A Touching And Heartwarming Story Of Violence And Revolution

Herschel Smith · 28 Feb 2016 · 25 Comments

I have certain incorrigible views of covenant and sovereignty that have their genesis in my Calvinian theology, and it is always interesting to observe and study how men relate to one another and to God.  But before we get to that, let's begin with what's happened in the narco-trafficking world.  This analysis promises to be lengthy and perhaps even tedious, so if you intend to make it through a sweeping panorama of violence, revolution and covenant, get a strong cup of coffee and a hard back…… [read more]

Now Zad Video From 2/7 Marines

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

Here at The Captain’s Journal, in keeping with the best coverage and clearinghouse of information on the Marines in Now Zad, here is a fairly recently posted video.  I recognize it to be some new spliced in with some previous video.  God bless the Marines in Now Zad.  Thanks to Lance Corporal Mckellips for editing and posting the video.

What kind of counterinsurgency for Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

Amid robust public debate concerning counterinsurgency and whether it works – and if so, what brand works – two successful counterinsurgency campaigns may be briefly studied to ascertain the common elements.  At the recommendation of Professor Gian Gentile I have studied a paper by Karl Hack entitled “The Malayan Emergency as Counter-Insurgency Paradigm,” The Journal of Strategic Studies Vol. 32, No. 3, 383-414, June 2009.  Hack argues (quite persuasively) that during the Malayan emergency (1948 – 1960, repeatedly cited for COIN examples) Britain applied distinct elements to different phases of the campaign, with the notion of winning hearts and minds coming after a phase of aggressive patrols, population control, etc.  It is naive, argues Hack, to believe that the blend of policies found at the optimization phase will work at the outset of the conflict.  This is important to remember as we ramp up reconstruction teams for Afghanistan in unsecured areas.

The next successful example is the campaign for Anbar.  The much heralded tribal awakening (lead by Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha) unique to Ramadi followed on the heels of significant kinetics to shut down the smuggling lines of Sheik Risha and even kill his tribal members in noteworthy gunfights.  In Haditha it required sand berms surrounding the city (to keep fighters from infiltrating from Syria) along with a police strong man, Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Muhada Mahzir.  In Al Qaim it required heavy kinetics by the U.S. Marines followed on by a police chief strong man named Abu Ahmed.  In Fallujah it required heavy kinetics by the U.S. Marines followed on by biometrics, aggressive policing and patrols, gated communities, payment to the Sons of Iraq, and aggressive Iraqi police (and this in 2007 following even heavier kinetics during al Fajr in 2004).

Creation of utopia or comprehensive state-building wasn’t in the stable of features brought to bear on either campaign discussed above, and yet they were more than marginally successful.  But creation of the circumstances necessary for population control wasn’t quick or easy, and there are no magical formulae to incant in order to effect these conditions.  That’s why Gentile has argued that the center of gravity may not be the population, and it must be discovered by the forces involved in the conflict.  I have gone further and argued that a campaign may not (and in many cases probably doesn’t) have a center of gravity, necessitating multiple lines of effort.

In all cases of successful counterinsurgency there have been enough troops (and the necessary tactics) to effect population control, and thus the idea of small units in forbidding human and physical terrain such as Wanat and Kamdesh are a profoundly bad idea, leading in the end to dead U.S. troops and ruined national reputation before the population we wish to control.

Andy McCarthy argues that McChrystal should be granted his troops for the campaign in Afghanistan (while also strangely arguing that the strategy isn’t clear – why would we sacrifice troops if the strategy isn’t clear?), and then later argues against the practice of counterinsurgency.  More correctly, he is arguing against the practice of state building and population-centric counterinsurgency.  The opposing view is expressed by Joshua Foust when he expresses doubt about the fact that the Marines can successfully occupy Garmsir but haven’t brought enough ANA and ANP forces or good Afghan governance with them for any kind of staying power.  The Marines “thought” they had it right each time they swept through Garmsir.

But the facts are suitable to another narrative.  The British could never hold Garmsir, which is why the U.S. Marine Corps 24th MEU was deployed there in 2008.  They subsequently turned over to the British, who then could not hold the terrain.  Hence, Operation Khanjar was necessary to once again retake Garmsir.  The problem is not that the basic schema was wrong.  The problem is that there have never been enough troops implementing the right tactics to hold the terrain once it has been taken.  The 24th MEU had to leave.  More U.S. Marines should have been deployed because creating good governance and population control – and killing the enemy – don’t happen overnight (as if we can wave a magic wand and deploy good governors and policemen).

McCarthy is right in that creating a utopia is neither a possibility nor a necessity in Afghanistan, but wrong in the implicit presupposition that counterinsurgency done right cannot work.  Foust is right in that there needs to be follow-on stability, but as we have pointed out the ANA and ANP cannot now provide that security and population control.  We have much less with which to work in Afghanistan than we did in Iraq.  That’s why General Petraeus said that of the “long war,” Afghanistan would be the longest campaign.

Poverty doesn’t create radical Islamic insurgencies, since Bangladesh is among the most impoverished countries on earth but doesn’t suffer from the transnational actors that afflict Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Raising Afghanistan from its impoverishment to a nation of relative wealth may be an impossible task, but may be unnecessary (contra the population-centric COIN advocates).  The Taliban continue their propaganda campaign, lately by telling us effectively that they won’t allow al Qaeda back in (or at least that they have no global aspirations).  This is a dubious claim given the mutual admiration, respect and even love between UBL and Mullah Omar. Hakimullah Mehsud, new head of Pakistan’s Tehrik-i-Taliban (and who may be much worse than the deceased Baitullah Mehsud), has said that the relationship between al Qaeda and the TTP is one of love and affection.

