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]

Obama to Talk to Iran About Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 months ago

Oh boy. Here we go.

The incoming Obama administration plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan — including possible talks with Iran — and looks favorably on the nascent dialogue between the Afghan government and “reconcilable” elements of the Taliban, according to Obama national security advisers.

It’s as if the radical Mullahs haven’t sent their Quds force to instigate unrest and insecurity in Iraq, kill Americans, and ship EFPs and other weapons to both Iraq and Afghanistan (to the Taliban). It’s as if Iran is not the main entry point for enemy fighters into Afghanistan. It’s as if the Iranians aren’t furious over the proposed Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq. It’s as if Iran isn’t occupying Lebanon through Hezbollah. Yes, it’s as if the radical Mullahs in Iran have our best interests at heart.

What exactly does Obama expect Iran to do for us? Stop the shipment of weapons and fighters? Agree to the SOFA with Iraq? Pull out of Lebanon? Send peacekeeping troops to fight the Taliban side by side with U.S. troops? Send money to finance the U.S. war effort?

My God. The juveniles are now in charge.

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 months ago

Stars and Stripes summarizes the investigation into the battle of Wanat, and links a redacted version of the report: “AR 15-6 Investigation Findings and Recommendations – Vehicle Patrol Base (VPB) Wanat Complex Attack and Casualties,13 July 2008,” Part 1 and Part 2.

The AR 15-6 provides a fairly detailed analysis and event time line of the battle, and we learn quite a bit about the things that led up to the battle and the ensuing casualties. The report necessarily ends with findings and opinion concerning force protection among other things, and several observations of the battle and subject report are warranted.

The Waygul Valley and in particular the location of the Wanat VPB is in steep, rugged terrain, and location of any sort of combat outpost (or VPB) was risky from the standpoint of force protection, but the decision had been made approximately one year earlier to move COP (Combat Outpost) Bella to VPB Wanat due to the fertile human terrain for counterinsurgency.

The meetings with tribal and governmental officials to procure territory for VPB Wanat went on for about one year, and one elder privately said to U.S. Army officers that given the inherent appearance of tribal agreement with the outpost, it would be best if the Army simply constructed the base without interaction with the tribes. As it turns out, the protracted negotiations allowed AAF (anti-Afghan forces, in this case an acronym for Taliban, including some Tehrik-i-Taliban) to plan and stage a complex attack well in advance of turning the first shovel full of sand to fill HESCO barriers.

VPB Wanat did indeed have concertina wire, HESCO barriers and other means of force protection, but in every direction the base was on the low ground. One particularly fateful decision was the construction and garrisoning of Observation Post “Top Side,” which sat on slightly higher ground to the East of VPB Wanat.

Just before the battle began on July 12, 2008, troops from VPB Wanat observed men they believed to be enemy combatants positioning and preparing for battle, but consistent with a theme here at The Captain’s Journal, decision-making is not given latitude in these circumstances (e.g., no PID, not actively engaged in hostilities against U.S. troops at the time, or whatever the case – this portion of the report is redacted. See TCJ coverage of Rules of Engagement).

At 2350, AAF initiated a large scale attack on VPB Wanat and OP Top Side. The enemy numbering several hundred were located at the perimeter of the VPB and in surrounding buildings and from hillsides at elevated positions compared to VPB Wanat. The enemy engaged primarily with automatic weapons and RPGs.

OP Top Side was also under heavy attack by the enemy. In fact, of the 36 casualties suffered in this battle (nine dead, 27 wounded), nine were sustained in the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the attack, specifically at OP Top Side. The enemy were close enough to engage OP Top Side by throwing grenades and shooting automatic rifles from no more than twenty meters.

In response to calls for help, three waves were sent to reinforce OP Top Side. Of the first wave, two more U.S. soldiers died while attempting to set up a machine gun position. The second wave of reinforcements saw the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth U.S. casualties. Of these fifteen casualties, eight perished attempting to defend OP Top Side (out a total of nine dead in the totality of the battle of Wanat that night).

There were between 21 and 52 AAF killed and 45 wounded. Considering a clinical assessment of kill ratio can be a pointer to the level of risk associated with this VPB and OP. 21/9 = 2.33, 52/9 = 5.77 (2.33 – 5.77), and 45/27 = 1.67. These are very low compared to historical data (on the order of 10:1).

One bright spot in the battle concerns air support. Close Air Support (CAS) was initiated within 27 minutes of start of the battle, and Close Combat Aviation (CCA) was initiated within 62 minutes of start of the battle. Aircraft supporting U.S. troops includes B-1 bombers, F-15s, A-10s and AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopters. Multiple “gun runs” were conducted “danger close” to U.S. troops.

