The Paradox and Absurdities of Carbon-Fretting and Rewilding

Herschel Smith · 28 Jan 2024 · 3 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]

Battling the Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

From The Washington Times:

KASHK-E-NOKHOWD, Afghanistan | Army Capt. Casey Thoreen wiped the last bit of sleep from his eyes before the sun rose over his isolated combat outpost.

His soldiers did the same as they checked and double-checked their weapons and communications equipment. Ahead was a dangerous foot patrol into the heart of Taliban territory.

“Has anyone seen the [Afghan National Army] guys?” asked Capt. Thoreen, 30, the commander of Blackwatch Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment with the 5th Stryker Brigade. “Are they not showing up?”

A soldier, who looked ghostly in the reddish light of a headlamp, shook his head.

“We can’t do anything if we don’t have the ANA or [the Afghan National Police],” said a frustrated Capt. Thoreen.

“We have to follow the Karzai 12 rules. But the Taliban has no rules,” he said. “Our soldiers have to juggle all these rules and regulations and they do it without hesitation despite everything. It’s not easy for anyone out here.”

“Karzai 12” refers to Afghanistan’s newly re-elected president, Hamid Karzai, and a dozen rules set down by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, to try to keep Afghan civilian casualties to a minimum.

“It’s a framework to ensure cultural sensitivity in planning and executing operations,” said Capt. Thoreen. “It’s set of rules and could be characterized as part of the ROE,” he said, referring to the rules of engagement.

Dozens of U.S. soldiers who spoke to The Washington Times during a recent visit to southern Afghanistan said these rules sometimes make a perilous mission even more difficult and dangerous.

Many times, the soldiers said, insurgents have escaped because U.S. forces are enforcing the rules. Meanwhile, they say, the toll of U.S. dead and injured is mounting.

[ … ]

The Times compiled an informal list of the new rules from interviews with U.S. forces. Among them:

• No night or surprise searches.

• Villagers have to be warned prior to searches.

• ANA or ANP must accompany U.S. units on searches.

• U.S. soldiers may not fire at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first.

• U.S. forces cannot engage the enemy if civilians are present.

• Only women can search women.

• Troops can fire at an insurgent if they catch him placing an IED but not if insurgents are walking away from an area where explosives have been laid.

Analysis & Commentary

After requesting help with getting clean water to drink, the local Imam told the U.S. unit they “need to go. Get out of Afghanistan or it will never be resolved. Between Islam and the infidel there can never be a relationship.”

“In my personal opinion, the Americans won’t be able to resolve this problem,” he added. “The longer they stay the more likely there will be another attack like Sept. 11. It’s only the Afghan people who will be able to resolve this problem.”

But the local elders and villagers aren’t fighting the Taliban.  Bing West reports that:

It is not obvious that winning the hearts and minds of village elders, or linking villages to Kabul, wins the war. Our soldiers note that the Afghans are happy to accept what we give them but do not reciprocate by turning against the Taliban. The elders don’t raise militias or secure recruits for the army, and they don’t fight; there has been no replay of that scene from The Magnificent Seven in which the terrorized villagers finally rise up against their oppressors. Instead, fearful locals plead with migratory Taliban gangs to move on. A rural population, no matter how content with its government, cannot stand up to such a tough enemy…

While I have a deeply rooted personal problem with those who won’t stand up to intimidation, I have also advocated more troops (for Iraq before it was popular, and now for Afghanistan when it is unpopular).  We have seen this before, this notion that the locals don’t want the Americans around.  It happened in the Anbar Province where the dispossessed Sunni population battled the U.S. Marines for three years.  We shouldn’t make too much of it.

But the difference is that while the the U.S. Marines in Anbar were remarkably successful, they were under no such rules as we see in Afghanistan.  They didn’t cede their authority to Iraqi Security Forces or even the local Iraqi Police, night time searches, seizures and census taking were an ordinary expectation, and there was no warning prior to raids and other kinetic operations so that the enemy could prepare his exit.

U.S. Marine Corps operations in Iraq may be said to be diplomacy with a gun.

