Free Men Bear Arms

Herschel Smith · 15 Dec 2014 · 3 Comments

Mike Vanderboegh: You know the Founders were as suspicious of unrestrained democracy as they were of absolute monarchy. Both can be tyrannical. Both can be deadly. Both are threats to life and liberty and property. This is why they crafted a constitutional republic. The Founders knew that the mob could be manipulated by cynical elites to rob other citizens of their liberty, their property and their lives – cynical elites, wealthy men, powerful men, with unceasing appetites for more and more…… [read more]

Concrete Walls for Sadr City

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Counterinsurgency tactics are finally being applied to Sadr City.

Trying to stem the infiltration of militia fighters, American forces have begun to build a massive concrete wall that will partition Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital.

The construction, which began Tuesday night, is intended to turn the southern quarter of Sadr City near the international Green Zone into a protected enclave, secured by Iraqi and American forces, where the Iraqi government can undertake reconstruction efforts.

“You can’t really repair anything that is broken until you establish security,” said Lt. Col. Dan Barnett, commander of the First Squadron, Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment. “A wall that isolates those who would continue to attack the Iraqi Army and coalition forces can create security conditions that they can go in and rebuild.”

The team building the barrier was protected by M-1 tanks, Stryker vehicles and Apache attack helicopters. As the workers labored in silence, there was a burst of fire as an M-1 tank blasted its main gun at a small group of fighters to the west. An Apache helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at a militia team equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, again interrupting the night with a thunderous boom. A cloud of dark smoke was visible in the distance through the Stryker’s night-vision system.

Concrete barriers have been employed in other areas of Baghdad. As the barriers were being erected in other neighborhoods, some residents said they feared being isolated. But walls have often proved to be an effective tool in blunting insurgent attacks.

Many of the Shiite militias that the American and Iraqi forces have been battling in the Tharwa area of Sadr City in the past several weeks have been infiltrating from the north. Al Quds Street has become a porous demarcation line between the American- and Iraqi-protected area to the south and the militia-controlled area to the north.

The avenue has been filled with numerous roadside bombs that American teams in special heavily armored vehicles have sought to clear. The militias have stacked tires on the road and turned them into burning pyres to hamper the American infrared surveillance and targeting systems or to soften the concrete to make it easier to bury bombs.

They are trying to take a page from the hugely successful Operation Alljah in Fallujah (2007), in which concrete barriers separated neighborhoods.  But something is missing from the picture.  Can anyone spot the problem?

Lt. Col. Barnett wants to establish security, and indeed he must.  But in Operation Alljah, concrete barriers were not used to establish security.  They were used to keep and maintain security after it had already been established.  Robust kinetic operations against the insurgents were a prelude to neighborhood security.

Unless Sadr City sees strong U.S. military action against the militias, the concrete barriers will become useless and pricey monuments to failed attempts at counterinsurgency – a laughingstock rather than an actual tool to prevent ingress and egress of insurgents.

In other words, the area has to be rid of insurgents, at least mostly, before ways and means can be effective for keeping insurgents from returning.  This will involve operations such as disarming the militias.  At the very minimum, even if this is accelerated counterinsurgency, kinetic operations must accompany the barriers.

British to Scale Back Violence Against Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The Times gives us an update on the British plan to scale back violence against the Taliban.

BRITISH troops are to scale back attacks on the Taliban after killing 7,000 insurgents in two years of conflict, defence sources said last week …

The paratroopers’ commanders hope they can cut the deaths, which they fear are a boost for the Taliban when fighters recruited from the local population are killed, as the dead insurgent’s family then feels a debt of honour to take up arms against British soldiers.

The resultant fighting raises the profile of the Taliban and enhances their reputation in the local community.

“We aim to scale back our response to incidents to avoid getting sucked into a cycle of violence among local tribesmen,” said one officer. “This way we aim to continue the process of reducing the Taliban’s influence in Helmand.”

The army hopes that the reduction in violence will enable the Department for International Development and its American counterpart USAID to accelerate reconstruction work. British commanders have expressed frustration at the limited amount of development and the reluctance of DfID to become involved.

However, US marines and British special forces will continue attacks on high-level Taliban leaders crossing the border from Pakistan.

More than 1,000 American troops from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit will take control of the border between Helmand and Pakistan later this month. They will concentrate on providing the firepower to kill Taliban leaders as they cross the border from their base in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

The US marines will work with the British Special Forces Support Group and Special Boat Service commandos who are tracking Taliban crossing the border. They will use the firepower of their M1A1 Abrams tanks and AH-1W Cobra helicopter gunships to launch a frontal assault on the hardliners.

Ah yes, The Captain’s Journal knows it by its smell: the deep magic of counterinsurgency at its best.  Fascination with special forces operators, high value targets, and personalities and leaders, along with the philosophy of “giving stuff to the people.”  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  There’s just one problem.  The plan is all confused and won’t work.

As readers know, we have been strong proponents of giving stuff to people as part of the concerned citizens program in Iraq.  But – and this is the important point - the British plan bifurcates this approach from strong military operations against the enemy, an error that wasn’t made in Iraq.  Consider, for example, that the British plan in Basra was similar to the one being espoused above, with military operations being second in importance (or even suppressed due to the notion that for every indigenous insurgent killed, two more grow up in his place).

