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]

What Now Zad Can Teach Us About Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

We have been covering and analyzing U.S. Marine Corps operations in Now Zad, Afghanistan, for nine months, ever since our friend Major Cliff Gilmore (USMC) sent us a direct and unpublished report on his visit to Now Zad.  Three months ago we observed that Now Zad was abandoned, and questioned the strategic significance of holding it.  More than two months ago we got our answer: the Marines were working to shape the battle space by moving insurgents into disposable positions.

Insurgents are there even though the population isn’t.  There is major combat action in Now Zad as demonstrated by this video.  We discussed the fact that there aren’t enough troops to clear and hold, and as it turns out, Now Zad was being used as a place for R&R for insurgents.  Now this AP video gives us an even clearer description of the need for additional Marines.

This is simply remarkable.  Much of the time conducting counterinsurgency is devoted to extracting and isolating the insurgents from the population and protecting the population from violence from insurgents.  It is costly, requires patience, and is very expensive and inefficient.  But every once in a while the insurgents do us a favor and isolate themselves from the population.  These are the instances for which we pray.

Yet when the 2/7 Marines deployed to Now Zad in the spring only to find no noncombatants, it was as if an apology was necessary.  “They saw what they wanted to achieve but didn’t realize fully what it would take,” Task Force 2/7’s commander, Lt. Col. Richard Hall, said at the time. “There were no intel pictures where we are now because there were few or no coalition forces in the areas where we operate. They didn’t know what was out there. It was an innocent mistake.”

Mistake or not, the Marines hit a gold mine, with the possibility for significantly increased productivity in kinetic operations and kill ratio as compared to the alternative.  But while Now Zad is important enough to take, it isn’t important enough to hold significant portions or even kill all of the insurgents in the AO.  Why wouldn’t more Marines be deployed to the area to kill insurgents before they return to their own area of operations to wreak havoc?

Enter population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine.  Rather than seeing protection of the population as one potential line of operation or line of effort in the campaign, it is the sole focus of the campaign.  Rather than killing insurgents, we hear a constant parroting of the meme that for every insurgent we kill, greater than or equal to one insurgent pops up in his place (we’ll call this the dilemma).

Obviously we cannot deny that in some instances the dilemma presents itself, because denying it would be doctrinal stubbornness and inflexibility.  But also just as obviously, this does not obtain in every situation.  There were a huge number of indigenous insurgents killed in the Anbar Province, and if greater than one replaced every dead insurgent, the campaign wouldn’t be over.  While Captain Travis Patriquin was courting the tribes in Anbar, U.S. forces were targeting his smuggling lines by killing smugglers and shutting down his means of transit with kinetic operations.  In some cases, it would seem, nothing is a better inducement to negotiate than seeing dead friends and family members.

But the proponents of population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine, i.e., those who proclaim that it should be the sole focus of the campaign, have been so effective that the U.S. Marine Corps is apologizing for being deployed in an area of operations where they can kill the enemy unimpeded, and then refusing to deploy more Marines there because the population cannot be protected.

In fact, nothing would lead to better protection of the population than killing insurgents who will later go back to their area of operations and kill, maim, extort and threaten their own countrymen.  But our population-centric COIN experts are so blinded by ideological commitment to a set of axioms that they cannot see the value of kinetics even when the insurgents give us the option of doing it without even so much as a single noncombatant loss.

Doctrinal stubbornness and inflexibility.  It might just be our undoing.

Leaving Fallujah Better?

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

Graeme Wood at The Atlantic pens a piece that questions what Fallujah will be like when the Marines leave Anbar.

A dispatch by Rod Nordland of the New York Times asks whether the violence in Fallujah — lately viewed as a model of an Anbar city pacified and handed over to the Iraqis — is really in remission. His excellent report, filed from Fallujah and from the even more restive nearby town of Karmah, where I just spent two days, leaves the question unanswered but suggests a reality darker than the version the Marines describe.

Stop there.  Let’s go take a look at the New York Times article.

Falluja was supposed to be a success story, not a cautionary tale.

After all, by last year the city, a former insurgent stronghold, was considered one of the safest places in the country. Local Sunni sheiks had driven out the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and held successful elections, and American engineers were hard at work on a showcase reconstruction project: a $100 million wastewater treatment plant meant to be a model for civilian advances in Iraq.

Then a series of troubling attacks began cropping up this year. One in particular, at the end of May, seemed to drive home the possibility that things were changing for the worse. On a heavily patrolled military road between a Marine camp and the wastewater plant, a huge buried bomb tore through an armored American convoy, killing three prominent reconstruction officials and striking at hopes that the way was completely clear for peacetime projects.

