Archive for the 'Taliban' Category



A Middle East Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years ago

After watching the third and final presidential debate on Monday night, I was disturbed to hear the two candidates talk about foreign policy with such lack of focus or context.   Admittedly, Obama was intent on baiting Romney into a game-changing gaffe and Romney was intent on not committing any, such error.   Presidential debates, ironically enough, are the last place to hear what a candidate actually thinks about any particular subject.

Both candidates, for example, endorsed the comic notion that the Afghan Army will be able to take over the fight against the Taliban by 2014 as the precursor to an American retreat.  Both candidates vowed that Iran will not be allowed to field a nuclear weapon (Romney actually drew the line at “nuclear capability” which is better), but neither one mentioned that the deeper problem with Iran is its current, Islamist government and not their pursuit of nuclear weapons per se.    So, for instance, Romney seemed to accept the continuation of the Iranian Regime so long as it did not have nukes.

Reflecting on this event further I am reminded of  a post by Walter Russel Mead which is an excellent springboard, summarizing all that is wrong with the current American approach to the Middle East:

The anti-American riots that have been rocking the Muslim world since 9/11 have shaken the establishment out of its complacency. Increasingly, even those who sympathize with the basic elements of the administration’s Middle East policy are connecting the dots. What they are seeing isn’t pretty. It’s not just that the US remains widely disliked and distrusted in the region. It’s not just that the radicals and the jihadis have demonstrated more political sophistication and a greater ability to organize and strike than expected and that the struggle against radical terror looks longer lasting and more dangerous than thought; it’s that the strategic underpinnings of the administration’s Middle East policy seem to be falling apart. A series of crises is sweeping through the region, and the US does not—at least not yet—seem to have a clue what to do.

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The Israeli-Palestinian problem, for example, cannot be settled quickly; the consequence of the region’s lack of democratic traditions and liberal institutions cannot be overcome in four or eight years; the underdevelopment and mass unemployment afflicting so many countries has no known cure; the ethnic and sectarian hatreds that poison the region will not soon be tamed; the deep sense of grievance and injustice that shapes the attitudes of so many toward the Christian or post-Christian West will not soon fade away; the radical and terror groups now roaming the region cannot be easily stopped or mollified; the resource curse will continue to corrupt and poison large parts of the region; the resurgence of Islam, even in less radical forms, inevitably heightens a sense of confrontation with the US and its western allies; and Iran’s ambitions are hard to tame and impossible to accept.

Mr. Mead challenged both Obama and Mitt Romney to articulate a policy or at least initiatives that might address these problems.  Neither has done so.

At the risk of being what Mr. Mead terms “an armchair strategist” offering simple solutions, I believe that the U.S. needs to fundamentally reconsider its approach to foreign policy and the methods and tools used to pursue that policy.

First, it is not enough, unfortunately, for the United States to be in favor of “democracy” or “freedom” for those around the world.  These terms are simply too amorphous and chameleon to be useful in building a coherent foreign policy.   Instead, the U.S. should be an ardent advocate for the foundations of civil society:  respect for individual rights;  free exercise of religion; freedom of speech; respect for the rule of law rather than resort to rioting and violence; the orderly transition of political power free from intimidation.   This is a sampling of the bedrock, Anglo-American traditions that are prerequisites  for a democratic republic.    As Mark Levin argues in his latest book, Ameritopia, you cannot hope to have a real democracy without the foundations of a civil society.

The Middle East is bereft of genuine democracies (with the notable exception of Israel) because it is bereft of the foundational traditions of a civil society.   That is why it was unforgivably foolish of George W. Bush to insist on the hasty installation of a “democracy” in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Neither of these societies had the foundations needed for democracy to take root.   Yes, Iraq and Afghanistan may have the outer trappings of democracy with parliaments and elections, but form is not substance.  Iraq is headed back towards civil war as the ethnic and sectarian factions escalate violence against one another.   Afghanistan is a cardboard cut-out of democracy propped up with billions of dollars of U.S. aid and military assistance.   Once the props are removed in 2014 (or sooner), the facade will collapse.

So then, it is a tragic and self-defeating mistake for the U.S. to blindly push for elections.   In Gaza, for example, such elections mean nothing.    They mean less than nothing since they serve to legitimate blood-thirsty ideologues, putting the U.S. in the untenable position of undermining what we previously declared to be a “freely elected” government.    No matter that said government throws its political opponents off of rooftops.

Rather, the U.S. must be very specific, unapologetic and insistent about the type of democracy and “freedom” we are talking about– an Anglo-American civil society that can support the pressures of representative government and tolerate religious diversity and dissenting opinions.

Furthermore, the U.S. must take a hard look at the nations as they are and not how we wish them to be.   It took hundreds of years for civil traditions to develop in the West.   It may take much longer in the Middle East, burdened as it is with Islamic notions of subjugation, subservience and nihilism.

As an example of this, consider this piece by Robert Kagan in The Washington Post.   Kagan argues in favor of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt mainly because it was “democratically” elected:

The Obama administration has not been wrong to reach out to the popularly elected government in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood won that election, and no one doubts that it did so fairly. We either support democracy or we don’t. But the administration has not been forthright enough in making clear, publicly as well as privately, what it expects of that government.  (Emphasis added)

First, it is not beyond dispute that the Muslim Brotherhood won the election “fairly” when it is essentially the only, organized political party in the country.   There is evidence that a sizable number of Egyptians do not support the Muslim Brotherhood but no, unified opposition party could be organized in the relatively short time allowed before the vote.    In any event, to say that an Islamist party received the most number of votes in an election does not lead ineluctably to the conclusion that it is a “democracy” that we are obligated to support.   In fact, Kagan goes on to point out that the U.S. must make it clear what a “democracy” entails:

Out of fear of making the United States the issue in Egyptian politics, the Obama administration, like past administrations, has been too reticent about stating clearly the expectations that we and the democratic world have for Egyptian democracy: a sound constitution that protects the rights of all individuals, an open press, a free and vital opposition, an independent judiciary and a thriving civil society. President Obama owes it to the Egyptian people to stand up for these principles. Congress needs to support democracy in Egypt by providing aid that ensures it advances those principles and, therefore, U.S. interests.

