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]

Here on Emerald Isle for the Return of the 26th MEU

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

So we’re here on beautiful Emerald Isle, N.C., right outside of Camp Lejeune, to welcome my son back from his second deployment.  His first was in Fallujah, 2007, and this one was with the 26th MEU functioning as ready-reserve for CENTCOM.

I’ve been pondering and worrying over the whole idea of MEUs held in ready-reserve aboard Amphibious Assault Docks when there is such a heavy need for troops in Afghanistan, while Somalia turns headlong towards jihadi militancy, and when there is a need for force projection in the Caucasus in order to hedge against Russian hegemony and ensure logistics supply to Afghanistan.  Yet there is also a need for force projection in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East generally.

Really.  I have pondered these and related issues until it hurts.  I have also been clear in my advocacy for responsible budgetary and engineering decisions.   The Captain’s Journal has been clear concerning our disapproval of the poor engineering and cost overruns of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  We even recommended against continuation of the program.  After all, if cuts are coming to the Department of Defense, then we must do our part.

No more.  As it turns out, the current administration is planning to make drastic cuts in everything from nuclear weapons refurbisment to the F-22 program.  Because the DoD is filled mostly with responsible people who implement policy, it has been targeted for cuts, while we throw away multiple trillions of dollars on only God knows what for only God knows what reason.

So to the extent that I am read in the circles of power, I have helped to justify the jettisoning of an important element in the Marine Corps’ expeditionary program.  I feel that I have sinned against God and the Commandant of the Marine Corps.  After this post I will engage in protracted prayer and then drop and give the Commandant 100 pushups.

If it’s okay for a sniveling lackey like Timothy Geithner to print a trillion dollars and throw it down the drain, then it’s okay for the Marines to have their EFV.  They deserve it more than any other recipient of Geithner’s money.

In fact, in addition to repenting of the responsibility that I feel towards the fiduciary fidelity of the U.S. economy, I have adopted a new slogan.  “Show me the money!”  I want to see every weapons system currently in the design or manufacture stage followed through to completion, and then I want to see a two or threefold expansion in the weapons systems being planned and funded.  I want to see the number of MEUs increased at least threefold, and the size of the Marine Corps increased similarly or greater.  No more worrying for me.

So as I receive my son back from his hard work overseas and Mr. Obama ponders his NCAA bracket picks, my having agonized over the hard decisions has made the coming years easy for this administration.  No fuss, no trouble and no looking back.  Build the weapons and swear in the boys.  If anyone asks how we’re going to pay for it all, just tell them we’ll print the money.

Marines, Animals and Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

In More on Battle Space Weight we covered the almost frantic search for pounds as the fact became increasingly clear that the weight Soldiers and Marines carried in Iraq was heavy, but perhaps even prohibitive in Afghanistan.  Exhaustion, lower extremity injuries and lack of mobility mark the heavy weight our warriors carry today.  One possible remedy is the Big Dog, the otherwise cool machine that sounds like a million angry bees.  Here it is one more time.

To our observation that the warrior today carries at least 32 more pounds than in WWII due exclusively to body armor, commenter mwc33 responded:

Isn’t the other big difference between World War II and today the load our enemies are carrying? German and Japanese troops carried comparable combat loads; insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan don’t – and the disparity in mobility in Iraq’s urban environment has to be multiplied in mountainous and other difficult terrain.

Those 32 pounds of body armor are a big pain in the a$$ and everything possible should be done to lighten them. But while “big dog” may be kinda dumb, even with the lightest possible armor we’re still carrying 40 -70 more pounds than the bad guys; something has to be figured out to lighten the load – not just because of the weight itself, but because our combat loads can straitjacket us with TTPs and can make us predictable in the eyes of the enemy.

Outstanding point!  It’s not just that we’re carrying heavier loads, it’s also that the insurgent isn’t carrying any at all due to the fact that he lives among the population.  So even if the Big Dog works, what to do?


The taxpayer has spent billions to make sure America’s fighting forces have the most high-tech modes of transportation.

But in a country like Afghanistan where the enemy hides in mountain lairs, where there are few foot paths, and no roads at all, sometimes a more primitive conveyance makes more sense.

And so soldiers and Marines possibly headed to Afghanistan were at the Animal Packers Course at the Hawthorne (Calif.) Army Ammunition Depot learning how to use mules, donkeys and horses to pack water, ammunition, weapons and medical supplies.

“With vehicles, you have to worry about things like lubrication, tires and fuel,” said Marine Staff. Sgt. Tyler McDaniel. “With animals, you have to think about stuff like shoes and grooming.”

