afghanistan (where India could become a major player and partner) but also as a strategic counterweight to China and Russia.

It is high time for Pakistan to decide whether it belongs to civilization or to the barbarians.  By the same token, it is high time that the U.S. faced up to the hard truth:  Pakistan, for whatever reason, is not willing to remove the terror bases from their territory and must be treated accordingly.

Can the Afganis Do Logistics?

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 4 months ago

From Reuters:

Stocking warehouses in most police forces is low-rank, unglamorous work. In Afghanistan, where literacy and education are at a premium, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Hurley is pushing to make it a well-paid and prestigious job.

The U.S. and its allies are rushing to ready the Afghan army and police to take over control of security from July, but they are discovering they have a job far more complex than just providing guns and training about how to use them.

Years of funding shortages, civil war, corruption and weak leadership have eaten away at the backbone of logistics, medical and training systems that support front-line troops.

So U.S. Air Force officer Hurley is just one of hundreds of foreign soldiers who have found themselves in Afghanistan fighting a war with training manuals, Excel spreadsheets and theories about supply lines.

Hurley runs training and management at the Afghan police force’s largest regional logistics hub, where just six Afghan officers coordinate supplies for 20,000 police in the south.

“One of the greatest challenges we face is the lack of literate, capable Afghan logisticians,” Hurley told Reuters in a gleaming warehouse stacked with everything from waterproof coats to pistols kept in a padlocked wire cage.

At present the pay and rank of the jobs are low. In a country where two-thirds of the population is illiterate, that makes it virtually impossible to attract police with the management and record-keeping skills needed, or give them a salary that ensures they resist temptations toward corruption.

“Logistics isn’t terribly glamorous, but what they control are the resources and the weapons so there is incredible pressure on them and a huge revenue stream,” Hurley said, adding that it is also a dangerous career choice.

“If they are doing things honorably they are at huge risk from the Taliban,” he said, gesturing to the stacks of guns.

Read the whole article.  I’ll predict that no amount of laptops, EXCEL spreadsheets, training or oversight will develop a logistics force or the capability to transport goods and services from place to place in Afghanistan.  But what’s more important, nothing we can do will rid the force of its systemic corruption.  As I recently observed, “in the end, evil is a moral problem, not an epistemological one, and you cannot educate or rehabilitate evil out of mankind.”

Corruption is neither a financial nor a pedagogical problem.  No literacy program will modify behavior.  Endemic corruption is an Afghani problem, and they Afghans will have to solve it, or they will fail at everything they do.  In this case the failure would be in logistics.  I have observed before that no army can long survive without logistics.  Logistics rules.

The Death of Bin Laden And the Myth of ‘American Empire’

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 5 months ago

I can’t believe I am going to give space to this Article by Timothy Carney in The Washington Examiner, but, as it seems to represent a growing feeling out there, even among conservatives, Mr. Carney’s article may be useful in clarifying some issues that get awfully foggy when something happens like the killing of Bin Laden.

Mr. Carney’s piece posits these incredible insights:

The United States’ long, bloody occupation of Afghanistan did not significantly help the U.S. find and kill Osama bin Laden, current evidence indicates. Neither did the invasion and occupation of Iraq help in decapitating al Qaeda, it appears.

The means of bin Laden’s demise, and the location of his hideout, both undermine the arguments offered for the last decade by hawks who claimed an invasion of Iraq and an imperial presence in Afghanistan would help America smash al Qaeda.

Somehow, Carney (and others) have been trying to turn the killing of Osama Bin Laden into more than just the swing of the executioner’s axe.  But no matter how it is spun, there is no, larger lesson here.  Bin Laden was a crazed beast that needed to be hunted down and terminated.   If there is a larger lesson, it is not in the killing of Bin Laden, per se, but in the means– the necessity for utmost secrecy, to keep even a whiff of the operation from a purported ally, Pakistan, and to covertly violate Pakistani airspace to a location deep within its borders, some 40 miles outside of its capital.  But for Carney and his fellow travelers the killing of Bin Laden is an opportunity to beat the drum for retreat, defeat and America-bashing thrown in for good measure.