I would differ with Kagan to the extent that U.S. aid money is provided directly and up front to an Egyptian government that is showing every indication that it intends to implement its Islamist beliefs.  Egyptians must see that voting in an Islamist government will have certain and severe consequences.   In any event, the United States cannot be in the business of funding our enemies and, regardless of Kagan’s view that the Muslim Brotherhood is not clearly against us, a weak or failing Islamist regime in Egypt is better than one that is buying up the latest weapons systems (e.g., German submarines for example) with U.S. tax dollars.   Kagan and those like him are desperate to see a civil society where none exists and, so, are easily taken in by democratic happy talk that Egyptian President Morsi (and other Islamists in the region) are all too adept at feeding to willing dupes.

The second, radical change to U.S. foreign policy must be to view everything in terms of U.S. national interests and the tactics and lines of effort that best advance those interests.

For example, for the better part of four years, the Obama Administration has confused the agenda of the United Nations with that of the United States of America.   While it would be hoped that the international body that the U.S. founded at the end of World War II and funds disproportionately would be at least sympathetic to U.S. national interests, this is decidedly not the case.  The U.N. has largely been subverted and overrun by authoritarian member states with interests that directly conflict with those of the U.S.   In an ideal world, the U.S. would explicitly repudiate the U.N., evict it from its expensive quarters in Manhattan and rent out the space to a new organization made up of democratic U.S. allies.   Alas, the best we can hope for is to limit the damage of the U.N. by ignoring it, working around it and forging coalitions of allies to negate the U.N.’s malign influence in the world.

In the Middle East and around the globe, the U.S. needs to re-evaluate its position in the light of our national interest.  We must, for example, reconsider our relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of their unrelenting funding of Salafist and Wahhabist ideologies directly hostile to the U.S. and the West in general.   We cannot elevate the Saudis to the high status of ally or even “friend” when they are bankrolling our enemies.   This need not mean open conflict with them, but it surely must mean a reduction in relations.  (The fact that the U.S. is set to soon surpass the Saudis as the world’s largest oil producer should translate into tangible, state leverage).

Syria is another example where the U.S. must evaluate the opportunities and risks for involvement based primarily upon national interest rather than the threat of a “humanitarian crisis” or “instability.”  Even a Syria riven by civil war and instability will stalemate Iran’s ability to fund and support Hezbollah and bring greater opportunities for U.S. influence in the region as a whole.   The U.S. has been at war with Iran since 1979 and rarely have we had an opportunity to deal the regime in Tehran such a critical blow as exists in Syria.

Throughout the Middle East U.S. policy is plagued by a lack of a driving force.  The U.S. intervened in Libya under the pretext of potential civilian casualties but recoils from Syria with actual casualties.    The U.S. dithers over supporting former President Mubarak in Egypt while supporting the  no-less tyrannical Saudi royal family.   The U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars on a corrupt government in Kabul but argues whether to pull funding from Israel if it does not halt new housing settlements or show enough “flexibility” on Arab demands for land.   It is high time to clarify who our friends and enemies are and why.  Israel is not merely a kindred democracy, for example.   They are a vital ally because they directly serve U.S. interests in the region as a bulwark against Islamists.  There is, perhaps, no greater return on U.S. investments than Israel given the plethora of hostile, Islamist states in the region.   But here again, the U.S. policy is to adopt the hectoring, self-righteous tone of the international community, treating Israel and the Palestinians on equal terms for no good reason.

It is my hope that Mitt Romney wins the election and does so in convincing fashion.   The next four years could be pivotal as a showdown with Iran cannot be delayed beyond the next term in office.  War is everywhere in the Middle East and the next President will need to have a clear-eyed view of what America’s interests are and how to achieve them.   The last 11 years have certainly taught us that “nation building” and “elections” are not effective tools of American power.   May President Romney absorb the lessons and chart a better course in 2013.

The Collected Wisdom of Fools: Defense Department and ANA Infiltration

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 1 month ago

I keep telling myself to forswear any more posts about Afghanistan.  It is beyond merely beating a dead horse.  It is akin to saddling the horse up.

Still, this article in The Hill (hat tip to Instapundit), while dealing with the problem of enemy infiltration of the ANA, is really about the complete and utter cluelessness of the Department of Defense, its leadership and the lack of direction in U.S. policy in general.

Here is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff– the highest ranking member of the military, the one responsible for advising the President on military matters:

U.S. and coalition commanders are no closer to knowing how deep the Taliban has penetrated Afghanistan’s security forces despite increased efforts to flush out infiltrators who are carrying out attacks against Americans.

“As for what percentage of the insider threat is related to infiltration or radicalization, I mean, it’s really difficult to determine,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said Thursday.

“I’m sure a certain percentage of it is. And we’re treating it … as a threat,” he told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.

Taliban double agents, posing as members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), are responsible for executing some of the deadly “insider” attacks that have killed 51 coalition troops, mostly from the United States.

