Archive for the 'Force Projection' Category

“Everyone thought the Taliban would not fight!”

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

Dutch troops deploying to Afghanistan last fall had a surprise awaiting them.

TARIN KOT, Afghanistan — Lt. Col. Wilfred Rietdijk, a 6-foot-7 blond Dutchman, took command of his military’s reconstruction team in the southern Afghan district of Deh Rawood in September. Tranquil and welcoming, it seemed like the perfect place for the Netherlands’ mission to help rebuild this country.

Intelligence reports indicated that the district was free of the Taliban, allowing the soldiers greater freedom of movement than elsewhere in Uruzgan province.

“We could go out on foot,” Rietdijk said.

Reconstruction teams, escorted by a platoon of soldiers, fanned across the fertile countryside, building bridges over streams and canals, repairing irrigation systems, and distributing books and pens to local schools.

But the day after Rietdijk arrived in Afghanistan, his field officers reported hundreds of villagers suddenly fleeing parts of Deh Rawood. “Within a few weeks, everybody was gone,” Rietdijk said. “We didn’t understand why.”

Now the Dutch say they realize what happened. Even as the soldiers believed they had won the support of the local population, the Taliban had secretly returned to reclaim Deh Rawood, home district of the group’s revered leader, Mohammad Omar. It took only a few months for the Taliban to undermine nearly six years of intelligence work by U.S. forces and almost two years of goodwill efforts by Dutch soldiers

As Hogeveen was settling into his armor-plated metal bunker at the main Dutch base, Camp Holland, near the provincial capital of Tarin Kot, Taliban fighters were evicting local police from three of Deh Rawood’s most strategic checkpoints. They bribed officers to abandon one post, kidnapped the son of a policeman at a second checkpoint and attacked the third, sending officers fleeing. They turned a local school into their headquarters and stocked it with weapons and ammunition, Hogeveen said he learned later.

Then they lay in wait and ambushed the first unsuspecting Dutch convoy they spotted.

“They were better prepared than anyone led us to believe,” Hogeveen said.

Hogeveen’s troops and the Taliban skirmished almost daily.

In mid-December, fighters yanked a 60-year-old woman and her 7-year-old grandson off a bus in Deh Rawood. They interrogated the pair and, after finding a U.S. dollar bill in the boy’s pocket, accused the two of spying and executed them in front of the other passengers and bystanders, according to accounts by Afghan human rights groups, news services and Dutch officers.

Meanwhile, on the advice of U.S. and Dutch intelligence officers, Hogeveen prepared a battle plan for routing the Taliban: “The intelligence guys said, ‘If you go in with large forces, they will leave,’ ” Hogeveen recalled in an interview.

He sent larger contingents of heavily armored troops into the heart of the Taliban stronghold in northern Deh Rawood, a jumble of mud houses connected by mazes of narrow lanes.

“Everyone thought the Taliban would not fight,” Hogeveen said. “The intelligence was wrong.”

Today, after 2 1/2 months of often intense combat, Dutch troops have reclaimed some of the villages of Deh Rawood and are helping villagers repair the damage caused by weeks of fighting between NATO forces and the Taliban. They have also started many new projects and are working more closely with tribal leaders, the Afghan army and local police to provide better security for the residents.

Even so, the Dutch say, the Taliban forces have merely relocated to the fringes of the district, and thousands of villagers remain too frightened to return to their homes.

The resilience of the Taliban, a shortage of NATO forces and the Dutch philosophy that the Afghan people need to take charge of their own lives have prompted the Dutch to adopt a precarious strategy for Uruzgan: evict the Taliban from small enclaves while ceding the surrounding territory to them in hopes that neighboring communities will oust them on their own.

David Galula’s ideas – a man who is a virtual unknown in his country of origin, and who is the doctrinal father of the counterinsurgency manual FM 3-24 – are being implemented in Afghanistan.  Galula advocated targeted action in select areas, with resources moved as needed.  I have long advocated seeing Galula’s ideas as useful and helpful, but within their proper context.  But his campaign in Algeria was far different than the war on terror we fight today, on a least (but not limited to) the following fronts.

  1. The global insurgency characteristic of the campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Africa and Chechnya and other places, thrives on a transnational ideological movement.  Whether response to globalization or for religious motivation (I advocate the later), borders mean nothing to international jihadists.  David Galula fought a campaign in Algeria; today the U.S. fights a campaign around the world with immediate flow and communication of personnel, ideas, intelligence and weapons.
  2. Modern technology has introduced standoff weapons to the battle space such as IEDs.  This becomes a force multiplier for the insurgency.
  3. Religious ideology has brought terror and suicide (or martyrdom) missions into the battle space.  Hence, rather than vying for good governance and protection of the population, the insurgency uses brutality and torture as weapons of intimidation, preventing the need to take the subsequent steps of a typical 1960’s style insurgency of providing state-like functions and services.
  4. Popular sentiment at home among the public will prevent the U.S. military from ever again having ten to twelve years to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign.  For a COIN campaign to last this long would require the support of three consecutive presidential administrations, obviously an exigency which stands almost no chance of coming to pass.
  5. In addition to an insurgency being a function of counter-forces within a nation state, they can be (and have been in the case of Iran) funded, supported and trained by nation states to undermine the stability of the host country.

There are many more reasons that I have detailed in past articles, but these five will suffice.  Again, Galula’s ideas are worth studying (and implementing in certain circumstances), but inadequate to form the basis for a comprehensive COIN doctrine.

The “whack-a-mole” brand of counterinsurgency didn’t work in Iraq, and will not work in Afghanistan.  For COIN operations to succeed, two elements must be present as we have learned in Iraq.  First, the force size must be right.  If there aren’t enough troops to take, hold and rebuild, the campaign will fail in the brave new world of the global religious insurgency.  Second, having the right force size in itself does nothing to ensure the proper use of those troops.  The corollary or companion axiom for force size is force projection.  The circumstances on the ground, with the population being too afraid to return to their homes due to terror, and the loss of years of effort at becoming trusted for good governance, proves the contrary of the Dutch strategy.  Pushing the insurgency into surrounding areas doesn’t work, either short term or long term.

The Dutch contingency represents the wrong strategy, while U.S. forces have recently been documented doing the right thing with too few troops in a stunning New York Times Magazine article.

OVER THE LAST two years, the Americans have steadily increased their presence in Kunar province, fanning out to the small platoon-size outposts that have become the signature of the new counterinsurgency doctrine in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Korengal Outpost, nicknamed the KOP, was built in April 2006 on the site of a former timber mill and motel. The soldiers of Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team live there in dusty tents and little wooden huts. They now have hot food and a small chow tent with an Internet linkup and a few phones for calling home. But the place was protected by not much more than concertina wire and sentries. Nearly every time I arrived at the KOP our helicopter was greeted by sniper fire or the dushka — a Russian-made antiaircraft gun.

Dan Kearney was essentially lord of the Korengal Valley. A self-described Georgia army brat, he grew up idolizing his warrior dad, Frank Kearney, and wanted to move in his father’s world of covert and overt operations. (His father is now a lieutenant general in Special Operations command.)

But as hard as Iraq was, he said, nothing was as tough as the Korengal. Unlike in Iraq, where the captains and lieutenants could let down their guard in a relatively safe, fortified operating base, swapping stories and ideas, here they had no one to talk to and were almost as vulnerable to enemy fire inside the wire as out. Last summer, insurgents stormed one of the bases in a nearby valley and wounded 16.

