Archive for the 'Warriors' Category



Counterinsurgency and the Enervation of the Warrior Spirit

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

I find much with which to agree when Bing West weighs in, and he has done so on counterinsurgency in an odd context: he is reviewing three books.  I will focus on his review of Kilcullen’s book, Counterinsurgency, by copying the parts relevant to my observations.

According to Kilcullen, the theory that nation building is synonymous with counterinsurgency began in 2006 with a “group of intelligent and combat-experienced junior officers working quietly to change the way that military organizations thought and operated.” At that time, too many U.S. battalions were charging around Iraq in search of an ephemeral enemy, rousting civilians whose retaliation was aiding the insurgents. Kilcullen’s “intelligent junior officers” wanted to revise doctrine so that U.S. soldiers would protect rather than harass the population. Their efforts were codified in Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (FM 3-24), which defined nation building as a military mission and focused on population protection rather than offensives against the enemy.

My first observation has to do with the fact that there are many defenders of contemporary counterinsurgency doctrine who ascribe to it false beliefs.  That is, they do not understand that it is an either-or relationship in Kilcullen’s view (and in FM 3-24), not a both-and relationship.  It isn’t about both targeting the enemy and winning hearts and minds by protecting the population.  It’s about jettisoning the notion of chasing or attacking the enemy altogether.  Population-centric counterinsurgency is an exclusive-use procedure to the doctrinaire COIN officers.  Merely incorporating population considerations doesn’t do it.  To them it is a radical paradigm shift.  Of course, it is one with which I disagree.  Continuing:

But while 45 percent of U.S. Army officers believed that the publication of FM 3-24 had significant influence in changing field operations, only 22 percent of the Marine Corps’s upper ranks concurred. Success in Iraq emanated from Anbar, an area assigned to the marines. There, various Sunni tribes came over to the strongest tribe of them all—the Americans—and turned against al-Qaeda.

In this now-famous province, there was scant “nation building.” The Sunnis in Anbar distrusted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a sectarian Shia who ignored local officials and withheld funding. When General David Petraeus took command, his brilliance lay in building on the momentum already created from the bottom up, eventually paying one hundred thousand Sunni “Sons of Iraq” to protect their local neighborhoods. The United States was able to turn the tables because the Sunnis tired of fighting well-equipped, well-trained and well-informed U.S. armed forces, not because Iraqi politicians put aside their thievery and selfishness.

Bing is right.  There was scant nation building in the Anbar Province.  Bing is wrong to ascribe the Sons of Iraq program to Petraeus (Odierno was responsible for championing the idea, while the Marines were first to come up with the idea and implement it with U.S. Marine Corps funds).  But it’s no mistake that Marine Corps officers don’t buy into the idea of population-centric COIN as an exclusive-use procedure.  They didn’t do it in the Anbar Province, and they won.

IN AFGHANISTAN, population protection and nation building have been emphasized at the unintended expense of aggressive war fighting. The top commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, has issued severe restrictions on the use of artillery and air support. While there is an admirable moral aspect to this restraint, the strategic rationale is less clear. If NATO so alienates the population by accidentally killing civilians that many more join the Taliban, then why do the Taliban deliberately kill three times as many ordinary Afghans without causing three times the backlash, leading to their defeat?

Kilcullen recommends “putting the well-being of noncombatant civilians ahead of any other consideration, even—in fact, especially—ahead of killing the enemy.” That too is a wise and moral admonition. But don’t expect reciprocity. The Pashtun tribes do not betray the Taliban in their midst. Few are arrested, and even fewer are put behind bars, because the police and judges routinely accept bribes in return for releases. The result is that Afghanistan on a per capita basis holds fewer criminals (insurgents included) in jail than does Sweden.

Based on his infantry experience and training, Kilcullen composes doctrinal essays; they are meant to provide signposts and general guidance. When he writes prescriptions such as “focus on the population . . . and fight the enemy only when he gets in the way,” others take him too literally. In southern Helmand Province, for instance, visiting American officials routinely stroll through markets that were until recently under Taliban control. Yet when U.S. troops in Helmand attacked enemy strongholds far from the marketplaces, they were criticized for violating the doctrine of protecting the population.

