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]

Combat Action in Eastern Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

U.S. Army Pfc. Ryan L. Carson of Richmond, Va., a member of the Company Intelligence Support Team with Company A, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bulldog, and an Afghan National Police officer search the nearby hillside just prior to a more than three-hour firefight at the Shege East ANP checkpoint Sept. 18th.

In the Kunar Province, “An estimated two dozen insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and small arms at the post in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province. International Security Assistance Forces and ANP responded in kind with small arms, heavy machine gun and mortar fire. Neither ISAF nor ANP personnel were injured during the attack.”

In the Paktya Province:

One Afghan security contractor and five insurgents were killed when a squad-sized element of insurgents attacked three bases near Gardez, Paktya province, Sept. 24. At least two others were injured.

The attack began when insurgents opened fire on the Forward Operating Base Goode (Gardez) entry control point with AK-47 rifles at about noon, said U.S. Army Capt. Scott M. Frederick, the FOB commander of FOB Lightning. One insurgent was killed and a truck belonging to a respected village elder was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and set aflame in this initial attack.

After coalition forces suppressed the first wave of the attack, four insurgents who had been wearing suicide vests removed their explosive vests and began firing on the entry control point with AK-47 rifles. All four were killed. One of the suicide vests “cooked off,” but caused no damage. Coalition forces seized the other three before they detonated.

The small group of surviving insurgents escaped to a nearby wadi, or dry riverbed, where they were fired upon by U.S. troops at FOB Lightning. The insurgents retreated to the tree line and began firing on both FOB Lightning and FOB Thunder, an adjacent Afghan National Army installation.

Suddur, an Afghan National Army soldier in Garrison Kandak, 203rd Thunder Corps was guarding FOB Thunder’s entry control point when the attack was under way, and described the events.

“At first it was just a few people firing, we thought it was [celebratory fire for] a wedding,” he said. “Then, the firing increased dramatically, and we called the quick reaction force.”

The firefight went on uninterrupted for about 20 minutes, and sporadic gunfire continued for at least another hour. Rounds could be heard ricocheting inside the wire of both installations.

In the Khost Province:

U.S. Apache attack helicopters virtually wiped out a platoon-size insurgent force that was assaulting a combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan’s Khost province Sept. 21, according to coalition spokesmen.

But while the AH-64 Apaches were the agents of the insurgents’ destruction, a combination of at least one unmanned aerial vehicle and ground-based surveillance cameras was the key to identifying the insurgents before they were able to launch their attack, according to an account of the battle published online by Task Force Rakkasan, which is built around the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). The unmanned aerial vehicle was “an organic brigade UAV system,” said TF Rakkasan spokesman Maj. S. Justin Platt.

Coalition forces suffered no casualties during the multi-hour nighttime battle at Combat Outpost Spera, said Platt. Nor were there any reports of civilian casualties.

COP Spera, located about 10 miles from the Pakistan border, is manned by soldiers from TF Rakkasan’s A Troop, 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, as well as Afghan forces. Platt declined to be more specific about the size of the coalition force at Spera, but according to an April story by the Associated Press, “the outpost is regularly manned by one U.S. platoon of 20-30 troops serving 10-week rotations along with an Afghan National Army company about 100-strong.”

These instances are positive in their engagement of the enemy, and some of the engagement involves patrols.  All of the engagements involve patriotic Soldiers doing their duty, and any time the Taliban masses forces against U.S. troops, they lose badly or at least have a low kill ratio compared to U.S. troops.  Not a single casualty occurred in the three engagements detailed above.  This is very good.  Very good indeed.

But as we proceed through this campaign, we will win or lose based on whether these engagements are within or without the confines of FOBs.  We need to be chasing the enemy and killing them in the hills and tree lines in which they hide.  Recall the boys in the Korengal as reported by C. J. Chivers?

Prior: The Five Hundred Meter War

A Terrorist Attack That America Cannot Absorb

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

According to Bob Woodward who has recently completed his book entitled Obama’s Wars, an interesting view of terrorist attacks has emerged from the White House.

Woodward’s book portrays Obama and the White House as barraged by warnings about the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and confronted with the difficulty in preventing them. During an interview with Woodward in July, the president said, “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.”

I’m not particularly fond of Woodward’s use of anonymous sources, but let’s assume for the moment the complete accuracy of this position.  At a minimum, it hasn’t been denied by the White House.  It’s difficult to imagine a more important opinion on the future of terrorist attacks on the homeland than that of the President.  It’s also impossible to underestimate the horrible confusion, naivety and childlike grasp of homeland security that this opinion betrays.

I had originally passed over this quote as something that would quietly die, that didn’t really represent the thinking of the Department of Homeland Security, and that wouldn’t prevent the administration from doing what was necessary to prevent attacks on the homeland to the degree possible.  But Bob Woodward was interviewed by Bill O’Reilly tonight, and neither of them actually had a problem with the quote other than simply that the President of the U.S. shouldn’t say such things in public.

