Irrational Christian Bias Against Guns, Violence And Self Defense

Herschel Smith · 22 May 2016 · 28 Comments

Several examples of Christians opposing all violence and means of self defense have been in the news lately, and I can't deal with all such examples.  But three particular examples come to mind, and I first want to show you one example from Mr. Robert Schenck in a ridiculously titled article, Christ or a Glock. "Well, first of all you're making an immediate decision that if someone invades your home, they are going to die," Rev. Schenck replied. "So you are ready to kill another human being…… [read more]

AR 15-6 Investigation of Marine Deaths in Kunar Province

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

September 8, 2009, a deadly engagement occurred in the Kunar Province, in which three Marines and one Navy Corpsman perished in a well planned and coordinated ambush.  I had predicted that the field grade officers responsible for the call to withhold artillery and air support had better be about their business finding new employment because their careers in the military were over.  No AR 15-6 investigation would find fault with the tactical directive of a four star general.  I was right.

The absence of experienced senior leaders and inadequate action by officers in a tactical operations center, including a failure to provide effective artillery and air support, contributed to the deaths of five U.S. troops and nine Afghans in a Sept. 8 battle, an official investigation has found.

Three unidentified officers from the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., received official reprimands following the inquiry into the clash, which erupted after Afghan security forces and U.S. Army and Marine trainers were ambushed in the Ganjgal Valley, near the border with Pakistan in northeastern Kunar province …

The names of the colonels and the troops were redacted from the summary, which hasn’t been released publicly.

A McClatchy correspondent was embedded with the U.S. trainers for the operation, which was launched after elders in the village of Ganjgal publicly disavowed the Taliban and agreed to accept the authority of local Afghan officials …

The investigation found that numerous oversights contributed to the deaths of the U.S. and Afghan forces. Most involved 10th Mountain Division officers assigned to Forward Operating Base Joyce, the U.S. outpost that had tactical control of the operation.

The base commander was on leave, his deputy was deployed elsewhere and the response to the ambush by the officers who manned the tactical operations center in their absence was “inadequate and ineffective, contributing directly to the loss of life,” the report said.

Two majors, the senior officers there, “were not continually present” in the operations center. They left a captain who’d been on the overnight shift in charge of the center for more than four hours after the fighting began.

The officers’ names were redacted from the report that McClatchy obtained.

“The absence of senior leaders in the operations center with troops in contact … and their consequent lack of situational awareness and decisive action was a key failure,” it said.

Another major factor, it said, was the operations center officers’ failure to provide “effective” artillery fire on the insurgents, despite repeated requests from the battlefield.

The acting commander and “all commissioned staff officers” failed to “monitor a rapidly degenerating tactical situation,” the report said. That mistake “prevented timely supporting fires in the critical early phases of the operation and ensured that higher headquarters did not grasp the tactical situation.”

Only four artillery salvoes were fired in the first hour of the operation; three were ineffective and no more salvoes were authorized from 6:39 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., the report said.

One of the majors told the investigators that he denied further requests for fire support “for various reasons including: lack of situational awareness of locations of friendly elements; proximity to the village; garbled communications; or inaccurate or incomplete calls for fire.”

The inquiry, however, found that too many calls over a radio network “may account for some confusion in the conduct of fires, but in our judgment is not an adequate explanation for the complete lack of fires from 0639 until 1615.”

The report found that the failure to provide adequate artillery support wasn’t due to a tactical directive issued by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal that was designed to avert civilian casualties, as officers involved in the battle had believed.

“A second key failure was the lack of timely air support,” the report said.

An unidentified officer denied requests from the battlefield to send a helicopter gunship that was minutes away because the requests weren’t sent through his brigade headquarters and the aircraft was assigned to another operation, the report said.

You can read the redacted executive summary of the AR 15-6 report below. [Editorial comment: I wish Congress would pass a law against the existence of executive summaries in any situation – they tend to make readers dumber rather than smarter, and in this case, the military has learned far too much from corporate America]

Ganjgal Report

It states that “our investigation did not reveal any violations of the ISAF tactical directive.  [redacted] stated that he did not feel constrained by the tactical directive in employing indirect fires.  However, that perception clearly existed in the minds of the ETT leaders during and after the battle.”

So that’s how it ends.  During and after the battle, those under fire might claim that they said certain things over the radio, and they might claim that they heard certain responses back, but if any blame redounds to the tactical directive, we can rest assured that those under fire that day are merely confused because we know better than they do.  We have read the AR 15-6 investigation, and it says that this was all just a perception on their part.

On the other hand, the McClatchy reporter, Jonathan S. Landay, was there as well, and under fire.  He reported that “U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines — despite being told repeatedly that they weren’t near the village.”  Everything else reported that day Landay, the NCOs and field grade officers present in the fire fight was correct, including no response to requests for air support due to the unavailability of assets.  Artillery was available to fire white phosphorus smoke rounds to cover their retreat.

