The Paradox and Absurdities of Carbon-Fretting and Rewilding

Herschel Smith · 28 Jan 2024 · 4 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]

Is Iran the Biggest Problem in Iraq?

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

A few days ago McClatchy published an exposé on an Iranian General they called the most powerful man in Iraq.  A short selection will be reproduced below.

One of the most powerful men in Iraq isn’t an Iraqi government official, a militia leader, a senior cleric or a top U.S. military commander or diplomat,

He’s an Iranian general, and at times he’s more influential than all of them.

Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani commands the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, an elite paramilitary and espionage organization whose mission is to expand Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

As Tehran’s point man on Iraq, he funnels military and financial support to various Iraqi factions, frustrating U.S. attempts to build a pro-Western democracy on the rubble of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.

According to Iraqi and American officials, Suleimani has ensured the elections of pro-Iranian politicians, met frequently with senior Iraqi leaders and backed Shiite elements in the Iraqi security forces that are accused of torturing and killing minority Sunni Muslims.

“Whether we like him (Suleimani) or not, whether Americans like him or not, whether Iraqis like him or not, he is the focalpoint of Iranian policy in Iraq,” said a senior Iraqi official who asked not to be identified so he could speak freely. “The Quds Force have played it all, political, military, intelligence, economic. They are Iranian foreign policy in Iraq.”

McClatchy reported on March 30 that Suleimaniintervened to halt the fighting between mostly Shiite Iraqi security forces and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in the southern city of Basra. Iraqi officials now confirm that in addition to that meeting, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani personally met Suleimaniat a border crossing to make a direct appeal for help.

Iraqi and U.S. officials told McClatchy that Suleimani also has: [i] Slipped into Baghdad’s Green Zone, the heavily fortified seat of the U.S. occupation and the Iraqi government, in April 2006 to try to orchestrate the selection of a new Iraqi prime minister. Iraqi officials said that audacious visit was Suleimani’s only foray into the Green Zone; American officials said he may have been there more than once, [ii] Built powerful networks that gather intelligence on American and Iraqi military operations. Suleimani’s network includes every senior staffer in Iran’s embassy in Baghdad, beginning with the ambassador, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials, and [iii] Trained and directed Shiite Muslim militias and given them cash and arms, including mortars and rockets fired at the U.S. Embassy and explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, the sophisticated roadside bombs that have caused hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi casualties.

At Abu Muqawama, Dr. iRack read this report and said:

The story is part of the growing drum beat of Iran stories Dr. iRack has pointed to this week (see here and here). There is clearly a concerted effort underway by the Bush administration (which began during the April Petraeus/Crocker testimony and President Bush’s April 10th speech) to prime the media pump and ratchet up the perceived threat posed by Iran’s “malign” activities in Iraq.

To which The Captain’s Journal responds, rubbish.  We have had twenty five years of experience reading Knight-Ridder / McClatchy due to it being the exclusive supplier for our very own hometown newspaper.  It is unapologetically and unabashedly biased and leftist.  This has consistently been the case for well over a quarter of a century, which is the amount of time we have invested in this rag and pitiful excuse for news.

It might take on the trappings of erudition to critique the McClatchy report as part of the “growing drumbeat on Iran,” but erudite it isn’t.  If they thought that this report would even be perceived as shilling for the administration, they would have killed it even if sourced better than any story even done at McCatchy.  In fact, this might be only the second instance of actual reporting we have ever seen from McClatchy (the first being a good report on snipers in Ramadi).

Along with this same theme, NBC News’ Richard Engel had an interesting post today about the role of Iran in Iraq, sourcing his information to “senior U.S. military officials,” duplicated below.

Over a meal this weekend at a Green Zone chow hall (chicken salad and Baskin-Robbins pralines and cream ice cream, a KBR delight), I had a revealing conversation with two senior U.S. military officials.

“We’ve pretty much defeated al-Qaida here,” one of the military officers said. “If Iran stopped doing what it’s doing, things would dramatically change.”

“You think that would be it, a turning point? If Iran stopped backing militias, you think things would get much better?” I asked.

“No doubt. It would be dramatic,” replied the officer.

For many military commanders there is a feeling of euphoria that the U.S. troop “surge” and the top commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus managed to reduce violence, especially in Sunni areas.

The surge has become something sacred for the military in Iraq. It was a plan that worked. It has been entered into the annals of history – at least here – as a success, not to be questioned. The commanders I spoke to this weekend were angry Iran, they claim, is trying to ruin their surge.

The frustration is understandable. Sunni radicals have gone quiet, thanks in part to the “Sons of Iraq” program in which former insurgents (mostly Sunnis) are paid to fight al-Qaida. (Critics say the program is just arming the insurgents to fight another day).

Anbar province, once considered a lost region overrun by Sunni radicals, is now mostly calm. It is the Shiite areas, especially where Iran is strong, like in Basra and Sadr City, which are now in revolt.

U.S. military commanders deduce that if Iran stopped stoking the fires of conflict, both Sunnis and Shiites would stop fighting long enough for Iraq to blossom into the prosperous nation that U.S. officials promised and that the U.S. military needs to prevent failure in Iraq.