In a brief attempt to address this mistaken notion of the inherent capability to absorb any attack, I will pose one that we simply cannot absorb.  The scenario I am about to describe can be accomplished by simple, direct attacks and without reference to more complicated organizational skills except for weapons, dedicated fighters and effective timing.  The scenario I am about to describe would quite literally destroy the economy of the nation for a long time.  I am hesitant to describe it in detail; when I do this sort of thing I usually get charged with giving the terrorists ideas.

But the fact of the matter is that the terrorists already know these things, and it is important to educate the American people to the dangers right outside the gate.  It’s also important to reflect on what it means to kill terrorists on foreign soil and destroy their sanctuaries rather than allow them to perpetrate attacks with which we cannot cope.  That said, it’s time to describe the attack.

I don’t want to divulge too much detail concerning what could be regarded as nuclear safeguards information.  But the reader will have to trust me when I say that commercial nuclear power plants are hardened.  They were so prior to 9/11, but they are even more so now.  They are not fertile ground for terrorist attacks, even for the most well trained, well armed and educated group of fighters.  I cannot go any further in discussing the details of nuclear security, but the terrorists also know that nuclear reactors are not fertile fighting ground.  Forget about them.

Not so for commercial fossil facilities.  They are not hardened and not well guarded.  The most vulnerable structure, system or component for large scale coal plants is the main step up transformer – that component that handles electricity at 230 or 500 kV.  They are one of a kind components, and no two are exactly alike.  They are so huge and so heavy that they must be transported to the site via special designed rail cars intended only for them, and only about three of these exist in the U.S.

They are no longer fabricated in the U.S., much the same as other large scale steel fabrication.  It’s manufacture has primarily gone overseas.  These step up transformers must be ordered years in advance of their installation.  Some utilities are part of a consortium to keep one of these transformers available for multiple coal units, hoping that more will not be needed at any one time.  In industrial engineering terms, the warehouse min-max for these components is a fine line.

On any given day with the right timing, several well trained, dedicated, well armed fighters would be able to force their way on to utility property, fire missiles or lay explosives at the transformer, destroy it, and perhaps even go to the next given the security for coal plants.  Next in line along the transmission system are other important transformers, not as important as the main step up transformers, but still important, that would also be vulnerable to attack.  With the transmission system in chaos and completely isolated due to protective relaying, and with the coal units that supply the majority of the electricity to the nation incapable of providing that power for years due to the wait for step up transformers, whole cites, heavy industry, and homes and businesses would be left in the dark for a protracted period of time, all over the nation.

The economy would collapse, regardless of how much good will and positive hope there was among the ruling elite.  The hard facts of life – America in the dark – would soon become apparent to everyone, and the economy wouldn’t be able to absorb it.

That’s only one of the many possibilities, and in order to avoid the charge of divulging too much detail to terrorists, I will stop here.  But suffice it to say that if you give me weapons, ordnance, time and 300 or 400 dedicated fighters with a calendar and a watch, I could collapse the economy of America.

Where would these fighters come from?  Recall that we have previously discussed two very good papers on Hezbollah and their activities in the Americas.  They’re around, lying in wait for orders, and it’s best not to have them on our soil.  It’s best to confront them away from the infrastructure that is proving itself to be so vulnerable to their malicious aims.

Yon, Lynch, Starbuck, Spiri and Neutics

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

First up in recommended reading #6 comes Michael Yon, who has been busy on his Facebook page.  He sends this rather remarkable picture along.

Michael is the foremost photographer and journalist covering any war today, and it pays to make regular visits to his site and Facebook page.

Next, Tim Lynch has some very nice words for me.  I sincerely appreciate the undeserved accolades.  I get my tactical views from, ahem, um … one certain Marine I know.  Concerning The Five Hundred Meter War, Tim observes:

I do not know the woman who was kidnapped that well but can say she was one of the more experienced and savvy operators in the eastern region.  The company she works for, DAI, is one of the “big boys” in the reconstruction business and although they are not as nimble or fast as we are they are still damn good.  So here we are in the middle of the surge and the security situation has never been worse.  If the security situation continues to degrade it is just a matter of time before all of us reconstruction types pull up the stakes and go home.  The U.S. Military is the only organization which can effect change now as it is apparent the government of Afghanistan is not going to ever be able to produce security in its present form.  I think I am speaking for the outside the wire community when I say (to ISAF)  ”it’s time to get off the FOB’s and into the fight….or we’re done here.”

Tim is the foremost voice among contractors, and his observations are salient and on point.  One cannot find such hard hitting and accurate analysis anywhere else.  His warnings are ominous and depressing, but need to be heard.

