Archive for the 'NATO' Category

Gates Indicts NATO While U.S. Stands in the Dock

BY Glen Tschirgi
13 years ago

A fascinating speech by outgoing Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on June 10 in Berlin at the Security and Defense Agenda think tank.

From this AP article:

BRUSSELS (AP) – America’s military alliance with Europe – the cornerstone of U.S. security policy for six decades – faces a “dim, if not dismal” future, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday in a blunt valedictory address.

In his final policy speech as Pentagon chief, Gates questioned the viability of NATO, saying its members’ penny-pinching and lack of political will could hasten the end of U.S. support. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 as a U.S.-led bulwark against Soviet aggression, but in the post-Cold War era it has struggled to find a purpose.

“Future U.S. political leaders – those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost,” he told a European think tank on the final day of an 11-day overseas journey.

The Washington Post summarized it this way:

BERLIN — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates rebuked some of America’s staunchest allies Friday, saying the United States has a “dwindling appetite” to serve as the heavyweight partner in the military order that has underpinned the U.S. relationship with Europe since the end of World War II.

In an unusually stinging speech, made on his valedictory visit to Europe before he retires at the end of the month, Gates condemned European defense cuts and said the United States is tired of engaging in combat missions for those who “don’t want to share the risks and the costs.”

“The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress, and in the American body politic writ large, to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources … to be serious and capable partners in their own defense,” he said in an address to a think tank in Brussels.

There are several points worth noting in Gates’ speech. The most obvious one is aptly noted in both articles: European members of NATO have been starving their defense budgets for years and it is finally becoming painfully, no, embarrassingly clear to everyone by the Afghanistan and Libya campaigns. The AP story notes the contrast between the “mightiest military alliance in history” and the patent failure of this alliance to bring about any kind of victory against a third-rate, tin-pot dictator in Libya:

To illustrate his concerns about Europe’s lack of appetite for defense, Gates noted the difficulty NATO has encountered in carrying out an air campaign in Libya.

“The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference,” he said.

Is it any wonder that the Taliban have adopted a strategy of attrition? The only, credible military force in the field seems to be the U.S., the Canadians and the British and the latter, two have already indicated that they will be pulling out of Afghanistan entirely in the near future.

Add to this the assessment by Gates that, while all NATO member countries voted in favor of intervention in Libya, fewer than half those members have made any contribution toward the effort.

On a political level, the problem of alliance purpose in Libya is even more troubling, he said.

“While every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission,” he said. “Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t. The military capabilities simply aren’t there.”

Afghanistan is another example of NATO falling short despite a determined effort, Gates said.

He recalled the history of NATO’s involvement in the Afghan war – and the mistaken impression some allied governments held of what it would require of them.

“I suspect many allies assumed that the mission would be primarily peacekeeping, reconstruction and development assistance – more akin to the Balkans,” he said, referring to NATO peacekeeping efforts there since the late 1990s. “Instead, NATO found itself in a tough fight against a determined and resurgent Taliban returning in force from its sanctuaries in Pakistan.”

So, to sum up what we have learned from Secretary Gates, the chasm between the military and political capabilities of the U.S. and its NATO allies has become so large that, for all practical purposes, NATO has become a toothless organization that cannot even fight a meager enemy like Qaddafi for any length of time without substantial help from the U.S. and cannot be counted on to supply meaningful levels of troops in hot zones like Afghanistan. And despite the strong punch delivered by Gates, at least some in Europe, according to The Washington Post are glad that it is being delivered:

[Jonathan]Eyal, of London’s Royal United Services Institute, said the speech would be “very welcome” in Britain and France, however, because “privately this is what officials have articulated for years.” Gates “identified the key problem, which remains Germany,” he said. “You can argue that there are many countries that do not contribute their fair share, but most of the others don’t matter, and smaller ones would likely fall into line if Germany did.”

Eyal said: “It’s a shame politicians say what they think only when they are about to depart, but the Europeans needed this cold shower, and if it’s up to Gates to administer it, so be it.”

The speech amounted to “an outburst of frustration that is bigger than bottom line of defense cuts,” he said. “It’s about the lethargic way the Europeans walk on the world stage,” lacking a sense of urgency and thinking that “at the end of the day the Americans will always be there and do Europe’s bidding.”

But the speech “hasn’t caused a great rift,” Eyal said. “Deep down, there is no one in Europe that doesn’t think that what Gates said is absolutely the truth. No one argues he’s exaggerating problem. It’s not a rift. It’s worse. It’s an act of indifference.” The missing reaction in Europe, he said, is to reconsider burden-sharing and “how the Europeans can contribute more to the common pot.”

All this is very well and needed to be said. But I cannot help but speculate that perhaps Gates had more than just the Europeans in mind when he made these statements.

Could it be that Gates was placing a shot across the bow of those in the U.S. (both in and outside of the Obama Administration) calling for reductions in U.S. military spending? Looking at Gates’ remarks as a rebuke to U.S. policymakers makes equal sense.

How did Europe become so militarily defenseless? It happened as an irresistible, default choice when European capitals opted for heavy social spending at a time of declining birthrates and economic productivity.

