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]

Will Guam Capsize?

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

Will the Marines’ relocation to Guam cause it to capsize?  “We don’t anticipate that … !”

UPDATE: So, the story line now is that Hank meant these words figuratively.  So how many readers think that Hank knows what the word figurative means?

UPDATE #2: This response from Hank Johnson’s office.

“I wasn’t suggesting that the island of Guam would literally tip over I was using a metaphor to say that with the addition of 8,000 Marines and their dependents – an additional 80,000 people during peak construction on the tiny island with a population of 180,000 – could be a tipping point which could adversely affect the island’s fragile ecosystem and could overburden its stressed infrastructure. Having traveled to Guam last year, I saw firsthand how this beautiful – but vulnerable island – could easily become overburdened, and I was simply voicing my concerns that the addition of that many people could tip the delicate balance and do permanent harm to Guam.”

So we’re faced with the same question as earlier.  Does Hank really know what the word metaphor means?  Did he really author this response?

Jonah Goldberg remarks, from a reader:

My son is stationed on Guam, I just sent him the video and told him to run to the other side of the island. He said one of his shipmates showed up to work with  a life vest on!

Run to the other side of the island.  You know, that whole center of gravity thing?  Maybe that will keep Guam from capsizing into the sea.  Or did Hank mean sink rather than capsize?  We’re faced with a whole new set of problems if Guam sinks!

Air Superiority and Expeditionary Warfare

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

The U.S. Marines brass is happy about the recent performance of the F-35.

Well, no one can say the Lockheed JSF team hasn’t had a good week. First came the hover and short takeoff and short landing. Today, they capped it with the plane’s first true vertical landing.

The Marines were officially happy. “Having the F-35B perform its first vertical landing underscores the reality of the Marine Corps achieving its goal of an all STOVL force,” said Lt. Gen. George Trautman, deputy commandant for aviation. “Being able to operate and land virtually anywhere, the STOVL JSF is a unique fixed wing aircraft that can deploy, co-locate, train and fight with Marine ground forces while operating from a wider range of bases ashore and afloat than any other TacAir platform.”

In the end, the Marines’ relentless pursuit of forcible entry and expeditionary warfare capabilities, along with their penchant for operating alone, is driving them to be disconnected from the U.S. Navy.

The future of Marines on aircraft carriers may hinge on the F-35 program.

The Marine Corps, which is the only U.S. service that has not announced a significant delay for the Joint Strike Fighter, remains fully committed to the F-35B Lightning II short take-off, vertical landing variant. Marine officials already have purchased 29 planes in the fiscal 2008-2010 budgets and officials insist they are on track to see a squadron operational by December 2012.

The test plane, BF-1, conducted its first vertical landing March 18, checking off a major milestone in the F-35B program. But that event was delayed by almost a year. Still, officials with Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s lead manufacturer, and the Corps said they are confident the timeline will be met, adding that the first two training aircraft are expected to be delivered by the end of 2010.

“We are going to be able to operate our planes from the sea, on our amphibious force fleets initially, and we’ll move ashore to the same kinds of forward operating bases that we operate the AV-8B,” Lt. Gen. George Trautman, the deputy commandant for aviation, said in a conference call with reporters.

Trautman said nothing about the Corps’ jets operating from carriers — as the Marines F/A-18 Hornets do today — but he did say the first F-35 squadron is expected to deploy with a Marine expeditionary unit in 2014.

Some observers say the Corps’ commitment to the F-35B is driven by a long-term desire to break away from Navy carriers. A powerful and versatile fighter jet that could operate from smaller-deck amphibs would grant the Marines more autonomy than ever before.

Commandant Conway is also still bullish on the redesigned EFV (Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle), but take particular note of this comment concerning the order of battle concerning the most expensive forcible entry vehicle ever conceived.

Interesting that our Marines would be expected to fight their way ashore, and then dismount to add armor so they can actually drive around? Would one vehicle protect the others while some put on additional armor? Would the armor be pre-positioned where the Marines were gonna storm ashore???

All programs can have high hopes – until tin is bent and problems show up.

Since the EFV has a flat hull in order to speed along the top of the water, it must be armored-up to survive IEDs on land.  So how does it get that way?  Why, the U.S. Marines put the armor on it.  They shoot their way on to shore and then stop, get out, wait on Navy supplies, and then fix up the EFVs.

Doesn’t sound like a good plan to you?  Well, this confused thinking permeates the expeditionary concept at the moment.  Consider also this comment.

So we’ve got 60% of the world living in cities near the ocean. We think those cities will be the areas where Marines are called upon to restore stability, work with local security forces, etc.

How do you protect the ships from missiles with stand-off distance, yet get the Marines some sort of armor protected vehicle? EFV was the answer.

Or, we just wait until all the bad guys go to bed, then we row ashore with M1’s on LCACs!

So this commenter poses the following scenario: we are conducting forcible entry to a shoreline where the Navy must be protected from missiles by being over the horizon (i.e., 25 miles out to sea), but these missiles are coming from a nation-state that is in such bad need of stabilization that the Marines must conduct forcible entry to work with security forces.