Next, Starbuck at Wings Over Iraq discusses robotic mules and whether the Marines need them, linking my discussion about the best way to ensure that the Marines become irrelevant.  I still think that the best way to help the Marines with heavy loads is the way the Small Wars Manual says to do it, with mules, instead of machines that sound like a million angry Africanized bees and need battery power to work.

Next, visit Jim Spiri who is recently back from Afghanistan.  Finally, visit Hermeneutics: Afghanistan for a first hand account of one Soldier’s deployment.  The pictures and personal account are compelling reading.

Weapons and Personal Security

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

From National Review Online’s Corner comes a must read on the drop in violent crime and how it is inversely proportional to the number of weapons in circulation.  Note that I said inversely proportional, not proportional.  More precisely for myself, I have layers of security.  The first weapon I have is a living beast.

Her name is Heidi, and she is a red and rust Dobie, still growing at 70 lb.  She worships me, and she gets a mouthful of anyone who becomes a threat to me.  The next girl with which an intruder must contend is this one.

She is my Rock River Arms Elite Car A4, and so far it has been kitted up with rear iron sights, a PMAG, a military-issue forward vertical grip, a tactical light, and an offset mount for that light (so that the same hand that holds the forward grip can illuminate the light without use of a pressure switch because of the proximity of the light).  I still have a laser and optics to go.  If anyone from Trijicon wants to offer me a free set of optics (an ACOG with the Scripture still on it) for a review on TCJ, let me know.

In the first case, my baby gets a mouthful of the intruder.  In the second case, the intruder gets a mouthful of my baby.  In either case, the intruder gets what he deserves, and my babies still love me.

Pakistan Furious Over U.S. Cross-Border Taliban Raids

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

The U.S. has recently conducted air operations just across the Pakistani border.

NATO helicopters conducted a rare cross-border operation into Pakistan Saturday, killing dozens of militants, according to the alliance.

NATO in Afghanistan said the first cross-border strike came a day after rebels attacked an Afghan border outpost in eastern Khost province. In a second strike, two helicopters returned to the border area and came under fire before killing several more insurgents.

Dawn gives us a little more detail.

US military sources say that all 30 – killed during a hot pursuit on Friday – were Haqqani Network fighters.

The militants, the sources said, had attacked Combat Outpost Narizah, an Afghan base eight miles from the Pakistani border in Tani district of Khost.

US forces repelled the attack and pursued the militants to their post just across the border in North Waziristan.

“An air weapons team in the area observed the enemy fire, and following Inter-national Security Assistance Force rules of engagement, crossed into the area of enemy fire,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release.

It’s a positive development that rather than confining our combat operations to protecting the population we’re chasing the insurgents as I have observed needed to be done so many times before.  But in another development, Pakistan is not happy with the cross-border operations.

Pakistan reacted angrily today after Nato said US helicopters had crossed into its territory from Afghanistan to attack militants, claiming to have killed more than 50 Taliban fighters.

The admission that two incursions had taken place over the weekend by helicopters from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), and possibly a further cross-border raid today, came after recent reports of a covert CIA military force in Afghanistan that crosses into Pakistan to kill Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry condemned the incursions as a “clear violation and breach of the UN mandate under which Isaf operates”, saying it had made a formal protest to Nato. “In the absence of immediate corrective measures, Pakistan will be constrained to consider response options,” said Abdul Basit, the foreign ministry spokesman.

So Pakistan is doing a little saber-rattling of their own, still wanting to play both sides against the middle and protect it’s asset – the Taliban – in its neurotic, make-believe future war with India.

This will be a good test of our resolve to be successful in Afghanistan.  Either we offer up obsequious explanations, excuses and discussions about how this was within the rules of engagement, or we tell the Pakistanis that we did it, we’re proud of the results, and it’s going to happen again … and again … and again … until they get their own shop under control.  Stay tuned.

Counterinsurgency: Let’s Drink Tea Later

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

Canadians are running into cultural issues in Kandahar.

The Pashtun people of southern Afghanistan have a saying: “He is not a Pathan who does not give a blow for a pinch.”

“Nang” and “badal” — honour and revenge, respectively — trump even the holy book of the Qur’an for many Pashtuns, and so it is with caution that Canada sends its troops to live among them as part of its widening counter-insurgency strategy in Kandahar province.

It’s widely understood that, as the proverb suggests, a Pashtun (or Pathan) man will respond aggressively to even the most minor slight, extracting revenge to defend the honour of himself and his family. Those considered friends and guests are protected and respected with the same zeal.

“Respect and honour is very important to them,” said Capt. Paul Stokes, a member of the Royal Canadian Regiment battle group currently in Kandahar.

Canadian soldiers bound for Afghanistan are taught about the different tribal and family affiliations that have affected the tides of war in the region for generations. They’re warned of the sometimes primitive living conditions and taught a few words of Pashto. Some even carry well-thumbed phrasebooks.

But nothing can entirely prepare them for the experience of living among the locals, Stokes said. “You can teach it in class, but you don’t appreciate it until you see the differences and experience it.”

