Archive for the 'Force Projection' Category

The Body Count Foreign Policy: Civilian Casualties in Syria Force U.S. Hand?

BY Glen Tschirgi
11 years, 10 months ago

Here we go again.

In this article, we are told that the U.S. is now warning Syria of possible military action.

Is it because the U.S. has finally determined that Syria’s support of terrorist outfits like Hamas and Hezbollah is inimical to vital U.S. interests and pose a threat to national security?  Is it because the Assad Regime is the linchpin to Iranian aggression in the Levant?  Is it because the stockpile of biological weapons may find their way into the hands of Islamists to be used against Western targets?  Has the U.S. determined that the replacement of the Assad Regime by an even tepidly pro-Western government would be a game changer in the Middle East?


It is because something like 100 non-combatant civilians were killed by artillery and tank rounds fired indiscriminately by Assad’s forces into the Syrian city of Houla.

I do not for a moment condone this rightly-termed massacre of women and children by the Assad Regime.  It deserves all of the condemnation that can be delivered (although it is somewhat hypocritical of the Russians– who used an absolute, scorched-earth assault to suppress rebellion in Chechnya including artillery barrages– and China– which routinely tortures and kills its civilian population).

Nontheless, as I argued in a prior post :

U.S. foreign policy cannot be dictated by logarithms of civilian casualties.   Instead, the U.S. must enter into a complicated calculus of risks and benefits in seeking to topple Assad and the methods necessary and appropriate to the task.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration seems to be engaging in this very type of body-count calculus in weighing military intervention.   From The Guardian article:

The US’s top military officer has warned Syria it could face armed intervention as international outrage grows over the massacre of women and children by tanks and artillery in Houla.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said that following the UN security council’s condemnation of the slaughter – in which more than 100 people were killed, many of them children – there needed to be increased diplomatic pressure on Damascus. But he added that the US would be prepared to act militarily if it was “asked to do so”.

“There is always a military option,” he told Fox News. “You’ll always find military leaders to be somewhat cautious about the use of force, because we’re never entirely sure what comes out on the other side. But that said, it may come to a point with Syria because of the atrocities.”

The entire world is filled with governments committing atrocities against its own people, and all too often on a scale far larger than the massacre at Houla.   Sudan and its Islamist allies have been slaughtering and enslaving tens of thousands of largely Christian South Sudanese civilians for the better part of a decade.   U.S. response (both Bush and Obama):  Yawwwwwwwwwwwwwn.  North Korea’s forced starvation and Nazi-like concentration camps are legendary and indisputable.   U.S. response for 50 years:  too bored to bother.

Why should civilian deaths in Syria trigger any kind of threat of military action?  Determining foreign policy based on civilian body counts like this is absolutely bass ackwards.

If intervening in Syria is in the U.S. national interest, including all the factors that must be weighed and considered– and can be articulated as such to Congress– then that is all the reason we need.   If it is not in the national interest, then no body count should precipitate military action.

Does the U.S. Have A Moral Duty to Fix Afghanistan (or anywhere else)?

BY Glen Tschirgi
11 years, 11 months ago

In an article for National Review Online, Patrick Brennan illuminates the thinking of General David McKiernan, commander of ISAF in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009.

To the extent that Brennan accurately reflects McKiernan’s thinking and, more importantly, that McKiernan is at all representative of widely-held views in the U.S. military,  it goes a long way to explaining the seeming paralysis of U.S. force projection in Afghanistan and globally.

Fundamentally, Gen. McKiernan is a true believer in what seems to be called the Pottery Barn Rule of U.S. power projection:

In my conversation with him in his Boston office, General McKiernan demonstrates a vast knowledge of the problems of Afghanistan, as well as a keen concern for the fate of the country and NATO’s mission there. “In my experience with many different operations in the military over the years, when you intervene on the ground in a country, ‘breaking the china’ in that country and changing the regional status quo, you then own the problem,” he says. The U.S. is therefore obligated, at the very least, to live up to the commitments it has made to Afghanistan’s civil and military leaders, including fulfilling the new strategic partnership by allocating sufficient funds, which will become a year-to-year concern. A military intervention such as the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 inevitably means the obliteration of a country’s existing political order, as chaotic or oppressive as that might be. Without a continuing commitment to restore some semblance of order and stability to Afghanistan, McKiernan argues, we will fail in our moral duty and abandon our strategic interests.

At the conclusion of the article, Brennan sums up Gen. McKiernan’s thinking:

The U.S. was right to invade Afghanistan in order to exact revenge against al-Qaeda and eliminate the region’s terrorist havens. But McKiernan has seen the catastrophic side effects of that invasion, and they represent something of a geopolitical sin. With a more targeted, locally nuanced, and efficient strategy as penance, the United States can help the Afghan government construct and enforce some degree of order, General McKiernan believes. If we do not do so, we abandon our moral commitment to repair Afghanistan, and we will leave a gapingly insecure region that would remain fertile ground for international terrorism.

Pardon the gag reflex.  There is much else in the article that is deserving of comment and it is worth reading.  For example, Gen. McKiernan seems to recognize that Afghanistan is not a nation state in any true sense of the word but is, instead, a collection of different tribes, ethnicities and sects.   His takeaway from this fact, however, is to double down on the formation and training of a national army and police force that can someday, somehow hold the centrifugal differences of the country together.   As illogical as this seems, it is necessitated by the “you break it, you own it” philosophy embraced by McKiernan and others.