Although negotiation can sometimes forestall violence, in Iraq it is more often the case that violence is a necessary form of negotiation. “Of the seven or eight tribes in my area,” said Maj. Morgan Mann, a Marine reservist who commanded a company in Babil province, south of Baghdad, in 2004-05, “one was the primary financiers and coordinators of most of the enemy activity.” Much as Capt. Bout did a few months later, Mann targeted the leaders of the “enemy tribe” with relentless house searches, heavy patrolling, cordon-and-search operations that shut down entire neighborhoods, and “very aggressive counterfire” — that is, shooting back intensely at attacking insurgents. “It culminated in my arresting the grand sheik of this tribe,” Mann said. “That was one of the no-no’s, supposedly. But as a result of that, we were able to get that sheik and about 20 or 30 of the sub-sheiks of this large tribe into a meeting in Baghdad to discuss how we were going to work together.” One of the subordinate sheiks put it bluntly to Mann: “I’m not your friend, but it doesn’t make sense for me to fight you” — for now.

I also know that a similar approach was employed in Operation Alljah in Fallujah in 2007.  But while the intent was all for the best, the rules’ own destruction were there in seed form.  While the intent was to win the trust of locals, the effect has been to humiliate U.S. troops and turn off the locals at the lack of force projection towards an enemy who offers no such friendship because they don’t need the help.  There intimidation works like a charm against U.S. forces whose strategy relies exclusively on the very people being intimidated.

The locals want us to chase and kill every last Taliban, even when there is the potential for collateral damage.  To be sure, efforts should be made to protect noncombatants, but dictating tactical decisions in the field by inflexible rule-making is not the stuff of victory in military campaigns, even in counterinsurgencies.  Neither is ceding authority to incompetent and corruption-ridden troops who represent a corrupt administration.

Finally, in what is perhaps the worst possible affect of the rules of engagement, troop morale is beginning to suffer.  A campaign whose troops are merely looking for an end to the deployment is doomed to failure.  The lamentable fact is that U.S. troops are battling the rules under which they operate as much or more as the enemy himself – and we are doing this to ourselves.

Defeating IEDs in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

This informative 60 Minutes video documentary on IEDs in Afghanistan is worthwhile viewing.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

But except for the increased sophistication of IEDs in Iraq as opposed to Afghanistan (or said another way, the more basic and simple IEDs in Afghanistan), this documentary could have been made in Iraq in 2005 – 2006 if urban terrain was substituted for rural.

Defeating IEDs will require force projection, chasing and killing the insurgents, and dismantling his networks.  No amount of technology will win the asymmetric fight against IEDs.  The fight against IEDs cannot be separated from the fight against the Taliban, as if enough technology will neutralize Taliban weapons while the Taliban are still active.

Marine Embedded Tactical Trainers at COP in Kunar

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

This video documentary, courtesy of the Unrestricted Warfare Analysis Center, is remarkable for its summary of various themes that can be found at The Captain’s Journal over the past three or four years, from control over roads to logistics, from the need for troops and force projection to the ineptitude of much or the ANA, from the difficulty of raising a coherent and cohesive Army in a culture that is inhospitable to such a concept to allowing the enemy control over the high terrain.  Each and every one of these ideas has been rehearsed and documented ad infinitum at TCJ.

You might remember Staff Sergeant O’Brien, USMC, from an earlier video documentary showing the problems associated with startup on the ANA.  It would appear that progress is halted and the problem quite protracted in nature.

The Afghanis must contribute to their own security

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

From Stars and Stripes:

SHAH JOY DISTRICT, Afghanistan — An old man approached U.S. soldiers and Afghan army troops and told them he knew of a madrassa where it was rumored that Taliban fighters had indoctrinated young men to become suicide bombers.

U.S. soldiers saw the tip as a huge break. Shortly after they had moved into the area in August, a Taliban suicide bomber had struck during a patrol in the Shah Joy bazaar, killing two civilians and wounding 12 soldiers.

The discovery of the Taliban religious school was the biggest find during a three-day operation in late October in Zabul province’s Chineh villages, which U.S. troops described as an important Taliban stronghold. No weapons or explosives were found, but graffiti inside the mud-brick compound indicated that the building had served as a Taliban safe house.

In a remote region where U.S. and Afghan security forces are scarce, villagers have largely thrown their lot in with the Taliban, either by choice or necessity. The madrassa tip was a small sign, the Americans hoped, that those sentiments may be beginning to shift.

“I think the people right now are not convinced — especially as you get farther away from the district centers — that their security interests lie with the government,” Shields said. “Our job is to convince them that their security interests do lie with the government, and that we’re here to stay.”