One key breakdown in force protection pertained to intelligence. Multiple villagers, including tribal elders, had told multiple U.S. troops that an attack on VPB Wanat was imminent, but the assumption that such an attack would be probative caused little concern among the leadership. But the enlisted ranks included men who knew what was coming. Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling suspected that his days were numbered, while he and his band of brothers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team prepared for a mission near Wanat, Afghanistan. “It’s gonna be a bloodbath,” he told his father, Kurt Zwilling, on the phone in what would be their last conversation.

In fact, there had been daily reports of 200-300 fighters massing to attack COP Bella in the first 10 days of July before transfer of operations to VPB Wanat, and while U.S. forces anticipated a transfer of enemy activity to Wanat, they didn’t anticipate such heavy conventional operations. The AAF fielded a company-sized force to attack OP Top Side and VPB Wanat.

While we witnessed the adolescent fawning over Nir Rosen’s embedding with the Taliban (to which The Captain’s Journal was unimpressed and claimed that all of the information was already known without his having whored himself to the enemy), the real question is not why we haven’t listened to Nir Rosen. Rosen is irrelevant. The question is why U.S. intelligence would ignore reports directly from tribal elders in the town in which they wish to conduct COIN, thus losing nine sons of America.

There is also the issue of OP Top Side and whether such an Observation Post should have been garrisoned with so little force protection and such proximity and elevational vulnerabilities. Again, eight of the nine U.S. troops who perished that fateful night did so as a result of OP Top Side.

More broadly, the implementation of combat outposts (or VPB, or OP) should consider the modern day origins of such practice, i.e., the Marines in Anbar. COPs were “hopscotched” across Ramadi and other cities in Anbar (combined COP and police precincts in Fallujah), and while reinforcements were within minutes of each COP in Anbar, the first reinforcements arrived at VPB Wanat approximately two hours after start of the battle. While the terrain in Afghanistan is more rural, wide open and unfriendly to COPs located so closely together, still, the notion of a COP relies on reinforcements in close proximity.

Afghanistan is still an under-resourced campaign, as both Generals McNeill and McKiernan have told us. Counterinsurgency TTPs can only be implemented if the campaign is treated as COIN rather than counterterrorism operations against high value targets.

Finally, in the future, the Army would do well to consider the Marines in Helmand and their COIN tactics.  Kinetic operations served as the basis for reconstruction efforts, and no Marine asked for permission to attack Garmser.  More than 400 Taliban died as a result of Marine operations in Helmand.  One year of planning to open an COP at Wanat is about 11.5 months wasted.

In summary, while the TTP of VPB Wanat and OP Top Side were questionable, and while Afghanistan is an underresourced campaign, the men who fought that fateful night were brave in the superlative. America should be justly proud of her sons who fought with such valor.

Russian Nuclear Submarine Accident

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 months ago

There are conflicting reports concerning a recent Russian nuclear submarine accident. One such report has the culprit as a failure of the fire protection system to actuate. The second account has the failure as the spurious actuation of the fire protection system.

Twenty people were killed on board a Russian nuclear submarine, the navy said on Sunday, in an accident that exposed the gap between the Kremlin’s ambitions and its military capability.

The accident, which happened while the submarine was on sea trials in the Pacific Ocean, was the deadliest to hit Russia’s navy since the Kursk nuclear submarine exploded beneath the Barents Sea in 2000, killing all 118 sailors on board.

Prosecutors investigating the latest incident said they suspected the victims died after inhaling a toxic gas used as a fire suppressant when the vessel’s fire extinguishing systems went off unexpectedly.

It was not clear why the portable breathing gear usually issued to Russian submarine crews did not save them. A navy spokesman said the nuclear reactor was not damaged and the vessel was now in port.

“Twenty people died,” the Prosecutor-General’s Office said in a statement. “Results of a preliminary investigation show that death occurred as a result of freon gas entering the lungs.”

It appears that the later account is correct. The sailors died of suffocation when freon (a Dupont brand name for refrigerant) made the atmosphere uninhabitable.

The victims suffocated after the submarine’s fire-extinguishing system released Freon gas, said Vladimir Markin, an official with Russia’s top investigative agency. He said forensic tests found Freon in the victims’ lungs.

Seventeen civilians and three seamen died in the accident and 21 others were hospitalized after being evacuated to shore, Dygalo said, adding that none of the injuries were life-threatening.

