Archive for the 'Abu Muqawama' Category



Concerning that Robust Afghan National Security Force

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

Joshua Foust has given us a rundown of what he sees as contradictions in Andrew Exum’s prose concerning Afghanistan.  Particularly salient is one specific paragraph that Andrew uttered.

Nowhere that I went was I able to get a really coherent definition of what it means to hold and what it means to build, and how you do that. And I don’t think we’ve cracked the nut operationally on how we do those things. So first off, I think there’s some confusion as far as what that means. Second off, without question, we do not have the resources to hold much terrain in Afghanistan. We’ve got very limited international forces in Afghanistan, and we’re actually not using them to their best effect if we’ve got them “holding.” So if the Marines in Helmand are holding terrain right now, that’s a waste of resources. The “hold” function should be executed by a robust Afghan national security force.

Oh Good Lord! After admitting that the campaign is under-resourced, he claims that the Marines are wasting resources by holding Helmand.  The Marines, according to Andrew, should turn over to a “robust Afghan national security force.”

Do tell?  So which robust Afghan National Security Force are we discussing, Andrew?  Would it be those Afghan National Police?

Afghan villagers had complained to the U.S. Marines for days: The police are the problem, not the Taliban. They steal from villagers and beat them. Days later, the Marines learned firsthand what the villagers meant.

As about 150 Marines and Afghan soldiers approached the police headquarters in the Helmand River town of Aynak, the police fired four gunshots at the combined force. No larger fight broke out, but once inside the headquarters the Marines found a raggedy force in a decrepit mud-brick compound that the police used as an open-pit toilet.

The meeting was tense. Some police were smoking pot. Others loaded their guns in a threatening manner near the Marines.  The U.S. troops ousted the police two days later and installed a better trained force they had brought with them on their recently launched operation into southern Helmand. The original force was sent away for several weeks of training the U.S. is conducting across Afghanistan to professionalize the country’s police.

And more data:

“The police are just worthless,” fumed Fulat Khan, 20, when Haight said his troops were backing up the local cops. “Anytime there is a fight in the community, the police just laugh and watch it. We need an organization or a number we can call so somebody can come here and help us.”

No?  Or maybe Andrew is referring to that 85% of the Afghan National Army that would be lost if they implemented drug testing.  No?  Maybe he is referring to that ANA that actually colluded with the Taliban to kill U.S. troops at the Battle of Bari Alai?

No?  Pray tell, Exum.  Where do we get these robust Afghan National Security Forces?  Do we wave a magic wand of strategic words from CNAS and make them appear out of thin air?  If Mr. Obama wants them to exist badly enough, does it make it so?

Exum embarrasses himself by presuming to tell the Marine Corps that they are wasting resources or anything else (as if the USMC cannot figure out how to spend their time).  He is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, and despite Exum’s stolid miscalculations, the Marines must hold Helmand.

Afghan National Army in Operation Khanjar – Or Not

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

lbn Muqawama cites the latest report by Chandrasekaran at the Washington Post, lamenting the following quote:

The Marines have also been vexed by a lack of Afghan security forces and a near-total absence of additional U.S. civilian reconstruction personnel. Nicholson had hoped that his brigade, which has about 11,000 Marines and sailors, would be able to conduct operations with a similar number of Afghan soldiers. But thus far, the Marines have been allotted only about 500 Afghan soldiers, which he deems “a critical vulnerability.”…Despite commitments from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development that they would send additional personnel to help the new forces in southern Afghanistan with reconstruction and governance development, State has added only two officers in Helmand since the Marines arrived. State has promised to have a dozen more diplomats and reconstruction experts working with the Marines, but only by the end of the summer.

The comments to this post are interesting, many wondering who is responsible and how we botched the attempt to get more ANA troops, as if we can flip a switch and make reliable ANA troops magically appear.  Then the following important conclusion appears in the post: “The lack of Afghan government forces and civilian reconstruction experts doesn’t bode particularly well for any lasting effect from this operation …”

Regular readers of TCJ know all about the drug addiction problems and incompetence of the ANA, and general unreliability of their operations given the current state of the ANA.  But the summary statement at Abu Muqawama gives insight into the supposed strategy (since CNAS is advising the Obama administration).

Concerning lasting effects from the operation, this is only a problem if the cornerstone of the strategy is a rapid turnover of operations to the ANA, or at least, keeping U.S. troop levels down while relying on the ANA to be a replacement for U.S. troops in operations in Afghanistan.

We have seen this before in Iraq where the goal was training and turnover to the Iraqi Security Forces.  Note however, that Marine operations in the Anbar Province didn’t start with ISF assistance, or even end with it.  Given national patience and the fortitude to see the campaign through, there is no reason that the Marines need anyone else to perform counterinsurgency operations in Helmand – at least, not right now.  It’s no different from the campaign in Anbar.

Eventually the Marines will leave, just as they left Anbar.  But we are at the beginning stages of true COIN operations, and The Captain’s Journal is no more surprised at the lack of functional, reliable ANA troops to accompany and be mentored by the Marines than we are dismayed by the lack of ANA support for the Marine Corps operations.  Surprise and dismay at this development underscores a basic naivety concerning where we stand in Afghanistan.  If the administration, or CNAS, or anyone else, is relying on the ANA to be part of the force that currently can and will fight the Taliban and provide security for the population, then the strategy is in deep trouble.  They wouldn’t last a month against the Taliban.

The Failing UK Strategy in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

Abu Muqawama links a stinging report in the Telegraph.  Writing in the British Army Review, an official MoD publication, Major SN Miller, stated: “Lets not kid ourselves. To date Operation Herrick [the British codename for the War in Afghanistan] has been a failure”. (Editorial comment: Can professional journalists not learn the basic rule of quotation marks belonging outside the period?).

The reader should spend the time to study this Telegraph report in its entirety.  Noteworthy is that AM reflexively goes into a discussion of the fact that a number of British officers he knows have taken to reading FM 3-24 because the UK hasn’t given the right training to their own officers.

