Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 9 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

Doctrinal Confusion in COIN: What do you do when your forces no longer want to fight?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

FM 3-24 is a fine addition to counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, and should be studied by all aspiring military leaders and strategists.  Two problems become apparent when COIN doctrine is applied in theater.  The first problem is the belief that the doctrine outlined in any single text or system is comprehensive.  This view can be characterized as the ‘either-or’ belief.  Common to this view is the tendency to find a single “center of gravity” in COIN.  If the center of gravity is the population, it is said, kinetic operations take second place to non-kinetic operations.

The second problem is one that teachers in just about every endeavor know all too well: the student is oftentimes more extreme than the teacher.  If social concerns, job creation, national reconciliation, and infrastructure are important concerns in COIN, then waging counterinsurgency is all about “armed social science.”  Lt. Gen. David Barno’s account of COIN in Afghanistan is important, found in Fighting the Other War: Counterinsurgency Strategy in Afghanistan , 2003 – 2005.

As we switched our focus from the enemy to the people, we did not neglect the operational tenet of maintaining pressure on the enemy. Selected special operations forces (SOF) continued their full-time hunt for Al-Qaeda’s senior leaders. The blood debt of 9/11 was nowhere more keenly felt every day than in Afghanistan. No Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine serving there ever needed an explanation for his or her presence—they “got it.” Dedicated units worked the Al-Qaeda fight on a 24-hour basis and continued to do so into 2004 and 2005.  In some ways, however, attacking enemy cells became a supporting effort: our primary objective was maintaining popular support.

Note the critical error in judgment that had its seeds in the (mis)development of COIN doctrine.  Kinetic operations against the enemy took on the characterisitic of special operations by a small number of special forces operators against high profile personalities and so-called high value targets.  The fight became particular rather than comprehensive, while the nonkinetic operations took on the more comprehensive nature.  According to Lt. Gen. Barno, the campaign could be focused on either the enemy or the people (but apparently not both at the same time).  U.S. forces transitioned from one focus to the other.  How does this manifest itself in current operations in Afghanistan?  A recent report gives us a glimpse into the thinking of field grade officers in theater at the moment.

To undercut the insurgents – whose forces are an unusual mix of al-Qaeda operatives and fighters loyal to American nemesis Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – Kapisa is fast becoming a litmus test for the US military’s new and improved counter-insurgency campaign.

That means added urgency and stress on the work of a 75-man US-North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led Provincial Reconstruction Team – or “PRT”. But while senior US officers see these teams – 12 of them run by the US military – as the “new wave” in non-combat counter-insurgency, in practice their soldiers look a lot like old-school peacekeepers and “nation-builders”, the kind you find across the developing world under the oft-slandered banner of the United Nations.

Ten years ago, the fast-track US colonels and majors who now lead the Afghan mission would have referred to what goes on here in the name of counter-insurgency as “mission creep”; work well beyond the scope of serious American soldiering.

Now, the US soldiers who do the best peacekeeping aren’t afraid to boast about their deeds over the grumbles of colleagues who sport T-shirts that read: “The Taliban Hunt Club.”

“We have not been attacked while traveling alone, only when we are out with other teams or combat units,” says air force Captain Eric Saks, whose job description includes diplomacy, aid work and peacemaking. “Even the bad guys know we are not really looking for a fight.”

That is because Saks and his comrades are the folks to talk to for millions of US dollars in economic development funds.

Kapisa residents, leaders and youth groups approach Saks for investments in projects that address the standard list of developing world problems: women’s rights, youth employment, free speech and health care. The captain, a 30-something Long Islander, draws on a dollar budget of millions to lend support to the best and most “sustainable” project ideas.

For several years after the US invaded the country in 2001, economic development played second fiddle to the hunt for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Villagers looked on as US soldiers shot and literally “bagged” their foe, then turned a cold shoulder to the populace.

That zero-sum strategy was making more enemies than friends, US officers admit now.

“Instead of killing them and seeing the insurgency just replace its own, we need development as a means of isolating the enemy,” says Ives, an engineer from Washington State, who heads up the larger Task Force Cincinnatus under which Saks serves.

This same theme presents itself in this more recent report.  Even though only PRTs, when the bad guys know “we aren’t really looking for a fight,” the doctrine has been misconstrued to be something that it isn’t.  It is seen to work alone and disconnected from a significant reason for the presence of U.S. forces in the region: kinetic operations against the enemy.

Isolation of the enemy by the development of infrastructure is one prong of the strategy to prevent the inducement to join the insurgency.   But lack of kinetic operations against the insurgency does nothing to address the large and growing membership of the Taliban and their increasingly violent attacks inside both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  In fact, if infrastructure is a necessary element of long term counterinsurgency, then the 50% reduction in foreign investments in 2007 due to the declining security situation runs counter to the intent and proves that one prong of COIN remains kinetic operations to kill or capture the enemy and thus provide security so that reconstruction of infrastructure can be effective.

Successful COIN, as we have seen in Iraq, isn’t about a singular ’focus’ and cannot be characterized as an ‘either-or’ choice or transition in phases.  Successful COIN is characterized by ’both-and’ in all phases of the campaign.  The deployment of 3200 Marines to the theater will force review and reconsideration of the very nature of the campaign.  The Marines will not conduct their part of the campaign “not really looking for a fight.”  Poor leadership has wasted time in Afghanistan.  The presence of the Marines might possibly reverse this trend by taking counterinsurgency back to its roots and clarifying the doctrinal confusion that clouds the current thinking.

UK Army Problems

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Another valuable discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal has been started going by the same title as this post.  It links to a Telegraph article that discusses decreased training for troops sent to Afghanistan.

Fears that poorly trained and inexperienced troops will be sent to plug the gaps on the front line in Afghanistan were raised last night after it emerged training times for combat soldiers are to be halved.

In a desperate bid to find enough infantry to fight the Taliban next year an “exceptional” measure of reducing training from 28 weeks to just 14 weeks is set to be introduced, it was reported last night.

Up to 1,000 Army recruits could be fast tracked into the war zone in order to bring under-manned battalions up to strength with each one an average of 100 men short.

The “accelerated training” measure has been introduced at a time when thousands of officers and senior NCOs are leaving the Army fed up with poor pay, accommodation and continuous operational tours with little time at home.

A Council member from Windsor states in reply “We’re falling apart in slow motion, and you can see it in everything we do. The last thing to fail will be the blokes in the sections, but that will happen eventually when the C2 and decisionmaking supports crap plans that put people in the wrong place at the wrong time, have treated them like serfs for too long. No one is biting the bullet: Double the size of the infantry, Double their wages, Enforce the training standards; sack anyone who doesn’t pass muster.”

This is a sad thing to watch – a once great nation which fielded a once great armed forces, reduced to sending warriors into battle unprepared.  The council member says this points to larger problems, though.  It appears as if he is correct.  First of all there is the non-denial denial by the duplicitous Gordon Brown.

The government dismissed suggestions on Thursday that it would send troops into combat in Afghanistan without proper training, but acknowledged that instruction could be ‘tightened’ for reserve units.

The Times said 1,000 recruits faced the prospect of receiving just 14 weeks of training, rather than the usual 26-28 weeks, before being sent to the front in Afghanistan, where British forces are severely stretched.

 A spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown dismissed the report, saying: “There’s absolutely no question of compromising on our training standards or sending troops into operational theatres unprepared.”

The Ministry of Defence said in a statement that training for combat infantry would not be cut, but added:

“The option for more focused, concentrated training is being looked at for reserve forces, not regular forces, and it would potentially increase the amount of training for certain individuals in the Territorial Army.”

We have come to expect this behavior from Brown, who famously denied negotiations with the Taliban and then proceeded to describe British negotiations with the Taliban.  Now for the translation of Brown’s words and a better description of the real plan.

