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]

Basra Confusion

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 12 months ago

One commenter wants The Captain’s Journal to update the Basra analysis because the Iraqi Army now “owns Basra.”  Indeed.  We do not engage in talking points, nor do we jump quickly on analysis results.  Our commentary and analysis is usually careful and measured.  General Petraeus is careful and measured too, and he feels that the campaign for Basra will last months.  So let’s survey a few analysts on the current state of affairs on Basra and the Shi’a situation.  Let’s begin with Nibras Kazimi.

Anonymous British commanders had told the UK’s Telegraph a couple of days ago that the Iraqi Army’s military operation in Basra was an “unmitigated disaster” and that the Iraqi commander leading it, General Mohan al-Freiji, is a “dangerous lunatic”.

It’s funny how the story never seems to get around to the point that the Iraqi Army managed to achieve in Basra what the British never could, namely, to control the city and smash the organized crime cartels.

I mean, just the image of the Sadrists being evicted from their main office in Basra two days ago should have been enough to clue-in some observers out there as to who ended up winning in Basra, despite the hasty forecasts of the media and their associated go-to ‘experts’.

But I guess it isn’t, since most reporters are still swooning over Muqtada al-Sadr’s latest threat of an “all out war” and are still peddling discredited gossip that overstates Iran’s influence in Iraqi affairs.

Got that?  Kazimi knows more than Army intelligence in Iraq, enough to know that talk about Iranian influence is overblown and discredited gossip.  Perhaps someone ought to have told Petraeus before his testimony to congress.  Continuing with Kazimi:

… some in Maliki’s circle has come to believe this rumor: British intelligence deliberately allowed Basra to turn into a hellhole so that this port city would never rival Dubai, whose princes bankroll British intelligence operations across the Middle East. Hey it’s just a rumor, right? But it get fishier when it’s synced-up with intelligence reports reaching Maliki’s office that allege that the Maktoum royals of Dubai have been funding some of Basra’s militias.

Oh my.  The Captain’s Journal fears that Kazimi might have taken a blow to the head.  Finally, Kazimi invokes a hate-relationship he has to ask for Arabic translators.

In other news, I’d like some help in figuring this out: are any of these following experts fluent in Arabic, and by fluent I don’t mean ‘Marc Lynch fluent’ but rather actually fluent: Bruce Hoffman, Kenneth M. Pollock, Juan Cole, Ira M. Lapidus, and Reuel M. Gerecht.

We don’t understand this obsession with hatred of Marc Lynch.  But since he has taken off on him again and ventured outside the constraints of the subject, we’ll turn our attention to other analysts.

Mostafa Zein with Dar Al-Hayat opines on al-Hakim’s party, the real winner in all of this, saying:

The Council’s spokesperson, Ali al-Adib, considers that the culture of the entire region is Islamic, written in Arabic. In other words, al-Adibdenies the existence of Arab culture, except in the framework of Islamic culture. When he talks about this culture, we understand that he only means its inherited sectarian component. Thus, ties with Iran go beyond politics, in terms of interest, and are deeply cultural and historical as they bring both sides together.

The danger of such remarks is that they dwarf culture down to the sectarian perception. It is as dangerous as the perception held by the “jihadists,” namely that their totalitarian type of thought is universal. Both sides cast out from paradise anyone who opposes them. Both sides have a unilateralist view of culture. They do not take into consideration the fact that any type of thought, whether or not religious, in any language, is based in its historicaland cultural framework, and can have an impact on the environment in which it develops and by which it is influenced … What concerns us here is that while he builds his relationship with Iran on a sectarian basis, he sees the interest of Iraq only from this angle, Iran sees this relationship only from the angle of guaranteeing its interests as a state with a history dating back to pre-Islam and its sects. Perhaps the most recent confrontation in Basra between the government and the Sadrists is the best example to support this premise.

Tehran sided with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and al-Hakim against al-Sadr. Iran had bet on both sides for a number of reasons. The most important of these reasons is that al-Hakim was and remains the most enthusiastic supporter of federalism. He did not object to the constitution that sets out a federal identity for Iraq, made up of sects and ethnicities – “The Arabs (in Iraq) are a part of the Arab Nation”. On the other hand, al-Sadr opposed the constitution, federalism and the division of the country’s wealth, and this naturally is not in Iran’s interest.

Iran’s support for al-Hakim and Sadr, prior to and after the war, eventually had to reach the point of making preferences, especially at such a critical period. The upcoming provincial council elections will determine the future of Southern Iraq and the relationship of the periphery to the central authority. It is in Iran’s interest for al-Hakim to wield influence in this region which borders Iran.

Got that?  Iran is deeply involved in Iraq, and al-Hakim is the best friend of Iran due to his party’s view of federalism inside Iraq.  Federalism, implies Zein, is deeply beneficial to Iran because of the weak state and strong sectarian ties it would engender.  So let’s turn to another Middle East analyst, Daniel Graeber who published a commentary with UPI.

“At some point,” White adds, “Maliki and Sadr had a falling out, mainly because of U.S. pressure on Maliki to distance himself and his government from this brash, ambitious and anti-American cleric and his violent Mahdi Army and U.S. pressure on Sadr rival Abdul Aziz al-Hakim to support Maliki in order to supplant Sadr.”