But note also that there is little if any of this in the discussion in the Telegraph.  What you do find is that:

Maj Miller, who has served in Afghanistan, also attacks the Department For International Development (DFID) for pumping millions of pounds of taxpayers money into a government where he claimed “corruption, inefficiency and incompetence” are “endemic” …

“Self-protection has become the main tactic, reinforced by air strikes that can backfire and undermine the campaign.

“Even as the Army renders itself more and more immobile with heavier vehicles and infantrymen weighing as much as a medieval knight, still the fantasy of the “manoeuvrist approach is peddled in staff courses.

“There is nothing manoeuvrist about weeks of petty, attritional fire fights within a few kilometres radius of a Forward Operating Base. The reason for all this is clear – zero casualties has become the tacit assumption behind operations.

“The Taliban are not being “coerced”, “deterred”, or “destabilised”. They simply disperse, knowing that the British cannot sustain pressure, and they return like the tide when the British troops withdraw, after a short period, back to their bases” …

“Until the government properly resources the war in Afghanistan, our strategy will fail.

The picture is not one of not knowing how to do it.  It’s one of under-resourcing, FOB-centric, casualty-averse operations, and corruption within Afghanistan itself (ironically, we covered CNAS’s own contribution to under-resourcing in CNAS Releases Afghanistan Study).

To be sure, FM 3-24 touches on much of this, but most of it is common sense.  Skirmishes with Taliban fighters (versus what the U.S. Marines are doing in Now Zad) is wasteful of time, money, resources, and the good will of the Afghans.

The issue is not publishing the UK version of FM 3-24.  The issue is will and fortitude.  And by the way, while we have hit on the UK hard for their failure in Basra (due in part to their ROE and belief in the applicability of their experience in Northern Ireland to anywhere else on earth), we have also noted the brave UK warriors under duress.  The problem is no more in the enlisted ranks than it is the lack of a field manual (publishing the UK version of FM 3-24 won’t solve the world’s problems, nor the problems of the UK Army).  The problem is in the politics and the officer corps.

See also British Hated Because of Musa Qala (and associated links provided).

CNAS Releases Afghanistan Study

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 10 months ago

The Center for a New American Security, which is advising the Obama administration, has released Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Permit us a few observations?  On page 4 we read that they advocate that we:

Adopt a truly population-centric counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes protecting the population rather than controlling physical terrain or killing the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Notice how killing Taliban and al Qaeda has been set in juxtaposition over against protecting the population, as if the two are mutually exclusive.  We have dealt with this before in Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN, where we argued that the Clausewitzian concept of a single center of gravity should be jettisoned in favor of multiple lines of operation and lines of effort.  As far as protecting the population and killing the enemy, it isn’t EITHER-OR, it’s BOTH-AND.   But we have to get off of the huge FOBs in order to do it.  Dealing with this in a little more visceral way, let’s allow Greyhawk to respond as he did in a comment at Abu Muqawama.

I may be wrong – but there seems to be some fundamental misunderstanding of COIN in general and “protecting the population” at play here.

The idea that those are somehow efforts that don’t involve killing bad guys and blowing things up is wrong. I know this is obvious to 90% of the people who comment here, but there’s also a growing number of people seeking understanding of this newfangled “COIN” business who may be under the impression that it’s some sort of bloodless warfare – and some may scan these comments for illumination. If you aren’t among that number skip this rest of this.

In Iraq for the early days of the surge we did not pull away from contact for fear of hurting someone – in fact we did the opposite. We plopped ourselves down in various neighborhoods (very much to protect the populations therein) knowing full well a bit of the old ultra violence would ensue. Check the death tolls* – civilian or military – for late winter to early summer ’07 to see the result.

We killed bad guys (“irreconcilables”) in droves. If they didn’t come to us, we air assaulted (sorry – delivered troops via helicopter) to them. And if CAS (sorry – close air support, aka death from above via fixed or rotary wing aircraft…) was needed for TIC (sorry – troops in contact, meaning exchanging gunfire with the enemy), CAS was delivered. (Do not, however, take this to mean wanton, indiscriminate slaughter.)

COIN is not a fluffy bunny warfare world where no one gets hurt and we all ride unicorns over rainbows. It is very much killing the enemy. Protecting the population requires it.

To be completely fair, they do tip the hat to “lines of operation” on page 15, but this still doesn’t undo the basic presupposition where one aspect of counterinsurgency is set over against another.  But it gets a little better.  On page 19 and following, CNAS may even be taking a page from us when they take direct aim at the HVT concept.  If they are advocating a stand-down from the high value target campaign, they we heartily agree.  We have gone further in advocating the re-attachment of SOF to infantry, and getting infantry all places, everywhere, all of the time.

But of course, this requires troops.  What is strangely missing in this report is advocacy for large troop additions.  It isn’t mere coincidence that John Nagl, who once advocated 600,000 troops for Afghanistan, now heads up CNAS which is advising the Obama administration.  It has become apparent that this administration will not contribute more than around 68,000 troops to Afghanistan.

The report may not be the triage it was meant to be.  Instead, it may be well intentioned [politically affected?] analysis that sends too few men on an impossible mission.

Drones, ROE, Raids, Fathers and Sons, Diamonds and Goats

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 11 months ago

I thought I would give you a lot of loosely correlated things to think about for the weekend.  First of all, Bird Dog at the FORVM says call off the drones in Pakistan.  They have been a tactical success, he notes, but in the same breath, points out that they have been a political failure.  I think that this is about right.  I am not opposed to the drones; nor do I believe that the unfortunate noncombatant souls who get in the way should be reason enough to call a halt to the program.  I just don’t believe that it works considered holistically.  As regular readers already know, we don’t cover high value target hits.  The HVT program doesn’t impress us as a replacement for counterinsurgency with boots on the ground.

Concerning drones, Victor Davis Hanson mentions that “at some point, Obama must answer why waterboarding mass-murderers and beheaders like Khalid Sheik Mohammed is wrong, while executing by missile attack (no writs, habeas corpus, Miranda rights, etc.) suspected terrorists and anyone caught in their general vicinity in Waziristan — or pirates negotiating extortion — is legitimate.”

