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]

Taliban Turning the Tables on Special Operations Forces Night Raids

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

From The Guardian:

Taliban commanders claim they are foiling intensified night-time attacks by elite troops that Nato officials hoped would bring the insurgents to the negotiating table in Afghanistan.

Officials say a fivefold increase in “kill or capture” raids and escalating airstrikes are putting the Taliban under unprecedented pressure and prompting some rebel groups to seek a ceasefire.

Insurgent commanders from Helmand and Kandahar, interviewed in Kabul, say the effectiveness of Nato special operations forces has diminished.

“In the past year they have had a lot of successes with these operations, but now we have got used to it and changed our tactics,” said the commander of a group of 50 men in Dand, Kandahar province.

“At night we have two people in every village who do not go to sleep – if they hear the helicopters, we contact each other before they arrive.”

Another commander, now based in Marjah, a rural area of Helmand that US marines are struggling to subdue, had a similar story.

“In spring they came to try to arrest me, but when the helicopters landed we were called by other bases and we quickly ran away from the house,” he said. “They took two men but two days later they were released.”

Coalition officers concede their targets often get away. A senior officer from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said in 25% to 50% of raids the soldiers found their prey had escaped.

“We know they have tippers: you go to a place and you get three guys but the real guy has snuck out the back door,” the Isaf officer said.

Analysis & Commentary

The Taliban have stolen a page from the U.S. Marines with guardian angels watching over their people.  They can do this ad infinitum.  Sleep rotation doesn’t harm anyone in the group, and if the Taliban can thwart half of the raids with a technique as simple as this, they will keep doing it while they also develop other solutions to their problem.

Recall from High Value Target Campaign is Failing in Afghanistan, NCO DirtyMick observed:

When I was recalled from IRR to active duty in Kunar Province for 10 months this year with a PRT as an 11Bravo NCO, “Big Army” caused major problems when 2/12 Infantry pulling out of the Korengal right when the spring offensive kicked off and combined with cherry Battalions (1st and 2nd Battalion 327 Infantry 101st Airborne) conducting a RIP caused needless deaths. Sigacts in the Pech River Valley went through the roof and pretty much everything north of Asadabad was a nightmare because the Taliban believed this was a victory. In my opinion as an NCO in order to conduct a proper counter insurgency you need to kill taliban, hunt them down where they congregate and lock down areas. There should be no reason every time a patrol goes through Matin Village in the Pech it gets into a firefight. You take a rifle company and clear that village by going door to door. When we had an IED problem you establish a curfew and nobody is allowed on the MSRs past 2100. If you are you get detained or killed. You can have ODA do raids all you want on HVTs but until you start having line platoons go out actively killing scores of Taliban it’s not going to matter. You can kill a senior Taliban leader in Kunar but in the end you’re still going to have platoon or two platoon plus size elements of Taliban attacking army convoys. The 327 did that over the summer when a battalion went in and cleared out the Marawara district but more needs to be done.

The reason that the SOF troopers have to drive so far to work is that … ahem … they don’t live among the people.  I think I’ve heard something before about having to commute to the fight and how, you know, it’s a bad thing.  Yes.  I’m sure that I have.  We are misusing our resources, and we cannot possibly win this way.

Favre Out, NFL Commissioner Has Lost Control of the Game

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

I just saw some of the most vicious head-to-head contact in professional football I have ever seen, and I have been watching for a very long time.

Brett Favre is now out of the game, and it looked to me like he has some serious chin problems, perhaps a broken jaw.  If not, he is at least in some serious pain, with many medical procedures coming his way.

If the NFL commissioner doesn’t throw the perpetrator out for the season, the rules are meaningless.  The players may as well come to the game with clubs, brass knuckles and knives.

Let’s see what Roger Goodell does.  He will be taken seriously or he will beclown himself with rules that no one obeys.

General Anthony Zinni on the Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

General Anthony Zinni on the rules of engagement:

Soldiers fighting in Afghanistan believe their rules of engagement are too restrictive and hand the enemy an unfair advantage, a retired US Marine Corps general says.

General Anthony Zinni, a former commander of US central command and now US head of defence company BAE Systems, said he believed concerns about restrictive rules were coalition-wide.

This is an issue touched on by an unnamed Australian soldier in an email complaining about the adequacy of support provided to troops in a major fight with insurgents on August 24 which claimed the life of one digger.

