Archive for the 'Rules of Engagement' Category

Reprimands in Marine Deaths in Ganjgal Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

Recall that in 2009 three Marines and a Navy Corpsman approached the remote Kunar village of Ganjgal where they were ambushed in what was surely a planned incident.  At the time even the women and children could be seen firing weapons, spotting or carrying munitions.  The Marines made repeated calls for artillery and air support over the next couple of hours, with support denied due to the fact that the authorizing Army officers could not verify that noncombatants wouldn’t be harmed.  We know this because a McClatchy reporter was with the Marines.  In other words, whatever obfuscation that the Army can throw at this incident cannot supersede the conclusions that we can draw directly from McClatchy’s report.

And obfuscation came.  The Army did an investigation that concluded, among other things, that the officers were out of the command center for decision-making during this engagement.  But in fact they were out only some of the time, and did indeed refuse on multiple occasions to authorize supporting fires.  They also had the presence of mind to authorize white phosphorus rounds to provide smoke and thus give cover for retreat, so they knew about the danger.  They just didn’t authorize support.

The families have pursued a conclusion to this, and they may have finally gotten it.

The Army “severely reprimanded” two of the three officers cited for negligence after a flawed mission in eastern Afghanistan resulted in five U.S. deaths, according to a congressman who pushed for the information’s release.

The Army officers were cited for poor planning and oversight of a Sept. 8, 2009, operation in Ganjgal, a remote village near the Pakistan border with Kunar province. Three Marines and a corpsman were killed on the battlefield after they were repeatedly denied air and artillery support while pinned down by more than 100 insurgents. A soldier died the following month of medical complications related to wounds he suffered in the ambush.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Army recently shared with him documents indicating two of the three officers cited last year in a joint Army-Marine Corps investigation were deemed primarily responsible for the mission’s failures and given reprimands, likely career killers.

“There was nothing else we could do,” Jones said of the discipline. “This was a very tragic situation that never should have happened.”

Jones, whose congressional district includes thousands of Marines at Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps air stations New River and Cherry Point, got involved in October after family members of the fallen troops expressed disgust that the Army refused to disclose whether anyone was held accountable for mistakes that led to their loved ones’ deaths. On Jan. 28, he sent letters to the families of each service member informing them what he learned.

Army officials declined to comment on the disciplinary action. The officers are entitled to privacy unless they are charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, said Col. Thomas Collins, an Army spokesman.

The Ganjgal investigation, conducted by Army Col. Richard Hooker and Marine Col. James Werth, determined that the “negligent” leadership of three officers at nearby Forward Operating Base Joyce contributed “directly to the loss of life which ensued.” They refused direct calls for help from U.S. forces on the ground and failed to notify higher commands that they had troops under fire, the investigation found.

The officers were members of Task Force Chosin, a unit comprising soldiers from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, N.Y. The military has not released their names, but they are likely captains or majors.

Killed in the battle were four members of Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, out Okinawa, Japan: 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, 25; Gunnery Sgts. Aaron Kenefick, 30; and Edwin Johnson, 31; and Hospitalman 3rd Class James Layton, 22. Hours after the battle began, they were found in a ditch shot to death, stripped of gear and weapons.

A former corporal, Dakota Meyer, is nominated for the Medal of Honor for charging into the kill zone to find the four military trainers and carry them to safety.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, 41, survived the battle despite suffering several gunshot wounds. He died Oct. 7, 2009, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington after his body rejected a blood transfusion he received in Afghanistan, said his widow, Charlene.

Charlene Westbrook questioned why the third officer cited for negligence wasn’t reprimanded, and said she is frustrated the Army hasn’t explained the rationale for its disciplinary decisions.

“We were searching for answers, not for the same thing we’ve been told before,” she said. “It’s very frustrating and, again, another betrayal, I feel.”

Collins said the families were provided complete, redacted copies of the investigation report last year. There is no indication they were ever promised an update on disciplinary actions, he said.

Reprimands in the Ganjgal case were delivered after similar discipline was rescinded last year for mistakes made in Wanat, Afghanistan, during an ambush July 13, 2008. Nine soldiers died and 27 were wounded in the battle.

Perhaps the families have partial conclusion (and I confess, I didn’t know until this report that Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook had also perished) .  I had previously recommended that the Army field grade and staff level officers involved in this incident find a different line of work.  And now they must do exactly that.  I had said that the source of this problem – rules of engagement and micromanaging the military – would not be targeted, and General McChrystal wouldn’t even so much as be mentioned in the AR 15-6.  I was right on all accounts.

When he took over the campaign in Afghanistan, McChrystal quickly issued a severely debilitating tactical directive, but in fact added to the cultural milieu with his own interpretation:

“If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.”

As for micromanaging the military, when the Marines first entered Marjah in the Helmand Province, General Rodriguez, then second in command in Afghanistan, decided that he wanted to micromanage a completely separate command structure, that of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF).  “Less than six hours before Marines commenced a major helicopter-borne assault in the town of Marja in February, Rodriguez’s headquarters issued an order requiring that his operations center clear any airstrike that was on a housing compound in the area but not sought in self-defense.”

The officers on duty that fateful day the Marines were killed in Gamjgal were responsible for their decisions.  It gives me no joy to report or comment on their demise as officers in the U.S. Army.  But the climate of micromanagement of forces in theater set in motion by Generals McChrystal and Rodriguez was also responsible for the incident at Ganjgal.  Incidents can (and in fact most often do) have more than a single root cause.