True enough, there may be a call for Farriers in the Marines.  Wonder if that will become a billet?  At any rate, having trained them before, I am partial to quarter horses, and while on their back I have put them in some precarious and dangerous places and positions on the trail.  They are sure-footed and reliable.

But whether horses or mules, the solution may be a millennium old.  Well now.  It looks as if all of that discussion about the health of transport animals in the Small Wars Manual isn’t so dated and irrelevant after all.

Satellite Patrols

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

The tactical brother of the highly strategic Field Manual FM 3-24 has been released, entitled Tactics in Counterinsurgency, FM 3-24.2.  There are certain Milblogs that are known as the beer drinkers in the outer room, raucous and loud.  You know who they are.  Then there are the more sophisticated guys smoking cigars and drinking Bourbon in a more secluded room.  The Captain’s Journal likes to think of itself in the later category.  From time to time the loud boys break into the back room and want to throw down, and we can do that too.  But soon enough we go back to our high brow thoughts and pedantic ways while we draw on a Macanudo.

But our grunt ties come through all of the time, truth be told.  We just can’t hide it.  That’s why we are more of a logistics, weapons and tactics blog rather than a strategy blog, and we secretly break into the outer room to throw down with the boys from time to time.  And so FM 3-24.2 interests us much more than its predecessor, all things being equal.

There will be many opportunities to mine the depths of this magnificent document, and so don’t hold it against us that we start with a seeming random bit of detail.  Satellite patrols.

The field manual says (page 166, Section 5-216):

All units must know the overall route and if possible, left and right boundaries. Both the base unit and the satellite units move in ways to confuse the enemy as to the patrol’s actual axis of advance.  Standard movement techniques are still used. Satellites move away from the base unit for limited periods  of time to inspect potential ambush sites, dead spaces, parallel roads, or other assigned missions. The time  that the satellite is separated from the base unit should be prescribed by the patrol leader prior to departure.

It’s a wonderful and effective tactic, the notion of smaller units connected to the larger unit patrolling in diagonal, circular and perpendicular patterns to the main unit, all with the intention of providing force protection for not only the larger unit but itself and the other smaller units as well by confusing the enemy as to the axis of advance.

I have long known about this tactic, as well as some of the finer details not shown or discussed here, but been reluctant to discuss it over the blog since it was unknown whether this should be considered FOUO, OPSEC or something that otherwise shouldn’t be divulged to the enemy.

Think I’m paranoid?  In Marines, Taliban, Tactics Techniques and Procedures, using a Powerpoint presentation I obtained from Michael Yon, I outlined a number of lessons learned from Marine Recon battling the Taliban in highly conventional fights recently in Afghanistan with close to Battalion-sized units of enemy, from their understanding of the use of combined arms, to interlocking fields of fire, to fire discipline, massing forces and other problematic issues stemming from the fact that the Taliban are more skilled than the insurgents in Iraq.  The presentation also had a discussion of Marine tactics to counter the Taliban, some of which had been highly successful.

No sooner did this post go up than I received a note from the Marine officer in Afghanistan (a Small Wars Council member as am I) who authored the presentation.  This officer complained about the release of the document and its presence on this web site, saying that not all Taliban are as skilled as these were and the presence of the presentation on this web site could lead to the education of other Taliban.

Sure, if they had access to electricity, a laptop, Powerpoint and the time to read it, along with a total absence of communication with their colleagues to teach them about these tactics.  Not likely.  But the officer hung his hat on the fact that the document was FOUO, which in reality means that whomever released it in Afghanistan should have been the target of this officer’s complaint, not me.  The term FOUO means nothing to me, since I am the official owner and founder of this web site.

So what do the readers think?  What about revealing the tactics of the Taliban and our counter-tactics, and satellite patrols as applied in urban areas?  Problematic, or not?

Attack on Logistics Near Chaman

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

In Caucasus Talks on Logistical Transit Routes for Afghanistan we discussed the recent attack on NATO supplies in Baluchistan province’s Soorab, noting that this seemed to be a new front in the Taliban campaign against logistics.  Now comes a second attack within eight days, this time near the town of Chaman.

Two men on a motorcycle threw a bomb at a truck carrying an excavating machine to NATO troops in Afghanistan, halting traffic Wednesday along a supply route through Pakistan’s southwest, officials said.

No one was injured in the blast near the Pakistani frontier town of Chaman, but the machine was damaged, area police chief Gul Mohammed said.

U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan rely heavily on two major supply routes running through Pakistan. The main one goes through the Khyber Pass in the northwest, and trucks that use it have frequently been attacked.

The smaller route through Chaman has attracted less attention from militants, but has not been exempt from violence.

