Boar Down!

Herschel Smith · 30 Oct 2022 · 9 Comments

Readers may have noticed I was absent the last several days.  It was a good time away.  A very good buddy and neighbor of mine, Robert, and I went hunting courtesy of the fine folks with Williams Hunting in South Carolina. I was shooting a 6mm ARC rifle with a Grendel Hunter upper, Aero Precision lower, Amend2 magazines, Brownells scope mount, Radian Raptor charging handle, Nikon Black scope, and a Viking Tactics sling.  I have no complaints about the gun.  It's at least a 1 MOA gun…… [read more]

Iraq has buyers remorse over U.S. exit

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

General Ray Odierno has stated concern over the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq, saying that U.S. funding will still be needed for the ISF.  Iraqi officials have stated their needs more clearly and comprehensively than that.

The Iraqi army will require American support for another decade before it is ready to handle the country’s security on its own, Iraq’s army chief of staff told AFP on Wednesday.

Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari said Iraq’s politicians had to find a way to “fill the void” after American troops withdraw from the country at the end of next year under a bilateral security pact.

“At this point, the withdrawal (of US forces) is going well, because they are still here,” Zebari said.

“But the problem will start after 2011; the politicians must find other ways to fill the void after 2011, because the army will be fully ready in 2020.

“If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020.”

There certainly seems to be buyers remorse over the negotiated withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq.   At least there is so among those who know anything.  But as I have also pointed out before, while we cannot draw down too precipitously and need to keep a presence in Iraq for years to come, the real issue of importance is not so much numbers, but the Status of Forces Agreement that makes U.S. troops like prisoners under house arrest in their own FOBs.  If Iraqi officials care about U.S. presence in Iraq, they will renegotiate the SOFA.  First things first.  Without a new SOFA it doesn’t matter how many troops the U.S. keeps in Iraq.

Foreign Fighters and LeT Contribute to Afghan Insurgency

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

In The Evolving Jihadist Scene in Pakistan we discussed the al Qaeda strategy of co-opting other insurgents in Pakistan, such as the LeT, to a broader war against the West with more globalist designs and intentions than mere questions over Kashmir.  The AP recently added another contribution to our knowledge with a recent report on cross border operations.

As the spotlight of the Afghan war focuses on the south, insurgent activity is increasing in parts of the east, with Arab and other foreign fighters linked to al-Qaida infiltrating across the rugged mountains with the help of Pakistani militants, Afghan and U.S. officials say …

Gen. Mohammed Zaman Mahmoodzai, head of Afghanistan’s border security force, told The Associated Press that infiltration by al-Qaida-linked militants has been increasing in his area since March.

“One out of three are Arabs,” he said, coming mostly from Pakistan’s Bajaur and Mohmand tribal areas where the Pakistan military is battling Pakistani Taliban insurgents …

A NATO official said he thought Mahmooodzai’s estimate of Arab infiltration was high but acknowledged that activity by foreign fighters was running “a little more than average” in the east. He said most of them were believed to be Pakistanis, Chechens and Tajiks although it was difficult to determine their origins.

In some cases, militants enter the country through legal crossing points such as Torkham, 35 miles east of Jalalabad. Mahmoodzai said the infiltrators carry fake passports and visas provided by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group that India blames for the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that left 166 people dead.

“We know it is Lashkar-e-Taiba because we have sources inside the Afghan Taliban,” Mahmoodzai said. “They said the Arabs are coming here through Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

Last month, the NATO-led command announced the capture of two Taliban commanders it said were helping Lashkar-e-Taiba (LASH-kar-e-TOY-bah) members slip into Afghanistan. In reporting the second arrest, a NATO statement referred to a “recent influx” of Lashkar-e-Taiba members into the eastern province of Nangarhar.

The mixture of insurgent groups adds to the complexity of the war in the east, often fought in terrain much more rugged and challenging than in the north or south.

The Haqqani group was believed to have played a major role in the Dec. 30 suicide bombing at a CIA base in the eastern province of Khost that killed seven agency employees.A NATO official said that if al-Qaida is in Afghanistan, it’s probably in Kunar, the eastern Afghan province along the Pakistani border where Osama bin Laden maintained bases in the 1990s. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to release the information to the media.

“The government is there by day, but by night it is the Taliban who are in control,” said Malik Naseer, who is running for parliament in next month’s election from a district of Nangarhar. “Residents say there are some foreigners among them.”The Pakistani agency helped organize Lashkar-e-Taiba, or Army of the Pure, two decades ago to launch attacks in Indian-controlled Kashmir, the disputed mountain region that lies at the heart of the rivalry between the two nuclear-armed nations.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the U.S. military refers to as LeT, is believed to have played a role in the Feb. 26, 2010 car bombing and suicide attack on two guesthouses in Kabul frequented by Indians, and in the October 2008 car bombing at the gates of the Indian Embassy that killed more than 60 people …

“I’ve watched them since 2008 … move to the West, become more active in other countries and more active throughout the region and more engaged with other terrorist groups,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, told Pakistani reporters in Islamabad last month. “So there is an increased level of concern with respect to where LeT is and where it appears to be headed.”

Christine Fair, assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, says Lashkar-e-Taiba has been attacking coalition soldiers in Afghanistan since 2004. Fair said she has tracked Lashkar-e-Taiba operations in several eastern Afghan provinces, including Kunar, Baghlan, Nangarhar, Logar and Nuristan.

The NATO official speculated that Lashkar-e-Taiba is using Afghanistan to “get up their jihadi street credentials” among the militants’ support base.