I will forever hold General McChrystal responsible for the deaths of three Marines, a Navy Corpsman and a Soldier in this incident.  Until he admits to the debilitating nature of his command and visits these families to watch them weep, this incident is unresolved, and the families have no closure.  He can join as many boards of directors as he likes.  There is unfinished business, and the ghosts of four Marines and a Soldier are watching.


Taliban Ambush in Eastern Kunar Kills Four U.S. Marines

More Thoughts on Marines and Rules of Engagement

AR 15-6 Investigation of Marine Deaths in Kunar Province

General Anthony Zinni on the Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 11 months ago

General Anthony Zinni on the rules of engagement:

Soldiers fighting in Afghanistan believe their rules of engagement are too restrictive and hand the enemy an unfair advantage, a retired US Marine Corps general says.

General Anthony Zinni, a former commander of US central command and now US head of defence company BAE Systems, said he believed concerns about restrictive rules were coalition-wide.

This is an issue touched on by an unnamed Australian soldier in an email complaining about the adequacy of support provided to troops in a major fight with insurgents on August 24 which claimed the life of one digger.

“Everyone is too scared about collateral damage,” he wrote.

General Zinni, in Australia for a strategic leadership forum, said concerns about the rules had been conveyed by coalition and US soldiers, including his own son, a marines (sic) officer in Afghanistan.

“There is a strong sense in on the ground by the company commanders and platoon commanders that the rules of engagement are too restrictive,” he told reporters.

“They result in more casualties. They don’t allow for the kind of immediate engagement. The enemy understands these rules of engagement and manipulates them.”

Rules of engagement apply to all coalition troops in Afghanistan and dictate circumstances in which they can open fire or resort to certain weapons.

Following a series of air and artillery strikes which resulted in civilian casualties, the rules were tightened to limit use of heavy weapons against civilian compounds, even if insurgents were firing from them.

General Zinni said that meant a request for an air or artillery strike needed to be cleared at multiple levels, wasting time, with many missions refused.

He said that reduced troops to using direct fire weapons, just the same as the enemy, with engagements lasting longer and increasing the danger to nearby civilians.

You mean that there are unintended consequences to the rules of engagement?  You mean that they don’t really do what they are purported to do?  Hmmm …  who could have guessed that?

Problems with the Applied Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 11 months ago

The standing Rules of engagement (ROE) begins with the orders from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, goes in level of detail to theater specific rules of engagement (such as the tactical directive written by General McChrystal’s staff), and are given context with modifiers and embellishments such as General McChrystal’s statement that “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.”  The ROE category supplies the necessary detail to study this in more depth.

So the standing ROE, the tactical directive, the intentionality of the commander expressed in speeches, and the behind the scenes meetings and agreements, all come to bear for the enlisted man in localized or small unit-specific ROE that concerns things like how far out cones must be placed to demarcate where firing can begin for vehicles that are suspected being threats, whether troops in contact can return fire, when they can return fire, under what conditions specific combined arms weapons systems can be employed (mortars, CAS, etc.), and so on and so forth.  A JAG typically accompanies at least Battalion level deployments and certainly regimental deployments in order to create and help enforce all of those localized rules.  Welcome to the enlisted man’s life.

Now, as for how the overarching rules have come to bear on the enlisted man’s life in Afghanistan (as if we need more examples), two recent reports fill in the gaps for us.  The first comes from Time.

The scouts were initially dispatched to provide oversight for a clearing crew that ultimately had to be evacuated. Hours into a recent clearing operation, a member of Alpha Company had stepped on a crush box that took part of his leg; then, the next day, the 3rd Platoon was led into a trap. A local man responded to the Americans’ request for a place to bed down for the night by taking them to an empty compound that was rigged with explosives. Although a bomb-sniffing dog and mine detector swept the place before platoon members entered, an IED placed by the doorway exploded near a group inside, gravely wounding one soldier. A second went off four minutes later, injuring another.

Because military rules dictate that any soldier within 160 ft. (50 m) of a blast must head back to base for evaluation, the entire platoon had to be removed from the battlefield, putting the clearing mission in jeopardy. The scouts were ordered to pick up where Alpha Company left off. Despite the threat of more bombs in the vicinity, they went to the same cluster of buildings to finish the search and to assess what had happened. Upon reaching the compound where the suspect had led the soldiers into harm’s way, they encountered two elders who said they had just returned from Kandahar and knew nothing of the man in question. The U.S. officers were skeptical, but the elders insisted that the bomb-rigged building was in fact a former Taliban madrasah, or religious school, that had not been occupied for several months, though militants regularly pass through the area.

Near the end of their operation, the scouts were dispatched to examine some compounds connected to a surge of IED activity on a stretch of road. As they approached the area late in the afternoon, a knot of well-built men in black turbans stood outside, motionless. A couple of them wore faint grins. Like everyone else in Zhari, they claimed to be farmers, but platoon officers suspected that, based on their mien and location, they were militants. Because the men were not carrying weapons, however, there was nothing to be done but walk away — in strict compliance with the U.S. military’s rules of engagement. One soldier likened it to being “handcuffed.”

The second example comes from Washington Examiner.

To the U.S. Army soldiers and Marines serving here, some things seem so obviously true that they are beyond debate. Among those perceived truths: Tthe restrictive rules of engagement that they have to fight under have made serving in combat far more dangerous for them, while allowing the Taliban to return to a position of strength.

“If they use rockets to hit the [forward operating base] we can’t shoot back because they were within 500 meters of the village. If they shoot at us and drop their weapon in the process we can’t shoot back,” said Spc. Charles Brooks, 26, a U.S. Army medic with 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, in Zabul province.

