Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category



Pirates in the Gulf of Aden

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

Somali pirates in small boats can be seen alongside the hijacked MV Faina. The captain of the hijacked ship off the coast of Somalia said one crew member had died (U.S. Navy/AP Photo).

The U.S. Navy and Marines have surrounded some very important cargo in the Gulf of Aden near the Somalian coast.

U.S. warships have surrounded the MV Faina, a Belize-registered ship that was hijacked by pirates off the lawless coast of Somalia last week.

While there’s no gold or precious jewels onboard, this buccaneer’s booty has the international community racing to intercept the boat before its cargo can be offloaded.

The Ukrainian-owned ship is carrying 33 Russian-made T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft guns, multiple-launch rocket systems and thousands of rounds of tank ammunition. Initial reports indicated the Ukrainian arms were destined for Kenya. But U.S. officials now say it appears they were to be shipped to Sudan, although it is unclear if they are headed to the central government in Khartoum or the government of Southern Sudan, which has purchased such tanks in the past.

The U.S. Navy has dispatched several destroyers and cruisers, as well as an amphibious ship with a complement of helicopters and Marines aboard, to ensure the hijacked arms don’t fall into the hands of terrorists in the power vacuum of the Horn of Africa region, particularly in Somalia, where al Qaeda-linked groups operate.

“We are not going to allow the offload of the ship’s cargo,” warned Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which has sent ships to the scene.

The U.S. ships are stationed in a 10-mile radius around the hijacked vessel to prevent it from escaping.

“We are deeply concerned about the safety of the crew as well as the cargo onboard MV Faina,” Christensen said, adding that the U.S. presence “represents the U.S. resolve to ensure safety and security in the region. Piracy is a problem that starts ashore and requires an international solution to this international problem.”

A senior U.S. defense official says the American ships’ main mission is to prevent the pirates aboard the freighter from being resupplied from shore. The MV Faina is anchored off the Somali port of Hoybyo, along with two other freighters that had been hijacked by pirates previously.

Also of immediate concern is the well-being of the ship’s crew of Ukrainians, Latvians and Russians, totaling 21. A Russian crewman is reported to have died from hypertension. A Russian naval ship is also on its way to the scene from the Baltic and is estimated to arrive off Somalia in a week, at the earliest.

The U.S. Navy says it has had no coordination with the Russians on the matter.

“The Russians, I believe, are trying to lend their support,” State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters today, declining to comment further.

The modern-day swashbucklers were armed with automatic weapons when they boarded the ship Thursday. They are demanding a $20 million ransom for return of the cargo, down from an initial demand of $35 million.

The region off the coast of Somalia is well-known for pirate activity where cargo ships are regularly hijacked for ransom. Indeed, the number of vessels hijacked this year, and the ransoms demanded for their safe return, have risen dramatically.

Robert Kaplan gives us a little more on the pirates and their methods.

I spoke recently with several U.S. Navy officers who had been involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia, and who had interviewed captured pirates. The officers told me that Somali pirate confederations consist of cells of ten men, with each cell distributed among three skiffs. The skiffs are usually old, ratty, and roach-infested, and made of unpainted, decaying wood or fiberglass. A typical pirate cell goes into the open ocean for three weeks at a time, navigating by the stars. The pirates come equipped with drinking water, gasoline for their single-engine outboards, grappling hooks, short ladders, knives, AK-47 assault rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades. They bring millet and qat (the local narcotic of choice), and they use lines and nets to catch fish, which they eat raw. One captured pirate skiff held a hunk of shark meat so tough it had teeth marks all over it. With no shade and only a limited amount of water, their existence on the high seas is painfully rugged.

The classic tactic of Somali pirates is to take over a slightly larger dhow, often a fishing boat manned by Indians, Taiwanese, or South Koreans, and then live on it, with the skiff attached. Once in possession of a dhow, they can seize an even bigger ship. As they leapfrog to yet bigger ships, they let the smaller ships go free. Because the sea is vast, only when a large ship issues a distress call do foreign navies even know where to look for pirates. If Somali pirates hunted only small boats, no warship in the international coalition would know about the piracy.

Off-hand cruelty is the pirates’ signature behavior. In one instance, they had beaten, bullied, and semi-starved an Indian merchant crew for a week, and thrown overboard a live monkey that the crew was transporting to Dubai. “Forget the Johnny Depp charm,” one Navy officer told me. “Theirs is a savage brutality not born of malice or evil, like a lion killing an antelope. There is almost a natural innocence about what they do.”

The Captain’s Journal has no idea what this Navy officer is talking about. He needs to go back and re-evaluate his own morality and ethics, if he has any. Piracy, theft and cruelty are most certainly born out of evil, and the pirates themselves are reprehensible along with their actions. Right and wrong, good and bad, righteousness and evil, are not merely conventions.  They are universal and invariant.  There is nothing romantic about this.

This isn’t about learning a language to communicate with a population, or identifying an indigenous insurgency, or befriending a tribal sheikh, or employing gated communities, or any of the complicated counterinsurgency tactics we’ve had to employ in Iraq or Afghanistan.

This is easy. We tell the LOAC and ROE lawyers that they’re special and that they should go to their rooms and write high-sounding platitudes about compassion in war so that they’re out of the way, we land the Marines on the ship, and we kill every last pirate. Then we hunt down his domiciles in Somali and destroy them, and then we find his financiers and buyers and kill them. Regardless of the unfortunate potential loss of Ukrainian or Russian civilian life upon assaulting the ship, this weaponry and ordnance should never have been shipped in this part of the world without escort (and perhaps it shouldn’t have been shipped even with escort).

Negotiations will only serve to confirm the pirates in their methods. It’s killing time. It’s time to turn the United States Marines loose.

Marine Operations in Now Zad, Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

Marines of 3rd platoon 1st squad, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion 7th Marines, conduct a local security patrol in the city of Now Zad, Afghanistan to ensure the safety of the forward operating base on June 08, 2008.