So this seems to me to be the fundamental debate for American foreign policy, not only for Afghanistan but for the next ten to twenty years as we face no lack of failing or failed states that become incubators for Militant Islam: what, if any, obligation does the U.S. have to another country or people when the U.S. uses military force in exercise of its national interests?

First let’s clarify some of General McKiernan’s muddled thinking.

According to his moral universe, when a nation “breaks the china” by intervening with force of arms to somehow change the status quo of another nation or region then the intervenor “own[s] the problem” and incurs a “moral duty” to “restore some semblance of order and stability…”   In the case of Afghanistan, this is nonsense.   The status quo of Afghanistan’s “political order” in September 2001 was, as the General himself describes, “chaotic” and “oppressive.”  By his own theory, then, the U.S. need only ensure that Afghanistan ends up no more chaotic or oppressive than it was pre-invasion.  The 2001 invasion alone made a vast improvement upon the existing political order by eliminating a pariah regime that gladly hosted international terrorists and imposed a cruel authoritarianism on its population.   If the U.S. had walked out of Afghanistan in January 2002, the situation in Afghanistan would have been vastly improved with the Northern Alliance in control of most of the country.

In fact, it is arguable that the U.S. only started to destroy the status quo of Afghanistan when it began meddling in its internal, political affairs with arrogant notions of 21st Century democracy and centralized government.  The problem, then, is not that the U.S. created a mess in Afghanistan by toppling the Taliban in October 2001, but that the U.S. stayed after toppling the Taliban in order to somehow save the Afghans from their own backward and stunted culture.   This was the “geopolitical sin” if Gen. McKiernan must find one.

What of General McKiernan’s larger premise, that the U.S. cannot intervene militarily without incurring a “moral commitment to repair” that nation?

This is a fundamentally flawed and mistaken view of U.S. power projection.  Originally espoused by General Colin Powell in 2002, Powell claims to have advised President Bush that any invasion of Iraq would be akin to breaking a dish and thereby taking ownership.  The so-called Pottery Barn school of  thought to which McKiernan subscribes assumes the existence of an unbroken Dish prior to U.S. involvement.  This is simply a fiction and a dangerous one at that.

Iraq was already in pieces under Saddam Hussein when the U.S. invaded in March 2003.   Once the Dictator and his police state were dismembered, the “dish” was already in infinitely better shape than its pre-invasion condition.   The U.S. would have been perfectly justified from a moral point of view in packing up and heading home at that point.   So, too, with Afghanistan: the “dish” was in far better shape after the removal of Al Qaeda bases and the Taliban than it was pre-invasion.

The Pottery Barn doctrine simply does not pertain to the exercise of U.S. military intervention at any point in U.S. history.   I cannot think of a single instance where the metaphorical dish was not already broken when the U.S. intervened.  If someone wants to argue about Nazi intervention in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria and France, that is a different matter.   The U.S. is not an imperial power that topples healthy, functioning nation states and the application of the Pottery Barn doctrine to the U.S. may say far more about how people like Colin Powell and David McKiernan view U.S. power projection than it does about the actual world as we have it now.

American leadership needs to forcefully and decisively reject this wrong-headed notion of moral commitments to fix other nations.  It is not and has never been about moral commitments.  It is ever, only about the U.S. national interest.  That is the only way to rationally debate both the decision to intervene militarily and the decision, once intervention occurs, of how and when to leave.  This is not to say that our national interest does not align with notions of morality.  Very often it does and morality certainly forms a part of defining what the “national interest” is in the first place.   But evaluating policies, tactics and strategy from a moral viewpoint rather than the national interest leads to all kinds of fuzzy thinking and misguided efforts.   Afghanistan is, perhaps, the textbook example of these hazards.

To give but a few examples:  what is the U.S. national interest in pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into road, school, hospital and other construction in Afghanistan?  It certainly is a nice thing to do, a moral thing to do.  But how, precisely, does this make America more secure?  In a predominating culture that is so alien (indeed hostile one could say) to American values, the idea of changing that culture with billions in aid money can only be driven by a moralistic– an almost missionary– zeal that simply has no place in American foreign policy.   The national interest is solely concerned with ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a threat to American security again.   That was the only reason we invaded in 2001 (contrary to Gen. McKiernan’s idea of “revenge”).  There are many ways that this fundamental, U.S. interest could be achieved without any resort whatsoever to changing Afghan culture.

To look at another example briefly, consider Syria.

From the moralistic, Pottery Barn approach, intervening in Syria is a case of balancing the suffering of the Syrian people under the Dictator Assad with the unavoidable suffering of the people after a military intervention (whether that is invasion, air strikes, covert support for rebels, etc…).   This is why the Obama Administration and much of U.S. punditry is tied up in knots over Syria: there is no, clear way to evaluate human suffering in this manner.   (Anyone who doubts this need only look at Libya where, again, the scales of suffering seemed to tilt in favor of ousting Qaddafi only to find, now, that the increasing lawlessness and rise of Militant Islamists is beginning to make Qaddafi look rather tame by comparison).

Instead of playing these sorts of moral games, U.S. leadership should be looking at Syria from our own interests.   This clarifies things immediately.   Syria under Assad is an enemy of the U.S. and moves in lockstep with arch-enemy Iran.   This is a very, very broken dish (to use their parlance).  Toppling Assad by itself does not worsen the dish and is certainly in the U.S. national interest as it enhances our security immensely.