But when it comes to the issue of refusal of artillery to fire anything but white phosphorus smoke rounds due to the rules of engagement, the Marines were just dead wrong that day.  No one who refused to allow artillery support of the engagement did so as a result of McChrystal’s tactical directive.  The 10th Mountain officers and NCOs “failed to monitor a rapidly degenerating (sic, degrading?) tactical situation,” but apparently had no problem supporting the Marines with white phosphorus smoke rounds that couldn’t possibly cause any collateral damage to noncombatants.

I believe everything I read in AR 15-6 investigations.  And pigs fly.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar’s Capture: What Does it Mean?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

Of the recent capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Dana Perino and Bill Burck observed:

Today, the Times is reporting that the real story behind Baradar’s capture is that Pakistan wanted to gain a place at the table in negotiations between the U.S. and Karzai and the Taliban.

Specifically, Baradar, it turns out, was one of Karzai’s main contacts with the Taliban for years, and he was at the center of efforts to negotiate a peace with the Taliban. Pakistan was frustrated at being excluded from the talks, so it snatched up Baradar to gain an advantage.

The Times quotes an unnamed American intelligence official: “I know that our people had been in touch with people around [Baradar] and were negotiating with him. So it doesn’t make sense why we bite the hand that is feeding us. And now the Taliban will have no reason to negotiate with us; they will not believe anything we will offer or say.” If this is true, then the capture of Baradar is not exactly what it first appeared. And if Baradar was as central to Karzai’s and America’s efforts to negotiate with the Taliban as the article suggests, then there appears to be significant costs to the capture. Perhaps it was even unhelpful to Karzai and the U.S.

Does capturing Baradar really further U.S. strategy? (Perhaps the administration did not view him as a valuable contact and thought he would be more useful in custody and subject to interrogation.) Or does it actually harm U.S. strategy? Was it forced on the Obama administration by the Pakistanis? If so, does the administration’s triumphant tone reflect its true feelings about the importance of capturing Baradar, or is it a smokescreen?

The fact that the New York Times, not known for its strength of objectivity in covering the Obama administration, is reporting this suggests to us that there’s a better-than-even chance that the administration is trying to turn a lemon into lemonade.

So this analysis relies on the notion that this is more Pakistani duplicity.  Ralph Peters, on the other hand, sees the world with much more intrigue (I must quote at length).

The capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — the Taliban’s equivalent of Gen. Stan McChrystal — by Pakistani agents and CIA operatives is a big win.

Subordinate only to Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s CEO, Baradar ran the Taliban’s military operations in Afghanistan. Responsible for the upgrade in insurgent tactics — fighting smart, rather than just fighting — he also created the Taliban’s hearts-and-minds campaign.

For two weeks, he’s been under interrogation by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency. The CIA’s also involved in the questioning on some level — but the ISI always holds back some chips.

The grab won’t affect the ongoing fight for Marjah in Afghanistan, but the loss of Baradar’s operational savvy could degrade future Taliban operations. And if he sings — as we’re told he’s doing — it could be the biggest anti-Taliban bonanza since 2001.

Or maybe not. While it’s excellent news that Baradar’s been nabbed, his capture in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, raises questions Washington yearns to ignore:

* Why did the ISI and its overseers agree to bust him now? They’ve known his whereabouts for years — intermittently, if not consistently — just as they monitor the movements of most insurgent bigwigs.

* Did the Pakistanis act at last because the CIA cornered them into it? Or is this a deeper tale of rivalries, betrayals and Pakistan’s long-term ambitions? Perhaps Baradar was too effective a commander for Islamabad’s plans — or too independent for the ISI.

Reportedly, Baradar had been defying commands from Mullah Omar, who the ISI has backed for almost 20 years. Was this the intel equivalent of a gangland hit?

And what role did the other insurgent groups play? Pledged to cooperate with the Taliban, the savage Haqqani network based in North Waziristan is protective of its turf. Was Baradar’s growing power a threat to Maulavi Jalajuddin Haqqani and his bloodthirsty son, Sirajuddin? Did they rat him out?

Then there’s the Hezb-e-Islam, the durable mujaheddin outfit of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a ruthless survivor of decades of Afghan conflict. He spent years fighting the Taliban (and just about everybody else), but has cooperated with the Taliban in the wake of 9/11 on the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Behind his displays of Muslim piety, Hekmatyar’s an opportunist out for Hekmatyar. He’s also the figure the ISI is most confident it can control (the Taliban’s become annoyingly independent). The Pakistanis may foresee a deal between Hekmatyar and President Hamid Karzai, which would get the Americans out — then leave the hapless Karzai dangling from a lamp post like Najibullah, Moscow’s last man in Kabul.

To make that work, the Taliban would have to be under control: still a menace to Americans, but manageable for Pakistan, once our troops and NATO’s go home (the Obama administration would leap at the chance to recognize “Afghan reconciliation”).

This is a crime-family power struggle — “The Godfather,” AfPak style. The ISI may have pretended to roll over for us on Baradar, when Pakistan’s generals wanted him out of the picture, anyway. If he turns stoolie (angered by his betrayal) and the ISI finally does move against the Taliban, it signals they’ve tipped decisively toward Hekmatyar.

