The Paradox and Absurdities of Carbon-Fretting and Rewilding

Herschel Smith · 28 Jan 2024 · 4 Comments

The Bureau of Land Management is planning a truly boneheaded move, angering some conservationists over the affects to herd populations and migration routes.  From Field & Stream. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently released a draft plan outlining potential solar energy development in the West. The proposal is an update of the BLM’s 2012 Western Solar Plan. It adds five new states—Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming—to a list of 11 western states already earmarked…… [read more]

COP Bari Alai

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

We have discussed the difficulty of combat outposts in the mountainous Eastern part of Afghanistan, and the tactical problems caused by attempting to defend low terrain.  This contributed in no small part to the casualties at Wanat and Kamdesh.  A fire fight around Kamdesh typically looked something like this (the scene is of COP Keating from OP Fritschie).

The terrain surrounding COP Bari Alai is different.

Hostile sniper and automatic weapon fire is a normal part of life here, provided by an enemy who strains to dislodge Afghan National Army and International Security Assistance Forces from the mountaintop in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

For example, in a 74-day period starting in February there were more than 50 recorded attacks against the base, U.S. Army officials said. The Soldiers who live here are well aware of how contested the base is.

“If you freeze up in combat, you’re either not ready to be a leader or you aren’t ready for a place like this,” said U.S. Army Spc. Shawn D. Hufford, of Evansville, Ind., the mortar noncommissioned officer attached to 2nd Platoon, Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Destroyer.

The base was set on its high summit in the Ghazibad district in March 2009 and manned by the Afghan National Army. Officials named it for an ANA Soldier killed earlier that year.

It has been almost a year since a subsequent attack killed five Afghan soldiers, five ISAF advisors and a civilian interpreter, causing a fire that levelled much of the post. Despite persistent efforts, the enemy has not been able to duplicate that act since.

The base – 3,000 feet above sea level – oversees three valleys and at least ten major villages, providing a vast overlook of the surrounding territory, according to U.S. Army 1st Lt. Richard R. Rowe, 2nd platoon’s leader.

“It’s all about terrain,” Rowe said. “It’s a pretty volatile stretch.”

This position helps provide protection for neighbouring communities, the nearby district center and Afghanistan National Security Forces – as well as ISAF – as they conduct business with area residents.

The relative isolation of the post is an illusion, as ANA Soldiers at the post maintain contact with Afghan National Police who secure the communities below.

“We have a good partnership between the ANA and ANP,” Rowe said. “Now that it’s established, I can’t imagine not having it.”

Although there are taller mountains nearby, the post’s position is high enough to protect the Soldiers and low enough to help protect the community, Rowe said.

But recall that this is also the scene, approximately one year ago, of around 100 Taliban fighting uphill towards the COP, resulting in the deaths of three U.S. Soldiers due to collusion between the Taliban and Afghan National Army soldiers.  Terrain is important, but it cannot overcome treachery.  When possible though, the physical positioning of COP Bari Alai is an example of a wise tactical choice.

Marine Corps Distributed Operations in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

Those who follow military doctrine closely know about Commandant Conway’s push to distributed operations within the context of smaller units.  Heretofore, the Battalion Landing Team was the smallest unit fielded from ship to shore for which the Corps was prepared to provide logistical and communications support.  The combined arms concept has generally been applied at the Marine Air Ground Task Force level.  Defensetech recently had an interesting article on The Incredible Shrinking Marine Air Ground Task Force.

The Marines appear to be leading the innovation and thought experimentation on adapting small units to battle hybrid enemies – state and non-state armed groups mixing guerrilla tactics with advanced weaponry.

Down at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, they’re fleshing out an emerging warfighting concept called “distributed operations”: small units operating independently, at a fast paced, fluid tempo when either dispersed or concentrated. Think here of German sturmtruppen tactics from World War I, or, more recently, Hezbollah fighters operating in small dispersed, yet highly lethal, groups in the 2006 Lebanon war.

The director of the Marine’s thought lab, ret. Col. Vincent Goulding, has a piece in the new Proceedings (subscription only) discussing the experimental Marine company landing team (CLT), a reinforced rifle company intended to be the “centerpiece” of future Marine operations, along with a good TO&E. Although, missing from the chart is a 155mm M777 towed howitzer platoon.

The CLT is off to Hawaii in July where it will maneuver from the sea onto some lush, tropical simulated battlefield to conduct distributed operations against a hybrid threat. Tests will look for capability gaps and whether the company headquarters can handle calling in fires, handling logistics and directing the company’s platoons.

[ … ]

Marine Lt. Col. Roger Galbraith asks whether the CLT is the right size, and has a good comments going in the comments thread. “This is a big deal for us because we normally think only of battalion-sized units as being able to operate independently. In addition, we’ll be launching the CoLT from over the horizon (20+ miles out), that’s the first time we’re doing this over the horizon thing, although we first talked about it in 1997.…what took us so long?”

Looking at the TO chart, there does appear to be a glaring lack of direct fire weapons; it doesn’t include a Javelin anti-tank missile section. Perhaps the idea is that on-call fires will substitute for direct fire capability. It’s hard to see how that pans out though. Engagement ranges in complex terrain are often too close to effectively use artillery or air strikes.

In reality, teams smaller than a company are now being distributed throughout the battle space in Helmand, whether doctrine has caught up with the idea or not.