Also consider that the Marines in Anbar could have argued this way given the heavy indigenous participation in the insurgency along with some lesser number of foreigners.  But the Marines neither argued nor behaved this way.  The indigenous population witnessed strong military action in Anbaragainst their own blood, and grew weary of this just as much as foreign jihadist violence against them.  This is another critical point that bears repeating.  The Marines won in Anbar, and the British lost in Basra.  The British plan being espoused for Afghanistan is roughly the same as was implemented in Basra, and diametrically opposed to the nature of operations in Anbar.

Another problem with this approach is that it presupposes that the Afghani Taliban need the leadership of Pakistani Taliban, or al Qaeda, in order to function.  While the border region is certainly problematic, the British will soon find that most of the insurgents within Afghanistan are indigenous Afghanis, and that reduced violence against them leads to a strengthened Taliban.

Joint Intelligence Centers

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Coalition forces have begun the implementation of one piece of the strategy to throttle the flow of insurgents across the Pakistani-Afghani border region.  It is called Joint Intelligence Centers.

The first in a planned series of six joint intelligence centers along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border was opened at the Afghanistan border town of Torkham on March 29.

When the plan is fully implemented there will be three such centers on each side of the border at a cost of US$3 million each. There are high hopes for the centers, which have been described by the US commander in Afghanistan as “the cornerstone upon which future cooperative efforts will grow”. According to US Brigadier General Joe Votel, “The macro view is to disrupt insurgents from going back and forth, going into Afghanistan and back into Pakistan, too. This is not going to instantly stop the infiltration problem, but it’s a good step forward.”

The centers are designed to coordinate intelligence-gathering and sharing between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the intelligence agencies of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The project is an outgrowth of the earlier Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC) established in Kabul in January 2007. This center, comprising 12 ISAF, six Afghan and six Pakistani intelligence officers, was initiated by the military intelligence sharing working group, a subcommittee of the tripartite plenary commission of military commanders that meets on a bimonthly basis. The JIOC is designed to facilitate intelligence-sharing, joint operations planning and an exchange of information on improvised explosive devices. The working languages are English, Dari and Pashto, aided by a number of translators.

The new border centers will each be manned by 15 to 20 intelligence agents. One of the main innovations is the ability to view real-time video feeds from US surveillance aircraft. The commander of US troops in Afghanistan, Major General David Rodriguez, described the centers as “a giant step forward in cooperation, communication and coordination”.

The Captain’s Journal has had our altercations with General Rodriguez (he is no General Odierno), but we support any attempt to stem the flow of insurgents across the border region.  But we’ll comment here that this mission is unique and involves fixed fortifications.  It is foolish to garrison 20 intelligence agents at a location without also involving the force protection necessary to keep them alive.  A Joint Intelligence Center without a platoon of Marines for force protection is equivalent to begging for mortar fire every night.  It is simply astonishing that well-trained commanders would be involved in something like this.  Throwing well worn military doctrine such as force protection to the wind is the hallmark of panic.

However, it may not matter, since as we hinted in The Pashtun Rejection of the Global War on Terror, Pakistani involvement in the Afghanistan campaign will suffer in the wake of the recent elections.  Continuing with the Asia Times report:

Despite such glowing descriptions, there remains one hitch – Pakistan’s military has yet to make a full commitment to the project. According to Major General Athar Abbas, the director general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations, a military information organization, “At this time this proposal is being analyzed and evaluated by the concerned officials. But Pakistan has not yet come to a decision on this matter.”.

General Abbas and other officials have declined to discuss Pakistan’s reservations or even to commit to a deadline for a decision. It is possible that the failure to sign on as full partners in the project may have something to do with the stated intention of Pakistan’s new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, to pursue a greater focus on negotiation than military action in dealing with the Taliban and other frontier militants. There may also be reservations on the part of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to share intelligence on their clients within the Taliban.

Actual intelligence cooperation along the border is hampered by a number of factors, not least of which is a basic inability to agree on exactly where the border lies. In the past, Pakistan has responded to complaints from Afghanistan of Taliban fighters infiltrating across the border by threatening to fence or even mine the frontier, a shocking proposal to the Pashtun clans that straddle the artificial divide. Afghanistan’s long-standing policy is simply to refuse recognition of the colonial-era Durand Line, which it claims was forced on it by British imperialists in 1893. Pakistan accepts the Durand Line, but the two nations are frequently unable to agree on exactly where the 2,400-kilometer line is drawn.

It remains to be seen if the concept of Joint Intelligence Centers goes forward.  If it does, it will require language skills, international agreements, and above all, force protection.  These outposts will not survive without force protection.

The Waning of Al Qaeda in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

There has been recent chatter over jihadist web sites that point to yet another attempt at consolidation of insurgent forces.  SITE Intel gives us the translation.

Following both the announcement of the Mujahideen Shura Council’s establishment as an amalgamated insurgency group in Iraq and Sheikh Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi selected as its Emir in mid-January 2006, there has been much chatter amongst the online jihadist community on this issue. Following the announcement about the Council, the Jihadi forums ran a “Thousand signature campaign on supporting the Mujahideen Shura Council,” which indeed, the online jihadists posted their signatures. Members stressed the unification of the mujahideen under one flag as a boon for the insurgency; one suggesting that Ansar al-Sunnah join the Council to further bolster the unification, and another in an interview on a forum, Hani el-Sibaei, a former leader of the outlawed Egyptian group Islamic Jihad, who now runs an Islamic affairs research center in London, who congratulates the Council.

