The Totalitarians Among Us

Herschel Smith · 03 Mar 2014 · 15 Comments

Victor Davis Hanson observes: In short, Obama will always poll around 45 percent. That core support is his lasting legacy. In a mere five years, by the vast expansion of federal spending, by the demonizing rhetoric of his partisan bully pulpit, and by executive orders and bizarre appointments, Obama has so divided the nation that he has created a permanent constituency that will never care as much about what he does as it cares about what he says and represents. For elite rich liberals…… [read more]

Kinetic and Nonkinetic Versus Lethal and Nonlethal Operations

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

In the article concerning On Point II we supplied preliminary observations on the voluminous report concerning unpreparedness for post-invasion Iraq.  One nuance of doctrine and terminology stands out in the crowd of ideas in the report, and is worthy of a bit of unpacking.  On page 87 we read:

To face this evolving and complex threat, American Soldiers began conducting full spectrum operations designed to directly and indirectly engage the insurgent enemy. This response is the subject of the second part of this chapter. At times, US Army units launched focused combat operations—often described using the unofficial term “kinetic operations”—to destroy insurgent forces and capabilities. However, from the very beginning of the full spectrum campaign, US forces also mounted broader efforts to build popular support for the new Iraqi Government and the Coalition project in Iraq. These operations, sometimes called “nonkinetic” operations, concentrated on the reconstruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, the establishment of representative government, the training of ISF, and general efforts to improve the quality of life for the population.

With the following doctrinaire footnote: The 2008 version of FM 3-0, Operations, uses the terms “lethal” and “nonlethal” actions instead of “kinetic” and “nonkinetic.”

This isn’t the first occasion we have noticed the distinction between kinetic versus nonkinetic operations and lethal versus nonlethal operations.  We had previously discussed this with another interested party who brought up the same thing in response to one (or more) of our articles.

The definition of kinetic is “relating to or characterized by motion – supply motive force.”  This seems to be an apt definition of numerous tactics employed in the battle space.  For instance, a satellite patrol conducted for the purpose of finding the enemy or ridding the streets of gangs, criminals and/or insurgents, should count as kinetic operations, whether there was force employed or even whether that force was lethal or nonlethal.  Similarly, an intelligence-driven raid where no shot was fired and the target surrendered without resistance should be considered a very dynamic operation, and thus a part of kinetics.

A leisurely stroll by a squad down a street in Fallujah to meet and greet the citizens and assess atmospherics should be considered nonkinetic operations, and would only transition to kinetic operations if shots were taken.  Also, the transition to kinetic operations would become effective whether or not a shot was fired in response, and whether there was any lethality involved on either part.

The distinction we are drawing is this.  Lethal and nonlethal should be seen as subsets of kinetic operations, not replacements for the concept, no matter which phrase came first historically.  Nonkinetic operations by definition can only be nonlethal.

On the other hand, to opt for lethal and nonlethal as replacements for kinetic and nonkinetic operations would imply the following: a patrol where no shots were fired, and yet casualties sustained due to shots being taken from the enemy, would have to be categorized as nonlethal operations if the casualty survived (and perhaps even if not, since no lethality was employed by U.S. forces).  This is absurd.

Regarding common, ordinary, everyday usage (regardless of how they may be described in an Army Field Manual), the terms lethal and nonlethal are poor terms to describe the totality of U.S. operations.  They are very wooden and un-malleable terms which cannot hope to encompass all potential actions or reactions in the battle space.  The Captain’s Journal recommends that the doctrinaire writers go back to the drawing board on this one.

Will the Sons of Iraq Re-emerge as Insurgents?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

As background, recall not too many months ago that U.S. forces rolled out a plan to split off the indigenous insurgents from al Qaeda, Ansar al Sunna, former Ba’athists and Fedayeen Saddam.  We offered to pay them for services rendered, these services specifically being the provision of security for neighborhoods and intelligence gathering.  Basically, we co-opted their services.

The Captain’s Journal strongly supported this move, initially called the concerned citizens, but we knew at the time that nothing was cast in stone.  Nothing was irreversible, and the progress was tentative.  The Iraqi government had to reconcile and incorporate them into the system, and this was pointed out to us by contacts from field grade officers in Iraq at the time.  The warnings from these contacts were rather dire.  We knew the risks, but supported the program anyway as the best and wisest approach to counterinsurgency at the time and in this situation.

Now comes a report from the LA Times that hints at a potential re-emergence of the Sons of Iraq as insurgents, entitled The rise and fall of a sons of Iraq warrior.

Abu Abed in his Amman apartment holds a picture of him and General David Petraeus from last year when the Sunni fighter was celebrated for leading a then unthinkable revolt against Al Qaeda in Iraq in Baghdad.  Photo courtesy of the LA Times, Ned Parker

A year ago, Sunni Arab fighter Abu Abed led an improbable revolt against Al Qaeda in Iraq. As he killed its leaders and burned down hide-outs, he became a symbol of a new group called the Sons of Iraq — the man who dared to stand up to the extremists in Baghdad when it still ranked as a suicidal act.