We covered some of this in The Violence Belongs to Iraq Now.  But dissecting the NYT article a little further, even the initial part stumbles into problems.  Local Sunni sheiks didn’t drive anyone from Fallujah.  The author is confusing what happened in Ramadi, where a combination of tribes and Marines drove al Qaeda from there, and in Fallujah, where al Qaeda went after they were driven from Ramadi.

Tribe had little affect in Fallujah, and the notion of Muktars held much more sway.  When the 2/6 Marines deployed to Fallujah in April of 2007, the population was so afraid of al Qaeda that they would send their children out to surround Marines on patrol, waving black balloons so that al Qaeda mortars could target the Marines.  The children were at risk as much as the Marines, but this speaks volumes about the condition of Fallujah early in 2007.

Forward Operating Base Reaper was constructed, at least in part, with Marines lying on their back passing sand bags over their heads from Marine to Marine to avoid sniper fire.  The U.S. Marines drove al Qaeda from Fallujah, not the tribes.  There is no tribe in Fallujah.  So even the background of the NYT article is mistaken.  Returning to the Atlantic article:

On my first afternoon, I spoke with the base’s senior Marine, Lt. Peter Brooks, about the chagrin his men felt at having to serve as a withdrawal force, rather than a high-intensity killing force like the more fortunate Marines currently machine-gunning Taliban in Afghanistan. They spent their days working out, conducting mock exercises with scale models in the sand next to their hut, and guarding their static and rather sleepy position.

Midway through our chat, we heard small-arms fire, full automatic and not a thousand meters from where we stood. I expected a reflex dash into response mode: a quick reaction force, sets of eyes and weapons scanning the horizon for threats. In fact the response was orderly but serene. Rather than scramble into action, Iraqi police looked around unhurriedly, eventually spied a convoy of vehicles, and determined that the automatic bursts were “probably” just a wedding party. The alarm was canceled before being sounded.

By now few foreigners in Iraq have failed to register that blasting the sky with machine-gun fire is the Iraqi chivaree, and that weddings are wonderful events — symbols of peace and unleashed merry-making — at which normal rules of social decorum don’t apply. But if I were an Iraqi best man, I think I would probably have refrained from firing wildly into the air until my convoy traveled at least a few hundred meters past the station filled with ill-trained Iraqi cops and tightly coiled US Marines. The atmosphere seemed not so much one of safety or celebration but of impunity. Whatever the base’s function, it was not for community policing, and certainly not for aggressive patrols by Marines preserving the peace from carloads of young men with weapons.

Several thoughts come to mind. First, a police force that does not respond to unexplained gunfire is not a police force.

Okay.  Stop again.  The gunfire could have been anything, including shooting dogs.  A breed of wild dogs has taken to residing in Fallujah, and each block has its own pack that relies on food it can get from the area to survive.  Residents of Fallujah routinely have to defend themselves against these dogs.  These are not domesticated animals.  These are several-generation wild dog packs that have no inhibitions regarding humans.

The narrative is that the Marines leaving will cause problems for security and that the Iraqi Police are not up to the job.  True or not, the Marines must leave.  It isn’t within the Marines’ mission to remain a large, heavy land based occupation force.  Rapid deployment strike troops must return to their primary mission.  Anbar is better for having the Marines there, but even if security degrades, it will recover.  The Iraqi Police are up to the task, or shortly will be.

A more sophisticated understanding is given to us in the comments section of the Atlantic article by Jon Schroden.

I have several words of caution for anyone who reads this article:

– This piece fails (as does the NYT piece) to paint a truly comprehensive picture of the security situation in Al Anbar because it presents but a single data point. To get a truly balanced sense of security there, the author should have also traveled to Ramadi, Hadithah, and Al Qaim, at a minimum. Each of these cities is different in multiple ways, so reporting on those differences and how they translate into the varying security situations amongst the cities would have been much more enlightening and comprehensive.

– No one who has seriously studied the situation in Al Anbar or spent significant time there would hold up Fallujah as the shining example of a city that has been turned around. Ramadi is typically the example cited, and for good reasons – it truly was a hot-bed of insurgent activity that was pacified through sound counterinsurgency methods, changes in local attitudes and working with the tribes (to wit, Ramadi was once the declared capital of AQI’s “Islamic State of Iraq,” but was also where the Awakening began). Fallujah has always been trouble. Even after two full-on, line-em-up and knock-em-down clearings of the city, it was still rough-and-tumble, so in late 2007 the Marines began a district-by-district clearing of the city again, using the types of less-kinetic techniques that worked in Ramadi (this was called Operation Alljah). That worked to a large extent, and the city was better for it, but the fact remains that the people in Fallujah have always viewed themselves as a special case (in part b/c Saddam treated them that way) and as such they will always be hard to deal with. They feel that Fallujah, not Ramadi, should be the capital of Anbar, and are disgruntled because of it. Also, Fallujah is a lot “less tribal” than Ramadi, so it’s more difficult for local power-brokers to control the people there.