Really, General Dempsey?  It is “really difficult to determine” what percentage of the ANA is infiltrated by the Taliban?   But you are sure that “a certain percentage of it is.”   That’s just swell.  From purely a public relations perspective, you need to fire whomever is advising you, General.   There is absolutely no need to have the JCS Chairman get up in front of a bunch of reporters and say idiotic things like this.   Isn’t White House spokesman Jay Carney available for this kind of thing?  At least he gets lots of practice.

I am not interested here in examining the problems and solutions to infiltration of government forces by an insurgency.   There were certainly comparable problems with this in the Iraq Campaign.  But notice that in Iraq the approach of U.S. forces to the problem was commonsense:  don’t trust any of the Iraqis units being mentored.   There was not the same air of desperation in Iraq to train up security forces by a date certain as there clearly is in Afghanistan.   This is just one of the many evils unleashed by El Presidente’s foolish 2014 withdrawal date.   My interest here, however, is in the depths of inanity to which otherwise sane and presumably rational men will sink in obedience to the political dictates of the Child President.

Continuing on in this same article, lest anyone think that General Dempsey has a monopoly on foolishness, here is Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, no less:

But as Washington continues to eye the finish line in Afghanistan, the spate of insider attacks — no matter who is carrying them out — will likely continue all the way through the final withdrawal in 2014.

“I expect that there will be more of these high-profile attacks,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told reporters Thursday. “The enemy will do whatever they can to try and break our will using this kind of tactic. That will not happen.”

Oh.  I see, Leon.  So you’re not scared of those big, bad Taliban.   Let them keep infiltrating the ANA in order to kill more U.S. service members.   No matter how high the toll, the United States is determined to stand by its commitment to the Afghan people and to fight the forces of evil to the bitter end.   All the way up to, er….2014.   That would be another 15 months or so.  The Taliban can be forgiven if they are not as intimidated as Leon would like.   The bad guys may not be taking window measurements at the presidential residence in Kabul just yet, but is there anyone who cannot see the utter chaos in the Pentagon that has left our most senior leaders grasping at rhetorical fig leaves like this?

Let there be no mistake about the source of this folly.  The Pentagon has been given a completely untenable mission in Afghanistan– beat down a home-grown insurgency using less than half the necessary forces with half their collective arms tied in R.O.E. red tape behind their backs; training an Afghan national army heavily infiltrated by the enemy and on a timeline for surrender known to everyone.   El Presidente Obama is squarely to blame for the bloody and expensive failure unfolding in Afghanistan.  (There’s that dead horse).

Nonetheless, in more heroic and patriotic times, I would hope that there would be military officers who would rather resign than play the Fool.

The Ugly Future for Afghanistan: Civil War and Militias

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 4 months ago

This lengthy and well-written piece by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker is must reading.

Filkins attempts to give an overall assessment of Afghanistan’s future as American forces shrink and the country must increasingly rely upon the Afghan National Army for its security.   By all means, read the entire article, but the gist of Filkins’ assessment can be succinctly summarized as, “bleak.”

Filkins explores the question of whether Afghanistan is destined to return to a state of civil war as American combat troops leave.   While he makes no firm conclusions, the answer is an inescapable “yes.”   While American policymakers and military leaders boldly talk up the prospects for turning over security responsibilities to the ANA while hoping to garner a power-sharing deal with the Taliban, it is clear from the article that a debacle of enormous proportions is looming in 2014 (if not before) when American force levels are expected to drop to just fifteen thousand from an expected sixty-eight thousand after the September 2012 draw-down.

Some Western and Afghan experts say that fifteen thousand American troops would not be enough to secure Afghanistan, particularly when it comes to the use of airpower. The Afghan Air Force is far less advanced than the Soviet-trained force was at a similar moment. American officers told me that air strikes—bombs and rockets—are usually restricted to units in which Americans direct the fire. A force of fifteen thousand Americans would probably not be large enough to spread trainers and air controllers throughout the Afghan Army (and not throughout the police, who are at tiny checkpoints scattered around the country). “If they go below thirty thousand, it will be difficult for them to do any serious mentoring, and without the mentors they won’t call in airpower,” Giustozzi, the Italian researcher, said.

American officers have another concern. Currently, Afghan units are stationed where the Americans are, in hundreds of small bases, mostly in populated areas. Some American officers say that the Afghans will find it difficult to disperse themselves as fully, because of problems with supplies and communications. Once the coalition forces leave, those officers say, the Afghans are likely to consolidate their units on bigger and fewer bases. If that happens, the Afghans could end up ceding large tracts of territory to the Taliban—much as the Afghan Army did after 1989.

Filkins interviews several Afghans in and outside of the Afghan government who all candidly admit that each of the rival factions that fought each other prior to the 2001 American invasion are actively preparing for the resumption of civil war when U.S. forces leave.

Afghan and American officials believe that some precipitating event could prompt the country’s ethnic minorities to fall back into their enclaves in northern Afghanistan, taking large chunks of the Army and police forces with them. Another concern is that Jamiat officers within the Afghan Army could indeed try to mount a coup against Karzai or a successor. The most likely trigger for a coup, these officials say, would be a peace deal with the Taliban that would bring them into the government or even into the Army itself. Tajiks and other ethnic minorities would find this intolerable. Another scenario would most likely unfold after 2014: a series of dramatic military advances by the Taliban after the American pullout.

