Follow and Kill Every Single Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 7 months ago

Readers know our position regarding the changes to the rules of engagement for Afghanistan.  While there is much to be said for the protection of the population in the development and deployment of the new revisions to the ROE, we have observed that there are operations that wouldn’t have been conducted under the recent revisions, including the highly successful operations by the 24th MEU in Helmand in 2008 (and including certain tactics in the Anbar Province of Iraq).  Their highly kinetic assault on Garmsir would not have occurred due to the fact that it could not be proven that non-combatants were not still resident in the town.

The Strategy Page gives us their view of the situation in which the Marines are engaged in the Helmand Province.

The U.S. Marine advance into Helmand province is being slowed down by the new Rules Of Engagement (ROE), which forbid the use of bombs or missiles in any situation where there might be civilians. The Taliban will typically spend the night, or longer, in a village or walled compound, and that’s where U.S. troops will typically trap them. But bombs and missiles cannot be used on these places, so U.S. troops have to besiege the place, or just move on, leaving the Taliban alone. Some marines get creative, like having the jet fighters or bombs make a high speed pass over the Taliban held buildings. The fearsome noise will sometimes unnerve the Taliban and cause a surrender, but not as much as it used to. Another favorite tactic is having the fighter (usually an F-16 or F-18) come in low and use its 20mm cannon. But these air craft only carry a few seconds worth of ammunition. Moreover, having these jets fly that low makes them liable to crashing (this has happened, at least once) or being brought down by enemy fire (has not happened yet). But the cannon fire sometimes induces the Taliban to give up, or try to flee.

The other option, when you have the Taliban cornered, and using human shields, is to go in and fight them room-to-room. That gets more Americans killed, as well as putting the Afghan civilians in danger. This room-to-room tactic has not been used much, as commanders don’t want to take the heat for losing troops in that kind of fighting. If there is a lot more of this house to house fighting, and civilians get killed, the ROE may be changed again to forbid any kind of combat if civilians are present. This reduces the anger of locals from civilian deaths involving U.S. forces, but makes it much more difficult to hunt down and destroy the Taliban gunmen. The Taliban are still vulnerable, as they have to move in order to operate, and the Afghan Army or police can often negotiate a surrender, or go in and root them out by force. But the best troops available for chasing down the Taliban gunmen are the U.S. and NATO ones.

Room clearing tactics are costly to the Marines (viz. Fallujah), and aversion to this approach is understandable.  But the best troops are of course the U.S. and NATO, since the police are mainly corrupt and the Afghan National Army is mainly drug-addicted and inept.  The police and the ANA cannot be relied upon to chase the hard core Taliban.  Regarding the Taliban that are allowed to escape because of this change to the ROE, locals have some words to the wise.

“People are withholding judgment,” said the political analyst in Lashkar Gah. “They cannot say whether this operation is good or bad. They are afraid that the (U.S.) forces will stay here for some days and then leave, so we will be alone with the Taliban again.” Many are also waiting to see what the Americans can bring in the way of real development.

“It is still just the beginning,” said Mullah Shin Gul from Nad Ali district. “The Americans need to begin reconstruction, by agreement with the people. They should establish centers here in the districts, and they should follow every single Taliban and kill him. In a short while it will be too late. The people will lose trust.”

The doctrine of population centric counterinsurgency believes, in part, that focus on the population will marginalize the insurgents, causing them to wilt away and eventually rejoin the population and side with the government.  True enough for low level insurgents, men who have willingly taken up arms for political and religious motivations don’t usually willingly lay them down.

Because of the new ROE there has been a reluctance to engage locations in which known Taliban are located, allowing them to escape and fight another day.  Such tactics may gain the support of the locals for the time being, but they ensure the continuation of the fight.  Like the locals said, we must follow and kill every single Taliban.  Taking prisoners is not productive.


Obama Administration Searching for an Exit Strategy

Marine Take the Fight to the Enemy in Now Zad

Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops

The Coming War in the Caucasus


Over at Fabius Maximus, a site I know little if anything about, a commenter and the author presume to know something about the intentions of this article.  Let’s listen in for a few minutes.