So you say that it sounds like someone is working with an infeasible or implausible scenario?  The QDR doesn’t help, giving no hint that the DoD even pretended to study the future situation and appropriately plan budgetary expenditures to match the needs.  One searches in vain for any forward thinking or strategic vision beyond adequate funding for fourth generation warfare and transnational insurgencies.

Crush at Blackfive links two studies performed out of Australia:

Why the F-22 and the PAK-FA have the “Right Stuff” and why the F/A-18 and the F-35 do not

Assessing the Sukhoi PAK-FA

Crush questions whether we may be surrendering our air superiority if we relinquish the F-22 in favor of the troubled F-35 program.  I have also clearly sided with the F-22 as being a far superior fighter.  W. Thomas Smith also smartly points out that the aircraft do completely different things.

Russia and China will continue to be almost bankrupt into the near future (just like we are).  But it’s also important not to allow our current air superiority to lull us into a false sense of security.

In conclusion, I would offer up the following points from these links and previous ones at The Captain’s Journal:

  1. Existing air frames will need continued and even increased refurbishment in order to keep them functional.
  2. The U.S. is in need of an air superiority fighter.  The F-35 is not it.  The F-22 is it.
  3. The QDR doesn’t even begin to give us a starting point to determine how to properly utilize the F-35 or why it is needed.
  4. The Marines are off on their own with their expeditionary warfare doctrines, and want to be even more off on their own than they are.  Who they intend to attack with the EFV is anyone’s guess.
  5. I have previously recommended that the Marines invest in an entirely new generation of helicopters in addition to continued investment in the V-22 Osprey.
  6. It isn’t obvious why the Marines need aircraft beyond rotary wing.  The Navy should be able to handle support, and if they aren’t. they should become capable.
  7. Whatever the disposition of the F-35, there is no obvious reason for it to replace the awesome A-10.

One final thought is in order.  I am convinced that fighter drones (ones to which we can truly entrust the security of America) are many years off, if they are even feasible.  Beyond this, true leadership is needed for such expensive weapons systems – the kind of leadership that has vision rather than the kind that conducted the Quadrennial Defense Review.


Marine Corps Commandant on DADT and Expeditionary Warfare

Strategic Decisions Concerning Marines and Expeditionary Warfare

Arguments Over EFV and V-22

F-35 Over Budget and Behind Schedule

Scraping the F-22?

Concerning U.S. Defense Cuts

Just Build the F-22, Okay?

Petraeus Talks Driving, Afghanis Talk Security

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

Americans must go to war to defeat old enemies — not to create new ones.

That was the message delivered by Gen. David Petraeus at Brigham Young University on Thursday evening. The commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, delivered only a few minutes of prepared remarks, choosing instead to field a diverse and complicated array of questions from BYU students.

But in answering the students’ queries, Petraeus turned repeatedly to a central theme.

“You cannot have tactical successes that are strategic defeats,” he said, arguing that a successful counterinsurgency operation requires U.S. troops to be mindful not to create collateral damage when pursuing terrorists, insurgents and rebel fighters.

And while that certainly means avoiding civilian casualties, Petraeus said that wasn’t enough. Even the way U.S. military members drive in Iraq and Afghanistan can cause anger and resentment among civilians, he said, noting that U.S. troops driving “in an egregious manner,” on their way to tactical engagements, “were making far more enemies on our way” than they could possibly destroy once they arrived.

Even in recently liberated Marjah, the Taliban are still so active that doctors don’t want clinics and medicine at the expense of the U.S. military because they will be seen as allied with the U.S.  In response to Obama’s recent travel to Afghanistan, one Afghan posed this salient question.

Over the course of his 60 years in Afghanistan, Ghulam Ghaus has heard promises from an Afghan king, Soviet commanders, mujahedin fighters and Taliban mullahs. Over the last decade, he’s heard from two U.S. presidents and countless coalition officials.

So when Ghaus listened to President Obama’s speech Sunday night, the Kabul-area farmer was left with a very familiar feeling.

“Many countries have come to help and they’ve built bridges, roads, schools and hospitals. Many presidents have come and given speeches,” Ghaus said. “But what have they done for security?

Then this important perspective from Mr. Obama: “The United States is a partner, but our intent is to make sure that the Afghans have the capacity to provide for their own security. That is core to our mission.”  This sounds eerily like our position in Iraq before the surge: “We’ll stand down when they stand up.”

It’s very well and good to create a viable defense force to provide security once we depart, but we’re looking to infrastructure to do what only robust combat operations can – turn back the Taliban.  It’s doubtful that many Afghanis talk about American driving habits when they cannot open clinics or markets because of Taliban intimidation.  We’re best to focus on first order rather than second or third order effects.