Canadian soldiers currently live and work among Afghan police and soldiers and live in or near small villages, venturing out every day to try to forge trust within the local population.

They attend elaborate community meetings, known as shuras, where the pace is plodding and the casual drift of time can prove a challenge for military-minded westerners like Stokes.

“The western culture is a very fast-paced culture, with emails and TV. We want to get to a meetings and get right to the heart of the matter. That’s not the way it is (in Afghanistan),” he said.

“You go there, you have tea, you have coffee, you have food, you may have an entire meal and talk about your families and friends, and then — whether it be 15 minutes later or an hour later — you get to the heart of the discussion.”

Capt. Ashley Collette has travelled to Third World countries before, so the living conditions she and her platoon found in the village of Nakhonay were less of a shock to her than to some of her colleagues.

Life in the village in Panjwaii, southwest of Kandahar city, has more benefits than drawbacks, but it has not been without its challenges, she said.

“The experience itself of living right alongside the locals is one that I’d argue you can’t really prepare yourself for. It’s a unique experience in itself,” Collette said.

Being unable to speak the language is also a problem.

Of course being unable to speak the language is a problem, just as are poor translators.  And true enough, little contributions to the population are a good thing.  In Fallujah 2007 there was a problem with feral dogs (packs of dogs would literally attack Marine patrols as well as the population).  In addition to what the Marines did to the population (e.g., heavy policing, kicking doors in, etc.), one thing they did for the population was to perform patrols with the sole purpose of getting the feral dog population under control.  They accomplished this in short order.  The people of Fallujah appreciated this.

But one thing that the Marines didn’t do was change their behavior.  In spite of the Iraqi cultural revulsion at dogs, the Marines had theirs – both bomb sniffing and adopted dogs – the adopted dogs helping in locating and warning indications of feral dogs packs.  The Marines projected forces regardless of cultural morays, and the tea-drinking came later when the population decided that the Marines would win.

The Marines are taking turnover of Sangin from the British, and there is mixed reaction.

… tribal elder Muhammad Khan says British troops were mindful of local culture, and treated people well.

”The former infidels [British] were better than these new ones [Americans],” said Mr Khan.

“Britons were respectful of our culture and traditions. They wouldn’t search someone on a motorcycle with his wife in the back seat.

”But American troops don’t care. They stop us and search both man and his woman. This is what we know of Americans.”

A number of residents have reservations about the arrival of US forces.

Gul Muhammad, from Sangin town, said: ”I liked the way British soldiers conducted operations.

“After they were attacked, they would go to the exact house and target the very attacker without harming others.”

Another resident expressed his concerns about civilian casualties.

”Americans behave differently,” said Aazar Gulalai. “They attack indiscriminately and target everybody in the vicinity after they are targeted by the Taliban, or suffer casualties in a mine explosion.

”All of them shoot at us. They all target us. We and the Taliban become the same for them after they are attacked.

”We are civilians. We don’t have any animosity with the Taliban, or government.”

Sangin is one of the most heavily populated districts in Helmand, with a population of around 150,000.

But a number of people left the town of Sangin in recent years as a result of fighting. One of them, Abdul Wali, hopes that he will be able to return home soon.

”We left Sangin because of continual attacks and fighting,” says Abdul Wali. “I hope Americans will bring security with them and schools will be opened.”

Over the past few months, Americans have already taken on security responsibility for many other districts in Helmand, including Nawa, Garmsir, Marjah, Khanshin and Nawzad.

A number of people in these districts claim that British forces failed to bring security there because they did not want to risk fighting the Taliban.

”Americans are serious,” says Muhabbat Khan, a resident of Nawa district. “Security is much better now here. The British were only concerned about their on security.

”British troops couldn’t handle casualties. They used to retreat all the time and this would further embolden the Taliban.”

A few residents of Sangin expressed hope that Americans would bring not only security to their district, but much needed development and jobs for the people.

Several observations are in order.  First, the British can certainly take casualties, and their bravery is not in question.  What the example of Musa Qala showed us is that the British approach to counterinsurgency is different because of their officer corps.  Two years ago the British enacted their plans to deescalate the violence against the Taliban.  The rest, they say, is history.

But more to the point, the counterinsurgency reactionary would study this report and decide that it’s time for cultural re-education.  Send the Marines to more PowerPoint presentations, and make sure that they have all of their cultural I’s dotted and T’s crossed.  To the Marines in Anbar this was irrelevant, and it should be irrelevant to the Marines in Helmand.

Returning to the first report about the high sounding Pashtun traditions of honor, it wouldn’t appear that their honor isn’t so great that they would forbid the Taliban from ruling them with a heavy hand and purvey death to the insurgents.  Indeed, the population in Sangin wants it all too.  They want security and then jobs, but they have no animosity towards anyone.