Today, Abu Abed is chain-smoking cigarettes in Amman, betrayed by his best friend, on the run from a murder investigation in his homeland. He once walked the streets of Baghdad wearing wraparound sunglasses and surrounded by a posse of men in matching fatigues like something out of “Reservoir Dogs,” but now he shouts futilely for speeding taxis to halt, a slight figure in jeans and a button-down short-sleeve shirt.

Abu Abed’s rise and fall encapsulates the complexities of the U.S.-funded Sons of Iraq program. Although the Shiite-led Iraqi government has regarded the Sons of Iraq as little more than a front for insurgent groups, the Sunni fighters’ war helped end the cycle of car bombings and reprisal killings by Shiite militias that had sent Baghdad headlong into civil war. America’s new friends also helped bring down the death rate of U.S. forces in Iraq.

The Defense Department’s report to Congress last week emphasized the vital nature of the program, saying, “The emergence of the Sons of Iraq to help secure local communities has been one of the most significant developments in the past 18 months in Iraq.”

Abu Abed’s flight into exile shines a light on a violent power struggle pitting upstart leaders like him against Iraq’s entrenched Sunni political elite and its Shiite-dominated government. The frictions could easily shatter the Sons of Iraq — and open the door to Al Qaeda in Iraq’s resurgence.

In the cramped Amman apartment he shares with his family, Abu Abed opens a folder with pictures of him and American officials — Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and others. He holds up the medals they awarded him, the letters commending him.

But his eyes glaze over at a photo of Iraqi officials from a reconciliation conference he attended in mid-June. “They pat you on the back with one hand and stab you with the other,” he says bitingly.

Abu Abed doesn’t reveal his identity to people in Amman. He tells them he sells cars. His skin is grayer and his cheeks, once plump, are noticeably gaunt. The family has already moved once, after his 8-year-old son was handed a threatening letter at school.

He worries that his fate will serve as a warning to others who gambled their lives fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. “Al Qaeda will come back and the government and Iraqi army will be helpless to defeat them. People will have lost their faith in the government because of the way they treated me and others.”

The government considers Abu Abed a former militant with blood on his hands.

“If he has done something, let the legal system take its course. It is not just with Abu Abed, but all the people,” said Tahseen Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman for Baghdad military operations. “They were part of the major problem of violence in Iraq.”

Abu Abed’s defenders, including some U.S. military officers, suggest that the fighter earned enemies for upsetting Baghdad’s status quo as he brought former insurgents into an alliance with the Americans.

In recent months, Abu Abed had been organizing like-minded fighters around Baghdad and northern Iraq for provincial elections in the fall. U.S. officers believe his transition to politics could have proved the last straw for the government.

“Certainly you can draw the conclusion because he was getting involved in the political process to engage Sons of Iraq leaders to form a political party, the Iraqi government actively targeted him,” said a U.S. military officer, who declined to give his name because of the subject’s sensitivity. “I don’t know that I can say it outright, but it certainly does seem that way.”

Amid the political skirmishing, the committee set up to integrate U.S.-backed Sunni fighters into the security forces and public works jobs has stalled.

We always knew that reconciliation would be necessary for the real gains to obtain.  Maliki has a once in a generation opportunity to bring peace to Iraq.  He demands that his people reconcile, but refuses to entertain the idea himself, perhaps beholden to Iranian influence.  If he continues this path, he might very well plunge Iraq into civil war upon the eventual departure of U.S. forces.

If this happens, nothing – including Maliki and the ISF – will be able to stop it.  The Sunnis may make up only 15% of the population, but aligned with al Qaeda would become as formidable as they were before.  Maliki will sit at the top of a crumbling government and nation-state.  Thus he will have proven himself to be the ultimate fool.  This is not inevitable, but probable if his administration doesn’t ensure that all parties are properly incorporated into the government.  The U.S. will have no leverage with the Sunnis next time if Maliki’s administration doesn’t produce.  Our wallet has been shot on this one chance.

Taliban Set to Expand Violence

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

Army intelligence said that there would be no Afghanistan spring offensive by the Taliban not more than half a year ago.  The Captain’s Journal said that there would be, and also claimed that it would be mostly asymmetric.  In a stark admission and direct contradiction of the position of Army intelligence, the Department of Defense is saying that the insurgency will grow and expand the violence.

In its first formal report on the situation in Afghanistan, the U.S. Defense Department says the Taliban is “a resilient insurgency” and is expected to expand its challenges to the Afghan government. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The report required by Congress says the Taliban “is likely to maintain or even increase the scope and pace of its terrorist attacks and bombings” this year, and to move beyond the south and east, where most of the fighting has been happening. It says the activity “will challenge the control of the Afghan government in rural areas” throughout the country. The report says the Taliban is able to do this even though U.S., Afghan and allied operations have killed many insurgent leaders and forced the group out of former safe havens.

But the report calls the Taliban safe haven in Pakistan “the greatest challenge to long-term security” in Afghanistan. It calls for better Afghan-Pakistani military cooperation, and laments a reduction in Pakistani military operations against insurgents in the border areas, which have decreased cross-border attacks in the past. The Pentagon report also expresses concern about a new round of agreements the Pakistani government is considering with local tribal leaders, saying past agreements have led to an increase in cross-border attacks.

