Monday Night Comments

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 4 months ago

Following up a few odds and ends, and responding to several well-formulated comments, please take another look at Breyer: Founding Fathers Would Have Allowed Restrictions on Guns.  I’m exceedingly proud of my readers, and I don’t think you could find what I have at many other places on the web.  Note all of the learned comments posted after I merely pointed out Breyer’s logical blunders.  Expect more coverage and commentary on Second Amendment rights in the future (as well as a new contributor to The Captain’s Journal!).

Next, concerning my commentary regarding no longer giving pens and stationary away in Afghanistan, DirtyMick comments:

I was on the previous two PRTs in Kunar. They need to jettison the navy element and make it an army effort. Previous two Navy commanders (especially the one with the Nevada National guard in 2009/2010) focused too much on the soft aspect of coin, were in overall charge of the army manuever element at camp wright (like army running a ship), had a hard on for wanting to take non essential navy personnel (ie anybody not engineers) into places like the pech river valley and north of asadabad, and passing out badges and awards like candy on Halloween (so navy guys can be just as stacked as an 0311 marine cpl.). Torwards the end of this summer did my higher chain of command do things like cancel projects in the pech only after many months of us getting shot up in the pech. Why build a school for assholes when they’re shooting RPGs at us? I will never work on a PRT again.

And we wonder why we’re losing in Afghanistan.  Next, concerning my commentary on Andrew Exum’s work in Afghanistan transition, Bruce Rolston comments:

You assume the default state in the absence of U.S. troops is a Taliban takeover. I don’t see it. The ANA I worked with may be hapless in fighting a sensitive Western-style pop-centric coin fight in Kandahar province, but they will fight for their homes in the centre and north of the country. Their deeper thinkers see this whole last decade as a tactical pause between civil wars. Just because they’re not very good adjuncts to us doesn’t change that. Sebastian Junger made this point a couple days back, as well, and everyone who’s spent any real time with the ANA tends to agree. But the Hazara and Tajiks in particular face mass death if the Taliban come back, and lots of Kabuli Pashtuns like their new freedoms thank you very much. They will all fight, and fight hard; they just won’t fight well in the way we define for them in the meantime. (Having seen their working conditions and how little we actually invest in keeping them alive, I have trouble blaming them sometimes.) …

But they’re certainly not going to “kill off the ANSF in six months.” They might drive them out of Kandahar City and KAF, wouldn’t put that past them. But Bagram should basically be secure until the money runs out. If you want it, you’re likely always going to have that BAF “foot on the ground” from which to keep whacking Taliban, or any international terrorist camps that crop up in the places they control for that matter.

Herschel, not saying you have to agree with me, but if you take the previous as assumed for just a sec, wouldn’t it change your calculus above at all? If we said after 2014 our aim was to just stay engaged on the side we favour in their civil war until it stalemates of its own accord, why would SOF + FID + Fires/ISR not be enough? And if that’s the case, why not move as quickly as possible to that endstate?

And then Bruce comments concerning Kandahar:

Look, I’ve been in Zhari. It’s been as rough a warzone as there is in Afghanistan for 4 1/2 years. We haven’t killed as many actual Taliban as some might think, but we’ve certainly killed hundreds in that time. Probably thousands. And this article is just the latest indication it really seems to have made no discernible difference at all.

Maybe elsewhere in Afghanistan you could make the argument that a lack of bad-guy killing was the problem. But you can’t in Zhari.

As usual, Bruce thinks deeply about these things and poses the most difficult questions to address.  But I at least must try to defend myself from the onslaught.  The calculus.  We hang on by a thread.  The ANA and Taliban fight each other to a draw in the cities, the Taliban takes the countryside.  Bagram is secure until the money runs out.  Withdraw to Bagram, put some SOF troopers there, and focus on force protection.  Since there will be no infantry to collect atmospherics, and all cooperative intelligence assets would have been killed and our intelligence network strangled, there will be no HVT raids; and since there would no security at all on the roads, leading to logistics by air alone, we can pretend to care about the campaign until … the money runs out, with SOF troopers sitting inside Bagram Air Base.  (Oh, and this thing about the noble savage who will fight to the death to defend his loved ones from harm?  Remember that Baitullah Mehsud, in solidifying his power over the TTP and population, killed some 600+ Pashtun elders.  They are all dead now.  The Pashtun population is submissive to the TTP.)

Yes, we could choose to do that, but the question is why?  I could also choose to place my fingers in a table saw and cut them off, or stick a knife in my belly, or hit my testicles with a hammer.  But the question is the same on all accounts.  Why would anyone voluntarily choose to do something like that if they are in their right mind (and not suffering from some sort of mental disorder)?  Note that I have granted Bruce his point, i.e., that the ANA hangs on.  I don’t necessarily believe it, but I have granted the point in order to argue.

