The Paradox and Absurdities of Carbon-Fretting and Rewilding

Herschel Smith · 28 Jan 2024 · 3 Comments

The Bureau of Land Management is planning a truly boneheaded move, angering some conservationists over the affects to herd populations and migration routes.  From Field & Stream. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently released a draft plan outlining potential solar energy development in the West. The proposal is an update of the BLM’s 2012 Western Solar Plan. It adds five new states—Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming—to a list of 11 western states already earmarked…… [read more]

The Afghanistan Strategy Debate Continues

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

Wretchard of the Belmont Club weighs in on the British -American debate over strategy in Afghanistan.  It is a lengthy and involved post, and in order to avoid republishing it here, the reader should follow the link to the full article.  His summary follows:

Robert Gates’ remarks ripped the lid off a simmering disagreement between NATO allies and the US over Afghan strategy. The differences are not simply over troop levels and counterinsurgency competencies but at the level of basic national interest. For some NATO countries there is nothing in Afghanistan worth fighting for at all for except the maintenance of good diplomatic relationships with America and the preservation of the Atlantic Alliance. But that will only go so far; and at any rate America can be counted on to carry the load alone because in contrast, the United States which directly suffered the September 11 attacks, sees a victory in the Afghan/Pakistani theater as a matter of vital interest. Therefore the US will carry on regardless. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama periodically declare their commitment to winning in that theater. The US and the European NATO countries may differ even in their conception of victory. For the US, victory is defined as creating and maintaining friendly governments in both Kabul and Islamabad by defeating al-Qaeda and its allies. For the Europeans it may mean bringing the Taliban to power in exchange for giving up its support of al-Qaeda.

Which side of the debate is correct I leave the reader to decide. But so far as I can tell this is what the debate is about.

The focal point of his analysis is the different conceptions of victory and what these conceptions mean to the methods and strategy by which it is pursued.  His point that the coalition is fractured is correct, and the British are looking for finality sooner than traditional counterinsurgency doctrine allows.  Thus, victory is redefined, i.e., the bar is lowered.  However, because he fails to interact with my own analyses, or at least the line of thought I advocate in this series of posts, his analysis is shortsighted and impoverished.

It is true that there is currently a clamour in Britain to jettison duties in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but this has not always been the case.  Soon after Phase 1 of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the British in Basra had a high time of it, working under the quiet confidence that regarding counterinsurgency, they had a few things to teach the Americans.  They implemented very restrictive rules of engagement, wore soft covers, had minimal force projection, and fished the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off.  Before too long under under these conditions, troop movement into and out of the AO was done only at night and via helicopter because travel by day was too dangerous.

The British ended their campaign in Basra by evacuating the city because they believed that their lack of presence in Basra would stop the shooting at their soldiers.  In other words, if they weren’t around to shoot at, they would’nt receive fire.  The AO was turned over to sectarian thieves, thugs and Iranian henchmen, and the Police chief in Basra has sustained seven assassination attempts.

In contrast to this, the Anbar province is pacified, and contrary to the Shi’a militia who drove the British out of Basra, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Reesha has said that the U.S. must stay in Anbar in order to help maintain security.  Force projection won Anbar and created the conditions under which it is safe for the U.S. to garrison forces there, and lack of force projection lost Basra.  Yet the British have not lost their penchant for seeing counterinsurgency through a different lens than the U.S.  The debate began in Basra before any part of the campaigns in Iraq or Afghanistan became problematic and before the British public was searching for a way out.

The debate continues, and the recent deals with the Taliban are a continuing function of the strategy promulgated by the British.  It may be the case that the public pressure to disengage has become more prominent, but the strategy the British are pursuing is not a function of this public pressure.  Only the speed with which they employ the strategy needs to change in order to acquiesce to the public pressure.  The fracture in the coalition is deeper than mere public perception at home.


British Versus Americans: The War Over Strategy

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

Pakistani Paramilitary Overrun by Taliban at Border Fort

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

A fort dating back to the British colonial period was recently attacked and overrun by a disputed number of Taliban fighters.  The Christian Science Monitor discusses:

Hundreds of armed militants stormed a border fort overnight Wednesday in Pakistan’s tribal belt, killing at least seven border guards. The militants then abandoned the colonial-era fort on the border in South Waziristan, a lawless zone that US officials say is a launching pad for Taliban and Al Qaeda attacks on Western troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

Islamic militants used explosives to breach the fort where about 40 guards were stationed, according to the Pakistan Army. Most of the guards fled, and others were reported missing after the firefight. The militants left the fort later the same day, melting back into the rugged mountains of northwest Pakistan.

The attack is a setback for Pakistan’s Army the Associated Press reports. Fifteen guards fled to safety at another Army base. Another 20 were listed as missing, but five were later found. The military claimed that 50 militants died in the firefight, a claim denied by a militant spokesman who said two had died in the assault.

The insurgents who seized the Sararogha Fort were said to be followers of Baitullah Mehsud, an Islamic hard-liner. Since December, Mr. Mehsud has been the sole leader of an umbrella group of Taliban sympathizers and is also thought to have links to Al Qaeda.

Musharraf has blamed Mehsud’s movement, Tehrik-e-Taliban, for 19 suicide attacks that killed more than 450 people over the last three months. Mehsud, labeled enemy No. 1 by the government, also masterminded the brazen capture of 213 Pakistani soldiers last August.