Australian Army Decisions Under Fire

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

From The Age (regrettably extensive but necessary quote):

Senses heightened and with sweaty hands gripping their automatic rifles, the Australian commandos crept through the dark near the village of Surkh Morghab, in southern Afghanistan. Arriving at a mud-walled home, they looked through their night vision goggles for any signs of the local Taliban leader Mullah Noorullah. Intelligence had indicated he might be here, but after conducting a search the troops turned up nothing – in Defence speak, the house was ”dry”.

On that cold February night last year, with whispered commands, they then moved on to another nearby compound. It was to be a fateful decision. Within minutes the surreptitious operation was interrupted by bursts of gunfire, shouted orders and the explosive thump of grenades. Six innocent people were killed, including two babies.

Now, more than a year later, this operation is at the centre of one of the most serious war crimes investigations faced in decades by the Australian Defence Force.

The fate of those involved – the soldiers on the ground that night and their commanding officer back in Kandahar – is in the hands of the Brigadier Lyn McDade. As the Director of Military Prosecutions, she sits in an office in Canberra where she is charged with weighing up what happened in a few chaotic minutes during that night-time operation more than a year ago. That she is said to be considering criminal charges points to the gravity of her decision. No Australian soldier has faced manslaughter charges in Afghanistan or Iraq. And senior military lawyers say they recall no such case during Vietnam.

Today, The Age reveals that a central element of the case surrounds the ”Concept of Operations” document, known as CONOPS. This is a highly scrutinised plan prepared before any major operation. It is a complex checklist that ensures that any plans abide by the tactics, strategy, regulations, and legal framework stipulated by the Australian Defence Force. Before a CONOPS is approved, it passes up the chain of command and often past the eyes of military lawyers.

The extent to which this CONOPS discussed raiding the second compound is likely to be crucial for Brigadier McDade, and any decision she makes on charges of negligence. It is not clear if the second raid was outlined in detail, or at all, in the CONOPS. This will be central to Brigadier McDade’s view of whether the evidence can sustain a charge of negligence. If so, any prosecution case would rest on who gave a command to move on the second compound, and how such a decision was made.

Adding difficulty to Brigadier McDade’s task is the fact that she does not have all the pieces of the puzzle. The Age has confirmed that investigators could not visit the scene of the incident and did not meet any survivors of the attack. In part this is because the troops that would have been needed to provide security for such a visit were occupied with other operations when the request was made.

Still, recollections from numerous sources allows The Age to tell some of the story of that night in greater detail than before.

As they do on so many nights of every week of every ”rotation” or tour of duty, the commandos that February night had what they call ”reliable intelligence”. This intelligence stated that a Taliban leader was likely to be at what the military call a ”compound of interest” near the village. It is just 10 kilometres away from the sprawling base that Australian troops share with the Dutch and Americans in the town of Tarin Kowt.

A CONOPS was prepared, the raid went ahead, but no Taliban leader was found. The soldiers on the night would have known that it is often hard to gauge the reliability of an intelligence report. But intelligence is almost always assessed stringently before it is acted on. Even then, initially reliable evidence can lead to a dead end.

The commandos then moved on to look for the Taliban leader. If intelligence was used in the decision to go to the second compound where the bloodshed eventually occurred, the prosecutor will look at that intelligence. She will examine how that intelligence was scrutinised in the lead-up to the night-time mission.

Entering a compound at night requires precision and care. As the soldiers started moving through this second compound they dragged one man, Zahir Kahn, out of bed. SBS’s Dateline program recently broadcast an interview with Zahir Kahn in which he says the shooting started soon after he woke up. It is what happened in the next few furious minutes that will be considered by prosecutors.

As some of the Australians dealt with Zahir Kahn, other commandos scanned the compound for possible threats. The soldiers say they saw Zahir’s brother, Amrullah, pointing a weapon at them. They say they opened fire, as they are trained to do if they perceive a life-threatening risk.

Other soldiers have been cleared in previous incidents after shooting first, even when the Army could not establish that those killed had been armed. Shooting first can be permitted under the rules of engagement and the laws of war.

The initial public statement from the ADF in February last year said, “the soldiers were fired upon by Taliban insurgents”. A more recent statement from Defence simply said: ”We can confirm that Australian forces were involved in an exchange of fire with an Afghan man.”

Had this operation stopped here, it might have attracted little mention beyond a brief ADF press release. But once the shooting started, the Australians also responded with hand grenades. It was over in minutes, but when the smoke cleared, the detained man’s brother, Amrullah, was dead. So was Amrullah’s teenage sister, 10-year-old son, 11-year-old nephew, and two babies – a one-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl.

Because hand grenades were used in response to continued firing, Lyn McDade will carefully weigh who gave the order, or made the decision, to throw the grenades, and whether it was a proportionate response. The prosecutor will only lay charges if she thinks there is a reasonable prospect of a guilty verdict. Such a verdict would come from the six military professionals sitting on a jury in a military court.