As for Garmsir, there are fighters that simply must be killed.

CAMP DELHI, Afghanistan, Oct 3 (Reuters) – On the frontline of Washington’s counter-insurgency in Afghanistan, intelligence officer Hajji Mir Hamzai stands before a map and tells a young Marine where the Taliban are next likely to strike.

“I know here and here, I have heard they want to place bombs,” Hamzai, an Afghan who works for the National Directorate of Security points to a wall and tells Captain Trevor Hunt through a translator.

Hunt wants to know if any of the Taliban in Garmsir district can be turned into allies.

“All Taliban are the same,” said Hamzai, whose three brothers were killed in two separate suicide attacks by the Taliban.

“There is another type which is also called Taliban. They are simple. They are not politicians, they are just locals … But the ones that fight, the only way is to kill them,” said Hamzai, who uses a network of undercover agents to gather information.

As there is in every insurgency, there are locals who will put away their weapons when they learn that the costs are too high to continue – but the corollary is that until they are persuaded of this fact they will not put away their weapons.  But there is a hard core element that must be killed.  This requires troops, as does long term securing and controlling the population.

We needn’t create a utopia, any more than we need to impose Western-style democracy.  The religious and social underpinnings aren’t even in place to support such framework.  But we must kill the globalists and we must control the population until such time as a reliable security apparatus is prepared to fill in behind us once we leave.  This will be a long-duration effort.  At one and the same time, this is the maximum and minimum we can hope to accomplish in this campaign.  We don’t have the national resources or staying power to do more, but if we do less we will likely suffer having to repeat Operation Enduring Freedom because of the mistakes made the first time around.  This is the nexus which defines success.

Attack at Kamdesh, Nuristan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

Following up on our coverage and commenting on recent attacks in Nuristan, Afghanistan, and the consequent deaths of eight U.S. Soldiers, ABC News has an interesting account.

The remote base in northern Afghanistan where eight U.S. soldiers were killed this weekend in a deadly battle was well-known inside the military as extremely vulnerable to attack since the day it opened in 2006, according to U.S. soldiers and government officials familiar with the area.

When a reporter visited the base a few months after it opened, soldiers stationed in Kamdesh complained the base’s location low in a valley made most missions in the area difficult.

“We’re primarily sitting ducks,” said one soldier at the time.

Known as Camp Keating, the outpost was “not meant for engagements,” said one senior State Department official assigned to Afghanistan, and brings “a sad and terrible conclusion” to a three-year effort to secure roads and connect the Nuristan province to the central government in Kabul …

The base, located less than 10 miles from the Pakistan border and nestled in the Hindu Kush mountains, was attacked almost every day for the first two months it was opened, hit by a constant stream of rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.

By the third or fourth month of the base’s existence, resupply had been limited to nighttime helicopter flights because the daytime left helicopters and road convoys too exposed to insurgent attacks. That remained true through the weekend.

The base had several near-misses with enemy fire over the years. In 2006, all daytime helicopter flights landing at the valley floor were cancelled when an American Blackhawk was nearly hit with an incoming rocket as it was taking off. After the incident, helicopters were banned from landing anywhere but an observation post some three hours’ walk above the base on a nearby ridgeline. Even then, helicopters filled with troops or equipment were rushed during offloading, as pilots were keen to take off before drawing hostile fire.

And like many other remote and rural parts of Afghanistan, the local population had begun souring on the American presence after airstrikes had hit civilians in the neighboring villages.

The initial military goal was to establish the base as a one of 13 Provincial Reconstruction Teams set up throughout Afghanistan to help with reconstruction projects, civil affairs and basic safety for the local population. Within a year, the PRT had been moved to a safer, more hospitable base in the western section of the province.

Camp Keating, along with two other outposts near the border, was then intended to help patrol and oversee the stretch of the Pakistan border. U.S. officials were concerned that the nearby mountain passes were being used by militants to infiltrate Afghanistan and set up for attacks.

American officials were often divided over whether the U.S. effort in the mountainous region could be sustained.

According to an American who has consulted with U.S. forces on their deployment into Nuristan, the effort in the north can only be seen as a failure.

“What have we done there in the last three, four years,” he said. “We didn’t gain anything. We weren’t able to open the road up or make the area secure.

Despite the inherent physical vulnerabilities of Camp Keating, until this weekend, the base had suffered no casualties from hostile fire. The base itself was named after Lieutenant Benjamin Keating, who was killed in vehicle accident nearby in Nov. 2006.

But on Saturday, a force of as many as 300 insurgents attacked the vulnerable base in what the military has termed a “complex” attack that began in a neighboring village mosque. According to an Afghan translator for American forces in Nuristan, the village mosque was used to store the weapons and ammunition used in the attack. The rules of engagement generally prevent U.S. forces from searching or attacking Afghan mosques.

According to the Afghan translator, most of the insurgents were local. Eastern Nuristan has long been filled by the insurgent group led by former mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, called Hezb-e-Islami. U.S. officials believe that Hekmatyar is hiding in Pakistan, and helps coordinate insurgent attacks throughout eastern Afghanistan.

One U.S. military official told ABC News that they believe the insurgents started a fire as they began to attack. “They burned the base down,” said the official.