The Washington Post said Pakistani authorities have also linked Mehsud to the Dec. 27 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud’s fighters have targeted Pakistani troops in South Waziristan with hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings as the battle for territory intensifies.

“It really carries a lot [of] significance,” said Fazal Rahim Marwat, a professor at Peshawar University who has studied the Taliban movement in Pakistan. “This is another daring step on the part of the militants, and it seems that they are getting stronger and bolder with the passage of time.”

While an Army spokesman said the number of militants was around 200, the BBC said that local officials and other reports indicate an attack force closer to 1,000. This is the first time that militants have captured a fort in Pakistan and that is unsettling for authorities as they prepare to hold parliamentary elections next month, the BBC said.

The militants took several of the guards hostage and seized weapons and communication equipment from the fort, the Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn reported. The assault began around 9 p.m. Tuesday with rocket and mortar fire and continued during the night, the newspaper reported.

“Soldiers put up a good fight, but couldn’t hold out for long in the face of an overwhelming militant force,” a source said.

The last distress radio message, according to him, was made at around 3 am to the Ludda Fort, asking for artillery fire at the militants who had broken through the defences and begun pouring into the base.

The fort was manned by the Frontiers Corps, an 80,000-strong paramilitary force recruited from local tribesmen. The US military has announced plans to train and equip these forces as part of a strategy to counter militancy in the semiautonomous tribal region, said The Globe and Mail.

Reuters reports that Navy Adm. William Fallon, head of the US Central Command, said Wednesday that he believed Pakistan was ready for greater US counterinsurgency assistance. But he gave no details of that support, which is politically sensitive in Pakistan, where many strongly oppose the deployment of US troops. Admiral Fallon said he was encouraged by his conversations with Pakistan’s new Army chief, Gen. Ashfaz Kayani, who took over in November after President Pervez Musharraf resigned from the post.

“I was very heartened by his understanding of what the problems are and what he’s going to need to do to meet those, so we want to try and help that,” said Fallon, who plans to visit Pakistan later this month.

Wretchard at the Belmont Club observes that the Taliban and al Qaeda are acting like an army of state, and wonders whether the Pakistani military can conduct conventional operations against them.  To be clear, the Taliban are neither a regular army, nor is it to their advantage to behave as one.  Holding the fort that they took is not to their advantage.

So true to form, they abandoned it as soon as they took it.  Holding territory is the behavior of conventional armies.  The Taliban are indigenous, and live in this area.  There is no reason and no strategic value to having a border fort.  The Taliban own this area, and traffic freely across the Afghan border to conduct operations.  But this points to larger problems.  The Pakistani army is a conventional one, and doesn’t behave like it.

Whether considering regular or irregular (counterinsurgency and guerrilla) warfare, force size and force protection are critical elements of doctrine.  The Pakistani military at this border fort effected neither.  The force size was at least equivalent to a platoon, and the notion that a platoon of U.S. Marines would have been routed from this fort is of course preposterous.

I have observed before that the key to Pakistan is Afghanistan and more specifically the border region, and vice versa.  The key to Afghanistan is Pakistan.  The U.S. has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to engage in warfare against radical militants unimpeded, since Pakistan is acting approvingly of a larger role for the U.S.  NATO cannot be relied upon to contribute to the campaign.  Neither does the U.S. owe any debts to cold war thinking.  Not only Iraq, but also the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region beckons all U.S. forces to their mission.  The Marines soon to deploy to Afghanistan from Camp LeJeune are badly needed, and will fulfil their calling.

Urban Warfare Simulator

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

The U.S. Marines have commissioned an Infantry Immersion Trainer system for the purpose of training in MOUT prior to deployment.


The Marine Corps is embracing breakthrough holographic technology to teach combat tactics and battlefield ethics at Camp Pendleton as troops there begin another major round of deployments to Iraq.

Marine officials yesterday unveiled the Infantry Immersion Trainer, a high-tech prototype simulator that resides in a former – and decidedly low-tech – tomato-packing plant that still bears directions for truck drivers.

Marines trained yesterday in Camp Pendleton’s high-tech prototype simulator, designed to evoke the conditions that U.S. troops face in Iraq.

The 32,000-square-foot, $2.5 million training ground became reality after a request from Gen. James Mattis, former commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. The program capitalizes on 15 years of Navy and Marine research on everything from body movements to urban warfare, coupled with the latest advancements in simulation from defense companies such as Lockheed Martin.

The new training area is “a pretty big deal . . . that’s expected to save lives,” said Col. Clarke Lethin, chief of staff for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

He added that it also could help guide Marines through the tough process of making split-second battle decisions involving morality and legality.

“As we go through the war, it’s changing out there. There are more no-shoots than shoots,” Lethin said. “We want to make sure that we are shooting the right people.”

It takes its inspiration from a city block in Iraq that U.S. troops typically would patrol, complete with a warren of shops and houses. Hardly a detail is overlooked among the props, modeled with Hollywood set-design techniques: Laundry hangs on the clotheslines. A grill sits against a wall. Propane tanks are placed here and there amid the musky scent of unpaved streets and alleys.

Perched in the rafters are projectors that cast life-size images of civilians and insurgents on wall after wall in the building. Live actors and pyrotechnics round out the integration of sight, sound and smell.

There is an argument to be made that this is two to three years later than needed.  Additionally, the system isn’t perfect.

One of the Marines showing how the troops react in the various scenarios was Lance Cpl. Jason Trehan, a 24-year-old Ohio native who returned from his fourth Iraq assignment in November.