Friend of The Captain’s Journal Major Cliff Gilmore (USMC) is in Afghanistan and sends an anecdotal update on Marines in Now Zad that makes him proud to be a Marine.

I did make a short trip “up north” to a fun little place called Now Zad where a company of Marines have been slogging it out. I don’t like to bring politics into these e-mails, but in general I can comfortably say that those who beat the “support our troops, bring them home now” drum clearly haven’t talked to the warriors I mixed with out there. Several have died. More have lost limbs to improvised explosive devices (IED). All of their corpsmen (medics) have received one or more Purple Heart Medals for injuries sustained in combat and not a one of them talked about wanting to go home. When I arrived at Now Zad I came in with approximately 30 combat replacements. New Marines in to take the place of those already killed or injured. They were all volunteers and left their various units to re-enforce the Marines at Now Zad because, according to one Marine, “…we heard this was where the bad guys are.”

I talked with numerous Marines and hovered in the pre-dawn shadows of the moonscape listening to their chatter for hours and heard only about what they had learned, how they were getting better at this kind of fighting, and how they couldn’t wait to get back outside the wire and “…hunt the scrappy little @&%!ers down.” Point here being, I’m not at all confident the boys in the middle of the fight are thinking in terms of how the folks back Stateside might be able to support them by bringing them home. Mostly they just want more bullets.

I ran into one young Marine who has already been shot twice and blown up by an IED once and came away essentially unscathed both times. The IED resulted in a sprained ankle which he taped up and strapped back into his boot. The two shots came while he was on the radio calling for medevac for a fellow Marine. As the story goes — told the same way by numerous Marines out at Now Zad — he was kneeling beside the wounded Marine, radio in one hand, assisting the corpsmen in treating the wounded Marine with the other. Calm as could be his conversation on the radio went something like “…sir, we have a Marine down and need a medevac immediately. We are located at grid 123456. He looks stable but his injuries are serious. We need you to come and get him now. Oh, and I just got shot too so you’ll have to come get me as well.”

He took two 7.62 AK-47 rounds to the left side under his arm. His armor stopped the bullets, but he didn’t realize that at first. As he described it, the force of the rounds hitting him felt “…pretty much real enough at the time…” As others described it, he didn’t even flinch when the shots came, did not skip a beat on his evac call, and once he had a chance to inspect his bruised ribs simply asked the doc to tape him up and then went back into the fight.

He didn’t ask to go home.

Proud indeed. Thanks to Major Gilmore for this update, and watch your six, friend.

New Body Armor for the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has the best coverage on the web of Marine Corps body armor. Naturally, after Body Armor Wars in the Marines Corps, we were a bit surprised to see a new design for the MTV (Modular Tactical Vest), but weren’t surprised at all that the major component of the weight – the Small Arms Protective Inserts, or SAPIs (or ESAPIs for enhanced 7.62 mm stopping power) – remain the same.

In Body Armor Wars, we made the point that there was essentially no difference between the weight carried by the IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) and MTV tactical vests. They both carry SAPI plates (for 7.62 mm) and soft panels for shrapnel and very small arms protection (9 mm). But the complaints rolled in, and Marine Corps Commandant Conway was determined to reduce weight. Enter the revised version of the MTV.

The new plate carriers are essentially a slimmed-down version of the MTV, with larger arm holes, thinner shoulder straps and a shorter chest profile. The reduction in weight and lower silhouette of the plate carriers “would allow greater mobility with reduced thermal stress in high elevations, thick vegetation and tropical environments,” SysCom said.

The SAPI plates remain the same, but the soft panel coverage is reduced. Upon initial review, we asked, where is the coverage for the shoulders, groin and neck? It isn’t there, and while the weight is reduced, the protection is as well.

Having worn both the IBA and MTV, it is difficult to put on and take off. Neither the front nor the back opens, and so taking 32+ pounds and slipping it over your head with tight clearances leads to scarred noses, bruises on the forehead, and just plain frustration (the 32+ pounds doesn’t include hydration system, ammunition drums, etc.).

But the MTV is still a vast improvement over the IBA carrier. The Captain’s Journal has made the solution clear months ago. Reducing soft panel coverage is low hanging fruit and doesn’t help with protection while providing only marginal weight benefit. The real challenge is to reduce the weight of SAPI plates. Money should be directed at new technologies to reduce weight while also maintaining the current level of protection. As for the MTV, it will be a while before the revised version is issued, and perhaps it will never enter the training regimen for the Marines.

There should be a doctoral candidate in materials engineering somewhere who needs funding and would enjoy studying the fracture mechanics of SAPI plates, and it seems that the Air Force should be willing to relinquish one of its shiny new F-22s for the research, design and testing of lighter body armor for our men in uniform. To save the backs and maybe the lives of our Marines? Is this not a worthy cause? Is some member in charge of defense appropriations in the House of Representatives not willing to take this upon himself for the sake of our Marines? Then we don’t have to strip and bastardize the armor so that the Marines can carry it on their bodies.

Aboard the USS Iwo Jima

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

The 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment aboard the USS Iwo Jima.

The Cult of Special Forces

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

The Autumn 2008 Edition of the Australian Army Journal contains an important article by Major Jim Hammett, entitled We Were Soldiers Once: The Decline of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps? Several key paragraphs are reproduced below.