This is a lot of complex intrigue, but a cursory review of my advocacy shows that not only have I not supported “negotiations” with the Taliban, I have not supported the same with Hekmatyar.  It may take a long time for the truth to be told concerning this capture and surrounding events – or, we may never know the complete truth.  Either way, I still don’t buy into the notion of the high value of high value targets.

I see all of this mainly as a momentarily intriguing distraction.  We might get some good intelligence for a while, at least until his knowledge base becomes dated and useless.  The Pakistani ISI (and some Army) is duplicitous, regardless of whether Peters’ account is correct.  Hekmatyar is trouble, and negotiations with him will come to no good end.  Anyone in Mullah Omar’s circle cannot be trusted, and negotiations with his shura will come to no good end.

If the sum total of Baradar’s capture is to end these juvenile and ill-conceived negotiations with the Taliban and ensure that they don’t trust us, then so much the better.  As I said before, I’m in the school which advocates killing the enemy in large numbers.


Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Captured

Rules of Engagement Slow Progress in Marjah

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

In combat action near Marjah:

Spc. Andrew Szala of Newport, R.I., tried to keep the injured man talking, conscious. He chatted about the plot of a season of the American comedy series, “The Office,” a send-up of white-collar life.

“Michael starts his own paper company. Pam goes with him. Jim stays behind,” Szala said as the battle raged.

In the new ambush, a man was firing from above a green door. Spc. Richard French of Indianapolis was in the hatch of a Stryker, an American military vehicle, that pulled up on the canal road. He saw the man and opened fire with his M4 rifle.

“My first three rounds were tracers. I watched them go right into him. I watched him fall,” French said later. “First time I ever killed anybody. That was interesting.”

Close to the road and relative safety, soldiers saw a man in black walking. He was unarmed. They watched him in their scopes but did not shoot. Western forces in Afghanistan are operating under rules of engagement, or ROE, that restrict them from acting against people unless they commit a hostile act or show hostile intent. American troops say the Taliban can fire on them, then set aside their weapon and walk freely out of a compound, possibly toward a weapons cache in another location.

In combat action in Marjah:

With gunfire coming from several directions all day long, troops managed to advance just 500 yards deeper as they fought off small squads of gunmen.

US military spokesman Captain Abraham Sipe said: “There’s still a good bit of the land still to be cleared. We’re moving at a very deliberative pace.”

Western soldiers complained about rules of engagement that are supposed to prevent them firing at people unless they commit a “hostile act” or show “hostile intent.”

US Lance Corporal Travis Anderson from Iowa alleged that Marjah residents are “using our rules of engagement against us,” stating that his platoon had repeatedly seen men dropping their guns into ditches before walking away to melt among civilians.


1/3 Marines Mortar Crew in combat in Marjah, Afghanistan

Analysis & Commentary

Recall that the standing rules of engagement (ROE) are modified by theater-specific ROE, such as the rules for Operation Iraqi Freedom (at one time on Wikileaks) and more recently a tactical directive promulgated under the authority of General McChrystal.  There are parts of the directive (perhaps large parts) that have not been divulged to the public, but we do know that there are some significant restrictions on troop movement, cordons and searches and kinetic operations.  For instance, the ROE prohibits night or surprise searches, and firing at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first.  Pentagon officials have admitted that these rules have opened up new space for the insurgents.  In McChrystal’s own words, “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.”

I had predicted that these rules would have the opposite affect from that intended, i.e., that they would fail to prevent noncombatant deaths and might even cause more than if we were to implement a more robust set of ROE or simply leave the rules unchanged.  Strategy Page sources explain a bit more about the unintended consequences of the restrictive ROE.

The fighting in Marjah would be going more quickly were it not for the more strict ROE (Rules Of Engagement), intended to minimize civilian casualties. The Taliban and drug gangs have invested a lot in the local media, to make each civilian death, at the hands of foreign troops, a major story. The majority of civilian combat deaths are at the hands of the Taliban or drug gangs, and the local media plays those down (or else). It’s a sweet deal for the bad guys, and a powerful battlefield tool. The civilians appreciate the attention, but the ROE doesn’t reduce overall civilian deaths, because the longer the Taliban have control of civilians in a combat situations, the more they kill. The Taliban often use civilians as human shields, and kill those who refuse, or are suspected of disloyalty. In places like Marjah, civilians are eager to get the Taliban killed or driven away, as quickly as possible. The number of civilian deaths, at the hands of NATO/Afghan forces, in the operations around Marhah, are spectacularly low by historical standards. The troops know this, some of the civilians know this, but the media doesn’t care and the Taliban need a media win, as a way to extract something that is, otherwise, a military disaster for them.

Some of this is the tendency to micromanage the campaign on the part of field grade and staff officers, an evolution that appears to have been going on for years.  But despite the best of intentions, the current rules place U.S. troops in greater danger than before, removes battle space latitude and decision-making from the enlisted men, NCOs and lower ranking officers who are in the actual combat, and add absolutely nothing to the good will of the Afghans who are noncombatants because no lives are being saved as a result of the rule changes.  The rules are a spectacular failure.  It sounds like a government program, no?

