Archive for the 'Now Zad' Category

McChrystal, SOF Raids and Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 4 months ago

Tim Lynch weighs in on insurgent networks:

Nothing will sour the morale of combat troops faster then the realization that the commander at the top receives frequent visits from the Good Idea Fairy.   Which is a good start point for explaining why  General Stanley A McChrystal took to the pages of Foreign Policy last week to explain the unexplainable.  The story starts with McChrystal’s observation that the SF tier 1 guys found al Qaeda difficult to collect, fix and target because they were so decentralized.  So McChrystal made up his  own “network” and his centralized, vertically integrated, fixed chain of command network beat the AQI with their horizontally integrated decentralized chain of command.  I’m not buying that about Iraq but the focus of the article was how this genius system was implemented in Afghanistan by the regular military and what do you know the “mo better” network has since delivered us the current spate of good news about the Taliban getting tired of fighting.

The article linked above and all the other recent reports stress that the rift between the Taliban fighters and their leaders who are safely ensconced in Pakistan stems from the losses being inflicted on them in the Helmand and Kandahar Provinces.  The pressure being brought to bear on the fighting Taliban has very little (if anything) to do with the nighttime high speed low drag tier 1 special forces raids designed to “decapitate” Taliban leadership.  The whole decapitation strategy is suspect as numerous observers have noted over these many years of SOF raiding and I ask again if somehow a military adversary managed to “decapitate” our leadership would we be weaker or stronger? …

HVT raids do produce results but it seems to me that what has brought the fighting Taliban to their knees is hard fighting infantry who have moved in with the people and deprived the villains of maneuver room while killing ever increasing numbers of them using ROE completly different from the horseshit inflicted on them by McChrystal.

So let’s talk about this for a few minutes.  Just occasionally we are enriched by someone who has both location and smarts – or shall we say, good judgment.  Nir Rosen, who was always and remains a jerk, had location.  He was also embedded with the Taliban.  I wasn’t impressed, and said so.  I thought he was a jerk then, and I was proven right. Whether I have good judgment is up to my readers, but I certainly don’t have location.  Michael Yon now has location again, and he also has good judgment.  Tim Lynch has both as well.  If you really want to know not only what is going on in Afghanistan but how to interpret it, read Tim’s work.  It’s that good.  Really.  Read Michael Yon, then read Tim Lynch.  Between them you will usually find what you need to give clear perspective.

Tim expressed doubt that the tooth fairy ideas expounded by McChrystal worked in Iraq or Afghanistan like McChrystal claims.  Let me be more blunt.  He sees the world myopically.  So the insurgent and counterinsurgent can operate according to swarm theory.  They can engage in distributed operations where authority is pressed downward.  So what?  We already knew this.  McChrystal seems to advocate the idea that it was the HVT raids that won the campaign in Iraq.  How what he did with a few operators differed from what infantry did all over Iraq from 2004 – 2008 isn’t explained.  And I know something of the hell the boys of 2-6 went through in Fallujah in 2007, and they did it without SOF operators.  Didn’t need them, didn’t want them.  They would have been in the way.

[Here I should VERY BRIEFLY share a story.  My son was on post and a band of un-uniformed SOF troopers came through Fallujah on the way to Ramadi to pick up some bad guy, driving an unmarked vehicle, throwing dust as they drove, and they were stopped by my son.  He told them, “If you ever, ever come through my AO again un-uniformed, and in an unmarked vehicle, driving like a bat out of hell, I will light you up like a f***ing Christmas tree, and then laugh about it as they pick up the body parts.”  And the SOF troopers didn’t come through Fallujah again on 2-6’s watch.]

If my friend Gian Gentile casts doubt on the surge narrative, I cast doubt on the HVT narrative.  Neither won the campaign in Iraq.  Hard core infantry operations in the cities, villages and countryside of Iraq, along with all of the things discussed in McChrystal’s paper done by all of infantry and not just SOF, won the campaign.  And finally, yes, along with Tim, I think that the micromanagement by McChrystal’s staff was horseshit.  Plain and simple.

Tim goes on to discuss the tactics that won Iraq, and that will win in Afghanistan if we turn the troops loose.

A great example of this would be Naw Zad which is currently home to the headquarters of Charlie Company 1st Battalion 8th Marines.  The rest of the battalion is handling Musa Quala which, like Marjah, was infested with Taliban but is now safe enough for the battalion commander to walk around the bazaar without body armor and helmet.  The Captain at Naw Zad (and he’s there on his own because he’s that good) is surrounded by Taliban.  He has an area of influence which he is constantly expanding and he does this with aggressive patrolling.  He has the clearance to shoot 60mm mortars and run rotary wing CAS guns (Cobra or Apache gunships employing their guns only; rocket or Hellfires have to be cleared) without coordinating with his battalion COC.  He has no problems at all with the current rules of engagement and has never been denied fires when he has asked for them.