There are indicators that the feelings of angst prevalent within the Infantry Corps have festered to the point of public dissent and critical questioning of the Corps’ raison d’etre. This is reflected not only by questions posed to our leadership (including the Minister for Defence and the Chief of Army) across three theatres of operation, but also by recent articles published in mainstream media. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence would suggest that disillusionment regarding the employment and future of the Infantry Corps has been a significant contributing factor to the discharge of personnel from the Corps …

The Infantry have not been tasked with conducting offensive action since Vietnam; Special Forces have been engaged in combat operations almost continuously since 2001. When comparing the role of the Infantry with that of Special Operations Forces (SOF), in contrast to the nature of deployments, the logical deduction is that either the role of the Infantry is now defunct, or that only SOF are considered capable of the role …

‘This cult of special forces is as sensible as to form a Royal Corps of Tree Climbers and say that no soldier, who does not wear its green hat with a bunch of oak leaves stuck in it should be expected to climb a tree’. Field Marshall Sir William Slim was remarkably prophetic when he cautioned against the inclination to consider some tasks capable of being fulfilled by Special Forces only. The parallels between Slim’s ‘Royal Corps of Tree Climbers’ analogy and the current trend of operational deployments accurately summarise the frustrations of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps, who, despite the lack of a ‘green hat’ (or possibly Sherwood Green or ‘Sandy’ beret), consider themselves more than capable of ‘climbing trees’ …

Notwithstanding recent combat actions performed by Infantrymen in Afghanistan, the role of the Infantry component of the Reconstruction Task Force is limited to force protection—rigidly imposed to the point whereby participants have been required to sign formal documents declaring that they have not provoked combat operations— whilst their fellow countrymen from the Special Operations Task Group actively pursue engagement with enemy forces, having been publicly praised by defence and governmental hierarchy for previous tours of duty that involved daily contact with the enemy. In the same theatre, armies with whom we possess a standardisation program (US, Britain and Canada) are employing their Infantry aggressively against the enemy. The lack of Australian participation in combat has drawn adverse comment and questions from the international press …

Since 11 September 2001 Australia’s allies have become embroiled in violent conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia. Australia has professed itself a staunch ally of the Americans in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed has received significant political kudos for what has been termed as unwavering support. At the coalface, however, such sentiments are dismissed as political rhetoric, as serving members from the United States, Britain and Canada lay their lives on the line in support of their government’s objectives whilst the Australian Infantry appear to do little more than act as interested spectators from the sideline.

Notwithstanding the mutual accolades provided between international political bodies in the interests of diplomacy, Australia’s contributions to both Iraq and Afghanistan have been derided and scorned by soldiers and officers alike from other nations who are more vigorously engaged in combat operations. In Iraq, the much heralded deployment of Al Muthanna Task Group-1 was met with incredulity by British forces deployed on Operation TELIC V. The stringent force protection measures and limitations to manoeuvre applied to the newly arrived (yet very well equipped) Australians were in stark contrast to the British approach of using the benign Al Muthanna province as a respite locality for (not very well equipped) troops who had been in sustained action in either Basra or Al Amarah.

The initial caution of such a deployment is both prudent and understandable, however the ongoing inaction and lack of contribution to counterinsurgency and offensive operations has resulted in collective disdain and at times near contempt by personnel from other contributing nations for the publicity-shrouded yet forceprotected Australian troops.

The restrictions and policies enforced on Infantrymen in Iraq have resulted in the widespread perception that our Army is plagued by institutional cowardice. Rebuttal of such opinions is difficult when all staff at Iraq’s Multi-National Division (South East) Headquarters are formally briefed that the Australian contingent’s national caveats strictly prohibit offensive operations, attack and pursuit. Of the phases of war, this leaves only defence and withdrawal.

Commentary & Analysis

In the Weekly Standard in March of 2007, Michael Fumento had an interesting article entitled The Democrats’ Special Forces Fetish: A Fatuous Promise to Double the Size of Our Elite Military Units. It is worth reading for the volume of information in the article, as well as for a good knock-down argument for why it is impossible to double the size of the Special Operations Forces.

The Democrats’ reflexive push to treat counterinsurgency as counterterrorism is one reason that The Captain’s Journal doesn’t cover or analyze hits against so-called high value targets (HVT). The war on terror isn’t about personalities, even though some of their favorite think tanks do wish to treat it as a police campaign against individuals.

But beyond this, there has grown up around SOF a sort of cult following and hero worship that clouds informed judgment and clear thinking. SOF, it is believed – perhaps based on the Rambo persona – can do anything, and tend to be the real warriors deployed when the fighting gets tough. Hard core kinetic operations is reserved for SOF. Gone are the days when special operations has to do with specialty billets such as language, reconnaissance, airborne, and other qualifications that is is just too expensive to grow in the armed forces. Enter the days of SOF as supermen.

But the advent of each new story about SOF that kills some high profile name, while riveting for the non-military reader, continues the same lesson that Rumsfeld took into Afghanistan with his vision of airmen with satellite uplinks guiding JDAMS to target, CIA operatives, and alliances with rogues in the country who could knock out the Taliban. Afghanistan is a failing campaign precisely because of this view. Counterinsurgency requires infantry and force projection, those things necessary to ensure security for the population.

While Fumento’s view might be applicable to the Army, Navy and Air Force, since The Captain’s Journal is a USMC blog, we’ll take a uniquely Marine view of things. While some Recon Marines have been split off from their units, Recon primarily still supports infantry, and the Marine force structure is uniquely aligned to conduct kinetic operations, whether conventional or counterinsurgency.

In order to help explain this, a conversation is given below. In this conversation, TCJ is The Captain’s Journal, M is some unnamed Marine, and City is the location in which this Marine happened to be during his deployment. It is left to the reader to surmise whether this is a real or fabricated conversation.

TCJ: Did y’all ever conduct distributed operations in the city?

M: Units of how large?

TCJ: Two, or three, or a fire team.

M: No. If you went into the city with less than a squad you died. Usually a platoon, always at least a squad. If a squad, the fire teams conducted a satellite patrol to throw the enemy off.

TCJ: What about snipers? Didn’t you have and use them?

M: Yea, we have the DM (designated Marksman) specialization who is also still part of his unit.

TCJ: How did he deploy into the city?

M: A platoon or squad delivered him to his location. When he was finished a day or two later we picked him up and escorted him back to the FOB or outpost. If he got into trouble, we were a radio call away.

TCJ: What if the population saw you deliver this DM and knew he was there?

M: So what?

TCJ: Well, if they knew he was there, so did the insurgents, and they would then know to avoid that area altogether.

