Boar Down!

Herschel Smith · 30 Oct 2022 · 9 Comments

Readers may have noticed I was absent the last several days.  It was a good time away.  A very good buddy and neighbor of mine, Robert, and I went hunting courtesy of the fine folks with Williams Hunting in South Carolina. I was shooting a 6mm ARC rifle with a Grendel Hunter upper, Aero Precision lower, Amend2 magazines, Brownells scope mount, Radian Raptor charging handle, Nikon Black scope, and a Viking Tactics sling.  I have no complaints about the gun.  It's at least a 1 MOA gun…… [read more]

Obama’s Shame: Rewarding Iranian Terror

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

It is no secret that the Iranians continue to supply weapons to Iraqi Shi’a insurgents, and even deploy their own Quds to perpetrate violence inside Iraq.  From the June 2009 issue of the Sentinel at the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point.

On may 6, 2009, Iraqi Army and police auxiliary units supported by U.S. advisers discovered a cache of weapons hidden along the banks of the Tigris River in Amara, the capital of the majority Shi`a Maysan Province. The hoard included 150 copper plates for use in Explosively-Formed Projectile (EFP) roadside bombs, which have the highest per-incident lethality rate of any explosive device used in Iraq. Along with the professionally milled copper cones were 70 passive infrared firing switches used to precisely detonate EFP devices as vehicles enter the killing zone. Fifty rocket launching rails were also located, composed of modified carjacks designed to elevate 107mm and 122mm rockets for relatively accurate long-range attacks.

This is recent indication of the extent and magnitude of involvement of Iranian elements in the affairs of Iraq – and by extrapolation the U.S. because so many U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines have died in Iraq.  While this was a weapons cache, a static display of involvement, the kinetic fight against Iranian elements went on on unabated even as late as autumn 2008 according to intelligence reports mined by the Sentinel.

The Hawr al-Howeiza marshes further to the south offer another clear example of insurgent groups seeking to defend their lines of communication and supply to sanctuaries and logistical networks in Iran. The Hawr al-Howeiza has long been a major smuggling route between Iran and Iraq due to the difficulties of policing the maze of waterways that permeate the border. U.S. and Iraqi Army forces have strung a line of border forts across the Hawr al-Howeiza, supported by FOBs north and south of the marshes at Musharrah and Qalit Salih, respectively. U.S. forces met resistance as soon as the process began in the autumn of 2008. Large Iranian-made 240mm rockets were used to attack U.S. FOBs around Qalit Salih, and the frequency of mortar and rocket attacks increased against the U.S. FOB in Majar al-Kabir. Each month since September 2008, two to four EFPs have been laid on U.S. access routes to the marshes. These attacks have borne the classic hallmarks of Lebanese Hizb Allah training in terms of configuration of passive-infrared telemetry, remote-control arming switches and encasement in molded insulation foam “rocks.” Other roadside bombs included 10 well-concealed daisy-chained 155mm artillery shells on the access roads between the FOB in Qalit Salih and the Hawr al-Howeiza field. These attacks confirmed to patterns previously noted by UK explosives ordnance technicians when British forces last patrolled the areas in 2005.

So just how effective has Iranian involvement been in Iraq?  Steve Schippert gives us an important metric.

Immediately, the context you need: Since the beginning of U.S. operations in Iraq in 2003, fully 10 percent of our combat fatalities there have come at the hands of just one Iranian weapon — the EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator), designed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specifically to penetrate the armor of the M1 Abrams main battle tank and, consequently, everything else deployed in the field. It is how the Iranian regime has been killing your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers serving in Iraq.

I’ll wager you were not aware of that rather damning statistic. How do I know it? Well . . . I asked a friend in the Pentagon in 2007.  If ambitious journalists would like to share this with their readers and viewers, please do. The numbers are not secret; I am sure they have even been updated. Perhaps they were published elsewhere around the same time. If they were, chances are you never saw it. And those who have seen the figure likely saw it right here at The Tank on National Review Online. Because I wrote it. Over and over.

The current number of U.S. warriors who have perished in Iraq is at 4322.  This means that some 430 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines have been killed in Iraq either by Iranians or Iranian supply weapons or trained insurgents.  We judge even this number to be likely a very low estimate.  Take note, however, that this doesn’t include the many more thousands or U.S. warriors who have no legs, who have lost hearing or eyesight, or who have lost proper brain function because of Iranian-supplied IEDs.

