Archive for the 'Special Forces' Category



Isolationist Fever: Ron Paul’s Delirious Statements on Bin Laden

BY Glen Tschirgi
11 years, 3 months ago

I have previously commented on the absurd isolationism of Rep. Ron Paul and his fellow travelers, but this recent interview by WHODSM (Iowa) radio host, Simon Conway, is one of those watershed moments when anyone with a minimally-functioning brain has to reconsider whatever support they may have had for Paul.

Consider this 6+ minute clip from the interview (part 4 of a 5-part video series) in which host, Simon Conway, asks Rep. Paul a series of foreign policy questions:

To recap, the host takes Ron Paul through several topics.   The one that has gotten the most press has been the one that occurs at 3:58 in the clip.

SC:  …Are you asking us to believe that a President Ron Paul could have ordered the kill of Bin Laden by entering another sovereign nation?

RP: [No, things would be done differently, per the model of the arrest of the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks, Kalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was arrested by Pakistani agents and turned over to the U.S. for trial.  Also similar to the arrest and prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers].

They were all captured and brought and tried in a civilian court and they’ve all been punished, so, no, what’s wrong with that?  Why can’t we… work with the government [of Pakistan]?

SC: I just want to be clear.  A President Ron Paul would therefore not have ordered the kill of Bin Laden which… could only have taken place by entering a sovereign nation?

RP: I don’t think it was necessary, no… It was absolutely not necessary and I think respect for the rule of law and world law, international law. What if he’d been in a hotel in London?  I mean…you know, if we wanted to keep it secret?  So, would we have sent the airplane, the… helicopter into London?  Because they were afraid the information might get out?  No, you don’t want to do that.

(Emphasis Added)

First, the underlying premise behind Paul’s statements is that the capture, civilian trial and imprisonment of Osama Bin Laden would be preferable to: (a) death or, in the alternative; (b) indefinite detention as an illegal combatant or prosecution in a military tribunal with a conviction carrying the death penalty.  There have been plenty of others who have commented on the folly of according terrorists the full rights of American citizens to an Article III, civilian court trial.   The total debacle in the Ghalani trial was proof enough of that.  Ron Paul apparently still subscribes to the ridiculous notion that the war against Islamofascism can be fought as a criminal investigation.   Where has Ron Paul been living for the past 10 years?  Has he paid any attention to the War or is he simply playing the ostrich and ignoring world events altogether?

Notice, too, Ron Paul’s touching faith in the government of Pakistan?  “Why can’t we…work with the government” of Pakistan?  Gosh, that is an incisive question Dr. Paul.   You really cut to the heart of the matter.

Afterall, as he points out, the Pakistanis did such a bang-up job of scouring the country for Bin Laden in the first place, hiding right next to their premier military academy, a police station and a breezy drive from their own capital!  And let’s remember that the Pakistani government has done such a good job cooperating with our war efforts in Afghanistan that they only allow one, vast swath of their tribal border area to be a safe-haven, staging area and training ground for the enemy attacking our forces in Afghanistan, instead of two or three.   Now that’s progress!   And no doubt Dr. Paul would point out that he would have no problems working with the Pakistani government that just disclosed the identity of our CIA station chief in Pakistan, or the one that is contemplating turning over our ultra-advanced, stealth helicopter wreckage to China for inspection and reverse engineering (something at which the Chinese have found they do quite well based on the number and variety of pirated products flooding the U.S. market).  And, it is not like the Pakistani government has ever ratted to the Islamofascists about pending U.S. drone strikes, military raids or strategic moves.    Yes, Dr. Paul, I can see why you would want to work with that Pakistani government.

Second, Ron Paul— the Ron Paul who wants to disengage from all manner of international institutions— points to “respect for… international law” as a basis for not taking the kill shot on Bin Laden.  The interview does not bring out Paul’s precise meaning here, but he seems to be alluding to the international legal maxim that one nation should not violate the sovereignty of another nation in the absence of declared war.   As applied to the war against Islamofascism, however, this is nonsense.  The Islamists derive their primary strength, like a virus, by illegally inhabiting the territory of nation states too weak (or too irresolute) to remove them.  Thus it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for the U.S. to directly attack the Islamists without either declaring war on each and every infected country or violating infected country’s sovereignty.    Indeed, the very notion of “sovereignty” is called into question when a nation (such as Pakistan) fails or refuses to exercise the degree of control over its own territory to prevent it from becoming a haven for illegal wars by the likes of Al Qaeda.   In my view, Pakistan has no more right to claim a violation of sovereignty over the tribal areas infested with terrorists than Mexico had when it allowed Pancho Villa to operate freely in the border areas with Texas.  In this ever-shrinking world where death can be dealt out to thousands in New York and Washington, D.C. from relatively unsophisticated, third-world terrorists hosted halfway across the globe, the notion of sovereign territory is in flux, to say the least.

Third, and most damning of all, this interview reveals either a grave intellectual deficit or a type of lunacy to Ron Paul that must cause all, previous supporters to push him to the side.   When Ron Paul poses a hypothetical about Bin Laden living in a hotel in London as a proof against the raid to kill Bin Laden in Pakistan, it is breathtaking.   It is one of those moments when you must ask yourself, “Did he really just say that?”   It is as telling a remark as we are likely to get.  Just the multiple levels of absurdity of the comparison of Bin Laden in a hotel in London to a compound outside the capital of Pakistan is astounding:  (a) imagine a scenario where Bin Laden, lives in a London hotel– a London hotel for God’s sake!  (b) the British government is equally negligent in either not discovering Bin Laden in the hotel  (Sorry, I just cannot keep from laughing over this hotel bit…) or intentionally overlooking it vis a vis Pakistan;  (c) assuming all of the above, once discovered by the intrepid U.S. intelligence services who have been monitoring Bin Laden’s room service orders and porn film choices for months, the British government cannot be trusted to send Agent 007 over to take care of the matter which (d) forces the U.S. to send in the same SOF helicopter assault team (from one of their bases in England no less), to the London hotel, rather than simply send, say, Jason Bourne, and; (e) whisk Bin Laden’s body away to a waiting destroyer in the Atlantic for proper, Islamic burial at sea.