Those at the centre of the allegations have disputed some of the claims made against them, which is why the details being considered by the prosecutor are crucial. There are disputed accounts, but The Age understands that some at the scene believe there were significant indications that unarmed civilians were close by. However, any interaction with civilians is complicated by the knowledge that Taliban fighters are part of the local population; in many cases they fight from their own homes, which for centuries have been designed as mini-forts to repel intruders.

Sustaining any criminal charges would require substantial corroborated evidence. Without access to the scene of the attack or to the survivors, it may be difficult to convince a jury of military professionals that the evidence points to a guilty verdict beyond reasonable doubt.

What galls the soldiers watching this process unfold is that unlike most of us, they have lived through the danger of these situations. Soldiers know that in the midst of a firefight, even battle-hardened veterans find it tough to work out how many people are shooting at them, and from where.

So, this investigation, and the prospect of a possible prosecution, has sparked whispers of recrimination and anger among the military. With dismay reverberating through the ranks of Australia’s army – and the defence force as a whole – the stakes are extraordinarily high.

If charges are laid it will open up a significant can of worms for the Defence Force. It will have ramifications for the future training of soldiers, fuelling claims and counter-claims about an investigation that some say only searched for scapegoats. And it will test the fairness and thoroughness of Australia’s military justice system.

There have been a series of investigations into this incident, with some restarted after complaints from the soldiers involved. There have also been rumblings about the six-month delay in transferring this case to the military police, the ADF’s Investigative Service (ADFIS).

However, that formal investigation faced formidable hurdles.

Last year the investigators in this case could not get to the compound that was the scene of such violence months ago. To escort them there would have required armed troops and vehicles, diverting resources from important operations. After careful consideration, it was decided no escort would be possible.

The investigators, and the special forces soldiers needed to protect them, also understood that such excursions were not a simple act. Turning up with an armed group of soldiers to ask questions at an Afghan house is very different to an Australian homicide investigation. The Australian newspaper did get to the site of the raid recently and interviewed the father of one of the victims. He reportedly said he did not blame the Australian soldiers, who, he said, had been misled by a local spy. However, the military believes its investigations face difficulties with similar searches for the truth.

This degree of control over operations with CONOPS is another example of micromanaging the military.  It removes the latitude of on-sight commanders to make extemporaneous decisions.  So just who is this Brigadier Lyn McDade?


She is a former civilian lawyer who has no previous military experience (and certainly no Australian infantry combat action badge), but who was brought into the new military justice system to aid in efficiency and effectiveness.  Has she accomplished this?  “There has been widespread discontent with the take-no-prisoners approach of the Director of Military Prosecutions, Brigadier Lyn McDade. Military lawyers have told The Australian they believed minor offences that were previously subject to prejudicial conduct hearings had been endlessly moved into the court.”

It doesn’t bode well when the very chief of the military justice system is taking what would previously have been between a Non Commissioned Officer and his enlisted men – what in the U.S. is called non-judicial punishment – and placing it in formal military courts.  It would quite literally bring military justice to a halt in the U.S., cause undermanned units, and bring with it an atmosphere of dishonesty and suspicion.

There were apparently training and leadership problems associated with this particular Australian Special Forces unit, a revelation that is a bit surprising since Australian general purpose forces (i.e., infantry) are not allowed to participate in combat.  Only Australian special forces are allowed to participate in direct action combat.  But perhaps this isn’t so surprising given that those same forces have had to rush Australian military cooks to the front to give them “proper food.”  Perhaps the general purpose infantry could have done a better job after all.  They have been trained to endure austere conditions, as all infantry has.

It’s apparent that the Australian military cares and is attempting to cooperate with the various legal authorities in this matter, despite their detractors.  But Australia is starting down a dark road, one that the British have been on, and one that has cost the U.S. millions of dollars and untold court time and energy only to find out that all of the Haditha Marines have been exonerated except Staff Sergeant Wuterich (and The Captain’s Journal predicts that he will be as well).  This dark road will also find that the Australian military will take the brunt of the damage after all has been said and done, regardless of what happened that night.  Such is the nature of witch hunts.

Iraqi Elections

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

Of the recent Iraqi elections, Michael Rubin comments:

The latest Iraqi election results show former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi up by a couple seats, although he has far from a majority. I’m not a huge fan of Allawi, for reasons I discuss in this recent Wall Street Journal piece. That, however, doesn’t make the other candidates ideal either. Corruption has blighted all the major candidates. Let’s face the fact: Most U.S. aid is wasted. Little has been spent on development; much more has been spent on security and consultant salaries. The U.S. flood of money into Iraq has fanned corruption.

And while too many pundits will use one candidate or another’s ties to Iranian officials to suggest that person has always been under Iran’s thumb, that is anachronistic analysis: The reality is that as U.S. influence wanes relative to Iran, every Iraqi politician — Chalabi, Talabani, Barzani, Maliki, and even, perhaps, Allawi — will make accommodation with the Islamic Republic in order to survive. Rather than condemn the personality, we should examine more the reasons why politicians believe it necessary to pivot closer toward Tehran.