From inside of a small compound, known as Patrol Base Khodi Rhom, the Marines of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, alongside a section of Afghan national army soldiers, patrol an area once known for large amounts of enemy activity in Garmsir District, Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Marines sleep inside of one-man tents perched on top of cots, some stand post at different corners of the compound. One of the Marines pulls a tab on a unit ration to heat up the squad’s breakfast of biscuits, gravy, ham and raspberry swirls-the same breakfast they’ve been eating the past few days. Some Marines conduct physical training on a makeshift pull-up bar made from a tent pole; they do push-ups and jump rope on a cardboard mat.

On April 20, the Marines, along with their regular duties of post and patrol, had a simple mission; to walk two M-240G machine guns to a nearby observation post known as observation post two.

Normally vehicles would be used to move the machine guns from post to post, but because the road nearby Khodi Rhom had not yet been cleared of roadside bombs, the Marines must move most supplies by foot.

“If something happens like communication gear goes down, we need more batteries or need to move things like crew-served weapons, we have to hump it out there,” said Cpl. Aukai I. Arkus, a team leader for Easy Company, 2/2.

Helicopters have brought in food and water lately, but before they made the landing zone safer, the Marines had to carry it in.

To get the machine guns to the OP, the Marines have to move across rough fields full of wheat and poppy and through canals. There are bridges to cross the canals, but the Marines don’t use them due to greater risk of encountering an improvised explosive device.

“In that area, explosive ordnance disposal exploited lots of IEDs,” said Lance Cpl. Derek A. Tomlin, a designated marksman with Easy Co., 2/2. “They went to town blowing up and collecting IEDs.”

Once the Marines have moved the weapons, they return to the PB, crossing over the same kilometer of rough terrain that it took to get there.

The Marines quickly launched another patrol, this time to a small village near the PB, where they had established relationships with local shopkeepers before.

The Marines buy goods from the local shops, which pays off in other ways, since the relationships have been useful for gathering information on the area. They are willing to help out the shopkeepers who are more cooperative by buying more goods from them.

The Marines bring the rice and potatoes they purchase back to the base where a cook from the ANA prepares it, allowing the Marines to take a break from their usual unitized group ration dinner of chicken breast.

“It’s a nice change,” said Tomlin. “What we’ll do is get rice and potatoes and then we’ll have the ANA cook for us since none of us know how to cook.”

The Marines had manned the position for approximately five days and had planned to be relieved the next.

Though the landing zone has been declared safe, the Marines are rarely moved by air, so they have to walk back to Combat Outpost Koshtay once relieved of their duty by another squad.

They are returning to the relative comfort of Koshtay; though that is not to say that they hated their time spent at Khodi Rhom.

“The best thing about being out there is operating at our own pace,” said Arkus. “We can be as aggressive with it as we want. It leaves time for the squad leader to know what’s going on and make decisions. Also, being isolated like that allows the squad to pull together in more instances.”

The PB has allowed the Marines to saturate the surrounding area causing a significant decrease in enemy activity and an increase in locals’ willingness to assist in improving of their villages.

This is a squad-size unit operating away from the FOB.  In Fallujah 2007 squad-size units (and even smaller, fire team-size units) were in operation alone.  Squads would safely deliver a Scout sniper to his location and pick him up several days later, and a fire team would routinely embed with the Iraqi Police in Fallujah for weeks at a time.  This is small – four men.

I don’t think any of this means the end of the Battalion Landing Team or MEUs. but it does mean a lighter Marine Corps.  For those who would claim that this is a focus on counterinsurgency in lieu of conventional warfare, I would argue that it is a return to what the Marines have always been.  World Wars I and II were anomalies in the history of the Corps.

Over at Defensetech, a commenter named Sven Ortmann shows his ass and makes completely useless, asinine and combative comments.  After reading them, I know nothing more about anything, and I want that five minutes of my life back.  Sven owes me, and if I ever see him I’ll take it from him.  It’s called being pedantic, and commenters like this is why I don’t frequent Defensetech.  But commenter Byron Skinner gives us some useful information after suffering through Sven’s hysteria.

This is the Marines getting back to being Marines and not Army clones. Before WWII this is what the marine looked like, small, fast and light. The current enemies are using speed, mobility and terrain knowledge and are winning in Afghanistan.

Technology is the force multiplier here not heavy iron. The Corp. knows that it’s going to be losing personal as the war in Afghanistan winds down. The Corps best NCO’s and Officers are now being cycled through Afghanistan, already 1,300 enlisted and 115 officers have been told they don’t have a career slot in the post Afghanistan Corps, those that don’t go voluntarily, will be RIF’ed.. General Conway is being up front and very Marine about what he is doing.

If some enterprising Marine Corps officer wants to send me a confidential note explaining whether this is on the level, that would be good.  Finally, take particular note of this one man tent in Patrol Base Khodi Rhom.

I want one.  I really, really want one.  Can this be purchased down at the Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) at Camp Lejeune?  Anyone?  Anyone know of a civilian version of this same tent?  I really, really want one.

Update on Afghan National Army Water Polo

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

Note in my in-box concerning Counterinsurgency and Water Polo.

I thought your blog was very interesting and I enjoyed reading it.  I have seen many different sides to the war and many other things in Afghanistan.