That a declared presidential candidate in the U.S. would attempt to illustrate the illegality of the Bin Laden raid by posing a hypothetical of a similar raid on a London hotel has got to be the greatest farce of the 21st century (thus far).   This is absolutely disqualifying stuff.   To reiterate, it shows either gross intellectual incompetence or a mental instability of some kind.   (Charles Krauthamer, call your office, please).   The fact that there are many people in conservative circles who ardently support Ron Paul is shocking.

I am not, by the way, making the point that Ron Paul’s mere opposition to the Bin Laden raid is, by itself, disqualifying.  I think it is at least possible that reasonable minds can differ on the manner of killing Bin Laden.   Afterall, I believe it would have been quite reasonable and proper to have used drones or precision-guided munitions to obliterate Bin Laden’s compound.   While civilian casualties should be minimized whenever possible, there is equal responsibility on the Pakistani government, for example, for allowing terrorists to infest civilian areas similar to that of the German and Japanese military facilities intentionally located in civilian areas during World War II.   The criticism here is the manner in which Ron Paul defends his positions.   Even someone inclined to support him for president would have to concede that, based on the crack-pot thinking in this interview, he would be torn to shreds in any debate with Obama.   And here lies the greatest danger:  if for whatever reason, Ron Paul supporters decide to sit out the 2012 election (or, God forbid, Paul runs a Ross Perot-like campaign), that may be all that Obama needs for re-election.

It is one thing to re-elect a Bill Clinton.   He was a lecherous fool re-elected at a unique period in history that afforded us the luxury of blind leadership.   We do not live in such a time now and, based on the first two and one-half years, we cannot survive the re-election of Obama.    Where Clinton was the prototypical finger-to-the-wind politician who cared more than anything for his legacy and female attentions, Obama has shown a frightening determination to radically alter the economic foundations of the U.S. in order to effect radical, political change  (all of which is masterfully outlined in detailed research by Stanley Kurtz in his book, Radical In Chief–Barack Obama And The Untold Story of American Socialism).

There is, however, something more going on here.   It is more than just an occasional nonsensical statement from a Congressman.   Paul’s remarks reflect the ravings of someone who has bought into a doctrine that makes no sense and, therefore, results in comments that can make no sense.    That doctrine is isolationism.   It is very much like a sickness that increasingly causes its adherents to say and do the most absurd things.   Besides the nuttiness of Ron Paul’s comments on killing Bin Laden– an avowed terror mastermind and lawless combatant fully deserving of death– Ron Paul is driven, by the isolationist madness I believe, to say all manner of things disconnected with reality.   Driven because isolationism simply does not comport with the world in which we live.  In order to make the connection, isolationists must routinely resort to conspiracy theories and wishful thinking and crackpot analogies.   As evidence of this, listen to the full interview (in all 5 parts) between Simon Conway and Ron Paul.    Rep. Paul actually makes good points about taxation and spending and the nature of government, but as soon as Conway veers onto foreign policy, the isolationist fever takes over.

When asked about Iraq, Ron Paul firmly takes hold of the “Bush Lied, Kids Died” meme of the Left, saying that “we got into [the Iraq war] not being told the truth.  We were told there were weapons of mass destruction aimed at us, that Al Qaeda was there, that wasn’t true.”  When asked by the host to clarify whether he thought that President Bush intentionally misled the nation or was given faulty intelligence, Paul essentially said that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if there had been a conspiracy from the “Vice President” on down to lower-level advisers to manipulate and falsify the intelligence.

This is looney tunes land.   And it would be funny if not for the potential to disaffect enough voters to throw the 2012 election to Obama.   So here is a call to all Ron Paul-bots out there:  get a real candidate.   Ron Paul has made himself ridiculous with his isolationist pretensions.   We cannot beat back Obama without you.   And for anyone else indulging in isolationist thinking, it is time to take a strong dose of reality and come back to full health.

Taliban Turning the Tables on Special Operations Forces Night Raids

BY Herschel Smith
11 years, 9 months ago

From The Guardian:

Taliban commanders claim they are foiling intensified night-time attacks by elite troops that Nato officials hoped would bring the insurgents to the negotiating table in Afghanistan.

Officials say a fivefold increase in “kill or capture” raids and escalating airstrikes are putting the Taliban under unprecedented pressure and prompting some rebel groups to seek a ceasefire.

Insurgent commanders from Helmand and Kandahar, interviewed in Kabul, say the effectiveness of Nato special operations forces has diminished.

“In the past year they have had a lot of successes with these operations, but now we have got used to it and changed our tactics,” said the commander of a group of 50 men in Dand, Kandahar province.

“At night we have two people in every village who do not go to sleep – if they hear the helicopters, we contact each other before they arrive.”

Another commander, now based in Marjah, a rural area of Helmand that US marines are struggling to subdue, had a similar story.

“In spring they came to try to arrest me, but when the helicopters landed we were called by other bases and we quickly ran away from the house,” he said. “They took two men but two days later they were released.”

Coalition officers concede their targets often get away. A senior officer from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said in 25% to 50% of raids the soldiers found their prey had escaped.