The previous administration battled Iran in Iraq, while still failing to see and treat this as the regional war that it is.  Democracy programs at the State Department were killed under Condi Rice, and up until late 2008 Iranian elements were given free access to Iraq.  The only success in battling Iranian elements came within Iraq itself, a victory to be sure, but costly nonetheless.

Has Iran learned any lessons from this, and how will the current administration interact with Iran?  If the recent failure even to give verbal and informal support to fledgling freedom fighters on the streets of Tehran wasn’t enough, we now have the Obama administration to thank for one of the the most shameful incidents in American history.

There are a few things you need to know about President Obama’s shameful release on Thursday of the “Irbil Five” — Quds Force commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who were coordinating terrorist attacks in Iraq that have killed hundreds — yes, hundreds — of American soldiers and Marines.

First, of the 4,322 Americans killed in combat in Iraq since 2003, 10 percent of them (i.e., more than 400) have been murdered by a single type of weapon alone, a weapon that is supplied by Iran for the singular purpose of murdering Americans. As Steve Schippert explains at NRO’s military blog, the Tank, the weapon is “the EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator), designed by Iran’s IRGC specifically to penetrate the armor of the M1 Abrams main battle tank and, consequently, everything else deployed in the field.” Understand: This does not mean Iran has killed only 400 Americans in Iraq. The number killed and wounded at the mullahs’ direction is far higher than that — likely multiples of that — when factoring in the IRGC’s other tactics, such as the mustering of Hezbollah-style Shiite terror cells.

Second, President Bush and our armed forces steadfastly refused demands by Iran and Iraq’s Maliki government for the release of the Irbil Five because Iran was continuing to coordinate terrorist operations against American forces in Iraq (and to aid Taliban operations against American forces in Afghanistan). Freeing the Quds operatives obviously would return the most effective, dedicated terrorist trainers to their grisly business …

Third, Obama’s decision to release the five terror-masters comes while the Iranian regime (a) is still conducting operations against Americans in Iraq, even as we are in the process of withdrawing, and (b) is clearly working to replicate its Lebanon model in Iraq: establishing a Shiite terror network, loyal to Iran, as added pressure on the pliant Maliki to understand who is boss once the Americans leave.

Fourth, President Obama’s release of the Quds terrorists is a natural continuation of his administration’s stunningly irresponsible policy of bartering terrorist prisoners for hostages. As I detailed here on June 24, Obama has already released a leader of the Iran-backed Asaib al-Haq terror network in Iraq, a jihadist who is among those responsible for the 2007 murders of five American troops in Karbala. While the release was ludicrously portrayed as an effort to further “Iraqi reconciliation” (as if that would be a valid reason to spring a terrorist who had killed Americans), it was in actuality a naïve attempt to secure the reciprocal release of five British hostages — and a predictably disastrous one: The terror network released only the corpses of two of the hostages, threatening to kill the remaining three (and who knows whether they still are alive?) unless other terror leaders were released.

Michael Ledeen has reported that the release of the Irbil Five is part of the price Iran has demanded for its release in May of the freelance journalist Roxana Saberi. Again, that’s only part of the price: Iran also has demanded the release of hundreds of its other terror facilitators in our custody. Expect to see Obama accommodate this demand, too, in the weeks ahead.

So this report begs the question: is a free lance journalist so valuable that the President of the U.S. would release terrorists who had managed the killing of well over 400 U.S. servicemen?  The obvious answer to that question is no, which leaves us with only one other alternative.

Finally, when it comes to Iran, it has become increasingly apparent that President Obama wants the mullahs to win. What you need to know is that Barack Obama is a wolf in “pragmatist” clothing: Beneath the easy smile and above-it-all manner — the “neutral” doing his best to weigh competing claims — is a radical leftist wedded to a Manichean vision that depicts American imperialism as the primary evil in the world.

Sadly, McCarthy’s analysis is the only logical one left.  If there is no pragmatic reason to take an action, one must search next for ideological ones.  And the ghosts of hundreds of sons of America haunt us still.

Marines, Beasts and Water

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

In Scenes From Operation Khanjar II we discussed heavy battle space weight, the contribution of water to this weight, and the necessity for Marine infantry to be all male.  A debate ensued concerning all of the salient points, but the truth remains that it requires young males in superior condition to sprint with body armor under fire, and carry (in many cases) more than 120 pounds of weapons, food, armor, water, ammunition and equipment for ten to twelve hours a day in more than 100 degree heat.  The low hanging fruit has already been picked.  There isn’t much else that can be done concerning weight with the exception of ESAPI plates, and even modifications to these won’t remove the heavy weight of water.

