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]

In Defense of Michael Yon: An Open Letter to Milbloggers

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

My friend Michael Yon has had some difficulties of late.  From his Facebook page, an embed has been halted.  He has also expressed deep reservations about the senior leadership in Afghanistan, weighing in with some fairly hard hitting prose (pieced together from Facebook and NRO):

Today, I do not trust McChrystal anymore than some people trust the New York Times, Obama or Bush. If McChrystal could be trusted, I would go back to my better life. McChrystal is a great killer but this war is above his head. He must be watched … Crazy Monkeys: Senior Public Affairs people often make me think of crazy monkeys. (Like some monkeys I’ve seen in India.) They break into the cockpit and start flipping switches with no idea what the switches do. They keep doing it until something breaks or you beat them back. And just when you think you’ve beaten …them all back, another monkey slips in. (This time by name of Admiral Smith.)

The disembed from McChrytal’s top staff (meaning from McChrystal himself) is a very bad sign. Sends chills that McChrystal himself thinks we are losing the war. McChrystal has a history of covering up. This causes concern that McChrystal might be misleading SecDef and President. Are they getting the facts?

Next time military generals talk about poor press performance in Afghanistan, please remember that McChrystal and crew lacked the dexterity to handle a single, unarmed writer. 100,000 troops — probably that many contractors — and no room for one writer. How can McChrystal handle the Taliban?

To make matters worse, it seems that some prominent folks in the Milblogging community are taking Michael to task for what they consider bad form.  Uncle Jimbo (Jim Hanson at Blackfive) is indignant.

Now he is telling us that Gen. McChrystal is over his head and needs to be watched? I’m sorry but if I have to choose between the eminently qualified and competent McChrystal and Yon, there’s not even a question … I can’t believe he is questioning McChrystal’s character. That’s BS and low.  He has claimed he was told there was no room for him to embed, well that is not what I heard. It appears he was again removed for violating the embed rules. At some point you need to own up to the fact that it’s not the rest of the world…’s you. That point is now.

Disclaimer: I have not embedded…ever. I am not going to embed because I don’t want to. I like being in the rear w/ the gear. I have plenty of stamps on my passport, have toured the most craptastic places on the planet, and now don’t deploy anywhere w/o room service. I respect what Michael Yon has done, I just think he is acting like a jackass.

Jim links others in the Milblogging community who are discussing Michael’s most recent words. holds that Michael owes us some facts, and Laughing Wolf at Blackfive also weighs in negatively.  I have never been embedded either (although not for lack of trying).  But I sent a son off to war, and I defy anyone to tell me that it’s any less difficult to deploy a son to combat than it is to deploy yourself.  Jim Hanson has a right to weigh in – and so do I.

I have a history of Milblogging that is marked with potholes as well, and have taken on some staff and flag level officers.  Two years ago I took on General Rodriguez for his fanciful claims about the Taliban being in such trouble that they couldn’t and wouldn’t mount a spring offensive in Afghanistan.  I pointed out even before the Taliban offensive began that their singular focus at that time would be the interdiction of logistical lines, and recommended that we engage the Caucasus region for a Northern route into Afghanistan (we are only belatedly coming around to my counsel).  I was right, of course, but you make no friends in the chain of command when you claim that your own analysis is better than that of Army intelligence (and a flag level officer), whether true or not.

Next, recall that I parodied the notion that an internal investigation into Marine deaths in the Kunar Province having to do with denial of artillery support because of rules of engagement would in any way ever hold the purveyor of that ROE – General McChrystal – responsible. Again, one wins no friends with such hard hitting prose.  Better yet.  General Rodriguez and General McChrystal are close friends.  I’m sure that neither one appreciated my comments concerning the other.

I have very specific reasons to believe that my hard hitting style, my critical nature, and my cataloging of the various blunders in both Iraq and Afghanistan have cost me readership and standing within the Milblogging community.  Beyond that, there are the cold relations with high level officers.  Jim Hanson almost immediately received a response from General McChrystal in response to his letter concerning rules of engagement.  I had to send his public affairs officer a letter three different times to get a response to a OPCON question from – you guessed it – the PAO rather than McChrystal.

