Religious Exemption To Mandatory Covid Vaccination

Herschel Smith · 24 Aug 2021 · 13 Comments

I authored this paper for an individual who wishes that the name be removed.  The name has been redacted from the copy provided here. In order to assist the reader with a framework for understanding this paper, it should first be emphasized that it is written from a very specific theological perspective.  The necessary presuppositions are outlined at the beginning. It could of course be objected that there may be other (what I am calling "committed Christians") who do not hold one or…… [read more]

NATO Cannot Be Rehabilitated

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

More than five months ago on the heels of a number of bureaucratic entanglements that had slowed the progress of recently deployed Marines in Afghanistan, The Captain’s Journal asked the question Can NATO Be Rehabilitated? We also predicted that in order to give Petraeus latitude to implement counterinsurgency doctrine, we would have to bring U.S. forces out from under the command of NATO, or possibly place a U.S. General in charge of NATO forces. This has come to pass as we predicted.

We have also noted that the campaign in Afghanistan relies heavily on special forces and raids against mid-level Taliban commanders rather than contact with the population and ensuring security. In other words, it is being treated as a counter-terrorism campaign rather than a counterinsurgency campaign. Australian infantry is not even allowed to engage in kinetic operations, and must sign documentation concerning their deployment that they have not provoked such fire fights.

Rather than making contact with the population, many NATO troops have been kept on Forward Operating Bases (FOBs); rather than finding and killing the enemy, NATO has placed emphasis on reconstruction efforts, reconstruction that goes unused in many cases because there is no security. Rather than conducting dismounted patrols, many troops have been confined to vehicles, obviously increasing the risk from IEDs.

There are noises that NATO countries are getting serious about the campaign.

The Berlin government has extended the mandate of Germany’s military mission in Afghanistan for 14 months and agreed to deploy an extra 1,000 troops there.

The decision would keep German troops in Afghanistan until December 2009, boosting their number to 4,500.

The move requires approval by the lower house of parliament, which was due to debate the issue later on Tuesday.

Germany is currently the third biggest contributor to the 47,000 Nato-led force in Afghanistan.

Sounds like a positive step, no? Well, not so fast. Forget force projection by infantry. Germany won’t even use its special forces for kinetic operations.

Germany has admitted its Special Forces have spent three years in Afghanistan without doing a single mission, and are now going to be withdrawn.

More than 100 soldiers from the elite Kommando Spezialkrafte regiment, or KSK, are set to leave the war-torn country after their foreign minister revealed they had never left their bases on an operation.

The KSK troops were originally sent to Afghanistan to lead counter-terrorist operations.

But Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister, admitted they had not been deployed “a single time” in the last three years, despite a desperate shortage of Special Forces units in the country.

Troops from Britain’s Special Boat Service and the SAS work round the clock, across Afghanistan, alongside US navy Seals and Delta Force, to target terrorists, arrest drug lords and rescue hostages.

The KSK were part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, which spearheads the international hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Senior military officials last night blasted the KSK commanders for keeping the troops in camp. One western military official accused Germany of “sitting on the sidelines while the rest of the world fights”.

He said: “It’s just unbelievable to think there have been 100 highly-trained troops sitting doing nothing for three years, while everyone else has worked their socks off. It’s no good sending troops if they don’t do anything. They might as well have stayed at home.”

Another source said: “It’s ludicrous that they would be here and not contributing.”

Berlin is under almost constant pressure from the rest of Nato to increase its troop contribution and scrap special national caveats which prevent German troops deploying to volatile parts of the country, like Helmand. Last year it emerged that Norwegian troops, fighting alongside their German allies, were forced to abandon a battle at tea-time because German pilots refused to fly emergency medical helicopters in the dark.

Mr Steinmeier claimed the KSK’s inactivity as an excuse to withdraw the Commandos from Afghanistan.

He said: “That’s why the KSK element should be taken out of the OEF mandate.”

Berlin was set to renew the KSK mission for another year in November, but they are now expected to fly home instead.