I totally disagree with this guy’s belief that the US has no choice but to exterminate the Taliban, or even that this is a good goal: “Follow and Kill Every Single Taliban“, Herschel Smith, The Captain’s Journal, 26 July 2009.

At the same time, his analysis of how the Taliban is funded (here) seems probably correct to me …

Fabius Maximus replies: They sound just like governments everywhere. Heroin is the primary product of Helmand Province. Mother Nature made it so, and only vast sums of money wil change that. Recent US history shows that we would rather spend 10x that amount on fighting to control the area rather than a smaller sum to change its economy.

The real question is why folks read trash like “The Captain’s Journal”. There are many real experts writing about the situation in central asia, but America’s bloodlust is stirred by nutjobs yelling “Follow and Kill Every Single Taliban.” It’s a symptom of a nation increasingly ruled by its own paranoia and hubris.

Alas, so much confusion, so little time to work through the problems.  The comment was left by someone calling themselves atheist, and Fabius Maximum takes off of the remark to invite himself to criticize someone he doesn’t know and has never read.

This question of globalists and hermeneutics within Islam is a complicated issue, one I have addressed before with Professor Steve Metz of the U.S. Army War College.  The set of those who are irreconcilable enemies is certainly a subset of Islam, and even a subset of those currently engaged in fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  Recall that The Captain’s Journal strongly supported the notion of concerned citizens in Anbar, later to become Sons of Iraq.

Many of the Sons of Iraq were former insurgents, but fighting for money, boredom, political views or whatever.  Certainly a subset of the so-called Taliban fighters are fighting for the same things.  The question is not one of killing irreconcilable enemies.  War, including counterinsurgency, means doing violence.  Irreconcilable enemies must be killed, and in Afghanistan this set of fighters is comprised of globalists and those who would harbor them.

The only real question is how big is this subset of fighters?  Joshua Foust and I have politely disagreed before, with me viewing this group as moderately larger than him, and yet in the recent months it would appear that Foust’s view is that the size of this group is edging upwards, while my view is that the size might be edging downwards.  Perhaps we will eventually meet in the middle.  But all thinking men know that the insurgency is bifurcated.

Now to the specific post and its title.  I have found that it’s very hard to keep readers for more than a few minutes.  Even when linked at a large venue such as Instapundit, statistics show that most readers want to read an article within less than about three minutes.  Many of mine are longer, and the more difficult issue is that my posts comprise a narrative.  My readers are usually very sophisticated, and it appears that the readers over at Fabius Maximus haven’t paid attention very well.

Recall the issues surrounding modifications to the ROE for Afghanistan.  Without getting into the weeds on this issue again, recall that in subsequent posts I had pointed out that according to objective evidence, the highly successful Marine Corps operations in the Helmand Province (specifically, in Garmsir) in 2008 by the 24th MEU would not have been conducted under the revised ROE.  When you can point to successful operations that wouldn’t be conducted under ROE, there is a problem.

This points to unintended consequences.  Subsequent to this we pointed out that the revised ROE had allowed Taliban fighters to escape Marine Corps operations with the Marines unable to give chase because of lack of logistics.  Finally, in the article above we pointed out that the local residents had stated that the Marines would have to hold the area and chase and kill every last Taliban for the area to be safe.  This is the most amusing point of the comments left at Fabius Maximus.  They ascribe a comment made by a local in Afghanistan to me since I chose it as the title to an article.  Get the picture?  They didn’t even read the article.  I suppose that the commenter and Mr. Maximus know more about Afghanistan and the Taliban than the locals do.

There is a chain of thoughts necessary to follow my prose, from ROE to giving chase and required logistics and unintended consequences to tactical directives and local views on what it will take to make the area safe.  My prose is simply not intended for idiots.  Readers .. must .. work .. hard .. and .. try .. to .. stay .. up.

As for Fabius Maximus’ disparaging of The Captain’s Journal, we might remark at what bad form it is and what gross, hillbilly etiquette it takes to trash someone you don’t know, have never communicated with, and whose prose you have never read.  It sounds very much like he is the nutjob.  His readers can do better.