The period covered by the report ended in early April, but U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed similar concerns during a news conference on Thursday. He was asked about the 40 percent increase in violence in Afghanistan during the first five months of the year, compared to the same period last year.

“Well, I think it is a matter of concern, of real concern,” he said. “And I think that one of the reasons that we’re seeing the increase is more people coming across the border from the frontier area. And I think it’s an issue that clearly we have to pursue with the Pakistani government.”

Secretary Gates also welcomed a newly announced Pakistani initiative to get control of the border area.

The “newly announced Pakistani initiative” will redound to more wasted time, and the only solution to the dilemma is force projection in Afghanistan.  One wonders if the U.S. Marines are not the coming answer to the problem.  The Corps has just placed an order for 19,000 pairs of mountain cold weather boots.

LaCrosse Footwear Inc. announced Tuesday its Danner subsidiary received a $3 million delivery order as part of the Mountain Cold Weather Boot contract awarded by the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006.

Danner will supply the U.S. Marines with 19,000 pairs of the Mountain Cold Weather Boot in several shipments in the second half of 2008. To date, this is the largest delivery order related to the 2006 contract. The Mountain Cold Weather Boot is produced in the Portland-based LaCrosse’s (NASDAQ: BOOT) manufacturing facility in Portland.

Danner has a description of their boot here.  Whether it is the Marines or some other branch, force projection is the only answer to the problem of Operation Enduring Freedom.

On Point II & Lack of Planning for Iraq: Preliminary Thoughts

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

The U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth has produced a comprehensive study of the failure to plan for the post-invasion insurgency in Iraq.  It is entitled On Point II, Transition to the New Campaign: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom May 2003-January 2005.  It is a very lengthy and detailed study, so there is no way to analyze it within the context of a weblog.  This is left to others who have the professional honor and assignment to study such things.  However, a few preliminary thoughts are outlined below.  They cannot hope to be comprehensive or even connected.  They are presented in stream of consciousness fashion.

First, it seems that it would have been wise to have incorporated the other branches of the armed forces in the scope of the study.  For example, it might have been informative to have the Marine Corps perspectives to dovetail together with those of the Army, even though managing such an endeavor would have been much more difficult.

Second, on page 87 we read “As the United States moved closer to confrontation with Iraq in 2002 and early 2003, the US Government began conducting a series of studies intended to help understand what might occur after a military defeat of the Saddam regime. None of the organizations involved in this effort came to the conclusion that a serious insurgent resistance would emerge after a successful Coalition campaign against the Baathist regime.”  True, perhaps, but this sidesteps important issues, such as the fact that there was copius analysis that came to the conclusion that many more troops were needed (General Anthony Zinni and his team concluded 400,000 men) in order to maintain order once the regime was defeated.

Third, on page 92 and following, there is much discussion of de-Ba’athification and disbanding the Iraqi Army in the development of the Sunni insurgency.  Later on page 103 there is a good Venn Diagram showing a breakdown in the trouble-makers, including foreign Islamic extremists, gangs, opportunists and criminals, the unemployed, aggrieved tribes, and so on.  It is commonly understood that the insurgency included more than just al Qaeda, but rather, was composed of a large indigenous element, many subsets of which were fighting for different reasons.  However, one glaring omission is the absence of the discussion and analysis of Iranian elements (Quds, money, IRG) prior to the war (see Michael Rubin, AEI, Bad Neighbor).

Fourth, on page 103 in the section on Shi’a insurgency groups, the discussion seems very truncated with little to no real analysis of the affect of Moqtada al Sadr on the subsequent months and years.  It is of significance that in 2004 Sadr was actually in the custody of the 3/2 Marines, and ordered by coalition authorities, at the behest of the British, to let him go.  This significance of this cannot be overestimated, and yet the discussion lacks any acknowledgement of the event or its context.

Fifth, on page 116 the study notes that “While relatively few American Soldiers in Iraq in 2003 were familiar with counterinsurgency warfare and its theorists, it did not take long before many of the basic concepts of counterinsurgency made their way into US Army planning and operations. This process was indirect and based on immediate requirements rather than experience or doctrine.”  This seems basically correct, since necessity is the mother of invention.  A Soldier or Marine cannot grow up in the complex environment that is America without being familiar with a basic understanding of humans and how they interact, even if there is an overall lack of knowledge of the Iraqi culture.  Human terrain mapping isn’t just for professional anthropologists.  Every warrior is an anthropologist.