“A coup is one of the big possibilities—a coup or civil war,” a former American official who was based in Kabul and has since left the country told me. “It’s clear that the main factions assume that civil war is a possibility and they are hedging their bets. And, of course, once people assume that civil war is going to happen then that can sometimes be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

One Afghan, Abdul Nasir, made this point quite clear:

These days, Nasir said, the nineties are very much on his mind. The announced departure of American and NATO combat troops has convinced him and his friends that the civil war, suspended but never settled, is on the verge of resuming. “Everyone is preparing,” he said. “It will be bloodier and longer than before, street to street. This time, everyone has more guns, more to lose. It will be the same groups, the same commanders.” Hezb-e-Wahdat and Jamiat-e-Islami and Hezb-e-Islami and Junbish—all now political parties—are rearming. The Afghan Army is unlikely to be able to restore order as it did in the time of Najibullah. “It’s a joke,” Nasir said. “I’ve worked with the Afghan Army. They get tired making TV commercials!”

A few weeks ago, Nasir returned to Deh Afghanan. The Taliban were back, practically ignored by U.S. forces in the area. “The Americans have a big base there, and they never go out,” he said. “And, only four kilometres from the front gate, the Taliban control everything. You can see them carrying their weapons.” On a drive to Jalrez, a town a little farther west, Nasir was stopped at ten Taliban checkpoints. “How can you expect me to be optimistic?” he said. “Everyone is getting ready for 2014.”

In the process of his interviews, however, Filkins did discover one, unsettling truth:  the most effective force against the Taliban so far have been local militias.

The most effective weapon against the Taliban were people like Mohammad Omar, the commander of a local militia. In late 2008, Omar was asked by agents with the National Directorate of Security (N.D.S.)—the Afghan intelligence agency––if he could raise a militia. It wasn’t hard to do. Omar’s brother Habibullah had been a lieutenant for Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, one of the leading commanders in the war against the Soviets, and a warlord who helped destroy Kabul during the civil war. The Taliban had killed Habibullah in 1999, and Omar jumped at the opportunity to take revenge. Using his brother’s old contacts, he raised an army of volunteers from around Khanabad and began attacking the Taliban. He set up forces in a string of villages on the southern bank of the Khanabad River. “We pushed all the Taliban out,” he told me.

The Taliban are gone from Khanabad now, but Omar and his fighters are not. Indeed, Omar’s militia appears to be the only effective government on the south side of the Khanabad River. “Without Omar, we could never defeat the Taliban,” a local police chief, Mohammad Sharif, said. “I’ve got two hundred men. Omar has four thousand.”

The N.D.S. and American Special Forces have set up armed neighborhood groups like Omar’s across Afghanistan. Some groups, like the Afghanistan Local Police, have official supervision, but others, like Omar’s, are on their own. Omar insists that he and his men are not being paid by either the Americans or the Afghan government, but he appears to enjoy the support of both. His stack of business cards includes that of Brigadier General Edward Reeder, an American in charge of Special Forces in Afghanistan in 2009, when the Americans began counterattacking in Kunduz.

This is a strange twist in U.S. strategy.  While the State Department, the White House and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan all blather about the progress of the ANA and the expected success of the transition to Afghan security forces, the American Special Forces seem to be busy setting up militias all over Afghanistan, perhaps in the grim realization that these militias are the only native force capable of actually eradicating the Taliban.

This would be welcome news indeed, if it is true, because it finally faces the truth that Afghanistan today simply cannot function as a modern, centrally governed nation state.   This is not to say that it never has in the past (clearly it has) nor that it will never function as one in the future, but only that the combination of religious fanaticism, the interference of Pakistan (and Iran to some extent), the ethnic divisions and the drug trade militate in favor of local control.    And this seems to be the main trade-off where militias effectively keep out the Taliban but bring their own set of problems:

Kunduz Province is divided into fiefdoms, each controlled by one of the new militias. In Khanabad district alone, I counted nine armed groups. Omar’s is among the biggest; another is led by a rival, on the northern bank of the Khanabad River, named Mir Alam. Like Omar, Alam was a commander during the civil war. He was a member of Jamiat-e-Islami. Alam and his men, who declined to speak to me, are said to be paid by the Afghan government.

As in the nineties, the militias around Kunduz have begun fighting each other for territory. They also steal, tax, and rape. “I have to give ten per cent of my crops to Mir Alam’s men,” a villager named Mohammad Omar said. (He is unrelated to the militia commander.) “That is the only tax I pay. The government is not strong enough to collect taxes.” When I accompanied the warlord Omar to Jannat Bagh, one of the villages under his control, his fighters told me that Mir Alam’s men were just a few hundred yards away. “We fight them whenever they try to move into our village,” one of Omar’s men said.

U.S. policy in Afghanistan, then, must take a hard look  at our national interests.   The primary, national interest for the United States in Afghanistan is to ensure that international terrorists do not find safe havens from which to plot and launch attacks against U.S. interests.   If militias will ensure that their territory will not be used for Islamist terror activities, that is enough.   We may be able to exercise some leverage over warlords and militias by doling out more arms and money to those who refrain from humanitarian abuses, but it is not in our national interest to force-feed an entire nation on Western morality and values as we have done for the last 11 years.

In fact, some Afghans appear to be leaning in the direction of a decentralized approach:

One political change that might prevent civil war, some opposition leaders say, would be the imposition of a federal system in which power would devolve to the provinces. Such a move could essentially cede dominion to the Taliban in the south and the east but protect the rest of the country. In 2004, when the new Afghan constitution was ratified, under American supervision, the central government, in Kabul, was given extraordinary powers, including the right to appoint local officials. The hope then was that a strong central government would unite the country.