This developing trend to expand the targeting of NATO supplies into the South makes all the more important the trial runs of supplies through the Caucasus and the need to engage that region.  Faster, please.

More on Battle Space Weight

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

Continuing with our compulsive interest in battle space weight, we learn some interesting things about the potential future use of technology to help reduce battle space injuries and carry more weight.

Assistant Commandant Gen. James F. Amos told a House committee Wednesday about “Big Dog,” a robotic quadruped that can carry 300 to 500 pounds of gear.

Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, joined Amos to testify before the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense. He said Big Dog and other alternatives might reduce injuries that have contributed to an increase in “non-deployable” men and women.

The number of soldiers who can’t be deployed rose from 17,000 or 18,000 to 20,000 over three years . Half have less serious injuries, including those caused by heavy loads. That has led to research in lightweight body armor, lightweight machineguns and lighter food rations.

According to an Army statement, soldiers may carry loads that start at 63 pounds and exceed 130 pounds. Extra protective gear or body armor can weigh 41 pounds. The typical combat load increased from 93 pounds in 2001 to 95.1 pounds in 2009.

The statement cited a study that proved “cumbersome” individual body armor caused pain, reduced performance and increased fatigue. Soldiers carrying 101 pounds for 12.5 miles had a 26 percent decrease in marksmanship.

“We are working very hard to lighten the load,” Chiarelli said. “One of the things we are looking at is civilian off-the-shelf solutions.”

Big Dog is one of many projects from the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency started in June 2007. A small, remote-control helicopter might deliver loads to soldiers. Another alternative is to use an “organic load-carrying asset,” or leaving some gear in soldiers’ Humvees or amphibious assault vehicles.

Ah, those DARPA dollars.  Here is one thing those dollars have bought.  The Big Dog.

Now if we can just get it not to sound like a million angry Africanized bees, we’d be much better off since we don’t want to telegraph our location to the enemy.  Seriously though, it seems that it would be a much better solution to invest dollars into lighter weight body armor SAPI plates.

The biggest difference in the weight carried by the Soldier or Marine today versus in WWII is from body armor.  The total weight of the soft panel ballistic armor, SAPI plates and carrier vest is around 32 pounds.  This is 32 extra pounds that the Soldier or Marine in WWII didn’t have to carry.  Body armor is the low hanging fruit.  But it seems that we’d rather design cool robots that sound like a million angry bees.

The Problem with the New Afghanistan Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

The 101st Airborne on patrol near Bagram Air Base, North of Kabul.

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know that we haven’t covered the missile strikes or supposed hits on high value targets (HVT) in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.  This strategy, i.e., attacking mid- to high-level commanders in the hopes that the organization or ideology will disintegrate, is wasteful of time and resources.

Note that our objection has nothing to do with collateral damage, or the alleged benefit of these strikes to Taliban recruitment.  We simply believe that the strategy will fail.  And fail it has indeed, at least thus far.  But it appears as if not only will the U.S. continue to engage in strikes to HVT, the program is set to expand into Quetta, Pakistan.

President Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan.

According to senior administration officials, two of the high-level reports on Pakistan and Afghanistan that have been forwarded to the White House in recent weeks have called for broadening the target area to include a major insurgent sanctuary in and around the city of Quetta.

Mullah Muhammad Omar, who led the Taliban government that was ousted in the American-led invasion in 2001, has operated with near impunity out of the region for years, along with many of his deputies.

The extensive missile strikes being carried out by Central Intelligence Agency-operated drones have until now been limited to the tribal areas, and have never been extended into Baluchistan, a sprawling province that is under the authority of the central government, and which abuts the parts of southern Afghanistan where recent fighting has been the fiercest. Fear remains within the American government that extending the raids would worsen tensions. Pakistan complains that the strikes violate its sovereignty.

But some American officials say the missile strikes in the tribal areas have forced some leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to flee south toward Quetta, making them more vulnerable. In separate reports, groups led by both Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of American forces in the region, and Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, a top White House official on Afghanistan, have recommended expanding American operations outside the tribal areas if Pakistan cannot root out the strengthening insurgency.

Many of Mr. Obama’s advisers are also urging him to sustain orders issued last summer by President George W. Bush to continue Predator drone attacks against a wider range of targets in the tribal areas. They also are recommending preserving the option to conduct cross-border ground actions, using C.I.A. and Special Operations commandos, as was done in September. Mr. Bush’s orders also named as targets a wide variety of insurgents seeking to topple Pakistan’s government. Mr. Obama has said little in public about how broadly he wants to pursue those groups.