Long on the back burner, Zabul province has been considered primarily a transit route for Taliban fighters moving from safe havens in Pakistan into southern Afghanistan. Until recently, there were few international forces in the province.

But Zabul has suddenly gained importance as U.S. and other NATO military planners seek to improve security around the city of Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban and the most important city in southern Afghanistan.

In August, the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment from the 5th Stryker Brigade out of Fort Lewis, Wash., became the first large U.S. combat force to operate in Zabul.

The battalion’s battle space is huge, stretching over almost 1,600 square miles. And with almost no effective government throughout most of the province, it has been tough to establish relationships.

There are only two major towns in Zabul — Shah Joy and the district center of Qalat. Most of the population lives in scattered farming villages set among arid brown hills, where residents are lucky if they are visited by Afghan army or police patrols once a week or even once a month, according to Lt. Col. Burton Shields, the 4th Battalion’s commander.

Although the Taliban presence is evident throughout Zabul, according to U.S. troops, contact with insurgent fighters has been minimal. In addition to the 12 troops wounded in the August blast, three soldiers were killed when their Stryker was hit by a roadside bomb in September. “The enemy here is very smart,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Franco, the executive officer for Company C. “They definitely won’t engage us unless they know they have the advantage. And when they can’t, they’ll throw down their guns and come out and pretend to be our friends. It’s frustrating.”

So far, efforts to engage with local villagers have been largely unsuccessful. In Shah Joy, U.S. troops are often met with outright hostility — children throw rocks and even dead birds at them nearly every time they pass through, said Franco, 24, of Port Orchard, Wash.

During one patrol, soldiers from Company C sat down with elders in a village to discuss their problems.

“We asked what can be done to improve your situation here,” Franco said. “They said, ‘Our problems will be resolved when you guys leave and we can sit down and talk to the Taliban leaders.’ At least they were honest.”

During the three-day mission in the Chinehs, a number of soldiers said that even though the area had been identified as a suspected Taliban stronghold, the villagers were the friendliest of any they had encountered in Zabul. But when officers asked about the Taliban, they were usually met with blank stares or polite, noncommittal responses. Most villagers denied knowing anything about the Taliban. Some made slashing motions across their throats.

“You stay here for one and a half hours in our village, and when you leave, the Taliban will come in our homes and beat us or worse,” said one man.

Replied 2nd Lt. James Johnson, 23, of State College, Pa.: “Well, there’s nothing I can do to help you, if you don’t help yourselves.”

You may find a good land cover map of the Zabul Province here.  This kind of story is being hawked by advocates of disengagement from Afghanistan.  We aren’t wanted, they say.  We shouldn’t make too much of a sentiment like this.  The U.S. Marines weren’t wanted in the Anbar Province either, as the Sunnis were the sect evicted from power in Iraq.  But the campaign for Anbar was a success without their consent – at least, initially.

More than likely, they simply fear the Taliban (‘” … the Taliban will come in our homes and beat us or worse”), and don’t feel that the U.S. will be around long enough and in the force necessary to make a difference.  This is yet another of the thousands of examples we have covered that argue for more troops and adequate force projection.

But hear the case of Lt. Johnson again.  There aren’t enough troops in America to secure Afghanistan unless the Afghanis themselves contribute at least something to their own security.  Leave aside the issue of the ANA and ANP for the moment.  It is unimaginable that an insurgent could threaten and intimidate folk in, let’s say, Jones Gap, South Carolina for very long.  He would be met with guns and knives and mean dogs and people willing – even happy – to use them them all.

It is the insurgent who would be in danger, not the folk, and in a place like the upper part of the State of South Carolina or Western North Carolina one had best watch how he conducts himself.  In Anderson, S.C., the exploits of folk who shot the ole boy who thought he could go around intimidating people would soon become lore and legend for the children to hear.  This is not exaggeration.  I know the folk in Anderson and Jones Gap.

The Afghanis themselves must make the first contribution to their own safety and security, and without this commitment, more U.S. troops won’t change things in Afghanistan.  Lt. Johnson was raised in a place where the first and foremost obstacle to a full blown insurgency is the people themselves, and this is the way it must be to defeat the Taliban.

Will the bottom up approach work in Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

Steven Pressfield has probably led the charge to engage the tribes as a solution in Afghanistan.  But there is a growing chorus of voices saying the same thing.  The New York Times published an OpEd by Deepa Narayan on going from the bottom up as our strategy.