The program in Shorabak was what I did in my off duty time (The few hours that I had since I worked many hours every day).  It is not something that was planned or a set job, it was just something that I did on my own.  It is my own outreach into the local community.

Please call me if you ever want to chat or get more insight into the program.

The only correction to your blog I would suggest that you make to your blog is that there are Marine officers (Not NCOs) working this project…

Keep on writing!


Jeremy B. Piasecki
Executive Director/Head Coach
Afghanistan Water Polo
(760) 451-1783 (USA) Office

I stand corrected.  These were officers and not NCOs.  Also, in the original article I wasn’t knocking Water Polo.  I have never played and know nothing about it.  But I maintain by disappointment in the ANA, and still believe that sports are a poor replacement for good training, discipline and esprit de corps.

Chasing the Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

In The Strategy of Chasing the Taliban I outlined the arguments against the application of strictly a population-centric approach in Afghanistan.  We discussed how the ROE was preventing U.S. troops from engaging the insurgency when it was possible that noncombatants could be involved, and that this tactical approach had caused the need to chase the insurgents when they took cover in civilian areas and then later escaped.  We must chase the Taliban and kill every last one of them, we are told by some Afghanis.

But we don’t have the troops, helicopters or logistics to continue the chase into the valleys, mountains and fields of Afghanistan.  From Lt. Col. Scott Cunningham, commander of the 1st Squadron, 221st Cavalry, of the Nevada National Guard, we have another indication of insurgent tactics that brings up the issue of chasing the enemy.

The enemy in Afghanistan is elusive. They will rarely attack unless they have absolute superiority. Because of that, we usually maneuver with enough soldiers and firepower to defeat any potential threat we may encounter. Getting cut off by a superior force is a recipe for disaster. A TIC, or “Troops in Contact” is unlikely in any given patrol, but essentially inevitable over the course of an entire deployment. It can be either an IED, long-distance harassing fire or a close-up ambush. Depending on the enemy tactic, the maneuver unit will immediately attempt to pin the enemy down, and then use artillery, helicopters, or aircraft weapons on him, or flank them with maneuver forces.

The enemy has the tendency to attack from long range and then run away, often into villages, where our rules of engagement prevent us from effectively engaging him, or into the mountains where the weight of our gear prevents rapid pursuit.

The Marines have also had to address this same issue in Helmand.  With too few troops, the tactic of fire and melt away must be addressed through different means than saturation of troops.  Quite literally, the insurgents can do this forever, and we can’t stay that long.  The U.S. Marines have heard my counsel (actually, they probably got to it first) and responded with the implementation of a quick reaction force.

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Afghanistan — When Marines kick in doors and begin to put rounds down range, some insurgents flee — a Huey pilot helped create a way to stop them before they slip through the cracks.

Capt. Bret W. Morriss, a pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, “Scarface,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), used the capabilities of the new UH-1Y Huey to create a concept to aid in the capture of insurgents.

Capt. Kevin Kinkade, the platoon commander for B Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Detachment, worked with Morriss to develop a way to effectively pursue insurgents who flee.

It can be dangerous for troops on the ground to chase fleeing insurgents because the enemy uses mines and improvised explosive devices to protect their routes of escape, explained Morriss.

Morriss and Kinkade created a concept called an aerial reaction force by adapting the concept of a quick reaction force. A QRF is a rapid response force commonly used to reinforce or investigate areas of interest. By combining the time-tested tactics of the QRF and the capabilities of the new Huey, the Marines created ARF — a force with strength in a couple of prime areas.

“ARF proves the capabilities of the Huey,” said Morriss. “It improves abilities of the [ground combat element] giving the Marines more flexibility and maneuverability.”

The new Huey can keep up with the demands of the ARF concept because of the improved lifting power of the helicopter. It can carry 6-8 combat-loaded Marines, plus the helo’s crew, into and out of tactical zones at high altitudes and in hot weather. The previous helicopter the Marine Corps used was the UH-1N Huey that did not have the power to carry such a load. Morriss’ squadron is the first HMLA to use the new Huey in combat.

The new helicopter provides outstanding economy of force, giving close air support and reconnaissance support for the Marines that it inserts. Historically, Marines used a heavy or medium lift helicopter to bring in the reinforcements, and flew attack helicopters for close air support.

By employing these new Hueys, Marines can use ARF to quickly capture a person of interest or small group of insurgents, or they can be used as an addition to a larger ground operation. The UH-1Y has brought back true utility to the Marine Corps supporting a wide variety of assault support missions.

When HMLA-367 heads home to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., in the next few months, they will pass on the new tactics to the incoming squadron, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, the “Gunfighters.”

“What Capt. Morriss developed keeps Marines safer by giving them the flexibility to close with the enemy with less risk of hitting a mine or being ambushed,” said Maj. Thomas Budrejko, the operations officer for the squadron. “It also improves the operational capabilities of the units on the ground.”

Morriss, a graduate of Virginia Tech, received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his part in creating and executing ARF.

Just as Marines have done throughout history, Morriss and Kinkade adapted to the war at hand and developed new Marine Corps tactics that will likely save Marines’ lives and ensure the capture or elimination of the enemy.

This is adaptation at its finest.  It’s what the U.S. Marines do, and it’s what is needed in this geophysical space at this moment in time given the circumstances.

Counterinsurgency and Water Polo

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

As a preface for discussing counterinsurgency and water polo, recall our observations of the Afghan National Army over the past months.