All of this points to the question of what obligations we have as Milbloggers (beyond operational security and other basic issues).  I can’t speak for all Milbloggers, but I can speak for myself.  I am not trying to turn a discussion about Michael Yon into one about myself, but I am trying to relate.  I have a moral obligation to support the warriors we deploy to do our violence for us (and that includes our warriors in the chain of command).  I have an obligation to tell the truth, and I have done that as best as I know.  I have an obligation to fulfill my commitments: I have told Michael Yon that I would pray for his safety, and I have done that.

I am under absolutely no obligation whatsoever to support any particular personality, any strategy, any tactic, technique or procedure, any set of rules, or any doctrine.  I will do the best I can to hold those in the military and also those who fund them accountable.  This is oftentimes unpleasant, but I will issue no complaints.  I have chosen my path.

Similarly for those who know Michael, he spoke against those who said that Operation Iraqi Freedom was lost, or that it was won; he said that Afghanistan would be problematic even before I did (he saw it first hand); he talked about the job that the British were doing in Basra even when I was lamenting the poor strategy; he has also reported on problems with allies in Afghanistan.  In short, Michael Yon has been an honest broker of information and analysis, whether pleasant or not, whether his analysis agreed with my own or not.  Perhaps I feel a kinship with him even though I have never met him.

Either way, Jim Hanson sets two people in juxtaposition – General McChrystal and Michael Yon, and says that he’ll take McChrystal.  I’m not at all troubled by the dilemma.  I refuse to play.  But I am particularly troubled by the notion, even if faintly present, that I am somehow obligated to march in lock step with the senior officers.  If I am not obligated to march to their beat, then neither is Michael Yon.  He can give account for himself and his own words.  He will take his lumps at times, and if he broke some rule or other (as Hanson charges), then he will suffer whatever consequences there are for that infraction.  But as a journalist there is no reason to expect that he will be any less critical of things than say the New York Times, albeit for different reasons.

Jim Hanson tells us that he believes differently concerning Michael’s recent embed experience (“ … that is not what I heard”).  This is all well and good.  He can believe what he wants.  I generally have a high bar for information I use or purvey on the blog.  I wasn’t there, I don’t know anyone who was, and even if I did know someone who was there, I also know that the story can become muddled in translation.  What happened to Michael is his business, not mine.  As for whether McChrystal “needs to be watched,” I’ll pass on that and let Michael explain his prose.  I have expressed very detailed disagreement with General McChrystal’s ROE and what I see as his micromanagement of the campaign.  I don’t retract or apologize for a single word of my prose.

Michael will continue in my estimation to be the Ernie Pyle of our generation and this incident will pass.  It’s also my estimation that these open letters to Michael are a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  We Milbloggers have better ways to spend our time than cannibalize our own.  The most important thing to come out of the affair is another chance to say what we all know but tend to forget when it comes to the nation and military that we love.  I am under no obligation to shill for the chain of command.  Neither is Michael – and neither are you.

McChrystal’s PAO Responds Concerning Battlespace Control

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

About one month ago I had some very specific questions concerning OPCON.  After three attempts to get General McChrystal’s PAO to respond, I finally received this.  As I stipulated in the original article, I will post the entire response without editorial comment.

General McChrystal is currently out of the country.  I assume you’ve been following this issue closely, so I also assume that you know that the Commander has addressed this question several times previously.

Operational control of Marine or special operations forces is not based on concern about these forces “going rogue” or underperforming in recent operations.  It is about unity of command and effort, which has been an
enduring concern with the nations and branches supporting operations in Afghanistan and was identified as an area of improvement in General McChrystal’s August 2009 initial assessment.

To use a musical analogy, the best violin and cello and trumpet and drum players in the world don’t make a world-class orchestra until they’re playing under a conductor who can integrate individual talents into the opportunities and challenges of a particular composition.  In the case of Afghanistan, those opportunities and challenges are best understood and addressed by the theater commander responsible for integrating localized security efforts into comprehensive improvements in security and Afghan capacity across the country.