U.S. Marine dog handler corporal Chad Perraut, with 2nd platoon, F company, 5th battalion, 10th Marines pours water for Body, a Marine bomb sniffer patrol dog, during a patrol in southern Afghanistan. After five years coping with the most dangerous province in Iraq, the U.S. Marines have been given their next assignment: Helmund, the most dangerous province in Afghanistan.

Heavy exertion in hot weather while wearing body armor requires that the Marine carry enough to drink multiple liters of water every hour to avoid dehydration and even heat stroke.  The heat is as much of an enemy as the insurgents.

After hours of ferocious fighting in southern Afghanistan, the two young US Marines desperately needed emergency medical care — and it was the heat, not the Taliban, that had finally defeated them.

Charles Auge and Edwin Saez had landed at a canal junction at dawn last Thursday as part of a major US offensive against Islamist insurgents in the key province of Helmand.

They were engaged in an intense battle through the heat of day against dozens of gunmen who were determined not to lose control of the Mian Poshtey intersection in the south of Garmsir district.

When their two-and-a-half-litre (five-US-pint) water backpacks ran out, Auge and Saez looked to restock from the bottles that Echo company from the 2/8 infantry battalion had brought with them on the helicopter assault.

But as the company came under constant fire, the supplies were limited and the water scorchingly hot when it did arrive.

“We were on the flank beside a thick grass berm, and in the middle of the day the sun was so strong and there was no shade,” Auge, 24, said. “I began to feel dizzy and everything turned white.”

Saez, 21, also became a “heat casualty” soon after, having shot at — and apparently killed — two gunmen who were firing at the Marines from behind a wall.

“I started slipping in and out of consciousness,” he said. “The water we got was so hot it burnt in my throat.”

The two Marines became so seriously ill that they were evacuated from the battlefield by Red Cross helicopters that came in under hostile fire.

They were treated with intravenous drips and ice baths, and kept under observation at a field hospital for three days before being released, now recovering from the ordeal.

Marines run through a door that they blew open with explosives after taking fire from inside a compound in Mian Poshteh, in the hot dust of Helmand.

Command knows that this is an issue and is trying to deal with it.

… we understand the number one threat here right now today is not the Taliban, it’s the heat.  And as I said, it is hot as fire.  Every day we’ve got helicopters, day and night, pushing all manner of logistics, but especially pallets of water to the Marines.  I am more than confident — and I stay in touch with my commanders down there — I am more than confident that we’re getting the amount of water they need in a timely manner.  No one is going without water.

My problem, and what I’m fussing about with my staff, is that the water’s not cold.  We need to freeze that water.  We need to deliver water that’s pretty well frozen.  It will thaw out very quickly.  So we’re working on that.

Insertion of Marines at the outset of Operation Khanjar, Marines carry water.

Failure to plan for this is stolid and inept.  But there are families that are pressing for formal investigations into marches in severe heat at the beginning of Operation Khanjar.  This is about as inept as the failure to plan for cold water.  What would the results of such an investigation be?  That the life of a Marine infantryman is hard?

The Marine logistics officers in Southern Helmand should plan better, the Marine families should drop their demands for investigations, and Marine infantry remains a young man’s job (with special emphasis on both young and man).

Mullen Pops Jones in the Back of the Head

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

You know all about National Security Advisor Jim Jones’ terse warning to the commanders in Afghanistan that they had gotten all of the troops they were going to get?  As it turns out, Mullen decided that he would respond by giving Jones a pop to the back of the head.

WALLACE: You talked about troop levels. I want to talk about not just in southern Afghanistan but throughout the country…


WALLACE: … because there seem to be mixed messages this week about our troop level policy for Afghanistan.

National Security Adviser James Jones was quoted this week as telling U.S. commanders they are not to expect any more troops beyond what the president has already promised.

You were quoted the next day as saying the top new commander, General McChrystal, is going to make a review, and he can ask for as many troops as he wants. Admiral, which is it?

MULLEN: I’ve had — I’ve had discussions with General Jones, also with the president, and I think we’re all committed to making sure we resource this correctly.