Another member of a jihadist forum addressed the seeming disappearance of Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq, stressing that the Muslims should not follow Western pundits and analysts who equate jihad in Iraq with one man in Zarqawi. He congratulates the founding of the Mujahideen Shura Council and its Emir, Sheikh Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, and states: “The jihad did not stop and what it proves is that jihad is continuous until now with the Grace of Allah”.

The Mujahideen Shura Council is composed of eight insurgency groups in Iraq: al-Qaeda in Iraq, Victorious Army Group, the Army of al-Sunnah Wal Jama’a, Jama’a al-Murabiteen, Ansar al-Tawhid Brigades, Islamic Jihad Brigades, the Strangers Brigades, and the Horrors Brigades, collaborating to meet the “unbelievers gathering with different sides” and defend Islam.

It is noteworthy that the jihadists are calling for a combination of forces, these same forces battling each other in the earlier days of the insurgency in Ramadi, as we covered from Army intelligence sources in Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq.  For instance, it was never al Qaeda which controlled the hospital in Ramadi.  Rather, it was Ansar al Sunna, and al Qaeda stayed out of the innermost parts of Ramadi due to the inherent danger.  Each sect of Sunni insurgency fought with all other sects, and this inability to combine forces is part of its failure.

Just as remarkable is the followup press release of al Qaeda in Iraq (the internet swarm was obviously preliminary to this more formal action by al Qaeda), in that the strategy is only ostensibly one of jihad against the evil Crusader Americans, and is in reality one of the power and cultural identity of Sunnis.

The purported leader of al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq called in a new Internet audiotape Tuesday on Sunni fighters who switched sides and joined the American push to pacify Sunni areas of the country, to return to the insurgency.

In the recording, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who allegedly heads the Islamic State of Iraq, called on Sunni unity and urged Sunnis in the Iraqi army, police and the so-called “Awakening Councils” to abandon fighting the mujahideen, and instead turn their guns toward the “Crusader” enemy shorthand for U.S. troops in Iraq.

The 30-minute audio was posted on Islamic Web sites known as clearing houses for militant messaging. Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed. Washington-based SITE Institute which monitors militant Internet messaging, also intercepted the recording.

No photo has ever appeared of al-Baghdadi, whom the U.S. describes as a fictitious character used to give an Iraqi face to an organization dominated by foreigner al-Qaida fighters. The U.S. has said that under interrogation, a top al-Qaida member revealed that speeches by al-Baghdadi who often echo the messages of his patron, Osama bin Laden are read by an actor.

“The scholars of the faith and the honorable sheiks of the tribes are charged with calling and urging the children of the Sunni sheikdoms to leave the army and the police … and the Awakening Councils, on the basis that all arms … be directed at the Crusaders and those who support them,” al-Baghdadi said in the latest recording.

The Sunni fighters who went to the American and Iraqi government side have contributed nothing to benefit the Sunni nation in Iraq, al-Baghdadi claimed, and were themselves deceived by unfulfilled promises of payments and contracts with the U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The Awakening Councils first surfaced last year in the Sunni province of Anbarwest of Baghdad, but have since also spread to other Sunni-populated areas in central Iraq.

Al-Qaida has never publicly acknowledged losing control in the Anbar to the U.S.-Iraqi anti-insurgency push, but al-Baghdadi has in the past blasted the Awakening Council’s “collaboration” with the U.S. troops in the region.

Noting that five years have passed since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, al-Baghdadi claims the “enemy has reaped humiliation and loss” and faces an “exceptional state” of economic collapse.

Meanwhile, the al-Qaida affiliate will remain firm on the path of jihad, al-Baghdadi said.

Allegedly motivated by Sunni tribesmen wishing an end the Sunni infighting, al-Baghdadi claimed a project has been agreed upon in which a committee of scholars will intervene to resolve conflicts in Sunni areas between tribes, mujahideen, and others.

Referring to the recent U.S.-Iraqi drive to flush al-Qaida out of northern Iraqi strongholds around the city of Mosul, al-Baghdadi warns Sunnis there to exercise “caution.”

“The malice against you is great, and you will see humiliation if you abandon your children, the mujahideen. They are from you and for you. They are the source of your pride and honor. They are the secret of your power,” he said.

There is no call for the Shi’a to abandon the fight against al Qaedain the name of jihad.  The fight, says the spokesman, is about the source of their pride and honor, the secret of the Sunni power.  The days when the Sunni believes that he will return to power in Iraq as part of the majority party are gone, and the appeal of al Qaeda to this quaint notion is a sign of its waning power.

The Good and Bad in Basra

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Good information coming from the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan is always welcome, but it pays to be careful, analytical, independent and questioning.  Michael Yon is without a doubt the best and most prolific reporter who has been in Iraq.  The Captain’s Journal highly respects Yon, but even he can miss the mark, even if only infrequently.  As reported by Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, Yon was heralding the advent of peace in Basra half a year ago.

MICHAEL YON POINTS TO THIS REPORT and emails: “Basra is not in chaos. In fact, crime and violence are way down and there has not been a British combat death in over a month. The report below is false.” False reports from Iraq? Say it isn’t so!

And, via the comments in this post, an article from The Telegraph that supports Yon’s version more than the other: “Indeed, wherever one looks in the British sector, there are grounds to believe that, far from degenerating into all-out civil war, the Iraqis are finally coming to terms with their post-Saddam condition and are starting to acquire the confidence and the institutions necessary for running their affairs.”