“The submarine’s nuclear reactor was operating normally and radiation levels were normal,” Dygalo said, explaining that the accident affected two sections of the submarine closest to the bow.

Markin’s agency, the Investigative Committee under the Prosecutor General’s office, has launched a probe into the accident, which he said will focus on what activated the firefighting system and possible violations of submarine operating rules.

Lev Fyodorov, a top Russian chemical expert, agreed that the Freon pushed oxygen out, causing those inside to die of suffocation. But he wondered why the individual breathing kits that everyone on board is supposed to have did not keep people from dying.

“People on board the sub may have failed to use their breathing equipment when they found themselves in an emergency,” he told the AP.

Igor Kurdin, a retired navy officer who heads an association of former submariners, told Ekho Moskvy radio that the high death toll probably resulted from shipyard workers who lacked experience in dealing with the breathing kits.

A siren warning the crew that the firefighting system was turning on also may have failed, RIA Novosti quoted an unidentified navy official as saying, so those on board might not have realized that Freon was being released until it was too late.

U.S. submarines use primarily Halon as a fire suppressant, and the combustion and thermal decomposition products are designed to be limited to less than lethal concentrations given the short bursts of release of the gas.

The design on board the Russian submarine sounds dubious and the system apparently lacked in construction quality assurance. The gap between the Kremlin’s ambitions and capabilities is wide, and this latest accident is a long line of malfunctions that have plagued the Russian Navy, not the least of which is the Kursk accident.

Logistics will dictate troop withdrawal from Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 months ago

The recent elections in the U.S. demonstrate, among other things, the basic inability of much of the population to ask even the most basic, probative questions. President-elect Obama ran on a platform of “ending this war” (referring to Iraq), but even moderately informed listeners might have asked the question, “what war?” There is no war in Iraq. There once was war in Iraq, and it became a counterinsurgency campaign, and is a currently peacekeeping, training and reconstruction operation.

As for the claim that the troops will be brought home, the President-elect has much less control over the means to deliver that promise than he might wish. The logistics of deployment are extremely complicated and manpower and budget intensive, and redeployment back to the States is likely to be even more difficult.

The reality is that it’s difficult to get out fast. It took the Soviets nine months to pull 120,000 troops out of Afghanistan. They were simply going next door, and they still lost more than 500 men on the way out. Pulling out 10 combat brigades — roughly 30,000 troops, along with their gear and support personnel — would take at least 10 months, Pentagon officials say. And that’s only part of the picture. There are civilians who would probably want to head for the exit when GIs started packing. They include some 50,000 U.S. contractors and tens of thousands of Iraqis who might need protection if we left the country.

Slowing things down further is the sheer volume of stuff that we would have to take with us — or destroy if we couldn’t. Military officials recently told Congress that 45,000 ground-combat vehicles — a good portion of the entire U.S. inventory of tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, trucks and humvees — are now in Iraq. They are spread across 15 bases, 38 supply depots, 18 fuel-supply centers and 10 ammo dumps. These items have to be taken back home or destroyed, lest they fall into the hands of one faction or another. Pentagon officials will try to bring back as much of the downtime gear as possible — dining halls, office buildings, vending machines, furniture, mobile latrines, computers, paper clips and acres of living quarters. William (Gus) Pagonis, the Army logistics chief who directed the flood of supplies to Saudi Arabia for the 1991 Gulf War and their orderly withdrawal from the region, cites one more often overlooked hurdle: U.S. agricultural inspectors insist that, before it re-enters the U.S., Army equipment be free of any microscopic disease that, as Pagonis puts it, “can wipe out flocks of chickens and stuff like that.”

The most recent estimates have hinted at 18 months to two years redeploy the troops either stateside or to Afghanistan, remarkably about the same duration as the yet-to-be-approved Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S, and Iraq which governs U.S. troop presence in Iraq through the year 2011. Obama’s promises notwithstanding, logistics officers rule. They will dictate when and how fast we withdraw from Iraq.

There are other promises (or at least, demands) that, now that the President-elect is in the position where he must deliver on them, might not prove so easy as merely mentioning them in a stump speech. As for more NATO troops for Afghanistan, Canada, at least, will say no in the future to any extension of commitment. “Canada’s foreign minister said Wednesday that Canada won’t remain in Afghanistan beyond its 2011 commitment even if Barack Obama, the U.S. president-elect, asks for an extension.”

John Adams said that facts are stubborn things. Just so. So too are promises.