– As for the Karmah region, the description in this article shows a lack of understanding of the tribal dynamics there. Karmah, and its surrounding areas to the east of Fallujah, sit astride the boundary between two tribal confederations – the Dulaimi Confederation to the west (which includes almost all of the Al Anbar tribes), and the Zobai Confederation to the east (which stretches into and around Baghdad). The main tribe in Karmah belongs to the Zobai Confederation. As such, Karmah represents a “special case” when it comes to dealing with tribal alliances, because the people there don’t really fit in to the rest of Anbar and so feel they aren’t represented well in the provincial government. The main sheikh in Karmah is also a coward, who fled Anbar and would only return in 2007 after heavy lobbying by the Marines and with guaranteed security measures in place. Hence he is of little utility in helping to control the situation there.

– Finally, to the line “a police force that does not respond to unexplained gunfire is not a police force,” I would simply respond that we need to be very careful in our tendencies to apply western standards when it comes to things like quality of police, levels of security, etc. Iraq is not America. Our goal in Iraq is not to build Fallujah into a shining example of a modern city. As long as it’s reasonably peaceful and isn’t serving as a safehaven for AQI (which it isn’t), then we’ve accomplished our mission and the Marines should come home. And they are.

This comment might have been left by Dr. Jonathan Schroden of CNA, who has also penned an interesting article entitled What Went Right in Iraq.  It is an interesting read and requires our attention.

The Marines have a vested interest in the Anbar Province, having lost more than 1000 warriors to the fight.  Much blood has been spilled on Anbari soil.  But other fights and other missions beckon the Marines.  May the Anbaris find their peace and security.  We will pray that the security infrastructure is up to the task of providing it.

Prior: Operation Alljah and the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment

Concluding Thoughts on Afghanistan ROE Modifications

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

Marcus at Justbarkingmad has responded to our Afghanistan Rules of Engagement Redux.  I won’t recapitulate his arguments here, but he has put some time and effort into his post and it is well worth a read.  A few concluding thoughts follow (concluding until I see the new “rules” or “guidance” in action).

First, Marcus shouldn’t be so quick to lecture us on the merits of FM 3-24.  War – and insurgencies and counterinsurgency warfare – has been around far longer than FM 3-24.  And as I have stated before, I consider the recent overhaul of Army Field Manual 3-0 to be superior to FM 3-24 and a doctrinal step forward.

Second, the narrative at the moment is that these “adjustments” to the rules involve mostly Close Air Support (CAS).  We’ll take a wait-and-see approach.  The discussion thus far from General McChrystal doesn’t restrict his changes to CAS.

Third, Marcus brings up our example, U.S. Marine Corps operations in Garmser in 2008, and asks if there were noncombatants involved?

Mr. Smith fails to provide the reader with any evidence that McChrystal’s proposed policy would have affected the inevitable outcome there. Were human shields used systematically in Helmand Province to prevent the Marines from accomplishing their mission? We are left only assuming that it must have occurred—maybe.

He has utterly missed the point.  McChrystal’s stipulation was, or is going to be, that if it is possible that noncombatants could be involved, back away from the fire fight.  The Marines could not possibly have had comprehensive knowledge of the situation inside Garmser upon arrival, and thus to the Marines, “it could have been possible.”  Thus the operation would not have been conducted.  It is verifying the conditionals that is problematic here.

And speaking of Garmser, concerning our point:

Just how our critic supposes that the Marines could have protected the population of Garmser, while several hundred Taliban fighters were dug in and waiting for the Marines, he doesn’t say. But he makes the mistake of conflating phases of the campaign, and also of failing to understand that the campaign will require various lines of operation or lines of effort.

Marcus demurs to other doctrinal considerations but fails to answer the question.  Here it is again.  The British assisted the Marines in transit to the Garmser area of operations.  There is no electricity.  There is no sewage.  There is no running water.  There are sand storms.  Water and other supplies are dropped via air supply.  When the Marines get to Garmser in order to “protect the population,” they find that several hundred Taliban are dug in and waiting for them, requiring fire fights that at times was described as “full bore reloading.”  If Marcus wants to protect the population, how does he dislodge the Taliban entrenched in Garmser without kinetic operations?

Finally, I do not believe that protection of the population comes first or is most important in counterinsurgency.  Rather, I believe that protection of the population is one line of effort that should be pursued.  If, as our friend Gian Gentile would point out, one line appears to be more productive and/or efficient, then let’s allow the troops to discover the center of gravity of the particular insurgency that they are dealing with.