Their commander, Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, in a conversation with me, responded, “Of course we guard the local markets. But I won’t grant the enemy a sanctuary to decide when to attack those markets. Wherever the Taliban run, I’m coming after them.”

What a strange and bizarre world in which we live.  A U.S. Marine Corps general must defend his attacks against the enemy from attacks within the U.S. military.  Finally:

Because they are partnered with our troops, Afghan soldiers are copying our rules of engagement and risk-avoidance procedures. Since they wear our heavy armor, they too cannot pursue the light and mobile Taliban forces. When the enemy initiates contact, the Afghan soldiers are trained to wait alongside our troops until our attack helicopters force the Taliban to flee. The Afghan soldiers will not be able to fight that way as U.S. resources are reduced. The Afghan security forces simply cannot take over the fight anytime soon. By not sending in sufficient troops years ago and by pursuing erratic operational strategies since, the U.S. military has prolonged its central task of training Afghans to defeat the Taliban …

Kilcullen is a stalwart warrior who has experienced combat. His essays in Counterinsurgency are thoughtful and spirited, as befits a scholar whose ideas helped to shape the 2006 FM 3-24. At the same time, the danger inherent in indeterminate counterinsurgency, defined as population protection and fighting “the enemy only when he gets in the way,” is the unintended enervation of our own warrior spirit.

At least the Marines are continuing to close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver (doing squad rushes against the enemy in Afghanistan).  I cannot vouch for what the Army is doing, but as for the Afghan National Army, we have discussed their ineptitude before.  They are still waiting on the sidelines for U.S. forces to clear the enemy.  This is a recipe for disaster, and they won’t be anywhere near ready by mid-2011.  We are pursuing a failing strategy.  But Bing is right concerning U.S. forces.  Population-centric COIN – when applied as an exclusive-use procedure – appears to be causing the enervation of the warrior spirit.

The French Perspective

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

Enduring the negative is difficult, but hearing the positive is encouraging. From a translation of a French article on American troops, here is an interesting take on things in Afghanistan.

“We have shared our daily life with two US units for quite a while – they are the first and fourth companies of a prestigious infantry battalion whose name I will withhold for the sake of military secrecy. To the common man it is a unit just like any other. But we live with them and got to know them, and we henceforth know that we have the honor to live with one of the most renowned units of the US Army – one that the movies brought to the public as series showing “ordinary soldiers thrust into extraordinary events”. Who are they, those soldiers from abroad, how is their daily life, and what support do they bring to the men of our OMLT every day ? Few of them belong to the Easy Company, the one the TV series focuses on. This one nowadays is named Echo Company, and it has become the support company.

They have a terribly strong American accent – from our point of view the language they speak is not even English. How many times did I have to write down what I wanted to say rather than waste precious minutes trying various pronunciations of a seemingly common word? Whatever state they are from, no two accents are alike and they even admit that in some crisis situations they have difficulties understanding each other.

Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and creatine – they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them – we are wimps, even the strongest of us – and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.

Here we discover America as it is often depicted : their values are taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by promiscuity and the loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley. Honor, motherland – everything here reminds of that : the American flag floating in the wind above the outpost, just like the one on the post parcels. Even if recruits often originate from the hearth of American cities and gang territory, no one here has any goal other than to hold high and proud the star spangled banner. Each man knows he can count on the support of a whole people who provides them through the mail all that an American could miss in such a remote front-line location : books, chewing gums, razorblades, Gatorade, toothpaste etc. in such way that every man is aware of how much the American people backs him in his difficult mission. And that is a first shock to our preconceptions : the American soldier is no individualist. The team, the group, the combat team are the focus of all his attention.

And they are impressive warriors ! We have not come across bad ones, as strange at it may seem to you when you know how critical French people can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them provide us everyday with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest. On the one square meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark – only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered – everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump.

And combat ? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all – always coming to the rescue when one of our teams gets in trouble, and always in the shortest delay. That is one of their tricks : they switch from T-shirt and sandals to combat ready in three minutes. Arriving in contact with the ennemy (sic), the way they fight is simple and disconcerting : they just charge ! They disembark and assault in stride, they bomb first and ask questions later – which cuts any pussyfooting short.