“It’s pretty realistic and a lot like what we do face,” Trehan said. “It could be bigger, though. Bigger is always better,” he said, in reference to the somewhat cramped series of rooms and low ceilings.

Trehan said a higher ceiling that would accommodate rooftops would more accurately depict a typical Iraqi village.

There is always justification for including Lance Corporals in the design review of all training and combat systems.  Lance Corporals are the core of the Corps, but like our friends at OpFor, we are huge fans of General James Mattis, and this brainchild of Mattis will evolve.

Col. Lethin said the Camp Pendleton virtual trainer was in part the brainchild of Gen. James Mattis, who until recently was head of the I Marine Expeditionary Force and commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command.

Mattis is now working with NATO and as head of the Joint Forces Command based at Norfolk, Va.

“General Mattis said that if we can train a pilot to fly a 747 in a simulator, we owe that same kind of training to our ground forces that are bearing the brunt of the casualties today,” Lethin said.

The local troops now deploying are finding a much more stable and calm environment in the former insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad along the Syrian and Jordanian border, Lethin said. But it remains a dangerous place.

“It’s a lot better today than it was, but there’s still bad guys to be killed,” Lethin said. “The training we now can offer here is good, but I want it to get even better.”

And get better it will.  While no simulator can duplicate the reality of combat, all attempts to train warriors better should be met with appreciation as well as constructive criticism.

Iraq: For Ten Years

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

I have previously predicted that Iraq would not only be a protectorate of the U.S. for another decade, but pseudo-permanent bases would eventually be constructed and garrisoned in Iraq – most likely in Northern Iraq – at some point, sooner rather than later.  Coupled with this, I have argued, would be a stand-down in constabulary operations, along with a focus on kinetic operations resulting from intelligence-driven raids.  I had also predicted that the chest butts and posturing by Iraq about U.S. forces standing down in a year was all show, and that sooner rather than later a longer term deal would be struck between the U.S. and Iraq to ensure the national security of Iraq.

Lo and behold, the Iraqi Defense Minister sees the need for U.S. help in Iraq until 2018.

The Iraqi defense minister said Monday that his nation would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012, nor be able on its own to defend Iraq’s borders from external threat until at least 2018.

Those comments from the minister, Abdul Qadir, were among the most specific public projections of a timeline for the American commitment in Iraq by officials in either Washington or Baghdad. And they suggested a longer commitment than either government had previously indicated.

Pentagon officials expressed no surprise at Mr. Qadir’s projections, which were even less optimistic than those he made last year.

President Bush has never given a date for a military withdrawal from Iraq but has repeatedly said that American forces would stand down as Iraqi forces stand up. Given Mr. Qadir’s assessment of Iraq’s military capabilities on Monday, such a withdrawal appeared to be quite distant, and further away than any American officials have previously stated in public.

This level of commitment should force a view to the larger picture.  The U.S. is requesting that NATO send more forces to Afghanistan, forces that cannot fire a weapon due to restrictive rules of engagement, while the U.S. garrisons forces in Germany.  This backwards, cold war mentality is a drain on resources and an artifact of half century old thinking.  It has got to go if the West is to survive.

Pakistan in Turmoil and Still a Springboard for Terror

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

The Strategy Page trends far too positive in their assessment of the situation in Pakistan, one example being the recent publication of Pakistan Turns on Its Islamic Radicals.  The same day, the New York Times published an insightful article entitled Next-Gen Taliban.  Portions of it are given below.

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

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

Rehman’s critics blame him and his party for facilitating the local Taliban, an allegation he resents. “We are politicians, and we will have to go to our constituencies to get votes in an election,” he told me, as we sat together in the drawing room of his home in Dera Ismail Khan. “If there is a war going on, no one can vote.” Halogen spotlights dotted the ceiling, and soft leather couches lined the walls. Rehman wore a pinstripe waistcoat over a shalwar kameez. The room smelled of strong cologne. He added, in a rare moment of candor, “But even we are now afraid of the young men fighting.”

During Pakistan’s 2002 election campaign, Rehman played up his links with the Taliban, and the Islamist coalition did well. In retrospect, that may have been his high point. The divide between the pro-Taliban leaders of yesterday and those of today was fully exposed by the insurrection at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which began last January under the leadership of Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his brother. As the weeks and months passed, the rebels kidnapped a brothel madam, some police officers and, finally, six Chinese masseuses. They made a bonfire of CDs and DVDs and demanded that Musharraf implement Shariah. Defenders paced the outer walls of the mosque holding guns and sharpened garden tools.

Rehman tried to talk the Ghazi brothers out of their reckless adventure, but his influence inside the mosque was limited. “They are simply beyond me,” he said at one point.

The much vaunted Pakistan military is said to be the anchor of Pakistan, that glue that holds the country together and provides stability from one coup to the next, from one administration to the next.  However, this view is dated and dangerously naive.  Angry Pakistanis are turning against their own army.

Amid nationwide anger over the killing of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and a widespread belief that the country’s military or intelligence may have been involved, the population is turning against the army for the first time.

From the wailing rice-pickers at Bhutto’s grave in the dusty village of Garhi Khuda Bakhsh in the southern province of Sindh to the western-educated elite sipping whisky and soda in the drawing rooms of Lahore, the message is the same: General Pervez Musharraf, the president, must go and the army must return to its barracks.

