Archive for the 'General McChrystal' Category



Battlespace Control and Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 8 months ago

In Reigning in SOF in Afghanistan I addressed the issue of General McChrystal having brought Special Operations Forces under his direct control in Afghanistan, or in other words, putting into place a structure that would ensure unity of command over all U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  The ostensible reason given for this was continuing noncombatant casualties and the need to reduce them by making SOF accountable to someone directly inside Afghanistan.

I demurred, rehearsing the idea once again that the attempt completely to end noncombatant casualties had contributed to the unnecessary deaths of U.S. servicemen.  Pristine, riskless war is a preening moralists dream and a warrior’s nightmare.  But I did support the idea of organizing all troops under a singular command structure.

I support the consolidation of forces because SOF shouldn’t be operating out of the chain of command.  If there is a direct action raid and a father or a son is killed in the middle of the night, the infantry (or those attached to the infantry, i.e., SOF) should have done it, under the direction of the immediate chain of command, and they should all be present the next morning to explain to the village why it happened.  If you don’t harbor insurgents, this won’t happen.  There is nothing like a little time with the villagers by those who did the killing … expending effort policing, teaching and admonishing.

But this isn’t the end of the story, and it appears that the reason given for the reorganization is mere cover.  First, consider what the always interesting and knowledgeable Tim Lynch tells us about Marine Corps operations in the Helmand Province regarding their use of Special Operations Forces.

While the Marines handled the close fight around Marjah they used the varsity Special Operations assets to go deep. Getting those organizations to work for you in a subordinate role is not just hard; it is one of the most impressive accomplishments of the Marine deployment to date. I’ve known General Nicholson and the senior members of his operations staff all my adult life and this last accomplishment impresses me more than anything else they have done since arriving in Afghanistan. That’s how hard it is to get the big boys to play nice.  One of the consistent complaints concerning the Joint Special Operations forces in Afghanistan is their penchant for running operations without informing or coordinating or even talking to the battle space commander responsible for the area they were working. Tim of Panjwai once got a call from the Canadian HQ in Kandahar back in the day when he was on active duty and in command of a company deployed deep inside the Panjwai district:

“Why are you currently fighting in the town of XXXX?” he was asked.

“Sir, I’m on my COP and were I not here and engaged in some sort of fight I assure you sir, that you would be the first to know.”

“Then who the hell is in XXXX wearing Canadian uniforms shooting the place up?”

It was the varsity SF guys running their own mission with their own assets for reasons known only to them.  Tim and his troops had to deal with the mess they created after they were long gone.  To this day they have no idea what went on or if the mission which cost them in lost credibility, lost cooperation, and the loss of hard earned good will was worth it.

The Marines made a deal last summer – which went something like this: “We want you guys operating in our AO and we will give you priority on our rotary wing, intelligence and fire support assets, but you have work with us integrating everything you do with our campaign plan.”  It was not an easy sell and at first there was reluctance from the varsity to cooperate.  But they gave it a shot, and they started chalking up success after success and nothing attracts more talent into the game like success.  While the Marine snipers and their recon brothers have been bleeding the Taliban around Marjah, the varsity has been going deep and going deep often.  All the big boys have joined the game now, the SAS, the SEAL’s, The Unit and other organizations who you have never heard of and never will hear about.   It is true that killing lots of fighters is not that relevant in the COIN battle.  Yet you still need to target and kill competent leaders along with any proficient logistic coordinators who pop up on the radar screen.  The varsity SOF guys have been doing that for months.

The Marines handled SOF differently than does Army, Navy or Air Force.  Unity of command is essential to the MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) and MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) mission oriented approach.  Having SOF in their battle space without knowing, approving and integrating their efforts into a unity of approach isn’t the Marine way.  And given McChrystal’s appreciation for unity of command in Afghanistan, he surely approves.

Or does he?  First, there was this comment on the Small Wars Journal blog (regarding this Washington Post article about Army complaints concerning Marines’ autonomy in Helmand).

The rumor is that the Commandant, Gen Conway, spoke to Gen Petraeus and McChrystal and asked them, “What are you not getting that you want?” In other words, if you want some other result, tell the Marines what you want and they will change course. But let us handle it our way. The problem is that McChrystal does not respect, appreciate, or want the MAGTF. He wants to use the Marines in piecemeal fashion in suppport of Army forces.

I heard it second hand. Someone should ask this question of the Commandant.

I followed up reading this comment with a letter to General McChrystal’s Public Affairs Officer, asking the following question(s).

