An Engineered Solution To The Problem Of Gun Safe Weight On Floor Joists

Herschel Smith · 28 Sep 2015 · 7 Comments

There is a plethora of articles, discussion threads and other resources that presume to give advice on the issue of floor loading with heavy gun safes.  Some of them even provide professional engineering counsel, even if they don’t say so.  For instance, some articles I have seen mention the typical and customary floor design loading limit of 40 pounds per square foot (PSF) and then opine something like “but even though the load for a safe is concentrated in a small space, since the total…… [read more]

Afghanistan: The WTF? War

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Jules Crittenden has an important report concerning the view of Operating Enduring Freedom from inside the administration.

During the briefing, (Brig. Gen. Lawrence) Nicholson had told Jones that he was “a little light,” more than hinting that he could use more forces, probably thousands more. “We don’t have enough force to go everywhere,” Nicholson said.

But Jones recalled how Obama had initially decided to deploy additional forces this year. “At a table much like this,” Jones said, referring to the polished wood table in the White House Situation Room, “the president’s principals met and agreed to recommend 17,000 more troops for Afghanistan.” The principals — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Gates; Mullen; and the director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair — made this recommendation in February during the first full month of the Obama administration. The president approved the deployments, which included Nicholson’s Marines.

Soon after that, Jones said, the principals told the president, “oops,” we need an additional 4,000 to help train the Afghan army.

“They then said, ‘If you do all that, we think we can turn this around,’ ” Jones said, reminding the Marines here that the president had quickly approved and publicly announced the additional 4,000.

Now suppose you’re the president, Jones told them, and the requests come into the White House for yet more force. How do you think Obama might look at this? Jones asked, casting his eyes around the colonels. How do you think he might feel?

Jones let the question hang in the air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted room. Nicholson and the colonels said nothing.

Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF — which in the military and elsewhere means “What the [expletive]?”

Nicholson and his colonels — all or nearly all veterans of Iraq — seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.

Jules goes on to cite some “folksy” counterinsurgency quotes, something with which we have also dealt concerning Operation Khanjar.  He also mentions that Woodward buried and obfuscated his lede.  True words – let’s unpack them a bit.

We learn several things from this article.  First we learn the limitations of Woodward’s reporting, or the editing at the Washington Post, or both.  This report is monumental.  Obama ran against the campaign in Iraq, unequivocally stating that the troops needed to be in Afghanistan.  This was stated too many times to count, in too many different venues and publications to recite.  It’s now clear that he will allow somewhat less than 70,000 U.S. troops to deploy to Afghanistan at any one time, regardless of what might have been advocated half a year earlier.

In a separate but roughly parallel evolution, Dr. John Nagl was advocating 600,000 troops for Afghanistan based on the model in FM 3-24.  The Center for a New American Security saw the advent of Dr. Nagl as its President, along with Andrew Exum as a fellow.  CNAS now advises the Obama administration, and will likely never again advocate 600,000 troops for Afghanistan.  They are assisting the administration in the development of a strategy that doesn’t rely on the force size advocated in FM 3-24, regardless of what might have been advocated half a year ago.

There is his story.  Woodward has written books on less than this, but the main story gets buried in the balance of the report.

Next, we learn that National Security Advisor James Jones isn’t qualified for the job.  It’s his job – while all of the other principals are outlining a strategy and force projection that they believe will be endorsed by the President – to be whispering in the ear of the President: “Listen to them, but only so far.  Iraq has taught us that this is harder than we think it will be on our first or even second or third take.  If they’re telling you that the Afghan National Army can substitute for our own troops, they aren’t accounting for the drug addiction, incompetence and treachery of the Afghan Army.  This will be long term, protracted, part of the long war.  Iraq was long and hard, and Petraeus rightly said that Afghanistan would be the longest engagement in the long war.  Fully expect for them to come back asking for more troops, because they will need them.  You are a wartime President, sir.”

But he didn’t whisper these things in the ear of the President.  Instead, he sat at a table with Marine Colonels who didn’t give input to the strategy and told them that to Obama, Afghanistan is a WTF? war.  Learning and evolution by the administration or troops in the field are not options.  You get no more forces.  It’s time to put a serious man in the office of National Security Advisor.  Jones isn’t it.

Finally, most of America doesn’t listen or know what is going on in either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom, and certainly they wouldn’t be able to describe the differences between the U.S. and the ISAF.  All they see are the reports on Television, and even the military families don’t know the real status of things in Afghanistan, most of them.  But CNAS has no excuse.  They know.