“Everyone is too scared about collateral damage,” he wrote.

General Zinni, in Australia for a strategic leadership forum, said concerns about the rules had been conveyed by coalition and US soldiers, including his own son, a marines (sic) officer in Afghanistan.

“There is a strong sense in on the ground by the company commanders and platoon commanders that the rules of engagement are too restrictive,” he told reporters.

“They result in more casualties. They don’t allow for the kind of immediate engagement. The enemy understands these rules of engagement and manipulates them.”

Rules of engagement apply to all coalition troops in Afghanistan and dictate circumstances in which they can open fire or resort to certain weapons.

Following a series of air and artillery strikes which resulted in civilian casualties, the rules were tightened to limit use of heavy weapons against civilian compounds, even if insurgents were firing from them.

General Zinni said that meant a request for an air or artillery strike needed to be cleared at multiple levels, wasting time, with many missions refused.

He said that reduced troops to using direct fire weapons, just the same as the enemy, with engagements lasting longer and increasing the danger to nearby civilians.

You mean that there are unintended consequences to the rules of engagement?  You mean that they don’t really do what they are purported to do?  Hmmm …  who could have guessed that?

High Value Target Campaign is Failing in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

From Greg Miller with The Washington Post:

An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency or put meaningful pressure on its leaders to seek peace, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials citing the latest assessments of the war in Afghanistan.

Escalated airstrikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But officials said that insurgents have been adept at absorbing the blows and that they appear confident that they can outlast an American troop buildup set to subside beginning next July.

“The insurgency seems to be maintaining its resilience,” said a senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war. Taliban elements have consistently shown an ability to “reestablish and rejuvenate,” often within days of routed by U.S. forces, the official said, adding that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, “I don’t see it.”

One of the military objectives in targeting mid-level commanders is to compel the Taliban to pursue peace talks with the Afghan government, a nascent effort that NATO officials have helped to facilitate.

The blunt intelligence assessments are consistent across the main spy agencies responsible for analyzing the conflict, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, and come at a critical juncture. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has touted the success of recent operations and indicated that the military thinks it will be able to show meaningful progress by the December review. He said last week that progress is occurring “more rapidly than was anticipated” but acknowledged that major obstacles remain.

U.S. intelligence officials present a similar, but inverted, view – noting tactical successes but warning that well into a major escalation of the conflict, there is little indication that the direction of the war has changed.

Among the troubling findings is that Taliban commanders who are captured or killed are often replaced in a matter of days. Insurgent groups that have ceded territory in Kandahar and elsewhere seem content to melt away temporarily, leaving behind operatives to carry out assassinations or to intimidate villagers while waiting for an opportunity to return.

Analysis & Commentary

Say it ain’t so?  The high value target campaign conducted by special operations forces is failing in Afghanistan?

Ten months ago I said:

SOF troops come in the middle of the night and kill high value targets (always members of some one’s family), disappear into the night, and leave the GPF to explain the next day why it all occurred.  It’s horrible for the campaign, bad for morale within the GPF, bad for maintenance of capabilities within the GPF, and bad for the overall qualifications of SOF and SF.

Three months ago I gave the counterexample to this bad policy:

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.  If they see cut and run, they will side with the insurgents, or someone else, whomever that may be.  If they see victory and determination, they will side with the stronger horse.  We need to be the stronger horse.

Seven months ago I said:

Ending the silly high value target campaign (capturing mid-level Taliban commanders, only to release them 96 hours later) won’t end unintended noncombatant casualties.

Four months ago I said:

We have discussed the issue of a campaign against high value targets conducted by SOF.  I don’t believe in it.  I don’t think it works to curtail the insurgency.  But besides considerations of the utility of the strategy (and it is a strategy, not a tactic), there is the issue of maintenance of troop morale.  McChrystal set up a military cultural milieu in which direct action kinetics was relegated (or reserved) to SOF, while the so-called general purpose forces were essentially told to be policemen, and given rules of engagement that are more restrictive than those for police departments in the U.S.  Nothing McChrystal could have done would have worked so thoroughly to bust troop morale.  McChrystal’s vision is why he worked so poorly with the Marines and within the context of the MAGTF.  The Corps doesn’t buy into McChrystal’s bifurcation, and (properly) wants more control of goings-on within their battle space than McChrystal was willing to give them.

And finally, six weeks ago I said:

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.

