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]

Ten Dollar Taliban and Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

The AP has an informative update on the U.S. Marine efforts in Now Zad.

After three tours in Iraq, U.S. Marine Sgt. Andre Leon was used to brutal shootouts with enemy fighters and expected more of the same in Afghanistan.

Instead, what he’s seen so far are anonymous attacks in the form of mines and roadside bombings — the mark of what he calls a cowardly adversary.

“I’m not impressed with them,” Leon, 25, of Herndon, Va., said this past week from a Marines camp deep in the southern province of Helmand, where U.S. forces are challenging Taliban insurgents and their devastating use of IEDs, or homemade bombs. “I expected more of a stand-and-fight. All these guys do is IEDs.”

Marines on the front lines in southern Afghanistan say there’s no question that the militants are just as deadly as the Iraqi insurgents they once fought in Iraq’s Anbar Province. The Afghan enemy is proving to be a smaller, but smarter opponent, taking full advantage of the country’s craggy and enveloping terrain in eluding and then striking at U.S troops.

In interviews, Marines across Helmand said their new foes are not as religiously fanatic as the Syrian and Chechen militants they fought in Iraq and often tend to be hired for battle. U.S. commanders call them the “$10 Taliban.”

Taking advantage of the Afghanistan’s mountainous rural landscape, the fighters often spread out their numbers, hiding in fields and planting bombs on roads, rather than taking aim at U.S. forces from snipers’ nests in urban settings, as often was the case in Iraq. And they are not as bent on suicide, often retreating to fight another day.

“One thing about Afghanistan, they’re not trying to go to paradise,” said Sgt. Robert Warren, 26, of Peshtigo, Wis. He served a tour in both Iraq and Afghanistan before his current assignment at Combat Outpost Sharp, a Marines camp hidden in cornfields and dirt piles.

“They want to live to see tomorrow,” Warren said. “They engage with us, but when they know we’ll call in air support, they’ll break contact with us. … They’re just as fierce, but they’re smarter.”

Marine commanders believe they face between 7,000 and 11,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, although it is unclear how many are low-level militants hired for battle as opposed to extremist leaders.

By comparison, officials still are unsure how many members of al-Qaida in Iraq remain. Earlier estimates ranged between 850 to several thousand full-time fighters, although commanders believe that number has been reduced significantly as a result of counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq …

Both foes are also sometimes known to use drugs — troops have reported finding syringes and needles in enemy camps.

Training does not seem to be an issue for Marines who have been making the transition from Iraq to Afghanistan. Their skills appear to have held up in both war zones.

But new U.S. battle guidelines that limit shooting into or otherwise attacking buildings without ensuring there are no civilians inside have at times made the fighting more difficult.

The rules were put into place this summer after dozens of Afghans were killed in a May battle in Farah province that ended when U.S. forces bombed a building where Taliban fighters were believed to be hiding.

“It’s frustrating to be attacked from a building,” said Lt. Joe Hamilton of Baltimore as he scrutinized two-story village structures on the other side of dirt-and-barbed wire walls at Combat Outpost Fiddler’s Green. “You can’t shoot back because you don’t know if there are civilians there.

He added: “They’re more disciplined. They wait longer until we get in their kill zones, then they attack us.”

In Anbar the insurgency was bifurcated between the indigenous fighters and the foreign elements who fought for religious reasons.  In Fallujah in 2007 fighters from Chechnya, Somalia, and other countries were killed by the 2/6 Marines.  They were found to have been taking epinephrine and morphine before engagements.

It’s a positive development that although the indigenous fighters are disciplined, they aren’t fanatics.  They only work for people who are fanatics.  Scores of them might still have to be killed in order to convince them that a few dollars isn’t worth the risk.  But the situation is not good for the Marines.

Recall that we have had this debate about rules of engagement and the fact that the Marines cannot possibly be assured in these cases that there aren’t noncombatants inside structures.  Thus, not only would the 2008 Marine Corps operations in Garmsir not have occurred, but the Taliban will learn to seek refuge in structures very quickly in these engagements.

It was a simple observation but for some reason difficult for others to understand.  “You can’t shoot back because you don’t know if there are civilians there.”  And thus the warfare ends and the game begins.  I suspect that it will be a deadly game for the noncombatants and Marines alike, regardless of the intent of the rules.

The War Against the CIA

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

I have been loath to weigh in on the issue of torture, waterboarding, the intelligence gleaned from such methods, and in general the whole issue of detainees in the war on terror.  I feel that there are too many people weighing in who don’t know enough information to be useful, and I don’t need to add to that number.  Regarding waterboarding I must rely on friends of mine who have undergone the procedure in SERE training.  One friend in particular informs me that it is terrifying, but in his opinion, not torture.  As those who go through SERE training know, you spend some time doing not only that, but also spend some time in a 55 gallon barrel.

But as my friend also informs me, “I would tell them anything they wanted to hear in order to stop the process.”  So the question naturally arises as to the usefulness of the procedure and whether actionable intelligence is really gleaned.  But we can add to this knowledge with the experience of Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

After enduring the CIA’s harshest interrogation methods and spending more than a year in the agency’s secret prisons, Khalid Sheik Mohammed stood before U.S. intelligence officers in a makeshift lecture hall, leading what they called “terrorist tutorials.”