The sixth point may be the most critical of all, and the one closest to our heart.  The Captain’s Journal is noncommittal on Paul Bremer.  He did some good things.  He also did some nonproductive things.  But The Captain’s Journal is not noncommittal on Donald Rumsfeld.  We watched closely as he told jokes and acted coy in Pentagon press briefings while warriors died and lost arms and legs, brain function and eyesight.  In the most stunning revelation of the report, we learn that:

Critical to the understanding of the troop strength issue is that, as the senior US official in Iraq, the CPA Chief had the final say over US policy in Iraq. Bremerat times expressed displeasure to Coalition military leaders about the inadequate security situation and its relation to troop levels. Those concerns, however, did not persuade him to significantly change the CPA-led programs to train new Iraqi police and military forces or to agree that Iraqi military forces should have a role in internal security matters. Ultimately, neither Sanchez nor Bremer had the finalword on troop levels. That authority rested inside the Pentagon. Bremer remembered that the al-Sadr uprising and Sunni attacks of April 2004 conclusively demonstrated to him that Coalition troops were stretched too thin and that led him to send a written request for one or two more divisions—25,000 to 45,000 troops—to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. The CPA chief confirmed that in mid-May 2004 Rumsfeld received the request and that the Secretary of Defense passed it on to the Service Chiefs. According to Bremer, he never received an official response to his request.

If we began OIF with too few troops, at least Bremer noticed that we needed greater force projection early on and requested an increase in force size.  Rumsfeld must have been bored with the request, as he simply ignored it, choosing instead to smile and be clever with the press.

There are many more revelations, and some information that is commonly known among persons who have followed or been involved with Operation Iraqi Freedom.  There will be more to come on this from The Captain’s Journal.  This report is well worth the time and will take its place among required reading in professional military circles.   It is a good thing that such honesty and scholarship is forthcoming from Leavenworth.

From Whence Cometh Pakistan?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

The Captain’s Journal admires Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and he can consider us to be in his corner.  But we would be willing to bet that his position on Pakistan is “swing and a miss – full count now.”  So where are we?  Gates said Thursday that he has “real concern” about a sharp rise in attacks by insurgent forces in eastern Afghanistan and says it reflects infiltration of fighters from Pakistan.

Gates was asked at a Pentagon news conference what he thought of a report by a senior U.S. general in Afghanistan on Tuesday that insurgent attacks in the east have increased by 40 percent this year.

“It is a matter of concern — real concern,” Gates replied.

“It’s an issue that clearly we have to pursue with the Pakistani government,” he added.

The defense secretary said one reason for the jump in insurgent attacks in that part of Afghanistan is that fighters have been able to cross the border without facing sufficient pressure by Pakistani troops.

“It actually was not bad until a few months ago,” he said, when the Pakistani government began negotiating peace or ceasefire deals with a variety of militant groups in areas bordering Afghanistan.

“The pressure was taken off these people,” as a result of such deals, he added. And that has meant fighters are freer to cross the border and create problems for us,” Gates said.

In Truth or Consequences: Closing the Pakistan Border, TCJ is ahead of the game.  We have already acquiesced to the fact that we aren’t going to get much help from Pakistan.  We have pointed out that the Iraqi borders were problematic too, especially with Syria.  But the insurgency is defeated, or almost so, and while more difficult, it is not impossible to fight a transnational insurgency in a singular battle space.  It requires force projection, something that Gates doesn’t believe we have for Afghanistan as long as Operation Iraqi Freedom is ongoing.  Gates is in a bit of a spot.  But we have no trust in Pakistan, while Gates still places his eggs in their basket.  What do we know that he doesn’t?

It’s not what we know, it’s a matter of listening and gaining perspective.  The Asia Times gives us a glimpse into internal Pakistani politics and culture.

Washington saw the writing on the wall immediately after the February polls when former premier Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League won more seats than was expected. The anticipation had been that the US-friendly Pakistan People’s Party, headed by former premier Benazir Bhutto until her assassination last December, would romp home.

Amid the political uncertainty that this result caused, allied with terror attacks in the country, the military delayed operations in the tribal areas. The military’s position was hardened when on June 10 the US attacked militants in Pakistan’s Mohmand Agency but killed several Pakistani security forces.

Washington’s plan, which had been in the making for two years, is now in ruins, that is, the ideal of a compliant elected government, an accommodating military and a friendly president (Pervez Musharraf) acting in unison to further the US’s interests.

The crux is, while America was playing its game, so too was al-Qaeda. Through terror attacks, al-Qaeda was able to disrupt the economy, and by targeting the security forces, al-Qaeda created splits and fear in the armed forces, to the extent that they thought twice about dancing to the US’s tune.

Unlike Musharraf, when he wore two hats, of the president and of army chief, the new head of the military, professional soldier General Ashfaq Kiani, had to listen to the chatter of his men and the intelligence community at grand dinners.

What he heard was disturbing. Soldiers from the North-West Frontier Province region were completely in favor of the Taliban, while those from the countryside of Punjab – the decisive majority in the armed forces – felt guilty about fighting the Taliban and reckoned it was the wrong war. Therefore, Kiani decided it was necessary to support peace talks with the militants to create some breathing space for his men.

At the same time, the dynamics in the war theater have changed, providing Pakistan with more options and more room to play in its Afghan policy. Pakistan’s former ally in Afghanistan, the Taliban, are no longer irrelevant; they have emerged as the single-largest Pashtun opposition group.