This admission from Kearney – who is undoubtedly a good officer – is telling.  The Anbar province saw combat outposts, distributed operations, countersnipers, and higher casualties well before the balance of Iraq.  It is fair to say that the surge and security plan was in part modeled after the Anbar campaign.  But while Marines (and some Army and National Guard) in Anbar were taking casualties, some forces in Iraq were well protected in safe FOBs.  The reason, in other words, that Kearney saw Afghanistan as far different from Iraq is because he was not deployed in the Anbar province.  It isn’t too long ago that Marines were dying by the score from sniper rounds and room clearing in Anbar.  But Kearney is certainly seeing his share of kinetic operations now.

ON OCT. 19, Kearney and Battle Company were air assaulted into the insurgents’ backyard for a mission that many thought insane. It was called Rock Avalanche and would last about six days. One of its main targets was the village of Yaka China.

Kearney, being the good soldier, tried to pump up his boys with the promise that they would be going after insurgents who had killed their friends and whose grizzled faces were plastered on their bad-guy family-tree wall at the KOP. They would upset the guerrillas’ safe haven and their transit routes from Pakistan. They would persuade the villagers to stop harboring the bad guys by offering an $11 million road project that had just been approved by NATO and Kabul and would be built by the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team. And they’d complete the “human terrain mapping” that is part of the new counterinsurgency doctrine — what families dominate, who’s married, who’s feuding, are there divisions to be exploited?

It was a lot to ask of young soldiers: play killer, cultural anthropologist, hearts-and-minds winner and then killer again. Which is why, just hours before the mission was to begin, some soldiers were smearing black-and-green war paint on their faces when their sergeant shouted: “Take it off. Now!” Why? They’d frighten the villagers.

It seemed a moot point as Rock Avalanche got under way. Apache gunships were scanning the ridges for insurgents. Other helicopters were dropping off more soldiers. An unmanned drone was whining overhead as it sent infrared video feeds to a large screen back at the battalion’s headquarters, Camp Blessing, six miles north of the KOP.

Almost immediately, high on a mountainside looking down on Yaka China, Kearney had to play God. In a ditch to his left, Jesse Yarnell, a young intelligence officer, along with John, an Afghan interpreter, were intercepting insurgents on their two-way radios saying, “We see them, we’re going to wait.”

“They’re right down there!” said Kevin Caroon as he gazed out of his night vision. Caroon, from Connecticut and a father of two, was an Air Force JTAC — the joint terminal attack controller who talks the combat pilots onto their targets. “See that? Two people moving south 400 meters away from us,” Caroon said, pointing down the mountain face. More insurgents were located nearby.

“Sir, what do you want to do?” Caroon asked Kearney.

“I want them dead,” Kearney said.

“Engage them?”

“Yes. Take ’em out.”

Caroon radioed the pilot his instructions, “On-scene commander’s intent is to engage.” And that was it.

A sudden wail pierced the night sky. It was Slasher, an AC-130 gunship, firing bullets the size of Coke bottles. Flaming shapes ricocheted all around the village. Kearney was in overdrive. The soldiers back at the KOP were radioing in that the drone was tracking 10 men near the tree line. Yarnell was picking up insurgent radio traffic. “They’re talking about getting ready to hit us,” someone said. The pilot could see five men, one entering a house, then, no, some were in the trees, some inside, and then, multiple houses. He wanted confirmation — were all these targets hostile? Did Kearney have any collateral-damage concerns? Cursing, Kearney told them to engage the men outside but not to hit the house. The pilots radioed back that men had just run inside. No doubt there would be a family. Caroon reminded Kearney that Slasher had only enough fuel to stay in position for 10 more minutes.

“What do you want to do, sir?” Caroon asked him.

Kearney radioed his soldiers back at the KOP to contact his boss, Lt. Col. Bill Ostlund. Ostlund, a Nebraska social scientist who could switch effortlessly from aggressive bomber to political negotiator talking family values with Afghan tribal elders, was in the crowded tactical-operations room at Camp Blessing watching the drone’s video feed and getting the same intelligence. He signed off on collateral damage, and Kearney turned to Caroon: “Take out the compound. And anyone that comes out.”

Flaming rockets flashed through the sky. Thunder rumbled and echoed through the valley. Then there was a pause. Slasher asked Caroon whether the insurgents were still talking. Kearney shouted over to Yarnell in his ditch, “You picking anything up?” Nothing. More spitting rockets.

The night seemed incomprehensible and interminable. Slasher departed and Gunmetal — an Apache helicopter — swept in. Radio communication kept breaking down. At one point the crew of Gunmetal, sensing no hostile intent, refused Kearney’s orders to fire. Then suddenly Gunmetal was rocketing at figures scattering for cover. Then Slasher was back in the sky doing more “work.” In the predawn light Bone — the nickname for the B-1 bomber that seemed to be the soldiers’ favorite — winged in and dropped two 2,000-pound bombs above the village. Finally, around dawn, a weary Kearney, succumbing to gallows humor, adrenaline and exhaustion, said: “O.K., I’ve done my killing for the week. I’m ready to go home.”

Kearney estimated that they killed about 20 people, adding: “I’m not gonna lie. Some are probably civilians.”

In the logic of war, the best antidote for the menacing ghostliness of the ambushing enemy is killing and knowing you’ve killed them. The soldiers in the Korengal almost never had that kind of satisfaction. Any insurgents, if they were killed, would be buried fast, and all that was left in their wake were wounded civilians. That morning, after a long night of fighting, was no different. Within an hour or so, Lt. Matt Piosa, an earnest, 24-year-old West Point grad, and his patrol were in Yaka China. They radioed that the village elders were asking to bury their dead. They’d also collected wounded civilians. The tally was bad — 5 killed and 11 wounded, all of them women, girls and boys.

Human terrain mapping, anthropologists, provincial reconstruction teams, and all of the things that make classical COIN advocates happy.  The next installment should be theme parks for the kiddies.  But this dissipates in the face of kinetic operations that need more troops.  The pretext to successful reconstruction, I have discussed before, is force projection and security.

To be clear about the civilian casualties, it occurs to me that the journalist with the NYT Magazine doesn’t understand the nature of war.  Her clinical perceptions hopefully didn’t survive several weeks in Afghanistan.  I have clearly advocated ROE that holds first in importance the protection of U.S. forces rather than the implementation of international law.  All other things take secondary or even tertiary importance.  I am not concerned about neither ROE problems nor the potential loss of noncombatant support for the campaign in this specific instance.

However, the concern appropriate to this incident is the use of air power and what role it plays.  I have also advocated air power in COIN, but for the purpose of protecting U.S. forces and providing acceleration to the campaign.  I do not advocate air power as a replacement for ground forces.  Air power should be used as a force multiplier, not force replacement.

Captain Kearney knows how to conduct kinetic operations and work the population.  Captain Kearney doesn’t have enough troops.  With the narcotic influence of classical COIN doctrine which claims that we have ten to twelve years, and in which it is acceptable to push the insurgency to different locations rather than kill or capture them, the strategic malaise in the Afghanistan campaign continues unabated.