This is the very same choice that is facing the U.S. today. The U.S. Congress is at this very moment locked in a bitter struggle against an inescapable reality: there is simply not enough money coming into the U.S. Treasury to fund the present, enormous welfare entitlements and a robust military. The decision must be made and it must be made now to either gut our military or seriously reform the welfare state as we know it. In all likelihood, given the rate at which the budget deficit is growing (due in large part to a terrible compromise on the 2011 Budget and less-than-expected revenues from a stalling economy), the markets and foreign lenders will not be content to wait until the 2012 elections for a responsible plan to control the deficit.

So, whatever satisfaction we get, whatever approval we may have for Secretary Gates’ jabs at NATO members for their pathetic military budgets, the U.S. seems to be taking the very same road as Europe. There are already too many in Congress and in the political class class who gladly concede that the Defense budget should be subjected to deep cuts in order to preserve our welfare state. Here is a typical example from Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Ron Paul. While this is expected from Democrats, even “conservatives” have been making similar noises. See this piece on Haley Barbour for example.

This is not to say that any cuts to the Defense budget are out of the question. The Captain’s Journal has long advocated smarter spending, as with the proposed, new landing craft for the Marines. Savings can certainly be found in better management and prioritizing. In light of Gates’ speech, it is worth re-examining the costs of keeping troops stationed in Europe versus the benefits of having troops pre-deployed close to the Middle East and to Russia. But, in the end, these savings will never amount to enough to reduce the Federal deficit in any meaningful way or balance the Federal budget.

The only way to do that is to either gut Defense or gut Entitlements.

I do not believe that the U.S. can make moderate cuts to both for the simple reason that the trajectory of Entitlement spending is such that it will eat up the entire Federal tax revenues by 2049. As shown in this chart from The Heritage Foundation (click to enlarge):

The U.S. faces now the very same choices that the Europeans faced some 50 years ago: guns or butter; continue funding social spending or provide for a credible military. We simply cannot do both and, as noted above, it is no longer possible to delay the decision. If we elect to cut Defense spending (and it will mean significant cuts) there should be no illusion about the results. We will soon be in the same position as Britain and France, sharing aircraft carriers; we will be unable to protect any national interest beyond our borders for any real length of time; we will be consigned to watching as thugs and fanatics remake the world into one of their liking. And you can be sure that such a world will not be to our liking. Unlike the Europeans, however, there will be no United States to come to the rescue.

The only answer, in the end, is to radically alter the welfare society that we have become.   Even if we were to gut Defense spending, that would be merely a sacrificial lamb to the ever-growing appetite of entitlements.  For proof we need only look to Europe to see that their decades of sacrificing Defense for social benefits has left them now facing the stark reality that there is nothing left to cut except the social spending.  But any attempt to do so results in riots and anarchy by a people too long accustomed to pampering and privilege.    God forbid that the U.S. reaches that stage of decay.

How Fast Can NATO Surrender to the Taliban?

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 4 months ago

In a little known and poorly publicized report on the Danish part of the NATO effort in Afghanistan, they have begun to negotiate with the Taliban on their own.

Danish soldiers in Afghanistan have begun negotiating with the Taliban to try to break the deadlock there, a newspaper reported Monday, as a poll suggested most Danes considered the war unwinnable.

Troops had been holding talks with the Taliban as wiping out the insurgency was proving so difficult, a Danish officer told the Jyllands-Posten daily.

“We have already held several meetings with local chiefs where the Taliban were represented,” Lieutenant Colonel Bjarne Hoejgaard told the paper after a six-month mission in Afghanistan.

“We cannot get around it. We must intensify the dialogue and the negotiations with the Taliban if we want to have peace in Afghanistan, because we cannot eliminate the enemy,” he said.

This report was also picked up by the Globe and Mail.  Oh, and Hamid Karzai saw it as well.  The report apparently got his panties in a wad, because he responded that only the “government” in Kabul would be allowed to surrender to, um, negotiate with the Taliban.

Talks with Taliban insurgents must only take place through Afghan government channels, President Hamid Karzai’s office warned Tuesday after reports surfaced of dialogue led by Danish soldiers.

Presidential spokesman Homayun Hamidzada told reporters he was unaware of a report in a newspaper, which cited a Danish officer saying that Taliban were represented at soldiers’ talks with local chiefs.

“We must intensify the dialogue and the negotiations with the Taliban if we want to have peace in Afghanistan, because we cannot eliminate the enemy,” the lieutenant colonel was quoted as saying on Monday after a six-month mission.

Asked about the report, Hamidzada said he had not seen it.

“But the policy of the Afghanistan government is, any talks or dialogue should take place through government, not by the friendly countries who have a presence in Afghanistan,” he said.

Remember, Karzai is the one who said directly to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar ‘My brother, my dear, come back to your homeland. Come back and work for peace, for the good of the Afghan people. Stop this business of brothers killing brothers’.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has recently said that the NATO effort must be expanded in Afghanistan, and that this effort must not be seen as an “American” war.  But with such attitudes among the NATO “warriors” who serve there, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which it won’t become America’s campaign, good or bad.

Prior: Petraeus on Pursuing the Enemy

Targeting of NATO Supply Lines Through Pakistan Expands

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 8 months ago

Seven months ago The Captain’s Journal published Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan in which we outlined a major prong of the coming strategy to cut off supplies to NATO forces through Pakistan. We followed this up with a discussion of the importance of the Khyber Pass and the Torkham Crossing, the Northern border crossing through which supplies flow, and which has been the target of attacks against fuel tankers and other traffic.