I would like to pose a question for General McChrystal.  If he would like to respond, I will post his response without any editorial comment, remarks or redaction.  Here is the question:

As you are no doubt aware, there is apparently a push to exert more control over the Marine Corps operations in the Helmand province.

Furthermore, there are indications – however reliable or not – that the MAGTF concept (philosophy and organization structure) is under-appreciated.

But mission-based, strict Marine Corps chain of command philosophy is the cornerstone of the MEU and MAGTF approach, and it has redounded to significant successes wherever it has been implemented, from the Anbar Province to Helmand (and many engagements prior to those).  Can you give us your perspective on the Marine Corps operations thus far in Helmand, and speak to the issues raised in the subject article?

Thank you.

This letter was written five days ago and to this date there has been no response (and the commitment to post the response in full with no redaction or editorializing still holds).  Still another source tells me that I have missed the real point behind the reorganization of SOF.  Briefly, there is a desire not to have second-guessing going on with CENTCOM when commanders in Afghanistan made a decision to use SOF for some particular purpose or mission.  The reorganization of SOF into the chain of command in Afghanistan moves them out of the chain of command at CENTCOM, and directly into the chain of command of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Furthermore, commanders in a particular battlespace do not have operational control over SOF or their missions.  They may not, in fact, have any knowledge of such actions until they are dealing with the consequences after the missions.  The degree of control and the unity of command that the Marines have exercised in Helmand is seen as a lesser version of the same problem as CENTCOM controlling SOF.

To be sure, there may be reasons that the chain of command in Afghanistan would want direct control over the SOF, given that they are the most timely and responsive units that any military in the world can deploy.  But just as surely, the Marine Corps doesn’t want control over SOF (excluding perhaps MARCENT), as much as it wants them matrixed to their chain of command during missions if and when they participate.

There are several very important issues with which we are faced.  First, while Tim Lynch may be lauding the Marine Corps philosophical approach to warfare – and while I may agree – there are some very powerful commanders who apparently do not have that same appreciation.  Second, there is apparently internecine warfare within the U.S. military, and just as apparently the Army doesn’t appreciate at all the degree of autonomy afforded the Marines in Helmand.  Third, the Marines have been highly successful in Helmand, just as in Anbar.  Success has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.

Fourth and finally, consider how badly the main stream media missed this.  Not a single MSM reporter performed further research into why this reorganization took place or what motivation brought it about.  This speaks poorly about our ability to trust their reports.  A corollary, of course, is that the Milblogs are providing increasingly salient and incisive analysis.

Prior:

Reigning in SOF in Afghanistan

Abolish SOCOM

The Cult of Special Forces

Reigning in SOF in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 9 months ago

From The New York Times:

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has brought most American Special Operations forces under his direct control for the first time, out of concern over continued civilian casualties and disorganization among units in the field.

“What happens is, sometimes at cross-purposes, you got one hand doing one thing and one hand doing the other, both trying to do the right thing but working without a good outcome,” General McChrystal said in an interview.

Critics, including Afghan officials, human rights workers and some field commanders of conventional American forces, say that Special Operations forces have been responsible for a large number of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan and operate by their own rules.

Maj. Gen. Zahir Azimi, the chief spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said that General McChrystal had told Afghan officials he was taking the action because of concern that some American units were not following his orders to make limiting civilian casualties a paramount objective.

“These special forces were not accountable to anyone in the country, but General McChrystal and we carried the burden of the guilt for the mistakes they committed,” he said. “Whenever there was some problem with the special forces we didn’t know who to go to, it was muddled and unclear who was in charge.”

Spencer Ackerman seems to support McChrystal’s consolidation of forces into one chain of command because of the need to protect the population as the center of gravity of the campaign.  I do not.  To be clear, I do not support the consolidation of forces into one chain of command for the reason that the population is the center of gravity (see Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN).  I do indeed support the consolidation of forces.

Ending the silly high value target campaign (capturing mid-level Taliban commanders, only to release them 96 hours later) won’t end unintended noncombatant casualties.  The attempt to completely end noncombatant casualties has already contributed to unnecessary deaths of U.S. troops.  I support the consolidation of forces because SOF shouldn’t be operating out of the chain of command.  If there is a direct action raid and a father or a son is killed in the middle of the night, the infantry (or those attached to the infantry, i.e., SOF) should have done it, under the direction of the immediate chain of command, and they should all be present the next morning to explain to the village why it happened.  If you don’t harbor insurgents, this won’t happen.  There is nothing like a little time with the villagers by those who did the killing … expending effort policing, teaching and admonishing.