There is, of course, the question of what sort of government will replace Assad.   Here again the moralists and national interest part ways.   The moralists would say that the U.S. would “own” all of Syria’s problems if it intervened which means, presumably, another 10 or 20 year program of building schools, hospitals roads and civic institutions.   The national interest, at a bare minimum, however, doesn’t really care so much what comes after Assad so long as it is not worse than Assad.  We do not care, for example, if Syria falls into civil war so long as Syria cannot be the cat’s paw for Iran.   It is certainly in the national interest to back rebels that are sympathetic to U.S. values and goals, but if they are at least hostile to Iran and global jihad, that is enough.

In essence then, to the extent that U.S. policies and strategies are guided by the approach espoused by General McKiernan, we will find ourselves a vulnerable paralytic Power unable to intervene in the world where critical U.S. interests are at stake because to do so would automatically obligate us to an endless commitment of fixing the “broken dish.”   In such a world, we leave it to hostile powers all around us to shape things to their liking, one that will be little to our own.

Offensive Posture in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 5 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.

Taliban and Iranian Spies Do Force Protection for U.S. Troops

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 6 months ago

From ABC News:

A scathing Senate report says US contractors in Afghanistan have hired warlords, “thugs,” Taliban commanders and even Iranian spies to provide security at vulnerable US military outposts in Afghanistan. The report, published by the Senate Armed Services Committee, says lax oversight and “systemic failures” have led to “grave risks’ to US forces, including instances where contractors have employed Afghan subcontractors who were “linked to murder, kidnapping and bribery, as well as Taliban and anti-coalition activities.” The chairman of the committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D.-Michigan, said the report was evidence that the US needs to reduce its reliance on contractors. “We need to shut off the spigot of US dollars flowing into the pockets of warlords and power brokers who act contrary to our interests,” said Sen. Levin. The committee reviewed roughly 125 unclassified Department of Defense security contracts between 2007 and 2009, and found that there are some 26,000 private security contractors operating in Afghanistan, the majority of whom are Afghan nationals. The review found “systemic failures” of the military oversight for contracts, including the hiring of what Levin called “many too many” security contractors who had been improperly vetted, improperly trained or were not provided weapons.

In some cases, companies were awarded contracts though they had no ability to provide the services needed. In those cases, companies then quickly hired local nationals without proper vetting or security checks. The chaotic system left US facilities and personnel vulnerable to attack. The report found that some Afghan security guards simply walked off their posts at remote forward operating bases.

In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the notion of hiring locals to perform force protection for the Marines would have been met with laughter and scoffing.  To be sure, the Marines embedded with the IPs, and hired Iraqis as interpreters.  They also hired the so-called Sons of Iraq to perform neighborhood watch and guard duty for gated communities.  But as for force protection proper, the Marines used Marines.

The Senator can pontificate all he wants about the need to stop the flow of dollars into the pockets of untrustworthy Afghans.  The troubled and troubling Hamid Karzai has already made illegal the hiring of non-Afghan contractors for anything except embassy force protection.  The puppet, as the Taliban call him, doesn’t very much like answering to the puppet master.  It’s almost as if he knows that the puppet master is looking for an exit.

You know there aren’t enough troops when you hire foreign spies to perform your force protection.  We should end all discussion of military doctrine surrounding force protection in our military schools.  It’s meaningless.  And no, just because I’m discussing force protection doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in force projection.  One doesn’t exclude the other, and the exercise of a little more force projection and killing the enemy while off of huge FOBs would mean the need for less force protection of U.S. troops by foreign spies.

In other words, if we were off of FOBs and if we didn’t have such a bloated support to infantry ratio, do you think this discussion would be happening right now?

Good Counterinsurgency, Bad Counterinsurgency and Tribes

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

I linked and commented on Ralph Peters’ commentary Pick Your Tribes in Winning in Afghanistan, and since then so did the Small Wars Journal blog.  Indeed, there has been quite a discussion of late on the issue of tribal engagement as a solution to the insurgency in Afghanistan.  One commenter asks whether I support Peters’ rejection of the necessity to implement Western style government in Afghanistan.

I do not support the necessity of building Western style democracies in Afghanistan or anywhere else, but weighing in as an expert in the human and cultural terrain in Afghanistan would make a liar out of me.  The reader should consult the many writings of my friend Joshua Foust (his most recent discussion of the engagement of the tribes can be found here).  Christian Bleuer is also a wonderful resource.  I think it’s remarkably silly for folks to weigh in on human, cultural and anthropological terrain unless they are studied in that field.  I am not, and they are.  So don’t consult me on that issue.

My fundamental point was that understanding the exigencies of the human terrain is not a prerequisite for killing insurgents, and the initial stages of the campaign can be accomplished – in fact, must be accomplished – without reference to the human terrain.  Let me explain further.

I have weighed in before concerning The Anbar Narrative, in which I challenge (and reject out of hand) the populist myth that has been built up around the tribes in Anbar (while also acknowledging that the tribes were important in Ramadi).  Concerning Fallujah 2007, a part of the campaign with which I am familiar, I have written (among other things):

By early 2007 both foreign fighters and indigenous insurgents had been driven from Al Qaim, Ramadi and Haditha, and they had landed squarely in Fallujah.  When the 2/6 Marines arrived in Fallujah in April of 2007, they had to construct some of Forward Operating Base Reaper while laying on their backs and passing sand bags over their bodies (to eventually be used for walls) because of the constant fire coming their way.  The previous unit had begin patrolling only at night because of snipers, and because they didn’t own the daytime, IEDs controlled their night time patrols, thus relegating them to sitting in their FOBs for the last three weeks of their deployment awaiting relief.  The population was so allied with AQI that their children were sent out with black balloons to demarcate patrol locations so that insurgent mortars could target the U.S. Marines (even at grave risk to the children).

