Boar Down!

Herschel Smith · 30 Oct 2022 · 11 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]

Kamdesh Troops Were Sitting Ducks: The Importance of Terrain

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

From the AP.

Afghanistan Soldier Funeral

Stationed at a remote, undermanned Army outpost in a dangerous patch of northeastern Afghanistan, Stephan Mace knew trouble was brewing. His father says U.S. military commanders should have known that the troops there “were sitting ducks.”

Larry Mace’s soldier son was buried Monday at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, one of eight U.S. troops killed earlier this month in Kamdesh when several hundred militant fighters armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades stormed their base, known as Combat Outpost Keating.

The attack at Kamdesh, along with a similarly costly battle a year earlier in nearby Wanat, have emerged as powerful symbols of the challenges the Obama administration faces as the war in Afghanistan enters its ninth year.

Without more troops and firepower, the Taliban-led insurgency will grow stronger. But devoting more people and equipment risks an open-ended commitment to a war increasingly unpopular with the American public.

American commanders didn’t reinforce Keating or pull the troops that were there out in time, Larry Mace said.

Led by an Army band, Stephan Mace’s flag-draped casket was borne to the grave site on a horse-drawn caisson. Under blue skies with a cool wind blowing, he was remembered as an all-American boy from rural Virginia who answered his country’s call to duty. After three rifle volleys by a firing party, a bugler played Taps. A bagpiper followed with Amazing Grace.

More than a year before the firefight at Kamdesh, nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 27 more were wounded when their base at Wanat, a village about 30 miles from Kamdesh, was nearly overrun by insurgents.

“The only differences between the two (battles) are the dates and the names of the soldiers killed,” Larry Mace said. “They haven’t changed their game plan. They’re fighting a war with too few people.”

Following the Oct. 3 battle that killed Stephan Mace, U.S. forces left Keating and another outpost at Kamdesh. The withdrawal had been planned before the attack had occurred, according to the NATO-led coalition.

A spokesman said the shift was part of a new strategy outlined months ago by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to shut down difficult-to-defend outposts and redirect forces toward larger population areas to protect more civilians.

Even as his son was being remembered as a hero, Larry Mace remains angered by the circumstances surrounding his son’s death. Stephan was home in August on two weeks leave. Sitting in the living room of their home in Winchester, Va., Mace said Stephan told him the Taliban were massing in Kamdesh.

Yet strict rules of engagement kept the soldiers from taking aggressive action to prevent an attack, Larry Mace said.

Mace recalled that Stephan gave his dog tags to his brother Brad before returning.

“I think he knew he wasn’t coming back,” Larry Mace said.

Born in Falls Church, Va., Stephan Mace was the second-eldest of four brothers. He joined the Army in January 2008. Mace was made a “19 Delta,” Army parlance for a cavalry scout, and assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson, Colo. He was sent to Afghanistan in early 2009.

When he was home just a few weeks ago, Stephan anguished over returning to Keating, his father said. Dedicated to his unit, there was no doubt he would go back. But he was weighed down by worries the base was vulnerable to an onslaught he felt sure was coming, according to Larry Mace.

Photos that Stephan Mace took in May of Outpost Keating showed a base located on low ground, surrounded by craggy outcroppings that made ideal hiding spots for enemy fighters.

His father had also noticed a physical change in his son. He’d lost about 20 pounds from his 185-pound frame, a combination of the rigors of military life and the stress of being on the front lines.

Larry Mace had planned a fishing trip with Stephan, who alternated between the Mace home and staying with old high school friends while on leave. But on the day of the outing, Stephan didn’t show.

Larry Mace didn’t see his son before he left. In text messages they later exchanged, Stephan asked his father to forgive him.

“Of course I did,” Larry Mace said.

Is this a sickness within the American military?

Afghanistan Soldier Funeral

Take a look once more at the Wanat video linked in a previous article.  Now recall a comment left by Slab at Analysis of the Battle of Wanat.

Where I think you hit the nail on the head is when you mention the terrain. The platoon in Wanat sacrificed control of the key terrain in the area in order to locate closer to the population. This was a significant risk, and I don’t see any indication that they attempted to sufficiently mitigate that risk. I can empathize a little bit – I was the first Marine on deck at Camp Blessing back when it was still Firebase Catamount, in late 2003. I took responsibility for the camp’s security from a platoon from the 10th Mountain Div, and established a perimeter defense around it. Looking back, I don’t think I adequately controlled the key terrain around the camp. The platoon that replaced me took some steps to correct that, and I think it played a significant role when they were attacked on March 22nd of 2004. COIN theorists love to say that the population is the key terrain, but I think Wanat shows that ignoring the existing natural terrain in favor of the population is a risky proposition, especially in Afghanistan.

We know that the Taliban are going to conduct mass assaults against our positions.  We know that they want the advantage terrain offers them.  Yet we continue to emplace Combat Outposts manned by platoon-size U.S. forces in the absolute worst locations imaginable from the perspective of terrain.  The … worst … locations … imaginable.

Really.  What gives?  Is this a sickness within the American military?  McChrystal’s position, i.e., deploying the troops in population centers, obviously neglects the countryside in a tip of the hat to the (utterly failed) Soviet model.  But the answer to failed combat outposts in poor terrain is not to withdraw.  It’s to position the outposts on favorable terrain for force protection and garrison them with the right number of troops.

What’s hard about this?


Attack at Kamdesh, Nuristan

U.S. Marines to Return to Amphibious Operations

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

The title of the Navy Times article is Amphibious ops to become default mode for MEUs, but the import is much larger than that.  It’s more than just about MEUs.  The Commandant wants to return to amphibious roots – generally.

Determined to get Marines directly involved with the fight against pirates and other threats at sea, the Corps is reinventing its seven expeditionary units.

Major changes, some already underway, will make the MEUs even more potent and versatile than they are now, equipping them with the latest weapons, gear and capabilities while ensuring they’re thoroughly trained to be the premier on-call first responders for any number of worldwide contingencies.

Officials want to shift their focus away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — many MEUs have cycled through multiple combat tours during the past several years — and back to being “Soldiers of the Sea.”

A new policy issued in August updates the baseline MEU structure with new and future weapons systems and redefines its core capabilities to include 16 essential missions, along with special operations tasks already in high demand today. It’s the first big overhaul since Sept. 25, 2001, and touches on everything from pre-deployment training to the specialized skills Marines will need to get these jobs done.