The smoke from the fire initially limited the air support U.S. soldiers requested, according to a military official. The fighting lasted “throughout the day” as there were signs that the insurgents were able to breach the base before being “repelled.” As insurgents fired from three or four different locations above the base, they also maneuvered and over took one of the observation posts on higher ground, taking out a post meant to protect Camp Keating from enemy fire.

The outpost at its peak was home to roughly 100 U.S. soldiers and a few dozen Afghans from both the national army and police force. According to reports, the base was down to half that size when the attack came over the weekend.

Patrols in the neighboring villages and mountaintops were often limited by the lack of U.S. forces, and forced commanding officers to stay on base for fear of being over-run while on patrol.

“American officials were often divided over whether the U.S. effort in the mountainous region could be sustained.”  This was wasted effort on a juvenile disagreement, and they should have been reading The Captain’s Journal.  The answer was and remains simple.  Just as we have noted in our analysis of the Battle of Wanat, this has all of the markings of lack of force projection: inability to go on patrol for fear of being overrun, lack of logistics because of the danger to helicopters, no roads open to NATO traffic, bad location regarding the terrain because of lack of better choices, inability to connect with the population because of the necessity to focus on survival, and massing of enemy forces to near half-Battalion size.

From Jelawur, Afghanistan there is a similar account concerning lack of forces from a Stryker Battalion.

So far, the Army mission has been an uneasy mix of trying to woo elders with offers of generators, roads and other improvements while fighting a nasty war with an often-unseen enemy.

Bravo Company arrived in Afghanistan with 24 Strykers, the first of the eight-wheeled combat vehicles outfitted with high-tech communications and surveillance gear to arrive in Afghanistan. A third of the vehicles are now out of service due to bomb attacks or maintenance …

The Taliban presence is strong enough in some areas that children are afraid to go to school.

“If we send our children to school during the day, then the Taliban will come kill the parents at night,” said one elder in a meeting with Bravo Company soldiers in the village of Adirah.

The company had 152 soldiers when it arrived, more than a dozen short of its authorized strength. Since then, some platoons have been depleted by injuries.

“I don’t have enough troops for everything they want me to do here,” said Capt. Jamie Pope, the company commander …

The problems aren’t as severe as they are in Nuristan, but lack of forces is crippling the counterinsurgency effort all over Afghanistan.  Protecting the population as a strategy is an absurd pipe dream without the necessary forces in places to do the work.  Force projection is a necessary precondition for the other aspects of counterinsurgency.  Counterinsurgency requires troops.

Wanat Video

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

CBS News has come into possession of video taken before and after the Battle of Wanat that in my opinion adds a significant amount to our understanding of the physical circumstances and surrounding terrain of the outpost.  It also contains an interview with Sergeant David Dzwik and David Brostrom, Jonathan Brostrom’s father.

David Brostrom cogently questions the tactics (i.e., he questions the heavy kinetics as does the Cubbison report), but I seriously doubt whether he is correct in saying that “you just lost that village.”  Protecting the population meant heavy kinetics early on in the campaign for Anbar (and even later in 2007), and it certainly meant having more troops than they had at Wanat.

In fact, this sad story is a testimony to silly, religiously-held counterinsurgency doctrine and what it can mean to a campaign.  The notion that deploying a platoon of Soldiers amongst hundreds of Taliban will invite anything other than heavy kinetics is absurd.  It certainly won’t invite the confidence of the population.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Prior: Battle of Wanat category

McChrystal v. Obama

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

Jules Crittenden notes that General McChrystal’s speech to London’s Institute for Strategic Studies caused a disturbance in the administration, especially because of McChrystal’s categorical rejection of the small footprint counter-terrorism model (advocated by Senator Kerry and VP Joseph Biden), saying that it would lead to Afghanistan becoming Chaos-istan (also see NYT).

Obama is said to be angry with McChrystal, and the never-serious National Security Adviser Jim Jones responded to McChrystal by saying that it’s better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.  Secretary of Defense Gates said he would salute and carry out whatever orders Obama gives.  Of course … he must do so or resign.

But there is something else in the wind concerning McChrystal and Obama having nothing to do with McChrystal.  Spencer Ackerman attempts to align McChrystal with Obama’s strategic vision (h/t Greyhawk), but he’s stretching and embellishing the case.  McChrystal has now gone on record basically saying that the small footprint model is stupid and won’t work, no matter how long Obama’s review takes.

A more emotional reaction comes from the Huffington Post, where they believe that McChrystal’s speech is an assault on the chain of command and the constitution (and the sky is falling and the world is coming to an end tomorrow).  On the other side of the isle, a bellicose reaction comes from Mackubin Thomas Owens at NRO’s Corner.  The reactions range from attempting to align McChrystal’s vision with Obama’s to almost-horror, even among ostensibly conservative commentators, that McChrystal would have “circumvented” the chain of command.

I won’t comment here on the issue of Generals offering counsel in a public manner because there is too much history to rehearse.  But in order to place this in context, remember that Obama campaigned almost constantly on the dearth of focus on Afghanistan and how the campaign in Iraq was usurping much-needed resources.  The campaign hasn’t stopped, and as late of March 2009 Obama was saying the same things from the offices of the White House: “To focus on the greatest threat to our people, America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq.”

Obama has the authority to lay out whatever communication protocol he wishes, but the American people have a right to know and approve strategy.  Yes – approve strategy.  Americans do that by the vote.  It might be done after the fact, during the next Presidential race or even before that when Senators and Congressmen are elected.  Or it might be done by public opinion swaying the political winds of the day.  Either way, America has a right to know about strategy whether the conversation is initiated by McChrystal or someone else.