Perhaps they are correct. It would be logical to assume that if both sides stop fighting, there would be less bloodshed and more room for dialogue.

He goes on to wonder if this is the “flavor of the month” enemy in Iraq.  Contrary to this fear and Dr. iRack’s diminutive analysis of the McClatchy report, we vote that Iran is a powerful actor in Iraq – but then, we were saying this before it became popular.  Perhaps our warnings were prescient.

But the reader will not detect rumblings of war at The Captain’s Journal.  Rather, we will advocate as we always have, i.e., full engagement in the covert warfare in which Iran has engaged against the U.S. for twenty five years.  The U.S. is so powerful and resourced so well in this type of warfare, yet engages so poorly in it, that it can only be the fault of the CIA.

In this case, there is a solution for General Suleimani.  It is selective targeting, analogous to the same for Mughniyeh.  It will get their attention far more effectively than deployment of yet another carrier to the Persian gulf.

Marines Engage Taliban in Helmand Province

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

After sitting idle mired in NATO bureaucratic red tape for six weeks, the U.S. Marines have finally been deployed into the Helmand Province where they have targeted a Taliban stronghold town called Garmser.

US Marines pushed into a stronghold of extremist Taliban resistance in southernmost Afghanistan Tuesday in their first major operation since deploying to Afghanistan last month …

Garmser in southern Helmand is an area of difficult desert terrain that extends down to the Pakistan border across which Taliban reinforcements and weapons are said to arrive to enter a growing insurgency.

Soldiers with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based in the neighbouring province of Kandahar, were airlifted into forward bases in the area last week or moved in on convoys, ISAF said.

From there they launched the operation named Azada Wosa, which means Be Free in the Pashtu language of southern and eastern Afghanistan …

Military officials say Helmand is a nest of hardcore Taliban fighters supported by international Islamic “jihadists” and the centre of Afghanistan’s booming opium and heroin trade.

But for reasons recommended by The Captain’s Journal in October of 2007, the Marines aren’t after poppy according to Major Tom Clinton.

The Marines are entering an area lush with opium poppies. The Marines don’t want to antagonize the local population by joining U.S.-backed efforts to destroy the crop. “We’re not coming to eradicate poppy,” Clinton says. “We’re coming to clear the Taliban.”

The town of Garmser has been under the control of Taliban fighters who have been expecting a fight for some time.

The Taliban presence in Garmser has been a running sore for British forces for the past year, but British commanders have not previously had the combat forces available to push the Taliban out.

The Taliban claims to have several hundred fighters in the area, with prepared bunkers and tunnel complexes that have proved resistant to frequent Western aerial bombing raids.

The Telegraph was able to interview two Taliban commanders operating in the Garmserarea last month, who said they expected to resist any assault by Western forces.

“It will be really difficult for the British,” said Mullah Ghafour, not his real name. “We have 20 kilometres depth of defences, with all kinds of mines. They have tried before to push us back. In Garmser it is a face to face fight.”

But the Taliban are facing the U.S. Marines, many of whom are veterans of the Anbar Province.  Being dug in is not helping the Taliban, who lost their command center today.

In one short engagement this morning, the Marines took rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire, and a Marine scout helicopter killed two insurgents with rockets and .50-cal machine gun fire.

The battle for the Taliban command center raged all day today, said Lt. Anthony Henderson, who commands the 1st Battalion 6th Marine Regiment, the core infantry unit of the 24th MEU.

Henderson said the Marines gradually pushed the Taliban back into a corner of the facility and then called in air strikes by Cobra attack helicopters with Hellfire missiles.

The Taliban are learning what General George Patton knew years ago, namely that fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity.  Inch by inch, room by room, the Marines are prepared to complete the battle, both kinetic operations and reconstruction of the area.

The Marines had prepared on Monday by cleaning weapons and handing out grenades. The leader of one of the three companies involved — Charlie Company commander Capt. John Moder — said his men were ready.

“The feeling in general is optimistic, excited,” said Moder, 34, of North Kingstown, Rhode Island. “They’ve been training for this deployment the last nine months. We’ve got veteran leaders.”

Many of the men in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once the stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq before the militants were pushed out in early 2007.

Moder said that experience would affect how his men fight in Afghanistan. “These guys saw a lot of progress in Ramadi, so they understand it’s not just kinetic (fighting) but it’s reconstruction and economic development.”

But on the initial assault, Moder said his men were prepared to face mines and homemade bombs and “anybody that wants to fight us.”

One Marine in Charlie Company, Cpl. Matt Gregorio, 26, from Boston, alluded to the fact the Marines had been in Afghanistan for six weeks without carrying out any missions. He said the mood was “anxious, excited.”

“We’ve been waiting a while to get this going,” he said.

A while indeed.  Six weeks mired in red tape.  But progress has started, and the Taliban in this AO will surrender or die.

**** UPDATE ****

Welcome to Hugh Hewitt readers and thanks to Hugh for the link.  Also welcome to Pajamas Media readers.

