Religious Exemption To Mandatory Covid Vaccination

Herschel Smith · 24 Aug 2021 · 11 Comments

I authored this paper for an individual who wishes that the name be removed.  The name has been redacted from the copy provided here. In order to assist the reader with a framework for understanding this paper, it should first be emphasized that it is written from a very specific theological perspective.  The necessary presuppositions are outlined at the beginning. It could of course be objected that there may be other (what I am calling "committed Christians") who do not hold one or…… [read more]

Weekend Reading #4

BY Herschel Smith
11 years ago

First up, regular comment contributor to The Captain’s Journal Roy Keyes gives us:

Hezbollah: The Party of God

Viewed as both hero and villain, Hezbollah is possibly the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world today. Hezbollah’s worldview is fueled by the perception that the Muslim world is experiencing a period of deep crisis and as a result, members of the organization are encouraged to strike at the forces of evil in the world in order to accelerate the final battle between Muslims and the West (Hezbollah Dossier, 2009).

This is a good one and is well worth some time today or this weekend.

Second, another paper on Hezbollah:

Hezbollah in South America

Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Iran-sponsored Shi’i Muslim terrorist organization, has established global networks in at least 40 countries. Its growing presence in South America is increasingly troublesome to U.S. policymakers, yet there are few experts on Hezbollah and fewer still on Hezbollah Latino America. Hezbollah’s operatives have infiltrated the Western Hemisphere from Canada to Argentina, and its activity is increasing, particularly in the lawless Tri-Border Area (TBA) of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. This research was conducted to expose the actions and objectives of Hezbollah in the TBA. The majority of US officials and operators believe that Hezbollah’s terrorist wing is separate from its political wing, but these are misconceptions from people who “mirror-image” the American experience when assessing Hezbollah. Unfamiliarity with the organization makes these assessors vulnerable to its propaganda, which is a severe problem that permeates the US government and its operatives. People who think Hezbollah is or could be compartmentalized or disunited are not familiar with the organization and perceive Hezbollah through the lens of the organization’s extensive propaganda effort. Hezbollah has a large operational network in the TBA, which generates funds for the party, but its primary mission is to plan attacks and lie dormant, awaiting instructions to execute operations against Western targets.

And one more must read from the Center for Security Policy:

Sharia: The Threat to America

Team B II believes that the role played in this regard by shariah’s most sophisticated jihadists, the Muslim Brotherhood, is of particular concern.  Steeped in Islamic doctrine, and already embedded deep inside both the United States and our allies, the Brotherhood has become highly skilled in exploiting the civil liberties and multicultural proclivities of Western societies for the purpose of destroying the latter from within. As America’s top national security leadership continues to be guided by its post-modernist, scientific, and high-tech world-view, it neglects the reality that 7th Century impulses, enshrined in shariah, have reemerged as the most critical existential threat to constitutional governance and the freedom-loving, reason-driven principles that undergird Western civilization.

I found especially pleasing that the authors were scholarly in their approach.  They traced the contemporary jihadist movement not only back to its original theological roots, but also back to its temporal and contemporary roots in Sayyid Qutb, whom I have know about a long time.  Interestingly, he inveighed:

“`The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity,` he wrote. `She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs and she shows all this and does not hide it.` These curvy jezebels pursued boys with `wide, strapping chest[s]` and `ox muscles,` Qutb added with disgust.”

Seems that Qutb is giving us a little more information than we need if he actually believes that all of this is true, no?  Is he enjoying this discussion a little too much?

Degrading Security in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
11 years ago

In my younger years I trained quarter horses.  Naturally, I was both surprised and excited to see an article about taking rodeos from Texas to Afghanistan.  I expected stories about how the Afghans learned of the utility of the quintessential horse – the quarter horse – in barrel racing, roping, ring riding, and just about everything else.  Lord, I love the quarter horse.  I do.  I was very disappointed and saddened to read the report.

In a place where life can end abruptly or change forever in an instant, Arnold Norman is offering a belt buckle to the best soldier.

Correction: the best roper soldier.

Of all of Norman’s missions as an agricultural adviser at a remote outpost in Afghanistan, organizing a roping competition would not have appeared anywhere.

But Norman, 59, an avid team roper on weekends in Texas, discovered dozens of young American soldiers, and a few Afghans, who found swinging a rope at a dummy steer to be an unexpected salve for the stresses of combat and loneliness.

“I thought it’d be kind of cool to have a little dummy-roping contest,” said Norman, who lives outside Burleson. “It just kept getting bigger. I’ve probably got 50 guys signed up for it now.”

The contest is scheduled for Oct. 1 in the town of Baraki Barak, a couple of weeks after Norman returns from his leave. The best roper will get to take custom-made belt buckles home from deployment. Norman hears that the Stars & Stripes newspaper and Armed Forces Network might cover it.

Norman won’t be winning, though.

“No one was going to enter if I did,” he said, laughing. “But I’m doing this for them anyway.”

More soldiers from other bases would like to participate, but neither Norman nor their commanders are willing to get someone hurt or killed to rope a metal and wood steer. Conditions on the ground have deteriorated significantly just outside his post in recent weeks.

“I’ve told people, ‘If you can’t figure out a way to come on a helicopter, don’t come,'” Norman said. “I don’t travel in [ground] vehicles anymore. That’s what has really changed since I’ve been here. When I came last fall, very seldom was anyone getting blown up. Now it’s common.”

He says this matter-of-factly, as if U.S. Department of Agriculture employees say it all the time.

Used to be, in what feels like a very long time ago, Norman drove to work every morning at the federal complex on Felix Street in south Fort Worth.

He works as a range management specialist for the National Resources Conservation Service, an agency within the USDA. He teaches other USDA employees around the country about methods of restoring land to its pre-farming days.

But last year, the USDA asked for volunteers to go to Afghanistan. Norman didn’t need to volunteer. He could retire whenever he wants after 37 years of service.

Maybe it was the enticement of “danger pay” for a USDA employee.

“It’s been an adventure, for sure,” he said. “You know, I’ve had a very successful career. I’ve been able to teach a lot of people about land and their animals. I thought I had some skills to improve the Afghans’ way of life.”