Tim goes on to discuss issues of weight for the Marines.

I was able to spend a lot of time talking with the officers and men currently serving in Naw Zad and here is what they bitch about:  They don’t like the weight they are forced to carry and strongly feel the use of  body armor should be determined by the mission and enemy.  Wearing it in blistering heat or while climbing the massive mountains is so physically debilitating that they have felt on several occasions that they were unable to defend themselves. Many of their Marines are suffering chronic stress fractures, low back problems as well as hip problems caused by carrying loads in excess of 130 pounds daily.  ”We’re fighting the Mothers of America” said one; if we lose a Marine and he was not wearing everything in the inventory to protect him that becomes the issue.  Trying to explain that we have removed the body armor to reduce the chances of being shot is a losers game because you can’t produce data quantifying the reduction in gun shot wounds for troops who remain alert and are able to move fast due to a lighter load.

I have mixed feelings on this, as my son’s life was saved by his ESAPI plate.  But as readers know, I have griped about battlefield weight as well.  Remember this Marine carrying a mortar plate along with the rest of his gear?

Whatever is done or can be done about battle space weight, Tim’s discussion about injuries is sure to be ignored by advocates of women in combat.  I have pointed out before the difference between the Army mentality (mechanized infantry) versus Marines (foot borne infantry), but even this breaks down in places like Korengal where those Soldiers may as well have been Marines.  But I have pointed out that the Russian campaign in Afghanistan was plagued by a huge number of lower extremity injuries to women, and if these injuries (including higher up into the whole body, i.e., hips) are happening to the most physically fit troops on earth right now in Afghanistan, does anyone really, seriously want to advocate the notion that women can do this with 130 pounds of gear?  Did God not design men and women differently, and would we not want to celebrate this diversity rather than try to expunge it?  What kind of man imagines gender-neutral physical features, and for what reason?

And speaking of Now Zad, make sure to catch Tim’s pictures documenting his time in Now Zad.  He observes:

Fox company 2nd Battalion 7th Marines (Fox 2/7) arrived in Naw Zad to reinforce the Brits in late 2008 and were able to expand the security bubble but not by much.  The Brits, Estonians and Marines fought side by side to expel the Taliban from this fertile valley but were hampered by restrictive ROE pushed down from on high by senior officers in Kabul who lacked common sense and experience at counterinsurgency warfare. The Marines and their allies lost a lot of men because they did not have the mass or firepower to do the job correctly.  Way back then there was a lone voice in the blogsphere pleading with all who would listen to free up the combat power and let the Marines in Naw Zad fight.  His name is Herschel Smith and his posts at the Captains Journal can be found here.  It is worth your time to read them all.

This statement by Tim is, quite honestly, very moving for me.  I’m a fairly rough and unemotional man, but I recall with significant emotion my time studying the boys in Now Zad, their living in what they termed hobbit holes, the multiple trauma doctors with them due to the massive loss of limbs and other traumas suffered by undermanned Marines, and so on, until I almost couldn’t take it any more.  Tim gives us a picture of the Dahaneh pass, and I know that my good friend John Bernard lost his son near Dahaneh: “KIA (Dahaneh 08/14/09) and who is now safe and resting in the arms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I miss him!”  I know that you do John.  Many loved ones were lost near this AO while massive flotillas full of Marines were going from port to port as “force in readiness” for God only knows what.

Hammer and Anvil in Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 7 months ago

From Tony Perry of the L.A. Times:

Hundreds of U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers descended on a nearly empty city in southern Afghanistan on Friday to cut off supply routes for Taliban fighters who have taken refuge in the area.

The troops want to starve out the insurgents holed up around Now Zad, which was once a vibrant city of 30,000 but now is a virtual ghost town because years of fighting.

The assault in Helmand province, named Cobra’s Anger, may prove to be a warmup for a larger, more complex and more dangerous assault on Marja, a town to which many Taliban fighters and narcotics middlemen fled after Marines descended on nearby villages this summer.

In Now Zad, Marines had to contend with roadside bombs that Taliban militants buried in anticipation of the Americans’ arrival. Even more such bombs are expected to await troops in Marja.

“Marja is that last major sanctuary in Helmand province, the last place where the enemy has freedom of movement,” said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. “We’re going to take that away from him.”