A spokesman for Operation Enduring Freedom said: “We don’t have enough troops in Afghanistan.”

But, he added: “Common sense says if they weren’t being used, they won’t be missed.”

The KSK revelations came as Nato’s leading commanders were renewing their calls for more troops.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, agreed to send an extra 1,000 troops to Afghanistan this week, but they will be confined to the north of the country which is relatively safe.

Most of Germany’s troops are based in Mazar-e Sharif, at an airbase complete with a series of bars and a nightclub. Nato wants Germany to do more in Afghanistan, but the mission is deeply unpopular with German voters.

Mr Steinmeier told Der Spiegel newspaper: “You cannot just keep piling elements on without taking a critical look at our current responsibilities.”

Our question five months ago was prescient. There are individual countries who are assisting in Afghanistan, but as an organization, our judgment is that NATO cannot be rehabilitated. This is why, for all of his bluster about returning America to a position of respect across the globe, Barack Obama’s demand that NATO fulfill an increased role in Afghanistan is a doomed strategy. More troops to sit on FOBs and provide force protection for themselves (while Marines and British forces take the brunt of the battle in the South) won’t help the campaign.

Have the Taliban Really Rejected al Qaeda?

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know that we oppose negotiations with the Taliban (just as we opposed the deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam for Musa Qala). But Hamid Karzai has prostrated himself before Mullah Omar, beseeching him to stop the violence.

On the first day of Id al-Fitr, President Hamid Karzai had a great treat in store for his people. In a speech he said: “A few days ago I pleaded with the leader of the Taliban, telling him ‘My brother, my dear, come back to your homeland. Come back and work for peace, for the good of the Afghan people. Stop this business of brothers killing brothers’.” My brother? My dear? Yes, and yes again. Karzai is an Afghan version of the metrosexual man. He sometimes even cries publicly, though that’s not to everyone’s taste.

A large dose of wishful thinking has gone into this notion that the Taliban are actually negotiating with Kabul, or rather, that any meaningful representatives of the Taliban are negotiating on behalf of the Taliban. In fact, there are some fairly compelling denials that this is occurring. “Zabeeh Ullah, spokesman of Mullah Umar has said that Taliban has no relation[ship] to negotiations with Afghan government. He termed it as an attempt by Afghan government to create differences between Talibans. He said that Mullah Abdus Salam Zaeef, Moulvi Abdul Wakeel Mutawakal and Maulana Rehmani were not their representatives.” Furthermore, the idea that Mullah Omar would willingly choose to negotiate with Hamid Karzai stands in stark contrast to his history, even his recent history. In a recent al Qaeda video commemorating the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Mullah Omar’s spokesman promises more large scale attacks.

Finally, the NEA Foundation has recently translated a fairly succinct but informative message from the Taliban.

In the Name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful … The mainstream media is reporting about a ‘peace process’ between the Taliban and the Kabul puppet administration which is being sponsored by Saudi Arabia and supported by Britain – or, alternatively, that there are ‘unprecedented talks’ taking place involving a senior ex-Taliban member who is traveling between Kabul and alleged bases used by Taliban senior leadership figures in Pakistan.

The Shura Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) considers such baseless rumors as part of the failed efforts by our enemies to create distrust and doubts among Afghans, other nations, and the mujahideen. No official member of the Taliban – now or in the past – has ever negotiated with the U.S. or the puppet Afghan government. A handful of former Taliban officials who are under house arrest or who have surrendered do not represent the Islamic Emirate. If our fight was for control of ministries and other prominent positions in the puppet administration, then such negotiations would have made sense – but this is not the case. Our struggle is to implement the rules of Allah in Afghanistan by eradicating the enemies of Islam.

A dialogue which is in the interests of Afghanistan and Islam will never be concealed from the nation. Our struggle will continue until the departure of all foreign troops.