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  1. On July 27, 2009 at 6:12 pm, TSAlfabet said:

    It sure would be nice to see the same kind of videos from A-stan that we saw from Iraq, where the air controllers have the bad guys under UAV surveillance and are just waiting to unleash a missile on them when the danger to civilians is minimal.

    But the joint operation of UAV’s with active Marine operations is unlikely to happen, I suppose, as the U.S. strategy seems to be flying them around in the P-stan tribal areas hoping for a shot at high-ranking T-ban and AQ. Too bad. So many bad guys and no willingness on the Admin’s part for victory. When we have a President who considers “victory” a dirty word, it is time to bring all the troops home and out of harm’s way until someone with more sense takes over.

  2. On July 28, 2009 at 10:33 am, crm114 said:

    On the contrary, leaving now is basically the worst thing we can do unless your objective is to get thousands more Afghans killed. What is needed are more resources for the troops on the ground (i.e. more helo support and drones put in the hands of the units that need them most), and obviously more troops.

    This article is also true when it states we got a little flabby in IZ after a time, after we’d either killed off the worst of the insurgents or simply brought them into our fold. The killer instinct we had in conducting heavy combat operations in the past was eroded by the very delicate balancing act we had to play for so many years. You learn to thread a needle at a hundred miles an hour in one country and then you have to get into a standup fistfight in another, there’s going to be a bit of blood when the rubber meets the road.

    As I’ve pointed out on this before, Afghanistan is an entirely different place to fight than Iraq. The place is larger, there’s more people, the terrain is ugly and let’s face it, the enemy is far more experienced. Remember that a lot of tactics we saw used by well-trained insurgents in Iraq came from experiences in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, against Soviets who were far less discriminating in whom they hit.

    It’s obvious that you can’t just do gun-runs through a city with mini-guns and Vulcan cannons. You do that, any population will despise you and happily join up with anybody who has a chance at taking you out. The deeper problem in Afghanistan is that the tribal mentality (which was less important in Iraqi cities), is all there is to many people in the highlands. You kill one of theirs, however accidentally, and you have turned everybody against you. Also the ROE change, even if it comes from the White House, has been decided upon with close interaction with the commanders on the ground, who are actually the ones who put this info in their hands in the first place.

    With a little more air cover and Predator drones, plus another 10,000 troops to fan out, you can get into more villages and start instigating a working economy, however rudimentary, and it will work as long as you can keep the guy operating the market from getting killed. Yes, there are going to be elements of Taliban in Afghanistan who only want to fight because that’s what they’ve been taught and literally grown up with.

    My question is why exactly do they have so much experience fighting? The answer is because they’ve been fighting for the last 30 years. The Russians initially went into Afghanistan to help keep the puppet regime in power, pulled out after years of fighting, and a vaccum was created which produced the Taliban. We’ve seen one entire generation of Afghani’s wither and die, you want to see what a second generation will bring? I’m not saying stay the course, I’m saying we need to have common sense and not repeat the same mistakes which brought us here in the first place.

  3. On July 28, 2009 at 1:39 pm, TSAlfabet said:

    My apologies CRM, you may have missed some of the discussions on this blog about strategy in A-stan so there is some context missing.

    When I say, “bring the troops home,” I do not, for one, say it lightly nor in the knee-jerk, left-liberal reaction to any kind of fight. I do so only reluctantly because it is becoming increasingly clear that this Administration has already sold out the troops, first: with its declaration that 68,000 troops is the max and no more are coming, and; second: with its declaration that it’s not looking for victory in A-stan but for some kind of exit strategy.

    If anyone wants to try to formulate a convincing argument for why even a single, good American soldier should die for an “exit strategy” I would like to hear it.

    I fully believe that A-stan CAN be won with the right COIN adapted to A-stan BUT that would require far more troops and the kind of resources that you are talking about CRM and I think we all know that this Admin is not going to do what it takes. I pray that I am wrong. Leaving A-stan to hang in the wind would be a disaster, but playing this charade called COIN with too few troops, too few helos, too few allies, too few logistics, etc… is worse than disaster. It is a freaking national disgrace and no one should die for that. So, unless the Admin is ready to step up to the plate, bring the troops home until we get someone else in the White House who will.