Myth No. 2: It is a weak state that is the problem. A central tenet in the current debate is that centralism is good and fragmentation is bad. The entire focus has been on presidential politics and on how to create a strong central state.

Our study shows, however, that in Afghanistan, with its rugged terrain, strong tribal affinities and extreme poverty, it is localism that will defeat poverty and corruption and knit a nation together.

More than 19 million people have participated in a community planning and budgeting process to decide how to best use government grants of around $30,000 per village. In a community in Kabul Province that was layered with 12,000 land mines, without a single standing building in 2002, the men decided to invest funds in reviving irrigation canals, and the women in electricity generators. Men in the village told us that animosities between the Tajiks and the Pashtuns had eroded as a result of the collective budgeting negotiations.

This assessment seems confused in that Narayan first hitches her wagon to the notion of strong tribal affinities, and then turns the argument on animosities between tribes being eroded by circumstances.  But if this assessment is confused, Tim Lynch has a better set of arguments for engaging the tribes.

But a seemingly definitive anthropological study on Afghanistan seems to debunk the idea that we can rely heavily on tribes.  It is entitled My Cousin’s Enemy is My Friend: A Study of Pashtun “Tribes” in Afghanistan, by the U.S. Army Human Terrain System.  This study doesn’t merely throw cold water on the idea of relying on strong tribal affinities.  It calls into question the very idea of reliance on local control at all.  The fractured nature of Afghan society, the treachery that underlies the familial structure (if there is any structure at all), and the constant internecine fighting, casts a dark shadow over plans to foment anything like what we saw in the Anbar Province in 2006 and 2007.  A few seed quotes follow.

“No clear evidence exists of tribes actually coalescing into large-scale corporate bodies for joint action, even defensively, even for defense of territory.”

“The tribal system is weak in most parts of Afghanistan and cannot provide alternatives to the Taliban or U.S. control. The Pashtuns generally have a tribal identity. Tribal identity is a rather flexible and open notion and should not be confused with tribal institutions, which are what establish enforceable obligations on members of a tribe.”

“… As a matter of fact in most cases tribes do not have observable organizations which could enable them to perform collective actions as a tribe.”

[ … ]

One reason why the “family tree” model of tribes doesn’t apply to Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan is because of the unique relationship between male father’s-side first cousins. It is so unique to Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan that one anthropologist goes so far as to say that first-cousin hostility is a defining feature of the Pashtun ethnicity.

The word in Pashto for “male father’s-side first cousin” is tarbur, which is, at the same time, also one way of saying “enemy” in Pashto.

Why would first cousins in a tribal society be enemies with each other? The standard model of a Middle Eastern “tribal society” says that close male relatives should be a source of support against more distant “relatives” in other tribes, not enemies.   For Pashtuns, it comes down to competition over the inheritance of land from common ancestors—especially from one’s grandfather on the father’s side.

[ … ]

“As an example, two […] cousins had neighboring plots. The cousin whose field was more distant from the village walked to his field on an ancient pathway which verged on the plot of his tarbur . There was a simmering dispute over the right to this narrow path which ended in a gunfight and the death of one of the man’s sons.”

[ … ]

The result of this special kind of intra-family relationship is that, during times when conflicts aggravate first-cousin hostility, the sides don’t necessarily break down along “closest male relative” lines. Whereas in a classical Middle East tribal situation, all the participants in a conflict pick sides based on which side represents their closest male relative, Pashtuns establish temporary factional groupings that are unpredictable and not necessarily based on familial relationships.

The entire document is worthy study for the thinking man or woman on Afghanistan.

My Cousin’s Enemy is My Friend: A Study of Pashtun “Tribes”

But even if there is a case to be made for stronger engagement of the locals in Afghanistan, we aren’t anywhere near the tipping point for such a strategy in Afghanistan.  In the Anbar Province in 2006 and 2007 the U.S. Marines were relentless and forceful enough that the idea of joining the insurgency was a distant third or fourth place in priority to joining the coalition.  In Fallujah in 2007 enough al Qaeda and indigenous insurgents had been killed and enough aggressive patrols had been conducted that the remaining locals respected the Marines to the point that every action and reaction by the IPs and Sons of Iraq were taken not only to suppress the insurgency but also to impress the U.S. Marines who were mentoring them.