The senior officers who have proposed an accelerated training course for 900 fast-track recruits for Afghanistan have admitted that there would be risks for the Army’s “reputation, duty of care and performance under pressure on operations”.

The Ministry of Defence said that civilians recruited into the Army under the proposed accelerated training programme for Afghanistan could be signed up for less than 15 months as part of a plan to meet manpower shortages.

These specially selected recruits would be badged as members of the Territorial Army, not as regulars, although officials admitted they would fulfil the role of regular infantry.

A review of battalions available for Afghanistan next year had revealed that most would be 100 soldiers short, and this has been the reason for the proposal to recruit a batch of soldiers under special circumstances and give them a shortened form of training.

After the report in The Times yesterday on the controversial new scheme, the MoD put out a statement in which it said: “Nothing has been agreed or indeed discussed by chiefs, but there are ideas potentially to recruit people under possible TA conditions of service to the Army for a limited period of time. They would complete training and an operational tour with the option to leave or stay on afterwards.”

Under the proposed scheme the TA-badged soldiers would be offered the option of joining the regular Army, remaining in the TA or becoming civilians again, once their short-term contract was completed.

This plan sends poorly trained troops into the most important billet in any counterinsurgency: infantry.  It is a pointer to larger, more systemic illness within the leadership beginning at the very highest levels of the administration.  Leadership sets the example, and the senior field grade officers carry it out.  This is the same poor vision that caused the British retreat from Basra in 2007.  We have been critical of this retreat at the Captain’s Journal, especially since it was announced and carried out because it was believed that if the British were no longer present in the city, the targeting of British troops would no longer occur (couched in pedantic language to make it sound like counterinsurgency military doctrine in action).

But the road to recovery involves admission of the illness.  This has been admirably done by Colonel Tim Collins concerning the British efforts.

Britain’s withdrawal from a chaotic Basra has “badly damaged” its military reputation, a commander honoured for his role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq said today.

Colonel Tim Collins, who rose to prominence as commander of the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, delivered a scathing indictment of British efforts to stabilise the southern Iraqi province, saying that “great incompetence” in the military leadership had left it in “chaos.”

“I think the whole enterprise has been characterised by muddled thinking and lack of planning and over-optimism,” he told BBC Radio 4.

His comments followed Britain’s handover yesterday of security responsibilities to Iraqi authorities in Basra, the last of four provinces in the oil-rich south under British control, and came after the release of a videotape from Osama bin Laden’s deputy crowing at Britain’s “decision to flee” Basra.

Though ministers insist the transfer is the result of an improving security situation in the region, others, including figures in the British and American militaries, have characterised it as a retreat rather than a withdrawal.

This same doctrinal confusion underpins the British strategy to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan.  It should be understood and acknowledged that the British spirit, people and institutions can field a military worthy of her history.  These things point to a problem with leadership at the very highest levels and going through the ranks to field grade officer.  Britain should be complaining that she deserves better leadership than she has had.


Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement
Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles
British Versus the Americans: The War Over Strategy
The British-American War Continues: MI6 Agents Expelled from Afghanistan
Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

Taliban Continue Fronts in Pakistan and Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

In U.S. Intelligence Failures: Dual Taliban Campaigns, we provided the analysis showing that there has been a split in the Taliban organization with Baitullah Mehsud (or By’atullah Mahsoud) the leader of the Pakistan wing and Mullah Mohammed Omar the leader of the Afghanistan wing.  Taliban insurgency is planned for Afghanistan, and an insurrection is planned for Pakistan.  This analysis, proven correct, was directly contrary to the analysis given by Army Major General David Rodriguez who claimed that the front in Pakistan would prevent the Taliban from conducting a “spring offensive” in Afghanistan in 2008.  But Mullah Mohammed Omar has recently said through a spokesman that the Taliban doesn’t align themselves with the fight in Pakistan.  Their’s is an Afghani struggle.

Mehsud’s reach extends far throughout Pakistan.  Only yesterday, the port city of Karachi saw combat that had its roots in Mehsud’s plans for Pakistan.  “At least three members of Jundullah (Army of God) were killed in the clash with police and paramilitary forces. Two policemen also died. One of the dead militants was the suspected leader of the cell, Qasim Toori, who was wanted in connection with previous deadly attacks in Pakistan.  Jundullah was founded in the South Waziristan tribal area in 2004 and is now led by Pakistani Taliban Baitullah Mehsud and Tahir Yuldashev, head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. In recent weeks, Jundullah has become estranged from the main Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar, who insists that militant activities should be confined to Afghanistan, and not directed against Pakistan.  A senior police officer told Asia Times Online soon after the militants’ hideout in a residential area had been seized, “I was stunned watching so much weaponry [being used], ranging from RPGs [rocket propelled grenades] to light machine guns. It appeared they were preparing for a war.”

Preparing for war indeed.  Mehsud recently laid out his plans for Musharraf and Pakistan.  “We will teach him a lesson that will be recorded in the pages of history in letters of gold. The crimes of these murderers, who were acting at Bush’s command, are unforgivable. Soon, we will take vengeance upon them for destroying the mosques. The pure land of Pakistan does not tolerate traitors. They must flee to America and live there. Here, Musharraf will live to regret his injustice towards the students of the Red Mosque. Allah willing, Musharraf will suffer great pain, along with all his aides. The Muslims will never forgive Musharraf for the sin he committed.”  Just to make the global aspirations of the Taliban clear, he continues: “We want to eradicate Britain and America, and to shatter the arrogance and tyranny of the infidels. We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

In addition to cross-border operations, the connection between the Afghanistan and Pakistan goes deeper.  There is a symbiotic connection of the Pakistani ports to the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan in that Afghanistan is land-locked and dependent on supply routes through Pakistan.  Mehsud’s forces have begun to effectively target these supply routes.

Their latest target was a supply convoy outside the town of Dera Ismail Khan on the Indus Highway, one of Pakistan’s main arteries.

“They managed to single out the most important lorries, removed the drivers and then vanished the consignment lock stock and barrel,” said the official.

“Among the booty they discovered trucks carrying cargos of pristine 4×4 military vehicles, fitted with the most modern communications and listening technology,” he added.

The official added that Mehsud’s gunmen lacked the expertise to operate the equipment. So they enlisted the help of Uzbek and other foreign militants who are based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas lining the north-west frontier.

In Afghanistan U.S. forces are both battling a Taliban insurgency and attempting to rebuild infrastructure and provide jobs.  But it is difficult in insurgent-held territory.  “This has been a Taliban area for years,” said Lt. Col. Dave Woods, who commands U.S. Forces in Paktia, one of the eastern provinces in Afghanistan which shares a small slice of border with Pakistan.  Roadside bombs in this area have killed two American soldiers, wounded more than 60, and destroyed as many as 30 military vehicles. They are often pressure plate devices made of anti-tank mines, sometimes stacked two or three high to create more force. They are planted on the very dirt roads the U.S. military hopes to rebuild, to improve the lives of the villagers here and turn them against the Taliban.

Already, 400 local men have been put to work. They line one main road, armed with shovels. U.S. commanders admit the work is labor intensive for a reason.  “We’re giving these men an opportunity to work this winter versus going to Pakistan or put in IEDs,” said Woods, seen at left talking to CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick. He believes his most powerful weapon is the ability to provide jobs. “It’s something the Taliban can’t do.” The workers are paid five dollars a day. The Taliban tried to stop the project, issuing threats over its radio station and through “night letters”, which appeared on residents’ doorsteps, warning that them and their families would be killed if they participated. But the men showed up for work anyway. In the months ahead, the road will be paved. It is an important trade route.

Contrary to the notion that the Taliban have stood down due to the winter weather, the tactics of intimidation and IEDs are being implemented by the Taliban in a winter so cold that as many as 300 Afghanis have recently died from exposure.  Taliban violence continues throughout Afghanistan.  Targets of the violence continue to be the Afghanis who work to construct infrastructure.