Like us, they know that the Afghan National Army is shot through with drug use, even during combat operations and patrols.  For a pictorial depiction of what Exum himself called depressing, see this video of the incompetence and drug use.  Like us, they also know that Afghanistan may not be able financially to support an Army as large as the one envisioned as the replacement for U.S. forces.  Then there is the treachery, such as at the Battle of Bari Alai where it is believed that Afghan troops colluded with the Taliban to kill U.S. troops.  CNAS knows that the Afghan National Army is no replacement for U.S. troops, and that the campaign in Afghanistan is under-resourced.  Jim Jones knows it too, as the Colonels have told him so, even if he chose not to hear it.

So we now know that the current administration sees Operation Enduring Freedom as the WTF? war.  We know that the National Security Advisor doesn’t have the fortitude to whisper the hard things in the ear of the President.  We know that the President doesn’t really want to deploy more troops to Afghanistan, and we also know that the Colonels want more troops to cover their area of operations.

This sets the stage for the coming phase of the campaign.  We have seen this before in Iraq: hasty turnover to the ISF and more difficult counterinsurgency than had previously been planned.  The dissimilarity is a President who was willing to send the necessary forces to get the job done.

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Marines Feel the Love from Huffington Post

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

The Huffington Post links our Operation Khanjar category in their coverage of the most recent Marine Corps operations in the Helmand Province, as well they should.  We have extensively covered, analyzed and commented on the campaign in Afghanistan for several years now, including detailed coverage of Marine Corps operations in Garmser and Now Zad for about a year (and beginning with reports that couldn’t be found in the MSM).

One Twitter post is interesting: “It is cool that the new Afghan operation is named “Khanjar“, an Arabic word. Anyone else think this will drive the right-wing media crazy??”  Drive the right-wing media crazy as it did with Operation Al Fajr, or Operation Alljah?  Seriously?  Does anyone know any media analyst or reporter, right or left wing, who is driven crazy by the names of operations?

But continuing with our main point, the commenters extend the love to the U.S. Marines.

I’ve said before that our combat Marines are doing a job that 99.99% of us are either unwilling or incapable of doing ourselves. They’re doing a great job and I hope their mission is successful …

Get some, Marines!  I wish I could be there with you …

Hooah! …

Maybe, finally my friends and neighbors will rest in peace …

There are a few dubious comments too.  But another Huffington Post article early in 2008 (linking the LA Times) cited Marine Major General Gaskin saying that the gains in Anbar were permanent.  Essentially, mission accomplished.  No comments, except one asking if we were “Tired of the NeoCons getting away with their crimes?”

Some of this love would have been nice in 2004 – 2008 when more than 1000 Marines perished in the Anbar Province of Iraq.  Ah, but that wasn’t Obama’s war, was it?

As for Obama’s war, Jules Crittenden has linked and commented on a Washington Post article that is stunning in its revelation about how the Obama administration sees this and similar Afghanistan operations.

During the briefing, (Brig. Gen. Lawrence) Nicholson had told Jones that he was “a little light,” more than hinting that he could use more forces, probably thousands more. “We don’t have enough force to go everywhere,” Nicholson said.

But Jones recalled how Obama had initially decided to deploy additional forces this year. “At a table much like this,” Jones said, referring to the polished wood table in the White House Situation Room, “the president’s principals met and agreed to recommend 17,000 more troops for Afghanistan.” The principals — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Gates; Mullen; and the director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair — made this recommendation in February during the first full month of the Obama administration. The president approved the deployments, which included Nicholson’s Marines.

Soon after that, Jones said, the principals told the president, “oops,” we need an additional 4,000 to help train the Afghan army.

“They then said, ‘If you do all that, we think we can turn this around,’ ” Jones said, reminding the Marines here that the president had quickly approved and publicly announced the additional 4,000.

Now suppose you’re the president, Jones told them, and the requests come into the White House for yet more force. How do you think Obama might look at this? Jones asked, casting his eyes around the colonels. How do you think he might feel?

Jones let the question hang in the air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted room. Nicholson and the colonels said nothing.

Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF — which in the military and elsewhere means “What the [expletive]?”

Nicholson and his colonels — all or nearly all veterans of Iraq — seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.

So much for the love from the Huffington Post to the Marines – they only love them sometimes.  And it appears that Obama doesn’t share the same love, at least in terms of supplying them with troops … even if they ask for more.

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Scenes from Operation Khanjar

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Prior to launch of the operation:

U.S. Marines from 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, RCT 2nd Battalion 8th Marines Echo Co. run to a new position as they take enemy fire during the start of Operation Khanjari on July 2, 2009 in Main Poshteh, Afghanistan.