I think that this is correct, except that I have one better than Hanson.  We’ve covered the rules of engagement fairly extensively, and linked and and provided commentary on the standing rules of engagement, the Iraq-specific ROE, and the rules for the use of force.  Hold that thought for a moment for us to consider the tactical generals.

An amazing revolution is taking place in the history of war, and even perhaps of humanity. The U.S. military went into Iraq with just a handful of drones in the air and zero unmanned systems on the ground, none of them armed. Today, there are more than 5,300 drones in the U.S. inventory and another roughly 12,000 on the ground.

And these are just the first generation, the Model T Fords compared with the smarter, more autonomous and more lethal machines already in the prototype stage. And we won’t be the only ones using them. Forty-two other countries have military robotics programs, as well as a host of non-state actors …

But like any major change in war, the robots revolution is not turning out to be the frictionless triumph of technology that some would describe it. Unmanned systems are raising all sorts of questions about not only what is possible, but also what is proper in our politics, ethics, law and other fields. And these questions are already rippling into all aspects of the military endeavor, well before we get to any world of machines making decisions on their own.

Our technologies are making it very easy, perhaps too easy, for leaders at the highest level of command not only to peer into, but even to take control of, the lowest level operations. One four-star general, for example, talked about how he once spent a full two hours watching drone footage of an enemy target and then personally decided what size bomb to drop on it.

Similarly, a Special Operations Forces captain talked about a one-star, watching a raid on a terrorist hideout via a Predator, radioing in to tell him where to move not merely his unit in the midst of battle, but where to position an individual soldier.

Besides being absurd, can anyone outline how a four star general sitting behind a desk and deciding to drop a bomb on a person who isn’t currently a threat to him doesn’t violate the ROE?  Remember, the ROE doesn’t have any discussion whatsoever of offensive operations.  The entire document is built around self defense, which is why General Kearney wanted to charge two snipers with murder because they shot a Taliban commander who didn’t happen to be pointing a weapon at them.  Not that the ROE is pristine in this failure to address offensive operations – it happens to be ridiculous in this omission.  But the point is that we aren’t holding Generals and drones to the same ROE as we hold the Soldier and Marine in the field.  Not quite fair, huh?

Bird Dog also links The Captain’s Journal and mentions that we point out the obvious similarities between drone attacks and Special Operations Forces that swoop in conducting raids in the middle of the night leaving carnage everywhere, expecting the infantry to clean up their mess the next day – and week – and months.

This brings up a testy exchange between me and Andrew Exum over SOF, where I exchanged e-mail and posts over time (for the last one, see here), charging him with being obsessed with SOF.  Andrew responded that in fact he wasn’t, and that “the so-called “general purpose” forces are the ones responsible for carrying out the main effort.”  He also missed the point – the point being that when piracy has led to a hostage situation it has gone too far.  Sending SEALs into every hostage situation is not logistically sustainable.  But let’s go with the flow here for a minute.

Nuance is in order here.  To be sure, there are qualifications – e.g., HALO jumps, use of underwater rebreathers, etc. – that are unique to some and not all.  When you need those billets, there is no replacement for having those billets.  But Andrew goes further.  He said: ” … an average platoon of Marines or Army light infantry does not have the capabilities or the training to carry out the missions executed by Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and other SOF (to include the SMUs).”  He went further in previous posts to extend this to the “cool boys” doing what amounted to direct action kinetics in counterinsurgency campaigns as “the way we play offense.”

Indeed.  I have discussed this with other active duty officers who found this silly.  The offensive part of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have involved more than just SOF.  From my perspective, having a son deployed to Fallujah, I know that he knows how to fast rope, that he conducted direct action kinetics, that he cleared rooms (not just trained to do it, but did it under fire), and he did it with a SAW (so much for those who complain that a short barrel carbine is needed for small doorways – my son used a SAW and led the way at times).  They used all of the infantry tactics used by SOF, but they weren’t just trained to do it.  They actually did it under fire.

So I have concluded that I simply don’t understand what Exum is talking about.  This notion of the SOF being the ones to conduct direct action kinetics while the General Purpose Forces do the softer side of COIN is an Army brainchild.  It’s foreign to me.  Some brainchild.  I think that the child is braindead.  The problems associated with this thinking could fill a book.

And this is the perfect segue into what I believe fathers ought to be doing with their sons.  Fastroping?  Harumph.  My son knew how to rappel before he ever entered the Marines.  How about the hard work to learn horsemanship that the original SOF guys did when they went into Afghanistan (the Horse Soldiers)?  My Marine son knew how to ride horses before he ever entered the Corps, and my other two sons and I have ridden the trails as well.  In fact, my Marine has broken and trained horses up to and including showing them in the ring for judges.

In fact, all three of my boys were humping a backpack at 6000 feet elevation about as soon as their bones were developed enough to take it.  They have all ridden horses on treacherous trails, they have all rappelled, and they have all pitched camp in dangerously cold weather at a very young age.  I have lifted weights with all of them, and always wanted each one of them to know that if they ever gave their mother a hassle, I would be happy to throw down with them at any place, any time.  As a father, if your time is being spent watching football on the weekends instead of teaching your son(s) to do algebra, analyze the Scriptures, lift weights, start a fire, neck rein a horse, belay a rope or hump a pack, then your priorities need to be re-evaluated and adjusted accordingly.  You’re not locked in on the important things.  You’ve lost focus, and expect other “special” people to do the hard work for you.

Without any segue whatsoever, I’ll leave you with Tim Lynch of Free Range International.  He linked my Analysis of the Battle of Wanat (the category is still second on Google).  At any rate, Tim argues for ignoring the isolated battle spaces such as in the Nuristan and Kunar Provinces and focusing instead on the population.  This parallels the argument of David Kilcullen, but runs counter to my own counsel and that of Joshua Foust.  I will weigh in on this later.