In these few paragraphs not only has Omar denounced the idea that there can be negotiations with either the U.S. or Kabul, he also tells us again what his aim is. The Taliban aren’t after cooperation or even high level ministry positions. The existing government in Kabul won’t do.

While even Secretary of Defense Gates has made it clear that there can be compromise with the Taliban, Mullah Omar has said that the same kind of government that existed prior to 9/11 – and that gave sanctuary to al Qaeda – must be implemented in Kabul. Nothing less is acceptable.

Since it take two parties to cooperate, there can be no cooperation.

60 Minutes and the Special Forces Hunt for bin Laden

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

Like many of you, I watched the 60 Minutes exposé on the special forces hunt for Osama bin Laden. My reaction was probably unlike most, but typical of the articles that frequent The Captain’s Journal. But more on my reactions in a moment. While we don’t normally interface with posts at other sites on a regular basis, this one is an exception that warrants special attention because of the salient points to be made on the campaign in Afghanistan. Christian at Defense Tech has an important post up on the whole sordid affair (you’ll see why it’s sordid momentarily).

So, after I posted the last thread, I went over to a forum that’s populated with no-joke special operations forces troops and looked at the discussion on the KBL/ Dalton Fury imbroglio. Man is it hot in there.

Apparently, Dalton Fury’s real name is Maj. Thomas Greer. I was wrong in thinking he was Pete Blaber, though it does turn out from the discussion that Blaber has a book of his own coming out called “The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander” that’s supposed to be available in December.

These operators at the forum are none too kind to a guy who’s attempting to “profit” from revealing covert operations covered under top secret non disclosure agreements. They skewer him and smoke his body over a pit of coals. But none of them disputes who he is, what he’s done or how the mission went down. There’s little comment about the actual 60 Minutes broadcast, though it would have been helpful if the reporters had mentioned the controversy Fury has caused and held fast on calling him by his real name (I did a search and his name comes up as a faculty member of American Military University). Once it’s out in the open, it looks a little ridiculous for a reputable news organization to stick to a pseudonym.

As a reporter who’s covered the military for a decade, I get a little annoyed at the knuckle-dragger attitude that someone who says anything about their covert activity should be banished. Give me a break. That attitude perpetuates an elitist, Samurai mentality that says “you don’t need to know. Just trust us, we know what we’re doing…”

Sorry, but I — and millions of other Americans — pay your salary and we damned right want to know what you’re doing. You work for us. So I’m glad, as long as it doesn’t deliberately put lives in danger of death (like the politically-motivated CIA tell-alls did back in the ’70s), that these stories come out. There’s been seven years between then and now, surely Delta and CIA have new ways of doing things that aren’t compromised by this book.

There is also a discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal in which it is concluded that this individual is the “real deal,” and it spends some time on the efforts at redaction that occurred between Greer and SOCOM. Good grief. Let’s go straight out of the gate and make our position clear. The Captain’s Journal doesn’t care who Greer is or if he is the “real deal” (any more than we care about the commenters at Defense Tech) except insofar as it goes to accuracy of his account and hence the ability to critique our strategy.

Further, the comment thread at Defense Tech is as brutal to Christian as the original one to which he points. I won’t waste time rehearsing it, but one particularly obnoxious example is this by someone with the pseudonym Krag (these people never use their real names):

Pathetic. You want to know…TS. Join an elite unit and then you’ll know. Otherwise, quit whining. The military doesn’t “work for” you or any other whining civvie. We work for the preservation of the Constitution. You pay taxes of which a small portion goes to pay for your collective defense…that entitles you to squat as to TTPs and classified information.

Get over yourself.

Congratulations Krag! Drop your dumbass pseudonym, tell The Captain’s Journal your real name and address, and we’ll send your B.A. degree in navel-gazing. But as for this elitist mentality and cloak-and-dagger secrecy, how do you say it in contemporary slang? The Captain’s Journal isn’t down with that.

If something is OPSEC, then it can’t be released. If it isn’t then it’s free game. Period. It shouldn’t be any more complex than that. TTPs can be OPSEC too, and the decision simply must be made as to whether the information is or isn’t OPSEC. Then we can move forward with the information, commentary and analysis.