Rather than produce any, real evidence, Carney puts together a straw man:  “hawks who claimed an invasion of Iraq and an imperial presence in Afghanistan would help America smash al Qaeda.”   I challenge Mr. Carney to produce the quotes of these so-called “hawks” that “for the last decade” have been calling for “an imperial presence” in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

This notion of an Imperial America needs to be stamped out on a regular basis.   It seems to be a habitat for those determined to blame America for all that is wrong in the world and determined, furthermore, to reduce the U.S. to a whimpering shell.   Victor Davis Hanson, the classical historian and Hoover Institute resident scholar, has said many times, the U.S. is not an Imperial power nor does it maintain an “Empire” in any, proper understanding of those terms.  From his 2002 opinion piece on the subject:

But if we really are imperial, we rule over a very funny sort of empire.

We do not send out proconsuls to reside over client states, which in turn impose taxes on coerced subjects to pay for the legions. Instead, American bases are predicated on contractual obligations — costly to us and profitable to their hosts. We do not see any profits in Korea, but instead accept the risk of losing almost 40,000 of our youth to ensure that Kias can flood our shores and that shaggy students can protest outside our embassy in Seoul.

Athenians, Romans, Ottomans, and the British wanted land and treasure and grabbed all they could get when they could. The United States hasn’t annexed anyone’s soil since the Spanish-American War — a checkered period in American history that still makes us, not them, out as villains in our own history books. Most Americans are far more interested in carving up the Nevada desert for monster homes than in getting their hands on Karachi or the Amazon basin. Puerto Ricans are free to vote themselves independence anytime they wish.

Imperial powers order and subjects obey. But in our case, we offer the Turks strategic guarantees, political support — and money — for their allegiance. France and Russia go along in the U.N. — but only after we ensure them the traffic of oil and security for outstanding accounts. Pakistan gets debt relief that ruined dot-coms could only dream of; Jordan reels in more aid than our own bankrupt municipalities.

****

Empires usually have contenders that check their power and through rivalry drive their ambitions. Athens worried about Sparta and Persia. Rome found its limits when it butted up against Germany and Parthia. The Ottomans never could bully too well the Venetians or the Spanish. Britain worried about France and Spain at sea and the Germanic peoples by land. In contrast, the restraint on American power is not China, Russia, or the European Union, but rather the American electorate itself — whose reluctant worries are chronicled weekly by polls that are eyed with fear by our politicians. We, not them, stop us from becoming what we could.

The Athenian ekklesia, the Roman senate, and the British Parliament alike were eager for empire and reflected the energy of their people. In contrast, America went to war late and reluctantly in World Wars I and II, and never finished the job in either Korea or Vietnam. We were likely to sigh in relief when we were kicked out of the Philippines, and really have no desire to return. Should the Greeks tell us to leave Crete — promises, promises — we would be more likely to count the money saved than the influence lost. Take away all our troops from Germany and polls would show relief, not anger, among Americans. Isolationism, parochialism, and self-absorption are far stronger in the American character than desire for overseas adventurism. Our critics may slur us for “overreaching,” but our elites in the military and government worry that they have to coax a reluctant populace, not constrain a blood-drunk rabble.

***

Most empires chafe at the cost of their rule and complain that the expense is near-suicidal. Athens raised the Aegean tribute often, and found itself nearly broke after only the fifth year of the Peloponnesian War. The story of the Roman Empire is one of shrinking legions, a debased currency, and a chronically bankrupt imperial treasury. Even before World War I, the Raj had drained England. In contrast, America spends less of its GNP on defense than it did during the last five decades. And most of our military outlays go to training, salaries, and retirements — moneys that support, educate, and help people rather than simply stockpile weapons and hone killers. The eerie thing is not that we have 13 massive $5 billion carriers, but that we could easily produce and maintain 20 more.

***

Our bases dot the globe to keep the sea-lanes open, thugs and murderers under wraps, and terrorists away from European, Japanese, and American globalists who profit mightily by blanketing the world with everything from antibiotics and contact lenses to BMWs and Jennifer Lopez — in other words, to keep the world safe and prosperous enough for Michael Moore to rant on spec, for Noam Chomsky to garner a lot of money and tenure from a defense-contracting MIT, for Barbra Streisand to make millions, for Edward Said’s endowed chair to withstand Wall Street downturns, for Jesse Jackson to take off safely on his jet-powered, tax-free junkets.