We have watched the ANA engage in drug abuse, smoke hashish before patrols, collude with Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops, themselves claim that they cannot hold Helmand without Marines and fear being killed if they even go out into the streets, be relatively ineffective against Taliban fighters, sleep on their watch, and claim to be on vacation in the Helmand Province.

This video is of immeasurable value.

C. J. Chivers updates us with a view to the ANA’s tactical capabilities (or even basic soldiering abilities).  They don’t aim their weapons.  They point them.  The ANA is not even capable enough to be considered the first line of defense against the insurgency.  Across Afghanistan, being in the Afghan National Police is considered to be more dangerous than being in the ANA.

Now to water polo.

Afghanistan may be landlocked, and pools may be scarce, but soldiers with the Afghan National Army aren’t letting these minor obstacles put a damper on their Olympic water polo dreams.

Under the Marine Corps’ tutelage, these soldiers are training at the ANA’s Camp Shorabak in Helmand province. The ultimate goal is to secure an Afghan team for the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro. For most, if not all, the training has been their first experience in a pool.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeremy Piasecki, a reservist with Marine Corps Forces Command, says leading Afghanistan’s water polo program is a unique way to further the counterinsurgency mission.

“The great things that the athletes will learn out of this program are hard work, dedication, leadership, camaraderie … ” Piasecki said. “In addition … it further builds bridges and trust between coalition forces and the Afghan people.”

Piasecki, a youth water polo coach in the U.S. since 2004, was tapped by the Afghanistan Olympic committee in 2008 around the time Afghanistan secured its first Olympic champion, Rohullah Nikpai, who won bronze in a taekwondo event in Beijing. With Afghanistan wanting more medal opportunities, water polo was named a national sport, Piasecki said, and he formed the country’s national water polo team in August 2008.

The Shorabak team, Helmand province’s first, only recently formed. The base, located minutes from the Corps’ Camp Leatherneck, was ideal because it actually had a pool.

Unfortunately, the water is untreated and nonpotable — one reason you may not see Marines in the pool.

Though his tour downrange is now done, Piasecki plans to continue coaching. He already operates a California-based nonprofit called “Afghanistan Water Polo” and has a website. He hopes to fund a trip for the Afghan athletes to train in the U.S.

Now to be sure, I am on one side of the counterinsurgency equation with Colonel Gian Gentile (holding that the population isn’t necessarily the center of gravity of a counterinsurgency campaign), and folks like Andrew Exum are on the other.  But this is a different order of magnitude entirely.

Has our cheese slid off of our cracker?  We now have U.S. Marine Corps NCOs extolling the virtues of water polo to the practice of counterinsurgency.  Do you think that maybe we have overdone it just a little?  Perhaps learning to fire a weapon and standing duty would be a better use of their time.

Or perhaps not, depending upon what these soldiers are like.  But why do we have U.S. Marine Corps NCOs busying themselves with this?    Where is the State Department or some other part of the U.S. government that can apply the soft side of COIN?  Or perhaps the State Department doesn’t believe in the mission.

Counterinsurgency Zeal

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

COIN zeal grips Afghanistan.

The young governor of Yousef Khel district in eastern Afghanistan takes US Army Lieutenant Marcus Smith by the hand and leads him down a slippery slope.

“Partnership,” Smith says, as the two walk hand-in-hand over churned-up wheat fields, repeating the message at the heart of the strategy he is trying to implement in the small outpost he commands in Paktika province.

A determination to implement US and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal’s counter-insurgency strategy is evident among the soldiers in this part of Afghanistan.

At bases across the east, inverted pyramids and intricate flow charts are tacked to walls and scrawled on white boards, with slogans such as: “The population is the centre of gravity.”

Up mountains and through valleys, soldiers on patrol muse on historical counter-insurgency campaigns and the writings of Che Guevara or Mao Zedong, trying to find analogies for their modern war.

“We came in with a counter-terrorism strategy specifically to remove the Taliban,” said US Army Major Steven Bower, an intelligence officer for the eastern Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktika and Paktya.

“You have to transition into a strategy that looks, smells and tastes like counter-insurgency — you’ve got to provide security, you’ve got to build capacity and government.”

[ … ]

But implementing the plan creates problems, too.

In some remote areas there is no government partner. In others, local leaders are too young and inexperienced to have any influence. Rookie Afghan police and army lock horns, while wary tribal elders refuse to cooperate.

Militants are attacking development projects while money is frequently skimmed in the corruption-riddled nation, US officials say.

“It’s a very slow and tedious process and you take a couple of steps forward and you take a step backwards here and there,” said Lieutenant Colonel David Fivecoat, commander of 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment in Paktika.

Fivecoat talks about the “oil spot” theory: bringing security and establishing a government presence in one population centre before branching out to smaller, outlying villages.

But that isn’t what we’re doing.  In what I have forecasted will be a mistake, we have withdrawn from Korengal Valley and given the Taliban easy means of ingress and egress to Eastern Afghanistan and free reign to interdict lines of logistics, train, recruit and take safe haven.  We have done this in order to focus on large population centers such as Kandahar.  And we have take this approach because the COIN school of thought (as it is currently being promulgated) believes that the population – in all geophysical space, at all times and in all phases – is the center of gravity (CoG) of a counterinsurgency campaign.