At the time, The Captain’s Journal had studied the reports of Iraqi Omar Fadhil who flatly stated that while he would not have crossed Anbar months before (and would now), he would not even consider going into the Shi’a South.  We saw women being beheaded by gangs of fundamentalist Shi’a thugs.  We also studied the rules of engagement of the British, and knew that Basra would be lost.  We politely and quietly retorted to Glenn Reynolds that “Yon is great and worthy of admiration, but he has this wrong.  If there is peace, it is only to the extent that the gangs have agreed upon their turf and the population has been subjugated to their rule” (or something along those lines).  It is important not to twist the bad news into good news, as we have been warned by the Multinational Force, partly because when it is later proven to have been twisted (or perhaps more correctly, misinterpreted), it always redounds to a loss of credibility.

There is good news and bad news in the Basra fighting.  The good news is that there is Basra fighting.  It was well past time to confront the radical Shi’a militias, and at least one of them, the Mahdi militia, is being battered and has had to call for a truce.  The bad news is that many of them have not stood down and retain their weapons.  We have seen Sadr’s forces stand down before when the fighting ended too soon.  This is a recurring model.

The good news is that there has been more than a week of fighting in Basra and Sadr City.  The bad news is that this is only little more than a week old and there is much more to go.  The good news is that Maliki finally had the courage to go on the offensive against Sadr.  The bad news is that, according to General Petraeus, the campaign was very poorly planned and almost spurious.

For the British, the results are all bad.  David Frum writes from a reader in Basra:

I cannot comment on troop movements and other assets, but I will say that I am gratified with what the US is doing.  The British have been completely marginalized, though.  I would look for an eventual, low-key exit by the Brits covered by talk of concentrating on Afghanistan.

The Times reports:

In Basra the signs of the feared militia are slowly receding. For the first time in years alcohol vendors are selling beer close to army checkpoints, and ringtones praising the rebel cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr are vanishing from mobile phones. Music shops are once again selling pop tunes instead of the recorded lectures of Shia ayatollahs.

But, as the city cautiously comes back to life after an offensive by Iraqi troops backed by hundreds of US soldiers, there is a lingering resentment towards the British Army.

Many here blame the British for allowing the al-Mahdi Army and other militias to impose a long reign of terror on the once cosmopolitan city …

“I think the British troops were the main reason that militias became very powerful,” complained InasAbed Ali, a teacher. “They didn’t fight them properly and, when they found themselves losing in the city, they moved out to the airport and chose to negotiate with the militias and criminal groups as if they were legal.”

“The British Army had no role in Basra,” Rahman Hadi, a coffee shop owner, said. “We haven’t seen any achievements by them in the streets of Basra. I don’t know why their troops didn’t respond to the acts of these militias for long years, after seeing all the suffering that Basra people went through.”

Even senior Iraqi officers admitted that the hands-off British approach to policing the city had given the militias free rein.

Peter Oborne at the Daily Mail opines:

British military history contains more than its fair share of glorious victories, but there have also been notable disasters. It has become horrifyingly clear that one of these is our involvement in southern Iraq, culminating in our soldiers’ exit from Basra Palace late last year.

Nibras Kazimi reports:

“The Iraqi Army holds the British Forces cowering behind barbed wire in Basra Airport in the lowest regard; the Iraqis hold the British responsible for dropping the ball in Basra and in Amara, allowing the crime cartels to expand and take root. Iraqi officers regularly dismiss the British military as “sissies” and “cowards”.

The news for Maliki is mixed, and very levelheaded analysis comes from Iraqi Mohammed Fadhil of Iraq the Model.

Perhaps the biggest mistake in the battle, which did not end with victory in spite of the courage exhibited in the decision to engage the enemy, was Maliki’s decision to personally lead the battle as the commander in chief of armed forces. Apparently he did this without proper consultation or in depth calculation of consequences. He forgot that by going there in person he made a commitment to go to the end. But the battle did not end in any meaningful way and so in spite of the determination in his words the prestige and credibility of the state were under threat.

Some people began to mock the operation calling it “Qadissiyat Al-Maliki” (in reference to Qadissiyat Saddam, the name Saddam used to call the 8-year war with Iran) others went as far as calling it the Rats Charge instead of Knights Charge. The reason is that the leader was there in person yet he couldn’t finish the job.

It was evident from Maliki’s words that patience was over and that the situation could no longer be settled with negotiations but it didn’t work out as desired. Had Maliki not been the direct commander of the battle the outcome would have perhaps been considered a tactical win. But his presence turned the battle into a strategic campaign for which neither Maliki nor the troops were prepared.

As for Iran, Stephen Hadley explains that they are still a major threat, and Secretary of Defense Gates inexplicably states that it is unlikely that the U.S. will ever confront Iranian forces inside of Iraq.  This is not finished, and there will likely be both good news and bad news for quite some time into the future concerning the Iraq South.  The Captain’s Journal will not engage in talking points.  We will follow the truth, and as always, beg for defeat of the enemy.

Marines Mired in NATO Red Tape in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Introduction and Background

Several months ago upon following our commentary on the Afghanistan campaign, a field grade officer, and someone who is definitely in a position to know, contacted The Captain’s Journal and recommended that we focus our attention on the ongoing lethargy of the campaign due to NATO incompetence and inability to formulate a coherent and sensible strategy.

Soon after this we published NATO Intransigence in Afghanistan and The Marines, Afghanistan and Strategic Malaise.  We have also pointed out that however bad a shadow NATO casts over the campaign in Afghanistan, the Taliban and al Qaeda have no such incoherence, and have settled on a comprehensive approach to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Now from the Baltimore Sun, we learn just how bad the strategic malaise is and how prescient were our warnings.