Hakim began to worry about the Sadrist influence in the Shiite south as most of Sadr’s group fled to Basra shortly after the U.S. troop surge. Hakim saw his influence in the Maliki government as an opportunity to take more control over Basra and its key oil reserves. In March U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney met with Hakim for several hours outside of the Green Zone. Hakim emerged saying he saw eye to eye with Cheney on security issues.

The day after Cheney’s visit with Hakim, a reconciliation conference in Baghdad failed from the start as Sadrist representatives stormed out of the meeting over complaints of marginalization in Parliament. The following day, March 19, under intense U.S. pressure, the three-member presidency council approved a slate of laws, including one that paved the way for October provincial elections, after Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi of SIIC lifted his objection.

As Cheney left Baghdad for Washington, Maliki left for Basra to oversee security operations. Sadr loyalists at this point held many of the key positions in the south because of dissatisfaction with Hakim loyalists there. Maliki decided it was time to show the world that Iraqi security forces could lead an assault without the help of the U.S. military and took on the militias in Basra.

A June 2007 report by the International Crisis Group describes Basra as the defacto economic capital of Iraq because of its port access and oil reserves. The SIIC wanted to control Basra from Baghdad, while the Sadrists were happy to control things from the streets. Hakim was not on good terms with the Sadrists, accusing the group of assassinating SIIC governors in August 2007 and his own brother, Ayatollah Bakr al-Hakim, in 2003. The conflict in Basra in late March 2008 put Hakim and Maliki against Sadr, and the political arena became a bloody battle for control.

Maliki understands his government is rife with corruption and suffers from incompetence, so he sees his battle with Sadr as an opportunity to boost legitimacy in Baghdad.

“Maliki might have wanted to demonstrate that he could act on his own without (the U.S. military) in a show of strength. If so, it backfired,” White said.

The conflict in Basra was largely a political move, setting the stage for the October elections. Meanwhile, Iran is seeing the unraveling of the Shiite blocs in Iraq, and with no clear winner coming out of Basra, Tehran is backing every horse in the race. Despite a variety of political conflicts underneath the surface of the Basra conflict, it is the upcoming provincial elections that dominate the Shiite row.

With Maliki limping back to Baghdad, his perception that he could emerge as an able leader dissolved. It appears he is at the mercy of Tehran and, closer to home, the SIIC and Hakim. Beyond that, both leaders must answer to Iran before they answer to the United States.

Got that? Maliki is limping back to Baghdad at the mercy of Tehran, while the U.S. is not the strongest force in the region by any assessment.

Next, we observe that Tigerhawk declares, following a New York Times report, that the battle is over and has been wonEd Morrissey waxes positive about Basra and the return of the Sunnis to the government, connecting the two ideas in his post.  Mohammed Fadhil says that the war is far from being over, while he had previously said:

Some people began to mock the operation calling it “Qadissiyat Al-Maliki” (in reference to Qadissiyat Saddam, the name Saddam used to call the 8-year war with Iran) others went as far as calling it the Rats Charge instead of Knights Charge. The reason is that the leader was there in person yet he couldn’t finish the job.

That should be enough.  Let’s summarize.  Iran is empowered now more than ever, or not, depending upon which analysis you believe.  Iraqi troops behaved just swimmingly, or not, depending upon which analysis you believe.  It’s completely over, done with and completed, or not, depending upon which analysis you believe.

The Captain’s Journal knows this.  In conventional warfare, decisive battles can be fought in several days or weeks that set the pace for a campaign and literally determine its outcome.  In counterinsurgency, it’s just not that way.  To understand this point, we need to go no further than Fallujah.  One could have claimed that victory was achieved – it was done, completed and finished on schedule in late 2004 after the second battle of Fallujah.  Of course, this claim would have been a lie, even if unintentional.

Fallujah required literally three more years of conflict, finally ending with Operation Alljah with the 2/6 Marines in 2007.  This fact is not a vociferous call for depression or negative press or charges of anti-war bias, even though usually reflexively taken that way by the political right.  Quite the contrary.  It is a call to patience, despite the felt need for good news now.  Good news may not be as timely as we would like in COIN, but it is almost always connected to commitment.

**** UPDATE ****

Nibras Kazimi kindly contacted us and corrected an error: “The translated Al-Hayat article you cite is mistaken: Ali al-Adib is a member of the Da’awa Party, and not of Al-Hakim’s Supreme Council. Al-Zein is a Lebanese writer.”

Gates Impales U.S. on Horns of a Dilemma

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 12 months ago

The Captain’s Journal is fond of Defense Secretary Gates.  Nonetheless, he leaves us with no good choice concerning the nuclear future of Iran.  This is in logical terms what is called a dilemma.  Gates spoke at West Point (h/t Small Wars Journal Blog), and in part had this to say.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he believes Iran is “hell bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons, but he warned in strong terms of the consequences of going to war over that.

“Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need and, in fact, I believe it would be disastrous on a number of levels,” he said in a speech he was delivering Monday evening at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

A copy of his prepared remarks was provided in advance by the Pentagon.