Word had come down the morning Brooks spoke to this reporter that watch towers surrounding the base were going to be dismantled because Afghan village elders, some sympathetic to the Taliban, complained they were invading their village privacy. “We have to take down our towers because it offends them and now the Taliban can set up mortars and we can’t see them,” Brooks added, with disgust.

These examples are particularly interesting because they only partially deal with ROE proper, and to some extent deal with the milieu of cultural sensitivity imposed upon the troops within the context of counterinsurgency.  Note how restricted the troops are when it comes to interaction with the local population.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with 360 degree shooting when you feel threatened.  This has to do with force projection.

The Soldiers in the first instance should have stopped, questioned the suspected Taliban fighters, questioned them again, searched them, isolated them and questioned them again, obtained some biometric data (iris scans and fingerprints), issued some threats to them if their suspicions were in any way confirmed, handcuffed them if necessary to detain them, and arrested them if they found something that needed further investigation.  Force projection will end Taliban rule, and timidness will ensure the smirks they now get when they pass by the fighters.

In the second example, the concerns of the locals outweighed the force protection of U.S. troops.  The end result was not to win the allegiance of the locals, but to ensure that they see the Taliban as the winning side.  The Taliban set up mortars, the U.S. troops back down if we (the population) say that we don’t like their towers (as we were told to say by the Taliban).

In both cases the myth is that the population will side with U.S. troops, when in fact the Taliban are seen as more powerful and determined.  Counterinsurgency is not as complex as it is made out to be by the elite who want to win the people with projects, wells, jirgas and sit-downs for tea.

We are set up for failure in Afghanistan, no matter what the narrative says and no matter how many good reports come from the front by the PAOs who talk endlessly about community projects.  Oh, and as for the real force projection, that is still only happening by the SOF troopers who conduct raids in the night to get their high value targets and then spirit off by helicopter to the local FOB for debriefing.  The balance of the force is designed to be policemen by campaign commanders, even though they sometimes get involved in heavy fire fights where they are provided with much less support than the SOF troopers.  How is this whole program working out?  Who is asking for the talks – us or the Taliban?

Finally, I must again comment that this campaign is not being conducted like Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Do you doubt this?  Consider again Recon by Fire.  Tell me about how cultural sensitivity won Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Go ahead.

Investigating the Battle of Derapat

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 11 months ago

The diggers were involved in a significant engagement in the Oruzgan Province on August 24th.  The diggers were apparently let down by intelligence and restrictive rules of engagement, but as expected, there is push-back by the Australian Army brass.

An email from a soldier who criticised the army over a deadly battle will be part of an investigation, Defence Minister Stephen Smith says.

Digger Jared MacKinney died in the battle on August 24.

Another soldier who cannot be named told a friend in an email that it was a miracle that more Australians didn’t die in the battle.

“The army has let us down mate and I am disgusted,” he said.

Mr Smith told reporters after visiting HMAS Stirling south of Perth that force protection was a “serious matter” for the army and the government.

“The views of soldiers on the ground has always been taken into account so far as force protection measures in Afghanistan is concerned,” he said.

“The issues that are raised in the email will be considered in the course of Defence’s investigation of this matter.”

[ … ]

Lance Corporal MacKinney’s widow, Becky, gave birth to their second child, a son, Noah, just five hours after his funeral service in Brisbane on September 10.

The soldier said in his email that his section had been in a contact 100m from the same spot two days earlier and reports from sappers clearing bombs on the morning of the battle had said civilians were fleeing the valley.

“That told us it was going to be on,” he said.

The patrol’s first big surprise was the size of the enemy force. No intelligence reports had prepared the two sections of about 24 men for a confrontation with up to 100 enemy attacking from multiple firing positions as close as 80m.

“We were at times pinned down by a massive rate of fire but we stuck to it,” the soldier said.

The second shock for the Diggers, forced to withdraw as they started to run low on ammunition, was the complete lack of fire support from artillery, mortars or aircraft.

“We are not f—— happy, but then again the BG (Battle Group) f—- up the intelligence report because a certain Major writes it from the signal log book (radio log of conversation) instead of getting contact reports, patrol reports and a patrol debrief,” the soldier said. “The army has let us down, mate, and I am f—— disgusted.”

The soldier, from Brisbane’s 6th Battalion, said an unmanned spy plane flew above the battlefield pin-pointing enemy positions throughout the three-hour battle, but effective fire support still failed to materialise.

He also revealed Lance-Cpl MacKinney died almost half an hour into the battle.

“Jared got hit and the boys were working on him but he would have been gone already,” he said.

“They were copping rounds the whole time, all the way through to carrying him on the stretcher and loading him on the AME (Aero Medical Evacuation chopper).”

The soldier’s email has been circulated to senior officers, including Defence Chief Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.

His plea is supported by retired counter-insurgency expert, Major General Jim Molan.

“We must never incur casualties because the support for our soldiers was not fast enough, not accurate enough or not able to be used because of restrictive rules of engagement,” General Molan said.

The enlisted ranks have their supporters among the brass.

Former Iraq war commander Jim Molan, a respected commentator on counter-insurgency, says aspects of the firefight are cause for serious concern.

In an opinion piece in today’s The Weekend Australian, the retired major general calls for the use of more aggressive tactics to prosecute the war — tactics he says will save lives in the long term and force the Taliban to negotiate.

“Combat commanders must be under no illusion that when they make contact with an enemy force . . . they must do their utmost to destroy that force,” General Molan says.