We’ve also discussed the Talibanization of Karachi, Karachi being the only port through which supplies flow. Thousands of Taliban fighters have entered Karachi in a sign of the increased enemy interest in controlling this vital hub of transit. From Karachi the supplies go to the Southwestern Pakistan city of Chaman to cross into Afghanistan or to the Northwestern province of Khyber and then to the Torkham Crossing, eventually arriving in Kabul unless interdicted by the Taliban. The Taliban have worked to close both of these supply routes. But recently they have moved their targeting South of the the city of Peshawar and the Khyber Pass. In other words, they are expanding – not moving – their points of interdiction. They are now targeting the supplies as they come North from Karachi to Kohat.

The Pakistani army is locked in a fierce battle to stop fuel and arms supply routes to British and American forces in Afghanistan falling under Taliban control.

Last week Pakistani troops launched a series of raids on villages around Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province, in pursuit of a Taliban commander blamed for bomb attacks that have destroyed more than 40 fuel tankers supplying Nato troops in Afghanistan.

They claim that Mohammad Tariq Alfridi, the commander, has seized terrain around the mile-long Kohat tunnel, south of Peshawar, three times since January. He has coordinated suicide bomb attacks and rocket strikes against convoys emerging from it.

The Taliban attacks stretch all the way south from the Afghan border to Karachi, where weapons, ammunition, food and oil supplies arrive at the docks before being transported by road.

Last week western diplomats in Karachi said there had been an alarming increase in Taliban activity in the city. Local politicians said they had been warned by intelligence officials that 60 Taliban families had fled to Karachi from tribal areas close to the Afghan border and had begun to impose strict Islamic law. They had recently posted notices throughout the city forbidding girls from going to school.

The army’s antiTaliban offensive in the tribal areas appears to be hitting the militants hard. Last week Maulvi Omar, a Taliban spokesman, said that his fighters would lay down their arms if the army ceased fire. His offer was ignored.

The battle for the tunnel began at the start of the year when Taliban fighters seized five trucks carrying weapons and ammunition. They held the tunnel for a week before they were driven out in fierce fighting. Since then Tariq and his men have returned several times to attack convoys. The army launched its latest onslaught after a suicide bomb attack at one of its bases near the tunnel six weeks ago. Five people were killed and 45 were injured, including 35 soldiers, when a pickup truck packed with explosives was driven into a checkpoint.

When The Sunday Times visited the approaches to the tunnel last week, several bridges along the road bore the signs of explosive damage and bullet holes. Villagers said the Taliban had not fled but had melted into the background to wait out the army assault.

Pakistan is not just strategically important for U.S. interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan is quite literally in a fight for its continued existence. The Pakistan army’s juvenile preoccupation with expansion and war with India will become deadly if not relinquished in favor of a realistic view towards self preservation from internal threats.

Intensive negotiations (and eventually, pressure) must be brought to bear to secure the supply lines into Afghanistan, and eventually to obtain permissions for U.S. operations. Currently, 90% of NATO supplies enter through Karachi, while a total of 80% go to Torkham through Khyber, with the remaining 10% going to Chaman and finally to Kandahar. Only 10% come into Afghanistan via air routes. The 10% that comes in via air supply is about to become very important, and unless Pakistan can secure the supply routes, the amount coming into Afghanistan via air supply must increase (e.g., through India over Pakistani Kashmir or other routes).

NATO Cannot Be Rehabilitated

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 8 months ago

More than five months ago on the heels of a number of bureaucratic entanglements that had slowed the progress of recently deployed Marines in Afghanistan, The Captain’s Journal asked the question Can NATO Be Rehabilitated? We also predicted that in order to give Petraeus latitude to implement counterinsurgency doctrine, we would have to bring U.S. forces out from under the command of NATO, or possibly place a U.S. General in charge of NATO forces. This has come to pass as we predicted.

We have also noted that the campaign in Afghanistan relies heavily on special forces and raids against mid-level Taliban commanders rather than contact with the population and ensuring security. In other words, it is being treated as a counter-terrorism campaign rather than a counterinsurgency campaign. Australian infantry is not even allowed to engage in kinetic operations, and must sign documentation concerning their deployment that they have not provoked such fire fights.

Rather than making contact with the population, many NATO troops have been kept on Forward Operating Bases (FOBs); rather than finding and killing the enemy, NATO has placed emphasis on reconstruction efforts, reconstruction that goes unused in many cases because there is no security. Rather than conducting dismounted patrols, many troops have been confined to vehicles, obviously increasing the risk from IEDs.

There are noises that NATO countries are getting serious about the campaign.

The Berlin government has extended the mandate of Germany’s military mission in Afghanistan for 14 months and agreed to deploy an extra 1,000 troops there.

The decision would keep German troops in Afghanistan until December 2009, boosting their number to 4,500.

The move requires approval by the lower house of parliament, which was due to debate the issue later on Tuesday.

Germany is currently the third biggest contributor to the 47,000 Nato-led force in Afghanistan.

Sounds like a positive step, no? Well, not so fast. Forget force projection by infantry. Germany won’t even use its special forces for kinetic operations.

Germany has admitted its Special Forces have spent three years in Afghanistan without doing a single mission, and are now going to be withdrawn.