“Amphibious forces are increasingly likely to be tasked with counterterrorism, counter-proliferation and counter-piracy missions,” Marine officials wrote in “Amphibious Operations in the 21st Century,” a doctrinal paper released earlier this year. “These will likely involve amphibious raids conducted for the purposes of destroying terrorists and their sanctuaries, capturing pirates or other criminals and seizing contraband, rescuing hostages or securing, safeguarding and removing materials to include weapons of mass destruction.”

Deployed MEUs serve as key “theater reserves” overseas, ready to respond to regional contingencies or crises. Each is designed as an air-ground task force with the capability to operate and launch missions at sea within six hours or operate ashore for a month before needing any resupply.

“A lot has changed in the last eight or nine years,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Impellitteri, MEU policy officer in the Expeditionary Policies Branch at Plans, Policies and Operations at Marine Corps headquarters. “We wanted to streamline the [mission essential task list] to make it basically say … this is what the MEU needs to do.”

MEUs will continue to be centered on battalion landing teams, and while the new policy outlines basic structure — still about 2,200 Marines composing air combat, ground combat and logistical combat elements, plus a special operations element — the MEU commander can tailor the force to fit his expected needs. Increasingly, there is a host of new assets from which to choose.

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, for example, left its home at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in May with the MV-22 Osprey, the first MEU ever to take the tilt-rotor aircraft on an overseas pump. Navy SEALs, once a routine component of amphibious ready groups, have largely disappeared, but the creation of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command and the re-emergence of Force reconnaissance offer comparable capabilities.

The U.S. may not need to conduct a hostile amphibious assault on a foreign shore anytime soon, but an MEU’s ability to decimate enemy forces or, with help from the Navy, quickly dole out humanitarian aid in the aftermath of a natural disaster, preserves the Corps’ role among the services as the expeditionary force in readiness.

Moving forward, amphibious ops will be the MEUs’ default mode.

“As the generals are fond of saying,” said Col. David Coffman, who commands the 13th MEU out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., “if there’s a sword to be drawn at sea, shouldn’t a Marine be wielding it?” …

The MEUs’ aviation and ground mix also is in transition.

As the Corps modernizes its inventory with new equipment, such as the UH-1Y Super Huey, AH-1Z Super Cobra and eventually the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, MEUs will begin to look and operate differently.

“You basically have an entirely new [air combat element], platform by platform,” Coffman said. “We have to decide what that mix is like again.”

His 13th MEU was the first to deploy with the UH-1Y, providing an operational test as the fleet grows, but none of the current units training or deployed have a Super Huey aboard. The 22nd MEU has a squadron of Ospreys, but with several years to go before that aircraft arrives at West Coast bases, Olson’s 11th MEU left San Diego with CH-46E medium-lift helicopters as its aviation core.

Coffman wants to see the MEUs expand their ISR — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — assets, to include unmanned aerial systems. His battalion landing team had smaller drones, but adding systems such as the Scan Eagle would only strengthen intelligence gathering.

My commentary has been opposed to MEUs as they currently exist, as well as wasteful spending on the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  The Commandant wants to return to their expeditionary and amphibious roots, but against what enemy?  If the enemy is a stable nation-state with the power and industry to deploy mines, and employ air ordnance and air power against the landing team, sending EFVs and LCACs would be disastrous.  The U.S. is not prepared for the thousands of Marine deaths that would result from a conventional, full bore amphibious assault on a state even smaller than a near peer, much less a large and powerful near peer.

If the nation-state is unstable (or even essentially non-existent), then it’s unlikely that air artillery and air ordnance would be employed against an amphibious assault, and so the EFV is unnecessary.  It’s not that the EFV design is not state of the art, but rather, that the art doesn’t match the need.  But if I’ve been opposed to the EFV and the notion of full bore amphibious assaults, I have also advocated that the Marines be prepared to retool the Amphibious Assault Dock and air power and support to air-based landings farther inland.

That’s why, after seeing the maintenance problems with the V-22 Osprey in Iraq along with its inability to navigate the high elevations of Afghanistan, I have recommended that the U.S. Marine Corps not be so quick to retire its currently fleet of helicopters (Marines can fast rope from the CH-46 but cannot from the Osprey), and plan for a new fleet of helicopters.  The Osprey can serve some functions (it’s faster and can fly higher and further), but cannot replace the helicopter (certainly not as a weapons platform).

But I have also recommended that the U.S. Marine Corps rethink how it does MEUs.  The current practice of deploying entire Battalions of Marine infantry on board amphibious assault docks to float around the Mediterranean, Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf for nine months so that pilots can get flight time, the Navy can get ship time and the Marines can waste time in every bar between here and there is worse that wasteful.  It’s an immoral expenditure of U.S. tax dollars.

If there is actually a need for a Battalion of Marine infantry in some certain circumstance, e.g., fighting pirates, then a MEU should be deployed with very specific mission orders for landing, sea-based fighting, etc.  But writing white papers about fighting pirates is one thing.  Actually fighting them is another.  I have previously mentioned that I interviewed one Marine Scout Sniper who had a pirate in his sights but refused even to ask for permission to fire because of ROE, and because “no one wants to deal with the lawyers.”  Reality is not the same thing as white papers written by Lieutenant Colonels sitting in the Pentagon.  We will finally have to deal with the issue of ROE or deploying MEUs to fight piracy is yet another waste of time and resources.

Next, I’m not convinced that training to utilize amphibious landing equipment (such as the LCAC) requires nine month deployments of entire Battalions of Marine infantry.  There are better uses of Marine infantry than sitting them on board Amphibious Assault Docks awaiting deployment orders for forces in readiness that never come, and hasn’t come in decades.

It’s one thing to be amphibious capable, and entirely another to be amphibious obsessed.  The future of the U.S. Marine Corps is to be a ready strike force, capable of deployment any time, anywhere, via any platform, with skills that cannot be duplicated otherwise.  This might include an amphibious component, but the focus shouldn’t be only on amphibious operations.