***

Intervention is supposed to be synonymous with exploitation; thus the Athenians killed, enslaved, exacted, and robbed on Samos and Melos. No one thought Rome was going into Numidia or Gaul — one million killed, another million enslaved — to implant local democracy. Nor did the British decide that at last 17th-century India needed indigenous elections. But Americans have overthrown Noriega, Milosevic, and Mullah Omar and are about to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, to put in their places elected leaders, not legates or local client kings. Instead of the much-rumored “pipeline” that we supposedly coveted in Afghanistan, we are paying tens of millions to build a road and bridges so that Afghan truckers and traders won’t break their axles.

In that regard, America is also a revolutionary, rather than a stuffy imperial society. Its crass culture abroad — rap music, Big Macs, Star Wars, Pepsi, and Beverly Hillbillies reruns — does not reflect the tastes and values of either an Oxbridge elite or a landed Roman aristocracy. That explains why Le Monde or a Spanish deputy minister may libel us, even as millions of semi-literate Mexicans, unfree Arabs, and oppressed southeast Asians are dying to get here. It is one thing to mobilize against grasping, wealthy white people who want your copper, bananas, or rubber — quite another when your own youth want what black, brown, yellow, and white middle-class Americans alike have to offer. We so-called imperialists don’t wear pith helmets, but rather baggy jeans and backwards baseball caps. Thus far the rest of the globe — whether Islamic fundamentalists, European socialists, or Chinese Communists — has not yet formulated an ideology antithetical to the kinetic American strain of Western culture.

Much, then, of what we read about the evil of American imperialism is written by post-heroic and bored elites, intellectuals, and coffeehouse hacks, whose freedom and security are a given, but whose rarified tastes are apparently unshared and endangered. In contrast, the poorer want freedom and material things first — and cynicism, skepticism, irony, and nihilism second. So we should not listen to what a few say, but rather look at what many do.

Critiques of the United States based on class, race, nationality, or taste have all failed to explicate, much less stop, the American cultural juggernaut. Forecasts of bankrupting defense expenditures and imperial overstretch are the stuff of the faculty lounge. Neither Freud nor Marx is of much help. And real knowledge of past empires that might allow judicious analogies is beyond the grasp of popular pundits.

Add that all up, and our exasperated critics are left with the same old empty jargon of legions and gunboats.

Hard to say it any better than that.

Moving on to the other silly notions in Carney’s piece,he writes:

Bin Laden’s capture provides no vindication to those hawks who argued that invading Iraq would provide a treasure trove of intelligence on al Qaeda, nor those who insisted that 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan were a key part of our war on the terrorist network.

“We found bin Laden in Pakistan without troops on the ground,” counterterrorism expert Michael Cohen, formerly of the New America Foundation, told me. “We didn’t need troops on the ground to carry out a very successful operation.”

The location of bin Laden’s compound — a few hundred yards from a Pakistani military school — also deflates another argument of hawks. President Bush said in April that a U.S. exit from Afghanistan would “create a safe haven for terrorists.”

This notion underestimates the capabilities of American intelligence and military forces: Our drones, spies and special forces can strike basically anywhere. But it also ignores the ability of terrorists to hide in plain sight: Bin Laden was not stowing away in some clandestine cave in the wild regions of Afghanistan or Pakistan. He was living within shouting distance of Pakistan’s West Point, possibly since his compound was built in 2005.

Liberal blogger and former hawk Matt Yglesias made this same point: “Trying to physically conquer and occupy territory in order to prevent it from being used by terrorists is extremely difficult, oftentimes counterproductive, unnecessary, and offers no guarantee of success.”

Who ever argued that invading Iraq would provide “a treasure trove of intelligence on Al Qaeda” ? The 2003 invasion of Iraq was always about the removal of a crazed dictator, hostile to the U.S., in possession of weapons of mass destruction.   As it turned out, Al Qaeda was drawn to Iraq like a mosquito to a bug zapper.  And, predictably enough, that “bug” got zapped by the Marines, but good.  Carney seems to be making up the bit about “hawks” from whole cloth.

As for his contention that the troops in Afghanistan served no useful purpose in the killing of Bin Laden, where does Carney think that the helicopters took off from, New Jersey?   Clearly the bases in Afghanistan were critical in providing the point of departure for the attack and, no doubt, logistical support as well.  Carney’s point about the U.S. capability to “strike basically anywhere” is only relevant in the context of decapitation operations.   As TCJ has argued repeatedly, those operations, as useful as they may be to disrupt, will never defeat the enemy.  Carney’s points exist in a fanciful vacuum where he imagines that SOF can win the war single-handedly somehow.    The quotation from Yglesias simply underscores this myopic thinking:  of course it is difficult to invade, occupy and root out the terrorists and there is no guarantee of success.   Sometimes, however, it is necessary and no amount of hand-wringing will change that fact.

