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

Herschel Smith · 28 Sep 2015 · 4 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]

Destroyed Khyber Bridge Shuts Down Afghan Logistics Route

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Continuing with the strategy The Captain’s Journal outlined approximately one year ago, the Taliban continue to target lines of logistical supply in the Khyber pass region of Pakistan.

Mohammad Sajjad/Associated Press (courtesy of NYT)

Local residents walk past a bridge destroyed by alleged Islamic militants Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009 in the Pakistani tribal area of Khyber, near Peshawar (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

Supplies intended for NATO forces in Afghanistan were suspended Tuesday after Taliban militants blew up a highway bridge in the Khyber Pass region, a lawless northwestern tribal area straddling the border with Afghanistan.

Hidayatullah Khan, a government official in the region, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the 30-yard-long iron bridge was located 15 miles northwest of Peshawar, the capital of the restive North-West Frontier Province.

Pakistani officials said they were assessing the damage and teams had been sent to repair the bridge. But it was not immediately clear how soon the trucks carrying crucial supplies for NATO forces would be able to travel through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan.

Apparently supplies are already moving again.  The top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan shrugged off any supply worries after Tuesday’s events, saying that traffic was already flowing again in Pakistan after the attack. “They made a bypass,” said Col. Greg Julian.

But amelioration of the temporary interdiction of supplies that occurred due to the bridge doesn’t change the overall strategic problem faced by NATO and the U.S.  We have strongly recommended creation of a supply route through the Caspian region, one that would surely be problematic but also one that would avoid the direct empowerment of Russia.

Myra MacDonald cites Stephen Blank, a professor at the U.S. Army War College who reached the conclusion that the United States will have to make concessions to win Russia’s cooperation on Afghanistan.  “Russia has the capability to exact a steep price for its cooperation, and it seems fairly certain that the Kremlin will strive to do just that,” he wrote. “One area in which it will likely try to exact that price is in the Caucasus and Black Sea regions, specifically in seeking NATO assurances that Georgia and Ukraine will not be offered membership in the alliance for the foreseeable future, if ever. It is a mark of the strategic malpractice of past U.S. policymakers in Central Asia and Afghanistan that Moscow now finds itself in position to potentially dictate conditions for participation in an endeavor that is clearly in Russia’s best interests.”

Russia knows just how important logistics was to their failed Afghan campaign.

The war was a contest by both sides to control the other’s logistics. The Soviet lines of communication (LOC) were a double lane highway network which wound through the Hindu Kush Mountains – some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth. The Soviet presence depended on its ability to keep the roads open. Much of the Soviet combat in Afghanistan was a fight for control of the road network. The resistance destroyed over 11,000 Soviet trucks. The DRA truck losses were reportedly higher. The Mujahideen ability to interdict the LOC was a constant concern to the Soviet and prevented them from maintaining a larger occupation force in Afghanistan.

It certainly is strategic malpractice, one might even say strategic malfeasance, to have placed us in the position of strengthening Russia in order to prosecute the campaign in Afghanistan.  Hard work must be done in order to prevent this exigency.  It is for lack of vision that the enemy strategy can be pointed out months before put into place, and yet be ignored by the Pentagon.

Husbanding our Military Dollars

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The Obama administration has called for a 10% decrease in military spending to begin in fiscal year 2010.  At The Captain’s Journal, calling this irresponsible would be an understatement, and less than our readers have come to expect.  It’s just plain dangerous, considering the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan, Iraq being a likely protectorate of the U.S. for years to come, the resurgence of Russia flexing its muscle in Georgia and the Black Sea and Caspian regions, the growth of China and its naval forces, the need for growth of the size of both the Army and Marine Corps, and many other needs and dangers in the world as it now exists.

Then along comes a report like the one on the Internally Transportable Vehicle.

The Marine Corps is starting to deploy a jeeplike vehicle called the Growler, 10 years after conception and at twice the contract price, after delays that were caused by changing concepts and problems in contracting, development and testing, according to two reports …

The idea for such a vehicle was developed in 1999 by the Marine Corps, which wanted a vehicle that could be carried in the V-22 Osprey aircraft to support assault operations and that would tow a 120 mm mortar and an ammunition trailer.

Today, instead of one vehicle that could serve both functions, there are two — one for reconnaissance and a shorter version that tows the mortar and ammunition trailer — built by the same company.

The first Growlers in the mortar program — officially called internally transportable vehicles, or ITVs — have been deployed to Marine units, but with limited combat capabilities. Because of their light armor and ammunition safety problems, “you can’t run it up the highway in an urban area such as Iraq,” said John Garner, the Marines’ program manager for the vehicle. “But it could accompany foot-mobile Marine infantry in a not-built-up area such as Afghanistan,” he added.

The inspector general report said that the average cost of a single Growler has risen 120 percent, from about $94,000 when the contract was awarded in 2004 to $209,000 in 2008. The unit cost for the vehicle with mortar and ammunition trailer has grown 86 percent, from $579,000 to $1,078,000 …

… after the contract was awarded, Garner said, “there were significant additions made for capability.” For example, an air suspension had to be added to allow the Growler to get on and off the Osprey because it could raise and lower its height. The makers added a new cooling system, power steering and power brakes, along with a beefed-up General Motors engine similar to the one used in the GMC Yukon. Altogether, Garner said, about $50,000 of the cost growth was in additional off-the-shelf items that now permit the Growler to travel up to 45 mph on a highway.