Advocates of withholding OPCON from the theater commander will argue that forces can be trusted to be team players under different command arrangements.  As you point out, this trust has been justified in the past, although personally I don’t know whether operational success can be attributed to exceptional command arrangements or whether such success occurs despite these arrangements.  Nevertheless, what advocates often overlook is that the trust that they expect from theater commanders is a two-way street, and there is no great risk in giving theater commanders the benefit of the doubt in that relationship. Providing OPCON to a theater commander does not mean that that commander will be prone to ignore the lessons of history and misuse uniquely capable forces, any more than withholding OPCON will risk having component commanders use those forces in a doctrinally correct but ultimately counterproductive ways because of the component commander’s relative ignorance of the operational situation.

You must first read the original article in order to understand this response.  The reader can judge the clarity and adequacy of this response for himself.

Withdrawal from Korengal

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

The last U.S. Soldiers have been pulled out of the Korengal Valley.

It was as if the five years of almost ceaseless firefights and ambushes had been a misunderstanding — a tragic, bloody misunderstanding.

More than 40 U.S. troops have been killed, and scores more wounded, in helicopter crashes, machine-gun attacks and grenade blasts in the Korengal Valley, a jagged sliver just six miles long and a half-mile wide. The Afghan death toll has been far higher, making the Korengal some of the bloodiest ground in all of Afghanistan, according to American and Afghan officials.

In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, the U.S. presence here came to an abrupt end.

[ … ]

For U.S. commanders, the Korengal Valley offers a hard lesson in the limits of American power and goodwill in Afghanistan. The valley’s extreme isolation, its axle-breaking terrain and its inhabitants’ suspicion of outsiders made it a perfect spot to wage an insurgency against a Western army.

U.S. troops arrived here in 2005 to flush out al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. They stayed on the theory that their presence drew insurgents away from areas where the U.S. role is more tolerated and there is a greater desire for development. The troops were, in essence, bullet magnets.

In 2010, a new set of commanders concluded that the United States had blundered into a blood feud with fierce and clannish villagers who wanted, above all, to be left alone. By this logic, subduing the Korengal wasn’t worth the cost in American blood.

There’s more than a little hyperbole in this report.  There was and is no surprise in the difficulty of the Korengal Valley.  This is where the Battle of Wanat occurred, but in spite of the level of difficulty, Bing West points out that:

The scale of the fighting was not the reason for withdrawing. One American soldier was killed in the Korengal in the last ten months, a loss rate less than in an average rifle company. The strongest technical rationale for the withdrawal was economy of force. The troop-to-population ratio and the logistics for air support were too onerous, regardless of the level of fighting.

The troop (and air power and logistics) commitment in Korengal didn’t comport with a population-centric counterinsurgency model General McChrystal wants to employ.  When it comes to population, the Korengal Valley can’t compete with Kandahar with its half a million residents.

But is it really correct to assert that we merely stumbled into a tribal feud?  Bing West continues: “… in 2007, half the fighters were locals and half were hard-core Islamic jihadists. When I was in the Korengal in 2009, the interpreters estimated a third of the voices heard over the enemy radios had Pakistani-tinged accents, a third were Pashto and a third were the local dialects.”

The Washington Post report eventually becomes interesting with a touchstone account of attempting to persuade hard core insurgents.

Moretti’s predecessors had spent countless hours trying to persuade Zalwar Khan to rally the locals to support the road project. Three years of prodding had produced virtually no progress. Moretti sensed that the real power in the valley lay with the men leading the insurgency.

He asked Khan to deliver a letter to a timber baron and insurgent leader known as Matin, who like many Afghans uses only one name. Long before Moretti’s arrival in the valley, U.S. troops had killed several of Matin’s family members in airstrikes, according to the Korengalis. In banning the timber trade, the Afghan government had deprived him of his sole means of income.

“Haji Matin hates the Americans too much,” Khan told Moretti, using an honorific that signified Matin’s completion of the pilgrimage to Mecca. “He won’t respond.”

