Admiral Mullen Warns of Impact of Conflict on US Troops

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In a penetrating analysis reported by the  Department of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen warns of the long-term impact of the current conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq on US troops. 

Key Highlights:

  •  The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today offered a warning of what to expect for veterans, the military services and the nation after a decade of war. “This decade of persistent conflict has had an impact that we are just beginning to come to terms with, … an impact of untold costs and an undetermined toll,” U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told an audience at the 2010 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition here.
  • Admiral Mullen called the Army and Marine Corps the “center of gravity” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and said their “enormous adaptability and courage” have made them the best counterinsurgency force in the world – something they perfected in less than three years. But, Mullen said, the military and the nation as a whole should be prepared for the war’s costs: physical, mental, family and financial problems among veterans; diminished noncombat capabilities; expansion of the veterans health care system; high unemployment rates; and homelessness.
  • “There are many soldiers and veterans coming home for whom the battle hasn’t ended,” he said. “For many, it’s just the beginning.” Soldiers and Army veterans already are experiencing these problems, Mullen noted, and he added that “what we can see today is truly just the tip of the iceberg.”
  •  Soldiers and their families will benefit from increased “dwell time” at home between deployments, Mullen said, but he warned that some problems are more likely to arise with the reduced structure and leadership on the home front. The chairman called for the return of “good old-fashioned garrison leadership,” which he described as “engaged, focused, and in some cases, intrusive,” to deal with the profound operational shift following a decade of war.

Analysis:  

  • To be fair to Admiral Mullen, he has served as the military’s Cassandra these past few years harping on the long term impact of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a shrill voice in the chamber is not enough. Statutory authority and obligations require more than raising the flag in public forums.
  • Dwell time for the Army has improved from 12-15 months to 15-18 months on average. 90 days. Still not enough time to recapture the essence of predictability and stability. Admiral Mullen and the Chiefs can do better.
  • Admiral Mullen claims the Army and the Marines are the best “counter-insurgency force in the world” and something that was “perfected” in three years. I think the jury is still out on that one.
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Quibbling Officials defend broken Military Procurement Process

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On the Army’s effectiveness testing of body armor for the troops, a 2009 GAO report concluded: “Overall reliability and repeatability of the test results are uncertain.” To that, Army Brig. Gen. Peter N. Fuller, Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center at Ft. Belvoir said:

“The challenge we are having with this GAO audit report is they are challenging our processes, and I think what we are really identifying is we have had an evolution of processes and we need to better articulate what we are doing there.”

He has insulted men of valor and action with empty words.

BG Fuller said that despite the GAO finding irregularities in body armor testing, “We have the best body armor by far.” He added that he appreciated the GAO because it helped the Army insure that the troops get the “very best.”

Without responding to the GAO report’s findings, Gen. Fuller had preemptively framed the issue as a failure to communicate, not a real problem with testing.

Then he asserted that the body armor was the best.

Were that true, why would the House Armed Services Committee have published these words in its 2010 FY National Defense Authorization Act Summary?

Body Armor

The committee requires DOD to establish specific budget line items within the procurement and research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) accounts for body armor. This will improve accountability and increase transparency into long-term investment strategies as well as facilitate the advancement of lighter-weight technologies. Additionally, the committee strongly encourages the standardization of the requirements and test and evaluation processes for body armor. (p. 24)

The Committee’s directive clearly implied that accountability and transparency in body armor testing, in evaluation, and in contracting fail to meet appropriate standards.

Now read this gem in the same report, which really hits home considering the above statement of the House’s expectation that Gen. Fuller act, not just speak on the issue:

Prohibition Relating to Propaganda

The committee prohibits DOD from engaging in propaganda activities except as otherwise authorized by law. The term “propaganda” includes materials such as editorials or other articles prepared by an agency or its contractors at the behest of the agency and circulated as the position of parties outside the agency. (p. 46).

The prohibition could include assertions of unverified facts about body armor safety made by Brig. Gen. Fuller on Army.mil that appear to agree with proprietary claims of existing body armor contractors. Such statements raise serious questions about the objectivity of the testing processes.

The Soldier Center took another hit for failing to insure quality control on the testing of helmets, according to a CNN report in May. The Department of Justice had to inform the Pentagon that Armor Source, LLC, the helmet contractor, was under investigation for violating standards for making helmets withstand ballistics. In an Army ballistics re-test of the helmets, the helmets failed and 44,000 were recalled.