Feelings are running so high that officers have been advised not to venture into the bazaar in uniform for fear of reprisals.

Worse still, the Pakistani army is losing its nerve and will to engage the radical elements (Taliban, al Qaeda and other militants along the border).

More than 700 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the fight in the tribal areas against militants said to be linked to Al-Qaeda, and officers admit that morale has not been so low since they lost Bangladesh in 1971.

“We’re being asked to bomb our own people and shrug it off as collateral damage,” said a Mirage pilot. “I call it killing women and children.”

It has also recently been brought to light that not only has Pakistani intelligence given free reign to these radical groups, these groups are in fact their own creation, this creature now attacking its creator.

Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.

As the military has moved against them, the militants have turned on their former handlers, the officials said. Joining with other extremist groups, they have battled Pakistani security forces and helped militants carry out a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units as well as prominent political figures, possibly even Benazir Bhutto.

The growing strength of the militants, many of whom now express support for Al Qaeda’s global jihad, presents a grave threat to Pakistan’s security, as well as NATO efforts to push back the Taliban in Afghanistan. American officials have begun to weigh more robust covert operations to go after Al Qaeda in the lawless border areas because they are so concerned that the Pakistani government is unable to do so.

Covert and special forces operations is an impoverished answer to a big and growing problem which badly needs significant force projection before it is too late to engage in any kind of operation.  I have previously stated that “In the end, there is no replacement for force projection.  Our commitment to Iraq cannot waiver, not even in the long term, but a reduction in force presence there must also be accompanied by a rapid increase at the front of the counterinsurgency campaign in Pakistan, i.e., Afghanistan, as soon as possible.”

All roads lead to Pakistan as the springboard for Islamic radicalism, it has been said.  But if all roads lead to Pakistan, they begin in Afghanistan.  The venue for counterinsurgency in Pakistan is along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and the opportunity to wage this counterinsurgency is upon us, never to be repeated in our lifetime.  Stabilization of Pakistan and Afghanistan stand in the balance, as well as the safety of nuclear weapons.

Myth Telling

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

The Captain’s Journal will not endorse any particular political candidate for President, at least not during the primaries.  However, as absurd things come up in the context of the debates, we will address them.  One such absurd thing was promulgated by Ron Paul during the latest GOP debate.  It is a variant of one which I have addressed before in Attacking the Enemy’s Strategy in Iraq.  Kevin Drum sets out the scenario for us in his exercise in strategy-bashing.

I’ve mentioned a few times before that our “bottoms up” strategy of supporting Sunni tribes in the provinces surrounding Baghdad carries a number of risks. The biggest risk, I suppose, is that once the tribes finally feel safe from the threat of al-Qaeda in Iraq, they’ll relaunch their insurgency and start shooting at American soldiers again. The second biggest risk is that the Shiite central government understands perfectly well that “competing armed interest groups” in the provinces are — well, competing armed interest groups.

In response to Drum’s criticism of the strategy, I stated:

Having been militarily defeated by U.S. forces, we consider it to be unlikely that the Sunnis would take up the fight once again with the U.S.  More likely, however, is an escalation in the low intensity civil war that was ongoing for much of the previous two years.  This all makes it critical that political progress take root in the wake of the military successes.  But Kevin Drum’s concluding comment is absurd: ” … a year from now, if the Iraqi civil war is raging once again, this is where it will have started.”

Rather than an observation of the necessity for political progress, this statement follows the template of criticism set out by the left, and it has been followed with religious fervor.  Note carefully what Drum charges.  Rather than the seeds of violence being one thousand years of religious bigotry between Shi’a and Sunni, or recent history under Saddam’s rule, or the temptations of oil revenue in a land that has not ever seen the largesse of its natural resources due to corruption, the cause is said to be the “concerned local citizens” groups, i.e., U.S. strategy.

This outlandish claim betrays the presuppositions behind it – specifically, that it would be somehow better to continue the fighting than to, as they charge, buy peace with money.  But for the hundreds of thousands of disaffected Sunni workers who have no means to support their families, this criticism is impotent and offers no alternative to working for the insurgency to feed their children.  It ignores basic daily needs, and thus is a barren and unworkable view when considering the human condition.

So Drum’s charge is that if a large scale civil war emerges in Iraq, then the U.S. strategy is to blame.  Ron Paul offers a variant of this criticism.  It is that “we are arming the Sunnis,” and the Sunnis will then be able to carry on the fight against … perhaps the U.S., or perhaps the Shi’a … he didn’t say.  He just said that it isn’t over, something we can all observe for ourselves.

Regarding this charge of “arming the Sunnis,” Ron Paul ignores basic data that is quickly available to any motivated researcher.  I wouldn’t expect him to have recalled the long discussions I have had over this blog, or the Small Wars Journal folks had, over disarming the population as recommended by the Small Wars Manual.  Many observations emerged during this tête-à-tête, from the nation and population being too large for this solution to be effected, to it being culturally anathema, and so on.  But even if Paul is not a student of this blog or the Small Wars Manual, he can perform a Google search with relative ease, or so I assume.

There are too many hits in a Google search of this kind to mention, but just a few should suffice.  This Department of Defense article (and this one too), along with this Stars and Stripes article and this Telegraph article all go to remind us of what we have all known for four or more years.  The Multinational Force has continued to allow each home to have an AK-47 for self protection.  Arming the Sunnis is not something we did or had to do.  They were already armed.  This is how they carried on an insurgency since 2004.  The strategy had nothing to do with arming the Sunnis.  It pertained to settling differences with them, proving that the U.S. was the stronger tribe in Anbar, and in the end remembering that most of them never fought for religious reasons (as did al Qaeda and Ansar al Sunna).  This allowed the coalition to consider the issues of livelihood, income-earning, and support for families, basic anthropological issues that should be considered in any counterinsurgency.