Nicholson compared the prospective battle in Marja to the fight in late 2004 to clear barricaded insurgents from the Iraqi city of Fallouja.

But Marja is split up by irrigation canals that will make moving troops and vehicles difficult. A vigorous house-to-house assault by Marines on a town also would raise the specter of civilian casualties, an issue that has strained relations between Western forces and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Still, Nicholson said, the only issue is when Marja will be emptied of insurgents. No timetable has been announced.

In Now Zad, Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Regiment, based in Twentynine Palms, and the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, based in Okinawa, Japan, met only light opposition, which may not be the case in Marja.

No Marine casualties were reported in the first stage of the Now Zad assault. Some of the troops descended on key supply routes via the Marines’ tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft.

Commentary & Analysis

In order to place this operation in context, note that I have been covering Now Zad for one year and two months, ever since our friend Major Cliff Gilmore, USMC, sent his first update (published only at TCJ).  I have also been demanding more Marines for Now Zad for about that long.

Eight months ago I asked very directly: Now Zad is currently abandoned.  Perhaps someone in the chain of command could drop by and explain the strategic and/or tactical significance of patrolling and holding an abandoned town.  Do we intend to secure it, rebuild it, and repopulate it with the original citizens?

Within two weeks I got my answer via DVIDS: ” … the Marines had proactively conducted combat operations in Now Zad’s District center daily in order to shape the battlefield by moving insurgents into disposable positions.”  But is this really what was happening?

When the Marines figured out that the civilian population had been evicted and that Now Zad was inhabited only by insurgents, they all but apologized that there was no Afghan National Police there to train, and no population to protect.  They were left with the only thing they could do, attempt to battle the insurgents.

The Marines were undermanned, and thus they and the Taliban fought each other to a stalemate.  Now Zad was so dangerous that the unit deployed there was the “only Marine unit in Afghanistan that brings along two trauma doctors, as well as two armored vehicles used as ambulances and supplies of fresh blood.”  Many of the Marines found themselves living in hobbit holes at night in order to stay alive.

U.S. forces had the perfect opportunity in Now Zad, i.e., to battle an insurgency which had taken to using Now Zad as an R&R area after having evicted the population.  In other words, we could battle the insurgency without having to worry about harming noncombatants.  But rather than sending more Marines to Now Zad, we left units like 2/7 Golf Company there to fight the Taliban to a draw, because there was no “population to protect.”

This is population-centric counterinsurgency run amuck.  Jules Crittenden has a good synopsis of reactions across the web, including from J.D. Johannes who doubts the value in this operation because anvil and hammer operations rarely succeed in counterinsurgency.  He recommends census taking and other related actions.  True enough, gated communities, databases and census taking has worked at other times (although combined with heavy kinetics).

But his objection still misses the point about Now Zad.  We have become strategically so blinded by the doctrines of population-centric counterinsurgency that we couldn’t decide to send troops to defeat a non-trivial number of enemy fighters because there was no population to protect.  Instead, we allowed them to escape to Marja where it will likely be more difficult and perhaps even among the population where the rules of engagement will prevent kinetics if it is possible that noncombatants might be in the vicinity.

Our doctrines have made it more dangerous for the population and left an enemy behind that will kill and maim more Marines, and while the U.S. Marine Corps has had visions of Expeditionary Units dancing in its head, Corporal Matthew Lembke lost his legs, and then his life.

Now Zad, having taken the lives and legs of so many Marines, is a missed opportunity.  Perhaps its lessons will be learned for the next operations, including in Marja.  Now Zad will be re-populated, and enough forces will have to be garrisoned there to prevent the return of the Taliban.  But the Taliban have slipped the noose, and they will live to kill another day.  Little has been gained in spite of the bravery of the Marines who have battled the insurgents there over the past year, and that’s sad.

Now Zad Video From 2/7 Marines

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

Here at The Captain’s Journal, in keeping with the best coverage and clearinghouse of information on the Marines in Now Zad, here is a fairly recently posted video.  I recognize it to be some new spliced in with some previous video.  God bless the Marines in Now Zad.  Thanks to Lance Corporal Mckellips for editing and posting the video.

Life in Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 11 months ago

A recent report by Mal James bears complete reiteration here.

At all bases the “Marines operate in there” is an expression they use in “River City” to describe what happens when a Marine is killed or injured. All contact with the outside world ceases to be available all phone lines and Internet connections are cut until the next of kin are notified.

At Forward Operating Base in Now Zad, it is almost the norm, rather than the exception. Life continues for the Marines, another day passes and it is one day closer to going home. The majority of the Marines I talked with “going home,” meant safe and still intact, whilst they all grieve for fallen comrades there is also an acceptance that what they do entails risk.