Just to be clear because the New York Times is not, when they refer to the Taliban, they mean the original Afghanistan Taliban under the command of Mullah Mohammed Omar, not the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) under various commands, most specifically Baitullah Mehsud.  The TTP resides mostly in the FATA and NWFP (while they also send fighters into Afghanistan), while the Afghan Taliban fight in Afghanistan and seek safe haven and rest in and around Quetta, Pakistan.

We have previously discussed our principled objection to the centerpiece of the Afghanistan / Pakistan operation being cloak and dagger raids and missile strikes against HVT.  It isn’t counterinsurgency; it’s counterterrorism.  But a much more pragmatic objection is that it simply doesn’t work.  It has been tried and failed now for more than six years.  The new strategy of “more of the same” won’t work.

One reason that it has failed – although not by any stretch the only reason – is that it doesn’t really put the enemy on the defensive.  That’s also the problem with the so-called negotiations that the current administration wants to pursue with the Taliban.  The deluge of noise on negotiations convinces no one that the Taliban are actually being compelled to negotiate, and everyone that the U.S. is pining for the end of the fight.

Gareth Porter with the Asia Times succinctly explains why this strategy won’t work.  “Jonathan Landay of McClatchy newspapers reported from Kabul on Sunday that experts on the Taliban express “serious doubts” about the splitting strategy, because insurgent leaders believe they are winning and the Hamid Karzai government is growing weaker.”

Recall that we’ve already discussed our opinion (The Coming Battle for Afghanistan) that Biden’s position that only 5% of the Taliban are incorrigible is simply daydreaming, and that in reality it is the indigenous poor that can be targeted for turning against the Taliban.  But simply put, the switching of sides is not something that can be engineered.  Force projection is necessary, and that for a protracted duration.  The Afghans must see the U.S. as the stronger horse in the race.

As for Pakistan, there is happy talk about the reinstatement of previously sacked Supreme Court judges in Pakistan to their posts and what this means about the rule of law.  The rule of law is disintegrating in Pakistan with the erstwhile Talibanization of the FATA and NWFP, and the ongoing Talibanization of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.  Supreme Court judges are a side show.

Regarding the objection that the Taliban cannot be defeated unless their safe havens are ended in Pakistan, this complaint rings empty when the forces have not been committed to win the campaign in Afghanistan.  The field is ripe for counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, and no HVT campaign in Pakistan will replace the need to do COIN in Afghanistan.  Afghanistan first, then Pakistan as the campaign proceeds – and after the Pakistani Army and the Taliban see that we’re serious about the campaign.

Concerning U.S. Defense Cuts

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

Following are some related but disaggregated thoughts on the upcoming U.S. Department of Defense budgetary cuts, along with some very good required reading on this subject.

Gates Readies Big Cuts in Weapons

As the Bush administration was drawing to a close, Robert M. Gates, whose two years as defense secretary had been devoted to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, felt compelled to warn his successor of a crisis closer to home.

The United States “cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything,” Gates said. The next defense secretary, he warned, would have to eliminate some costly hardware and invest in new tools for fighting insurgents.

What Gates didn’t know was that he would be that successor.

Now, as the only Bush Cabinet member to remain under President Obama, Gates is preparing the most far-reaching changes in the Pentagon’s weapons portfolio since the end of the Cold War, according to aides.

Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the offi cials said.

More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said …

Gates is not the first secretary to try to change military priorities. His predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, sought to retool the military but succeeded in cancelling only one major project, an Army artillery system.

Former vice president Dick Cheney’s efforts as defense chief under the first President Bush, meanwhile, are cited as a case study in the resistance of the military, defense industry, and Capitol Hill. Cheney canceled the Marine Corps’ troubled V-22 Osprey aircraft not once, but four times, only to see Congress reverse the decision.

And we’re glad that the V-22 Osprey program was completed.  It is already making an impact in the Marine Corps expeditionary concept.  The Captain’s Journal is still a supporter of Secretary Gates, but these defense cuts are both unnecessary and ill-advised (although not of Gates’ choosing in a perfect world).  Beginning in 2011, Russian armed forces will undergo a comprehensive rearmament to refurbish and replaces weapons systems.  While the U.S. is disarming, one of the only two near peers in the world is increasing and rearming its military.  No, wait.  Make that both near peer states.

Beijing Considers Upgrades to Navy

China’s top military spokesman said it is seriously considering adding a first aircraft carrier to its navy fleet, a fresh indication of the country’s growing military profile as it prepares for its first major naval deployment abroad.

At a rare news conference Tuesday, Chinese defense-ministry officials played down the importance of Beijing’s decision to send warships to the Gulf of Aden to curb piracy — China’s first such deployment in modern history — saying it doesn’t represent a shift in defense policy. The two destroyers and supply ship are to depart Friday for the Middle East.