The campaign needs more forces, more force projection, and strong leadership.  This kind of campaign belongs to regular, active duty Army and Marine infantry, not air power (which is simply a force multiplier) or state-side COIN specialists – and certainly not NATO intransigence.  Captain Kearney and his men need reinforcements, and NATO command is holed in FOBs wondering what their public back home thinks.

Lingering Arguments for the Small Footprint Model of Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 2 months ago

The Small Wars Journal editors discuss the views of Mike Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations / low intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities, concerning the campaign in Afghanistan.

The senior civilian adviser to the defense secretary on special operations says the key to success in Iraq and Afghanistan is through “the indirect approach” — working “by, with and through” host-nation forces — rather than “surges” of U.S. troops.

“Insurgencies have to be won by local capacity,” Mike Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities, told a group of defense reporters in Washington on Feb. 6.

Because “it typically takes a decade or more” to achieve victory in a counterinsurgency, Vickers said, “a key measure of success” for the “supporting country” — in this case, the U.S. — is whether domestic political support for the mission can be sustained for such an extended period.

This view runs parallel to the special forces command views and talking points for Pakistan’s problems (see The Special Forces Plan for Pakistan: Mistaking the Anbar Narrative), and is exactly what I would expect a champion of special forces operations to advocate.  But it is difficult to fathom that there are any advocates of the small footprint model remaining, especially after witnessing the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past half decade.  The worn out talking point about COIN taking ten years also ignores the rapidity of change in U.S. politics, something we have discussed before.  It might be the case that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq through another ten years and that Iraq will remain a protectorate of the U.S. for some time into the future.  But this presence will not include constant constabulary operations – or else the force presence will lose popular support.  The notion that any COIN campaign which includes losses from active kinetic operations can maintain popular support over two and a half Presidential administrations simply ignores the realities of American politics.

Further, the small footprint model of COIN (a) is the reason the Afghanistan campaign is languishing to begin with, and (b) almost lost Operation Iraqi Freedom prior to the surge.  Rather than see the surge as a subset of ideas that can work only under certain circumstances, it should be seen as a subset of the larger doctrine of force projection that won the Anbar campaign almost prior to the surge.

Counterinsurgency will never be the same as it was even twenty years ago.  The advent of religious motivation, standoff weapons (such as IEDs), transnational cultural movements, and instantaneous communications and intelligence-gathering through technology, has forever changed the face of low intensity warfare and terrorism.  Even Vickers mentions the situation in Pakistan in troubled language, saying:

“The situation in Pakistan is very worrisome,” he said. “It’s getting worse in Pakistan.”

The Pashtun tribal belt along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has become a safe haven for al-Qaida’s senior leadership, according to Vickers.

“Al-Qaida’s goals remain to catalyze a global Islamic insurgency against the West and to carry out spectacular attacks against the West and the United States in particular,” he said. “And there really has been no diminishment in those goals … But in the past year-and-a-half or so, there has been an improvement in their capacity to do so as they’ve enjoyed greater sanctuary in western Pakistan.”

Vickers has neatly separated the two problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan, a mistake of huge proportions (I have elsewhere argued that the fates of these two countries are inextricably tied together).  Vickers should be as concerned about Afghanistan as he is about Pakistan.  They are the same campaign.

The focus on personalities and high value targets, special forces operations, and overly heavy reliance on indigenous forces is the Rumsfeld model of COIN.  It is a proven loser.  Standing up the Iraqi and Afghan armies will take time, as will reconstruction and building of infrastructure.  Security is the pretext for the success of either, and this security can only be provided with force projection.  Hope married to bad doctrine is not a plan.

Planning for the Spring Offensive in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 2 months ago

The News in Pakistan is reporting some interesting developments in the recent engagement of some high value targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

PESHAWAR: Following unconfirmed reports of killing of a high-profile al-Qaeda commander Abu Laith al-Libi, there are now rumours that an American al-Qaeda militant Adam Gadahn, also known as Azzam al-Amriki, had been killed in the alleged Predator attack by the US on a house in Mirali, North Waziristan, a few days back.

32-year-old Adam Gadahn, who is American citizen belonging to southern California, has been accused by the US of praising the perpetrators of September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and attending al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal areas.

According to sources, American officials who are yet to publicly confirm the killing of Abu Laith al-Libi, had reportedly sharing information with western media that most likely another most wanted figure, Adam Gadahn, has also been killed in the air strike by the CIA-operated unmanned drone on a house in Khushali Torikhel village near Mirali town.

According to sources, the American al-Qaeda militant, who has been reportedly spending much of his time in Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, had reached Mirali for an important meeting with other senior al-Qaeda commanders for planning the so-called spring offensive against US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.

However, there were no details whether he arrived in the town when a house reportedly housing some senior al-Qaeda operatives including Abu Laith al-Libi, was blitzed. US military officials based in Afghanistan are reportedly collecting details about those killed in the attack on the house and in this regard two of their spy planes continued flying over the same area even after the tragic incident.

Local tribesmen, who were kept at bay by hundreds of armed militants from visiting the house until all the bodies, mostly dismembered, were retrieved, said that US spy planes might have taken pictures of the entire rescue operation as well as of the funeral ceremony.

Like US officials, Pakistani authorities have been constantly keeping silence over what had happened in their jurisdictions. It may be recalled that the US State Department had offered US$ one million reward for capture of Adam Gadahn.

However, some military officials felt that declaring Gadahn as dead in the Mirali incident, the US wanted him to speak for his defence or make some telephone calls so that they target him like rest of al-Qaeda operatives.

The Captain’s Journal is going on record declaring Adam Gadahn to be completely irrelevant to the global war on terror.  The normally clear-headed Threats Watch is focusing on the person of Gadahn, as is the Jawa Report.  We have also focused on individuals, as in Baitullah Mehsud: The Most Powerful Man in Waziristan, but only to the extent that it bears on political and cultural movements and broad strategic analysis that points directly to necessary countermeasures by the U.S.  This silly focus on so-called “high value targets” and special operations to capture or kill them is a waste of resources and energies.  The issue in counterinsurgency is not the personalities, but the people.  This is why special operations cannot win counterinsurgencies.  The recruitment pool never dries up unless force projection provides the security for cultural amelioration and reconstruction to become effective.

Let’s provide a case in point.  The BBC is providing us with an account of why funds for reconstruction isn’t working in Afghanistan, once again giving an example of the need for force projection in counterinsurgency.

Journalist Zaki Shahamat believes Nato should put more money into provinces which have stability.

I have seen dramatic changes in my country since Nato arrived but the changes haven’t been balanced or spread equally throughout the provinces in this country.

It is those provinces where forces are stationed and where there is great turmoil which seem to get more money and reconstruction. Provinces which have seen less turmoil have also seen less funding.

The policy has been to reconstruct unstable areas to provide security. I think this has failed.

There are many reports that the Taleban are approaching Kabul. Another neighbouring province, Wardak, also has a strong Taleban presence.

My family live in Ghazni province and it experienced increased lawlessness. Last year South Korean aid workers were abducted in Ghazni. The Taleban are present but they operate as criminals. The real problems are in the outlying districts.

People who travel from the centre of the province to the districts have to pay – sometimes with their money, their cars, their property and sometimes with their lives.

Nato forces operate mainly in the centre of the province. They can’t and don’t do much for the people outside.

Monies to provinces and areas that are lawless and have no security (due to lack of force projection) go to waste, as does the expensive and time consuming targeting of personalities in the Jihad.  Counterinsurgency is not as simple as throwing money around and sending a JDAM into an enemy home.