So at least in part I disagree with the vision of the Commandant, and I certainly don’t support the use of infantry trained Marines to perform humanitarian missions.  But I also strongly believe in resourcing the campaigns before us.  The Marines have left Anbar, having done an extraordinary job in what I believe to be one of the most remarkable counterinsurgency campaigns in history.  More than 1000 Marines were lost in Anbar.  They will never be forgotten.  For this fight to have been for the Army alone is inconceivable.  It is equally inconceivable that Afghanistan would belong exclusively within the Army’s domain when so many Soldiers are so exhausted, and so many Marines are currently aboard Camps Lejeune and Pendleton planning for their next amphibious operation that in all likelihood will contribute essentially nothing to the security of the United States.  I know that it shouldn’t be this way – and so does the Commandant.


Strategic Decisions Concerning Marines and Expeditionary Warfare

Arguments Over the EFV and V-22

Navy and Marines to Part Ways Over Expeditionary Strike Groups?

Kill the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis on Going Deep Rather than Long in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

Gareth Porter writing for the Asia Times discusses an unpublished paper written by Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis currently making its way around Washington.  Rather than focus on what Porter says Davis says, we’ll briefly spend some time on the alternative Davis offers.

His paper is entitled Go Big or Go Deep: An Analysis of Strategy Options on Afghanistan.  Davis’ first problem is that U.S. troops (and ISAF) are seen as “invaders” or “occupation forces.”  Our troops have been there for eight years and are likely to be there many more under this plan, and this potential downfall of the campaign has not been given its due in the deliberations to date.

His second problem with the go big option is that the requested troop levels (on the order of 40,000) is not nearly enough.  He continues cataloging his objections including (but not limited to) the fact that logistics will be difficult for more troops, the government is corrupt, and the startup of ANA forces has been more difficult than has been expected (and likely will not be sustainable by the Afghan economy).

Davis then begins his “go deep” alternative.

“Go Deep” is a comprehensive and pervasive strategy that incorporates critical components of the intelligence community, special operations forces, conventional military forces, military Advise and Assist units, governmental assistance and development, provides economic advisors, features educational development, and other elements of national power that are synthesized to form a unified, two-track objective: to 1) conduct an aggressive counterterrorist effort associated with 2) robust, focused support to indigenous governmental and military forces. Far from representing a “retreat” from Afghanistan, it “goes deep” into numerous elements of the region.

In its most basic form, Go Deep seeks to simultaneously build and strengthen the Afghan government, help develop its economy, place an increased emphasis on drastically increasing literacy rates through targeted education programs, and invest in the development of its armed forces while simultaneously conducting an aggressive regional counterterrorist campaign. This plan completely agrees with the majority of opinion-leaders that we cannot abandon Afghanistan. Where it differs, however, is in which levers of national power we should use to give us the best chance of achieving national policy objectives.

For reasons outlined throughout this paper, I believe that Go Big uses the wrong instruments and could unintentionally make our situation worse, while Go Deep uses a more nuanced approach – but one that is aggressive in its intent to attack and destroy America’s enemies while being equally aggressive in its support of America’s friends.

He continues with his vision for the campaign.

Far too often the advocates of Go Big deride anything as a minimalist approach which “relies on drones and missile attacks from off shore.” In fact, Go Deep – while exploiting all the capabilities resident in both the striking and ISR (intelligence, security, and reconnaissance) features of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – relies on a full range of capabilities resident in the United States Department of Defense and Central Command.

We will use covert agents, in conjunction and association with locals to develop (and expand) human intelligence resources that help to identify the Taliban and other insurgent leaders from the non-insurgent people – no easy task. We will indeed make extensive use of unmanned aerial vehicles for intelligence and reconnaissance as well as Predator missile attacks once the enemy is positively identified. We will continue to exploit all technical means of tracking them, to include cell phone intercepts, satellite imagery, and other tools of the intelligence world.

Davis then makes several observations concerning detractors of his strategy.

One of the biggest fears voiced by many adherents of the Go Big theory is that if the US Military withdraws, the Taliban will overcome the ANSF and take Kabul. But the Go Deep concept does not envision the complete withdrawal of American and NATO military forces. Go Deep recognizes that the training of the ANSF continues to be an important component of an eventual strategy resulting in the complete withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan. In the near term, however, the plan would be to set an 18 month time frame during which the bulk of American and NATO combat forces would be withdrawn from the country. Concurrent we would focus on training the ANSF to continue deepening and broadening their abilities. But I recommend that we limit the number of Afghan National Security Forces to the numbers approved by the September 10, 2008, Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB): 134,000 members of the ANA and 80,000 members of the ANP …

Meanwhile, the United States and/or NATO would establish a base of Special Operation Forces which would continue working with the ANSF throughout the country to continue developing Human Intelligence sources by which kinetic operations against irreconcilable or unrepentant insurgent and/or terrorist forces would be identified, targeted, and killed or captured.

Davis mentions troop exhaustion as an ongoing and increasing problem, and finally mentions his view of the objection that the counterterrorism approach he advocates might lead to a resurgent Taliban who would again give safe haven to al Qaeda.

Would the Taliban, then, open those same doors in areas they may control in the future? That outcome is anything but certain. In the October 5th Newsweek article previously cited it is instructive how the Afghan Taliban members now refer to Arab al Qaeda. An insurgent named Maulvi Mohammad Haqqani said of al Qaeda: “We gave those camels [a derogatory Afghan term for Arabs] free run of our country, and they brought us face to face with disaster.” While the Taliban certainly have no love for the United States, neither do they feel any sense of obligation to paying for an al-Qaeda launching pad with their blood. They described in excruciating detail the horror they experienced and the slaughter they suffered from American attacks in October 2001 when they ruled the country.

Analysis & Commentary

Davis’ analysis is remarkable for its contradiction and also for his disbelief of his own views.  On the one hand, it’s not likely under his plan that the Taliban would return to power with the slightly smaller but more well trained Afghan National Army along with SOF performing counterterrorist HVT strikes – or so he claims.  On the other hand, he feels that is is necessary to address the objection that a return to Taliban control would mean a return to safe haven for al Qaeda.  But if it’s true that his plan would prevent a return to Taliban control, and also if it’s true that occupying forces give the Taliban their currency (and without us they wouldn’t have a raison d’être), then it shouldn’t be necessary to predict what would happen if the Taliban returned to power.

On the one hand the corrupt ANA and ANP are one of the biggest problems (and to be fair, our own coverage of ANA and ANP has been unforgiving, but still truthful).  On the other hand, reliance on them along with some HVT strikes by SOF is the cornerstone of his plan.