“Our troops found themselves facing (some say) up to 100 Taliban. This is one of the few times when we actually know exactly where our armed enemy is, and we must always capitalise on it.

“In this battle, the few Australian soldiers accompanying the Afghans once again fought brilliantly and, along with supporting fire, may have killed up to a third of this force.

“As the Australians withdrew, the other two thirds of the enemy went somewhere, certainly with the capacity to kill more Australian and Afghan soldiers . . . and still able to intimidate the population.”

But is this view common among the officer corps?  Maybe not.

Senior military sources told The Australian the war in Afghanistan was not a “kill and capture” mission but a “care and nurture” mission, in which discrimination and proportionality were crucial.

The senior military sources have made a fundamental logical blunder.  They have confused an emphasizing reduction with an exclusive reduction.  To be sure, nurturing anti-Taliban elements is a goal of the campaign, for instance.  But to claim that it is the only goal is wrong.  To encourage your troops to nurture your allies is an emphasizing speech.  To say that that is all that they are there to do is an exclusive focus on one element, and it is not only wrong-headed, it is dangerous.  If killing the enemy is not the main goal or at least one of the goals of the campaign, the campaign has lost its focus and should be ended.

I am currently trying to obtain a copy of the subject e-mail.  At the moment, we know that it makes the following claims.

“That contact would have been over before Jared died if they gave us f…..g mortars,” he wrote.

The email also says how two units of about 24 men each were left unprepared for a confrontation with up to 100 enemies attacking from multiple firing positions as close as 80 metres away, because of lack of intelligence reports.

This sounds eerily familiar.  It isn’t required that it be U.S. troops for there to be problems with the rules of engagement.  We will learn much more before this investigation is over, and the Australian military needs to be open, honest and forthcoming with the information.  There is much to learn from this engagement, from the Taliban tactic of massing of forces, to problems with the rules of engagement.

Why Marines in Afghanistan Want the Taliban to Open Fire

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 1 month ago

Dan Morrison with reports from an embed with the Marines in Helmand:

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – 1st Platoon, off to our west, made contact with the Taliban before we did.

4th Squad, 2nd Platoon, had already been slogging through wadis and cotton fields for a couple of hours when we heard the firefight in the distance.

4th Squad pushed on, with Cali Bagby traveling in the middle of LCpl Brennan’s fireteam and me traveling with LCpl Singleton’s fireteam. Leading both fireteams was Cpl Woodbine, Squad Leader.

This was only my second patrol, but it was turning out to be much like the first. Crossing open fields where opium poppies had been harvested in the spring, pushing our way through tall cornfields where the Marine in front of me would completely disappear if I slowed enough to let him get more than a few meters ahead of me.

We slid down wadis and waded across, hoping the water was not deeper than a couple of feet. Some came up to our thighs, and I talked to a Marine a couple of days ago who came off a patrol during which he had stepped into an eight-foot hole in the middle of a wadi.

“Man, all I could think of was I wanted to keep my weapon out of the water and dry, and I didn’t want to drown. That would be a hell of a way to die in Afghanistan,” he said.

The two fireteams were a couple hundred meters apart; Brennan’s fireteam would advance and then set up security for Singleton’s fireteam.

Crossing yet another open field is nerve–wracking because if the Taliban ambush comes – no, when the Taliban ambush comes – more than likely it will occur when you are exposed in an open field.

Overhead we could hear helicopter gunships circling, providing support.

“Those things, the gunships and even the Quick Reaction Force MRAPs, are a mixed blessing,” Singleton told me as we walked. “They keep us safe and alive, but the Taliban won’t fire on us with those guys overhead.”

It is an odd feeling to travel with men who not only know they are walking into an ambush, but who actually want it to happen. Unless the Taliban fire on the Marines, the Marines can’t close in on them and engage in a firefight.

And they very much want to engage with the enemy.

As one senior enlisted man told me, “You gotta love the ones that need lovin’, and kill the ones that need killin’.”

As we crossed a field of cotton we began to take small arms fire, AK-47s. “Go, go, go!” Singleton yelled at me as we dashed for the relative safety of a small wadi. Hunkering down in the irrigation ditch, I watched as Naval Corpsman Daniel Lowderman, from Seattle, Washington, and Singleton scan the area with their rifle scopes.

“I’ve got movement on the roof of a building,” Singleton relayed to Woodbine through his radio. “I can see the muzzle of a gun sticking out a window.”

Singleton was carrying the Mark XII, the designated marksman rifle. He requested permission from Woodbine to shoot at the target. Woodbine asked if he had positive ID, and Singleton informed him he could see the rifle muzzle. Permission was given to shoot.

“I can put one through the [expletive] hole,” Singleton said. “I don’t know now well it’s going to do, what it’s going to do, but I can try.”

Singleton stretched out in the wadi behind his weapon, his breathing became regular, and after what seemed to me like an eternity, he squeezed the trigger. Despite being ready for the shot, the sound startled me.

“Impact,” Singleton reported calmly. “Definite on the chimney. Woodbine, be advised, the first round was a solid impact, do you want me to take a second shot?”

“If you see the muzzle again take another shot,” Woodbine answered.

Platoon Sergeant SSgt Zamora, who was traveling with Brennan’s fireteam, came on the radio. “Singleton. As soon as you take the second shot we are going to move on the building.”

“Roger, that’s solid. I’m going to take two well-aimed shots just to make sure.”

Another eternity seemed to pass, then the crack of Singleton’s weapon again startled me.

“Alright team,” Zamora’s voice said on the radio, “we’re going in.”