Regardless of their lack of animosity, they will be forced to choose sides, and they will contribute to their own security or they will have none, from either the Marines or the Taliban.  They can drink tea later.  There is work to do first for everyone involved.

The Best Way to Ensure That the Marines Become Irrelevant

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 10 months ago

From National Defense Magazine, another silly article on massive amphibious assault landings in the 21st century (only part reproduced below).

While many pundits (Editorial comment: And to whom might this be referring?) contend that ship-to-shore fighting is fast becoming archaic, Marine Corps leadership insists that future conflicts may again require amphibious skills. They admit that training for a forced entry operation has atrophied during the last nine years of conflict and the Corps’ alliance between ships and sailors is not what it once was.

“In order to capitalize on the Navy-Marine Corps relationship, we need concepts like ship-to-shore maneuver in order to get the best out of both sides of the equation,” said Brig. Gen. Robert F. Hedelund, commanding officer of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.

The trick in the future is to conduct a beach landing from a ship sailing beyond the horizon, miles away from shore where it is safe from anti-ship missiles. That means marines not only will have to stomach a longer journey to shore, but also they will have to operate ashore knowing that supplies, medical evacuations and fire support will take more time.

In an experiment during the biennial Rim of the Pacific naval exercise in Hawaii, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory put to the test a revamped concept of storming the beach. It gave a company landing team, enhanced by an artillery platoon, a suite of advanced communications and robots to help them fight, resupply and evacuate casualties.

“We’re taking the things that marines are doing in Afghanistan and sprinkling saltwater on them,” said Vince Goulding, director of the experiments division in the lab. “We’re taking them from the sea base, bringing them ashore to do the things they’ve already learned how to do.”

Marines know how to land on a beach. The challenge is sustaining them on the shore when the ship is a hundred miles at sea maneuvering with the naval force, said Goulding. “How do you get food to them? How do you take care of injured marines? Can you command and control them adequately? How do you provide fires for them?”

Some of those questions were answered during a four-day amphibious assault exercise on Oahu. In the early morning hours of the first day, marines from Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment and Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment lined up in the hangar of the amphibious ship. They loaded up with packs that were stuffed full of experimental communication gear and batteries. One by one they marched down into the lower vehicle bay and onto the three landing craft docked in the well deck. As the ship rocked on the heavy seas, sailors aboard the craft greeted them by saying, “You will get sick.” They instructed the marines to vomit into the plastic bags provided or to use their helmets. So warned, the marines dispersed. Some climbed into truck cabs for the hour-long ride; others sat inside the windowless passenger areas.

For many of the marines, it was the first time they had ever operated aboard a ship, much less ridden to shore in a landing craft.

More than an hour later, an innocuous bump marked when the LCAC hit the beach. The marines ran off the deck and collected ashore as the artillery vehicles were unloaded. Many troops had radio handsets tucked underneath their helmets and strapped into place over their ears. There was a little bit of shouting, a name here, a name there, but mostly it was quiet as the marines spoke discreetly into their radios. It was an amphibious landing unlike any other that had preceded them. By the end of the next 72 hours, they had accomplished their mission of rooting out a terrorist training compound.

The experiment is analogous to what the Marine Corps did in the 1930s, in trying to get ready for amphibious fight in Pacific, Goulding said. “We’re preparing for the amphibious fight, wherever it might be, in 2020.”

The experiment proved that the company landing team concept is feasible, but that improvements are needed in the size, weight and power of the infantry gear.

“We’re still on the curve where the technology we’re getting for individual marines is driving up the weight,” said Hedelund.

The demand for water was a significant concern for commanders both ashore and at sea. A large number of helicopter sorties from the ship were carrying water. When they dropped off the supplies, troops did not have vehicles to transport the goods.

“I am convinced now more than ever that a MV-22 Osprey-borne dismounted marine infantry company inserted into rough terrain needs some sort of organic, internally transportable ground mobility asset,” said Goulding. Whether it’s manned or unmanned is beside the point, he said. Dismounted troops need a way to move supplies.

“When those infantry platoons were resupplied with 5-gallon cans of water, except for what they could put into CamelBaks and drink, they now had this stuff with them, and it became a mobility impediment to them,” explained Goulding.

A small vehicle, such as the John Deere Gator, could fit inside an MV-22 Osprey. It could be driven by troops and help them transport supplies, he said.

The amphibious landing concept from a ship sailing beyond the horizon is viable, Goulding said in an interview after the exercise concluded. But “we need to get hot on ship-to-maneuver logistics,” he pointed out.

“This is a problem from two ends: It ties up a high-demand low-density aviation asset that we could better employ by providing mobility to marines on the ground,” said Goulding. “It also demonstrated that we need to do better foraging for water.”

Goulding, a retired marine, flew over the mountainous Kahukus Training Range twice in a helicopter during the exercise. “There is water everywhere in the Kahukus,” he pointed out, but the marines had to rely on drinking water supplied from the ship.