The Pakistani people have rejected the U.S.-led war on terror.  The Pakistani Army doesn’t want to fight the Taliban, and it isn’t just about fear or cowardice.  They believe it’s the “wrong war.”  Military defeat of the Taliban will occur primarily in Afghanistan rather than Pakistan, and it will occur mainly at the hands of U.S. forces, or not at all.  All is not lost.  We have pointed out before based on the Taliban’s own words that “If NATO remains strong in Afghanistan, it will put pressure on Pakistan. If NATO remains weaker in Afghanistan, it will dare [encourage] Pakistan to support the Taliban.”

Afghanistan is now and will remain the central point for the fight against the Taliban, and it behooves us to deploy forces and engage the fight as quickly as possible.  TIme is of the essence.

Prior: Pashtun Rejection of the Global War on Terror

Triple Play

BY Jim Spiri
5 years, 9 months ago

Baseball is a wonderful sport. Field of Dreams is among the best movies ever made. There is a correlation between life on the diamond and life in the real world; there are many parallels. But among the best plays ever, which happens on very rare occasions, is the triple play. As a teen, I was able to experience it only a couple of times during summer league. In the real world lately, it seems as though we are on the verge of a big time triple play. Only this is not a game.

I thought it fitting this week to call this article “Triple Play.” It’s been a busy three days around here. Just so all of you know what I’m talking about, my son and his wife became the parents of three boys on Monday the 23rd. That’s right, triplets. Jesse, Jacob and James arrived between 1018 hrs and 1022 hrs on Monday morning. They came early, but it was expected that would happen. My son, the US Army Helicopter pilot and his wife are rather beside themselves at what now is a daunting task ahead of them. But with much care, assistance from family, and lots of prayer, all will be fine. It is just a long road ahead that will be traveled one step at a time.

In other news this week….the Bush administration seemed to have upped the tempo a bit about going for its own triple play. As things heat up continually in Afghanistan, most recently due to the blazing jail house attack that freed 1100 or so “bad guys” including around 400 Taliban fighters, lots of attention has been in that direction by the media. And, just as Iraq is being reported to sustain immense security improvements  in the past year, and definitely such is the case, only last night more casualties were reported with the loss of three US Army soldiers in Mosul by IED. And still yet, another report this week told of meetings between US and Israeli officials who were said to have discussed the option of attacking Iran. Israel has recently been doing high profile maneuvers and letting the word out that it has no intention of letting Iran have nuclear capabilities. US officials are said to have been urging restraint on Israel’s part, however most observers have concluded that joint planning for such an attack is already in the works. And there you have it folks, out at first, out at second, and perhaps out at third. We’ll see.

But for the record, my job as a catcher was to cover home plate, no matter what the consequences.  What I enjoyed most about being a catcher on the field was that I had to know every possible scenario for each and every pitch that was thrown to the batter. I had to know it before it was thrown, and be prepared for whatever transpired. As I mentioned earlier, there are many parallels between baseball and real life. And herein lies the point of this writing.

I’ve never forgotten about how it was that we went into Afghanistan back in 2001, which seems like a life-time ago. It was the first time as a father I experienced having my own son sent to war. It was only a couple of months after having just lost our oldest son, a Marine. Things were still very raw. Then, in 2003, the nation saw fit to go back into Iraq and finish something that had twelve years earlier been incomplete. It was the second time as a father I saw my son off to war. And now, it’s mid 2008, and I look towards the horizon and see storm clouds brewing once again, only the target is Iran. I know once again, should the commander in chief tell my son to “saddle up,” my son would be ready in a heartbeat for his fifth deployment in the past seven years, only this time, the next generation on deck, would be awaiting his return.

It is a very difficult play, the triple play, but it can be pulled off, but not without perfect coordination and excellent timing. And remember, it is very rarely pulled off successfully, something akin to triplet boys being born naturally without using any artificial measures.

Covering home plate, the catcher must be willing to hold onto the ball and never drop it, even when some opponent is barreling around third racing to plow into the catcher as he awaits the throw from his teammates to tag the runner out before he scores. Never let the opponent score and the last line of defense is the one covering home plate. Such is the case in this global triple play that is possibly about to take place. There were lots of errors leading up to the events of 9/11. After the disaster of the twin towers, we as a nation, and rightly so, embarked upon an “easy out” on first. Come to find out, the cave dwellers weren’t so stupid as we suspected, errors were made at Tora Bora, and just when we thought the bottom of the ninth was going to end the game, we’ve all been witness to many extra innings.

There were severe errors made leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, at least that is what many believe these days in 2008. Then, once again, when we all thought the bottom of the 9th was in view, like the banner telling us, “Mission Accomplished,” it became clear that it had gone into extra innings.  That brings us to today.

I remember living in Australia for a few years when my kids were little. They learned the sports games down under, which I never could actually figure out completely. The closest thing to baseball was cricket. What I couldn’t stand about cricket was the fact that the game took an unbelievable amount of time to play, sometimes days, just for one game. It made no sense to me. I think I can speak for the rest of the fans covering home plate across the nation when I say, “if we’re going to another game, I hope it does not go into extra innings.”