Following this line of thought, Marcus should be careful to give himself maximum latitude to learn (including the situation in the next counterinsurgency he faces) without being restricted to one narrative.  We should all be able to study the sources, glean the beneficial aspects, jettison the others, and be able to keep from being in bondage to history or any one particular school of thought.  In the words of our friend Gian, “history should inform the commander’s judgment but never accompany him to the battlefield.”


Changes to the Rules of Engagement for Afghanistan

Update on ROE Changes for Afghanistan

Afghanistan Rules of Engagement Redux

Afghanistan Rules of Engagement Redux

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

In response to our Changes to the Rules of Engagement for Afghanistan, Justbarkingmad wrote:

Some critics of McChrystal’s policy claim that this will deter commanders on the ground from taking proactive or offensive actions against the enemy. This critic claims that Marine operations in Helmand Province which resulted in the deaths of 400 Taliban fighters invalidates McChrystal’s metrics of success that use “civilians protected” rather than “enemies killed” as a measure of success. On the surface this appears like a rock solid argument, but in fact it is founded upon faulty assumptions. The most important assumption is that killing lots of bad guys will wear the enemy down and lead to victory. This cannot be further from the truth. Killing the enemy in and of itself accomplishes very little in COIN. Successful insurgents throughout time recognized that losing on the battlefield had very little to do with the ultimate outcome of the war. In our own American Revolution we lost more battles than we won and we still prevailed. Killing the enemy for the sake of killing the enemy means nothing… protecting the people from the enemy means everything.

Since my argument(s) have been utterly demolished it must be time to relinquish them.  They have let me down.  No, on second thought, maybe I won’t jettison my arguments after all.

This writer has done a good job of regurgitating the FM 3-24 talking points and theory (at least some of it), but it’s a sign of cult-like behavior to be able to stand in the face of evidence and deny its existence.  My arguments weren’t about theory.  Go back and read them again.

I stated that the best teachers are examples and stories.  Theory is only good insofar as it benefits us.  Where it fails to match reality it must be revisited, modified and/or jettisoned entirely.  If our critic would have continued our comprehensive coverage of the Marines in Helmand, he would have learned not only that they killed 400 Taliban fighters in Garmser, but that following this assault the town elders implored the Marines for protection and security.

Again, similar words were spoken upon the initial liberation of Garmser by the U.S. Marines: “The next day, at a meeting of Marines and Afghan elders, the bearded, turban-wearing men told Marine Capt. Charles O’Neill that the two sides could “join together” to fight the Taliban. “When you protect us, we will be able to protect you,” the leader of the elders said.”

Just how our critic supposes that the Marines could have protected the population of Garmser, while several hundred Taliban fighters were dug in and waiting for the Marines, he doesn’t say.  But he makes the mistake of conflating phases of the campaign, and also of failing to understand that the campaign will require various lines of operation or lines of effort.

Finally, he conflates the discussion topic – rules of engagement – with counterinsurgency theory.  This is a mistake made in the Small Wars Council discussion thread on the same topic.  Many participants in the discussion thread throw out the same meme.  It’s better to back away or find another tactic than it is to flatten domiciles with women and children in them.

How nice.  Let’s declare up front that no one wants to flatten homes with women and children in them.  In fact, we can state it more forcefully.  Yea verily we say unto thee, The Captain’s Journal doesn’t want to flatten homes full of women and children.  No one we know wants to flatten homes full of women and children.

Now that this exigency has been properly dealt with, may we advance the conversation forward, please?  The conversation isn’t about best practices in counterinsurgency.  The conversation is about rules of engagement, violation of which can lead from sanction to punishment by imprisonment.

Seldom is the situation so clear as known homes full of women and children.  The problem usually presents itself in a different form, e.g., situations in which the fight moves from one venue to another where the insurgents may now be mixed with noncombatants, with close air support (CAS) necessary in order to prevent significant U.S. casualties attempting to take a building by room clearing tactics.

Fine.  Provide guidance unique to that circumstance and have additional briefings for deploying units.  But don’t change the rules of engagement.  Again, I can point to a highly successful U.S. Marine Corps Operation that wouldn’t have been conducted under such draconian rules (the operation in Garmser, Helmand Province), because certainty would not have existed regarding noncombatant presence.

Finally, Andrew Exum says:

“We are not in Afghanistan to make sure that fewer Americans die,” said Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington research organization.

“We are in Afghanistan to make sure fewer Afghan civilians die.”

No, Andrew, we are not in Afghanistan to make sure that fewer Afghan civilians die (notice the exclusive reduction of counterinsurgency to a single focus, while we have claimed that in counterinsurgency there should be focii).  Making sure that fewer Afghan citizens die is a means to an end, just as is killing anti-Afghan forces, hard core Taliban and other takfiri organizations.  These things are all lines of effort and lines of operation.