Instead he advised Moretti to write to Nasurallah, a colleague of Matin’s. “It is our belief that you are the rightful leader of the Korengalis,” the captain wrote. “You hold the power not only among the villagers but also among the fighters. If you want the valley to prosper all you have to do is talk with us and bring your fighters down from the mountains.”

The letter offered Nasurallah two choices: development or death. “It is not our wish to kill your fellow Korengalis,” Moretti continued. “But we are good at it and will continue to do it as long as you fight us.”

Two days later, Moretti received a response. “If you surrender to the law of God then our war against you will end,” Nasurallah wrote. “If you keep fighting for man’s law then we will fight you until Doomsday.”

As I have contended before, 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.

We don’t have enough troops, and SOF raids against high value targets – which contrary to belief is becoming even more important that it was previously – won’t ameliorate the need for contact with both the enemy and the population.  U.S. forces in the Korengal Valley have fought bravely, but don’t be surprised if this area becomes safe haven for not only hard core Taliban, but globalist insurgents of various ilk.

Perspectives from a Tea Party Rally

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

As I have said before, En loco protestari or something like that.

The final words from the podium at tonight’s Tea Party at the Georgia state capitol were simple:  “We’ll remember in November.”  As I thought about those words on the way home, I was struck by how appropriate and well chosen they were.  Those words encouraged the crowd to do two things.  First, remember why they were there in the first place.  Remember what the current administration in Washington has done over the last 15 months to diminish our freedoms, weaken our standing in the world and push our nation deeper and deeper into debt.  Second, take action in response to that memory. Vote in November for a new direction.

The opposite of rememberance that results in action is forgetfulness that results in complacency.  Unfortunately, it is human nature to forget and to grow accustomed and accepting of the world around us.  It is human nature to forget and to accept, even if the reality that we left behind is far better than the new reality that we are living with.  So, in case you are tempted to a forgetfulness that results in complacency, let me remind you of a few things.

The founders of our country who wrote our Constitution and crafted our form of government brilliantly understood human nature.  They understood the danger of concentrating too much power in the hands of any one person or any one branch or level of government.  For that reason, they spread the powers of the national government across 3 co-equal branches of government, so that each branch could exercise checks and balances over the others.  We all know these things.

But what we often forget is that the founders also spread the powers of government across two different levels, the federal level of government and the state level of government.  They designed a government where the states had original and complete powers in most matters that affect the day-to-day lives of citizens.  As for the federal government, it was to be a government of limited powers.  So, the level of government that is the closest, and most accountable, to the people would have the greatest impact on their lives, and the level of government that is the farthest, and least accountable, to the people would have the least impact on their lives.  True to the original design of the founders, when George Washington became the first President of the United States, he had more people under his direct supervision at his home at Mount Vernon than he had under his direct supervision in the federal government.

Today, the federal government is the largest employer in the United States, and the overwhelming majority of those federal employees are un-elected bureaucrats who ultimately answer to one person, the President.  A few weeks ago, Congress and the President enacted a healthcare bill that puts the federal government in control of an ADDITIONAL 16% of our economy, matters where the states or individual citizens historically had been in charge, intimate and important matters that impact us on a personal level on a daily basis.  That power over intimate and important matters was taken away from us and from the states in which we live, pushed UP to the federal level of government, and concentrated IN to the branch of government filled with un-elected bureaucrats who answer to one President.  This is a concentration of enormous power in the Presidency and the un-elected bureaucracy that would have been unthinkable to our founders.  Prior to 18 months ago, it would have been unthinkable to me.  But November 2008 changed all of that.

I have not fogotten about that, and because I have not forgotten about that, I am motivated to do crazy things like take MARTA downtown after a long, stressful day at work and stand there in front of the capitol applauding and cheering with a crowd of people who, like me, remember.  And because they remember, they showed up to applaud and cheer, too.