Taliban Tactics Evolve

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

In The Taliban and Distributed Operations we pointed to evolving tactics of Taliban fighters, saying:

This tactic of forcing decision-making down within the organization, dispatching smaller, self-sufficient groups of fighters, and maintaining looser communication is perfectly adapted to the Afghanistan countryside, which is less about MOUT (military operations on urban terrain) than in Iraq.  This guerrilla approach to warfare requires aggressive offensive operations to root them out in their hiding places.  It also requires that U.S. forces participate in the chase.  Fire and melt-away must become less attractive to the Taliban.

It is partially for this reason The Captain’s Journal has claimed that there would be a so-called spring offensive by the Taliban (which U.S. Army intelligence and command in Afghanistan has repeatedly denied that this offensive would occur).  When NATO speaks of a spring offensive, they are talking tactical maneuvers and larger scale kinetic fights.  When we speak of a spring offensive, we are talking about guerrilla tactics – small teams, fire and melt away, etc.

Antonio Giustozzi is a research fellow at the London School of Economics who has studied the evolution of the Taliban since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, and he recently reiterated the same points that we made.

“Today, the Taliban are essentially a guerrilla movement, whereas in the 1990s — even in the early days of 1994 or 1995 — they were never something like that,” Giustozzi says. “Even when they were fighting for power, they were not using these guerrilla tactics. They were more like an army moving along the highways and trying to occupy the provincial centers. In that sense, the main difference is the way they operate. It is not so easy to say what their actual aims are.” 

But he says that, too, might change.

“Essentially, they say what they want is just to get the foreigners out of the country,” Giustozzi explains. “But even in the early days, they were claiming that their main aim was to pacify the country and bring back law and order — not to become a kind of government which would stay in power indefinitely, which, of course, proved not to be correct once they actually took Kabul.”

As for ordinary Taliban foot soldiers, recent research suggests that the Taliban has been recruiting a younger generation of Afghans to carry out suicide attacks and to fight within its rank and file.

Working for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Christine Fair last year studied the phenomenon of suicide bombings across Afghanistan. Her work led to important conclusions not only about suicide bombers, but also about the emergence of this new generation of Taliban fighters.

“The important big picture is Afghans like to tell you that this is a Pakistani phenomenon,” Fair says. “As we all know, there is Pakistani involvement. There is recruitment across the border. In the tribal areas, madrasahs figure prominently. But even if Pakistan went away, you still have a largely Afghan-driven insurgency.”

Fair describes the situation as a “cross-border phenomenon,” and says that “the insurgency is not going to be resolved if you think that the problem stops either at one side or the other of the Afghan border.”

Distributed operations include the use of suicide bombers, which we the Taliban have begun to see as their “smart bomb.”  While some of the ISAF generals have ridiculed the notion of an increase in Taliban violence, the top general in Afghanistan, Maj.Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, has gone on record saying that he expects increased insurgent activity.

Schloesser says violence “may well reach a higher level than it did in 2007,” now seen as the bloodiest year since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. The United Nations says more than 8,000 people, mostly rebels, died in insurgency-related violence last year.

Schloesser says the rebels are no military match for NATO forces.

Instead, they are increasingly directing attacks against civilians and Afghan police and security forces protecting development projects.

“They are going for what is an easier target,” said Schloesser, who heads the 101st Airborne Division. He took up his command in Afghanistan on April 10.

With the indigenous insurgency and the fact that deployment of Taliban fighters is likely complete, focus on the border may miss the point.  Force projection is needed inside Afghanistan, and the guerrilla fighters must be chased in order to create the security for the creation of infrastructure.

Continuing Operations Against the Sadrists

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

To a significant degree it appears that the Mahdi militia is disappearing from the streets of Basra.  Disappearing from the streets is not the same thing as being identified, disarmed and arrested.  But at least in Baghdad – and most specifically in Sadr City – their are continuing operations against the Sadrists.

US and Iraqi forces have killed at least 45 insurgents in fierce battles with Shiite fighters in eastern Baghdad over the past 24 hours, the US military said on Monday.

Three US soldiers were also killed in east Baghdad on Monday when they were hit by rocket or mortar fire, the military said.

Earlier, the military said seven “criminals” were killed in the flashpoint Sadr City district of the Iraqi capitalwhen US forces called up an aerial weapons team (AWT) and a M1A2 Abrams Tank after soldiers came under attack with small-arms fire.

Another 38 militiamen were killed on Sunday, including 22 in one of the heaviest clashes in weeks, when militiamen blasted Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone with rockets and mortars, taking advantage of a blinding dust storm that grounded US attack helicopters.

The biggest clash in the day-long battles came at dusk on Sunday when “a large group of criminals engaging with small-arms fire” attacked a security forces checkpoint, a US military statement said.

“US soldiers used 120 mm fire from M1A12 Abrams tanks and small-arms fire to kill … 22 criminals, forcing remaining enemy forces present to retreat,” the military said.