In fact, some two years ago I received a communication from a SOF commander who told me that the high value target campaign wasn’t working.  He told me, with some chagrin, that killing a mid- or even high-level Taliban commander only had an effect on the insurgency for a few days to a few weeks, and then only locally, and that it took only days for them to appoint new commanders.

Our so-called general purpose forces have been relegated to policing the population, while direct action kinetics are being done by the special operations troopers against high value targets.  This is our current strategy – not tactics, but overarching strategy.  It hasn’t worked in Afghanistan.  It didn’t work in Iraq.  It won’t work anywhere, any time.

The Taliban will be corralled when we kill enough of the low level fighters that it makes joining their cause inadvisable and unattractive.  Then, the leaders will be made irrelevent.  This requires counterinsurgency warfare, not policing and counterterrorism by SOF troopers by raiding high value targets.

So why do we have Pentagon strategists still surprised at the fact that this strategy doesn’t work?  Is this all they have in their bag of tricks?  Really?  Have they bet the campaign on this strategyReally?

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for the link.  Michael Ledeen responds, quite sensibly, that the HVT program can’t exist and be successful on its own.  It needs all of the other aspects of the campaign.  Ever the thinking man and scholar, Jim Hanson responds: “Dude it is well past time for you to STFU! This is quite possibly the most arrogant bit of garbage from an amateur wannabe I have ever seen. Who the fuck do you think you are? Jesus it is annoying and ridiculous to see someone with a junior high level of understanding opining as if people who actually know what they are talking about ought to listen.  You need a big steaming cup of humility and a new hobby.”

And in the interest of openness and giving all points of view, there you have it.

UPDATE #2: A well meaning reader mentions the notion that my prose might be being used by the Pentagon to convince the Taliban commanders that they are winning rather than us.  She sends this link.  I recommended that she balance her reading with Joshua Foust’s latest piece.

UPDATE #3: Michael Yon drops me a note to point out, correctly, that he was speaking out against exclusive reliance on the HVT program back in 2006 and onward.  Make sure to visit his Facebook page.

The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

Regular readers may recall that I vigorously advocated the separation of religious radicals from non-religiously motivated indigenous insurgents in U.S. prisons in Iraq.  It wasn’t nearly enough, and I may have been engaging in a bit of “whistling past the grave yard.”  The true nature of temporary custody in counterinsurgency (COIN) is now being experienced in Iraq.

Al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch has evolved into a homegrown, more lethal and bolder insurgency comprised of Iraqi fighters hardened in U.S. prisons and posing a challenge to Iraqi forces, military officials say.

The insurgency has been strategically weakened by the deaths of leaders, and both its numbers and the territory in which it can maneuver have shrunk since 2006-07, when Sunni tribal chiefs turned on it and joined forces with the U.S. military.

But what Iraqi officials call the “third generation” of al Qaeda in Iraq may be more difficult to fight than before because its fighters can blend in, know the weaknesses of Iraqi society, and are more interested in making a spectacular splash with their attacks than in battlefield victories.

Their assaults are aimed at grabbing attention and rattling the population at a time when sectarian tensions are fraught because of the failure of politicians to agree on a new Iraqi government seven months after an inconclusive election.

“We face the third generation of al-Qaeda now, a generation that mostly graduated from (U.S. detention camps) Bucca, Cropper and other such places,” said Major General Hassan al-Baidhani, chief of staff for the Baghdad operations command.

Al Qaeda has shown “a new type of boldness,” attacking heavily protected targets and security forces head on, Baidhani told Reuters. “This strategy depends basically on shock. They are not looking for success as much as looking for attention.”

[ … ]

In the run-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the Bush administration accused Saddam Hussein’s regime of having links to al Qaeda as part of its campaign to bolster support for war.

No ties were ever proven but al Qaeda was quick to take advantage of the post-invasion chaos to establish a presence in Iraq.

The first generation of al Qaeda on Iraq’s battlefields were primarily Arabs from abroad. The second was a mix of foreign and Iraqi Sunnis angered by the invasion and the rise to power of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority after the fall of Saddam, Sunni.

Now as Iraqi security forces take center stage after U.S. troops halted combat operations in August prior to a full withdrawal in 2011, they face a homegrown threat composed of young radicals who fervently believe in jihad, or holy war.

We have attempted to pacify the population by temporarily holding violent jihadists, only to see them released by fiat from Hamid Karzai.  So it’s happening even earlier in Afghanistan than it did in the campaign for Iraq.