I have been told that this change probably won’t affect behavior below the O3 level during a fire fight.  Perhaps so … we’ll wait to see for ourselves.  In any case, changing the formal rules by which Soldiers and Marines are held accountable is still ill advised in our opinion.  And this meme from CNAS is getting old and worn.


Changes to the Rules of Engagement for Afghanistan

Update on ROE Changes for Afghanistan

Where is the insurgency in Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

Joshua Foust observes that General McChrystal’s strategy will rely on security for population centers.  Then Josh asks a salient question follow on by his take on where the insurgency lies.

Quick review: where is the insurgency most strongly concentrated?

a) Kabul
b) Jalalabad
c) Kandahar
d) Herat
e) Mazar-i Shaif

The correct answer is NONE OF THE ABOVE. The Taliban are not strongest in the cities, but outside of them: you’ll find the insurgency grinding in the hills above Lashkar Gah, the countryside to the west and north of Kandahar, the plains of Zabul, the Khost bowl, the mountains of Paktya and Paktika, and the narrow valleys from Kapisa to Kunar and Nuristan. None of them are urban, or even sort of urban.

Unfortunately, this has CNAS written all over it. It would be surprising if some of their people weren’t involved in the new review in some way—I really hope they’ve learned by now that Afghanistan is not urban, that the insurgency—and the people—are scattered into small rural communities throughout the country. Securing the cities has never been the Coalition’s weakness.

Well, it does have CNAS written all over it, but Josh hasn’t driven to the most ironic thing about the involvement of CNAS with the Obama administration and the Afghanistan strategy.  Before attachment to the administration, Dr. John Nagl had advocated the deployment of 600,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  Since it has become apparent that the administration will not deploy more than about 68,000 troops, CNAS is assisting in the development of strategy that has as its basis far less troops than Nagl had advocated as necessary to do the job.  This strategy is unwise to Foust simply because of the insufficiency of troop levels, but promulgated under the notion of “population-centric” counterinsurgency.

In other words, it was one thing to advocate the troop levels necessary for the campaign before the formalities and political pressures of the President and Congress set in.  It’s quite another to face the political realities of the administration.  It’s even another to participate in strategy development with too few troops to accomplish the mission (or so Nagl’s claim would have been half a year ago when he advocated just a little less than ten times the current level).

For the record, The Captain’s Journal doesn’t believe that it will require 600,000 troops.  But it will certainly require more than 68,000 to do the job right.

Agricultural Development Teams and Poppy in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

Bouhammer gives serious thought to the issue of poppy cultivation, funding of the Taliban, and alternatives for the Afghan farmers.

The main points of my argument in dealing with the drugs is not to go after the farmers, who are just trying to make a living and provide for their family. They will grow whatever they can that brings in the most money, and unfortunately that is poppy and always has been. If Coalition forces go into a farmer’s property and wipe out his crops, then it will just piss off the farmer and turn him to the enemy. There are also other farmers waiting for the chance to replace the farmer who was just taken out by the poppy eradication. So going after the farmer is not the silver bullet answer. However deploying ADT teams and using them to empower the farmer and show him alternative crops is part of the answer.

The real answer and focus in my opinion is to go after the middle-man, the buyer, the guy who pays the farmer, puts the poppies into a jingle-truck and moves them to a opium factory which turns the poppy into black-tar heroin. If we take out the man with the cash and he doesn’t show up anymore to buy the poppies from the farmer then the farmer will not be as motivated to grow it anymore. He will be m ore apt to switch to other positive crops. The middle-man (the drug trafficker)  is also the one who is moving the heroin by the tons across the borders of Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and other bordering countries. This movement by vehicle is what gets “taxed” by the Taliban and is where they make a lot of their money.

Since we can’t go into Pakistan, Iran and the other countries and take out the labs that are turning this drug into a human-usable product, then we must get them before they cross the border. We must also get the “most bang for our buck”, by using our resources (soldiers, technologies, etc.) to get the largest amounts of opium and heroin at one time. These large amounts are going to be the jingle trucks loaded with pure opium or black-tar heroin that are being moved to the border.

This is the main-stay of my argument. Don’t go after the poor farmer who is just trying to get a little scratch like everyone else in that country, go after the guys that are paying him. Go after the guys who are collecting it (opium) all up, go after the guys who are being taxed by the Taliban and is providing our enemies the funds to continue their fight.

We agree with Bouhammer concerning the issue of targeting a farmer who is merely trying to use a cash crop to provide for his family.  It’s a dumb notion that would only make more insurgents, as our arguments go in our category financing the Taliban.

