Archive for the 'Petraeus' Category



David Petraeus, Paula Broadwell And The Value Of Intelligence

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 11 months ago

There are all sorts of questions surrounding how the FBI found out about this affair, why they waited so long to inform the chain of command, and why it was made public when it was.  Those questions will eventually be answered, just like all of the questions surrounding Benghazi.

But focusing on the situation at hand, I am not opposed to making moral judgments.  We – you, I, all of us – make moral decisions and value judgments all day long, every day, on all sorts of things.  But the point of this isn’t to make judgments as to the moral challenges that General Petraeus faces.  Petraeus will have to face God and his own wife, and apparently according to reports, his own wife isn’t very happy.  She shouldn’t be.  She made a promise long ago, and so did her husband.  I do not give him a pass regardless of how difficult his career and life.

I have never been a fan of the General-worship that seems to engage America and American military history.  I didn’t and do not now agree with the doctrines of population-centric counterinsurgency, and I believe that FM 3-24 is filled mostly with fantasies and pipe dreams from neverland fabricated by people using as their basis primarily nineteenth and twentieth century secular psychology.

According to one high level staff officer who interacted with me during the surge, when Petraeus deployed to Iraq he brought a plan, and that plan survived right up until the logistics officers got hold of it, which was immediately, and then it died.  That being said, this same officer told me that to the credit of Petraeus, he adjusted very quickly to something that would work.  I have this for which to thank Generals Odierno and Petraeus.  They left the Marines alone in the Anbar Province in 2007.  They stayed out of their way, didn’t press them to change the way they were doing business, and allowed them to free reign to do what the Marines do best.  That is a lot more than can be said for Generals McChrystal and Rodriguez in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, the General’s son served in uniform.  2nd Lt. Stephen Petraeus served in Afghanistan as a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.  General Odierno’s son, Anthony Odierno, lost his left arm in Iraq.  The General wasn’t willing to hold back on committing his own son to the war effort.  Michael Yon is also heaps praises on General Petraeus.  Mr. Petraeus is fortunate to have advocates like Yon.  But it pays to remember why it’s simply unacceptable to have these kind of affairs going on in the chain of command.

Hidden and hurtful things like affairs are an opportunity for extortion and blackmail.  The nation cannot tolerate men in positions of power knowing secrets, intelligence, and sensitive information who also have undisclosed secrets that could be used against them.  For the same reason, heads of corporations have moral turpitude clauses in their contracts.  Information on company holdings, good and bad financial reports, and mergers and acquisitions, can affect stock prices, retirement plans and ultimately jobs.  Separate from moral judgments, certain things are required of certain people. In the words of reader and commenter Jean, if you don’t want to commit to the job, get out of the way and let someone else pick the targets.  Jean says Petraeus should have been reading intelligence reports from Kunar.  Yes, and Helmand too.

As for Paula [Edit: spelling corrected] Broadwell, she is apparently delusional on a number of levels.  She considers Petraeus to be her man, as if they’re married.  But Yon brings to us another tale of silliness as he describes what he knows about Broadwell.  “She believes that women should be Rangers, and infantry officers, and are capable of standing beside men in combat. Ironically, her role in this spectacle serves as a counter to her own argument.”

Broadwell only believes those things because she has never attempted to be an infantry Marine officer or join Special Operations herself.  Looking at her physique, she wouldn’t last a day in either the infantry Marines or Special Operations.  But recall what I said about such people.

If you have some sort of androgynous, genderless vision for the armed forces – if you believe that Navy Corpsmen should be able to treat the field diseases of both men and women and understand what mud and parasites in the various different cracks and crevasses and holes of men and women do, if you believe that men and women are on equal footing pertaining to physical abilities, if you believe that machines like the ridiculous Army future combat systems robotics and the silly machines like the big dog can ever replace mules and the backs of infantry Marines, if you believe that men and women will be able to interact socially as a cohesive fighting unit without the behavior that attends the opposite sexes – I think you’re weird and creepy.  Not that we can’t be friends, but just that you’re weird and creepy, at least to me.  Machines cannot replace strong men, and even the Russians found out in Afghanistan that women had a higher number of lower extremity injuries than men, causing severe under-manning of forces.

I take no delight in the General’s demise.  But I do take particular delight when a person creates the definitive defeater argument for their own views.  That’s what Broadwell has done, and Michael is right to point it out.  She has demonstrated to us yet again that men and women in the field of battle behave like men and women do.  If it can happen to Generals, it can happen to infantry Marines and special operators.  Even with the unfortunate affair that has taken down a General, Paula Broadwell has done us a service in spite of herself.

Any Spooks Left in the CIA Attic? Aiding the Syrian Army Defectors

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 1 month ago

I just want to know.

General Petraeus.  Once you get settled in over at the C.I.A., can you check around the closets or under the desks at Langley and see if there are any covert ops people left?   I know we are too high-tech for that sort of thing nowadays, but every so often a job comes up that just can’t be done by the drones or the snooping satellites or wire intercepts.