He said he favors keeping the military option against Iran on the table, “given the destabilizing policies of the regime and the risks inherent in a future Iranian nuclear threat — either directly or through proliferation.”

Gates also said that if the war in Iraq is not finished on favorable terms the consequences could be dire.

“It is a hard sell to say we must sustain the fight in Iraq right now, and continue to absorb the high financial and human costs of this struggle, in order to avoid an even uglier fight or even greater danger to our country in the future,” he said.

But he added that the U.S. experience with Afghanistan — helping the Afghans oust Russian invaders in the 1980s only to abandon the country and see it become a haven for Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network — makes it clear to him that a similar approach in Iraq would have similar results.

The Captain’s Journal echoes these sentiments in the superlative.  Iraq must be finished, and Afghanistan is suffering for troop presence.  So is Iran really “hell bent” on aquiring nuclear weapons?  Common sense says that she is.

While there are several more enrichment facilities that are in the planning stages, the U.S. has only a single operating commercial enrichment plant in Paducah, Kentucky, and this to support approximately one hundred nuclear reactors (some amount comes from Russian facilities).  Enrichment, whether via gaseous diffusion or centrifuges, is simply difficult.  The technology is complex, the maintenance is never ending, intricate and onerous, and the process is expensive.  There is absolutely no economic justification for starting and continuing the technology for doing it if it can be done in Russia or elsewhere.  Yet Iran wants enrichment, and the reason can only be nuclear weapons.

So if this is so, and if Gates [a] knows it to be true, but [b] warns against war and doesn’t give us any other choice, then have we not been impaled on the horns of a dilemma?  In fact, Gates has not mentioned the only truly viable option, i.e., regime change in Iran.

In IRack, Iraq and Iran, we observed “The opinions on Iran seem to hang around on the edges of the extreme.  Either have talks with them and hope to be successful without ever threatening military action, or go full bore into conventional operations against a uniformed army.  Each option is ugly.  The first will be unsuccessful, the second will be bloody.”

We then opined that the only real option is turnover of the Khamenei regime to democracy, that is, removal of the radical Mullahs from power.  There are any number of ways to be a catalyst for this change, from State Department support for democracy programs to fomenting an insurgency inside of Iran.

Whatever path or combination of paths is chosen, being on the horns of a dilemma calls for escaping the dilemma and pursuing something viable.  Gates should have at least pointed this out to his listeners.

IRack, Iraq and Iran

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 12 months ago

Today HS dropped by Abu Muqawama’s place for a rockin’ and rollin’ good time.  We’ll do so again.  The discussions in the comments, other than a good bit of sophistry to attempt to prove that Iran really isn’t involved much in Iraq, is fairly complicated and you can drop by to study them.  HS feels pretty jazzed and is ready to challenge some of the boys to a mixed martial arts cage match.  Yep, HS here is 48 mature years of age with a distinguished mixture of silver in his hair, but his bench press is pretty good and he wouldn’t hesitate to throw down with the best of ’em.  HS feels some Gracie Jiu-Jitsu coming on.

But there is an issue that is so important that we’ll tackle it again.  We never tire of pointing out the truth.  In the comments you will note a narrative that keeps coming up time and again – that is, reaching out will work, and it is exactly what was done in Anbar.  Reaching out, it is claimed, is not what we did in Basra and the balance of the South of Iraq, and thus we ceded moral authority to the Iranians.  It is the fault of not reaching out.  HS is embarrassed that it took him so long in the comments to spot this error in doctrine.  Hopefully the kind reader will forgive HS.

If this is seen as an exclusive use narrative, i.e., it is about reaching out and nothing more, then HS says balderdash!  Fairy tales, lies and myth-telling!  Sure, Captain Travis Patriquin and his cultural and language skills and ideas were important.  It is nice that Patriquin drank lots of Chai.  Many Soldiers and Marines drank lots of very sweet Chai with many Iraqis.  And it made them happy.  And they watched television inside homes too, sometimes.  Fun times all around!

But while on the one hand the U.S. “reached out” in this way, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha and his tribesmen were being bitterly fought and many were dying.  In addition to operations against the tribal fighters, a unit was specifically designated to cut his smuggling lines and thus shut down his source of income.  On a related note, HS had an opportunity to study a pre-release of Major Niel Smith’s Anbar Awakens: The Tipping Point.  In addition to including Patriquin’s slides, the good Major includes this summary point at the end: “Never stop looking for another way to attack the enemy.”  “Oooohh, said HS to Major Niel.  You are engaged in some truth-telling here.  Some of the COIN boys won’t like that very much.”  Major Niel told the truth anyway.  Here at The Captain’s Journal we call this force projection, and we have a category for it.

It’s remarkable how much easier it is to convince yourself that America should be courted when your tribesmen are showing up dead and your income has dried up because your smugglers have either been killed or cannot operate safely any more.  Sheikh Sattar’s “flipping” to our side was set up with great, painstaking care and much precision.  Also, HS has detailed knowledge of many things that happened in Fallujah in 2007 to finish off al Qaeda in Anbar, and this knowledge doesn’t change any of the above (wink!).