Tom Ricks is writing again on the lack of COIN training for the Army (tip to Bruce Rolston at Flit).  He cites Joe Klein (something I would not do in this case – and frankly, not in any case that I can think of), and I won’t repeat the quotation since the Major quoted by Klein drops by Rick’s blog and corrects Klein.  His fawning over current COIN doctrine is enough to convince anyone that Klein does a poor job with the theme of his article.

Here are my thoughts on COIN and this is what I expressed in my interview:

COIN is very complex. A unit cannot be trained for all situations presented while conducting COIN operations. Three lines of operations (effort) are mutually supporting in successful COIN operations: Security, Governance, and Development. The US military, alone, is not task organized to accomplish all three lines of effort and we require assistance from those agencies that are: State Department and Research, developers and engineers. Since their arrival, we have been able to conduct succesfull operations along all three lines. The 1-12th is a learning organization and we apply our daily lessons into actionable and achievable victories.

I have watched a transformation of the Soldiers in this Infantry Battalion take place in a short period of time, 11 months. We have transitioned from a lethal fighting force to a population centric machine. We / I get it. COIN is about the people, the population. I often say, and said to Mr. Klein the day I was interviewed, that the current fight we are in with the Taliban is a fight for the population. It does not matter how many Taliban are killed or captured, if you do not gain the trust and confidence of the population, we will not succeed.

I have been in the Army 18 years, third deployment…..I have seen what works and what does not. I know “population centric” operations is the way to succeed, the only way to win.

In relation to this same subject, Ricks and Col. Gian Gentile interact over another Ricks piece, where he leads off with a pointer to the failed Israeli campaign in Lebanon.  Gentile responds with this:

Well Tom as you quite imagine I think your assertion that the US Army isnt taking Coin serious enough is a bit off the mark to say the least. In fact it has taken Coin as pretty much the only thing, and for some good reasons due to the operational demands on the army with Iraq and Afghanistan.

I also think you draw on a trope instead of a better understanding of history. The trope being a reduction of the of the Weigley thesis that the Coin crowd has latched onto: that the US Army only wants to do big battles at the expense of irregular warfare. If you read Weigley in its entirety you would of course seen that what his book is really about is wrestling with the problem of utility of military force in the post world war II era of nuclear weapons. Too, Weigley wrote his classic as the US was just coming out of the Vietnam war where the question of utility of force in that war certainly was on his mind. Weigley’s book in all of its brilliance has been seriously challenged recently by an excellent review of it by scholar Brian Linn in the April 2002 issue of the Journal of Military History. You may want to have a look at Linn’s criticism of Weigley’s work.

With regard to the American Army and Vietnam and Krepinevich’s hugely important but deeply flawed book on it, shoot Tom there has been much scholarship done on the topic since his work was first published that seriously questions his thesis and argument. In fact a close reading of the scholarly literature of the history of the Vietnam War shows that the majority of scholarly historians are not in agreement with the Krepinevich argument. There is still a minority of historians who accept it, but they are in the minority. Suggest you have a look at Gary Hess’s excellent book-length historiographical sketch of the literature and also Andy Birtle’s award winning Journal of Military History article of last year titled “PROVN and the Historians.”

Lastly and with regard to Dave Johnson’s absolutely superb recent Rand analysis on Lebanon and Gaza I am not clear how you can end this post, Tom, questioning my concern about leaning too heavily toward Coin, and at the same time highlighting Dave’s piece since one of his main arguments is that the reason why the Israeli Army had problems in 2006 was due to an almost complete focus on Coin to the detriment of combined arms competencies.

This was exactly my reaction when I read Tom’s article before even reading Gian’s comment.  How odd it is that Tom lead off with an example that argues counter to his theme.  I won’t plumb the depths of the issue of training.  Better and more educated minds such as Gentile can make those arguments and don’t need my help.  But I will focus on one theme that runs like a scarlet thread through the gospel of COIN.  It is to be population-centric, and nothing else.

But is it really?  The Major who was misquoted by Klein tells us that the population is always the CoG – the only way to win.  But this is a logical fallacy.  It is inductive reasoning, and he is really merely telling us that as best as he can ascertain, in the limited number of geophysical areas to which he has been deployed, focus on the population seemed to work for him.  Or, that he failed to focus on the population, and he failed.  Either way, he is citing doctrine.

Col. Gian Gentile argues that the CoG must be discovered.  I argue (is a similar vein but with a different twist) that the CoG may not in fact exist.  Multiple lines of effort must be pursued (and not just lines of effort with the population, but lines of effort in the campaign, such as kinetic operations, robust policing, etc.).  Gian has further argued that there may be different CoG for each phase of a campaign.

Returning to population centers, Michael Yon has an interesting article on the Battle for Kandahar.  Stopping momentarily to comment on one thing, Michael observes that language training continues to be a significant weakness in our effort, a problem that I have noted before, literally begging for more and better language training.  At the Small Wars Journal, this interesting comment is left (concerning the operations in Kandahar).