We are watching the continuing evolution of the LeT from a home grown insurgency focused on Kashmir to one with internationalist intentions.  In the battle to make international insurgents more locally oriented when they show up, versus making home grown insurgents more internationally oriented, the globalists are winning.  Was there ever really any chance that it would have been any other way?  Was there ever any doubt?

Showcase Afghan Army Mission Turns to Debacle

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

From The New York Times:

An ambitious military operation that Afghan officials had expected to be a sign of their growing military capacity instead turned into an embarrassment, with Taliban forces battering an Afghan battalion in a remote northeast area for the last week.

The fighting has been so intense that the Red Cross has been unable to reach the battlefield to remove dead and wounded.

The operation, east of Kabul, was not initially coordinated with NATO forces, but the Afghans called for help after 10 of their soldiers were killed and perhaps twice as many captured at the opening of their operation nine days ago, and American and French NATO forces poured in to the area.

“There are a lot of lessons to be learned here,” said a senior American military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the debacle. “How they started that and why they started that.” He said there had been no public statements on the battle because of the need for confidentiality during a rescue mission.

The Afghan National Army now numbers 134,000 men, and only Wednesday, the new American commander, General David H. Petraeus, complimented the Afghans on reaching that target three months ahead of schedule.

Still, the Afghan National Army runs relatively few operations on its own, particularly large-scale operations. They take a little more than half as many casualties as coalition military forces here, who now have roughly the same number of troops in the country. (In 2009, according to NATO figures, 282 Afghan soldiers were killed, compared to 521 coalition soldiers.)

The operation began when the Afghan Army sent a battalion of about 300 men from the 1st Brigade, 201st Army Corps, into a village called Bad Pakh, in Laghman Province, which is adjacent to the troubled border province of Kunar. Their operation, which began on the night of Aug. 3, was to flush out Taliban in a rugged area where they had long held sway. First, using the Afghan Army’s own helicopters, a detachment was inserted by air behind Taliban lines, while the main part of the battalion attacked frontally.

But, according to a high-ranking official of the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the plan was betrayed; Taliban forces were waiting with an ambush against the main body. Then the airborne detachment was cut off when bad weather grounded its helicopters, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

In the confusion, the 201st Army Corps commanders lost contact with the battalion. The battalion’s 3rd Company — 100 men — took particularly heavy casualties, the official said, although he did not have a number. He said many of the company were killed, captured or missing, and as of Wednesday at least, the situation of the rest of the battalion remained unclear.

However, the senior American military official said the battalion had not been lost. “We know exactly where that battalion is, although there are several soldiers unaccounted for and several killed.” He estimated that “about 10” soldiers had been killed, and no more than a platoon-sized number were missing, meaning up to 20. An official of the Red Crescent in the area said casualties were very heavy on the government side and that the Taliban had destroyed 35 Ford Ranger trucks, the standard Afghan Army. transport vehicle, which typically carry six or more soldiers each.

Analysis & Commentary

There is no indication whether the Taliban massed forces as is their practice when encountering larger concentrations of U.S. troops.  But it’s probable that they did, and that gives us a good basis for comparison of the performance of U.S. forces and the Afghan National Army (ANA).  I have detailed the drug abuse, refusal to go on night patrols, lack of discipline and refusal to obey orders, sleeping on post, poor marksmanship and other catalog of problems with the ANA.  But even granting the assumption that these problems didn’t effect their performance in this engagement with the Taliban, this example speaks poorly of the capabilities of the ANA.

The loss of operational security is unfortunate and still shows how easy it apparently is to corrupt the individual members of the ANA.  But that’s not the salient point here.  Engagement with the Taliban was bound to happen, and the ANA should have been able to employ enough fires from infantry combined arms (rifle, automatic fire, mortar, etc.) with a force this size to have both defended themselves and inflict severe damage to the Taliban.  In fact, a force this size should have been able to employ maneuver tactics to close with the enemy.

In comparison, while the battles at Wanat and Kamdesh are still fresh in our memories and remain an unfortunate testimony to the need for force projection, the U.S. forces in these battles were approximately platoon-size, lost fewer men than the ANA in this engagement, and faced Taliban massing of forces (300 or more fighters in each case).  In neither case was the U.S. outpost overrun.

The comparison and contrast isn’t perfect, as the U.S. forces had close air support (CAS), although not as soon as they needed.  But this size ANA force is a huge unit to have performed so poorly against Taliban fighters.  We have have fielded 134,000 ANA troops at the present, but it really doesn’t matter.  Numbers are irrelevant.  They would disintegrate in the face of heavy engagements, and this portends a significant problem with the administration plans to begin winding down U.S. troop presence in 2011.

Korengal Abandoned, Pech River Valley Still Problematic

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

Stars and Stripes gives us a report on COP Michigan after the abandonment of the Korengal Valley.

For years, U.S. forces struggled in vain to win over the Korengal, so insular and violent that its people defeated an entire Russian division.

Finally, on April 14, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division packed up their items and pulled the U.S. presence back to COP Michigan.

The 327’s 1st Battalion took over six weeks later.

“When they were back in the Korengal, [U.S. forces] took lots of hits in the Korengal,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Musgrave, 25, of Columbus, Ohio. “Now, we take hits. It’s really where the buffer is, whether it’s here or in the Korengal.”

Michigan is attacked so frequently now that soldiers at the other three Pech River Valley bases, who all have heavy fights on their hands, grimace when they hear that Michigan is a visitor’s destination.