No doubt many more sectarian Shi’a and Kurds find much to distrust in Ayad Allawi. But should Allawi be given the first choice to put together a government, we shouldn’t make blanket assumptions that he will be unable to strike bargains, especially with the Kurds. It’s kind of silly to suggest that Kurdish Regional President Masud Barzani won’t deal with Allawi because he has a Baathist past when Barzani didn’t hesitate to cooperate with Saddam Hussein himself back in 1996 when Barzani believed it to be in his personal interests. Does Allawi want the premiership enough to offer Kirkuk and its revenue on a silver platter to Barzani?

While a Maliki-Chalabi-Barzani alliance would certainly be easier to put together, woe to the reporter who forgets Iraq’s sordid history and the basic caveat of its politics: Anything goes.

I am no fan of Maliki, and I believe that his open sectarianism has harmed Iraq.  True enough, politics will make bedfellows of the wrong kind of people, and leaders may make the deals that they perceive that they must in order to survive.  Alawi is no angel.  Furthermore, if he aligns with Chalibi, he is bringing on a treacherous liar, cheat, and rogue.  I hope that he doesn’t do that.

Having said that, it’s not insignificant that Maliki and hence, the Hizb al-Da’wa al-Islamiya party have been rejected for rule for another term in Iraq.  Moqtada al Sadr is trying to emerge as a legitimate political and religious leader in Iraq.  Hopefully, election of a secular leader such as Alawi, however political he turns out to be, will make it more difficult for Sadr – and the treacherous Chalibi too, who is out for himself above all others.  Perhaps after his previous experience, Alawi will turn out to be a seasoned and shrewd politician who avoids entanglements with Iran and Iraqi rogues.

Security Must Come First in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

From the AFP in Marjah, Afghanistan, yet another report that demonstrates that the population may not be the center of gravity of an insurgency in every situation.

When US Major James Coffman presented a plan to restore healthcare to a southern Afghan town after years of Taliban rule and weeks of fighting, he thought it was a winner.

“We need your advice on what and how to bring assistance, training, equipment,” he told four Afghan doctors and pharmacists, who stroked their beards after braving bombs and Taliban threats to meet US Marine commanders.

Too bad for Coffman that the Afghans were unconvinced.

“It’s best for us at the moment if you don’t help. At least not until security returns,” said Doctor Azim softly. His colleagues agreed.

“Crossing Marjah to get here, I was stopped three times by the Taliban who asked me where I was going, if I was working for the Americans. It’s too dangerous,” he said.

The Marines looked like they had been punched.

Last month they led 15,000 troops into Marjah in a massive effort to wipe out Taliban insurgents and return control to the government in what was billed as the biggest military offensive since the 2001 fall of the Taliban.

With the main fighting phase over, Marines are under orders to move to the next level — develop reconstruction and restore services to make it harder for the Taliban to come back, and bring a quick end to the war, in its ninth year …

Despite their best intentions, 3rd batallion, 6th regiment Marines Corp found it difficult to get healthcare workers onside in the rural settlement where homes are built of mud and poppy fields run to the horizon.

“You were brave enough to come this way. We know about the IED (improvised explosive device) threats and Taliban retaliation,” said Coffman, trying to cajole the doctors on Forward Operating Base Sharwali, the US Marine base north of Marjah.

“Afghanistan will be rebuilt by strong men like you,” he said.

US Marines recently conducted a 27-hour operation searching more than 60 farms around Marjah, looking for remnants of the Taliban and defusing bombs left behind by insurgents in the fields and on the roads.

In a small cemetery, the biggest grave contains the remains of a Taliban member killed by “American animals,” according to an inscription.

Lieutenant Colonel Brian Christmas, the Marine commander for northern Marjah, listened to the doctors’ concerns and promised to take action and continue night patrols.

“If it’s a day where we don’t find IEDs, that I don’t have my guys under small arms fire, that people go to the bazaar and my guys come back safe, it’s a good day,” he told AFP.

“The Taliban are here. They haven’t left. They look at us as well as we look at them.”

To the doctors, he said: “Security is here. There will always be a threat, but the Taliban won’t prevent you from helping your people.”

Doctor Azim appeared to disagree. “The Taliban glue pamphlets on our doors banning us from opening our pharmacies,” he said.

The four visitors were unanimous — there can be no direct contact with American forces. It would be “too dangerous.”

A suggestion that they nominate a trusted go-between to pass on messages was greeted by a polite silence.

But Christmas refused to take no for an answer.

“There are Taliban, but at some point good people from Marjah have to stand up and do something. We’ll work to help you. It’s time for you to stand up and say ‘we want clinics’,” he said.

Doctor Noor Ahmad, who studied at university in Kabul and whose long white beard and golden glasses lend him an air of wisdom, suggests the tribal leaders return. “They are the solution,” he says.

Christmas closes the meeting, acknowledging that the longer they wait to ask the elders to return, the more difficult it will be to get them to come back.