M: Right. So whether the DM shoots or merely uses his known presence to pacify an area, you’ve met your objective, right?

TCJ: I understand. So the idea is to provide maximum force protection while also contacting the population.

M: Look. Combat in the Marines is engaged by the infantry. Infantry lays maximum metal down range when needed, beginning with the SAWs.

TCJ: So no one, including Recon, sees more combat than infantry?

M: It’s all still infantry. Recon is attached to infantry. DMs are attached to infantry. Artillery supports infantry. No one person is more special than anyone else. They are all billets, and the Marine does his job and fulfills his billet. Everyone is billeted to support infantry, and infantry protects everyone else. Infantry is king. It’s the focus of everything.

Major Hammett’s disdain for the lack of respect for and utilization of his infantry is both obvious and understandable. While Australian forces were inside the borders of Afghanistan prior to U.S. forces post 9/11, they were special operations forces. No infantry has been deployed to engage in kinetic operations in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

For a picture of what the Democratic proposal for structuring the armed forces of the United States would look like, see the one painted by Major Hammett. Special operations conducts black operations against high value targets, and infantry sits in the States training. The war on terror will not be treated as a counterinsurgency campaign. It will be understood to be a policing action requiring the SWAT team of U.S. special operations forces.

There are some who favor equipping, training and preparation for a near peer conflict who might like this picture. But before jumping too quickly, the reader should consider the unintended consequences of such an approach. According to Major Hammett, such consequences can be (but are not limited to) an Army that suffers from the perception of “institutional cowardice” and (as Major Hammett discusses later in his paper) the loss due to lack of job satisfaction of the very soldiers who the institutionalists wish to retain, and loss of the very soldiering that they wish to press due to inexperience.

More Troops for Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

General David Petraeus is apparently going to recommend that a Brigade be redeployed from Iraq to Afghanistan prior to the new administration taking over.

A senior U.S. Defense official who has seen Petraeus’ recommendations to the Joint Chiefs, Defense Secretary Gates and President Bush told FOX News the likely brigade to be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan is the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y.

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team is scheduled to deploy in the spring and their training could be shifted to match terrain in Afghanistan instead. The 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry unit, is well suited for such terrain.

Several reports also suggest that Petraeus is also recommending 1,500 Marines also be redirected from service in Iraq and sent to Afghanistan.

The Captain’s Journal has previously weighed in stating that we believe that the campaign will require an additional three Marine Regimental Combat Teams (RCT) and three Army Brigades. We now believe that this counsel was on the low end of the true requirements, and that General Petraeus will be obliged to redeploy much more that he has stated above.

The advisers to President Bush are said to object to the redeployment out of Iraq, and Bush will apparently decide this week. But in the spirit of our previous counsel that we don’t have until next year to bolster forces in Afghanistan, there is a revelation from Operation Enduring Freedom command that convinces us that there won’t likely be a Taliban winter rest this year.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALAGUSH, Afghanistan — American troops in Afghanistan will step up offensive operations this winter because insurgents are increasingly staying in the country to prepare for spring attacks, a U.S. commander told The Associated Press.

Maj. Gen. Jeffery J. Schloesser said a 40 percent surge in violence in April and May was fueled in part by militants preparing stores of weapons during the winter, which generally is a slow period for fighting, particularly in snowy Afghan mountainous areas.

“If we don’t do anything over the winter the enemy will more and more try to seek safe haven in Afghanistan rather than going back to Pakistan,” Schloesser said.

U.S. and NATO officials say militants cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan, where they rest, train and resupply in tribal areas along the frontier where the Pakistani government has little sway.

Schloesser estimated 7,000 to 11,000 insurgents operate in the eastern part of Afghanistan that he oversees — a far higher estimate than given by previous U.S. commanders.

He said the U.S. military realized more militants spent last winter in Afghanistan after speaking with elders and villagers who had been pushed out of their homes. The spike in violence in the spring occurred because insurgents were already in position to unleash attacks, though U.S. officials didn’t know it at the time, he said.

“They didn’t have to come over the passes, they were already here,” Schloesser said during an interview while flying in a Black Hawk helicopter Monday to a small U.S. outpost in Nuristan, a province that borders Pakistan.

Kudos to Maj. Gen. Schloesser for this perspective. The Captain’s Journal loves honesty and forthrightness. The Major General understands the need to continue operations, and so does General McKiernan, who doesn’t want to lose the terrain taken in and around Garmser after the Marines of the 24th MEU took it.

Introducing the general to his officers and senior enlisted, company commander Dynan briefs McKiernan on their recent fight against the Taliban, and the improving situation with the villagers.

Weeks later, McKiernan will explain how the problem with Pakistan and the ISI was affecting the local ground war. “There is a continuing issue of the very porous border with Pakistan and it has allowed insurgent militant groups a greater freedom of movement across that border . . . . They have the freedom to move across the border unimpeded and can easily resupply and recruit in Pakistan,” McKiernan told the Associated Press on 9 July. He added that rocket and mortar attacks launched by militants in Pakistan at U.S. and Afghani border outposts had spiked dramatically in May and June.

But today all the Army general wants to do is talk to “his” Marines. The 24th MEU was deployed specifically to Afghanistan in response to Canadian and British calls for additional American troops, and McKiernan uses it as his Quick Response Force, to be thrown into whatever emergency situation arises.

McKiernan asks Captain Dynan for permission to address the Marines of Alpha Company. Surrounded by Leathernecks, the new commanding general speaks quietly to the young men. “You’ve knocked the insurgents, the Taliban, out of the area,” he said. “They had no idea of how Marines can fight. They do now. You’ve given the locals the courage to stand up with us, and that’s what it takes to win down here.”

Pleased by the recognition, the Marines smile and pepper McKiernan with questions, then take turns shaking his hand. As the general and his entourage depart, the men of Alpha Company prepare for their evening patrols, where they will continue to walk through villages, meeting the locals, and letting friend and foe alike know that the Marines have landed.