What I wasn’t expecting to see was such a stark and honest appraisal of the degrading security situation in Afghanistan.  Remember, too, it was during this time that we killed and captured so many high value targets with the ultra-secretive night raids by SOF troopers.  Surely at risk of repeating myself for the millionth time, I guess that strategy isn’t working, huh?

AQI Courting Shi’ite Gangs?

BY Herschel Smith
11 years ago

Iraqi military officials have had some buyer’s remorse over the U.S. exit, calling for more troops for an extended period of time.  The knowledgeable ones know the drill, and they know that Iraq is not ready.  Conditions continue to be problematic in Iraq, and AQI appears to be courting Shi’ite gangs for membership.

Shiite gangs are joining the Sunni extremists of al Qa’eda to form new and dangerous alliances that threaten stability in southern Iraq, government officials and community leaders have warned.

A series of deadly attacks last month in once secure areas, including the southern cities of Kut and Basra, caught the Iraqi authorities by surprise and, they say, indicate that al Qa’eda has made contacts with Shiite groups willing to carry out strikes in the region.

The cooperation, driven by a mixture of money, fear and a mutual hatred of Iran, represents a stark reversal. Since the formation of al Qa’eda in the late 1990s, the radical Sunni Muslim group and its affiliates have regularly targeted Shiites, whom they consider heretics. That hostility continued following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the factional fighting that broke out soon thereafter.

There are signs, however, that this longstanding acrimony has given way to the desire of al Qa’eda sympathisers to penetrate Iraq’s Shiite-dominated southern provinces. To that end, they have found willing Shiite allies, according to regional officials.

“It is unfortunate but we understand that some Shia people are involved with and support the work of al Qa’eda,” said Shamel Mansour Ayal, chairman of Wasit provincial council’s security commission, which is headquartered in Kut.

Some might say that this is a sign of desperation, but at what point has AQI not be desperate?  That’s not the point.  The point is that Iraq needs U.S. troops and they know it, but even if the troops are deployed, they are essentially powerless without renegotiation of the SOFA.  Witness the most recent stupidity in a long line of them.

Gone are the days when U.S. soldiers kicked in doors and searched for insurgents and weapons, U.S. officers say, adding that they cannot even enter towns now unless invited and escorted.

However, a tip-off that a suicide bomber from the Iraqi affiliate of al-Qaeda planned to attack a joint Iraqi-U.S. checkpoint in western Nineveh during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which started on Friday, led U.S. troops to take the initiative in a raid last week.

“Being that it is a credible threat specifically against U.S. forces, we kind of have to act,” said Captain Keith Benoit, a squadron commander in the 7th Cavalry Regiment, at the checkpoint a few hours before the raid.

The mission was planned by U.S. forces but it was to be carried out by the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga security forces, while U.S. soldiers stood about 100 meters away, said Benoit.

“If we were to capture these folks alive tonight, I have a specific interest in this … so I would probably join in the questioning, but there is no unilateral questioning by U.S. forces any more,” he said.

Then there is no point in U.S. forces being deployed there.  There are no kinetic operations, and the patrols and questioning necessary to develop atmospherics and good intelligence networks are non-existent.  Bring the troops home now or renegotiate the SOFA.

Afghanistan Study Group Report

BY Herschel Smith
11 years ago

Joshua Foust recently excoriated the Afghanistan Study Group Report.  I’ve pretty much ignored the report, it being yet another dumb small footprint, attack of the drones, CT v. COIN, send in the “special boys” SOF to kill all of the HVTs, etc., etc., ad nauseum, document.  Josh does a good job of exploring all of its inconsistencies.  Logical contradictions are death to an argument, and this report is chock full of them.  Consistency is not the hobgoblin of small minds.  It is the stuff of life.  Logical inconsistencies are to me a complete turnoff.  I close my mind quickly to someone who can’t maintain logical attention to detail.

Josh and I agree on many (and most) things, except for one important thing I will mention.  He argues that Afghanistan’s problems are not, per se, due to Afghanistan, but other things, including the messy way in which we have waged this campaign.  Josh and I agree on the messiness of the campaign, but I will continue to hold that Afghanistan’s problems are due to a multitude of things, not all of which but not the least of which is Afghanistan.  With my more enemy-centric view of counterinsurgency, I see a limit to the extent to which we are going to be able to convert their governance, ensure domestic tranquility, and bring them into the 21st century.  I believe that Josh sees more cultural engagement as necessary for Afghanistan than I believe we have the time or resources for.  That said, Josh is a smart Afghanistan analyst and his assessment of the report should be your next reading assignment.

Shortly after weighing in on the report, Josh catalogs various folk calling him a dumb ass.  Well, it happens, and I’ve had my fair share of folk calling me a dumb ass.  It rarely changes my mind on the facts of the matter, but sometimes amuses me.  On a related note, one particularly amusing comment to Josh’s post comes from Bernard Finel, with whom I rarely agree on anything.  He says:

I suspect that we have different definitions of “anything substantial.” We cannot wage a COIN campaign with 30k troops. But NO ONE claims we can.

As for the drones issue. Yes, I agree. The problem with an off-shore drone campaign is the intelligence challenge. I have never argued otherwise, but the report does not suggest striking individuals. It suggests striking essentially pre-9/11 style AQ facilities which we DID have good intel on despite having little ground presence.

So again, you are making a false argument. 30k is not enough to do what YOU want to do in Afghanistan. It is likely sufficient to do what the study authors believe is necessary for US national interests.

Strange comment.  He must mean 30k additional troops, not 30k troops.  And yes, Petraeus et. al., do indeed claim that we can wage a COIN campaign with what we currently have in Afghanistan.  As for the supposed intelligence pre-9/11, he must be joking.  I cannot seriously comment on this because it isn’t a serious point.  Moving on to his solution, most readers know what I think about the SOF high value target campaign, but just in case anyone has missed it, let me be clearer.