In most places in Afghanistan, soldiers who stay inside the wire, meaning behind the base walls, are usually considered on safer ground. At Michigan, “sometimes guys feel like they are safer outside the wire,” said Capt. Dakota Steedsman, commander of Company D.

Soldiers spend 80 percent of their time just defending the base or reacting to attacks from the surrounding mountain walls, a far cry from the focus on counterinsurgency and governance in other parts of the country.

Another enlightening report from Stars and Stripes comes to us concerning use of the big guns in the Pech River Valley area.

Each day in this hot summer fighting season, the thundering boom of U.S. artillery reverberates off mountain walls, shaking the Pech River Valley like a giant’s footsteps.

The big guns at Camp Blessing, the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment’s headquarters in the river valley, fire when any of the four U.S. bases that dot the river road come under attack. They strike when soldiers on patrol are ambushed by insurgents who stalk them from the mountain ridges, or when there are reports of insurgents preparing an assault.

In most of Afghanistan, the counterinsurgency strategy of diplomacy and governance has made these 155 mm howitzer guns almost irrelevant. Most artillery and mortar men are doing infantry jobs, focused on key population centers.

Not so in Pech. This is an artillery fight here, in deeply hostile mountain terrain, and this fighting season is so extreme that there is near constant and imminent threat to soldiers holding the valley floor.

It’s obvious that there are TIC (troops in contact) in the Pech River Valley, and it’s also obvious that there are plenty of insurgents in the area.  Friend Joshua Foust, with whom I seldom disagree, argued for leaving the rural, isolated areas in favor of heavy force projection in the heavily populated areas, a strategy that was and is being employed by the administration in a tip of the hat to population-centric counterinsurgency.

I argued, on the other hand (in the context of Helmand and Kahdahar), that:

It is a strange argument indeed that sends Marines to Kandahar while the insurgents in Now Zad have separated themselves off from civilians and invited a fight.  So send more Marines to Kandahar to control the streets.  The Taliban bullying will stop once a Regimental Combat Team arrives.  This should not be too difficult to pull off.  As I have said before, there are so many Marines at Camp Lejeune that some units are not even in the same barracks, and more barracks are being built.  Not since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom has the Corps been so large with so many Marines garrisoned in the states.  Furthermore, if they aren’t in the states they are on board amphibious assault docks doing nothing.  Entire Battalions of Marine infantry – doing nothing for nine months.

But if the resources to control Kandahar are there, the argument to remove them from Helmand is not.  Whether the sources for the WSJ and Joe Klein’s article are wishing for the narrative to gain traction or there is in reality a sense that Helmand is a sideshow is irrelevant.  The strategists need to sense the reality that Helmand is not a sideshow, and that it is a very real line of effort in the campaign.  Without hitting the insurgents where they live we will follow the Russians out of Afghanistan.

The Helmand Province is the home of the indigenous insurgency, the Afghanistan Taliban, and its capital is Lashkar Gah.  Without hitting the Taliban’s recruiting grounds, fund raising and revenue development, training grounds, and logistical supply lines, the campaign cannot be won.  Focusing on the population centers is a loser strategy, doomed to sure failure.  Controlling the cities as some sort of prison while the roads are all controlled by Taliban is just what the Russians did, only to withdraw in ignominy.  The Marines are in Helmand because just like Anbar, Iraq at the time, it is the worst place on earth.

Josh isn’t convinced, and is engaging in a sort of Socratic dialogue with his readers over this issue again, just at the moment with respect to the Kunar Province rather than Helmand.  But a recent communication to me from Afghanistan reiterated what I already know: “The Taliban doesn’t dig its roots in the cities.”  And again from a commenter to Joshua’s article:

I’m worried that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Afghan insurgency at all levels. It isn’t an urban based insurgency. Dense population centers are not the centers of gravity that they are/were in Iraq or other insurgent movements. Because it is a rural insurgency, counterinsurgents must need be in rural areas with the population, which by extension means that we run the risk of spreading our forces thin. There’s always risk.

If it’s no longer worth the risk to put forces in the decisive points where they need to be in order to defeat the insurgent momentum, then it’s no longer worth the risk to be in the theater of operations at all. I highly disagree with that too.

Just so.  While I slightly to moderately disagree with the controlling concept of CoG for warfare, I certainly strongly disagree with the notion of the singular CoG being the population, even in counterinsurgency.  This isn’t to say that the population isn’t important, or that we mustn’t work with them, or have no need of living with them, contacting them, or protecting them from insurgents.  It is to say, however, that for us to win based on population approval is the same thing as occupation of land, just with a different target.

It doesn’t really matter if we occupy land or the minds of the population.  In both cases we are dependent on something else to achieve success.  In one case we occupy terrain.  In the other, we occupy anthropological terrain, a much more volatile and much less reliable terrain.  And if we abandon Korengal, they follow us to the mouth of the Pech River.  If we abandon the Pech River Valley, they will follow us to the next location, and next, and next …

While Joshua also seems to disagree with what he called the “Baghdadification” of Kandahar (a tip of the hat to zones, concrete barriers, etc.), at least that focuses on corralling and killing the enemy.  In Fallujah in 2007 heavy kinetic operations were employed to kill the enemy, along with concrete barriers, gated communities, biometrics, and so on to identify the enemy.  If this sounds different from the popular narrative, it’s because it is.  Gated communities and biometrics weren’t employed to protect the population.  They were employed to locate and destroy the enemy.