But there is something divulged in the press release (other than the useless and boring report about Adam Gadahn) that makes it entirely worthwhile.  It is that the alleged meeting took place to plan the Taliban spring offensive against NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, once again underlining our own analysis of dual Taliban fronts– one in Afghanistan and the other in Pakistan.  This is important intelligence analysis, and again runs directly contrary to the position of Major General Rodriguez and his intelligence apparatus who claim otherwise.  Listening to the details irrespective of the emotional hype has its rewards.

Taliban Continue Fronts in Pakistan and Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 2 months ago

In U.S. Intelligence Failures: Dual Taliban Campaigns, we provided the analysis showing that there has been a split in the Taliban organization with Baitullah Mehsud (or By’atullah Mahsoud) the leader of the Pakistan wing and Mullah Mohammed Omar the leader of the Afghanistan wing.  Taliban insurgency is planned for Afghanistan, and an insurrection is planned for Pakistan.  This analysis, proven correct, was directly contrary to the analysis given by Army Major General David Rodriguez who claimed that the front in Pakistan would prevent the Taliban from conducting a “spring offensive” in Afghanistan in 2008.  But Mullah Mohammed Omar has recently said through a spokesman that the Taliban doesn’t align themselves with the fight in Pakistan.  Their’s is an Afghani struggle.

Mehsud’s reach extends far throughout Pakistan.  Only yesterday, the port city of Karachi saw combat that had its roots in Mehsud’s plans for Pakistan.  “At least three members of Jundullah (Army of God) were killed in the clash with police and paramilitary forces. Two policemen also died. One of the dead militants was the suspected leader of the cell, Qasim Toori, who was wanted in connection with previous deadly attacks in Pakistan.  Jundullah was founded in the South Waziristan tribal area in 2004 and is now led by Pakistani Taliban Baitullah Mehsud and Tahir Yuldashev, head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. In recent weeks, Jundullah has become estranged from the main Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar, who insists that militant activities should be confined to Afghanistan, and not directed against Pakistan.  A senior police officer told Asia Times Online soon after the militants’ hideout in a residential area had been seized, “I was stunned watching so much weaponry [being used], ranging from RPGs [rocket propelled grenades] to light machine guns. It appeared they were preparing for a war.”

Preparing for war indeed.  Mehsud recently laid out his plans for Musharraf and Pakistan.  “We will teach him a lesson that will be recorded in the pages of history in letters of gold. The crimes of these murderers, who were acting at Bush’s command, are unforgivable. Soon, we will take vengeance upon them for destroying the mosques. The pure land of Pakistan does not tolerate traitors. They must flee to America and live there. Here, Musharraf will live to regret his injustice towards the students of the Red Mosque. Allah willing, Musharraf will suffer great pain, along with all his aides. The Muslims will never forgive Musharraf for the sin he committed.”  Just to make the global aspirations of the Taliban clear, he continues: “We want to eradicate Britain and America, and to shatter the arrogance and tyranny of the infidels. We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

In addition to cross-border operations, the connection between the Afghanistan and Pakistan goes deeper.  There is a symbiotic connection of the Pakistani ports to the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan in that Afghanistan is land-locked and dependent on supply routes through Pakistan.  Mehsud’s forces have begun to effectively target these supply routes.

Their latest target was a supply convoy outside the town of Dera Ismail Khan on the Indus Highway, one of Pakistan’s main arteries.

“They managed to single out the most important lorries, removed the drivers and then vanished the consignment lock stock and barrel,” said the official.

“Among the booty they discovered trucks carrying cargos of pristine 4×4 military vehicles, fitted with the most modern communications and listening technology,” he added.

The official added that Mehsud’s gunmen lacked the expertise to operate the equipment. So they enlisted the help of Uzbek and other foreign militants who are based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas lining the north-west frontier.

In Afghanistan U.S. forces are both battling a Taliban insurgency and attempting to rebuild infrastructure and provide jobs.  But it is difficult in insurgent-held territory.  “This has been a Taliban area for years,” said Lt. Col. Dave Woods, who commands U.S. Forces in Paktia, one of the eastern provinces in Afghanistan which shares a small slice of border with Pakistan.  Roadside bombs in this area have killed two American soldiers, wounded more than 60, and destroyed as many as 30 military vehicles. They are often pressure plate devices made of anti-tank mines, sometimes stacked two or three high to create more force. They are planted on the very dirt roads the U.S. military hopes to rebuild, to improve the lives of the villagers here and turn them against the Taliban.

Already, 400 local men have been put to work. They line one main road, armed with shovels. U.S. commanders admit the work is labor intensive for a reason.  “We’re giving these men an opportunity to work this winter versus going to Pakistan or put in IEDs,” said Woods, seen at left talking to CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick. He believes his most powerful weapon is the ability to provide jobs. “It’s something the Taliban can’t do.” The workers are paid five dollars a day. The Taliban tried to stop the project, issuing threats over its radio station and through “night letters”, which appeared on residents’ doorsteps, warning that them and their families would be killed if they participated. But the men showed up for work anyway. In the months ahead, the road will be paved. It is an important trade route.

Contrary to the notion that the Taliban have stood down due to the winter weather, the tactics of intimidation and IEDs are being implemented by the Taliban in a winter so cold that as many as 300 Afghanis have recently died from exposure.  Taliban violence continues throughout Afghanistan.  Targets of the violence continue to be the Afghanis who work to construct infrastructure.

Taliban insurgents beheaded four Afghan road-workers in the northeast of the country after their families failed to pay a ransom for their release, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.

Afghanistan has seen a sharp rise in violence over the past two years as Taliban insurgents have stepped up their fight to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign troops. Taliban insurgents have often targeted workers on government and foreign-backed infrastructure projects …

More than 6,000 people were killed last year in Afghanistan, many of them civilians, the worst year of violence since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 for failing to give up al Qaeda leaders in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The violence against NATO supplies is not limited to the Taliban in Pakistan; these routes are in danger in Afghanistan.

Roadside bombings and a suicide attack have killed three people and wounded nine others in southern Afghanistan.

Police say a suicide bomber in a vehicle tried to attack a NATO convoy in Kandahar province’s Zhari district Wednesday. But the bomber hit a private car instead, wounding four civilians inside. There were no casualties among NATO troops.

Separately, a newly planted mine exploded under another civilian vehicle in the same district Tuesday, killing two civilians and wounding four others.

Also Tuesday, a vehicle carrying an Afghan road-working crew hit a mine in Kandahar’s Panjwaii district, killing one labourer and wounding another.

Kandahar’s police chief, Sayed Agha Saqib, blamed Taliban insurgents for the attacks, which occurred on roads often used by Afghan and western military forces.

The Taliban are engaged on two fronts.  They have continued unabated, and will increase in intensity throughout 2008.  Jobs for workers and other assistance programs are a good plan and anthropologically sound ideas, especially since Afghanistan has the highest number of widows per capita of any country in the world.  But it will take more than jobs to counter the Taliban offensives.  The exercise of military power and force projection are the necessary pre-conditions for successful reconstruction.  3200 U.S. Marines are soon headed for Afghanistan.  More will be needed.


U.S. Intelligence Failures: Dual Taliban Campaigns

Baitullah Mehsud: The Most Powerful Man in Waziristan

Taliban Campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Musharraf Chides U.S. for Lack of Force

Musharraf Chides U.S. for Lack of Force

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 2 months ago

President Pervez Musharraf recently discussed the relationship between U.S. and Pakistani military forces.