Whilst they may be Rambo one minute, the next minute reflection replaces reality. When we arrived at Now Zad, 2/3 Marines Golf Company had already lost 2 Marines and a further 7 had been wounded in action, including 3 double amputations. All had been killed or injured as a result of IED’s. Any foot patrol was forbidden as the risk was to high to quote Captain Martin of Golf Company, “We will not walk in the area”.

Now Zad is a ghost town, not a soul lives there, or has done for the past couple of years, where once approx 15,000 Afghans once lived, not a soul is there. The British and Estonians have held ground there and the Marines are now on their third rotation there. With a casual ease Marines would point to a spot 100 yards away and say there is a high possibility that the Taliban are there now and watching us. What separates the two is often just a minefield of IED’s. They are so randomly set and spread out that even the Taliban to a degree now will not enter certain areas.

And so in temperatures that destroy any remaining part of your soul, a stand off exists in Now Zad. As if it was the 1st World War, a no mans land of death separates the adversaries. The only thing that moves between the two sides apart from bullets, mortars and rockets are the wasps. For some reason Now Zad has a plague of them. Any water or liquid and you are surrounded by them, and for someone like me who has a certified terror of bee’s let alone wasps, this was no happy place.

Showers and the basic laundry facility was closed between 11am and 2 pm, not to conserve water but to minimize wasp attacks. Hesco barriers and concrete walls may stop Taliban attacks but not wasps.

Unlike large bases back at Leatherneck and Bastion or even in the capital Kabul, FOB Now Zad has no luxuries, most rooms are plywood boxes with no air conditioning, and the temperature inside the rooms can easily reach 42 degrees Celsius close to 108 degrees Fahrenheit. There is no dining facilty for meals apart from some netting on poles, two meals a day are served out of trays, miss the meal time and it is MRE’s. I saw the trays of food just lying around in the dust like discarded waste next to a dumpster, no doubt tomorrows meal.

Water is measured in degrees of bath water, and tepid is something you actually crave. There were fridges around, but they were closely guarded secrets and rarely if ever would anyone ever offer Greg and I a cold drink, they were just too precious, I did not begrudge them this as it made me realize how hard it actually is for them. And how pathetically easy Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen have it at the bigger bases, where 24 hour meals are available and signs on the fridges ask you to limit yourself to two cold cans of soda a meal, but no one ever counts.

And yet not one Marine at FOB Now Zad wanted to be anywhere else but there, at the frontline in the fight against the Taliban. In adversity they become a true “Band of Brothers”, and to be honest you never hear a word of despair or frustration from them.

The only thing they do not like is “River City” because it means one of there own has fallen.

Regular readers know how I have harped on Now Zad, the lack of troops, and the lunacy of having Marines deployed there with more trauma doctors than regularly supplied with Marines because of the risk of IEDs.  More troops are being deployed to the Now Zad district, but we were still skeptical that the troops were going directly to battle the Taliban surrounding the city of Now Zad and currently engaging the Marines.

We were right, and the Marines still live in hobbit holes, exist in far worse conditions than their brethren at the larger bases, and fight the enemy to a standoff in a city deserted because of Taliban violence.  It is a lack of strategic vision, this notion of deploying entire Battalions of Marine infantry aboard Amphibious Assault Docks waiting to be used as force in readiness, when readiness never comes because of policy decisions, Marines are losing their legs in Now Zad, and the Taliban have done us the favor of separating themselves from the population where we can kill them unimpeded and without causing civilian casualties.  We still aren’t taking the campaign seriously.

Prior: Now Zad category

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Have we taken Now Zad?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 11 months ago

Several days ago this report appeared about the U.S. Marines in Now Zad.

Cpl. Justin Thompson crawled out of his rat hole dug deep into a wind-beaten, barren hilltop. Stepping over mounds of protective sand bags, he watched the sun rise over the Now Zad valley, a Taliban stronghold.

Thompson is part of a small Marine force that keeps watch over the deserted town of Now Zad.

About 10 miles (16 kilometers) away, Marines from the same company are fighting to drive the Taliban out of the town of Dahaneh. But Marines stationed on ANP Hill are removed from the battle, relegated to keeping an eye on insurgent movements elsewhere in the Zad valley.

Three years of intense fighting between the Taliban and NATO forces have chased away Now Zad’s 30,000 inhabitants, leaving what had been one of the largest towns in southern Helmand province deserted.