A good catcher hones his skills by learning from all the errors made in previous games. I figure that’s one reason there’s 162 games in a professional baseball season. There is a real possibility that Iran has pushed the envelope too damn far. In many respects, I feel they’ve crossed the line way more than once. I don’t want to see extra innings anymore. I love having triplet grandsons now. And I always liked being a part of a successful triple play as a young baseball player. But if we go to war directly with Iran, even though we’ve already been fighting them in the streets of Iraq for many years, those in charge, all the way up the chain of command, better execute it perfectly this time, for if they don’t, there just may not be a next season.  I for one will cover home plate with my entire body, soul and spirit, whatever betides.

Jim Spiri
Jimspiri@yahoo.com

Defeating IEDs and Bombs: The Lessons of Iraq for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

Jcustis of the Small Wars Council recently started a SWC discussion thread that should have gotten more attention than it did.  He linked a previously unknown (to the SWC) Wikipedia entry on suicide bombings in Iraq since 2003.  Right behind this entry, Schmedlap made the following observation:

One thing that I would point out, that is illustrated well by the article if you look for it – note the suicide attacks in the summer of 2007, particularly July and August. Contrary to the narrative that the dip in violence after August was due to a Sadr militia “ceasefire,” the dip was actually due to a significant drop in the number and effectiveness of AQI mass casualty attacks. In particular, note that hundreds of those victims were in northern Iraq (Kirkuk, Tal Afar, predominantly Sunni Arab areas of Diyala, etc), not in Sadrist strongholds. Violence from Sadr’s militia dropped two months prior to him calling the “ceasefire.” The only thing that kept the death toll high in the interim between June/July 07 and the “ceasefire” in late August was the rate of murders by AQI. Take out the AQI murders and you have a steady drop in civilan deaths beginning in June/July, not late August. The credit for this reduction goes to MNF-I and the ISF, not Sadr.

This is an interesting and important point, one that bears detailing a bit more.  The EXCEL graph below shows the suicide bombings per month based on the Wikipedia entry (click to enlarge).

One possible defeater argument for the hypothesis would be that the discussion so far only deals with suicide bombings and not overall security incidents.  Care of the Mudville Gazette, an EXCEL graph of the weekly security incidents is found in the June 2008 Multinational Force Report to Congress.

The look of the trends is basically the same.  In 2006 and into 2007, the tribal revolt against al Qaeda was in full swing, with AQ losing badly in the Western part of Anbar, most importantly in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar.  AQ was pushed Eastward towards Fallujah, and had made this area (and into Baghdad) their final stand in Anbar.  Operation Alljah (which began in April of 2007 and ended in the late summer of 2007) essentially ended the AQ presence in Fallujah, at which point they were on the run Northward into the Diyala Province and towards Mosul.

Along with this evolution, the Baghdad security plan was implemented early in 2007, pressuring AQ in and around the capital city.  This continual pressure on AQ caused a precipitous decrease in not only suicide bomgings, but overall security incidents (the basic trends mirroring each other).  The point is that while good body armor is desirable against snipers, it can only accomplish so much.  While MRAPs are desirable to ameliorate the affect of IEDs, they are only so good – dismounted patrols have to be conducted as well.

In the end, one of the most important lessons of Operation Iraqi Freedom is that presence with the population, intelligence-driven raids, and pressure on the enemy are the best tools against IEDs and bombings.  Military pressure is proactive, while all other tools are defensive and reactive.

There has begun to be a steady flow of horrific reports of bombs, IEDs and Marines who have perished or become wounded in Afghanistan.  Four Marines deployed out of Twentynine Palms died from a roadside bomb.  Marine Sgt. Justin Clenard – badly wounded – was on foot patrol with his platoon when they were hit by a mortar round or a land mine. Clenard lost his right leg from the knee down and his lower left leg as well.  Lance Corporal Justin Rokohl entered his ninth hour of surgery in a military hospital in Germany on Monday night, being wounded from a roadside bomb.   Navy Corpsman Dustin Burnett died from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.  And Lance Cpl. Andrew Francis Whitacre has died in Afghanistan.  He had one last wish.

“I want to take a second and thank all of you who support us in what we do,” Andrew wrote two months before his death. “I know many of you do not believe in the wars we are fighting in. Just remember that all the men and women who are here are here because at one point they took an oath to protect and serve YOU. The support of the citizens of the country we fight and die for is all that we ask.”

There are more than mentioned above.  The support of our warriors means the proper resourcing of the campaign.  Germany is deploying more troops to Afghanistan, but their rules of engagement are not changing and they will not be allowed to participate in combat except in self defense, and they will not be deployed to the most violent parts of Afghanistan.

This isn’t enough.  There will continue to be a dreadful flow of reports from the Afghanistan theater until force projection is applied.  Common sense suggests it, and the data proves it.  This means more troops, and more robust force presence with the population and the enemy, including the ROE to get the job done.  This is the last wish of one Marine and his parents who have given everything.