Nuristan and Kunar are worth it because this is the lifeblood of the insurgency.  But a strong warning goes along with this advocacy.  If we are setting our troops up for the same fate as the men at Wanat or Kamdesh because of lack of CAS, lack of logistics, under-resourcing, lack of artillery and restrictive ROE, then we should withdraw them now.  Counterinsurgency isn’t a game to be played out of anthropological textbooks.  Real lives are at stake, and unless we are willing to commit the resources, it’s easy (and perhaps wise?) to pose the question as Josh does – is it worth it?

G-RAMM, the EFV and the Fundamental Paradox of the Marine Corps Vision

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

The U.S. Marine Corps is retooling itself after years of land battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They want to go back to their sea-based roots with the Navy.  Undersecretary Bob Work has made a case for more capability in distributed operations, a lighter expeditionary unit, strong coupling with the Navy, and the continuing viability of forcible entry based on amphibious capabilities.

I have been a staunch defender of the military in light of demand for budgetary cuts.  In light of the difficulties associated with startup of the shipbuilding industry in America again, I have advocated staying the course.  There are many admirable aspects of Bob Work’s vision such as distributed operations (a strength long ago recognized and given legitimacy in the Small Wars Manual), and there is truth to the notion that forcible entry is not a dead concept.  It will be employed in the future in the interest of national security.  This is as safe a bet as any that can be made.

But what isn’t as clear is that the Marine Corps needs the equipment is says in order to pull off this mission.  As I have said previously:

I do not now and have never advocated that the Marine Corps jettison completely their notion of littoral readiness and expeditionary warfare capabilities, but I have strongly advocated more support for the missions we have at hand.

Finally, it occurs to me that the debate is unnecessary.  While Conway has famously said that the Corps is getting too heavy, his program relies on the extremely heavy Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, that behemoth that is being designed and tested because we want forcible entry capabilities – against who, I frankly don’t know.

If it is a failing state or near failing state, no one needs the capabilities of the EFV.  If it is a legitimate near peer enemy or second world state, then the casualties sustained from an actual land invasion would be enormous.  Giving the enemy a chance to mine a beach, build bunkers, arm its army with missiles, and deploy air power, an infantry battalion would be dead within minutes.  1000 Marines – dead, along with the sinking of an Amphibious Assault Dock and its associated EFVs.

No one has yet given me a legitimate enemy who needs to be attacked by an EFV.  On the other hand, I have strongly recommended the retooling of the expeditionary concept to rely much more heavily on air power and the air-ground task force concept.  It would save money, create a lighter and more mobile Marine Corps (with Amphibious Assault Docks ferrying around more helicopters rather than LCACs), and better enable the Marines to perform multiple missions.  I have also recommended an entirely new generation of Marine Corps helicopters.

The EFV is designed for a near peer state (or close to it), and its presupposition is active enemy fire while ferrying troops ashore while providing covering fire.  It is a reversion to 65-year old amphibious warfare doctrine with updated equipment.  But if the state upon which we intend to conduct forcible entry is capable of rocket fire against navy vessels (positioned 25 miles offshore over the horizon in order to increase the likelihood of survival), the EFVs will become deadly transport vehicles for Marines.  If the nation-state is in fact not capable of such opposing fire, then the EFV is not needed.

The Marine Corps is digging in though, and Secretary Gates may be equivocating on the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  Bob Work aptly defends the vision in a response to a Small Wars Journal commentary by Robert Haddick.  Robert argues that the Marine Corps failed to give adequate weight to the musings of Gates when he “wondered how opposed amphibious assaults will be viable when adversaries possess precision munitions, known as “G-RAMM” – guided rockets, artillery, mortars, and missiles.”  Work responds in part:

In an anti-access environment where the enemy has a capable battle network capable of firing salvos of guided weapons, the initial phase of any theater entry operation will require achieving air, sea, undersea, and overall battle network superiority. This will mean this type of operation will be deliberate and take some time to develop. This does not mean “damn the G-RAMM, full speed ahead.” It means, “take your time, roll the G-RAMM threat back, and then land at a time and place of your own choosing.” No 10-day landings in this environment.

Once ashore, the primary threat to the lodgment will come from G-RAMM “counter-attacks” and hybrid warriors who most likely will hide amongst the people. This will require the Marines to concentrate on establishing an inner G-RAMM perimeter designed to keep guided rockets, mortars, and artillery suppressed/out of range. The joint force, especially the defending Navy battle network, will concentrate on defeating the longer range-G-RAMM threat.

This response, interesting and important though it is, lays the paradox out for us in all of its color.  “Roll the G-RAMM threat back … land at a time and place of your own choosing … establishing an inner G-RAMM perimeter designed to keep guided rockets, mortars, and artillery suppressed/out of range.”  Forcible entry under heavy fires from combined arms is either in the plans or it is not.  If it is in the plans, then the EFV is designed to be used against a near peer or sizable nation-state with a uniformed army and capable of such a defense.  This is unfathomable.  Use of a couple of BLTs and supporting equipment is not nearly enough to effect success under these circumstances.  The mission would be suicidal.  It’s unfathomable precisely because we’re smarter than that.

If on the other hand the location upon which we intend to do forcible entry is not a developed nation-state capable of employing such combined arms, then the EFV is not necessary, and may even be an impediment to efficient operations give its amphibious-based design.  Large scale amphibious assaults against near peer states or secondary powers are not likely, and history may have recorded the last such assaults more than 50 years ago.  The EFV, designed for an assault that isn’t likely to happen, is a vehicle in search of a mission.