We keep claiming that we’re so much better than the Soviets in Kandahar. Yet Dr. Marc Sageman, one of leaders of the CIA team fighting Afghan War from Pakistan:

“This has led me to go back and review what Soviet policy was in Afghanistan for 10 years. It has been bad-mouthed so far in this panel, but I was on the other side. I was intimately involved in running the war against the Soviets for three years, and I couldn’t afford to underestimate the enemy. We should not repeat their mistakes. We should learn from them.  The Soviets had an advantage. They were dealing with a less corrupt Afghan government, and they were dealing with fairly strong leadership as soon as they got rid of Babrak Karmal and put Najibullah in as the president. Najibullah was a fairly effective president and not corrupt, and the Soviets did not have any pressure from domestic protest because they hid the body bags. They actually did not tell the population how many people they lost until after the war. They were very careful about that; nobody could mention Afghanistan.

They developed a fairly efficient and effective counterinsurgency doctrine after 1986.  They learned from their mistakes after about six years, and what they did is exactly what we are suggesting right now. This, to me, was a surprise because it was fairly sophisticated. They were preaching national reconciliation and achieved quite a bit of success with it. They withdrew from the countryside, consolidating the cities and providing security in the cities and on the roads for most of the time they were there. I know because I was very frustrated; I was trying to disrupt that security from my side. They encouraged armed local militias in order to frustrate me and my colleagues at the time, the mujahedeen. They were pretty good. They also had a fairly decent administration for dispensing justice for this kind of conflict resolution, and they built roads, schools, factories and hospitals. That sounds really familiar.  What did that give them? It gave them a decent interval of three years from the time they withdrew to the time Najibullah fell. That decent interval lasted as long as the money and support flowed from the Soviet Union. As soon as Yeltsin took over, he cut it off and Najibullah fell within months.

The citation is Symposium: U.S. Policy in Afghanistan.  So I am back to where I started.  The withdrawal from Korengal will likely have lasting consequences.  The reader can judge for himself.  Must counterinsurgency always be population-centric?  Is that always and in every location the center of gravity?

Depressing Report from Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

From the comments section in An Open Letter to Milbloggers, journalist Ben Shaw gives us this very depressing perspective from Afghanistan.

As a journalist (and combat veteran) currently embedded with US forces in Afghanistan, I have found that roughly 95% of the troops on the ground in no way believe in their mission, have no confidence that their efforts will bring about lasting change to Afghan security, stability, governance, or a decreased influence of radicalism. In truth, they fight simply to stay alive and want nothing more than to go home. A recent quote:

“I joined to defend and fight for the United States, but now I feel like I’ve been tasked out to fight for Afghanistan. Yet the people don’t even care, and make no effort whatsoever to help us help them. They don’t WANT help.”

The nature of freedom is that those who are unwilling to fight for it personally will never realize it. As it stands, nothing is more important to Afghans than survival, even at the expense of all self-dignity, nationalism, tribalism, and whatever ideals may at one time surpassed the will to simply “get by.”

I have also discovered that if I publicize these findings (that literally 95% of troops don’t believe in their own mission), the Soldiers who I cite will be charged, potentially relieved of command, and I will be asked to disembed from these units.

As a recent example, I filmed approximately 75 minutes of combat footage, knowingly exposed myself to concentrated enemy fire, and learned two days ago that if I post this footage, the Soldiers on film will be charged and/or relieved for uniform violations, improper wear of personal protective equipment (ballistic glasses, fire-retardant gloves, etc), and that low-level commanders have already begun this process. In an attempt to preserve the careers of the Soldiers I am trying to advocate, I am unable to tell (or show) the US public what they’re experiencing and what they think of it. The military only wants good news to flow from embedded journalists – not facts.

The reality is this: the current tactical directive leaves US troops on the ground increasingly vulnerable, often unsupported by air assets or indirect fire, and as a consequence their personal mission is to keep each other alive and come home. Under this current “soft war” policy, the war cannot be won. After all, Pashtun Islamic culture sees any sort of kindness and mercy as a weakness – and immediately exploit it. The Taliban, knowing the restrictive nature of the current ROE/Tactical directive, use it against US forces regularly.

US troops feel abandoned by their chains of command, bilked by military recruiters, and participants in a conflict that history will not treat kindly. They will return to the US and to civilian life full of disappointment, bitterness at their commanders, and unwilling to serve again. And military commanders here are doing their very best to ensure that this never reaches the public. In their pursuit of mission accomplishment, they have altogether neglected their second purpose: troop welfare. The former, however, will never be realized without an equally dedicated concentration on the latter.

I invite comments and criticism at
Photos from my current embed can be found online at
My own website is

And then further:

As of today, my photos, videos, and writing have been so closely monitored by the command that I have elected to remove all imagery for fear of jeopardizing the troops on the ground. Commanders are using the images and footage to threaten Article 15s for Soldiers photographed out of uniform, and also threatening to relieve platoon sergeants and first sergeants for allowing such things to happen. Professionally, I have been bound and gagged – that is unless I’m willing to burn an entire troop (or squadron) of Soldiers in the process of telling the US public what’s happening – which would be counterproductive.

My next step will be to file a formal complaint with commanders who use media resources to incriminate their own subordinates. This command, I have determined, is far more concerned with looking pretty than accomplishing their mission. I also think that, somehow, the US public needs to know about it.

The entire report is very depressing for me.  I won’t weigh in on the full account, but I’ll address one aspect of it.  It really is disgraceful that command, whether NCOs or field grade officers, is spending any time at all trying to push paperwork over PPEs in the field.  This is very disappointing for me to read.