On the one hand logistics is a problem for more troops (and again, see our own coverage of logistics for Afghanistan which has, to our knowledge, been unmatched).  On the other hand, a small footprint with a corrupt ANA and ANP and possible return to Taliban control over the countryside apparently doesn’t impress Davis as leading to intractable logistics problems with the SOF we leave in Afghanistan.

On the one hand, Davis wants SOF performing HVT raids to take out big actors based on robust intelligence.  On the other hand, leaving the countryside to Taliban control doesn’t impress Davis as being a problem for this intelligence after collaborators are beheaded.

On the one hand, Davis observes that we don’t have enough troops to secure Afghanistan, noting the large scale engagements such as the battle of Wanat (see our own article on battles in Nuristan and Wanat in the context of massing of enemy troops).  On the other hand, a smaller ANA and fewer U.S. troops are somehow superior to what we now have and would be able to hold the terrain.

On the one hand, more U.S. troops to secure the population and kill the insurgents would be seen as an occupying force, turning the Afghan population against them.  On the other hand, SOF operators who do not protect the population but who come and kill their family members in the middle of the night are somehow acceptable to the population.

The fact of the matter is that recent Marine Corps operations in Helmand found that they were in the beginning stages of gaining the human intelligence necessary to find and weed out the enemy, but also that  fear of retribution is everywhere.  Security is paramount to the Afghans, even above schools and other assistance.  While the typical counterinsurgency tactics of population engagement and nonkinetic operations have been employed, the locals want us to chase and kill the Taliban.

It’s understandable that an alternative to a long term effort is being sought in Afghanistan.  These are happy thoughts, to be sure.  Pristine intelligence, dedicated truck drivers for logistical supplies, a highly trained and smaller ANA which can do the job of 400,000 – 500,000 combined troops, drones which give reliable information that never leads to killing noncombatants, fuel for the drones, safe SOF operators who can launch raids out of their protected FOBs, CIA operatives throwing around satchels of cash to get tips, a willing Afghan population, and so on the dream goes.

But the reality of the situation is that there are even now foreign fighters in Afghanistan, and the rejection of al Qaeda by Haqqani means nothing to the new head of the TTP, Hakimullah Mehsud, who views al Qaeda with love and affection, or to Mullah Omar who views UBL with admiration, respect and love.

The reality of the situation is that collaborators would be beheaded in short order.  The reality of the situation is that truck drivers who now practice strap hanging to U.S. convoys would all be blown up and killed.  The reality of the situation is that the Taliban would indeed return to power, and that al Qaeda swims in these waters.

The reality of the situation is that going deep is not an option, but rather, a daydream.  “Going deep” is a nicely packaged strategy for failure.  There is going big or going home.  Both of these are viable options.  Davis does raise an important moral dilemma when he discusses the condition of the troops who are repeatedly asked to deploy.  But Davis is ignoring a huge gold mine of resources.  As I have pointed out before, I have not in four years seen the density of Marines aboard Camp Lejeune that I do now.  The Marines are no longer in Anbar.  They are one of three places.  Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton, or aboard amphibious assault docks wasting time and money as forces in readiness.  Sure, there are some at other places such as Twenty Nine Palms, Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, and so on.  But the bulk of Marines are located in the states.  While the Commandant has visions of wasteful spending on Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles and catastrophic amphibious assaults against unknown stable-state enemies, the campaign suffers in Afghanistan awaiting forces.  The Marines can and should answer the call.

But if the forces are there to conduct the campaign, Davis’ point remains salient.  Committed leadership is needed, not vacillating questions and demurrals.  And if leadership is committed, the nation can be brought along.  If the nation is brought along, the troops necessary to get the job done can and will be deployed.  This will mean an increase in the size of both the Army and Marines, and out of the several trillion dollars Timothy Geithner has printed over the last nine months, some must be found for the military.

Prior and recently related:

Can an Insurgency (and Counterinsurgency) Remain Static?

The Slow Fall of Kandahar

What Kind of Counterinsurgency for Afghanistan?

Counterinsurgency v. Counterterrorism

Why are we in the Helmand Province?

Discerning the way forward in Afghanistan

Afghanistan: What is the Strategy?

A Return to Offshore Balancing

Can an Insurgency (and Counterinsurgency) Remain Static?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

Our friend BruceR floats some ideas in a recent post, two of which are at least tangentially related.  In the first idea he cites A. J. Rossmiller from TNR.

First, the insurgency does not have the capability to defeat U.S. forces or depose Afghanistan’s central government; and, second, U.S. forces do not have the ability to vanquish the insurgency. It’s true that the Taliban has gained ground in recent months, but, absent a full and immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, it cannot retake sovereign control. This is not to say that Afghanistan isn’t unstable; it clearly is. That has been the case for eight years, however, and, in the absence of some shocking, unforeseen development, it could be true for another eight or 18 or 80 years. An increase of tens of thousands of troops will not change that fact, nor will subtle tactical changes. Rather than teetering on the edge of some imagined precipice, the situation in Afghanistan is at a virtual stalemate.

I disagree, but let’s hold our response in abatement until we cover the second idea.

I am firmly convinced that a shift to a “small footprint” counter-terrorism mission is not only possible but will best serve U.S. national security. To use a military term of art, the bottom line up front is that the United States could successfully transition to an effective small footprint counterterrorism mission over the course of the next three years, ending up with a force of about 13,000 military personnel (or less) in Afghanistan.

BruceR is not advocating the CT position – perhaps, it’s hard to tell – but it appears that he is merely linking it as another idea in the long chain of ideas floating around about Afghanistan at the moment.  Let’s go with that.

To buy into the first notion, i.e., that an insurgency (and counterinsurgency) can remain static for an undefined and protracted amount of time, you would have to believe that both sides are seen as equally righteous, virtuous and within their rights in conducting the campaign.  U.S. troops (and the ISAF) are foreigners, and there would be, it seems, an element of expectation that foreign troops not continue to play a game to a draw, thus prolonging the misery and agony of war for the people.

I will grant the point that there is no particular rush (as in days or even perhaps weeks) in supplying more troops to Afghanistan.  Readers can tool back through the archives and will fail to find a “sky is falling unless we supply more troops within the next two weeks” article.  But if I haven’t advocated panic, I have advocated more troops all along just as I did with Iraq.  I believe that the fear of too large a footprint is vastly overblown, and the more important element for population control and alignment with the counterinsurgent is force projection, progress and increasing stability.