Prior:

Abolish SOCOM

The Cult of Special Forces

COP Keating: Politics and Warfighting

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 9 months ago

Spencer Ackerman is conflicted over leaving COP Keating open.  Jim Hanson agrees with the commenter that has Spencer thinking – and supports the notion that a commander should be allowed to amend, caveat and stipulate in order to manage the campaign.  Starting this kerfuffle, Spencer’s commenter says:

McChrystal is well within his rights to make individual exceptions to his overarching ruling of giving up the countryside to protect the population centers — and it seems pretty dumb to give up a known avenue of approach like this rat line, especially when the governor is requesting protection.

Well, maybe.  But there is more to this than meets the eye.  I had known for some time that COP Keating had been left open for political reasons at the request of the Provincial officials.  In fact, the politics gets rather ugly.  Richard Engel tells us:

Around 25,000 votes were cast in Barge Matal, approximately ten for every person in the village.  A cynic might say U.S. forces were called in so Barge Matal would be secure enough for local officials to rig the vote.  I have spoken to cynics within the U.S. military leadership in eastern Afghanistan. They go further than that.  They believe the Afghan government used the military (which brought in the ballots by helicopter) to provide cover for vote rigging and that the Afghan request to secure Barge Matal had deadly consequences for U.S. troops.

But it gets even worse.   Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy reporter who was with the three Marines and Corpsman who perished in the Kunar Province when they were denied artillery support after being ambushed by Taliban) digs deeper.

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, kept a remote U.S. base in the country manned last year at the local governor’s request despite warnings from his field commanders that it should be closed because it was vulnerable and had no tactical or strategic value.

McChrystal’s decision to maintain the outpost at Barg-e Matal prompted the top American commanders in eastern Afghanistan to delay plans to close a second remote U.S. outpost, Combat Outpost Keating, where insurgents killed eight U.S. troops in an assault Oct. 3, a McClatchy investigation has found.

Keeping Barg-e-Matal open also deprived a third isolated base of the officer who would have been its acting commander and left its command to lower-ranking officers whose “ineffective actions” led “directly” to the deaths of five American and eight Afghan soldiers in an ambush Sept. 8, according to a high-level military investigation.

In addition, an unidentified witness told the military investigators that the operations center that failed to provide effective artillery and air cover to the U.S. and Afghan force that was ambushed in the Ganjgal Valley was focused instead on Barg-e Matal.

However, the ambush inquiry and a similar high-level Army probe into the Oct. 3 deaths at COP Keating, the worst single American combat loss in 2009, don’t mention that McChrystal’s decision to keep Barg-e Matal open made the combat outpost and the Ganjgal operation more vulnerable.

Instead, the inquiries hit lower-ranking officers — including two field commanders who’d urged McChrystal for months to close Keating and Barg-e Matal — with administrative penalties.

The two officers, Col. Randy George and Lt. Col. Robert B. Brown, and other U.S. officials had warned repeatedly that the two outposts were worthless and too costly to defend, two American defense officials and a former NATO official told McClatchy.

So via the AR 15-6 process, we are on another head hunt in order to exonerate decisions made at the very top.  Listen carefully to me.  I have previously said that COP Keating did indeed serve a purpose, i.e., to interdict fighters flowing from Pakistan into Afghanistan along this route.  That is what makes this so ugly.

McChrystal has a right to decide, stipulate, caveat, circle back around, and whatever else he wants to do.  His giving up the countryside in favor of population centers is wrongheaded, and I do not now and have never concurred with the idea of population-centric counterinsurgency when applied as an exclusive use doctrine.  Nor do I believe in holding terrain.

But again, listen carefully to me.  What neither McChrystal nor any of his reports has a right to do is leave U.S. warriors in poor terrain, with lack of adequate force protection, in inadequately garrisoned outposts, with poor logistics and little outside assistance.  McChrystal DOES have a right to issue deployment / garrisoning orders.  He DOESN’T have a right to forget or ignore basic military doctrine like force protection – not for interdiction, not for politics, not for any reason, ever.

Prior: Second Guessing the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh

Detention Policy in Afghanistan: Micromanaging the Military

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 9 months ago

From Justin Fishel:

One week into the invasion of Marjah, Afghanistan Marines and NATO forces are beginning to feel the restrictions put on them by their own rules of engagement. The roughly 800 Taliban insurgents who decided to stay and fight need to be carefully distinguished from tens of thousands of innocent civilians before they can be engaged by coalition forces. The goal, says NATO’s top general in Afghanistan, is to win the hearts and minds of the population, not to decimate it.