In the mean time, he makes this tantalizing statement: “The Taliban will not come back in power here – not in a million years.  Even if they did they would not be stupid enough to provide shelter or assistance to Al Qaeda.  We have reduced Osama and his surviving leaders into walking dead men who freak anytime someone gets near them with a cell phone or a plane flies overhead.  They could no more pull off another 9/11 than I could pull a diamond out of a goats ass.”

Well, I have spent some time studying the Hamburg cell, financing for the Tehrik-i-Taliban, al Qaeda strategies and tactics, and so forth, and I’m not sure it’s that simple.  Money, language training and willingness to die.  They have all three.  But while I wanted to discuss this with Tim over e-mail, what do you know?  Tim has no e-mail address.  Apparently, he doesn’t correspond via e-mail, doesn’t own a computer, or doesn’t know how to use one.  At least, he provides no such address over his site.

Calling Tim?  Drop me a note?

Nicholas Schmidle on How to Save Pakistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 11 months ago

Nick Schmidle has written an essay in Slate on How to Save Pakistan.  Nick, with whom I have exchanged e-mail, is not only a first rate Pakistan and Taliban scholar (see his work on Next-Gen Taliban), but an all around nice guy (and if he sends me a copy of his new book, I would give it a great review).  He deserves to be read by anyone interested in the future of Asia and its implications for our own security.  Parts of his piece are reproduced below.

This is the only country in the Islamic world where tens of thousands protest in the streets for the rule of law. Sure, there’s some support for the Taliban and their ilk, but as last year’s election, in which the Islamist parties were drubbed, showed, the Islamists don’t enjoy as much grass-roots support as their American-flag-burning rallies would suggest. (Unfortunately, the civilian government that took power last spring has squandered much of its goodwill and is, like Pervez Musharraf’s government before it, increasingly seen as toadying to the Americans.) So what can Washington do to save Pakistan?

For starters, it can ignore the tribal areas, NWFP, and regions already under Taliban control. The Taliban cannot be defeated militarily, as the Americans have learned in Afghanistan. You kill one of them and immediately create 10 or 20 or 50 more. Bombing their strongholds merely breathes life into the insurgency. It is not just that ordinary Pakistanis tend to sympathize with the Taliban when they are under attack but also that the Taliban ably turn each bombardment into propaganda, play themselves up as victims, and attract more foot soldiers. Moreover, the Pakistani army usually, if not always, loses. Groomed to battle columns of Indian tanks, the army is untrained to wage a counterinsurgency against a bunch of rebel bumpkins.

… there is a critical ethnic difference between these areas under already Taliban control and Punjab: The NWFP and FATA are mostly Pashtun, while Punjab is populated mostly by Punjabis. The Taliban have succeeded in part by marrying their religious and political program with an ethnic and nationalist agenda. While not every Pashtun belongs to the Taliban, nearly every member of the Taliban is a Pashtun. Punjabis, on the other hand, are one of the only ethnic groups that identify first and foremost as Pakistanis. Besides the ethnic distinctions, there are physical ones, too: The Indus River divides the two provinces.

If there’s any hope of containing the insurgency, it’s by building a wall along the Indus River. Not a physical wall, like the one Musharraf proposed constructing along the Pakistani-Afghanistan border, but an imaginary barrier that the Taliban wouldn’t be able to breach. How would you go about building such a thing? First of all, the United States would immediately divert much of the $1.5 billion it is planning to spend annually in FATA and NWFP to Punjab. While development projects in South Waziristan are futile at this point in terms of building confidence in the state, they may still accomplish that goal in the villages and towns of Punjab, and even down in Karachi. Since these places are the next battlegrounds between the Taliban and the Pakistani state, U.S. funds could also be diverted to train the Punjab police, who will probably become embroiled in the insurgency over the coming months.

First of all, Nick is right that the province of Punjab is the next battle space.  And in Karachi more than 100 Taliban fighters launched an attack on a Christian neighborhood, killing some, burning homes and brutalizing others.  Nick is right to be concerned about the most central and important province in Pakistan.

But is his solution the right one?  To say that the Islamist parties were drubbed in the last election misses the point, in my opinion.  The elections were more about rejection of the old guard’s ability to govern rather than their view of the Taliban (who completely sat out and ignored the elections based on theological principle).  But we may overlook this point since this is still in the provinces that Nick is recommending we abandon.  His focus is on Punjab.  His recommendation is basically geographic seclusion.

Will it work to isolate the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province?  My sense is that it won’t.  Nick is smart and does mention right up front that there are dangers with this approach, such as the fact that the Taliban won’t be content with holding this terrain.  Their goals have been both regional and global.  He also mentions that the Taliban will continue to have sanctuary for attacks against NATO troops from these regions of Pakistan.

AM mentions that Dave Kilcullen also raised the question of logistical routes which flow from Karachi to either the Khyber pass or Chaman, yet another risk with this approach.  So did I by telling you that the Taliban strategy included interdiction of logistical routes – more than one year ago (then also covering logistics issues for the last year).  I also recommended an alternative route through the Caucasus, although as mentioned earlier, it might require hitting the “make my day” button with Russia rather than the more effeminate “reset” button.

Either way, Nick is interesting and compelling reading.  He seems to have landed on the last option before I have, and unless we can project increased force into the near regions of Afghanistan (Helmand, Nuristan and Kunar Provinces) and convince the Pakistan Army to conduct counterinsurgency in Pakistan, Nick’s recommendations may indeed be our last and best option.  I don’t think it is lost yet.

Response to SOF and Piracy

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

So Andrew Exum is mad, or so it seems, over a recent post on piracy and our preferred model for comprehensively addressing the problem (although he doesn’t mention us by name, a rather awkward exigency in this debate).

I do not have the time to explain the training, missions, and capabilities of our nation’s special operations forces. To even those without a security clearance or any relevant military or policy background, the value of these forces should be gobsmackingly obvious. And anyone who has closely read what I have written knows that I — far from being “obsessed” with special operations forces — have been quite critical about their employment in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This criticism is based on both personal experience and a careful study of policies and operations.