Takeover of Marjah

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

Oftentimes I disagree with Ralph Peters.  I have disagreed with him vehemently on how to conduct the campaign for Afghanistan (among other things), with Peters advocating the small footprint model with SOF killing HVTs.  It would have been a worse logistical nightmare than what we have now, with SOF having to be sent in later to rescue the SOF who had been relegated to large bases for force protection, unable to gain any actionable intelligence for their HVT raids because no one would cooperate with them.  But occasionally Ralph gets it right.

Attacking behind a vanguard of special operators and backed by an Army Stryker battalion, the 6th Marine Regiment has been conducting a textbook takeover of the Afghan city of Marjah.

Meticulously planned and methodical in its execution, the operation is well on its way to fulfilling its goals of driving the Taliban out of this opium-poppy center of 80,000 souls, while minimizing casualties and destruction.

In dramatic night helicopter assaults, lead Marine elements cordoned off Marjah, setting the stage for follow-on waves to maneuver into the city.

That’s not as easy as it sounds: The Taliban, knowing the attack was coming, planted roadside bombs, mines and booby traps by the hundreds — forcing frequent pauses to disarm them. And broad irrigation canals (funded by US taxpayers back in the 1950s, the last time we tried to modernize Afghanistan), also impede progress, requiring the emplacement of tactical bridges.

For the Marine infantryman shouldering a 100-pound ruck, there can be a lot of hurry-up-and-wait.

But these obstacles were foreseen by the planning staff, and the 6th Marines’ motto is “Keep Moving.” One by one, the IEDs are dismantled as the Marines push deeper into the city. There’ve been some foiled ambushes, as well as firefights with Taliban stay-behinds. But the gunmen are no match for our Marines.

Our troops are doing everything asked of them superbly. But as they take control of the city, the question becomes, “Now what?”

This is a major operation, involving over 15,000 US, British, other NATO and Afghan troops. Marjah’s the main objective, but not the only one. The mission is to wrest a key opium-growing, income-producing region from the Taliban — and keep it.

Once our fighters have done their part, though, the Afghan government has to step up. Thousands of Afghan troops are “participating,” but, thus far, the heavy lifting’s been done by the US and our NATO allies. Afghan soldiers tagged along to show the flag, learn how to operate, and help us deal with the locals. They still can’t do any of this stuff on their own.

Yet ultimate success in the Marjah district depends on the Kabul government delivering meaningful aid programs at the pick-and-shovel level. Above all, it has to impose its authority with competent, reasonably honest police and Afghan National Army soldiers capable of protecting the surrounding countryside. That’s a tall order for the troubled regime of President Hamid Karzai.

The Marjah operation’s a prototype — the first big test of Gen. Stan McChrystal’s refurbished approach that emphasizes cutting back combat actions focused on killing Taliban fighters in favor of securing population centers and bidding for popular support.

The unanswered question is whether you can win a war of any kind without killing your enemies in large numbers. Can this population really be won over? Can the Karzai government gain and sustain the people’s loyalty? Or do the Taliban merely rally elsewhere, denying us decisive results? Stay tuned.

It isn’t over yet, but when it is, it will have been a textbook takeover.  I’m in the school which advocates killing the enemy in large numbers.


The Battle for Marjah

Announcing the Marjah Offensive

No Secrets to Marine Plans for Marjah

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Captured

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has been captured.

The Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.

The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mullah Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with American and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, according to the officials …

American officials believe that besides running the Taliban’s military operations, Mullah Baradar runs the group’s leadership council, often called the Quetta Shura because its leaders for years have been thought to be hiding near Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province in Pakistan.

One of the more intriguing elements of this report is where he has been detained: Karachi.  I can be counted among that group who believes that the Quetta Shura is based in Quetta.  But the theory has been floated for a while now that Mullah Omar was in Karachi, and now his second in command has been detained there.

This follows on soon after logistics attacks occurred in Karachi, not too long after attacks directly against Christians, shootouts between the Taliban and Pakistani police, and about a year and a half after I noted the Talibanization of Karachi.  This is yet another data point arguing for the importance of focus on Karachi, the port city through which the vast majority of logistics flows to Afghanistan.

The other interesting thing about this detainment is that it is of a Taliban leader in Pakistan, not a Tehrik-i-Taliban, or Pak-Taliban.  This is actually a good sign from Pakistan.

The Battle for Marjah

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

The battle for Marjah is underway, apparently thus far without serious resistance from the Taliban.  So what is going on in Marjah?  Our friend Tim Lynch at Free Range International gives us his perspective.

Operation Moshtarak, the assault on the Marjah District in the Helmand Province started today.  The press has been looking at it for months from various angles with stories stressing that secrecy has been lost, or that civilians will be killed, or with speculation on why the military is publicizing Operation Moshtarak in the first place. These stories all contain grains of truth but none of them is even close to telling the real story.  Here it is: when the Marines crossed the line of departure today, the battle for Marjah had already been won.