In a separate effort, the lab is experimenting with a tactical reverse osmosis water purification unit that would have turned the free flowing Hawaiian water into potable water for the squads.

Good grief.  We’re complaining about the Marines becoming too heavy, while we plan to send them ashore in the extremely heavy Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles.  The Navy wants to be relevant, and in lieu of close support for the Marines, they plan on never-to-be-used powerless and irrelevant littoral combat ships.  We want to do massive amphibious assaults against unknown enemies, yet we plan to start from so far off shore that we’re vulnerable to missile fire for some twenty five miles or more.

We want to be self sufficient, and yet logistics controls us to the point that we are planning for reverse osmosis purification units.  We want to be quick to get to shore, but we cast our lots with the EFV when a new fleet of helicopters would allow us fast transit to the shore (and further inland) and fast-roping would allow quick ingress to the battle space with light, fast and well trained troops.

But are our Marines well trained?  From backpacking, hiking and camping, I and each of my four children know how to purify water from our surroundings.  I and each of my four children know how to climb and rappel.  I and each of my four children know how to make decisions on the fly, not waiting on specific commands but relying on broad mission goals to guide our actions.  And only one among my four children is a Marine.

It would have been better for the Marines if they had been dropped on shore from helicopters and told that their first mission was to “Find your own damn water and food – you have no support and you’re on your own.”  That would have built self sufficiency and small unit leadership.

It’s expectations such as this – EFV, constant logistics, bloated support to infantry troop ratio, gadgets and doodads in place of adapt, improvise and overcome – that will cause future administrations to turn to SOCOM and Special Operations Forces rather than the Marines to conduct special missions, expeditionary engagements and small wars, and in general turn to the SOCOM chain of command rather than the U.S. Marine Corps.  This model for the future is the best way to ensure that the Marines become irrelevant.

Good grief.  The Marines are in need of a gut check.

Soldiers’ Voices, War Reporting and Context

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 10 months ago

In The Five Hundred Meter War I linked a report at Global Post by James Foley, who also blogs at A World of Troubles.  Please spend the time to read my analysis as context for my criticism of another article below, and also visit Jim’s web site.  His prose is current, salient, well-informed and well written.

Citing the same report at Global Post by Jim, Pia de Solenni writing at National Review Online’s Corner weighs in quite differently from my analysis.

Two years ago today, my brother Bruno was killed while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Before going to Afghanistan, he’d done two other tours, including Iraq. I think just about every family member of a deployed soldier surveys the news with trepidation, worrying that it could be their loved one who’s the latest casualty or, worse, fatality.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of my brother and, naturally, there’s a poignancy around certain dates like holidays, birthdays, and today. But last Friday, as I was watching the PBS NewsHour, I was completely unprepared for the footage of soldiers in Afghanistan. Viewers were warned that the segment would contain graphic images and graphic language. That warning didn’t begin to describe the content.

Footage included a soldier getting shot in the head; fortunately his helmet slowed down the bullet. Another soldier lost part of his arm. It was as if this were just a segment from an action film or a so-called reality show. But this is real life. The wounds are not special effects. They won’t go away when the cameras are turned off. The families of these soldiers could see them in danger and being wounded. And somehow, it’s all right to expose audiences, including families, to this very real brutality being done to U.S. soldiers; but the same audiences are too fragile to hear the f-bombs that, in such circumstances, are very understandable. Real life amputations and wounds, but no profanities.

Most soldiers are far more comfortable with people hearing them use profanity than they are with having their families caused any additional worry about their safety.

The journalists who prepared the segment would argue that they’re just reporting the facts. Ah, but these are selective facts. Did they show footage asking the soldiers whether they have any positive interactions with the Afghans? Did they ask the soldiers what they think of their mission? No, and they didn’t even allow them the expression of an f-bomb. So much for hearing the soldiers in their own voices. Instead, they were exploited by the graphic images of their activities. As the saying goes, if it bleeds, it leads. But if an audience is too fragile to hear certain words, surely it’s too fragile to see real life casualties.

Segments like this convey nothing but fear and futility. They give no context to the situation. To me it seems that they undermine the concerns of our soldiers insofar as they create greater fear and anxiety for families, precisely what the soldiers don’t want, all in the name of journalism so slanted that it looks more like propaganda aiding the enemy.

Yes, I am emotionally vested. But I’ve seen very little news coverage that represents the experiences of the soldiers I’ve known, including my brother. (Our hometown newspaper was one of the few exceptions I’ve seen. They even published a letter from Bruno, written just a few days before he died, explaining why he was serving in the Army.) I have an aunt who has organized an impressive local network of volunteers to send care packages to numerous troops. Frequently, she forwards their e-mails with their stories, which are so very different from most of what the media presents.*

Regardless of what one thinks of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, most people agree that those who serve in the military deserve our support. They’re already risking, even giving up, their lives for our country. If certain commentators and media outlets don’t agree with this, they only have that right because we have a long tradition of military men and women who have fought and died to protect that right for them. All I’m asking is that the soldiers themselves not be exploited, whether in the broadcasting of their injuries or by causing additional anxiety and suffering to their families.