When sons of America are sacrificed to a cause, it has always been and still is part of the warp and woof of the national conversation.  It should be so.  Obama can politicize the war in Afghanistan, but what he cannot consistently and legitimately do is complain when the same national conversation he initiated turns the question on him.  The Presidency is not a monarchy.

The Battle of Wanat, Massing of Troops and Attacks in Nuristan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

After the Army’s AR 15-6 investigation, General Petraeus has ordered a new investigation of the Battle of Wanat, in what may be deemed a victory for the fathers of both 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom and Private Gunnar Zwilling who had requested such an investigation.

The increased attention brought to bear on the Battle of Wanat comes partially as a result of an unpublished study by an Army Historian at the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth named Douglas R. Cubbison which I have reviewed as I stated two months ago.

I found that Mr. Cubbison did a remarkably able job of laying out the framework, historical and military, for the engagement, and made careful use of the facts to weave a narrative together of the event and things that lead to it.  Where I found Mr. Cubbison’s study lacking was his focus on heavy kinetics and the lack of meetings with elders.  In other words, the failure at Wanat had to do with the failure to implement proper counterinsurgency, i.e., winning hearts and minds, or so much of his study concluded.

To be sure, Mr. Cubbison does outline a number of tactical failures, but as I stated two months ago, in my humble opinion Mr. Cubbison’s analysis goes awry when tackling the elements of population-centric counterinsurgency.  Colonel William B. Ostlund documents the kinetic engagements during the deployment in his analysis of lessons learned.

Ultimately, the task force was involved in 1,100 enemy contacts. Those engagements required:
●5,400 fire missions (expending 36,500 rounds).
●3,800 aerial deliveries (bombs and gun runs).
●23 Javelin anti-tank missiles.
●108 TOW missiles.
●Hundreds of grenades thrown.
The enemy routinely engaged at the maximum effective
range, but on at least five occasions were close enough to touch Americans. Twenty-six members of Task Force Rock gave their lives in Kunar Province. Other noteworthy Soldier statistics include:
●143 wounded.
●Three nominated for the Medal of Honor.
●Two nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross (one awarded by the time of this publication).
●25 Silver Stars awarded.
●90 Bronze Star Medals with Valor awarded.
●Over 300 Army Commendation Medals with Valor awarded.

Mr. Cubbison reviews this data and remarks that:

“TF Rock was unable to provide commensurate statistics for Shuras conducted, VETCAPS and MEDCAPS performed, quantities of Humanitarian Supplies distributed, economic development projects initiated, schools constructed, or similar economic, political and diplomatic initiatives.”

Later, he also concludes that population-centric counterinsurgency is not consistent with such heavy kinetics.  I have always attempted to be open, honest and clear with my readers on this issue.  I reject the single center of gravity focus of the Clausewitz school and favor the notion of lines of effort in any counterinsurgency campaign.  There is absolutely no reason to place protecting the population over against killing the enemy.  Moreover, many COIN campaigns can be more neatly placed into phases, with heavier kinetics dominating the initial stages and more population-centric tactics dominating the subsequent stages.

The Washington Post has a recent article that, while initially pointing to under-resourcing of the efforts in the smaller, less population-heavy provinces, nonetheless steps on the same terrain as the Cubbison study.

Before Brostrom moved to Wanat, he went home on leave to see his parents in Hawaii, where they had settled after his father retired from the Army. One evening, he showed his father videos from Afghanistan. Most of the clips were of Brostrom and his troops under fire at the Bella outpost.

In one video, Brostrom’s battalion fired artillery and white phosphorus, an incendiary weapon, at a distant campfire in the mountains where it had killed insurgents earlier that day. Someone had come to collect the bodies. The soldiers were determined to kill them.

“Here comes a mighty big explosion on this little candlelight ceremony that the Taliban is having for their buddies that died there earlier,” one of the soldiers says on the video. “This is going to be glorious. It is going to be a bloodbath.”

A few seconds later, the mountainside exploded with fire, and the soldiers let up a raucous cheer.

Human rights groups have criticized the United States for employing white phosphorus to kill enemy fighters, but this type of use is permitted under military rules. The elder Brostrom weighed his words carefully before he spoke. “How do you know those people dragging the bodies away weren’t villagers coming to get their relatives?” he asked.

“They are all [expletive] Taliban up there,” the son replied.

The father continued to press his doubts. The son maintained that the hard-nosed approach was the only thing keeping him alive in a hopeless corner of Afghanistan. Finally, the young lieutenant snapped. “You don’t understand,” he said.

“You’re right, son. I don’t,” the father replied. “I don’t understand it. But I am worried. I am really worried.”

[ … ]

A few days after the platoon arrived, a Wanat village elder gave Brostrom a list of Afghans who had been killed in a helicopter attack the previous week. The dead included insurgents but also several local medical personnel who had worked closely with U.S. soldiers. The incident had infuriated people throughout the valley.

On July 13, their fifth day at the Wanat base, Brostrom and Dzwik ordered all of the soldiers to rise at 3:30 a.m. and man their fighting positions. In Afghanistan, the hours just before dawn are typically the most deadly.

Shortly after 4 a.m., an estimated 200 insurgents let loose a torrent of rocket-propelled-grenade fire, destroying the base’s anti-tank missile system and its mortar tubes. Then they trained their guns on the observation post.