It doesn’t work.  Period.  Neither does the drone campaign.  I am not opposed to killing Taliban.  That’s what I want to have done anyway – from the bottom up, thereby marginalizing Taliban “leaders” because they cannot recruit fighters.  I am not compassionate over either the Taliban or those who harbor them.  But searching out HVTs didn’t work in Iraq, isn’t working in Afghanistan, and won’t ever work in any serious insurgency (to be clear, other things caused us to succeed in Iraq).  If the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan – and here I am including leaving a small SOF footprint of several thousand troops, perhaps 10k to 20k, even though we don’t have than many to give – here is the list of things that would happen.

Within several months the Afghan National Police would dissociate, leaving nothing but an empty shell for local security.  The ANP who weren’t high on opium would have scattered.  The ANA would last a little longer, maybe half a year, but many of them would be high on opium or would scatter.  That corrupt bastard Ahmed Wali Karzai would have his carcass thrown out into the road, and Kandahar would fall to the Taliban within months.  The ANA would soon desert and run for home.  The Northern Alliance would crank up again in earnest, but wouldn’t be able to stop the surge of Taliban control.  Kabul would fall within a year.  It would take a SOF campaign just to save the SOF troops who had stayed in Afghanistan.  Except they would all be in Afghanistan, so someone else would have to do it.

All who had cooperated with the U.S. would be drug into the streets and shot.  Intelligence would be non-existent.  Most contractors who had provided logistics to U.S. troops would be shot within several months, and the rest would scatter.  The only logistics would be via air, and the only bases which would continue to be open would have to engage in force protection around the clock.  There would be no SOF raids because they wouldn’t know whom to target.  The drone campaign would cease and desist because any intelligence asset within Pakistan would quickly figure out that the U.S. had cut and run, and that the Taliban were clear winners.  Intelligence in Pakistan would  evaporate overnight, as if it had never existed.  Only the ghosts would be left to talk to us.

Now.  It isn’t true that I simply want more troops and more of the same while we try harder this time around, a potential charge and one that Col. Gian Gentile makes of Josh.  I have advocated against population-centric COIN and in favor of chasing the insurgents where they live.  I have advocated distributed operations and small unit maneuver warfare, less restrictive ROE, getting off of the FOBs, and around the clock contact with both the population and the insurgency.  The Marines are doing this in Helmand, and part of the Army is doing this in Kunar and Nuristan.  But we’re not doing this everywhere, and we should be.

Finally, others know solutions that are not being implemented.  SFC Jeromy Henning comments:

The smaller footprint argument is simply ridiculous. A true surge is needed on this side in order to support the Pakistani initiatives. Every time they had conducted a major action on their side (into the territories along the border) the porous border and minimally-manned US Zones became safe-havens for the bad guys. We need plenty more troops in Afghanistan to secure the border districts/provinces in order to destroy insurgents as they seek safety from Pakistani efforts. Afghanistan needs the same footprint achieved in Iraq to accomplish this.

One of the places we are continuing to ignore is the support of the Afghan Border Police (ABP). Of all ANSF, they maintain more kinetic contacts than anybody else, yet they are mostly ignored and barely mentored by a token US presence at the Zoon(BDE) level and higher. They could use better training and mentorship as they live and serve on the border. As long as they feel that they are of no importance to the overall cause against the insurgents and remain under supplied, under-equipped, undermanned, and poorly led, they will be vulnerable to corruption resulting in a continuance of poor border security.

So there are several things you won’t hear from either Joshua Foust or me.  You won’t hear advocacy for the small footprint, you won’t hear advocacy for SOF raids, and you won’t hear stupid advocacy for negotiations and reconciliation with the Taliban (big T).  What you will hear is advocacy for doing things smarter, for better language training, and for more troops.  One area where Josh and I disagree has to do with distributed operations versus population centers.  But at this point we are gilding the lily.  We need more troops and more force projection before that issue becomes relevant.

HVTs and the Taliban Decapitation Campaign

BY Herschel Smith
11 years ago

From Strategy Page:

Between April and July of this year, U.S. and allied (including Afghan) special operations forces killed nearly 400 Taliban leaders, and arrested another 1,400 Taliban. All this was mostly done via night operations by commandos (mainly U.S. Special Forces and SEALs) and missile attacks by American UAVs. This is part of a trend.

In the past two years, SOCOM has been shifting forces from Iraq (where it had 5,500 personnel two years ago) to Afghanistan (where it had 3,000 troops two years ago). The ratio is now largely reversed. Most American allies have moved all their commando forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, where they not only do what they were trained for, but also train Afghans for special operations tasks. This has already been done in Iraq, where it worked quite well. As a result, there are now nearly 10,000 special operations troops in Afghanistan. The SOCOM troops in Iraq and Afghanistan account for about 80 percent of American special operations forces overseas. The rest are in places like Colombia, the Philippines and Djibouti (adjacent to Somalia).

Special operations troops not only participate in most of the attacks on the Taliban leadership (and key technical people building and placing roadside bombs), but also conduct a lot of the surveillance missions that locate safe houses where Taliban leaders operate from, as well as those used for bomb making workshops. Many Special Forces troops speak the local languages, and can negotiate with village and tribal leaders for information and assistance.

This “decapitation” campaign was successful in Iraq, and earlier, in Israel (where it was developed to deal with the Palestinian terror campaign that began in 2000.) Actually, the Americans have used siimilar tactics many times in the past (in World War II, 1960s Vietnam, the Philippines over a century ago and in 18th century colonial America.) But the Israelis developed decapitation tactics customized for use against Islamic terrorists.

In some cases, the Special Forces efforts have been so successful that the Taliban has been unable to get anyone to take the place of dead leaders. In some cases, the Taliban have called on friend and kin in the Afghan government, to try and get the Americans to stop. This puts these Afghan officials in a tight spot. While they are officially on board with this campaign against the Taliban, they also have members of their tribe, or even close relatives, who are in the Taliban. That’s not unusual in Afghanistan, where even the most pro-Taliban tribes have members who are not only pro-government, but actually work (most of the time) for the government. That’s how politics works in Afghanistan.