In 2005 and 2006, the bearded, pudgy man who calls himself the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks discussed a wide variety of subjects, including Greek philosophy and al-Qaeda dogma. In one instance, he scolded a listener for poor note-taking and his inability to recall details of an earlier lecture.

Speaking in English, Mohammed “seemed to relish the opportunity, sometimes for hours on end, to discuss the inner workings of al-Qaeda and the group’s plans, ideology and operatives,” said one of two sources who described the sessions, speaking on the condition of anonymity because much information about detainee confinement remains classified. “He’d even use a chalkboard at times.”

These scenes provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.

“KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA’s then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.

The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general’s report and other documents released this week indicate.

Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again.

“What do you think changed KSM’s mind?” one former senior intelligence official said this week after being asked about the effect of waterboarding. “Of course it began with that.”

Mohammed, in statements to the International Committee of the Red Cross, said some of the information he provided was untrue.

“During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time,” he said.

So we have learned that on the most significant targets in the history of using this method it caused poor information to be gleaned at first, but much more significant information to be gleaned later due to a change in attitude.  It was the change in attitude that was important.

Whatever an individual decides concerning the issue of specific procedures, I still believe that far too many people now know far too much about U.S. black operations.  Bill Clinton eviscerated the CIA human intelligence capabilities, and Obama is finishing the job.

Obama intended from the beginning to target the CIA with investigations.  Leon Panetta, who is said to be opposed to certain CIA programs in which high value targets are assassinated, is making matters worse.  In fact, the damage may have already been done and the situation made irreversible.

I would never compare my few years as an Army Intelligence Special Agent to the careers of committed CIA operatives, but I harbor no doubt that if I were one of them, I would be looking for a way out.  My immediate focus would be on protecting myself, my family and the identities of the foreign nationals with whom I worked.  I would be operating as if secrets no longer exist.  Risk taking would cease.  My reports would be gleaned from newspaper articles.

Whatever else one might conclude about the state of the CIA and the unecessary public investigations, they are effecting a disembowelment of the very intelligence agency that is supposed to protect American interests.  And it appears to be all by design.

Women in the Infantry

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

Quite an ugly exchange took place a few days over the issue of women in infantry (note, not women in the military, but women in infantry) .  But many may still harbor the notion – or believe the myth – that it’s all about social mores.  My detractor is not a Marine infantryman, and neither am I.  So I decided to go right to an authority on the issue and discuss this with a certain Marine infantryman whom I know that has spent a lot of time in the field, earning the combat action ribbon in Iraq.

I expected a visceral reaction, and to my surprise I got much more of a reflective, studied response than I bargained for, at least initially.  The initial thoughts concerned the Navy Corpsmen and the sorts of things they treat for Marines on a daily basis when Marines are in the field for 28 days and don’t shower.  A whole host of different diseases and different logistical concerns would exist for women than for men.  But we won’t rehearse the balance of that part of the discussion – it was far too personal.  Other issues were brought up.  The very long discussion eventually shifted to a number of physical issues.  It went something like this (this is a condensed summary statement of what I heard; there was much more than included below).

“Look.  Whoever said this is a pogue and has never been in the field.  Yes, it’s about the 120+ temperatures – it’s almost impossible to operate.  Yes, it’s about the heavy body armor, and in full gear with backpack, hydration, weapon and ammunition, it’s more than 120 pounds for as long as the hump, 15 or 20 miles.  But it’s really about more than that.  It’s even more than about the ability to carry heavy weight for long distances in high temperatures.  We don’t bathe for a month at a time.  If we are doing MCMAP quals, we beat the hell out of each other, continually – every day, all of the time.  Literally.  Men beat the hell out of men, and get it back too.

Remember when I was in Fallujah and I had to jump off of the roof of the house?  I was under fire, my unit was leaving and I had to catch the HMMWV, and I had on full body armor with hydration, SAW drums and SAW.  And I had to jump from the roof of a house to the ground.  I have had to tackle men in Fallujah who were assaulting us.  Full grown men, attacking us by hand.  Football style tackle with holds and moves on the dude while in full body armor.

Remember when I trained the SAW gunners before ___________?  I would make them hit the road for a four or five mile run in the morning, full armor, to the range.  Range all day, then four or five miles back.  Screw PTs.  Can you run and live all day in full armor?

You want to know what it’s like, physically, to be an infantry Marine in the field?  Strap 120 pounds on your body and play men’s football for a season, and do it while being sleep deprived with guys dropping around you from heat stroke.  Do squad rushes with full weight.  And when you hit the ground, don’t pretend.  Hit the ground.

Whoever said this is a f****** pogue.  He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but he’s trying to impress the women around him.  He’s listened to what they’ve said for too long.  Tell him I said that he’s a pogue and sits behind a desk.  Time to get his ass up and hit the field with the infantry Marines.  Then he’ll understand.”