Our position on special forces has been made clear before. We are a Marine blog. In the Marines, no one is special – or everyone is special, depending upon your perspective. Infantry is king, and every billet supports infantry. We are opposed to Recon being separated from the infantry unit they support. The Captain’s Journal supports the notion that special forces should be seen as specialized billets, not supermen who maintain a cloak-and-dagger secrecy, separated from the units they support.

On a related note, I could only chuckle when I recently watched the Navy SEALS (Military Channel) as they did their 6 mile run with a 50 lb. backpack, after which they qualified at 100 yards with a rifle (Marines qualify at 500 yards). In the Marines, a day that causes you to say “my life sucks” might include a 20 mile hump on a 100 degree F day with full body armor, backpack, SAW and three drums of ammunition, and hydration system (for a total of 120 pounds) followed by squad rushes for 1000 meters in the mud with live ammunition, followed by the Gunny telling you that the Lt. Col. has decided that we have two weeks to get everyone to the next belt in the MCMAP, so we get to “stay in the field, commune with nature and beat the hell out of each other for the next two weeks.” But I digress into the very thing with which I charge the “special” people.

Since we have now dispatched the juvenile navel-gazing and the “we’re so special, can’t you all see how we’re so special, tell us we’re special” mentality and can consider the things we learned on 60 Minutes (we didn’t learn much beyond what we already knew), our reaction was as our regular readers might imagine it to be. “There you have it in all its glory – the stupid Rumsfeld legacy.”

Air Force special operators with satellite uplinks guiding JDAMS to target, CIA operatives making shady deals with halfway reliable (or all the way unreliable) allies, Delta Force operators in the background, gizmos, gadgets and thingamajigs, tribal elements in the foreground, minute-by-minute radio communications on the whereabouts of UBL, and cloak-and-dagger secrecy after the fact … it all makes for interesting television, civilian amazement, and even more honest books about the abject failure of the Rumsfeld strategy in Afghanistan.

Marines are always in ready reserve, and if their forces needed supplementing, the 82nd or 101st Airborne should have been able to respond to the need of the moment. There is absolutely no replacement for infantry, and in this case, terrain control, interdiction and authority over transit was the solution to the problem. Infantry could have provided this, special forces could not. We let UBL escape, and it was not the fault of special forces. It was Rumsfeld’s fault. It was a strategic blunder.

It isn’t a reflection on their specialized billets, their capabilities or their commitment. It’s a function of force projection. Special forces cannot supply the force projection necessary to win counterinsurgencies. Only infantry can do this. This is what we learn when we put aside the sophomoric posturing over who’s special and who isn’t.

NATO and Poppy: The War Over Revenue

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

We’ve covered this before, but it’s time to circle back around and address it again, this time with a bit more nuance. General John Craddock is incredulous and says it’s time to give him a break.

NATO’s top operations commander hit out on Monday at allies resisting his call for the alliance to use more aggressive tactics against Afghan drug production.

“We still have a handful of nations…who have not listened to the argument but are countering with questions that have been answered over and over and over again,” NATO Supreme Commander for Europe General John Craddock told a seminar in Brussels.

The U.S. general, who has called for tougher action against drug labs and trafficking networks, rejected the idea that his proposal would worsen the Taliban insurgency and stressed it would not involve targeting farmers’ crops.

“This is not about eradication. The fear that this will make the Taliban more mad at us? Give me a break!” he said.

“What are these suicide bombs and IEDs, these terrorist attacks, all about? How can it be any worse?”

Craddock quoted U.N. estimates that the trade in drugs was bringing in about $100 million every year to the Taliban and said the trade also fuelled corruption in the Afghan government.

“If we can take away the wherewithal that they can build these bombs, the ability to buy the materiel and pay the bomb maker, the ability to buy the bullets and pay the trigger puller, isn’t that a good thing?” he asked.