We seldom hear any harsh word, and from 5 AM onwards the camp chores are performed in beautiful order and always with excellent spirit. A passing American helicopter stops near a stranded vehicle just to check that everything is alright; an American combat team will rush to support ours before even knowing how dangerous the mission is – from what we have been given to witness, the American soldier is a beautiful and worthy heir to those who liberated France and Europe.

To those who bestow us with the honor of sharing their combat outposts and who everyday give proof of their military excellence, to those who pay the daily tribute of America’s army’s deployment on Afghan soil, to those we owned this article, ourselves hoping that we will always remain worthy of them and to always continue hearing them say that we are all the same band of brothers”.

Gatorade, proteins and creatine. Things given to boys in their football years and shipped to them in Care Packages to make then strong.

Just so, and thanks to the French warriors for this report.  Band of brothers indeed.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Some of our warriors have given the ultimate sacrifice in the service of America in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.  In the picture below (h/t Tony Perry, credit AP), the casket of Marine Sgt. Michael T. Washington arrived Thursday at a funeral home in Auburn, Washington.  He was based out of Twentynine Palms, and died supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Now notice further the Marine standing in the doorway saluting.  It is his father, Michael W. Washington.  The picture leaves us without words, except to reiterate prior prayers and condolences.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

It is because of such men we are free.  Semper Fidelis.

**** UPDATE ****

Jim Spiri writes to say “In all my travels and all the photos I have ever taken, none has been more powerful than the photo you have shown today.  There are no words left.  It is the strongest photo I have ever seen.”

Mocking the Troops at The Onion

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

The sentiment where one opposes the war but supports the troops has evolved into mocking the troops regardless of any war.  The Onion (famous for satirical or fake news) released a report entitled Love Letters from U.S. Troops Increasingly Gruesome.  The Captain’s Journal hates to bring any more attention to this sophomoric tripe (it really is very poorly done and inept), but its real value might very well be the instruction it gives us about the author in contrast with its subject.

According to a Pentagon report leaked to the press Monday, love letters written by U.S. troops have nearly tripled in their use of disturbing language, graphic imagery, and horrific themes since the start of the war.

The report, which studied 600 romantic notes sent over a period of two years, found a significant increase in terrifying descriptions of violence and gore, while references to beautiful flowers, singing bluebirds, and the infinite, undulating sea were seen to decrease by 93 percent.

“Not only are U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq less likely to compare their lover’s cheeks to a blushing red rose,” the report read in part, “but most are now three times more likely to equate that same burning desire to the ‘smoldering flesh of a dead Iraqi insurgent,’ and almost 10 times more likely to compare sudden bursts of passion to a ‘crowded marketplace explosion.’”

According to detailed analysis of the letters, the longer a U.S. soldier had been stationed in Iraq the more macabre the overall tone of his correspondence became. Troops who had been fighting for less than a year lapsed into frightening allegory only 15 percent of the time, while those who had been serving between two and three years described their affection for loved ones back home as more vibrant and alive than any of the children in the village of Basra.

Troops stationed in Iraq for four years or longer composed their letters entirely in blood.

“The more often U.S. soldiers are confronted with images of carnage, the more these elements become present in their subconscious and, ultimately, in their writing,” said Dr. Kendra Allen, a behavioral psychologist who reviewed the Pentagon’s findings. “This is precisely why we see so many passages like, ‘Darling, I miss the way your bright green eyes always stayed inside your skull’ and ‘Honey, how I dream of your soft, supple arms—both of them, still attached as ever, to the rest of your body.’”

Allen went on to say that many of the harrowing details found in the love letters were linked to specific events in Iraq. A bloody clash with Islamic extremists in late March resulted in more than 40 handwritten notes from a single battalion, all of which contained some version of the message “My love for you spills out of me like my lower intestine, my gallbladder, and my spleen.”