But, it was another recent example of poor Pentagon oversight of its suppliers that caused me to review the body armor and helmet procurement problems. While reviewing press on the rare earth element and trade imbroglio heating up between China and the West this week, I found a classic quote about the Pentagon’s procurement awareness. Christine Parthemore, fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told the Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia, “In defense equipment, because stuff is manufactured by the private sector, and [the private sector] is not involved in the end-use of these products. … There’s sort of a detachment of information that happens..”

Parthemore was explaining that the US military had “very little sense” of its own dependence on rare earth minerals used in its most sensitive smart weapons, guidance and communications systems because the metals’ usage is proprietary information.

Considering the context, a Chinese monopoly on magnetic components that help provide the “shock & awe” for which the US military is renowned, Parthemore’s observation suggests that the Pentagon will sacrifice national security to protect corporate privacy, even if the corporations are state-owned Chinese firms or their agents!!!

In response, the 2010 Pentagon scratches its collective head and effectively says, ‘We didn’t know that was a national security issue; let’s study our dependence on rare earths.’ This is despite Deng Xiaopeng’s famous boast that China would use its leverage in rare earths against the West’s domination in oil.

Rare metal supply is a troop safety issue too, since magnets manufactured from rare earths make bombs smart enough to miss friendly forces during air support to ground troops.

Is there really a ‘detachment of information’ because the Pentagon wants to honor the proprietary secrets of its contractors? Or is there collusion with contractors to keep proprietary vulnerabilities a secret? Such facts beg for DOJ probes into possible illegal influences between procurement officials and contractors. Perhaps these security problems may be deterred in the future by putting dishonest and corrupt officials in jail.

Michael Woodson
Contributing Editor
Note from SFTT Editor:  SFTT is thankful to the vigilant Michael Woodson for bringing this information to our attention. The GAO and other other investigative bodies have unearthed many examples of flawed test procedures and an unhealthy relationship between private contractors and military officials responsible for the procurement of protective gear and combat equipment for our troops.  It is patently clear to all who have followed this bizarre and incomprehensible display of Beltway spin that the “Emperor has no clothes!”  When will there be sufficient public outrage to bring this seriously flawed and possibly corrupt military procurement process and incestuous relationship between procurment officials and their suppliers to an end.  Support SFTT and help to bring light to the shoddy and shady processes that appear so ingrained in our military procurement system. The lives of our brave young men and women who serve in harm’s way may very well depend on it.
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Military News you may have missed: Oct 27, 2010

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Policy – Corruption Perceptions Index 2010 

Key Highlights

  • The 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 178 countries around the world.

    Afghanistan is 176 of 178 and scored a 1.4 on the index.

  • Iraq is 175 of 178 and scored a 1.5 on the index.

 

Analysis:  After almost 10 years of war in Afghanistan and almost 7 years after the US toppled the Saddam regime we have these lovely achievements to pass on to future generations – puts things into perspective. 

Policy — Four More Years of War

Key Highlights:

  • The secret date for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan has been hiding in plain sight for months. It’s certainly not the much ballyhooed July 2011 date, which will only begin withdrawals. It’s not even July 2012 to smooth President Obama’s reelection campaign. It’s the end of 2014. The plan, NATO diplomats say, is for NATO leaders to formally announce this date at their Lisbon summit on November 19-20. Their thinking is to do this soon to reassure worried, friendly Afghans, to signal resolution to the Taliban, and to use their allied unity for political cushioning at home. NATO emissaries are still bargaining over exactly how many troops will remain after departure day and for what purposes.
  • Details aside, the devastating truth is that U.S. forces will be fighting in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

Analysis:   The fact of the matter is that we are looking at being stuck in the Afghan tar-baby for an additional four years without effectively deterring the threat of global terrorism or knowing what the outcome in Afghanistan will have on Pakistan.   This reality will impact the viability of beginning to reduce the current US footprint (and troop strength) in July 2011 as called for by the President – while the NATO summit decisions are critical, they will be superimposed by the December 2010 policy review ordered by the President – maybe at this juncture in July 2011, the costs of COIN in perpetuity will become evident and a realistic strategy will take hold.  In the mean time the Army’s patchchart continues to upload Brigade Combat Teams for Deployment-Dwell-Deployment.