But if Ron Paul has a childlike understanding of the issues, John Robb’s detailed understanding boggles the mind.  He charges the following:

The best explanation for the spike in violence between February 2006 and June 2007 is that the Askariya bombings initiated a process that was leading the conflict towards total war. Total war (Ludendorf) is a form of non-trinitarian conflict that ignores moral, political, cultural, etc rules in favor of complete mobilization to achieve total victory (global thermonuclear warfare is the ultimate example of total war). In Iraq, total war means religious cleansing via militias. Up until February 2006, Iraq was a limited conflict where US and Iraqi forces under strict modern rules of engagement, kept a lid on the scale of conflict (although they were unable to win). The Askariya bombing changed that dynamic. It so completely sundered the domestic social system in Iraq that the conflict lurched towards total war.

By early 2007, Sunni forces were suffering defeat after defeat as large Shiite militias violently cleansed towns and neighborhoods across Iraq (if measured in terms of Johnson’s coefficient, we would have seen a move towards 1.8, the coefficient of conventional warfare). This put the open source insurgency in a crisis. Sunni insurgents weren’t able to form the large local militias needed to defend themselves as long as they were in conflict with the US (these formations would be easy targets). The US military saw this opportunity and enabled the Sunnis for form local militias under the protection of the US (putting 60,000 on a US/Saudi payroll) as long as they sacrificed jihadi groups associated with al Qaeda. The US also began to target Shiite militias. The result was that the onrush to total war in Iraq was averted as the Sunnis began to develop conventional forces. The return to limited war also means that the open source insurgency can now thrive again.

Robb is a very smart analyst.  But his basic problem is one of presuppositions.  His axiomatic starting point is always that there is no solution to the problem of insurgency.  No counterinsurgency strategy can win, rather like the Kobayashi Maru.  But even a basic rendering of history proves this wrong.  The Romans successfully put down a Jewish insurgency for many years while occupying Jerusalem.  A more modern example is Vietnam.  The insurgency was basically defeated, and the South Vietnamese government fell only when NVA regulars came across the border en masse and the U.S. Congress cut funding for the war.

All of this isn’t to say that Iraq is a paradise right now.  The Sunni awakening leader Sheikh Ahmed Abu Reesha has said that the U.S. must stay in Iraq.

“Right now, any quick withdrawal will be disastrous because the Iraqi army is incapable of taking over,” Sheikh Ahmed said in an interview. “Any withdrawal must happen only when the Iraqi army is 100 percent ready to protect the country.

“The government and the country cannot afford to be without help from the Americans.”

Sheikh Ahmed took over as head of the Anbar Awakening in September after the murder of his celebrated brother Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha, the pioneer of the Sunni groups that switched allegiance from Al-Qaeda to US forces.

The movement has been a prime factor behind a sharp drop in violence across Anbar and especially in its capital Ramadi, which was reduced to ruins as US forces battled with Iraqi nationalists and tribes allied with Al-Qaeda.

Over the past year, attacks in Ramadi have dropped from 25-30 a day to fewer than one a week, and the numbers of roadside bombs have declined by 90 percent, according to latest US military figures.

Low grade or large scale civil war may indeed break out upon the decrease of U.S. forces, or in fact this may not happen.  If Robb is right about a return to an insurgency, he is so spuriously.  There is no necessity for this to happen, and since none of us can claim omniscience, we’ll wait on history to tell us whether Iraq will continue down the road to stability.  The point is that childlike objections like we are “arming the Sunnis,” and high-brow objections like Robb suggests are all variants of the same gripe.  In the end, they are just gripes; and myths die hard.

Our Deal With Mullah Abdul Salaam

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

In British Negotiations with Taliban, I covered the secret negotiations between British MI6 agents and mid-level Taliban commanders aimed at splintering the leadership the Taliban.  We covered how there was an effort underway by Hamid Karzai to obtain the loyalties of the lieutenants of Mullah Omar and thus split the organization.  The price for this loyalty is a place at the table in the new Afghanistan.

But the British bypassed Karzai in their effort to make peace with the Taliban, and for this secrecy were ejected from the country.  Yet the deed had been done, and the price for realignment of one specific Taliban mid-level commander was governorship of Musa Qala, that fated city which once was handed over to local leaders, retaken by the Taliban, and then retaken again by NATO forces months later, costing both lives and blood of NATO forces.  Mullah Abdul Salaam switched sides, and was rewarded with rule over the region.


Matt Dupee at waxes positive about the deal, even suggesting that Salaam enabled the victory to retake Musa Qala, or at least caused it to be more timely.

Musa Qala district in southern Helmand province was the secluded epicenter of Taliban activity throughout 2007, a symbolic “crown jewel” in the Taliban’s jet-black turban, before Afghan and Coalition forces launched Operation Snake Pit last month and reestablished government rule. The highly touted operation lasted nearly a week with the heaviest fighting occurring on the outskirts of the city and areas further south. The operation’s speed and relatively tidy conclusion is due in large part from a back-door political deal hammered out between the Afghan government and a local Taliban strongman, Mullah Abdul Salaam Alizai, last October.