On the other hand, there is virtue in becoming lighter.  While also defending the Osprey V-22, I have argued strongly against retiring the helicopter fleet, and also for development of a new, more capable Marine Corps helicopter fleet (a wiser expenditure of money than the EFV).  While some have speculated that the Phrog is finished, I have argued that it is capable of delivery of Marines by fast-roping, something the V-22 can’t handle, and thus it should be maintained and even upgraded if necessary.

A lighter Marine Corps should be coupled with a faster moving Marine Corps, one that won’t have to lumber on shore in heavy vehicles.  Helicopter delivery of Marines inland to secure the perimeter in situations of hybrid warfare, while relying on the Navy to deliver the heavier equipment later if it is deemed that it is needed, would support both a retooled Marine Corps and the needs of the 21st century.

The current Marine Corps vision tries to do it all.  Consequently, the President and Congress are having to rely more heavily than ever on Special Operations Forces to do the role of rapid response and deployment, forcible entry of small teams conducting distributed operations, interdiction, and mission support where the most valuable commodity is ease of ingress and egress, lightness, and mission-specific tooling and weapons employment.

This is a role that the Marine Corps should be filling.  The vision obviously has had a great deal of work put into it, but it suffers from being all things to all people under all circumstances.  The Marine Corps cannot accomplish miracles.  But it can be the best at the mission given to it.  The need of the hour is for clarity and focus of the mission statement.

The Evolving Jihadist Scene in Pakistan

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

The Jamestown Foundation reports that al Qaeda is altering its strategy in Pakistan.

President Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, by defining a goal of “disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda,” on the one hand gives direction to this otherwise directionless war, and on the other emphasizes targeting al-Qaeda over all other anti-terrorism efforts (Associated Press of Pakistan, August 2). Al-Qaeda, as innovative as it is, at least in terms of inflicting terror, has clearly taken advantage of America’s narrow focus by assuming more of a supervisory role, delegating the active terrorism responsibilities to its local franchises. Another important step al-Qaeda has taken in response to America’s stepped up military approach in Afghanistan is to focus more aggressively on  the “near enemy” – Pakistan –  in order to maintain a safe haven and save its high command (and ideology) from total extinction. These two fundamental changes in strategy have rattled global security strategists in general and Pakistan’s security apparatus in particular. Not used to dealing with an enemy as unconventional in nature as al-Qaeda, the rank and file of both the political and military establishments in Pakistan has been clearly outplayed by the terrorists. Moreover, Pakistan’s controversial strategic depth doctrine, which finds India at the root of every destabilization attempt, not only results in providing cover to the terrorists but the consequential anti-India sentiment also sends more and more youth into the jihadists’ fold every day. What is more frightening than the terrorism itself is the erosion of Pakistan’s social fabric and the increasing number of people, mostly from the country’s educated middle class, who embrace extremist values..

This stepped-up focus on Pakistan as a safe haven and virtual home to international jihadists and Islamic globalists of all stripes has manifestations that apparently worry even the ISI.

In coming years, the competitive power struggle could transfigure the structure of the jihadist movement in Pakistan — and with it, the nature and scope of the threat to India. Last month, the al-Qaeda’s media wing, al-Sahab, released a posthumous audio message from Said al-Masri, also known as Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a top operative killed in a United States airstrike earlier this summer. In his 26-minute message, translated and made available to The Hindu by the Washington DC-based Middle East Media Research Institute, al-Masri urged “the youth of our Muslim nation to inflict damage on the enemies of Allah the Exalted, the Americans, on their own soil, and wherever they are to be found.”

For the first time, though, al-Masri referred to the Pakistan-based jihadist, Muhammad Illyas Kashmiri, as an official part of the al-Qaeda — and made public his role in an attack on India. “I bring you the good tidings,” he said, “that last February’s India operation was against a Jewish locale in the west of the Indian capital [sic., throughout], in the area of the German bakeries — a fact that the enemy tried to hide — and close to 20 Jews were killed in the operation, a majority of them from their so-called statelet, Israel. The person who carried out this operation was a heroic soldier from the ‘Soldiers of the Sacrifice Brigade,’ which is one of the brigades of Qaedat al-Jihad [the al-Qaeda’s formal name] in Kashmir, under the command of Commander Illyas Kashmiri, may Allah preserve him.”

From the text, it is clear that al-Masri had little knowledge of the bombing of the German Bakery in Pune. Pune is not to the west of New Delhi; it is not Jewish-owned; and no Israelis were killed there. There would thus be no reason to take al-Masri’s claims seriously — if it weren’t for the testimony of Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley.

Born in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 1964, Kashmiri fought with Qari Saifullah Akhtar’s Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami. Early in 2000, Harkat leader Maulana Masood Azhar — released from jail in a hostages-for-prisoners swap that followed the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar — founded the Jaish-e-Mohammad. Kashmiri, who believed that the group was too close to Pakistan’s military establishment, refused to join. From 2007, following the use of force against jihadists who had taken control of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, Kashmiri began working closely with the jihadists opposed to the Pakistani state.

Investigators in both the U.S. and India say Headley made contact with Kashmiri after the Lashkar proved unwilling to commit resources to an attack on the offices of the Jyllands Posten in Copenhagen — a newspaper that incensed many Muslims across the world by publishing cartoons they felt were blasphemous.