Thanks to Pia de Solenni for the heavy sacrifice of a loved one.  Having deployed a son to Operation Iraqi Freedom in Fallujah at the very height of the violence in 2007, I know first hand what a heavy burden it is to bear up under the ubiquitous darkness of knowing that your flesh and blood  is under fire.  Friend and fellow Marine father Michael Ledeen signed his book The Iranian Time Bomb to me with these words: “To a fellow suffering father.”

I have suffered through having a son under fire, but not losing him in battle.  Losing a family member qualifies one, my my opinion, to have almost any view of the particular war, and seldom do I weigh in on the griefs or even views of others who have lost loved ones, even when they disagree with my own.  Andrew Bacevich is a good example.  Michael Ledeen and I have discussed Andrew, and while I am certain that he seldom writes anything with which I am in complete agreement, Andrew is qualified to speak his mind.  He lost a Marine son in the Anbar Province.

But Pia de Solenni’s opinion rings differently that mere commentary on a particular engagement or the overall campaign.  The commentary seems to be tilting towards self censorship of certain types of coverage and commentary of the war.  If something is too gruesome, too graphic, without enough prose or pictures of Soldiers and Marines walking hand in hand with indigenous peoples, then the coverage and commentary is without context.

Jim Foley is an embedded reporter who has been in theater since March.  According to his most recent communication to me, he is currently in Kandahar continuing to try to get a sense of things in that AO.  A quick survey of his blogroll and a longer survey of his prose shows him to be a well rounded reporter and analyst who is reporting with passion but also with balance.

No regular reader of my own posts over the last four years could possibly charge me with any sort of failure to provide context or lack of support for the troops.  But I have been critical when I felt that command or strategy deserved criticism, and for this I have been dropped from blogrolls, lost traffic, and received very tersely worded letters from various readers, including some military readers (usually in the NCO ranks, and usually among those who have yet to come to terms with blogs knowing anything about the detailed goings-on within the military).

If I comment on overall strategy, that should be left to the generals in the Pentagon.  If I link and comment on the rules of engagement, I am endangering the troops, regardless of the fact that they have previously been released on other web sites.  If I convey original reporting because of some contact I have within the military, I am cast into the same category as the military-hating main stream media if the reporting doesn’t have that jingoistic bent to it.

But war is violence, and so that I don’t rehearse the exploits of my son, I will refer to comments made by an Army officer in Iraq.

One thing that I think many people forget about Iraq (or maybe it wasn’t reported?) is that in 2007 and 2008 we were killing and capturing lots of people on a nightly basis. Protecting the populace was A priority. When speaking to the folks back home, in order to sell the war, perhaps we said that it was the priority. But on the ground, I do not recall a single Commander’s Update Brief spending any time at all discussing what we had done to protect anyone. We were focused on punching al-Qaeda in the nuts at every opportunity and dismantling their networks. The reconcilables got the message loud and clear that they could take money and jobs in return for cooperation, or they would die a swift death when we came knocking down their doors in the middle of the night. The rest of the populace made it clear to them that they should take the offer. The only protection that the population got from us was good fire discipline so that we did not kill non-combatants. We made it clear that the government intended to win this thing and we did not send that message by delivering governance or digging wells. We shot motherf******s in the face.  Pop-COIN blasphemers, your scripture is false teaching. Here is some truth:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; – Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (KJV)

It’s time to kill.

There are many experiences, many examples, and a huge amount of context to deal with in any analysis.  It isn’t possible to address all of it all of the time.  On the other hand, I have repeatedly addressed the lack of force projection in the Provinces of Nuristan and Kunar, the failures at Wanat and Kamdesh, and the hard work of the men who fought in the Korengal Valley, while still calling out the bravery of the men who did our fighting in Eastern Afghanistan and covering my Marines in Helmand.  Soldiers who have written me have felt the love, as well as agreed with me on many occasions as I argued for more force projection, more distributed operations, and enemy-centric tactics such as chasing the insurgents rather than just focusing on population centers.

In the case in point, I have observed that it makes little sense to send troops on patrols to be shot at, blown up, and dismembered, while the insurgents roam the hills unmolested.  The insurgents aren’t being killed and the population isn’t being protected.  More troops are required, and then a different set of tactics.  This observation doesn’t detract from the bravery of the Soldiers who went on this particular patrol.  In fact, this observation does indeed set the correct context.