It isn’t working in Afghanistan.  It didn’t work in Iraq.  We can preen over our strict adherence to the laws of armed conflict, and we can take comfort in our loyalty to the rules of engagement.  But the bottom line is that while we sit comfortable and proud in our moral uprightness, Iraq is now dealing with radicalized jihadists who are also now hardened criminals set free to perpetrate their violence on the population.  We harm others by our stubborn morality (but it makes us feel good because we ignore that part of it).

Biblical justice was retributive, with violent actions dealt with by execution.  Nonviolence crimes were dealt with by working the offense off rather than something so harsh as incarceration, and prisons were not even conceived until the notion of the rehabilitative powers of incarceration were conceived.

We aren’t dealing with the violent offenders harshly enough, but the flip side of the coin is that reflexive incarceration should be avoided because it makes the situation worse.  There is no rehabilitative power in prisons per se, and even if our refined, Western sensibilities don’t want to deal harshly enough with violent offenders, it pays to understand that prisons are no solution to the problem.  If you don’t believe in the Biblical system of retribution and restoration, then so be it, but one needs to recognize the fact that the problem doesn’t go away with prisons.  It is only delayed and exacerbated.  So a different solution is necessary.  One solution is not to engage in counterinsurgency operations.

Simply put, prisons … do … not … work … in … counterinsurgency.  Pretending that they do is self deception.


Jirgas and Release of Taliban Prisoners

Prisons in Afghanistan

Prions in Counterinsurgency

Marines Live Hard Life in Helmand

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

From Todd Pitman:

MARJAH, Afghanistan — In the first two months of a seven-month tour, US Marine Corporal Chuck Martin has been in 16 firefights.

The 24-year-old native of Middletown, R.I., has done laundry twice, mailed five letters, and received two. He has spent 378 hours on post and 256 hours on patrol. He has crossed 140 miles of thorny bomb-laced farmland and waist-high trenches of water on foot.

Along the way, he has ripped eight pairs of pants, ruined two pairs of boots, and downed 1,350 half-liter bottles of water. His platoon has killed at least eight militants in battle and nine farm animals in crossfire. The rugged outposts he has lived in have been shot at 46 times.

“Tiring would be the best word to describe it,’’ Martin said, summarizing his time so far in the insurgent-plagued southern Afghan district of Marjah. “There’s no downtime. It’s a constant gruel.’’

Martin’s list, stored on spreadsheet on his laptop, offers a snapshot of American military life in this rural battle zone, where a new generation of young service members are growing up thousands of miles from home.

Since arriving in mid-July, personnel from the Second Battalion, Ninth Marines’ Echo Company have spread out across 13 small, austere outposts in northern Marjah, a vast patch of fields and ancient hardened mud homes without running water or electricity that one company commander likened to “200 B.C.’’

At one outpost called Inchon, a droning generator provides power for iPods and laptops loaded with movies, and just two lights — one for the Americans, the other for their Afghan counterparts. Service members have knitted together several shaky chairs from the metal fencing of discarded Hesco barriers.

At many bases, Marines sleep outside on cots inside hot-dog shaped mosquito nets. There are no toilets and no showers. Troops bathe with water warmed by the afternoon sun. Fleas are such a problem, many Marines have taken to wearing flea collars made for cats or dogs around their wrists and belts.

“It’s definitely a culture shock,’’ Lance Corporal Benjamin Long, 21, of Trussville, Ala., said of life for incoming Marines. “Some people come here and they think we’re living like cavemen.’’

Todd paints an effective picture of the hardships endured by the Marines in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.  The Soldiers in Korengal lived an equally hard existence, as do some of the Soldiers elsewhere in Afghanistan.  But in a tip of the hat to large population centers, far too many Soldiers live in huge FOBs rather than connected with the population.

In order to find and kill the insurgents, Soldiers and Marines must be spending the majority of their time with the people amongst whom they hide.  There is no downtime for the Marines.  Neither can there be any for other participants in Operation Enduring Freedom, whether infantry, logistics, or vehicle and aircraft maintenance.  Downtime comes after the deployment.

Everything wrong with the campaign in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

A depressing report from NPR (which, by the way, shouldn’t have government funding).  Only part of the report is reproduced below, but the excerpt is still lengthy.