Mullah Abdul Salaam is a powerful and influential cleric of the Alizai tribe, Helmand’s largest Pashtun tribe, and holds sway over hundreds, if not thousands of armed loyalists throughout Musa Qala. His defection was secured after several secret meetings with Afghan and British officials during October and November. Rival Taliban factions attempted to assassinate him with a suicide-bomber, but British media reveal his body guard contingent of over 200 armed men helped foil the bomber’s plans.

The government’s deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam included his future position as Musa Qala’s governor, which he was appointed to on January 7, and allowed him to pick and choose other local authorities such as the new police chief. Afghan officials hope his prestige and influence over the locals will perk up their image in the south where many residents are sympathetic to the Taliban and deeply mistrustful of the central government. Officials also expressed optimism in bringing other “moderate Taliban,” meaning less ideologically driven fighters, into the fold of the government. For those fighters unwilling to cooperate, Salaam and his men have vowed to fight them.

But is this assessment too positive?  In a somewhat more desperate tone, The Times gives us a picture of what really happened prior to and during the battle for Musa Qala.

Britain’s last chance of securing this treacherous corner of Afghanistan lies in the hands of a piratical, black-turbaned figure with long beard, white cloak and silver-sequinned slippers with curled toes.

Mullah Abdul Salaam may not look much like a white knight. He served as a commander in the Taleban and even today his true loyalties remain suspect. The 45-year-old former Mujahidin guerrilla could, however, decide the fate of the British mission to stabilise the lawless province of Helmand, where this week he was put in charge of the key district of Musa Qala.

“He’s not just the best show in town,” one British officer remarked. “He’s the only show in town.”

Mullah Salaam’s rise to power in Musa Qala, the test case for British efforts to evict the Taleban and install central authority, is a classic Afghan tale of intrigue, bloodshed, farce and fate. In an interview with The Times the former warlord explained how last year he had severed relations with the Taleban, was courted secretly by a foreign diplomat and eventually swapped sides to join the British-led effort.

“The Taleban called a shurah [council] to attack the district centre and coalition forces there but though invited I did not attend nor fight,” he said. “It was not a good thing.”

He was then approached by Michael Semple, an Irish diplomat working for the European Union in Kabul. Mr Semple, a fluent Pashto-speaking veteran of Afghanistan, was expelled last month by the Government in Kabul for his back-channel contacts with the Taleban.

Before being ordered out he managed to put together a deal with the former Taleban commander. “We discussed reconciliation and unity in Afghanistan,” Mullah Salaam said of the first of his several meetings with Mr Semple. “I was surprised to hear of his recent expulsion.”

Mullah Salaam went to Kabul for a meeting with President Karzai last autumn. He caught the Afghan leader’s imagination with the promise of a tribal uprising against the Taleban, which could, potentially, deliver Musa Qala into government hands with barely a shot being fired. The idea led to a War Cabinet meeting in Kabul, which included the British and American ambassadors, President Karzai and General Dan McNeill, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The result was operation Mar Karadad, which had to be accelerated at the end of November when Kabul heard news that Mullah Salaam, now back in Musa Qala, had attracted the attention of the Taleban and the uprising was imminent.

There was no uprising. When Afghan, British and US units closed in on Musa Qala last month, Mullah Salaam stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.

“He said that he would bring all the tribes with him but they never materialised,” recalled one British officer at the forefront of the operation. “Instead, all that happened was a series of increasingly fraught and frantic calls from him for help to Karzai.”

In spite of his broken promises Mullah Salaam was still one of the few credible local leaders prepared to work with the British. He also proved to be a skilled orator. This week he took his antiTaleban campaign to elders in the rainswept village of Chaghali, ten miles from Musa Qala.

“It is enough now,” he urged the 30 men huddled around him. “Our dead have been eaten by the dogs.” He gestured at a small group of British and American officers. “You can see around you these people from noble nations have come to build you streets and schools. If they should ask you to leave your religion then you have a right to fight them, but not because they come to bring you streets and schools.”

The village was in an area roamed by Taleban led by Mullah Abdul Bari, who remains at large. Mullah Salaam wasted little time in using his own past connection with the militant commander in his address.

“Abdul Bari is our brother,” he said. “He can come and sit among us . . . He is from this land. Speak with him. But don’t let him be stupid. If he is not on the right path then don’t let yourself be sacrificed for him. Tell him to take his jihad somewhere else.”

His eloquence and leadership have impressed the British, who reconsidered him for the job of district governor, not least because there were few volunteers for the post.

“The first time we heard Mullah Salaam speak he spoke bloody well,” said Major Guy Bartle-Jones, the head of the British Military Stabilisation Team. “In fact, he dominated the whole show. He gave the government message: antiTaleban, counter-narcotics, interspersed with Koranic verses. He came across as an accomplished politician, far away from the reports from Kabul, where he had been pilloried as a fraught and frantic man. So we reported back up the chain that he was a charismatic, good orator. And the question was suddenly: ‘Is this a credible governor?’.”

Today the new governor’s challenge is to navigate the dark waters of Helmand’s politics, unite warring clans and reconcile his erstwhile Taleban comrades into the political process. His very survival will be an issue in itself: he claimed that two suicide bombers have already been sent to kill him. He remains, however, Musa Qala’s best hope, and has certainly won the backing of the British, albeit with a small caveat.