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U.S. Marines Launch Large Scale Operation in Helmand Province

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

About 4000 U.S. Marines have been unleashed from Camp Leatherneck into the Helmand Province, Afghanistan.  The Marines have been in the Helmand Province, home of the indigenous insurgency, for more than a year, in both the districts of Garmser and Now Zad.  But Operation Khanjar – “strike of the sword” – is the largest one time systematic deployment of U.S. Marines since Vietnam.

There are various (perhaps slightly conflicting) narratives.  On the one hand, “Our focus is not the Taliban,” Nicholson told his officers. “Our focus must be on getting this government back up on its feet.”  But it will be a long, long time before the Afghanistan government is on its feet and relatively free of corruption, and perhaps even longer before the Afghan National Army is not deeply affected by drug use and addiction, even during patrols and other operations.  It is also believed that at the battle of Bari Alai the Afghan Army was treacherous in their behavior, even colluding with Taliban fighters to kill help U.S. troops.

It has also been said of the new operations that “the measure of success will not be enemy killed. It will be shielding the Afghan population from violence.”  But population-centric counterinsurgency suffers from a singular focus rather than allowing many different focii in the campaign, including killing the enemy.

Fortunately, we have the words of Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson to help us wade through the various narratives.

Our job is to get in there and get it back [from the Taliban] … We don’t want to give the enemy one second to think about what he’s going to do. Because we’re going to be pushing so goddamn hard on the enemy. Our job is to go in there and make contact with the enemy — find the enemy, make contact with the enemy and then we’ll hold on. This is an enemy that’s used to having small-scale attacks and having the coalition pull back. There is no pullback. We will stay on him, and we will ride him until he’s either dead or surrenders …

There’s a hell of a lot of IEDs out there. As we get in there, we’re going to get a better feel for who these people are who are putting them out. We’re going to work the networks. And we’re going to kill the guys that have a chance to go out there and lay them …

We’ll kill and capture a hell of a lot of enemy over these next couple of weeks, I’m confident of that. And I hope the enemy does try to go chest-to-chest with you. It would be a hell of a big mistake …

Good.  The Marines come from their experience in the Anbar Province, Iraq.  Stay out of their way, don’t burden them with excessive red tape, provide them with logistics, and just sit and watch.  The story is about to get interesting.


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What Now Zad Can Teach Us About Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

We have been covering and analyzing U.S. Marine Corps operations in Now Zad, Afghanistan, for nine months, ever since our friend Major Cliff Gilmore (USMC) sent us a direct and unpublished report on his visit to Now Zad.  Three months ago we observed that Now Zad was abandoned, and questioned the strategic significance of holding it.  More than two months ago we got our answer: the Marines were working to shape the battle space by moving insurgents into disposable positions.

Insurgents are there even though the population isn’t.  There is major combat action in Now Zad as demonstrated by this video.  We discussed the fact that there aren’t enough troops to clear and hold, and as it turns out, Now Zad was being used as a place for R&R for insurgents.  Now this AP video gives us an even clearer description of the need for additional Marines.

This is simply remarkable.  Much of the time conducting counterinsurgency is devoted to extracting and isolating the insurgents from the population and protecting the population from violence from insurgents.  It is costly, requires patience, and is very expensive and inefficient.  But every once in a while the insurgents do us a favor and isolate themselves from the population.  These are the instances for which we pray.

Yet when the 2/7 Marines deployed to Now Zad in the spring only to find no noncombatants, it was as if an apology was necessary.  “They saw what they wanted to achieve but didn’t realize fully what it would take,” Task Force 2/7’s commander, Lt. Col. Richard Hall, said at the time. “There were no intel pictures where we are now because there were few or no coalition forces in the areas where we operate. They didn’t know what was out there. It was an innocent mistake.”

Mistake or not, the Marines hit a gold mine, with the possibility for significantly increased productivity in kinetic operations and kill ratio as compared to the alternative.  But while Now Zad is important enough to take, it isn’t important enough to hold significant portions or even kill all of the insurgents in the AO.  Why wouldn’t more Marines be deployed to the area to kill insurgents before they return to their own area of operations to wreak havoc?

Enter population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine.  Rather than seeing protection of the population as one potential line of operation or line of effort in the campaign, it is the sole focus of the campaign.  Rather than killing insurgents, we hear a constant parroting of the meme that for every insurgent we kill, greater than or equal to one insurgent pops up in his place (we’ll call this the dilemma).