Whether Carney likes it or not, there is simply no, easy option for fighting the Islamofascists.   They have to be beaten like Al Qaeda was in Anbar Province, Iraq:  direct, kinetic operations that wipe them out mercilessly and demonstrate to the population that terrorism is the losing side.   The popular notion that we cannot “kill our way” out of an insurgency is too often political cover for avoiding the hard reality of the fight.

We can argue about whether the strategy in Afghanistan has been correct.  The evidence coming in from Helmand Province and Kandahar, where U.S. Marines are literally wiping the floor with the enemy and making it impossible for them to re-infiltrate, is encouraging.   It is the path to victory and it is the only, viable exit.

Those of Mr. Carney’s opinion looking for lessons from the war on terror thus far  should study Iraq, not the elimination of Bin Laden.    At the height of the hysteria in 2006, when people (no doubt Mr. Carney included) were calling the war in Iraq hopeless and unwinnable, President Bush brought in more forces to apply more pressure and better kinetic operations against the terrorists.   The hard fighting in 2007 paid off and by late 2007, Al Qaeda was clearly on the run and a broken and humiliated foe.   Although I personally disagree with the rapid draw down in Iraq, there is no doubt that our very ability to draw down is due entirely to the butt-kicking that we gave the terrorists (and Al Sadr’s thugs) in 2006-2007.    Iraq is relatively stable today, with extremely low casualty levels.

Turning back to Afghanistan, the U.S. does not look for “excuses” to surrender and run away.   Maybe Obama does, but not the U.S.   We either win the fight by taking it to the terrorists, or we decide that the fight is not in our national interest and we leave.   Either way, it has nothing to do with a so-called Empire or the killing of Bin Laden.  The killing of Bin Laden satisfied a basic need to see retributive justice done.   (This, as a side-bar, is far different than revenge and, therefore, wholly justifiable).   But, as others have observed, the tide of war has long left Bin Laden behind and shifted to other, more important locations:  Pakistan, Yemen, Iran, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.  Although it is understandable for politicians to grandstand and preen over a successful mission, it would be far better for national security if we congratulated the work of our military and intelligence services and quickly moved on to grappling with the important tasks at hand.

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus Part II

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

After discussing the recent disputations that have occurred between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Stephen Blank goes on to make recommendations for greater U.S. engagement in the Caucasus.

The U.S. has displayed indifference, or at least apathy, toward the situation. This needs to change. Armenia’s threats reflect the facts that NATO disregarded Armenia’s claims and that the OSCE, largely because of distrust between the U.S. and Russia, cannot bring itself to function as intended (i.e., as a mediator). But the threats also reflect the fact that behind most of the headlines, this has been a very good year for Azerbaijan in its international relations, particularly its energy diplomacy. As a result, Azerbaijan has become more strategically important to the West, including the U.S.

Baku has stood its ground with Moscow. While doubling gas exports to Russia, it signed a major deal with BP to develop new gas holdings off its shores, thus not only maintaining its energy independence, but also demonstrating the importance of the planned Nabucco pipeline to Europe. Azerbaijan has also visibly improved its relations with Turkmenistan, to the point where a Turkmen decision to send its gas to Europe through pipes traversing Azerbaijan is now quite conceivable. Further, Azerbaijan signed a four-party deal to build an Interconnector that will send Azeri gas through Georgia and the Black Sea en route to Romania and then Hungary. This deal enhances Azerbaijan’s importance to Southeastern Europe as a reliable supplier of oil and gas. Also in 2010, Azerbaijan improved its ties and signed an energy agreement with Turkey.

While these agreements cannot hide the fact that no progress was made on Nagorno-Karabakh — over 30 serious incidents occur daily on the “Line of Contact” there — they do show Azerbaijan’s growing importance to Europe and self-confidence in international affairs. Armenia, by contrast, has little to show for its efforts except continuing dependence upon Russia. For example, because of its refusal to negotiate with Azerbaijan, Armenia remains estranged from Turkey — a situation that decreases Armenia’s GDP by 15 percent. Recent reports show that Armenia ran weapons to Iran, something that will hardly endear it to the West.