Operation Alljah was started, and the Marines went in hard (I am not linking the Wikipedia link on Operation Alljah because of know with certainty that much of the data is simply erroneous or mistaken and incomplete.  The link is essentially worthless).  HMMWVs with loud speakers were deployed to every Mosque in the city bellowing U.S. positions and propaganda.  Heavy and aggressive patrols were conducted, and heavy fires were employed any time any insurgent used weapons against the Marines, including everything from fire team and squad level weapons to combined arms.

Policing of the population was aggressive, ubiquitous and around the clock.  In order to address the vehicle-borne IED problem, the use of automobiles was prohibited within Fallujah proper until such time as security was established.  Concrete barricades were set up throughout the city, and census data was taken on the entire population, much of it at night so that the population was awakened to Marine presence in their homes.

Many local insurgents were killed, and also even more foreign fighters.  Insurgents from Chechnya, men with skin “as black as night,” and even “men with slanted eyes” were killed in Fallujah in the summer of 2007.  The city was locked down and the atmosphere made very uncomfortable for the population – until, that is, they began cooperating with the U.S. Marines Corps.  I know many more things that I simply cannot share concerning this operation, but things that I have communicated to Colonel Gian Gentile …

I am not at liberty to discuss the balance of the TTPs employed by the Marines in Fallujah 2007.  But if you think that I am over-reaching, consider Schmedlap’s comments (while not specific to Anbar, still representative of the reality versus the myth that has developed around the campaign in Iraq).

One thing that I think many people forget about Iraq (or maybe it wasn’t reported?) is that in 2007 and 2008 we were killing and capturing lots of people on a nightly basis. Protecting the populace was A priority. When speaking to the folks back home, in order to sell the war, perhaps we said that it was the priority. But on the ground, I do not recall a single Commander’s Update Brief spending any time at all discussing what we had done to protect anyone. We were focused on punching al-Qaeda in the nuts at every opportunity and dismantling their networks. The reconcilables got the message loud and clear that they could take money and jobs in return for cooperation, or they would die a swift death when we came knocking down their doors in the middle of the night. The rest of the populace made it clear to them that they should take the offer. The only protection that the population got from us was good fire discipline so that we did not kill non-combatants. We made it clear that the government intended to win this thing and we did not send that message by delivering governance or digging wells. We shot motherf******s in the face.  Pop-COIN blasphemers, your scripture is false teaching. Here is some truth:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; – Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (KJV)

It’s time to kill.

Who wins in the long run is something the Afghans themselves will have to work out.  We shouldn’t be siding with anyone right now.  All politics is local, and in Fallujah 2007, the ISF was told to go home.  They weren’ wanted, weren’t needed, and weren’t welcome.  The Marines didn’t trust them, and only slept around them with a Marine awake and standing duty, along with concertina wire between Marines and ISF.  On the other hand, the Marines worked seamlessly with the IPs.

I have exchanged e-mail with Tom Ricks, one of the priests of COIN, who also sees every event in Iraq as proof that AQ is coming back and Iraq is falling apart, explaining that Fallujah will never again accept AQ in their city.  Maybe the Diyala Province, maybe Mosul, but not Fallujah.  The IPs won’t allow it to happen.  It’s a local thing, and you would just have to know what the 2/6 Marines set into motion in order to understand why AQ can never go back there.  Ever.

Speaking of local, Tim Lynch explains for us in simple yet elegant terms what’s so problematic with this policy of engagement.

This “inspired” idea of using locals to provide security will fail because nobody responsible for it will get off the FOB to provide daily detailed supervision. I can’t stress enough the importance of daily, full time, supervision. The Skipper’s EOD program works because he provides daily, detailed supervision, while EOD programs elsewhere in the country languish.  CPT America is re-building the entire Provincial irrigation system because he provides daily, detailed supervision, while the same projects elsewhere in the country barely break ground.  If we can’t get the various government agencies to operate off of the FOB then there is only one viable option. Armed, outside the wire, experienced, contractors.

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

Tim is also in the news in The Star for recommending just such a program.  Go read it.  Now, as for a good example of COIN, The New York Times had just such a gem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same people who ordered the strike were there to explain it in the morning, just as I suggested should happen.  The same people who fight by night are there for the locals to look at in the morning.  And look into their eyes.  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.  Understanding the tribes, people, human terrain and other complicated aspects of the culture can come next.  In a tip of the hat to a withdrawal deadline, we are trying to get the cart before the horse.

Force projection … force projection … force projection.  It comes first.


I appreciate the attention given to this article at the U.S. Army’s site Stand-To.  A screen shot (with MWSnap) is shown below.

Winning in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

Ralph Peters penned a piece entitle Pick Your Tribes with the New York Post.  But more on Ralph’s views in a minute.  In our walkabout today, let’s first visit Bruce Rolston.  Contrasts and compares, he does.

Two respected Afghan bloggers, talking past each other. MK at the Inkspots, arguing for focussing (sic) on improving local justice systems instead of services:

Despite knowing this, and nearly a decade into the effort, we still struggle to set up even the simplest credible dispute resolution mechanisms. I don’t mean an elaborate and fully developed national justice system: I mean local adjudicative bodies that have local legitimacy that need to be backed by our (or where, possible, GIRoA) firepower to enforce their decisions and protect them from being assassinated.