No, an average platoon of Marines or Army light infantry does not have the capabilities or the training to carry out the missions executed by Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and other SOF (to include the SMUs). That’s okay. Because in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the so-called “general purpose” forces are the ones responsible for carrying out the main effort. But parachuting into the middle of the Indian Ocean, swimming to the USS Bainbridge and then shooting three pirates from a boat that is rocking up and down and side to side is pretty effing difficult. If this operation to rescue Richard Phillips isn’t the damn poster child for why we need special operations forces — and why it’s important that those forces are able to work in tandem with normal U.S. Navy and U.S. Army forces — I don’t know what is.

Sorry. I usually don’t go off like that. But I have been holding my tongue for three days. And I don’t get angry when genuine subject matter experts respectfully criticize me on issues about which they know more than I — think Josh Foust on Afghanistan — but do when others attack me in a know-it-all fashion about things they don’t have any experience in or knowledge of.

To be completely fair, readers should see all of Exum’s response.  Also, one particular comment on this post helps explain the debate fairly well.

so (sic) in fairness, the asshat who said “Andrew Exum’s idea to dispatch SEAL teams is absurd” seems to be criticizing the strawman idea of solving the whole piracy problem using SEALs, as opposed to this particular hostage situation. which is still asshat-ism but a somewhat different form than is implied here.

I’ll try to be clinical and not proscribed in my response.  I think Andrew (and also this commenter) missed the point, but the comment makes the response easier.  I am happy that the Captain of the ship is in safe hands tonight.  But the issue to me is not and has never been the capabilities of SOF versus anyone else, what one team of warriors is capable of versus the next, what one billet entails versus the next, and so on.  The argument has never been to send the wrong people to do the wrong job.  It is that we shouldn’t be doing the wrong job in the first place.

At the risk of sounding caustic, calloused and uncaring, this rescue helped no one but the Captain of the ship who was held hostage.  Whether the specific sequence of events is a precursor to more violence is also irrelevant.  The point is that it will not be a deterrent to more piracy.

The commenter helps the discussion by pointing out that this was a so-called “hostage situation.”  Ah … hostage situation indeed.  And aren’t they all?  In what situation could pirates abscond with a vessel, take control over the ship’s crew, demand ransom, and it not be considered a hostage situation?

The sum of the problem is the aggregate of the “hostage situations.”  The number of “hostage situations” is increasing yearly in the Gulf of Aden, and in fact in spite of the celebratory mood over this specific rescue, at the present moment at least twelve ships with more than 200 crew members are being held by Somali pirates.

The argument doesn’t go to the capabilities of SOF, Army, Marines, Navy or FBI (who were involved in the “negotiations”) or who knows more about what.  The argument centers on what the ailment is and what should be prescribed to cure it.  Quite obviously as I have pointed out, performing this kind of operation on every piracy event, or to put it in other terms, “hostage situation,” is quite out of the question.  It is unsustainable in terms of logistics, force size and expense.

So the problem was analyzed to be the psychological predilection towards conducting acts of piracy, at least, that’s the way I saw it.  To this problem, conducting SOF raids and cloak and dagger rescues of specific “hostages” won’t affect the proclivities of the ones conducting the piracy.  A much different solution is needed, one that recognizes the nature of the illness.

When Exum gets angry about the fact that I don’t know as much as him about so-and-so, he doesn’t pause to consider the fact that I might wholeheartedly agree with him.  And why shouldn’t I?  I don’t.  But I have come to a different diagnosis of the malady, and thus I would prescribe a different treatment.  In fact, I have, in Piracy: The Only Solution and Somalian Piracy.  It might seem barbaric to some, and some may choose for piracy to exist rather than implement the solution to it, an outcome I both understand and pity.

Finally, another way of summarizing this whole issue might to be quote Admiral Rick Gurnon.

Few expect that death of five pirates in three days will make Somali pirates think twice. Dire poverty and the collapse of the Somali state mean piracy is “a business model that works for them,” said Rear Adm. Rick Gurnon of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne – the school that trained Phillips – during a press conference Sunday.

“I don’t think this will have any deterrent value at all,” he added.

Instead, he quoted Thomas Jefferson, who spoke of the scourge of piracy at the beginning of the 19th century – and the need to hit the pirates in their home bases on land. “It was said, ‘It’s easier to go after the wasps’ nest than swat the wasps.’” Admiral Gurnon said.

Knowing how hard it has been and will be to conduct COIN operations in two theaters at once, I have spoken against nation-building in Somalia at this point in time.  But there is no comparing poverty with the multi-million dollar ransoms that we have seen with Piracy.  They aren’t attempting to feed their families.  They want to get rich.  In order to change the proclivities of the pirates, they must believe that their profession will kill them.

One final observation is in order.  The comments to this post don’t really challenge the author.  A professional military blog is not complimented when the commenters sound like apparatchiks.  The commenters should refrain from emotional outbursts and pejorative language and concentrate on the main points.  That is what I have done in this response.

Concerning Hiding Insurgents

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

Our buddy Andrew Exum has a piece out today with The New Republic entitled No Place to Hide.  In it, he defends the Obama administration’s “renunciation of traditional counter-terror strategies.”  More specifically:

When the Obama administration announced the results of its review of Afghanistan and Pakistan policies on Friday, reporters quizzing the review’s authors seemed confused. They wondered whether the recommendations announced by the president amounted to an abandonment or endorsement of the kind of population-centric counter-insurgency strategy employed in Iraq in 2007. Were we embracing a more limited counter-terror mission? Or were we committing ourselves more fully to nation-building?

The aims of the strategy are quite modest: to deny transnational terror groups the ability to use physical space to plan and prepare for attacks on the United States in the way that al-Qaeda used Afghanistan in the years before the 9/11 attacks. And the central problem of the post-Cold War era is that these staging grounds are often in ungoverned spaces like the Pashtun belt straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The solution to this problem in those countries is improved governance from Kabul and Islamabad, respectively, which leads us to pursuing lines of operation quite unlike those most normally associated with the art of war–such as improving centralized governance, coordinating economic development, and providing essential services to the peoples of southern Afghanistan and western Pakistan. The new Obama strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is thus better described as a “counter-haven” strategy then a counter-terrorism strategy. (I must credit a conversation I had with counter-insurgency theorist-practitioner David Kilcullen on Friday for that particular turn of phrase.)