One particular statistic that cries out for robust counterinsurgency is that “More than 712 rockets and mortar rounds have been launched in Baghdad in the past month, according to Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, an Iraqi army spokesman.”  This divides to approximately 24 rounds of ordnance per day being launched within the confines of the city.  It isn’t likely that truces and offers of talks will persuade the militia to disarm.  Their disarmament will have to be forcible.

There has been speculation that with attention focused on the Mahdi militia, al Qaeda will have a chance to regroup and conduct an offensive.  Time engaged in such speculation, using as evidence only a few lone bombings.  There has also been speculation that al Qaeda would join forces with the Mahdi militia.  The Captain’s Journal judges both of these speculations to be so unlikely that the chances of obtaining are statistically insignificant.  The Sadrists and al Qaeda will not be able to get along any more than Ansar al Sunna or the 1920s Brigade could get along with al Qaeda.  Furthermore, there is too much history of violence between these two groups, the bombing of the Samarra shrine being one such unforgivable occurrence.

Operations continue against al Qaeda, and on April 28 the Sons of Iraq killed a dozen al qaeda fighters while defending themselves.  There has never been a time in the Iraq campaign in which operations against al Qaeda have ceased.  The Mahdi militia must be seen as the Shi’a equivalent of al Qaeda rather than a disenfranchised segment of the population.  The impoverished in Iraq are not one and the same with the militia.

Moderation on Basra and Sadr City

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

The Captain’s Journal has complained about analysis of the Basra and Sadr City fighting that tends toward the extremes.  Effusive analysis and reporting about the recent events is neither productive nor compelling.  A recent example of sardonic analysis comes from Dr. iRack at Abu Muqawama (Editorial note: Matthew Yglesias who writes for The Atlantic addresses previous Basra opinion from Dr. iRack, and in the same post, the commenters curse The Captain’s Journal.  This brings a smile to our face.  Riddle us this.  What could be better than to draw the ire of either Yglesias or his boy-fan readers?).

Dr. iRack has detected a new narrative coming out of the Iraqi Government (and MNF-I). The story goes something like this. “Once upon a time, a brave prime minister took on the criminals trying to destroy his kingdom. He sent a ‘charge of the knights’ deep into the rogue principality of Basra to slay the minions of the evil wizard Sadr and save countless damsels in distress. After a shakey start, the knights vanquished their foes. The black-pajama-clad-ninja-JAM-gangster-flying-monkeys flew away, and life returned to the streets. The world turned from black-and-white to technocolor. Damsels felt free to let down their hair and don multi-colored robes, children frolicked and went joyously back to school, long-delayed weddings commenced, popular bards were able to share their mirth-filled tunes, and celebratory gunfire rang throughout the land. And so they all lived happily ever after.”

For an eye-witness account of this transformation which basically tells this story (minus the sarcasm), see this piece in the London Times.

There seem to be many morals to this tale:

1. The limp-wristed British were defeated in Basra, but with a wee-bit of manly American help (advisors, air support), the JAMsters were sent scurrying.

2. The ISF (especially the Iraqi army) is more capable than all those playa-haters like the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction claim, despite all the difficulties during the early phase of the Basra operation and the need to fire 1,300 deserters who refused to fight JAM.

To be fair about our analysis of the British and the recent history of Basra, The Captain’s Journal has never claimed that the British are limp-wristed.  We have always claimed that the British warrior is as good as any, but that the Colonels and Generals misled their political leadership and failed their men.  The strategy is to blame, not the quality of the British enlisted men.  Nor have we made any claims concerning the presence of the U.S. in Basra.  However, it is unlikely that Dr. iRack is pointing to our analyses, especially since he links certain articles in his post.

His analysis drips with sarcasm, so much so that it may blind him to certain truths concerning the recent fighting.  All of the prose he (and anyone else) is capable of bringing to bear on the issue doesn’t change the facts that the Marines are standing down in Anbar because the campaign is complete, and the campaigns for Basra and Sadr City are just beginning.

In Concrete Walls for Sadr City, we noted that counterinsurgency tactics were finally being brought to Sadr City.  We were fooled by appearances, and it now has become clear that the walls are a continuing testimony to the aborted efforts against the Sadrists that have plagued the campaign from the beginning.  There are no intentions to continue the operation throughout Sadr City.

American and Iraqi forces building a wall in Sadr City have no plans to besiege the east Baghdad Shiite bastion where they have been battling militiamen for weeks, a US general said on Thursday.

“Our purpose is to secure only the southern part of Sadr City, to prevent rockets being fired towards the Green Zone from the area,” Major General Jeffery Hammond, commander of US forces in Baghdad, told a news conference.

Rather than see things from the extreme end of the spectrum (victory has been achieved within a few short weeks, contra victory cannot possibly be achieved no matter what), moderation and a measured approach is best.  The Captain’s Journal has found such an analysis, crafted by Richard S. Lowry writing at OpFor.  His analysis will be cited at length.

Last Tuesday evening an Apache helicopter crew noticed three criminals loading a mortar into the trunk of their car in Sadr City. After insuring there were no civilians nearby, the American soldiers fired a Hellfire missile which obliterated the front end of the vehicle. The criminals rushed to the mangled auto and grabbed the mortar, tossed it into a second vehicle and sped away.