Maliki Seeks Iranian Approval of SOFA

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 months ago

In Iran and the Iraq Status of Forces Agreement we outlined our position that the best way to ensure the appearances of Iraqi sovereignty was to actually effect it. But Maliki seems to be doing just the opposite. He is seeking Iranian approval of the draft Status of Forces Agreement.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Friday he will submit the text of the controversial security pact with the United States to all of his country’s neighbours.

He would do so after Baghdad receives a US reply to five proposed amendments made by Iraq, a statement from his office said.

Maliki “will dispatch delegations to Iraq’s neighbours, including Turkey, to show them the security agreement after receiving the American replies to the proposed modifications,” he was quoted as telling Turkish President Abdullah Gul in a telephone conversation …

Iraq’s neighbours include Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan are pro forma reviews. These countries are on the list for show. The real approval Maliki seeks is from Iran, since Syria is merely an apparatchik of Iran. Before the objection is lodged that Maliki is merely being a good neighbor by his regional kowtowing, we should recall the example of Qatar, a regional base of CENTCOM. It’s important to rehearse just how Qatar came to be this strong ally of the U.S.

In recent years, the ruler of Qatar, Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, has embarked upon a limited course of political liberalization and aligned Qatar firmly with the United States. In 1992, Qatar and the United States concluded a Defense Cooperation Agreement that has been progressively expanded. In April 2003, the Bush Administration announced that the U.S. Combat Air Operations Center for the Middle East will be moved from Prince Sultan Airbase in Saudi Arabia to Qatar’s Al-Udeid airbase, which served as a logistics hub for U.S. operations in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as a key center for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Camp As-Sayliyah, the largest pre-positioning facility of U.S. equipment in the world, served as the forward command center for CENTCOM personnel during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Qatar also has assisted the United States in the war on terrorism by stepping up its efforts to prevent Al Qaeda from engaging in money laundering. With the third largest proven gas reserves in the world, U.S. companies, such as ExxonMobil, have worked to increase trade and economic ties with Qatar. Qatar has the highest per capita income of any country in the Middle East.

Shaikh Al-Thani didn’t lick any regional boots to secure the agreement with CENTCOM. Maliki also wants details of the recent U.S. attack at the Syrian border, and since this operation was conducted by Special Operations Forces, its details will be OPSEC. It would be interesting to see if the U.S. divulges these details to Maliki (and if in turn he divulges them to any of his neighbors). Unfortunately we will never know this information, but what we do know is that it is immoral in the superlative to give an enemy of the U.S. the honor of weighing in on the Status of Forces Agreement. But such is the disposition of our “ally,” Prime Minister Maliki.

Is Obama Proposing Leviathan and Sysadmin?

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 months ago

After publication of Civilian National Security Force, a number of interesting reactions occurred in reader e-mail, links and trackbacks. One such reaction bears a little more discussion. New Wars asks the question whether Obama proposes something like Thomas P.M. Barnett’s bifurcation of Leviathan and Sysadmin responsibilities.

The video below serves as an introduction to Barnett’s philosophy of Department of War and Department of “Everything else.” As a warning to readers, the video contains profanity.

To begin with, Barnett’s proposal shows an ignorance of the counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. His notion that the Leviathan deploys, goes home, and then is recalled if insurgents begin killing the Sysadmin forces is ridiculous. The Marines were engaged in constant contact with the population of Anbar for three years or more in order to win the campaign. His statement that “if you shoot at us the Marines will come and kill you” is mere dreaming. The Marines will be at Camps Lejeune and Pendleton under Barnett’s model.

Further, if the Marines (or Special Operations Forces which he also places in the category of Leviathan) are located in proximity of the Sysadmin forces in order to provide protection, then there is no point to the bifurcation of responsibilities. Nothing is saved and no efficiency is gained. One also wonders why, if both the Leviathan and Sysadmin forces are deployed to support a counterinsurgency and/or peacekeeping effort, the Leviathan would be sitting on a FOB and the Sysadmin would be contacting the population.

Barnett clearly isn’t thinking about the highly successful Marine operations in Anbar with his recommendations. And if most of the U.S. Army joins in order to engage in operations other than war (as Barnett claims), this should probably change. Eventually, U.S. forces will suffer from the same fate as the Australian infantry. Finally, Barnett’s graph of decreasing expenditure for kinetic capabilities and increasing expenditure for peacekeeping and rebuilding is laughable. No General, despite Barnett’s claims, has told him that they can get by with a much lower budget (at least not one worth anything).

We have noted many programs that need funding, including lighter body armor that has the same area coverage, F-22s (prior to the F-35 joint strike fighter), increasing the size of both the Army and Marines, rebuilding the sad state of naval ship building in America, and on the list goes. A vision into the future of a diminished military budget was put before us with the Russian invasion of Georgia with their dilapidated equipment. Many more casualties were suffered than was necessary (4:1 kill ratio).