Marine Corps Commandant Conway predicted that this would happen.

Conway anticipated the Corps’ predicament when the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, deployed to Afghanistan this spring, to provide a surge of forces there.

“I said, with all due respect … ‘let me predict something: Commanders will fall in love with the Marines because they will do a great job,’ ” Conway said. “There will be a request for an extension. There will be requests to replace them with other Marines.”

The Marines were, in fact, extended. And if new Marines are to fall in behind those slated to depart in November, a decision would have to be made soon.

That could come in a variety of forms. The 26th MEU departed North Carolina in August for an undisclosed location in the Middle East, while the 13th MEU is slated to push out of Southern California in January.

This is the first time The Captain’s Journal has seen in print the possibility that the 26th MEU might be replacements for the 24th MEU. But if this is going to happen, the decision will be made soon. The 24th MEU is scheduled to return stateside in November. Leaving port in January of 2009 and arriving in February of 2009, doesn’t really do justice to the needs of the campaign, although the 13th MEU might also be in the works for Afghanistan if our counsel is followed.

Either way, Operation Enduring Freedom is in dire need of troops, and the security situation is degrading. Security for the population is a hinge upon which much of counterinsurgency turns, and without adequate force projection, we cannot hope to win the campaign. As we have pointed out, at the height, Soviet General Gromov had up to 104,000 troops, while General Petraeus currently has only 32,500.

The 26th MEU, the USS San Antonio, and Military Equipment

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

The Captain’s Journal will take great interest in the 26th MEU for the remainder of its current deployment. The 26th MEU consists of the USS Iwo Jima and USS San Antonio, are they are joined by amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall, the guided missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf, the guided missile destroyer USS Ramage, the guided missile destroyer USS Roosevelt and the fast attack submarine USS Hartford.

The USS Iwo Jima, which carries the 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment (2nd Marine Division), left the Norfolk Naval Station on Tuesday. On the other hand, the USS San Antonio has had equipment malfunctions that kept her in port.

Hydraulic problems have delayed the maiden deployment the amphibious transport dock San Antonio (LPD-17), which was supposed to leave Aug. 26 with the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group.

The ship, which has endured lengthy delays and cost overruns, had to stay back in Norfolk due to a broken stern gate that will take days to repair, said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Herb Josey, spokesman for Naval Surface Force Atlantic.

The amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima left the pier at 11 a.m. without San Antonio and is headed to North Carolina to onload the rest of the Camp Lejeune-based 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Capt. Brian Smith, Amphibious Squadron 4 commander, said the problem with San Antonio was discovered Aug. 24 and he expects the new amphib – the lead ship of the LPD 17 class – to be repaired and outbound by the end of this week.

“There is nothing that will keep San Antonio from getting underway,” he said. The problem is a mechanical failure in a ram cylinder piston that controls the stern gate, he said, crucial for conducting well-deck operations, an amphib’s very reason for existence.

San Antonio’s fleet debut has been a rocky one. It underwent two scathing inspection reports and had to miss its first shot at deployment in February with the Nassau ESG.

Smith defended both San Antonio and the San Diego-based amphib New Orleans, the second ship in the class, which was deemed “degraded in her ability to sustain combat operations” by a recent Navy inspection.

“Any new ship is going to be scrutinized and discrepancies will be generated,” he said.

But intense scrutiny isn’t really the problem. The problems run far deeper, into management of the design and construction process.

… the San Antonio had a troubled fleet debut. After arriving late and over-budget in 2005, an initial inspection report revealed major problems.

Board of Inspection and Survey officers found the ship “incomplete” and unsafe for crew members to board in a July 5, 2005, report. Inspectors found “poor construction and craftsmanship … throughout the ship.”

Wiring was also problematic.

“Poor initial cable-pulling practice led to what is now a snarled, over-packed, poorly-assembled and virtually uncorrectable electrical/electronic cable plant,” the report states.

The San Antonio made headlines again in April 2007, after the ship was deemed “unsuccessful” because of several equipment failures and “unreliable” steering during March sea trials. However, the report commends the crew for presenting the ship “professionally.”

Still, the catalog of problems prompted Navy Secretary Donald Winter to write a June 22, 2007, letter to shipbuilder Northrop Grumman complaining that two years after commissioning, the fleet “still does not have a mission-capable ship.”

Over its early life, San Antonio’s price also rose from a 1996 estimate of $876 million to $1.85 billion, once all of its discrepancies were corrected.

Unless the cable raceways and trays are done per specification, the wiring and cabling are all marked and labeled, the terminal cabinets are all labeled, the terminations are all numbered, the sliding links are all clearly marked, the relays are all labeled, and electrical engineering, logic diagrams and wiring tabulations are all certified and quality assured, the contractor has left the Navy with an unmaintainable situation.

We’ve discussed this before in Can the Navy Afford the New Destroyers, where we cataloged the demise the ship building industry in the U.S., concluding that:

Anything as complex as the engineering behind shipbuilding cannot be long sustained if a country is not actively engaged in the process. Certainly, contractors who bid the jobs believed that procedures for doing dye penetrant and radiography on welds were the same as before, and protocols for QA had not changed since the last time ships were constructed. Engineers are, after all, plug-and-play, white jumpsuit experts at everything under the sun, and also certainly the technology can be rapidly learned and applied by new, young engineers straight out of school, or who had been the understudy of engineers who had done this work before.

Only, none of this is exactly true … To be sure, accountability is the order of the day, and strict management of costs will be necessary for the Navy to be allowed to move forward with its Destroyer program. But shipbuilding is a lost science in the U.S., and recapturing it as an institution will be difficult and fraught with hidden problems for the DoD to deal with. This is not so much an issue with the Navy, or what they call the ‘Destroyers’, or how much they control the contractors, as it is with the fact that the U.S. has lost the ability to do large scale steel projects and shipbuilding.

The USS San Antonio is not a destroyer, but the basic principle remains the same. Day laborers are no substitute for professionals, hope is not a substitute for a QA program, poor design and construction practices lead to problems with maintenance, and rework always increases the cost and decreases the quality.