“That house that has that flag on it? There are two individuals, he’s just confirmed,” Horton said into the handset. “But he’s not going to fly over it because he’s pretty sure it’s Pakistan. Yeah, it is. Well, they’re watching us.”

After walking about half a mile, the men from Alpha Company stopped at their objective, a series of bunkered outposts astride the road.

They cleared the rooms out but discovered some strange litter — nice sleeping bags, fleece jackets and uniforms — quite valuable in Afghanistan, and strange things to leave behind. The men were tired, so they established a guard duty while the others pulled out their sleeping bags and crashed on the dirt floor, curled up for warmth.

A chilly dawn drew back the curtain on a stunning view of the valley to the west into Afghanistan and razor wire marking the Pakistan border just 50 yards east. But a stranger sight lay across the dirt road — a concrete building that looked as if a bomb was dropped on it.

But it wasn’t, said one soldier.

“It wasn’t blown up, they abandoned this,” he said. “This was all self-destruction. Like the vehicles that we passed way up there, they just abandoned all these compounds. I’m not sure the reasoning behind it.”

Part of the reasoning has to do with who left this compound in such a hurry — the soldiers all refer to them as the OGA, which stands for “Other Government Agency” and is common slang for the CIA. The CIA declined to comment.

But interviews with Pakistani border guards and U.S. soldiers, and some Pakistani press reports, all suggest that the CIA built this massive base compound more than two years ago. The construction included a road, the helicopter landing zone and several hard structures, including one at the top of the mountain called “Camp Karzai.”

Now it’s all charred and demolished. Up the hill, half a dozen vehicles are jammed together and burned. Another brand-new pickup has had the engine stripped out. An Army generator sits in one demolished building.

The occupants appear to have left in a hurry, though with few signs of battle, other than a floor littered with shells from a belt-fed machine gun.

The sight of hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted doesn’t go down well with the soldiers in Alpha Company, but they’ve got a more personal gripe.

Many of them spent the summer fighting in the valley to the west — killing scores of Taliban and losing some of their own — in an operation called Strong Eagle meant to clear the Taliban out of the area. The “OGA” base at the Ghakhi Pass served to keep the border under control, the soldiers say.

But when this base was evacuated, all the U.S. military assets in this part of Kunar were looking for Norgrove, and there was no time to send anyone to the border.

The soldiers in Alpha Company draw a clear line from the abandoned compounds — what they say was a spy base — the rocket-propelled grenade that hit the Chinook helicopter.

“The [Taliban has] reseeded the valley a little bit — not to the extent it was before when we first cleared it out,” says Billig, Alpha Company’s commander. “The bird [Chinook] came here and took contact, as a result of this position being abandoned.”

The day turns out quiet, and a few of the officers in Alpha Company make an effort at a little international diplomacy. Lt. Ken Kovach clambers down the hill behind the outpost to chat with the Pakistani border guards, who seemed just as curious.

It gets a little testy when one Pakistani tells him, with rough translation by an Afghan interpreter, that he thinks Americans don’t care about Pakistan. “How can he believe that?” Kovach says. “We have our helicopters giving aid for all the flooded areas? How can he believe we don’t want to help them?”

Tempers are soothed quickly, when the Pakistanis bring milky chai, which they pass carefully in white teacups through the razor wire to the Americans.

Billig, the company commander, goes a step further some hours later and strolls with a few of his men down to the Ghakhi border point, where his counterpart on the Pakistani side, Lt. Colonel Ahmed Salim, is.

“Anything we can do for you, you’re just welcome,” says Salim, a tall man with a neatly trimmed mustache.

American officials say the Pakistani army has made gains in Bajaur, the tribal district across the way, but there’s still mistrust. Elements of the Taliban and al-Qaida are believed to cross the border at this point from safe havens inside Pakistan.

There are misgivings on the other side as well: All of the Pakistani border guards have put reflective tape in a cross on top of their helmets — to keep Americans drones from bombing them, they say.

Still, Salim invites the Americans across the border for lunch, pointing them up some steps to his outpost. Several of the U.S. soldiers flinch. On the rooftop are three dozen men with beards, turbans and Kalashnikov rifles. But they’re not Taliban, Salim insists.

“Don’t think they are Talibs,” he says with a laugh. “They are the local Lashgar who are working with us — the local population which is supporting the government.”