President Obama has committed the forces that we’ve asked this year. General McChrystal, who is the brand-new leader there, is in the middle of an assessment. He’ll come back in about 45 days with his assessment in terms of what he needs.

My guidance to him had been, “Tell us what you need, and then come back and we’ll work that.” And it’s guidance that both General Jones and the president understands and support.

I think one of the points is we have to make sure that every single American that is there is one that we absolutely need.

In addition, the commander on the ground has to assess with a new strategy, and he’s a — and new leadership — really zero base — not just what’s there, but what he needs for the future, and we expect that sometime the end of July or middle of August.

We’ll see if the administration deploys the necessary troops and does the necessary logistics to ensure that the campaign ends acceptably.  In the mean time, it couldn’t be clearer.  Jim Jones is not a serious man, and as a sign of his impotence and uselessness to us in his current position, Mullen has had to tell him to shut up because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Jim Jones should resign.


Calling on National Security Advisor James L. Jones to Resign

Afghanistan: The WTF? War

Scenes From Operation Khanjar V

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

U.S. Marines from the 2nd MEB, 1st Battalion 5th, sleep in their fighting holes inside a compound where they stayed for the night, in the Nawa district of Afghanistan.  Ah … there’s nothng like sleeping in a hole.

Where is the Afghan National Army?

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

General Nicholson asks what is apparently the popular and salient question.  Where is the Afghan National Army?

About 650 Afghan soldiers and police officers have joined the estimated 4,000 Marines in the offensive.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The fact of the matter is, we don’t have enough Afghan forces,” Nicholson said during a telephone briefing from Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan. “And I’d like more.”

While there is a plan to send more Afghan troops to the region, Nicholson said, “they’re just not available right now.”

Nicholson said he would like to have all of his Marine battalions paired up with Afghan battalions – a process he predicted would take at least several months.

Ralph Peters is asking the same question.

LAST week, 4,000 US Marines launched a major operation in Helmand, the poppy- queen province in southern Afghanistan. The Marines performed magnificently, reaching their objectives with minimal casualties — mostly from the 110-degree heat. But something important was missing: Afghans in uniform.

A few hundred Afghan players showed up in the backfield. But the village elders saw American guns.

The Marine mission is to provide security for villagers, build trust and instill confidence in the Kabul government. This would all be far easier if the Afghan military and police were competent, trustworthy and present.

After 7½ years in Afghanistan and despite extensive efforts, we and our NATO allies have produced only a now-you-see-’em-now-you-don’t Afghan army. The police are corrupt, partisan and loathed by the population.

There is yet again another discussion of the same thing at the Small Wars Journal, a subject we already briefly addressed.

We have seen this before in Iraq where the goal was training and turnover to the Iraqi Security Forces.  Note however, that Marine operations in the Anbar Province didn’t start with ISF assistance, or even end with it.  Given national patience and the fortitude to see the campaign through, there is no reason that the Marines need anyone else to perform counterinsurgency operations in Helmand – at least, not right now.  It’s no different from the campaign in Anbar.

Eventually the Marines will leave, just as they left Anbar.  But we are at the beginning stages of true COIN operations, and The Captain’s Journal is no more surprised at the lack of functional, reliable ANA troops to accompany and be mentored by the Marines than we are dismayed by the lack of ANA support for the Marine Corps operations.  Surprise and dismay at this development underscores a basic naivety concerning where we stand in Afghanistan.

But the message isn’t coming through.  So let’s have another round on this issue, this time in pictures.  Here is the latest DoD report to Congress on Afghanistan, and a graph of ANA readiness.

The following description attends the pictorial metric.

As of November 2008, the ANA had seven battalions and one brigade and one corps headquarters rated at Capability Milestone (CM)1: capable of operating independently. Twenty-nine battalions/squadrons, six brigade headquarters, and three corps headquarters were reported at the CM2 level: capable of planning, executing, and sustaining counterinsurgency operations at the battalion level with international support. Twenty-five battalions/squadrons, four brigade headquarters, one corps headquarters, and the ANAAC headquarters were reported at the CM3: partially capable of conducting counterinsurgency operations at the company level with support from international forces. Six battalions/squadrons and one brigade headquarters are reported at CM4: formed but not yet capable of conducting primary operational missions. Finally, there are eighteen battalions/squadrons and two brigade headquarters that are still not formed or reporting.