The Washington Post publishes this article concerning the rising numbers of Syrian soldiers defecting to the opposition:

WADI KHALED, Lebanon — A group of defectors calling themselves the Free Syrian Army is attempting the first effort to organize an armed challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, signaling what some hope and others fear may be a new phase in what has been an overwhelmingly peaceful Syrian protest movement.

For now, the shadowy entity seems mostly to consist of some big ambitions, a Facebook page and a relatively small number of defected soldiers and officers who have taken refuge on the borderlands of Turkey and Lebanon or among civilians in Syria’s cities.

Many of its claims appear exaggerated or fanciful, such as its boasts to have shot down a helicopter near Damascus this month and to have mustered a force of 10,000 to take on the Syrian military.

But it is clear that defections from the Syrian military have been accelerating in recent weeks, as have levels of violence in those areas where the defections have occurred.

“It is the beginning of armed rebellion,” said Gen. Riad Asaad, the dissident army’s leader, who defected from the air force in July and took refuge in Turkey.

The article goes to great lengths to point out that the group does not have much clout at the moment but also notes:

There are nonetheless signs that the Free Syrian Army is expanding and organizing as reports of violent encounters increase. The group has announced the formation of 12 battalions around the country that regularly post claims on the group’s Facebook page, including bombings against military buses and ambushes at checkpoints.

This type of reporting is to be taken with more than a grain of salt, particularly in light of the lack of any reporters inside of Syria verifying the claims  (Calling Geraldo:  report to your choice of border crossings into Syria).  At the same time, it is only natural that protesters who are regularly attacked, beaten, tortured and killed will want to take up arms and at least try to defend themselves.   Given that the Assad Regime has been a major supplier of insurgents and armaments into Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and actively does the bidding of Iran in Lebanon, the U.S. has a keen interest in seeing him toppled.

What perfect justice for the U.S. to return the favor to Assad tenfold by infiltrating weapons into Syria from western Iraq.

But does the U.S. even have that capability?  And if we do, would this Administration actually follow through?

How does the U.S. influence the future of Syria?  At some point, when the Assad Regime continues to kill and torture its citizens, the U.S. must do more than just offer a rhetorical bone to the opposition.    Connections are made and relationships formed by providing material assistance (even if covert) to the opposition groups in Syria who at least have a willingness to work with the U.S.   How do we know that we will not be supplying weapons and training to Islamist militants?

That requires actual intelligence officers and human sources inside Syria.

General Petraeus, do you have anyone like that around the office?

Nawa, Marjah and Kandahar: A Tale of Three Cities

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 3 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General David Petraeus, Max Boot and Independent Analysis

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 3 months ago

Several months ago Max Boot did something I would never do, and offered what he called rare praise for Andrew Sullivan.  The subject of the article was mainly about Petraeus and his statements on Israel, but in the same article Max made some fairly strong observations or allegations about Diana West.

Andrew McCarthy writing for National Review Online penned a lengthy rebuttal to Max’s advocacy for Petraeus, while also analyzing the statements Petraeus had recently made concerning Israel.  Max’s position has seemed profoundly weak to me, and McCarthy’s rebuttal appears determinative in light of the alternatives.  Petraeus has said, for example:

… enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to advance our interest in the AOR (Area of Responsibility). Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile Al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizbollah and Hamas.

Now, one can even agree with the General that Israel and the Palestinian-Israel conflict is the fulcrum upon which everything tips in the Middle East.  It doesn’t offend or bother me in the least; I just believe that this view is naive and meant primarily as a narrative for simpletons.  Let’s be clear.  Palestine or Israel could cease to exist tomorrow, and Iran would still pursue regional hegemony.  There would still be hatred among some in the Middle East towards the U.S. (Wahhabists, etc.) regardless of who did or didn’t exist, or what other conflict was or wasn’t going on.

But whatever your view, McCarthy’s article was rather conclusive, that is, until Max Boot responded to McCarthy.  He has been a determined advocate for Petraeus and his Israel policy, indeed.  Joshua Foust explains why.

The recent revelation that Gen. Petraeus — now installed as the third commander of the flagging Afghan War in two years— collaborated with at least one pundit to get his story into the public isn’t exactly earth-shaking. But it might point to deeper problems with the commentary industry: namely, who’s driving the discussion?

An activist named Philip Weiss recently posted to his blog an e-mail chain that revealed Petraeus jovially chatting with Los Angeles Times columnist and Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Max Boot (Weiss makes a big deal out of Petraeus’ use of a smiley-face emoticon, though he’s probably overreacting about his supposed run for the presidency). At issue was a statement Petraeus gave the Senate Armed Services Committee that was critical of Israel. Wanting to combat the negative things pro-Israel pundits were saying about him, Petraeus reached out to Boot, who promptly repeated Petraeus’s statements, arguments, and talking points in his writing without directly disclosing their source.