So there you have it.  The case is closed for The Captain’s Journal because an authority has spoken on the issue.

Remembrances of Fallujah #1

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

Hmmm … that Marine second from the left at 5:35 looks very familiar.

Iraq’s Ambivalence About The American Military

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

The New York Times has an informative analysis about the multiple personalities within Iraq concerning the continued presence of the U.S. military.

Iraqi military officials often refer to their American counterparts as “the friends,” a circumlocution full of Eastern subtlety that is often lost on the friends themselves. Add some more quotation marks, and it comes closer to the sense intended, “the ‘friends.’ ” Not sarcastic, exactly, but rather colored with mixed emotions, as in the sentence, “The ‘friends’ came by yesterday to complain again about payroll skimming.”

Americans find this hard to understand about the Iraq war, that their trillion-dollar enterprise in Iraq has made Iraqis and particularly the Iraqi military not only deeply dependent on America, but also deeply conflicted, even resentful about that dependency. After all, we saved them from defeat at the hands of a ruthless insurgency that a few years ago indeed could have destroyed them, and we spent 4,000 lives doing it, left probably 10 times that many young Americans crippled for life, and they’re not grateful?

That is not, at bottom, how the Iraqis see it. They are grateful, many of them, but gratitude is a drink with a bitter aftertaste. They also chafe at the thousands of daily humiliations they endure from a mostly well-meaning but often clueless American military. An Iraqi politician who wishes to remain nameless (“I have to deal with the friends,” he explains) tells of traveling with the Iraqi Army’s chief of staff, a general in uniform, epaulets bristling with eagles, stars and swords. They were at the Baghdad airport, about to get on one of the few Iraqi military planes, when an American sergeant stopped him and refused to allow him to board. Despite the general’s remonstrations of rank and privilege, the sergeant made sure the plane took off without him.

“Once I had a meeting with the division commander in charge of Baghdad,” the politician went on. “A private meeting. In walks an American colonel and sits there with a translator, taking notes on our conversation. He apologized and said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do anything about this.’ ”

This indirectly explains a lot about the current state of affairs, post June 30. Iraqis have enthusiastically embraced their newfound military sovereignty, even when, as is often the case, they’re not really ready for it. They can field troops who can fight, but they can’t fix their Humvees. They can mount their own operations against insurgents, but are reluctant to do so without air cover — which so far only the Americans can provide. They can marshal large numbers of soldiers — their army now is more numerous than America’s in Iraq — but they depend on the Americans to handle most of their logistics, since their own are plagued by corruption and mismanagement.

Under the new Status of Forces Agreement between the countries, not only did American troops leave all population centers after June 30, but they’ve also agreed not to get involved, in or out of the cities, unless invited to do so by the Iraqis. And the Iraqi inclination has been not to invite them, partly out of pride, partly out of concern for the political blowback from their own public when they do ask for help.

This was brought into sharp relief by the two ministry truck bombings on Aug. 19, which succeeded because fortifications had been prematurely removed from in front of those ministries. “It was Iraqi aspirations exceeding their ability to secure their country on their own,” says John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and an author of influential works on counterinsurgency. “The Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces are improving steadily but they’re not yet able to handle these threats responsibly,” Mr. Nagl says.

He argues that the Iraqi and American militaries need to set up standing pre-arrangements by which the United States can intervene in an emergency on the ground; such arrangements are entirely possible under the terms of the forces agreement, even if they may cause political difficulties, especially in an election year.

I agree with Nagl concerning the current Iraqi inability to ensure its own security.  I have argued that we should withdraw even logistical and air support in order to catalyze that understanding within the Iraqi military and administration.  But unlike Nagl, I am not so sure that the existing SOFA supplies the necessary provisions for even force protection, much less kinetic engagements inside Iraqi cities.

I believe that modifications are necessary to both the formal SOFA and the manner in which it is being locally implemented by the ISF.  I’m unimpressed by the complaint of “thousands of daily humiliations” on the part of the Iraqis.  This sounds like exaggeration but it makes for good drama.  Continuing with the article:

The tension between Iraq’s desire to embrace its sovereignty and its continuing military shortcomings is likely to last many years, Mr. Nagl says, because the United States has done little so far to give the Iraqi military the ability to defend its country against external threats once Americans leave by the end of 2011.

The most glaring shortcoming is the almost complete lack of an air force, aside from a few transport and reconnaissance aircraft; there is not a single jet. The first T-6 jet trainer, a propeller- driven aircraft that simulates a jet, is on order for next December. Training pilots will take many years more. In a modern world, Mr. Nagl says, “You can’t defend the sovereignty of your country if you can’t defend your air space.”

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the American military’s training command, says that was inevitable in the rush to build large army and police ground forces to counter the insurgency.

General Helmick says he is unconcerned about the lack of an international defensive capability. “What do they need to defend themselves against?”

Nothing, so long as American troops are there in such numbers, but once they’re gone, Iraq will remain surrounded by potential enemies. Turkey has been regularly bombing Iraqi territory in the north, in an effort to wipe out Kurdish guerrillas who use the area as a sanctuary for attacks in Turkey. Iran is a friend now, but in the 1980s it fought a decade-long war involving many divisions of tanks, airstrikes and even chemical warfare.