Events like these have become commonplace as neither American nor Iraqi Security Forces have been patrolling the streets of Sadr City. Even though Muqtada al Sadr has declared a cease-fire, the Sadr City District has been a very dangerous place for Coalition forces. The lower-class neighborhoods of eastern Baghdad (Sadr City) continue to remain an Al Sadr stronghold. So much so, that the area has been cordoned and Iraqi and Coalition forces do not venture into the majority of the eastern Baghdad slums. The area is laced with IEDs and armed criminal elements that will stand and fight, if confronted. So, the majority of the Coalition’s security is facing inward and the city streets are patrolled from the sky. Contrary to some reports, Sadr City is not under siege. There are control points to stem the influx of illegal weapons, but people are free to come and go as they please.

Rest assured, Sadr City is under constant surveillance. High above the attacking Apache, an Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) circled the district. Air Force controllers watched the Apache attack and the enemy speed away in their streaming video broadcast from the drone. They stalked the vehicle as it sped through the streets like a hawk circling its prey. When the thugs finally stopped in an empty field, another Hellfire screamed out of the evening sky. This time both criminals were killed and the vehicle and mortar were destroyed.

There may not be a cop on every corner in Sadr City, but the ISF and American Forces can see what is going on and they can swiftly react to acts of aggression. For some time now, there has been a tense stalemate in Sadr City. Al Sadr’s radical followers continue to conduct violent acts in the form of mortar and rocket attacks, IED attacks on Coalition and Iraqi Security forces, and outright skirmishes with the authorities. More often than not, the fighters are rounded up or killed, but they continue to harass the establishment.

All the while, the vast majority of the civilian population is trying to live a peaceful life amid this small groups’ struggle for power and influence. Security is slowly returning to the other districts of Baghdad and as the streets become safer, overall life is improving for the every-day Iraqi. The streets are being cleaned up, markets, parks and schools are open and there is a glimmer of hope for the future. Bread winners are returning to work and children are returning to school.

But Muqtada and his followers do not want the people of Sadr City to gain hope for their future. Their power comes from the downtrodden, from the poor, from the disadvantaged. They want to have continued chaos in Sadr City, Baghdad and Iraq. Stability is their enemy. So, Sadr’s supporters roam the streets in armed gangs, lob mortar rounds at American facilities, plant IEDs and rocket the International Zone. Recently, after British troops withdrew from the streets of Basra, Sadrist thugs took over Iraq’s second largest city.

Last month, the Iraqi government moved to restore law and order in Basra. Until then, Muqtada al Sadr and his radical followers enjoyed a shaky stalemate with the Coalition forces and the government in Baghdad. Al Sadr, who has been hiding in Iran, has issued a fatwa declaring a cease-fire with the Multi-National Forces in Iraq. He has been literally sitting on the sidelines, waiting for American forces to go home. But, his Mahdi army has seized every opportunity to make trouble. Some – many – of Muqtada Al Sadr’s followers have violated the cease-fire and have quickly been killed or captured.

When the ISF moved to retake Basra, Sadrist thugs throughout the country counterattacked from Basra to Nasiriyah to Sadr City. Last week, Iranian-made 107mm rockets were hurled across the Tigris River into the International Zone from the most southern reaches of Sadr City. Iraqi Security Forces quickly moved into that area with coalition support. They have built a temporary barrier that separates the southern edge of the district from the rest of Sadr City. The rocket teams that have not been killed have been forced out of effective range to be able to hit the International Zone. While the ISF are in the lead, there is a considerable Coalition force supporting the Iraqis, particularly in the air.

With support of the Coalition, Iraqi Security Forces have had great success in neutralizing, killing and destroying the mortar and rocket teams who were firing from within Sadr City. “We have taken out literally dozens of those teams” Rear Admiral Greg Smith, Director of Communications for the Multi-National Force – Iraq, added that some of these criminals were, “in the process of setting up to fire.” These criminals were lobbing rockets across the Tigris River, attempting to hit government and Coalition targets in the International Zone. Most of the rockets fell short, killing and injuring innocent Iraqi civilians.

The burned out vehicles we are seeing in the streets on the nightly news belong to rocket and mortar teams, victims of precision weapons launched from Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) or Apache helicopters. The enemy cannot escape the watchful eyes of coalition forces. “What you have is a very persistent coverage from the air by US forces.” Smith went on to say, “We spot ‘em, we track ‘em and we kill ‘em.”

Still, the levels of violence today are higher than they were before Easter Sunday. There was a serious peak of violence after the Iraqi government moved to take back the streets of Basra. The number of incidents has recently decreased, but is still elevated in nearly every category.

What is Next?

The next few weeks will be crucial to bringing the citizens of Sadr City into the fold. Today, Muqtada al Sadr has a significant following within the slums of the city named after his martyred father. But, his influence is waning. Extremists want him dead and moderates are considering reconciliation. The Iraq government will be pumping $150,000,000 into the southern extremities of Sadr City. The money will be used to revitalize the areas that are under government control. If the moderates see that the government is making an effort to help the people of Sadr City, they may be inclined to denounce the violent elements that control their neighborhoods.