That is not to say there will be no fighting – there will be – pockets of Taliban will need to be cleared out along with a ton of IED’s.  Just as they did last summer in Now Zad the Marines spent months talking about what they were going do in Marjah while focusing their efforts at shaping the fight behind the scene.  Like a master magician General Nicholson mesmerized the press with flashy hand movements to draw attention away from what was important.  The press then focused on the less important aspects of the coming fight.  Just like a magic show the action occurred right in front of the press in plain view yet remained out of sight …

The current Marjah operation is a replay of the Now Zad operation last summer.  Back then the Marines were in the news, constantly saying they did not have enough Afghan security forces (Karzai sent a battalion the day he read that story despite virulent protests from RC South) and that they didn’t have enough aid money (the embassy responded by sending more money and FSO’s).  Those complaints were faints – the Marines welcomed the Afghans, ignored most of the FSO’s and because they have their own tac air, artillery, and rocket systems they were able to cut out both the big army command and control apparatus in Bagram and the Brits who head RC South at the Kandahar Airfield.

Okay, stop there.  Let’s briefly assess what Tim is saying.  I don’t believe this analysis.  Not that I know enough to dispute it, but it isn’t compelling – not yet.  Tim goes on to explain that Scout snipers and Recon have been in Marjah killing Taliban for quite a while, and many or most of the bad guys are already dead.  Shaping the battle space, we are.

SOF cannot kill enough Taliban (or any other enemy) to win a campaign.  As for killing HVTs, regular readers know what I think about that tactic.  It remains an unimpressive distraction.  The Taliban – all of them – need to be killed, not chased away only to come back later.  With Lt. Col. Allen West, I don’t believe in holding terrain.  And it would be better to leave the mid-level commanders alive and let his troops see him fail rather than give new Taliban a chance to prove their mettle at being a new commander.

Shaping the battle space.  It sounds nice, and it’s what we claimed we were doing in Now Zad.  But go back and study my Now Zad category, the most comprehensive coverage of Now Zad anywhere.  We weren’t shaping the battle space.  We were losing Marines and Marines’ legs to IEDs, Marines were sleeping in Hobbit Holes at night, and for more than one year we had inadequate force projection – all of this while the population had left, the Taliban were using Now Zad as an R&R area and daring us to a fight, and we had an unmitigated opportunity to kill the enemy without even so much as a chance of killing noncombatants.  Yet in a tip of the hat to population-centric COIN, we refused because there was no population to protect – as if the Taliban wouldn’t leave Now Zad and go back to the population.

The Marines who bravely fought in Now Zad are heroes and the fact that we own it now is a testimony to their skills, courage and honor.  The brass who developed the strategy (or lack thereof) superintended a failure.  Now Zad was a failure entirely because brass didn’t resource the effort.  We let the Marines in Now Zad suffer while we sent infantry battalions to sea on wasted MEUs.  Finally, as to this notion that the Marines constantly complained that they didn’t have enough ANA in Now Zad, there wasn’t any ANA – period.  There was no ANA in Now Zad.  It was all Marines.

Back to Marjah.  Tim gives me pause if he claims that Marjah is a repeat of Now Zad.  Joshua Foust compares and contrasts coverage of Marjah, and concludes that there are contradictory reports from even reporters in the same locale and talking to the same people.  One report stands out, though.  This campaign is heralded as the point at which the ANA stands up.

For a second day US marines and Afghan troops have been clearing houses one by one of explosives.

One villager says they knocked on his door this morning and he saw Afghan soldiers in the lead and Americans following. He says he thinks the operation is going well.

But what is the ANA really doing?  “As Marines unloaded equipment needed to build an outpost at Five Points, others manned “fighting holes” — what the Army calls foxholes. Most of the Afghan soldiers sat in their trucks, with the engines running and the heaters at full blast.”

Last, it would appear that the only thing consistent about the reports is that a dozen noncombatants have been killed.  Predictably, McChrystal has prostrated himself before Karzai.  To be sure, we should pay the family, Marine officers should sit with surviving kin, and so on and so forth.  But the public nature of the posturing after such events is becoming a silly overreach, as if we are attempting to convince the American or Afghan public that there is any such thing as riskless war – war conducted in laboratories by men wearing white coats, where mistakes are mere failures to follow procedure and can be fixed by retraining men and retooling paperwork.  It’s all a lie.  The noncombatant deaths aren’t a mistake in procedure or protocol.  They are a tragedy of war, a tragedy that can only be avoided by losing the campaign or losing our own warriors.


Announcing the Marjah Offensive

No Secrets to Marine Plans for Marjah

Atmospherics, Intelligence and Local Spotters

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

One of our favorite war correspondents, C.J. Chivers, gives us a view of the U.S. Marines’ fight in the Helmand Province against a shadowy insurgency which uses centuries-old communications techniques.

KARARDAR, Afghanistan — The Marine infantry company, accompanied by a squad of Afghan soldiers, set out long before dawn. It walked silently through the dark fields with plans of arriving at a group of mud-walled compounds in Helmand Province at sunrise.

The company had received intelligence reports that 40 to 50 Taliban fighters had moved into this village a few days before, and the battalion had set a cordon around it. The Marines hoped to surprise any insurgents within.