Concerning the small v. large footprint, the element missing in all of the analyses which advocates the counterterrorism approach is the unstated assumption that we can continue to have basing rights, adequate logistics, ordnance, air support and intelligence while we leave the countryside (and urban centers) to Taliban control.  Why, exactly, anyone would believe that there would be any Afghan truck drivers to deliver fuel, food, vehicles, etc., when they will have all been beheaded, is a complete mystery.

Logistics is the beginning, middle and end of a campaign.  Without it, troops don’t succeed.  I was among the first to point out the insurgent strategy of interdicting supplies one and a half years ago while stolid and incompetent U.S. Generals (like Rodriguez) were claiming that the campaign was going just swimmingly.  As our logistics category shows, we have covered this ever since, and the problems continue apace.

To believe that we – the counterinsurgent – can continue to swim in the same sea of vehicles, air traffic, food, water, ordnance, weapons and intelligence support for SOF operators who are killing Taliban and al Qaeda HVTs, while at the same time we send nine tenths of the troops home is simply a fairy tale.  It’s the stuff of children’s stories.

Finally, concerning the small footprint model, continuing the campaign for the next 18 or 80 years, as the stupid TNR article said, without properly resourcing the troops to do the job, introduces an intractable moral dilemma to the argument.  Even if the proposal has been put forward as a straw man for the sake of debate, the argument presupposes that it’s acceptable to the American public to sacrifice the sons of America for a campaign that doesn’t have what it needs to succeed.  This has never happened in American history, and it won’t happen this time either.  It will be resource the campaign or get out – in the psyche of the American public, and in the countryside of Afghanistan.  Both point to a nexus for the campaign.

Military Limits Publishing Images of U.S. Casualties

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

In our coverage of the pictures posted by the Associated Press of Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard I called the AP editors who chose to publish the photo liars.  To me the rule they broke was fairly clear.

” … as long as the service member’s identity and unit identification is protected from disclosure until OASD-PA [Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs] has officially released the name. Photography from a respectful distance or from angles at which a casualty cannot be identified is permissible.”

The last clause stands on its own.  Embedded reporters may not publish photos prior to notification of the family, and also may not publish them even after notification if the terms of the agreement are violated, i.e., if the casualty or the unit can be identified.

They chose to break the pre-embed agreement they signed, and thus did they lie.  Now the Washington Post is carrying a clarification of the position of the U.S. military and ISAF.

The U.S. military command in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday imposed a new ban on publication of photographs taken by embedded journalists that identify American war casualties.

The restriction is outlined in ground rules for reporters embedded with U.S. forces battling Taliban insurgents in eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistani border. The new rules say that “media will not be prohibited from viewing or filming casualties; however, casualty photographs showing recognizable face, nametag or other identifying feature or item will not be published.”

The new rules mark a change from a broader rule issued Sept. 30 that said, “Media will not be allowed to photograph or record video of U.S. personnel killed in action.”

The restriction on publishing was prompted by controversy over an Associated Press photograph of a mortally wounded Marine. An embedded AP photographer took a picture of Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard during a firefight with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in August, and the AP published the photograph last month over the objections of Bernard’s family and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

“After that incident, we felt that for the sake of the soldier and the family members that was what we needed to do,” said Lt. Col. Clarence Counts, a spokesman for the U.S. military command in eastern Afghanistan. He said the earlier rules “left it too wide open with regard to protecting the soldier and his family members if we had a KIA,” he said, referring to a service member killed in action.

Before the incident, the command’s rules had stated that the news media would not be prohibited from covering casualties provided several conditions were met, including gaining written permission from the wounded before publishing any images that could identify them and waiting until after the notification of next of kin to publish photographs of those killed in action …

The revised ground rules ease the Sept. 30 restriction by allowing casualties to be photographed, but the publication prohibition remains. The new set of rules appears contradictory, though. Another provision permits release of images of wounded troops if they give permission, stating that “in respect to our family members, names, video, identifiable written/oral descriptions or identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without the service member’s prior written consent.”

I had gone on record saying that if I was proven wrong concerning the rules at the time of publication of Joshua’s photo, I would retract my charge that the AP editors are liars.  It appears to me that the “clarification” issued by the military is just that, or in other words, additional wording that makes it unappealing for the media to lawyer their way out an agreement.

I’m still waiting for proof that the rules at the time of the embed didn’t spell it out in enough detail to be damning by itself.  If the AP wants to send me the agreement I will study it and issue a retraction if it can be proven that I was wrong.

Brian Palmer writing at the Huffington Post takes issue with my assessment of the situation surrounding the publication of the photos.  More correctly, he lets the reader make his own mind up concerning whether Joshua’s face is identifiable.  Brian correctly says I “hammered” the AP.  And so I did.  I will hammer anyone who steps on the parents of military men who are fighting our wars in contravention of their signed agreements.

As a final note, Brian says that contributors to The Captain’s Journal have been critical of his own reporting from Iraq.  Well, perhaps, but this isn’t the full story.  Brian’s reporting from Anbar was admirable and informative, but I took issue with his characterization of the rules of engagement (Recon by Fire, otherwise called the Drake Shoot) as potentially killing noncombatants without also acknowledging that the tactic of hiding in a field wouldn’t be used again by the insurgents after this incident.  There are both intended and unintended consequences to every event.


Concerning Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard

Publishing the Marine Photo: Remember the Words of Christ

The New Battle for Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

Amir Taheri recently had a commentary in the New York Post which shouldn’t be passed over.

The next general election is three months away, but Iraq is already in high gear for what promises to be a hard-fought campaign over the future of the newly liberated nation. The outcome could determine the course of politics in the Middle East and the future US role in that turbulent region.

Three camps are emerging.

The first is a bloc of 40 groups led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Known as The State of the Law, the coalition promises a modern democracy transcending ethnic and sectarian divides.

Maliki quit his Islamist party, Dawa (The Call), precisely because of its Shiite sectarian nature. His new coalition includes both Arab Sunni and ethnic Kurdish groups. Yet he hopes to still attract many Shiites — who, after all, are the majority of the population.

The second camp is known as “the party of Iran.” Its hard core consists of the remnants of the Mahdi Army (Jaish Al-Mahdi) of the maverick mullah Muqtada Sadr and splinter groups from Dawa led by former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. A third Shiite group, the Supreme Islamic Assembly of Iraq — led by Ammar al-Hakim, a junior mullah — provides the remaining leg of the pro-Iranian triangle.