Having joined the Lashkar in 2000, Headley went on to play a key role in its operations, among other things collecting the video footage that helped to guide a 10-man assault team to its targets in Mumbai in November 2008. But Headley became increasingly frustrated with the Lashkar’s unwillingness to support operations against the West — the priority, he believed. He railed against the Lashkar’s leadership, saying it had “rotten guts.” “I am just telling you,” he hectored a Lashkar-linked friend during an intercepted September 17, 2009 phone call, “that the companies in your competition have started handling themselves in a far better way.”

That competing company was the al-Qaeda. Headley visited Kashmiri’s base at Razmak in 2009, and came away impressed. “The bazaar,” he wrote in an Internet post, “is bustling with Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, Bosnians, some from European Union countries and, of course, our Arab brothers. According to my survey, the foreign population is a little less than a third of the total. Any Waziri or Mehsud I spoke to seemed grateful to God for the privilege of being able to host the foreign Mujahideen”.

Headley told Indian investigators that dozens of mid-level Lashkar commanders had joined this influx. Evidence supports his claim. Earlier this month, the International Security Assistance Force announced the detention of a Lashkar leader in eastern Afghanistan’s Khogyani district. The Lashkar cadre had earlier been linked to a string of attacks in eastern Afghanistan and Kabul. They had also fought alongside the al-Qaeda and the Taliban against the U.S. and Afghan forces, notably in a massive July 2008 assault on a combat outpost in Wanat.

For the Lashkar leadership and its allies in the ISI, this poses a real problem. If the organisation conducts large-scale attacks against India or the West, it will expose the Pakistani state to intense international pressure; if it does nothing, it will risk losing its cadre and its constituency …

No one is clear just how the pieces will finally fall. It is certain, though, that the al-Qaeda seeks to undermine the Lashkar’s status as the sole agent of jihad against India.

Al Qaeda seeks to undermine Lashkar as an independent ally with Pakistan’s ISI, aligning it with a broader ideology of jihad against the West, and incorporating its elements within the ranks of the globalists.  They also are working to align various globalist groups under a singular banner, and ensure that Pakistan is safe haven into the future for such actors.

To some degree they seem to be having success.  The U.S. has stated that it has no intentions of sending troops into Pakistan to destroy this safe haven, and so there is little real leverage that we have over Pakistan at the moment.  Things have come a long way since the inception of Operation Enduring Freedom.

On Friday, five Taliban members were struck off a U.N. Security Council list of militants subject to sanctions in a move designed to smooth the way for  reconciliation talks with insurgents.  Among those, two of the five were dead. The other three – Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad Awrang, a former Afghan ambassador to the United Nations, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the last Taliban ambassador to Islamabad before 9/11, and  Abdul Satar Paktin – are no longer subject to the asset freeze and travel ban imposed on those on the list.

To get a sense of quite how significant a change this is, consider how Mullah Zaeef – who now lives in Kabul and says he is no longer an active member of the movement – describes his treatment when he was arrested in Pakistan in early 2002, according to his book “My Life with the Taliban“. The Pakistani official who arrested him told him:  “Your Excellency, you are no longer an Excellency! America is a superpower. Did you not know that? No one can defeat it, nor can they negotiate with it. America wants to question you and we are here to hand you over to the USA.”

Turned over to the Americans near Peshawar after being driven there from Islamabad, he says he was attacked and his clothes ripped with knives. “The Pakistani soldiers were all staring as the Americans hit me and tore the remaining clothes off my body. Eventually I was completely naked, and the Pakistani soldiers — the defenders of the Holy Koran — shamelessly watched me with smiles on their faces, saluting this disgraceful action of the Americans.”

Now we wish to negotiate with the Taliban, give more money to Pakistan, and hope for the best in a campaign that lacks focus.  Things have come along way indeed.

See also:

Newsweek on Pakistan’s Duplicity

The Captain’s Journal on Pakistan’s Duplicity

Obama Waxes Egomaniac in Front of Wounded Warriors

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

Obama intends to play some pickup basketball.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who enjoys shooting hoops with family and friends, will take on a couple of tougher — and much taller –opponents Sunday: the Phoenix Suns’ Grant Hill and the Houston Rockets’ Shane Battier.

The game of presidential pickup will be held at Fort McNair in southwest Washington before an audience of “wounded warriors” and participants in the White House mentoring program, the White House press office said.

Hill told the Washington Post he was in town to play, along with a handful of other pros, including Battier.

First Shooter Obama, at 6’2”, will find some tough competition on the court: Hill and Battier, both forwards, are each 6’ 8”.

It’s been a bachelor sporting weekend for Obama, whose wife , Michelle, and younger daughter, Sasha, are in Spain and whose older daughter, Malia, is away at camp. On Saturday he played golf at Andrews Air Force Base.

Is this a bad joke?  Let’s contrast one administration official with another.  One might agree or disagree with the decisions made by Secretary Gates, but he cares about the men under his charge (from February 2008).

At the Marine Corps Association’s annual dinner in July, Gates cried while eulogizing Capt. Douglas Zembiec, a marine known as “the lion of Fallujah,” who had recently died in battle. By that time, Gates was writing personal notes at the bottom of every condolence letter sent to families of troops killed in battle. “I want the recipient of that note to know that the secretary of defense actually saw that letter, signed that letter, thought about that letter,” he told me on the plane ride back from Fort Hood. “It forces me to pay attention to every single one of the young people killed — how they died, where their hometown is, what other members of their unit were killed. I’ve kept count — 796 Americans have been killed in Iraq on my watch.” (This was as of Nov. 27.)