“Hey. Yo, yo yo!” said Singleton. “Tell ‘em, tell ‘em. Hey, be advised. Stop, stop, stop.”

Singleton could see the Taliban waving a flag, but was not sure if the man was trying to surrender or was signaling other Taliban. The flag disappeared and then Singleton could see the Taliban crawling on the roof of the building.

Singleton asked for permission to shoot a third time. Although he could clearly see the Taliban, he could not see a weapon, and therefore the request for permission was denied. Unless a weapon is clearly visible, the Marines are forbidden to shoot.

The Taliban escaped.

We moved on.

Read all of Dan’s report.  A lot of water has fallen over the dam since the issue of rules of engagement first started to show itself for the campaign in Afghanistan.  My category has many such reports, but in lieu of rehearsing all of them again, it is enough simply to say what this example demonstrates for us again.  The ROE in Iraq was different than it is in Afghanistan, period.  Do you care to take issue with this characterization?

Recall our conversations on The Anbar Narrative, including a report still profiled on the Department of Defense web site, no less.

Costa described Ramadi, a city in Iraq’s Anbar province — then one of the country’s most contentious regions — as a society that had collapsed under the weight of an endemic insurgency. With an infrastructure dilapidated by years of infighting and neglect, Costa said, most of Ramadi was in ruin when he arrived.

“I had never seen anything like that before, and that was my second deployment to Iraq,” said the staff sergeant, whose first deployment was from January to August 2005 in Kharma, a city east of Fallujah in Anbar province.

“From my experience in my first deployment, the Iraqis will live, work, play — they’ll continue their normal lives — while this war is going on around them,” he said. “They’ll stay in their neighborhoods, and they won’t move.

“But in Ramadi,” he said, “they were moving.”

Costa had heard from members of the unit he was replacing that Ramadi’s citizens were moving out in droves — in “mass exodus” fashion, as he put it. When he arrived in August 2006 in Ramadi, which in 2003 boasted a population nearly the size of Sacramento, Calif., the number of residents living in the city along the Euphrates River was reduced to a mere trickle, more akin to that of a small town, he recalled.

“There were multiple buildings that are like five-, six-, seven-, eight-story apartment buildings — huge, and totally empty,” he said. “You’d walk into a house and everything’s there: There’s food in the fridge; there’s clothes in the dresser. The people just moved.”

The staff sergeant soon realized why residents had abandoned their homes. Insurgents in Ramadi, a majority Sunni Muslim city, were violently attacking local citizens. In the midst of intense fighting, they extorted shop owners’ profits. They hiked prices at gas stations and skimmed sales revenues.

“The insurgents definitely made it a bad place to live for the civilians there,” the staff sergeant, a 10-year Marine veteran, said.

For Costa, who decided as a boy to join the U.S. military to help the “greater good,” the bleak situation in besieged Ramadi presented an opportunity to uphold the principles of selfless duty.

Costa said roughly 90 percent of the missions he and his men carried out involved protecting roads, called main supply routes, travelled by coalition convoys. Primarily, the unit prevented insurgents from emplacing improvised explosive devices along the roadside or thwarted attempts by enemy fighters to ambush passing vehicles.

But Costa also dedicated a portion of his time to cracking the insurgents’ methods of communication.

“Generally there was a guy putting up gang signs, which could either send a rocket-propelled grenade through your window or some other attack your way,” said Costa, who began to realize the significance of unarmed people on Ramadi’s streets providing information via visual cues.

“You’re watching something on the street like that happening, and you’re like, ‘What the hell is that guy doing?’” he recalled. “And then the next thing you know, insurgents start coming out of the woodwork.”

“Signalers” — the eyes and ears of insurgent leaders — informed the insurgent strategists who commanded armed fighters by using hand and arm gestures. “You could see the signaler commanding troops,” Costa recalled. “He just doesn’t have a weapon.”

To curb insurgents’ ability to communicate, Costa decided on a revolutionary move: He and his unit would dismantle the enemy’s communication lines by neutralizing the threat from signalers. Sparing no time, he set a tone in Ramadi that signalers would be dealt with no differently from their weapon-wielding insurgent comrades.

“We called it in that we heard guys were signaling, and the battalion would advise from there,” he said, recalling the first day of the new strategy. “We locked that road down pretty well that day.”

In ensuing weeks, coalition forces coordinated efforts to dismember the insurgent signal patterns entrenched in Ramadi. This helped tamp down violence and create political breathing room, which in turn allowed the forging of key alliances between local tribal sheiks and coalition operators. The subsequent progress was later dubbed the “Anbar Awakening,” a societal purging of extremism by Anbaris that ushered in a level of stability unprecedented since U.S. operations in Iraq began.

“In the end, it turned out that Ramadi did a complete 180,” Costa said. “I got pictures in September from the unit that had relieved us, and I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think I was looking at the same city.”

But the generals know better than that now, and the Marines can’t be trusted to make good decisions under pressure.  So there are different rules of engagement in Afghanistan than there were in Iraq.  The officers micromanage the campaign.


More: Recon by Fire

Concerning Senior Leadership in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 2 months ago

LTC Tad Sholtis seems a bit indignant over how the past several months in Afghanistan have turned out.  So be it.  I encourage everyone to visit his site and determine for themselves what they think, since I will not tell them.  What I will say is that I think LTC Sholtis’ biggest problem has been his commander, General McChrystal.  My problems with his tenure – emphasis on HVT hits, denigration of so-called general purpose forces, highly restrictive ROE, and micromanagement of the campaign – are well rehearsed and I won’t repeat the detail I have laid out.  But that doesn’t prevent me from reiterating them via other means and using other sources.  One particularly depressing but interesting comment comes to us from the Small Wars Journal blog.