We must see the better part of this decade as lost time in Afghanistan.  That doesn’t mean that Soldiers’ and Marines’ lives have been wasted, or that our efforts have gone to no avail.  It does mean, however, that we have been barely able to maintain conditions inhospitable to a major Taliban takeover.  We are starting from scratch, with a steadily degrading security situation.  For another pictorial description, see the following video with General Petraeus, and pay particular attention to the presentation around 2:20

This particular graph of security incidents has not come out in the public domain that I can find, but it is helpful.  We must see the situation as similar to the one in Iraq at its worst, and then again, the conditions are even worse than that.  The country is almost non-existent, there is no sense of nationalism, and there is significant drug abuse and incompetency in the Afghan National Army.  It has been estimated that if the ANA were to implement drug testing, it would lose as much as 85% of its forces.

Surprise at this statistic and at the lack of ANA troops to accompany the Marines through Helmand only underscores a basic naivety concerning the situation in which we find ourselves in Afghanistan.  We are starting over, and impatience with the campaign will only bring frustration to ourselves and the Afghanis.  This will be the longest campaign of the long war.

Lessons in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

It’s a hateful thing to have to learn lessons the hard way more than once.  From Iraq we have learned many hard lessons, including but not limited to: (1) there must be enough forces to avoid “whack-a-mole” counterinsurgency, with insurgents slipping out of the pressure points and finding safe haven elsewhere, (2) learning the indigenous language is a force multiplier.  The Captain’s Journal is incorrigibly an advocate of the large footprint model and an opponent of the small force projection model for counterinsurgency – and it forever will be that way.

From Afghanistan comes a report that confirms the idea that we (i.e., the current administration) may be learning the lessons of Iraq all over again.

As the US sends more troops to Afghanistan to try to reverse the growing violence, they are relying on the “clear, hold, build” model of counterinsurgency. The US hopes a surge of soldiers will help them clear areas of Taliban insurgents, maintain a lasting presence in those areas to keep militants from returning, and then bring development to attract popular support.

But soldiers in Wardak Province say that the model has been difficult to implement in here. In particular, they say they are caught in a vicious circle: To win over the locals, the troops must bring development, security, and economic prospects. To do this, they have to diminish the presence of the insurgency. But this, in turn, requires that the troops win support of the population.

US forces have already made some progress in the first phase of the strategy. The stretch of the Kabul-Kandahar highway that runs through Wardak, once a magnet for insurgents, has been free of Taliban checkpoints for months. The guerrilla presence along the route had gotten so bad that fuel convoys suffered almost daily attacks …

“How is traffic? Have cars been coming through here and bringing business?” a soldier on a typical patrol asks one merchant, who says business is “OK.”

“Have you seen any bad guys here?” the soldier continues.

“No sir. The bad people stay in the mountains,” the merchant says, pointing to the purple peaks in the distance.

“That’s good. Is there any way we can help you?” the soldier asks.

“Your helicopters fly overhead all night,” the merchant says. “No one in our village can sleep. Please stop this – it is causing major problems.”

The soldier promises to tell his superiors.

Securing the population is good, and relations with the locals must gradually improve.  But if the man has told us where the Taliban are – “the bad people stay in the mountains” – then why aren’t we allocating some troops to go chase them in the mountains?  This isn’t an EITHER-OR option, it’s a BOTH-AND choice.  We especially like it when the enemy separates himself from the population so that we can kill him unimpeded.  Or at least, we should.

Earlier, this vicious circle being discussed is the symptom of too few troops.  Continuing with the report:

Despite such patrols, the troops generally don’t have enough contact with the locals to convince them that they are here for their good, says Habibullah Rafeh, policy analyst with the Kabul Academy of Sciences. Most of the troops live in small, heavily fortified outposts near urban centers. Most Afghans, however, live in rural areas – only 0.5 percent of Wardak’s population is urban, for example.

“The local village people view the Americans as occupiers, not as allies,” Mr. Rafeh says. “Many don’t have direct contact with the Americans, but almost everyone in those areas feel the Taliban presence.”

To meet such challenges, the new commander of US forces in the country, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is pushing for an approach that has troops living among the communities they are meant to protect. Soldiers will live in smaller outposts, embedded amid the local population — a tactic that some credit with helping improve the situation in Iraq.

But some warn that extreme caution is needed for such a strategy to succeed. In a culture that prizes privacy, troops have to be careful not to inflame local sensitivities by their presence, says Dr. Wardak. “The people in my district complained to me after the Americans set up a base near their houses,” she says, “because they were worried that the soldiers will look into their homes or that they will be caught in a crossfire.”