The Marine company lacks the firepower to force the Taliban out of their positions just a mile away. So the Marines of ANP Hill keep watch over the area from their lonely outpost.

“Things can drag pretty slowly up here,” said Thompson, of Manchester, Tenn., who is on duty six hours out of every 18. His unit has been stationed on ANP Hill for over three months, with that many still to go. The position’s name, ANP, stands for Afghan National Police — even though no Afghan government official or police official has been stationed in the valley for years.

“The biggest thing here is not shooting the people who don’t need to be shot,” says 1st Lt. Malachi Bennett, of Tampa, Fla., the outpost’s commander and _at 26_ one of the oldest men on the hill. He says the platoon has been making some progress at befriending residents on the outskirts of town and luring them away from the Taliban.

“At first, villagers looked at us like animals from a zoo,” Bennett said early this week from the command post, where the briefing room is an earthen pit with an old Russian anti-aircraft battery that serves as a beam to hold the ceiling. “Now they come to talk to us on patrols.”

Life on ANP Hill is Spartan. The Marines have no air conditioning despite temperatures that can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The men sleep alone or in pairs in tiny dugouts barely 4 feet high that they’ve dubbed “Hobbit Holes,” a reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s dwarflike character.

“It’s great, I love being up in the outpost,” Thompson said. “You get to know everybody, and there’s less hassle, it’s much more relaxed.”

Afghanistan is Thompson’s third deployment. He’s spent seven months “with some intense war stories” near Haditha in Iraq in 2006, and another “pretty peaceful” seven months in Fallujah in 2008.

Helmand is different from Iraq, Thompson said, because the Marines have learned their lessons from years of counterinsurgency. “In this type of fight you can’t be ‘gung-ho, kill everything,'” he said. “You’ll just be turning more people against you.”

Thompson jokes with his friends about injury, or death, during patrols.

He feels sorry for the villagers and children he meets on patrol. “We’re here to kick butt,” he says. “But you also want to do what you can to make their life a little bit better.”

For now, Thompson feels international forces are spread too thin to make much of a difference.

“Once they put a lot of Marines out here, it will get a lot better,” he says.

And The Captain’s Journal has been arguing almost violently for more Marines in Now Zad for quite some time.  Just today this report appeared about Now Zad (otherwise called Nawzad).

NAWZAD, Afghanistan, Aug 16 (Reuters) – U.S. Marines and Afghan officials hoisted the Afghan flag over a formerly Taliban-held district of southern Afghanistan on Sunday, signalling success in their latest advance days before a presidential election.

The 10,000 Marines in the Taliban’s opium-producing heartland of Helmand province are the largest wave of reinforcements sent by President Barack Obama this year as part of an escalation strategy designed to turn the tide in the 8-year-old war.

They have moved quickly into formerly Taliban-held areas, part of an effort to replicate the tactics used in Iraq of establishing a strong presence in small bases in towns and villages in Helmand.

Last week, 400 Marines, with 100 Afghan troops, launched operation Eastern Resolve II in the Nawzad district, one of about 10 districts of Afghanistan considered to be under Taliban rule.

“We have succeeded in regaining the district after years of Taliban control,” provincial governor Gulab Mangal said at a flag-raising ceremony in Nawzad, introducing a new district chief for the area. “We will make sure that our Afghan troops, with international forces, hold the ground and provide security.”

The district centre, high in the mountains in the northwest of Helmand, is all but completely destroyed after years of fighting — first by British forces and more recently by U.S. Marines — against Taliban fighters.

Much of the population has fled, and only about 100 people were on hand to attend a muted flag-raising ceremony. All shops and businesses in the town were closed, their walls pock-marked with bullets and buildings wrecked.

You can color The Captain’s Journal skeptical.  The Taliban are around, they need to be chased and killed.  More Marines have been deployed – apparently – to Now Zad.  This was too late for Corporal Matthew Lembke who lost both legs and later died while we were literally begging for more troops in Now Zad and also while entire Battalions of Marine infantry floated aboard Amphibious Assault Docks on MEUs wasting their time.

The ANA troops will not be able to take on the Taliban and hold Now Zad without Marines.  They will fail due to incompetence.  Have enough Marines been deployed to justify this loud (and perhaps unseemly) display of hoisting the flag and declaring victory?  We doubt it.