The Washington Post makes it seem as if the ham handedness of the U.S. efforts was at least a contributing cause of the event.  But there are many things that this account doesn’t tell us.  For instance, the town elders had tried to tell the U.S. troops for months that a large scale attack was imminent, and had in fact requested that the Army, which had tried for eleven months to get jirga approval for Vehicle Patrol Base Wanat, simply ignore the highly political inner workings of the jirga and put up the base without approval.

Eleven months delay allowed the Taliban to mass troops, and this plus the horrible terrain of Observation Post Top Side allowed the Taliban to successfully attack with some 300 fighters – near half Battalion size force.  Whether the people of the valley were infuriated or not had nothing to do with the massing of Taliban forces, the fact that the people had no control over the Taliban, or the fact that the elders had already informed the American troops that an attack was coming based on their own observations.

We have previously discussed the Taliban tactic of massing of forces to outnumber U.S. Soldiers or Marines.  The Battle of Wanat occurred in the Nuristan Province.  Not twenty miles from this battle and in the same Province, the Taliban have massed troops once again, killing eight American Soldiers and two Afghan troops.

Eight American soldiers and two Afghan troops have been killed in the deadliest attack on coalition troops for more than a year, officials say.

The battle happened in Nuristan province in the remote east of the country when military outposts were attacked, a Nato statement said.

The Taliban said it carried out the attack. Reports say local officials including a police chief were captured.

Violence has escalated in the east as insurgents relocate from the south.

In a statement, Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said that tribal militia launched attacks on the foreign and Afghan military outposts from a mosque and a nearby village.

The attack is thought to have taken place in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan, and lasted several hours.

About 300 militants attacked one outpost at the foot of a hill, before turning their fire on a US base on higher ground, attacking from two sides, a provincial police chief said.

One Nato spokesman called it a “complex attack in a difficult area”.

Counterinsurgency doctrine says that you must have the support of the population in order to flush out the insurgents.  But what the doctrine doesn’t mention is that force projection is the necessary pre-condition for any of that other doctrine to obtain.  The population will not ally with the weaker side, and not only are heavy kinetics necessary up front in any such campaign, but the troops necessary to pull this off must be in place.

While it might be easy to point the finger at failing to win hearts and minds, it’s much more difficult (and more salient) to ask why any counterinsurgent would be able to win hearts and minds by continually placing platoon-size forces into hostile provinces to be overrun by half-Battalion size enemy forces?


Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops

The Contribution of the Afghan National Army in the Battle of Wanat

Investigating the Battle of Wanat

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

Packing Army (Marine) Style

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

From Islandpacket.com:


Drenched in sweat, Army Capt. Aaron Hall peeled off his soggy socks and applied a liberal dose of foot powder before slipping on a dry pair and rallying his troops back to their throbbing feet. For an outfit used to being ferried from fight to fight in armored vehicles, a 50-mile march through the Appalachians was a little much.

Perhaps no unit better exemplifies the challenges presented by the Army’s transition from desert warfare in Iraq to rugged mountain campaigns in Afghanistan than the 3rd Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade, whose tanks and Bradley assault vehicles were among the first to rumble into Baghdad in the 2003 invasion.

Under a 2007 plan to grow the Army and diversify its forces, 4th Brigade is the only mechanized unit being ordered to ditch its tanks and Bradleys and relearn how to move through a war zone on foot.

Which is how Hall and his soldiers found themselves zigzagging through the mountains of north Georgia, trying to cover 50 miles in three days. Even after serving last year as a platoon leader in Iraq, Hall wasn’t used to that kind of exertion.

“Whenever they said ‘road march,’ it was pretty much get in your Bradleys and ride 20 miles,” said Hall, 28, of Canton, N.C. “Now, it’s put on your boots and your rucksack and start walking. We’re our own transportation.”

Commanders say the retooled brigade should be ready to deploy again late next year.

About 40 percent of the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment’s soldiers are holdovers from the unit’s previous incarnation as the 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment.

After the unit returned from its third Iraq deployment in December, its tank drivers, gunners and mechanics transferred to other units as the switch to light infantry took hold. Many infantrymen trained to fight with Bradleys, tracked vehicles that resemble small tanks, stayed and now are getting used to fighting on foot.

As a mechanized infantry unit, each soldier had a designated seat in a vehicle. As light infantry, a rifle company of 135 troops has just five vehicles — Humvees and trucks — to share.

1st Sgt. Chad Brown learned to count on the Bradley’s speed and lethal weaponry during his three tours in Iraq. His soldiers would travel to drop-off points shielded by the vehicle’s thick armor, then conduct foot patrols under cover of its mounted machine gun and 25 mm cannon.

“Going from mech my whole career to light infantry, there is a concern of, ‘Oh man, where is the heavy firepower?'<2009>” said Brown, 34, of Kingsley, Mich. “I’ve been shot at sitting in Humvees and in Bradleys, and obviously I feel much more comfortable sitting in a Bradley.”

For soldiers used to the protection of armored vehicles, getting them comfortable with the added exposure of maneuvering on foot is mostly about back-to-basics training, as that’s how troops just entering the Army learn to fight, said Maj. John Grantz, executive officer of the 3-15 Infantry.

Captain Hall is doing Marine-style humping.  But wait … WAIT … WAIT!  Maybe not.

In the interests of prompting, promulgating, promoting, protracting and prolonging highly destructive inter-service rivalries, I must ask the question, “where is the body armor?”  You know, that extra 32 pounds of weight (with the IBA) that drags you down?  And I see a day-pack (with hydration), but not the full backpack that comes in at 75+ pounds.  Tisk … tisk …

Recall our Marine in Helmand with 120 pounds plus a mortar plate? khanjar_ii

Okay, so much for the internecine rivalries.  I will be out of pocket for the weekend carrying a little bit less weight on my back through the Pisgah National Forrest and avoiding anything electronic or web-based including this web site.  Have a great weekend.  Go Army!  Go Marine!