We are currently on the defensive in Afghanistan and badly in need of more troops.  The advocate of tribal engagement has been bequeathed a high bar with this Leavenworth study, and even if there is a case to be made for such a strategy, it would appear many months and even years into the future, and indeed many Marines and Soldiers, from being a viable strategy.

Battling IEDs in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

The Marines are slogging through IED country in Southern Helmand.

This year has already become the deadliest for Western troops of the 8-year-old war, with more than 400 killed, more than in the entire period from 2001-2005. By far the deadliest weapon employed by the insurgents are homemade bombs.

The Marines, part of a force of 10,000 that Obama sent to Afghanistan earlier this year, pushed forward along a dirt road, sandwiched between two canals branching off the Helmand River and arrived at the village of Barcha to establish a base.

En route, about 24 bombs were intercepted by a team of engineers, ahead of a convoy of 25 armored vehicles and 80 men on foot, crawling at speeds averaging 200 meters (650 ft) an hour.

“It made (the Marines) move very slowly and methodically — it does nothing but slow down the operation,” said Captain Matt Martin, company commander for Golf company, one of four companies involved in the operation.

Step-by-step the team paced carefully, sweeping the dirt track with metal detectors for bombs, which they discovered in many sizes and forms.

Some were covered with pressure plates to trigger them with a wrong step; one contained 60 pounds (27 kg) of homemade ammonium oxide-based explosive bound with two mortars.

Every 45 minutes or so, a plume of dust puffed out onto the horizon, with a loud thud when the Marines fired rockets on the bombs to detonate them.

The quantity of bombs intercepted forced the convoy to stay overnight in their vehicles on the road after the first day.

By dawn the convoy started moving again in earnest as three more bombs were found and detonated. Then came the ambush — they were hit by insurgent gunfire in the late afternoon.

Marines are receiving advanced training on IEDs before deployment as reported by Tony Perry.  Battalions that go to the mountain warfare training center at Bridgeport, Calif., in the eastern Sierra are sent on a 68-mile overland convoy route to the Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. Along the route are simulated bombs and Marines playing the part of insurgents, attacking from ambush and firing AK-47s.


But the enemy goal has been accomplished, i.e., to slow the advance of U.S. forces and restrict the boundaries within which they can move.  Representative Duncan Hunter is tired of excuses and wants more eyes on the roads.  So too does Doug Grindle in a comment at the Small Wars Journal Blog.  Robert Haddick weighs in saying:

Watching for bomb-planters, avoiding unwatched roads, using helicopters, dispersing into more vehicles, and taking alternate routes across country will all help with the IED problem. But the real solution lies with offensive action against the IED networks. This will require aggressive patrolling, raiding, and the interrogation of captured suspects, actions that hopefully are not yet out of fashion.

To which Doug responds:

Regarding your 5th BCT Strykers piece:
Strykers are safer than humvees, the real alternative with limited MRAP resources, and hence not a mistake.
The reason the Strykers are getting blown up so spectacularly is because there is no regular route reconnaissance of MSRs, with sectors of the routes covered by dedicated units as was standard practice in Iraq. This is now changing slowly.
The idea that “aggressive patrolling, raiding, and the interrogation of captured suspects” is the solution is plain wrong. The best security comes from the locals themselves, specifically their cooperation with the security forces, and not from actions that will almost certainly alienate the locals from the COIN effort.

It’s simple.  Simple enough to call Robert’s counsel piffle.  Or maybe not.  Maybe there are those who know more about this issue than Doug.  The Marines still don’t have enough troops to cover the roads in Afghanistan.  Neither do the Stryker teams in Kandahar, especially if they are not conducting aggressive dismounted patrols, raiding and interrogating captured suspects.  And no, this approach is not unfashionable – or at least, it shouldn’t be.

All terrain MRAPs and additional advanced training will help.  But in the end the situation is tailor-made for guerrilla warfare.  We must man the campaign if it is to be successful.

As a (slight to moderate) change of the subject for movie aficionados, who has seen The Hurt Locker (a special feature for EOD techs)?  We need an educated reader to weigh in on this one since I haven’t seen it.

Marines Bring Calm To Helmand

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

One of our favorite reporters, Tony Perry with the LA Times, brings us a report from the Helmand Province.

By Tony Perry

November 8, 2009

Reporting from Nawa, Afghanistan

When 500 U.S. Marines descended on this Taliban stronghold overnight, Afghan civilians were immediately suspicious about the intentions of the heavily armed Americans.