But officials also made clear that China’s navy, which has been investing heavily in ships and aircraft, now has the capability to conduct complex operations far from its coastal waters — and that Beijing is continuing to expand its reach and capability, perhaps with a carrier.

It’s unclear what parts of an aircraft carrier China would build itself and what parts it might need to acquire from abroad. China has bought carriers before, but none ended up in the country’s fleet.

In some of the most direct public statements on current thinking behind Beijing’s naval policy, defense military spokesman Col. Huang Xueping said Tuesday that “China has vast oceans and it is the sovereign responsibility of China’s armed forces to ensure the country’s maritime security and uphold the sovereignty of its costal waters as well as its maritime rights and interests.”

At Information Dissemination, Galrahn makes a good observation on the importance of the expeditionary concept.

As we have noted many times on the blog, the amphibious ship is the hardest working type of ship in the US Navy in the 21st century. The data says all that needs to be said regarding the requirement.

They are flexible platforms that bring together a wide variety of capabilities that can effectively perform the range of mission profiles from soft power to forward afloat staging bases to even assault roles when necessary. They are the rapid responders when crisis breaks out on land, and best fit the most often called upon requirements of the US Navy when problems occur, whether it is Hezbollah/Israel or a natural disaster, the amphibious ship, not the aircraft carrier, is the type of platform sent into to help out people … The biggest problem with the sea basing concept isn’t the idea regarding how to get troops to land, but how to sustain troops from sea once we get them on land. The single largest factor that limits support is fuel.

The Captain’s Journal agrees with Galrahn and the importance of force projection – whether hard or soft power – with the Marines Expeditionary Units (including the “combined arms” concept of multiple naval vessels with various defensive and offensive capabilities.  But with us it isn’t a matter of either-or.  It’s both-and.  We need both the carrier battle groups and the MEUs.

We will learn the lesson, again, the easy way or the hard way.  But we must be prepared to fight both near peers and counterinsurgency campaigns.  As for China, when they want to expand their global influence, the first big ship they go after is the carrier.  Concerning Galrahn’s warning on the need for fuel, this highlights all the more the need for ports and air superiority for refueling tankers.  Concerning overall air superiority, if the sole focus of our national defense dollars is in counterinsurgency, littoral combat and small wars, the MEUs will be left to the slaughter once the ordnance begins raining down from the sky.

Concerning this issue of being able to fight two wars at one time, the current administration is toying with this age-old doctrine.

The protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are forcing the Obama administration to rethink what for more than two decades has been a central premise of American strategy: that the nation need only prepare to fight two major wars at a time.

For more than six years now, the United States has in fact been fighting two wars, with more than 170,000 troops now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The military has openly acknowledged that the wars have left troops and equipment severely strained, and has said that it would be difficult to carry out any kind of significant operation elsewhere.

To some extent, fears have faded that the United States may actually have to fight, say, Russia and North Korea, or China and Iran, at the same time. But if Iraq and Afghanistan were never formidable foes in conventional terms, they have already tied up the American military for a period longer than World War II.

A senior Defense Department official involved in a strategy review now under way said the Pentagon was absorbing the lesson that the kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns likely to be part of some future wars would require more staying power than in past conflicts, like the first Iraq war in 1991 or the invasions of Grenada and Panama.

In an interview with National Public Radio last week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made it clear that the Pentagon was beginning to reconsider whether the old two-wars assumption “makes any sense in the 21st century” as a guide to planning, budgeting and weapons-buying.

Be careful here.  This seems like a prelude to deep cuts in the men and materiel necessary for air superiority, Naval superiority and force projection.  Wait, we’ve already discussed this above, and it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Finally, you will note that the cuts also target both nuclear refurbishment and development and the F-22 program.  The Captain’s Journal has already weighed in on these issues.

Just Build the F-22, Okay?

Sounding the Nuclear Alarm

An Aging Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

The three links above are required reading, as are the two links below (for those readers who aren’t convinced of the need to refurbish our existing nuclear weapons stockpile or continue further development).

Report of the Secretary of Defense Task Force on DoD Nuclear Weapons Management

National Security and Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century

Finally, read this:

Remember Near Peer Threats?

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

We have closely followed the implementation of the Taliban strategy (pointed out here at The Captain’s Journal one year ago and one half year before it began in earnest) to shut down lines of logistics via the Khyber region and through the Torkham Crossing.  The closing of the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan has occurred due to entirely different reasons than enemy strategy.  Or has it?  Russia is asserting itself in what it considers to be its near abroad, and has essentially bribed the officials in Kyrgyzstan to close down the Manas Air Base.  This makes the U.S. utterly dependent on logistical lines that run through Russia to Central Asia.  Of course, this places the U.S. in a precarious position regarding membership of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO, as well as missile programs in Poland and elsewhere.  If the U.S. is dependent on Russia for logistics, then it is much more likely that Russia will be able to assert itself in the region with U.S. weakness because of dependence on Russian cooperation for logistics.