Take with the caveat that this is how it appears to me, and I’m near the bottom of the pyramid, but the previous commander didn’t seem to think very highly of the conventional force. He was enamored with SOF, and thought they were the only professionals– it would be SOF that’s out running the hills pulling triggers. That’s why there is the over restrictive ROE and stacks of directives that keep the bulk of the force pinned to population centers and highways that are relativetly safe and stable. The bulk of CF have been reacting to contact on the highway while a really small group of guys that aren’t nearly as good as the beards and t-shirts would have you think have been taking the fight to the enemy. Can another General turn it around? I don’t know, but another General has to be better than the last one.

It’s a lot bigger though– We have our “partners” in ISAF that we have to give equal play to, that are bringing in all of their senior leaders who want a spot at the table. We’ve been tossing limited manpower at dozens of competing and often overlapping LOEs. I read the same product produced ten times by ten different teams…and half of those were civilians.

Probably most damaging though, and the reason I’m leaning towards hopeless rather than hard, is the lack of ground truth. IO campaings targeting illiterate people, reports that are purely for the self aggrendization of staff members who have no seat at the table, staffs and command that serve no purpose at all, and complete lack of accountability or understanding by decision makers at all levels above battalion. July has been the worst month of the war, and June was the hardest before that– and in the storyboards of the VBIEDs and underbelly IEDs we actually have the gall to write that because the enemy is able to take out complete vehicles, that they must be desperation attacks…. All those Taliban flags coming being flown by the people of Kandahar City is because the intimidation campaign, the last gasp of enemy IO. WE’RE WINNING.

Yes, General McChrystal is conflicted over the use of the so-called general purpose forces.  I gave LTC Sholtis more than one chance to say something good – anything – about the Marines and the MAGTF command structure and the job that they had accomplished in Helmand.  He did not.  The troops are confined to FOBs for a reason.  General McChrystal and his staff propose that they believe in population-centric counterinsurgency, but they never trusted the troops to do anything more than provide general policing of the population and coupling with and training of the indigenous forces.

The military campaign is only military for the SOF, who are disconnected from the population except from the ubiquitous raids and hits on HVTs.  This trust in the SOF and mistrust in the balance of the forces can be seen in a comment left at The Captain’s Journal just recently.

Calling off the airstrike does not surprise me one bit even though it should be criminal. My brother is an AC-130 gunship pilot who just got back from Afghanistan. They were called off of targets in the open with no troops or buildings around. This caused him and his crew a great deal of frustration as they were flying all night missions and doing nothing but calling in contacts.

What is interesting though he was there for a short after McCrystal left and suddenly the ROE was liberalized.

It’s good to be able to use the very comments left by readers to add to the dialogue.  My only contribution is that I know things about my readers that you don’t.  It’s easy to misconstrue the objection to the restrictive ROE.  While it’s true that I and many others hold that the highly restrictive rules accomplish exactly the opposite of their intended purpose, that’s only part of it.  The ROE fits into a larger framework of micromanagement of the campaign.  Approval of every jot and tittle of the job is the domain of megalomaniacs.  Until we unleash the forces to chase the enemy, we don’t even stand a chance of winning the campaign.

More Rules of Engagement Examples from Afghanistan II

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 2 months ago

Via CBS News:

To the U.S. soldiers getting pounded with thunderous mortar rounds in their combat outpost near Kandahar, it seemed like a legitimate request: allow them to launch retaliatory mortar shells or summon an airstrike against their attackers. The incoming fire was landing perilously close to a guard station, and the soldiers, using a high-powered camera, could clearly see the insurgents shooting.

The response from headquarters — more than 20 miles away — was terse. Permission denied. Battalion-level officers deemed the insurgents too close to a cluster of mud-brick houses, perhaps with civilians inside.

Although the insurgents stopped firing before anybody was wounded, the troops were left seething.

“This is not how you fight a war, at least not in Kandahar,” said a soldier at the outpost who described the incident, which occurred last month, on the condition of anonymity. “We’ve been handcuffed by our chain of command.”

[ … ]

Despite claims from some relatives of military personnel killed in Afghanistan that the directive has limited the ability of troops to defend themselves, the officials said a review by the U.S. military of every combat fatality over the past year has found no evidence that the rules restricted the use of lifesaving firepower.

“We have not found a single situation where a soldier has lost his life because he was not allowed to protect himself,” one of the officials said.

If troops are in imminent danger, there is no restriction on the use of airstrikes or mortars. “The rules of engagement provide an absolute right of self-defense,” the official said.

For troops on the ground … the directive has lowered their morale and limited their ability to pursue insurgents. They note that Taliban fighters seem to understand the new rules and have taken to sniping at troops from inside homes or retreating inside houses after staging attacks.

“Minimizing civilian casualties is a fine goal, but should it be the be-all and end-all of the policy?” said a junior Army officer in southern Afghanistan. “If we allow soldiers to die in Afghanistan at the hands of a leader who says, ‘We’re going to protect civilians rather than soldiers,’ what’s going to happen on the ground? The soldiers are not going to execute the mission to the best of their ability. They won’t put their hearts into the mission. That’s the kind of atmosphere we’re building.”

The principal problem, senior officials say, is that U.S. and allied units across Afghanistan have carried out the directive in ways that are more restrictive than McChrystal intended. Fearful of career-ending sanctions if they violate the order, commanders at every subordinate level down the chain have tightened the rules themselves, often adding their own stipulations to the use of air and mortar strikes.