He takes his job seriously, and in fact doesn’t even really like the job due to the burden of it all.  It could be that Obama doesn’t like his job either, but for different reasons than he takes it so seriously.  I’m not even sure I know the two NBA players, but professional basketball has become a thuggish sport, and I don’t watch it.

Instead of spending time at Walter Reed or Bethesda Naval Hospital watching wounded warriors in rehabilitation, praying for them in their rooms out of sight of the cameras, urging them on, and ensuring that they get the best care possible, he is sporting it up in front of them.  Get it?  He expects them to watch him as he plays a game of fantasy ball with his heroes.

What an egomaniac.

Obama Appeals to Muslim Cleric in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

Iraqi politics is messy of late.  After Ayad Allawi and current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki won 91 and 89 seats, respectively, no governing coalition has formed in five months of political jockeying.  Omar Fadhil, who is as good as any Iraq analyst anywhere, says that this isn’t yet cause for despair.  But it appears that Obama is despairing, and has called on Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric to intervene in the politics of Iraq.

A leading American magazine says U.S. President Barack Obama has sent a letter to Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric urging him to persuade the country’s squabbling political leaders to form a new government. 

Foreign Policy magazine’s online edition cites an unnamed individual briefed by members of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s family as its source.  It said a Shi’ite member of Iraq’s parliament delivered the letter to Sistani. 

There was no immediate comment from the White House.

You know?  The top Shi’ite cleric Ali al-Sistani?  The one who as early as 2003 was issuing fatwas against the U.S., and who as late as 2008 issued a fatwa approving of attacks on U.S. troops?  Recall?  The one who in 2004 worked so hard to persuade the coalition authorities to release Moqtada al-Sadr (who was then in the custody of the 3/2 Marines)?

Glenn Reynolds might say something like “they told me if I voted for John McCain we would witness the religious zealots running the show – and they were right!”

Marjah: A Cautionary Tale and Lessons for the Future

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 8 months ago

From Global Post:

The American soldier standing guard at the main intersection in Marjah looked hot and tired. Sweat and dust covered his face and uniform as he sought shelter from the burning sun under a tree. Even his nametag was obscured by the dirt.

As an Afghan reporter approached, the soldier stiffened visibly. But when shown the journalist’s identification, he relaxed and even smiled a bit.

“We have lost our credibility here,” he said, explaining his initial hostility. “Even small children to whom I offer candy are Taliban spies. We have to be suspicious.”

The soldier would not say any more, or even give his name.

Marjah, the focus of a much-hyped battle just a few short months ago, said to herald “the turning point of the war,” is now a dangerous and volatile place.

As the U.S. Army weighs the pros and cons of conducting a similar effort in Kandahar, a much larger and more difficult target, the Marjah operation provides a cautionary tale for those who think that military offensives can bring stability to the Taliban heartland.

Marjah may never have deserved its exalted status: a small patch of desert containing at most 50,000 inhabitants, it was the target of Operation Moshtarak, which began on Feb. 13. More than 15,000 soldiers from the U.S., British and Afghan armies took part in the offensive against at most 2,000 Taliban. Within weeks the Marines declared victory.

It was not until a few months later that the serious cracks in the arrangement became too apparent to hide. The “government in a box” promised by Gen. Stan McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, did not bring the stability and peace it was supposed to.

Instead, district governor Haji Mohammad Zahir could not establish rapport with the local population and was quietly removed in mid-July. The Taliban, far from “melting away” as expected, stood their ground and began to mount terror operations against the local population.

By July, conditions had deteriorated to the point that residents were afraid the district was about to fall once again to the Taliban.

“It is like Doomsday,” said Haji Abdul Samad, a shopkeeper in Marjah. “The bullets drop like rain from the sky. I have not been able to go to my shop for 10 days. Cattle and sheep are dying. There is no humanity here, no kindness.”

The main bazaar in Marjah, Loya Charahi, is almost deserted. Only a handful of the hundreds of shops are open; the intersection looks as it did in the early days of the operation.

“The Taliban has warned us not to open our shops,” said Gul Ahmad, whose store remains shuttered. “There are more and more of them and they are very cruel. If I open my shop, they will beat me to death. Perhaps they are trying to demonstrate their power, or perhaps they just want to show that life is not normal in Marjah.”

[ … ]

Jabir, a police officer in Marjah, who also uses only name, is afraid that Marjah could soon fall again to the Taliban.

“We cannot patrol on our own, but go with the Americans,” he said. “The Taliban are very bold and very brave. They have new weapons and they conduct more than 10 attacks every day in Marjah. It is horrifying.”

The situation is untenable, he insisted. “Everything has changed here,” he said. “We are afraid of every farmer, and see Taliban fighters behind every tree.”

If you can get past Jean MacKenzie calling U.S. forces in Marjah Soldiers instead of Marines, there is some useful perspective in this report.  As if to unnecessarily repeat ourselves or lay the painfully obvious out all over again, this stupid idea of a government in a box that McChrystal and Rodriguez thought would work is a fool’s errand.  I am also told that the British officers to a man believe in the “government in a box” strategy.  In spite of the continued questioning of whether Marjah deserved the effort put into it, if the Taliban are there and can be found and killed, it’s worth it.  But instant government from a military magician yelling ‘presto’ won’t do the job.