Obviously we cannot deny that in some instances the dilemma presents itself, because denying it would be doctrinal stubbornness and inflexibility.  But also just as obviously, this does not obtain in every situation.  There were a huge number of indigenous insurgents killed in the Anbar Province, and if greater than one replaced every dead insurgent, the campaign wouldn’t be over.  While Captain Travis Patriquin was courting the tribes in Anbar, U.S. forces were targeting his smuggling lines by killing smugglers and shutting down his means of transit with kinetic operations.  In some cases, it would seem, nothing is a better inducement to negotiate than seeing dead friends and family members.

But the proponents of population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine, i.e., those who proclaim that it should be the sole focus of the campaign, have been so effective that the U.S. Marine Corps is apologizing for being deployed in an area of operations where they can kill the enemy unimpeded, and then refusing to deploy more Marines there because the population cannot be protected.

In fact, nothing would lead to better protection of the population than killing insurgents who will later go back to their area of operations and kill, maim, extort and threaten their own countrymen.  But our population-centric COIN experts are so blinded by ideological commitment to a set of axioms that they cannot see the value of kinetics even when the insurgents give us the option of doing it without even so much as a single noncombatant loss.

Doctrinal stubbornness and inflexibility.  It might just be our undoing.

Leaving Fallujah Better?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Graeme Wood at The Atlantic pens a piece that questions what Fallujah will be like when the Marines leave Anbar.

A dispatch by Rod Nordland of the New York Times asks whether the violence in Fallujah — lately viewed as a model of an Anbar city pacified and handed over to the Iraqis — is really in remission. His excellent report, filed from Fallujah and from the even more restive nearby town of Karmah, where I just spent two days, leaves the question unanswered but suggests a reality darker than the version the Marines describe.

Stop there.  Let’s go take a look at the New York Times article.

Falluja was supposed to be a success story, not a cautionary tale.

After all, by last year the city, a former insurgent stronghold, was considered one of the safest places in the country. Local Sunni sheiks had driven out the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and held successful elections, and American engineers were hard at work on a showcase reconstruction project: a $100 million wastewater treatment plant meant to be a model for civilian advances in Iraq.

Then a series of troubling attacks began cropping up this year. One in particular, at the end of May, seemed to drive home the possibility that things were changing for the worse. On a heavily patrolled military road between a Marine camp and the wastewater plant, a huge buried bomb tore through an armored American convoy, killing three prominent reconstruction officials and striking at hopes that the way was completely clear for peacetime projects.

We covered some of this in The Violence Belongs to Iraq Now.  But dissecting the NYT article a little further, even the initial part stumbles into problems.  Local Sunni sheiks didn’t drive anyone from Fallujah.  The author is confusing what happened in Ramadi, where a combination of tribes and Marines drove al Qaeda from there, and in Fallujah, where al Qaeda went after they were driven from Ramadi.

Tribe had little affect in Fallujah, and the notion of Muktars held much more sway.  When the 2/6 Marines deployed to Fallujah in April of 2007, the population was so afraid of al Qaeda that they would send their children out to surround Marines on patrol, waving black balloons so that al Qaeda mortars could target the Marines.  The children were at risk as much as the Marines, but this speaks volumes about the condition of Fallujah early in 2007.

Forward Operating Base Reaper was constructed, at least in part, with Marines lying on their back passing sand bags over their heads from Marine to Marine to avoid sniper fire.  The U.S. Marines drove al Qaeda from Fallujah, not the tribes.  There is no tribe in Fallujah.  So even the background of the NYT article is mistaken.  Returning to the Atlantic article:

On my first afternoon, I spoke with the base’s senior Marine, Lt. Peter Brooks, about the chagrin his men felt at having to serve as a withdrawal force, rather than a high-intensity killing force like the more fortunate Marines currently machine-gunning Taliban in Afghanistan. They spent their days working out, conducting mock exercises with scale models in the sand next to their hut, and guarding their static and rather sleepy position.

Midway through our chat, we heard small-arms fire, full automatic and not a thousand meters from where we stood. I expected a reflex dash into response mode: a quick reaction force, sets of eyes and weapons scanning the horizon for threats. In fact the response was orderly but serene. Rather than scramble into action, Iraqi police looked around unhurriedly, eventually spied a convoy of vehicles, and determined that the automatic bursts were “probably” just a wedding party. The alarm was canceled before being sounded.

By now few foreigners in Iraq have failed to register that blasting the sky with machine-gun fire is the Iraqi chivaree, and that weddings are wonderful events — symbols of peace and unleashed merry-making — at which normal rules of social decorum don’t apply. But if I were an Iraqi best man, I think I would probably have refrained from firing wildly into the air until my convoy traveled at least a few hundred meters past the station filled with ill-trained Iraqi cops and tightly coiled US Marines. The atmosphere seemed not so much one of safety or celebration but of impunity. Whatever the base’s function, it was not for community policing, and certainly not for aggressive patrols by Marines preserving the peace from carloads of young men with weapons.