None of this is terribly surprising, in the abstract: Petraeus has taken Boot on numerous DOD-funded trips around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in return Boot has written repeatedly about how the wars are worth fighting, etc. It’s kind of a standard quid pro quo and makes sense from the general’s perspective. What’s odd, and this is where Weiss is onto something, is that Boot would go so far as to take cues directly from Petraeus, no longer writing as a pro-war partisan but as Petraeus’s unofficial spokesman.

It is an unfortunately common relationship in the think tank and commentary universe: writers find government figures they respect and wish to support, and those figures make supporting them as easy as possible.

Joshua goes on to discuss the ethics of this approach to advocacy.  You can make up your own mind.  As for regular readers of The Captain’s Journal, you would find it implausible to the point of simply impossible that I publish anyone’s talking points.  I know that some Milblogs and commentators that.  That group has not and will never include this one.  If you must publish someone else’s talking points, it means that you don’t have any thoughts of your own.

The Long Term Counterinsurgency Work in Marjah

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 3 months ago

From Financial Times:

Tracing his finger over a map of Marjah, Lance Corporal Paul Horchler sketched the route ahead. He would lead his marines along a canal, past the spot where a buried bomb had exploded the day before, then down a track nicknamed “ambush alley”.

His patrol was almost guaranteed to succeed. Either the Americans would have a chance to ask the locals where the Taliban were, or the insurgents would reveal themselves by shooting at them. Whatever happened, they stood to learn.

After trudging for an hour down a path flanked by fields and scattered adobe houses, seemingly deserted in the midday heat, the marines found a man willing to talk. He said he had seen four Taliban fighters at a nearby bazaar 30 minutes earlier.

“The Taliban, they’re probably watching us. I guarantee they are watching us,” said Lance-Corporal Monty Buchanan. “Whoever’s in the area will decide what they want to do, if they want to hit us or not.”

This is the daily grind faced by US marines in Marjah almost five months after they seized the town in Nato’s biggest operation of the nine-year Afghan war.

The offensive in southern Helmand province was billed as a centrepiece of General Stanley McChrystal’s strategy of pouring in US forces to protect the population from insurgents, but the climate of fear remains palpable.

Even before the general’s forced resignation last month over the publication of a Rolling Stone article in which he and his aides poured derision on the Obama administration questions were growing about the strategy.

General David Petraeus, who assumed command of the international force in Afghanistan on Sunday, is a leading US theorist in countering guerrilla warfare and has pledged continuity in strategy, although he has not ruled out adjusting its implementation.

L Cpl Horchler’s four-hour ramble past lavender fields and sunflowers outside Marjah was a lesson in the difficulties not only of separating the population from the insurgents, but in telling them apart. Many fighters operate within their communities, rendering the distinction even less clear.

Most of Marjah appeared to have deemed it too hot to be outside when the marines and Afghan soldiers set out into what felt like an immense vista for such a small patrol to cover; one that afforded almost infinite hiding places.

Marines who seized Marjah from the Taliban in a blaze of publicity are now facing almost daily ambushes staged by attackers skilled at burying home-made mines or hiding them under bunches of dried poppy stalks.

The patrol flinched when a rat-tat-tat echoed across a field like the sound of distant machinegun fire: it turned out to be a creaking water pump. Moments later, L Cpl Horchler, 22, aimed his rifle at what appeared to be a figure traversing a distant sand dune on a motorbike, suspecting he might be a Taliban spotter. The man vanished over the ridge.

A gunshot snapped the air and again the marines started. One of the Afghan soldiers had fired a warning to halt a minibus they wanted to search. A patch of disturbed earth on the track prompted a diversion for fear it concealed a bomb.

The informant’s compound felt safer than the road, although not much. One of the Afghan troops urged L Cpl Horchler to interrogate the owner of the shop where the insurgents had been seen. He refused, loathe to risk endangering his source.

L Cpl Horchler’s men returned to base unscathed, but a second patrol would be attacked on the same route a few hours later by insurgents armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

As Lance Corporal Mark Reno, 23, said: “I’m sure we’ve shaken hands with them on a daily basis and not even known who they were.”

Analysis & Commentary

In McChrystal Calls Marjah a Bleeding Ulcer, I laid out some hard questions for my readers.

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

It now appears that the answers to the first two questions above is no, and the answer to the last one which is yes.  The surprise at how long Marjah is taking betrays an actual belief that they could shout presto, clap their hands and make Marjah safe, secure and serene.

Forgotten are the long years of counterinsurgency work to win the Anbar Province, and in its place was substituted bare, unsubstantiated doctrine.  That there was surprise among McChrystal’s staff and the Pentagon is a pointer to harder points that need to be made; they see the world in a childlike fashion.

If nothing else comes from the Rolling Stone expose on McChrystal and his staff, we learn about the immaturity of McChrystal’s staff and even McChrystal himself.  The false beliefs concerning Marjah are in the books, but one example (out of many) comes to us by way of anecdote.