For this reason The Captain’s Journal had recommended approximately two months ago that the U.S. work harder on a potential logistical lines through the Caucasus region, specifically, from the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus Strait in Turkey, and from there into the Black Sea.  From the Black Sea the supplies would go through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan.  From here the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.

If this line of supply came to pass, then this leaves the issue of refueling for air supply and transit through the region unaddressed, since this was the primary mission of the Manas Air Base.  Stephen Blank, professor at the US Army War College, has written that of the potential replacements for Manas, none appear to be viable.  But unaddressed in Blank’s commentary is the potential to base air support in either Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan.

Returning to lines of logistical supply, as we recently reported, there are ongoing talks concerning the Caucasus region regarding the very routes we have discussed.  Furthermore, trial runs of supplies are ongoing to test these routes.

… the Air Force is working on contingency plans to move the tanker fleet to bases in the Persian Gulf if it loses basing rights to Manas.

The Azeri capital, Baku, is emerging as a leading candidate to substitute for Manas, should the Kyrgyz government refuse to reconsider its withdrawal of the basing rights.

American and Azeri officials said that the focus of the discussions on Monday and Tuesday was a surface route that would move supplies from the Georgian port of Poti on the Black Sea and overland to Baku, where they would cross the Caspian Sea to Aktau, Kazakhstan, and then overland across Uzbekistan into Afghanistan.

A second potential route would land cargo at the Caspian seaport of Turkmenbashi, in Turkmenistan, for transit into Afghanistan. Talks on supply routes have also been held with officials in Tajikistan, another neighbor to the north of Afghanistan.

One American official said the first “trial run” of cargo containers on the new route was conducted within the last two weeks, with shipments of lumber sent from Turkey to Georgia to Azerbaijan, and then onward toward Afghanistan.

So this report notes not one, but two potential lines of logistical supply over land, as well as the potential replacement of the Manas Air Base with Baku, Azerbaijan.  At this point it might be that the Russians backpedal on disallowing Manas to continue to function (thus the recent equivocation in the news), since U.S. involvement in the Caucasus (i.e., their near abroad) is the last thing they want.

But this logistical transit route is viable.  First to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is more developed than Turkmenistan, and is obviously the center of gravity of both of the potential logistical lines discussed above.  Baku would be almost ideal for an air base to support refueling operations for U.S. aircraft supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.  Turkmenistan is far less developed, and the only viable route for supplies would go through Ashgabat from the port city of Turkmenbashi, and then South to Kandahar or East to Kabul.

Much ink has been spent spilled over the human rights record of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and both are undoubtedly repressive regimes, although there is evidence that Turkmenistan is slowly and gradually changing for the better.  There is also significant corruption in Turkmenistan.  But there is also indication that Turkmenistan is opening up to economic cooperation.  They have expressed an interest in becoming an associative partner in the ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization), and have recently opened their air space to NATO supply flights to Afghanistan.

The U.S. has a history of moral preening when it comes to working with unsavory dictators and political regimes, but this preening must be put aside in favor of functionality and logistics.  Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have all expressed an interest in working with the U.S. to enable lines of logistical supply to Afghanistan.  This plan is, after all, what provided more than 40% of the supplies to Russian troops during their campaign.

Moreover, a stronger presence in the Caucasus region is in the interests of the U.S. in both the near and long term.  Stronger ties will serve to ensure continued supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, cement critical relations in this region and Central Asia, and provide a counterbalance to Russia’s increasing hegemony in their near abroad.  It is the right time and circumstances to engage the Caucasus.

Postscript: The Captain’s Journal thanks Mr. Bob King, Instructor, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations, Leavenworth, for the encouragement to write this article.

The Coming Battle for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago


Several related but sometimes divergent reports are given below, followed by commentary and analysis.

Max Boot, Frederick Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, New York Times:

The main challenge is to overcome years of chronic neglect in terms of economic development, government services and above all security, which has allowed the insurgency free access to large swaths of the country. The good news is that the Taliban holds little appeal for most Afghans — a BBC-ABC News poll last month showed only 4 percent desired Taliban rule. The Sunni and Shiite insurgencies in Iraq, by contrast, maintained much greater support in their respective communities until they were defeated.