Counterinsurgency is certainly one part language, one part cultural knowledge, one part negotiations, and so on.  But it must be all mixed up with a healthy dose of kinetic operations against the enemy.  If those who conduct COIN do not apply it in this manner, there is no incentive to talk at the table (or over Chai).  In the South where the British were responsible, they didn’t operate from a position of strength.  From the very beginning it was soft covers, tepid rules of engagement, and a premium on nonkinetic operations.  Out of this sprang the Jaish a Mahdi and the strengthening of Badr.

And what does this all have to do with Iran?  More talks with Iran are recommended (see IRack’s post at Abu’s place).  Since HS was compared to Michael Ledeen in the comments at Abu’s place, we’ll quote Ledeen.  No, wait.  We won’t just yet.  Let’s point something out to the idiot detractors.  HS has a son who was in harm’s way in Fallujah, Iraq in 2007.  He will be again.  Ledeen has had multiple sons in harm’s way.  Neither HS nor Ledeen opines without the burden of his offspring on his heart.  This isn’t bare doctrine to us.

Ledeen also, contrary to the many doltish hacks who wish to malign his views, doesn’t favor war with Iran.  Not by a long shot.  HS has corresponded with Ledeen at length on this issue.  The opinions on Iran seem to hang around on the edges of the extreme.  Either have talks with them and hope to be successful without ever threatening military action, or go full bore into conventional operations against a uniformed army.

Each option is ugly.  The first will be unsuccessful, the second will be bloody.  Ledeen is, contrary to popular depictions, quite moderate in his views.  Push for democracy in Iran.  The end of the Khamenei regime will see the end of the meddling in Iraq.  As for talks with Iran, let’s study what Ledeen has to say about them.  Some of the authors and commenters at Abu’s place are quite young, and may not remember what someone with, um, distinguished silver in his hair may remember about Iran over lo these many years.

Senator Barack Obama wants to talk to our Middle Eastern enemies, notably Iran. He can’t imagine a happy resolution of the war without such talks. And he seems to think this desire is something new, maybe even revolutionary.

He apparently does not know that it is not at all new, and certainly not revolutionary. It is instead the fully tested “policy” of the United States for the past thirty years, ever since the seizure of power by the mullahs in 1979. We have had high-level and low-level talks, public and private talks, talks conducted by diplomats, by spooks, and by a colorful array of intermediaries ranging from former Spanish President Felipe Gonzales to nephews of Rafsanjani, Iranian-American businessmen, former NSC and CIA members, and others with more dubious qualifications.

All failed. As Ken Pollack recounts in his book, The Persian Puzzle, every carrot was offered and every stick was brandished. We tried everything. The Iranians were not interested …

Whether Badr, Sadr, Quds, IRG or the Iranian mullahs, talking from a position of weakness will lead to loss, and talking from a position of strength is always best; remember your training in Sun Tzu, dear military reader?  Does HS have to quote it for you?

International Doubts about the Afghanistan Campaign

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 12 months ago

The Canadians are having misgivings about the Afghanistan campaign, even as Canadian Brigadier General Denis Thompson is preparing to take over head of NATO forces there.  The disagreement is over the very nature of the mission and how to ensure the departure of Canadian forces as soon as possible.

Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan was looking murky as the week began. On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier told news reporters that Canada felt it was time to replace Kandahar governor Asadullah Khalid, who has been linked to persistent reports of torture and corruption.

Then, on Tuesday, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier announced his retirement after three years as Canada’s top soldier.

By the end of the week, opposition MPs were calling for Bernier’s resignation. “The minister still doesn’t understand that he put the government of Afghanistan in an impossible situation,” said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.

Nobody articulated it, but Bernier was acting and talking like he worked for the U.S. State Department, not Canada’s Foreign Affairs department. Americans have no hesitation about telling other countries what to do and how to do it. Their meddling is renowned, right down to plotting coups and takeovers and attempting assassinations. Bernier was, indeed, trying to influence an internal Afghan matter, albeit in softer tones.

Many feel that his leadership made the Afghanistan mission possible. In his three years as chief of defence staff, Hillier skilfully changed the perception of the Canadian Forces among Canadians. Their first job, he told us, was to kill. He boosted morale among the troops with his unreserved support and respect for them. He got them the funding and equipment they needed to be, for the first time since the Korean War, full-fledged combatants.

Between the foreign affairs faux pas and the general’s departure, could Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan collapse? That’s not likely, according to journalist and author Linda McQuaig, who was in Kingston this week to talk about how Canada, since marching into Afghanistan, has become complicit in U.S. militaristic designs.

McQuaig says we’ve made a big mistake trading in our famous blue United Nations peacekeeping helmets for the khaki desert camouflage of a U.S.-led NATO conflict. She believes Canadian troops will always be viewed by Afghans as an invading force and, as such, will always be held in suspicion and subjected to attacks.

The political reality of the mission’s future, McQuaig argues, is that even should the Liberals oust the Conservatives in an election, the deal the Tories struck agreeing to extend the mission to 2011 will be honoured. Liberal leader Stephane Dion, she says, was “bullied by [MPs Michael] Ignatieff and [Bob] Rae” into cutting a deal with the Conservatives.