Jaafari is emerging as Iran’s candidate for prime minister — if his bloc, known as the Iraqi National Alliance, wins control of the National Assembly (parliament). Last week, Jaafari visited Iran to be feted by “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“The American era is ending,” Iran’s official news agency quoted Jaafari as saying. “We must prepare for a new era in which Islamic forces set the agenda.”

The third camp is formed by secular Shiite groups, led by ex-Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, plus Arab Sunni parties led by Saleh Mutlak and the remnants of the Ba’ath party.

This camp enjoys support from such Arab states as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Its principal theme: With the US embarked on a strategic retreat under President Obama, Arab states must do all they can to prevent Iran from dominating Iraq and emerging as the regional “superpower.”

Iraq’s Kurdish community, some 20 percent of the population, is also split. Massoud Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party has indicated it might support Maliki’s bloc in a common bid to preserve Iraq’s independence from Iran and Arab states. The new Change (Goran) bloc, which made spectacular gains in the last Kurdish local elections, also opposes Iranian domination.

Yet the other longtime Kurdish party — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by President Jalal Talabani — argues that, with the US unwilling to provide leadership, Kurds must look to Iran as their protector against Arab nationalism. The Kurdish branch of the Hezbollah also supports the Iranian option.

Behind all this are Obama’s hints that he might speed up the withdrawal of US forces before 2011, short-circuiting the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the Bush administration. The American president’s obvious attitude has hurt Iraqi politicians who advocate strategic alliance with Washington.

“Obama is not interested in Iraq,” says analyst Ma’ad Fayyad. “This is because, if Iraq succeeds as the first Arab democracy, it might look as if Bush was right after all.”

Obama’s tepid, not to say hostile, attitude toward Iraq’s new democracy has some Iraqi politicians recasting themselves as anti-Americans …

“If Obama wants to run away, no Iraqi can afford to appear more pro-American than the US president,” says a political advisor to Maliki.

Meanwhile, Iran is throwing in everything to defeat Maliki and seize control of Iraq’s government …

Commentary & Analysis

Taheri’s analysis is cogent and well formulated until it goes off track into considerations of the Status of Forces Agreement.  Confined to a training role, and with no patrols allowed, much less kinetic operations, and also having to inform the Iraqi Security Forces upon troop movement of any sort for any reason whatsoever, the SOFA has left the U.S. forces powerless and ineffectual in their role.  There is no reason for them to be in Iraq.  This is not Obama’s fault.  The blame lies at the feet of both Bush and the Iraqis.

But if the SOFA is in Bush’s court, the lack of interest in Iraq lies with Obama, and the current regional empowering of Iran has continued from the Bush to the Obama administration.  The Obama administration, however, took a giant leap into morally dubious (and also stupid) territory when they released Iranian Quds members expecting to get anything in return.  They have also shamefully abandoned the MEK.

Given the situation as it exists, the war now is both covert and political.  We are losing on the political front, but it doesn’t have to be this way.  Omar at Iraq the Model has information about a significant escalation in the covert war.

Unknown gunmen assassinated 30 Mahdi Army commanders in the Syrian capital Damascus. The killings, made in the past few weeks, were all made “quietly, inside the victims apartments”, said an unnamed source in the Sadr movement. The source added that among those assassinated was Laith al-Ka’bi, who commanded the Mahdi Army in the Palestine Street neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. The report adds that large numbers of Mahdi Army operatives left to Iran out of fear the assassinations wave could expand to target them.

This is a positive move, but given one view of things (from one Army intelligence officer) in the war on the CIA conducted by the Obama administration, it’s doubtful that the CIA was involved.

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.

Indeed.  Much less would targeted killings be conducted by the CIA.  As both an intelligence-gathering and covert warfare organization, the CIA is effectively finished until and unless a framework is put into place that protects their agents and until an administration which is intelligence-friendly is elected.  Whomever is responsible for this (Mossad, Ba’athists in Syria?) did both America and Iraq a favor.  Obama would do well to pay Iraq a visit and express the urgent need for Iraq to abandon hopes of ties with Iran.  The war in Iraq has now taken a different turn, and we will adjust and adapt or lose to the Iranians.

Department of Defense to End Preemptive Military Strike Doctrine

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

From Bloomberg:

The Pentagon is reviewing the Bush administration’s doctrine of preemptive military strikes with an eye to modifying or possibly ending it.

The international environment is “more complex” than when President George W. Bush announced the policy in 2002, Kathleen Hicks, the Defense Department’s deputy undersecretary for strategy, said in an interview. “We’d really like to update our use-of-force doctrine to start to take account for that.”

The Sept. 11 terrorist strikes prompted Bush to alter U.S. policy by stressing the option of preemptive military action against groups or countries that threaten the U.S. Critics said that breached international norms and set a dangerous precedent for other nations to adopt a similar policy.

The doctrine is being reassessed as part of the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review of strategy, force structure and weapons programs. Hicks is overseeing the review.

Commentary & Analysis

Kathleen Hicks is currently Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Forces.  She is a major actor in the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review 2010.  When referring to the co-called Bush doctrine of preemptive military force (or otherwise anticipatory self defense), she is referring to the doctrine outlined in a Bush speech at West Point in 2002.

For much of the last century America’s defense relied on the cold war doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking.

Deterrence, the promise of massive retaliation against nations, means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.

We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants who solemnly sign nonproliferation treaties and then systematically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize we will have waited too long.

Homeland defense and missile defense are part of a stronger security. They’re essential priorities for America.

Yet the war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge.

Ms. Hicks is no neutral observer in the DoD deliberations going on to set strategy, decide force size, select weapons systems and allocate dollars.  Her position has been made clear.

The election of Senator Obama fewer than twelve hours ago has already elicited an outpouring of good will from throughout Africa, Europe, and South Asia, and in Afghanistan. In defense and security circles, we’ve spent the last five years arguing over how to win the War of Ideas against radical Islamists.

I think the answer to that debate is now at hand. The election of Barak Obama is the most profound American idea since the onset of the so-called Global War on Terror. We are indeed at a crossroads. The Obama team must seize on the momentum of this day in crafting its national security policies, freeing the terms justice, freedom, and democracy from their association with preemption, hegemony, and hubris. Ideas, after all, can only be sustained through action.