It is true that our culture shapes our government.  It is especially true that the brilliance of our Constitution is a reflection of the exceptional individuals who crafted it and the exceptional culture from which they came.  BUT, that power to shape works in both directions.  Actions of the government can actually bring about changes in our culture.  In particular, the government, by its actions, can create dependencies.  By taking a larger and larger bite out of our earnings and promising us benefits in return, the government can make us into its dependents.  It is the maturation process in reverse.  We go from being independent adults to being children who are dependent upon a distant parent.  This kind of dependency is what will result from the enormous monstrosity that was enacted into law a few weeks ago.  (Never mind the fact that it almost certainly will be far more expensive than promised and will add to our already staggering national debt.  That is a topic for another night.)  All of these things I fear will happen, UNLESS, we do two very important things.  First, REMEMBER.  Second, ACT in response to that memory.

This is an election year.  For everyone reading this message, you have the opportunity at the very least to vote for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  For most people, you also have the opportunity to vote for state officials and perhaps a U.S. Senator.  You also have the opportunity to inform yourself about the issues and the candidates, to share your opinions with others, to become involved in a campaign, to vote in a primary and, most importantly, to vote this November.

The final, and most imporant, way that our founders spread power was to spread the primary, the greatest and the most foundational power as broadly as possible.  They gave that power to us, the citizens.  Collectively, we can weild awesome power.  But it requires each of us, every one of us, to do our part.  What can make that happen?  The answers are simple:  REMEMBER and ACT!!!

Respectfully submitted,

Keith W. Smith, Esquire, Atlanta, Ga.

New York Times to Release Names of Intelligence Personnel in Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

From Brad Thor:

I have just received word that the New York Times is preparing to go public with a list of names of Americans covertly working in Afghanistan providing force protection for our troops, as well as the rest of our Coalition Forces. If the Times actually sees this through, the red ink they are drowning in will be nothing compared to the blood their entire organization will be covered with. Make no mistake, the Times is about to cause casualty rates in Afghanistan to skyrocket. Each and every American should be outraged.

As chronicled here, here, here, and here the Central Intelligence Agency via the New York Times has been waging a nasty proxy war against the Department of Defense over its use of former military and intelligence personnel to do what the CIA is both incapable and unwilling to do: gather the much needed intelligence that keeps our troops safe.

Here Brad is referring to the con job that Robert Young Pelton and Eason Jordan did on the NYT to assist them in their fight against the DoD for usurping what they saw as their own dollars.  Continuing with Brad’s comments:

… thanks to the beating the folks on the 7th floor at Langley and the New York Timeshave taken in the blogosphere, they are about to go for broke and to do so in a fashion so grotesque that every American should be moved to action.

These morbidly conjoined twins have entered dangerous territory. They are not only putting at risk the lives of the brave men and women working day and night to keep our troops safe (who, along with their families, will surely be targeted for retribution by al Qaeda and the Taliban), but they are also calling down a host of legal woes via the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (made famous in the Valerie Plame affair under the George W. Bush Administration) as the intelligence gathered and reported on by the Defense Department operatives in question is most definitely classified.

So while the New York Times stands ready to once again put American lives at grave risk in order to sell a few more papers, the Central Intelligence Agency appears committed to its misguided “Kappes Doctrine”, (so named for Leon Panetta’s number-two man, who many in the intel game blame for being the “hidden hand in many of the nation’s intelligence failures”). Per the Kappes Doctrine, which was so disastrously tied to the F.O.B. Chapman attack, the Agency is happy to pay foreign intel services to take the risks as long as the CIA can take the credit (and in this case, continue to claim that what the Department of Defense is doing every day on the ground in Afghanistan can’t be done).

There are a number of questions raised by this report.  Who are the operatives to which Brad refers?  It cannot possibly be military contractors, who now outnumber our own troops in Afghanistan.  It would seem unlikely that the operatives are CIA employees, since the NYT has indeed been assisting the CIA in its war against the DoD.  It would also seem unlikely that the operatives are U.S. special operations forces.  Not even the NYT would be privy to that information.  Who is covertly working in Afghanistan supplying force protection?  Force protection is a very overt affair, but Brad may mean force protection via intelligence gathering and assessment.