Here I break with Nagl.  The U.S. has done much in terms of blood, sweat, tears and wealth to secure Iraq.  The Iraqis must secure their future by weeding out crime, corruption and malfeasance.  Their oil fields alone, if functioning properly and profits shared and wisely used, would have gone a long way towards rebuilding their infrastructure, including a military apparatus.

In any case, with respect to air support, Iraq may be a protectorate of the U.S. for a decade.  Over the course of that decade unless the SOFA is modified to allow more latitude of operations – including robust force protection – the ground troops must come home and air power supplied from locations where force protection isn’t problematic.


Should U.S. Troops Return to Iraqi Cities?

Iraq SOFA Category

Safe Haven for the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

One of the good aspects about blogging with really smart readers is that I get to let some of them do the writing.  Consider TSAlfabet’s comment concerning McChrystal Releases Counterinsurgency Guidance and Requests More Troops.

OK, let’s just cut right to it.

The heart of the problem is that the U.S. has been and continues to be unwilling to do what it says it is going to do to protect itself and that is why we are having problems in A-stan.

To elaborate: the U.S. got hit on 9-11 and we declared, as a sort of Corollary #1, that we would retaliate against and pursue those responsible wherever they could be found.

The U.S. did, in fact, go after AQ and the Taliban in Afghanistan and pretty much took care of the initial problem. The INITIAL problem. Predictably, however, AQ scattered like roaches. Some to Pakistan, some to Iran, some to Yemen, etc.. Rather quickly they found a more-or-less willing host in Pakistan where they could re-group, re-fit, re-form and re-commence their war against the U.S.

Did the U.S. then employ Corollary #1 against Pakistan? No, we did not. And we still refuse to do so. Same for Iran who hosts AQ leadership and has been actively at war against the U.S. since 1979.

I am sure that there are many cogent arguments as to why the U.S. cannot employ Corollary #1 against P-stan and Iran, but once the U.S. has surrendered the principle or otherwise limited its application, say, to only those countries that are too weak to defend themselves such as A-stan and Iraq, then we are in an untenable position.

To close the circle, the reason that we are struggling in A-stan is because we refuse to eliminate the havens in P-stan where the enemy takes refuge. Same as the Soviets. Without that vital sanctuary, AQ and the Taliban collapse and become a primitive curiosity, dwelling in remote caves, a threat to no one except perhaps the local goat population.

COIN is nice and good and McCrystal’s document is all nice talk, but it is not serious. We are willing to allow our military to die and suffer in A-stan because we will not go after the P-stan sanctuaries. (Sorry, little decapitation strikes with Predators do not count). In so doing, we violate a primary rule of counter-insurgency: cut off the insurgent’s base of supplies and support. If the Paks don’t like it, then they can pull some divisions off the Indian border and exercise the proper control over their own territory that a sovereign nation is obligated to do. Otherwise, the U.S. is coming in and wiping out every camp and stronghold. We are not staying to occupy, but we will ensure that AQ is going to spend all of their time re-building and re-constituting rather than attacking into A-stan (or New York, for that matter). As soon as our intel says there is a whiff of AQ in an area, we go back in and wipe them out again. It will become clear to the local population (and potential recruits) that enrolling in or supporting AQ and the Taliban is a death warrant and is the losing side. (If a villager knew that he would be paid well for reliable information on AQ whereabouts AND that the bad guys would promptly get whacked as a result, we might have more good intel than we could handle).

Until such time as the U.S. goes after the enemy in its base of operations, we are just swimming in quicksand.

Consider his comment within the context of the recent targeting of Baitullah Mehsud.  Of course, I had issued a clarion call to assassinate the bastard, since I (correctly) saw him as the strong man who held the Tehrik-i-Taliban together in their protection of al Qaeda.  Baitullah (if he is indeed dead) is in hell now, and that’s just fine with me.  But make no mistake about it.  Drink a glass of wine to his demise, but this is neither the end of the Taliban nor the Tehrik-i-Taliban.

TSAlfabet has recommended some serious action against states that harbor enemies.  But it appears that we cannot even take the minimalist approach with some of them.  Talk about talk with the reconcilable Taliban has been noisome, while the head of the snake, Mullah Omar, sits with his shura in Quetta, Pakistan.  Where are the CIA drones?  Where are the black operations to target him?  Why hasn’t serious pressure been brought to bear on Pakistan?

Consider the situation.  Mullah Omar is the head of the Afghan Taliban who are fighting and killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  Pakistan is willingly giving him sanctuary.  Pakistan has even dropped their supposed war against the Tehrik-i-Taliban which was begun with such fanfare and artillery fire.  Do you doubt it?

Cutting Japan Loose from U.S. Support

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

The recent Japanese elections have caused Japan to turn a corner, or so the current analysis goes.

Japanese voters swept the opposition to a historic victory in an election on Sunday, ousting the ruling conservative party and handing the untested Democrats the job of breathing life into a struggling economy.