Several thoughts come to mind. First, a police force that does not respond to unexplained gunfire is not a police force.

Okay.  Stop again.  The gunfire could have been anything, including shooting dogs.  A breed of wild dogs has taken to residing in Fallujah, and each block has its own pack that relies on food it can get from the area to survive.  Residents of Fallujah routinely have to defend themselves against these dogs.  These are not domesticated animals.  These are several-generation wild dog packs that have no inhibitions regarding humans.

The narrative is that the Marines leaving will cause problems for security and that the Iraqi Police are not up to the job.  True or not, the Marines must leave.  It isn’t within the Marines’ mission to remain a large, heavy land based occupation force.  Rapid deployment strike troops must return to their primary mission.  Anbar is better for having the Marines there, but even if security degrades, it will recover.  The Iraqi Police are up to the task, or shortly will be.

A more sophisticated understanding is given to us in the comments section of the Atlantic article by Jon Schroden.

I have several words of caution for anyone who reads this article:

– This piece fails (as does the NYT piece) to paint a truly comprehensive picture of the security situation in Al Anbar because it presents but a single data point. To get a truly balanced sense of security there, the author should have also traveled to Ramadi, Hadithah, and Al Qaim, at a minimum. Each of these cities is different in multiple ways, so reporting on those differences and how they translate into the varying security situations amongst the cities would have been much more enlightening and comprehensive.

– No one who has seriously studied the situation in Al Anbar or spent significant time there would hold up Fallujah as the shining example of a city that has been turned around. Ramadi is typically the example cited, and for good reasons – it truly was a hot-bed of insurgent activity that was pacified through sound counterinsurgency methods, changes in local attitudes and working with the tribes (to wit, Ramadi was once the declared capital of AQI’s “Islamic State of Iraq,” but was also where the Awakening began). Fallujah has always been trouble. Even after two full-on, line-em-up and knock-em-down clearings of the city, it was still rough-and-tumble, so in late 2007 the Marines began a district-by-district clearing of the city again, using the types of less-kinetic techniques that worked in Ramadi (this was called Operation Alljah). That worked to a large extent, and the city was better for it, but the fact remains that the people in Fallujah have always viewed themselves as a special case (in part b/c Saddam treated them that way) and as such they will always be hard to deal with. They feel that Fallujah, not Ramadi, should be the capital of Anbar, and are disgruntled because of it. Also, Fallujah is a lot “less tribal” than Ramadi, so it’s more difficult for local power-brokers to control the people there.

– As for the Karmah region, the description in this article shows a lack of understanding of the tribal dynamics there. Karmah, and its surrounding areas to the east of Fallujah, sit astride the boundary between two tribal confederations – the Dulaimi Confederation to the west (which includes almost all of the Al Anbar tribes), and the Zobai Confederation to the east (which stretches into and around Baghdad). The main tribe in Karmah belongs to the Zobai Confederation. As such, Karmah represents a “special case” when it comes to dealing with tribal alliances, because the people there don’t really fit in to the rest of Anbar and so feel they aren’t represented well in the provincial government. The main sheikh in Karmah is also a coward, who fled Anbar and would only return in 2007 after heavy lobbying by the Marines and with guaranteed security measures in place. Hence he is of little utility in helping to control the situation there.

– Finally, to the line “a police force that does not respond to unexplained gunfire is not a police force,” I would simply respond that we need to be very careful in our tendencies to apply western standards when it comes to things like quality of police, levels of security, etc. Iraq is not America. Our goal in Iraq is not to build Fallujah into a shining example of a modern city. As long as it’s reasonably peaceful and isn’t serving as a safehaven for AQI (which it isn’t), then we’ve accomplished our mission and the Marines should come home. And they are.

This comment might have been left by Dr. Jonathan Schroden of CNA, who has also penned an interesting article entitled What Went Right in Iraq.  It is an interesting read and requires our attention.

The Marines have a vested interest in the Anbar Province, having lost more than 1000 warriors to the fight.  Much blood has been spilled on Anbari soil.  But other fights and other missions beckon the Marines.  May the Anbaris find their peace and security.  We will pray that the security infrastructure is up to the task of providing it.

Prior: Operation Alljah and the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment

Concluding Thoughts on Afghanistan ROE Modifications

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Marcus at Justbarkingmad has responded to our Afghanistan Rules of Engagement Redux.  I won’t recapitulate his arguments here, but he has put some time and effort into his post and it is well worth a read.  A few concluding thoughts follow (concluding until I see the new “rules” or “guidance” in action).