But the Taliban know the rules. They know that Marines aren’t allowed to fire on them if they don’t have a weapon. Marines have struggled with Taliban snipers who lay down their rifles after they run out of bullets, taunting the American forces as they walk away from the buildings they used for cover. Fox’s Conner Powell is embedded with a Marine unit in the region. “We’ve seen them be extremely disciplined with their fire”, Powell said. “They’ve not returned fire when they’ve been attacked by Taliban insurgents unless they can confirm in fact that it was Taliban insurgents or snipers shooting at them.”

NATO forces are also hampered by what’s known as the “96 hour rule”. Last summer NATO instituted a new detainee policy which says that if any NATO or International Security Assistance Force soldiers, including Americans, can’t transfer captured terrorists or enemy combatants to the Afghan justice system within 96 hours, they have to be released. The problem is that in many cases there isn’t enough time or resources to move detainees, and they end up going free. Some in the military are calling it the “catch and release rule.”

[ … ]

There are some exceptions to the rules. If a wanted terrorist is picked up by a U.S. Special Forces unit working under the confines of Operation Enduring Freedom, rather than NATO, that prisoner would be sent to a detention facility at Bagram Air Base, where U.S. interrogators would be free to question him within the guidelines of the Army Field Manual.

Justin is behind the times (see ROE category).  The Marines aren’t just now beginning to feel the restrictions of ROE.  But the last paragraph is particularly troubling, because it means that [1] we are still pursuing the silly HVT campaign in Afghanistan with our special operations forces, and [2] apparently, the Marines engaged in fighting in Marjah are under the purview of the ISAF and not Operation Enduring Freedom.  Thus, they are subject to the detention policy.

As for the use of SOF, the Marines had them (Recon, and likely Scout Sniper) inside Marjah before the infantry moved in, directly supporting the campaign on the ground.  The Army could take a page from the Marines in terms of how to use SOF.  As for the ridiculous detention policy, it’s one more example of micromanaging the campaign in Afghanistan.

Staff and flag officers don’t trust field grade officers and NCOs enough to give them the latitude to make extemporaneous decisions in the battle space which are conducive to the proper conduct of the campaign.  It’s no different than the tactical directive on ROE issued by McChrystal, as if Lance Corporals and Sergeant Majors under fire need his counsel on who the enemy is – or how long they can detain them in the absence of a judge or a judge advocate.

Prior:

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan II

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan

Covering for the Rules of Engagement?

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

It is important to recall the incident in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan that occurred approximately five months ago in which three Marines and one Navy Corpsman were killed in an Ambush.  They twice requested air support and artillery, only to be twice denied it from hundreds of miles away because noncombatants may have been in the area.

Taking a slight detour back to General McChrystal’s tactical directive, the new rules place a premium on protection of the population, even to the extent of backing away from fire fights if it is possible that noncombatants will be involved.  In McChrystal’s own words, “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.”

I later predicted as a result of the investigation conducted as part of the follow-on to this incident:

… here is something that has no chance of happening.  No investigation will find that a tactical directive written or endorsed by a four star general was responsible for anything bad.  The directive will be exonerated and the field grade officers responsible for denying artillery had better begin looking for another line of work.

Doing daily searches of ROE, the Kunar Province and other specific keywords it has taken a while to find anything related to this incident.  I have spoken with the McClatchy reporter who covered this incident, Jonathan Landay, and we have both been waiting for release of the investigation (AR 15-6).  As a related issue, I had also stated that I got independent confirmation of the truthfulness of Landay’s report.   The Washington Post has given us the first (and maybe only) look into the findings.

In the third incident that has resulted in a reprimand, four Marines were killed near the eastern Afghanistan village of Ganjgal when they were ambushed on their way to a meeting with local villagers. Senior Marine officials alleged that the Army battalion in the area was slow to provide artillery support to ward off the attack. After an investigation, the battalion executive officer, who was the senior officer on duty at the time, received a letter of reprimand, Army officials said.

The next promotion board will not go well for this field grade officer, and probably the next, and the next.  His career in the Army is essentially over – just as I predicted.  But he was following the spirit (and even the letter) of McChrystal’s rules.  Remember that my objection to the tactical directive isn’t that there is a proviso for protection of noncombatants.  No Marine or Soldier wants to kill noncombatants.  That isn’t what he’s trained to do.