Ooooo.  Wow.  I’m sure this will end the insurgency in Afghanistan just like killing Zarqawi brought an abrupt end to the insurgency in Iraq.  Uh … er … nevermind, maybe not.  Maybe it’s not really killing several hundred “leaders” of what is already a disaggregated and decentralized insurgency that ends it.  Maybe, like Iraq, it’s operations against the insurgents themselves, thereby rendering the “leaders” embarrassed, irrelevant and powerless when they can’t get fighters to join their cause because they are seen as the losing side.

I continue to advocate reassignment of SOF to be matrixed directly to infantry (their skills could be put to good use), and I continue to advocate the ideas that the HVT campaign did not work in Iraq, is not working in Afghanistan, and will not work anywhere. You may disagree, but you must give me data that shows the effectiveness of this strategy.  I have yet to see any such evidence.  And as for the use of the term “strategy” to define this approach, it’s exactly in line with the facts.  Our strategy in Afghanistan at the present seems to be use of the GPF for force protection for logistics, medical personnel and air power, while the SOF boys take out leaders.  Pitiful strategy, this is.  If we cannot do any better than that we need to come home.

So how is Afghanistan now that we have killed or captured (and then released) all of those leaders?  Well, this doesn’t speak so well of things.

Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan  is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war, with security deteriorating in recent months, according to international organizations and humanitarian groups.

Large parts of the country that were once completely safe, like most of the northern provinces, now have a substantial Taliban presence — even in areas where there are few Pashtuns, who previously were the Taliban’s only supporters. As NATO forces poured in and shifted to the south to battle the Taliban in their stronghold, the Taliban responded with a surge of their own, greatly increasing their activities in the north and parts of the east.

Unarmed government employees can no longer travel safely in 30 percent of the country’s 368 districts, according to published United Nations estimates, and there are districts deemed too dangerous to visit in all but one of the country’s 34 provinces.

The number of insurgent attacks has increased significantly; in August 2009, insurgents carried out 630 attacks. This August, they initiated at least 1,353, according to the Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office, an independent organization financed by Western governments and agencies to monitor safety for aid workers.

An attack on a Western medical team in northern Afghanistan in early August, which killed 10 people, was the largest massacre in years of aid workers in Afghanistan.

“The humanitarian space is shrinking day by day,” said a CARE Afghanistan official, Abdul Kebar.

And likewise, neither does this.  Maybe we just aren’t killing the right high value targets, or something?  Or maybe we just need to focus on chasing and killing insurgents where they live by troops in contact with them every day.  You know, distributed operations and small unit maneuver warfare.  Some troops are doing that.  All of them should be.

The Future of the Marine Corps

BY Herschel Smith
11 years ago

Greg Grant writing at DefenseTech weighs in on a subject near to our hearts.

As I read the news reports, and this post at Tom Rick’s blog on the future of the Marine Corps, I recalled a recent conversation with some department of the Navy types who expressed just how bad the relationship is between the sea services. Like most troubled relationships, the soured feelings revolve around money, or the lack thereof.

The Marines want to maintain a robust amphibious assault, enough to lift two Marine Expeditionary Brigades, and get them ashore via their Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) armored amphibian. The Navy wants capital ships and intends to cut maritime prepositioning force ships, possibly amphibs and the EFV. A real battle is brewing and it’s bound to get ugly as budget realities sink in.

The long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned the Marines into a much smaller and more poorly equipped version of the Army. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made it clear he thinks the U.S. has too much amphibious assault insurance. Few defense watchers believe Marine numbers won’t come down in the near future; the question is will they go lower than the pre-2007 175,000 level.

Given all that, it was a bit amusing to hear Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work declare at a forum at CSIS recently that “the future of the Marine Corps is bright.”

Robert Haddick makes the point that the Marines have made the obvious choice to lose around 27,000 Marines from the force in favor of pressing forward with the expensive EFV and the balance of its vision.  They are apparently already resigned to it, and instead of saving the size of the Marines, leadership is sacrificing bodies on the altar of large scale amphibious assault landings against near-peer states, something I find remarkably creepy.

I haven’t advocated against the idea of forcible entry capabilities, but rather, the specific version of it being pressed by current leadership.

… the tactical capabilities of the EFV are not at issue.  It’s the place that it occupies in the strategic plan.  I still reject the Commandant’s dilemma, i.e., that we fund the EFV or the Marines become obsolete.  This is the thinking of outdated, mid-20th century, South Pacific strategy, not that of the 21st century.  The U.S. Marines will always be needed, but the paradigm must be retooled.  It must be.  All Marine Corps readers, listen to me, and listen to me well.

I continue to pose the following questions to the strategic thinkers in the Marine Corps.  Where are we going to invade?  What country, or what failed state?  What are the tactical capabilities of this country or failed state, and why do we need floating tanks?  Does this state have shore to ship missiles?  Have you thought much about a fighting vehicle that has all of the capabilities of the EFV (MK44 cannon, stabilized turret, etc.) but without the need for flotation?  Why can’t troops come ashore via air delivery (e.g., fast-roping) rather than sitting in a floating tank?

I have proposed that the U.S. Marines transport behind enemy lines and take the beach head, thus allowing the Navy to deliver more land-based vehicles to the campaign rather than the Marines fighting their way on shore through a hail of missile and artillery fire and water borne mines, and in response, we get the stuck record of the current argument:  “Give us the EFV or we cease to exist.”

Sorry, I don’t buy it.  Do better.

And to date no one has explained to me why the Marine Corps needs this particular vision.  But while Tom Ricks doesn’t weigh in with any particular view, one commenter has the right idea.

Here is how the Corps can keep 40 amphibs.

Cut MEU-ARG steaming days in half. The Navy thinks amphibs are surface combatants (they are run by SWOs) so they want to steam and maneuver for no real reason, which burns up billions in fuel. Deployed MEUs should sit in port most of the time, and just steam from port to port unless they are doing a landing. No more sailing in circles for fun.

Cut amphib crews in half. Less time at sea allows cutting stuff like ship stores, barbers, ect. Use the bored Marines to pick up much of the load, like mess duty, helo refueling, and other stuff.

Save the Navy manpower by merging the Navy Beach Groups with Marine Logistics groups.