First, Marcus shouldn’t be so quick to lecture us on the merits of FM 3-24.  War – and insurgencies and counterinsurgency warfare – has been around far longer than FM 3-24.  And as I have stated before, I consider the recent overhaul of Army Field Manual 3-0 to be superior to FM 3-24 and a doctrinal step forward.

Second, the narrative at the moment is that these “adjustments” to the rules involve mostly Close Air Support (CAS).  We’ll take a wait-and-see approach.  The discussion thus far from General McChrystal doesn’t restrict his changes to CAS.

Third, Marcus brings up our example, U.S. Marine Corps operations in Garmser in 2008, and asks if there were noncombatants involved?

Mr. Smith fails to provide the reader with any evidence that McChrystal’s proposed policy would have affected the inevitable outcome there. Were human shields used systematically in Helmand Province to prevent the Marines from accomplishing their mission? We are left only assuming that it must have occurred—maybe.

He has utterly missed the point.  McChrystal’s stipulation was, or is going to be, that if it is possible that noncombatants could be involved, back away from the fire fight.  The Marines could not possibly have had comprehensive knowledge of the situation inside Garmser upon arrival, and thus to the Marines, “it could have been possible.”  Thus the operation would not have been conducted.  It is verifying the conditionals that is problematic here.

And speaking of Garmser, concerning our point:

Just how our critic supposes that the Marines could have protected the population of Garmser, while several hundred Taliban fighters were dug in and waiting for the Marines, he doesn’t say. But he makes the mistake of conflating phases of the campaign, and also of failing to understand that the campaign will require various lines of operation or lines of effort.

Marcus demurs to other doctrinal considerations but fails to answer the question.  Here it is again.  The British assisted the Marines in transit to the Garmser area of operations.  There is no electricity.  There is no sewage.  There is no running water.  There are sand storms.  Water and other supplies are dropped via air supply.  When the Marines get to Garmser in order to “protect the population,” they find that several hundred Taliban are dug in and waiting for them, requiring fire fights that at times was described as “full bore reloading.”  If Marcus wants to protect the population, how does he dislodge the Taliban entrenched in Garmser without kinetic operations?

Finally, I do not believe that protection of the population comes first or is most important in counterinsurgency.  Rather, I believe that protection of the population is one line of effort that should be pursued.  If, as our friend Gian Gentile would point out, one line appears to be more productive and/or efficient, then let’s allow the troops to discover the center of gravity of the particular insurgency that they are dealing with.

Following this line of thought, Marcus should be careful to give himself maximum latitude to learn (including the situation in the next counterinsurgency he faces) without being restricted to one narrative.  We should all be able to study the sources, glean the beneficial aspects, jettison the others, and be able to keep from being in bondage to history or any one particular school of thought.  In the words of our friend Gian, “history should inform the commander’s judgment but never accompany him to the battlefield.”

Prior:

Changes to the Rules of Engagement for Afghanistan

Update on ROE Changes for Afghanistan

Afghanistan Rules of Engagement Redux

Afghanistan Rules of Engagement Redux

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

In response to our Changes to the Rules of Engagement for Afghanistan, Justbarkingmad wrote:

Some critics of McChrystal’s policy claim that this will deter commanders on the ground from taking proactive or offensive actions against the enemy. This critic claims that Marine operations in Helmand Province which resulted in the deaths of 400 Taliban fighters invalidates McChrystal’s metrics of success that use “civilians protected” rather than “enemies killed” as a measure of success. On the surface this appears like a rock solid argument, but in fact it is founded upon faulty assumptions. The most important assumption is that killing lots of bad guys will wear the enemy down and lead to victory. This cannot be further from the truth. Killing the enemy in and of itself accomplishes very little in COIN. Successful insurgents throughout time recognized that losing on the battlefield had very little to do with the ultimate outcome of the war. In our own American Revolution we lost more battles than we won and we still prevailed. Killing the enemy for the sake of killing the enemy means nothing… protecting the people from the enemy means everything.

Since my argument(s) have been utterly demolished it must be time to relinquish them.  They have let me down.  No, on second thought, maybe I won’t jettison my arguments after all.

This writer has done a good job of regurgitating the FM 3-24 talking points and theory (at least some of it), but it’s a sign of cult-like behavior to be able to stand in the face of evidence and deny its existence.  My arguments weren’t about theory.  Go back and read them again.