Agricultural development teams are a good idea for building the infrastructure of Afghanistan and effecting fundamental change in the impoverishment that leads to so much recruitment of low level insurgents.  But there is something fundamentally flawed with this notion that funding the Taliban will be seriously affected with the advent of a different cash crop.

Remember that we have pointed out that the Tehrik-i-Taliban get their monies from wealthy Middle East sultans, timber trade, gemstones, taxation of businesses, kidnapping, and so-called “protection money.”  The Afghan Taliban get much of their income from poppy / opium trade, but only because it’s the predominate cash crop.  What if the crop was different?

Consider again the example of Pomegranates.

“We’d like to see at the end of this year containers of fresh pomegranate leaving Afghanistan for supermarkets.

“There’s a lot of interest in pomegranates in the West because of its health benefits.

“Over the course of the next 10 years we would like to plant 45.9 million trees, which would cover an area slightly larger than the areas which are used for poppy production.”

Asked whether he had been in contact with the Taliban, Mr Brett said: “In the complexity of the tribal system in Afghanistan, the Taliban are in every element of society.

When I talked at the three tribal gatherings, the Taliban were present. I believe that if we don’t communicate with every faction of this problem, we’re not going to solve it.

Pomegranates solves the poppy problem if the project goes forward.  But take note that the purveyors of pomegranate aren’t attempting to solve the problem of Taliban funding.  Pomegranate won’t do that, and neither will any other cash crop.

Let’s do ADTs for the right reason: infrastructure development.  But don’t be deceived into believing that a different cash crop will solve the problem of the Taliban.  They must be targeted head-on.  There is no other solution.


Financing the Taliban Part 2

Financing the Taliban

NATO and Poppy: The War Over Revenue Part 2

NATO and Poppy: The War Over Revenue

Update on ROE Changes for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

From the BBC:

Speaking during a visit to a new US marine base in southern Helmand province, Gen McChrystal said that US and Nato troops must make a “cultural shift” from conventional warfare to protecting Afghan civilians.

“Traditionally American forces are designed for conventional, high-intensity combat. In my mind what we’ve really got to do is make a cultural shift,” he said

“When you do anything that harms the people you just have a huge chance of alienating the population. And so even with the best of intentions, if our operation causes them to lose property or loved ones, there is almost no way somebody cannot be impacted in how they view the government and us, the coalition forces.”

“If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so,” he told the BBC.

This address was probably delivered at Camp Leatherneck:

Where the U.S. Marines are preparing to take on an insurgency as well-entrenched as it was in the Anbar Province.  This information is valuable as a followup to our previous analysis of the new ROE.  Four more points are in order.

First, General McChrystal has essentially laid out the new insurgent strategy in Afghanistan.  This strategy is even more sure than it was in Iraq where staying among noncombatants yielded little succor, especially against the Marines in the Anbar Province (we’ll also remind you at this point that al Qaeda and the indigenous insurgency lost in Anbar – the Anbaris and the Marines won).

Second, it is bizarre in the extreme for General McChrystal, having spent his time in raids, high value target killings and other dark operations, to be telling the Marines (who not only did that, but spent time among the people too) what will and won’t win a counterinsurgency.  As the saying goes, he is trying to teach his granny to suck eggs.

Third, there is no possible way for Soldiers or Marines to know with certainty if noncombatants are in any particular location or domicile.  General McChrystal’s words were “if there is any chance.”  Without comprehensive knowledge of the situation, there is always a chance.  Thus the decision-making is biased in favor of disengagement.

Finally, protecting Afghan civilians involves killing Taliban.  One won’t be possible without the other.  Young Marines in Camps Lejeune and Pendleton preparing to deploy to Afghanistan must be wondering “just what kind of mess are they preparing for us?  I think I’d rather go on a float where I can shoot back.”  At Camp Leatherneck there must be young Marines staring in disbelief at their COs.  In the halls of the Pentagon the Marine Corps Commandant surely must be preparing an exit strategy for Afghanistan.

Prior: Changes to the Rules of Engagement for Afghanistan

How to Lose a Counterinsurgency Campaign

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

From Reuters:

Inadequate assistance was allowing militant groups to operate in camps and communities housing hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis displaced by an offensive against the Taliban, an aid group said on Wednesday.

About 2 million people have fled the military’s push against the Taliban in Pakistan’s northwest, most since an offensive began in the Swat valley in May. Those numbers are expected to swell further as the offensive is widened.

U.N. officials said this week that only about 30 percent of a $543 million aid appeal it launched in May in a bid to avert a long-term humanitarian crisis had been met. Aid group Refugees International said the slow pace of help had created a vacuum which militants and other “political actors” were filling.

“Jihadist groups are present, leading an international agency to suspend its visits in some camps on Fridays and Saturdays as ‘these are the days the jihadists distribute their assistance’,” the Washington-based group said in a report on Wednesday.