Scrap the three old Admiral pleasure ships, the ampib “command ships” that have no value.

Cancel the LHA-R, just build more proven LHDs

Get the failed V-22s off the ships and deploy with more CH-53s and UH-1s. The V-22s are destroying the decks with their engine heat, the Navy has complained, but the Marines don’t care. Same problem with the F-35 JSF, cancel that turd. Buy practical FA-18Fs instead.

Commenters (such as at Ricks’ blog) and bloggers (me) are making more sense than the Marine Corps leadership at the present.  I don’t like the push to save money at the expense of the military, but this is about more than money.  We ought to be spending it on the right things.  I am still not convinced that we are.

Bad Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
11 years ago

Tim Lynch hasn’t seen much progress in Afghanistan this year.  We’ll let him speak on the issue.

As the summer started I was optimistic regarding the chances that we would see some indications that we are gaining ground in Afghanistan but that has not happened.  Incident rates are skyrocketing which in and of itself is not a negative thing if it is our side who are instigating the incidents but that is not the case.  While ISAF is conducting more raids and presence patrols they do not seem to have learned anything when it comes to pulling these operations off while managing the perceptions and attitudes of the population we are supposed to be protecting.  By projecting force off of FOB’s we create a vacuum after every operation.  Nature hates a vacuum so at the moment we see politicians filling that void.  Let me provide an example:

Earlier in the week a joint Afghan/American SF team raided a madrasa in Sarracha village which is next to the massive airfield/military base in Jalalabad.

Uh oh.  A SF team performs a raid and didn’t stay around to explain to the population what they did and why.  Stay tuned and keep reading.

They hit the madrasa at night and arrested five men described as mullahs or madrasa students (depends on who you ask).  The next morning a large crowd closed the main highway between Jalalabad and the border and threatened to start burning cars and throwing stones at the police and in general getting out of hand.  The police responded in great numbers but when they arrived a local candidate for Parliament was on hand calming the crowd down and swearing  ”he will not rest” (where did he get that line) until he has talked with the Governor and ISAF and the police to get the people detained released.  As it was approaching 100 degrees and this is Ramadan the crowd said OK and dispersed.  By the time I got there the police were gone and only a few men remained who were clearing the road of rocks.  My terp JD and I asked what had happened and were told the American SF had raided the Madras and taken five students and then they tore up the Koran.  I burst out laughing at that one as did JD the Terp saying that and said flat was BS and JD asked the guy how he could say something that stupid.  The man started laughing too – everyone in this country knows that neither US or Afghan troops are going to touch let alone destroy a Koran.

Here’s the thing – why is an Afghan political candidate managing the perceptions of a raid we conducted on a village less than a mile from one of our regional bases?  Pashtunwali works both ways and if these people are harboring villains then who is accountable for that?  I’m not advocating rounding people up and sweating them I’m saying the elders should be called into the mosque for a shura with the district governor and both Afghan and ISAF military representation and forced to explain why they can’t keep their house in order.  If that seems a bit confrontational then both sides can explain their positions and everyone can talk for hours to reach some sort of understanding.  Allowing insurgents into a village puts the village at risk because ISAF and the Afghan Army seek insurgents out and hit them aggressively.  That is why they exist and nobody can claim that seeking out those who are against a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is an illegitimate task.  The potential for collateral damage is significant and the responsibility for that damage has to rest on those who allow targets into their midsts.  We are using all carrots or all sticks depending on geographic location.   In Kunar Province ISAF fights daily while delivering aid programs while in Nangarhar Province we swoop down in the middle of the night and take away suspected insurgents and leave allowing various actors with their own agendas to fill the vacuum we create with whatever message benefits them. Kunar gets the carrots while Nangarhar gets the stick and I’m not sure why that is.  Until ISAF wises up and starts calibrating their operations to gain the maximum effect from every offensive action we are going to continue to get played by Afghan elites.

In Good Counterinsurgency, Bad Counterinsurgency and Tribes, we already discussed this problem.  I said:

I just don’t know how else to say it.  There are some in Afghanistan who are doing COIN.  The boys in the Korengal Valley did (they are gone now, unfortunately).  The Marines in Helmand are.  But confinement to FOBs is death to the campaign.  And that means the “special” SOF boys who ride helicopters to direct action kinetics for the night, and then back to the FOB for a warm meal and a bed for the night.  They aren’t contributing to the campaign.  They are a drain and drag on the national treasury. Period.  The Marines in Fallujah in 2007 spent weeks at a time in distributed operations, in units as small as a fire team, embedded with IPs at local Police Precincts, killing insurgents, taking note of the human terrain, and ensuring that their AO was locked down.  The SOF needs to figure out a way to contribute like this.

And recall the good counterinsurgency I cited?  It went something like this.

American troops in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province called in a helicopter strike against Taliban fighters who ambushed them here Tuesday night, killing several. The missile strike narrowly avoided doing serious damage to a mosque where some of the fighters were hiding, underlining both the risks and the potential benefits of using air power to support ground troops.

Under rules of engagement strictly enforced by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal that have provoked resentment among troops, American forces are required to exercise extreme caution when calling in airstrikes, and generally avoid mosques entirely. But in this case, American commanders defended the action, saying that they believed no civilians had been killed and that there was no way of knowing the building was a mosque.

If Afghanistan is getting a reputation as a war in which the “soft” side of counterinsurgency is driving out the use of force — and that is certainly the perception among some soldiers in the south — this is an instance of the “hard” side being brought to bear in the way familiar to any officer who fought in Iraq during the surge.

The American patrol set out from a base in Yahya Khel district center at 6 p.m. Tuesday, planning to provoke a fight with a team of Taliban sharpshooters suspected to be operating around the village of Palau. The troops, from Angel Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, dropped off a team at a small Afghan army outpost and then moved by foot toward the village.