So the plan announced by the Obama administration is actually a renunciation of traditional counter-terror strategies–which have employed special operations raids, drone strikes, and bombing campaigns to deter or reduce the capacity of transnational terror groups. In the administration’s strategy is the admission that solely “kinetic” means–blowing things up and killing people–cannot be relied upon to end the threat from terror groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I won’t repeat all of his prose here, but Exum launches into an interesting missive on the issue of Cartesian space versus virtual space.

The White House strategy, though, betrays an obsession with physical space at the expense of virtual space. This fixation very much reflects a generational divide among the scholars and policy-makers who focus on terrorism. Younger scholars such as Will McCants (now at the Department of Defense) and Thomas Hegghammer–in addition to being much more likely to actually be able to speak and read the relevant languages (Arabic and Urdu)–are “digital natives” rather than “digital immigrants” (to use the labels preferred by the counter-insurgency scholar Thomas Rid): They do not need to have the explosive potential of the internet explained to them, and McCants and Hegghammer especially have individually spent hundreds of hours on the more popular jihadi chatrooms to gather data about the debates and spread of information that is taking place in the virtual world

Well, Exum seems to be saying that we must be prepared to take on the enemy anywhere for this to work, and I tend to agree (and for that reason believe that the global counterinsurgency in which we are engaged is underfunded and under-resourced).  I also believe that we should be prepared to confront the conventional enemies, which is why rather than throwing several trillion dollars down the toilet, we should be funding the U.S. military.

But anywhere is still somewhere that is located in Cartesian space.  I’m not impressed with the alleged global power of the Internet jihadists, and most of them are still jihadist wannabes in cyberspace.  Let them pick up a rifle and do duty, but until they do, we are worrying about the wrong thing.  Have your IT experts, but what we really need are boots on the ground.

Our very good friend Professor Gian Gentile gives Exum nice props, and is perhaps being too gracious.  I’m not that gracious, something quite endemic to my nature, I’m sure.  Exum is playing make believe about the Obama administration renunciation of the counter-terror strategy and HVT campaign.  Only recently was it announced that the UAV strikes would expand to Quetta.

Now, I’m not against the strikes for the typical reasons: they kill innocents, they add to the rolls of the insurgency, etc.  In fact, I’m not against them at all.  But simply put, this strategy won’t work.  Neither will this strategy work when applied with SOF troopers who swoop into an area, kill a HVT, and then withdraw.

Stupid in the superlative, and we have discussed it before.  Have your airmen that can use a Milstar uplink to guide a JDAM to target by painting it with a laser; have your SEALs who can attach underwater demolitions.  Very well.  The ground is controlled by infantry, and if we win the campaign in Afghanistan it will be because the load is borne on the backs of the infantry and Cavalry.  They can converse with the population, they can gain intelligence, they can deliver logistics, they can fight the enemy, and they can fast-rope into an area and kill or capture the HVTs if that becomes necessary.

I have had very unsatisfactory e-mail exchanges with Exum on this issue, and while Exum continues to defend the Obama adminstration and its alleged repudiation of the HVT strategy, he then turns around and defends the use of SOF to kill or capture HVT.

We must fish or cut bait in Afghanistan.  We must not go in half way.  We must decide if we support the campaign or not.  If we support it, then we need to resource and finance it.  Send in the Cavalry and infantry.  Prepare for proper logistics.  If not, then let’s withdraw and live to fight another day, while protecting and training the sons of America.  They aren’t toys or pawn pieces with which to enact an administration’s damn foreign policy.  They are men, made in God’s image, your neighbors and loved ones.

U.S. Halts SOF Raids in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 1 month ago

The New York Times published an article concerning temporarily halting SOF raids in Afghanistan.

The commander of a secretive branch of America’s Special Operations forces last month ordered a halt to most commando missions in Afghanistan, reflecting a growing concern that civilian deaths caused by American firepower are jeopardizing broader goals there.

The halt, which lasted about two weeks, came after a series of nighttime raids by Special Operations troops in recent months killed women and children, and after months of mounting outrage in Afghanistan about civilians killed in air and ground strikes. The order covered all commando missions except those against the highest-ranking leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, military officials said.

American commanders in Afghanistan rely on the commando units to carry out some of the most delicate operations against militant leaders, and the missions of the Army’s Delta Force and classified Navy Seals units are never publicly acknowledged. But the units sometimes carry out dozens of operations each week, so any decision to halt their missions is a sign of just how worried military officials are that the fallout from civilian casualties is putting in peril the overall American mission in Afghanistan, including an effort to drain the Taliban of popular support.

Andrew Exum got to this one before we did, perhaps partially because he is now being paid to blog a certain portion of his time at CNAS.  Maybe Nagl could throw a few dollars our direction and we can blog more.  At any rate and on a serious note, what Exum says is worth hearing concerning his position that the line between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency is a false one.

I asked a highly respected retired U.S. Army general a year ago what the appropriate role for direct action special operations forces was in a population-centric COIN campaign. His answer was that direct action SOF is highly valuable because “it’s the way you play offense.” At the same time, though, it absolutely has to be tied into a greater COIN strategy. The cool kids cannot be allowed to just run amok, no matter how much they may want to.

Oh good heavens!  “… The way you play offense.”  Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know how we approach the issue of SOF after having read:

The Cult of Special Forces

And perhaps it’s true that we are biased towards a certain position given that this is a Marine blog (and please don’t drop comments or send notes saying that there is such a thing as MARSOC now).  But still, there is a certain adolescent obsession with SOF being supermen that permeates this discussion and many like it.

SOF are not supermen.  They are (or should be, or started out) as soldiers with specialized billets.  Language, training, and cultural knowledge not typically found in the balance of the Army or Corps should mark SOF.  For SEALs, they must do things that require specialized training, such as underwater demolition requiring use of the closed circuit oxygen system rebreather, and so on.  Airmen who use satellite uplink equipment need specialized training.