If so, then apparently the NYT is still embroiled in the same tired and absurd war against DoD intelligence contractors.  What’s so ironic about this is that the NYT is allowing itself to become a pawn in an internecine fight between the CIA and DoD.  Finally, I hope that Brad’s information is good.  I can see this information being a ruse.  On the other hand, if it’s true, leave it to the NYT to harm national security.  They have the experience to do it right.

At Nuclear Summit Obama Snubs an Ally

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

From Jackson Diehl:

Forty-seven world leaders are Barrack Obama’s guests in Washington Tuesday at the nuclear security summit. Obama is holding bilateral meetings with just twelve of them. That’s led to some awkward exclusions — and some unfortunate appearances, as well.

One of those left out was Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, who got a phone call from Obama last week instead of a meeting in Washington. His exclusion must have prompted broad smiles in Moscow, where Saakashvili is considered public enemy no. 1 — a leader whom Russia tried to topple by force in the summer of 2008. After all, Obama met with Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine and a friend of the Kremlin. And he is also meeting with the leaders of two of Georgia’s neighbors — Armenia and Turkey, both of which enjoy excellent relations with Russia.

So is anyone really surprised?  Each passing day of our Caucasus policy makes another Russian invasion of Georgia more likely.  Perhaps Obama’s previous assurances to Georgia ring hollow now?  And perhaps Georgia will rethink sending the Georgian 31st Infantry Battalion, recently deployed to serve alongside the U.S. Marines in the Helmand Province, to assist with the campaign in Afghanistan?


It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

The Coming War in the Caucasus

Obama, Russia and the Future of Georgia

Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy

Israel, Petraeus and Iran

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

Andrew McCarthy at NRO takes on both Petraeus and Max Boot in a recent commentary.

In January, after canvassing opinion from Muslim governments in his area of responsibility, Petraeus sent a team of CENTCOM officials to brief the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As reported by Mark Perry of Foreign Policy, the purpose of that briefing was to underline Petraeus’s “growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The general was doing politics, not combat strategy — and we don’t owe him any deference on politics. In a 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint presentation, Petraeus’s briefers reported, among other things, “that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, [and] that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region.”

The general repeated this political theme in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 16. Specifically, he averred in a written statement (p. 12) that the “… enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to advance our interest in the AOR (Area of Responsibility). Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile Al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizbollah and Hamas.”

Max Boot briefly responded that Petraeus doesn’t blame Israel for our problems and it’s incorrect for McCarthy to say that he does.  McCarthy’s commentary is insightful, and I won’t weigh in on Boot’s specific response concerning whether Pertraeus believes that Israel is the root of America’s problems.  General Petraeus could (and should) weigh in himself (although his testimony seemed pretty clear to me).

However, on the issue of being a so-called “honest broker,” some sort of neutral party which can hold both sides accountable and thereby effect change in behavior or attitude, this is worse than wishful thinking.  Leaving aside the issue of whether the U.S. should be biased towards Israel and assessing the situation from a purely clinical perspective, the belief that “honest brokering” with Israel will change the calculus is naive to the point of being childish and even dangerous (and here I am not necessarily commenting on the Petraeus testimony).

The radical rulers in Iran will not be mollified, and the covert and overt operations of their surrogates in the Middle East will not be attenuated one iota by playing “honest broker” and pressing Israel to make more concessions.  The Palestinians are increasingly rejecting the idea of a two-state solution.  Short of regime change, Iran will obtain nuclear weapons within a few years or less, excepting military action by Israel (which has the unlikely affect of being successful in the long term).  Not even the most robust sanctions will stop Iran, much less political pressure on Israel.

We must remove the radical Mullahs or support those who would in order to avoid a regional conflagration in the near term.  Everyone in the State Department already knows this, or if they don’t, they aren’t qualified to be in the employ of the government.  I’m not quite sure which group is larger.  One year and four months ago I forecasted that “the State Department will begin the administration with high hopes, excitement and grand ambitions for the role of diplomacy, negotiations and multi-lateral talks. By the end of the administration, a general malaise and confusion will have descended upon the entire State Department, and yet there will still be sparse and shallow understanding of why negotiations have so miserably failed to prevent or ameliorate the various calamities for which they were targeted.”