Pakistan’s president said Friday U.S. troops cannot do a better job than his forces in routing the Taliban and al-Qaida, and the United States should increase its presence in Afghanistan instead to deal with the growing insurgency there.

Pervez Musharraf reiterated that Pakistan opposes any foreign forces on its soil and said “the man in the street will not allow this — he will come out and agitate.”

Musharraf was responding to a question about reports that the U.S. government was considering far more aggressive covert operations in Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ offer Thursday to send a small number of combat troops to Pakistan to help fight the insurgency there if Pakistani authorities ask for help.

“This cannot be done by any U.S. force,” Musharraf told several hundred VIPs at a breakfast on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. “Please don’t think that the U.S. forces have some kind of a magic wand and they’ll come and lead to success.”

“This environment is worse than what they’re facing in Afghanistan. The mountains are higher, and there is no communications infrastructure,” he said.

Musharraf said President Bush told him he respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and “is not asking me, and he’s the most important.”

He stressed that there is “total” U.S.-Pakistani cooperation on military tactics and strategy on both sides of the border, and “good coordination” on intelligence.

“They wouldn’t be able to achieve anything that we haven’t been able to achieve, so let them handle Afghanistan,” Musharraf said. “They need more force there, by the way. So therefore, please add force there before you think of sending them across into our borders,” he said.

Musharraf is chiding the U.S. strategy for lack of force projection, something we have discussed here before for Afghanistan and also for the Iraq counterinsurgency campaign (focusing also on the Anbar Province as its strategy relates to Pakistan).  But this is a pitiful instance of the pot calling the kettle black.  At the moment, Musharraf’s army has sent 600 troops against Baitullah Mehsud’s forces in the tribal region, less than a battalion.

But Pakistan has suffered “more than 50 suicide bombings in the past 12 months, killing at least 800 people.”  She is in the middle of a full blown insurgency, this insurgency affecting the U.S. as well since the Taliban and al Qaeda have safe haven inside Pakistan to regroup after attacks and terrorist operations in Afghanistan.  Furthermore, supplies intended for use by NATO are being attacked inside Pakistan with Mehsud’s well-crafted network of roadway interdiction.  Force projection is needed by the U.S. in Afghanistan, but Musharraf has no room to chide the U.S.  The Pakistani army should practice what Musharraf preaches.

Prior: Taliban Campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Role of Force Projection in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 months ago

 Introduction and Background

 Regarding the resurgence of the Taliban, Lt. Gen. David Barno has an interesting perspective on his time in Afghanistan, as well as the evolution of the campaign since.

More than six years after they were toppled in Afghanistan, Taliban forces are resurgent. An average of 400 attacks occurred each month in 2006. That number rose to more than 500 a month in 2007.

“It appears to be a much more capable Taliban, a stronger Taliban than when I was there,” says retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who was the top commander in Afghanistan from 2003 through 2005. “Just the size of engagements, the casualties reflected in the Taliban [attacks] show a stronger force.”

And Barno says that the United States may have unwittingly contributed to that resurgence beginning in 2005 — first, by announcing it was turning over responsibility for the Afghan military operation to NATO and second, by cutting 2,500 American combat troops. That sent a message to friend and foe alike, Barno says, that the U.S. was moving for the exits.

NATO commands most of the 54,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, nearly half of whom are American. Defense Secretary Robert Gates wanted NATO to send 7,000 more troops.

Appearing before Congress just last month, Gates wasn’t ready to mince words: American troops were stretched in Iraq, and NATO troops were needed in Afghanistan for combat duty and for training Afghan forces.

“I am not willing to let NATO off the hook in Afghanistan at this point,” Gates said.

By last week, Gates was ready to do just that. On his desk was a plan to send several thousand U.S. Marines to Afghanistan for combat and training duty. The proposal made him even more worried about the NATO alliance.

“I am concerned about relieving the pressure on our allies to fulfill their commitments,” Gates said.

But with violence flaring in Afghanistan, Gates had little choice but to turn to the Marines.

Meanwhile, other defense officials complain that NATO is not focused enough on the most important part of winning the insurgency in Afghanistan: Making life better by creating jobs, clinics and roads.

That left Gates in a recent appearance before Congress to question the future of NATO, an alliance created to fight the Soviets.

“The Afghan mission has exposed real limitations in the way the alliance is organized, operated and equipped,” Gates said. “We’re in a post-Cold War environment. We have to be ready to operate in distant locations against insurgencies and terrorist networks.”

Those problems are spurring several Pentagon reviews about the way ahead in Afghanistan. One option being discussed would give the U.S. an even greater combat role in the country’s restive south, now patrolled by Canadian, British and Dutch forces.

At the same time, there is talk of appointing a high-level envoy to better coordinate international aid for Afghanistan. One name being mentioned is Paddy Ashdown, a former member of the British Parliament who held a similar post in Bosnia.

That makes sense to American officers like Col. Martin Schweitzer, who commands the 4th Brigade Combat Team in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan. He says more experts are needed to give Afghans a better life.

“Specifically, we need assistance with agrarian development, natural resource development, like natural gas, etc., because there’s natural gas in the ground here,” Schweitzer said. “And we need those smart folks to come over here and help us get it out, so you can turn it into a product that can help sustain the government and the country.”

A more robust Afghan economy may help cut into Taliban recruitment of a large pool of the unemployed. But Barno and others caution that the Taliban are a regional problem. There’s a steady flow of radicalized recruits pouring over the border from Pakistan.

Analysis and Commentary

This account is pregnant with salient and important observations.  It is supplemented by Barno’s analysis Fighting the Other War: Counterinsurgency Strategy in Afghanistan, 2003-2005.  Only a short quote pertinent to our point will be cited below.

As we switched our focus from the enemy to the people, we did not neglect the operational tenet of main¬taining pressure on the enemy. Selected special operations forces (SOF) continued their full-time hunt for Al-Qaeda’s senior leaders. The blood debt of 9/11 was nowhere more keenly felt every day than in Afghanistan. No Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine serving there ever needed an explanation for his or her presence—they “got it.” Dedicated units worked the Al-Qaeda fight on a 24-hour basis and continued to do so into 2004 and 2005.

In some ways, however, attacking enemy cells became a supporting effort: our primary objective was maintaining popular support. Thus, respect for the Afghan people’s customs, religion, tribal ways, and growing feelings of sovereignty became an inherent aspect of all military operations. As well, the “three-block war” construct became the norm for our conventional forces.  Any given tactical mission would likely include some mixture of kinetics (e.g., fighting insurgents), peacekeeping (e.g., negotiating between rival clans), and humanitarian relief (e.g., digging wells or assessing local needs). 2001-2003 notion of enemy-centric counterterrorist operations now became nested in a wholly different context, that of “war amongst the people,” in the words of British General Sir Rupert Smith.

General Barno poses and answers his objections in these two commentaries.  The debate between “enemy-centric” counterinsurgency and “population-centric” counterinsurgency is old and worn, and highly unnecessary and overblown.  It has never been and is not now an either-or relationship.  It is a both-and relationship, and this truth requires force projection.  Notice what Barno tells us regarding even the intial stages of the campaign in Afghanistan; special operations continued kinetic operations against the Taliban, and the balance of forces launched into the subsequent stages of COIN.  Yet his initial analysis charged that the U.S. contributed to the resurgence of the Taliban by the quick exit and trooper drawdown in Afghanistan.