To Azim he says: “I’ll give you my number. Any time you have decided to do something, you tell me.”

Azim’s response is pragmatic: “If they know I’ve got your number, I’ll end up with my head on a spike.”

“Memorise my number then,” fires back Christmas.

“They don’t say ‘no.’ Only the fact they are here means they said ‘yes.’ We just have to find the way out,” the commander sighed.

Colonel Gian Gentile famously says that the center of gravity of an insurgency must be “discovered.”  I have pointed out that there can be multiple foci of counterinsurgency campaigns.  Security comes first in Marjah (see also “we don’t need your help, just security“).  Of course, it will be difficult to find the Taliban since they are embedded with the population and the population is so intimidated by them.  But this intimidation is the very reason that it must be done.

Since Marjah is a collection of settlements rather than an urban area, gated communities won’t work.  But if the doctor was stopped three times by the Taliban, it’s possible to find them.  It may take more Marines, heavy patrolling, snipers, distributed operations, census taking, and other techniques.  But it can be done.

Helping the population means killing the Taliban – not capturing them (and releasing them within 96 hours), not capturing and counseling, not reintegrating them into society again, not opening medical clinics, and not paying them to protect the population against themselves.  The way out is to kill the Taliban.

Prior: Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in Counterinsurgency

Empowering Iran in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

From NPR:

Relations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the international coalition seeking to secure and rebuild his country are rocky these days, with both Afghans and Westerners questioning whether Karzai is a partner or a liability.

The visit to Kabul two weeks ago by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raised eyebrows both in the country and abroad, as did the fact that Karzai stayed quiet as his guest railed at U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had left Kabul just hours earlier.

At a joint news conference at his presidential palace, Karzai called the Iranian president “brother” and said Afghans were lucky he had come. But some Afghans felt Karzai had crossed a dangerous line.

“I think he has been on this confrontational course with the West, particularly the United States, since last year,” said Haroun Mir, who heads the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies.

Mir, like many Afghans, was uncomfortable about Ahmadinejad’s visit, given that it happened at the same time the Obama administration was seeking international support for stronger sanctions against Iran.

“This could not be explained in a rational manner because the United States is our strategic ally and we are dependent on the United States for everything — for the salary of our civil servants for our security, for our survival,” Mir said. “We could not find any explanation why President Karzai did not react when Ahmadinejad gave this kind of controversial and provocative speech here in Kabul.”

Mir is just being coy – or else he is truly unable to connect the dots.  We have failed to do combat with Iran in both the covert and irregular warfare it has conducted on the U.S. in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  As for Afghanistan, we already knew that Iran was providing weapons to the Taliban.  Now we learn that Iran is formally training the Taliban.  The regional war with Iran involves more than just operations in Iraq.  Iranian operations in Afghanistan are on the rise, even if by proxy.  Iran is also providing support for AQ.

Ralph Peters sees bad things coming.

Coming perhaps as early as this year (certainly within the next few years), the Karzai Compromise will at first look like this:

* Karzai remains the titular head of the Kabul regime.

* Iran “owns” western Afghanistan.

* Pakistan replaces the United States as the Kabul government’s security guarantor.

* NATO grabs the excuse of “national reconciliation” to dash for home.

* The United States won’t be far behind NATO, although we’ll continue to pour in aid to “avoid destabilizing the situation.”

This being the Greater Middle East, the deal won’t last. Karzai holds too weak a hand; national ambitions are in conflict; the hatreds go too deep. Here’s what will come next:

* The Iranians and Pakistanis will struggle for influence. The next phase of the endless Afghan civil war will be a proxy fight between Tehran and Islamabad (alongside the internal factional warfare).

* Al Qaeda will align with Pakistan, gaining clandestine sponsorship.

* Karzai will be replaced by a tougher ruler backed by Pakistan, while the Iranian side elevates its own contender for power based in Herat.

* India will side with Iran. China will support Pakistan.

* Pakistan will find itself unable to control its Afghan proxies, after all. Another military regime will take power in Islamabad, as Pakistan finds itself bogged down in an Afghan morass and violence spreads at home.

* The Taliban will fight everybody and outlast everybody.

As our troops surge slowly into Afghanistan to save the inept Karzai government, they may already be irrelevant. We’re no longer in on the deal. Everybody knows it but us.

Is Peters using hyperbole to make his point?  Is this what’s in store for us unless we engage Iran immediately as their recalcitrance deserves?  Without answering these questions, it can certainly be observed that in all of our time in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we have yet even to begin to take on the main instigator of all (or most) things bad in CENTCOM’s area of responsibility – Iran.

Bart Stupak: The Duplicitous Plan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

This video has surfaced on Representative Bart Stupak’s position back in October of 2009.

While on the one hand claiming that life had become a living hell because of his pro-life position, his plan from the beginning was to go along with the crowd.  Since this is primarily a military blog, I am usually loath to take on social issues.  I am pro life, but have no idea what position most of my readers take.  It isn’t important for our understanding of Bart Stupak.  Occasionally it pays to understand just who leads our great country.