“I will not rest until I have exhausted every avenue to convince the political leaders of NATO that this is a moral requirement to protect their forces.”

On a mission, he is. But not so fast. Will poppy eradication really stop the flow of revenue into the Taliban coffers? In Kidnapping: The Taliban’s New Source of Income and Financing the Taliban we pointed out how the Taliban had learned to behave like an organized crime syndicate, making protection and extortion money on everything from kidnapping to taxes on businesses and even marble quarries.

It isn’t obvious that a total eradication of poppy from the landscape would cause a diminution of Taliban capabilities. But let’s acknowledge General Craddock’s point that we shouldn’t care a whole lot how the Taliban feel if we destroy their income. If in fact there are Taliban – farmers by day, fighters by night – who are growing and making money from poppy, and we can positively identify them as being Taliban, then The Captain’s Journal is in favor of destruction of their crops.

But there’s the rub, isn’t it? If we can make positive ID of Taliban, then destruction of their crops is irrelevant since we should stalk and kill them. On the other hand, the real question isn’t whether we are going to make the Taliban more mad at us. It’s whether some heretofore uninvolved farmer or his sons become enraged at the destruction of their livelihood and then become Taliban. The real concern is stoking the insurgency with new members, not the disposition of the old members.

Finally, just in case any of this gets lost on our leadership, remember that the U.S. Marines, the best warriors on the planet, including COIN, specifically avoided poppy eradication during their tenure in the Helmand Province. They were there to kill Taliban, not crops, said they.

Indeed, from negotiating with alleged moderates to poppy eradication to [you fill in the blank _______], everyone is searching for a magic incantation to utter, a special section of FM 3-24 released only to the Gnostic special few that tells us how to do COIN, some trickery of the enemy, or some other solution to the campaign that doesn’t involve more troops. If we only do this, we can win – if we only do that, we can be successful. Alas, there is no easy solution forthcoming.

On Negotiating with the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

This comment at the Small Wars Journal Blog by a British officer reminds us again of the myth that has sprung up around the narrative of Anbar.

… dialogue with Afghan tribes/groupings that provided the ‘freedom’ for them to accept localised security responsibility. Given the nature of some of these local forces it was this aspect of our tactical activity that I recall being the subject of friction between the Brit and US chains of command. Slightly ironic when one considers the subsequent endorsement of the ‘awakening’ in Al An bar and Baghdad. Clearly this latter course of action was driven by our own limited means and was fraught with risk. However, compromise is, I submit, an enduring tenet of COIN.

The irony is only apparent, and belongs to the realm of myth-telling concerning the U.S. experience in the Anbar Province. The one who believes that kinetic operations and force projection weren’t the pre-condition for the tribal awakening would do well to remember U.S. Marine deaths in Anbar – approximately 1000 between active duty and reserve.

No less than Colonel MacFarland gives us a synopsis of the tribal view upon his arrival in Ramadi.

“The prize in the counterinsurgency fight is not terrain,” he says. “It’s the people. When you’ve secured the people, you have won the war. The sheiks lead the people.”

But the sheiks were sitting on the fence.

They were not sympathetic to al-Qaeda, but they tolerated its members, MacFarland says.

The sheiks’ outlook had been shaped by watching an earlier clash between Iraqi nationalists — primarily former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party — and hard-core al-Qaeda operatives who were a mix of foreign fighters and Iraqis. Al-Qaeda beat the nationalists. That rattled the sheiks.

“Al-Qaeda just mopped up the floor with those guys,” he says.

“We get there in late May and early June 2006, and the tribes are on the sidelines. They’d seen the insurgents take a beating. After watching that, they’re like, ‘Let’s see which way this is going to go.’ “

Note that even initially the tribes didn’t like the presence of al Qaeda, but just as with Abu Ahmed in al-Qaid, who lost to al Qaeda until aided by U.S. Marines, they needed security and assistance along with a strong presence by U.S. forces in order for their resistance to be successful. The awakening didn’t materialize out of nothing, but rather had a cornerstone, without which the foundation wouldn’t have stood.