To be fair, this concept wasn’t created out of nothing.  It goes hand in hand with the Osprey V-22, Amphibious Assault Docks and the expeditionary force structure that the Marines seek.  Also to be fair to the Marines, the Army has some on order as well.

But it’s time for some straight talk.  Here is how it happens.  Performance specifications are written.  Request for quotes are sent out to potential contractors, and bids are received and evaluated.  They are evaluated based on cost, which ones most closely adhere to the performance specifications, and so forth.  A contract is awarded, and rather than simply adapting the forces to the contract, the practice is to adapt the contract to every request for a modification.

It is the last part that adds cost, and the first part that causes price to be so high to begin with.  For the price of the Growler one could go down to the local auto dealership and order up eight to ten jeeps.  Doing so would require that unit-based enlisted men figure out a way to load them onto the V-22s with ramps, jacks, winches, or other means.

The Marines are, after all, supposed to be able to improvise, adapt and overcome.  The reflexive tendency for advocates for the military (like The Captain’s Journal) is to defend the program.  “But wait, you don’t understand, there are requirements that must be met in a war zone, there are compatibility issues, it just isn’t that simple.”

But in fact it is that simple.  We must learn to make do with less, even if the defense budget is not cut.  We must learn to husband our resources so that they will go further, arming the U.S. military to remain the best and best-equipped in the world.

If this requires the use of duct tape, cable ties, winches, hoists, bungee cords, jacks and chain falls, then so be it.  When we spend this much money on a vehicle, something else goes wanting, such as badly needed lighter body armor, open bolt designs for SAWs, and so on.  We simply cannot spend $200,000 on a 4WD vehicle and continue to be the best armed military in the world.

The program manager should be aghast as the cost of the vehicles, and should never have let it enter the production phase.  It’s not a matter of funding the military.  It’s a matter of putting the funding in the right place and husbanding our resources.  Every family member on a budget does this every day, and it isn’t unreasonable to expect that military equipment design programs do it too.

U.S. Supplies Shrinking in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago has an important article on the logistical state of affairs in Afghanistan.

The milk is now pulled from the mess hall by 9 a.m., to ration the limited supply.

At the Camp Phoenix base store nearby, the shelves look bare. There’s no Irish Spring Body Wash, no Doritos, no Tostitos Scoops, no Bayer Aspirin.

“We’re having the same problems all over Afghanistan,” said Randy Barnes, who manages warehouses for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, which operates stores at many of the bases where U.S. troops are deployed in the war on terror here.

For the Soldiers at Camp Phoenix, about 650 of whom are from the Illinois National Guard, the missing supplies underscore what senior military officials have been saying for months: U.S. and coalition troops must find new routes to supply what will be a rapidly growing force in Afghanistan, ones that avoid the treacherous border areas of Pakistan where convoys have been ambushed.

Supplying an army in any war is crucial; it’s not just bullets and bombs, but everything from fuel to lettuce, that must be shipped in by the ton and the truckload. And a country like Afghanistan — landlocked, mountainous and with few good roads — poses enormously difficult challenges even without attacks by militants.

Gen. David Petraeus, the chief of U.S. Central Command, announced late last month that the military had reached transit deals with Russia and several Central Asian states to the north of Afghanistan, to provide an alternate route from Pakistan. But it’s not yet clear whether any new route would be able to absorb the heavy traffic.

“It is very important as we increase the effort in Afghanistan that we have multiple routes that go into the country,” Petraeus said …

The supply-route challenge is politically sensitive; as long as the U.S. and coalition troops depend on Pakistan to move supplies, it’s difficult to be too critical of its government’s help in the war on terror. Some in Washington have questioned Pakistan’s commitment.

But a route through Russia and neighboring countries is not necessarily a long-term solution either. The over-land route is much longer and more expensive, and dealing with repressive regimes in Central Asia also could pose political dilemmas.

This is a significant story on the state of affairs of logistics in Afghanistan, rounded off by a stupid comment at the end of the quote.  There are no political dilemmas with which to deal.  Ending every repressive regime is not in the bag of tricks that we should expect the U.S. military or the State Department to perform.  Repressive regime or not, we should make allies with the countries with whom we must deal.

This is true – except for Russia, who is still, in our estimation, an enemy posing as a friend.  It won’t take much for them to revert from being a temporary friend to being an erstwhile friend.  Maybe the switch has already begun.  When General David Petraeus recently stated that agreements had been reached for transit of supplies via Russia, he was quickly corrected by Russia.

The shocking intelligence assessment shared by Moscow reveals that almost half of the US supplies passing through Pakistan is pilfered by motley groups of Taliban militants, petty traders and plain thieves. The US Army is getting burgled in broad daylight and can’t do much about it. Almost 80% of all supplies for Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. The Peshawar bazaar is doing a roaring business hawking stolen US military ware, as in the 1980s during the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union.

within a day of Petraeus’ remark, Moscow corrected him. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Maslov told Itar-Tass, “No official documents were submitted to Russia’s permanent mission in NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] certifying that Russia had authorized the United States and NATO to transport military supplies across the country.”