Billig accepts the invitation, despite some strained looks from his men, and walks up the stairs to a Pakistani banquet of chicken, mutton, rice, lentils and yogurt. The conversation is friendly, but it starts with a rather pointed question from the host about the empty bases up the hill.

“Why didn’t you tell us they were pulling out?” Salim wants to know, adding that his border guards would have adjusted if they knew the other side was suddenly going to be empty.

Without mentioning the “OGA,” Billig simply nods in agreement, and allows that the abrupt departure came as a surprise to him as well.

The long lunch ends when the Pakistani colonel is called away, and the Americans walk back up the hill. Full bellies, heavy flak jackets, and the altitude at 7,000 feet have everyone moving a bit slowly, but then they get some information from their interpreter that makes them walk a little faster.

The interpreter tells the soldiers that some of the Pakistani commander’s men are spies for the Taliban. “So he suggests we get out of here quickly,” a soldier tells Billig.

Returning to the abandoned compound, the soldiers find Afghan border guards have arrived. They emerge from one of the bombed-out rooms in a cloud of pungent smoke; marijuana plants cover the hills like milkweed.

Some of the members of the Afghan force, who appear to be less stoned than others, talk for a while with the Americans about how many reinforcements they’ll need to hold this border.

But it’s a bit of a fiction: The Afghan border police don’t have the helicopters to resupply this place, and the road from the center of Kunar is far too dangerous for them to travel. And it’s not clear the Americans will be manning it either, despite the strategic importance of the pass.

“I think what’s going to happen here is another two days or so, we’re waiting for Afghan border police. So we’re going to clear it hold it and then put the Afghan border police in here. And if they don’t want to come in here, we’re going to go home. Back to Monti,” he says.

In fact, the men from Alpha Company don’t even stay the night. With dusk comes an order to pack up and march up the hill again to the landing zone, where the broken Chinook helicopter is ready to be hoisted away.

After getting warmed up on the hike, the Alpha guys sit for another several hours in the cold, as choppers come and go, blasting them with dust. Near midnight the Chinook is lifted out like a bundle in a stork’s beak.

Then the guys from Alpha make it back to Outpost Monti in the small hours of the morning, take showers and get ready for more foot patrols in the hills of Kunar.

Analysis & Commentary

This exemplifies just about everything that has gone and can go wrong with the campaign thus far.  Things are left off of the list, to be sure, but there are many unfortunate examples of mismanagement of the campaign.

First off, as sad as it is that Linda Norgrove was captured by Taliban and allegedly killed by SOF attempting to rescue her, there is absolutely no reason to tie up the forces in Kunar attempting to locate here whereabouts.  This is a counterinsurgency campaign, not a corporate-financed rescue operation.

Second, while I am not per se opposed to the use of CIA-financed military operators, in this case it seems that it was wasted effort.  They would have spent their time better by studying the inner workings of the Taliban in the area, including the Pakistani collusion with their spies.  It would have been effective if the commanders who sat in the meeting with Pakistani forces (and Lashgar) have pointed out to the Pakistani forces that they had Talib in their midst.  It would have been better to have said in the meeting that the U.S. was watching them – all of them.

Third, the laughable conversation with Afghan border guards telling the U.S. forces how many of them it will take to secure the border is as irrelevant as their high.  It wouldn’t have been remembered the next day.  High Afghan border guards are a drain on the campaign.  It would be better not to have any at all, thus ensuring that the commanders would think about the need for border security rather than rely on troops that are high on dope.

Finally, the author refers to the strategic importance of the pass.  I have argued for the strategic importance of interdiction of forces flowing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and for chasing the insurgents into their safe havens and sanctuaries, but the campaign as currently constituted is population-centric.  It is focusing on large population centers like Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad (except for the Marines in Helmand and the Army in Kunar and Nuristan).  Strategic importance indeed.  But the current commanders don’t see it that way.  Thus, the pass will remain open, and the insurgents will continue to pour through it.

Offensive Posture in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

In Odd Things in Counterinsurgency after detailing a Marine unit’s all-day efforts to locate a local elder’s home in order to befriend him (when in fact neither he nor his people wanted him to be located), I observed the following:

This effort is misplaced.  It would have been more effective to kill insurgents, make their presence known, meet villagers, find weapons caches, question young men, and interrogate prisoners (or potential prisoners).  They have given no reason for this tribal leader to ally himself with the Marines.  The Marines haven’t yet shown that they are there to win.  When the Marines get the Taliban on the defensive, the tribal leader will more than likely come to the Marines rather than the Marine searching him out.