Just before dusk, the patrol was ambushed, not by the expected long-range marksmen, but by a team of gunmen who attacked with rifles and grenades from as close as 50 feet away. Two American soldiers were wounded. Half an hour later, at the outpost, Angel Company’s commander, Capt. Joshua Powers, received permission over the radio from Col. David Fivecoat, the battalion commander, to call in fire from attack helicopters. The pilots had watched a group of fighters move from the area of the gun battle to a courtyard in a small village north of Palau. They told Captain Powers that they could make out a machine gun and several rifles. At 8:38 p.m., one of the helicopters fired a Hellfire missile into the cluster, then shot another man who was on the roof of the building abutting the courtyard. Over the next half hour the helicopters attacked two more groups of suspected fighters in the area with cannon fire.

In the dark, Angel Company walked north from the outpost to assess the damage. In the courtyard, the corpses of two men were illuminated by burning weapons and motorcycles. While his medic tended to a third man, severely wounded and clad in camouflage, Captain Powers radioed his battalion with bad news: The building by the courtyard was a mosque. The pilots had not known, since no loudspeakers were visible and identifying writing was visible only from the ground. There was shrapnel damage to the walls, and the roof had a hole in it from cannon rounds.

The patrol, along with a group of Afghan soldiers and their commander, Lt. Col. Mir Wais, stayed the night outside the mosque. The Taliban would undoubtedly claim that civilians had been killed, Captain Powers explained, and he wanted to be there when the villagers woke up to show them the weapons and combat gear. “If we hold this ground, we can show them the evidence right away,” he said. “The first story is usually the one that sticks.”

The pilots thought they had killed half a dozen fighters at a second site the helicopters had attacked, but the bodies were already gone when the patrol arrived. Captain Powers acknowledged that this meant there was no way to know for sure whether civilians had been killed, but thought it unlikely: the site was secluded, and among charred motorcycles there were rocket-propelled grenades and camouflage vests with rifle magazines. At the first site, all four bodies — the two in the courtyard, the one on the roof, and the wounded man, who later died — wore camouflage fatigues and similar vests, containing grenades, ammunition, makeshift handcuffs and a manual on making homemade explosives.

Around 5 a.m., the men of the village started to congregate by the mosque. Captain Powers and Colonel Mir Wais addressed them, telling their story of what had happened. The men complained that the strike had frightened their wives and children and damaged the mosque, and that they were trapped between the pressures of the Americans and the Taliban. But they did not suggest that any residents of the village had been wounded or killed, and did not claim the bodies. Later in the morning, the district subgovernor, Ali Muhammad, described the night’s events to citizens gathered in the Yahya Khel bazaar. He also signed, along with Captain Powers, a letter about the attack  that would be distributed in the area after dark: a counterpoint to the Taliban’s infamous “night letters.”

The same people who ordered the strike were there to explain it in the morning, just as I suggested should happen.  The same people who fight by night are there for the locals to look at in the morning.  And look into their eyes.

We can only correct problems to the extent that we actually know that they are problems.  Yet we keep sending SOF guys to raid in the middle of the night while the enemy captures the narrative the next day, and we keep garrisoning our infantry on FOBs while the population contacts the enemy daily and waits for contact from us.

Al Qaeda’s Effect on the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
11 years ago

Poor Katrina vanden Heuvel repeats Captain Matthew Hoh’s arguments for a small footprint in Afghanistan.  I briefly answered Hoh’s arguments earlier.

Asking the question whether al Qaeda and the Taliban are in Pakistan or Afghanistan is like asking whether the water is on the right or the left side of a swimming pool.

The conversation on Pakistan versus Afghanistan presupposes that the Durand Line means anything, and that the Taliban and al Qaeda respect an imaginary boundary cut through the middle of the Hindu Kush.  It doesn’t and they don’t.  If our engagement of Pakistan is to mean anything, we must understand that they are taking their cue from us, and that our campaign is pressing the radicals from the Afghanistan side while their campaign is pressing them from the Pakistani side.

Advocating disengagement from Afghanistan is tantamount to suggesting that one front against the enemy would be better than two, and that one nation involved in the struggle would be better than two (assuming that Pakistan would keep up the fight in our total absence, an assumption for which I see no basis).  It’s tantamount to suggesting that it’s better to give the Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan as Pakistan presses them from their side, or that it’s better to give them safe haven in Pakistan while we press them from our side.  Both suggestions are preposterous.

Further, I have repeatedly pointed out that the small footprint model, enticing and seductive though it may be, contains its own defeater.  Without adequate troops to ensure contact with and protection of the population against the insurgency – for those who want protection – there would be no lines of logistics to supply this small number of troops, and no intelligence networks.  The model simply won’t work because there will be no known targets, period, much less high value targets.

But continuing with the more current argument against heavy commitment to Afghanistan, it has been stated that al Qaesa represents only a small fraction of the insurgency.  The drone attacks, it is said, have accomplished their purpose.  This position ignores the very real possibility that the Taliban have morphed into something other than what they were ten or more years ago.

In fact, I have claimed just the condition I described above.

… they have evolved into a much more radical organization than the original Taliban bent on global engagement, what Nicholas Schmidle calls the Next-Gen Taliban. The TTP shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! “We are al-Qaida!”  There is no distinction.  A Pakistan interior ministry official has even said that the TTP and al Qaeda are one and the same.

Add to this yet another data point comes to us from the New York Daily News.

Ever since senior Obama administration advisers such as CIA Director Leon Panetta and Vice President Biden admitted that Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan  was minimal, with fewer than 100 operatives believed to be on the ground there, war critics have complained the President has little justification for escalating the U.S. commitment there.

But the inside-the-Beltway political debate underscores a fundamental misunderstanding of what Al Qaeda’s role in Afghanistan — which Osama Bin Laden’s minions call “Khorasan” — truly has been, according to Special Operations commanders and troops on the ground.

Today’s Washington Post makes hay of the fact that Al Qaeda is barely mentioned in the 76,000 pages of war files released last month by WikiLeaks. The story overlooks two key facts: (1) The voluminous files are mostly “sigact” – “significant action” – combat reports dispatched as incidents happened; and (2) troops who faced Arabs in battle fighting alongside Afghan “Taliban” rarely knew, even after they had killed them, that they were up against non-Afghan opponents.

Critics also fail to realize that a single Al Qaeda operative’s knowledge and experience in guerrilla and terror tactics is of incalculable value as a force multiplier to the Taliban.