A day later, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, added from Brussels, “We know nothing of Russia’s alleged agreement of military transit of Americans or NATO at large. There had been suggestions of the sort, but they were not formalized.” And, with a touch of irony, Rogozin insisted Russia wanted the military alliance to succeed in Afghanistan.

They are playing hard ball, as we predicted that they would.  For Afghan logistics, The Captain’s Journal has strongly recommended the route that passes through the Bosporus Strait, Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.  So what do the Russians think about our proposal?

Russian experts have let it be known that Moscow views with disquiet the US’s recent overtures to Central Asian countries regarding bilateral transit treaties with them which exclude Russia. Agreements have been reached with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Moscow feels the US is pressing ahead with a new Caspian transit route which involves the dispatch of shipments via Georgia to Azerbaijan and thereon to the Kazakh harbor of Aktau and across the Uzbek territory to Amu Darya and northern Afghanistan.

Russian experts estimate that the proposed Caspian transit route could eventually become an energy transportation route in reverse direction, which would mean a strategic setback for Russia in the decade-long struggle for the region’s hydrocarbon reserves.

The Asia Times gives us the summary of the Russian position.

Medvedev made it clear Moscow would resist US attempts to expand its military and political presence in the Central Asian and Caspian regions. He asserted, “This is a key region, a region in which diverse processes are taking place and in which Russia has crucially important work to do to coordinate our positions with our colleagues and help to find common solutions to the most complex problems.”

This is political speak for the fact that Russia wants to ride the coattails of the American taxpayer and fighting men to importance in the region, and will resist any attempt of the U.S. to expand logistical routes.  Russia will be just fine with the U.S. solving its Islamic militant problem in Chechnya by fixing Afghanistan, but wants the U.S. out of the region as soon as this is done.  Another way of saying it is that the U.S. needs to hurry its preparations for logistical routes through the Caspian region.

Underscoring their commitment to hegemony in the region, Russia snared a new Naval base on the Black Sea, courtesy of Abkhazia.  Time is wasting, and the Soldiers are running out of milk, Aspirin and soap.


Will Russian-Afghan Logistics Dictate Foreign Policy?

New Afghan Supply Route Through Russia Likely

U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership

Opening a Combat Outpost for Business

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

In our Analysis of the Battle of Wanat we pointed out that the protracted time to negotiate the presence of a combat outpost at Wanat (or rather, a Vehicle Patrol Base) in part led to the costliness of the battle.

The meetings with tribal and governmental officials to procure territory for VPB Wanat went on for about one year, and one elder privately said to U.S. Army officers that given the inherent appearance of tribal agreement with the outpost, it would be best if the Army simply constructed the base without interaction with the tribes. As it turns out, the protracted negotiations allowed AAF (anti-Afghan forces, in this case an acronym for Taliban, including some Tehrik-i-Taliban) to plan and stage a complex attack well in advance of turning the first shovel full of sand to fill HESCO barriers.

A contrasting picture is drawn for us in the Farah Province by the U.S. Marines.

Marines with 2nd Platoon, Motor Transportation Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 3, conducted multiple combat logistics patrols in support of Operation Gateway III in Farah Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Dec. 28, 2008, through Jan. 25, 2009.

The logistics combat element Marines, part of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, endured more than two weeks behind their steering wheels and gun turrets in improvised explosive device-laden terrain during the initial phases of the operation.  Military planners with SPMAGTF-A designed Operation Gateway III as a deliberate plan to clear southern Afghanistan’s Route 515 of any existing IED and insurgent threats on the important east-west route.

The combat logisticians directly supported 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), the ground combat element of SPMAGTF-A, with the essential supplies and construction support necessary to erect three combat outposts at strategic locations along Route 515.  In a limited amount of time, the three locations were successfully developed from barren land into safe havens for the 3/8 Marines occupying the area.

“Ultimately I was surprised,” said Staff Sgt. Chris O. Ross, platoon sergeant. “The COPs were built quickly, and the Marines were working overtime to do it.”

Ross also said the timing and coordination required to conduct the operation came together well.

Second Lt. Juliann C. Naughton, 2nd Platoon’s convoy commander, explained it’s shocking for the locals to wake up the next morning to see that a military outpost has appeared from nowhere during the course of the night.

“The logistical support was a success, and we delivered the materials in a timely manner,” Naughton said. “We’ve also been interacting with the villagers and letting them know why we’re here.”

Fortifications including concertina wire, a parapet several feet tall and dirt-filled protective barriers ensured the Marines on the interior of the COPs were shielded from outside threats. Multiple observation posts and several heavy and medium machine guns provided security and over-watch for the combat logisticians as they performed their craft.

The interior of the COPs offer living quarters, hygiene facilities, combat operations centers and more to accommodate its current and future residents.

The posts were strategically placed along the route to show an alliance presence, as well as enable safe travel.

Here at The Captain’s Journal we have a thing for logistics, and this example shows the greatness of great logistics and logisticians.  But ultimately what we want to draw out of this example is not just about logistics, or interservice rivalries and how the Marines might teach the Army a thing or two.  That really isn’t the point.

In the example of Wanat, the VPB wasn’t hopscotched into the Wanat valley in relatively close proximity to other outposts, and force protection seemed to be a secondary or even tertiary issue.  Rather, the construction of the VPB was started only after one year of negotiations with tribal elders, negotiations that the elders didn’t really want.