The next patrol should focus on those fighters who were setting up the ambush.  Send a few Scout Snipers that direction.  Flank the insurgents with a squad or fire team, and approach the area where these men are supposed to be doing their nefarious deeds.  Find them, kill them. Do this enough and the Marines won’t have to search out the leaders.  Then it will be time to sit down and drink tea.  This is the recipe for success.

In the same province there is another example to study.

PressZoom) – NAWA, Afghanistan (Oct. 21, 2010) — The men of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, have spent enough time in Afghanistan to understand some of the workings of the Taliban presence there.

There’s no denying they’re fighting a crafty enemy. Combatants will usually engage the American and Afghan forces from a well-concealed position, and then dispose of their weapons as they flee. They don’t stay for long-drawn out battles.

They shoot and run.

And so during Operation Black Tip, Oct. 14, India Company saw much of what they’ve grown accustomed to — shooting and running. Except this time, it was a little different.

When Sgt. Bryan Brown’s squad started taking fire, they were the ones who ran. They ran toward the bullets. They ran to the enemy’s position to take away his ability to flee.

“It’s always impressive to see Marines running toward fire,” said 1st Sgt. William Pinkerton, the India Company first sergeant.

Not that the enemy didn’t try to run away, but a well-placed sniper team left them with limited escape options. The snipers suspect they killed one enemy combatant and wounded another, Pinkerton said.

Black Tip was a one-day clearing operation, during which the Marines, partnered with Afghan soldiers from the 1st Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, detained four men suspected of combatant activity and removed a weapons cache from the area.

“I believe the possible enemy wounded in action, detainees, and psychological impact of having to flee while desperately avoiding capture has a demoralizing effect on the enemy’s spirit across the area of operations,” said Capt. Francisco Zavala, the India Company commander.

And that’s the kind of offensive posture that I’m talking about.  Enough said.

Iraq Veteran Wins Bodybuilding Competition

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

In my younger years I competed on the power lifting team at the college level (squat, bench and dead lift).  I still lift, but haven’t been able to keep that trim form I had when I was twenty.  I can’t imagine why.  Really.

So my gym and workout buddy Jim competed in the Mid-Atlantic Classic bodybuilding championship recently, and he is the one on the left part of the photograph (or facing us, the one on the right).

More photos at  Jim turns 60 years old in a couple of weeks.  That’s right.  Sixty.  That’s six followed by a zero.  No, I don’t quite look like my buddy Jim.

Jim competed here (in this specific division) with guys less than half his age.  He placed second.  Jim and I both decided that we were glad that he didn’t win.

Here is the extremely fit Jim again.

Here is the thing.  Look at the guy in the middle, who placed first.  Take careful note of his right deltoid.  It isn’t there.  It was shot off during a combat tour in Iraq.  Let’s see.  Combat tour serving country.  Get right deltoid shot off.  Continue bodybuilding.  Win competitions.

So here is the Iraq veteran on the left.

What have you done lately?

Problems with the Applied Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

The standing Rules of engagement (ROE) begins with the orders from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, goes in level of detail to theater specific rules of engagement (such as the tactical directive written by General McChrystal’s staff), and are given context with modifiers and embellishments such as General McChrystal’s statement that “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.”  The ROE category supplies the necessary detail to study this in more depth.

So the standing ROE, the tactical directive, the intentionality of the commander expressed in speeches, and the behind the scenes meetings and agreements, all come to bear for the enlisted man in localized or small unit-specific ROE that concerns things like how far out cones must be placed to demarcate where firing can begin for vehicles that are suspected being threats, whether troops in contact can return fire, when they can return fire, under what conditions specific combined arms weapons systems can be employed (mortars, CAS, etc.), and so on and so forth.  A JAG typically accompanies at least Battalion level deployments and certainly regimental deployments in order to create and help enforce all of those localized rules.  Welcome to the enlisted man’s life.

Now, as for how the overarching rules have come to bear on the enlisted man’s life in Afghanistan (as if we need more examples), two recent reports fill in the gaps for us.  The first comes from Time.