Field Report

From the Baltimore Sun:

Multinational force has multiple leaders
By David Wood

Sun reporter

April 11, 2008


Disagreements and coordination problems high within the international military command are delaying combat operations for 2,500 Marines who arrived here last month to help root out Taliban forces, according to military officers here.

For weeks the Marines — with their light armor, infantry, artillery and a squadron of transport and attack helicopters and Harrier strike fighters — have been virtually quarantined at the international air base here, unable to operate beyond the base perimeter.

Within immediate striking distance are radical Islamist Taliban forces that are entrenched around major towns in southern Afghanistan, where they control the lucrative narcotics trade and are consolidating their position as an alternative to the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

But disputes among the many layers of international command here — an ungainly conglomeration of 40 nations ranging from Albania and Iceland to the U.S. and Britain — have forced a series of delays.

Unlike most U.S. military operations, even the small details of operations here — such as the radio frequency used to evacuate a soldier for medical care — must first be coordinated with multiple military commands.

Then, there have been larger disputes over strategy. Some commanders here want more emphasis on civic action in conjunction with local Afghans. Others believe security must take precedence.

For Marines, who are accustomed to landing in a war zone and immediately going into action with their own plans, the holdup has been frustrating.

Frequent changes among command leaders and unclear lines of authority have made it difficult for the Marines to win general approval for the timing, goals and extent of proposed operations.

Marine operations planning, which is routinely completed in hours or days, has gone on for weeks while they await agreement and approval from above.

“They invite us here … and they don’t know how to use us?” said Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. “We are trying to keep our frustration in check … but we have to wait for the elephants to stop dancing,” Henderson said, referring to the brass-heavy international command.

“The clash is between the tactical reality on the ground and political perceptions held elsewhere,” Marine Maj. Heath Henderson, deputy operations officer for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, told his staff. “You can make your own judgments about which you think will prevail.”

Including the Marines, there are 17,522 allied troops in southern Afghanistan, including British, Dutch, Canadians, Danes, Estonians, Australians, Romanians and representatives of nine other nations, according to the high command.

These coalition military forces are assembled under the banner of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), commanded by U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, headquartered in Kabul with an international staff.

Beneath McNeill are five regional commands and numerous national military commands. Henderson’s Marine battalion and its parent task force, the 24th MEU, officially are under the command of ISAF and McNeill. But they are assigned to work in conjunction with the regional command here and other coalition forces.

Coordination on long-term strategy is complex, staff officers here said, because the commanders and staffs at each level regularly rotate. Regional command south here, for instance, changes every nine months between British, Canadian and Dutch officers.

With one proposed operation temporarily blocked, Henderson told his planners to consider a scaled-back option.

“I think it’s a stretch, but let’s look at it,” he said, adding glumly, “as the sound of desperation seeps into my voice.”

The regional command here, RC-South, declined to comment on any command issues. In Kabul, Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco, a senior spokesman for the ISAF, said the Marines “answer to” ISAF but are under the “tactical control” of RC-South. He said ISAF was satisfied that this is the best arrangement to “coordinate and synchronize” combat operations.

In case of a disagreement, McNeill would make the final decision, said Branco, a Portuguese officer.

The problems are magnified when Afghan government officials at the national and provincial level weigh in with their own judgments. The result, some say, is that the counterinsurgency campaign, which is inherently difficult enough, suffers from the lack of a clear vision and strategy.

“We don’t understand where we are going here,” said Lt. Col. Brian Mennes, commander of Task Force Fury, a battalion of paratroopers just leaving Kandahar after 15 months of counterinsurgency operations here. “We desperately want to see a strategy in front of us,” he said in an interview …

Bigger problems run afoul of conflicting strategies and easily bruised national pride.

At another planning session, a question arose about the capabilities of a British combat unit. “I can tell you they have killed more people than anybody else in this room,” a British major declared hotly. There was shocked silence from the roomful of Marines, most of whom have done two or three combat tours in Iraq and don’t boast about battlefield exploits.

Meantime, the 2,500 Marines here train, clean their weapons yet again, take long conditioning runs along the dust-choked perimeter roads, and wonder when they’re going to begin what they came for.

“This is killing us,” says a staff sergeant. “There’s only so much training you can do, especially considering that most of my Marines just got back from Iraq.”

Analysis and Commentary

Of the campaign we previously said of the deployment of the Marines that “The current institutional and strategic malaise in the NATO project in Afghanistan is about to be stirred up with the presence of 3200 warrior-hunters who want to make contact with the enemy.  The real re-examination of the campaign won’t come as a result of the addition of 3200 troops.  It will come with the addition of a completely different ethos than has previously been in theater.  Re-examination should be a healthy process, even if a difficult one.”

It appears as if the re-examination that was so badly needed to occur has failed, and the most powerful fighting force on earth, the U.S. Marines, is sitting in tents without being utilized.  Some of this is due to strategic differences: “Some commanders here want more emphasis on civic action in conjunction with local Afghans. Others believe security must take precedence.”

Take particular note of the doctrinal confusion that this bit of truth-telling reveals.  It succumbs to the most prevelant and powerful temptation that a field grade officer can face - that of setting one prong of the strategy over against another prong.  It is the devil’s game, the great temptation of having to find a center of gravity – that is, a single center of gravity- in order to strategize against that center, and it holds many commanders in intellectual bondage.