In the more recent example cited above, the population was engaged after construction of the COP.  The population doesn’t get to decide if counterinsurgency is going to be practiced in their area, or if a COP is going to be constructed near their home.  They only get to decide if they are going to participate with the Marines in securing the area.  Finally, they don’t get to hear about it for one year before it happens.  In fact, they don’t get to hear about it at all.

Two perspectives, two different theories on how to open a combat outpost for business.  The Captain’s Journal disagrees with the former example and concurs with the later.

DoD Testing Requirements for Body Armor and Army Recall

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

On January 29 we learned that the Army was issuing a recall of more than 16,000 sets of ESAPI (or enhanced side arms protective inserts) that had been issued to its soldiers.  By way of description, the SAPIs are ceramic plates that are designed for stopping 7.62 mm rounds, while the soft panel armor (with more coverage, but less weight) is designed for protection against 9 mm rounds and shrapnel.  The plates and soft panels are fundamentally the same for both Army and Marine body armor, but the carrier vests are slightly different.

The Department of Defense Inspector General’s Office released the report over which so much speculation occurred.  Report No. D-2009-047, DoD Testing Requirements for Body Armor, was written at the behest of certain members of Congress.  The report is the third in a series of reports on DoD body armor and armored vehicles issued in response to requests from Representative Louise M. Slaughter, 28th District, New York, and Senator James H. Webb, Virginia.  Since the Inspector General’s investigation was prompted by speculation of problems and since the SAPI plates of such importance to the success of the overall system, we analyzed the findings of the report with eager anticipation.  This anticipation was heightened by the introductory paragraphs of the report.  They found that:

… testing facility officials did not consistently follow the test plan or COPD requirements for the fair shot determination, measurement of BFD, or plate size, and that the PEO Soldier scoring official could not provide adequate documentation that explained why certain plates were selected for scoring and others were disregarded during the scoring process.

We were also concerned that the contracting officer technical representative (COTR) made an unauthorized change to Contract 0040 by instructing the testing facility officials to deviate from the COPD and use an offset correction technique (a mathematical formula used to adjust the BFD). The PEO Soldier COTR communicated this change by e-mail to the testing facility without approval from the contracting officer.

COPD is “Contract Purchase Description,” PEO is “Program Executive Officer,” and BFD means “Back Face Deformation.”  This last concept becomes important in the overall picture.  Turning to the specifics of the report, several key findings are outlined below for the purpose of providing examples of the investigation.

The inconsistencies that we identified concerned the treatment of over velocity shots.  During first article testing conducted on February 20 and November 7, 2007, shots on six of the plates were over the required velocity. Because none of the shots resulted in a complete penetration, the shots should have been considered fair, and the test should have proceeded, according to the COPD. During the November 7, 2007, test, the testing facility official complied with the COPD and correctly proceeded with testing. However, even though the scenario was exactly the same for the February 20, 2007, test, the testing facility official conducted retests on additional plates. The testing facility official documented all of the shots, including the retests, and provided the test results to PEO Soldier for scoring.  When scoring the test results for the February 20, 2007, first article test (design M3D2S2), the PEO Soldier scoring official chose to use the test results for the retested plates when he computed the test score. Use of the retested plates resulted in a score of 5.5 points, and the contractor passed the first article test. Had the scoring official followed the fair shot acceptance criteria as stated in the COPD and used the initial plates that withstood the over velocity shot, the contractor would have accumulated an additional 1.5 points (complete penetration on the second shot) and would have failed the first article test with 7 points.

Translation: When an over-velocity shot is taken on a plate, the testing may proceed if the plate is not penetrated under the assumption that a lower velocity shot would not have penetrated either.  This is a reasonable assumption.  However, if the plate is penetrated by the second shot it fails the testing, even if weakened by the initial shot.  The PEO made the decision to exclude the plates that had sustained over-velocity shots on the initial testing and to perform retests, but not consistently (as later records show).  A second example of the Inspector General’s findings pertains to measurements of BFD (back face deformation).

PEO Soldier instructed the testing facility to deviate from the COPD and use an offset correction technique (a mathematical formula used to adjust the BFD) when measuring the BFD. The testing facility official used this technique during 2 of the 21 first article tests conducted under Contract 0040. The COPD required that the testing facility officials measure the BFD at the deepest point in the clay depression after the bullet impacted the plate. However, PEO Soldier officials stated that contractors complained that the BFD measurement was not fair if the deepest point in the clay was not behind the point of impact. Therefore, a PEO Soldier official instructed the testing facility in an April 25, 2005, e-mail to use the offset correction technique if the deepest point in the clay depression was not behind the bullet’s point of impact.

Translation: The contractors complained when the measurement of deepest penetration was made at any point other than the point of bullet impact, which is the point of highest risk to the Soldier.  Therefore, the PEO made a decision that a correction would be applied to account for this effect and bring consistency to the program.

The Captain’s Journal initially concurs with both of the program deviations discussed above, since it isn’t fair to penalize one plate as compared to another if an over-velocity shot happened to be taken against it, and also since the highest risk to the Soldier does happen to be the point of bullet impact.

And it is also fair to point out that these aren’t the only problems discussed in the report.  But there are deeper problems that discussed even in the report.  With respect to the over-velocity shots, our judgment is that not enough SAPI plates are being included in the test samples (i.e., the sample size is not large enough) and the boundary conditions (such as shot velocity) are not being well-managed.  With respect to the deformation, the question naturally arises why the most severe deformation is occurring anywhere other than the point of bullet impact?  What’s happening to the ESAPI plates that is causing deformation in other than impact locations?