Al Qaeda’s Arab operatives are considered a fearless elite. They have knowledge of Islam that makes them seem like religious scholars to many Pashtun tribesmen, who they have led into battle in the past. After Al Qaeda fled Afghanistan’s cities with their Taliban government allies in 2001-02, they reorganized and reconstituted their ranks in Pakistan. Al Qaeda returned to the fight in 2004, training, equipping and often leading or joining Haqqani fighters in battle along the eastern border.

Their presence was often suggested by the tactics used by Haqqani fighters, the cells’ skill at accurately firing AK-47s and RPGs, and gear such as armor-piercing ammo, body armor and night-vision devices.

Today, as they withstand CIA’s withering drone onslaught in Pakistan’s tribal belt, the Arabs are more low-key in their Afghan ops than they were in the past. The CIA’s targeted killing of Skeik Mustafa Abu al-Yazid after he left Mir Ali may also have impacted their activities on the other side of the AfPak.

Arabs from Al Qaeda still fund and train the Taliban, but no longer lead operations from the front, Army Col. Donald C. Bolduc, who leads the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, told me in his office at Bagram Airfield this month.

“They’re considered much too valuable to risk that,” said another U.S. official in the war zone.

During the winter, Taliban leaders ensconced in Pakistan send in Al Qaeda operatives to train their fighters in bombmaking tradecraft during the lull in fighting, sources said.

“The Pakistani madrassahs are still the big recruiting and training place. The Afghans go to a madrassah in Pakistan, where an Arab is typically like the dean, or headmaster, and learn how to fight,” the official told me. “Then the Afghan goes back home and teaches others to build bombs or fight — and gets paid handsomely for it.”

Again, this is yet another point of confirmation of my previously described hypothesis, i.e., that of a shift in the theological landscape within Afghanistan and a morphing of the Taliban into a more globally focused and religiously motivated entity.  These rogue elements swim in the same waters, and to use the expressions “al Qaeda” or “Taliban,” while certainly precise from the perspective of a close view analysis, misses the point of a morphing of these elements into something new and different.

U.S. Marines and British Advisers at Odds in Helmand

BY Herschel Smith
11 years ago

From Rajiv Chandrasekaran with The Washington Post:

U.S. Marines and British civilian advisers are waging two wars in the hilly northern half of Helmand province: They’re fighting the Taliban, and they’re quarreling with each other.

The disagreements among the supposed allies are almost as frequent as firefights with insurgents. The Americans contend that the British forces they replaced this spring were too complacent in dealing with the Taliban. The British maintain that the Americans are too aggressive and that they are compromising hard-fought security gains by pushing into irrelevant places and overextending themselves.

“They were here for four years,” one field-grade Marine officer huffed about the British military. “What did they do?”

“They’ve been in Musa Qala for four months,” a British civilian in Helmand said of the U.S. Marines. “The situation up there has gotten worse, not better.”

The disputes here, which also extend to the pace of reconstruction projects and the embrace of a former warlord who has become the police chief, illuminate the tensions that are flaring as U.S. forces surge into parts of southern Afghanistan that had once been the almost-exclusive domain of NATO allies. There are now about 20,000 U.S. troops in Helmand; the 10,000 British soldiers who once roamed all over the province are now consolidating their operations in a handful of districts around the provincial capital.

The new U.S. troops in the south are intended to replace departing Dutch soldiers and relieve pressure on under-resourced and overburdened military personnel from Britain and Canada, where public support for the war has fallen even more precipitously than in the United States. But the transition entails significant new risks for U.S. forces, who are now responsible for more dangerous parts of the country.

To the south of Musa Qala, U.S. Marines are in the process of moving into Sangin district, where more than 100 British troops – nearly one-third of that country’s total war dead – were killed over the past four years. Senior Marine officers initially resisted being saddled with the area, which they dubbed “the killing fields,” but they relented after pressure from top U.S. commanders.

The influx also has elicited conflicting emotions from coalition partners. British and Canadian officers say they didn’t have the manpower or equipment to confront a mushrooming insurgency by themselves, but they also cringe at the need to be bailed out by the United States.

“There’s a mix of relief and regret,” said a British officer. “We’ve spilled a lot of blood in Sangin and Musa Qala, and we’re quite frankly happy to leave those places, but we don’t want this to look like another Basra,” referring to the southern Iraqi city that U.S. and Iraqi forces had to rescue after it was seized by militias upon a British pullout in 2007.

Analysis & Commentary

But it does indeed look like another Basra.  Let’s take a stroll down memory lane for a moment.

At home, Britons were stunned by the graphic footage of their soldiers being assaulted in a city thought to be “safe,” especially in comparison to the blood-soaked urban areas of the Sunni Triangle which dominate news coverage emanating out of Iraq. The violent imagery was only the latest and most troubling indication of the British military’s failure in Basra and its environs, a disastrous turn of events which seemed unthinkable two years ago, when British troops were welcomed into Basra with relatively open arms.

The root of this failure stems from the very strategy that was once lauded as the antidote for insurgent violence. Known as the “soft approach,” the British strategy in southern Iraq centered on non-aggressive, nearly passive responses to violent flare-ups. Instead of raids and street battles, the British concentrated on building relationships with local leaders and fostering consensus among Iraqi politicos. In Basra, the British were quick to build and expand training programs for a city police force. As a symbol of their faith in stability-by-civility, the British military took to donning the soft beret while on patrol, avoiding the connotations of war supposedly raised by the American-style Kevlar helmets.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion, this “soft” approach seemed remarkably successful, especially when juxtaposed with the chaos that had engulfed other parts of Iraq. Basra seemed to adapt relatively well to the new order of things, with little in the way of street battles or casualties. Both the British and American media — ever-ready to point out the comparable failures of American arms — energetically hailed the peaceful and stable atmosphere in Basra as a significant indicator of the virtues of the British approach, upholding it as the tactical antithesis to the brutal and aggressive Yanks. The Dallas Morning News reported in 2003 that military experts from Britain were already boasting that U.S. forces in Iraq could “take a cue from the way their British counterparts have taken control of Basra.” Charles Heyman, editor of the highly-respected defense journal Jane’s, asserted: “The main lesson that the Americans can learn from Basra and apply to Baghdad is to use the ‘softly-softly’ approach.”