Combat Action Around Kandahar

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

Colonel Tom McGrath recently met with bloggers to discuss the recent events surrounding the prison break in Kandahar and subsequent combat that occurred in the villages around Kandahar.  A number of interesting exchanges took place.

Q Sure, I mean, you know, the question that I’d really hope to ask, after the obligatory thank-you for taking the time with us, was basically the media impressions of this were that it was a fairly large, well-organized raid on the part of the Taliban.  And the impression I’m getting from listening to you is pretty substantially different. Am I correct in that?

COL. MCGRATH: Yeah, I mean, listen, I’ll give them credit. They pulled it off. It was successful. So you know, it’s all about the results.  And they got what they wanted. But I don’t think it was that big of a success, because we pursued them up into the district and we were able to kill them and capture them and push them out of the district very quickly within a matter of days — (inaudible) — weeks or months, which has happened before.  So I don’t –

Q Not so much asking about sort of the outcomes as sort of the scale on which they could operate, I mean, to the extent that they had 40 or 50 people as opposed to the extent they had 5 people.

COL. MCGRATH: Yeah, I don’t think it was, no. The numbers: I’m not really sure. We’ll never know. It could have been that large or that small.  But you know, they’re walking around the city like you and I. It doesn’t take much to burst into a compound and, you know, push the doors open and let some folks out.  You know, someone had written that it was as good as, you know, a ranger-style raid or a commando-style raid. I don’t buy that. If it was so good, they would have been able to get away, reconsolidate and attack us and
hurt us. But it was the other way around.

Regardless of the way the main stream media put it, The Captain’s Journal compared it more to a Mad Max movie than some special operation by well-honed troops.

You simply cannot make this stuff up.  In a scene reminiscent of Mad Max or The Road Warrior, 30 motorcyclists managed to take out a prison and release 1150 criminals, 400 Taliban among them.  Where was the force protection?  Where were the vehicle barriers (you know, those mechanically operated devices that flatten your tires if you go over them the wrong way)?  Where were the concrete truck barricades?  Where was the training?  Where was the supervision?  Forget expensive UAVs and road construction for a minute.  What about spending a little money on teaching the Afghan police about combat and force protection.  Failure to do so has cost us the freedom of 400 Taliban – and potentially U.S. lives to capture or kill them again.

The point was not the brilliance of the Taliban, but the abject failure of the prison system and police.  What did Col. McGrath have to say about that issue?

… like I said, their prisons aren’t like our prisons or jails. They’re pretty much just edifices with doors and things like that, so if a big explosion comes though, there’s a lot of mayhem, they’re able to push their way out or — many are unlocked, what might be a lock or not — there might even not be locks in there as far as I know, and just make their way — made a run for it.

Our point exactly.  There is good news too.  The Afghan Army readied themselves quickly, went after the Taliban, and within a couple of days have driven them from the Kandahar area (read the full interview of Col. McGrath).  They are getting better.  But there is a caveat.  Our friend Richard S. Lowry asked some hard questions since TCJ couldn’t be in on the discussion.

Q Great. We’ve heard reports back here after the prison break that there were roughly 1,100 prisoners that got away and 400 of them were Taliban.  Assuming those numbers are right, and what you’ve told us just in the last few minutes, it looks like there’s 900 to a thousand of them that are still at large. Is there any ongoing operation that you can tell us about to hunt these people down?

COL. MCGRATH: There was about 900, we think, that got out. There was reports, you know, there were 400 Taliban, 200 Taliban. I’d say it was more probably 200 to 300 that were in there, Taliban. We conducted the operations in the Arghandab, and I told you we killed about 80, took another 25 prisoner, killed another 20 or 30 southwest of the city. But there’s ongoing operations – - I can’t get into detail — to continue to fight the Taliban and pursue the Taliban.

Q So you’re pretty confident that you got a vast majority of the Taliban in the first 24 to 48 hours that escaped?

COL. MCGRATH: No, I can’t speculate. They don’t keep very good records at the prison. We haven’t been through the training with the prison yet. That’s something — probably be down the road. It’s not on my — I don’t do the prisons over here. So I just don’t know, to be honest with you.

Col. McGrath wisely refused to speak authoritatively concerning numbers.  But based on previous reports, it appears that there are several hundred Taliban still at large from this prison break.  They melted away into the villages to fight again another day rather than take anyone on in direct kinetic engagements.  Or, they melted away into the nearby mountains.

A view of the Arghandabd district in the southern city of Kandahar, June 19, 2008 (Reuters)

The Taliban have history in the mountains around Kandahar, where Mullah Omar had a wealthy dwelling in spite of the poverty of the people in the region.  We have seen it before.  In December of 2001 upon the fall of Kandahar, Muhammad Omar and the Taliban fled to the mountains in the area.  Three months ago in Taking the High Ground in Afghanistan we commented that Afghan and IASF forces must be prepared to engage in the chase in the high ground.

Winning or losing the campaign will not come down to being able to rapidly deploy and temporarily drive the Taliban from their domiciles.  The lessons learned in Iraq – constant contact with both the enemy and population, intelligence-driven raids, security, relentless pressure on the enemy, relationships with the people – must be applied in Afghanistan.  Whack-a-mole counterinsurgency will not work.