“We know they have tippers: you go to a place and you get three guys but the real guy has snuck out the back door,” the Isaf officer said.

Analysis & Commentary

The Taliban have stolen a page from the U.S. Marines with guardian angels watching over their people.  They can do this ad infinitum.  Sleep rotation doesn’t harm anyone in the group, and if the Taliban can thwart half of the raids with a technique as simple as this, they will keep doing it while they also develop other solutions to their problem.

Recall from High Value Target Campaign is Failing in Afghanistan, NCO DirtyMick observed:

When I was recalled from IRR to active duty in Kunar Province for 10 months this year with a PRT as an 11Bravo NCO, “Big Army” caused major problems when 2/12 Infantry pulling out of the Korengal right when the spring offensive kicked off and combined with cherry Battalions (1st and 2nd Battalion 327 Infantry 101st Airborne) conducting a RIP caused needless deaths. Sigacts in the Pech River Valley went through the roof and pretty much everything north of Asadabad was a nightmare because the Taliban believed this was a victory. In my opinion as an NCO in order to conduct a proper counter insurgency you need to kill taliban, hunt them down where they congregate and lock down areas. There should be no reason every time a patrol goes through Matin Village in the Pech it gets into a firefight. You take a rifle company and clear that village by going door to door. When we had an IED problem you establish a curfew and nobody is allowed on the MSRs past 2100. If you are you get detained or killed. You can have ODA do raids all you want on HVTs but until you start having line platoons go out actively killing scores of Taliban it’s not going to matter. You can kill a senior Taliban leader in Kunar but in the end you’re still going to have platoon or two platoon plus size elements of Taliban attacking army convoys. The 327 did that over the summer when a battalion went in and cleared out the Marawara district but more needs to be done.

The reason that the SOF troopers have to drive so far to work is that … ahem … they don’t live among the people.  I think I’ve heard something before about having to commute to the fight and how, you know, it’s a bad thing.  Yes.  I’m sure that I have.  We are misusing our resources, and we cannot possibly win this way.

High Value Target Campaign is Failing in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
11 years, 9 months ago

From Greg Miller with The Washington Post:

An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency or put meaningful pressure on its leaders to seek peace, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials citing the latest assessments of the war in Afghanistan.

Escalated airstrikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But officials said that insurgents have been adept at absorbing the blows and that they appear confident that they can outlast an American troop buildup set to subside beginning next July.

“The insurgency seems to be maintaining its resilience,” said a senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war. Taliban elements have consistently shown an ability to “reestablish and rejuvenate,” often within days of routed by U.S. forces, the official said, adding that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, “I don’t see it.”

One of the military objectives in targeting mid-level commanders is to compel the Taliban to pursue peace talks with the Afghan government, a nascent effort that NATO officials have helped to facilitate.

The blunt intelligence assessments are consistent across the main spy agencies responsible for analyzing the conflict, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, and come at a critical juncture. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has touted the success of recent operations and indicated that the military thinks it will be able to show meaningful progress by the December review. He said last week that progress is occurring “more rapidly than was anticipated” but acknowledged that major obstacles remain.

U.S. intelligence officials present a similar, but inverted, view – noting tactical successes but warning that well into a major escalation of the conflict, there is little indication that the direction of the war has changed.

Among the troubling findings is that Taliban commanders who are captured or killed are often replaced in a matter of days. Insurgent groups that have ceded territory in Kandahar and elsewhere seem content to melt away temporarily, leaving behind operatives to carry out assassinations or to intimidate villagers while waiting for an opportunity to return.

Analysis & Commentary

Say it ain’t so?  The high value target campaign conducted by special operations forces is failing in Afghanistan?

Ten months ago I said:

SOF troops come in the middle of the night and kill high value targets (always members of some one’s family), disappear into the night, and leave the GPF to explain the next day why it all occurred.  It’s horrible for the campaign, bad for morale within the GPF, bad for maintenance of capabilities within the GPF, and bad for the overall qualifications of SOF and SF.

Three months ago I gave the counterexample to this bad policy:

The same people who ordered the strike were there to explain it in the morning, just as I suggested should happen.  The same people who fight by night are there for the locals to look at in the morning.  And look into their eyes.  If they see cut and run, they will side with the insurgents, or someone else, whomever that may be.  If they see victory and determination, they will side with the stronger horse.  We need to be the stronger horse.

Seven months ago I said:

Ending the silly high value target campaign (capturing mid-level Taliban commanders, only to release them 96 hours later) won’t end unintended noncombatant casualties.

Four months ago I said:

We have discussed the issue of a campaign against high value targets conducted by SOF.  I don’t believe in it.  I don’t think it works to curtail the insurgency.  But besides considerations of the utility of the strategy (and it is a strategy, not a tactic), there is the issue of maintenance of troop morale.  McChrystal set up a military cultural milieu in which direct action kinetics was relegated (or reserved) to SOF, while the so-called general purpose forces were essentially told to be policemen, and given rules of engagement that are more restrictive than those for police departments in the U.S.  Nothing McChrystal could have done would have worked so thoroughly to bust troop morale.  McChrystal’s vision is why he worked so poorly with the Marines and within the context of the MAGTF.  The Corps doesn’t buy into McChrystal’s bifurcation, and (properly) wants more control of goings-on within their battle space than McChrystal was willing to give them.