As for choosing, I can always choose to attribute the lack of progress in Kandahar to not killing enough bad guys.  Bruce’s point is not that I can’t choose  to do that (although that’s the way it’s posed), but that I wouldn’t be correct in doing so.

Well, in order to place Kandahar alongside a comparable city, one could consider Fallujah (comparable prior to Operation al Fajr, about twice the size of Fallujah after al Fajr).  Many, many more insurgents were killed in Fallujah than have been in Kandahar, regardless of how it feels to those who might have suffered through or be suffering through the campaign in Kandahar right now.  We are not yet at the tipping point, and have not yet reached troop saturation.

And finally I would argue that it isn’t that work until now has done no good in Afghanistan, any more than sacrifices in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq were in vain.  Those sacrifices laid the groundwork for what happened in 2006, 2007 and 2008 in Iraq.

Patience, please.  And robust ROE, troop saturation, and an administration that will resource the campaign.


  1. On December 14, 2010 at 9:56 pm, BruceR said:

    Hey, Herschel, please don’t do any of those things on my account.

    Thanks for the praise, I’m just trying to present the other side. TS and I are going back and forth in the other thread on the realism of a Bagram foot on the ground, so I won’t repeat that here.

    On Zhari, just a couple figures. Standard estimates for the First and Second Battles of Fallujah are about 200 and 1300 insurgents killed respectively, and 1400 civilians.

    In September 2006 in Zhari alone, Canadian forces killed over 500 insurgents. I have no doubt numbers in some of the months this year have been up in the three figures again, and the steady drip drip of activities I were involved with before that can’t have ever resulted in less than 100 insurgent deaths each year in the intervening years in that district alone, even taking the most conservative confirmation rules possible, and in a couple years I would argue for a number that would be significantly higher. Although the time frame is longer, 4.5 years in Afghanistan vs 8 months all told in Fallujah, and as you say, in a population about the same size (Kandahar City proper had about 500K residents in a province of 1 million in 2008; Fallujah was estimated at 400K in 2003) I don’t think the two KIA numbers are as far off as you assert.

    To respond to TS in the thread on that topic, as well, I’m not saying the kinetic effects I’m providing my unofficial tally for haven’t been suboptimal in just about every way possible, just that making it very unhealthy in a statistical sense to be an insurgent hasn’t by itself made things visibly better in Zhari yet. But as you say, we’re only at or almost at the high water mark now. I wouldn’t personally trust any judgment about whether the current surge approach is working in the South for another six months.

  2. On December 14, 2010 at 10:12 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Bruce, not a comprehensive reply, but a few points. There were many more insurgents killed in Fallujah than just in Operation al Fajr. 2005 and 2006 were bloody years. And I know for an absolute fact that the Wikipedia entry on insurgents killed in Operation Alljah in 2007 is wrong (and very low).

    On the other thread, as to the Maoist insurgency thing, I do not now and have never believed that we are dealing with a Maoist insurgency. We are dealing with something completely different (although with aspects that may approach Maoism definitions with the so-called Ten Dollar Taliban).

    The force multiplication that occurs with religious motivation must be accounted for, and while there were also aspects of collected armies when the Taliban were overthrown in 2001 – 2002, that’s not a mistake that they will ever make again. They have proven with their massing of troops that they do it when they know that they can succeed. Otherwise, there is no reason to do it. They don’t ever had to graduate to the next phase of the Maoist insurgency.

    I believe that in setting up your scenario where your small footprint, Bagram-based SOF trooper HVT campaign succeeds, you have been gratuitous. You imagine all the best, and I see all the worst coming our way.

  3. On December 15, 2010 at 11:35 pm, BruceR said:

    Herschel, just to be clear for your readers, I didn’t say the Taliban were Maoists. Mao’s model of insurgencies going through “three phases” is taught by the American COIN and FID instructors I studied under as one conceptual model among many for understanding insurgencies, and is independent of ideology. It’s just a framework for understanding how a generic resistance movement organizes over time.

  4. On December 15, 2010 at 11:47 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Thanks Bruce. I understand that, and the readers do as well, hopefully. I think intimidation and guerrilla style warfare could easily topple the government in Kabul and Kandahar (ruled by Karzai’s criminal brother). The Taliban, if nothing else, have shown that they are adaptable. The U.S. Marines are much better, but to remind the readers as to just how adaptable the Taliban fighters are, read:

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