We have dealt with this in Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN.  It is not only not necessary to find a single focus in our counterinsurgency efforts, it is counterproductive.  There is no reason that the troops who wish to focus more on civic involvement (e.g., the European and British troops) cannot do so while the Marines hunt the Taliban.  We have already noted that along much of the terrain outside of the cities, the Taliban control the high ground and it has been recommended by knowledgeable locals that if we wish to counter the efforts of the enemy, we will focus efforts on chasing them and gaining control of the more mountainous areas.

But the problems run even deeper than strategy.  The current NATO engagement is being run by committee, and the committee must settle everything from strategy to radio communications.  This failure can only be laid at the feet of General McNeill.  The Marines are deployed as a MEU, i.e., a Marine Expeditionary Unit.  They are self sufficient, and are by design not intended to need much if any support from the balance of forces in theater.  To require the Marines to work under the headship of a NATO committee not only has wasted time thus far, but the remainder of their time in Afghanistan is in jeopardy.  Literally, the deployment of 3200 Marines to Afghanistan is in danger of redounding to no significant gains due to lack of leadership and NATO intransigence.

It might not get any better any time soon. Canadian Brigadier General Denis Thompson is preparing to take over the head of NATO troops in Afghanistan.  The Captain’s Journal will not opine either way on Thompson’s leadership, except to say that he references what the Canadians refer to as the Manley Report.  He says that the recommendations of the Manley panel should help Afghanistan’s war torn country.  The only problem with this is that outside of providing a few helicopters to specific troops here and there, the report mainly describes the Canadian attempt to convince its population that Canada should be involved in Afghanistan.  The Manley panel is no gold mine of strategic doctrine.  It will be of no help to Thompson as he attempts to deal with recalcitrant field grade officers who chest butt other officers over battle experience and argue over radio frequencies.


The concept of an MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) is that it is in little or no need of assistance.  It is self sufficient in every way, and the only need of the 24th MEU is to be given the green light to hunt al Qaeda and Taliban.  British officers who want to save face over the erstwhile lazy performance of the NATO forces will only slow the Marines and render their contribution void – and perhaps this is the intent.


Resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda

The Taliban and Snake Oil Salesmen

The Marines, Afghanistan and Strategic Malaise

Everyone Thought the Taliban Would Not Fight!

NATO Intrasigence in Afghanistan

Discussions in Counterinsurgency

More on Suicide Bomber Kill Ratio

Taking the High Ground in Afghanistan

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan

No Spring Offensive in Afghanistan?

The Taliban and Distributed Operations

Talks with the Taliban: Clinging to False Hopes

The Khyber Pass

Thoughts on the Fighting in Basra

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Grim of Blackfive is back from Iraq where he served as a civilian consultant.  The Captain’s Journal likes Grim.  He is a thinking man, and every thought he gives us makes us smarter, whether we agree or not.  In this case, he opines on several things, one of which is the recent fighting in Basra.

The Shia problem is armed factionalism.  The current violence of this last month and going forward represents the start of the solution to that problem.  People alarmed by the violence have missed the story. 

The GoI and the JAM are both disaggregating their bad elements.  Mickey Kaus deserves credit for noticing, at least as far as the GoI goes:

Whether it was an incremental success or a humiliating fizzle, hasn’t the Maliki government’s assault on Sadr-linked Shiite militias operated, de facto, as a highly efficient purge of the Iraqi army? According to Juan Cole, those who heeded calls for defection or who otherwise refused to fight have been fired. … P.S.: Meanwhile, some 10,000 militia members who did fight on the government’s side have reportedly been inducted into the security forces.

What people have not noticed is that JAM is doing essentially the same thing.  For quite some time Sadr has been purging JAM of elements that do not obey him.  Sadr has said that he will disown members who violate the ceasefire, excepting in self-defense.  His proposed truce calls for patience from his members, and comes “after receiving assurances” that his membership will not be targetted if he has them stand down. 

Those who continue to fight will be ready prey for the Iraqi security forces, many of whom are from the Badr faction.  As Wretchard noted, the de facto arbiter of the Shia situation is al Sistani, who has declared that the militias are not legitimate authorities in Iraq.  And — again, crediting Kaus for his careful thinking about what he reads — the political debates within the Iraqi government seem to favor this overall movement.  (It’s also worth nothing that the calls for the JAM to surrender its arms have really been only for heavy weapons — that is, they could retain small arms, as the Sons of Iraq do.) 

The recent violence has been healthy, then.  Disaggregation of irreconcilable elements is a key element to our COIN strategy; here we see it happening naturally.  The political process appears to be strengthened, and the Sunni blocks are now participating in helping to settle the Shiite question in a manner acceptable to themselves — as are the Kurds.  That sounds like a genuine national coalition forming, one that will accept Sadr as a political figure.

I have moderate disagreement with Grim on Basra.  In Jeremiah 13:23, we are rhetorically asked if a leopard can change its spots?  We have seen how Sadr allegedly is eyeing Sistani’s position of authority, undergoing religious training in Iran.  Sadr is a radical Islamist, and for him to be a legitimate political figure in Iraq is akin to the Mullahs ruling Iran.  He is an arm of Iranian military and political power, just like Hezbollah in Lebanon.  He isn’t finished yet.  It is badly premature to draft his obituary.  It would be better for Iraq and the U.S. to make it clear that Sadr isn’t welcome inside Iraq any more.