British Leadership Without a Clue

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

We have previously discussed the unilateral surrender of both Secretary David Miliband and Secretary Des Brown to the Taliban.  Continuing the parade of the confused is Britain’s top military officer, who initially does a very good job of advocating the implementation of soft power.

Britain’s top military officer described Afghanistan as “medieval” on Tuesday and said it could take decades before the country shows steady development.

Air Chief Marshall Jock Stirrup said it would be 15 years at current growth rates before Afghanistan reached the level of Bangladesh. Civilian reconstruction efforts would have to continue long after military operations.

“This is not something that could be done in one, two or three years because we are talking about a country that is essentially medieval, that has very little in the way of infrastructure, very little in the way of human resource, that has an endemic culture of corruption,” Stirrup told journalists.

“This truly is a long-term endeavour. I don’t think it is that long-term an endeavour for the military. I think we are talking about some years but we are not talking about decades,” said the chief of the defence staff.

“In terms of developing the country from an almost medieval status, that has to be an enterprise of decades.”

Okay, so far, so good.  The Captain’s Journal is good to go with this.  Now, slick your hair back and hold onto your breeches.

Stirrup said the major threat in the country was not necessarily the Taliban or al Qaeda, but building up a level of governance that allowed the country to function properly.

Can this man really be that clueless?  There are many countries which need infrastructure.  There are many countries which need investment for two or more decades.  There are many countries close to medieval status, or worse (perhaps some tribes in the Amazon delta, or Haiti, and some locations in Africa).  And it is certainly true that soft power needs to be applied to remove whatever incentive there is for those who are not hard core religious fighters to join their ranks (e.g., money as a replacement for poverty).

But many countries suffer from poverty, and yet there is no Taliban or al Qaeda present to foment attacks upon Western civilization.  Can this man really believe that the major threat to Afghanistan is anything but al Qaeda or the Taliban?  Can he really believe that proper infrastructure will cause al Qaeda and the Taliban to stand down in their efforts to undermine Afghanistan?  If so, then he doesn’t understand their motivations.  If not, then who other than the Taliban would be more dangerous to the people?  Has Stirrup asked himself even these basic questions about his beliefs?

The Failure of Talking with the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

In a cheap imitation of the Anbar awakening, late in 2007 the British cut a deal with one Mullah Abdul Salaam, a mid-level Taliban commander, to assist in the eviction of the Taliban from Musa Qala.  The price for this help was governorship of Musa Qala.  When British and U.S. forces converged on Musa Qala, rather than helping in the operations, Mullah Salaam stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.  “He said that he would bring all the tribes with him but they never materialised,” recalled one British officer at the forefront of the operation. “Instead, all that happened was a series of increasingly fraught and frantic calls from him for help to Karzai.”

So rather than help in the campaign, he hid from the bad people.  It was said at the time that “We have in him a credible governor who is making an impression upon us and the people,” an officer in Musa Qala concluded. “He is a compelling individual. But we still don’t know what his ulterior motives are.”  But time has made his ulterior motives somewhat clearer.

There is a growing rift between Salaam and the British.

A former Taliban commander who swapped sides last year has accused his British allies of jeopardising security and undermining his authority in a row that has plunged their relations to an all time low.

Mullah Salam was made governor of Musa Qala, Helmand, after British, American and Afghan forces retook the town in December. His defection was the catalyst for the operation. But the British fear his warlord ways are hampering their efforts to win over local people, and driving them back into the hands of the insurgents. They have branded him a “James Bond baddie” and accused him of running a personal militia of ex-Taliban thugs, while doing nothing to support reconstruction.

Mullah Salam says British soldiers are wrecking his attempts to bring security by releasing people he arrests and underfunding his war chest – which he claims is for buying off insurgent commanders.

The British, with hundreds of troops at the 5 Scots headquarters inside Musa Qala and more in nearby outposts, suspect he is on the take. The top British diplomat at the headquarters, Dr Richard Jones, said: “He likes to feather his own nest.”

Both groups know his fate is being closely watched by other Taliban commanders thinking about changing sides.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ed Freely, who commands the Royal Irish troops training Afghanistan’s army, said: “He appears less interested in governing his people than reinforcing his own personal position of power.”

The Canadians would do well to watch the signs.  The liberal Senators have called for negotiations with the Taliban, or else the conflict in Afghanistan could carry on for a “very long time,” a Senate committee concludes in a new report.  But a Taliban spokesman sneered at this offer.  “I ask the Canadian people to ask their government to stop their destructive and inhumane mission and withdraw your troops,” Yousuf Ahmadi, speaking from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan, told CBC via cellphone.  “Our war will continue as long as your occupation forces are in our land,” said Ahmadi, CBC reported on its website.

The history of negotiations with the Taliban has been disastrous, and every time they have been tried, the losers end up being Afghanistan and the ISAF because the “negotiations” are not occurring from a position of strength.  It’s time to end the farcical pretensions of negotiations with sworn enemies.  Instead, we must resource the campaign.


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