My objection goes to the notion that a four star general is in any position to write an authoritative tactical directive for Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field under fire, thus removing their judgment from consideration.  It is the ultimate “I don’t trust you” insult, and it kills troops.  “I support the troops” isn’t just a lie for the Daily Kos folks.  It’s the ugly secret for some flag officers.

And you heard the prediction here first.  Here is another prediction.  We won’t see the release of the full AR 15-6 investigation so that we can learn the full truth about the failures that fateful day which killed three Marines and a Navy Corpsman.

Prior:

Rules of Engagement category

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan II

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan

Rules of Engagement: Letting the Enemy Go Free

BY Herschel Smith
10 years ago

More than two years ago I outlined the calamity that British rules of engagement had caused to their campaign in Basra.  The security situation began very well at the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but devolved into one in which the British were completely ineffective at fighting the insurgency and had evacuated their outposts and retreated to their largest base.

Due to leaked MoD papers we now know certain details directly from the British on just how hamstrung their troop were due to the ROE.

Despite fighting “the most sustained conflict since the Korean War”, the rules left troops with one hand tied behind their backs, the secret documents said. Ministers refused to change the rules although they caused “significant” casualties.

British soldiers were banned from opening fire unless the Iraqis were actually pointing their weapons at them.

Insurgents from Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army quickly “worked out” the rules and exploited them causing many casualties, according to the documents.

“On many occasions,” says one, British patrols in the town of Amarah saw “Muqtada militia stood on rooftops from where they had fired in the past, with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at their feet”.

Although clearly waiting to attack, the Iraqis could not be fired on because they were not pointing their weapons at the British. As the patrol passed, say the documents, the insurgents would then “pick up their weapons and fire”.

The documents leaked to The Daily Telegraph are secret “post-operational reports” written by British commanders in Iraq, and classified transcripts of interviews they gave to the MoD.

In them, Major General Andrew Stewart, the senior British operational commander in Iraq, says: “The US could not believe that in our area you were not able to fire at someone who had a weapon just because he wasn’t pointing it at you.”

The Americans were on warfighting tactics, yet Britain stuck to its “peacekeeping” rules despite a significant upsurge in violence after the arrest of a key al-Sadr lieutenant in 2004 …

In one of its fiercest engagements, the “Battle of Danny Boy”, at a checkpoint in May 2004, the British were attacked by 100 insurgents, leaving two soldiers seriously injured. Yet, the documents say, they had to allow 40 of the attackers to “walk away” with their weapons, after they lowered their guns. The same people later attacked the unit again, killing two soldiers.

The documents appear to show that Gen Stewart tried to get the rules of engagement changed, but was frustrated by ministers.

He says that the rules his men were working under did contain a “dormant war-fighting profile,” allowing more action, but “activation of this profile was reserved to Ministerial level” and did not happen.

Gen Stewart describes the rules of engagement as “constraining,” and “frustrating” but says they “did help us win over the locals by not being over-robust… you have to show restraint if you are to win hearts and minds”.

From another account by a British Soldier, “In 2003 the rules were that if someone shot at you, you could shoot them back but not if they were turned with their back to you.”

This last part about restrictive ROE helping to win over the locals is a bit of wishful thinking and fatuous, doctrinaire absurdity.  If the locals had been won over they would have given up the insurgency.  As it was, the Iraqi Security Forces, combined with U.S. forces, had to retake Basra while the British sat at their base watching (later retreating entirely from Basra).

The ISF regularly dismissed the British as sissies and cowards even though they clearly are not, and British Colonel Tim Collins has claimed that the British retreat from Basra has badly damaged the reputation of the British Army (this damage being inflicted by MoD strategy rather than the enlisted men who have been proven to be brave and well trained).

This example should be a clarion call to give chase to and kill the enemy as the surest way to win the hearts and minds of the locals, and thus win the campaign.  You might recall some of the rules of engagement in Afghanistan?

• No night or surprise searches.

• Villagers have to be warned prior to searches.

• ANA or ANP must accompany U.S. units on searches.

• U.S. soldiers may not fire at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first.

• U.S. forces cannot engage the enemy if civilians are present.

• Only women can search women.

• Troops can fire at an insurgent if they catch him placing an IED but not if insurgents are walking away from an area where explosives have been laid.

These same rules refused artillery support for four Marines who were killed in combat action in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan while pleading for help via radio.  Having forgotten the lessons of Iraq (where robust ROE in Anbar by the Marines helped to win that part of the campaign), we have reverted to the failed British model in Basra.  Intentionally repeating failed history is the strategy of losers.