NGOs can support the effort, but if terrorist activities are perpetrated on the infrastructure, it is to no avail.  Similarly, the Taliban and al Qaeda can be killed or captured, but if they are left unmolested on the other side of the Afghan-Pakistan border, the campaign goes on forever.  Also, if the infrastructure languishes, the insurgent recruiting field expands.

Force projection is not a mere byword.  It is literally the foundation upon which counterinsurgency is built.  The circumstances surrounding commanders in the field (along with political realities at home) convince them to believe that transition to phases can occur before doctrine would suggest, and also convinces them to believe that smaller force size can succeed in what really requires a much larger force size.  In other words, the small footprint model of counterinsurgency is tempting, but wrongheaded and terribly corrupting to a campaign.  Force projection doesn’t just include kinetic operations, although it does includes it.  The notion that killing or capturing the enemy is the sole province of a few special force operators is one key reason for the failure of the campaign in Afghanistan.  Yet apologies for failures to rebuild infrastructure are inappropriate.  We need them both, we needed them then, and we need them now.  This is the way it worked in Anbar, and it it will work in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan Strategy Debate Continues

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 months ago

Wretchard of the Belmont Club weighs in on the British -American debate over strategy in Afghanistan.  It is a lengthy and involved post, and in order to avoid republishing it here, the reader should follow the link to the full article.  His summary follows:

Robert Gates’ remarks ripped the lid off a simmering disagreement between NATO allies and the US over Afghan strategy. The differences are not simply over troop levels and counterinsurgency competencies but at the level of basic national interest. For some NATO countries there is nothing in Afghanistan worth fighting for at all for except the maintenance of good diplomatic relationships with America and the preservation of the Atlantic Alliance. But that will only go so far; and at any rate America can be counted on to carry the load alone because in contrast, the United States which directly suffered the September 11 attacks, sees a victory in the Afghan/Pakistani theater as a matter of vital interest. Therefore the US will carry on regardless. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama periodically declare their commitment to winning in that theater. The US and the European NATO countries may differ even in their conception of victory. For the US, victory is defined as creating and maintaining friendly governments in both Kabul and Islamabad by defeating al-Qaeda and its allies. For the Europeans it may mean bringing the Taliban to power in exchange for giving up its support of al-Qaeda.

Which side of the debate is correct I leave the reader to decide. But so far as I can tell this is what the debate is about.

The focal point of his analysis is the different conceptions of victory and what these conceptions mean to the methods and strategy by which it is pursued.  His point that the coalition is fractured is correct, and the British are looking for finality sooner than traditional counterinsurgency doctrine allows.  Thus, victory is redefined, i.e., the bar is lowered.  However, because he fails to interact with my own analyses, or at least the line of thought I advocate in this series of posts, his analysis is shortsighted and impoverished.

It is true that there is currently a clamour in Britain to jettison duties in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but this has not always been the case.  Soon after Phase 1 of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the British in Basra had a high time of it, working under the quiet confidence that regarding counterinsurgency, they had a few things to teach the Americans.  They implemented very restrictive rules of engagement, wore soft covers, had minimal force projection, and fished the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off.  Before too long under under these conditions, troop movement into and out of the AO was done only at night and via helicopter because travel by day was too dangerous.

The British ended their campaign in Basra by evacuating the city because they believed that their lack of presence in Basra would stop the shooting at their soldiers.  In other words, if they weren’t around to shoot at, they would’nt receive fire.  The AO was turned over to sectarian thieves, thugs and Iranian henchmen, and the Police chief in Basra has sustained seven assassination attempts.

In contrast to this, the Anbar province is pacified, and contrary to the Shi’a militia who drove the British out of Basra, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Reesha has said that the U.S. must stay in Anbar in order to help maintain security.  Force projection won Anbar and created the conditions under which it is safe for the U.S. to garrison forces there, and lack of force projection lost Basra.  Yet the British have not lost their penchant for seeing counterinsurgency through a different lens than the U.S.  The debate began in Basra before any part of the campaigns in Iraq or Afghanistan became problematic and before the British public was searching for a way out.

The debate continues, and the recent deals with the Taliban are a continuing function of the strategy promulgated by the British.  It may be the case that the public pressure to disengage has become more prominent, but the strategy the British are pursuing is not a function of this public pressure.  Only the speed with which they employ the strategy needs to change in order to acquiesce to the public pressure.  The fracture in the coalition is deeper than mere public perception at home.


British Versus Americans: The War Over Strategy

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

Our Deal With Mullah Abdul Salaam

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 months ago

In British Negotiations with Taliban, I covered the secret negotiations between British MI6 agents and mid-level Taliban commanders aimed at splintering the leadership the Taliban.  We covered how there was an effort underway by Hamid Karzai to obtain the loyalties of the lieutenants of Mullah Omar and thus split the organization.  The price for this loyalty is a place at the table in the new Afghanistan.

But the British bypassed Karzai in their effort to make peace with the Taliban, and for this secrecy were ejected from the country.  Yet the deed had been done, and the price for realignment of one specific Taliban mid-level commander was governorship of Musa Qala, that fated city which once was handed over to local leaders, retaken by the Taliban, and then retaken again by NATO forces months later, costing both lives and blood of NATO forces.  Mullah Abdul Salaam switched sides, and was rewarded with rule over the region.


Matt Dupee at waxes positive about the deal, even suggesting that Salaam enabled the victory to retake Musa Qala, or at least caused it to be more timely.

Musa Qala district in southern Helmand province was the secluded epicenter of Taliban activity throughout 2007, a symbolic “crown jewel” in the Taliban’s jet-black turban, before Afghan and Coalition forces launched Operation Snake Pit last month and reestablished government rule. The highly touted operation lasted nearly a week with the heaviest fighting occurring on the outskirts of the city and areas further south. The operation’s speed and relatively tidy conclusion is due in large part from a back-door political deal hammered out between the Afghan government and a local Taliban strongman, Mullah Abdul Salaam Alizai, last October.

Mullah Abdul Salaam is a powerful and influential cleric of the Alizai tribe, Helmand’s largest Pashtun tribe, and holds sway over hundreds, if not thousands of armed loyalists throughout Musa Qala. His defection was secured after several secret meetings with Afghan and British officials during October and November. Rival Taliban factions attempted to assassinate him with a suicide-bomber, but British media reveal his body guard contingent of over 200 armed men helped foil the bomber’s plans.

The government’s deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam included his future position as Musa Qala’s governor, which he was appointed to on January 7, and allowed him to pick and choose other local authorities such as the new police chief. Afghan officials hope his prestige and influence over the locals will perk up their image in the south where many residents are sympathetic to the Taliban and deeply mistrustful of the central government. Officials also expressed optimism in bringing other “moderate Taliban,” meaning less ideologically driven fighters, into the fold of the government. For those fighters unwilling to cooperate, Salaam and his men have vowed to fight them.

But is this assessment too positive?  In a somewhat more desperate tone, The Times gives us a picture of what really happened prior to and during the battle for Musa Qala.

Britain’s last chance of securing this treacherous corner of Afghanistan lies in the hands of a piratical, black-turbaned figure with long beard, white cloak and silver-sequinned slippers with curled toes.