These questions (and other such technical questions) are not posed or answered in the Inspector General’s report, since the investigation is done by a government office.  The investigation focuses on programs, QA, adherence to procedures, consistency of application of rules and the like.  True enough, there are problems with some of the above.

But Senators and Representatives who have infinite trust in the power of government to solve problems leave the technology to the experts when a government office is the the sole arbiter of the strength of any technical program – and technological expert doesn’t usually define government offices.  In this particular case, as we have suggested before, there is no shame in assistance from industry experts.

Questions have been raised above which point to the need for completely independent consultative services focusing on QA, programmatic controls, statistical analysis of sample size, control over testing boundary conditions, and most especially the SAPI plates themselves and the underlying fracture mechanics of bullet impacts by finite element analysis.

The Army has understandably defended their program, and it should also be pointed out that contrary to published reports, the Inspector General’s office didn’t offer any conclusions about the safety of particular lots of SAPI plates currently in theater.  But as long as government organizations are battling with each other over government requests to investigate each other, and as long as independent engineering consultative services are not procured, whatever solution that floats to the top will be less than satisfying, and probably less than ideal.

One final point is in order.  This nugget of gold is contained in the report.  “The Army purchased 51,334 sets of ESAPI for $57,107,890.00.”  This is just over $1100 to outfit each Soldier with hard plate body armor.  All testing and design is probabilistic, with sample size being limited for the so-called “zero percent chance of penetration” test and with other design criteria based on equal probability of penetration and non-penetration.  It is the way of things.  Performance is not digital; it isn’t as if safety can be guaranteed in any particular circumstance.  Again, science and engineering is in many ways a probabilistic endeavor.

But this is a minimal cost to provide minimal protection for our warriors.  If the truth is told, even in a time of budget difficulties, there is absolutely no reason that protection cannot be increased and weight decreased (we have observed before that the only way to significantly decrease the total weight of body armor is to decrease the ESAPI plate weight).  It’s merely a matter of commitment.


Changes in Body Armor for Marines

New Body Armor for the Marines

Body Armor Wars in the Marine Corps

What is a Warrior’s Life Worth?

Body Armor Goes Political

Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward

Distinguishing Between Good and Bad Taliban?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

In an interesting and rather strange Asia Times article on the intertwined relationship between Iran, the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan, pro-Iranian commentator Kaveh L Afrasiabi sees possible cooperation between Iran and the U.S. on logistical supply routes to Afghanistan and other things associated with Operation Enduring Freedom.  If one can get by the dreaming, he makes this interesting statement.

“The difference between then and now is that the US officials are now distinguishing between the ‘good Taliban’ versus the ‘bad Taliban’ and hoping to sow divisions between them and reach a compromise with the former, perhaps as part of an emerging post-Karzai scenario,” said a Tehran University political scientist. The scholar added that he believes Iran does not like this “new approach” and finds it “simplistic and defeatist”.

He adds that the existing Karzai regime is backed by Iran.  The Captain’s Journal is no fan of Karzai, and we have already mentioned that a break with his administration might be necessary.  But it’s unlikely that Iran and the U.S. have mutual interests in anything.  For every U.S. interest, there is a corollary counter-interest by Iran, with regional Persian hegemony being the ultimate aim.

But of interest is that it is now understood worldwide that the U.S. is trying to delineate between “good” and “bad” Taliban.  True enough, there will be some amount of adolescents, teenagers and ne’er-do-wells who got sucked into the Taliban and might be able to be separated from the pack.  But we believe that this fraction is somewhere between very small and vanishingly small.  Hear carefully the words of one Taliban.

Abdul Shafiq is around 30 years old and has sacrificed his family life for two things: reading the Koran and fighting.

After years in exile following the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, this Taliban commander is back in the mountains of his birth, having left behind his old life with his family for one mission: chasing out the “infidel” Americans.

Abdul Shafiq — an assumed name — looks like any other Afghan, except that he has never been as unhappy as in times of peace.

In hiding in Kabul, he rarely spends two nights in the same place, taking a break before returning to the fight.

In the mountains, he heard of new US President Barack Obama “who will change nothing” and of Palestine “where something is happening”.

His future seems set: “As long as the Americans are here, we will fight them,” says the Taliban militant, whom AFP could only meet through local intermediaries …

It was in the northern mountains that he heard, over Taliban combat radio, on September 11, 2001 that planes sent by Al-Qaeda, had struck at the heart of the United States.

That was beautiful, delicious to hear, everyone was happy,” the warrior says with a smile.

But when the United States invaded Afghanistan the following month, Shafiq and his comrades soon realised they could not withstand the deluge of US bombs and fled. Some went to Pakistan. Others, like Shafiq, went west to Iran.

The Iranian government and the Taliban may have little in common, but they shared virulent opposition to the United States.

Iran took in Taliban in their thousands … In Kabul, the US army, sure of itself, branded the Taliban finished.

It was then that Shafiq slipped quietly home to Wardak. “They told us that the Americans were stopping the Taliban much less,” he says.

He took charge of a group of 30 men who lived on the move, going from one safehouse to another, he says.