And finally, six weeks ago I said:

I continue to advocate reassignment of SOF to be matrixed directly to infantry (their skills could be put to good use), and I continue to advocate the ideas that the HVT campaign did not work in Iraq, is not working in Afghanistan, and will not work anywhere. You may disagree, but you must give me data that shows the effectiveness of this strategy.  I have yet to see any such evidence.  And as for the use of the term “strategy” to define this approach, it’s exactly in line with the facts.  Our strategy in Afghanistan at the present seems to be use of the GPF for force protection for logistics, medical personnel and air power, while the SOF boys take out leaders.  Pitiful strategy, this is.  If we cannot do any better than that we need to come home.

In fact, some two years ago I received a communication from a SOF commander who told me that the high value target campaign wasn’t working.  He told me, with some chagrin, that killing a mid- or even high-level Taliban commander only had an effect on the insurgency for a few days to a few weeks, and then only locally, and that it took only days for them to appoint new commanders.

Our so-called general purpose forces have been relegated to policing the population, while direct action kinetics are being done by the special operations troopers against high value targets.  This is our current strategy – not tactics, but overarching strategy.  It hasn’t worked in Afghanistan.  It didn’t work in Iraq.  It won’t work anywhere, any time.

The Taliban will be corralled when we kill enough of the low level fighters that it makes joining their cause inadvisable and unattractive.  Then, the leaders will be made irrelevent.  This requires counterinsurgency warfare, not policing and counterterrorism by SOF troopers by raiding high value targets.

So why do we have Pentagon strategists still surprised at the fact that this strategy doesn’t work?  Is this all they have in their bag of tricks?  Really?  Have they bet the campaign on this strategyReally?

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for the link.  Michael Ledeen responds, quite sensibly, that the HVT program can’t exist and be successful on its own.  It needs all of the other aspects of the campaign.  Ever the thinking man and scholar, Jim Hanson responds: “Dude it is well past time for you to STFU! This is quite possibly the most arrogant bit of garbage from an amateur wannabe I have ever seen. Who the fuck do you think you are? Jesus it is annoying and ridiculous to see someone with a junior high level of understanding opining as if people who actually know what they are talking about ought to listen.  You need a big steaming cup of humility and a new hobby.”

And in the interest of openness and giving all points of view, there you have it.

UPDATE #2: A well meaning reader mentions the notion that my prose might be being used by the Pentagon to convince the Taliban commanders that they are winning rather than us.  She sends this link.  I recommended that she balance her reading with Joshua Foust’s latest piece.

UPDATE #3: Michael Yon drops me a note to point out, correctly, that he was speaking out against exclusive reliance on the HVT program back in 2006 and onward.  Make sure to visit his Facebook page.

HVTs and the Taliban Decapitation Campaign

BY Herschel Smith
11 years, 11 months ago

From Strategy Page:

Between April and July of this year, U.S. and allied (including Afghan) special operations forces killed nearly 400 Taliban leaders, and arrested another 1,400 Taliban. All this was mostly done via night operations by commandos (mainly U.S. Special Forces and SEALs) and missile attacks by American UAVs. This is part of a trend.

In the past two years, SOCOM has been shifting forces from Iraq (where it had 5,500 personnel two years ago) to Afghanistan (where it had 3,000 troops two years ago). The ratio is now largely reversed. Most American allies have moved all their commando forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, where they not only do what they were trained for, but also train Afghans for special operations tasks. This has already been done in Iraq, where it worked quite well. As a result, there are now nearly 10,000 special operations troops in Afghanistan. The SOCOM troops in Iraq and Afghanistan account for about 80 percent of American special operations forces overseas. The rest are in places like Colombia, the Philippines and Djibouti (adjacent to Somalia).

Special operations troops not only participate in most of the attacks on the Taliban leadership (and key technical people building and placing roadside bombs), but also conduct a lot of the surveillance missions that locate safe houses where Taliban leaders operate from, as well as those used for bomb making workshops. Many Special Forces troops speak the local languages, and can negotiate with village and tribal leaders for information and assistance.

This “decapitation” campaign was successful in Iraq, and earlier, in Israel (where it was developed to deal with the Palestinian terror campaign that began in 2000.) Actually, the Americans have used siimilar tactics many times in the past (in World War II, 1960s Vietnam, the Philippines over a century ago and in 18th century colonial America.) But the Israelis developed decapitation tactics customized for use against Islamic terrorists.

In some cases, the Special Forces efforts have been so successful that the Taliban has been unable to get anyone to take the place of dead leaders. In some cases, the Taliban have called on friend and kin in the Afghan government, to try and get the Americans to stop. This puts these Afghan officials in a tight spot. While they are officially on board with this campaign against the Taliban, they also have members of their tribe, or even close relatives, who are in the Taliban. That’s not unusual in Afghanistan, where even the most pro-Taliban tribes have members who are not only pro-government, but actually work (most of the time) for the government. That’s how politics works in Afghanistan.

Ooooo.  Wow.  I’m sure this will end the insurgency in Afghanistan just like killing Zarqawi brought an abrupt end to the insurgency in Iraq.  Uh … er … nevermind, maybe not.  Maybe it’s not really killing several hundred “leaders” of what is already a disaggregated and decentralized insurgency that ends it.  Maybe, like Iraq, it’s operations against the insurgents themselves, thereby rendering the “leaders” embarrassed, irrelevant and powerless when they can’t get fighters to join their cause because they are seen as the losing side.

I continue to advocate reassignment of SOF to be matrixed directly to infantry (their skills could be put to good use), and I continue to advocate the ideas that the HVT campaign did not work in Iraq, is not working in Afghanistan, and will not work anywhere. You may disagree, but you must give me data that shows the effectiveness of this strategy.  I have yet to see any such evidence.  And as for the use of the term “strategy” to define this approach, it’s exactly in line with the facts.  Our strategy in Afghanistan at the present seems to be use of the GPF for force protection for logistics, medical personnel and air power, while the SOF boys take out leaders.  Pitiful strategy, this is.  If we cannot do any better than that we need to come home.