If a federal system were to be adopted, some Afghan leaders say, it might matter less to the Tajiks and other minorities if the Taliban were allowed to govern Pashtun provinces in the south and the east. (How it would matter to the Pashtuns, and particularly to Pashtun women, isn’t much discussed.) As it is, many of the most prominent leaders of Afghanistan’s minority groups appear to be preparing for civil war.

While I disagree that the U.S. needs to “cede dominion to the Taliban in the south and the east” (there is no reason to think that Pashtun militias could not be set up in these regions as in other areas), the fact remains that Afghanistan is headed for division one way or another.  Current U.S. policy is wishful thinking and a criminal waste of American lives and treasure.

As a parting thought, it is even possible that by empowering local militias and tribes in this fashion, the U.S. may be able to deal a severe if not fatal blow to the Islamists across the border in Pakistan.  It is axiomatic that insurgencies work in both directions.   If Pakistan can support, for example, the Haqqanis in infiltrating into Afghanistan, so, too, can the U.S. support Pashtun militias on the Afghan side of the border to infiltrate and take away territory from Islamists in the FATA.   This provides U.S. policymakers with a unique lever in the tense relations with Pakistan.   This approach also allows a dramatically smaller footprint for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, enough one would expect, to deprive Pakistan of its logistical choke-hold.

If there is a new Administration in 2013, a new approach in Afghanistan is at least possible.

The Taliban Goal Of Global Islamic Domination

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 8 months ago

From Pakistan Today:

One of the top leaders of the movement of the Taliban in Pakistan said the terror group sought to overthrow the Pakistani government, impose sharia, seize the country’s nuclear weapons, and wage jihad until “the Caliphate is established across the world”.

The statements were made by Omar Khalid al Khurasani, the al Qaeda-linked leader of the Taliban in Pakistan’s branch in the Mohmand Agency, in a video that was released on jihadist web forums.

The video, which also discussed the history and evolution of the Taliban Movement in Pakistan, was released by Umar Studios and has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

As we have previously observed, a decade or more of exposure to the transnational religious insurgency has inculcated globalist ideologies and intentions within a group that, whether these intentions existed before, certainly owns them now.  The Afghanistan Taliban isn’t far behind, and they swim in the same waters as the Pakistan Taliban.

Mohamed Merah, the French citizen of Algerian origin, perpetrator of the Toulouse shootings, had trained with the Taliban despite French denials of connection.  There may be some question whether he was incarcerated in Kandahar, and it appears that it may have been an indigenous Afghan by that same name that escaped in 2008.  But his radicalization, or at least part of it, occurred during two trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan.  He was also on the U.S. no-fly list because he had been in custody in Afghanistan.

As for other potential shooters?

More than 80 French nationals are training with the Pakistan Taliban in the law-less northwest of the country, according to an insurgent commander, raising fears of a renewed campaign against Western targets. A senior commander with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, an al-Qaida-affiliated group that has its stronghold in North Waziristan, said 80 French citizens were training “mostly in North Waziristan but some in South Waziristan.

Perhaps this is just bluster to hide the fact that their reach doesn’t yet match their ambitions.  But perhaps not.  “French intelligence sources said about 30 French fighters trained by the Taliban were believed to have taken part in attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan.”

At a time when most of America has tired of the global Islamic insurgency, it would appear that “the long war” is just beginning.

The Ideological Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 9 months ago

Now comes a good and well-informed article in the same spirit as our own articles on the Taliban, from Asian Correspondent.  Concerning the primarily Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ahsan Butt observes:

Isn’t it instructive that scholars who actually know the area, such as Ijaz Khan (University of Peshawar) or the oft-cited Farhat Taj, completely and unequivocally reject the Imran Khan thesis? This idea that the Taliban are somehow representative of the Pashtun nation, and are fighting and dying for them, is just silly.

Within the study of civil war in political science, non-state movements are generally divided between ethnically focused and ideologically focused. Obviously this is often a too-rigid categorization, but it’s useful because the two types of mobilizations often have different goals.

Those movements that are ethnically motivated are generally what we call nationalist movements. These tend to be focused heavily on a particular piece of territory, since group identity and territory have a very strong relationship. So if all xs are concentrated in region X, then it’s unlikely that the xs will launch a movement, violent or otherwise, in regions other than X. This is because (a) they don’t care about regions other than X; in fact, their mobilizations are often motivated by demanding increasing separation from X and non-X areas, and (b) there’s not enough xs in the non-X region for them to congeal in a movement worth worrying about. Examples include the Tamils in northern Sri Lanka or the Bengalis in former East Pakistan.

Those that are ideologically motivated tend to be focused on control of the state or political unit at large. They are not interested in controlling a sliver of territory, they are interested in re-orienting the state. The important thing to note is that granting a piece of territory to the agents of the movement is unlikely to satisfy them, since their movement is not based on the control of territory in the first place. Examples include the Communist Party of China or the various right-wing militias operating in Latin America during the Cold War.

This distinction matters because it gets at the heart of the debate on the war in Pakistan and whether it is worth fighting. If you believe that the Taliban and their local affiliates are nationalists, then it makes sense to give them control of various districts or maybe even a whole province, in the hope that that’s what they want, and will therefore cause them to stop mounting violent challenges to the state.

If you believe that the Taliban and their local affiliates are ideologues, then it doesn’t make sense to give them control of various districts because they will only use that control to consolidate their material capabilities to launch yet further assaults on the state and its citizens.