  4. On July 28, 2009 at 2:43 pm, crm114 said:

    I appreciate your clarification on the previous statement. My guess, and this is just a guess, is that as we draw down in IZ (which is technically an exit) will free up more combat troops for Afghanistan. Their deployment, of course, will become more of an issue as two things happen: an election year approaches and other allies commit more troops. Of course diplomacy would also help some, getting Russia to help secure the border instead of throwing fits over a base in Kyrgystan that’s been there for years and they basically gave to us in the first place. Getting Pakistan is of course a big problem, one that the 68,000 troops we have in Afghanistan isn’t going to be able to help much with if they implode and we have another Taliban-controlled state on our hands with nukes.

    I’m not running around to apologize to the world for the “sins” of the United States or anything, but it’s not too hard to realize that invading Afghanistan in 2001 caused major problems for Pakistan, a nation that shares a significant number of native Pashtun as well as displaced Afghanis that have been there since the Soviets invaded. Pakistan didn’t do a very good job taking care of their FATA’s in the hope that this respect for the tribal people would in fact make them more loyal to the government. Obviously this isn’t what happened over the last few years, but that’s something that neither we nor the Pakistani government anticipated back in 2001. Now that we’re drawing down in IZ it’s about time we started helping Pakistan more. The problem with this is they don’t want us putting boots on the ground there, they want to handle it on their own an they actually think they can. In the meantime we try to give them money and whatever else we can to help them do this.

    Pakistan’s problems are made worse, ironically, by the recent US surge in Afghanistan, as thousands of Taliban and Taliban-friendly forces are flowing over the porous border. Pakistani mountains provide time for the Taliban forces to regroup, rest and refit while others take their place on the other side of the border. US forces taking more and more ground in Afghanistan means more Taliban are coming back to Pakistan to either regroup or now simply take the fight there entirely as they still try to control more and more. If we can’t put troops there, we need those UAV’s putting Hellfire missiles into Pakistan as much as possible to take out leadership, but when you kill civilians that only makes the population hate both us and their own government more. It’s a slippery slope of success in one are versus quagmire in another.

    Lastly, I’d like to point out that America has been looking for an “exit strategy” since 2003 for both Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush had this idea for years and now President Obama has the same notion. Your postulation that this is a new idea doesn’t make sense.

  5. On July 30, 2009 at 10:32 pm, TSAlfabet said:

    I think that I am on the same page as you, CRM, or at least the same chapter.

    Allow me to treat your last comment first. There is a world of difference between an “exit strategy” mentality and a victory mentality. My reference to Obama was in connection to his recent interview in which he not only said he was looking for an “exit strategy” but specifically eschewed the term, “victory” as somehow neo-colonial (using, in fact, a historically flawed example of Hirohito surrendering to MacArthur). I do not intend to turn this post specifically political, rather, I point out that the C-IN-C cannot be allergic to the notion of victory or we forfeit moral principle and military morale. Obama has never been comfortable with any use of the word “victory,” particularly in connection with the U.S., not now and not in his public life. President Bush, on the other hand, constantly spoke of victory in the war on terror (another term that Obama cannot bring himself to use, although I would prefer that the term be switched to something like the war against Islamofascism or Neo-totalitarianism to be more precise). Bottom line, I do not believe that Bush had anything like the exit strategy and victory allergy that Obama is infected with. In fact, recall that from about mid-2004 when Iraq started to trend downward, Bush was increasingly criticized by the Democrats for NOT having an exit strategy. The best Bush could say in response to the question, “What does victory look like in Iraq?” : we will stand down as the Iraqi democracy can stand up. And that, in a tortured sense, is what eventually is coming to pass, warts and all. Bush was constantly beating back against the clamor of the Democrats yelling for an exit strategy. What was finally found in the surge and use of COIN in Iraq was not an exit strategy but a path to victory over the Sunni and Shia terrorists.