Even before then, the Taliban started to regroup. “Everything is structured. The orders come from our leaders in Pakistan

So much for Iran’s suspicion of the Taliban as suggested by Kaveh L Afrasiabi.  There are many lessons wrapped up in this one interview, only parts of which are included above.  Iran supports the Taliban.  The hard core Taliban will fight until they die or we lose.  They get their orders from leaders Pakistan.  They believe that the U.S. has stood down in the effort to roust the Taliban.

As for the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan, another Asia Times article gives us what The Captain’s Journal believes to be a correct snapshot of the evolution in their thinking.

In some places they aim to enforce strict sharia law. In others, the Taliban want to establish bases from which to work in support of the resistance against foreign forces in Afghanistan.

In yet other areas, the purpose is simply to create chaos and anarchy so that militants can engage the Pakistani armed forces and deter them from supporting the global “war on terror”.

However, the ultimate mission of the groups is steadily harmonizing, that is, to support the regional war and then the global war against Western hegemony; this is the concept driving the neo-Taliban.

Whether the Afghan Taliban who are committed to war against the U.S. in Afghanistan, or the TTP who are committed to war against the West from Afghanistan to New York and London, the goals and aims of the “Taliban” are gradually dovetailing.  There will be fewer and fewer “good” ones left, if there ever were any to begin with.

2/6 Marines Counterpiracy Mission

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Battalion Landing Team 2/6, Golf Company, 3rd Platoon, a unit with which The Captain’s Journal is intimately familiar, is now engaged in counterpiracy.

Members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are participating in counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, a spokesman for Marine Corps headquarters said Thursday.

Amphibious transport dock San Antonio, the flagship for Combined Task Force 151, is carrying a reinforced Marine platoon, said 2nd Lt. Josh Diddams. Officials will not say how many Marines are on the ship, which left Camp Lejeune, N.C., in late August with the Norfolk, Va.-based Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group. A typical Marine infantry platoon consists of about 40 troops.

Task Force 151 is a multinational force recently organized to conduct land and air attacks on pirate bases along Somalia’s coast, where last year more than 40 vessels were hijacked, including a Saudi tanker carrying $100 million worth of crude oil and a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and other weapons bound for Kenya. The task force is operating in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

Sailors and Marines on the San Antonio spent weeks preparing the ship for its role as the command ship and afloat forward staging base for the task force, according to a Navy report. Marines on the ship include those with 3rd platoon, Golf Infantry Company, a military police detachment and intelligence personnel, according to the report.

The MEU, which recently left Kuwait after two weeks of training at Camp Buehring, did not respond to questions about the anti-piracy mission.

The Marines are currently (or were) on board the amphibious dock USS San Antonio.

The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio transits the Gulf of Aden to serve as command ship for Combined Task Force 151. The task force conducts counter-piracy operations in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and was established to create a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment.

The folks at Information Dissemination are engaged in some hand wringing over comments made by Tom Ricks.

I was disappointed when I read Thomas Ricks strategic assessment regarding the Navy’s approach to piracy.

Tom Ricks is an astute observer of military strategy, and if he sees the pirate situation off Somalia as simply a way to take a cheap shot at the disaster called naval shipbuilding strategy, then I’m afraid nobody in the media may understand what is and has happened. I’d like to welcome Thomas Ricks to the blogosphere by suggesting that when it comes to maritime strategy as it relates to the issue of Somali piracy, he doesn’t appear to know what he is talking about. Thomas Ricks writes:

Better late that never to be going after the Somalia pirates. To me, this is a strategic issue. Keeping the sea lanes open, especially for oil, should be a top priority for the U.S. military. Instead we seemed to defer to the Indians, Chinese and others, letting them take the lead. The Navy may feel that all its special operators — the guys trained to board and take over ships — are busy in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, admiral, does that tell you that you probably need more ship boarders, and maybe fewer aircraft carriers or anti-missile systems? You think maybe?

I noted that Yankee Sailor left a comment on the thread. I’m betting Thomas Ricks has no idea who Yankee Sailor is, nor why Yankee Sailor’s opinion is more informed. We know better. I have a lot of problems with the assessment Tom is making here, starting with what the top priority for the US military should be. If the top priority of the US military, including the Navy, isn’t winning the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, then something is wrong. There is a reason why there are more sailors deployed on land in the CENTCOM area of operations than at sea, and that reason is absolutely valid.

This is a strategic issue as Tom contends, but with the assertion of “better late than never” and the suggestion that “Indians, Chinese and others” taking leadership roles is somehow representative of a failure of maritime strategy, Tom Ricks is essentially admitting to me that he has never actually read the US Navy’s maritime strategy.

They go on to fret over comprehensive modifications of strategy and the question whether the Navy has the “right equipment” to address piracy.  This is a boring and wasteful discussion, and Ricks’ counsel is just fine.  The Navy has the right equipment in theater right now to address piracy.  An Amphibious Landing Dock, Amphibious Assault Ships, and Marines with guns who want to kill people.  Nothing else is necessary.

There have been other articles here and there questioning the need for the U.S. to address piracy in the Gulf of Aden.  Again, boring discussions, one and all.  Ships with weapons, ships with oil, and ships with other strategically important materiel were and are being taken hostage for huge sums of money, making Somalia a haven not only for pirates, but a wealthier place to boot, this largesse perhaps falling into hands that may later provide safe haven for Islamic militants.