Even then, the future of the citizens of Eastern Baghdad, and most of southern Iraq, rests in the hands of Muqtada al Sadr and the violent factions within his following. If the government of Iraq can provide some political accommodations to the Sadrists, if Al Sadr can be convinced that he can maintain his power base peacefully, if the extreme shi’a can reconcile with the moderate shi’a, there might be a chance of a peaceful outcome in Sadr City.

Let us all hope that sane minds prevail because if they don’t, a military operation will be needed to clear Sadr City, ala Najaf, Fallujah and Basra. Muqtada Al Sadr needs to realize that we can do this the easy way or the hard way, but the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces will not be deterred from bringing peace and stability to all the people of Iraq, including those in Sadr City.

This is careful reporting, and readers should make OpFor a daily stop.  The Basra campaign was aborted.  More needs to be done.  Sadr City is just beginning.  The Sadrists are the most prolific provider of welfare funds in Iraq.  Their power springs from the impoverished, and they won’t slink away into the night without a fight.  The SIIC needs to be forced to demonstrate their loyalties.  The best way to do this is to place them at the point in targeting Iranian elements within Iraq.  They, more than any other group, would be in a position to identify Quds operators, IRG fighters, Iranian weapons caches, Iranian training camps for insurgents, and Iranian smuggling lines and monies.  If they will not do this, then their loyalties are proven to be with Iran rather than Iraq.  They cannot be considered a legitimate part of the Iraqi government.

The campaign involving the Sadrists and SIIC –  it isn’t lost, and it hasn’t been won.  The campaign to bring Iraqi law and order to their encampments is just beginning.  As we have said about every engagement, patience and force projection are the two most critical elements to success.

The Torkham Crossing

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

In Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan we set out the intended strategy of attacking NATO supply lines through the Khyber pass.  This Al Jazeera video does a fairly good job of laying out the strategy and summarizing the importance of this plan to date.

This strategy is, according to an Asia Times report, in tatters, and according to a Globe and Mail report, meeting resistance.  The Asia Times report is lengthy but gives us a glimpse into the treachery involved  along the Khyner pass from a trader named Namdar, who apparently sold the Taliban out for $150 000 right around the time of the March 20 attack on 40 gasoline tankers.

Unlike in previous Taliban attacks in the area, local paramilitary forces chased the Taliban after this incident. The Taliban retaliated and five soldiers were killed, but then their ammunition ran out and they surrendered the two workers and tried to flee, but they were blocked.

The Taliban called in reinforcements, but so did the paramilitary troops, and a stalemate was reached. Eventually, the Taliban managed to capture a local political agent (representing the central government) and they used him as a hostage to allow their escape.

They retreated to their various safe houses, but to their horror, paramilitary troops were waiting for them and scores were arrested, and their arms caches seized. A number of Taliban did, however, manage to escape once word got out of what was happening.

The only person aware of the safe houses was Namdar, their supposed protector: they had been sold out.

Their worst suspicions were confirmed when Namdarbroke his cover and announced on a local radio station that Taliban commanders, including Ustad Yasir, should surrender or face a “massacre”, as happened when local tribes turned against Uzbek fighters in South Waziristan in January 2007.

Namdar said that he had the full weight of the security forces behind him, and he did not fear any suicide attack.

Al-Qaeda and the Taliban immediately called an emergency shura in North Waziristan to review the situation. Al-Qaeda’s investigations revealed that the CIA and Pakistani intelligence had got to Namdarand paid him $150,000 in local currency.

The immediate result is that Taliban operations in Khyber Agency have been cut off. This in itself is a major setback, as the attacks on supply lines had hit a raw NATO nerve.

In the broader context, Namdar’s betrayal vividly illustrates the dangers of traitors within the ranks of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The fear is that the various peace deals being signed now between the Islamabad government and selected tribal leaders could lead to a whole new batch of betrayals.

Namdar is a pawn, and the real power according to the Globe and Mail report is a tribal leader who owns a local army of fighters.

An Islamist warlord whose fighters are overrunning Pakistan’s famous Khyber Pass area may now be the only force stopping the Taliban from swooping in to cut off this key supply route for NATO in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Mangal Bagh, who leads a group called Lashkar-i-Islam, said in an interview that he has rebuffed an offer from Pakistan’s Taliban to join them. Although he voiced his disdain for the United States, his independence is likely to be significant for NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan.

Khyber agency is a 2,500-square-kilometre district that is part of Pakistan’s tribal belt, and truckloads of food, equipment and fuel for NATO troops wind through it daily to the bustling border at Torkham. Last week, fighting between Mr. Bagh’s men and a pocket of resistance around the town of Jamrut closed the Pak-Afghan highway for several days.

Mr. Bagh’s stronghold, the market town of Bara, is a 30-minute drive from the city-centre of the provincial capital, Peshawar. An escort of his heavily armed followers is needed to reach his fortified compound in the surrounding countryside.