How to lose a counterinsurgency campaign.  Displace millions of civilians, refuse to stay around and prevent the insurgents from coming back once the operations conclude, and then allow the insurgents to prevent the aid organizations from coming in and providing assistance.  Furthermore, allow the insurgents themselves to provide the aid that the government and NGOs should be providing.

There you have it.  How to lose a counterinsurgency campaign.  On another front, Peshawar is a war zone.

A deadly hotel bomb in Pakistan’s Peshawar underscores its shift from safe metropolis to besieged city where shop keepers are afraid to stock Western films and few foreigners dare to visit.

Up until a few years ago the northwest frontier town stirred up images of romance and intrigue, sitting on a historic trading route to Afghanistan and enticing tourists with bazaars, forts and ancient mosques.

Now kidnappings, killings, intimidation and scores of deadly blasts linked to Taliban militants have terrified Pakistanis and foreigners alike, with seven bombs in the past month alone killing nearly 50 people.

“Peshawar is now a dangerous city,” said Sharafat Ali Mubarak, president of the provincial chamber of commerce.

“Let me make it clear — even local people are not safe here.”

There you have it.  How to lose a counterinsurgency campaign.  Let the insurgents take charge.  It looks like the idyllic heaven that the Pakistan Army claims for the North West Frontier Province and FATA hasn’t materialized.

Changes to the Rules of Engagement for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

From the AP:

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan will soon order U.S. and NATO forces to break away from fights with militants hiding among villagers, an official said Monday, announcing one of the strongest measures yet to protect Afghan civilians.

The most contentious civilian casualty cases in recent years occurred during battles in Afghan villages when U.S. airstrikes aimed at militants also killed civilians. American commanders say such deaths hurt their mission because they turn average Afghans against the government and international forces …

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who took command of international forces in Afghanistan this month, has said his measure of effectiveness will be the “number of Afghans shielded from violence” — not the number of militants killed.

McChrystal will issue orders within days saying troops may attack insurgents hiding in Afghan houses if U.S. or NATO forces are in imminent danger, said U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith.

“But if there is a compound they’re taking fire from and they can remove themselves from the area safely, without any undue danger to the forces, then that’s the option they should take,” Smith said. “Because in these compounds we know there are often civilians kept captive by the Taliban.”


J. D. Johannes takes a wait and see attitude, but is generally not opposed.

At first blush it may sound like the rule is to retreat.  I’ll save final judgement until I see the full order from the General McChrystal.  I’m wagering that it will have plenty of wiggle room for commander discretion.

But the key point of the change in the use of force is to move away from killing to suffocation.

As Marine General Mark Gurganus told me, “you can’t kill your way out of an insurgency.”

But you can suffocate an insurgency by denying its ability to operate.  You suffocate the insurgent by conducting detailed census data collection missions, ID card programs, gated communities and check points.

Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive is surprisingly supportive.

I assume there will be additional tactical changes to deny them what seems on the surface a big advantage, and this is not simply retreat but re-tooling. Since we know that the Talibs and AQ take people hostage and then attack us from their houses, maybe flattening the house with a 2,000 pounder and wiping out a family that wished they were anywhere else isn’t the most cunning plan. That coming from the King of Dead Tangos, I know.

MCQ at Blackfive isn’t so supportive.

Certainly I can understand the problems created by unintentional civilian casualties, especially in a tribal culture like Afghanistan. What I don’t understand, however, is an order which all but outlines the new tactics of the enemy.  I mean, you tell me, where, if possible, would you initiate all of your contact from now on if you’re the Taliban?

The Small Wars Council has a long and involved discussion thread on the new ROE.

Anthony Hoh: “How many times do you get shot at from the same compound/village that you drive by every day before you can do something about it?

Ken White: “I’ll give it a month or two before it quietly disappears. Not a smart move on several levels…”

IntelTrooper: “One recurring theme in talking to Afghans was “The Russians were jerks, but at least they never ran from a fight.” ISAF is already too prone to break contact. I can’t see this helping that.”

Ken White: “I suspect the civilians who are nominally innocent will get more visitation by various bad guys and said civilians will not really appreciate the extra attention (nor will they be happy that a small source of income, claiming non-existent casualties, has been removed).  Aside from the impacts on own forces, the net result is most likely to be more, not fewer, civilian casualties …”

But the discussion thread is a mixed bag, with some council members advocating the new rules in the interest of application of good counterinsurgency doctrine.  The discussion thread soon becomes oriented towards good practices rather than ROE (as pointed out by Ken White).