Even without much popular backing, Afghan insurgents are staging an increasing number of attacks, but major cities like Kabul and Jalalabad, which we visited, are relatively safe and flourishing. The civilian death toll in Afghanistan last year was 16 times lower than that in Iraq in the pre-surge year of 2006, even though Afghanistan is more populous.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times:

Ahead of the resumption of battle in Afghanistan now that the weather is warmer, the Taliban have a virtual siege all around the capital Kabul. They have significant control in the vital districts of Wardak, Logar, Parwan and Kapisa.

A second strategic ring to reinforce this siege comprises the provinces of Kunar, Nooristan and Ghazni. The four vital entry and exit routes for the Taliban’s supply lines – Nimroz, Herat, Nangarhar and Kandahar – are also heavily manned by the militants.

In addition, after striking peace deals with the Pakistani security forces, the newly formed United Front of Taliban in the Pakistani tribal areas is ready to pump at least 15,000 to 20,000 fresh fighters into Afghanistan. These are expected to start crossing the rugged – and unmanned – border in April …

“Five percent of the Taliban is incorrigible, not susceptible to anything other than being defeated,” Biden said. “Another 25% or so are not quite sure, in my view, of the intensity of their commitment to the insurgency. Roughly 70% are involved because of the money.”

In a weekend New York Times interview, Obama floated the idea of engaging with non-radical members of the insurgency, as Afghanistan heads toward August 20 elections that will test its ability to govern itself.

However, it appears that Washington has already missed the boat. The reason is the all-time high domination of al-Qaeda-influenced militants – the neo-Taliban – who are not willing to make any deal short of the withdrawal of foreign occupation forces and the restoration of the Taliban regime.

Despite the killing of a large number of important al-Qaeda commanders, these hardliners have a strong presence among the Pakistan militants allied with the three main commanders – Mullah Bradar, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Anwarul Haq Mujahid. These three have pledged their allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who has transformed the Taliban into an ultra-conservative force compared to a few years ago when the Taliban were a Pashtun tribal movement.

Paula Newton, CNN:

Kabul is clogged with traffic and people and at the best of times there is no way to assure safety in this city. And it’s alarming for this correspondent to hear the same line from both the Taliban and one of the city’s top cops: Insurgents can hit the city anytime, anywhere.

That’s not to say the Kabul Police force isn’t trying. They are now talking about a double ring of security around the city and they’ve gotten better at enforcing it. Many cities around the world with many more resources, are having their own battle with terrorists and so in that context, the security forces here aren’t doing a bad job.

Securing this capital is a crucial test not only for the city’s police force, but for the whole country. They need to know they can stand on their own and sort out their own security without thousands of foreign troops turning their capital into a fortress.

Less than three years ago, foreigners could walk the streets of Kabul in relative safety and have the luxury and freedom to hail their own cabs and try out the local food. Some foreigners of course still do that, but the majority live in armed camps throughout the city, fearing both random attacks and targeted kidnappings …

The fact is, even if Kabul becomes more secure in the coming months it may remain virtually cut off from the rest of the country for some time. And then there’s still the issue of how to secure the city itself with a police force of grossly underpaid officers who claim they are on the take just to survive?

Commentary & Analysis

Afghanistan is a land of extremely challenging terrain, and yet engagement of this terrain by U.S. forces has meant that many of the rural inhabitants around Kandahar have fled to the city.  “Massive numbers of people have already been forced from their villages in the fighting zones, and the numbers are going up as security continues to deteriorate.

It is a displacement that is fostering social upheaval and crime. It is straining the limited resources of a city with little food and shelter to offer. And it is creating a growing legion of young men with no land to farm and no jobs – young men who are ripe pickings for the Taliban.”

The insurgency must be fought and security provided for the population in both rural and urban areas.  Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is going to be very difficult, especially since we have [incorrectly] relied for some time on direct action by special operations forces against high value targets as being the cornerstone of our offensive operations.

Max Boot’s commentary is almost certainly overly optimistic, while Shahzad’s analysis is both informative and moderately propagandistic at the same time.  While the Taliban own much of the countryside (and almost all of it at night), the Asia Times report makes it sound as if the Taliban are capable of launching major conventional operations against large urban population centers.  The Taliban have launched small Battalion-sized operations against the U.S. Marines, and while the Taliban are much bolder and more tactically skillful that the enemy in Iraq, they have been beaten in numerous engagements.  In one such instance the kill ratio was 50 : 0.

Yet American tactical superiority won’t negate the very real affects of the influx 15,000 – 20,000 hard core Taliban fighters in Pakistan being freed to perform operations in Afghanistan due to the so-called peace deal with the Pakistani government.  There is no doubt that security is degrading as it has been for more than a year, and there is also no doubt that major insurgent attacks have occurred and will increase in the population centers of Kabul and Kandahar.