To pretend that kinetics is performed by SOF while the “big Army” does something else is both elitist and insulting.  It is insulting to infantry because it says to them that they aren’t really qualified to perform kinetic operations.  But if reality is a gauge, squad rushes, satellite patrols, fire and maneuver tactics, stacks and room clearing operations, raids, use of night vision equipment, fast roping, and so on, are all things that infantry both trains on and has conducted in Iraq for years.  These are infantry specialties, and SOF cannot and should not lay sole claim to them.  As for that matter, flag and field grade officers who coddle this notion aren’t helping matters with the big Army.

Perhaps the supporters of this myth of the SOF superman are considering reality when recalling what is beginning to be the stark differences between Army basic training and Marine boot camp.  From Thomas Ricks Making the Corps:

Army basic training is intentionally ‘user friendly’. All units at Fort Jackson, which trains support personnel – clerks, cooks, truck drivers, nurses and mechanics – are gender integrated. Men and women sleep in separate barracks, but do everything else together … the rifle ranges at Fort Jackson are named after states, not great battles. There is no shock theatre ‘pick up’. “We do not try to intimidate,” explains Lt. Col. Mark G. McCauley, Commander of the receiving area. “We do not try to strike fear in their hearts. We conduct the handoff in a calm, quiet, professional way. We want the soldiers in training to have a sense of comfort.”

‘Fun’ isn’t a word one hears on Parris Island. Here it comes naturally to the lips of trainees. “They teach us, but they also make it fun,” says Eric Escamilla, a soldier-in-training from Lubbock, Texas. Spec. Sheila Suess, his comrade in Delta Company, agrees as they eat breakfast in their mess hall. At other tables, trainees chat in conversations. No drill instructors hover, and there is no shouting anywhere in the building …

Out on the bayonet assault course, Alpha Company of the Third Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, is going through the paces. The platoon sergeant – the Army equivalent of senior drill instructor – addresses them. “Soldiers, please be interested in what I have to say,” begins Staff Sgt. Ron Doiron. “This is the only time in your military career you get to do the bayonet assault course. Make the most of it. Let’s have some fun out here” … Alpha Company takes off through the piney woods, climbing over low obstacles, sticking the tires and rubber dummies with bayonets. Jumping down into a trench, Pvt. Tralena Wolfe’s knee pops. She comes off the course, sits on a log, and cries.

As for a more timely assessment, you may go to the Army Times where Marine Captain Josh Gibbs discussed his trip to Fort Jackson.  Perhaps the Army is being used as a social engineering experiment, which would explain the interest that the Democrats normally take in increasing the size of SOF.  Only the champions of SOF can completely explain why they advocate seeing kinetics as the primary domain of SOF with [who knows what] the domain of the infantry.

But without such an explanation and justification, the following objections should suffice at the moment.

  • The model of SOF as supermen who perform raids continues the diminution of infantry, just as it has done with the Australian infantry (see We Were Soldiers Once: The Decline of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps?).
  • This model limits the kinetic power of the Army by restricting it to a small portion of the Army.
  • This model allows the politicians to use the Army as fertile ground for social engineering experiments.  The Marines still don’t allow women in combat, at least partially because of the statistically higher propensity for lower extremity injuries and reduced strength.
  • This model is more expensive than simply requiring the infantry to perform its designated role.
  • This model actually makes SOF less special, in that their normal focus on training, language and culture is replaced with more kinetics.

Now, as for counterterrorism versus counterinsurgency, regular readers know that we are nonplussed and unimpressed with the cloak and dagger missile strikes in Pakistan, and dark of the night raids in Afghanistan.  These people show up, shoot up a place, perhaps take some people, go, and the next day are not heard from or seen.  No one knows who the hell these people were, where they came from or why they were here.  All people know is that they brought violence to their community.  This is no way to win friends or influence people.

The Marine Corps infantry model is different.  In operations in the Helmand Province, the Marines were described at times as being in “full bore reloading” mode.  Over 400 hard core Taliban fighters were killed in and around Garmser.  But then they didn’t leave.  They sat with laptop PCs running EXCEL, logged and computed the losses and local worth of all of the things destroyed, and then paid cash to the people of Garmser.

Cash, all nicely set out in a tent, with carpeted entrance, inviting the tribal elders and heads of household to come in and collect the money for the broken windows, doors, etc.  Then the Marines supplied security to the area to keep the Taliban out.  Sure, the 24th MEU had to leave and unfortunately, the British apparently could not hold the terrain.

But this serves as a picture of how it’s done.  Exum is smart enough to know this.  Killing high value targets, according to our contacts, has led to the vicious cycle where Taliban operations stand down for a couple of weeks for them to sort out who their next mid-level commander is, several weeks or months of Taliban violence after they do, then raids take this man out, and so on the stupid procedure goes.  The procedure is a loser.

So why did the SOF command stop the raids for a couple of weeks?  What will they do after a couple of weeks?  Will the raids start over?  If so, why did they stop?  There isn’t anything wrong with raids as long as it is against the right targets, but expecting them all to be done by SOF without the presence there the next morning is absurd strategy.  It may make for good movies and cloak and dagger talk about who Exum calls the “cool kids,” but it makes for a bad campaign.

In the end, there is a stark difference between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.  One is performed by police, U.S., Interpol, and so forth, through banking, intelligence agencies, and diplomatic contacts.  The other is performed by the Army and Marine Corps infantry.  Or at least, it is by the Marines, and should be by the Army.

**** UPDATE ****

Michael Yon posts a provocative piece today concerning a number of things, including whether we will abandon Iraq, but also including his current take on Afghanistan and training of the Afghan Army.  Please read the entire piece, but take particular note of this one paragraph.

I’ve asked many key officers why we are not using our Special Forces (specifically Green Berets) in a more robust fashion to train Afghan forces.  The stock answers coming from the Green Beret world – from ranking officers anyway – is that they are taking a serious role in training Afghan forces.  But the words are inconsistent with my observations.  The reality is that the Green Berets – the only outfit in the U.S. military who are so excellently suited to put the Afghan army into hyperdrive – are mostly operating with small groups of Afghans doing what appears to be Colorado mule deer hunts in the mountains of Afghanistan.  Special Forces A-teams are particularly well suited to train large numbers of people, but are not doing so.