“I’m not the ruler of Khyber, I’m the servant,” said Mr. Bagh, who had an unexpectedly gentle manner, as he relaxed with his Kalashnikov-toting men, drinking tea. “My aim is to finish all social evils.”

There have been repeated entreaties to combine forces from the Pakistani Taliban, who run other parts of the country’s wild northwestern border terrain, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A traditional jirga, a meeting of elders, was held between Lashkar-i-Islam and the Taliban about 40 days ago.

“I told them that what I am doing is enough. It is the right direction. There is no need to join you,” he said.

“The Taliban consists of religious scholars. We are fighters for Islam – laypeople. We don’t have any religious figures in our organization.”

However, he said that the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan was “wrong” and that U.S. soldiers must leave.

Our assessment is that this is a mixed blessing.  First, Asia Times can give good information, but tends towards exaggeration, and it isn’t likely that the whole strategy of attacking NATO supply lines is in tatters.  Second, before beginning the dances of jubilation over the failure of the Taliban approach, remember that Mangal Bagh is no friend of the U.S.  It is likely that the battles in this area are just beginning.  The Taliban have not typically been inclined to give up after the first battle.

Continued CIA pressure must be brought to bear in this region, in addition to UAV strikes when known Taliban are observed.  This force must be balanced against the need to prevent targeting Mangal’s fighters, even if he is unfriendly to NATO efforts.  For now, at least, he must be considered a friend, even if a tenuous and potentially treacherous one at that.


Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan

The Khyber Pass

Can NATO be Rehabilitated?

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

In Command Structure Changes for Afghanistan, using a Voice of America report, we discussed the talks going on within the Pentagon and even openly by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates indicating that there may be command structure changes coming for Operation Enduring Freedom.  These hints come right after the announcement that General Petraeus will take over CENTCOM in the coming months, and the intention seems to be fairly clear that the U.S. wants a more independent role in the Afghanistan campaign.

Rumsfeld left us with [at least] three artifacts of his command over OEF.  First, a small footprint model for COIN.  Second, a rapid drawdown of forces, and third, turnover of the campaign to NATO.  All three decisions have proven to be wrong with consequences bordering on disastrous.  Gates is attempting to reverse the final remaining impediment to success of the effort in Afghanistan – NATO.

Another alternative is discussed by Kip at Abu Muqawama, NATO’s Counterinsurgency Doctrine could stand some overhaul.

Doctrine, as Colin Gray once wrote, is the skeleton upon which the sinew and flesh of armies are built. Perhaps then, with no NATO doctrine for the conduct of a war among the people, it should be no surprise that the NATO-led ISAF in Afghanistan has often appeared spineless.

NATO has recognized this problem and has commissioned the Dutch who have been operating in Uruzgan province alongside the Australians to write NATO’s counterinsurgency doctrine.

This past month, a smattering of counterinsurgency thinkers to include the Counterinsurgency Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth met with the doctrine’s lead writers to provide inputs. That said, the “A-team” for developing US counterinsurgency doctrine has not been called out to facilitate and assist. Kip hopes this is not indicative of the amount of emphasis that NATO is placing on the doctrine itself.

Kip goes on to describe several changes that need to occur to the COIN doctrine in OEF, all of which are good.  Kip is wasting time and brain power on a hopeless cause.  If the Dutch are in charge it doesn’t bode well since they have no counterinsurgency experience.  They also recently deployed troops to the campaign who were surprised that the Taliban were engaged in armed resistance to NATO forces.  The British want to pull back on the violence, reminiscent of their irrelevant recollections of Northern Ireland.

Quite simply, the U.S. doesn’t have the time to teach counterinsurgency to nations which have never engaged in such.  But the problem runs deeper than COIN.  The various international armies represented in Afghanistan have different perceptions at home along with varying levels of support for their engagement.  This fact causes the retreat to FOBs in spite of and regardless of COIN doctrine.  This, combined with troublesome and arrogant resistance among senior leadership in Afghanistan causes bureaucratic red tape to continue to undermine the efforts.

Gates knows that the promotion of Petraeus to command CENTCOM might be an irrelevant move unless U.S. forces are free to conduct counterinsurgency as they need to.  Further attempts to rehabilitate NATO will only waste more time – time that is not available in the campaign.  Rather than rehabilitate something that is incorrigible by nature, Gates is trying to recast the problem as counterinsurgency rather than NATO intransigence.

The Taliban: An Organizational Analysis

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

Major Niel Smith of the Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center linked a magnificent study in a Small Wars Journal discussion thread, entitled The Taliban: An Organizational Analysis.  There are many very important observations in this study, and The Captain’s Journal will be drawing lessons from this document in the coming weeks.  However, even great studies can be wrong at points.

On page 65 there is an organizational diagram of the Taliban, showing Mullah Muhammad Omar as being at the head of the “organization,” with Baitullah Mehsud as being somewhere down in the chain of command.  This view of things is dated and doesn’t comport with the more recent evolution of the Taliban.