More than 100 soldiers from the elite Kommando Spezialkrafte regiment, or KSK, are set to leave the war-torn country after their foreign minister revealed they had never left their bases on an operation.

The KSK troops were originally sent to Afghanistan to lead counter-terrorist operations.

But Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister, admitted they had not been deployed “a single time” in the last three years, despite a desperate shortage of Special Forces units in the country.

Troops from Britain’s Special Boat Service and the SAS work round the clock, across Afghanistan, alongside US navy Seals and Delta Force, to target terrorists, arrest drug lords and rescue hostages.

The KSK were part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, which spearheads the international hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Senior military officials last night blasted the KSK commanders for keeping the troops in camp. One western military official accused Germany of “sitting on the sidelines while the rest of the world fights”.

He said: “It’s just unbelievable to think there have been 100 highly-trained troops sitting doing nothing for three years, while everyone else has worked their socks off. It’s no good sending troops if they don’t do anything. They might as well have stayed at home.”

Another source said: “It’s ludicrous that they would be here and not contributing.”

Berlin is under almost constant pressure from the rest of Nato to increase its troop contribution and scrap special national caveats which prevent German troops deploying to volatile parts of the country, like Helmand. Last year it emerged that Norwegian troops, fighting alongside their German allies, were forced to abandon a battle at tea-time because German pilots refused to fly emergency medical helicopters in the dark.

Mr Steinmeier claimed the KSK’s inactivity as an excuse to withdraw the Commandos from Afghanistan.

He said: “That’s why the KSK element should be taken out of the OEF mandate.”

Berlin was set to renew the KSK mission for another year in November, but they are now expected to fly home instead.

A spokesman for Operation Enduring Freedom said: “We don’t have enough troops in Afghanistan.”

But, he added: “Common sense says if they weren’t being used, they won’t be missed.”

The KSK revelations came as Nato’s leading commanders were renewing their calls for more troops.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, agreed to send an extra 1,000 troops to Afghanistan this week, but they will be confined to the north of the country which is relatively safe.

Most of Germany’s troops are based in Mazar-e Sharif, at an airbase complete with a series of bars and a nightclub. Nato wants Germany to do more in Afghanistan, but the mission is deeply unpopular with German voters.

Mr Steinmeier told Der Spiegel newspaper: “You cannot just keep piling elements on without taking a critical look at our current responsibilities.”

Our question five months ago was prescient. There are individual countries who are assisting in Afghanistan, but as an organization, our judgment is that NATO cannot be rehabilitated. This is why, for all of his bluster about returning America to a position of respect across the globe, Barack Obama’s demand that NATO fulfill an increased role in Afghanistan is a doomed strategy. More troops to sit on FOBs and provide force protection for themselves (while Marines and British forces take the brunt of the battle in the South) won’t help the campaign.

Finalized Command Structure Changes for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 8 months ago

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know that we’ve been critical of NATO. As far back as five months ago we were discussing and advocating a reorganization of NATO to report to U.S. CENTCOM, or at a minimum, removing U.S. troops from NATO command in Afghanistan. We also pointed out the red tape and utter confusion in NATO in everything from strategy to radio frequencies. As characterized by one Marine officer prior to operations in the Helmand Province, they had to “wait for the Elephants to stop dancing.”

Four months ago The Captain’s Journal continued to advocate realignment of forces, saying that “promotion of General Petraeus to Commander of CENTCOM without a realignment of U.S. troops to his direct command (they currently report to NATO command) removes the possibility for any strategic changes needed to make the campaign successful.”

One week ago we discussed the potential realignment in the works for the campaign, but continued to advocate more U.S. troops since many NATO troops are bound by overly restrictive rules of engagement. Now we learn that the realignment we have recommended is underway.

The BBC has learnt that a new-look command structure will drive the continuing fight against the Taleban in Afghanistan. will (sic) now be led by a change in the existing command structure.

US General David McKiernan will now command both the US and Nato forces who are currently based in Afghanistan.

General McKiernan told the BBC’s John Simpson that the move would create “a greater unity” among the forces. But the British Army has criticised the move, arguing that any big decisions will now be taken primarily by the US.

As we recently said, “Petraeus must have access to resources that will operate with regard to unity of command, unity of strategy and unity of mission. Time is short in the campaign, Pakistan’s intentions cannot be trusted, and the security situation is degrading.”

We’re thrilled that what we have advocated has come to pass.  Does CENTCOM read this blog?  As for the overall command structure change, regular readers of The Captain’s Journal heard it advocated here first, heard it announced here first, and studied the reasons for our advocacy.

U.S. Seeks Sweeping Changes in Command Structure for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 9 months ago

About five months ago The Captain’s Journal published Command Structure Changes for Afghanistan, which Glenn Reynolds linked at Instapundit. We were prescient and properly predicted that in order to give General Petraeus the power and authority to implement a coherent counterinsurgency strategy with unity of effort throughout the organization, U.S. forces would need to be completely under his command at CENTCOM. Glenn had a nose for news too in taking interest in this subject, and it appears that the U.S. is pushing for just what we recommended (and even a little beyond).

The Bush administration is pushing for sweeping changes to the military command structure in Afghanistan, so that the head of international forces would report directly to US Central Command instead of Nato.