Even in his new role as America’s leading evangelist for counterinsurgency, McChrystal retains the deep-seated instincts of a terrorist hunter. To put pressure on the Taliban, he has upped the number of Special Forces units in Afghanistan from four to 19. “You better be out there hitting four or five targets tonight,” McChrystal will tell a Navy Seal he sees in the hallway at headquarters. Then he’ll add, “I’m going to have to scold you in the morning for it, though.” In fact, the general frequently finds himself apologizing for the disastrous consequences of counterinsurgency. In the first four months of this year, NATO forces killed some 90 civilians, up 76 percent from the same period in 2009 – a record that has created tremendous resentment among the very population that COIN theory is intent on winning over. In February, a Special Forces night raid ended in the deaths of two pregnant Afghan women and allegations of a cover-up, and in April, protests erupted in Kandahar after U.S. forces accidentally shot up a bus, killing five Afghans. “We’ve shot an amazing number of people,” McChrystal recently conceded.

Despite the tragedies and miscues, McChrystal has issued some of the strictest directives to avoid civilian casualties that the U.S. military has ever encountered in a war zone. It’s “insurgent math,” as he calls it – for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies. He has ordered convoys to curtail their reckless driving, put restrictions on the use of air power and severely limited night raids. He regularly apologizes to Hamid Karzai when civilians are killed, and berates commanders responsible for civilian deaths. “For a while,” says one U.S. official, “the most dangerous place to be in Afghanistan was in front of McChrystal after a ‘civ cas’ incident.” The ISAF command has even discussed ways to make not killing into something you can win an award for: There’s talk of creating a new medal for “courageous restraint,” a buzzword that’s unlikely to gain much traction in the gung-ho culture of the U.S. military.

But however strategic they may be, McChrystal’s new marching orders have caused an intense backlash among his own troops. Being told to hold their fire, soldiers complain, puts them in greater danger. “Bottom line?” says a former Special Forces operator who has spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I would love to kick McChrystal in the nuts. His rules of engagement put soldiers’ lives in even greater danger. Every real soldier will tell you the same thing.”

We have discussed the issue of a campaign against high value targets conducted by SOF.  I don’t believe in it.  I don’t think it works to curtail the insurgency.  But besides considerations of the utility of the strategy (and it is a strategy, not a tactic), there is the issue of maintenance of troop morale.  McChrystal set up a military cultural milieu in which direct action kinetics was relegated (or reserved) to SOF, while the so-called general purpose forces were essentially told to be policemen, and given rules of engagement that are more restrictive than those for police departments in the U.S.  Nothing McChrystal could have done would have worked so thoroughly to bust troop morale.

McChrystal’s vision is why he worked so poorly with the Marines and within the context of the MAGTF.  The Corps doesn’t buy into McChrystal’s bifurcation, and (properly) wants more control of goings-on within their battle space than McChrystal was willing to give them.  I gave Tad Sholtis (McChrystal’s PAO) multiple chances to say something – anything – positive about the MAGTF and the job the Marines were doing in Helmand.  No such praise came, and my communications with them were marked mostly by lip biting and equivocation.

I don’t know what the era of Petraeus will bring, and if he doesn’t immediately press authority down the chain of command, unshackle the enlisted men, reduce the rules of engagement with the enemy, ban PowerPoint presentations, unleash air power, get Soldiers off of the several huge bases they’re on, press for more distributed operations, and give commanders complete control over their battle space, then we will lose.  Either way, for the last year, the children have been in charge.

Ideologues and Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 3 months ago

At Blackfive, Uncle Jimbo (Jim Hanson) swerves way outside his lanes and lampoons an article penned by Colonel Gian Gentile, Professor of History at West Point and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Says Jim:

Crush points out, while nodding sagely in agreement, a piece by COL Gian Gentile bemoaning the idea that an insurgency should be fought using a counterinsurgency strategy. I think it bears a look at COL Gentile and his deep and abiding distaste for COIN prior to taking him too seriously. There is plenty to debate about the best way to counter an insurgency, but if you are going to debate you need an open mind. That is lacking here as the rhetoric in COL Gentile’s piece clearly shows.

Jim continues:

Did I miss something, I thought that a switch to COIN was one of the major factors in our victory in Iraq. (sic) even (sic) the Anbar Awakening was conditioned upon our employing a strategy that was focused on safeguarding the populace and helping the Iraqis do just that …

The fact that I am quite familiar with COL Gentile and his opinions regarding COIN would seem to argue against his feeling that there was no public debate about how to deal w/ insurgents. It seems more likely that since he lost those public debates he is now bitter. The Army needed a doctrine to deal with the active insurgencies we were facing and COL Gentile was definitely heard, he simply didn’t prevail. We continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the particular tactics that make up this doctrine and empirical evidence from the battlefield is examined to facilitate that. it may seem counter-intuitive for an Army to have a sweetness & light side, but it remains a fact that you can’t kill your way out of every problem.