Mullah Abdul Salaam may not look much like a white knight. He served as a commander in the Taleban and even today his true loyalties remain suspect. The 45-year-old former Mujahidin guerrilla could, however, decide the fate of the British mission to stabilise the lawless province of Helmand, where this week he was put in charge of the key district of Musa Qala.

“He’s not just the best show in town,” one British officer remarked. “He’s the only show in town.”

Mullah Salaam’s rise to power in Musa Qala, the test case for British efforts to evict the Taleban and install central authority, is a classic Afghan tale of intrigue, bloodshed, farce and fate. In an interview with The Times the former warlord explained how last year he had severed relations with the Taleban, was courted secretly by a foreign diplomat and eventually swapped sides to join the British-led effort.

“The Taleban called a shurah [council] to attack the district centre and coalition forces there but though invited I did not attend nor fight,” he said. “It was not a good thing.”

He was then approached by Michael Semple, an Irish diplomat working for the European Union in Kabul. Mr Semple, a fluent Pashto-speaking veteran of Afghanistan, was expelled last month by the Government in Kabul for his back-channel contacts with the Taleban.

Before being ordered out he managed to put together a deal with the former Taleban commander. “We discussed reconciliation and unity in Afghanistan,” Mullah Salaam said of the first of his several meetings with Mr Semple. “I was surprised to hear of his recent expulsion.”

Mullah Salaam went to Kabul for a meeting with President Karzai last autumn. He caught the Afghan leader’s imagination with the promise of a tribal uprising against the Taleban, which could, potentially, deliver Musa Qala into government hands with barely a shot being fired. The idea led to a War Cabinet meeting in Kabul, which included the British and American ambassadors, President Karzai and General Dan McNeill, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The result was operation Mar Karadad, which had to be accelerated at the end of November when Kabul heard news that Mullah Salaam, now back in Musa Qala, had attracted the attention of the Taleban and the uprising was imminent.

There was no uprising. When Afghan, British and US units closed in on Musa Qala last month, Mullah Salaam stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.

“He said that he would bring all the tribes with him but they never materialised,” recalled one British officer at the forefront of the operation. “Instead, all that happened was a series of increasingly fraught and frantic calls from him for help to Karzai.”

In spite of his broken promises Mullah Salaam was still one of the few credible local leaders prepared to work with the British. He also proved to be a skilled orator. This week he took his antiTaleban campaign to elders in the rainswept village of Chaghali, ten miles from Musa Qala.

“It is enough now,” he urged the 30 men huddled around him. “Our dead have been eaten by the dogs.” He gestured at a small group of British and American officers. “You can see around you these people from noble nations have come to build you streets and schools. If they should ask you to leave your religion then you have a right to fight them, but not because they come to bring you streets and schools.”

The village was in an area roamed by Taleban led by Mullah Abdul Bari, who remains at large. Mullah Salaam wasted little time in using his own past connection with the militant commander in his address.

“Abdul Bari is our brother,” he said. “He can come and sit among us . . . He is from this land. Speak with him. But don’t let him be stupid. If he is not on the right path then don’t let yourself be sacrificed for him. Tell him to take his jihad somewhere else.”

His eloquence and leadership have impressed the British, who reconsidered him for the job of district governor, not least because there were few volunteers for the post.

“The first time we heard Mullah Salaam speak he spoke bloody well,” said Major Guy Bartle-Jones, the head of the British Military Stabilisation Team. “In fact, he dominated the whole show. He gave the government message: antiTaleban, counter-narcotics, interspersed with Koranic verses. He came across as an accomplished politician, far away from the reports from Kabul, where he had been pilloried as a fraught and frantic man. So we reported back up the chain that he was a charismatic, good orator. And the question was suddenly: ‘Is this a credible governor?’.”

Today the new governor’s challenge is to navigate the dark waters of Helmand’s politics, unite warring clans and reconcile his erstwhile Taleban comrades into the political process. His very survival will be an issue in itself: he claimed that two suicide bombers have already been sent to kill him. He remains, however, Musa Qala’s best hope, and has certainly won the backing of the British, albeit with a small caveat.

“We have in him a credible governor who is making an impression upon us and the people,” an officer in Musa Qala concluded. “He is a compelling individual. But we still don’t know what his ulterior motives are.”

Because of his skills at oratory and his having spoken “bloody well” to the locals, he was given governorship of Musa Qala, despite the fact that he could not assist with any significant military presence during the battle for the very area he now rules.  It is a pitiful substitute for the “awakening” in Western Iraq, where the Anbaris vowed to fight al Qaeda to the last child of Anbar.

Mullah Abdul Salaam has talked a good game for the moment, and perhaps he means what he says.  Who knows?  But proper counterinsurgency requires force projection.  The strong horse wins in counterinsurgency because the population bets on proven winners.  Cheap imitations of the Anbar awakening won’t work in this region of the world.  In Anbar, commitment by Marines and other U.S. forces over time won the battle for the region, this battle consisting not only of kinetic operations, but also in good governance, increased water and electricity supplies, repaired infrastructure, and other amenities associated with modernity.  Al Qaeda had nothing to offer except violence.  The Anbaris made their choice.

The road in Afghanistan will be just as hard or even harder, given that the Anbaris are somewhat more secular than the Afghans, but the counterinsurgency can be won (despite the ridiculous and highly emotional British claim that Mullah Abdul Salaam is the ‘last hope’ of civilization).  It will take U.S. commitment, not artificial props to be successful.  No ostensible harm to the COIN campaign in Afghanistan has been done, but a great deal can be learned from this silly and unfortunate episode.


Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection

Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan

Review and Analysis of Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Campaign

Gates Sets Pretext for Review of Afghanistan Campaign

British in Negotiations with Taliban

Fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan Inextricably Tied

The British-American War Continues: MI-6 Agents Expelled from Afghanistan

Commitment to Iraq and Recommitment to Afghanistan

Taliban Now Govern Musa Qala

The War on Terror Should Know No Borders

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 months ago

Following up on the recommendation we have made here at The Captain’s Journal to deploy Marines to the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is preparing to bring a recommendation to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to send up to 3000 Marines to Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is preparing to send at least 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan in April to bolster efforts to hold off another expected Taliban offensive in the spring, military officials.

The move Wednesday represents a shift in Pentagon thinking that has been slowly developing after months of repeated insistence that the U.S. was not inclined to fill the need for as many as 7,500 more troops that commanders have asked for there. Instead, Defense Secretary Robert Gates pressed NATO allies to contribute the extra forces.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday that a proposal will go before Gates on Friday that would send a ground and air Marine contingent as well as a Marine battalion — together totaling more than 3,000 forces — to southern Afghanistan for a “one-time, seven-month deployment.”

Gates, he said, will want to review the request, and is not likely to make a final decision on Friday.

“He will take it and consider it thoroughly before approving it,” said Morrell. “I just want to get people away from the idea that this is going to be imminently approved by the secretary.”

He said Gates “has some more thinking to do on this matter because it’s a serious allocation of forces.”

Morrell added that Gates’ thinking on the issue has “progressed a bit” over time as it became clear that it was politically untenable for many of the NATO nations to contribute more combat troops to the fight.

“The commanders need more forces there. Our allies are not in the position to provide them. So we are now looking at perhaps carrying a bit of that additional load,” the spokesman said.