The changes would have huge repercussions for Nato, whose officials have stated that Afghanistan is a “defining moment” for the organisation’s ability to conduct large-scale operations abroad.

The Independent has learnt that the proposal to streamline the complex chain of command, enabling US General David McKiernan to be answerable to superiors at Centcom in Tampa, Florida, rather than Nato, is before Robert Gates, the American Defence Secretary.

Mr Gates is due in the UK today after a visit to Afghanistan where he spoke about the deteriorating security situation with senior Western officers and Afghan ministers. At the same time, in a mark of the seriousness with which the Americans view the situation, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, flew to Pakistan from where Taliban fighters are mounting cross-border raids.

Any move to make the Afghan war an American-run operation would be controversial in some Nato countries. There is already public disquiet in countries such as Italy, Germany and Canada over the conflict.

Nevertheless, altering the command structure is an option in a wide-ranging plan by Washington to acquire greater control of the mission in Afghanistan. A violent Taliban resurgence has made the past three months the most lethal for Western forces. President George Bush has recently announced that several thousand troops will be moved from Iraq to Afghanistan, and General David Petraeus, who led the “surge” in Iraq, credited with reducing the violence there, is returning to the US in overall charge of both missions.

But it is the proposed change to the command structure in Afghanistan which is seen by the Americans as crucial to whether or not the Afghan mission succeeds. Officials point out that in Iraq, General Petraeus was in sole command, which allowed him to carry out his counter-insurgency plan. In Afghanistan, however, different Nato countries are in charge of different regions, often with different rules. Forty nations ranging from Albania and Iceland to the US and Britain are involved in Afghan operations. The force in southern Afghanistan, the main theatre of combat, includes troops from Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Australia, Romania and nine other nations.

US forces sent to Afghanistan recently from Iraq claimed that operations were being stymied because of the multi-layered command structure. Colonel Anthony Anderson, commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines complained publicly: “We are trying to keep our frustration in check … but we have to wait for the elephants to stop dancing”, a reference to the alleged clumsiness of the international command.

Lt Col Brian Mennes, commander of Task Force Fury, a parachute battalion serving in Kandahar, said at the end of his tour: “We don’t understand where we are going here, we desperately want to see a strategy in front of us.”

The British and Canadians are contributing mightily to the campaign in Afghanistan. But as examples of strategic incoherence, the German rules of engagement only allows firing in self defense, and Australian infantry troops are required to sign formal documents declaring that they have not provoked combat operations (their special forces are the only troops allowed to engage in kinetic operations).

Without drastic changes in the nature of the mission of NATO troops, it is doubtful that even placing them under the command of General Petraeus will change much. This is partly why we have recommended more U.S. troops. Petraeus must have access to resources that will operate with regard to unity of command, unity of strategy and unity of mission. Time is short in the campaign, Pakistan’s intentions cannot be trusted, and the security situation is degrading.

Shady Deals, Under-Resourcing and Force Protection in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

In spite of the success the U.S. Marines have had in the Helmand Province (and the example that this has provided to NATO), the balance of NATO forces in Afghanistan are focused primarily on force protection, and in order to procure that protection, some shady deals have been struck.  Spiegel recently interviewed Hamid Karzai, and while the entire piece is worth studying, one exchange stands out as descriptive of the campaign thus far.  NATO forces are buying protection from criminals and warlords.

SPIEGEL: Dirty deals are still necessary for the stability of Afghanistan?

Karzai: Absolutely necessary, because we lack the power to solve these problems in other ways. What do you want? War? Let me give you an example. We wanted to arrest a really terrible warlord, but we couldn’t do it because he is being protected by a particular country. We found out that he was being paid $30,000 a month to stay on his good side. They even used his soldiers as guards …

SPIEGEL: That sounds like the story of Commander Nasir Mohammed in Badakhshan, a province where German soldiers are based.

Karzai: I don’t want to name the country because it will hurt a close friend and ally. But there are also many other countries who contract the Afghan militias and their leaders. So I can only work where I can act, and I must always calculate what will happen before doing anything.

Karzai has just described an incredibly weak government, along with an incredibly weak campaign if the Germans are paying criminals $30,000 per month for protection.  In this case, the Germans don’t have the force (or rules of engagement) necessary to accomplish force protection, and thus they are buying it.

Another extreme example comes from the Norwegians.

The Norwegian base at Meymaneh is less secure than similar bases belonging to other ISAF forces. “The officers are angry, and I can see why,” says Vice Admiral Jan Reksten, in charge of the Norwegian contingent in Afghanistan.

Faryab province in northwestern Afghanistan has become increasingly restless in recent years. Taliban strength has been growing and there has been fighting in Meymaneh both last fall and in May this year.

Both the military and political heads of the armed forces accept that the base needs strengthening. When the Norwegian force was asked what it needed to defend itself, it asked for 120 troops and long-range weapons. A mobile reaction force was also ordered, so that the allied garrisons in the area could assist each other if any of them came under heavy attack.

Initially they were offered 100 men and long-range weapons. This was pared down to what was termed an absolute minimum of 76, still including mortars.

The most recent tally has fallen to 46 soldiers, with no long-range arms. These will instead be put into storage in Mazar-e-Sharif. This is the sequence of events which has caused tempers to fray.

The base at Meymaneh is a so-called Provincial Reconstruction Team base that provides security and helps with reconstruction in their local area. There are 30 such bases in Afghanistan. The United States alone has 12.