One question dominated all others: How long will the Americans stay? Five months later, there is still no clear answer.

“The No. 1 question the Marines get is: ‘When are you going home?’ ” said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, an Iraq combat veteran and now the top Marine in Afghanistan. “They can’t believe we’re staying.”

Three battalions landed 4,500 troops in Helmand province in the early hours of July 2, the largest airborne assault since Vietnam.

But the long-term U.S. commitment to Helmand is unclear, as President Obama and Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, continue to reevaluate U.S. strategy.

One issue is whether U.S. forces should be massed more closely to large population centers, including Kabul, the capital, which could mean depleting the forces in rural regions like Helmand.

In mid-June about 200 Marines arrived here to relieve a beleaguered British platoon. Days later, 500 more arrived in helicopters to establish a central base, called Geronimo, and then smaller ones, including Cherokee here in Nawa.

After 10 days of intense fighting, the Marines pushed Taliban fighters out of several small villages. The troops fanned out and announced to startled villagers that they had arrived to protect the population from the Taliban.

But a whisper campaign, which Marines blame on the Taliban, suggested that the Americans would leave as soon as President Hamid Karzai was reelected. The message was clear: Anyone who cooperates with the Americans is marked for death.

“They’re very hesitant to trust us, and I don’t blame them,” said Capt. Frank “Gus” Biggio, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and Marine reservist who heads a civil-affairs team in Nawa. “For centuries, they’ve seen foreigners come and go, promises made and broken.”

The 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, which was assigned to protect Nawa, is set to return home to Camp Pendleton by Christmas. Advance elements of its replacement, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment from Hawaii, have already come to be introduced to the elders and be seen in marketplaces and other gathering spots. They will be on a seven-month deployment.

The Marines have held numerous meetings with village elders to convince them that they will protect the community until Afghan security forces are strong enough to take over. In return, the Marines asked for information on Taliban fighters’ movements and methods, including roadside bombs.

Dusty, sunbaked Helmand is considered the insurgency’s heartland. A person who is helpful and friendly with the U.S. one day may be helping the Taliban the next, Marines said.

“There are no quick fixes here, no resting on your laurels,” said Lt. Col. William McCollough, commander of the 1-5. “It’s up one day, it’s down another day.”

In the 1960s, the U.S. poured millions of dollars into building canals to irrigate the province’s fields of corn, wheat and fruit trees.

Officials of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development who arrived shortly after the Marines are planning to upgrade the canals, using local labor. They also hope that with more water, the farmers will not plant the opium poppies that supply the world heroin market and provide funds for the Taliban.

After the Marines arrived, Taliban fighters fled a few miles away to a community called Marja. The Marines have made no secret that, together with the Afghan national army, they plan to rout the Taliban from Marja in a sweep akin to that of the November 2004 battle of Fallouja, Iraq.

Nicholson, the Marine commander, calls Marja a “cancer in Helmand” that he is eager to eliminate.

Throughout the province — though not in Marja — Marines patrol daily, in Humvees or on foot, sometimes accompanied by Afghan soldiers. Marine civil-affairs teams, along with the civilian agencies, are working to win the confidence of villagers with small projects that hire local people to clear roads, take care of schools and build bridges.

The Marines are putting up plywood buildings to replace the hastily erected tents that house their troops, communication gear and other things. McCollough hopes the effort will thwart the village chatter about the U.S. leaving soon.

“In Afghanistan, that’s a permanent structure,” McCollough said of the buildings.

Though there may be anxiety about the future, everyday life for many people in Helmand has improved: Outside Nawa, the Taliban no longer has checkpoints on roads to extort money from people. A school, closed by the Taliban, is reopening.

The biggest change may be the flourishing marketplace. Under the Taliban, few storekeepers dared open lest they face extortion or punishment for selling Western goods.

But on Friday, dozens of stalls were open along two dusty streets, offering vegetables, fruit, candy, clothing, toys, motorbike parts and slaughtered chickens.

Several Afghans interviewed expressed differing opinions on whether the Americans would keep their promise not to leave abruptly. Some refused to talk about the Americans.

Nabi, 25, who goes by one name, has a U.S.-paid job clearing canals. He shrugged his shoulders when asked whether he thought the Americans would stay.