Barnett makes a good show, but struts a bit too much given the lack of substance in his model. This must suffice as a short critique in lieu of a longer one (which we might offer in the future). As for Obama, if he is advocating Barnett’s position, then he is advocating a fairytale in never land. The philosphy is self-defeating. Without a constantly refurbished, experienced and increasingly lethal military, what Barnett calls the Sysadmin forces would be killed within hours of deployment to a location. It is precisely the huge budget, the lethality of the forces, and capability at force projection that gives the U.S. the edge that he wants to exploit and put to work doing other things.

If Obama means simply to cut the budget of the military, then this will have the same effect, and we most certaintly oppose this. But it stands to reason that Obama doesn’t see the same function for the military as even Barnett. Whether the current organizational structure or the one Barnett envisions, the existing paradigm for defeating the transnational insurgency we now face is to fight them in a battle space other than the U.S. Obama’s philosopy appears to be diametrically opposed to this paradigm.

What Basra can teach us about Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 7 months ago

We have previously discussed the bravery of British troops in kinetic engagements in Afghanistan, so there is no question of either the capabilities or courage of UK Army and Marines, or the position of The Captain’s Journal concerning the same. But we have covered British operations in the past for the purpose of understanding what the population and culture can teach us about counterinsurgency. Just such a report was recently published, and it confirms our previous positions on the campaign in Basra.

“The situation in Basra is much better than before when this was a terrorised city controlled by car-loads of militiamen,” the doctor said. “The offices of these armed men were like the security offices under Saddam Hussein, not to mention the empty houses that were used to torture anyone who dared to criticise their practices.”

He praised the conduct of soldiers from the 1st Division of the Iraqi Army, the fledgling military’s best-trained unit, who took part in the Basra offensive to boost the numbers of the homegrown 14th Division.

“We noticed the fighting ability of the 1st Division. They were well equipped, had professional training and worked well with local citizens to ensure success and defy the gangsters,” Dr Muhiddeen said.

He had less of a glowing impression of the British military, which had control of security in Basra from March 2003 until December 2007, a period that saw the al-Mehdi Army militia grow in strength and influence.

“British forces did not make an impression on the people of Basra. They let the militia control the city and stayed away from events.”

Ms Ali was also unimpressed, describing the British troops as lodgers.

“As we know, people who rent stay away from trouble even if it is harming the house he has rented,” she said.

“In my personal opinion, although I have no expertise, the US forces always want to appear strong and able to succeed in any battle. They will never allow militias to ruin the reputation of the US army.

The British troops were only “lodgers” because their strategy was misinformed, and their strategy was misinformed because of senior leadership. A whole host of problems contributed to the British failure in Basra, including rules of engagement, British Army leadership, and a reflexive belief that the lessons of Northern Ireland could be applied directly to Iraq. What the U.S. Marines knew upon takeover of operations in the Anbar Province is that the population must immediately respect them, and any loss of confidence in the ability to trust their security to them or loss of respect because of a any signs of weakness, spelled the doom of the campaign.

Going forward in Afghanistan, U.S. and British military thinkers must be of a single mind. There can be no more natural partners than the U.S. and U.K. in the global war in which we are now engaged.

Civilian National Security Force

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 7 months ago

So Obama wants to quit relying on the U.S. military alone to implement U.S. national security objectives. Okay, in contemporary slang, The Captain’s Journal is “down with that.” So he’s going to get the State Department playing on the same side as the military? Er … maybe not.

“Just as powerful, just as strong, and just as well funded.” So the astute observer and deep thinker might reflect for a minute and be compelled to pose several questions (although the MSM won’t).

  1. How will this Civilian National Security Force (hereafter CNSF) be just as powerful as men with guns, artillery, ordnance, war ships and aircraft?
  2. What will make the CNSF “just as strong” as the U.S. Marine Corps?
  3. How will this CNSF implement national security policy?
  4. Since the 2009 budget includes just over half a trillion dollars for defense spending (The Captain’s Journal supports this, and calls for even more), and since it is judged that this CNSF be “just as well funded” as the military, where will this half a trillion dollars come from?
  5. Finally, if he didn’t really mean that this CNSF would be the beneficiary of half a trillion dollars (to do with we don’t know what), then why did he say so?

At any rate, these questions seem to be compelled by the proposal. The best bet, however, is that the MSM won’t pose a single one of them (but we do get to add another snappy sounding category to our stable of articles – Civilian National Defense Force).


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