According to defense chief Sverre Diesen and army chief Robert Mood, Meymaneh will in fact be strengthened by the arrival of the arrival of more than 40 troops. The base will house a total of 200 Norwegians, of which 60 are deployed with the helicopter ambulance team currently stationed there. A few Latvian soldiers are also on the base.

“The Swedes, Germans and everyone else have robust rapid response forces. Mortars and armoured assault vehicles are almost always included,” says Col. Ivar Halset, who takes over as commander in Meymaneh in July.

“If we come under the sort of attack we experienced in May, we would no longer have weapons superiority over the Taliban,” adds Halset.

“The nearest reinforcements are an eight hour drive from Meymaneh and a further four to five hours from the areas where trouble is most likely occur,” he concludes.

“When the Norwegian force was asked what it needed to defend itself …” says it all.  The Norwegians are preoccupied with force protection, and as well they should be.  They lack even the basic weapons necessary to do the job, and are so far away from reinforcements (eight hours) and high trouble locations (four hours) that consideration of a combat outpost or counterinsurgency operations is out of the question.

The Australians also admit that more forces are needed.

Defence boss Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston has predicted foreign forces will be in Afghanistan for more than 10 years and thousands more troops are needed there.

He told a Senate Committee yesterday the Australian troops in Oruzgan province had Taliban insurgents on the back foot.

But he admitted they were unable to “hold the ground”.

“We can prevail in small areas but not across the whole province,” he said.

“Large tracts of the province are controlled by the Taliban.

“The ability to hold territory and influence what is happening – that’s the issue. There is a long, long way to go.”

Air Chief Marshal Houston’s sober assessment was backed by Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.

And then he just as quickly states that not another Australian troop will be committed to the campaign.  Upon his recent retirement, General McNeill made some important observations.

General McNeill’s Isaf control began in February last year. At that time, the force was comprised of 33,000 NATO troops. Since then, 20,000 more have been added, but still more are needed, he said.

“This is an under-resourced war and it needs more manoeuvre units, it needs more flying machines, it needs more intelligence, surveillance and recognisance apparatus”, the general stated.

“I’m not just focused on the US sector, I’m talking about across the country.”

But the example has been given to us.  Ask the Marines in the Helmand Province if they wish to give $30,000 a month to organized crime as protection money.  On second thought, we know the answer to that question before we ask, and hence, we know what needs to be done to win the campaign.  It’s just a matter of doing it.

Afghanistan Campaign Gripped by Confusion

BY Herschel Smith
16 years ago

In Command Structure Changes for Afghanistan we discussed the possibility that Secretary of Defense Gates would demand changes in the strategic alignment of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  Promotion of General Petraeus to Commander of CENTCOM without a realignment of U.S. troops to his direct command (they currently report to NATO command) removes the possibility for any strategic changes needed to make the campaign successful.

There are further developments in the potential realignment of forces, and General McNeill has made his position known.

The top NATO commander in Afghanistan said on Wednesday he favored talks to end the rotating command among allied forces in the violent south of the country, where the United States has added more troops.

U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill also said he still needed more troops and aircraft for his 50,000-strong force, declaring he was a “fairly frugal dude” and only asked for what he needed.

“I am in favor of a dialogue by the policymakers and the politicians about the consideration of one country leading a multinational headquarters in the south,” McNeill told reporters in Washington by videolink from Kabul.

But as soon as McNeill said these words, politics seemed to spell the end of the potential realignment.

NATO will continue to rotate command of its troops in the violent South of Afghanistan despite U.S. generals’ concerns that the arrangement disrupts operations, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

To minimize problems caused by the changeovers, each nation with major troop contingents in the South will take command for one year rather than the current nine months, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.

The announcement appeared to end a debate within NATO that some diplomats saw as an attempt by the United States to take charge of southern Afghanistan, the scene of the heaviest fighting between allied troops and Taliban insurgents.

The new arrangement does mean the United States will command NATO forces in the South — but not until late 2010. The Netherlands and Britain will each have a year in charge first after Canada’s command ends this November.

So the debate has ended with politics as the winner, and the U.S. will take over in the South where the Marines were recently deployed, but not until 2010.  Next in the tortured story, the Marines may be looking at a realignment of forces to focus on Afghanistan.

The Marine Corps may begin shifting its major combat forces out of Iraq to focus on Afghanistan in 2009 if greater security in Iraq allows a reduction of Marines there, top Pentagon officials said yesterday.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the proposal by the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway, to focus his force on Afghanistan — which they rejected late last year — could be reconsidered.

“Should we be in a position to move forces into Afghanistan, I think that certainly would come back into consideration,” Mullen said at a Pentagon briefing. He said that he understands it is challenging for the Marines to have “a foot in both countries” and that Conway seeks to “optimize the forces that he has,” but stressed that any shift is likely to occur “down the road.”

Gates said he agrees that the Marine Corps shift is “a possibility” for next year. He explained that when he earlier said the change “wouldn’t happen on my watch,” that was not an unchangeable policy decision — he meant it would not unfold until 2009, when he plans to step down.

But by then the Afghan troops are supposed to take over operations.  “Afghanistan’s national army will have the manpower to take the lead in fighting the Taliban by early 2009, helping NATO forces move toward a support role, the general in charge of Afghan troop training said.”