Battling the Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 1 month ago

From The Washington Times:

KASHK-E-NOKHOWD, Afghanistan | Army Capt. Casey Thoreen wiped the last bit of sleep from his eyes before the sun rose over his isolated combat outpost.

His soldiers did the same as they checked and double-checked their weapons and communications equipment. Ahead was a dangerous foot patrol into the heart of Taliban territory.

“Has anyone seen the [Afghan National Army] guys?” asked Capt. Thoreen, 30, the commander of Blackwatch Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment with the 5th Stryker Brigade. “Are they not showing up?”

A soldier, who looked ghostly in the reddish light of a headlamp, shook his head.

“We can’t do anything if we don’t have the ANA or [the Afghan National Police],” said a frustrated Capt. Thoreen.

“We have to follow the Karzai 12 rules. But the Taliban has no rules,” he said. “Our soldiers have to juggle all these rules and regulations and they do it without hesitation despite everything. It’s not easy for anyone out here.”

“Karzai 12” refers to Afghanistan’s newly re-elected president, Hamid Karzai, and a dozen rules set down by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, to try to keep Afghan civilian casualties to a minimum.

“It’s a framework to ensure cultural sensitivity in planning and executing operations,” said Capt. Thoreen. “It’s set of rules and could be characterized as part of the ROE,” he said, referring to the rules of engagement.

Dozens of U.S. soldiers who spoke to The Washington Times during a recent visit to southern Afghanistan said these rules sometimes make a perilous mission even more difficult and dangerous.

Many times, the soldiers said, insurgents have escaped because U.S. forces are enforcing the rules. Meanwhile, they say, the toll of U.S. dead and injured is mounting.

[ … ]

The Times compiled an informal list of the new rules from interviews with U.S. forces. Among them:

• No night or surprise searches.

• Villagers have to be warned prior to searches.

• ANA or ANP must accompany U.S. units on searches.

• U.S. soldiers may not fire at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first.

• U.S. forces cannot engage the enemy if civilians are present.

• Only women can search women.

• Troops can fire at an insurgent if they catch him placing an IED but not if insurgents are walking away from an area where explosives have been laid.

Analysis & Commentary

After requesting help with getting clean water to drink, the local Imam told the U.S. unit they “need to go. Get out of Afghanistan or it will never be resolved. Between Islam and the infidel there can never be a relationship.”

“In my personal opinion, the Americans won’t be able to resolve this problem,” he added. “The longer they stay the more likely there will be another attack like Sept. 11. It’s only the Afghan people who will be able to resolve this problem.”

But the local elders and villagers aren’t fighting the Taliban.  Bing West reports that:

It is not obvious that winning the hearts and minds of village elders, or linking villages to Kabul, wins the war. Our soldiers note that the Afghans are happy to accept what we give them but do not reciprocate by turning against the Taliban. The elders don’t raise militias or secure recruits for the army, and they don’t fight; there has been no replay of that scene from The Magnificent Seven in which the terrorized villagers finally rise up against their oppressors. Instead, fearful locals plead with migratory Taliban gangs to move on. A rural population, no matter how content with its government, cannot stand up to such a tough enemy…

While I have a deeply rooted personal problem with those who won’t stand up to intimidation, I have also advocated more troops (for Iraq before it was popular, and now for Afghanistan when it is unpopular).  We have seen this before, this notion that the locals don’t want the Americans around.  It happened in the Anbar Province where the dispossessed Sunni population battled the U.S. Marines for three years.  We shouldn’t make too much of it.

But the difference is that while the the U.S. Marines in Anbar were remarkably successful, they were under no such rules as we see in Afghanistan.  They didn’t cede their authority to Iraqi Security Forces or even the local Iraqi Police, night time searches, seizures and census taking were an ordinary expectation, and there was no warning prior to raids and other kinetic operations so that the enemy could prepare his exit.

U.S. Marine Corps operations in Iraq may be said to be diplomacy with a gun.