The deal cut between the Liberals and Conservatives calls for the pullout of Canadian soldiers by the end of 2011. But will we be able to do that in good conscience knowing that the vacuum left by a withdrawal would be filled by either the return of the Taliban or the warlords who have historically divided and conquered the nation? Of course not. That’s why Canada must open the way for negotiations between the current, democratically elected Afghan government and the Taliban. Detente is the only hope for peace and progress in Afghanistan after 2011.

The solution, it is claimed, it to negotiate with the Taliban.  These calls for negotiations are well worn and not limited to Canada.  The new Pakistani regime has been negotiating with the Taliban ever since taking authority.  These negotiations, or jirga, may soon reap rewards, but not for the Pakistani government.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Wednesday claimed a breakthrough in talks with the government for restoration of peace to the restive tribal areas and militancy-hit Swat valley.

“Our talks have entered into a crucial phase and there is a possibility of signing a peace accord next week,” remarked Maulvi Omar, a TTP spokesman.

The TTP is an association of all the militant groups operating in the seven tribal regions as well as 24 settled districts of NWFP.

The TTP is a conglomeration of tribal warlords and fighters led by Baitullah Mehsud, whom we profiled in Baitullah Mehsud: The Most Powerful Man in Waziristan.

Talking to ‘The News’ from an undisclosed location, he avoided disclosing identity of the jirga members brokering the deal between the government and militants.

Omar said both sides had forwarded their respective demands and proposals to the negotiating team for restoration of peace in the region.

“We have been showing maximum flexibility in our stance and strictly stand by the ceasefire that we announced earlier for success of our talks,” the spokesman said.

About some of their demands forwarded to the jirga members, Omar said they wanted an end to military operations, which according to him caused numerous hardships to the common tribes people including release of their people being held during military actions and compensation for those suffered losses.

Sounding optimistic about their negotiations, he claimed the talks could make a breakthrough next week and could pave the way for signing a peace deal.

About the government’s stand for not including foreign militants in the negotiation process, Omar strongly denied presence of foreigners in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and alleged that government had killed innocent people in the name of war on terrorism and foreign elements as, according to him, all the important al-Qaeda members like Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Zubeda were arrested from Islamabad and Faisalabad.

“There is no need for foreign militants in the tribal areas as we have the strength to fight our common enemy which is the United States and its allies,” said the militants spokesman.

Omar, however, made it clear that their war against the US-led forces would continue till their complete withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“US forces’ presence in Afghanistan is dangerous for the entire region in general and Pakistan in particular. They must be forced to leave the region at all costs,” Maulvi Omar said.

Asked that Baitullah Mehsud’s name had appeared in the Time magazine’s list of world’s 100 most influential people, Omar said Baitullah got worldwide reputation by his love for Islam and spirit for jihad.

Like every year, Time magazine is inviting reader to vote for leaders, artists, entrepreneurs and thinkers who shape the world and deserve a spot on its annual list. There are currently 207 finalists and the list will be published in the magazine’s next issue.

“Baitullah Mehsud got this reputation because of his services for Islam who played crucial role in uniting all Mujahideen factions in Pakistan and bringing them under the single banner of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan,” explained Maulvi Omar, who was not aware that Baitullah’s name has been published in the magazine.

The pathway of negotiations is even being pursued within the Afghanistan administration.  Counterinsurgency campaigns have an ebb and flow.  Timeliness is critical, as is convincing the population that those who wage COIN are committed to the effort.  The commitment has been evident in Iraq where negotiations with Sheikh Sattar Abdul Abu Risha occurred from a position of military strength in the Anbar Province, thus leading to continuing peace and alliance with the U.S. in Anbar.

The Pentagon is showing an understanding of the need for force projection in Afghanistan with the recent deployment of Marines to the theater.  However, the mission for the Marines involves a bit of myth-telling.

More than 1,000 American troops from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit will take control of the border between Helmand and Pakistan later this month. They will concentrate on providing the firepower to kill Taliban leaders as they cross the border from their base in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

The US marines will work with the British Special Forces Support Group and Special Boat Service commandos who are tracking Taliban crossing the border. They will use the firepower of their M1A1 Abrams tanks and AH-1W Cobra helicopter gunships to launch a frontal assault on the hardliners.

Note the focus on “hardliners” and border region crossings by “Taliban leaders.”  The presuppositions are that [a] the leaders are all crossing the border on a regular basis and are subject to interdiction, and [b] those who are not so-called “hardliners” are amenable to negotiations, a British tactic utilized since the failure of the same at Musa Qala.

Being missed in this strategy is that without the appropriate force projection within Afghanistan itself, there would be a reason for the balance of the Taliban to negotiate with the administration.  The jirga in this region of the world has never and will not in the future lead to results that are helpful to the war on terror.  One final example serves as an exclamation point.

We had previously noted that the Khyber agency would become a focal point for insurgent actions, being a vulnerable pass through which NATO supplies passed.  Law enforcement in Khyber has proven almost impossible due to the jirga.


A jirga of Zakhakhel and Qambarkhel elders and Taliban leaders from Waziristan succeeded in arranging the release of four detained Taliban commanders on bail, participants said.

The Taliban commanders from the South Waziristan Agency had been held for destroying tankers carrying oil for coalition troops in Afghanistan, and abducting their drivers.