Morrell said the move, first reported Wednesday by ABC News, was aimed at beating back “another Taliban offensive” that is expected this spring — as has occurred in previous years.

When Gates was in Afghanistan last month, commanders made it clear they needed the additional forces.

The Marines would likely come out of Camp LeJeune.

Sources said the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit — scheduled to deploy in mid-February — went into high gear this week, laying plans for an accelerated deployment schedule that could have the unit departing for Afghanistan on Feb. 1 and staying out past its traditional 180-day rotation. However, unit officials would not confirm that the group is planning to leave early.

The themes of force size and force projection are well known in our previous articles, and the campaign has languished in Afghanistan due to inadequate forces.  However, there is a hint in this report of the remaining paucity of vision that afflicts the strategic planning at the Pentagon.  It is found in the words “one time .. deployment.”  The stated goal of this small addition is to forestall or prevent a spring offensive by the Taliban.  The Pentagon still doesn’t see Aghanistan as the key to Pakistan as we have previously recommended.

The Afghans understand.  They welcome the addition of troops.  But they see more clearly than to refer to a mere temporary addition of troops.  Afghan officials believe that the war on terror should know no borders.

Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders operate “outside the country.”  The war on terror “should know no borders.”

Afghan officials’ are hinting that Afghanistan would be more than happy for US forces to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan.

Some analysts say the US and NATO won’t make lasting progress in Afghanistan unless the militants’ ability to command and control the insurgency from across the border is tackled.

“Terrorism is like a spring. It is better to go to the main source than to fight the water’s flow,” said Defence Ministry Spokesman Gen Muhammad Zahir Azim.

Afghanistan’s Intelligence Service Chief Amrullah Saleh said recently “We believe the war on terror should know no borders.”

President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said on Tuesday “I’m not going to comment about the specifics about operations inside Pakistan. All I’m going to say is that we should address the sources, the root causes of terrorism wherever they are,” Hamidzada said, hinting heavily that Afghanistan believes that to be in Pakistan.

We have pointed out that counterinsurgency inside Pakistan proper, with U.S. troops actually deployed en masse in the country, would be impossible.  Yet the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is amorphous, ripe territory for kinetic operations to capture and kill Taliban.  The U.S. has a once in a generation opportunity in being allowed to traffic freely along the border region of the country from which the enemy springs forth.  The key to dealing with the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is still the border region.  Force projection is required.  And there is still paucity of vision at the highest levels of leadership.


Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection

Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan

Review and Analysis of Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Campaign

Gates Sets Pretext for Review of Afghanistan Campaign

British in Negotiations with Taliban

Fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan Inextricably Tied

The British-American War Continues: MI-6 Agents Expelled from Afghanistan

Commitment to Iraq and Recommitment to Afghanistan

Taliban Now Govern Musa Qala

Taliban Now Govern Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 months ago

Following closely on the heels of British negotiations with mid-level Taliban, the governorship of Musa Qala has been handed over to a Taliban commander.

A Taliban commander who defected hours before British and Afghan forces retook the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala has been rewarded with the governorship of the town.

Mullah Abdul Salaam switched sides after months of delicate secret negotiations with the Afghan government, as part of a programme of reconciliation backed by British commanders in Helmand.

In a move clearly intended to send a message to other potential Taliban defectors, the Afghan government has announced that he had become the new district governor with the backing of local tribes.

An Afghan government spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said that the move was consistent with the policy of President Hamid Karzai’s government.

“The president has said before that all those former Taliban who come and accept the constitution and who want to participate in the political process through non-violent means … they are welcome.”

He added that Mullah Salaam had provided crucial intelligence to the Afghan government.

Mullah Salaam is a leader of one of the three sub-tribes of the Alizai, the dominant tribal group in Musa Qala.

As The Daily Telegraph reported in November, Mullah Salaam opened channels of communication with the government after a violent rift emerged in the Taliban around Musa Qala, during which he survived an assassination attempt.

Mullah Salaam told The Daily Telegraph: “There are two groups of Taliban fighters in Musa Qala and I have the backing of the major one. The Taliban who are against peace and prosperity in Afghanistan – I will fight them.”

Local people confirmed that he enjoyed the backing of a large swathe of the inhabitants of the town.

The issue of Taliban defections remains a highly sensitive one, following the expulsion of a British and an Irish diplomat from Kabul last month on charges of having “inappropriate contacts” with militants.

Afghan government officials accused the two men of holding meetings with Taliban leaders in Helmand without authorisation.

The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has ruled out direct talks with the Taliban leadership, but it is well known in Kabul that both the British and Afghan intelligence agencies are devoting considerable resources to trying to “turn” Taliban-aligned tribal leaders.

As we have discussed before, this is the British version of the Anbar awakening combined with payment for concerned citizens who protect the people and fight al Qaeda.  But the problem with this analogy is that it is no analogy at all.  It has nothing at all in common with a true awakening such as occurred in Anbar.  It is true that the last decade of rule by Saddam saw the birth of a small element of youth who were motivated by religious radicalism.

By the late 1980s it had become clear that secular pan-Arabism fused with socialist ideas was no longer a source of inspiration for some Ba’th Party activists. Many young Sunni Arabs adopted an alternative ideology, namely, fundamentalist Islam based essentially on the thought of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. A minority even moved toward the more extreme Salafi, and even Wahhabi, interpretation of Islam. The regime was reluctant to repress such trends violently, even when it came to Wahhabis, for the simple reason that these Iraqi Wahhabis were anti-Saudi: much like the ultraradical Islamist opposition in Saudi Arabia, they, too, saw the Saudi regime as deviating from its original Wahhabi convictions by succumbing to Western cultural influences and aligning itself with the Christian imperialist United States. This anti-Saudi trend served the Iraqi regime’s political purposes.

But this proves the bifurcation that was inherent in the Anbaris which led to the awakening.  These radical youth were an insignificant fraction of the population and were not ever fair game in the strategy to win hearts and minds.  They were the enemy, and there was never a time when they weren’t the enemy.  They quickly aligned with al Qaeda, and the less radical citizens were really the ones in play in the overall strategy.  Al Qaeda and those with whom they were aligned have been essentially defeated in Anbar and are losing in Diyala.  Peace was sought with those from the indigenous insurgency who saw themselves as something other than jihadis.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban are by very definition religiously defined.  Even the casual reader might consider Afghanistan seven years ago (Taliban in charge) and compare it to the Afghanistan of today (with the Taliban in charge if the British strategy plays out) and recall that the only real change is that Hamid Karzai is at the helm, a tenuous charge and precarious perch to be sure.

While the MI6 agents who were negotiating with the Taliban have been ejected from the country, the strategy of acquiescence to the Taliban continues to be implemented by British military command.  After their failed military campaign in and pullout from Basra, the British are actively negotiating the turnover of the Afghanistan government to the very enemy defeated upon the initial invasion of Afghanistan in order to end the campaign.  This strategy has at least the tacit approval of Hamid Karzai, as U.S. troop presence and strategy is not sufficient to allow him to object.  U.S. and NATO lack of force projection gives him no other choice.


Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection

Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan

Review and Analysis of Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Campaign

Gates Sets Pretext for Review of Afghanistan Campaign

British in Negotiations with Taliban

Fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan Inextricably Tied

The British-American War Continues: MI-6 Agents Expelled from Afghanistan

Commitment to Iraq and Recommitment to Afghanistan

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