Analysis & Commentary

Let’s briefly revisit the ROE.  We have discussed the standing rules of engagement, the theater-specific rules of engagement for Iraq, and even the rules on the use of force.  Our problems with the existing ROE and RUF are legendary, and include the insurmountable initial problem that they are constructed around defensive operations and personal and unit self defense and include no discussion or guidance for offensive operations.  This is why General Kearney wanted to charge two Army snipers with murder for targeting a Taliban commander who didn’t happen to be holding a weapon.

Insurgents learn to game the system, as this event shows in Ramadi, Iraq, as reported by David Danelo.

The vehicle commander, Corporal Ronnie Davis, is in front of me holding a pair of binos.  Three other Marines peer down a street where Mujahideen have been firing at us from multi-story buildings scarred by gunfire and explosions.  While we exchange fire with the Muj, other observation assets available to 1 st Battalion, 6th Marines are mapping enemy positions for future operations.

“That’s the same two guys.  They’ve crossed back and forth four times,” Corporal Davis announces, referring to a pair of unarmed Iraqis who have run for cover.  Because these men are unarmed, the Americans under the Rules of Engagement are not allowed to shoot at them—even though gunfire is coming at us from that direction.

Get the picture?  The insurgents had emplaced weapons, fired them, dropped them, run to the next station and picked up another weapon, fired, and were repeating the process as long as they wanted.  The Marines couldn’t return fire because they never saw the insurgents run across the street holding a weapon.

Michael Totten describes for us what happens when insurgents are no longer able to game the system.

“AQI announced the Islamic State of Iraq in a parade downtown on October 15, 2006,” said Captain McGee. “This was their response to Sahawa al Anbar. They were threatened by the tribal movement so they accelerated their attacks against tribal leaders. They ramped up the murder and intimidation. It was basically a hostile fascist takeover of the city.”

Sheikh Jassim’s experience was typical.

“Jassim was pissed off because American artillery fire was landing in his area,” Colonel Holmes said. “But he wasn’t pissed off at us. He was pissed off at Al Qaeda because he knew they always shot first and we were just shooting back.”

So it’s possible that that this change to the ROE will help the Taliban, or anti-Afghan forces.  It is equally questionable whether simply leaving things as they are wouldn’t be better.  But besides the questionable tactical value in the change, we work best with examples.  Those who traffic in stories are some of the best teachers.

General McChrystal’s guidance further complicates the matter and hamstrings U.S. troops.  To be sure, The Captain’s Journal understands the damage done to the campaign when innocents are killed.  But no one intends to kill noncombatants with kinetic operations, and this leads us to the final – and most difficult – issue of all.  The guidance seems to be prima facie draconian, i.e., back off of engagements if possible.  This is a sure recipe for failure of the campaign.  But assuming the more gracious interpretation that U.S. troops should back off of engagements when they believe noncombatants will be involved, this raises the question of judgment and probability.

The Marines are currently engaged in heavy combat operations in Now Zad where several hundred Taliban fighters have cordoned themselves off from noncombatants to fight the Marines.  We pray for such engagements, but most of them are more ambiguous.

Take for instance the engagements in 2008 between the Marines and Taliban in Garmser (see also Marines in Helmand).  The Marines were involved in what they termed “constant and continual” contact and engagement with the enemy, and fire fights that at times involved “full bore reloading.”  They killed some 400 Taliban fighters in the engagements, and during this period although they worked the population by opening a complaint shop for home damage, the 24th MEU would have been unable to prove that noncombatants weren’t still resident in the city when kinetic operations began.

Thus one of the most important Marine Corps operations thus far in the campaign wouldn’t have been  conducted under the new ROE because there was no certainty regarding noncombatants.  This fixes the issue for us.  While exceptions make for bad law, this operation was not an exception.  The rules of engagement should provide adequate guidance during operations which prove to be the rule rather than the exception.

For a visual depiction of an engagement in Anbar that wouldn’t have been able to be conducted, see the video below from Recon by Fire.

Prior: Rules of Engagement Category

Combat Video from Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

The following combat action is good viewing, in addition to that previously linked.  There is a discussion taking place between Kristen Henderson of the Washington Post and random readers / commenters.  Ms. Henderson has to address comments like this.

So, what higher HQ lacked the knowlege that sent 2/7 in for a bogus mission? Not that I’d expect a Marine infantry battalion to be very good at training police procedures (italics and bold TCJ).

Wow.  Remember that we discussed this notion of actually sending Marines to fight Taliban fighters in Marines Take the Fight to the Enemy in Now Zad.  So rather than tell this commenter to come by so she can slap him, she actually answers with a kind, sophisticated response (but still incomplete, and you need to read Marines Take the Fight to the Enemy in Now Zad).  More than I feel compelled to do.  You will be dumber for having read the WaPo discussion.  Dumber.  Now for the recent Now Zad action.

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