While at least somewhat unrelated, this brings up the issue of the refueling tanker. We have previously weighed in on this issue, but a good technical discussion is contained in a Human Events article by General John Handy, USAF (Ret.). A brief quote gives his perspective on the tanker controversy.

Somewhere in the acquisition process, it is obvious to me that someone lost sight of the requirement. Based on what the GAO decided, it’s up to people such as myself to remind everyone of the warfighter requirement for a modern air refueling tanker aircraft.

Recall that we started this acquisition process in order to replace the Eisenhower era KC-135 aircraft with a modern version capable of accomplishing everything the current fleet does plus additional needs for the future. Thus the required aircraft is of small to medium size much like the KC-135. Not a very large aircraft like the current KC-10, which may be replaced later with a comparably large aircraft.

Why a smaller to medium size aircraft? Because, first of all, you want tankers to deploy in sufficient numbers in order to accomplish all assigned tasks. You need to bed them down on the maximum number of airfields around the world along with or close to the customer — airborne fighters, bombers and other mobility assets in need of fuel close to or right over the fight or crisis. This allows the supported combatant commander the ability to conduct effective operations around the clock. The impact of more tankers is more refueling booms in the sky, more refueling orbits covered, wider geographic coverage, more aircraft refueled, and more fuel provided. A “KC-135 like” aircraft takes up far less ramp space, is far more maneuverable on the ground and does not have the risk of jet blast reorganizing your entire ramp when engine power is applied.

Just so. And TCJ wondered why, if from the beginning the specifications targeted a medium refueling tanker, extra credit would be awarded to larger air frames. It makes absolutely no sense. But regardless of this technical point, there is a more salient point that TCJ made several months ago concerning who holds a major share of EADS.

Even more worrisome is the power grab by Vladimir Putin, who is buying up the depressed shares of EADS like a corporate raider. The prospect of the authoritarian Russian leader, whose political opponents are harassed and jailed while prying journalists turn up missing or murdered, having a heavy hand in EADS affairs is deeply troubling. Russia opposed the invasion of Iraq and has sought to undermine U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The most troubling aspect of the tanker contract is the danger it poses to U.S. national security. According to a report by the Center for Security Policy, EADS has been a leading proliferator of weapons and technology to some of the most hostile regimes in the world, including Iran and Venezuela. When the U.S. formally objected to EADS selling cargo and patrol planes to Venezuelan despot Hugo Chavez, EADS tried to circumvent U.S. law by stripping American-built components from the aircraft. Chavez is now building an oil refinery in Cuba to keep Castro’s failed Communist state afloat, funding terrorists seeking the violent overthrow of Colombia’s government, and recently meddled in the presidential election in Argentina with secretly smuggled cash contributions. If EADS had its way, Chavez would now be advancing his anti-American designs in the Western hemisphere with U.S. technology and components.

EADS entanglements with Venezuela make the Pentagon’s decision to waive the Berry Amendment, which prohibits the export of technology that might be developed during the building of the tanker to third parties, indefensible. Given the sophisticated radar and anti-missile capabilities of military tankers, this is no small matter. Such technology falling into the hands of state sponsor of terrorism would devastate our war fighters.

EADS entanglements with Venezuela make the Pentagon’s decision to waive the Berry Amendment, which prohibits the export of technology that might be developed during the building of the tanker to third parties, indefensible. Given the sophisticated radar and anti-missile capabilities of military tankers, this is no small matter. Such technology falling into the hands of state sponsor of terrorism would devastate our war fighters.

And such a scenario is hardly unreasonable. EADS executives recently attended an air show in Iran and were caught red-handed trying to sell helicopters with military applications. When confronted, an EADS executive said the company was not bound by the U.S. arms embargo against Iran. EADS also sold nuclear components vital to exploding a nuclear device to an Asian company that in turn sold them to an Iranian front operation.

As TCJ coverage of the unwarranted Russian aggression against Georgia has made clear, we consider Vladimir Putin to be a gangster and international criminal. Any involvement with Putin - any involvement, including the Airbus - should be rejected without further consideration.

Technology is hard to regain once it has been lost. This is true of ship building, engineering QA, and air frame design. It is not only good for the U.S. economy and technological capabilities to have this done in the States, but it enables holding contractors accountable, something that we can never do with gangsters and criminals. It is yet to be seen how this will play out. But only the U.S. could be so stupid as to award a contract for our military refueling tankers to Vladimir Putin.

Trying Warriors in Civilian Court

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

Hopefully readers have kept up with the case of Marine Sergeant Jose Luis Nazario Jr., a veteran of al Fajr. Tony Perry with the LA Times is carrying an account of the case thus far against him (extensively cited below).

In what the prosecution calls Marine Corps 101, civilian jurors in a landmark trial in Riverside are being tutored in a “warrior culture” that trains young men not only how to kill the enemy but, just as importantly, when to show restraint.

Barring unforeseen events, jurors in the case of the United States of America vs. Jose Luis Nazario Jr. will be asked this week to do something no civilian jury has done in modern times: determine whether a member of the U.S. military committed criminal acts in combat. Only one of the jurors has military experience, a stint in the Navy a decade ago.

Nazario, 28, a former Marine sergeant and squad leader, is accused of manslaughter and assault in the killing of four Iraqi prisoners on the first day of Operation Phantom Fury, the Marine-led battle in November 2004 to rout armed insurgents from Fallouja.

He left the Marine Corps in 2005 and was no longer subject to military law when the investigation began in 2006.

Regardless of the verdict, the case has established a precedent that the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, passed in 2000 to allow Defense Department civilian employees and contractors to be prosecuted for crimes overseas, also applies to military members who leave the service before their alleged crimes are discovered.

Two fellow Marines who remain on active duty face military charges in the case. When Sgts. Ryan Weemer and Jermaine Nelson go to court-martial, their jurors will be Marines and sailors, most of whom will have had combat experience in Iraq, Afghanistan or both.