“I don’t know,” he said, with some hesitation. “Only God knows.”

This report has similar themes as those brought to us by Michael Yon concerning the permanence of structures and the desire (on the part of the Afghanis) to see the U.S. in the struggle for the long haul.  As a sidebar comment, both of these accounts serve as defeater arguments for Matthew Hoh’s arguments that the Afghanis don’t want us in Afghanistan (as pointed out by commenter Davod).  A counterinsurgency campaign is simply too complicated to sum up in a single line narrative, something that more maturity would have taught Mr. Hoh (Mr. Hoh should have given himself a couple more decades of wisdom and experience before weighing in on such serious national policy issues as whether the U.S. has business in Afghanistan).

But concerning Tony Perry’s informative report, the issue of patience and longevity is raised.  I have always been a proponent of seeing Afghanistan as the longest phase of the long war, and serious commitment is still necessary to win the counterinsurgency campaign.  But this report from Bing West also points to other themes in our stable of doctrines.

This is reminiscent of our counsel in Why We Must Chase the Taliban.  Yes, cut and run is not an option.  A sense of pseudo-permanence is required, and despite what the pundits claim the troops are available for this mission.  But eventually the enemy must be killed and it must be made highly unappealing to become a part of the insurgency.  This requires chasing and killing the enemy.

Israeli Seizure of Iranian Weapons

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

Courtesy of Blackfive here is a video of the recent seizure of an Iranian weapons shipment.

It’s the same pattern as before.  Major Shipments of weapons has occurred in the past and will keep occurring.  When this administration figures out that sugar and spice and everything nice won’t work as a foreign policy, a depression will set in at the State Department.  War will eventually come to the Middle East, and Israel will be left to defend itself while the current administration sits in malaise and bewilderment.

I predicted it.

Postscript: See also Michael Ledeen’s recent comments on this administration’s appeasement of evildoers here and here.

Prayers and Sympathies to Families at Foot Hood, Texas

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

I don’t have much wisdom to give at the moment, and I’m sure that details will come out in the future that will elicit more commentary from pundits across the blogosphere.  Right now, remember the families of the slain Soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, in your prayers.

Dangerous Precedents in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

From Stars and Stripes:

SHAH JOY DISTRICT, Afghanistan — An Afghan army commander whom American troops had dubbed “Snoop” was angry, accusing a U.S. dog handler of allowing his Labrador retriever to sniff a copy of the Quran while searching a cluster of villages that U.S. forces suspect is a Taliban stronghold.

The commander — named for his resemblance to the rapper Snoop Dog — warned 2nd Lt. Blake Wyant of Company C, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment that he and his men were ready to quit the village and never work with American forces again.

Wyant, 24, of Sioux City, Iowa, listened patiently until Snoop threatened to kill the dog if the incident happened a second time. Muslims consider dogs to be unclean.

Speaking through an interpreter, Wyant looked evenly at the Afghan commander.

“You tell him that’s not going to happen,” he said. “You tell him that shooting that dog would be just like shooting an American soldier.”

The incident and several others during the three-day mission last week in a suspected Taliban stronghold underscored the fundamental challenges that U.S. troops face in Afghanistan. As the war drags into its ninth year, and as President Barack Obama contemplates sending thousands more troops, Americans are fighting alongside Afghan government forces more closely than ever. But it’s an uneasy alliance.

Wyant and Snoop struck a compromise. The handler and his dog would not search any more houses without an Afghan interpreter present. Later, after Snoop and his men had moved on, the interpreter told Wyant that they had actually threatened to kill not only the dog, but all of the U.S. soldiers in the village as well.

“Well, I know that isn’t going to happen,” Wyant said. “We’re much better shots than they are.”

U.S. and other international troops are now also fighting under strict new counterinsurgency guidelines laid down in September by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The rules emphasize protecting Afghan civilians over destroying the Taliban. The goal is to convince Afghans, worn down by 30 years of warfare, that the Afghan government and its security forces offer them a better life than the insurgents.

Under the new policy, Afghan soldiers and police have been thrust to the forefront, with U.S. and other international troops playing more of a supporting role. U.S. soldiers say the policy has led to several changes in how they conduct operations, including a rule that prohibits them from cutting locks on doors while searching for weapons and explosives. That task is to be handled by Afghans.