“We have in him a credible governor who is making an impression upon us and the people,” an officer in Musa Qala concluded. “He is a compelling individual. But we still don’t know what his ulterior motives are.”

Because of his skills at oratory and his having spoken “bloody well” to the locals, he was given governorship of Musa Qala, despite the fact that he could not assist with any significant military presence during the battle for the very area he now rules.  It is a pitiful substitute for the “awakening” in Western Iraq, where the Anbaris vowed to fight al Qaeda to the last child of Anbar.

Mullah Abdul Salaam has talked a good game for the moment, and perhaps he means what he says.  Who knows?  But proper counterinsurgency requires force projection.  The strong horse wins in counterinsurgency because the population bets on proven winners.  Cheap imitations of the Anbar awakening won’t work in this region of the world.  In Anbar, commitment by Marines and other U.S. forces over time won the battle for the region, this battle consisting not only of kinetic operations, but also in good governance, increased water and electricity supplies, repaired infrastructure, and other amenities associated with modernity.  Al Qaeda had nothing to offer except violence.  The Anbaris made their choice.

The road in Afghanistan will be just as hard or even harder, given that the Anbaris are somewhat more secular than the Afghans, but the counterinsurgency can be won (despite the ridiculous and highly emotional British claim that Mullah Abdul Salaam is the ‘last hope’ of civilization).  It will take U.S. commitment, not artificial props to be successful.  No ostensible harm to the COIN campaign in Afghanistan has been done, but a great deal can be learned from this silly and unfortunate episode.


Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection

Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan

Review and Analysis of Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Campaign

Gates Sets Pretext for Review of Afghanistan Campaign

British in Negotiations with Taliban

Fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan Inextricably Tied

The British-American War Continues: MI-6 Agents Expelled from Afghanistan

Commitment to Iraq and Recommitment to Afghanistan

Taliban Now Govern Musa Qala

Tribute to Readers

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

Reader and thinker Dominique Poirier, a long time friend of The Captain’s Journal and contributor to learned comments, has released a tribute to us via YouTube.  I am not only flattered by this video, but also struck at his American patriotism.  I recall one specific e-mail to me in which this citizen of France recited the pledge of allegiance – the U.S. pledge of allegiance – while making glowing observations about American culture and heritage.  But I am also struck at what a good video this is.  It is good to the extent that it shows our fighting man and his surroundings, his toil, and his emotions.  I have been deeply rooted in thinking and praying over our warriors for quite a long time now. I thank Dominique for this video, and it shows how committed he is to the campaign, to freedom around the globe, and to living in peace with fellow man.  It is well worth the three minutes it took to view it.

WSJ Interviews Marine Corps Commandant James T. Conway

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

The Wall Street Journal has an outstanding interview with Marine Corps Commandant James T. Conway.  The subjects are far ranging and weighty, one such subject being the current ‘heaviness’ of the Marines today.  Planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom II and III didn’t consider the costs and equipment requirements of counterinsurgency, and consequently, 14 force recon Marines were lost in the summer of 2005 due to operating an Amphibious Assault Vehicle on a desert road.


So Commandant Conway takes on the issue of transport and protection.

One way the Marines are clearly changing is in the vehicles troops use to patrol in Iraq. “If you look at the table of equipment that a Marine battalion is operating with right now in Iraq,” Gen. Conway explains, “it is dramatically different than the table of equipment the battalion used when it went over the berm in Kuwait in ’03, and it is remarkably heavier. Heavier, particularly in terms of vehicles.

“I mean the Humvees were canvas at that point for the most part. Today they are up-armored and we’re looking at vehicles even heavier than that. We’ve got a whole new type of vehicle that we’re patrolling in, conducting operations in, that’s the MRAP [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected], a 48,000 pound vehicle. . . . these type of things, make us look more like a land army than it does a fast, hard-hitting expeditionary force.”

Gen. Conway commends the MRAP’s performance: “[W]e had over 300 attacks against the MRAP without losing a Marine or sailor.” And, he says, “We always have to be concerned about protecting our Marines. We owe that to the parents of America.”

“But,” he adds, “first we have to be able to accomplish our mission. And I think there are a lot of instances where a lighter, faster, harder-hitting force that gets to a scene quickly is more effective than a heavier, more armored force that gets there weeks or months later.”

It is clear that the MRAP can make it more difficult to maneuver in a battle zone. “We saw some problems with the vehicle once it went off of the roadways,” Gen. Conway says. “Its cross-country mobility, particularly in western Iraq where you have wadis [dry riverbeds] and small bridges and that type of thing was not what we hoped it would be.”

And it is something Gen. Conway has decided to have fewer of. He recently announced that the Marines are halting orders for these vehicles. The Corps will take delivery of a total of 2,300 new MRAPs by the end of the year, which it will use to conduct missions in Iraq. But Gen. Conway is canceling orders for 1,400 additional MRAPs that he and his advisors believe they will not need in the coming years. In the process, Gen. Conway is saving Uncle Sam $1.7 billion. “Yeah. I mean, that to me was a common sense kind of determination.”

The Multinational Force has addressed the issue of IEDs with interdiction, increased detection and armor, and targeting the networks of those who traffic in and emplace IEDs.  However, the issue with AAVs and MRAPs is a symptom of the problem, as Conway expands into his real issue with the long-term constabulary role in Iraq.