Taliban insurgents beheaded four Afghan road-workers in the northeast of the country after their families failed to pay a ransom for their release, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.

Afghanistan has seen a sharp rise in violence over the past two years as Taliban insurgents have stepped up their fight to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign troops. Taliban insurgents have often targeted workers on government and foreign-backed infrastructure projects …

More than 6,000 people were killed last year in Afghanistan, many of them civilians, the worst year of violence since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 for failing to give up al Qaeda leaders in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The violence against NATO supplies is not limited to the Taliban in Pakistan; these routes are in danger in Afghanistan.

Roadside bombings and a suicide attack have killed three people and wounded nine others in southern Afghanistan.

Police say a suicide bomber in a vehicle tried to attack a NATO convoy in Kandahar province’s Zhari district Wednesday. But the bomber hit a private car instead, wounding four civilians inside. There were no casualties among NATO troops.

Separately, a newly planted mine exploded under another civilian vehicle in the same district Tuesday, killing two civilians and wounding four others.

Also Tuesday, a vehicle carrying an Afghan road-working crew hit a mine in Kandahar’s Panjwaii district, killing one labourer and wounding another.

Kandahar’s police chief, Sayed Agha Saqib, blamed Taliban insurgents for the attacks, which occurred on roads often used by Afghan and western military forces.

The Taliban are engaged on two fronts.  They have continued unabated, and will increase in intensity throughout 2008.  Jobs for workers and other assistance programs are a good plan and anthropologically sound ideas, especially since Afghanistan has the highest number of widows per capita of any country in the world.  But it will take more than jobs to counter the Taliban offensives.  The exercise of military power and force projection are the necessary pre-conditions for successful reconstruction.  3200 U.S. Marines are soon headed for Afghanistan.  More will be needed.


U.S. Intelligence Failures: Dual Taliban Campaigns

Baitullah Mehsud: The Most Powerful Man in Waziristan

Taliban Campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Musharraf Chides U.S. for Lack of Force

U.S. Intelligence Failures: Dual Taliban Campaigns

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

In Taliban Campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we analyzed the Asia Times report that “Mullah Omar has sacked his own appointed leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, the main architect of the fight against Pakistani security forces, and urged all Taliban commanders to turn their venom against North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces.”  Mullah Omar hasn’t forgotten about Afghanistan, and his ultimate aim is to govern her again.  The focus on Pakistan internal struggles by Baitullah Mehsud is to Mullah Omar a distraction from what the real aim of the Taliban should be.

Our brief analysis of the data concluded that “both Mullah Omar and Baitullah Mehsud will likely continue operations, even if Omar intends to focus on Afghanistan and Mehsud intends to carry out operations first in Pakistan.  Even if there are fractures at the top levels of the organization, the loyalty of the fighters to the cause will supersede and overcome personality differences.  The fight, they say, will continue unabated, having temporarily subsided in the winter.”

Yet there were discouraging signs of U.S. intelligence failures, as Army Major General David Rodriguez stated that he didn’t believe that there would be a Taliban offensive in the spring of 2008, because “the Taliban and al-Qaida fighters see new opportunities to accelerate instability inside Pakistan.”  Much is also being made of the apparent lack of a spring 2007 Taliban offensive, but we also discussed the report by the Afghanistan NGO security office which totally disagrees “with those who assert that the spring offensive did not happen and would instead argue that a four-fold increase in armed opposition group initiated attacks between February to July constitutes a very clear-cut offensive.”

In Baitullah Mehsud: The Most Powerful Man in Waziristan, we followed up this report by studying the man and his beliefs and followers in Waziristan, and then provided further analysis regarding the future of the Taliban: “This power and ‘moral authority’ will prevent Mullah Omar’s attempt to sack him and regain control of the Pakistan Taliban from succeeding.  This data still points to multiple Taliban fronts in 2008: one in Afghanistan, and the other in Pakistan.”

These analyses are very clear and run directly contrary to the analysis of Major General David Rodriguez regarding the nature of the Taliban and their intentions.  Just today, Dawn provides us with the following analysis and reporting on the Taliban organizational split and what we can expect them to focus on in the coming months.

The Taliban in Afghanistan have distanced themselves from Pakistani militants led by Baitullah Mehsud, saying they don’t support any militant activity in Pakistan.

“We do not support any militant activity and operation in Pakistan,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Dawn on telephone from an undisclosed location on Monday.

The spokesman denied media reports that the Taliban had expelled Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

“Baitullah is a Pakistani and we as the Afghan Taliban have nothing to do with his appointment or his expulsion. We did not appoint him and we have not expelled him,” he said.

A spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud has already denied the expulsion report in a Hong Kong magazine and said that the militant leader continued to be the amir of Tehrik-Taliban Pakistan.

“He has not been expelled and he continues to be the amir of Pakistani Taliban,” Baitullah’s spokesman Maulavi Omar said.

The Asia Times Online in a report last week claimed that the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had removed Baitullah from the leadership of the Taliban movement for fighting in Pakistan at the expense of ‘Jihad’ in Afghanistan.

“We have no concern with anybody joining or leaving the Taliban movement in Pakistan. Ours is an Afghan movement and we as a matter of policy do not support militant activity in Pakistan,” the Taliban spokesman said.

“Had he been an Afghan we would have expelled him the same way we expelled Mansoor Dadullah for disobeying the orders of Mullah Omar. But Baitullah is a Pakistani Talib and whatever he does is his decision. We have nothing to do with it,” Mr Mujahid maintained.

“We have nothing to do with anybody’s appointment or expulsion in the Pakistani Taliban movement,” he insisted.

Baitullah, who has been accused of plotting the assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto, told Al Jazeera in an interview that he had taken baya’h (oath of allegiance) to Mullah Muhammad Omar and obeyed his orders.

But the Taliban spokesman said the oath of allegiance did not mean that Pakistani militants were under direct operational control of Mullah Omar.

“There are mujahideen in Iraq who have taken baya’h to Mullah Omar and there are mujahideen in Saudi Arabia who have taken baya’h to him. So taking baya’h does not mean that Mullah Omar has direct operational control over them,” the spokesman said.

This places a clean face on the organizational split and allows the powerful Baitullah Mehsud to pursue his own (and al Qaeda’s) ambitions of overthrow of Musharraf’s government, while also focusing Mullah Omar and his fighters on their real aim of re-taking Afghanistan.  This follows and is entirely consistent with our own analyses.

The Bush administration isn’t satisfied with intelligence on the groups operating out of Pakistan’s Waziristan province.  The top NATO commander has also recently weighed in on Afghanistan, requesting better intelligence-gathering systems for the campaign, including “surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities,” Craddock said during an interview with The Associated Press. “I think we’re seeing now the value to cross check and reference different sensors and make sure we’ve got a better perspective.”  But sensors are of little value when basic intelligence analysis by a Military Blog such as the Captain’s Journal proves to be better than that of a Major General and his intelligence assets.

Baitullah Mehsud: The Most Powerful Man in Waziristan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

Three days ago in my article Taliban Campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I cited an Asia Times article in which it was reported that Baitullah Mehsud was sacked by Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

With the Taliban’s spring offensive just months away, the Afghan front has been quiet as Taliban and al-Qaeda militants have been heavily engaged in fighting security forces in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

But now Taliban leader Mullah Omar has put his foot down and reset the goals for the Taliban: their primary task is the struggle in Afghanistan, not against the Pakistan state.

Mullah Omar has sacked his own appointed leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, the main architect of the fight against Pakistani security forces, and urged all Taliban commanders to turn their venom against North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, highly placed contacts in the Taliban told Asia Times Online. Mullah Omar then appointed Moulvi Faqir Mohammed (a commander from Bajaur Agency) but he refused the job. In the past few days, the Pakistani Taliban have held several meetings but have not yet appointed a replacement to Mehsud.