Second, recall that the Taliban who eventually found themselves here began in other parts of Helmand, including Now Zad, Gamrsir, and so forth.  They don’t belong here.  That is, they don’t have families in Marjah – or at least, if they do, until now they have been wandering troublemakers.  It’s been a while since they have been in Marjah in force because they haven’t had to be.  Yet they have the population eating out of their hands.  They have been quite successful with their tactics of intimidation, an outcome I forecasted.  They don’t have to be the sons of families in Marjah.  Their intimidation is enough.

Third, the ANA and ANP is nowhere near ready to take over from the U.S., and won’t be in a year.  They can’t even summon the courage to patrol alone.

Fourth, the Marines need to know who is in Marjah and why.  They need to look into the eyes of every inhabitant, be inside every home, take every fingerprint and scan every iris.  Their patrols need to be ubiquitous, day and night, and they don’t need to wait on the ANA or send them into the homes first.  They need to proceed with door kicking in the middle of the night if that’s what it takes, they need to project force, and they need to do it beginning now and carrying on until every last insurgent has been captured or killed.  Killed is better than captured given the poor state of the Afghanistan system of “justice” (i.e., catch and release).

In short, the Marines have lost their way.  The Marines are out of their element, doing things that don’t come natural.  McChrystal had persuaded (or ordered) them to adopt the British way of doing things (and to some degree supported by elements within the U.S. Army), the same strategy that lost Basra.  The Marines need to look into their past, their recent past, and return to the things they were doing in the Anbar Province.  They need no classes to remember.  It’s organic, it’s something inherent to the Corps.  It will appear too brutish to some of the brass who has lost their way, and it will make others deride them as knuckle draggers and mouth breathers.  That’s because they don’t know that the Marines know more than they do and know how to win.  They just need to remember it, and the brass just needs to sit back and watch and learn.  The Marines need to be Marines, and the brass needs to get out of the way and quit trying to micromanage their work.

Concerning Senior Leadership in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 8 months ago

LTC Tad Sholtis seems a bit indignant over how the past several months in Afghanistan have turned out.  So be it.  I encourage everyone to visit his site and determine for themselves what they think, since I will not tell them.  What I will say is that I think LTC Sholtis’ biggest problem has been his commander, General McChrystal.  My problems with his tenure – emphasis on HVT hits, denigration of so-called general purpose forces, highly restrictive ROE, and micromanagement of the campaign – are well rehearsed and I won’t repeat the detail I have laid out.  But that doesn’t prevent me from reiterating them via other means and using other sources.  One particularly depressing but interesting comment comes to us from the Small Wars Journal blog.

Take with the caveat that this is how it appears to me, and I’m near the bottom of the pyramid, but the previous commander didn’t seem to think very highly of the conventional force. He was enamored with SOF, and thought they were the only professionals– it would be SOF that’s out running the hills pulling triggers. That’s why there is the over restrictive ROE and stacks of directives that keep the bulk of the force pinned to population centers and highways that are relativetly safe and stable. The bulk of CF have been reacting to contact on the highway while a really small group of guys that aren’t nearly as good as the beards and t-shirts would have you think have been taking the fight to the enemy. Can another General turn it around? I don’t know, but another General has to be better than the last one.

It’s a lot bigger though– We have our “partners” in ISAF that we have to give equal play to, that are bringing in all of their senior leaders who want a spot at the table. We’ve been tossing limited manpower at dozens of competing and often overlapping LOEs. I read the same product produced ten times by ten different teams…and half of those were civilians.

Probably most damaging though, and the reason I’m leaning towards hopeless rather than hard, is the lack of ground truth. IO campaings targeting illiterate people, reports that are purely for the self aggrendization of staff members who have no seat at the table, staffs and command that serve no purpose at all, and complete lack of accountability or understanding by decision makers at all levels above battalion. July has been the worst month of the war, and June was the hardest before that– and in the storyboards of the VBIEDs and underbelly IEDs we actually have the gall to write that because the enemy is able to take out complete vehicles, that they must be desperation attacks…. All those Taliban flags coming being flown by the people of Kandahar City is because the intimidation campaign, the last gasp of enemy IO. WE’RE WINNING.

Yes, General McChrystal is conflicted over the use of the so-called general purpose forces.  I gave LTC Sholtis more than one chance to say something good – anything – about the Marines and the MAGTF command structure and the job that they had accomplished in Helmand.  He did not.  The troops are confined to FOBs for a reason.  General McChrystal and his staff propose that they believe in population-centric counterinsurgency, but they never trusted the troops to do anything more than provide general policing of the population and coupling with and training of the indigenous forces.

The military campaign is only military for the SOF, who are disconnected from the population except from the ubiquitous raids and hits on HVTs.  This trust in the SOF and mistrust in the balance of the forces can be seen in a comment left at The Captain’s Journal just recently.

Calling off the airstrike does not surprise me one bit even though it should be criminal. My brother is an AC-130 gunship pilot who just got back from Afghanistan. They were called off of targets in the open with no troops or buildings around. This caused him and his crew a great deal of frustration as they were flying all night missions and doing nothing but calling in contacts.

What is interesting though he was there for a short after McCrystal left and suddenly the ROE was liberalized.

It’s good to be able to use the very comments left by readers to add to the dialogue.  My only contribution is that I know things about my readers that you don’t.  It’s easy to misconstrue the objection to the restrictive ROE.  While it’s true that I and many others hold that the highly restrictive rules accomplish exactly the opposite of their intended purpose, that’s only part of it.  The ROE fits into a larger framework of micromanagement of the campaign.  Approval of every jot and tittle of the job is the domain of megalomaniacs.  Until we unleash the forces to chase the enemy, we don’t even stand a chance of winning the campaign.

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