So how is Afghanistan now that we have killed or captured (and then released) all of those leaders?  Well, this doesn’t speak so well of things.

Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan  is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war, with security deteriorating in recent months, according to international organizations and humanitarian groups.

Large parts of the country that were once completely safe, like most of the northern provinces, now have a substantial Taliban presence — even in areas where there are few Pashtuns, who previously were the Taliban’s only supporters. As NATO forces poured in and shifted to the south to battle the Taliban in their stronghold, the Taliban responded with a surge of their own, greatly increasing their activities in the north and parts of the east.

Unarmed government employees can no longer travel safely in 30 percent of the country’s 368 districts, according to published United Nations estimates, and there are districts deemed too dangerous to visit in all but one of the country’s 34 provinces.

The number of insurgent attacks has increased significantly; in August 2009, insurgents carried out 630 attacks. This August, they initiated at least 1,353, according to the Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office, an independent organization financed by Western governments and agencies to monitor safety for aid workers.

An attack on a Western medical team in northern Afghanistan in early August, which killed 10 people, was the largest massacre in years of aid workers in Afghanistan.

“The humanitarian space is shrinking day by day,” said a CARE Afghanistan official, Abdul Kebar.

And likewise, neither does this.  Maybe we just aren’t killing the right high value targets, or something?  Or maybe we just need to focus on chasing and killing insurgents where they live by troops in contact with them every day.  You know, distributed operations and small unit maneuver warfare.  Some troops are doing that.  All of them should be.

The Long Term Counterinsurgency Work in Marjah

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 1 month ago

From Financial Times:

Tracing his finger over a map of Marjah, Lance Corporal Paul Horchler sketched the route ahead. He would lead his marines along a canal, past the spot where a buried bomb had exploded the day before, then down a track nicknamed “ambush alley”.

His patrol was almost guaranteed to succeed. Either the Americans would have a chance to ask the locals where the Taliban were, or the insurgents would reveal themselves by shooting at them. Whatever happened, they stood to learn.

After trudging for an hour down a path flanked by fields and scattered adobe houses, seemingly deserted in the midday heat, the marines found a man willing to talk. He said he had seen four Taliban fighters at a nearby bazaar 30 minutes earlier.

“The Taliban, they’re probably watching us. I guarantee they are watching us,” said Lance-Corporal Monty Buchanan. “Whoever’s in the area will decide what they want to do, if they want to hit us or not.”

This is the daily grind faced by US marines in Marjah almost five months after they seized the town in Nato’s biggest operation of the nine-year Afghan war.

The offensive in southern Helmand province was billed as a centrepiece of General Stanley McChrystal’s strategy of pouring in US forces to protect the population from insurgents, but the climate of fear remains palpable.

Even before the general’s forced resignation last month over the publication of a Rolling Stone article in which he and his aides poured derision on the Obama administration questions were growing about the strategy.

General David Petraeus, who assumed command of the international force in Afghanistan on Sunday, is a leading US theorist in countering guerrilla warfare and has pledged continuity in strategy, although he has not ruled out adjusting its implementation.

L Cpl Horchler’s four-hour ramble past lavender fields and sunflowers outside Marjah was a lesson in the difficulties not only of separating the population from the insurgents, but in telling them apart. Many fighters operate within their communities, rendering the distinction even less clear.

Most of Marjah appeared to have deemed it too hot to be outside when the marines and Afghan soldiers set out into what felt like an immense vista for such a small patrol to cover; one that afforded almost infinite hiding places.

Marines who seized Marjah from the Taliban in a blaze of publicity are now facing almost daily ambushes staged by attackers skilled at burying home-made mines or hiding them under bunches of dried poppy stalks.

The patrol flinched when a rat-tat-tat echoed across a field like the sound of distant machinegun fire: it turned out to be a creaking water pump. Moments later, L Cpl Horchler, 22, aimed his rifle at what appeared to be a figure traversing a distant sand dune on a motorbike, suspecting he might be a Taliban spotter. The man vanished over the ridge.

A gunshot snapped the air and again the marines started. One of the Afghan soldiers had fired a warning to halt a minibus they wanted to search. A patch of disturbed earth on the track prompted a diversion for fear it concealed a bomb.

The informant’s compound felt safer than the road, although not much. One of the Afghan troops urged L Cpl Horchler to interrogate the owner of the shop where the insurgents had been seen. He refused, loathe to risk endangering his source.

L Cpl Horchler’s men returned to base unscathed, but a second patrol would be attacked on the same route a few hours later by insurgents armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

As Lance Corporal Mark Reno, 23, said: “I’m sure we’ve shaken hands with them on a daily basis and not even known who they were.”

Analysis & Commentary

In McChrystal Calls Marjah a Bleeding Ulcer, I laid out some hard questions for my readers.

Did General McChrystal not cover the basics of classical counterinsurgency doctrine with his civilian bosses?  Did he or any of his reports mislead the administration into believing that Marjah or any other town in Afghanistan would be pacified in 90 days?  Did he or his reports – or anyone in the administration – really believe that this government ex machina we brought to Marjah would work?

It now appears that the answers to the first two questions above is no, and the answer to the last one which is yes.  The surprise at how long Marjah is taking betrays an actual belief that they could shout presto, clap their hands and make Marjah safe, secure and serene.

Forgotten are the long years of counterinsurgency work to win the Anbar Province, and in its place was substituted bare, unsubstantiated doctrine.  That there was surprise among McChrystal’s staff and the Pentagon is a pointer to harder points that need to be made; they see the world in a childlike fashion.