Only now is the Hindustan Times and the Tehran Times catching up and reporting on this important development.  However, I also discussed Mehsud’s power in Pakistan and suggested that he would retain control of some of his troops, with Mullah Omar retaining control of his fighters and re-entering the campaign in Afghanistan with heavy insurgency.  The Taliban will become factious, but it will not disintegrate.


Baitullah Mehsud, the chosen leader of a militant coalition known as the “Taliban Movement of Pakistan,” a collection of 26 groups that have come together to battle the Pakistani army, sits down with al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Islamabad from an undisclosed location in northwest Pakistan.  (Al Jazeera)

Some analysts believe that Baitullah Mehsud is more powerful than Osama bin Laden; he is said to be the single most important man in Pakistan’s future.  For the time being, he has certainly become the most powerful man in Waziristan.

He has kept his face hidden from journalists, meaning that few outsiders even know what he looks like, although locals report that he receives treatment for diabetes. “Despite the fact that he is a diabetic, he is a very active man,” says Hussein Barki, a local tribal chief. “He changes his hide-outs so frequently, leaving the intelligence agencies clueless about him.”

Mehsud began his rise a decade ago, when he headed off to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. He comes from the Mehsud tribe, the largest in South Waziristan, but he, like most of his jihadist counterparts, did not have any stature in traditional tribal leadership. “They came up outside the tribal structure through the meritocracy of jihad,” says Fair. “They raised money harboring al Qaeda and other elements” in Pakistan’s tribal regions …

Mehsud has become deeply entrenched in Waziristan. The immediate source of his power is a corps of several hundred foreign fighters, mostly Uzbeks and other Central Asians, whom he commands. Along with his tribal followers, Mehsud is estimated to command several thousand armed militiamen, although he has claimed higher numbers.

Either way, Mehsud has established himself as someone locals respect, as well as fear. “He is no doubt the most influential and powerful person of South and North Waziristan,” says Barki, the tribal chief. “He has restored law and order in the area. But people also believe that there are many bad people in his militia.”

Pakistani forces have tried to strike back at Mehsud and his followers, but the most visible results have been significant casualties on the government side. With the powerful traditions of tribal loyalty, Mehsud also appears to have benefited from the local reaction to the government’s assault on him. “Those who are not supporters of Osama [bin Laden] or Baitullah, even they have been forced by the indiscriminate military operations to harbor sympathies for them,” says Momin Khan, the owner of a small trucking company in South Waziristan.

Still, Mehsud is a “ferocious enforcer” of his harsh interpretation of Islamic law, according to one U.S. intelligence official, and his zealotry has begun to alienate many locals. “He has enforced his own rules in the area binding men not to shave their beards,” says Naseeb Khan, who runs a small public telephone office in Wana, the capital of South Waziristan. “Playing music and watching videos are against the law here.”

Still, Khan adds that if he needs to settle any kind of legal issue, he will go to Mehsud and not the local courts. Says Khan, “He is the law here.”

Our analysis: This power and ‘moral authority’ will prevent Mullah Omar’s attempt to sack him and regain control of the Pakistan Taliban from succeeding.  This data still points to multiple Taliban fronts in 2008: one in Afghanistan, and the other in Pakistan.  As we have pointed out before (and as pointed out by Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute), the fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably linked.  An increase in force size for Afghanistan of only 3200 Marines is a small commitment given the stakes.

Why are we succeeding in Iraq – or are we?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

For all those readers who care about counterinsurgency – how to wage it, what we have done wrong in Iraq, what we have done (and are doing) right in Iraq, and what the campaign in Iraq does for our doctrine – there is a discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal that in our opinion is the most important one that has been started.  Without hesitation and in no holds barred fashion, it became a fascinating and most useful strategic slug-fest of competing ideas and narrative accounts of the campaign in Iraq.  If the main stream media reports have become boring and repetitious and the blogs have become outlets for talking points, this kind of discussion is at the same time professional, honest, forthright and intellectually complex, and should be engaged by all professional military who want to learn about both making war and peace.  This dialogue should be studied in war college classrooms across the nation.  We are linking it here (and also providing comments concerning this thread) because we have a number of readers who do not routinely traffic the Small Wars Journal.  While we will give some background, for the comments here to be in their proper context, the discussion thread must be studied.

The discussion began when the Small Wars Journal editor linked a commentary by Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, who is currently on staff at the United States Military Academy, and who also commanded a combat battalion in Baghdad in 2006.  Gentile’s commentary was entitled Our Troops Did Not Fail in 2006, as was the Small Wars Council dicussion thread.  Gentile says:

During the year I commanded a combat battalion in West Baghdad in 2006, some of the soldiers in our outfit were wounded and some were killed, but we did not fail. In my opinion we succeeded.

We cleaned up garbage, started to establish neighborhood security forces, rebuilt schools and killed or captured hostile insurgents, both Shiite and Sunni. Our fundamental mission was to protect the people. Other combat outfits we served alongside did the same.

In this sense there is little difference between what American combat soldiers did in 2006 and what they are now doing as part of the “surge.” The only significant change is that, as part of the surge strategy, nearly 100,000 Sunnis, many of them former insurgents, were induced to stop attacking Americans and were put on the U.S. government payroll as allies against Al Qaeda.

This cash-for-cooperation tactic with our former enemies in no way diminishes the contribution of the soldiers and marines who are on the ground now. On the contrary, soldiers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains are struggling harder than ever to bring stability and peace to a complex society scarred by years of brutal violence.

Much talk has come from expert analysts, army officers and U.S. presidential candidates touting the success of the effort implemented by General David Patraeus. Many of these individuals compare the success of the surge in 2007 with what they see as the failure of American forces in Iraq in 2006.

One proponent of the surge, the neoconservative writer Clifford May, has written that by 2006, American forces had pretty much quit the country and were “cooped up in well-guarded Forward Operating Bases” – FOBS in military jargon – while “foreign terrorists slaughtered innocents” and the Iraq civil war raged around them. A senior officer who this past summer was a staff member for a very senior American leader in Iraq matter-of-factly characterized the nature of American forces in Iraq in 2006 as “Fob Rats.” Senator John McCain, now running for president, wrote in a recent opinion article that, prior to the surge, American strategy at the highest levels in Iraq was “mismanaged.”

But the combat battalion that I commanded in the 4th Infantry Division was a part of that so-called mismanagement, or what other, perhaps more direct critics, have referred to as failure.

On one level, my response to such statements is admittedly raw and visceral: If I was hunkered down on Fobs and if I and my men had pretty much quit the country in 2006, then how did soldiers under my command “just get dead?” What now am I to tell their families?

I remember a medic in our battalion, his combat patrol hit by multiple roadside bombs, moving under potential enemy fire to save the life of a local Iraqi man who had been seriously wounded in the attack. This medic was decorated for valor. He understood our primary purpose in Iraq was to protect the people.

I know from experience that the accuracy of reports that tout differences between counterinsurgency methods in 2006 and in 2007 are mostly off the mark …

The main difference was a decision by senior American leaders in 2007 to pay large amounts of money to Sunni insurgents to stop attacking Americans and join the fight against Al Qaeda. Coupled with this was the decision by the Shiite militia leader, Moktada al-Sadr, to refrain from attacking coalition forces.  The dramatic drop in violence, especially toward Americans, that occurred in Baghdad from June to July 2007 can mainly be explained by these new conditions …

But we should call a spade a spade and acknowledge why violence has dropped. Politicians and political analysts may make false comparisons.

The political motivations for such assertions are obvious. Yet American soldiers who fought bravely and bled in Iraq in in the years before the surge have become victims of American politics. We deserve fairer treatment.