This isn’t to suggest that military control of territory and population, building effective local security forces, or tackling corruption aren’t just as important (or more, depending phase of operations in a given area). But it seems that as we’ve come to realize that development assistance is of limited utility in winning Afghans over to our side, we’re a bit stymied as to what ‘effective governance’ means in concrete terms. Seems like solving local land disputes would be an excellent place to start.

In the other corner, Tim Lynch on staying away from dispute resolution and focussing on services instead:

The local people have every right to upset about the performance of the government in Kabul. But they have no interest in seeing any kind of central government which is strong enough to meddle in their affairs. An example, Afghans will go to great lengths to avoid having their problems brought into the legal system. Regardless of the crime be it murder or little boys stealing apples from a neighbor the Afghans know how to handle it and feel personally disgraced when the authorities step in to apply the rule of law. Their family business them becomes public and their problems known to people outside their clan which brings disgrace upon the sons of the family. They are going to bitch about the central government no matter who is in charge and how effective it becomes. The best we can do is concentrate on making regional government functional at basic things like irrigation, sanitation, health care delivery and other municipal services.

I’ll side with Tim any day, and I don’t think it’s so much a matter of talking past each other as it is they simply have different views.  We don’t all have to agree all of the time.  We’ll come back to this in a moment in our walkabout.  Next, let’s visit Bruce’s discussion of Kandahar in its present state.

Carl Forsberg and the Kagans sort out the tangle of armed Afghans working in and around Kandahar, and how the Karzai clan continues to tighten their grip independent of official government forces in the area.

The formation of a powerful conglomerate of PSCs under the political control of local powerbrokers like Ahmed Wali Karzai would undermine the long-term stability of southern Afghanistan and the strength of Afghanistan’s legitimate security institutions. There is a very real risk that these institutions will be relied on by the Karzais and their allies as the guarantors of Kandahar’s security. If the Kandahar Security Company were in fact to grow to 2,500 armed men as Ruhullah suggests (and this is certainly feasible) it would be more than twice the current size of the Afghan Uniformed Police in Kandahar, and would exceed the size of the expanded police force that ISAF and the MOI are planning to add to the city.

Ah.  There we see the thug and criminal Ahmed Wali Karzai again.  Recall next in our walkabout that I have discussed this bastard before.

In order to win Kandahar, we must not run from fights; we must destroy the drug rings (not the local farmers), and especially destroy the crime families, including killing the heads of the crime families; we must make it so uncomfortable for people to give them cuts of their money that they fear us more than they fear Karzai’s criminal brother; we must make it so dangerous to be associated with crime rings, criminal organizations, and insurgents that no one wants even to be remotely associated with them; and we must marginalize Karzai’s brother …

Anyone associated with drug rings, criminal activity or the insurgency must be a target, from the highest to the lowest levels of the organization, and this without mercy.  Completely without mercy.  There should be no knee-jerk reversion to prisons, because the corrupt judicial system in Afghanistan will only release the worst actors to perpetrate the worst on their opponents.  This robust force projection must be conducted by not only the SOF, but so-called general purpose forces (GPF).  The population needs to see the very same people conducting patrols and talking with locals that they see killing criminals and insurgents.  This is imperative.

Ah.  There is the issue of prisons, one that has proven problematic just as I said it would.  And Ahmed Karzai is someone to be marginalized, and whose fighters must be disarmed or killed.  Now for the home stretch in our walkabout.  Ralph Peters has some observations concerning picking tribes and exploiting the existing culture that may interest you.  But as I said above, I will side with Tim before anyone.  Ralph and I don’t always agree on everything, but I want to pick up on a few points he made.

Aid those already on your side, not your enemies: Our attempts to bribe our enemies with wells, make-work and welfare are doomed to failure. Reward your allies with aid projects; let the hostiles envy them — and figure it out on their own.

Unconditional aid to tribesmen who just want your butt gone won’t buy you lasting gratitude (that rarest human sentiment). Your generosity’s read as weakness, not goodness.

Which leads us to:

Your enemies must seek negotiations first: Olive branches are worthless against fanatics convinced they can win. If negotiations are to play a role, it can only be after you’ve pounded the insurgents so ferociously that they seek talks. If you move first, it’s read as desperation. Your enemies will act accordingly.

Finally, recall my warnings:

We can revert to the softer side of counterinsurgency if all of this seems too barbaric.  We can run from fights with the insurgents, we can continue to pour tens of millions of dollars into a failing and corrupt system, and we can continue to prop up a parasitic government.  But in the end, we must count the costs in lives, lost limbs, lost reputation, and national wealth.

Mark my words, do it clearly, and do it now.  We will go in and stay in as the strong horse, and we will force the conclusion that suits our interest, or we will lose the campaign.  If this is too brutal for some, then withdraw, but don’t send our warriors on a fool’s errand.  The leftist web sites will call me a war mongering, barbaric brute and sociopath who wants our Soldiers to violate the rules of war.  All manner of venom may come my way.  I don’t care.  I really don’t care.

Rarely are things so clear cut and measurable by metrics as this.  Again, count the costs.  Start now, and keep the data.  Count the men who die, the men who lose arms, legs, hearing and brain function due to IEDs, and take measure of the situation in Kandahar in the future (how “legitimate” is the government after our costly efforts in Kandahar?).  I will be proven right or wrong, but the best thing about putting prose down on paper is that it can be judged in the future.