Although negotiation can sometimes forestall violence, in Iraq it is more often the case that violence is a necessary form of negotiation. “Of the seven or eight tribes in my area,” said Maj. Morgan Mann, a Marine reservist who commanded a company in Babil province, south of Baghdad, in 2004-05, “one was the primary financiers and coordinators of most of the enemy activity.” Much as Capt. Bout did a few months later, Mann targeted the leaders of the “enemy tribe” with relentless house searches, heavy patrolling, cordon-and-search operations that shut down entire neighborhoods, and “very aggressive counterfire” — that is, shooting back intensely at attacking insurgents. “It culminated in my arresting the grand sheik of this tribe,” Mann said. “That was one of the no-no’s, supposedly. But as a result of that, we were able to get that sheik and about 20 or 30 of the sub-sheiks of this large tribe into a meeting in Baghdad to discuss how we were going to work together.” One of the subordinate sheiks put it bluntly to Mann: “I’m not your friend, but it doesn’t make sense for me to fight you” — for now.

I also know that a similar approach was employed in Operation Alljah in Fallujah in 2007.  But while the intent was all for the best, the rules’ own destruction were there in seed form.  While the intent was to win the trust of locals, the effect has been to humiliate U.S. troops and turn off the locals at the lack of force projection towards an enemy who offers no such friendship because they don’t need the help.  There intimidation works like a charm against U.S. forces whose strategy relies exclusively on the very people being intimidated.

The locals want us to chase and kill every last Taliban, even when there is the potential for collateral damage.  To be sure, efforts should be made to protect noncombatants, but dictating tactical decisions in the field by inflexible rule-making is not the stuff of victory in military campaigns, even in counterinsurgencies.  Neither is ceding authority to incompetent and corruption-ridden troops who represent a corrupt administration.

Finally, in what is perhaps the worst possible affect of the rules of engagement, troop morale is beginning to suffer.  A campaign whose troops are merely looking for an end to the deployment is doomed to failure.  The lamentable fact is that U.S. troops are battling the rules under which they operate as much or more as the enemy himself – and we are doing this to ourselves.

Enlisted Marines on the Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 1 month ago

The Captain’s Journal prides itself on being both well connected with and an advocate for the enlisted man.  Based on recent communications with enlisted Marines (of various ranks), a perspective is developing around the current rules of engagement for Afghanistan.

There is no such thing as air or artillery support any more.  The ROE General McChrystal has set in place is killing Marines.  Sure, there was the ROE in Iraq, but Marines were genuinely encouraged to think for themselves, assess the situation, and ascertain the best course of action independently.  This is not being done in Afghanistan, where rules are micromanaging the tactical situation.  Many Marines with combat experience in Iraq are leaving the Corps for various reasons, but at least one reason for the exit can be traced to a lack of willingness to deploy to Afghanistan under the current circumstances.  Deploying Marines to Afghanistan are mostly inexperienced.

Now.  To regular readers of The Captain’s Journal who follow our rules of engagement coverage and analysis, this isn’t news.  What is news is that the experiences are gradually being transmitted from front line back to the states, and it is causing a deleterious affect on morale.  In four years I cannot remember a more morbid time, even in the worst days of the campaign for Anbar.

Although hope for military campaigns springs eternal, I must say that for the first time my view of Operation Enduring Freedom is now rather dark.  To be sure, problems are always discussed here in the spirit of finding solutions.  But this depression is different.  Unless something changes, the enlisted U.S. Marines are suspicious of the campaign and its leadership, and are close to checking out – at least, mentally.

McChrystal v. Obama

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

Jules Crittenden notes that General McChrystal’s speech to London’s Institute for Strategic Studies caused a disturbance in the administration, especially because of McChrystal’s categorical rejection of the small footprint counter-terrorism model (advocated by Senator Kerry and VP Joseph Biden), saying that it would lead to Afghanistan becoming Chaos-istan (also see NYT).

Obama is said to be angry with McChrystal, and the never-serious National Security Adviser Jim Jones responded to McChrystal by saying that it’s better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.  Secretary of Defense Gates said he would salute and carry out whatever orders Obama gives.  Of course … he must do so or resign.

But there is something else in the wind concerning McChrystal and Obama having nothing to do with McChrystal.  Spencer Ackerman attempts to align McChrystal with Obama’s strategic vision (h/t Greyhawk), but he’s stretching and embellishing the case.  McChrystal has now gone on record basically saying that the small footprint model is stupid and won’t work, no matter how long Obama’s review takes.

A more emotional reaction comes from the Huffington Post, where they believe that McChrystal’s speech is an assault on the chain of command and the constitution (and the sky is falling and the world is coming to an end tomorrow).  On the other side of the isle, a bellicose reaction comes from Mackubin Thomas Owens at NRO’s Corner.  The reactions range from attempting to align McChrystal’s vision with Obama’s to almost-horror, even among ostensibly conservative commentators, that McChrystal would have “circumvented” the chain of command.