LTC Gian Gentile, squadron commander, 8th Squadron, 10th Cavalry, inspects Iraqi checkpoint operations in Southwest Baghdad. The Iraqi Security Forces working the checkpoint outside the Al Amarriya Mulhalla, or neighborhood, are dealing with Anti-Iraqi Forces attempting to disrupt security in their area by using snipers and planting Improvised Explosive Devices in the local communities. U.S. and Iraqi Forces are working together in South and Central Baghdad, conducting combined patrols in efforts to maintain security for the communities and defeat AIF activity in Baghdad. Pic: SSG Brent Williams

The responses in the discussion thread have a broad range, beginning with the short and (we think) correct observation by Professor Steve Metz that “the position that U.S. troops are now doing something different than before is a minority one. What I hear is that most people who know anything about Iraq recognize that by 2005 at the latest, our units were doing the right things. There just wasn’t enough of them.”  This is an important comment, and one to which we will return later.

The very next comment in this thread is also smart, saying in part that “I think that beyond the simple increase of troop numbers, the surge represented a political statement of will to continue the fight in Iraq at a time when we were signalling transition and withdrawal.  Contrary to many accounts, the Sunni awakening and the emergence of CLCs (“concerned Local Citizens”) was not merely a case of us buying off Iraqi tribes. If it were just a matter of money, we could simply keep paying for a long time. The cost-benefit case could be easily made between paying them and maintaining troops here. There were multiple reasons for this phenomenon, among them: extremists overplaying their hands, the relentless pressure of Coalition and Iraqi military operations (current efforts build off of previous efforts), and the signal from the surge that we were not leaving anytime soon (commitment to stay in Iraq).”

From here the discussion takes on a more spirited nature, with points and counterpoints being made by both commenters and Lt. Col. Gian Gentile.  One significant point is made that perhaps Lt. Col. Gentile’s unit wasn’t affected by the previous strategy, but his own unit was, that affect being FOB consolidation rather than in being near to or with the population.  Gentile later responds again with a lengthy rejoinder, including this gem: “Getting at the primary mechansim for the lowering of violence in Summer 2007 is absolutely critical here. Most assume that it was American military power using new doctrine and more troops that did it.”

At the Captain’s Journal we also hold the truth in high regard, and because there has been such disagreement on the Anbar campaign, we started the category Anbar Narrative.  In order to address some of Gentile’s points, we will use an operation with which we are intimately familiar: Operation Alljah, begun in April and essentially ending in October of 2007 with the return of 2/6 (although officially ending prior to that).

The middle and subsequent phases of the operation used many modern techniques to inhibit the insurgency, such as gated communities, biometrics (retinal scans, fingerprints), and census taking.  However, it is clear that the early stages of the operation and going into the middle stages involved heavy kinetic operations and force projection.  To be absolutely clear, military power set the pretext for the campaign and allowed the balance of the methods to be successful.  The force projection included combat operations, intelligence-driven raids, constant dismounted patrols, heavy contact with, questioning and deposing of the population, and high visibility within Fallujah proper and the Euphrates river basin towards Baghdad.

Prior to Operation Alljah there had been moderate to significant success in counterinsurgency efforts in the balance of Anbar, depending upon the location.  Foreign fighters (Arabs, Africans, Chechens and Far Eastern fighters) and some indigenous insurgents had been driven to Fallujah as the last relatively safe place for them in Anbar.  They owned the streets of Fallujah in the first quarter of 2007 and were protecting a very large weapons cache in the industrial area (which included small arms, heavier weapons and chlorine).  They were also using Fallujah as a base of operations from which to launch operations into Baghdad.  The unit 2/6 replaced had flatly stated that Fallujah could not be won.

Into this came the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment.  As Bill Ardolino cites from the Marines he interviewed, the Marines with 2/6 came in hard (“the whole persona of the 2/6 [Marines], the way they’re running operations, is to provide for the citizens. The IPs [Iraqi Police] are like that too, they’re out there engaging the people. They [used to get] attacked so much that they were a military force, doing military-type operations. When they showed up, they showed up hard. Now it’s more ‘Hey what’s going on? How are you doing? What can we do for you?’ It’s yielded huge gains.”).  They found transition to food bags and civil affairs missions hard and boring, but made the change and eventually turned over a relatively stable and safe city to their replacements.  The indigenous insurgents went home (many to Lt. Col. Bohm’s AO in Western Anbar), and the foreign fighters – the ones who weren’t killed by the Marines – made their way North to Mosul, Kirkuk and other areas of the Diyala Province.  The deployment of 2/6 to Fallujah was planned prior to the so-called surge, and yet contrary to the well worn notion of tribal leaders, Operation Alljah didn’t make use of or have any reference to tribes.  The Marines made significant use of the muktars, or city leaders and block captains.

The populist understanding of the campaign in Anbar involves tribes “flipping” to support the U.S.  A Google search on the words “sheikhs turn against al Qaeda” yields more than 300,000 sources, and the year 2007 is rich with main stream media reports of the Anbar awakening.  To be sure, the tribal revolt against al Qaeda was important, and without it, Anbar may not be as safe as it is today.  Another (still incomplete) narrative of the Anbar campaign involves what Gentile discusses – the U.S. implemented a strategy to pay off the indigenous insurgents.  This narrative is only slightly more sophisticated than the populist version, and sees the strategy to pay the indigenous fighters as without pretext and disconnected from the previous two or three years of combat operations.

Even in areas in which tribal leaders were important, e.g., Ramadi, there was force projection and combat operations as the pretext for the awakening.  As we have stated before at the SWJ Blog:

It has become in vogue to characterize the Anbar narrative as the “awakening,” and nothing more than this, as if it was all about getting a tribe to “flip.” To be sure, we needed Captain Travis Patriquin’s observations sooner than we got them, and I have argued almost nonstop for greater language training before deployment and payment to so-called “concerned citizens” and other erstwhile insurgents. You can qualify expert on the rifle range, but if you can’t speak the language, you’re going in ‘blind’ (to play on words).

But just to make it clear, to see the Anbar narrative as all about tribes “flipping” is an impoverished view of the campaign. It’s a Johnny-come-lately view. Hard and costly kinetic operations laid the groundwork for the tribal realignments. Sheikh Sattar had to have his smuggling lines cut and dismembered by specially assigned units conducting kinetic operations in order to ‘see the light’ and align with U.S. forces. Then, a tank had to be parked outside his residence to provide protection against the insurgents in order to keep him alive and aligned with the U.S.

The pundits talk about the tribes, but the Marines talk about kinetic operations inside Ramadi to provide the window of opportunity for the tribes to realign their allegiance.

Costa … dedicated a portion of his time to cracking the insurgents’ methods of communication.

“Generally there was a guy putting up gang signs, which could either send a rocket-propelled grenade through your window or some other attack your way,” said Costa, who began to realize the significance of unarmed people on Ramadi’s streets providing information via visual cues.

“You’re watching something on the street like that happening, and you’re like, ‘What the hell is that guy doing?’” he recalled. “And then the next thing you know, insurgents start coming out of the woodwork.”

“Signalers” — the eyes and ears of insurgent leaders — informed the insurgent strategists who commanded armed fighters by using hand and arm gestures. “You could see the signaler commanding troops,” Costa recalled. “He just doesn’t have a weapon.”

To curb insurgents’ ability to communicate, Costa decided on a revolutionary move: He and his unit would dismantle the enemy’s communication lines by neutralizing the threat from signalers. Sparing no time, he set a tone in Ramadi that signalers would be dealt with no differently from their weapon-wielding insurgent comrades.

“We called it in that we heard guys were signaling, and the battalion would advise from there,” he said, recalling the first day of the new strategy. “We locked that road down pretty well that day.”

In ensuing weeks, coalition forces coordinated efforts to dismember the insurgent signal patterns entrenched in Ramadi. This helped tamp down violence and create political breathing room, which in turn allowed the forging of key alliances between local tribal sheiks and coalition operators. The subsequent progress was later dubbed the “Anbar Awakening,” a societal purging of extremism by Anbaris that ushered in a level of stability unprecedented since U.S. operations in Iraq began.