The scouts were initially dispatched to provide oversight for a clearing crew that ultimately had to be evacuated. Hours into a recent clearing operation, a member of Alpha Company had stepped on a crush box that took part of his leg; then, the next day, the 3rd Platoon was led into a trap. A local man responded to the Americans’ request for a place to bed down for the night by taking them to an empty compound that was rigged with explosives. Although a bomb-sniffing dog and mine detector swept the place before platoon members entered, an IED placed by the doorway exploded near a group inside, gravely wounding one soldier. A second went off four minutes later, injuring another.

Because military rules dictate that any soldier within 160 ft. (50 m) of a blast must head back to base for evaluation, the entire platoon had to be removed from the battlefield, putting the clearing mission in jeopardy. The scouts were ordered to pick up where Alpha Company left off. Despite the threat of more bombs in the vicinity, they went to the same cluster of buildings to finish the search and to assess what had happened. Upon reaching the compound where the suspect had led the soldiers into harm’s way, they encountered two elders who said they had just returned from Kandahar and knew nothing of the man in question. The U.S. officers were skeptical, but the elders insisted that the bomb-rigged building was in fact a former Taliban madrasah, or religious school, that had not been occupied for several months, though militants regularly pass through the area.

Near the end of their operation, the scouts were dispatched to examine some compounds connected to a surge of IED activity on a stretch of road. As they approached the area late in the afternoon, a knot of well-built men in black turbans stood outside, motionless. A couple of them wore faint grins. Like everyone else in Zhari, they claimed to be farmers, but platoon officers suspected that, based on their mien and location, they were militants. Because the men were not carrying weapons, however, there was nothing to be done but walk away — in strict compliance with the U.S. military’s rules of engagement. One soldier likened it to being “handcuffed.”

The second example comes from Washington Examiner.

To the U.S. Army soldiers and Marines serving here, some things seem so obviously true that they are beyond debate. Among those perceived truths: Tthe restrictive rules of engagement that they have to fight under have made serving in combat far more dangerous for them, while allowing the Taliban to return to a position of strength.

“If they use rockets to hit the [forward operating base] we can’t shoot back because they were within 500 meters of the village. If they shoot at us and drop their weapon in the process we can’t shoot back,” said Spc. Charles Brooks, 26, a U.S. Army medic with 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, in Zabul province.

Word had come down the morning Brooks spoke to this reporter that watch towers surrounding the base were going to be dismantled because Afghan village elders, some sympathetic to the Taliban, complained they were invading their village privacy. “We have to take down our towers because it offends them and now the Taliban can set up mortars and we can’t see them,” Brooks added, with disgust.

These examples are particularly interesting because they only partially deal with ROE proper, and to some extent deal with the milieu of cultural sensitivity imposed upon the troops within the context of counterinsurgency.  Note how restricted the troops are when it comes to interaction with the local population.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with 360 degree shooting when you feel threatened.  This has to do with force projection.

The Soldiers in the first instance should have stopped, questioned the suspected Taliban fighters, questioned them again, searched them, isolated them and questioned them again, obtained some biometric data (iris scans and fingerprints), issued some threats to them if their suspicions were in any way confirmed, handcuffed them if necessary to detain them, and arrested them if they found something that needed further investigation.  Force projection will end Taliban rule, and timidness will ensure the smirks they now get when they pass by the fighters.

In the second example, the concerns of the locals outweighed the force protection of U.S. troops.  The end result was not to win the allegiance of the locals, but to ensure that they see the Taliban as the winning side.  The Taliban set up mortars, the U.S. troops back down if we (the population) say that we don’t like their towers (as we were told to say by the Taliban).

In both cases the myth is that the population will side with U.S. troops, when in fact the Taliban are seen as more powerful and determined.  Counterinsurgency is not as complex as it is made out to be by the elite who want to win the people with projects, wells, jirgas and sit-downs for tea.

We are set up for failure in Afghanistan, no matter what the narrative says and no matter how many good reports come from the front by the PAOs who talk endlessly about community projects.  Oh, and as for the real force projection, that is still only happening by the SOF troopers who conduct raids in the night to get their high value targets and then spirit off by helicopter to the local FOB for debriefing.  The balance of the force is designed to be policemen by campaign commanders, even though they sometimes get involved in heavy fire fights where they are provided with much less support than the SOF troopers.  How is this whole program working out?  Who is asking for the talks – us or the Taliban?

Finally, I must again comment that this campaign is not being conducted like Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Do you doubt this?  Consider again Recon by Fire.  Tell me about how cultural sensitivity won Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Go ahead.

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