Colonel Mullen who commanded 2/6 in Fallujah in 2007, for whom I otherwise have an immense amount of respect (and by the way, so does my son who told me he would follow Colonel Mullen and First Sergeant Dagenhart anywhere on earth and to the gates of hell too), nonetheless disappointed me during the summer of 2007.  I suspect that Ben is embedded with the Army, but this focus on unimportant things isn’t just restricted to the Army.  The Marines engage in their share of stupidity.

In April of 2007 the men from 2/6 left their Marine Corps issued sand/desert boots behind in the Barracks (clodhoppers they were, with heavy Vibram soles) and purchased more user-friendly, ligher, more comfortable boots (which looked about the same) from Tactical Applications Group, TAGs, just outside of Camp Lejeune.  Slab with OPFOR knows where I am talking about.  They also ditched the IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) outer shell (or tactical carrier), and opted for the Spartan II also at TAGs (the civilian version of the Modular Tactical Vest which had not yet been issued, but the Spartan II was also better than the MTV).

Along comes MARADMINs, and the men had to throw away all of the boots they purchased from TAGs (while actually deployed in Fallujah) and use the heavier MC issued boots that had to be sent later, creating logistical problems that didn’t otherwise have to exist.  On the bright side, they all looked the same.  Yes, they all looked the same.  At least they got to keep their Spartan II carriers.

Next, as I was writing Operation Alljah, I linked this photograph taken by a stringer in Fallujah.

To which Colonel Mullen, while giving me his incredibly useful interview, responded that these Marines could not be 2/6.  They weren’t wearing the right clothing.  To which I responded, “Sir, this is 2/6 Golf Company, 3rd Platoon, and the one being carried in the middle is my son after he sprained his ankle jumping down from the roof of a house while being shot at.  He’s bent over because he is taller than they are – I know them.  The one on the left is carrying his SAW and providing cover.  We found the photo on Yahoo and talked to him about it.”  I believe that this is in the industrial district of Fallujah.  That particular patrol was over for my son, with light duty for a week or two.

Later my son told me that they would always make sure to wear the right clothing, with sleeves cleanly rolled to just the right length, no matter what the sun was doing to them, when they passed a certain place in Fallujah.  This particular place was where a camera was mounted, streaming to the Pentagon.  There were enough high powered cameras in the area that he could look at Camp Fallujah from FOB Reaper on the South side of Fallujah and tell if a Marine had not shaved that day.

You know.  You want to make sure that you look right and everything.  That’s what really matters.

Funny, I thought I was talking about something else …

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

Jim White at the very liberal Firedoglake links and cites me concerning battlespace control and the associated response by General McChrystal’s Staff.  The tale is so twisted and unrelated to the subject of my two articles that I don’t even know where to begin to decipher what he is talking about, so I can’t copy any of his prose.  He fancies cover-ups, horrible secret things to which we aren’t privy, and all manner of malfeasance and misdeed.  He cites the very un-American Gareth Porter, and he charges deception at every turn.

It just goes to show that presuppositions mean everything.  You see a devil around every corner if you think that there is supposed to be one there.  And all of this time I actually thought I was talking about RC South battlespace control, appreciation for and full utilization of the MAGTF (Marine Air Ground Task Force) concept and organization, and matrix of SOF to regional command so as to ensure that there is integration, cooperation and full cognizance of parallel operations in the AO.

Stupid me.

UPDATE: Over at Firedoglake, Jim dropped a comment that said something like “Hey look.  Someone’s mad at me,” linking this article.  Then he conveniently turned off comments to the post.

No, Jim.  Not mad.  Humored and amused, but not mad.  That’s why this article was posted in the humor category.

Farewell to Korengal

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

From the New York Times (h/t Mudville):

Last week the United States military pulled out of the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. Six miles long, sparsely populated and of dubious strategic value, the Korengal was the scene of some of the most relentless fighting of the Afghan war. American forces have been there in one form or another since the summer of 2005, when Taliban fighters cornered a four-man Navy Seal team on a nearby mountain and killed three of them. They then shot down a Chinook helicopter with 16 commandos on board. All of them died.

For much of 2007 and 2008, I was an embedded reporter with a platoon of airborne infantry at a remote outpost called Restrepo, which was attacked up to four times a day. Many soldiers had creases in their uniforms from bullets that had brushed them. In one firefight a bullet hit a sandbag six inches from my head.

The psychological pressure was enormous. “I’ve only been here for four months and I can’t believe how messed up I am,” one soldier told me. “I went to the counselor and he asked if I smoked cigarettes and I told him no and he said, ‘Well, you may want to think about starting.’”

There were around 20 men at Restrepo — part of a 150-member unit called Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team — and the possibility of getting overrun by the enemy was openly discussed. The men slept next to their guns and sometimes with their boots on. More than 40 American soldiers have died in the Korengal Valley.

Now, the military has retreated, saying that the valley is too isolated and that the American presence was possibly pushing the locals to side with the Taliban. This raises some questions: If the Korengal was really worth fighting for, why would we ever pull out? Or, conversely, why did we go there in the first place? Like the soldiers at Restrepo, I was looking at the war through a tiny keyhole, and have no way to answer such overarching questions. But I do know that several important points must be acknowledged.

First, a significant proportion of enemy fighters in the Korengal were foreigners who had come to Afghanistan to wage jihad. There were Pakistani cellphone numbers painted on rocks around the valley as a recruiting tool for potential volunteers; there were Arabic graffiti urging local men to join the fight. These foreigners presumably would have fought the Americans wherever they found them; if we had avoided the Korengal they would simply have shifted the battle elsewhere. (To a better place? A worse one? I doubt even the Taliban could say.)