“In the end, it turned out that Ramadi did a complete 180,” Costa said. “I got pictures in September from the unit that had relieved us, and I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think I was looking at the same city.”

Ironically, in Ramadi — the city formerly paralyzed by insurgents, where Costa was unable to set foot in public during daylight hours upon arrival — citizens participated in a 5K “Fun Run” in September.

Regarding the payment to concerned citizens, a tactic we have strongly advocated here, it wasn’t as if U.S. strategists awoke one day and realized that payment might help to pacify their area of operations.  Rather, as observed by one commenter to this discussion thread, “relentless pressure” by coalition troops and the psychological affect of the surge (to convince them that the U.S. had no intention of leaving) were pre-conditions to successful implementation of this strategy.  While payment to sheikhs is larger, the payment to individual citizen’s watch members is no more than a pittance.

Whether tribal leaders, muktars, payment to concerned citizens, or operations from a combat outpost or FOB, there are many narratives coming from OIF.  Even when the 2/6 Marines pushed al Qaeda from Fallujah, there was still some degree of “whack-a-mole” counterinsurgency as they deployed to Diyala.  And hence, we are back to the comment left by Steve Metz at the beginning.  We never had enough troops to successfully implement counterinsurgency across Iraq.  In many ways the Marines in Anbar didn’t either, and took the losses associated with this lack of forces.

Intelligence-driven raids, close contact with the population, and constant dismounted patrols can be implemented from FOBs or combat outposts.  The location where Marines or Soldiers live takes on secondary or even tertiary importance to intelligence-driven operations, intensive contact with the population and enemy, and force projection.  Gentile is correct if his objection to the populist narrative is that it should not be seen as an exclusive narrative.  The campaign is much more complex than that.  However, before long in the discussion thread, Gentile digresses into a common meme over which we have engaged (that Iraq is in a civil war).  We have the utmost respect for Gentile, but if there can be no comprehensive and all-inclusive narrative for the campaign for him and his reports, then the comprehensive narrative of civil war cannot apply either.

There is no doubt that there was a low grade civil war in Gentile’s AO, and perhaps there still is in parts of Iraq.  Perhaps upon the eventual drawdown of U.S. troops there will be a return to factious warfare.  Then again, perhaps not.  But as for Anbar, there never was and is not now a civil war.  Of the many Marines we have debriefed following Operation Alljah, the consistent report is that “We killed Chechens, Africans, and men with slanted eyes – we don’t know where they were from.  But we didn’t kill a single Iraqi.”  Lt. Col. Gentile’s battalion was engaged in combat operations and protection of the population, no matter the populist narrative of troops sitting at FOBs eating ice cream.  Payment to concerned citizens and tribal participation in their own defense required a pretext and are good and wholesome and anthropologically sound tactics, no matter that the populist narrative chides the U.S. for “buying off” insurgents.  Civil war can describe parts of Iraq, but certainly not all of it.  The AOs are too diverse, and after all, the campaign for Iraq remains a complex affair that has proven unfriendly to populist narratives.


The Strong Horse in Counterinsurgency

The Anbar Narrative (category)

Can the Anbar Strategy Work in Pakistan?

The Role of Force Projection in Counterinsurgency

Major General Benjamin Mixon Reports on Counterinsurgency

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

Musharraf Chides U.S. for Lack of Force

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

President Pervez Musharraf recently discussed the relationship between U.S. and Pakistani military forces.

Pakistan’s president said Friday U.S. troops cannot do a better job than his forces in routing the Taliban and al-Qaida, and the United States should increase its presence in Afghanistan instead to deal with the growing insurgency there.

Pervez Musharraf reiterated that Pakistan opposes any foreign forces on its soil and said “the man in the street will not allow this — he will come out and agitate.”

Musharraf was responding to a question about reports that the U.S. government was considering far more aggressive covert operations in Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ offer Thursday to send a small number of combat troops to Pakistan to help fight the insurgency there if Pakistani authorities ask for help.

“This cannot be done by any U.S. force,” Musharraf told several hundred VIPs at a breakfast on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. “Please don’t think that the U.S. forces have some kind of a magic wand and they’ll come and lead to success.”

“This environment is worse than what they’re facing in Afghanistan. The mountains are higher, and there is no communications infrastructure,” he said.

Musharraf said President Bush told him he respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and “is not asking me, and he’s the most important.”

He stressed that there is “total” U.S.-Pakistani cooperation on military tactics and strategy on both sides of the border, and “good coordination” on intelligence.

“They wouldn’t be able to achieve anything that we haven’t been able to achieve, so let them handle Afghanistan,” Musharraf said. “They need more force there, by the way. So therefore, please add force there before you think of sending them across into our borders,” he said.

Musharraf is chiding the U.S. strategy for lack of force projection, something we have discussed here before for Afghanistan and also for the Iraq counterinsurgency campaign (focusing also on the Anbar Province as its strategy relates to Pakistan).  But this is a pitiful instance of the pot calling the kettle black.  At the moment, Musharraf’s army has sent 600 troops against Baitullah Mehsud’s forces in the tribal region, less than a battalion.

But Pakistan has suffered ”more than 50 suicide bombings in the past 12 months, killing at least 800 people.”  She is in the middle of a full blown insurgency, this insurgency affecting the U.S. as well since the Taliban and al Qaeda have safe haven inside Pakistan to regroup after attacks and terrorist operations in Afghanistan.  Furthermore, supplies intended for use by NATO are being attacked inside Pakistan with Mehsud’s well-crafted network of roadway interdiction.  Force projection is needed by the U.S. in Afghanistan, but Musharraf has no room to chide the U.S.  The Pakistani army should practice what Musharraf preaches.

Prior: Taliban Campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Taliban Campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago


With over 3000 Marines headed for Afghanistan in the coming months to help with spring counterinsurgency operations, The Asia Times gives us a glimpse inside the Taliban leadership.

With the Taliban’s spring offensive just months away, the Afghan front has been quiet as Taliban and al-Qaeda militants have been heavily engaged in fighting security forces in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

But now Taliban leader Mullah Omar has put his foot down and reset the goals for the Taliban: their primary task is the struggle in Afghanistan, not against the Pakistan state.

Mullah Omar has sacked his own appointed leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, the main architect of the fight against Pakistani security forces, and urged all Taliban commanders to turn their venom against North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, highly placed contacts in the Taliban told Asia Times Online. Mullah Omar then appointed Moulvi Faqir Mohammed (a commander from Bajaur Agency) but he refused the job. In the past few days, the Pakistani Taliban have held several meetings but have not yet appointed a replacement to Mehsud.

This major development occurred at a time when Pakistan was reaching out with an olive branch to the Pakistani Taliban. Main commanders, including Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the main Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan, Sirajuddin Haqqani, signed peace agreements. But al-Qaeda elements, including Tahir Yuldashev, chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, undermined this initiative.

“We refused any peace agreement with the Pakistani security forces and urged the mujahideen fight for complete victory,” Yuldashev said in a jihadi video message seen by Asia Times Online. Yuldashev’s closest aide and disciple, Mehsud, last week carried out an attack on a Pakistani security post and then seized two forts in the South Waziristan tribal area.

As a result, Pakistan bombed South Waziristan and sent in heavy artillery and tanks for a major operation against Mehsud. Other important commanders are now in North Waziristan and they support the peace agreements with the Pakistani security forces.

Pakistan’s strategic quarters maintain the planned operation in South Waziristan is aimed particularly at eliminating Mehsud.

“While talking to government representatives in the jirga [peace council] we could clearly discern a grudge against Baitullah Mehsud and the Mehsud tribes by the security forces. And there are signs that the government is obsessed with a military operation to make Baitullah Mehsud a martyr,” a leading member of the peace jirga in South Waziristan, Maulana Hisamuddin, commented to Voice of America.