The reporting also featured erudite denunciations of the rigid rules of engagement that governed the United States military, while simultaneously championing British outreach. Ian Kemp, a noted British defense expert, suggested in November 2004 that the “major obstacle” in past U.S. occupations and peacekeeping efforts was their inability to connect with locals due to the doctrinal preeminence of force protection. In other words, had Americans possessed the courage to interface with the Iraqi, they might enjoy greater success.

It did not take long before the English press allowed the great straw man of a violent American society to seep into their explanations for the divergent approaches. The Sunday Times of London proclaimed “armies reflect their societies for better or for worse. In Britain, guns are frowned upon — and British troops faced with demonstrations in Northern Ireland must go through five or six stages, including a verbal warning as the situation gets progressively more nasty, before they are allowed to shoot. In America, guns are second nature.” Such flimsy and anecdotal reasoning — borne solely out of classical European elitist arrogance — tinged much of the reporting out of Basra.

AS A RESULT OF THE EFFUSIVE media celebration, even some in the British military began believing their own hype, with soldiers suggesting to reporters in May 2003 that the U.S. military should “look to them for a lesson or two.” As a British sergeant told the Christian Science Monitor: “We are trained for every inevitability and we do this better than the Americans.” According to other unnamed British military officials, America had “a poor record” at keeping the peace while Basra only reinforced the assertion that the British maintain “the best urban peacekeeping force in the world.”

Continuing with the state of affairs in Basra after the application of such a soft approach:

Richard Beeston, diplomatic editor of The Times of London recently returned (in 2007) from a visit to Basra, his first since 2003. He says in 2003, British soldiers were on foot patrol, drove through town in unarmored vehicles and fished in the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off. He says the changes he saw four years later are enormous.

“Nowadays all troop movement in and out of the city are conducted at night by helicopter because it’s been deemed too dangerous to go on the road and its dangerous to fly choppers during the day,” he says.

Beeston says during his latest visit, he noticed a map of the city in one of the military briefing rooms. About half of the city was marked as no-go areas.

British headquarters are mortared and rocketed almost everynight.

This is indicative of many parts of southern Iraq, says Wayne White, a former State department middle east intelligence officer. White says the south is riddled with rival Shiite groups vying for power, and roving criminal gangs because there’s nothing to stop them.

“There’s virtually nothing down there in the way of governance that answers to Baghdad in an effective way,” White says. “There are mayors, there are police but in many cases these people have no loyalty to Baghdad, operate along with the militias, have sympathy with them.”

The British efforts were roundly criticized by residents of Basra as well as the ISF, and British forces ultimately had to retreat under the excuse that it was the very presence of the British themselves that was causing the violence (there is no better way to end a war than to withdraw out of the fight, or so the British convinced themselves).

Recall also that the British made that awful deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam in which he was supposed to bring his fighters to Musa Qala to help retake the city from the Taliban (in exchange for governorship of the city).  All Salaam ended up doing was sitting in a house ten miles away screaming like a little girl for Karzai to come and rescue him when the fight started .  The British are as hated in Musa Qala for this fiasco as they were in Basra.

To be sure, the British enlisted men are as faithful, loyal and brave as any troops in the world.  It is their senior leadership, their officer corps and their counterinsurgency doctrine that is causing the problems.  And I am told that to a man, the British officers believe in the government in a box theory of counterinsurgency, even after such a notion failed in Basra, Musa Qala and then finally in Marjah.

Finally, the reason that the U.S. Marines have British advisers in Helmand isn’t clear.  The continued presence of them will only cause continued conflicts.  The U.S. Marines have their own brand of counterinsurgency, and it worked in the Anbar Province of Iraq.  In fact, small wars is a specialty of the Corps, and perhaps the British advisers could take back a thing or two from the Marines to their own command.

In closing, it’s also very disturbing that the British have lost or allowed to get stolen 59 Minimi machine guns.  That’s right.  Read and believe.

Serious questions are being asked about a cover-up by commanders in Helmand after the 59 Minimi machine guns were not reported missing for almost a year. The theft was revealed only when American forces recovered two of the guns following a battle with the Taliban.

He has ordered an inquiry into why enough weapons to equip an infantry battalion could go missing without anyone noticing or being informed.

The light machine guns, which can fire 1,000 rounds a minute, were flown from Britain to Camp Bastion in Helmand last October. They were then transported overland to British forces operating at Kandahar airfield but it is believed the convoy was either ambushed or the weapons were illegally sold. No one realised or reported that they had gone missing until last month, when American forces operating in southern Afghanistan discovered two of the guns, whose serial numbers matched those stolen. Defence sources have described the incident as a “terrible embarrassment for British forces”.

“We have no evidence that they have been used against British forces but clearly it’s an alarming situation,” said one defence source.

A Royal Military Police investigation has been under way since the end of last month. Dr Fox was said to be “livid” and “hit the roof” when told about the incident.

“Alongside the official investigation, he has ordered a wider review of how weapons are transported and is asking some serious questions over how this happened,” an MoD source said. “It’s astonishing that 59 machine guns went missing last year and no one realised it for months.”

Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, who was told about the incident this week, is said to be furious that the weapons were allowed to be taken by the insurgents and, potentially, could have been used against British troops.

A review of transport practices is irrelevant.  A time of prayer, a bit of seriousness and a good house cleaning is in order for the MoD and the British Army.

Badly Needed R&R

BY Herschel Smith
11 years ago

I have been on some badly needed R&R with the family. You know, the important things in life.  I appreciate your patience.  I will return to regular posting within about 24 hours.  In the mean time, pray for our country and our troops.  Pray for their safety.  When you’re finished with that, if you’re still in need of something else to do, contemplate Professor Alvin Plantinga’s views on Warrant and Professor John Frame’s views on cognitive rest – and both in light of one another.  Write a 5000 word paper and submit tomorrow.  I suspect you’ll find that you don’t have need of something else to do.

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