We all knew that he was duplicitous after he made such a commotion about his beliefs and then caved for no gain whatsoever.  But he apparently wanted to be the hero of the pro life movement.  He is not only a weasel – he is is an egomaniac too.  Or is this the end of it?  Is there something else to the account?

I was heard muttering to those around me several days ago that this was all carefully choreographed by the administration to give the appearance of having made provisions for pro life democrats and independents even though the Hyde Amendment was absent from the bill.  So with Stupak now telling us that he intended to vote in favor of the bill months ago, and with the carefully coordinated display of unction by Stupak and the resultant meaningless executive order by the administration, the question redounds to this: how much of this was part of an overarching plan set into motion before most of America was even thinking about it?

Alignment with Losers in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

I have long decried our irrational support of Nouri al-Maliki, who is a sectarian leading a sectarian party.  His sectarianism may be part of the reason that Allawi, a Sunni, is virtually tied in the vote count with him.  He allowed – and as Prime Minister, is accountable for – the dissociation of religious and political sects under the guise of the Iraq Justice and Accountability Commission.  In many ways, the path forward has been more difficult in Iraq because of our alignment with losers like Chalibi and Maliki.

We mustn’t make the same mistakes in Afghanistan, but it appears that we are careening headlong into the same failure there.

The Taliban, who imposed de facto rule in Marjah in 2008, appear to have scattered since the offensive, but their influence still looms. The leaders of the insurgency mostly fled, locals say, and their shadow government – complete with Islamic courts and a “police” force – has disbanded.

But the residue of nearly two years of Taliban rule remains. Most midlevel leaders and the rank and file have simply melted back into the population. “They still have spies and supporters everywhere. If they catch us talking to the troops they can behead us,” says Musa Aqa Jan, a laborer, echoing a widely shared view …

Many of those who have fled have returned, however, and say they are ready to brave the possibility of Taliban threats. But for them an even greater potential danger lurks: the new government slated to take the Taliban’s place.

The man tapped to be Marjah’s governor is Abdul Zahir, a Helmand native who has spent the past 15 years in Germany and is unknown to most of the local population. He only travels with heavy protection and has yet to visit most parts of Marjah. It may take months before his efforts can be appraised, Helmand authorities say.

In the meantime, he is helping assemble one of Marjah’s key governing institutions: the local shura, or council. This group will draw from local notables and will aid Mr. Zahir in running day-to-day affairs. The Afghan government will ultimately pick the body’s members, but with input from the local population and Western officials.

It’s the makeup of this council that stokes the most concern among locals. At the heart of the fears is whether it will include a notorious veteran mujahideen commander who has played a central role in Helmand’s politics for more than 20 years. Abdur Rahman Jan was the province’s police chief until 2006, and he heads a 34-man council of landlords, elders, and commanders that ruled Marjah until the 2008 Taliban takeover.

While in power the council became so infamous for abuse that some say it turned locals away from the government. “The main reason the Taliban grew in Marjah is because of these people,” says Qasim Noorzai, a government official in Helmand who works with tribal elders from the area. A number of other government officials, Marjah elders, and locals agree with this assessment.

Marjah elders who met President Hamid Karzai earlier in the month insisted that their backing of the new government depends on whether the old officials are excluded, authorities say. “But they [the old officials] have really good connections and backing in Kabul, so they are not out of the picture yet,” says Mr. Noorzai.

As Afghan officials work to develop a new council, the old council is angling for influence in the post-Taliban administration. “We want to convince the Afghan government and the Americans that only we can stabilize Marjah,” says Muhammad Salim, a council member, interviewed in Kabul. He and more than a dozen others have traveled to the capital several times in recent months to lobby lawmakers and associates of President Karzai

The Afghan National Police are still as problematic as ever, a continual theme at the The Captain’s Journal.

Mohammad Moqim watches in despair as his men struggle with their AK-47 automatic rifles, doing their best to hit man-size targets 50 meters away. A few of the police trainees lying prone in the mud are decent shots, but the rest shoot clumsily, and fumble as they try to reload their weapons. The Afghan National Police (ANP) captain sighs as he dismisses one group of trainees and orders 25 more to take their places on the firing line. “We are still at zero,” says Captain Moqim, 35, an eight-year veteran of the force. “They don’t listen, are undisciplined, and will never be real policemen.”

Poor marksmanship is the least of it. Worse, crooked Afghan cops supply much of the ammunition used by the Taliban, according to Saleh Mohammed, an insurgent commander in Helmand province. The bullets and rocket-propelled grenades sold by the cops are cheaper and of better quality than the ammo at local markets, he says. It’s easy for local cops to concoct credible excuses for using so much ammunition, especially because their supervisors try to avoid areas where the Taliban are active. Mohammed says local police sometimes even stage fake firefights so that if higher-ups question their outsize orders for ammo, villagers will say they’ve heard fighting.