With the Afghan police “on the take,” high on cannabis or opium much of the time, and under constant threat and sometimes inept when sober, rapid turnover to Afghan forces isn’t an option.  Mr. Biden is certainly dreaming when he says that as much as 70% of the Taliban are redeemable.  While the indigenous poor who participate for money should be courted as elements who might side with anti-globalist forces in Afghanistan, targeting mid-level Taliban commanders for negotiations will likely bring about the same disaster as the British failure with Musa Qala and our deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam.  It accomplished little and wasted precious time.

While Mr. Biden prevaricates on the makeup of the Taliban, U.S. Soldiers, Airmen and Marines will see a difficult year in Afghanistan.  2009 will be a determinative year in the campaign.

So Build Them Roads

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

McClatchy recently had an interesting report on the importance of roads in counterinsurgency.  It’s lengthy but well worth the time.

Two hundred U.S. troops rumbled into a key Taliban stronghold Wednesday in a major operation to stop insurgents from infiltrating the Afghan capital from the south and to clear the way for the first sustained international aid effort in this remote valley.

Supported by about 200 Afghan soldiers and their French army trainers, the 200 U.S. soldiers encountered no resistance.

But the locals’ reactions to their arrival ranged from skepticism to hostility. “Down To America” dabbed in whitewash greeted the U.S. column as it entered the Jalrez Valley from the U.S. base in Maydan Shahr, the capital of Wardak province.

Icy-eyed villagers stared as towering MRAP armored trucks and other vehicles towing trailers, generators and guns, protected by two helicopter gunships and two A-10 “tank-buster” jets, plowed parts of the valley’s main track into knee-high furrows of dense mud. The convoy halted traffic for hours and churned slowly through the main bazaar twice, filling the crisp winter air with choking clouds of diesel fumes.

“Everything was OK before they came here,” Mohammad Sharif growled as he sat in his dingy confectionery shop glaring at the American vehicles stopped outside. “We don’t want them to come here. We haven’t needed them for 1,000 years. This is our country.”

U.S. officers contend that the valley, about 50 miles south of Kabul, is under firm Taliban control and that the guerrillas enjoy strong support among the district’s ethnic Pashtuns, who constitute 30 percent of the Jalrez District’s impoverished population of about 66,000.

“This is where key leaders of the Taliban are located,” said Lt. Tyjuan Campbell of Apache Company, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division.

U.S. and French officers said Taliban explosives experts produce roadside bombs and suicide vests in the valley. The insurgents also use the area to infiltrate Kabul and launch attacks, stealing through the mountains on narrow tracks and goat paths.

Campbell conceded that the U.S. force made no friends with its two-way, three-hour, fume-belching grind through the main bazaar’s narrow lane.

“I’m pretty sure they got quite upset. We rolled right through there and rolled right back again,” Campbell said as the sun set and the biting cold intensified.

The main force’s long column of vehicles was supposed to drive the 15 miles to the Jalrez Bazaar at around 40 mph. But a partially completed Chinese-built paved road gave way to a rutted, waterlogged track that forced the armored vehicles to slow to less than 10 mph at some points.

The convoy took four hours to reach the main bazaar, passing the abandoned, French-built agricultural center where it was supposed to establish a base.

Inside the bazaar, the U.S. trucks and Humvees idled for more than 45 minutes. Men crouched on the verges, and women wearing full-length burqas and cradling infants hurried by.

After the troops realized that they’d passed the agricultural center, the convoy had to turn around on the narrow track. The return journey took three hours.

Aziz Ahmad, one of several dozen drivers and passengers stalled by the convoy, at first expressed anger and resentment at the outsiders, complaining about the blockage and saying villagers “are afraid that fighting will now start here. They are scared.”

The situation looks bleak at this point.  So what might be able to turn it around?

But Ahmad said many residents would reconsider their views if the Americans paved the track.

“If they pave the road, that is a foundation for Afghanistan,” he said. “Things will begin to change.”

So in addition to potentially being a game-changer with the sentiments of the population, do roads help the security situation?  We’ve posed this question before, and the answer appears to be unequivocally that it does.

“I can’t tell you how important roads are,” said Colonel Pete Johnson, the commander of U.S. forces in southeast Afghanistan, where development lags central and northern areas and paved roads are minimal.

“If we pave roads, there’s almost an automatic shift of IEDs to other areas because it makes it so much more difficult for the enemy to emplace them … Roads here mean security,” he told Reuters in an interview last week.

So build them roads.  But don’t leave, because the insurgents will take them over, use them for transit and checkpoints, and defeat their intended purpose.  The insurgency must be defeated.  Win the population in order to develop an avenue into the heart of the insurgents.

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