So how well does this compare with the situation in Afghanistan? First of all, the Taliban willingly approved of sanctuary for al Qaeda rather than fought against them prior to 9/11. Second, they willingly fight side-by-side with their fighters today against U.S. and NATO forces. Third, Operation Enduring Freedom is an “economy of force” campaign, which means that, as we were told by both Generals McNeill and McKiernan, we don’t have enough troops, and by definition, this means that we don’t have the force projection necessary to do the job of counterinsurgency.

The view is therefore clouded when the loss of the campaign is on the horizon. Senior British military leadership believes that the war is lost.

Britain’s most senior military commander in Afghanistan has warned that the war against the Taliban cannot be won. Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said the British public should not expect a “decisive military victory” but should be prepared for a possible deal with the Taliban.

His assessment followed the leaking of a memo from a French diplomat who claimed that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador in Kabul, had told him the current strategy was “doomed to fail”.

Carleton-Smith, commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, which has just completed its second tour of Afghanistan, said it was necessary to “lower our expectations”. He said: “We’re not going to win this war. It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army.”

The brigadier added: “We may well leave with there still being a low but steady ebb of rural insurgency . . . I don’t think we should expect that when we go there won’t be roaming bands of armed men in this part of the world. That would be unrealistic and probably incredible.”

Negotiating with the Taliban means giving power and authority to Mullah Omar, who paid Baitullah Mehsud $70,000 to mastermind attacks against diplomats of countries involved in the publication of sacrilegious cartoons of Prophet Mohammed, and who has also acknowledged the authority of Baitullah Mehsud over the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban).

Baitullah himself has global aspirations. “We will continue our struggle until foreign troops are thrown out. Then we will attack them in the US and Britain until they either accept Islam or agree to pay jazia (a tax in Islam for non-Muslims living in an Islamic state).”

So the difference between the Anbar awakening and the Taliban insurgency are stark, and serve to highlight the confusion of this British officer who doesn’t understand why we cannot negotiate with the Taliban. More troubling, however, is the acquiescence of General Petraeus to the notion of peace-making with the Taliban.

For Afghanistan, he spoke of increasing international forces and what he called “thickening” local forces as well, through greater political engagement of tribes and reconciliation with fighters who were not hard-core. There was also the need to engage countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, to help with the Taliban, he said.

This must be done very carefully, since the force projection necessary to convince the tribes to reject extremism has not been implemented since the beginning of the campaign. We must do first things first. As for the mistaken effort to get the Saudis to collaborate and win the peace, the Taliban clearly aren’t interested. Why should they be, since they are winning? Negotiating in this instance is a sign of weakness. The Anbaris wanted security and patronage. We have nothing that the Taliban and al Qaeda want. The mistake is a simple one of category. We aren’t involved in a traditional counterinsurgency. We are waging a counterinsurgency against religious jihad. They want us.

On Patrol with Marines in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

Corporal William Ash, a squad leader from 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), along with a stray dog lead a patrol through a city in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. When the platoon moved into the area, they found two stray dogs, and each time the Marines head out on patrol the dogs are right at the Marines’ side.

Marine from the 24th MEU in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Marine with dog.

MRAPs Being Re-Evaluated for Afghanistan Due to Rollover

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

With the road infrastructure and the relatively stable terrain in Iraq, MRAPS have been a huge success in protection against IEDs. They do have their difficulties with low hanging power lines and therefore some limitations in highly urban settings, but this is area in which dismounted patrols must be used anyway to contact the population. But with the undulations in the terrain in Afghanistan, as reported in June, the MRAPs are having some problems due to their high center of gravity.

Three Green Berets drowned Saturday when their Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle rolled into a river in Afghanistan. The deaths come amid growing concerns about the threat of catastrophic rollovers in the military’s silver bullet solution to improvised explosive devices.