Has Ralph been reading The Captain’s Journal?  Our current COIN strategy closely follows our international policy as of late.  Heap praise and largesse on your enemies, and pour derision and scorn on your “friends.”  This is exactly backwards.  Force projection requires that the hard aspects of COIN take place first, and the enemy will want to befriend you.  Don’t ever be first out of the gate to do this.  This is the way it works.  Any attempt to speed up or circumvent the process by making it seem more gentle and cultured than it really is will redound to defeat.  The tribes are a necessary but secondary aspect of the campaign.  Force projection comes first.

Reintegrating the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 10 months ago

From The New York Times:

MIAN POSHTEH, Afghanistan — The young Taliban prisoner was led blindfolded to a sweltering military tent, seated among 17 village elders and then, eyes uncovered, faced a chief accuser brandishing a document with the elders’ signatures or thumbprints.

Capt. Scott A. Cuomo, a United States Marine commander who was acting as the prosecutor, told the prisoner: “This letter right here is a sworn pledge from all of your elders that they’re vouching for you and that you will never support the Taliban or fight for the Taliban ever again.”

After a half-hour “trial,” the captain rendered the group’s judgment on the silent prisoner, Juma Khan, 23, whom the Marines had seized after finding a bomb trigger device, ammunition and opium buried in his yard. Mr. Khan’s father and grandfather, who was one of the elders, were among the group. “So on behalf of peace, your family, your grandfather,” Captain Cuomo solemnly said, “we’re going to let you go.”

Thus was justice dispensed on a recent Saturday evening, deep in the Taliban heartland of the Helmand River Valley, where the theory behind the American effort to “reintegrate” the enemy meets the ambiguous reality of a nearly decade-old war.

Captain Cuomo, a 32-year-old Annapolis graduate from Long Island who is not related to the New York political family, acknowledged the hazards of the trial and others like it unfolding in Afghanistan. “Do I know that Juma Khan is not going to turn back around and be the Taliban?” he said. “No.” Nonetheless the effort is proceeding.

Even as Washington and Kabul debate their plans to reconcile with senior members of the Taliban, military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan are reintegrating insurgent foot soldiers on their own. The reason is simple, Captain Cuomo said: While Marines are “trained to fight, and we don’t mind fighting, the problem with fighting is that it doesn’t bring stability to your home.”

Six days after Mr. Khan’s May 1 release, another Marine commander, Capt. Jason C. Brezler, got pledges from 25 former insurgents to sign up as police recruits in the northern Helmand village of Soorkano. A week later in Marja, where clashes between the Marines and the Taliban continue in the wake of an American offensive there in February, Lt. Col. Brian Christmas released two young men who admitted to fighting for the Taliban, after the pair and two elders signed pledges promising the men would not fight again.

Acting under military guidelines aimed at persuading low-level fighters to lay down their arms, commanders repeat the mantra that the United States will never kill its way to victory in Afghanistan. They say that in a counterinsurgency war intended to win over the population, reintegration is crucial because the Taliban are woven so deeply into the social fabric of the country.

Ridiculous mantra, this idea that we cannot kill our way to victory.  Now, it may be more complicated than that, where at least some cooperation from the population is necessary in order to identify the insurgents, but people cooperate for all sorts of reasons.  I reject the idea that poverty or disenfranchisement in and of itself creates insurgents.  There are countless poverty-stricken countries in the world where large scale insurgencies do not exist, Bangladesh being one of them.

Our experience in the Anbar Province demonstrates that the most effective order of things is for the insurgents themselves to decide to put down arms because it becomes too dangerous for them.  When it is certain death to continue the fight, the end is near.  In this case the end is nowhere to be found because the proper force projection has not been in effect.

If Juma Khan had decided on his own to reintegrate and had approached the U.S. Marines about doing so, then it would be more persuasive than this display, sincere though it is (on the part of the Marines).  Where has this ever happened?  It happened in the Anbar Province many times.  During Operation Alljah in Fallujah in 2007, the Marine brought such force to Fallujah that the foreign fighters died (or fled North to Mosul), while the indigenous insurgents gave up and returned home, many of them to al Qaim where local elders vouched for their future lawful conduct.

Both accounts involve local elders vouching and making promises, but it is only one instance of these two examples where the insurgents themselves approached the government or U.S. Marines.  We want to take the milestones in successful COIN and move them up in date to meet our own wishes without adequate commitment and forces.  It simply won’t work.

Revisiting Kamdesh: The Sellout of COP Keating and What it Can Teach Us

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 10 months ago

Greg Jaffe at The Washington Post penned an article on the buildup to the disaster at COP Keating that got little attention.  The entire history is worth study, but several quotes are lifted out (and certainly out of context) in order to make important observations that aren’t dissimilar to those I have made for four years.

Just before 6 a.m., more than 300 insurgents launched a massive attack on Bundermann’s remote outpost in the Kamdesh district of northeastern Afghanistan. By 6:30 three of Bundermann’s soldiers were dead, and the Apache attack helicopters he desperately wanted weren’t going to arrive for another half hour …

The outpost, surrounded by soaring mountains on all sides, was isolated and hard to defend. “It felt like we were living in the bottom of a Dixie cup,” one of Brown’s soldiers said …

Attacks on U.S. forces had increased every year since Keating was established in 2006, and by summer 2009 Brown concluded that the presence of U.S. troops was feeding the insurgency.  His study of the local rebel factions had led him to believe that a U.S. withdrawal from the area would split the insurgency …

Brown also asked for Sadiq’s “wisdom.” “We need assistance from leaders like you that are able to reach out and encourage the people of Kamdesh to cease the violence and oust the Taliban,” he wrote. He offered to meet with Sadiq whenever it was convenient and promised him protection …

The next morning, Afghan villagers approached Keating’s main gate and asked for permission to collect their dead from the base and a nearby village. Brown gave the Afghans some body bags and told them to stay off the high ground where the U.S. forces were still dropping bombs to take out snipers.