Less than six hours before Marines commenced a major helicopter-borne assault in the town of Marja in February, Rodriguez’s headquarters issued an order requiring that his operations center clear any airstrike that was on a housing compound in the area but not sought in self-defense. But before the order was given to the Marines, the British-run regional headquarters in southern Afghanistan amended the language to include any strikes “near” houses, according to two U.S. sources familiar with the incident.

The issue of divergent and overly-restrictive “interpretations” of the ROE being given down the chain of command is a red herring.  The issue is a diversion from the real issue of overly restrictive rules and micromanagement of the campaign at the highest levels of command.

In More Rules of Engagement Examples from Afghanistan, I observed:

McChrystal’s advocates argue that McChrystal’s tactical directive was misunderstood and applied too restrictively at lower levels of command (the rules have been distorted as they pass down the chain of command).  But that dog won’t hunt.  His tactical directive remains available for viewing, and his words set the context for its application: “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.”  The reader can make up his own mind.

As for warriors who have lost their lives to the rules of engagement, I give you three Marines and a Navy Corpsman, and for me, General McChrystal will always be responsible for their deaths.  Others may have participated by their incompetence, but it all began with McChrystal.

But the real addition to the knowledge base for ROE in this example comes by way of prissy excuse and demur.  Note that the report attempts to exonerate McChrystal’s direct report, General Rodriguez by explaining how the rules got revised after issuance.  But here is the real question.  Why the hell is General Rodriguez second guessing Marines in the field in combat operations?

The real problem is not that the rules got twisted.  The real problem is that General Rodriguez took it upon himself to micromanage Marines who have successful combat experience from Iraq.  The Marines no more needed General Rodriguez at any point during this operation than they needed a business secretary in corporate America issuing orders to them.  Instead of providing logistics, materiel, equipment and resources, General Rodriguez made himself a nuisance to the operation.

This micromanagement is an increasing problem in the U.S. military, and it follows the American corporate model.  But it seems to have taken on gigantic proportions with General McChrystal, an aspect that needs to change now that he is gone.  Unfortunately, General Rodriguez is still around to meddle in affairs where he is not needed and is serving no useful purpose.

Postscript: General Rodriguez has been the subject of previous articles, specifically where he trotted out Army intelligence to decidedly inform us that there would be no 2008 spring offensive in Afghanistan, while I said that there would be, and it would be directed at logistics, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The reader can decide for himself who hit the target and who didn’t.

More Rules of Engagement Examples from Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 2 months ago

From Time:

An episode last month illustrates the quandary American troops face. In early June, on the southern edge of Kandahar city, a small Army convoy drove into a nighttime ambush. Within seconds, a turret gunner in one of the vehicles was hit in the arm. Muzzle flashes pierced the dark, alerting fellow troops to where the shots were coming from. But, thinking that they had to clearly identify the triggerman before firing back, they waited before retaliating, even as rounds of hostile fire poured in. Only after an officer radioed back with the go-ahead did the Americans return heavy fire. By then, the militants had melted away.

The wounded soldier, Private First Class Trevor Longcore, of Shadow Troop, 1-71 Cavalry, caught a lucky break: he wasn’t hit by a bullet but by a piece of shrapnel that had apparently ricocheted off his vehicle’s armor. But a month into their deployment into Afghanistan, he and his compatriots are still frustrated by the constant heat-of-the-moment uncertainty about returning fire. For many troops, the strict rules of engagement — overlaid with tactical directives meant to limit civilian casualties — are a source of confusion and, they contend, are putting U.S. soldiers in greater danger. “We have all of these stupid rules that in the end wind up hurting more people. I mean, hesitation can mean death out here,” says one disgruntled soldier serving in the volatile south …

In Marjah, the desert town in central Helmand province where U.S. Marines are battling a resurgent Taliban, roving groups of militants on foot and motorbike take potshots at the Americans when they are not setting up ambushes and IEDs. Yet even if Marines see an attack taking shape around them, the current rules of engagement mandate that they cannot shoot unless they are first shot at. The insurgents know this, so they often “drop and go”: firing from a distance, then abandoning their weapons. Sometimes Marines never get a single shot off in defense, an exercise in restraint that is especially taxing for the American military’s hardiest warriors.

McChrystal’s advocates argue that McChrystal’s tactical directive was misunderstood and applied too restrictively at lower levels of command (the rules have been distorted as they pass down the chain of command).  But that dog won’t hunt.  His tactical directive remains available for viewing, and his words set the context for its application: “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.”  The reader can make up his own mind.

But without weighing in again on the restrictive nature of the ROE in Afghanistan, I will only observe one more time that while the rules for engagement of the enemy in Iraq were too restrictive, or so I argued, they were not the same as those in Afghanistan.  Period.  There is a difference, and you can judge for yourself how successful each campaign has been.  For a reminder of how insurgents were engaged in Iraq, see Recon by Fire (or what some commenters called the “Drake Shoot”).

Afghanistan Policy in Disarray

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

The first living Medal of Honor recipient since Vietnam is soon to be named, which is good news.  The disturbing part of the Washington Post article is at the end.

“We should be stationing our troops in places where they won’t be earning the Medal of Honor because the population and terrain favor us and we have quick access to air support,” said John Nagl, one of the authors of the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine and president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense think tank.

Leaving behind the issue of allowing the insurgents safe haven for recruiting, raising of funds, training and rest, and leaving behind the issue of protection of lines of logistics and all of the other objections that could be raised to this incredibly stolid statement, Nagl’s quote betrays an Afghanistan policy and strategy that is in complete disarray.