Honesty and advocacy for their needs is the best context that can be given to the story.  Sometimes this involves glowing reports about giving cows to widows of the war so that their sons don’t turn to the insurgency.  At other times this involves saying that some tactic, strategy or doctrine doesn’t suit the need of the moment.  The former is routinely accepted by those who lean right of center.  The same right of center folk must learn to accept the later without calling it out as disloyalty or lack of full context.  It’s what honest reporters and good military bloggers do.

The Five Hundred Meter War

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 10 months ago

In Korengal, the fighting often happened at several hundred meters.  In fact, Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Wall states that “we know that 52% of the fights in Afghanistan begin at 500 meters and go out from there.”  He laments the poor state of long distance rifleman skills and training, and recommends a return to that very basic training that creates riflemen.  The Marines are in better shape regarding this concern, every Marine having to qualify at 500 yards.

Yet there is something unstated here – an assumed precondition that sets the framework for this problem.  It is assumed that it will remain a 500 meter war, that we must increase rifleman skills (which we must), and that the only solution to this problem is to perform long distance shooting of the enemy.

But this presupposition only points us to a deeper problem.  We are not manned to close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver.  We are engaging in long distance fire fights until then are completed by calling in air strikes or artillery, rather than engaging in small unit (fire team, squad, platoon, company) maneuver warfare.

Squad rushes, distributed operations, development of enfilade fire and so forth are being done in some circumstances, but unless we chase the enemy they will go unmolested to kill and maim again.  This 500 meter war also becomes problematic for IEDs and ambushes.  The Taliban wouldn’t be able to plant IEDs if they were continuously under fire and surveillance, but of course, this requires more troops.

Eastern Afghanistan (Kunar, Nuristan, etc.) is still an important cornerstone in the campaign in Afghanistan, regardless of the population-centric approach being employed by current command (with which I strongly disagree).  An important report on a recent ambush in the Kunar Province demands our attention.

The ambush I recorded on video for GlobalPost Aug. 26 was not particularly unique.  Unfortunately, it’s an all too common occurrence for the soldiers patrolling here. Soldiers from Monti have been ambushed from the nearby steep mountainsides at least three times. The Taliban are known for being creatures of habit, using the same ambush spot if it proves effective.  The difference is that this time the first truck was hit with a “lucky shot” which disabled it and the driver.  I don’t want to go into more detail per Army operation security rules for embedded reporters.

When Pvt. Justin Greer got hit in the helmet, at first it didn’t seem real. I’ve noticed this immediate reaction in myself before. The mind, for several seconds, acts like it’s watching a movie.  If this lasts for more than several seconds, one could freeze and really put themselves in danger.  I’ve never seen an infantry soldier freeze. They’ve been trained to react to contact and in Kunar, their buddies’ lives depend on it.

Greer also appeared amazed with how close the bullet came to killing him. He showed me the bullet hole and the round he found in his helmet, before tucking it in his pocket as keepsake.  Most likely it was an indirect shot, those Kevlar helmets rarely can stop a direct AK-47 7.62 round.  A reporter told me that the layers of Kevlar in the U.S. helmet are actually designed to split and channel bullets, like Greer’s seemed to do.

Since this position was a suspected ambush site by the Taliban, wouldn’t it have been nice to have brought enough troops to chase the insurgents, or perhaps pre-deployed snipers, or both?  Isn’t it a shame that they were left alive?  The ambush cost us a lost arm, a concussion, a head wound, and a destroyed vehicle.  Isn’t it worth it to deploy enough troops to do the job?  In the end, from the perspective of a cost-benefit analysis, wouldn’t it have been cheaper to have anticipated this and brought enough firepower to chase and kill the enemy instead of sustaining the losses?

Prior: Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer

The Beauty of American Politics

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 10 months ago

It’s really a wonderful thing to witness.  The GOP establishment is saying the same things as the NYT.

Perhaps I will break from my military blogging and weigh in as the political season draws neigh, but it really is a wonderful thing.  I know that I have many British and Australian readers, and I want to assure them that this, despite what they may have been told, is not the worst of American politics.  It is the best.  We are at our best, and this is the pinnacle of the American system right now.  They can sit back and only wish it could be them.

Witness the beauty and grandeur.  The GOP puts up someone who, rather than calling O’Donnell to concede, calls Obama and Biden (um, not his party) to chat after his loss.  He votes for cap and trade, and then refuses to say that he’ll overturn the most hideous, obscene monstrosity in American economic history – Obamacare – and then finally sends a blast e-mail to the people of Delaware saying essentially that they were stupid.  O’Donnell doesn’t deserve what has been bestowed upon her, says Castle.

But enter the American voter.  When the establishment finally loses control over the narrative, when the people finally get fed up with the crap, when the electorate is finally awakened, she, the voter, is a mean bitch, she is.  She rules.

Win, lose or draw, the voters are giving the slap down to the man.  “The man.”  This isn’t bad, or unseemly, or dirty, or somehow to be hidden.  I am not embarrassed in the least.  We, the voters, are at our finest.  Sit back and admire us.  The man answers to us now.

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