The next two days were spent packing up equipment and rigging the outpost’s remaining buildings with explosives. After nightfall on Oct. 6, a half dozen Chinook helicopters flew into Keating and hauled away the troops. Brown climbed on the last bird. As he was leaving, engineers triggered the delayed fuses on the explosives. Forty minutes later Keating was in flames. A B-1 bomber finished the job the next day.

Brown typed up an e-mail cataloguing mistakes he made in failing to build up the outpost’s defenses in the months before the planned withdrawal. He sent it to his boss, his fellow battalion commanders and the two-star general assigned to conduct an investigation of the attack. The letter of reprimand the general wrote to Brown closely tracked the e-mail.

Alone in his office a few weeks after the attack Brown re-read the letter he had sent to Sadiq in September. It made him cringe.

“I was playing to his ego. But reading it over, it sounds like I was kissing his ass from a position of weakness,” Brown said months later. He paused and exhaled. “We certainly weren’t operating from a position of strength.”

The importance of terrain has been an ongoing theme in our coverage of Kamdesh and Wanat, but in spite of the experiences at VPB Kahler at Wanat, the COP Keating Soldiers were left to tough it out in terrain that almost ensured their demise.  We are not a learning organization.  Moreover, the first close air support was at least one hour from the battle, and there was no artillery.  This shows once again that the campaign is underresourced.

The  notion that coalition presence was feeding the insurgency was the horrible and cowardly excuse proffered by the British commanders when they left Basra (the follow-on activity as you will recall was of the U.S. and ISF engaging in heavy battle to defeat the Shi’a militias while the British watched from their bases).  If Col. Brown had studied the history of Iraq as he had claimed, he would have more quickly dismissed the notion of the counterinsurgents being the fuel for the insurgency as mere fodder for withdrawal and defeat.

Finally, “ass kissing” is the about the best explanation possible for this pusillanimous letter to a loser like Sadiq.  The lesson of the Anbar Province is one winning from the position of strength (see also Col. MacFarland’s comments on Ramadi).  Force Projection, the importance of terrain, the importance of close air support and artillery, and the importance of the position of strength in counterinsurgency – these things are not only common themes here at The Captain’s Journal, they are the foundations of success.


Taliban Massing of Forces

Wanat Category

Kamdesh Category

The Anbar Narrative

Marine Force Protection in Garmsir?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

In the Afghanistan town of Darvishan, Garmsir District, an incident occurred between the townsfolk and the Marines.

Anti-American violence eased Wednesday in the southern Afghanistan town of Darvishan, where the Taliban fanned demonstrations following rumors of desecration of the Koran in a U.S.-led operation.

U.S. military officials said there was no truth to rumors that the Islamic holy book had been mistreated, but protests had turned deadly before U.S. and Afghan officials met with community and tribal elders to diffuse tensions and security forces discouraged potential demonstrators from entering the town.

Six Afghan civilians were killed about 20 miles south of Darvishan when a large group of villagers heading for the Garmsir District center failed to heed repeated warnings to turn back and tried to force their way through a military checkpoint, U.S. Marine officers said.

One person was shot by a Marine and five others were shot by Afghan soldiers, officials said.

An Afghan policeman was critically wounded Wednesday when suspected Taliban gunmen ambushed him on the outskirts of Darvishan as he drove to work.

“It was generally calm here today,” Lt. Col. John McDonough, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, said at a staff briefing at Combat Outpost Delhi, on the edge of Darvishan. “Let’s work to keep it that way.”

U.S. Marines were pelted with rocks and sprayed with gunfire Tuesday in Darvishan as Taliban-led rioting roiled the town, which is located in southern Helmand province. One Afghan gunman was killed by a Marine sniper. No Marines were killed or seriously injured.

Pelted with rocks and sprayed with gunfire.  A followup Reuters report was a little more specific concerning the circumstances surrounding this event.

The incident, which took place on Wednesday but was not reported until Friday, was the second demonstration to turn violent in two days in Helmand’s Garmsir district, suggesting mounting civil unrest in a part of the country where U.S. Marines under NATO command made major advances last year.

“ANA and ISAF forces warned a crowd of between 200 and 400 assembled civilians to keep its distance from the outpost,” a NATO statement said, referring to the Afghan National Army and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

ISAF is manned in the area by U.S. Marines.

“A number of civilians in the crowd disregarded instructions, resulting in forces firing warning shots. Deliberative escalation of force procedures were followed, but one individual continued to ignore instructions, striking members of the combined force with a stick,” the statement said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale said both Afghan troops and the U.S. Marines subsequently fired at the crowd. An investigation was under way to determine which force’s bullets had struck each the five people who were wounded.

Civilian casualties caused by NATO troops are one of the most emotive issues in Afghanistan’s eight-year-old conflict.

The incident came a day after another violent demonstration in Garmsir. During that earlier demonstration, U.S. Marines say they fired only at a sniper, who had shot into their base. Afghan officials say Afghan troops killed eight protesters and wounded 13 who were trying to storm a government building.