Prior: Now Zad Category

More Marines to Now Zad and Election-Centric Counterinsurgency

Patrolling Now Zad

Combat Action in Nuristan and Now Zad

No Excuse: Marines Losing Legs in Now Zad

What Now Zad Can Teach Us About Counterinsurgency

Combat Video From Now Zad

Marines Take the Fight to the Enemy in Now Zad

Video of U.S. Marine Operations in Helmand and Now Zad

Close Air Support of Marines in Now Zad

Major Combat Operations in Now Zad Afghanistan

Marine Operations in Now Zad Afghanistan

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More Marines to Now Zad and Election-Centric Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 11 months ago

There is discussion about whether to target the population centers in Afghanistan with counterinsurgency forces, or focus on the rural areas and smaller villages.  Really, this discussion and debate have been going on for years, starting back during the Russian campaign.

The Russians focused on the population centers (e.g., Kandahar, Kabul, etc.).  The Taliban owned the roads, the villages, and the mountains.  Thus they were able to recruit, train, raise funds, and interdict logistical lines.  In short, the cities became like prisons for the Russian troops.  Focusing on the cities was a losing strategy for Russia, and it will be as well for the U.S.  On the other hand, a winning strategy doesn’t relegate the population centers to Taliban control either.  Enough troops must be deployed to address the needs of both the rural and urban areas.

The case of Now Zad is especially unique, in that the population has deserted Now Zad and the Taliban control it as their R&R getaway.  It isn’t even necessary to work to separate the insurgents from the population – they have done that for us in Now Zad.  We can kill Taliban in Now Zad unhindered.  Yet the campaign in the Now Zad district remains under-resources, at least until now.

Hundreds of U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers have moved into southern Afghanistan to protect citizens during upcoming elections, military officials said.

Afghans will go to the polls on August 20 to vote in second presidential election since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Provincial elections also will be held that day.

About 400 Marines and 100 Afghan soldiers moved to the Now Zad district in Helmand province Wednesday morning, a U.S. military statement said.

“Our mission is to support the Independent Election Commission and Afghan national security forces. They are the ones in charge of these elections. Our job is to make sure they have the security to do their job,” said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Afghanistan.

“While we encourage every Afghan to exercise his right to vote, who he or she votes for is none of our business.”

The area in which the operation was launched has been known to be a Taliban stronghold, and American, British and Afghan forces have been involved in fierce battles with Taliban militants there in recent weeks.

The Captain’s Journal has rejected population-centric counterinsurgency in favor of lines of effort.  But if we’re not conducting population-centric counterinsurgency at the moment, we are conducting election-centric counterinsurgency.  There is much focus on the upcoming election – too much, in fact.  The election will prove to be far less important than the campaign against the Taliban and other important issues such as corruption within the Afghan National Police.  Furthermore, the question for Now Zad will not be whether the election comes off, but what happens to the additional troops once the election is over.

In other parts of the Helmand Province, Marines are entering Dahaneh for the same reasons – the election.

The Marines are in the Now Zad district so that the people can vote.  They should be there to kill Taliban and make sure that the people can return to their homes and be about their lives.

Patrolling Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 12 months ago

U.S. Marines with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Company G, 3rd Marine Division, conduct a patrol the morning of June 26.

From the USMC:

The Marines conduct both day and night operations in Now Zad because the difference can be advantageous to varying missions. The consensus among the Marines is that the eerie feeling that comes with patrolling through the mine-littered streets of an abandoned city increases exponentially at night as the wind howls through the alleyways and visibility decreases. But, they overcome any existing fears with the confidence they have in one another, and they press forward.

“As each day goes by, we get more intelligence on the enemy than they get on us – that is comforting,” said Forte.

Their patrols are not only dangerous, they require a leader with intelligence and tactical proficiency. The many natural and man-made obstacles across the battlefield in addition to the Taliban-made mines bring further complexity to their area of operation.

“Finding the best route and maneuvering the patrol through areas that could have mines anywhere is the hardest part,” according to Forte who has lead more than 25 patrols here in the last two months. “I try to think clearly and do what seems best. I just want to keep my guys alive.”

The Marines in Now Zad know what sacrifice is all about. They understand it. They live it. Their way of life is summarized in a saying that is posted in the 3rd Plt. headquarters – “I have not ceased to be fearful, but I have ceased to let fear control my life.”

I can only continue to point out the sheer lunacy of continued patrols through deserted towns which have enough of a Taliban presence to mine the town to this degree, the Taliban having cordoned themselves off from the population in order to engage in kinetic operations with the Marines.

In counterinsurgency we pray for such engagements.  With this area so dangerous that they are the only Marine unit to bring along two trauma doctors, the question why we continue to under-resource this particular location with Marines while we field entire an Battalion of Marine infantry aboard Amphibious Assault Docks in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere is unanswered, and the situation leaves me simply dumbfounded.

The Taliban are begging for a fight.  The Marines oblige, but we refuse them the troops they need to do the job.