I won’t comment here on the issue of Generals offering counsel in a public manner because there is too much history to rehearse.  But in order to place this in context, remember that Obama campaigned almost constantly on the dearth of focus on Afghanistan and how the campaign in Iraq was usurping much-needed resources.  The campaign hasn’t stopped, and as late of March 2009 Obama was saying the same things from the offices of the White House: “To focus on the greatest threat to our people, America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq.”

Obama has the authority to lay out whatever communication protocol he wishes, but the American people have a right to know and approve strategy.  Yes – approve strategy.  Americans do that by the vote.  It might be done after the fact, during the next Presidential race or even before that when Senators and Congressmen are elected.  Or it might be done by public opinion swaying the political winds of the day.  Either way, America has a right to know about strategy whether the conversation is initiated by McChrystal or someone else.

When sons of America are sacrificed to a cause, it has always been and still is part of the warp and woof of the national conversation.  It should be so.  Obama can politicize the war in Afghanistan, but what he cannot consistently and legitimately do is complain when the same national conversation he initiated turns the question on him.  The Presidency is not a monarchy.

Generals Who Talk Tactics Rather Than Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

The inability of the Afghan National Army or the Afghan National Police to independently create the conditions for stability and security in Afghanistan at the present (or anytime in the near future) has been a recurrent theme here at The Captain’s Journal (see Here is your Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police category).  Yet the strategy being implemented (i.e., heavy use of trainers and less U.S. troops than needed to secure the population) implicitly relies on this very strategy.  The fact that so few are seriously calling into question the basic tenets of the plan makes it unnecessary to defend it.

But Steve Coll gives us yet another reason for concern over the strategy.

I can think of three cases during the last four decades in which programs to strengthen Afghan security forces to either serve the interests of an outside power or suppress an insurgency or both failed because of factionalism and disunity in Kabul.

During the nineteen-seventies, the Soviet Union tried to build communist cells within the Army in order to gradually gain influence. The cells, unfortunately, split into two irreconcilable groups, and their squabbling became so disabling that the Soviets ultimately decided they had no choice but to invade, in 1979, to put things in order.

Then, during the late nineteen-eighties, faced with a dilemma similar to that facing the United States, the Soviets tried to “Afghan-ize” their occupation, much as the U.S. proposes to do now. The built up Afghan forces, put them in the lead in combat, supplied them with sophisticated weapons, and, ultimately, decided to withdraw. This strategy actually worked reasonably well for a while, although the government only controlled the major cities, never the countryside. But the factional and tribal splits within the Army persisted, defections were chronic, and a civil war among the insurgents also played out within the Army, ensuring that when the Soviet Union fell apart, and supplies halted, the Army too would crack up and dissolve en masse. (I happened to be in Kabul when this happened, in 1992. On a single day, thousands and thousands of soldiers and policemen took off their uniforms, put on civilian clothes, and went home.)

Finally, during the mid-nineteen-nineties, a fragmented and internally feuding Kabul government, in which Karzai was a participant for a time, tried to build up national forces to hold off the Taliban, but splits within the Kabul coalitions caused important militias and sections of the security forces to defect to the Taliban. The Taliban took Kabul in 1996 as much by exploiting Kabul’s political disarray as by military conquest. The history of the Afghan Army since 1970 is one in which the Army has never actually been defeated in the field, but has literally dissolved for lack of political glue on several occasions.

None of these examples offers a perfect analogy for the present, but the current situation in Kabul does contain echoes of this inglorious history.

But if we won’t openly question the strategy, we will issue tactical directives changing the rules of engagement.  It’s questionable whether the Afghans really even want this counsel to be implemented, but that doesn’t stop our generals from issuing tactical orders to Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field.

The counter-example is given to us by the enemy.  The Washington Post has a provocative article concerning safe haven for the Quetta Shura in Pakistan (a subject our readers know well), but one particular nugget can be gleaned from this article that is salient to the discussion.

Virtually all of the Afghan Taliban’s strategic decisions are made by the Quetta Shura, according to U.S. officials. Decisions flow from the group “to Taliban field commanders, who in turn make tactical decisions that support the shura’s strategic direction,” a counterterrorism official said.

It would be better if General Stanley McChrystal didn’t try to tell combat-seasoned veterans when they could and couldn’t use fires.  But Mullah Omar has better things to do.  He sets strategy rather than dictates tactics.  While we are immersed in a sea of micromanagement and details, the enemy and his organization is beating us at the fundamentals.


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