The win by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) ended a half-century of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and breaks a deadlock in parliament, ushering in a government that has promised to focus spending on consumers, cut wasteful budget outlays and reduce the power of bureaucrats …

“This is about the end of the post-war political system in Japan,” said Gerry Curtis, a Japanese expert at Columbia University. “It marks the end of one long era, and the beginning of another one about which there is a lot of uncertainty” …

The Democrats have pledged to refocus spending on households with child allowances and aid for farmers while taking control of policy from bureaucrats, who are often blamed for Japan’s failure to tackle problems such as a creaking pension system.

“The problem is how much the Democrats can truly deliver in the first 100 days. If they can come up with a cabinet line-up swiftly, that will ease market concerns over their ability to govern,” said Koichi Haji, chief economist at the NLI Research Institute in Tokyo.

“Because hopes for change are so big, the disappointment would be huge if the Democrats can’t deliver results.”

The Democrats want to forge a diplomatic stance more independent of the United States, raising concerns about possible friction in the alliance.

“The LDP is probably going to be missed more in Washington than in Japan,” said Michael Auslin at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Yea, other nations have had that problem of huge disappointment at the broken promises too.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes before reality sets in.  As for forging a future more independent of the U.S., we should oblige them.  Stability in the Pacific rim, particularly for South Korea and Japan, has been assured by the financially convenient arrangement to rely on the umbrella of protection afforded by U.S. military power.

China has been profoundly unwilling to help with the neurotic dictator in North Korea for the same reason that its Navy has been more aggressive in Pacific waters (mostly littoral waters) and cyberwar is being forced on the U.S. by China.  There is no proximate threat to its security.

The best way to ensure that North Korea is reined in is to help South Korea to become independent of U.S. help and protection.  Once this is effected, the silly “sunshine diplomacy” with the North will be history.  Likewise, the easiest way for China to feel the effects of a militaristic neighbor on its coast and forget its preoccupation with the U.S. military is to let Japan become truly independent of U.S. military protection.

The Democrats in Japan probably aren’t thinking about U.S. protection when they say that they want a future more independent of the U.S.  But a change to Article 9 the Japanese constitution should occur within short order if it is made clear that their umbrella has evaporated.  It is believed that Japan is a de facto nuclear state anyway due to the fact that it could produce nuclear weapons in about a year.

There isn’t any reason that Japan should feel the freedom to forge closer ties with Asia while at the same time it relies on nuclear protection by the U.S.  If Japan wants to grow up, we should let her.  But growing up comes with new responsibilities – expensive ones.  It’s doubtful that the Democrats planned for that.

Counterinsurgency, Brutality and Women in Combat

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

Generally I think that articles which rely on the ideas of other bloggers is to be avoided.  Occasionally however, it is appropriate to respond to critics.  One strength of blogging is the ability to link, criticize, interact, and respond.  I accept that although I don’t want it to dominate my prose.

Now for Gulliver at Ink Spots.

People will use just about anything as evidence for things they already believe.

Case in point: Herschel Smith thinks that the presence of women in Soviet combat formations is one of the top five most important reasons for their failure in Afghanistan.

I think that other things were essential to the loss, including [a] focus on the cities v. the countryside, [b] complete breakdown of the lines of logistics due to [a] above, [c] heavy losses because of Taliban control over the roads due to [a] above, [d] focus on mounted combat and mounted patrols as opposed to dismounted operations, [e] women in combat billets which led to a high number of lower extremity injuries and a high number of combat ineffective units, and a whole host of other things. [emphasis mine]

This comes in the SWJ comment thread about an article on “Sri Lanka’s disconcerting COIN strategy,” as part of a post in which Smith dismisses Soviet “ruthlessness” as one of the primary reasons for defeat in the Afghan war.

So in short, girls in the infantry were more damaging to the Russian war effort than bad counterinsurgency tactics. “There is the thing of testosterone, and it’s different because God made it that way.” Ok? Ok. Glad we cleared that one up.

Let’s think carefully about both my comment and Gulliver’s reaction to it.  Both say something about the commenters and their thought boundaries.  The comment was left at the Small Wars Journal blog in response to an article by Major Niel Smith.  If I may be allowed to summarize the thesis, he posits that the more violent and less population centric counterinsurgency model has its supporters.  He specifically mentions Ralph Peters and Colonel Gian Gentile; I’m not sure sure about Ralph Peters, but I would comment that the inclusion of Colonel Gentile in this category is true to some extent, but somewhat inappropriate given the nuance included in Gentile’s model and also given the use made of this inclusion (for one of the best discussions of Gentile’s position, see The Imperative for an American General Purpose Army That Can Fight, Foreign Policy Research Institute).  His (Niel Smith’s) discussion ranges into the brutality of less population centric counterinsurgency, and in this he should have (in my opinion) focused more on Edward Luttwak.

But getting back to the main point, Niel goes on to grant the assumption that some of the evidence is compelling in favor of this view, but that there is even more compelling contrary evidence – defeater evidence – for the success rate of counterinsurgency focused on heavier combat tactics.  At this point he uses several examples, one of which is the Russian campaign in Afghanistan.