I wish we lived in a world where the Taliban were indeed nationalists because it would mean that there is fairly self-evident solution to the violence. Unfortunately we do not and there is not. Imran Khan, however, continues to believe that they are and that there is. Reasonable people can disagree on the extent to which force should be used, what type of force (air power vs shock troops vs full-blown incisions) is to be used, how negotiations should be constructed, which actors should be invited to the negotiations, and so on. But no reasonable person can believe that the “war can be ended in 90 days” or that the Taliban are likely to go quietly into the sunset if you hand over a bunch of territory to them.

Just so.  And it’s a mistake that has been made from the beginning, i.e., believing that this is some sort of classical insurgency/counterinsurgency campaign.  To be sure, there are still the so-called “ten dollar taliban,” but more and more we are finding that they fight for ideological reasons, not for a parcel of land to control.

If no involvement in the political system is sufficient solution to the immediate crisis, then that complicates matters indeed.  If they are somehow – gasp – ideologically aligned with the radical elements in al Qaeda, Haqqani, the various Kashmir groups, etc., then inviting them to the negotiating table is a ridiculous ruse trying to hide abject surrender and failure on our part.  And if this surrender obtains, then we will be worse off for our loss in Afghanistan.  But perhaps we’ve already discussed that.

Ron Paul on the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 10 months ago

I just heard Ron Paul in the S.C. GOP debate say that we mustn’t mix the Taliban and al Qaeda – the Taliban were our allies in the war to evict the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, and are only concerned with ensuring that there are no foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Just to cover again what we’ve previously discussed concerning the Pakistani Taliban:

… they have evolved into a much more radical organization than the original Taliban bent on global engagement, what Nicholas Schmidle calls the Next-Gen Taliban. The TTP shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! “We are al-Qaida!”  There is no distinction.  A Pakistan interior ministry official has even said that the TTP and al Qaeda are one and the same.

Nick Schmidle – who is also a genuinely good guy and a scholar – gave us a learned warning shot over the bow.  It was reiterated by David Rohde who was in captivity by the Taliban.

“Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.”

As for the Quetta Shura, Mohammed Omar’s group, to whom the Pakistani Taliban have pledged fealty, we’ll let Omar speak for himself from a BBC interview – never officially released – done just after 9/11.

Ron Paul is wrong.

Taliban Massing of Forces Part IV

BY Herschel Smith
3 years ago

In Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops, I detailed no less than six instances of Taliban fighters massing forces up to half a Battalion strong.  In More on Taliban Massing of Forces I detailed the seventh and eighth instances of such massing of fighters, and then finally we’ve discussed the ninth instance of this tacticThe Washington Post has given us another instance, mainly focused in RC East.

Scores of Taliban fighters were killed Tuesday evening as they attempted to storm a small U.S. outpost along the Pakistani border and were driven back by American soldiers, according to U.S. military officials in the province.

The insurgents launched the attack by firing rocket-propelled grenades and rifles from the grounds of two Islamic schools near Combat Outpost Margah, in eastern Afghanistan’s volatile Paktika province. The company of American soldiers stationed there fired back as large groups of fighters moved toward the base from a wadi, or valley, to the west, U.S. military officials said.

The fighting lasted less than two hours, ending by about 8:30 p.m. No U.S. troops were killed. A spokesman for the Paktika governor said that 50 to 60 insurgents were killed.

[ ... ]

“If they’re planning a massive attack, they may be able to muster a group of 100 around there,” Maj. Eric Butler, the brigade’s intelligence officer, said in an interview last week. For the Taliban, he said, “usually it ends very, very badly.”

Very badly indeed.  The battles at Wanat and Kamdesh in the Kunar and Nuristan Provinces, respectively, involved tragic and heavy losses compared to most instances of Taliban massing of forces, but even at Wanat the U.S. had a kill ratio of approximately 6:1.

Tim Lynch notes that “Rarely now will somebody shoot at the Marines in southern Helmand, and when they do, it is from so far away that it is hard to notice anybody is even shooting at you.”  The threat now is IEDs, and the Marines are suffering so many casualties that many of them, tragically, have issued standing orders to their Corpsman to let them die if they lose their gonads and are unable to reproduce.

The Taliban don’t fight conventionally – they fight asymmetrically.  In Helmand now after Garmsir in 2008 when the Marines killed more than 400 Taliban fighters, and the hard work of Marines in Now Zad and Sangin, the threat is IEDs.  In RC East it’s interesting that the Taliban see their position as so strong that outnumbering their opponent is still seen as asymmetric warfare, regardless of what the kill ratio actually shows.

Nuristan, Kunar, Pakistan and the Taliban: The Nexus

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 3 months ago

We’ve covered the Taliban strategy of using Nuristan as a safe haven, and a base from which to launch attacks against the government of Afghanistan.  Kunar is adjacent to Nuristan, and there may as well not be a border between provinces.  As stated by one Taliban commander, “Trouble here can break the central government,” said Qari Ziaur Rahman, a regional commander for the Taliban who is also a leader of the Punjab-based militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, in a 2008 interview. “Whoever has been defeated in Afghanistan, his defeat began from Kunar.”  For this reason I have insisted on aggressive U.S. troop presence and kinetic operations in both the Kunar and Nuristan provinces, and all along the Pech River Valley.

Thankfully, Tim Lynch of Free Range International could not completely desist from writing about Afghanistan, and he educates us with yet another good post on the current situation in Helmand.

