Afghanistan: Large Footprint or Small?

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 9 months ago

Bruce Rolston continues to advocate for a small footprint in Afghanistan.

A Marine LCol in Helmand: “I’m not lighting up an area where families we know and support are living in order to suppress a couple of idiots who were shooting a few long range, ineffective rounds.” Bingo.

From Tim himself, on how to do COIN in the nearly unpopulated border province of Nimruz, presenting the problem, the solution, the problem with the solution, and the solution to that problem all in one tight three-inch group:

I ask one of my brother Marines what he would do were he given this problem to solve under the historical constraints normally faced by Marine commanders fighting a small war. He replied immediately ; Q-cars, fire force and pseudo operators [references to Rhodesian COIN TTPs –B.]. Which is exactly the same thing I would say as would all of my friends who are in the business. But the only way a regimental or battalion commander could even think of doing that now would be if we sent a vast majority of the troops deployed here (along with every colonel and general not in command of troops) home.

Yes, yes, YES.

The sheer untapped potential of ANSF platoon houses with embedded enablers (not Western companies with a few doorkickers) in the cleared areas, combined with modern ISR- and CAS-enabled Rhodesian style pseudo-operators and fireforces replacing large-scale sweep ops in the uncleared Pashtun areas, with the highways patrolled by mine-resistant vehicles in the IED zones and Q-Cars (a land derivative of the Q-Ship) in the ambush zones simply boggles the mind.

But Tim has also described the intense fire fights in Helmand (and Marine Corps small unit maneuver warfare), and the Marines have requested more men to secure Helmand.  In Sangin they note that “you don’t go south unless you have a lot of dudes.”

You see, the context in which Tim comments is the Nimruz Province, where most U.S. police departments could handle the problem.  The insurgency is coming from Helmand, Kandahar, Kunar, Nuristan and other such parts of the AfPak region.

Bruce conflates one thing with another (“replacing large-scale sweep ops in the uncleared Pashtun areas“), and Tim isn’t – as best as I can tell – advocating a small footprint in Helmand or Kandahar or Kunar or Nuristan.  And I continue to advocate a heavy footprint in those regions.

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  1. On January 3, 2011 at 7:39 pm, Rick Kees said:

    Herschel, did you catch the news today about the largest tribe in Sangin saying the are now willing to stop fighting us and kick out the foreign fighters.

    Do you think this is a case where we have beat this tribe down enough to say stop?

  2. On January 4, 2011 at 7:33 am, BruceR said:

    With respect, I think you’re missing Tim’s point. He has plenty of time for the small scale platoon-house level of deployment, high-level-of-patrolling approach the Marines are using in Helmand. But that is simply not the way the war is being conducted by most other U.S. Army or other ISAF contingents in Afghanistan, leaning in the extreme case to lots of battalion-size sweeps hitting air and returning to big FOBs at night, and he’s seen enough of it. And he’s right. Battalion sweeps didn’t work for the Turks against the Arab Revolt or the Soviets against the Muj and there’s no reason to think they’ll work now, but they’re still being done, every week.

    Yes, Tim is advocating Rhodesian-style economy-of-force disrupt ops in the areas of Afghanistan too sparsely populated or insignificant to bother with the Marines’ full-up Helmand approach. I’m agreeing with him, as I think you probably would, too. But I think you’re misreading him where you say his reference to sending the vast majority of Western troops home is meant only to refer to Nimruz somehow. The proof being there ARE no Western troops in Nimruz, save a few Marines. He’s talking about their combat-ineffective brethren throughout the rest of the country.

  3. On January 4, 2011 at 2:29 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    With respect, I think that I do not miss Tim’s point. The context is Nimruz. Nimruz.

    Let’s try a different approach. No one would argue against proper resourcing of the campaign depending upon threat, insurgent population, etc., etc. And, just to be clear, the Marines have been and continue to be engaged in distributed operations all around Afghanistan.

    What I think is that Tim is talking about a METHOD and TACTICAL approach to counterinsurgency in areas that do not demand higher troop concentrations, whether Battalion or DO. And also just to reiterate the point, Battalions include companies, and companies include squads, and squads include fire teams. What you mean when you say Battalion sweeps requires another conversation.

    What YOU are talking about isn’t a methodological approach for PARTS of Afghanistan. What you are talking about is overall reduction in troop concentrations everywhere, i.e., a smaller footprint for Afghanistan.

    I don’t support that. I don’t think Tim supports that either, but if Tim wants to weigh in I’m all ears. I just don’t think that Tim means what you mean.

  4. On January 4, 2011 at 7:00 pm, BruceR said:

    Herschel, you might want to read his latest post then, where he writes of the southern situation, “Regardless it is clear that the military has turned a corner and is prevailing on the southern field of battle. For a retired infantry guy like me it is great to see but it is also irrelevant.” I tend to agree, as I have generally with Tim Lynch’s opinions for the last two years.

    I dunno, but when I see someone advocating sending “a vast majority of the troops deployed here… home” so that the remainder can switch to proper “shoe string” small-wars tactics, I assume he means he wants the vast majority of troops to go home. But hey, sure, if he wants to weigh in to settle the debate on that score, I’m all ears.

  5. On January 7, 2011 at 11:02 am, Baba Tim said:

    Hey Guys,
    I’d like to clear up my position on the number of troops deployed which, given my tendency to write about things that irritate me, may not seem consistent. In fact I am going to prove my suitability for government service by stating unequivocally that you are both right.
    When I write that we are turning the corner in the South I do so because I have seen the Marines there doing what Marines do – figuring out how to accomplish their assigned mission using a combination of innovation and solid infantry fundamentals. But the Marines have essentially a reinforced division fighting in the sparsely populated Helmand Province which gives them enough boots on the ground to be effective. And I remain flabbergasted by the thousands of support troops and massive headquarters supporting the Marines. The Marines should be focused on securing the people by separating the population from the Taliban which is best done by relentlessly hunting them down and killing them. But they are now doing nation building tasks they should not have to do because our State Department and USAID are incompetent.
    Yet even with the added burden of doing missions other governmental agencies are designed and funded to do there are too many of the wrong types of people deployed in country. I have always said that PRT’s are a massive waste of money and personnel because they, by design, cannot accomplish what they are assigned to do. I would add that when you walk into the C9 or C6 or C3 sections of the MEF HQ and see a half dozen full bird Colonels in each it doesn’t take a military expert to figure out something is amiss.
    We are not going to build Afghanistan into a functional nation. But we can build the Afghan military into a functional tool while providing the room for them to grow with our own maneuver battalions. To do that requires lots more boots on the ground but outside the wire of the dozens of massive bases we have built in Afghanistan. You can deploy and support those troops with about 50% of the people currently stuffed into the massive FOB’s.
    We need more trigger pullers but less troops. We need more reconstruction but don’t need PRT’s. We need a clear mission with more of the ROE decision making passed down the chain of command, not more general officers. And we need to figure out how to do the hold and build with the TTP’s I use which is currently a bridge too far for both the military and the other governmental agencies who are spending billions while accomplishing nothing.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency and was published January 2nd, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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