Mehsud came into the spotlight after Taliban commander Nek Mohammed was killed in a missile attack in South Waziristan in mid-2004. Nek was from the Wazir tribe, which is considered a rival tribe of the Mehsud. Haji Omar, another Wazir, replaced Nek, but support from Yuldashev and Uzbek militants strengthened Mehsud’s position. He rose through the ranks of the Taliban after becoming acquainted with Mullah Dadullah (killed by US-led forces in May 2007) and Mehsud supplied Dadullah with many suicide bombers.

Dadullah’s patronage attracted many Pakistani jihadis into Mehsud’s fold and by 2007 he was reckoned as the biggest Taliban commander in Pakistan – according to one estimate he alone had over 20,000 fighters.

The link to Dadullah also brought the approval of Mullah Omar, and when the Taliban leader last year revived the “Islamic Emirates” in the tribal areas, Mehsud was appointed as his representative, that is, the chief of the Pakistani Taliban.

Mehsud was expected to provide valuable support to the Taliban in Afghanistan, but instead he directed all his fighters against Pakistani security forces.

With Mehsud now replaced, Mullah Omar will use all Taliban assets in the tribal areas for the struggle in Afghanistan. This leaves Mehsud and his loyalists completely isolated to fight against Pakistani forces.

According to Taliban quarters in Afghanistan that Asia Times Online spoke to recently, the Taliban have well-established pockets around Logar, Wardak and Ghazni, which are all gateways to the capital Kabul.

Many important districts in the southwestern provinces, including Zabul, Helmand, Urzgan and Kandahar, are also under the control of the Taliban. Similarly, districts in the northwestern, including Nimroz, Farah and Ghor, have fallen to the Taliban.

Certainly, the Taliban will be keen to advance from these positions, but they will also concentrate on destroying NATO’s supply lines from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The Taliban launched their first attack in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province on Monday, destroying a convoy of oil tankers destined for NATO’s Kandahar air field.

“If NATO’s supply lines are shut down from Pakistan, NATO will sweat in Afghanistan,” a member of a leading humanitarian organization in Kabul told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity. “The only substitute would be air operations, but then NATO costs would sky-rocket.”

Discussion and Commentary

This description points to fractures within the Taliban organization.  But rather than simply sacking Mehsud and replacing him with someone loyal to Mullah Omar, it is more likely that the Taliban will continue in two different factions, with Mullah Omar leading the faction associated primarily with Afghanistan, while Mehsud continues to lead his fighters in an insurgency within Pakistan proper.  Mehsud is a powerful man and has been blamed for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.  He is careful and evasive; ”he travels in a convoy of pickups protected by two dozen heavily armed guards, he rarely sleeps in the same bed twice in a row, and his face has never been photographed.”   Assassination of Bhutto is part of a larger plan.

Baitullah and his allies have even grander plans, the Afghan source says. Her assassination is only part of Zawahiri’s long-nurtured plan to destabilize Pakistan and Musharraf’s regime, wage war in Afghanistan, and then destroy democracy in other Islamic countries such as Turkey and Indonesia.

Baitullah’s alleged emergence as the triggerman in this grand scheme illustrates the mutability of the jihadist enemy since 9/11. As recently as June 2004, Iraq was said to be Al Qaeda’s main battleground, and Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi was the terror chieftain whom US authorities worried about most. Baitullah was then a largely unknown subcommander in South Waziristan. But that same month, a US Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone killed Nek Mohammad, the young, dashing and publicity-hungry tribal leader in Waziristan.

Al Qaeda and tribal militants promoted the young Baitullah to a command position … Since then, Zarqawi has been killed by US forces, Iraq has receded as a haven for Al Qaeda, and Baitullah has come into his own as a terrorist leader in newly unstable Pakistan. Last month a council of militant leaders from the tribal agencies and neighboring areas named Baitullah the head of the newly formed Taliban Movement in Pakistan, a loose alliance of jihadist organizations in the tribal agencies.

Taliban sources who would speak only on condition of anonymity describe Baitullah as a key middleman in the jihadist network: his tribesmen provide security for Al Qaeda’s rough-hewn training compounds in the tribal area as well as foot soldiers for Qaeda-designed attacks. With a long tradition as smugglers, the tribals (most of whom, like Baitullah, take Mehsud as their surname) run an extensive nationwide trucking and transport network that reaches from the borderlands into teeming cities like Karachi, allowing Baitullah to easily move men and weapons throughout Pakistan.

Baitullah has clearly outsmarted the unpopular Musharraf, whom President George W. Bush praised again last week as an “ally” who “understands clearly the risks of dealing with extremists and terrorists.” In February 2005, with his military getting bloodied in the tribal areas, the Pakistani president decided to strike a peace deal with Baitullah and other militant leaders and their frontmen.

Under the terms of the deal the militants agreed not to provide assistance or shelter to foreign fighters, not to attack government forces, and not to support the Taliban or launch cross-border operations into Afghanistan. As part of the deal, Baitullah coaxed the government into giving him and the other leaders $540,000 that they supposedly owed to Al Qaeda.

The large cash infusion bolstered the jihadist forces, and under cover of the ceasefire Baitullah’s territory became an even more secure safe haven. He and other militant leaders have assassinated some 200 tribal elders who dared to oppose them. The Pakistani government struck a similar peace agreement with militants in North Waziristan in September 2006, transforming much of that tribal area into a militant camp as well …

In his few statements to the press, Baitullah has made his agenda frighteningly clear. He vowed, in a January 2007 interview, to continue waging a jihad against “the infidel forces of American and Britain,” and to “continue our struggle until foreign troops are thrown out” of neighboring Afghanistan.

From these accounts it is clear that both Mullah Omar and Baitullah Mehsud will likely continue operations, even if Omar intends to focus on Afghanistan and Mehsud intends to carry out operations first in Pakistan.  Even if there are fractures at the top levels of the organization, the loyalty of the fighters to the cause will supersede and overcome personality differences.  The fight, they say, will continue unabated, having temporarily subsided in the winter.  This emphasis is a necessary product of the extremism within the current generation of Taliban.  The New York Times recently discussed the relationship of a long-time, elderly religious extremist in Pakistan to the current generation of extremists.

“The religious forces are very divided right now,” I was told by Abdul Hakim Akbari, a childhood friend of Rehman’s and lifelong member of the J.U.I. (Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam) I met Akbari in Dera Ismail Khan, Rehman’s hometown, which is situated in the North-West Frontier Province. According to this past summer’s U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, approved by all 16 official intelligence agencies, Al Qaeda has regrouped in the Tribal Areas adjoining the province and may be planning an attack on the American homeland. “Everyone is afraid,” Akbari told me. “These mujahedeen don’t respect anyone anymore. They don’t even listen to each other. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a moderate. He wants dialogue. But the Taliban see him as a hurdle to their ambitions. ”

Rehman doesn’t pretend to be a liberal; he wants to see Pakistan become a truly Islamic state. But the moral vigilantism and the proliferation of Taliban-inspired militias along the border with Afghanistan is not how he saw it happening. The emergence of Taliban-inspired groups in Pakistan has placed immense strain on the country’s Islamist community, a strain that may only increase with the assassination of Bhutto. As the rocket attack on Rehman’s house illustrates, the militant jihadis have even lashed out against the same Islamist parties who have coddled them in the past … For now, it is Islamist violence that seems to have the political upper hand rather than the accommodation of Islamist currents within a democratic society …

The jihadist websites haven’t given up on Afghanistan, with Jihad Unspun claiming that “The Taliban have already made it clear that despite the US troop increase in Afghanistan and the new equipment they may be using, it will not deter the increasing number of their attacks. As the harsh Afghan winter retires and the annual spring offensive gets underway, the Taliban are poised for the most aggressive fighting yet.”