The MEK, Iran and Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Tom Ricks has a depressing and saddening post on the influence of Iran in Iraq relying on a first hand account by an Army officer.

Ghaz, as you may know, is mainly Shia in the northern half and Sunni in the southern half. We closed the last JSS in Ghaz on Sept. 7 (it had been allowed to stay open past the 30 June deadline) and the day after it was closed the Iraqi army battalion in south Ghaz raided the South Ghaz (Sunni) SOI headquarters, confiscating weapons and equipment a US unit had supplied them back in 2007-2008. The JSS, which straddled the Shia-Sunni fault line across the middle of Ghaz, was basically the buffer for the Sunni in the south. SOI and local council leaders were reported to have fled the neighborhood, citing Shia militia threats. Keep in mind, directly to Ghaz’s north is the Shia enclave of Shulla, a mini-Sadr City that is basically controlled by JAM remnant groups (and a heavily complicit Iraqi Army battalion). This Shia influence spills into north Ghaz and has been encroaching upon south Ghaz over the past several months.

For various reasons I am not concerned about Sunni-controlled areas like Anbar in Western Iraq (I am convinced that the Iraqi Police in Sunni-controlled areas have the upper hand).  But I am very concerned about the degree to which Iran controls the politics inside of Iraq, and no President since Carter has seriously confronted the Iranian Mullahs.  This was the great risk in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and we have not acted to in any way ameliorate that risk.

A good indication should be forthcoming as to where Iraq stands in its independence from Iran.  The MEK (People’s Mujahedin of Iran) had previously been in some trouble with the advent of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

An Iraqi judge ruled that the 36 dissidents, who went on a hunger strike in captivity, should be released. But Iraqi Interior Ministry officials, using new tactics, have argued that the dissidents entered the country illegally and should be expelled — obviously to Iran. If this tactic is successful, it could be applied to the 3,400 or so PMOI members remaining in Camp AshrafThe National Council of Resistance of Iran bluntly warned of the then-imuienant problem.

With the signing of a Status of Forces Agreement and the beginning withdrawal this year of American forces to their bases, the United States ceded sovereignty over Camp Ashraf to the Iraqis. The United States sought, and received, promises from the Iraqi government that Camp Ashraf’s population would be protected after the handover.

But Iran has been pressuring sympathetic Iraqi politicians to close the camp and expel the PMOI members. On July 28, Iraqi forces, saying they were establishing a police presence in the camp, launched an attack, killing 11 dissidents, wounding 450 and taking 36 hostages. U.S. forces nearby remained aloof.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran bluntly warned of the then-imminent problem.

Mohaddessin told Aftenposten, “We warned the United States that if the responsibility to protect Camp Ashraf is transferred to Iraq a humanitarian catastrophe would occur because the Iraqi government does Iran’s bidding. The forces’ attack against the camp did not surprise us; What we didn’t expect was the degree of brutality.”

There may be a reprieve coming.

Wednesday, Iraq’s chief prosecutor, Ghadanfar Mahmoud, issued a blanket order for police to release 36 members of an Iranian opposition group who were detained during a raid on their camp in northern Iraq in July.

The People’s Mujahedeen of Iran has claimed Iraqi security forces have refused to free the men even though they have not been charged by judicial authorities.

The group operated for years in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, but nearly 3,500 members have been confined to a camp since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The U.S. military turned over responsibility for Camp Ashraf to the Iraqis on Jan. 1.

“(The detainees) should have been released by now … We have issued orders to all police stations to release them wherever they are,” said Mahmoud.

As they have had in so many instances before, the Iraqi government has yet another opportunity to demonstrate that they aren’t lap dogs for the Iranian Mullahs.  If it weren’t so sad and so worn by now, the same thing could be said of the U.S. “negotiations” with Iran which have been going on for 30 years.

The Obama administration’s talks with Iran—set to take place tomorrow in Geneva—are accompanied by an almost universally accepted misconception: that previous American administrations refused to negotiate with Iranian leaders. The truth, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last October at the National Defense University, is that “every administration since 1979 has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed.”

After the fall of the shah in February 1979, the Carter administration attempted to establish good relations with the revolutionary regime. We offered aid, arms and understanding. The Iranians demanded that the United States honor all arms deals with the shah, remain silent about human-rights abuses carried out by the new regime, and hand over Iranian “criminals” who had taken refuge in America. The talks ended with the seizure of the American Embassy in November.

The Reagan administration—driven by a desire to gain the release of the American hostages—famously sought a modus vivendi with Iran in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War during the mid-1980s. To that end, the U.S. sold weapons to Iran and provided military intelligence about Iraqi forces. High-level American officials such as Robert McFarlane met secretly with Iranian government representatives to discuss the future of the relationship. This effort ended when the Iran-Contra scandal erupted in late 1986.

The Clinton administration lifted sanctions that had been imposed by Messrs. Carter and Reagan. During the 1990s, Iranians (including the national wrestling team) entered the U.S. for the first time since the ’70s. The U.S. also hosted Iranian cultural events and unfroze Iranian bank accounts. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright publicly apologized to Iran for purported past sins, including the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh’s government by the CIA and British intelligence in August 1953. But it all came to nothing when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed that we were their enemies in March 1999.