“Getting love letters from my husband used to be my favorite part of the week. But these days, they’re almost impossible to get through,” said Sheila Miller, whose husband, Michael, has been in Iraq since 2004. “Yes, it’s still flattering to be told that you’re as beautiful as a syringe full of morphine, or that you’re as much a part of his being as the shrapnel near his spine. But I’m really starting to worry about him.”

“My husband has never really been the romantic type, but even this is strange for him,” said Margaret Baker, the wife of Sgt. Daniel Baker. “How am I supposed to react to hearing that my name is the sweetest sound in a world otherwise filled with desperate cries of anguish? I made the mistake of showing [daughter] Gracie the birthday card her father sent her from Tikrit and she hasn’t spoken for a month.”

That’s enough for the reader to get the basic picture.  It’s a sad testimony to a narcissistic generation which has no value system except self worship.  But self worship inevitably leads to the mocking and denigration of others.  This mockery of the troops could very well have been written about World War II veterans and the horror they witnessed, or any other warrior in any other war.  It has nothing to do with the campaign for Iraq or Afghanistan.  It doesn’t even have to do with whether there can be good wars.

The authors are engaged in heartless, remorseless cruelty in the mocking of the pain and sacrifice of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines on their behalf.  To be able to benefit from the pain of others, and then to mock their benefactors, is a sadistic skill that only the darkest of souls is able to master.  The warriors who fight for America, however, stand in marked contrast to this.  The physical pain, the deprivation, the loneliness and time away from family all testify to the commitment and indomitable spirit of the American warrior.

On the one hand, you have the American warrior who is committed to give his very life if necessary for our protection and freedom, while still others will live out the balance of their lives with PTSD, traumatic brain injury or lost limbs.  On the other hand you have those who would mock this commitment and dedication. The contrast couldn’t be more stark.  America has a future only to the extent that the former rather than the later constitutes her soul.

Man of the Year

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago

Time has named Vladimir Putin person of the year.  George W. Bush looked the man in the eye and found him to be “very straightforward and trustworthy.”  On the other hand, I look Putin in the eye and see Lucifer.  Obviously, since he is fond of assassinating people by administering lethal doses of Polonium-210, he is not the choice of The Captain’s Journal for man of the year (we have jettisoned the gender-neutral “person” of the year moniker as stupid).

There are powerful arguments for General David Petraeus for man of the year.  But even Petraeus doesn’t make it to the top of the list.  Who then do we advocate for man of the year?  He is Corporal Raymond D. Hennagir.

Corporal Hennagir is a brave warrior who lost both legs and four fingers to an IED, and his story is one of An Unforgettable Reunion.

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – For 10 weeks, ever since Cpl. Raymond D. Hennagir was blown up, he had longed for this moment, this homecoming, when the rest of his platoon would return from Iraq.
He missed them, his brothers. Hennagir, a 21-year-old Marine from Deptford, N.J., felt he had let them down by stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED), blowing off both legs and four fingers on his left hand – now, he said, in his darkest Marine humor, just “a pink mist and a memory.”

Hennagir desperately wanted to mend enough so that the Marine Corps would let him travel to Camp Lejeune for this day, Aug 26.

That wish motivated him, maybe even kept him alive, through the summer’s 16 surgeries and three skin grafts. The pain was so intense that he was sure his screams were heard all through the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

“There were times when I wondered if the kid was ever going to get a break,” said his uncle Jim English, a 20-year Navy veteran, who would stare helplessly out the hospital window.

And now here Hennagir was. The late-August sun was blazing. He sat in his wheelchair, his baggy new jeans from American Eagle tucked up under his lost legs.

Read all of the story – it will make you weep for the brave men who have suffered TBI, lost limbs, and lost lives, and weep for their loved ones.  And it will make you proud of their bravery.

But Corporal Hennagir is also a surrogate, and our nominating him man of the year is a vote for all of the wounded and all those warriors who have given it all for the cause.  Men like Lance Corporal Dale G. Peterson, Lance Corporal Walter K. O’Haire, and Lance Corporal Jonathan E. Kirk of 2/6 who lost their lives in Fallujah during the summer of 2007 are also men of the year.  It is men like these for whom I am truly thankful.


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