“If you accept a generation of officers is four years,” Gen. Conway says, “that’s what an officer signs on for, we now have that generation of officers — and arguably troops — that have come and gone, that are combat hardened, but that will never have stepped foot aboard ship. . . . an amphibious operation is by its very nature the most complicated of military operations; and that we have junior officers and senior officers who understand the planning dimensions associated with something like that, that have sufficient number of exercises over time to really have sharpened their skills to work with other services to accomplish a common goal — these are the things that concern me with the atrophying of those skills and the ability to go out and do those things.”

Conway ends his interview saying that COIN operations in Iraq are exactly what the Marines need to support because of the compelling national interests.  I have argued for commitment to completion of OIF, although reduced civil affairs missions and an eventual end to constabulary operations in favor of assistance to the Iraqi army and police for kinetic operations and border security.  However, the corollary to this argument is a re-commitment to the COIN campaign in Afghanistan.  Not only would this be a change from urban warfare (MOUT), but from the perspective of the future of Afghanistan, increased force projection is required.

The entire interview of well worth the time to read, and we support not only Conway’s commitment to the campaign in Iraq, but the upcoming deployment of Marines to Afghanistan.  This commitment to Afghanistan should increase over 2008 and 2009.  However, in the end, Conway is right to be concerned about maintaining the capabilities of the Corps.  This will require commitment to MEUs, rapid assault and deployment, amphibious training and retaining the expeditionary flavor of the Corps.

The War on Terror Should Know No Borders

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

Following up on the recommendation we have made here at The Captain’s Journal to deploy Marines to the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is preparing to bring a recommendation to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to send up to 3000 Marines to Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is preparing to send at least 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan in April to bolster efforts to hold off another expected Taliban offensive in the spring, military officials.

The move Wednesday represents a shift in Pentagon thinking that has been slowly developing after months of repeated insistence that the U.S. was not inclined to fill the need for as many as 7,500 more troops that commanders have asked for there. Instead, Defense Secretary Robert Gates pressed NATO allies to contribute the extra forces.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday that a proposal will go before Gates on Friday that would send a ground and air Marine contingent as well as a Marine battalion — together totaling more than 3,000 forces — to southern Afghanistan for a “one-time, seven-month deployment.”

Gates, he said, will want to review the request, and is not likely to make a final decision on Friday.

“He will take it and consider it thoroughly before approving it,” said Morrell. “I just want to get people away from the idea that this is going to be imminently approved by the secretary.”

He said Gates “has some more thinking to do on this matter because it’s a serious allocation of forces.”

Morrell added that Gates’ thinking on the issue has “progressed a bit” over time as it became clear that it was politically untenable for many of the NATO nations to contribute more combat troops to the fight.

“The commanders need more forces there. Our allies are not in the position to provide them. So we are now looking at perhaps carrying a bit of that additional load,” the spokesman said.

Morrell said the move, first reported Wednesday by ABC News, was aimed at beating back “another Taliban offensive” that is expected this spring — as has occurred in previous years.

When Gates was in Afghanistan last month, commanders made it clear they needed the additional forces.

The Marines would likely come out of Camp LeJeune.

Sources said the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit — scheduled to deploy in mid-February — went into high gear this week, laying plans for an accelerated deployment schedule that could have the unit departing for Afghanistan on Feb. 1 and staying out past its traditional 180-day rotation. However, unit officials would not confirm that the group is planning to leave early.

The themes of force size and force projection are well known in our previous articles, and the campaign has languished in Afghanistan due to inadequate forces.  However, there is a hint in this report of the remaining paucity of vision that afflicts the strategic planning at the Pentagon.  It is found in the words “one time .. deployment.”  The stated goal of this small addition is to forestall or prevent a spring offensive by the Taliban.  The Pentagon still doesn’t see Aghanistan as the key to Pakistan as we have previously recommended.

The Afghans understand.  They welcome the addition of troops.  But they see more clearly than to refer to a mere temporary addition of troops.  Afghan officials believe that the war on terror should know no borders.

Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders operate “outside the country.”  The war on terror “should know no borders.”

Afghan officials’ are hinting that Afghanistan would be more than happy for US forces to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan.

Some analysts say the US and NATO won’t make lasting progress in Afghanistan unless the militants’ ability to command and control the insurgency from across the border is tackled.

“Terrorism is like a spring. It is better to go to the main source than to fight the water’s flow,” said Defence Ministry Spokesman Gen Muhammad Zahir Azim.

Afghanistan’s Intelligence Service Chief Amrullah Saleh said recently “We believe the war on terror should know no borders.”

President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said on Tuesday “I’m not going to comment about the specifics about operations inside Pakistan. All I’m going to say is that we should address the sources, the root causes of terrorism wherever they are,” Hamidzada said, hinting heavily that Afghanistan believes that to be in Pakistan.

We have pointed out that counterinsurgency inside Pakistan proper, with U.S. troops actually deployed en masse in the country, would be impossible.  Yet the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is amorphous, ripe territory for kinetic operations to capture and kill Taliban.  The U.S. has a once in a generation opportunity in being allowed to traffic freely along the border region of the country from which the enemy springs forth.  The key to dealing with the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is still the border region.  Force projection is required.  And there is still paucity of vision at the highest levels of leadership.


Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection

Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan

Review and Analysis of Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Campaign

Gates Sets Pretext for Review of Afghanistan Campaign

British in Negotiations with Taliban

Fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan Inextricably Tied

The British-American War Continues: MI-6 Agents Expelled from Afghanistan

Commitment to Iraq and Recommitment to Afghanistan

Taliban Now Govern Musa Qala

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