So Niel has written a fairly open minded article positing that there is evidence to support what I will call the Luttwak position, while more compelling defeater evidence.  He then invites critique.  In my critique I didn’t weigh in on the overall thesis, but did essentially state that the Russian campaign was a poor example to support the thesis.  I opined that there were other more important reasons that the Russians lost the campaign.

Enter Gulliver.  He thinks that I have listed my top five reasons that the Russian campaign failed.  Why Gulliver thinks that I have listed my top five reasons is not known.  Gulliver would have to answer that question himself.  If I had been asked to list my top reasons that the Russian campaign failed, I probably would lead with focus on the population centers and relegation of the countryside to the Taliban to recruit, train and raise support.  In second place wouldn’t be U.S. help and assistance, although many would place this one in first or second.  My second reason (challenging for top spot) would be the existence of the Russian made RPG, plentiful to the Taliban for reasons that included U.S. help.  The Russian RPG was the first EFP (explosively formed projectile) used en mass on the battle field.

But no one asked me to enumerate my top five reasons the campaign failed.  I merely included a list of things that initially came to mind.  Let’s deal with women in combat now.  Gulliver’s response drips with sarcasm even after his incorrect assumptions concerning my list of reasons that the Russians lost.  But it remains undisputed that there were women in combat billets in the Russian campaign, and it remains undisputed that there were a large number of lower extremity injuries and that this led to a large number of ineffective units.

Marine in Helmand suffering under a heavy combat load, way more than 100 pounds.

But there is more to discuss on this issue.  As regular readers know, we have followed the dismounted campaign by the U.S. Marines in the Helmand Province.  CBS reporter Lara Logan has seen the Marines in Helmand without an ounce of fat on their bodies, and she has even expressed concern over their health.  When my son deployed to Fallujah he was so slim and muscular that I wondered how he would lose any weight whatsoever, as there was no weight to lose.  The only way he lost 20 or 30 pounds was the same way the Marines in Helmand do it.  The body turns on itself and begins eating muscle for energy.  I am a weight lifter and I know how to avoid this, i.e., I know when to stop my workout because I am no longer helping my body.  It’s actually dangerous, although Ms. Logan doesn’t know how to express it.  The body hurts itself when it begins using muscle and internal organs for energy.

Here is a test question.  We have discussed the Marines carrying 120 pounds on their back in 120 F heat in Helmand, patrolling all day and even conducting squad rushes with this weight.  Now for the question for the readers.  How many of you – raise your hands now – believe that women could carry 120 pounds in 120 F heat all day in Helmand and then conduct squad rushes?  You can answer in the comments – it’s okay.  But if you answer yes, you are also required to tell us what kind of dope you’ve been smoking.  You see, we all know what the honest answer to this question is, even if Gulliver doesn’t admit that he does.

Now let’s close with a little examination of what the Democrats think about special forces, special operations forces, and women in combat billets.  I support women in the military, and one example of such a role would be the use of female Marines to interact with Afghan women after terrain has been seized.  But the Democrats in Congress ( hereafter Dems) wanted something different for the Army.  Hence, women occupy combat billets in the Army.

The Dems want their social experiments and projects, but even they know that there has to be a boundary for this.  Michael Fumento has a good article on the Dems’ love of SF and SOF and their promise to expand the SF.  I have weighed in on the cult of Special Forces, so I won’t reiterate my issues with the Dems’ proposal or Michael Fumento’s prose here.

The point is that SF are deployed all over the globe.  They are involved in black operations that are never seen, never heard of, and are not subject to the Dems’ social experiments.  The Dems know this and they want it that way.  Women are not allowed in combat billets, not in the Special Forces, not in the Special Operations Forces, and not in Marine infantry.  The Dems want their programs, but they also want to know that they can call on infantry to do the job of infantry, so they restrict their own programs to known boundaries.  I challenged those boundaries and believe that they should not allow women in Army infantry.  The Dems include women in Army infantry.  But they stop there.  Not the Marines, and not Army SF.

There you have it.  They are at the best simply not forthcoming, and at the worst, disingenuous liars.  The truth gets spoken in quiet circles when no one but the power brokers are listening.  The public hears what the power brokers want them to hear.  One piece of that tripe is that there is no difference between men and women in the military.  They know better, but don’t want you to know that they know.

Now back to Gulliver … if Gulliver has managed to hang on and pay attention this long.  Is it I who has allowed his bias (presuppositions) to dictate the outcome, or Gulliver?  Note again his comments above.  Gulliver is simply indignant that I have “dismissed” Soviet ruthlessness as the reason for their failure in the campaign.  But isn’t he begging the question?  Has he not even allowed the Niel Smith’s assumptions to dictate the course of the debate?  Niel has allowed that there is evidence that supports Luttwak’s thesis, but believes that there is stronger defeater evidence.  Gulliver doesn’t engage in the debate.  He simply assumes that the Soviets lost due to the reasons he outlines, and then proceeds from there.  Who then is the one who uses just about anything as evidence for things he already believes?