    As to the A-stan strategy, I would make a friendly wager with you that the continuing draw-down from Iraq will not result in any significant, additional resources for A-stan. At the very most it will mean shorter deployments and more frequent rotations. Why? Because this Admin is not committed to victory in A-stan, only a plausible exit that will not look too obviously like a humiliating defeat the American public. But make no mistake, if A-stan continues to trend downward and it is a choice between committing more troops in order to Win or beating a humiliating retreat, this Admin WILL beat the humiliating retreat. Take that to the bank. All the campaign rhetoric aside, A-stan, in Obama’s mind, is a horrible Albatross hung around his neck by the Bush administration and he would gladly pull out tomorrow if he thought for a second that the American public would not roast him over a hot fire for it. That is why he is doing the minimum right now to keep up appearances of a fight until he sees which way the political winds will blow. I hate to beat a dead horse here, but you will see increasing reports in the State run media that will increasingly paint A-stan as hopeless, a quagmire, a conundrum, the graveyard of Empires, etc… a steady drum-beat of negativity to turn public opinion against the fight and in favor of naked retreat.

    If I had to summarize my feeling on this: either commit the resources needed to win in A-stan with the proper, adaptive COIN strategy as you so adroitly describe, or pull out. Fish or cut bait. But don’t sacrifice our soldiers and Marines for a half-baked effort.

    Finally, you may want to take a second look at Pakistan. There have been numerous articles here at TCJ and other sites that make it pretty clear that at least a large segment of the Pakistani military and ISI is operating a full-fledged scam on the U.S. in which they moan and beg for U.S. aid to fight the Taliban while, at the same time, they allow conditions to persist which exacerbate the situation and, in turn, require even more U.S. aid to treat. There may be a part of the Pakistani government that sincerely wants to get a handle on the Taliban but any unbiased observer must see that the real power in Pakistan continues to be in the Army and the ISI and a large portion of each is sympathetic to the Taliban if not directly aiding them.

    In my view, our mistake with Pakistan has been a failure of nerve and urgency. Immediately after 9-11, the U.S. made it clear to P-stan that we were going after the perpetrators and P-stan could either cooperate or face possible attack by the U.S. P-stan chose to cooperate, wisely I think. Over the months and years, however, the U.S. allowed P-stan to turn the tables on us and dictate to us how we could operate in their ungoverned, tribal areas. At that point, we shoud have reminded them that if they want to assert the rights of a sovereign nation over their border with A-stan then they must exercise the responsibilities of a sovereign nation and hunt down AQ and Taliban. To the extent that they refused to do that, the U.S. should have given P-stan another ultimatum that the U.S. would do it for them. And as a nice reminder to the Pak military, the U.S. could threaten a cut-off of aid to them while offering generous subsidies to India. Bush never did that (apparently) and so we are stuck with more half-measures and playing footsie at the border. There should not be a single AQ training camp anywhere in the world, especially not in P-stan. When the next 9-11 hits, where will those terrorists have been trained? You guessed it. And then we will do what we should have done in 2002 and 2003. Too late, however.

  6. On July 30, 2009 at 11:46 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    For readers I thought I would point out that this post is updated to address some amusing remarks left at another web site about this article.

  7. On July 31, 2009 at 11:03 am, crm114 said:

    The thing I’ve found I like the most about this site is that, in order to effectively respond to comments on here, I have to do a little fact-checking before I open my binary mouth.

    Okay, TSA, I’ll bite. In regards to your assertion of verbage used in the administration is useful for anything, I’d just like to point out that the public is who he caters that message for, not necessarily the military. President Bush talked about having Victoryin IZ all the time, right up until he figured out that it’ll take more years than he had left in the White House to finish the job he’d started. Of course Afghanistan was also put on the back-burner until this administration took over (minus the whole Pat Tillman thing as a temporary media blip in 2004, but that was only a scandal). While we were busy smoking out AQI, the Taliban was able to re-form itself in Pakistan and the unoccupied parts of Afghanistan and reconstitute itself. Speaking of friendly wagers, I’ll in turn bet you that a lot of this “soft image” campaigning they’re now doing is in direct response to their own lessons learned in IZ. Of course there were operations going on the entire time in Afghanistan since 2001, but few in America noticed from 2003 to about 2008.