Furthermore, as we observed in Basra and Iran, “In order to cut ties with Iran, the SIIC “members” of the Iraqi Security Forces – who had to fight only rival miltias in Basra this time around – should be forced to rid Iraq of all Iranian influence, including Quds, Hezbollah, IRG and any other proxy Iranian fighters.  Failure to do so, from leadership down to the lowest ranking soldier, should be addressed as treason.  Until the SIIC is forced to fight for Iraq as opposed to fighting against rival gangs, they too are merely Iranian proxy forces.”

Badr was originally formed as part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and still receive pensions from the IRGC.  It is important to get a clear picture on this issue.  They are, quite literally, on the payroll of Iran.  Until they are put into a position where they have to prove their loyalty to Iraq, the fighting in Basra might be intra-Shi’a gang warfare aided by the Iraqi Army (and some by U.S. forces).

There are tens of thousands of Iranian fighters inside Iraq.  Five days of fighting in Basra and a few more in Sadr City are not enough to rid Iraq of Iranian influence.  We are only at the very beginning stages of the fight in the South.  Since Britain implemented the “we may as well go ahead and give all of the terrain to the enemy” approach to counterinsurgency, the developments in the South lag far behind the West and North.

There are miles to go before we sleep.

Ghost Riding Fun in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

I have proven before that I am not at all above stealing good material.  Charlie at OpFor found this YouTube of some of our boys having a little fun.  I won’t title my post Ghost Riding HMMWVS like Charlie, because I think I saw an MRAP there somewhere. Yes – I know I did.  Besides, I have to call this something original to exonerate myself after I stole Charlie’s material.

And the winner of the dance competition?  It’s the soldier on the road at 1:10 into the video. The Captain’s Journal will speak on his behalf when he goes up for NJP.

More British Trouble in Basra

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The Times is reporting that British command was recently snubbed by Maliki during the latest Basra fighting.

Relations between Britain and Iraq suffered “catastrophic failure” after Baghdad bypassed the British military and called in the American “cavalry” to help the recent offensive against Shia militia in Basra, The Times has learnt.

About 550 US troops, including some from the 82nd Airborne Division, were sent from Baghdad to Basra to join up with 150 American soldiers already serving with Iraqi forces in the southern city.

The Ministry of Defence made much of the fact that British troops, based at Basra airport outside the city, were not requested in the early stages of the operation. British officials claimed that the Basra offensive was proof that Iraqi troops could cope on their own.

The Times has learnt, however, that when Britain’s most senior officer in Basra, Brigadier Julian Free, commander of 4 Mechanised Brigade, flew into the city to find out what was going on, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who was orchestrating the attacks on militia strongholds, declined to see him.

Brigadier Free flew to Basra city with Lieutenant-General Lloyd Austin, the commander of American and coalition forces in Iraq, on March 27, two days after the operation began. The Iraqi Prime Minister spoke only to the US general.

A source familiar with the sequence of events said that Mr al-Maliki seemed to have it in for the British because of the alleged “deal” struck with the Shia militia last year under which they agreed not to attack Britain’s last battalion as it withdrew from Basra in return for the release of several of their leading members from prison.

According to The New York Times, Baghdad turned to the Americans for help when the Basra operation was launched. Two senior American military officers, Rear Admiral Edward Winters, a former member of the US Navy Seals special forces unit, and Major-General George Flynn, a Marine, were sent to Basra to help to coordinate the operation. Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were drafted in as combat advisers and air controllers were positioned to call in airstrikes …

A source told The Times that US forces were in Basra, eating and sleeping alongside their Iraqi counterparts, “basically doing the work that we were supposed to do. It was a catastrophic failure of diplomacy.”

The source described the moment when the American general arrived at the British base from Baghdad: “Suddenly the cavalry appeared.”

The source said that the Americans provided “loads of technical equipment and combat power”. As soon as the Americans arrived and started hitting houses in Basra, the daily attacks of indirect fire on the British base stopped. The source said that during that time the mood among the British forces on the base was “miserable”.

We knew that the security situation was bad in 2007 and before, but now we learn that Britain dealt with the deaths of seven soldiers due to sniper fire in Basra last year due to the same shooter.

Seven British soldiers were shot in Basra last year by the same sniper rifle, the Ministry of Defence has revealed.

The troops were picked off one by one on the streets of the southern Iraqi city by a weapon firing high-velocity American-made bullets.

Rifleman Aaron Lincoln, 18, Kingsman Danny Wilson, 28, Kingsman Alan Jones, 20, Corporal Rodney Wilson, 30, Rifleman Paul Donnachie, 18, and two others who have not yet been named, were all killed by bullets from the same weapon, said a spokesman for the MoD.

But he could not verify that a single gunman was responsible.

Rifleman Lincoln, of the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, was killed on April 2 last year by a single bullet that penetrated his protective glasses and helmet, an inquest in Spennymoor, County Durham, heard yesterday.

Of the five soldiers that have been identified, four were shot in April. Corporal Wilson was killed on June 7.

Ballistics expert Ann Kiernan told the inquest: “There had been several incidents where projectiles have all been discharged from the same rifle.”

The bullets were made by arms manufacturer Lake City Arsenal and the hearing was told the military cannot yet provide helmets strong enough to withstand such powerful ammunition.

Rifleman Lincoln’s platoon had been sent on to the city streets as part of an operation to divert enemy attention from a re-supply convoy of 30 trucks due at the British camp.

Coroner Andrew Tweddle said he was concerned the bullet had penetrated the soldier’s helmet, but noted evidence given that the Army were unable to “provide a higher level of protection”.