No one will have to tell those jurors what a rifle squad is, the difference between an M-16 rifle and a .50-caliber machine gun, that RPG stands for rocket-propelled grenade and IED stands for improvised explosive device, or that a “daisy chain” is a series of IEDs buried by insurgents to kill a large number of Americans …

At one point, a juror complained that she was having trouble keeping up with all the acronyms. The court reporters also have had trouble with the speed and volume of jargon …

A juror looked shocked when Schmitt said Marines are taught that some Iraqi women hide bombs under their clothing by pretending to be cradling babies. Knowing when not to shoot, he said, “is the difficult part of our profession.”

Preposterous. Not knowing how warriors are trained and what stress they endure, not knowing what IED, ROE, RUF, RPG, JDAM or any of the other acronyms stand for, not ever having been a part of a warrior culture, and not knowing what kinetic operations means or what a satellite patrol is, these civilians are expected to deliver a verdict on an incident that has no witnesses, in a place they have never been, under conditions they can only imagine? And one juror is shocked that females would carry bombs under their clothing and use their gender to mask their intent!

TCJ has a reputation for blunt honesty. Let’s be honest and call a charade a charade. If the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act is responsible for this joke, then it should be undone with haste because the act itself is a joke.

Taliban Cross-Border Operations

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago

As we have discussed before, nationalism is out of accord with both the tenets and goals of radical militant Islamism.  Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and Salafists and Wahhabists worldwide have no recognition of the legitimacy of borders.  This characteristic of being a transnational insurgency coupled with Pakistan’s capitulation to them has caused problems for the so-called border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Recently The Captain’s Journal said that the most recent deals with the Taliban made Afghanistan the sacrificial lamb while intending to maintain Pakistan’s stability.  Almost as if on cue, a report comes to us on current Taliban freedom to roam to and fro about the border region.

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan – In early June, about 300 fighters from jihadist groups came together for a secret gathering here, in the same city that serves as headquarters to the Pakistani army.

The groups were launched long ago with the army’s clandestine support to fight against India in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. But at the meeting, they agreed to resolve their differences and commit more fighters to another front instead: Afghanistan.

“The message was that the jihad in Kashmir is still continuing but it is not the most important right now. Afghanistan is the fighting ground, against the Americans there,” said Toor Gul, a leader of the militant group Hezb-ul Mujahedeen. The groups included the al-Qaida-linked Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, banned by Pakistan and branded terrorists by the U.S., he said …

Militants say they operate with minimal interference, and sometimes tacit cooperation, from Pakistani authorities, while diplomats say the country’s new government has until now been ineffectual in dealing with a looming threat.

“Where there were embers seven years ago we are now fighting flames,” a serving Western general told The Associated Press, referring to both Afghanistan and Pakistan’s border regions. He agreed to be interviewed on condition his identity and nationality were not revealed …

Pakistan’s Mohmand and Bajaur tribal areas are emerging as increasingly strong insurgent centers, according to Gul, the militant. His information was corroborated by Pakistani and Western officials. Both those tribal areas are right next door to Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

“Before there were special, hidden places for training. But now they are all over Bajaur and Mohmand,” he said. “Even in houses there is training going on.”

A former minister in President Pervez Musharraf’s ousted government, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals, said insurgents were being paid between 6,000 and 8,000 rupees — the equivalent of $90 and $120 — a month in Mohmand and grain was being collected to feed them. He did not identify the source of the donations but said Pakistan’s army and intelligence were aware of them.

Maulvi Abdul Rahman, a Taliban militant and former police officer under the ousted hardline regime, said jihadistsympathizers in the Middle East are sending money to support the insurgents and more Central Asians are coming to fight. Rahman said under a tacit understanding with authorities, militants were free to cross to fight in Afghanistan so long as they do not stage attacks inside Pakistan, which has been assailed by an unprecedented wave of suicide attacks in the past year.

“It is easy for me now. I just go and come. There are army checkposts and now we pass and they don’t say anything. Pakistan now understands that the U.S. is dangerous for them,” he said. “There is not an article in any agreement that says go to Afghanistan, but it is understood if we want to go to Afghanistan, OK, but leave Pakistan alone.’”

Again, just as we had pointed out, the Pakistani deal with the Taliban has as its sole purpose to save Pakistan.  It will ultimately lead to the strengthening of the Taliban and the destabilization of Pakistan as well, but given the Pashtun rejection of the war on terror and the malaise of the Pakistani Army, The Captain’s Journal expected the deals to occur.

Note that the Kunar Province mentioned above is the location of 50% casualty rate for U.S. forces in recent combat operations.  As the reader might have suspected, The Captain’s Journal says if the Taliban want to fight us in the tribal region, saddle up!  Send the Marines after them, border or no border.  If Pakistan won’t do the job, then the U.S. can.

Escalation in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago

Both the size of the ISAF and the insurgency are growing in Afghanistan, but the the rates of growth are disparate.

Each year since 2002, the number of U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan has grown. And each year, during the “fighting season” of spring and summer, the number of attacks by the Taliban has also increased, prompting commanders to conclude that still more troops are needed. This year is no exception. There are 66,000 foreign troops from 40 countries in Afghanistan, including 37,500 Americans; the force under NATO command has grown by 20,000 in 18 months. But Taliban attacks are up 40 percent in eastern provinces this year compared with 2007, and there has been another spike in coalition casualties. In May and June, more Western soldiers died in Afghanistan than in Iraq. Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that “at least” three additional brigades, or about 10,500 more troops, are needed for combat operations and training of the Afghan army.

Will the escalation never end? The war in Afghanistan sometimes appears to suffer from a syndrome that also plagued the United States in Vietnam: incremental increases in troops that are never enough to turn the situation around. Had former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld deployed 60,000 troops in 2002 — rather than 5,000 — Afghanistan might have been pacified. Now it seems that a “surge” of troops, like that successfully applied to Iraq last year, might be needed to turn the tide of the war.