He wants retreat in the face of enemy fires, allowing air power to accomplish the engagement.  But the incredibly incompetent Afghan National Army is embedded with U.S. troops, and is learning to retreat and allow air power to finish the fight.  What they will do when the U.S. has withdrawn in a year or two Nagl doesn’t say.

More importantly, McChrystal’s tactical directive severely restricts the use of air power.  In fact, the Taliban know this and have used it to their advantage.

The Taliban no longer run and hide when they see a fighter jet overhead, brazenness that airmen attribute to the nearly year-old directive to limit close-air support.

Joint terminal attack controllers, airmen on the ground who call in airstrikes, and fighter pilots report that insurgents are encouraging each other to continue firing because they know the Air Force’s F-16s and A-10s are dropping far fewer bombs now than this time last year.

“Keep fighting; [coalition forces] won’t shoot” is the order that enemy leaders are giving — in Pashtun and Dari, words that the JTACs have heard over their radios.

Pilots notice the bolder attitude, even from their bird’s-eye view in the sky.

“It can be very frustrating when you can see them shooting at our guys,” said Capt. Andy Vaughan as he walked out to his A-10 on a March 24 mission over southern Afghanistan. “They know we are not allowed to engage in certain situations.”

“The A-10 pilots … are just left circling in the skies,” said an Air Force officer here who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak on the record.

So Nagl and CNAS want severely restrictive rules of engagement, including for the use of air power, because of their belief in the doctrines of population-centric counterinsurgency and the possibility for noncombatant casualties, but CNAS also wants to send this severely restricted air power after the Taliban in order to keep it safe for the Soldiers who engage the Taliban.

I’m pointing out the paradox not so much in an attempt to embarrass Nagl or CNAS, but to show the depressing lack of leadership and strategic vision for the campaign.  It is just that bad.

The Side Effects of the Afghanistan Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

From Strategy Page;

After a year of concentrated effort, NATO forces in Afghanistan have reduced civilian casualties, caused by foreign troops, 44.4 percent. There were 7.8 percent fewer battles even involving civilians, and 52 percent fewer civilians hurt by foreign troops. The most striking reduction (82 percent) was in civilian casualties from air strikes. All this is calculated by comparing the last three months with the same period from last year. All this despite nearly twice as many foreign troops in action, and much more combat. Meanwhile, civilian losses from Taliban action are up 36 percent.

Many Afghans are not happy with this policy, with foreign troops increasingly encountering angry Afghan civilians, who demand that NATO act more decisively in pursuing and killing Taliban gunman. Even if it puts Afghan civilians at risk. This is an unexpected side effect to the change in NATO rules of engagement (ROE) in Afghanistan. The ROE change was partly in response to popular (or at least media) anger at civilians killed by American smart bombs. As a result of the new ROE, it became much more difficult to get permission drop a smart bomb when there might be civilians nearby. Now American commanders have to decide who they shall respond too; Afghan civilians asking for relief from Taliban oppression, or Taliban influenced media condemning the U.S. for any Afghan civilians killed, or thought to be killed, by American firepower. What to do? So far, the decision often favors the survival of the Taliban.

Unexpected?  This was only unexpected among dolts.  I said as much ten months ago (“officials” have admitted that the new Afghanistan ROE have opened up new space for the insurgents”), nine months ago (“the Taliban will surround themselves with noncombatants, in the end making it more dangerous for everyone”), eight months ago (“giving the insurgents safe haven amongst the domiciles of villages sends the opposite message than we intend”), seven months ago (“give chase to and kill the enemy as the surest way to win the hearts and minds of the locals, and thus win the campaign”), and four months ago (“I had predicted that these rules would have the opposite affect from that intended, i.e., that they would fail to prevent noncombatant deaths and might even cause more than if we were to implement a more robust set of ROE or simply leave the rules unchanged”).

Let’s not hear any more about unintended consequences or unexpected side effects of the ROE.  I’ve said plenty and issued the appropriate warnings.  The slow to learn haven’t been paying attention, and perhaps should never have been entrusted with the responsibility they have been given.

Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) is calling for a hearing on the ROE, and General Petraeus might be preparing to modify the rules of engagement, but I’ll take a wait and see approach on this.  The issue doesn’t pertain to whether there is such a thing as ROE, but whether Generals who should be talking strategy are issuing tactical directives to Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field under fire and requiring approval of staff level officers a hundred miles away in order to bring combined arms to bear on the enemy.  It has to do with micromanagement of the campaign.  It’s simply something staff and flag level officers should not be doing.  The campaign will be won or lost based on empowerment of the troops down the chain of command.

As I chewed the cud over the dismissal of General McChrystal over the weekend, it occurred to me that there was more than just the irrational devotion to a single military doctrine to blame for the fiasco that is Afghanistan (see endnote).  General McChrystal worked much of his career in Special Operations Forces where he micromanaged many things, including at the tactical level.  General McChrystal was never the right man for this job, regardless of whether he has been a good commander of SOF.  This isn’t a commentary on the man, but rather, a commentary on the situation.  It’s time for the new rules to go.  They were a bad idea from the beginning, and nothing useful or constructive ever came from them.

Endnote: I do not support a singular focus in counterinsurgency (such as population-centric COIN), but do support multiple, simultaneous and equally viable lines of effort.  Also, my view of Special Operations Forces is that SOCOM should be abolished.  Not SF or SOF, but the separate command structure for these groups.

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