Combat Action in Nuristan and Now Zad

No Excuse: Marines Losing Legs in Now Zad

What Now Zad Can Teach Us About Counterinsurgency

Combat Video From Now Zad

Marines Take the Fight to the Enemy in Now Zad

Video of Marine Operations in Helmand and Now Zad

Now Zad Category

Combat Action in Nuristan and Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

Two videos, the first from the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan.
Watch CBS Videos Online

Next, this video was posted a few weeks ago, and is a followup to our article Video of U.S. Marine Operations in Helmand and Now Zad (see second video).  This video is low resolution and looks as if it was taken with a helment camera.  Bear with it.

No Excuse: Marines Losing Legs in Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

In What Now Zad Can Teach Us About Counterinsurgency The Captain’s Journal ridiculed the decision-making for the campaign in Helmand and found the idea incredulous that the U.S. Marines in Now Zad would be under-resourced.  They need more troops, as we have pointed out, and major combat action continues against Taliban fighters.  These Taliban, it must be understood, have given us the opportunity for which we pray.  They have separated themselves from the population and given us unhindered access to kill them.  But the population-centric counterinsurgency advocates (we consider this to be similar to a cult) lament the fact that there is no population to woe and win, and so the campaign in Now Zad sees the Marines without enough troops.

Now Zad remains so dangerous that this is the only Marine unit in Afghanistan that brings along two trauma doctors, as well as two armored vehicles used as ambulances and supplies of fresh blood.

Apart from one small stretch of paved road, the Marines patrol only behind an engineer who sweeps the ground with a detector. The men who follow scratch out a path in the sand with their foot to ensure those trailing them do not stray off course. Each carries at least one tourniquet.

“It’s a hell of ride,” said Lance Cpl. Aenoi Luangxay, a 20-year-old engineer on his first deployment. “Every step you think this could be my last,” said Aenoi, who has found six bombs in the company’s four weeks in the town.

Just after midnight recently, the medics were wakened by a familiar report: A patrol had hit an IED in town. Within five minutes, they put on their flak jackets and helmets and were in their vehicles leaving the base.

The bomb blew the legs off Cpl. Matthew Lembke as he walked to a building. Lembke, from Tualatin, Ore., was loaded onto the ambulance. On the trip to the helicopter landing zone, the medics tightened his tourniquets and gave him two units of blood along with antibiotics.

At one point, he stopped breathing. The medical team used equipment on board to pump air into his lungs.

“Our aim and intent is to give the guys the optimum chance of survival from the first minute,” said the commander of the Shock Trauma Platoon, Sean Barbabella, of Chesapeake, Va. “If it was my son or brother out there, that is what I would want.”

Lembke was in stable condition Monday at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.

The men of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines in Now Zad know where to find their enemy — to the north of town, in a maze of compounds and tunnels that back onto lush pomegranate orchards.

The Marines are garrisoned in a base that occupies the town’s former administrative center. They also have fortified observations posts on two hills. In one of them, named ANP hill after the Afghan police who presumably once had a post there, the men sleep in “hobbit holes” dug into the earth. The underground briefing room is partly held up by an aging Russian Howitzer gun.

Each day, the Marines aggressively patrol to limit the Taliban’s freedom of movement. They keep a 24-hour watch on the battlefield using high-tech surveillance equipment and are able to fire mortar rounds at insurgents spotted planting bombs or gathering in numbers.

A recent daylong battle showed the massive difference in firepower between the two sides, as well as the tenacity of the Taliban. It took place close to “Pakistani Alley,” so named because of one-time reports that fighters from across the border were deployed along the road.

The insurgents opened fire from behind high-walled compounds with automatic weapons, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades against five armored vehicles; the Marines responded with machine gunfire and frequently called in airstrikes.

Mindful of the need to engage with what few locals remain in the area, every couple of days a small group of Marines and translators leave the base and walk a mile to a village south of Now Zad where some families who fled the town now stay.

They try to convince them that the Marines are there to help, remind them that Taliban militants plant bombs that kill innocents and discreetly try to gather intelligence. Many of the locals are suspicious and worried about Taliban retribution for talking with the visitors, who are besieged by children demanding candy and notebooks.

Get the picture?  The Marines make a trek on occassion to try to woo the population back into Now Zad because, well, they are there to help.  The population obviously won’t come back with major combat action ongoing.  The Taliban in Now Zad can be killed unhindered, i.e., without risking civilian casualties.  The Marines won’t resource the campaign because there is no population there to woo.