So NATO stays in charge, while more U.S. Marines are deployed to Afghanistan – under NATO control without a coherent strategy – and the U.S. takes over operations in the South in 2010, but this is irrelevant because by this time the Afghan troops will have taken charge.

Got it?  Actually, with this plan, The Captain’s Journal has a different prediction in mind.  The Taliban win because of our inept vacillations and political games.

Following the Marines Through Helmand

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

This is one more in a series at The Captain’s Journal following Marine operations in the Helmand Province, AfghanistanA brief synopsis of their accomplishments thus far can be found here.

A U.S. Marine fires at a Taliban position near the town of Garmser, a main assembly and staging point for jihadists entering Afghanistan (AP Photo).

U.S. Marines fire on Taliban positions from a sand berm, May 2 (AP Photo).

The Marines continue to take the battle to the Taliban in Garmser.

The spring offensive is well launched – by NATO.

Or, put another way, pre-emptively provoked by the U.S. Marines Expeditionary Force.

If the best defence is a good offence, American troops recently arrived in the southern provinces have wasted no time taking the battle to the Taliban, putting an entirely different complexion on combat tactics in the heartland of the insurgency.

Joining forces with British troops who have responsibility for NATO operations in Helmand province, these battle-hardened Marines – many of them veterans of fierce combat in the Iraqi city of Ramadi two years ago – hurled themselves into the insurgency cauldron last week, with the objective of dislodging Taliban fighters from strongholds north of the border with Pakistan.

Although the British have a base in the town of Garmser, NATO’s most southerly outpost, and have battled strenuously to maintain it against encroachment, the vast surrounding district, much of it inhospitable desert, has been essentially free movement territory for the neo-Taliban.

Garmser is a main assembly and staging point for jihadists as they enter Afghan soil. It is also a key transit route for smuggling in arms and smuggling out opium – the vascular network that pumps blood into the insurgency.

The claims and counterclaims – success versus failure – have been fast and furious. While American authorities claimed on the weekend to have killed nine militants, Taliban spokesperson Qari Yosuf asserted it was the insurgents who had killed nine Americans.

There have been no official reports of U.S. casualties from the fighting. But provincial government sources, along with aid workers in the region, accuse the Marines of conducting aggressive door-to-door searches, rousting civilians from their homes, arresting innocents and forcing upward of 15,000 Afghans to flee into the hot desert for safety.

None of these claims has been confirmed. However, the U.S. propensity for using air strikes and artillery and mortar barrages in support of their ground troops has much of the domestic media here caterwauling about a suddenly “Americanized war” in Afghanistan.

Caterwauling indeed.  The British didn’t really hold any terrain inside Garmser proper, and their role in this specific operation was transport (h/t Rogue Gunner).  “Although British framework operations are currently focused further north, in the areas of Lashkar Gar, Sangin, Gereshk and Musa Qaleh, the British Task Force has had an important role to play facilitating the move of the MEU down through the province.”

This report on the Marines is somewhat amusing.  Whether the “claims and counterclaims” have been fast and furious being quite irrelevant, the success of the Marines has been fast.  The Provincial Government is fabricating information about the operation because they don’t know what else to do, but the shock of rapid success will hopefully give way to an understanding of what a change in strategy can accomplish.  It is certainly the case that the combat action has been directed and aggressive, with the Marines “unleashing earsplitting barrages of machine gun fire, mortars and artillery” at Taliban positions.

O’Neill, the company commander, says all-day potshots by Taliban fighters are little more than nuisance attacks. The militants use binoculars and have forward observers with cell phones to try to aim better at the Marines, he says.

“This is pure asymmetric harassment,” he says. “They’ll pop out of a position and fire a rocket or mortar.”

But in a bleak British assessment of Garmser a week ago, the UK is said to be losing the battle.

In Garmser, the Scottish infantrymen hope to push the Taliban back and fill the town with people again. The continuing marine operation may help that objective.

But the main British effort is concentrated in northern Helmand, and local governance is weak in Garmser, where most of the town elders and administrators have fled to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

And as the poppy harvest draws to a close, commanders expect a fresh spurt of fighting in the coming weeks. Combined with the stream of Taliban from Pakistan, British officers recognise they are only holding the line.

“I’m under no illusions. We are not stopping the movement north,” said Den-McKay. “We’re just giving them something to talk about.”

Perhaps an alternative picture is emerging for the chaps in the UK – that of aggressive contact with the enemy by enough troops on the ground to accomplish the mission?  One can only hope that NATO is watching closely.


Marines Mired in Red Tape in Afghanistan

Marines Engage Taliban in Helmand Province

Operation Azada Wosa – “Stay Free”

Canadians Enlisted in New American-Style Afghan War

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

We recently discussed the first combat engagement of the Marines in Afghanistan, involving a town named Garmser.  The Marines are fully prepared and will push the operation through to success.  However, false doctrine dies hard in war, and the problems associated with the Afghanistan campaign become clearer with passing time and attention.  The Canadians are concerned about the recent addition of the Marines.

Bush has come to shove in southern Afghanistan (Editorial note: This is a pitiful pun – TCJ). The U.S. commander-in-chief has sent in the marines.

It’s reported that this has made NATO forces operating there uneasy.