Gentile’s article is entitled Time for the Deconstruction of Field Manual 3-24, published by National Defense University Press.  It’s a fairly short article, but several money quotes are given below.

Of course, leaders in war must be held accountable for their actions and what results from them. But to use as a measuring stick the COIN principles put forth in FM 3–24 with all of their underlying and unproven theories and assumptions about insurgencies and how to counter them is wrong, and the Army needs to think hard about where its collective “head is at” in this regard.

It is time for the Army to debate FM 3–24 critically, in a wide and open forum. The notion that it was debated sufficiently during the months leading up to its publication is a chimera. Unfortunately, the dialogue within defense circles about counterinsurgency and the Army’s new way of war is stale and reflects thinking that is well over 40 years old. In short, our Army has been steamrollered by a counterinsurgency doctrine that was developed by Western military officers to deal with insurgencies and national wars of independence from the mountains of northern Algeria in the 1950s to the swamps of Indochina in the 1960s. The simple truth is that we have bought into a doctrine for countering insurgencies that did not work in the past, as proven by history, and whose efficacy and utility remain highly problematic today. Yet prominent members of the Army and the defense expert community seem to be mired in this out-of-date doctrine.

Gentile goes on to cite several historical examples of counterintuitive effects in warfare, and then argues for the deconstruction of FM 3-24 with more openness to dialogue and debate than when it was first penned.

We will return to Gentile’s points later.  But Jim Hanson makes a blunder so obvious that it must be addressed before we can go any further.  He says “even (sic) the Anbar Awakening was conditioned upon our employing a strategy that was focused on safeguarding the populace and helping the Iraqis do just that.”  Anbar was won by switching strategy to a population-centric COIN model upon the advent of General David Petraeus, or so Hanson apparently believes.

This is approximately the same narrative that I heard Bill O’Reilly reiterate: “General Petraeus was able to convince the tribes in Iraq to oppose AQI, and that’s why the surge succeeded.”  It’s the narrative for the population, for the simpletons who need a short synopsis embodied in heroic proportions and in a single individual.  Americans love their generals, and their exploits tend towards the mythical.

The reality in the Anbar Province was much dirtier, much bloodier, much harder and much more costly than this narrative portrays.  The U.S. Marine Corps suffered more than a thousand Marines who perished in Anbar, and many thousands more who were maimed.  They didn’t die because of improper strategy, and the things that happened in Anbar were set into motion long before February 10, 2007 when Petraeus took over Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Colonel Sean MacFarland took Ramadi in May/June of 2006.  He observed that:

“The prize in the counterinsurgency fight is not terrain,” he says. “It’s the people. When you’ve secured the people, you have won the war. The sheiks lead the people.”

But the sheiks were sitting on the fence.

They were not sympathetic to al-Qaeda, but they tolerated its members, MacFarland says.

The sheiks’ outlook had been shaped by watching an earlier clash between Iraqi nationalists — primarily former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party — and hard-core al-Qaeda operatives who were a mix of foreign fighters and Iraqis. Al-Qaeda beat the nationalists. That rattled the sheiks.

“Al-Qaeda just mopped up the floor with those guys,” he says.

“We get there in late May and early June 2006, and the tribes are on the sidelines. They’d seen the insurgents take a beating. After watching that, they’re like, ‘Let’s see which way this is going to go.’ “

But his approach was heavily kinetic.

Col. Sean MacFarland arrived in Ramadi as commander of the U.S. 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division. His four Army and Marine battalion commanders built small outposts throughout the city, from which troops patrolled every block. When al Qaeda in Iraq challenged this intrusion, the Americans fought back with overwhelming firepower. Unlike other American commanders at the time, who sought to minimize their losses, Col. MacFarland did not relent when American casualties mounted. “My measure of effectiveness would not be low friendly casualties,” he told Mr. Michaels. “My measure of success would be defeating the enemy.”

Mr. Michaels explains that Col. MacFarland’s military operations helped to convince Sattar that the Americans—then at a low point in their effort to reshape Iraq—would persist and prevail in Anbar Province. So did Col. MacFarland’s personal diplomacy. “Instead of telling [the Iraqis] that we would leave soon and they must assume responsibility for their own security,” Col. MacFarland recalled, “we told them that we would stay as long as necessary to defeat the
terrorists.”

In Haditha, it was a variant of the same story.  Sand berms were used to quell the flow of insurgents into Haditha from the Syrian border, but in a pattern that was to play out all over Anbar, a local strongman helped to control the population, a former officer in the Saddam Hussein army known simply as Colonel Faruq, with the power and charisma to bring the town to heel.

In Al Qaim AQI had the tribes beaten down until the U.S. Marines engaged in enough heavy kinetics that the tribes wanted to ally themselves with the Marines.  After that point, a local strongman named Abu Ahmed helped to police the population.