But during their mission here, U.S. soldiers complained frequently that when Afghan troops came across a locked door, they left it alone if they couldn’t find anyone to let them inside — a practice that many soldiers said works in the Taliban’s favor.

“The ANA (Afghan National Army) is supposed to do that, but they don’t want to,” said Wyant. “You could probably put a lot of stuff in a room and lock it up, and we wouldn’t be able to get to it.”

Other soldiers said new rules have severely limited how they can react to enemy threats. Several soldiers recounted how, on Aug. 20, as Afghans cast their votes for president, they received mortar fire from a Taliban position in a village. The fighters were out of range of rifle fire, but the troops couldn’t fire back with heavy weapons because the Taliban position was in a populated area.

“You could see the house where they were shooting from,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Spaulding, 39, of Spring Hill, Fla. “They’d shoot, and then they’d walk around the side of the house to see where the rounds were impacting.”

“The enemy is smart,” he said. “They fire at us from a building inside a village, and they know we can’t fire back at them.”

Other soldiers said the restrictions were placing U.S. forces at too much risk.

“The rules of engagement here are so strict there is nothing we can do,” said Staff Sgt. Gary Grose, 31, of Alexandria, La. “We kind of shadow the ANA and drive around and get blown up.”

“It’s like tying a boxer’s hands and then throwing him into the ring and telling him he can’t use his feet to kick,” Grose said.

Analysis & Commentary

There were problems not dissimilar to these in Iraq.

… the Iraqi brigade, which is predominantly Shiite, was assigned a new area and instructed to stay away from Nasr Wa Salam, Colonel Pinkerton said. But he said he believed that the Iraqi soldiers remain intent on preventing Sunni Arabs, a majority here, from controlling the area. He cites a pattern of aggression by Iraqi troops toward Abu Azzam’s men and other Sunnis, who he believes are often detained for no reason.

Recently, and without warning, Colonel Pinkerton said, 80 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles charged out of their sector toward Nasr Wa Salam but were blocked by an American platoon. The Iraqis refused to say where they were going and threatened to drive right through the American soldiers, whom they greatly outnumbered.

Eventually, with Apache helicopter gunships circling overhead and American gunners aiming their weapons at them, the Iraqi soldiers retreated. “It hasn’t come to firing bullets yet,” Colonel Pinkerton said … Pinkerton’s experiences here, he said, have inverted the usual American instincts born of years of hard fighting against Sunni insurgents.

“I could stand among 1,800 Sunnis in Abu Ghraib,” he said, “and feel more comfortable than standing in a formation of Iraqi soldiers.”

But Iraq was primarily pacified before the Status of Forces Agreement was inked.  The SOFA now places U.S. Soldiers under virtual house arrest, and right now there are a lot of frustrated U.S. troops wasting a lot of time in Iraq.  The SOFA was an extremely bad idea that makes U.S. presence largely irrelevant in Iraq.

Hamid Karzai has pressed for a SOFA for U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, and thus far this request has been rebuffed.  But there is a dangerous precedent being set in the account above in spite of the lack of formal agreements.  The empowerment and growth of the Afghan National Army, due entirely to U.S. pressure, money and training, can have deleterious consequences on the campaign.  If the U.S. is not present and operating under the notion of sovereign power (due to the presence of enemies of state), then the campaign needs to come to a close.

Unless we wish to see the ebb of our influence in Afghanistan, no quarter can be given to rogue ANA units such as this one, no matter how much the administration wishes to withdraw from Afghanistan.  This ANA unit ought to have been immediately disarmed and disbanded upon learning that they had threatened even a dog belonging to the U.S., much less the lives of Soldiers.  Culture notwithstanding, there is absolutely no excuse for threats, and this ANA unit should have become an example to other units.

As for Company C, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, they should have been given the latitude to make such decisions, and if not latitude that was given, then it should have been taken.  No commanding officer is worth his pay and respect who risks the lives of his men around troops who won’t fight alongside them, much less troops who will fight against them.  There is simply no excuse for this ANA unit or the U.S. troops suffering their bluster and threats.

Finally, I strongly suspect that this ANA unit is full of cowards who would not only treacherously undercut the U.S. forces, but run when confronted by Taliban fighters.  If they won’t search homes for ordnance, then they won’t face down fighters shooting at them.  They are full of treachery and bluster, but essentially worthless to either the campaign or the future of Afghanistan.  Such are the men we are arming in Afghanistan to take our place.

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