In exchange, the Taliban commanders handed back 50,000 gallons of petrol and two oil tankers to complainants in Landi Kotal (Khyber Agency) and released two abducted drivers.

Sixty people were injured and 40 oil tankers burnt after two explosions near the Torkham border four weeks ago.

Javed Ibrahim Paracha, chairman of the World Prisoner’s Relief Commission of Pakistan, headed the jirga at his residence. He told Daily Times he had been directed by Interior Affairs Adviser Rehman Malik and Interior Secretary Kamal Shah to organise the jirga to resolve the issue peacefully.

He said the jirga consisted of Waziristan’s Taliban commanders Mir Qasim Janikhel and Ishaq Wazir, and Zakhakhel and Qambarkhel elders including Nasir Khan and Khyber Khan.

Paracha said the Zakhakhel and Qambarkhel tribes had charged the four Taliban commanders from the Janikhel tribe, including Khalid Rehman, for destroying the oil tankers and abducting the drivers.

He said Karak police had arrested the Taliban commanders a few weeks ago and charged them with terrorism.

Paracha said the jirga had ruled that the Qambarkhel and Zakhakhel tribes would take back their testimony against the Taliban commanders in the anti-terrorism court of Kohat, to allow their release on bail.

Force projection is needed quickly in the Afghanistan campaign.  Force projection includes military action, but the greater the force projection, the less need there will be to exercise that force in the long run.  Turning to the jirga means failure of the campaign.

War Veterans Face Job Search Woes

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 12 months ago

I have been tracking this for a while not only as an interested military observer and father of a warrior, but also in the spirit of moral and ethical responsibilities.  God will judge America based on how she treats her returning warriors.  Read the following reports. (excerpt):

Strained by war, recently discharged veterans are having a harder time finding civilian jobs and are more likely to earn lower wages for years due partly to employer concerns about their mental health and overall skills, a government study says.

The Veterans Affairs Department report, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, points to continuing problems with the Bush administration’s efforts to help 4.4 million troops who have been discharged from active duty since 1990.

Chicago Sun-Times (excerpt):

Is Illinois still a “state of shame,” as proclaimed by a 2006 Chicago Sun-Times series that revealed the state ranked among the worst at helping veterans find jobs?

The stories told how, three years into the war in Iraq, those leaving the military were facing an unexpected problem: Veterans were having a hard time finding work.

The series reported that in 2005, just one in three unemployed war veterans who sought help from the Illinois Employment Security Department found jobs.

In response, Gov. Blagojevich offered six ways to help vets get — and keep — jobs. Here’s how his plans have held up.

Chicago Sun-Times (excerpt):

Jason Heldt served two tours of duty in Iraq as a hospital corpsman with the Navy.

The 25-year-old, now living with his parents in Crete, holds certifications as a medical assistant and nurse’s aide. But he’s having a hard time finding a health care job.

Southtown Star (excerpt):

John Fudala, 29, who lives in Bridgeview with his mother, has been “full-time job hunting” for almost a year.

He served in Iraq from 2006 to 2007 as a specialist in the Army National Guard. Fudala still devotes one weekend a month to the Guard. If more troops are needed for the war zone, it’s possible he could be sent back.

That scares away employers.

It’s a “detriment to getting your foot in the door,” Fudala said.

Every one of these reports is worth reading.  It should be said that any employer (excluding very small businesses) which refuses to hire a veteran where the reason is that they might be called up for duty is not only committing an immoral act of discrimination against that veteran, but also dishonoring the very country that has given that employer the freedom to conduct business.  Such a business is also not worthy of our patronage.

Fighter Montage

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 12 months ago

U.S. Lacks a Comprehensive Approach to Pakistan’s FATA

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released an important report entitled COMBATING TERRORISM: The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.  They found that:

The United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA. Since 2002, the United States relied principally on the Pakistan military to address U.S. national security goals. Of the approximately $5.8 billion the United States provided for efforts in the FATA and border region from 2002 through 2007, about 96 percent reimbursed Pakistan for military operations there. According to the Department of State, Pakistan deployed 120,000 military and paramilitary forces in the FATA and helped kill and capture hundreds of suspected al Qaeda operatives; these efforts cost the lives of approximately 1,400 members of Pakistan’s security forces. However, GAO found broad agreement, as documented in the National Intelligence Estimate, State, and embassy documents, as well as Defense officials in Pakistan, that al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA.

Much of the review was focused on the lack of a comprehensive approach, and in particular, the lack of application of so-called “soft power.”  The GAO recommended that:

… the National Security Advisor and the Director of the NCTC, in consultation with the Secretaries of Defense and State and others, implement the congressional mandate to develop a comprehensive plan to combat the terrorist threat and close the safe haven in the FATA. Defense and USAID concurred with the recommendation; State asserted that a comprehensive strategy exists, while the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated that plans to combat terrorism exist.

The Rumsfeld plan for Afghanistan involved special forces, satellite uplinks to guide JDAMs, money, and partnership with the Northern Alliance (along with nefarious tribal warlords) – in general, a lack of adequate force projection.  The end result was that the Taliban and al Qaeda were pushed into neighboring Pakistan, and the consequences of this approach have yet to be fully realized.