But as the company moved, shepherds whistled in the darkness, passing warning of the Americans’ approach. Dogs barked themselves hoarse. The din rose in every direction, enveloping the column in noise. And then, as the Marines became visible in the bluish twilight, a minivan rumbled out of one compound. Its driver steered ahead of the company, honking the van’s horn, spreading the alarm. Spotters appeared on roofs.

Marine operations like this one in mid-January, along with interviews with dozens of Marines, reveal the insurgents’ evolving means of waging an Afghan brand of war, even as more American troops arrive.

Mixing modern weapons with ancient signaling techniques, the Taliban have developed the habits and tactics to evade capture and to disrupt American and Afghan operations, all while containing risks to their ranks.

Bruce Rolston reacts with some head-shaking at one of the supposed signaling techniques – kite flying.

The only quibble I have is with some of of the low-tech “signals” Chivers offers. One of the photo captions refers to shepherd’s whistles, and the article refers to kites. This is probably an indication either Chivers or someone he interviewed has been paying too much attention to the fever-dreams of fobbits.*

Kite flying is ubiquitous in Afghanistan, but it would be a lousy choice of signal of an enemy presence, relying for success in a pinch on two fairly unreliable things: wind, and boys (not to mention daylight). Even if it worked, presumably you’d have to do something special, like fly a different kite, to distinguish it from all the other kites. Its use as a signal of the presence of troops seems to be another one of those Afghan “urban legends,” a classic example of false correlation in intelligence reporting. Kite flying is fairly unusual to Westerners, so patrol reports can often mention it just as an observation …

I once made the rare mistake of passing on an RFI on local kite-flying patterns along these lines from a higher headquarters to our guys uncritically. I was rapidly slapped down by one of the guys in Tacnet email for passing on a junk request, something along the lines of “the kids are flying kites around me now. They were flying them yesterday. If I walk to the next village they’ll be flying there. They’ll be flying them tomorrow if there’s any wind… tell them to factor that into their analysis and get back to me when they have something useful to ask me.”

Bruce goes on to point out that infrequent patrols can lead to misunderstanding of the atmospherics.  Valid point.  But the Marines – the ultimate foot warrior – are not usually bound to vehicles, and are more diligent still to ensure contact with the population (even if they ensure force protection for sleep or down time).  More likely, they will soon learn that kite flying is more common in Afghanistan than the U.S.

That doesn’t detract from the salient point of the article and it shouldn’t cause us to lose attention to a critical aspect of these engagements, namely that these networks must be dismantled.  A well placed sniper’s bullet to a spotter on the roof or the arrest of one of the farmers or shepherds (and long term detention) should convince them that there isn’t any mileage in siding with the insurgents.

What evidence do I have that such an approach would work?  It should be remembered that the usual objection to robust tactics is that they don’t comport with population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine.  It should also be remembered that the doctrine is, after all, just doctrine.  It’s usually left to the Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field to find what works.  In Ramadi as I have pointed out before, it was robust tactics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With insurgents, there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).  With counterinsurgents, we seem to want to reinvent our doctrine when it isn’t necessary.  Just ask the enlisted men what they did “back in the olden days.”

Remembering the Battle at COP Keating

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

The video below is well worth the study time, and tells us even more first hand information about the battle at Kamdesh, and specifically how the Soldiers at COP Keating responded to the attack.  It would be good if the Army released the AR 15-6 investigation, but in lieu of that we can piece together enough information to draw conclusions regarding terrain, combat readiness of the U.S. Army, combat readiness of the Taliban, etc.

Obviously, this was an intense fire fight with ammunition being fired so quickly that shooters were unloading weapons as fast as re-loaders could work.  The Taliban were very effective, and notice that one of the first things they did was to render the mortar pits incapable of use due to suppressing fire.  They were good shots, had large weaponry (e.g., recoilless rifles), and were very well prepared to occupy good terrain and engage in serious conventional-style combat with U.S. forces.


Second Guessing the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh

Covering for the Rules of Engagement?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

It is important to recall the incident in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan that occurred approximately five months ago in which three Marines and one Navy Corpsman were killed in an Ambush.  They twice requested air support and artillery, only to be twice denied it from hundreds of miles away because noncombatants may have been in the area.

Taking a slight detour back to General McChrystal’s tactical directive, the new rules place a premium on protection of the population, even to the extent of backing away from fire fights if it is possible that noncombatants will be involved.  In McChrystal’s own words, “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.”

I later predicted as a result of the investigation conducted as part of the follow-on to this incident:

… here is something that has no chance of happening.  No investigation will find that a tactical directive written or endorsed by a four star general was responsible for anything bad.  The directive will be exonerated and the field grade officers responsible for denying artillery had better begin looking for another line of work.

Doing daily searches of ROE, the Kunar Province and other specific keywords it has taken a while to find anything related to this incident.  I have spoken with the McClatchy reporter who covered this incident, Jonathan Landay, and we have both been waiting for release of the investigation (AR 15-6).  As a related issue, I had also stated that I got independent confirmation of the truthfulness of Landay’s report.   The Washington Post has given us the first (and maybe only) look into the findings.