If nothing else comes from the Rolling Stone expose on McChrystal and his staff, we learn about the immaturity of McChrystal’s staff and even McChrystal himself.  The false beliefs concerning Marjah are in the books, but one example (out of many) comes to us by way of anecdote.

Even in his new role as America’s leading evangelist for counterinsurgency, McChrystal retains the deep-seated instincts of a terrorist hunter. To put pressure on the Taliban, he has upped the number of Special Forces units in Afghanistan from four to 19. “You better be out there hitting four or five targets tonight,” McChrystal will tell a Navy Seal he sees in the hallway at headquarters. Then he’ll add, “I’m going to have to scold you in the morning for it, though.” In fact, the general frequently finds himself apologizing for the disastrous consequences of counterinsurgency. In the first four months of this year, NATO forces killed some 90 civilians, up 76 percent from the same period in 2009 – a record that has created tremendous resentment among the very population that COIN theory is intent on winning over. In February, a Special Forces night raid ended in the deaths of two pregnant Afghan women and allegations of a cover-up, and in April, protests erupted in Kandahar after U.S. forces accidentally shot up a bus, killing five Afghans. “We’ve shot an amazing number of people,” McChrystal recently conceded.

Despite the tragedies and miscues, McChrystal has issued some of the strictest directives to avoid civilian casualties that the U.S. military has ever encountered in a war zone. It’s “insurgent math,” as he calls it – for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies. He has ordered convoys to curtail their reckless driving, put restrictions on the use of air power and severely limited night raids. He regularly apologizes to Hamid Karzai when civilians are killed, and berates commanders responsible for civilian deaths. “For a while,” says one U.S. official, “the most dangerous place to be in Afghanistan was in front of McChrystal after a ‘civ cas’ incident.” The ISAF command has even discussed ways to make not killing into something you can win an award for: There’s talk of creating a new medal for “courageous restraint,” a buzzword that’s unlikely to gain much traction in the gung-ho culture of the U.S. military.

But however strategic they may be, McChrystal’s new marching orders have caused an intense backlash among his own troops. Being told to hold their fire, soldiers complain, puts them in greater danger. “Bottom line?” says a former Special Forces operator who has spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I would love to kick McChrystal in the nuts. His rules of engagement put soldiers’ lives in even greater danger. Every real soldier will tell you the same thing.”

We have discussed the issue of a campaign against high value targets conducted by SOF.  I don’t believe in it.  I don’t think it works to curtail the insurgency.  But besides considerations of the utility of the strategy (and it is a strategy, not a tactic), there is the issue of maintenance of troop morale.  McChrystal set up a military cultural milieu in which direct action kinetics was relegated (or reserved) to SOF, while the so-called general purpose forces were essentially told to be policemen, and given rules of engagement that are more restrictive than those for police departments in the U.S.  Nothing McChrystal could have done would have worked so thoroughly to bust troop morale.

McChrystal’s vision is why he worked so poorly with the Marines and within the context of the MAGTF.  The Corps doesn’t buy into McChrystal’s bifurcation, and (properly) wants more control of goings-on within their battle space than McChrystal was willing to give them.  I gave Tad Sholtis (McChrystal’s PAO) multiple chances to say something – anything – positive about the MAGTF and the job the Marines were doing in Helmand.  No such praise came, and my communications with them were marked mostly by lip biting and equivocation.

I don’t know what the era of Petraeus will bring, and if he doesn’t immediately press authority down the chain of command, unshackle the enlisted men, reduce the rules of engagement with the enemy, ban PowerPoint presentations, unleash air power, get Soldiers off of the several huge bases they’re on, press for more distributed operations, and give commanders complete control over their battle space, then we will lose.  Either way, for the last year, the children have been in charge.

Battlespace Control and Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 5 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

Prior:

Reigning in SOF in Afghanistan

Abolish SOCOM

The Cult of Special Forces

Reigning in SOF in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 5 months ago

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior:

Abolish SOCOM

The Cult of Special Forces

Abolish SOCOM

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 8 months ago

Regular readers already know my history regarding special forces (and read here also special operations forces).  While on the one hand advocating specialized billets for certain forces that would  be too expensive to establish across the board, I have also strongly advocated against the reliance on SOF as direct action troops while relegating GPF (general purpose forces) to counterinsurgency efforts and policing the population.

SOF troops come in the middle of the night and kill high value targets (always members of some one’s family), disappear into the night, and leave the GPF to explain the next day why it all occurred.  It’s horrible for the campaign, bad for morale within the GPF, bad for maintenance of capabilities within the GPF, and bad for the overall qualifications of SOF and SF.

Furthermore, it misses the point of why SF were created.  Finally, it allows the degradation of the qualifications and capabilities of GPF by rule, regulation and law.  To rehearse yet another sore spot, I have strongly opposed women in combat billets, and yet with the division of SOF to perform DA missions and GPF to perform COIN, it makes it easier to justify women in these billets, especially if they operate out of huge bases rather than from combat outposts.  The Army in the Korengal Valley has proven that GPF can do what is needed in terms of DA missions and other combat.  The Marines in the Helmand Province have also shown why only males are allowed in combat billets (with combat loads of 120+ pounds).

The Small Wars Journal has an interesting commentary on whether SOCOM has outlived its usefulness.  You can read the entire commentary at the SWJ, but a few comments are lifted out and given below.