Even if the pirates and militants do not currently get along, largesse flowing into a country without a government and under the control of warring factions cannot possibly be good for U.S. interests in the region.  If the Marines, as soldiers of the sea, cannot tackle the issue of piracy, then we are surely lost in a strategic malaise with too many pedantic people saying too many wasteful words.

One more point is in order.  The constant worry and hand-wringing over the legalities of counterpiracy operations and rules of engagement makes the Navy – and the law of the sea lawyers – and Information Dissemination – look weak and fragile.  Is this a nice way of saying it?

The problem is easy to tackle, and Ralph Peters, Lt. Col. P and TCJ have weighed in before concerning the methodology.  It involves killing pirates, dumping bodies overboard, and destroying their domiciles and enablers.  The prose is not for shock effect.  It’s serious, with recommendations that, if followed, would save lives and be a catalyst for safe seas.  This is the best strategy of all.  No need to retool ships, worry over strategic vision or call the lawyers.  It’s best when problems driven to the simplest solutions.

Miliband Encourages Terrorism

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Sanjeev Miglani with Reuters gives us the news about the visit of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband to India.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband may yet end up achieving the opposite of what he intended in India when he called for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the interests of regional security.

To some Indians, linking the attacks in Mumbai - which New Delhi says originated from Pakistan – to the issue of Kashmir is not just insensitive, it is also a wake-up call. The lesson they have drawn is this: for all the world’s sense of outrage over Mumbai, India will have to deal with Pakistan on its own, and not expect foreign powers to lean on its neighbour in the manner it wants.

Miliband’s visit was a “jarring reminder to India to stop off-shoring its Pakistan policy,” writes Indian security affairs analyst Brahma Chellaney in the Asian Age. He then goes on to call for a set of measures including a military option short of war to weaken Pakistan …

But this may well be a pointer to a stiffening mood in India as it heads into an election that could bring the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party into power. And then all bets would be off as to what would be India’s policy towards Pakistan.

Over the weekend, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani gathered a bunch of military chiefs, security analysts and party bosses, and the verdict from that meeting was India had been too soft on Pakistan.

“After Mumbai, any self-respecting government would have adopted a much more robust response which alone could compel Pakistan to not only bring to book those behind the incident but also to wind down the infrastructure of terror,” the BJP said in a statement. “Instead India adopted the mildest of response, not like an emerging global player.”

Thanks to Miglani for a good report.  So that the import of what Miliband has done in India doesn’t escape, let’s rehearse a bit.

Miliband has taken the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, recently conducted out of Karachi, Pakistan, and connected them to the solution to Kashmir.  This is simply breathtaking.  In order to placate Pakastan and ensure regional stability, Miliband counsels coming to an understanding over Kashmir.

But the fact that such a tactic would encourage exactly the opposite escapes Miliband.  We have discussed the Pakistani duplicity before, where the ISI and Pakistan Army has used and is currently using the Taliban as a buffer for what it sees as its real enemies, Afghanistan and especially India.  Coming to a “mutual understanding” over Kashmir, especially as it relates to the connection of Mumbai with Kashmir, would only encourage the strategy of use of the Taliban and the terror tactics they promulgate.  When success is achieved, the action is confirmed.

Regardless of whether a mutual understanding is achieved over Kashmir, the connection of it to the Mumbai attacks is the worst possible foreign policy imaginable for Britain or any Western country.  And what Miliband accomplished was not the connection of Kashmir to Mumbai, but rather, the hardening of India and its worldview.

Nice job.  The law of unintended consequences.  Learn it.  As for Miliband, the Brits have an administration that perfectly follows in the footsteps of Neville Chamberlain.  Chamberlain didn’t think about unintended consequences either.

Afghanistan: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Even when significant U.S. casualties have been sustained as in the Battle of Wanat, the anti-Afghan forces have suffered greater losses.  In fact, in one recent engagement with the Marines, the Taliban suffered 50 losses as compared to none by the U.S. Marines.  This lends prima facie credibility to the notion that the Taliban are reverting to standoff tactics such as IEDs.  DoD data indicates that roadside bomb attacks are up sharply.

Afghan militants directed 3,276 roadside bomb attacks at Western troops last year, a 45 percent increase from 2007, U.S. Defense Department figures indicate.

The jump in the use of the bombs, or improvised explosive devices, highlights the more aggressive tactics being employed by militants against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, USA Today reported Monday.

Some 161 troops from U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan were killed by IEDs last year, more than doubling in 2007 death toll of 75, Pentagon data show.

In Afghanistan, “an emboldened, increasingly aggressive enemy has increased the use of IEDs,” Defense Department spokeswoman Irene Smith told the newspaper.

But it was Mark Twain who popularized the phrase that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.  It isn’t just roadside bomb attacks that are up sharply.

Taliban fighters are increasingly hitting their targets directly instead of relying on bombs, according to a year-end statistical review that contradicts a key NATO message about the war in Afghanistan.

Public statements from Canadian and other foreign troops have repeatedly emphasized the idea that the insurgents are losing momentum because they can only detonate explosives, failing to confront their opponents in combat.

But an analysis of almost 13,000 violent incidents in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008, prepared by security consultant Sami Kovanen and provided to The Globe and Mail, shows a clear trend toward open warfare.