The reader can judge for himself.  In the mean time, I have given you Luttwak, Gentile, Niel Smith, women in combat billets, heavy combat loads, squad rushes, the Small Wars Journal blog, SF and SOF, black operations and the Dems in Congress to think about.

If I ever give you worthless tripe like you read at Ink Spots, you should savage me in the comments.

McChrystal Releases Counterinsurgency Guidance and Requests More Troops

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

General McChrystal recently released counterinsurgency guidance for the ISAF.


From the very first executive summary statement, the mission(s) of protecting the people and destroying the enemy are set in juxtaposition with each other, as if contradictory or somehow mutually exclusive.  We have dealt with this before in Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN, so this issue will not be reiterated except to say that no one – no one, not the so-called COIN experts at CNAS, not military historians, no one – has demonstrated that for success in counterinsurgency we must focus away from killing the enemy.  Iraq was done the opposite way, with heavy kinetics and intelligence driven raids a huge part of the campaign from 2006 through 2008.

There is much with which to agree in the document, including what the Marines are doing in the Helmand Province to exemplify the guidance contained in this document – heavy interaction with the population.  Furthermore, it is obviously necessary to protect the population from killers and get the population involved in the fight against the insurgency.  But there are so many things with which to disagree it’s difficult to know where to begin.

Page 2: ” … an insurgency cannot be defeated by attrition; its supply of fighters, and even leadership, is effectively endless.”  Well, this simply isn’t true.  Turning to the most recent counterinsurgency campaign in our history, Operation Iraqi Freedom, I know something about how the Marines approached the campaign in the Anbar Province.  To claim that the U.S. Marines bifurcated and set in opposition the notions of protecting the population and killing the enemy is worse than just dense.  It’s dishonest.  Tens of thousands of insurgents were killed, Anbar was pacified before the balance of Iraq, and the supply of insurgents wasn’t endless.  I just don’t know how to be clearer.  This claim is simply false.

Next is this jaw unhinging claim on page 3: “We must think of offensive operations not simply as those that target militants, but ones that earn the trust and support of the people while denying influence and access to the insurgent.  Holding routine jirgas with community leaders that build trust and solve problems is an offensive operation.  So is using projects and work programs to bring communities together and meet their needs.  Missions primarily designed to disrupt militants are not.”

Now just to make sure that we are clear on this, jirgas are good.  Community projects are good.  But this statement goes so far down the path of the Western-trained PhD sociology student that it’s unclear why we aren’t reading that “flowers are beautiful, butterflies are too, and I love you!”  (Colonel Gian Gentile also warns against the notion of “weaponizing” cultural knowledge because it is an illusion).

Now.  Note the claim.  After outlining various things that could be considered offensive operations, it is stated that missions designed to disrupt militants is not offensive.  This is so gobsmackingly outlandish and juvenile that it really casts serious doubt as to whether we can grant any legitimacy whatsoever to this document.

After having to perform squad rushes against Taliban positions in Helmand recently, it’s doubtful that the Marines will have any use for this guidance.  This document seems to be the kind of thing that staff officers discuss with field grade officers who discretely roll their eyes, while the junior officers wouldn’t be caught telling their reports that their recent squad rush directly into Taliban fire wasn’t really an offensive operation.

The guidance has highly poignant and intelligent moments such as on page 4 when it recognizes that the insurgents will sometimes set themselves off from the population (such as with Now Zad where we have been begging for more Marines), and in such circumstances it is wise to engage in high intensity kinetics because of the opportunity presented to us.  But then the guidance devolves to the almost absurd, such as on page 5 where it is stated of the Afghan National Army that we should “Put them in the lead and support them, even before they think they are ready.  Coach them to excellence, and they will amaze you with how quickly they take charge.”

This sounds more like a football coach pep talk than a General advising his troops.  It will likely have little traction with U.S. forces who have watched the ANA engage in drug abuse, smoke hashish before patrols, collude with Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops, themselves claim that they cannot hold Helmand without Marines and fear being killed if they even go out into the streets, be relatively ineffective against Taliban fighters, sleep on their watch, and claim to be on vacation in the Helmand Province.

The incoherence of the document and perhaps mildly or moderately insulting and preachy manner will limit its usefulness in the field and even in the classroom.  Fortunately, while this document is being sent to leaders in Afghanistan, General McChrystal is quietly preparing to give the administration options, all of which include more troops (although not as many as we had recommended).

The general is leaning toward three major options — the “high risk strategy” is to add only 15,000 troops to the 68,000 that will be on the ground by the end of this year — as in, the highest risk of failure. The “medium risk strategy” is to add 25,000 troops, and the “low risk strategy” is 45,000, according to a senior defense adviser helping craft the plan.

Also fortunately, the enlisted Marines in Helmand won’t be reading this document.  They don’t have time, as they will be doing what the author of this document has not discussed.  They will be engaging in full orbed, comprehensive counterinsurgency in their area of operation, from jirgas to squad rushes.  Let’s hope that the balance of the forces will be doing the same thing in spite of the guidance.