Strange Counterinsurgency: The Marines Join Other Tribes!

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

After seeing a few pictures in a commentary by Diana West, I felt that they were so laughable, clownish and ridiculous that they must be fabricated, so I set about to locate them.  And locate them I did.


NAWA, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (From left to right) Lt . Col. Matt Baker, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Sgt. Maj. Dwight D. Jones, sergeant major of 1/3, and Maj. Rudy Quiles, civil affairs team leader with 1/3, listen to Nawas district administrator speak March 21, during Islamic New Year celebration.

There are other pictures for your viewing.  The pity with the story that these photographs tell is that there is nothing quite like it in U.S. Marine Corps history.  The Marines have done counterinsurgency and stability operations for some 200 years now, and yet the history of these operations seems to have been all but forgotten.  The most recent counterinsurgency success – the Anbar Province in Iraq – surely has been forgotten.

Note that I have been careful to point out the need for warrior scholars.

When Marine Lt. Col. Bill Mullen showed up at the city council meeting here Tuesday, everyone wanted a piece of him. There was the sheikh who wants to open a school, the judge who wants the colonel to be at the jail when several inmates are freed, and the Iraqi who just wants a burned-out trash bin removed from his neighborhood … Sunni sheikhs here want to create a relationship of true patronage with what they consider to be the biggest and most powerful tribe here: the Marines of Anbar Province.

This was Fallujah in 2007, and when the Marines of 2/6 entered in April, vehicle-borne IEDs were so prevalent that security couldn’t be enforced without draconian measures.  The city was locked down, gates and checkpoints were put up, communities were walled off, a census was taken, biometrics were taken on the population (fingerprints and iris scans), and kinetic operations were conducted on the insurgents.

Within months, Fallujah was a different place.  The Marines never relinquished their force protection, never jettisoned their uniforms, and always kept the upper hand with regards to the security of the city.  But in Marjah where Marine lives were lost to take the area, the situation is degrading.

Just a few weeks since the start of the operation, the Taliban have “reseized control and the momentum in a lot of ways” in northern Marja, Maj. James Coffman, civil affairs leader for the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, said in an interview in late March … Compensation helped turn the tide of insurgency in Iraq. But in Marja, where the Taliban seem to know everything — and most of the time it is impossible to even tell who they are — they have already found ways to thwart the strategy in many places, including killing or beating some who take the Marines’ money, or pocketing it themselves.

It isn’t counterinsurgency in Afghanistan that’s so different from Iraq – it’s the behavior of the Marines.  Insurgents have always been difficult to separate from the population.  That’s what makes it an insurgency.  In the Helmand Province, the Marines are apparently attempting to join the tribes, even if for a very brief period of time.  Note the irony.  Rather than being the strongest tribe, they are showing deference to the weaker tribes, i.e., the ones who are losing to the Taliban.

Logistical Challenges for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

From The New York Times:

So many convoys loaded with American supplies came under insurgent attack in Pakistan last year that the United States military now tags each truck with a GPS device and keeps 24-hour watch by video feed at a military base in the United States. Last year the Taliban blew up a bridge near the pass, temporarily suspending the convoys.

“Hannibal trying to move over the Alps had a tremendous logistics burden, but it was nothing like the complexity we are dealing with now,” said Lt. Gen. William G. Webster, the commander of the United States Third Army, using one of the extravagant historical parallels that commanders have deployed for the occasion. He spoke at a military base in the Kuwaiti desert before a vast sandscape upon which were armored trucks that had been driven out of Iraq and were waiting to be junked, sent home or taken on to Kabul, Afghanistan.

The general is not moving elephants, but the scale and intricacy of the operation are staggering. The military says there are 3.1 million pieces of equipment in Iraq, from tanks to coffee makers, two-thirds of which are to leave the country. Of that, about half will go on to Afghanistan, where there are already severe strains on the system.