He recorded a narrative verdict of unlawful killing, adding that Rifleman Lincoln was shot by enemy fire. “He sustained a single gun shot wound to the head,’ he said. ‘This 5.56mm, U.S. manufactured round was not fired by friendly forces.’

The answer for the U.S. when sniper fire was encounted in Anbar and Tarmiyah was force projection.  The answer for the British was withdrawal, but only after a deal had been struck to give prisoners back in order to avoid being targeted again.

Just deplorable.  I lack adequate words to respond.

Of Swine, Hyenas and Generals: The Petraeus Testimony

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Disregarding the title and departing from General Petraeus for a moment, the exchange between the laughing hyena Joe Biden and the respectful and respectable Ryan Crocker is below.

The transcript is as follows:

BIDEN: Mr. Ambassador, is Al Qaeda a greater threat to US interests in Iraq, or in the Afghan-Pakistan border region?

CROCKER: Mr. Chairman, al Qaeda is a strategic threat to the United States wherever it is–

BIDEN: Where is most of it? If you could take it out, you had a choice, the Lord Almighty came down and sat in the middle of the table there, and said, ‘Mr. Ambassador, you can eliminate every al Qaeda source in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or every al Qaeda personnel in Iraq, which would you pick?’

CROCKER: Well, given the progress that has been made against al Qaeda in Iraq, the significant decrease in its capabilities, the fact that it is solidly on the defensive and not in a position as far–

BIDEN: Which would you pick?

CROCKER: I would therefore pick Al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

Actually, there was further testimony that didn’t make the news due to being behind closed doors.  The Senate panel cross examined The Captain’s Journal, with the laughing hyena Joe Biden leading off.  TCJ has been given exclusive access to the transcript which follows:

Laughing Hyena Joe Biden: Hiss … laugh, yelp, growl … suppose that you were required either to listen to me for an hour or take a beating with a baseball bat for an hour.  Which one would you choose?

TCJ: Well, sir, I would rather beat you with a baseball bat for an hour, and …

Hyena: SILENCE SWINE!  You don’t have that option.  You answer my question, now, swine!  Would you rather listen to me or take a beating?  ANSWER, SWINE?  Hiss … laugh … growl … yelp … laugh.

TCJ: Well, it’s really hard to say.  I really don’t want to listen to a hyena for an hour, but a beating with a baseball bat sounds bad …

Hyena: Hiss … laugh … suppose that God came down into your midst and commanded you to make a choice between me or a baseball bat.  Choose, SWINE!

TCJ: Well, hyena, since God didn’t give me the choice of being the vessel which exacts his vengeance upon you, I choose the baseball bat, hyena.

Hyena: Laugh … hiss … growl … hiss … laugh, laugh … I thought so, swine.

This either/or rather than the both/and approach is ridiculous and pertains only to the degree to which the nation chooses to engage in and fund the global war on terror.  Nothing more.  The hyena is purveying a false dilemma.

Returning to the Petraeus testimony, Abu Muqawama has some interesting comments.  First, Abu takes issue with Tom Ricks of the Washington Post for calling them the “rogue cousin” of the Small Wars Journal.  It was fun and interesting to watch Abu react by challenging Ricks to a slap down mixed martial arts cage match – or something like that.  We’ll wait to see that one – it should be interesting.  Next, we’ll reproduce some of the interesting comments below.

While we’re on the subject of Lebanonization, though, here’s another historical analogy that Amb. Crocker missed. In Lebanon, in September 1983, the U.S. lent direct support to what it assumed was a national institution, the Lebanese Army, in the battle at Souk el-Gharb. By doing so, it became, in the eyes of the rest of the Lebanese population, just another militia and thus fair game. What happened next? Ask any U.S. Marine.

Now we all know the situations in Iraq and Lebanon are not exactly the same, but Souk el-Gharb was running through Abu Muqawama’s head during the battle of Basra two weeks ago when we were lending our support to the “national” army of Iraq in its fight with the Sadr crew. To us good-natured Americans, it may have looked as if we were lending our support to the legitimate, national institutions of Iraq. But to other Iraqis, it probably looked as if we were taking sides in the intra-Shia political dispute between ISCI and Sadr in the run-up to this fall’s provincial elections.

At least the senators yesterday didn’t let Crocker and Petraeus get away with talking about the “Iran-supported Sadr Militia.” Yes, Ambassador, Iran does support Sadr and his militia. But they also support our allies. What a fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Well, at TCJ we believe that the gentleman Petraeus could have gone much further than he did concerning Iran’s involvement in the affairs of Iraq – and truthfully so.  He was moderate and measured, as always.  However, Abu makes a good point concerning the ISCI (otherwise SIIC) and the fact that they got out unscathed.  In Basra and Iran, we observed:

In order to cut ties with Iran, the SIIC “members” of the Iraqi Security Forces – who had to fight only rival miltias in Basra this time around – should be forced to rid Iraq of all Iranian influence, including Quds, Hezbollah, IRG and any other proxy Iranian fighters.  Failure to do so, from leadership down to the lowest ranking soldier, should be addressed as treason.  Until the SIIC is forced to fight for Iraq as opposed to fighting against rival gangs, they too are merely Iranian proxy forces.

So as far as Iranian-supported militia, we propose taking them all out, or coopting them absolutely and completely, no negotiations.  As for the hyena Biden, we should send him over to throw-down with the IRG and Sadrists.

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