In the third incident that has resulted in a reprimand, four Marines were killed near the eastern Afghanistan village of Ganjgal when they were ambushed on their way to a meeting with local villagers. Senior Marine officials alleged that the Army battalion in the area was slow to provide artillery support to ward off the attack. After an investigation, the battalion executive officer, who was the senior officer on duty at the time, received a letter of reprimand, Army officials said.

The next promotion board will not go well for this field grade officer, and probably the next, and the next.  His career in the Army is essentially over – just as I predicted.  But he was following the spirit (and even the letter) of McChrystal’s rules.  Remember that my objection to the tactical directive isn’t that there is a proviso for protection of noncombatants.  No Marine or Soldier wants to kill noncombatants.  That isn’t what he’s trained to do.

My objection goes to the notion that a four star general is in any position to write an authoritative tactical directive for Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field under fire, thus removing their judgment from consideration.  It is the ultimate “I don’t trust you” insult, and it kills troops.  “I support the troops” isn’t just a lie for the Daily Kos folks.  It’s the ugly secret for some flag officers.

And you heard the prediction here first.  Here is another prediction.  We won’t see the release of the full AR 15-6 investigation so that we can learn the full truth about the failures that fateful day which killed three Marines and a Navy Corpsman.


Rules of Engagement category

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan II

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan

Second Guessing the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

There are still lessons to be learned from the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh in the Kunar and Nuristan Provinces of Afghanistan, respectively.


The Executive Summary of the AR 15-6 Investigation into the complex attack at COP Keating has been released.  It begins:

On 3 October 2009, Soldiers of Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry, repelled an enemy force of 300 Anti-Afghan Forces (AAF) fighters, preserving their combat outpost and killing approximately 150 of the enemy fighters. US forces sustained eight killed in action and 22 wounded, all but three of whom returned to duty after the attack. The Soldiers distinguished themselves with conspicuous gallantry, courage, and bravery under the heavy enemy fire that surrounded them.

Combat Outpost (COP) Keating, originally established as a base for a Provincial Reconstruction Team in 2006, was located deep in a bowl in Nuristan Province, surrounded by high ground, with limited overwatch protection from nearby Observation Post (OP) Fritsche. The mission for COP Keating during the rotation of B Troop was unclear to the Soldiers of B Troop who understood counterinsurgency doctrine and the need to engage with and protect the local population. But owing to limited manpower and tactical reach off of the compound, the mission devolved into one of base defense and by mid-2009 there was no tactical or strategic value to holding the ground occupied by COP Keating. As a result, the chain of command decided to close the remote outpost as soon as it could. (bold added)

But while this summary hints at population-centric procedures, COP Keating was intended to patrol and oversee a stretch of Pakistani border to interdict the flow of insurgents coming into Afghanistan.  By any account, being located on a transit route for insurgents brings legitimacy to the outpost.  A command decision was made, however, to close the COP due to lack of proper manpower.  This delay caused additional problems.

The delayed closing of COP Keating is important as it contributed to a mindset of imminent closure that served to impede improvements in force protection on the COP. There were inadequate measures taken by the chain of command, resulting in an attractive target for enemy fighters. Over time, and without raising undue concern within the US intelligence system, the enemy conducted numerous probing attacks, learning the tactics, techniques and procedures of B Troop, and pinpointing location of weapons systems and key infrastructure and material, such as generators and barracks.

Compounding the situation for the Soldiers on COP Keating, intelligence assessments became desensitized to enemy actions over several months. During the five months of B Troop’s deployment to COP Keating, the enemy launched approximately 47 attacks – three times the rate of attacks experienced by their predecessors. On several occasions intelligence reports in advance of an attack indicated there was a large enemy force that would strike, but the attack that followed generally consisted of a few number of fighters who used indirect and small arms fire for an engagement that averaged five to ten minutes in duration. Owing to this experience with the enemy in vicinity of COP Keating, the perception prevailed that reports of massing enemy forces were exaggerated and improbable.

Approximately eight months ago (and approximately four months before the attack on COP Keating at Kamdesh) I outlined in detail six different battles in Afghanistan where the Taliban has massed between 100 and 400 fighters, or close to half a Battalion size force.  There is absolutely no reason to have assumed that massing of enemy forces was improbable.  In fact, there is never again a reason to assume that in any engagement in Afghanistan.  As for the intelligence failures, John Brookins notes of previous testimony on Capital Hill about Kamdesh:

Gen. Burgess explained in testimony to the committee that the military had three intelligence reports on the issue, but that the reports were among many human-source reports that had not been verified by other means, such as electronic intelligence. As a result, the reporting was not deemed “actionable” intelligence, said defense officials familiar with the testimony.  We don’t trust our human intelligence people to make a call. We rely way too much on sigint more than anything. If it’s not in a signal some don’t think it’s real. It’s as if someone can’t lie over the radio or phone.

Recalling our analysis of the Wanat engagement, intelligence failed the 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company by ignoring the signs of an imminent attack by massed Taliban forces.  The Vehicle Patrol Base (COP) Kahler was located in low terrain, and worse still, the insufficient force protection at Observation Post Top Side took eight of the nine who perished that fateful night (including Soldiers who attempted relief of Top Side).  The video below (from approximately 1:00 to approximately 2:00) shows the terrain and natural features of the location at Wanat.