With corrupt government and corrupt police, there is little left for the population to do other than turn to armed gangs for defense.  Enter the Taliban – again – after they have been dislodged by the blood, sweat and tears of U.S. warriors.

We are in such a hurry to develop a legitimate government and security apparatus that we are on the verge of developing an illegitimate one.  We (or rather, the British) made this mistake in Musa Qala as well.  If we are going to appoint rulers, the least we can do is appoint men who actually care about the people under their charge.

Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

I wanted to circle around and cover a report from The New York Times about a week ago.

Under the cover of a benign government information-gathering program, a Defense Department official set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants, according to military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States.

The official, Michael D. Furlong, hired contractors from private security companies that employed former C.I.A. and Special Forces operatives. The contractors, in turn, gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps, and the information was then sent to military units and intelligence officials for possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said.

While it has been widely reported that the C.I.A. and the military are attacking operatives of Al Qaeda and others through unmanned, remote-controlled drone strikes, some American officials say they became troubled that Mr. Furlong seemed to be running an off-the-books spy operation. The officials say they are not sure who condoned and supervised his work.

It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies. Officials said Mr. Furlong’s secret network might have been improperly financed by diverting money from a program designed to merely gather information about the region.

Moreover, in Pakistan, where Qaeda and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding, the secret use of private contractors may be seen as an attempt to get around the Pakistani government’s prohibition of American military personnel’s operating in the country.

Officials say Mr. Furlong’s operation seems to have been shut down, and he is now is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Defense Department for a number of possible offenses, including contract fraud.

Even in a region of the world known for intrigue, Mr. Furlong’s story stands out. At times, his operation featured a mysterious American company run by retired Special Operations officers and an iconic C.I.A. figure who had a role in some of the agency’s most famous episodes, including the Iran-Contra affair.

The allegations that he ran this network come as the American intelligence community confronts other instances in which private contractors may have been improperly used on delicate and questionable operations, including secret raids in Iraq and an assassinations program that was halted before it got off the ground.

“While no legitimate intelligence operations got screwed up, it’s generally a bad idea to have freelancers running around a war zone pretending to be James Bond,” one American government official said. But it is still murky whether Mr. Furlong had approval from top commanders or whether he might have been running a rogue operation …

The contractor, Robert Young Pelton, an author who writes extensively about war zones, said that the government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan and that Mr. Furlong improperly used his work. “We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people,” Mr. Pelton said.

He said that he and Eason Jordan, a former television news executive, had been hired by the military to run a public Web site to help the government gain a better understanding of a region that bedeviled them. Recently, the top military intelligence official in Afghanistan publicly said that intelligence collection was skewed too heavily toward hunting terrorists, at the expense of gaining a deeper understanding of the country.

Instead, Mr. Pelton said, millions of dollars that were supposed to go to the Web site were redirected by Mr. Furlong toward intelligence gathering for the purpose of attacking militants.

Take a look at what Tim Lynch has to say about Eason and this whole bunch, and also don’t miss the scathing critique by Brad Thor.  Go and read the whole NYT article.  Especially take a look at the screen capture of the web site they built.  It has the look and feel of Iraq Slogger in which Eason Jordan was also involved.

So the story line is that Jordan and his cohorts were hired to build and maintain a web site similar to Iraq Slogger, except for Afghanistan.  I don’t believe that charging for content on Iraq Slogger worked out very well, and they apparently worked a deal with the DoD to fund this new web site with tax dollars.  Some of “their” money got diverted to use in actually developing real intelligence and killing the enemy, and they went to The New York Times, complaining and moaning about lost revenue.

Since I have gone on record demanding a covert campaign to foment an insurgency inside of Iran (as well as advocated targeted assassinations of certain figures such as Moqtada al Sadr and others), it should come as no surprise that I have no problem with dollars being spent wherever they are best utilized.  It’s amusing that a government official said “no legitimate intelligence operations got screwed up.”  No, to the contrary, these dollars redounded to success.  There is a lesson in this.

Aside from the issue of dollars being sent the direction of private security and intelligence contractors, there is the moralistic element to this account.  It’s an outrage: his information was “being used to kill people,” intoned the flabbergasted Pelton.  This is the same preening, holier than thou, sanctimonious crap that we heard from the anthropologists who weighed in against the use of human terrain teams – as if war isn’t a legitimate application for anthropology.  Every enlisted man and officer in war practices anthropology every day.

As I passed a car today I saw a bumper sticker that questioned “Who would Jesus bomb?”  The Apostle grants the power of the sword for the purpose of justice, and Professor Darrell Cole has done an excellent job of explaining the notion of good wars from the perspective of Calvin and Aquinas.  Certainly, not every aspect of every war America has ever fought falls under this rubric, but war can be righteous and justified, and denial of this truth can lead to ridiculous conclusions (and even more ridiculous bumper stickers).  In the end though, it’s more likely that Jordan and Pelton are offended over the money, and The New York Times allowed itself to get ensnared in a fight over income rather than ethics.

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