Even when the guerrillas are pushed out of one area, abandoning it to the Americans, they usually reassemble in an adjacent area, US military officials here say. Insurgents have been largely dislodged from Jalrez District, for instance, but some have regrouped in neighboring areas.

In other cases, the US has enough forces to capture only a district center. In Jaghatu District, Taliban forces had run the area as a fiefdom, complete with a court and administrative apparatus. The district government had fled, leaving a cluster of four ramshackle buildings that makes up the capital, called the district “center.”

In mid-May, American forces entered and occupied the district center, displacing the insurgents. They set up a makeshift camp among the devastated buildings – one pockmarked structure, ravaged by frequent mortar fire, is an abandoned school, while another is an empty office. A small contingent of Afghan police and Army took up residence in the other buildings.

Together, this combined force is able to maintain control of the district center, but the Taliban still enjoy sovereignty in the surrounding countryside, according to residents. When an American patrol visits these areas, the insurgents melt into the surroundings, sometimes waiting to ambush the soldiers, other times waiting to fight another day.

Is there any clearer way to say it?  Whack-a-mole counterinsurgency.  We press here, the insurgency expands over there where we have no troops.  We press there, it expands over here.  Also, unrelated to this report but still a salient point, notice how all of the naysayers of increased force projection decry an increase in forces to something on the order of 400,000, or 500,000, or 600,000 – and I have even seen 700,000 troops.  This is the amount, they say, necessary to get the job done.  But this objection is a straw man, and no one is requesting half a million troops.  And not one of the objectors has given compelling reason to believe that 150,000 troops cannot accomplish the mission.  Continuing with the report:

Military officials here say they are still in the process of clearing most areas of insurgents.

“Creating a lasting presence in Sayadabad is going to be hard,” says an American intelligence officer associated with the forces here, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Maybe Jalrez is the only district that we can hold and build by the end of our deployment,” which is scheduled for the end of this year, she says.

In Sayadabad and other areas, fighting is growing more intense as the summer months arrive. “It’s going to get nastier before it gets better,” she says.

Mortar fire regularly hits Sayadabad’s Combat Outpost Carwile, which sits close to Jaghatu District. Improvised explosive devices, such as roadside bombs, go off almost daily on the main highways here. In May, the unit suffered its first losses – a Taliban ambush killed two soldiers as they were on a foot patrol.

Civilians have been feeling the toll of war as well. In the midst of a recent firefight with insurgents, troops mistakenly shot a vehicle full of civilians, killing one and wounding others. Earlier this year, the Taliban abducted two interpreters who worked for the troops. There have also been some demonstrations against the troop presence .

The troops admit there are no easy solutions. In the meantime, some soldiers are finding their own ways to win hearts and minds.

Pfc. Joshua Lipori has decided to learn Pashto, the prevalent language here. While standing on guard duty one day at a combat outpost in Sayadabad, he practices his fledgling Pashto with some passing locals.

“Tsenga Ye?” or “How are you?” he asks. “Jore Ye?” – “Are you doing OK?”

The Afghans stare in wide-eyed astonishment at the foreign soldier speaking their tongue. They whisper to each other in Pashto.

“See,” one says to the other, “there are some good Americans.”

Everyone cannot be trained in language skills.  But after Boot Camp, SOI or MCT, Marines (and Soldiers) can be selected for more advanced language training as a force multiplier.  There is enough time and resources to train in fast roping, squad rushes, room clearing, infantry tactics, and all of the other things infantry needs to know, without starving language.  The only limit to this qualification would be language trainers.  Both the Army and Marines should increase the financial incentive for language qualifications.  It’s that important.


Lousy Excuses Against Language Training for Counterinsurgency

The Enemy of My Enemy

No Excuse: Marines Losing Legs in Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

In What Now Zad Can Teach Us About Counterinsurgency The Captain’s Journal ridiculed the decision-making for the campaign in Helmand and found the idea incredulous that the U.S. Marines in Now Zad would be under-resourced.  They need more troops, as we have pointed out, and major combat action continues against Taliban fighters.  These Taliban, it must be understood, have given us the opportunity for which we pray.  They have separated themselves from the population and given us unhindered access to kill them.  But the population-centric counterinsurgency advocates (we consider this to be similar to a cult) lament the fact that there is no population to woe and win, and so the campaign in Now Zad sees the Marines without enough troops.