I stated that the best teachers are examples and stories.  Theory is only good insofar as it benefits us.  Where it fails to match reality it must be revisited, modified and/or jettisoned entirely.  If our critic would have continued our comprehensive coverage of the Marines in Helmand, he would have learned not only that they killed 400 Taliban fighters in Garmser, but that following this assault the town elders implored the Marines for protection and security.

Again, similar words were spoken upon the initial liberation of Garmser by the U.S. Marines: “The next day, at a meeting of Marines and Afghan elders, the bearded, turban-wearing men told Marine Capt. Charles O’Neill that the two sides could “join together” to fight the Taliban. “When you protect us, we will be able to protect you,” the leader of the elders said.”

Just how our critic supposes that the Marines could have protected the population of Garmser, while several hundred Taliban fighters were dug in and waiting for the Marines, he doesn’t say.  But he makes the mistake of conflating phases of the campaign, and also of failing to understand that the campaign will require various lines of operation or lines of effort.

Finally, he conflates the discussion topic – rules of engagement – with counterinsurgency theory.  This is a mistake made in the Small Wars Council discussion thread on the same topic.  Many participants in the discussion thread throw out the same meme.  It’s better to back away or find another tactic than it is to flatten domiciles with women and children in them.

How nice.  Let’s declare up front that no one wants to flatten homes with women and children in them.  In fact, we can state it more forcefully.  Yea verily we say unto thee, The Captain’s Journal doesn’t want to flatten homes full of women and children.  No one we know wants to flatten homes full of women and children.

Now that this exigency has been properly dealt with, may we advance the conversation forward, please?  The conversation isn’t about best practices in counterinsurgency.  The conversation is about rules of engagement, violation of which can lead from sanction to punishment by imprisonment.

Seldom is the situation so clear as known homes full of women and children.  The problem usually presents itself in a different form, e.g., situations in which the fight moves from one venue to another where the insurgents may now be mixed with noncombatants, with close air support (CAS) necessary in order to prevent significant U.S. casualties attempting to take a building by room clearing tactics.

Fine.  Provide guidance unique to that circumstance and have additional briefings for deploying units.  But don’t change the rules of engagement.  Again, I can point to a highly successful U.S. Marine Corps Operation that wouldn’t have been conducted under such draconian rules (the operation in Garmser, Helmand Province), because certainty would not have existed regarding noncombatant presence.

Finally, Andrew Exum says:

“We are not in Afghanistan to make sure that fewer Americans die,” said Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington research organization.

“We are in Afghanistan to make sure fewer Afghan civilians die.”

No, Andrew, we are not in Afghanistan to make sure that fewer Afghan civilians die (notice the exclusive reduction of counterinsurgency to a single focus, while we have claimed that in counterinsurgency there should be focii).  Making sure that fewer Afghan citizens die is a means to an end, just as is killing anti-Afghan forces, hard core Taliban and other takfiri organizations.  These things are all lines of effort and lines of operation.

I have been told that this change probably won’t affect behavior below the O3 level during a fire fight.  Perhaps so … we’ll wait to see for ourselves.  In any case, changing the formal rules by which Soldiers and Marines are held accountable is still ill advised in our opinion.  And this meme from CNAS is getting old and worn.

Prior:

Changes to the Rules of Engagement for Afghanistan

Update on ROE Changes for Afghanistan

Where is the insurgency in Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Joshua Foust observes that General McChrystal’s strategy will rely on security for population centers.  Then Josh asks a salient question follow on by his take on where the insurgency lies.

Quick review: where is the insurgency most strongly concentrated?

a) Kabul
b) Jalalabad
c) Kandahar
d) Herat
e) Mazar-i Shaif

The correct answer is NONE OF THE ABOVE. The Taliban are not strongest in the cities, but outside of them: you’ll find the insurgency grinding in the hills above Lashkar Gah, the countryside to the west and north of Kandahar, the plains of Zabul, the Khost bowl, the mountains of Paktya and Paktika, and the narrow valleys from Kapisa to Kunar and Nuristan. None of them are urban, or even sort of urban.

Unfortunately, this has CNAS written all over it. It would be surprising if some of their people weren’t involved in the new review in some way—I really hope they’ve learned by now that Afghanistan is not urban, that the insurgency—and the people—are scattered into small rural communities throughout the country. Securing the cities has never been the Coalition’s weakness.

Well, it does have CNAS written all over it, but Josh hasn’t driven to the most ironic thing about the involvement of CNAS with the Obama administration and the Afghanistan strategy.  Before attachment to the administration, Dr. John Nagl had advocated the deployment of 600,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  Since it has become apparent that the administration will not deploy more than about 68,000 troops, CNAS is assisting in the development of strategy that has as its basis far less troops than Nagl had advocated as necessary to do the job.  This strategy is unwise to Foust simply because of the insufficiency of troop levels, but promulgated under the notion of “population-centric” counterinsurgency.