Most recently, the administration of George W. Bush—invariably and falsely described as being totally unwilling to talk to the mullahs—negotiated extensively with Tehran. There were scores of publicly reported meetings, and at least one very secret series of negotiations. These negotiations have rarely been described in the American press, even though they are the subject of a BBC documentary titled “Iran and the West.”

At the urging of British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, the U.S. negotiated extensively with Ali Larijani, then-secretary of Iran’s National Security Council. By September 2006, an agreement had seemingly been reached. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns, her top Middle East aide, flew to New York to await the promised arrival of an Iranian delegation, for whom some 300 visas had been issued over the preceding weekend. Mr. Larijani was supposed to announce the suspension of Iranian nuclear enrichment. In exchange, we would lift sanctions. But Mr. Larijani and his delegation never arrived, as the BBC documentary reported.

My friend and fellow Marine father Michael Ledeen then goes on to describe the decades-long failure of sanctions against Iran.  It is must reading – especially for the current administration.  It remains to be seen whether Iraq fails as an independent state in light of the Iranian pressure from within and without.  It also remains to be seen what role the U.S. will play in regional stability.  Will we continue the same pattern of failed negotiations, or will we bring enough pressure to cause regime change – the only hope of avoiding war?

Generals Who Talk Tactics Rather Than Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

The inability of the Afghan National Army or the Afghan National Police to independently create the conditions for stability and security in Afghanistan at the present (or anytime in the near future) has been a recurrent theme here at The Captain’s Journal (see Here is your Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police category).  Yet the strategy being implemented (i.e., heavy use of trainers and less U.S. troops than needed to secure the population) implicitly relies on this very strategy.  The fact that so few are seriously calling into question the basic tenets of the plan makes it unnecessary to defend it.

But Steve Coll gives us yet another reason for concern over the strategy.

I can think of three cases during the last four decades in which programs to strengthen Afghan security forces to either serve the interests of an outside power or suppress an insurgency or both failed because of factionalism and disunity in Kabul.

During the nineteen-seventies, the Soviet Union tried to build communist cells within the Army in order to gradually gain influence. The cells, unfortunately, split into two irreconcilable groups, and their squabbling became so disabling that the Soviets ultimately decided they had no choice but to invade, in 1979, to put things in order.

Then, during the late nineteen-eighties, faced with a dilemma similar to that facing the United States, the Soviets tried to “Afghan-ize” their occupation, much as the U.S. proposes to do now. The built up Afghan forces, put them in the lead in combat, supplied them with sophisticated weapons, and, ultimately, decided to withdraw. This strategy actually worked reasonably well for a while, although the government only controlled the major cities, never the countryside. But the factional and tribal splits within the Army persisted, defections were chronic, and a civil war among the insurgents also played out within the Army, ensuring that when the Soviet Union fell apart, and supplies halted, the Army too would crack up and dissolve en masse. (I happened to be in Kabul when this happened, in 1992. On a single day, thousands and thousands of soldiers and policemen took off their uniforms, put on civilian clothes, and went home.)

Finally, during the mid-nineteen-nineties, a fragmented and internally feuding Kabul government, in which Karzai was a participant for a time, tried to build up national forces to hold off the Taliban, but splits within the Kabul coalitions caused important militias and sections of the security forces to defect to the Taliban. The Taliban took Kabul in 1996 as much by exploiting Kabul’s political disarray as by military conquest. The history of the Afghan Army since 1970 is one in which the Army has never actually been defeated in the field, but has literally dissolved for lack of political glue on several occasions.

None of these examples offers a perfect analogy for the present, but the current situation in Kabul does contain echoes of this inglorious history.

But if we won’t openly question the strategy, we will issue tactical directives changing the rules of engagement.  It’s questionable whether the Afghans really even want this counsel to be implemented, but that doesn’t stop our generals from issuing tactical orders to Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field.

The counter-example is given to us by the enemy.  The Washington Post has a provocative article concerning safe haven for the Quetta Shura in Pakistan (a subject our readers know well), but one particular nugget can be gleaned from this article that is salient to the discussion.

Virtually all of the Afghan Taliban’s strategic decisions are made by the Quetta Shura, according to U.S. officials. Decisions flow from the group “to Taliban field commanders, who in turn make tactical decisions that support the shura’s strategic direction,” a counterterrorism official said.

It would be better if General Stanley McChrystal didn’t try to tell combat-seasoned veterans when they could and couldn’t use fires.  But Mullah Omar has better things to do.  He sets strategy rather than dictates tactics.  While we are immersed in a sea of micromanagement and details, the enemy and his organization is beating us at the fundamentals.

The troops are available for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Washington Post Associate Editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran penned an article entitled Go all-in or fold.  In it he touched on recurring themes here at The Captain’s Journal.  Excerpts are reproduced below.

There were two battalions to the north of Kandahar city. Another to the far south. Canadian forces were going to swing to the west. About 5,000 new U.S. troops in all.

“But there, there and there,” the officer said, pointing to towns just outside a belt where the Americans and Canadians were stationed, “and there,” putting his fist on the city, which with 800,000 residents is the country’s second-largest population center, “we don’t have anyone.”

If more forces are not forthcoming to mount counterinsurgency operations in those parts of the province, he concluded, the overall U.S. effort to stabilize Kandahar — and by extension, the rest of Afghanistan — will fail.