Baitullah Mehsud is indeed at the head of a conglomeration of Taliban tribes known as Tehrik-i-Taliban.  But Mehsud has a Pakistan-centric focus which angered Mullah Omar and others within the loose Taliban organization.  Baitullah Mehsud is the most powerful man in Waziristan.  Essentially, he is the government.  He should be seen more as an organizational equivalent to Omar, even if ideologically the same.

The earlier reports of Mullah Omar “sacking” Baitullah Mehsud amounted to Omar testing his power, or at least, incorrectly presuming upon his power.  He found out that in fact he didn’t have the authority to pull off such a move, and rather than have an ugly and embarrassing split in the Taliban, an agreement was reached to save face and keep the groups closely aligned and cooperative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two lessons.  First, the Taliban cannot be neatly grouped in boxes on an organizational chart.  The structure is too fluid and amorphous to be amenable to Western ideas of charts.  Second, even the best analyses can be dated, even if still useful.

Command Structure Changes for Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

In Changes for Petraeus and Odierno: The Challenges Ahead, while discussing the recent flurry of events surrounding the announcements concerning CENTCOM and MNF, we said that Petraeus:

… inherits a campaign in Afghanistan that not only languishes for forces and force projection, but in which NATO is an impediment to success rather than a catalyst.  Strategy in the Afghanistan campaign is a byword and up for sale to the most troublesome child, and thus U.S. forces are in constant debates over everything from tactics to radio frequencies.

Either someone is listening or our warnings are prescient.  Just today it was announced that there may be command structure changes for Operation Enduring Freedom.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Pentagon officials are discussing possible changes to the NATO and coalition command structure in Afghanistan. But he says the United States is not ready to make a formal proposal to its allies. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon …

Central Command normally supervises U.S. military involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But a year and a half ago most of the international forces in Afghanistan, including most of the U.S. troops, were put under NATO control, leaving the Central Command chief outside their chain of command.

That is something Secretary Gates says U.S. officials might want to change.

“There’s been a lot of discussion in this building about whether we have the best possible command arrangements in Afghanistan,” said Secretary Gates. “I’ve made no decisions. I’ve made no recommendations to the president. We’re still discussing it.”

Afghanistan currently has a dual command structure, with some of the 35,000 U.S. troops, and some forces from other nations, still under the original U.S.-led coalition that invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

Some officers complain that the dual command is not as effective or coordinated as it should be. But Secretary Gates says it may be difficult to change.

“The command structure, I think, is a sensitive matter in terms of the eyes of our allies,” he said. “And so if there were to be any discussion of changes in the command structure, it would require some pretty intensive consultations with our allies and discussion about what makes sense going forward.”

One option might be to make ISAF the command equivalent of MNF and allow NATO to perform overall operational command in terms of public affairs, logistics, force protection, etc., and place U.S. commanders out from under the direct operational control of NATO, i.e., organizationally, U.S. troops would only be matrixed to NATO for certain functions and operations.  The strategy, operational decision-making and direct organizational command would come from CENTCOM, and thus Petraeus would ultimately be in charge of the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan (kinetic operations, reconstruction, transition teams, etc.).

The Captain’s Journal doesn’t know exactly what will happen, but this we do know based on the debacle we have witnessed to get the Marines into action in the theater.  Changes will come and the COIN campaign will be conducted, strategically speaking, by the U.S., or it will not succeed.

Changes for Petraeus and Odierno: The Challenges Ahead

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

As reported by the Associated Press, General David Petraeus is becoming commander of CENTCOM, and Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno is headed back to Iraq to take over after the departure of Petraeus.  The Captain’s Journal is fond of both Petraeus and Odierno, and we believe that the two taken together, regardless of how talented they might be individually, were more effective than either one could have been alone.  They have been a powerfully effective team.

As we discussed in The War Over the Wars, we have well sourced reason to believe that notwithstanding personality issues or differences of opinion in going forward positions, one significant actor in the departure of Fallon was the degree to which the administration listened to the generals when it concerned tooling the force for the long war.

As Petraeus takes over CENTCOM, he inherits a campaign in Iraq that absolutely must be completed to ensure regional stability and the relative absence of militancy, while also squarely facing the problem of force size and Soldiers and Marines on their fourth and fifth combat tours.  He also inherits a campaign in Afghanistan that not only languishes for forces and force projection, but in which NATO is an impediment to success rather than a catalyst.  Strategy in the Afghanistan campaign is a byword and up for sale to the most troublesome child, and thus U.S. forces are in constant debates over everything from tactics to radio frequencies.

Odierno expands from his AO to a larger one.  These two men are right for the job, right now.  But it remains to be seen if they will force the hand of the Pentagon and administration to make it clear to the American public that the global war on terror will be successfully fought only at a cost.

They have both seen now first hand that forces are necessary to do the job of counterinsurgency in this part of the world and addressing the transnational nature of the enemy, and that more doctrine doesn’t help if the force size is not commensurate with the challenge.  Will Petraeus and Odierno perform commensurate with their challenges?

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