The fact that the Taliban have made it clear that rejection of the U.S.-led war on terror is a precondition to successful talks causes skepticism concerning the value of soft power in Pakistan (if soft power is seen as negotiations and State Department involvement).  However, the absence of the State Department has been problematic in the past, and we have noted that the sole remaining democracy program for Iran was jettisoned by State, leaving nothing except student exchange programs.

If the war(s) are seen as a war, then State Department pressure on Iran would have helped Afghanistan long ago.  Regime change in Iran would have brought quicker stability to Iraq, thus freeing troops to be allocated to the campaign in Afghanistan.  Then the State Department could have engaged in the Afghanistan humanitarian situation which, by all accounts, is one of the worst on the globe.  Is it any wonder that “State asserted that a comprehensive strategy exists?”  How convenient.

As for the NCTC, they can’t possibly allocate the funds to grow the size of the Army and Marines, any more than they can tell the administration how to enact foreign policy or the congress how to vote.  Some of the blame must be laid at the feet of Congress, and unfortunately, in the report’s greatest failure, Congress gets off unscathed.

Concrete Walls for Sadr City

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

Counterinsurgency tactics are finally being applied to Sadr City.

Trying to stem the infiltration of militia fighters, American forces have begun to build a massive concrete wall that will partition Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital.

The construction, which began Tuesday night, is intended to turn the southern quarter of Sadr City near the international Green Zone into a protected enclave, secured by Iraqi and American forces, where the Iraqi government can undertake reconstruction efforts.

“You can’t really repair anything that is broken until you establish security,” said Lt. Col. Dan Barnett, commander of the First Squadron, Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment. “A wall that isolates those who would continue to attack the Iraqi Army and coalition forces can create security conditions that they can go in and rebuild.”

The team building the barrier was protected by M-1 tanks, Stryker vehicles and Apache attack helicopters. As the workers labored in silence, there was a burst of fire as an M-1 tank blasted its main gun at a small group of fighters to the west. An Apache helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at a militia team equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, again interrupting the night with a thunderous boom. A cloud of dark smoke was visible in the distance through the Stryker’s night-vision system.

Concrete barriers have been employed in other areas of Baghdad. As the barriers were being erected in other neighborhoods, some residents said they feared being isolated. But walls have often proved to be an effective tool in blunting insurgent attacks.

Many of the Shiite militias that the American and Iraqi forces have been battling in the Tharwa area of Sadr City in the past several weeks have been infiltrating from the north. Al Quds Street has become a porous demarcation line between the American- and Iraqi-protected area to the south and the militia-controlled area to the north.

The avenue has been filled with numerous roadside bombs that American teams in special heavily armored vehicles have sought to clear. The militias have stacked tires on the road and turned them into burning pyres to hamper the American infrared surveillance and targeting systems or to soften the concrete to make it easier to bury bombs.

They are trying to take a page from the hugely successful Operation Alljah in Fallujah (2007), in which concrete barriers separated neighborhoods.  But something is missing from the picture.  Can anyone spot the problem?

Lt. Col. Barnett wants to establish security, and indeed he must.  But in Operation Alljah, concrete barriers were not used to establish security.  They were used to keep and maintain security after it had already been established.  Robust kinetic operations against the insurgents were a prelude to neighborhood security.

Unless Sadr City sees strong U.S. military action against the militias, the concrete barriers will become useless and pricey monuments to failed attempts at counterinsurgency – a laughingstock rather than an actual tool to prevent ingress and egress of insurgents.

In other words, the area has to be rid of insurgents, at least mostly, before ways and means can be effective for keeping insurgents from returning.  This will involve operations such as disarming the militias.  At the very minimum, even if this is accelerated counterinsurgency, kinetic operations must accompany the barriers.

British to Scale Back Violence Against Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

The Times gives us an update on the British plan to scale back violence against the Taliban.

BRITISH troops are to scale back attacks on the Taliban after killing 7,000 insurgents in two years of conflict, defence sources said last week …

The paratroopers’ commanders hope they can cut the deaths, which they fear are a boost for the Taliban when fighters recruited from the local population are killed, as the dead insurgent’s family then feels a debt of honour to take up arms against British soldiers.

The resultant fighting raises the profile of the Taliban and enhances their reputation in the local community.

“We aim to scale back our response to incidents to avoid getting sucked into a cycle of violence among local tribesmen,” said one officer. “This way we aim to continue the process of reducing the Taliban’s influence in Helmand.”

The army hopes that the reduction in violence will enable the Department for International Development and its American counterpart USAID to accelerate reconstruction work. British commanders have expressed frustration at the limited amount of development and the reluctance of DfID to become involved.

However, US marines and British special forces will continue attacks on high-level Taliban leaders crossing the border from Pakistan.

More than 1,000 American troops from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit will take control of the border between Helmand and Pakistan later this month. They will concentrate on providing the firepower to kill Taliban leaders as they cross the border from their base in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

The US marines will work with the British Special Forces Support Group and Special Boat Service commandos who are tracking Taliban crossing the border. They will use the firepower of their M1A1 Abrams tanks and AH-1W Cobra helicopter gunships to launch a frontal assault on the hardliners.