This is a well worn theme, and Senator Byrd in his pre—Iraqi war resolution address to Congress quoted from a Congressional Research Service September 18, 2002 report that said “The historical record indicates that the United States has never, to date, engaged in a ‘preemptive military’ attack against another nation.  Nor has the United States ever attacked another nation militarily prior to its first having been attacked or prior to U.S. citizens or interests first having been attacked, with the singular exception of the Spanish—American War.”

But such a position is remarkable for its ignorance of American history.  When Continental Congress formed (then two Battalions of) the U.S. Marine Corps on 10 November, 1775, they knew exactly what they were doing.  They had the British model throughout their very own history from which to learn, and that model was entirely imperialistic.

From the first attack on Tripoli in 1805, to the 1871 attack on the Han River forts in Korea, to the 1899 attack on Filipino insurgents at Novaleta (and further engagement of the insurgents in 1901 on Samar), to the 1914 landing in Mexico at Veracruz over an issue with German weapons, to the 1915 engagement in Haiti, to World War I and World War II, and so on and on the list goes, America has a robust history of intervention, anticipation and preemption.

Whatever position is taken on Operation Iraqi Freedom or any other campaign, the question is one of agreement or lack of it for a particular action.  The paradigmatic actions of the Corps is not in question.  Their use was set into motion before the declaration of independence.  Max Boot argues that:

… we have often sought out battle, not waited for it to come to us. Many such interventions have been undertaken as part of America’s long-standing commitment to act as a global policeman. Between 1800 and 1934 Marines staged 180 landings abroad. Some were in response to attacks on United States citizens or property but many were launched before such attacks had occurred.

In the 20th century, these interventions often became quite prolonged. Woodrow Wilson sent Marines to occupy Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1915 and 1916, respectively. They wound up staying for 19 years in the former, 8 years in the latter. In neither case had there been a direct attack on the United States. Wilson acted for a variety of motives, but probably uppermost in his mind was a concern that Germany might exploit the political instability on Hispaniola to establish a naval presence that might threaten the Panama Canal.

Are these pre-emptive interventions a relic of bygone imperial days? Not quite. Witness the United States landings in the Dominican Republic in 1965 and Grenada in 1983. What were these if not pre-emptive assaults? In the former case, President Johnson feared that Communism might take root in the Dominican Republic; in the latter, President Ronald Reagan, regardless of what he said about imperiled medical students, feared that the Soviets might make use of an airfield being built on Grenada.

The Cuban missile crisis fits a similar mold. President Kennedy resisted calls to invade Cuba but he did not stand idly by waiting for Soviet missiles to be activated. He sent the Navy to quarantine Cuba, an act that easily could have sparked World War III. Kennedy acted even though there was no immediate or likely threat the missiles would have been used against the United States.

Robert Kaplan’s magnificent book Imperial Grunts has a stunning introduction entitled “Injun Country” (one cannot claim to understand the global war on terror before reading this volume). It’s a very erudite discussion of the roots of imperial defense of the homeland, and not just for Great Britain. Its orientation is America, and her defense began soon after she was a country by ensuring that her battles were on the periphery of the domain in the West between the U.S. Army and the Indian nations.

The turn of the century found the United States with bases and base rights in fifty-nine countries and overseas territories, with troops on deployments from Greenland to Nigeria, and from Norway to Singapore. Even before the 9/11 attacks, special operations command was conducting operations in 170 counties per year. Defense of the realm is not a new phenomenon in American history.

But regardless of the position one takes on imperial defense of the homeland, the troubling aspect of the news about the QDR is that a Deputy Under Secretary of Defense is deciding on issues of strategy, funding, force alignment and weapons with at least one purpose of removing the doctrine of anticipatory military action.  Once the doctrine is removed, the capabilities are sure to follow.  After all, that is the purpose of the Quadrennial Defense Review.  This administration’s presence may very well be felt in the military for many administrations to come.

Obama Administration Allows Russian Inspections of Nuclear Sites

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

Russia gets to count U.S. missiles and warheads according to a recent agreement sponsored by the Obama administration.

Russia and the United States have tentatively agreed to a weapons inspection program that would allow Russians to visit nuclear sites in America to count missiles and warheads.

The plan, which Fox News has learned was agreed to in principle during negotiations, would constitute the most intrusive weapons inspection program the U.S. has ever accepted.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said publicly Tuesday that the two nations have made “considerable” progress toward reaching agreement on a new strategic arms treaty.

The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, expires in December and negotiators have been racing to reach agreement on a successor.

Clinton said the U.S. would be as transparent as possible.

“We want to ensure that every question that the Russian military or Russian government asks is answered,” she said, calling missile defense “another area for deep cooperation between our countries.”

While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and give them our miniaturized nuclear weapons technology from Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories.  Let’s allow them access to Oak Ridge National Laboratory so that they can see how we cascade our enrichment of weapons grade material.  In fact, let’s just give them some of our weapons so that Russian scientists and engineers can study our material purity and weapons designs.

Talk about OPSEC (operational security) violations, this must be the mother of all offenses.  The Marines ban twitter, Facebook and MySpace because of just such issues, but Obama lets the Russians investigate and inspect the most significant deterrence to all out conventional war in the last half century.  Is there a problem with this picture?

A Strange New Respect for our Afghan Policy?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

I’m sorry to steal Paul’s Mirengoff’s thunder (i.e., post title), but it’s too good to pass up.

Fareed Zakaria contends that a troop surge is not necessary in Afghanistan because we’re succeeding there. Our central objective, he notes, is to deny al Qaeda the means to reconstitute, to train, and to plan major terrorist attacks. In this, says Zakaria, we have been successful for the past eight years.

Zakaria’s position is a plausible one and we have flirted with it on Power Line. But was Zakaria this sanguine about Afghanistan when Barack Obama and other opportunistic leftists were attacking President Bush for allowing the situation there to become “dire” while the U.S. focused on Iraq? Or does Zakaria’s assessment depend on which party occupies the White House?

In either case, Zakaria’s analysis, though plausible, is not terribly persuasive. He assumes the situation in Afghanistan is sufficiently static that the status quo will be maintained if the U.S. simply maintains present troops level. But war tends not to work that way. The U.S. may elect to stand still in Afghanistan but it’s unlikely that the other players will. For example, tribes and their leaders surely are trying to determine whether the U.S. is committed to defeating the Taliban and protecting local populations. If they conclude we are not, they are likely to gravitate towards the Taliban, to the detriment of the U.S.