Now Zad remains so dangerous that this is the only Marine unit in Afghanistan that brings along two trauma doctors, as well as two armored vehicles used as ambulances and supplies of fresh blood.

Apart from one small stretch of paved road, the Marines patrol only behind an engineer who sweeps the ground with a detector. The men who follow scratch out a path in the sand with their foot to ensure those trailing them do not stray off course. Each carries at least one tourniquet.

“It’s a hell of ride,” said Lance Cpl. Aenoi Luangxay, a 20-year-old engineer on his first deployment. “Every step you think this could be my last,” said Aenoi, who has found six bombs in the company’s four weeks in the town.

Just after midnight recently, the medics were wakened by a familiar report: A patrol had hit an IED in town. Within five minutes, they put on their flak jackets and helmets and were in their vehicles leaving the base.

The bomb blew the legs off Cpl. Matthew Lembke as he walked to a building. Lembke, from Tualatin, Ore., was loaded onto the ambulance. On the trip to the helicopter landing zone, the medics tightened his tourniquets and gave him two units of blood along with antibiotics.

At one point, he stopped breathing. The medical team used equipment on board to pump air into his lungs.

“Our aim and intent is to give the guys the optimum chance of survival from the first minute,” said the commander of the Shock Trauma Platoon, Sean Barbabella, of Chesapeake, Va. “If it was my son or brother out there, that is what I would want.”

Lembke was in stable condition Monday at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.

The men of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines in Now Zad know where to find their enemy — to the north of town, in a maze of compounds and tunnels that back onto lush pomegranate orchards.

The Marines are garrisoned in a base that occupies the town’s former administrative center. They also have fortified observations posts on two hills. In one of them, named ANP hill after the Afghan police who presumably once had a post there, the men sleep in “hobbit holes” dug into the earth. The underground briefing room is partly held up by an aging Russian Howitzer gun.

Each day, the Marines aggressively patrol to limit the Taliban’s freedom of movement. They keep a 24-hour watch on the battlefield using high-tech surveillance equipment and are able to fire mortar rounds at insurgents spotted planting bombs or gathering in numbers.

A recent daylong battle showed the massive difference in firepower between the two sides, as well as the tenacity of the Taliban. It took place close to “Pakistani Alley,” so named because of one-time reports that fighters from across the border were deployed along the road.

The insurgents opened fire from behind high-walled compounds with automatic weapons, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades against five armored vehicles; the Marines responded with machine gunfire and frequently called in airstrikes.

Mindful of the need to engage with what few locals remain in the area, every couple of days a small group of Marines and translators leave the base and walk a mile to a village south of Now Zad where some families who fled the town now stay.

They try to convince them that the Marines are there to help, remind them that Taliban militants plant bombs that kill innocents and discreetly try to gather intelligence. Many of the locals are suspicious and worried about Taliban retribution for talking with the visitors, who are besieged by children demanding candy and notebooks.

Get the picture?  The Marines make a trek on occassion to try to woo the population back into Now Zad because, well, they are there to help.  The population obviously won’t come back with major combat action ongoing.  The Taliban in Now Zad can be killed unhindered, i.e., without risking civilian casualties.  The Marines won’t resource the campaign because there is no population there to woo.

Got it?  Can anyone say stolid – dense – or stupid?  Let’s be clear.  The campaign sees the Marines without enough troops.  The chain of command has made the decision to under-resource that part of the fight.  Everyone up chain of command, who can make a difference in the resourcing of the campaign, is responsible for Cpl. Matthew Lembke having lost his legs, beginning with the President of the U.S., and going down to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and CENTCOM.  This includes the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

While the Marines are pressing to maintain an expeditionary force, Battalions of Marine infantry are sitting aboard Amphibious Assault Docks for nine months at a time doing nothing (as force in readiness) while a company of Marines in Now Zad loses their legs because they don’t have enough troops to kill the Taliban.

There is no excuse for this.  None.  It is easy enough to get the SITREPs from the front, listen to the commanders, and even read this blog (and this blog gets daily and multiple readers from the Marine network domain).  They know.  There is no justification – no excuse.  The chain of command knows that the Marines in Now Zad are suffering and need help.  That they continue to suffer without the necessary troops is totally unacceptable, and The Captain’s Journal is outraged over the situation in Now Zad.  The situation is deserving of deep indignation and anger.