… many outside the military establishment are enamored with the myth and romanticism of Special Operations. There are so many “groupies” among staffers and in academia that it is hard to see Special Operations for what it really is and what it has become. And within the military, Special Operations has been “hijacked” by a group of hyper-conventional Ranger types and other supporting elements that Special Operations and most important, its heart and soul – Special Forces – has lost its way …

USSOCOM has allowed itself to become dominated by the hyper-conventional side of SOF with domination by the so-called direct action forces to the detriment of Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations. The cultures of these two types of forces hinder effective cooperation and coordination. There is probably more disdain between the direct and indirect forces of SOF than there is between SOF and conventional forces.

The entire paper is worth the study time.  A comment made by MAJ Mike Dhunjishah is also telling:

As a former 7th SFG officer who has been away from group for several years, I find it interesting to talk to my contemporaries who, upon returning to group, find that SF has indeed “lost its way.” I’m not sure who is to blame, but it seems as if Army SF is focused on DA at the expense of UW. After 9/11, Army SF filled a void that General Purpose Forces (GPF) could not regarding DA missions. However, now, 8 years later, the GPF have developed the capability to do all but the most complicated DA missions. Therefore, it is time for SF to do what SF was created to do; conduct missions that the GPF cannot. We need to refocus on the hard stuff, read UW, before we lose our institutional knowledge. Great article on some of the hard questions Army SF and the Special Operations community in general needs to address.

Finally, as one pictorial depiction of just what is being said, see this photo taken from Foreign Policy.

SOF_Beards

I’ll let you read Foreign Policy’s take on why this bearded SOF is not good for the campaign.  But take note of what has happened.  This special operator no longer looks anything like any of the Afghanis, even if he is SF and not SOF.  If he is SOF performing direction action operations along with other SOF operators, then with the backwards ball cap, sleeveless shirt and lack of a uniform, he simply looks like an undisciplined thug.  Nothing more.  He doesn’t need to look like he does.  He has no compelling reason to appear thuggish and silly.

Again to the position that I have pressed: just like Force Recon Marines, attach all SOF to infantry (and Force Recon has no business with SOCOM, as they are simply another Marine billet attached to infantry).  If an infantry unit needs a specialized billet, then train to that billet.  Rely on GPF to perform most if not all DA missions, and this reliance will shape the force.  It’s time to end the absurdity that has become SOCOM.  If you want the romantic notion of direct action SOF operators who perform missions like those that can be found in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (air support from the AC-130), then train a few operators to do this.  It’s still better to make this capability more widely distributed rather than less, and to attach these troopers to infantry.

Prior:

The Cult of Special Forces

Special Operations Forces Navel Gazing

Fathers and Sons, Diamonds and Goats

Special Forces category

Fallujah, Navy SEALs and Effeminate Crying

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 8 months ago

Remember this?

Blackwater_Fallujah

Right.  Four Blackwater employees dead (two strung up at the the green  bridge at Fallujah over the Euphrates River).  It was instigated by a terrorist named Ahmed Hashim Abed.  Several Navy SEALs captured him, and Abed came away from the experience with a busted lip.  Now three Navy SEALs are under charges.

Navy SEALs have secretly captured one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq — the alleged mastermind of the murder and mutilation of four Blackwater USA security guards in Fallujah in 2004. And three of the SEALs who captured him are now facing criminal charges, sources told FoxNews.com.

The three, all members of the Navy’s elite commando unit, have refused non-judicial punishment — called a captain’s mast — and have requested a trial by court-martial.

Ahmed Hashim Abed, whom the military code-named “Objective Amber,” told investigators he was punched by his captors — and he had the bloody lip to prove it.

Now, instead of being lauded for bringing to justice a high-value target, three of the SEAL commandos, all enlisted, face assault charges and have retained lawyers.

Matthew McCabe, a Special Operations Petty Officer Second Class (SO-2), is facing three charges: dereliction of performance of duty for willfully failing to safeguard a detainee, making a false official statement, and assault.

Petty Officer Jonathan Keefe, SO-2, is facing charges of dereliction of performance of duty and making a false official statement.

Petty Officer Julio Huertas, SO-1, faces those same charges and an additional charge of impediment of an investigation.

Neal Puckett, an attorney representing McCabe, told Fox News the SEALs are being charged for allegedly giving the detainee a “punch in the gut.”

“I don’t know how they’re going to bring this detainee to the United States and give us our constitutional right to confrontation in the courtroom,” Puckett said. “But again, we have terrorists getting their constitutional rights in New York City, but I suspect that they’re going to deny these SEALs their right to confrontation in a military courtroom in Virginia.”

The three SEALs will be arraigned separately on Dec. 7. Another three SEALs — two officers and an enlisted sailor — have been identified by investigators as witnesses but have not been charged.

FoxNews.com obtained the official handwritten statement from one of the three witnesses given on Sept. 3, hours after Abed was captured and still being held at the SEAL base at Camp Baharia. He was later taken to a cell in the U.S.-operated Green Zone in Baghdad.

The SEAL told investigators he had showered after the mission, gone to the kitchen and then decided to look in on the detainee.

“I gave the detainee a glance over and then left,” the SEAL wrote. “I did not notice anything wrong with the detainee and he appeared in good health.”

Lt. Col. Holly Silkman, spokeswoman for the special operations component of U.S. Central Command, confirmed Tuesday to FoxNews.com that three SEALs have been charged in connection with the capture of a detainee. She said their court martial is scheduled for January.

United States Central Command declined to discuss the detainee, but a legal source told FoxNews.com that the detainee was turned over to Iraqi authorities, to whom he made the abuse complaints. He was then returned to American custody. The SEAL leader reported the charge up the chain of command, and an investigation ensued.