By far the most common type of incident, in Mr. Kovanen’s analysis, is the so-called “complex attack,” meaning ambushes or other kinds of battle using more than one type of weapon. The analyst counted 2,555 such attacks in 2008, up 117 per cent from the previous year.

Bombings also increased, but only by 63 per cent year-on-year for a total of 2,384 successful and attempted strikes in 2008.

Mr. Kovanen has spent years tracking the conflict in Afghanistan, first as a NATO officer and most recently at the newly established Kabul-based consultancy Tundra Strategic Security Solutions. The latest trends are disturbing, he says, because the Taliban need more manpower to launch complex ambushes.

“Clearly they are not as weak as the military claims,” Mr. Kovanen said.

The Globe and Mail then provides the following metrics.

IED attack
2007, 779
2008, 1,266

IED attempt/discovery
2007, 681
2008, 1,118

Complex attack
2007, 1,180
2008, 2,555

Total 2007, 5,113
Total 2008, 7,791

This data indicates what The Captain’s Journal has claimed for one one year now.  The security situation is degrading in Afghanistan.  There are fairly routine reports of how bad it is for the Taliban, usually from sources such as the Strategy Page with this report.  But the Strategy Page gets some of its information and analysis from official intelligence sources, the same ones which allow the damned lies to cloud the lies.  In the case of the Globe and Mail report, precise and comprehensive statistics cleared up the mess for us.

The U.S. Marines gave us a picture of what counterinsurgency can look like during their operations in the Helmand Province, and the statistics showed what the population knew about the campaign.  The security improved with the Marines in place.  The ISAF is yet to take up the challenge.

John Nagl on Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

At a New York Times blog John Nagl weighs in on Afghanistan.

In 2007, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, was very blunt before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He admitted, “In Iraq, we do what we must.” Of America’s other war, he said, “In Afghanistan, we do what we can.”

Doing what we can has been insufficient in Afghanistan. Fortunately, an improving security situation and an increasingly capable Iraqi government now allow the United States to shift the balance of effort east, to America’s forgotten war.

This shift comes in the nick of time. The Taliban has been growing stronger in the poorly administered Pashtun tribal areas on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Last year was the bloodiest year on record for the international coalition, and service in Afghanistan is far more dangerous on a per-soldier basis than is service in Iraq. It is clearly time for a change in strategy.

The essence of success is counterinsurgency, which requires boots on the ground, and plenty of them — 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1,000 people, or some 600,000 for all of Afghanistan, a country larger and more populous than Iraq. The additional 30,000 American forces on tap for deployment to Afghanistan over the next year are sorely needed, but obviously insufficient to protect all 30 million people in the country.

However, insurgencies are not defeated by foreign forces. They are defeated by the security services of the afflicted nation. Thus the long-term answer to the Taliban’s insurgency has to be a much expanded Afghan National Army. Currently 70,000 and projected to grow to 135,000, the Afghan army is the most respected institution in that troubled country. It may need to reach 250,000, and be supported by a similarly sized police force, to provide the security that will cause the Taliban to wither. Building such an Afghan Army will be a long-term effort that will require American equipment and advisers for many years, but since the Afghans can field about 70 troops for the cost of one deployed American soldier, there is no faster, cheaper or better way to win.

Would it hurt Nagl’s reputation for The Captain’s Journal to agree?  We might quibble slightly over the number of troops (Nagl hits the high side), and Afghanistan is a campaign that will evolve in the coming months.  We’ll see if it really takes that many.  But we have argued for more troops for over a year, along with the jettisoning of the notion that we can engineer a cheap “awakening” to prevent the necessity of actually conducting COIN.

As for the idea of reliance on the Afghan Army, recall what we said in The Likely Failure of Tribal Miltias in Afghanistan, where we point out the population had the highest confidence in the Afghan Army and lowest in tribal fighters.  Nagl is right.  The Army (and to a lesser degree the Afghan National Police) are our best bet for pacification of the countryside.

There is another entry in this same post that deserves a few words, that being from Parag Khanna.

Even if an additional 30,000 American and NATO troops were deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban problem would not be reduced. It would merely be pushed back over the Pakistan border, destabilizing Pakistan’s already volatile North-West Frontier Province, which itself is more populous than Iraq. This amounts to squeezing a balloon on one end to inflate it on the other.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and this argument amounts to nothing more than the idea that we cannot militarily defeat the Taliban because they cannot be cordoned.  While the SOF high value target campaign with small footprint and low force projection cannot stop the ingress and egress of fighters, an adequate increase in the number of troops can indeed be successful, at least in terms of a deliberate, methodical approach to counterinsurgency.  The Afghan Taliban and the TTP both clearly believe that the first fight is their jihad is the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The refusal to engage Syria and Iran concerning the influx of fighters into Iraq was problematic, and it is true enough that Pakistan must be engaged sooner or later, whether by soft power, additional resources, political and diplomatic pressure, targeted raids and UAV strikes, and even eventually military operations if necessary.  But the first step is to increase troop presence in Afghanistan.  There is no need to engage in endless debates over Pakistan when the first steps haven’t even been taken for Afghanistan.

This is not a call to neglect regional strategy.  But it is a call to prevent the desire for perfection from being the enemy of progress.  We endorse Nagl’s counsel concerning Afghanistan, and he will just have to live down the connection with us.

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