Furthermore, I was told that one of the reasons for establishing a base in the Korengal was to prevent militants from using the valley to stage attacks on the vastly more important Pech River Valley, immediately to the north. The Pech was a major corridor for moving men and supplies, and after American bases were established in the Korengal, attacks at Pech dropped off significantly. The Korengal may not have been important per se, but arguably the Pech was, and there may have been no way to strategically separate the two.

At the beginning of the commentary, Sabastian Junger judges Korengal of dubious strategic value.  By the end of the seventh paragraph he has carefully crafted a good case for its unmatched strategic value.  Similarly, I said:

… until the places where the religiously-motivated and hard core fighters are taken on head-to-head, his means of rest and recruitment denied him, and his largesse taken away from him, this counterinsurgency cannot be won.  While they are unmolested in their favorite places, they can continue to send insurgents into the cities – Kandahar, Jalalabad and Kabul.

DVIDS published several videos of the dis-assembly of Korengal (here and here), but they aren’t as interesting as one published by al Jazeera which shows the Taliban swarming over the remains of the COP.

So why wasn’t a drone re-tasked to keep watch over the remains of the COP, and monitor the presence of enemy fighters and kill them while congregated in the COP?  This is yet another missed opportunity.

On a slightly different front, the Asia Times has an article up by Brian M Downing in which it is suggested that the reason for the insurgency was the presence of U.S. troops.  The solution?  Withdraw, just like we have done.  The culmination of this logic is to withdraw all U.S. forces from everywhere there is global or transnational insurgency, and presto – the fighters will disappear, never to cause problems anywhere.

With idiotic commentaries like this one (and others recently by anti-American Gareth Porter), the Asia Times is turning into a laughingstock, and is increasingly not worth the time, even for canvassing Taliban propaganda (which is the main reason I study this site).

Make no mistake about it.  This withdrawal is harmful to U.S. interests.

Prior: Withdrawal from Korengal

Capturing Insights from Firefights to Improve Training

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

From National Defense:

There is a popular belief that soldiers have a significantly longer life expectancy in a combat zone after they have survived their first few firefights. But little research has been conducted to evaluate what soldiers learn early in their deployments that would make the difference between improved effectiveness and becoming a combat fatality.

Can learned factors or perhaps inherent traits be replicated and conveyed in training so that a soldier’s chance of surviving initial firefights is similar to that of a seasoned combat veteran?

Past anecdotal discussions have indicated that military units tend to suffer higher casualty rates in their first engagements with the enemy. Recent research demonstrates that the first 100 days of combat is a more reliable critical period for improving the likelihood of survival than the widely held “first five firefights” theory.

These results hold implications for several aspects of modern training, as well as tactics, techniques and procedures used by today’s military.

The findings are the result of a study commissioned by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The study sought to determine the most likely times within a tour of duty that a soldier might become a combat-related fatality. The research also aimed to identify methods for reducing fatalities associated with these vulnerable times during a soldier’s deployment.

Statistics are not kept on the number of firefights in which a soldier experiences. In addition, a commonly accepted definition of firefight was difficult to ascertain, further complicating an investigation of the “first five” concept.

Based on analyses of databases covering all publicly available U.S. and U.K. fatalities over the past three years, nearly 40 percent of fatalities occur in the first three months of deployment.

One potential factor is troop transitions, such as old units rotating out and new units learning the ropes as they rotate in. Loss of local intelligence when an old unit leaves can be a crucial factor affecting fatalities during these initial months. When the old unit departs, relationships with locals are frequently lost. Lack of familiarity with the environment and enemy tactics, as well as a general lack of experience, are also important factors.

Analysis revealed another increase in Army fatalities, though not as dramatic, at approximately the six-month mark of a tour. The six-month spike was less pronounced for Marines, Navy and Air Force personnel. In addition, a minor spike in fatalities occurred again for soldiers at the 10-month mark. Likely factors for the increase in fatalities in these later months are fatigue, complacency and stale tactics. Frequent missions and patrols, overly consistent day-to-day procedures, and lack of in-theater training to maintain soldier focus may exacerbate these factors as well.

The graph above comes directly from Capturing Insights from Firefights to Improve Training, a DARPA presentation which I obtained from Scott Scheff with HFDesignworks.  There are several interesting and noteworthy observations from the study.  The spike at six months for Marines is not less likely as National Defense claims.  It is non-existent.  The spike occurs only for Army deployments.  Unstated is whether seventh month deployments versus 12- or 16-month deployments for the Army have anything to do with these metrics.

Regardless of why this spike occurs for Army and not the Marines, the message is clear from the study.  Stale tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) allows the insurgents to train themselves to our routines.  There are a number of tools recommended by the team which could contribute to better metrics (whether two-month or six-month).  The team recommends better just-in-time training (or what they call immersion training), a longer overlap from deployed to entry units, training to avoid complacency, theater- and situation-specific weapons deployment, and most importantly, revision of tactics, techniques and procedures to avoid stalemates between insurgents and counterinsurgents near or before the six-month period.  This is extremely important.

This follows the article entitled Marines, Taliban and Tactics. Techniques and Procedures.  Better training and preparation for and during deployments means lives saved.

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