Got it?  Can anyone say stolid – dense – or stupid?  Let’s be clear.  The campaign sees the Marines without enough troops.  The chain of command has made the decision to under-resource that part of the fight.  Everyone up chain of command, who can make a difference in the resourcing of the campaign, is responsible for Cpl. Matthew Lembke having lost his legs, beginning with the President of the U.S., and going down to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and CENTCOM.  This includes the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

While the Marines are pressing to maintain an expeditionary force, Battalions of Marine infantry are sitting aboard Amphibious Assault Docks for nine months at a time doing nothing (as force in readiness) while a company of Marines in Now Zad loses their legs because they don’t have enough troops to kill the Taliban.

There is no excuse for this.  None.  It is easy enough to get the SITREPs from the front, listen to the commanders, and even read this blog (and this blog gets daily and multiple readers from the Marine network domain).  They know.  There is no justification – no excuse.  The chain of command knows that the Marines in Now Zad are suffering and need help.  That they continue to suffer without the necessary troops is totally unacceptable, and The Captain’s Journal is outraged over the situation in Now Zad.  The situation is deserving of deep indignation and anger.

May God grant grace and kind providence to Cpl. Matthew Lembke.  He will be in our prayers.

What Now Zad Can Teach Us About Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

We have been covering and analyzing U.S. Marine Corps operations in Now Zad, Afghanistan, for nine months, ever since our friend Major Cliff Gilmore (USMC) sent us a direct and unpublished report on his visit to Now Zad.  Three months ago we observed that Now Zad was abandoned, and questioned the strategic significance of holding it.  More than two months ago we got our answer: the Marines were working to shape the battle space by moving insurgents into disposable positions.

Insurgents are there even though the population isn’t.  There is major combat action in Now Zad as demonstrated by this video.  We discussed the fact that there aren’t enough troops to clear and hold, and as it turns out, Now Zad was being used as a place for R&R for insurgents.  Now this AP video gives us an even clearer description of the need for additional Marines.

This is simply remarkable.  Much of the time conducting counterinsurgency is devoted to extracting and isolating the insurgents from the population and protecting the population from violence from insurgents.  It is costly, requires patience, and is very expensive and inefficient.  But every once in a while the insurgents do us a favor and isolate themselves from the population.  These are the instances for which we pray.

Yet when the 2/7 Marines deployed to Now Zad in the spring only to find no noncombatants, it was as if an apology was necessary.  “They saw what they wanted to achieve but didn’t realize fully what it would take,” Task Force 2/7’s commander, Lt. Col. Richard Hall, said at the time. “There were no intel pictures where we are now because there were few or no coalition forces in the areas where we operate. They didn’t know what was out there. It was an innocent mistake.”

Mistake or not, the Marines hit a gold mine, with the possibility for significantly increased productivity in kinetic operations and kill ratio as compared to the alternative.  But while Now Zad is important enough to take, it isn’t important enough to hold significant portions or even kill all of the insurgents in the AO.  Why wouldn’t more Marines be deployed to the area to kill insurgents before they return to their own area of operations to wreak havoc?

Enter population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine.  Rather than seeing protection of the population as one potential line of operation or line of effort in the campaign, it is the sole focus of the campaign.  Rather than killing insurgents, we hear a constant parroting of the meme that for every insurgent we kill, greater than or equal to one insurgent pops up in his place (we’ll call this the dilemma).

Obviously we cannot deny that in some instances the dilemma presents itself, because denying it would be doctrinal stubbornness and inflexibility.  But also just as obviously, this does not obtain in every situation.  There were a huge number of indigenous insurgents killed in the Anbar Province, and if greater than one replaced every dead insurgent, the campaign wouldn’t be over.  While Captain Travis Patriquin was courting the tribes in Anbar, U.S. forces were targeting his smuggling lines by killing smugglers and shutting down his means of transit with kinetic operations.  In some cases, it would seem, nothing is a better inducement to negotiate than seeing dead friends and family members.

But the proponents of population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine, i.e., those who proclaim that it should be the sole focus of the campaign, have been so effective that the U.S. Marine Corps is apologizing for being deployed in an area of operations where they can kill the enemy unimpeded, and then refusing to deploy more Marines there because the population cannot be protected.

In fact, nothing would lead to better protection of the population than killing insurgents who will later go back to their area of operations and kill, maim, extort and threaten their own countrymen.  But our population-centric COIN experts are so blinded by ideological commitment to a set of axioms that they cannot see the value of kinetics even when the insurgents give us the option of doing it without even so much as a single noncombatant loss.

Doctrinal stubbornness and inflexibility.  It might just be our undoing.

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