In other words, it was one thing to advocate the troop levels necessary for the campaign before the formalities and political pressures of the President and Congress set in.  It’s quite another to face the political realities of the administration.  It’s even another to participate in strategy development with too few troops to accomplish the mission (or so Nagl’s claim would have been half a year ago when he advocated just a little less than ten times the current level).

For the record, The Captain’s Journal doesn’t believe that it will require 600,000 troops.  But it will certainly require more than 68,000 to do the job right.

Agricultural Development Teams and Poppy in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Bouhammer gives serious thought to the issue of poppy cultivation, funding of the Taliban, and alternatives for the Afghan farmers.

The main points of my argument in dealing with the drugs is not to go after the farmers, who are just trying to make a living and provide for their family. They will grow whatever they can that brings in the most money, and unfortunately that is poppy and always has been. If Coalition forces go into a farmer’s property and wipe out his crops, then it will just piss off the farmer and turn him to the enemy. There are also other farmers waiting for the chance to replace the farmer who was just taken out by the poppy eradication. So going after the farmer is not the silver bullet answer. However deploying ADT teams and using them to empower the farmer and show him alternative crops is part of the answer.

The real answer and focus in my opinion is to go after the middle-man, the buyer, the guy who pays the farmer, puts the poppies into a jingle-truck and moves them to a opium factory which turns the poppy into black-tar heroin. If we take out the man with the cash and he doesn’t show up anymore to buy the poppies from the farmer then the farmer will not be as motivated to grow it anymore. He will be m ore apt to switch to other positive crops. The middle-man (the drug trafficker)  is also the one who is moving the heroin by the tons across the borders of Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and other bordering countries. This movement by vehicle is what gets “taxed” by the Taliban and is where they make a lot of their money.

Since we can’t go into Pakistan, Iran and the other countries and take out the labs that are turning this drug into a human-usable product, then we must get them before they cross the border. We must also get the “most bang for our buck”, by using our resources (soldiers, technologies, etc.) to get the largest amounts of opium and heroin at one time. These large amounts are going to be the jingle trucks loaded with pure opium or black-tar heroin that are being moved to the border.

This is the main-stay of my argument. Don’t go after the poor farmer who is just trying to get a little scratch like everyone else in that country, go after the guys that are paying him. Go after the guys who are collecting it (opium) all up, go after the guys who are being taxed by the Taliban and is providing our enemies the funds to continue their fight.

We agree with Bouhammer concerning the issue of targeting a farmer who is merely trying to use a cash crop to provide for his family.  It’s a dumb notion that would only make more insurgents, as our arguments go in our category financing the Taliban.

Agricultural development teams are a good idea for building the infrastructure of Afghanistan and effecting fundamental change in the impoverishment that leads to so much recruitment of low level insurgents.  But there is something fundamentally flawed with this notion that funding the Taliban will be seriously affected with the advent of a different cash crop.

Remember that we have pointed out that the Tehrik-i-Taliban get their monies from wealthy Middle East sultans, timber trade, gemstones, taxation of businesses, kidnapping, and so-called “protection money.”  The Afghan Taliban get much of their income from poppy / opium trade, but only because it’s the predominate cash crop.  What if the crop was different?

Consider again the example of Pomegranates.

“We’d like to see at the end of this year containers of fresh pomegranate leaving Afghanistan for supermarkets.

“There’s a lot of interest in pomegranates in the West because of its health benefits.

“Over the course of the next 10 years we would like to plant 45.9 million trees, which would cover an area slightly larger than the areas which are used for poppy production.”

Asked whether he had been in contact with the Taliban, Mr Brett said: “In the complexity of the tribal system in Afghanistan, the Taliban are in every element of society.

When I talked at the three tribal gatherings, the Taliban were present. I believe that if we don’t communicate with every faction of this problem, we’re not going to solve it.

Pomegranates solves the poppy problem if the project goes forward.  But take note that the purveyors of pomegranate aren’t attempting to solve the problem of Taliban funding.  Pomegranate won’t do that, and neither will any other cash crop.

Let’s do ADTs for the right reason: infrastructure development.  But don’t be deceived into believing that a different cash crop will solve the problem of the Taliban.  They must be targeted head-on.  There is no other solution.

Prior:

Financing the Taliban Part 2

Financing the Taliban

NATO and Poppy: The War Over Revenue Part 2

NATO and Poppy: The War Over Revenue



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