Ahem, like I was saying …

Just Build the F-22, Okay?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 1 month ago

Over at Abu Muqawama, Abu M. is telling us about his lamentable bent towards socialistic jobs programs by finally advocating the F-22 program.  Well, not quite.  The kind of people who will continue to work – engineers, highly skilled technicians, programmers, etc. – are not who the current administration is targeting for their programs.  Abu M., our friend, is still not synched up with the administration.  Really.  We have our doubts that he ever will be completely.  This is good.  As for the GOP turncoats who advocate the F-22 because it will bring jobs (as Abu M. notes), their districts have a bunch of pansy-ass panty-waist sniveling lackeys for Representatives who need to be summarily run out of Washington and then tarred and feathered.  The right reason to support the F-22 is – as I learned just recently from a reputable source – technical.

By month’s end, President Barack Obama must decide whether to order the building of more F-22 Raptors or let the production lines close. Only 203 of the aircraft described by the think tank Air Power Australia as “the most capable multirole combat aircraft in production today” have been built or ordered.

The F-22 Raptor performs as impressively as it looks.

Support for the aircraft is not limited to defense hawks. Last month, 44 U.S. senators, including Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, sent the president a letter requesting an additional order of unspecified size to prevent the planned 2011 shutdown. Bowing to political reality rather than reflecting true military needs, the Air Force now claims it could possibly get by with just 60 more aircraft.

Despite this, and notwithstanding the current Boeing and Lockheed Martin publicity campaign, the Raptor may well have its wings clipped. The main reason: Strategists plan to fight the next war based on the last (or current) one. Where once we planned for massive set-piece battles, now it seems many can’t see beyond guerrilla warfare with lightly armed insurgents. Conventional war weapons programs are being eliminated or slashed.

The F-22, which entered service three years ago, blends key technologies that formerly existed only separately on other aircraft — or not at all. Its stealthiness will make trigger-happy combatants shoot at birds. It has agility, air-to-air combat abilities and penetrability far beyond that of the F-15 Eagle which entered service 33 years ago. It cruises at Mach-plus speeds without using fuel-guzzling afterburners.

But the end of the Cold War, the current guerrilla wars, and what Air Power Australia calls a deliberate campaign of “concocting untruthful stories about its capabilities, utility and cost,” has devastated Raptor purchases. Originally the Air Force requested up to 762, but the Pentagon’s 1990 Major Aircraft Review reduced that to 648. This was subsequently cut to 442, then 339, then to 277, before the current 203, of which 134 have been built.

A major criticism of the Raptor is the cost, which at about $339 million per aircraft is many times the original estimate. But much of this reflects a wisely added ground attack role, inflation, and a sneaky but common ruse used to cut weapon procurements.

Technology development costs are fixed. So each time an order is reduced, per-unit prices go up. Critics slashed the F-22 order, and then cited the “stunning” per-unit cost to slash away again. This game has played out with one weapon system after another, helping explain why an initial plan for acquiring 132 B-2 Spirit bombers ended with a pitiful purchase of 21. But the current per-unit cost for each additional F-22 is around $136 million, according to the Air Force.

If necessary, the Air Force says it will try to fill the F-22 shortage by keeping F-15s flying to 2025. It won’t work. Even eight years ago, “some foreign aircraft we’ve been able to test, our best pilots flying their airplanes [from other countries] beat our pilots flying our airplanes every time,” then-Air Force Commander John Jumper told Congress.

Two years earlier, the independent Federation of American Scientists (FAS) noted that the Russian Sukhoi Flanker Su-27, which entered service eight years after the Eagle, “leveled the playing field” with the F-15. Su-27’s, both Russian-built and Chinese pirated copies, are now in arsenals around the world.

Nor are enemy fighters our only worry. Russian surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) have improved dramatically in recent years. The country’s S-300 system is “one of the most lethal, if not the most lethal, all-altitude area defense,” noted the International Strategy and Assessment Service, “a Virginia-based think tank focused on U.S. and Allied security issues.” three years ago. China also has the S-300 and the Russians announced in December they’ll soon sell units to Iran.

The F-22 may be the only aircraft that can penetrate the Soviet S-400 missile system, yet opponents focus entirely on dogfighting.

The sale not only would threaten stand-off warning and control systems like AWACS but also tremendously boost defense of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor and Natanz uranium-enrichment site.

The newer S-400 system, already deployed, is far better able to detect low-signature targets and aircraft generally, as far away as 250 miles away, according to the FAS. That’s twice that of the S-300. When mated with the Triumf SA-20/21 missile, which Russia claims it tested in December, it can even knock down ballistic missiles.

“Only the F-22 can survive in airspace defended by increasingly capable surface-to-air missiles,” declared Air Force Association President Mike Dunn in December.

Some have demanded trading off F-22s for more of the cheaper F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), although it’s vastly inferior in both air-to-air combat and ground defense penetration. Further, much of that lower price reflects the economy of scale of the vastly larger order F-35 orders, even as increased development costs have tremendously upped the Lightning II price tag.

The current Air Force budget estimate says the “flyaway unit cost” of its F-35 version will be strikingly higher than that of the F-22 during the first four years of production. Only then will assembly line expansion drop the F-35 sticker to $91 billion by FY 2013.

The Russia bear has awakened from hibernation to rebuild its lost empire. China continues its inexorable military expansion. Iran desperately wants The Bomb, while North Korea revels in unpredictability. Yes, Virginia, we really do have potential enemies with weapons other than AKs and IEDs. We desperately need far more F-22 Raptors — preferably to prevent wars but if need be to win them.

Sorry to steal Michael Fumento’s thunder by duplicating his post completely, but it deserved complete mention, and also complete attribution.  And so just build the F-22 and say thanks to Fumento for a good article.  And stop the socialistic jobs programs, okay?


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