A few months back as they were pushing south, the Marines would run into situations that, for guys like them, are a dream come true.  An ANP commander pointed out a village where his men have hit 3 IEDs in as many weeks and each time the villagers poured out with AK’s to start a firefight.  So, a few nights later the Marines blow a controlled det on the road to simulate an IED hit and when the villains rushed out with their flame sticks they met what we lovingly call the ‘L shaped ambush’.  No doubt (knowing the Lava Dogs) the villains also met Mr. Claymore, were introduced to the proper use of a machine gun section, and were treated to a 40mm grenade shower from those new and super deadly  M32’s.  Bad day.  Not many survived that textbook lesson on the proper use of an ambush squad, but those days are long gone.  Rarely now will somebody shoot at the Marines in southern Helmand, and when they do, it is from so far away that it is hard to notice anybody is even shooting at you.

So the Taliban has returned to doing what guerrillas do when they suck so bad at regular fighting – they rely on the indiscriminate use of  IED’s to fight.  And as everybody in the world (except President Karzai) knows, these IED’s kill and maim vast numbers of innocent Afghans, yet rarely inflict casualties on ISAF units.

Because of a long, flat narrow area, where the population is confined mostly to strips of land in close proximity to the Helmand River and its main canals, the Marines are able to spread out into COP’s (combat outposts) PB’s (Patrol Bases) and OP’s (observation posts) covering the entire AO.  These positions are manned by junior NCO’s and in one PB the senior Marine was a Lance Corporal.   They move positions frequently;  every time the Marines set up in a new one of any size,  local families immediately move as close to the positions as they are allowed and start building mud huts. For them a small band of Marines equals security and the implicit trust shown by this pattern of behavior is something in which the Marines rightly take great pride.

Read Tim’s entire post.  More forces are needed in order to maintain security, but as for the direct firefights, it’s over with the Taliban in Helmand.  They cannot match the U.S. Marines.  The Marines are currently needed elsewhere, specifically, Kunar and Nuristan.

The Taliban are still active there, and are still pursuing their strategy.

“Bullets rained on our house which was close to the site of the clash,” one resident told me. “We were so terrified that we didn’t step out of our house until the next day.”

Another resident said by launching an attack in Mehtar Lam, the insurgents wanted to show that they can still strike at will in any of the seven locations handed over by Nato to Afghan security forces.

In the past month insurgents have killed a judge, a prison guard and a local official in this strategic city known as the gateway to Kabul.

Security handovers like the one in Mehtar Lam are seen as the first step in a lengthy process ultimately aimed to put the Afghan army and police in control of their country by 2014, the deadline for complete withdrawal of Western forces from combat operations.

But judging by developments in Mehtar Lam, the road to transition appears to be far from smooth.

“People live in fear,” said Shah Gul, a barber. “People think that if the security forces can’t protect themselves, how will they protect the people?’”

Insurgents – mainly in the shape of the Taliban or the Hizb-e-Islami militia of former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – are active in many districts of this mountainous province.

Laghman borders the eastern provinces of Nuristan and Kunar.

“This allows insurgents to carry out attacks in Laghman and then escape to Nuristan or Kunar,” said an Afghan intelligence officer.

“By targeting cities handed over to Afghans, the insurgents and their foreign backers intend to prove that Afghan security forces are not capable of protecting their people.”

Just like I predicted.  But in a twist that leverages this lawless area as the trouble-spot of the world, Pakistan is directly involved.

The Pakistani spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), with the help of Taliban, has revived the Al-Huda outfit of Gulbuddin Hikmatyar to target Indians in Afghanistan.

As many as 350 persons have been trained so far particularly to target Indian business interests and development works being executed in the war-torn country.

India’s premier external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), recently reported the development to the Centre. Following the RAW report, security of Indian assets has been beefed up with a view to thwarting any misadventure by the ISI-backed militia.

According to the report, the ISI will provide funds, training and shelter besides intelligence on movement of Indians to the trained recruits of Al-Huda for anti-India operations.

Two training camps were organised recently by the ISI to train the recruits in southern Afghanistan at Chunar and mountainous regions of Nuristan in Afghanistan on Pakistan border, intelligence sources said.

Both — Chunar and Nuristan — are areas dominated by the Hikmatyar group and the NATO forces suffered heavy reverses in the recent past while carrying out operations in these regions. The Hikmatyar group is known for its mastery in ramming explosive-laden vehicles on targetted assets and executing landmine attacks.

India is funding over 300 developmental projects in Afghanistan, including construction of roads, bridges, hospitals, Government office complexes and also the Parliament building of that country. India is the biggest donor country extending aid in revival of the war-torn nation pledging a budget of over $2 billion.

Besides the construction engineers, supporting staff and the personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police guarding the work sites of the ongoing development projects there, the Indian assets in that country also include as many as 24 consulates across Afghanistan and the Indian embassy in Kabul.

Following the inputs, the Indian embassy and the consulates there have been alerted and a security audit of the installations are being carried out to further tighten the security measures, particularly the outer periphery of the office complexes so that any fidayeen attack or blast of an explosive-laden vehicle is checked at a reasonable distance from the perimeter of the buildings, the sources added.

The Taliban had attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul on October 8, 2009 killing 17 persons and injuring 63 others. The Taliban had in the past also targetted work sites maintained by the Indian companies.

The ISI move comes following reverses at the hands of the Americans amid talk of withdrawal of the US forces from the war-ravaged country.

The Pakistani sickness and obsession with India, its own importance in the world, and having access to things (e.g., nuclear weapons, the Taliban, etc.) way beyond their ability to control is working directly against the stability of Afghanistan, the security of U.S. troops, and in fact, the security and stability of the entire region.