The source said intelligence briefings provided to the SEALs stated that “Objective Amber” planned the 2004 Fallujah ambush, and “they had been tracking this guy for some time.”

The Fallujah atrocity came to symbolize the brutality of the enemy in Iraq and the degree to which a homegrown insurgency was extending its grip over Iraq.

The four Blackwater agents were transporting supplies for a catering company when they were ambushed and killed by gunfire and grenades. Insurgents burned the bodies and dragged them through the city. They hanged two of the bodies on a bridge over the Euphrates River for the world press to photograph.

Intelligence sources identified Abed as the ringleader, but he had evaded capture until September.

A punch in the gut, a busted lip, so on, and so forth.  Things that happen in America every day during High School football practice, gym class during wrestling instruction, brothers fighting each other at home, and U.S. Marine Corps hazing of boots.

I simply cannot help but be struck at how effeminate and muliebrous this has become.  Does some lawyer-mommy want to take care of poor little Ahmed?  Did he get roughed up playing with the big boys?  Surely the enemy scoffs and mocks us.  We should be embarrassed even to ask the SEALs about something like this.  CENTCOM should be ashamed.  SOCOM should be ashamed.  It shows once again that we want to lawyer our engagements instead of win them and that we hold lawyers in higher regard than we do warriors.  This is what we have become.  We have lost the horror of 9/11, and this is the surest way to bring it back.

Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed To Get Bin Laden

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 8 months ago

The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has published a report entitled Tora Bora: How We Failed To Get Bin Laden and Why it Matters Today.  I didn’t read much of it, but let’s rehearse a bit of the executive summary.

Bin Laden expected to die. His last will and testament, written on December 14, reflected his fatalism. ‘‘Allah commended to us that when death approaches any of us that we make a bequest to parents and next of kin and to Muslims as a whole,’’ he wrote, according to a copy of the will that surfaced later and is regarded as authentic. ‘‘Allah bears witness that the love of jihad and death in the cause of Allah has dominated my life and the verses of the sword permeated every cell in my heart, ‘and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together.’ How many times did I wake up to find myself reciting this holy verse!’’ He instructed his wives not to remarry and apologized to his children for devoting himself to jihad.

But the Al Qaeda leader would live to fight another day. Fewer than 100 American commandos were on the scene with their Afghan allies and calls for reinforcements to launch an assault were rejected. Requests were also turned down for U.S. troops to block the mountain paths leading to sanctuary a few miles away in Pakistan. The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army, was kept on the sidelines. Instead, the U.S. command chose to rely on airstrikes and untrained Afghan militias to attack bin Laden and on Pakistan’s loosely organized Frontier Corps to seal his escape routes. On or around December 16, two days after writing his will, bin Laden and an entourage of bodyguards walked unmolested out of Tora Bora and disappeared into Pakistan’s unregulated tribal area. Most analysts say he is still there today.

The decision not to deploy American forces to go after bin Laden or block his escape was made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, the architects of the unconventional Afghan battle plan known as Operation Enduring Freedom. Rumsfeld said at the time that he was concerned that too many U.S. troops in Afghanistan would create an anti-American backlash and fuel a widespread insurgency. Reversing the recent American military orthodoxy known as the Powell doctrine, the Afghan model emphasized minimizing the U.S. presence by relying on small, highly mobile teams of special operations troops and CIA paramilitary operatives working with the Afghan opposition. Even when his own commanders and senior intelligence officials in Afghanistan and Washington argued for dispatching more U.S. troops, Franks refused to deviate from the plan. There were enough U.S. troops in or near Afghanistan to execute the classic sweep-and-block maneuver required to attack bin Laden and try to prevent his escape. It would have been a dangerous fight across treacherous terrain, and the injection of more U.S. troops and the resulting casualties would have contradicted the risk-averse, ‘‘light footprint’’ model formulated by Rumsfeld and Franks.

But commanders on the scene and elsewhere in Afghanistan argued that the risks were worth the reward. After bin Laden’s escape, some military and intelligence analysts and the press criticized the Pentagon’s failure to mount a full-scale attack despite the tough rhetoric by President Bush. Franks, Vice President Dick Cheney and others defended the decision, arguing that the intelligence was inconclusive about the Al Qaeda leader’s location. But the review of existing literature, unclassified government records and interviews with central participants underlying this report removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora.

This has limited usefulness because I already said it.

Air Force special operators with satellite uplinks guiding JDAMS to target, CIA operatives making shady deals with halfway reliable (or all the way unreliable) allies, Delta Force operators in the background, gizmos, gadgets and thingamajigs, tribal elements in the foreground, minute-by-minute radio communications on the whereabouts of UBL, and cloak-and-dagger secrecy after the fact … it all makes for interesting television, civilian amazement, and even more honest books about the abject failure of the Rumsfeld strategy in Afghanistan.

Marines are always in ready reserve, and if their forces needed supplementing, the 82nd or 101st Airborne should have been able to respond to the need of the moment. There is absolutely no replacement for infantry, and in this case, terrain control, interdiction and authority over transit was the solution to the problem. Infantry could have provided this, special forces could not. We let UBL escape, and it was not the fault of special forces. It was Rumsfeld’s fault. It was a strategic blunder.

It isn’t a reflection on their specialized billets, their capabilities or their commitment. It’s a function of force projection. Special forces cannot supply the force projection necessary to win counterinsurgencies. Only infantry can do this. This is what we learn when we put aside the sophomoric posturing over who’s special and who isn’t.

To be sure, the capture or killing of Bin Laden wouldn’t even have come close to ending the transnational insurgency called Islamic Jihad, but at least as regards Bin Laden, to the extent to which the Senate findings comport with our own, they are correct.


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