As I have pointed out an untold number of times, the standard route for supplies goes through the Pakistani port city of Karachi and ultimately through the Khyber pass and Torkham Crossing (a small amount, i.e., ten percent, goes through Chaman to the Kandahar AO), and is subject to attacks on our lines of logistics.  But there is another experimental route.


This is close to what I have recommended in It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus, except that the lines run through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan rather than across the Caspian Sea through Turkmenistan (the reason isn’t clear, perhaps because of the human rights violations of the present regime in Turkmenistan and the unsavory characters with whom we would be dealing).  Dealing with unsavory characters is a part of the process in this region of the world, and we should be engaging all of the Caucasus region, including Turkmenistan.  Our preening moral outrage should be saved for the radical Mullahs in Iran and the way they treat their citizens.

Daniel Foster writing at NRO’s Corner updates us with this:

A Lt. Colonel in the Air Force e-mails me with this (unclassified) tidbit on the effect of the Kyrgyz unrest on allied operations inside Afghanistan:

For the last few months we have been flying MATV’s (the new, tougher MRAPs) into Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan via commercial 747’s and transloading them onto C-17’s for delivery into Afghanistan (mainly Kandahar, Bagram and Camp Bastion).

Due to ‘civic unrest’ Manas AB is now temporarily shut down to flying ops. To say this puts a crimp in the ‘logistics hose’ is an understatement. If the new gov’t can’t be convinced to play ball re: Manas we will be ‘challenged’ to say the least. . . .[I]t is also a significant mil passenger hub . . . .

We have put significant effort into the procurement of rights at Manas Air Base; the unrest in the region is problematic for logistics, and may go to prove that the choice to place such effort on Manas was wrong-headed.


Kyrgyzstan is still significantly to the East of Afghanistan, and landlocked and beholden to some extent to the good will of Russia.  The current administration’s fear of truly engaging Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkmenistan (this is the Russian “near-abroad”, and Russia has basing rights in Armenia) has prevented the full engagement of the region and the creation of more efficient and effective lines of logistics, and rights to additional air bases that could supply the campaign in Afghanistan.  But we’re giving up on even more than that.  We are neglecting to engage in very real force projection in this region of the world, and making sad events like another Russian invasion of Georgia more likely.


Progress on Logistics Through Georgia?

Afghanistan Logistics: It Isn’t Too Late to do the Right Thing

Is it logistically possible to deploy more troops to Afghanistan?

The Logistical Cost of Being Deployed

Marines, Beasts and Water

More Attacks on Logistics Routes

Attack on Logistics Near Chaman

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan (in which I predicted the strategy of attacking lines of logistics through the Khyber Pass in March of 2008 – CENTCOM wasn’t listening).

More on Taliban Massing of Forces

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

In Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops, I detailed no less than six instances of Taliban forces massing from 100 to 400 troops for engagements (approximately half-Battalion), including at the fated Battle of Wanat.  The Battle of Kamdesh is a seventh instance of massing of forces, in this case up to 300 troops.

The Germans have experienced yet another example.

Germany says three of its soldiers were killed and five severely wounded in heavy fighting with Taliban insurgents today in northern Afghanistan.

The German military said the detachment was patrolling near Chahar Dara, southwest of the city of Konduz, when it was attacked by militants.

District government chief Abdul Wahid Omar Khil estimated there were about 200 Taliban fighters involved in the attack.

See also FOXNews and their report.  The Strategy Page has a slightly more detailed account.

The German Army lost another three soldiers on March 26th, when several dozen German troops and Afghan police, as they halted to deal with some roadside bombs, were attacked by over a hundred Taliban. The fighting went on for two hours, mainly because the Taliban had set up their firing positions inside, and on the roofs of, nearby homes. The Taliban know the ROE (Rules of Engagement) all NATO troops must obey, and this means no dropping smart bombs on buildings that might contain civilians. So the Germans had to wait for troop reinforcements to arrive by road.

Whether 100 (Strategy Page) or 200 (Abdul Wahid Omar Khil) fighters, the Taliban are still inefficient and poor shots compared to U.S. fighters.  They are aware that their best hope lies in outnumbering their opponents, and they will use this tactic to their advantage whenever possible.

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