Al Qaeda is also watching from across the border in Pakistan. If Zakaria is correct that the Pakistanis are stepping up their efforts against al Qaeda, then we can expect that elements of that terrorist outfit will gravitate back to Afghanistan if the U.S. is unwilling to surge and the situation contines to deteriorate. Worse, a weakened U.S. position in Afghanistan might well produce gains for al Qaeda in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. For, as the Washington Post concluded after interviewing Pakistan’s foreign minister, the Pakistanis are unlikely to persevere against al Qaeda if they see the U.S. falter.

Fareed Zakaria is little more than a court jester, a clown in a funny costume performing funny antics.  It has always been this way.  Paul’s brief analysis is the only thing that is plausible – that is, that this is all politically motivated.  The Captain’s Journal hates it when war is politicized at home when real leadership is needed and the lives of our warriors is at stake.  Paul is wrong.  It is wholly implausible that what Zakaria says is correct.

Having been said so many times before it probably doesn’t bear repeating, but it will be anyway by quoting Bruce Riedel.

One more thing: the view that you can win the war against al-Qaeda by just bombing al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan–you don’t think that can work, do you?


That’s part of the fairy tale?

That’s part of the fairy tale. We are doing a brilliant tactical job in degrading al-Qaeda today in Pakistan. It depends upon an intricate network of intelligence sources. At any time that network could start to dry up. At any time al-Qaeda could change operational procedures which would make it harder. Al-Qaeda operates in a syndicate of terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It swims among these groups: the Afghan Taliban, the Pak Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and others. And for eight years now, it has been able to successfully operate there by swimming in this environment. The notion that you can somehow selectively resolve the al-Qaeda problem while ignoring the larger jihadist sea in which [al-Qaeda] swims has failed in the past and will fail in the future. That’s what President Pervez Musharraf tried to do in Pakistan and it failed utterly. That, in many ways, is what [former President George W.] Bush and [former Vice President Dick] Cheney tried to do and it failed utterly. It’s a fairy tale, and it’s a prescription for disaster.

Speaking of swimming in the environment of the Pashtun region, commenter rrk3 observes:

I love the way the adminstration is now saying we can seperate the Taliban from al-Qaeda when the evidence to the contrary is right in front of everyone to see. The Taliban are actually laughing at at impudence because they know exactly how to exploit our tactical and now strategic policies.

It does look like that Pakistanis are going into South Wazeristan. We need to prepare for an influx of fighters from the FATA and hopefully meet some of the coming across the border.

Kinetic operations are a precourser to a successful COIN strategy not the other way around. It is better to have fewer insurgents to protect the people from. The only way to do this is to meet the insurgents in the field.

rrk3 and Bruce Riedel know what The Captain’s Journal knows.  There is no border, and AQ swims freely amongst the Taliban everywhere, stolid claims to the contrary.`

John Bernard in the news

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

Good friend of The Captain’s Journal John Bernard is in the news.

NEW PORTLAND, Maine — It was the last way John Bernard would have wanted his voice to gain prominence in the national debate over the war in Afghanistan. The retired Marine had been writing to lawmakers for weeks complaining of the new rules of engagement he believed put U.S. troops at unacceptable risk in the insurgency-wracked country. He got little response.

Then Bernard’s only son, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard — a Marine like his dad — was killed in an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province, the latest victim of a surge in U.S. combat deaths.

Three weeks later, Joshua became the face of that toll when The Associated Press published photos of the dying Marine against his father’s wishes and John Bernard was thrust into a national debate about the role of the press in wartime.

Suddenly, for all the worst reasons, John Bernard’s voice was being heard.

The loss of his son and the furor over the photo have given new resonance to his view that changes must be made in how the war is fought before President Barack Obama sends any more troops to battle the Taliban and al-Qaida.

“For better or for worse, I may be the face of this. That’s fine,” said Bernard, sitting on his porch as he drank coffee from a Marine Corps mug. “As soon as someone bigger can run with it, they can have the whole thing.”

Bernard’s criticism is aimed at new rules of engagement imposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, five weeks before Joshua Bernard was killed. They limit the use of airstrikes and require troops to break off combat when civilians are present, even if it means letting the enemy escape. They also call for greater cooperation with the Afghan National Army.

Under those rules, John Bernard said, Marines and soldiers are being denied artillery and air support for fear of killing civilians, and the Taliban is using that to its tactical advantage. In a letter to his congressman and Maine’s U.S. senators, Bernard condemned “the insanity of the current situation and the suicidal position this administration has placed these warriors in.”

“We’ve abandoned them in this Catch-22 where we’re supposed to defend the population, but we can’t defend them because we can’t engage the enemy that is supposed to be the problem,” he said in an interview with the AP …

The Taliban “are tenacious and you have to fight them with the same level of tenacity,” Bernard said. “If you’re going to try to go over there as a peacekeeper, you’re going to get your butt handed to you, and that’s what’s going on right now.”

[ … ]

It’s been a little more than a month since Joshua was buried in a small cemetery about five miles from their 1865 farmhouse in the rolling hills of western Maine, where the leaves of maples, oak, birch and poplars are turning fiery red, orange and yellow.

Bernard has accepted the loss, but his grief is obvious. He pauses from time to time to take deep breaths as he speaks of his son. Several times, he closes his eyes, as if remembering …

Bernard, 55, joined the Marines in 1972 and served 26 years on active and reserve duty, leading a platoon as a scout sniper in the first Gulf War in 1991. Physically fit, with closely cropped hair and a Marine Corps tattoo on his arm, the retired first sergeant remains a competitive shooter.

He and his wife, Sharon, raised Joshua and their daughter, Katie, 25, in New Portland, population 800. The family attended Crossroads Bible Church in nearby Madison.

Father and son shared the same philosophy: service to God, family, country and Marines — in that order, Bernard said.

Joshua was quiet, polite and determined. He led a Bible study in Afghanistan and earned the call sign “Holy Man.”

Fallen Marines father

It looks as if the family is happy and having fun, Josh is physically fit and has a medium-reg haircut.  This is good.  It’s the way he should be remembered.  Visit John at Let Them Fight.


Concerning Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard

Publishing the Marine Photo: Remember the Words of Christ

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