But U.S. command in Afghanistan is conveying a far different message than either the Pentagon (which is deploying Marines to deal with the spring offensive) or the Taliban themselves.  Army Major General David Rodriguez has flatly stated that NATO won’t have to fight Taliban this spring.

The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is unlikely to stage a spring offensive in the volatile eastern region bordering Pakistan, the commander of U.S. forces in that area said Wednesday.

Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez told a Pentagon news conference that Taliban and al-Qaida fighters operating from havens in the largely ungoverned tribal areas of western Pakistan appear to have shifted their focus toward targets inside Pakistan rather than across the border in Afghanistan.

“I don’t think there’ll be a big spring offensive this year,” Rodriguez said.

That is partly due to ordinary Afghans’ disillusionment with the Taliban movement, he said, and partly because the Taliban and al-Qaida fighters see new opportunities to accelerate instability inside Pakistan. He also said Afghan security forces are becoming more effective partners with U.S. forces.

The Taliban has generally staged stepped-up offensives each spring, when the weather is more favorable for ground movement, although an anticipated offensive last spring did not materialize.

U.S. officials have said in recent days that they do expect a spring offensive in the southern area of Afghanistan, a traditional Taliban stronghold where fighting is most intense. That is one reason why Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week approved the deployment of an additional 2,200 Marines to the southern sector where NATO forces are in command.

Unstated in this account is that the Taliban didn’t need to stage a spring offensive in 2007 because they have transitioned to insurgency and terrorist tactics rather than more conventional kinetic engagements with U.S. forces.  According to the Afghanistan NGO Security Office, the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan is “just beginning.”  They further state that “We totally disagree with those who assert that the spring offensive did not happen and would instead argue that a four-fold increase in armed opposition group initiated attacks between February to July constitutes a very clear-cut offensive.”

It isn’t clear why Rodriguez is singing the praises of the campaign in Afghanistan when the recent battle for Musa Qala failed to provide proof of principle for the British strategy of trying to negotiate with the Taliban, and there are shattered illusions of peace in Kabul after the recent bombing of the Serena hotel.  “The Taliban are following a new strategy, their spokesman announced. They will go after civilians specifically, and will bring their mayhem to places where foreigners congregate.”

But what is clear is that the Taliban have safe haven in the tribal area of Pakistan, and the recent launch of a Pakistani offensive against them with approximately 600 troops – less than a Battalion sized force – will be met with stiff resistance from Mehsud, who has warned them to stay away.  Mehsud himself will avoid capture, and whether the Taliban launch a spring “offensive,” they will certainly continue the insurgency within both Pakistan and Afghanistan until the U.S. employs significant force projection.

The Role of Electricity in State Stabilization

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

Not too many months ago, one of al Qaeda’s tactics to create chaos in Iraq was to attack the infrastructure (e.g., water supplies and the electricity grid).  With the retreat of al Qaeda from Anbar and the constant combat they sustain in the North, there are fewer oppotunities for them to attack the grid, and power is being consumed at higher rates in the large urban areas, while outlier cities are starved.

Residents in the battered city receive just a couple of hours of mains power a day, and in the depths of winter US soldiers are facing a whole new array of challenges, said Captain Dan Gaskell.

Violence in Ramadi, provincial capital of Anbar Province about 100 kilometers west of Baghdad, has fallen significantly over the past year after local tribal leaders turned against Al-Qaeda and formed a tribal front to pursue the militants.

Attacks have dropped from 25-30 every day to less than one a week, and the numbers of roadside bombs have declined by 90 percent, according to US military figures.

“We are dealing with a new dynamic now,” said Gaskell, company commander at the Ma’Laab Joint Security Station (JSS) in West Ramadi, one of about 30 such bases now operating in the city.

But Ramadi’s 400,000 residents, almost exclusively Sunnite, are getting far less electricity than they were in the summer.

“Mains electricity is between one and three hours a day,” said Gaskell, explaining that Ramadi has suffered as Baghdad’s needs have increased.

“The power is coming from the Haditha [hydroelectric] dam. Baghdad and Fallouja take their power before it comes out here, so it gets degraded and degraded.”

Six months ago Ramadi got eight to 15 hours of electricity a day, but improvements in Baghdad’s infrastructure mean the capital is now drawing far more power.

Plans are being drawn up for a new power line to be built from Fallouja directly to the Ramadi area.
“There is no real power coming into the city,” said Gaskell. “But the central government is doing all the upgrade work so when they do turn on the switch, the city will be fully operational.”

Kerosene, used for portable heaters, has also been a major concern this winter, with corruption and theft undermining supply.

“The distribution has been on an old ration card system but it works at our local level,” said Gaskell. “The problem we have is with missing kerosene higher up the chain: a truck driver shows up and 3,000 liters are missing.”

Nothing could be worse for the perception of fairness and stability than official overuse of resources by one segment of the population.  Civil strife and unrest will eventually result from this inequity.  Institutionalized corruption cannot be rooted out overnight, but the planning for electrical generation, transmission and distribution assets should have been in the works more than two years ago.  Transmission of power from the Haditha dam to Baghdad and then back again to Falujah and then to Ramadi is a huge loss of voltage and ridiculous transmission plan.  The Army Corps of Engineers should be all over this.  State stabilization hangs in the balance, and this shows yet again that counterinsurgency is not just about kinetic operations.

Prior: Targeting the Insurgency Versus Protecting the Infrastructure

**** update **** 

LT Nixon, currently deployed, writes the following comment: “That’s one of the biggest beefs the Iraqis have had. You all-powerful Americans can’t even keep the lights on at my house? It doesn’t help that insurgents are still wreaking havoc on the grid up north. It’s gotten better, but it has a long, long way to go.”

It should be mentioned that there is not only a disparity between what we should do and have done (if we plan ahead, have the right NGO involvement, and fund reconstruction the way we should), but there is also a disparity between what we should do and are seen as capable of doing (which is what Nixon is speaking to).  This is the man on the moon perception problem.

The troubles of the United States in Iraq have been blamed on many causes: too few troops, wrong strategies, flawed intelligence, a very stubborn commander-in-chief.

The Man on the Moon rarely rates a public mention.

But the Man on the Moon looms so large in relations between the U.S. and 28 million Iraqis that every U.S. field commander knows his job would be easier if no American had ever set foot on the moon.

The Man on the Moon even gets a specific mention in the counterinsurgency manual the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps adopted last December. It is now taught at every U.S. military college and has the following passage:

“U.S. forces start with a built-in challenge because of their reputation for accomplishment, what some call ‘the man on the moon syndrome.’ This refers to the expressed disbelief that a nation able to put a man on the moon cannot quickly restore basic services.

“In some cultures, failure to deliver promised results is automatically interpreted as deliberate deception rather than good intentions gone awry.”

The “expressed disbelief” is voiced in such questions in Iraq as “how come the Americans could send a man on the moon but can’t bring us power. Or water. Or jobs. Or security.

So reconstruction efforts have as obstacles not only institutionalized corruption, lack of funding, lack of proper NGO support, and insurgent activity, but perception as well.

The Few, the Proud!

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

The United States Marines have launched video that captures the spirit of the nation and the heart, commitment, bravery and courage of those who have earned the distinctive right to call themselves the greatest warriors on earth: The United States Marines.

It is very Americana in its feel, and it reminds the viewer of not only what a great country God has bestowed on us, but also of the great men who sacrifice to keep it safe.  This ‘footage’ is worthy of the Corps.  The Captain’s Journal approves.

You can read the announcement of the Corps (Our Marines Blog) when they launched this commercial spot, and then their followup discussion called the Rest of the Story.

Now enjoy the Marine Corps band as they play Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.  He composed it for four French Horns, three Trumpets, three Trombones, Tuba, Timpani, Bass Drum, and Gong.

Marine Corps Band: Fanfare for the Common Man.

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