The problem is that large numbers of fresh troops are unavailable. The U.S. military currently lacks the reserves, and NATO nations can’t or won’t provide them. Germany, Britain and France have recently pledged more soldiers, but the numbers are relatively small.

There have been more U.S. and NATO troops killed in Afghanistan in June than in Iraq for the second straight month.  But more to the point, many of the NATO troops aren’t allowed in kinetic engagements, so deploying more German troops doesn’t help if their mission is unnecessary.  To comprehend the full force of the report, it should be realized that some troops are taking a disproportionate level of the burden (e.g., U.S. troops), and the Marines’ deployment to Afghanistan has been bloody.

For the Marine Corps this year Afghanistan has proven a deadly and treacherous place.

Whereas 18 months ago the service was absorbing dozens of casualties per month in attacks throughout the once-restive al Anbar province in Iraq, today the bloodletting is in Afghanistan, where a resurgent Taliban insurgency and an undermanned, politically-constrained NATO force has lead to a sharp rise in leathernecks killed or wounded.

In June alone — when seasonal thaws lead to increased attacks from insurgent groups — the force of some 3,200 Marines there suffered 10 killed in action, including one Navy corpsman. By comparison, of the 23,000 Marines in Iraq, six were killed in June.

So far this year 13 Marines have been killed in combat in Afghanistan while 17 have been killed in Iraq. 

And for the Marine battalion commander in Afghanistan who lost nine of those killed in action in June, the deaths are hitting his unit hard.

Note again that the Marine Corps had in Afghanistan 167% of the casualties it took in Iraq, with roughly seven times as many Marines deployed in Iraq.  This is a remarkable statistic, and states clearer than any other argument where the “tip of the spear” should be deployed.

There is action on the political front with Pakistan, who is apparently getting edgy with their territorial rights (seasoned with a big dose of fear of the Tehrik-i-Taliban).

When Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani meets President George W. Bush at the White House on June 28, he will tell the US leader that Islamabad will tolerate a US incursion into Fata if it is directed specifically against Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden or Ayman Al Zawahiri – but nobody else, says a report published on Friday.

Quoting senior US and Pakistani officials, the Time magazine reported that the prime minister, however, would also tell Mr Bush that Pakistan would not allow incursions into its territory for any other Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders.

“If they do a raid and they find No. 3 or No. 4 or No. 5 but don’t get Bin Laden, it’s going to be a realproblem,” said the report, quoting a senior Pakistani official.

Ahead of the events again, The Captain’s Journal had previously said that Afghanistan would remain the focal point for kinetic operations against the Taliban, and that Pakistan could not be counted as allies in the fight.  This remains true despite arguments to the contrary.  “Expert” Jeremy Shapiro (Brookings Institution, RAND, Georgetown) stated to Spiegel that there is no need for additional troops.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Policy-makers in the US and Europe are shocked by the gloomy Pentagon assessment for Afghanistan. You, however, are pleading for more optimism. Why?

Shapiro: There is ample reason for gloom, but we need to keep in mind that in the best of circumstances, Afghanistan is a long-term mission. We are talking about a commitment of 10 or 20 years. I believe we have fundamentally the right strategy in place, but even if that is so it will take some time to show progress. I don’t believe we need the major review people are talking about.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Everyone seems to be asking for more troops in Afghanistan, though. President George W. Bush, John McCain, even Barack Obama.

Shapiro: More soldiers could be put to good use there, but they wouldn’t fundamentally change the situation. Let’s assume we would send in 10,000 more, as is contemplated: They could improve the local situation in a few areas for a time, but they would not rectify the problem of the Pakistani border areas and their ability to infiltrate insurgents into Afghanistan. As long as we don’t solve that problem, you could put 100,000 soldiers into Afghanistan and you would still have asymmetric attacks in various parts of Afghanistan and a rate of civilian and military casualties similar to the current one. And I have not yet heard viable suggestions on how to deal with the problem of the Pakistani border areas.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But isn’t it understandable that security is paramount to people in Afghanistan?

Shapiro: Of course, but we can’t solve that problem simply by increasing forces. Achieving overall security in Afghanistan will be a slow process and unfortunately we will have to tolerate violence in the country for a long time.

Some expert.  So that there is no confusion, The Captain’s Journal unequivocally states that the argument above is idiotic.  The population will not “tolerate violence in the country for a long time,” and this is ridiculous counterinsurgency policy.  Additionally, it is immoral and counterproductive.  NATO (and the U.S.) will not be welcome for a “long time” if we continue to tolerate violence.  Shapiro doesn’t understand the ebb and flow of counterinsurgency campaigns.  Also, recognizing that the nature of insurgencies is to engage in asymmetric warfare is correct and has absolutely no relevance to the argument concerning force size.  Shapiro should stay on point.

Again, Syria has been a problem with respect to infiltration of foreign fighters into Iraq, but the surge and security plan (along with other events such as the Anbar awakening) has slowed the river of fighters to a trickle.  While harder and more costly, it is possible to fight a transnational insurgency in a local battlespace, as long as global pressure is brought to bear.

Pakistan is a thorny problem, and obviously their pact with the Taliban cannot be honored by the U.S.  But Pakistan’s recalcitrance is no argument for under-resourcing the campaign in Afghanistan.  Recall the words of one Taliban commander: “If NATO remains strong in Afghanistan, it will put pressure on Pakistan. If NATO remains weaker in Afghanistan, it will dare [encourage] Pakistan to support the Taliban.”

We’ll take the admonition of the Taliban over the pontification of Jeremy Shapiro.  More troops will indeed “fundamentally change the situation.”  Similar to other RAND studies (which advocate a very small footprint for COIN), Shapiro behaves as if the last two years in Iraq never occurred and the gains never happened.  The quickest gains in Iraq were at the hands of the U.S. Marines (the experience on which, at least in part, the security plan in Baghdad was based).  They now stand ready to be at the tip of the spear in Afghanistan.


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