    Now we’re finally getting around to trying to finish what we started, in my view it’s about time. Bear in mind that I didn’t vote for the current President and in 2004 I voted to re-elect the Commander in Chief, so please don’t think I’m some pansy liberal who thinks the world can sit around and hold hands or something. That being said, one thing I’m happy with the new administration is their aggressive expansion of the national intelligence services. More intelligence, used correctly, is worth divisions in wartime. Of course the President says he’s not wanting to expand our current commitment in Afghanistan after we hit 68,000 but I’m very much willing to bet that he’s going to beef up our intel assets in that region. Maybe the draw-down in IZ won’t immediately correspond to a massive build-up in Afghanistan, but I’m willing to bet the intelligence community will start putting down a few more stakes in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. As for how the President thinks of his successor’s baggage, I’d probably feel the same way. I’m pretty sure, though, that even a President who only sees these conflicts as unwanted would not be dumb enough to pull up stakes in Afghanistan, not if he wants a second term. This is not Somalia. [EDIT: this is perhaps not fair since it just happened on the news, but generals in Afghanistan have already begun requesting about 20K more troops. We’ll see how that goes in the White House and see if your assessment is correct]

    Also, speaking of dead horses, insurgencies take many years to put down. You expand your intelligence and you have the troops perform good COIN, and you may not even need more of them, you just need them to continue the policies that work. The best two weapons you can ever have in COIN are intel and patience.

    Regarding the Pakistani government and comments about corruption. Of course it’s going on there, just like it is in the Iraqi government. Bribery and misappropriation of resources is commonplace in that region, far more acceptable than it is in the States. Interestingly enough I’ve found that with the exception of the UK and US, nearly all other governments either have acceptable bribary going on or else have it in fact built into their system as they do with Germany’s Legislature or Corporatism in both Alpine and Nordic forms in Europe. Moving back to the subject, yes of course Pakistan’s infrastructure is milking us for all they’re worth. They are sitting on a hot keg with nukes and they know we’re scared for the regional rammifications of that. The easy way to get leverage on them is exatly as TSA says, you increase aid to India and threaten to cut off what you’re giving to Pakistan, which is exactly what the Bush Administration did back in 2001, sort of, when we were going in to hunt for bin Laden. Of course on that recipe, I’ll admit the current Administration hasn’t seemed to figure that part out yet. It may also be because the situation is far different than it was nearly 8 years ago.

    I should finish this up by stating that AQ or groups like them are always going to exist somewhere in the world. As the world becomes a little bit smaller each day with globalization and increased democracy, there are always going to be people that want that to stop or at least stay away from their own little fiefdoms. The best policy is to be patient and give them just enough rope for us to hang them with. That requires better intel and surveillance, which is exactly what the Administration is doing. I also would like to point out that I’m only hopeful for this adminstration because I remember hitting Clinton’s administration pretty hard back in the day and I’m now seeing the baggage that gets left over by two eight-year administrations.

  8. On July 31, 2009 at 4:20 pm, crm114 said:

    Sorry, one last thing. It would be a lot easier to use India to pressure Pakistan if we didn’t have our Secretary of State running around there telling them to spend money retarding their economy in the name of climate change.

  9. On August 4, 2009 at 5:44 pm, TSAlfabet said:

    I can only hope that CRM is right and the Administration listens to the commanders requesting more troops.

    Like the good Captain here, I believe that it will require many lines of effort to achieve anything like victory in A-stan. More intel assets is a good thing. But without boots on the ground to hold onto the villages that the Marines clear, there will always be more bad guys ready to move back in and chop the heads of anyone who cooperated with Americans.

    Agreed that the U.S. cannot afford to needlessly offend our allies and friends in the world.

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You are currently reading "Follow and Kill Every Single Taliban", entry #3452 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Featured,Marines in Helmand,Operation Khanjar,Taliban and was published July 26th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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