By early 2007 both foreign fighters and indigenous insurgents had been driven from Al Qaim, Ramadi and Haditha, and they had landed squarely in Fallujah.  When the 2/6 Marines arrived in Fallujah in April of 2007, they had to construct some of Forward Operating Base Reaper while laying on their backs and passing sand bags over their bodies (to eventually be used for walls) because of the constant fire coming their way.  The previous unit had begin patrolling only at night because of snipers, and because they didn’t own the daytime, IEDs controlled their night time patrols, thus relegating them to sitting in their FOBs for the last three weeks of their deployment awaiting relief.  The population was so allied with AQI that their children were sent out with black balloons to demarcate patrol locations so that insurgent mortars could target the U.S. Marines (even at grave risk to the children).

Operation Alljah was started, and the Marines went in hard (I am not linking the Wikipedia link on Operation Alljah because of know with certainty that much of the data is simply erroneous or mistaken and incomplete.  The link is essentially worthless).  HMMWVs with loud speakers were deployed to every Mosque in the city bellowing U.S. positions and propaganda.  Heavy and aggressive patrols were conducted, and heavy fires were employed any time any insurgent used weapons against the Marines, including everything from fire team and squad level weapons to combined arms.

Policing of the population was aggressive, ubiquitous and around the clock.  In order to address the vehicle-borne IED problem, the use of automobiles was prohibited within Fallujah proper until such time as security was established.  Concrete barricades were set up throughout the city, and census data was taken on the entire population, much of it at night so that the population was awakened to Marine presence in their homes.

Many local insurgents were killed, and also even more foreign fighters.  Insurgents from Chechnya, men with skin “as black as night,” and even “men with slanted eyes” were killed in Fallujah in the summer of 2007.  The city was locked down and the atmosphere made very uncomfortable for the population – until, that is, they began cooperating with the U.S. Marines Corps.

I know many more things that I simply cannot share concerning this operation, but things that I have communicated to Colonel Gian Gentile.  Suffice it to say that Colonel Gentile isn’t frightened by invoking Iraq as an example of proper counterinsurgency strategy.  Whatever the incredibly intelligent General David Patraeus did for Baghdad and beyond, The Anbar Narrative is one of U.S. Marine Corps force projection.  But it didn’t stay that way.  Eventually, the warrior scholar emerged, and Lt. Col. William F. Mullen (now Colonel Mullen) was at city council meetings discussing power supply and trash collection.  Eventually, also, the concrete barricades were removed.

Colonel Gian Gentile isn’t a proponent of jettisoning counterinsurgency doctrine, despite what Jim Hanson believes.  Gentile knows that there are phases to campaigns, and one particular paper that has been influential in my thinking (given to me by Gentile) is from The Journal of Strategic Studies, entitled The Malayan Emergency as Counter-Insurgency Paradigm.  One money quote reads as follows:

It is naive to think that the blend of policies found at the optimisation phase of successful insurgencies will work well at the outset of a conflict. Hence, though measures to win ‘hearts and minds’ have their place in all phases, if only to dampen the effects of collateral damage and hatred of the security forces, in Malaya the emphasis in the critical 1950-52 phase was on getting effective command, small unit patrols bolted onto areas, and population control and security.

This campaign followed the example of phased counterinsurgency, with hard tactics and carrots and sticks employed at the right time and in the right degree.  The problem Gentile is addressing pertains to the unsubstantiated belief that everywhere, at all times, under all circumstances, and without exception, the center of gravity of a counterinsurgency campaign is the population.  I have also addressed this in Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN.  I envision multiple lines of effort, Gentile envisions a situation in which the troops on the ground discover the center of gravity if there is one, both views variants on the same theme.

Either way, Gentile is right, and the doctrines of FM 3-24 are in need of re-evaluation.  Jim Hanson has done a disservice to the practice of warfare by so quickly and disrespectfully dismissing Gentile’s arguments.  Moreover, he has come unarmed to an intellectual battle with a Jedi Master named Gentile.  It’s embarrassing for Hanson, even if he is too stolid to know it.  Colonel Gentile is discussing population-centric counterinsurgency as an exclusive use procedure, and demurring, while Hanson is discussing – well, I don’t know what.  By my Google mail search, I have exchanged literally hundreds of e-mails with Colonel Gentile on the issue of counterinsurgency.  What has Jim Hanson done to ensure that he has the proper understanding of Gentile’s position?  He doesn’t tell us.  Pity.

The question concerns the way in which to conduct counterinsurgency in the unfortunate advent of the situation in which we have no other choice.  In this, Gentile is sipping Merlot and smoking fine cigars in the back room where the decisions are being made, while Hanson is shouting and throwing down with his boys drinking PBR in the front room.  Occasionally, the raucous behavior spills over to the back room until the MPs arrive.  I’ll side with Gentile, thank you.