“We might as well pack our bags and go home . . . and just keep a few Predators flying overhead to whack the al-Qaeda guys who return,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “There’s no point in doing half-measures here” …

McChrystal’s 66-page confidential assessment makes the case for a far more expansive counterinsurgency mission, one that would involve sending more troops and civilian reconstruction personnel to Kandahar and other key population centers to improve security, governance and economic opportunities for Afghans. Although the general never used the term in the assessment, his strategy amounts to a comprehensive nation-building endeavor.

He wants U.S. and NATO personnel to expand training programs for Afghan soldiers and policemen, reform the justice system, promote more effective local administration and ramp up reconstruction. If that occurs, he and other counterinsurgency experts contend, then Afghans who have sided with the Taliban out of fear or necessity will eventually switch sides and support the government. Building an effective state, in McChrystal’s view, is the only way to defeat the insurgency.

The opposite view, espoused for some time by Vice President Biden and a growing number of liberal Democrats, is that such an effort has a slim chance of success given Afghanistan’s size and complexities: the suspicion of outsiders, the harsh terrain, the lack of an educated civil service, the endemic corruption and the tribal rivalries. Instead, they argue, the United States should scale back its operations and focus directly on trying to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” al-Qaeda, the core counterterrorism goals for Afghanistan that Obama endorsed this spring. Special Forces teams and combat aircraft would remain at the ready to target any terrorists with international ambitions who seek to set up shop in the country.

Such an approach, proponents say, would result in far fewer U.S. casualties in Afghanistan, and it would reduce the strain of repeated deployments on the American military.

Given the profound gulf between those options, and the political risks entailed by either, some in the Obama administration, as well as Democratic leaders in Congress, have begun to look for a way to split the difference, to do “counterinsurgency light” or “counterterrorism plus” …

The fold approach — to engage simply in counterterrorism operations — is riddled with its own drawbacks: The Taliban would effectively control the country’s south and east, and a civil war would probably resume among it and ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras for control of the west and the north. Counterterrorism missions would be hindered by a lack of on-the-ground intelligence. Pakistan could be further destabilized as the Taliban reverses its operations and starts using Afghanistan as a base from which to launch attacks across the border.

The last paragraph is the most salient and clear-headed.  As we pointed out with Senator Kerry’s approach and many times before, the light footprint will end in danger for SOF troopers who cannot get logistics, supplies or reliable air support.

With a small footprint of only SOF located in Afghanistan, logistics would be the first to go, and our troops wouldn’t have supplies for more than a couple of months.  Every person who has ever driven a fuel supply truck for us will have been beheaded.  The Afghan National Police will be killed by the population within a few months as retribution for the corruption, and the Afghan National Army will last a little longer – maybe three months.  Rescues will be attempted as a means of egress for the American HK (hunter-killer) teams lest they die.

The proposal to conduct mini-COIN operations from offshore “assumes first that in using SF and SOF we have the actionable intelligence and logistics to support their interdictions, raids and HVT killings.  We will not have that with a small footprint.  Intelligence sources are killed in small footprint campaigns because their is no force projection on the ground.  Logistics would be nonexistent because every participant in trucking supplies into the FOBs or launch points for these operations would have been beheaded or shot.  Thinking that this can all be done from offshore platforms is not serious analysis.  It’s wishful and even mythical thinking.”

As one of the first to predict the Tehrik-i-Taliban focus on the Khyber pass and Torkham Crossing to interdict logistics, I have watched as NATO lethargically engaged Russia, refusing to engage the Caucasus in order to create new lines of logistics.  The Northern logistics route into Afghanistan is now beginning to suffer from security problems due to the lack of NATO force projection and troop presence.

But an important question comes up for Rajiv Chandrasekaran during an online chat about this very article.

Fort Dix, N.J.: Sir,

Does the U.S. Army even have 45,000 troops available to send to Afghanistan?


Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Good question. I’ve heard different things from different folks at the Pentagon. Some contend that we don’t have those forces at the ready. That’s true, but could some units being readied for Iraq, and others on training rotations, be quickly retooled to go to Afghanistan? Probably. A ramp-up in Afghanistan would also probably mean a modest acceleration in the withdrawal from Iraq.

It’s important to parse the arguments and objections.  The conversation becomes confused when too many objections are thrown out without the proper response – perhaps something at which the opponents of the campaign in Afghanistan are aiming.

I have addressed the issue of force availability before, but let’s do it again for good measure.  Not since before Operation Iraqi Freedom have so many Marines been aboard Camps Lejeune and Pendleton.  The Marines are essentially out of Anbar (except for a few remaining at places like al Asad air base).  The Marines have more than met their recruiting goals, and there are currently so many Marines at Camp Lejeune that many units cannot be garrisoned in the same barracks.  More barracks are being constructed, but not fast enough.  If Marines are not at Camps Lejeune or Pendleton, they (entire Battalions of Marine infantry) are aboard Amphibious Assault Docks as forces in readiness, awaiting orders that never come because of policy decisions that orient the U.S. away from using our forces in readiness.

The forces are available to pacify Afghanistan.  Several more Marine Regimental Combat Teams and/or air-ground tack forces could be deployed to the Helmand Province, and even several more to Kandahar.  The two provinces that constitute the home of the insurgency could be pacified by the U.S. Marines with the right commitment of resources.

So if the objection is that the campaign will incur losses, then the national conversation should be preoccupied with that problem.  The rules of engagement are another issue entirely, and without changes it’s doubtful that even the Afghans will believe that will be protected from the Taliban.  But the national conversation should forthwith jettison the notion that America doesn’t have the forces.

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