May God grant grace and kind providence to Cpl. Matthew Lembke.  He will be in our prayers.

Scenes From Operation Khanjar IV

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

A donkey clears a path as light armor vehicles used by U.S. Marines work their way through Khan Neshin.

Christopher Brewer, 3rd Class Petty Officer U.S. Navy, working with Charlie Company 2nd LAR, diagnoses a child with a respiratory infection and gives her medicine as troops maneuver through Khan Neshin.

Operation Khanjar: What do the people think?

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

So what do the residents of the Helmand Province think about the initiation of Operation Khanjar?  The Asia Times gives us a fairly sweeping view of it.

“Our entire village is surrounded,” said Sefatullah, a resident of a village in Nad Ali called 31 West. “The foreigners are driving their tanks in our fields. They will not let anyone come out of their houses.”

A resident of Nawa told a similar tale. “There are more than 60 tanks in our fields,” said Sher Agha. “Why can’t they drive on the roads? Do they think they are going to find Taliban in our fields? They are causing enormous damage.”

The Taliban have offered little resistance so far, although some residents reported the sound of heavy machine-gun fire, and one said that a few rockets had landed on his village in Nawa.

“There is no fighting yet, but there have been a huge number of airplanes patrolling,” said Sharafuddin, in Nawa. “I can see the Taliban. They are sitting on the riverbank, just watching, and preparing themselves for the fight.”

In Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, life is going on normally, although the sound of explosions can be heard faintly, according to residents and foreign visitors. Shops are open, and people are out on the streets …

While there are those who are angered by the heavy foreign troop presence, significant numbers of locals are tired of living under the Taliban, and are relieved that the insurgents may soon be gone.

“This operation will be good if done correctly,” said Abed, a resident of Nawa. “We would love to live in peace, and without the Taliban authoritarianism.”

According to Abed, the Taliban have left his area and are congregating in Khosrabad village. “They are just waiting for the fight,” he said. “I am very happy that they are gone. We have a lot of houses here, and if anyone drops a bomb it will kill a lot of people.”

A resident of Khosrabad, who did not want to give his name for fear of the Taliban, confirmed that there was now a heavy insurgent presence in his village. “The Taliban are telling people to leave, to get out of their houses,” he said. “This is the opposite of what they usually do. They used to make people stay, to use them as shields.”

The Taliban, for their part, say they are preparing for battle. “We will fight until our last breath,” said Mullah Abdullah, a local Taliban commander in Helmand, who returned to Nawa just a few days ago. He was seriously injured in a skirmish with international forces in May, and had gone to Pakistan for treatment. He is now back, and ready for jihad …

Helmandis, meanwhile, are a bit puzzled about all the hardware. The Taliban cannot be defeated with a frontal assault, they say. Guerrilla warfare, or so-called asymmetric combat, is hard on the larger army, and on the civilians caught in the middle.

“The foreigners are bragging that they will get rid of the Taliban. Give me a break!” said one angry resident in Nad Ali. “They could bring 70,000 soldiers, [but] they still would not be able to do it. One Taliban fighter attacks them from inside a house, then he escapes. The Taliban are never going to get together all in one place, to have a major fight. The only thing they will be able to do is kill civilians.”

It’s understandable, this notion that the Helmandis must lecture the Marines on whether to do a frontal assault of otherwise.  They are unaware that the Marines have spent the last five years in the Anbar Province of Iraq.

Might I observe how positive this reaction is overall compared to the Anbar Province?  In 2004 the Marines’ entrance to Anbar started with difficulty.  This is better, and while the Taliban will likely come with asymmetric attacks, the Marines are prepared.  The bluster about the Taliban readying themselves for the offense is of course ridiculous.  They mass troops against smaller sized U.S. forces simply because the U.S. tactics, techniques, procedures, training and discipline is so superior.  As they have lost significant casualties even in these situations, expect IEDs, sniper fire and other guerrilla tactics.  And the Taliban in Helmand will lose.

Scenes From Operation Khanjar III

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

Scenes from Operation Khanjar.

A little MCMAP practice before the operation.  Looks like these boys are doing Brazilian jiu jitsu.

Marines sighting down on small arms fire from insurgents.

Marine Lt. Col. Tim E. Grattan, III, Commander of Task Force Mameluke, takes his position and commands his troops as gunfire erupts.  Isn’t it great to see Lieutenant Colonels put on body armor, pick up an M4 and go into combat operations?

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