Should U.S. Troops Return to Iraqi Cities?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

Omar at Iraq The Model had previously observed that Iran’s IRG was most likely behind the recent bombing attacks in Baghdad (or so it was reported by Azzaman).  Mohammed updates us with news that Maliki is blaming the Syrian administration for the attacks, and is demanding that certain Ba’athists be handed over to Iraq.  He further speculates that Maliki is going after Syria as the weakest link in the trouble-makers in the region as a straw man.

I had initially suspected not the Ba’athists, nor AQI, but Iran and the IRG or perhaps the Quds.  I believe that AQ is essentially dead in Iraq.  But this doesn’t mean that the Sunni insurgency is dead.  The New York Times has a happy report on lake Habbaniya being enjoyed by Sunni and Shi’a alike, but a more clear headed assessment is given to us by Jane Arraf through the Council on Foreign Relations, entitled Reappraising U.S. Withdrawal from Iraqi Cities.

When you talk to Iraqi officials, they believe this is a fight for survival. The Shiite-led government believes that there are Baathists who want to topple them. There are Iraqi officials who firmly believe that there are military people, former Baathists, who want to launch a coup. And that doesn’t make the Sunnis feel very secure, particularly since we’ve seen things like the governor of Baghdad, Salah Abdel-Razzaq, saying that they might arrest some Sunni members of parliament in connection with these bombings. That creates a huge division.

Iraqi and U.S. officials always say the key to stability is reconciliation, and by that they mostly mean reconcilitation by the Maliki government [Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] with the Sunni groups including, former insurgents and the Sunni political parties. In the aftermath of the bombings, it’s hard to see where they go from here with all the accusations that have been thrown around. And then there are Iraq’s relations with its neighbors. Over the weekend, the governor of Baghdad said Saudi Arabia was behind this. The interior ministry released a taped confession which may or may not have actually been a confession from someone who says that Syria was involved in this. That doesn’t really bode well for Iraq’s relations with neighboring countries. And we have to draw a difference there between the government and the foreign ministry. The foreign minister, who is Kurdish, actually has very good personal relations with the Saudis. But the Saudis hate Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and they hate the Shiite-led government. Iraq is a really complicated place to begin with but this attack, and its repercussions, could really threaten stability.

There is no question that the recent bombing, along with the sectarian behavior and ineptitude of the ISF, causes the Maliki administration to look weak and unable to ensure security.  She then goes on to discuss the issue of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Iraqi cities.

There’s a very delicate dynamic right now. The whole idea was that after June 30, the United States would step down from security in the towns and cities. There wouldn’t be combat troops in the street and it would truly be an Iraqi show. And it’s happened perhaps to a faster extent than even the U.S. commanders would have envisioned. I was in Ramadi and Anbar Province and the local Iraqi police wanted the Marines to help, but decisions to ask for U.S. help had to be made by the Anbar operations command, which is an arm of the operations apparatus attached to the prime ministry. It has not made a single request for help from the Marines since June 30 and that’s the case in a lot of these towns. Which was all well and good up until last Wednesday. Those bombings indicated to a lot of people that we have to stop pretending that things are fine and that applies to the U.S. commanders as well. One Iraqi senior official told me literally that they can’t pretend that everything’s fine as they engage in a responsible drawdown. Because in some cases, Iraqi security cannot handle it. They don’t have the intelligence capability. They don’t have the technology to detect explosives.

They don’t have a lot of the more sophisticated skills and the technological assets they actually would need to be able to fight this insurgency. They certainly have what it takes in terms of cultural knowledge, obviously, but this is still an insurgency. When you can build two-ton truck bombs in the middle of Baghdad, which is, according the interior ministry, where it happened, and then drive them through the streets, there’s got to be something wrong there.

But the discussion doesn’t drive to the root of the issue with whether the Marines could ever again perform combat operations in the Anbar Province.  On the occasions that Marine bases in Anbar take rocket attacks, the first reaction is to call Iraqi Police.  The Status of Forces Agreement has the Marines’ hands tied.

At the security meeting this week, Marine officers reminded their Iraqi counterparts that US forces were available to help with intelligence and surveillance, biometrics to identify suspects, and defusing explosives.

The security agreement, which requires the Marines to give the Iraqis 72 hours notice to move outside their base and then only with Iraqi escorts, has left part of the battalion with so little to do that more than 500 Marines are being sent home early.

While looking inept, the Maliki administration has “bet the farm” on the readiness of the ISF, virtually ensuring that the U.S. forces do not contribute to the future stability of Iraq.  This bet might prove to have been a bad one, and regardless of being in the minority, if the Sunnis feel that they haven’t been included in the power sharing, there will be trouble.  While the Sunnis still must be addressed, it is clear that Iran has not been.

The Marines will leave Anbar, and very soon.  They will not be back inside the cities or anywhere else for that matter, nor should they be under the current SOFA.  Any future participation in the affairs of Iraq by the Marines should be under a revised SOFA that gives them the latitude to close with and destroy the enemy, project force, and ensure their own protection.

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