Afghan and U.S. officials say the initial unrest was prompted by rumors that U.S. troops had defaced a holy book during a raid. U.S. and Afghan officials met with locals in the area to restore calm and deny the rumors in strong terms.

“A lot of this came from a massive Taliban-initiated hoax,” Breasseale said. “People started behaving dangerously and unfortunately things like this happen.”

Dawood Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand governor Gulab Mangal, said Wednesday’s demonstration had taken place outside a base where U.S. and Afghan officials were discussing the unrest from the day before.

He said Taliban infiltrators in Wednesday’s crowd fired at the U.S. and Afghan troops, prompting the Afghans to return fire. The NATO statement made no mention of shots fired from the crowd.

Or more correctly, it appears that there were at least two different incidents similar in nature.  Either way, several things jump out of the reports and I would offer the following observations concerning the events and the Marines’ reaction.  First, there is nothing new about insurgent-instigated chaos.  This kind of thing occurred in Iraq too, and in the Anbar Province, it was dealt a quick blow whenever and wherever it happened.

Second, the Taliban feel utterly protected by being amidst the population.  While it may be backed with all of the nice intentions mankind can muster, the unintended consequences of less robust rules of engagement are that more noncombatants die.  Many, if not most, of these townsfolk would never have been there if they had believed that they were in mortal danger, and the Taliban wouldn’t have been there to instigate the event(s) if we were giving chase to them and they were running for their lives.

When townsfolk can pelt the Marines with rocks and Taliban fighters can run amok in the crowds, U.S. forces are not respected.  It’s an ominous sign – that the most feared fighting force on earth, the 911 forces of America, the most deadly, rapid and mobile strike forces of any nation anywhere, can be pelted with rocks and hit with sticks without any fear whatsoever.  This isn’t likely to ensure belief by the population that they will be “protected” by our forces.  So much for effective counterinsurgency viz. Field Manual FM 3-24.  Oh, and as for attempting to find out who actually shot who in this “investigation,” we have yet another instance of flag and staff level officers trying to micromanage the campaign.  Let me state in the clearest possible terms – IT DOESN’T MATTER.

As for more robust rules of engagement, hearken back to Recon by Fire and the informative video I posted more than two years ago.

Mass in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

From The New York Times:

Trucks gayly painted with hearts and doves jam up at crowded wayside bazaars. Billboards advertise cell phones and advise drivers to keep their donkeys off the road.

It’s not readily evident that this is probably the world’s most dangerous highway, a prime target for Taliban insurgents attempting to sever a vital, 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) artery with ambushes, executions and roadside bombs.

Widely seen as symbolic of Afghanistan’s progress and security, or lack of it, Highway 1 suffered a dramatic increase in bomb attacks in 2009, but also a marked improvement along a critical 90-kilometer (55-mile) stretch after U.S. forces arrived in strength.

”Last year the insurgents were very successful in interdicting convoys. They can’t stage that type of attack anymore,” says Lt. Col. Kimo Gallahue, who commands a U.S. battalion guarding the highway just south of Kabul. ”Since August we’ve been ripping through the enemy. Mass matters.”

The situation is starkly different as the highway veers farther south into the Taliban heartland. Overall, roadside bomb attacks have risen by more than 50 percent — from 308 in 2008 to 469 last year. But 394 were discovered before they detonated, up from 254 the previous year, according to a command spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Vician.

Since the U.S. invasion of 2001, this vital land link between the country’s two largest cities has been hotly and violently contested. About 35 percent of Afghanistan’s population lives within 50 kilometers (30 miles) of the Kandahar-to-Kabul stretch, giving weight to the notion that ”as the highway goes, so goes the country.”

Battered by war and weather, the road got a $250 million makeover five years ago, halving the 12-hour, 483-kilometer (301-mile) drive between Kabul to Kandahar which have the two largest NATO bases. The U.S., Japan and Saudi Arabia then followed with an overhaul of the stretch from Kandahar to the western city of Herat.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar has good reason to target the road, says Col. David B. Haight, commander of U.S. forces in Wardak and Logar provinces which adjoin Kabul.

”If you were Omar, wouldn’t you want to attack the country’s most strategic highway, an icon of commerce economic progress? He sees traffic on the road and he doesn’t like it. He has tried to disrupt it but he can’t stop it,” Haight said.

”There’s never a day off. That road is very critical,” he says, noting that the U.S. military has intercepts from Omar to subordinates stressing the importance of the two provinces because of their locations along or near the highway.

In 2008, the Taliban did unleash intense strikes against the highway’s southern approach to Kabul where Gallahue’s troops now operate. In a series of spectacular attacks, three U.S. soldiers died in an ambush, one of them dragged off and mutilated beyond recognition, and in a separate action an entire 50-vehicle convoy ferrying supplies for U.S. forces was set ablaze and seven of its drivers beheaded.

That year, the U.S. military deployed a skeleton force of some 600 troops to stem a resurgent Taliban at the gates of Kabul in Wardak and Logar. This was boosted to more than 4,000 in early 2009, with seemingly significant effect.

This report is noteworthy for the roads and logistics issues which we have discussed, but more to the point, mass matters in contemporary counterinsurgencies.  In the two most significant counterinsurgency campaigns in our lifetime, increased force projection was needed as I have advocated for three and a half years.  So much for the notion that the large footprint model turns the population against the U.S. and creates more insurgents than we kill.  There may be some turnaround point where this occurs, but we have yet to test that theory in real life situations.

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