It’s not that the Canadians and British and the rest of them don’t appreciate the extra manpower the 3,500 U.S. marines will provide, or the extra aircraft and light armoured vehicles they’ve brought.

But the other NATO forces have been told they have to learn to operate in what’s called “the American way” alongside the marines, and they’re not quite sure how this is going to make the job of winning hearts and minds any easier when the Americans have left in seven months when their “mini-surge” is over …

The United Nations envoy, Kai Eide, has just warned that everything won in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was overthrown seven years ago is in danger of being lost because of the fragmented international approach to securing and rebuilding the country and the weakness of the government of President Hamid Karzai.

The president himself had to be hustled away from the scene of an attack by insurgents near his palace in Kabul on Sunday while all those Afghan soldiers ran for cover.

And in the eastern part of the country yesterday, 19 members of a poppy-eradication team under NATO guard were killed in an attack.

Gen. Dan McNeill is the U.S. army officer who commands NATO troops in Afghanistan, and it’s he who says things must be done there, now, the American way.

Specifically, he wants the Canadians and other forces to deploy their soldiers for longer periods, make more effort to eradicate the cultivation of opium poppies and get more involved in reconstruction and humanitarian work.

The marines are under McNeill’s direct command and seem to have the same gung-ho approach that they exhibited in Iraq, where many of them served. McNeill himself has said they’re in the southern part of the country to “stir things up.”

In March last year, about 100 marines, it was reported, were sent packing for responding to an ambush using “Iraq rules” that violated the less violent rules of engagement that were supposed to be in place in Afghanistan.

It looks as if the Afghan war, at least for the next seven months, is to be played by Iraq rules, which don’t seem to have endeared a lot of people in that country to the American invaders.

Restoring security and rebuilding a country is a long, slow process. First, a region has to be cleared of insurgent fighters, then it has to be held to provide the security under which the third stage, rebuilding, can take place.

The marines might be in Afghanistan long enough to rout the insurgents where they are concentrated.

They might even be able to stop or reduce the traffic in fighters, arms, opium and money.

But when they have gone, someone else is going to have to hold what they’ve gained and someone else is going to carry on with the rebuilding.

When the marine mini-surge was announced in January, a Pentagon spokesman said it was to be “a one-time deal — that’s it.”

Maybe we should hope it’s not. Maybe we should hope that the Americans will be persuaded — if only because their allies aren’t up to the job — to stay long enough to finish what, after all, they started.

The Captain’s Journal has been critical of General McNeill, but we appreciate his sentiments and applaud his perspective with the deployment of the Marines.  He has a tough row to hoe because of the strategic differences within the NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The Canadians seem to assume that they couldn’t adopt a posture like the U.S. Marines on the one hand (such that they would be rather lost without the Marines in place), but on the other hand, seem to criticize the Marine posture as if it somehow cannot be successful because of failing to win hearts and minds (which begs the question why the Canadians want the Marines to stay?).  The Canadian narrative is so confused and contradictory that it brings into question just what the Canadians themselves would propose.

That question is also recently answered for us.  The Canadians want to talk to the Taliban.

Canadian troops are reaching out to the Taliban for the first time, military and diplomatic officials say, as Canada softens its ban on speaking with the insurgents.

After years of rejecting any contact with the insurgents, Canadian officials say those involved with the mission are now rethinking the policy in hopes of helping peace efforts led by the Afghan government.

The Canadian work on political solutions follows two separate tracks: tactical discussions at a local level in Kandahar, and strategic talks through the Kabul government and its allies. Neither type of negotiation appears to have made progress so far, though efforts are still in the early stages.

The Afghanistan campaign has faltered and proceeded haltingly when negotiations are pursued with the Taliban, most recently when the British used this approach in Musa Qala.  What affect has this approach had on the recent Pakistani negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban?  In this instance, Baitullah Mehsud has used the stand down in combat operations to his advantage.

Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, based in the South Waziristan tribal area, has ended peace talks with the Islamabad government, just a week after ordering a ceasefire against security forces. A spokesman for Mehsud is reported to have said the talks broke down because the government refused to withdraw troops from the tribal areas, the strategic backyard of the Taliban’s insurgency in Afghanistan.

Under a well-orchestrated program, the Taliban “switched off” their attacks on politically vulnerable Pakistan this month and they patiently allowed the Western-sponsored game of carrots and sticks involving tribal peace accords to play out, even letting anti-Taliban politicians into their region. For the Taliban, it was just a matter of buying time until the end of April to put the finishing touches to their spring campaign in Afghanistan.

It should be pointed out again just who the U.S. engaged in negotiations in the Anbar province.  The peace accord involved the tribes and muktars, not the more religiously motivated al Qaeda or Ansar al Sunna fighters.  Again it bears repeating: negotiations were never engaged with al Qaeda.  Not a single time.  Negotiations with the Taliban will not redound to success in the campaign any more than they would have with al Qaeda.  Winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan doesn’t refer to the Taliban.  It refers to everyone but the Taliban.

It should also be remembered that between the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the only province where major combat operations have ceased and the enemy has been vanquished is the Anbar Province where the Marines were assigned.

Even if confused by the more aggressive posture of the Marines, the Canadians appear to be concerned not about the fate of the Taliban, but of themselves.  The Marines might have a long term Afghanistan presence in their future.  A one-time seven month deployment may not be nearly enough.

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