Postscript: See also Extracting Counterinsurgency Lessons: The Malayan Emergency and Afghanistan

The Side Effects of the Afghanistan Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

From Strategy Page;

After a year of concentrated effort, NATO forces in Afghanistan have reduced civilian casualties, caused by foreign troops, 44.4 percent. There were 7.8 percent fewer battles even involving civilians, and 52 percent fewer civilians hurt by foreign troops. The most striking reduction (82 percent) was in civilian casualties from air strikes. All this is calculated by comparing the last three months with the same period from last year. All this despite nearly twice as many foreign troops in action, and much more combat. Meanwhile, civilian losses from Taliban action are up 36 percent.

Many Afghans are not happy with this policy, with foreign troops increasingly encountering angry Afghan civilians, who demand that NATO act more decisively in pursuing and killing Taliban gunman. Even if it puts Afghan civilians at risk. This is an unexpected side effect to the change in NATO rules of engagement (ROE) in Afghanistan. The ROE change was partly in response to popular (or at least media) anger at civilians killed by American smart bombs. As a result of the new ROE, it became much more difficult to get permission drop a smart bomb when there might be civilians nearby. Now American commanders have to decide who they shall respond too; Afghan civilians asking for relief from Taliban oppression, or Taliban influenced media condemning the U.S. for any Afghan civilians killed, or thought to be killed, by American firepower. What to do? So far, the decision often favors the survival of the Taliban.

Unexpected?  This was only unexpected among dolts.  I said as much ten months ago (“officials” have admitted that the new Afghanistan ROE have opened up new space for the insurgents”), nine months ago (“the Taliban will surround themselves with noncombatants, in the end making it more dangerous for everyone”), eight months ago (“giving the insurgents safe haven amongst the domiciles of villages sends the opposite message than we intend”), seven months ago (“give chase to and kill the enemy as the surest way to win the hearts and minds of the locals, and thus win the campaign”), and four months ago (“I had predicted that these rules would have the opposite affect from that intended, i.e., that they would fail to prevent noncombatant deaths and might even cause more than if we were to implement a more robust set of ROE or simply leave the rules unchanged”).

Let’s not hear any more about unintended consequences or unexpected side effects of the ROE.  I’ve said plenty and issued the appropriate warnings.  The slow to learn haven’t been paying attention, and perhaps should never have been entrusted with the responsibility they have been given.

Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) is calling for a hearing on the ROE, and General Petraeus might be preparing to modify the rules of engagement, but I’ll take a wait and see approach on this.  The issue doesn’t pertain to whether there is such a thing as ROE, but whether Generals who should be talking strategy are issuing tactical directives to Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field under fire and requiring approval of staff level officers a hundred miles away in order to bring combined arms to bear on the enemy.  It has to do with micromanagement of the campaign.  It’s simply something staff and flag level officers should not be doing.  The campaign will be won or lost based on empowerment of the troops down the chain of command.

As I chewed the cud over the dismissal of General McChrystal over the weekend, it occurred to me that there was more than just the irrational devotion to a single military doctrine to blame for the fiasco that is Afghanistan (see endnote).  General McChrystal worked much of his career in Special Operations Forces where he micromanaged many things, including at the tactical level.  General McChrystal was never the right man for this job, regardless of whether he has been a good commander of SOF.  This isn’t a commentary on the man, but rather, a commentary on the situation.  It’s time for the new rules to go.  They were a bad idea from the beginning, and nothing useful or constructive ever came from them.

Endnote: I do not support a singular focus in counterinsurgency (such as population-centric COIN), but do support multiple, simultaneous and equally viable lines of effort.  Also, my view of Special Operations Forces is that SOCOM should be abolished.  Not SF or SOF, but the separate command structure for these groups.

Afghanistan: New General, Same Strategy?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

From CBS News:

In announcing that he was replacing General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus as the top commander in Afghanistan, President Obama made clear that while there would be a different man at the top, the war strategy would remain exactly the same.

“This is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy,” the president said in the Rose Garden, stressing that Petraeus, as the commander of U.S. Central Command, “supported and helped design the strategy we have in place.”

This is important.  It’s either true, in which case we have a massive problem, or it’s false, and General Petraeus has been biting his lower lip while General McChrystal ran the campaign into the ground.  My judgment is that the comments by Mr. Obama are true and salient, but there’s always hope that my analysis is wrong.

There is no question that the use of artillery and air power was heavier in Iraq than it is in Afghanistan (and Iraq was more urban).  As late as 2008 (well after the surge), artillery elements fired as many as 11,000 155 mm (M105) rounds in Baquba, Iraq in response to insurgent mortar activity.  There are many thousands more examples of heavy force projection, one such from Ramadi.

Col. Sean MacFarland arrived in Ramadi as commander of the U.S. 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division. His four Army and Marine battalion commanders built small outposts throughout the city, from which troops patrolled every block. When al Qaeda in Iraq challenged this intrusion, the Americans fought back with overwhelming firepower. Unlike other American commanders at the time, who sought to minimize their losses, Col. MacFarland did not relent when American casualties mounted. “My measure of effectiveness would not be low friendly casualties,” he told Mr. Michaels. “My measure of success would be defeating the enemy.”