Blank goes on to describe the disaster that would be open war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and then concludes with this:

The 2008 Russo-Georgian War showed that even small wars in the Transcaucasus can have repercussions that far transcend the region. Failure to take an active role in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh issue not only cements Armenia’s dependence upon Moscow and estrangement from Turkey and Europe; it also undermines the success Azerbaijan has had in strengthening Europe’s position vis-à-vis Russia on energy security. Continued neglect of Azerbaijan, and of the Transcaucasus as a whole, can only erode U.S. standing and damage its credibility in the region, confirming Russia’s belief that the reset policy amounts to an acknowledgement of its right to a sphere of influence over the Commonwealth of Independent States. Under the circumstances, the ongoing failure of the U.S. to play an active role here makes no sense at all — and worse, encourages the drift to war.

I had initially advocated engagement of the Caucasus region for at least two purposes, namely logistics (as an alternative to the troublesome line of logistics through the Khyber region or the increasingly troublesome Chamen area), and as a barrier to Russian assertion of influence in what it considers its “near abroad.”

Hidden, or perhaps simply assumed in my prose, was the understanding that the Caucasus region is oil and natural gas rich.  Blank recognizes that the Caucasus is strategically important due not only to its oil and gas, but also as a potential way to blunt the force of Russian hegemony (or possible developing Russian hegemony).

So there are three good reasons to engage the Caucasus: (1) Oil and gas, (2) as a barrier to Russian influence (see Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy for as discussion of Russian basing rights and logistics in Armenia), and (3) as an already-proven line of logistics to Afghanistan in lieu of Pakistan.  Actually, as Stephen Blank points out, in spite of the fear mongers who believe that Georgia will drag us into a war with Russia, there is a fourth good reason to engage the Caucasus region: to prevent war from occurring.

I don’t hold out high hopes that the Obama administration will pursue engagement of the Caucasus, as I am not convinced that they care about any of the above justifications that we have offered.  However, Russia is not our friend, we still need logistics to Afghanistan, our automobiles and trucks still need to run in order to support our economy, and war between Armenia and Azerbaijan would be a humanitarian disaster.

Prior: It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

Logistics, Russia and New START: Gates Over a Barrel

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

From the Los Angeles Times:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Saturday rejected claims by Senate Republicans that the New START arms reduction treaty with Russia would hamper U.S. missile defense programs and nuclear weapons modernization, warning of “significant consequences” if the Senate doesn’t ratify the accord.

He said that Russia could also respond to a failure to approve the treaty by scaling back its assistance for the war in Afghanistan. Russia has allowed the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization to ship supplies through its territory to Afghanistan, including a recent decision to permit transport of so-called mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, the heavily armored troop carriers used to guard against hidden bombs.

“Despite what anybody says, I, as secretary of Defense, and the entire uniformed leadership of the American military believe that this treaty is in our national security interest,” Gates said, taking on claims by critics of the treaty that some in the military privately oppose the accord.

His comments to reporters after meeting with officials in Chile were part of a lobbying blitz by senior Obama administration officials to persuade the Senate to ratify the treaty, which restricts each nation to a maximum of 1,550 deployed long-distance warheads, before the end of the year.

In addition to Gates’ comments, President Obama devoted his weekend radio address to the treaty.

“Without ratification this year, the United States will have no inspectors on the ground, and no ability to verify Russian nuclear activities,” Obama said in the address.

“Without ratification, we put at risk the coalition that we have built to put pressure on Iran, and the transit route through Russia that we use to equip our troops in Afghanistan,” the president continued.

So the stated reasons for support of New START are (1) pressure on Iran, and (2) logistics through Russia.  As for Iran, it’s truly sad that this administration is still mired in the ideological framework that assumes, despite all assurances to the contrary by the radical Mullahs, that we can negotiate or pressure Iran into relinquishing their pursuit of nuclear weapons.  I guess at some point in my life (I don’t know, perhaps 2 or 3 years of age) I believed in fairy tales too, but I wasn’t leading the most powerful nation on earth at the time.

As for logistics, I’m wondering why no one has warned this administration that their choice to partner with Russia for logistics would end up dictating our foreign policy?  I’m also wondering why no alternative to the Khyber pass has been presented to this administration?

Gates and the administration look incredibly weak, with their tail in between their legs.  It’s a sad testimony to the lack of strategic, long range planning and foresight within this administration.


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