Ah yes, The Captain’s Journal knows it by its smell: the deep magic of counterinsurgency at its best.  Fascination with special forces operators, high value targets, and personalities and leaders, along with the philosophy of “giving stuff to the people.”  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  There’s just one problem.  The plan is all confused and won’t work.

As readers know, we have been strong proponents of giving stuff to people as part of the concerned citizens program in Iraq.  But – and this is the important point – the British plan bifurcates this approach from strong military operations against the enemy, an error that wasn’t made in Iraq.  Consider, for example, that the British plan in Basra was similar to the one being espoused above, with military operations being second in importance (or even suppressed due to the notion that for every indigenous insurgent killed, two more grow up in his place).

Also consider that the Marines in Anbar could have argued this way given the heavy indigenous participation in the insurgency along with some lesser number of foreigners.  But the Marines neither argued nor behaved this way.  The indigenous population witnessed strong military action in Anbaragainst their own blood, and grew weary of this just as much as foreign jihadist violence against them.  This is another critical point that bears repeating.  The Marines won in Anbar, and the British lost in Basra.  The British plan being espoused for Afghanistan is roughly the same as was implemented in Basra, and diametrically opposed to the nature of operations in Anbar.

Another problem with this approach is that it presupposes that the Afghani Taliban need the leadership of Pakistani Taliban, or al Qaeda, in order to function.  While the border region is certainly problematic, the British will soon find that most of the insurgents within Afghanistan are indigenous Afghanis, and that reduced violence against them leads to a strengthened Taliban.

Joint Intelligence Centers

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

Coalition forces have begun the implementation of one piece of the strategy to throttle the flow of insurgents across the Pakistani-Afghani border region.  It is called Joint Intelligence Centers.

The first in a planned series of six joint intelligence centers along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border was opened at the Afghanistan border town of Torkham on March 29.

When the plan is fully implemented there will be three such centers on each side of the border at a cost of US$3 million each. There are high hopes for the centers, which have been described by the US commander in Afghanistan as “the cornerstone upon which future cooperative efforts will grow”. According to US Brigadier General Joe Votel, “The macro view is to disrupt insurgents from going back and forth, going into Afghanistan and back into Pakistan, too. This is not going to instantly stop the infiltration problem, but it’s a good step forward.”

The centers are designed to coordinate intelligence-gathering and sharing between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the intelligence agencies of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The project is an outgrowth of the earlier Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC) established in Kabul in January 2007. This center, comprising 12 ISAF, six Afghan and six Pakistani intelligence officers, was initiated by the military intelligence sharing working group, a subcommittee of the tripartite plenary commission of military commanders that meets on a bimonthly basis. The JIOC is designed to facilitate intelligence-sharing, joint operations planning and an exchange of information on improvised explosive devices. The working languages are English, Dari and Pashto, aided by a number of translators.

The new border centers will each be manned by 15 to 20 intelligence agents. One of the main innovations is the ability to view real-time video feeds from US surveillance aircraft. The commander of US troops in Afghanistan, Major General David Rodriguez, described the centers as “a giant step forward in cooperation, communication and coordination”.

The Captain’s Journal has had our altercations with General Rodriguez (he is no General Odierno), but we support any attempt to stem the flow of insurgents across the border region.  But we’ll comment here that this mission is unique and involves fixed fortifications.  It is foolish to garrison 20 intelligence agents at a location without also involving the force protection necessary to keep them alive.  A Joint Intelligence Center without a platoon of Marines for force protection is equivalent to begging for mortar fire every night.  It is simply astonishing that well-trained commanders would be involved in something like this.  Throwing well worn military doctrine such as force protection to the wind is the hallmark of panic.

However, it may not matter, since as we hinted in The Pashtun Rejection of the Global War on Terror, Pakistani involvement in the Afghanistan campaign will suffer in the wake of the recent elections.  Continuing with the Asia Times report:

Despite such glowing descriptions, there remains one hitch – Pakistan’s military has yet to make a full commitment to the project. According to Major General Athar Abbas, the director general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations, a military information organization, “At this time this proposal is being analyzed and evaluated by the concerned officials. But Pakistan has not yet come to a decision on this matter.”.

General Abbas and other officials have declined to discuss Pakistan’s reservations or even to commit to a deadline for a decision. It is possible that the failure to sign on as full partners in the project may have something to do with the stated intention of Pakistan’s new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, to pursue a greater focus on negotiation than military action in dealing with the Taliban and other frontier militants. There may also be reservations on the part of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to share intelligence on their clients within the Taliban.

Actual intelligence cooperation along the border is hampered by a number of factors, not least of which is a basic inability to agree on exactly where the border lies. In the past, Pakistan has responded to complaints from Afghanistan of Taliban fighters infiltrating across the border by threatening to fence or even mine the frontier, a shocking proposal to the Pashtun clans that straddle the artificial divide. Afghanistan’s long-standing policy is simply to refuse recognition of the colonial-era Durand Line, which it claims was forced on it by British imperialists in 1893. Pakistan accepts the Durand Line, but the two nations are frequently unable to agree on exactly where the 2,400-kilometer line is drawn.

It remains to be seen if the concept of Joint Intelligence Centers goes forward.  If it does, it will require language skills, international agreements, and above all, force protection.  These outposts will not survive without force protection.

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