No one wants to use artillery or air power if ground troops are available.  It’s always better for the population to look into the eyes of determined infantrymen.  But even with the infantry, their hands are tied.  We can talk strategy all day, but it’s impossible to go from tactical defeat to tactical defeat, ad nauseum, and succeed with strategy.  At some point, successful strategy requires successful tactical engagements.

Tim Lynch has a sobering post on the current situation in Afghanistan, and I sense from the usually sanguine Tim a different tone.  Reader TSAlfabet at TCJ also has a depressing observation and some questions for us.

Perhaps the choice is purely political: Obama chooses Petraeus because he knows that the GOP will not question it, and, if that Newsweek article is to be believed— a BIG if– then Obama already has Petraeus’ affirmation that a handover to the ANA can be done by July 2011. If Petraeus fails, Obama can blame it on him for not telling Obama back in Sept 2009 that it was a faulty strategy. In short, Petraeus gives Obama maximum political coverage. Conservatives will not want to criticize Petraeus and it will be difficult to fault Obama who gave the reins to the very person that the GOP wanted in charge all along.

How will this play out? Will Petraeus be given the latitude to make changes, to go on the offensive? What will Petraeus do with Karzai? What about Amb. Eikenberry?

How will all of this work out indeed?  I still believe that we are losing the campaign at the present.  Time will tell if Petraeus takes the necessary actions to turn this around.  But time is short.

Petraeus on Pursuing the Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

General Petraeus doesn’t read this blog, but here at The Captain’s Journal we’re happy with his words on Afghanistan.  True enough, he has focused on many things that should help the campaign: holding areas that we have cleared, having more enablers and trainers, and a surge of civilian capacity to match the effort by the military forces.  True enough, all of it.

But there is an interesting statement in his speech before the 45th Munich Security Conference which we shouldn’t gloss over.

… we must pursue the enemy relentlessly and tenaciously.  True irreconcilables, again, must be killed, captured, or driven out of the area.  And we cannot shrink from that any more than we can shrink from being willing to support Afghan reconciliation with those elements that show a willingness to reject the insurgents and help Afghan and ISAF forces.

Exactly the point we made in Counterinsurgency: Focus on the Population or the Enemy, and several hundred other articles prior to that.  But what is even more interesting than the comment by Petraeus is Joe Klein’s take on it in the context of Euro-sensibilities.

Richard Holbrooke and David Petraeus–appearing onstage together for the first time–emphasized the difficulty of the Af/Pak situation. Although Petraeus, a human power-point presentation, used phrases like “we must pursue the enemy tenaciously,” which clearly make the peacable Euros uncomfortable.

Indeed, the contrast between the British and German defense ministers said it all. The German, Franz Josef Jung, was archetypically skittish when it came to any mention of kinetics in Afghanistan, except to criticize the scourge of civilian casualties. His assessment of the situation was so ridiculously upbeat that the Afghan President Hamid Karzai praised it.

Joe Biden also used phrases like “pushing the reset button” on the U.S.-Russian relationship, an idea which seemed to suit and sooth the audience.

Our allies in Afghanistan.  Welcome to the old Europe – and the old Europe in Washington.

Finalized Command Structure Changes for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know that we’ve been critical of NATO. As far back as five months ago we were discussing and advocating a reorganization of NATO to report to U.S. CENTCOM, or at a minimum, removing U.S. troops from NATO command in Afghanistan. We also pointed out the red tape and utter confusion in NATO in everything from strategy to radio frequencies. As characterized by one Marine officer prior to operations in the Helmand Province, they had to “wait for the Elephants to stop dancing.”

Four months ago The Captain’s Journal continued to advocate realignment of forces, saying that “promotion of General Petraeus to Commander of CENTCOM without a realignment of U.S. troops to his direct command (they currently report to NATO command) removes the possibility for any strategic changes needed to make the campaign successful.”

One week ago we discussed the potential realignment in the works for the campaign, but continued to advocate more U.S. troops since many NATO troops are bound by overly restrictive rules of engagement. Now we learn that the realignment we have recommended is underway.

The BBC has learnt that a new-look command structure will drive the continuing fight against the Taleban in Afghanistan. will (sic) now be led by a change in the existing command structure.

US General David McKiernan will now command both the US and Nato forces who are currently based in Afghanistan.

General McKiernan told the BBC’s John Simpson that the move would create “a greater unity” among the forces. But the British Army has criticised the move, arguing that any big decisions will now be taken primarily by the US.

As we recently said, “Petraeus must have access to resources that will operate with regard to unity of command, unity of strategy and unity of mission. Time is short in the campaign, Pakistan’s intentions cannot be trusted, and the security situation is degrading.”

We’re thrilled that what we have advocated has come to pass.  Does CENTCOM read this blog?  As for the overall command structure change, regular readers of The Captain’s Journal heard it advocated here first, heard it announced here first, and studied the reasons for our advocacy.


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