Military Historian Douglas R. Cubbison has written an extensive and smart study of the Wanat engagement, and provides some useful insight into the circumstances surrounding the battle.  But as smart as his study is, I diverged from his conclusions when he pointed towards the lack of nonkinetic engagement with the population as a significant contributor to the failure at Wanat.  Rather, I see this counsel being implemented at a different phase of the campaign for Eastern Afghanistan, with the problems being more directly related to combat tactics.  Marine officer and commenter Slab noted of my remarks concerning terrain:

The platoon in Wanat sacrificed control of the key terrain in the area in order to locate closer to the population. This was a significant risk, and I don’t see any indication that they attempted to sufficiently mitigate that risk. I can empathize a little bit – I was the first Marine on deck at Camp Blessing back when it was still Firebase Catamount, in late 2003. I took responsibility for the camp’s security from a platoon from the 10th Mountain Div, and established a perimeter defense around it. Looking back, I don’t think I adequately controlled the key terrain around the camp. The platoon that replaced me took some steps to correct that, and I think it played a significant role when they were attacked on March 22nd of 2004. COIN theorists love to say that the population is the key terrain, but I think Wanat shows that ignoring the existing natural terrain in favor of the population is a risky proposition, especially in Afghanistan.

COP Keating at Kamdesh suffered from the same sort of force protection and terrain problems.  The best video I have found of COP Keating has been removed, but another useful one can be seen below (the video is obviously being taken from Observation Post Fritsche.

This is an issue for all such Combat Outposts in this part of Afghanistan.


Combat Outpost Michigan, Kunar Province, Afghanistan

The full AR 15-6 apparently found that a series of command errors occurred at COP Keating.  There is a larger push to hold field grade officers accountable for these kinds of tactical errors.

The military does not release figures on disciplinary actions taken against field commanders. But officials familiar with recent investigations said letters of reprimand or other disciplinary action have been recommended for officers involved in three ambushes in which U.S. troops battled Taliban forces in remote villages in 2008 and 2009. Such administrative actions can scuttle chances for promotion and end a career if they are made part of an officer’s permanent personnel file.

The investigations are a departure for the U.S. military, which until recently has been reluctant to second-guess commanders whose decisions might have played a role in the deaths of soldiers in enemy action. Disciplinary action has been more common in cases in which U.S. troops have injured or killed civilians.

In response to the recent reprimands, some military officials have argued that casualties are inevitable in war and that a culture of excessive investigations could make officers risk-averse.

“This is a war where the other side is trying, too,” said one Army officer who commanded troops in Afghanistan and requested anonymity in order to speak freely.

As many as five battlefield commanders have received letters of reprimand in the past month or have been the subject of an investigation by a general who recommended disciplinary action. A sixth commander received a less-severe formal letter of admonishment. None of the investigations or letters of reprimand has been released publicly.

Regarding COP Keating, leaving Soldiers garrisoned at an ill-defended outpost that (contrary to claims, did serve a purpose) is intended to be abandoned is a huge error in judgment and points to inept logistics and planning.  Regarding COP Kahler, poor terrain, poor force protection, poor intelligence and a delay of almost 12 months (allowing the Taliban to do their own intelligence work and mass forces) again points to horrible errors in judgment.  But the idea of using smaller, less defended Combat Outposts to put Soldiers and Marines more in touch with the population comes from counterinsurgency doctrine, and it is here that the failure is occurring.

When a particular location has not been subjected to intensive kinetics to place the insurgents on the defensive and reduce their influence and power, it is naive to plan population-centric tactics and procedures.  We are attempting to employ the later phases of the campaign in earlier phases (contrary to the claims of the certainly still grieving David Brostrom, father of 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom).  Counterinsurgency is being practiced absent a conventional mindset, leading to poor force protection.  We can wish for the utmost in contact with the population.  But winning hearts and minds won’t work unless and until the insurgents’ control over their hearts and minds is challenged with kinetics.  The enemy is certainly telling us that when they can mass forces of nearly half a Battalion against platoon size U.S. forces.  The population has no reason to side with the U.S. when the Taliban are stronger.

Four important lessons can be learned from the deadly engagements at Wanat and Kamdesh.  First, terrain is of critical importance to far flung Forward Operating Bases and Combat Outposts in the rugged, mountainous regions of Afghanistan (or anywhere else there is undulating terrain).  Second, the Taliban have shown the propensity and capability to mass troops to near half a Battalion size force.  The proper force protection must be planned and implemented to prepare for such engagements.  Third, as a corollary to the second, FOBs and COPs must be properly manned with U.S. combat forces to accomplish the mission.  Thus far, U.S. command has demonstrated a predilection to underestimate proper manning of smaller outposts.  Fourth, our intelligence apparatus has shown a predilection to intransigence.  The response time and sensitivity of our intelligence must improve or more lives will be lost due to inept analysis.


Systemic Defense Intelligence Failures

Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops

Kamdesh: The Importance of Terrain

Attack at Kamdesh, Nuristan

Wanat Video 2

Wanat Video

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

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

Investigating the Battle of Wanat

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

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