Two military reports issued in June indicate growing problems associated with the MRAPs’ potential for rollover — as well as electrocution, when the vehicle snags low-hanging power lines — and an emerging threat from the vehicle’s glass dissolving into a cancer-causing powder when struck with explosively formed projectiles.

Saturday’s accident occurred in volatile Kandahar province and killed three members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., according to a Defense Department statement.

Anticipating a more active role on Afghanistan, the Marine Corps is busy investigating alternative solutions.

With plans to redeploy more Marines to Afghanistan later this fall, companies like General Dynamics Corp. and Force Protection Inc. are being asked to re-engineer mine-resistant vehicles that can traverse the war-ravaged country’s mountainous terrain while offering even greater protection.

High altitudes, dispersed battalions and restricted travel zones are among the serious challenges facing the service as it weighs the resources needed to perform its missions in Afghanistan where violence has escalated, senior Marine Corps officials told defense industry executives at the service’s annual expo Thursday.

Senior Marine Corps officials are concerned the current MRAPS are ill-equipped to handle the rocky terrain in Afghanistan, and are too heavy to easily transport to areas where they are needed.

“It’s OK in Iraq, but it’s not OK in Afghanistan,” said Dillon. “It’s got to have off-road capability and all the survivability.”

Blasts from roadside bombs are the leading cause of combat deaths and injuries in Iraq and have become a growing threat in Afghanistan, but it’s unclear whether the Marine Corps will buy more of the same vehicles, said Dillon. Currently, there are more than 900 MRAPs in Afghanistan, and close to 8,000 in Iraq. To date, the Pentagon has spent $22.4 billion on the program.

Instead, the service hopes to approve a hybrid armored vehicle that would provide the same type of protection as an MRAP, but would be more agile and provide improved maneuverability, Marine Corps officials said.

It’s more than just rollover concerns that are driving this innovation.  It is maneuverability, off road terrain capabilities and transportability.  The Marines may not be pursuing the hottest next-gen warrior trappings such as the exoskeleton, but when it comes to realistic battle space needs and possibilities, they have always been on top of their game.  Let’s hope that this program is off to a good and quick start.  Perhaps some representative of General Dynamics can contact The Captain’s Journal to give an update on the progress and goals.

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

Somali pirates in small boats can be seen alongside the hijacked MV Faina. The captain of the hijacked ship off the coast of Somalia said one crew member had died (U.S. Navy/AP Photo).

The U.S. Navy and Marines have surrounded some very important cargo in the Gulf of Aden near the Somalian coast.

U.S. warships have surrounded the MV Faina, a Belize-registered ship that was hijacked by pirates off the lawless coast of Somalia last week.

While there’s no gold or precious jewels onboard, this buccaneer’s booty has the international community racing to intercept the boat before its cargo can be offloaded.

The Ukrainian-owned ship is carrying 33 Russian-made T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft guns, multiple-launch rocket systems and thousands of rounds of tank ammunition. Initial reports indicated the Ukrainian arms were destined for Kenya. But U.S. officials now say it appears they were to be shipped to Sudan, although it is unclear if they are headed to the central government in Khartoum or the government of Southern Sudan, which has purchased such tanks in the past.

The U.S. Navy has dispatched several destroyers and cruisers, as well as an amphibious ship with a complement of helicopters and Marines aboard, to ensure the hijacked arms don’t fall into the hands of terrorists in the power vacuum of the Horn of Africa region, particularly in Somalia, where al Qaeda-linked groups operate.

“We are not going to allow the offload of the ship’s cargo,” warned Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which has sent ships to the scene.

The U.S. ships are stationed in a 10-mile radius around the hijacked vessel to prevent it from escaping.

“We are deeply concerned about the safety of the crew as well as the cargo onboard MV Faina,” Christensen said, adding that the U.S. presence “represents the U.S. resolve to ensure safety and security in the region. Piracy is a problem that starts ashore and requires an international solution to this international problem.”