Marines to Kunar.  It’s the move that should be made, and sooner rather than later.  If we need more Marines to Helmand in order to pull this off, then so be it.  Someone tell the Marine Corps Commandant to stop playing Iwo Jima, as if we are ever going to conduct a large scale amphibious assault against a near peer state again.  Without chasing and killing the Taliban in his safe haven, the campaign will be lost.

The Taliban And Al Qaeda Are The Same

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 3 months ago

The National Interest has an important account from the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The money quotes follow.

November 11, 2007—Veteran’s Day. I was a veteran waiting to meet the Taliban. I hated this, but I was here now. A young man, called Abu Hamza, a nom de guerre, entered the room and sat down, pointing his rifle low, but at me. He wore an infrared light on his turban. Someone was backing him. Why was he fighting? “We are fighting jihad,” he said. Who supported him? “Elders,” he replied. “Pakistan. We live in the mountains, but for training we go to Pakistan. Sometimes the army comes and trains us. “We know they are in the army, but they have gray beards, like you.”

[ ... ]

A month later, at midnight, I sat in the mountains south of Tora Bora. A Predator buzzed above us and I shivered in the cold. A Taliban commander, about forty years of age, quoted from the Koran before he answered each of my questions. Their support came from God, from the tribes and religious parties in Pakistan, he said. Jihad was jihad. They didn’t care about or look for support from the Pakistani army. He was from Waziristan. I asked about al-Qaeda. “The Taliban and al-Qaeda are the same,” he responded. “We fight under Mullah Muhammad Omar. He started on the mountain tops as we do now.” A dozen teenagers and young men in their early twenties sat with us. I asked how they trained. “They are the sons of the mujahideen,” he said proudly. “Fighting is in their blood, as it was in the blood of their ancestors.”

[ ... ]

The more the U.S. pushes into the east near the Pakistani border, where there are mountains and forests, places to hide and where men have been fighting outsiders for centuries, the more that Pakistan, and its proxy army, the Taliban, will fight back. “Not a shot would be fired in Afghanistan,” my jailer said, “without Pakistan’s approval.” It knows that the U.S. is pulling out of Afghanistan and is desperate to regain its influence there—and to sit at the negotiating table.

Encapsulated in this one account of a man who was kidnapped by the Taliban are two themes I have pressed before: the ideological alignment of the Taliban and AQ, and the duplicity and in fact even role of direct opposition that Pakistan plays in Afghanistan.

Can we please end the juvenile pretensions that we can play nice with the Taliban and re-engage them in the government?  The Taliban and al Qaeda are the same.  Those aren’t my words.  I just quoted them.

Taliban Cross-Border Raid Into Pakistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 5 months ago

From The New York Times:

At least 28 Pakistani soldiers have been killed after two days of intense fighting with militants who crossed the border from Afghanistan  into northwestern Pakistan, local police officials said Thursday.

As many as 45 militants were killed, the officials said. The figures could not be independently verified.

Three civilians, including two women, were also killed in the clashes, and three Pakistani soldiers were missing. It was unclear whether they had been killed or had been abducted by the attackers.

At least 200 militants crossed the border on Wednesday morning and attacked a police post in Barawal, a village surrounded by rugged mountains and forests in the Shaltalo area of Upper Dir, a district in northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Shaltalo is near the border with Kunar Province of Afghanistan.

The fighters took up positions in the surrounding mountains and also attacked troops from hide-outs in the thick forest outside the village. They destroyed at least two schools and set several houses on fire. By Thursday afternoon, the intensity of the fighting was diminishing, and by the evening the troops had regained the advantage, the police said.

“The situation is under control,” said Jawahir Ali, a junior police official in Barawal.

Pakistani officials lodged a protest with the Afghan government late Thursday. Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir conveyed “strong concern” about the matter, according to a statement from the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The statement said that as many as 400 Afghan militants had been involved in the attack. Mr. Bashir demanded a strong response from the Afghan Army and United States and NATO forces against militants in Afghanistan, the statement said.

The border with Afghanistan in Dir district is porous and unguarded at most of the crossings, making infiltration easier. An army border checkpoint is located at Shahi, about 19 miles from Barawal.

But wait.  I thought that there were only a few al Qaeda affiliated fighters left in Afghanistan, and that the Afghan Taliban were interested only in an independent Islamic state in Afghanistan and were completely uninterested in anything but Afghanistan.  An Islamic version of the noble savage, as it were.  This incident doesn’t seem to fit the current narrative.

Furthermore, the Taliban have taken credit for the raid.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility on Friday for a cross-border attack on a security post that appeared to signal the group was adopting a new strategy of large-scale attacks on government and army targets.

In the pre-dawn raid on Wednesday in the village of Shaltalo in Dir region, up to 400 militants crossed from Afghanistan. More than 24 hours of clashes ensued, the government said.

Twenty-seven Pakistani servicemen were killed and 45 militants died in the clashes in the northwest, security officials said. There were contradictory accounts of casualties and how many militants fought.

“Up to 40 to 50 of our fighters took part in the operation,” Ehsanullah Ashen, spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan), told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. “None of our fighters were killed.”

The TTP has previously brought fighters from across the porous border with Afghanistan — where it has allies — to attack Pakistani security forces, but none were on the same scale as the Dir operation.

Deputy TTP leader Fakir Mohammed said the group with close ties to al Qaeda had changed strategy and would now focus on large-scale attacks only on state targets like the one in Dir.

Huh.  Hmmm … doesn’t comport with the narrative.


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