A senior U.S. defense official says the American ships’ main mission is to prevent the pirates aboard the freighter from being resupplied from shore. The MV Faina is anchored off the Somali port of Hoybyo, along with two other freighters that had been hijacked by pirates previously.

Also of immediate concern is the well-being of the ship’s crew of Ukrainians, Latvians and Russians, totaling 21. A Russian crewman is reported to have died from hypertension. A Russian naval ship is also on its way to the scene from the Baltic and is estimated to arrive off Somalia in a week, at the earliest.

The U.S. Navy says it has had no coordination with the Russians on the matter.

“The Russians, I believe, are trying to lend their support,” State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters today, declining to comment further.

The modern-day swashbucklers were armed with automatic weapons when they boarded the ship Thursday. They are demanding a $20 million ransom for return of the cargo, down from an initial demand of $35 million.

The region off the coast of Somalia is well-known for pirate activity where cargo ships are regularly hijacked for ransom. Indeed, the number of vessels hijacked this year, and the ransoms demanded for their safe return, have risen dramatically.

Robert Kaplan gives us a little more on the pirates and their methods.

I spoke recently with several U.S. Navy officers who had been involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia, and who had interviewed captured pirates. The officers told me that Somali pirate confederations consist of cells of ten men, with each cell distributed among three skiffs. The skiffs are usually old, ratty, and roach-infested, and made of unpainted, decaying wood or fiberglass. A typical pirate cell goes into the open ocean for three weeks at a time, navigating by the stars. The pirates come equipped with drinking water, gasoline for their single-engine outboards, grappling hooks, short ladders, knives, AK-47 assault rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades. They bring millet and qat (the local narcotic of choice), and they use lines and nets to catch fish, which they eat raw. One captured pirate skiff held a hunk of shark meat so tough it had teeth marks all over it. With no shade and only a limited amount of water, their existence on the high seas is painfully rugged.

The classic tactic of Somali pirates is to take over a slightly larger dhow, often a fishing boat manned by Indians, Taiwanese, or South Koreans, and then live on it, with the skiff attached. Once in possession of a dhow, they can seize an even bigger ship. As they leapfrog to yet bigger ships, they let the smaller ships go free. Because the sea is vast, only when a large ship issues a distress call do foreign navies even know where to look for pirates. If Somali pirates hunted only small boats, no warship in the international coalition would know about the piracy.

Off-hand cruelty is the pirates’ signature behavior. In one instance, they had beaten, bullied, and semi-starved an Indian merchant crew for a week, and thrown overboard a live monkey that the crew was transporting to Dubai. “Forget the Johnny Depp charm,” one Navy officer told me. “Theirs is a savage brutality not born of malice or evil, like a lion killing an antelope. There is almost a natural innocence about what they do.”

The Captain’s Journal has no idea what this Navy officer is talking about. He needs to go back and re-evaluate his own morality and ethics, if he has any. Piracy, theft and cruelty are most certainly born out of evil, and the pirates themselves are reprehensible along with their actions. Right and wrong, good and bad, righteousness and evil, are not merely conventions.  They are universal and invariant.  There is nothing romantic about this.

This isn’t about learning a language to communicate with a population, or identifying an indigenous insurgency, or befriending a tribal sheikh, or employing gated communities, or any of the complicated counterinsurgency tactics we’ve had to employ in Iraq or Afghanistan.

This is easy. We tell the LOAC and ROE lawyers that they’re special and that they should go to their rooms and write high-sounding platitudes about compassion in war so that they’re out of the way, we land the Marines on the ship, and we kill every last pirate. Then we hunt down his domiciles in Somali and destroy them, and then we find his financiers and buyers and kill them. Regardless of the unfortunate potential loss of Ukrainian or Russian civilian life upon assaulting the ship, this weaponry and ordnance should never have been shipped in this part of the world without escort (and perhaps it shouldn’t have been shipped even with escort).

Negotiations will only serve to confirm the pirates in their methods. It’s killing time. It’s time to turn the United States Marines loose.

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