Policy – The Afghan War: Why the Kandahar Campaign Matters

Key Highlights:

  • Late last month, the push began to move insurgents back from the critical roadway, and U.S. Army scouts, who are relied upon as a flexible, quick response unit, assaulted the area by helicopter. Within minutes of securing a compound, they came under heavy fire from fighters on all sides and hiding in the tree line. The gun battle raged for more than 12 hours the first day, 10 hours the second, with soldiers nearly going “black,” or out of ammunition, before a resupply chopper bailed them out. Air support, in the form of helicopter gunships, fighter jets and bombers that loom overhead with devastating weapons at the ready, is a crucial U.S. advantage. Indeed, when the engagement ended, officers estimate that close to 20,000 lb. (9,000 kg) of ordnance was dropped.
  • Since then, it has been a steady grind. In the latest phase of the operation, the scouts were tasked with supporting another company engaged in house-to-house clearing aimed at extending the security belt further away from the highway, while armored vehicles plowed up roads for bombs. Massive booms erupted in the distance over the first few days, some going off beneath the hulking vehicles, but mostly from air strikes against various IED-placement teams spotted by the balloon cameras and unmanned drones that also prowl the skies. The crescendo peaked at around noon on Day Two, when a 500-lb. (230 kg) bomb crashed to earth less than a half-mile from where the scout platoon was holed up, instantly killing a pair of Taliban bombmakers.
  • But, as one Scout bluntly put it, “We have air support. The Taliban has IEDs.” Of the dozens of casualties suffered by 101st Airborne Division so far, more than 80% have been caused by IEDs. They come in every conceivable form, spanning the ordinary (pressure plates, trip wires, remote control) to the elaborate (directional fragmentation devices, which might be triggered on the ground and explode sideways, and crush boxes that can be stepped on multiple times before finally detonating). The dizzying array of booby traps demands that soldiers keep an eye on the ground even as they survey the badlands around them for signs of trouble. A fatal pop could happen anywhere. “If you get lazy, you can be sure an IED will be there. It’s a minefield,” says Captain Bill Faucher, 25, who cited hypervigilance and good fortune as reasons why no one in his platoon has gotten hurt.

Analysis:

  • The IED threat has mushroomed and it appears that there is very little that US/NATO forces can do about it except to report the data.
  • Anytime you have to rely on a scout/reconnaissance unit for real-time objective intelligence, you are in fact conducting a kinetic operation with very little local support – so to that end, throw out the COIN manual and dust off your Operations manual.  Oh, and by the way, being cut off for 12 hours in a raging firefight never bodes well for any unit or operational plan – something FUBAR was up the minute the insertion of the scouts was complete.
  • SFTT added a Time Magazine Photo array titled “R&R at Kandarhar Airfield” for your viewing pleasure.  Imagine the organizational energy and contractor upkeep required to maintain this level of “R&R”.  Now compare it to the comfort items deposited to the Scout Platoon that was almost “black on ammunition”…bet the Scouts had a door bundle of re-supply water and MRE’s, batteries, 5.56/7.62, but no “Salsa” music.
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Military News you may have missed: Oct 26, 2010

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Policy – A Firefight Exposes Afghan Weakness

(Wall Street Journal – Pay to View: Article Obtained via OSINT) 

Key Highlights

  • An account of the six-hour siege on the U.S. agency on July 2, drawn from interviews with witnesses and survivors and an internal investigation by the aid agency, shows an Afghan force that appears ill-equipped to take over national security from their foreign counterparts.
  •  About 15 to 20 minutes after the attack began, the Afghan army and police occupied a four-story hotel about 30 yards across the street from the DAI compound. Afghan soldiers started launching rocket-propelled grenades at the DAI building, according to an Afghan witnessand government officials. Some of these RPGs hit the roof. Shrapnel from one hit an expatriate in the face, causing serious injuries, according to internal DAI briefings.
  • “There were at least two different shooters wearing camouflage on two different levels of the hotel,” the Western survivor recounted. “Maybe about 90% of fire on the compound” came from the hotel, he said. He said he counted dozens of RPG blasts.”
  •  At about 4:30 a.m., Shaun Sexton, a British EI employee, was told by the Afghan army on-scene commander to come down from the roof because the building had been cleared of Taliban militants, according to the survivor and accounts of incident briefings received by DAI staff. Mr. Sexton, another EI guard and two DAI employees left their colleagues on the roof and went down the stairs. Two Taliban fighters hiding between the fourth and third floors opened fire, killing Mr. Sexton on the spot and injuring a DAI female staffer in the arm. Another EI employee shot and killed one of the insurgents. The second fighter retreated. The three survivors fled back to the roof and again called the German military for help. The Germans didn’t come. At 7 a.m., a DAI survivor managed to get through to an American unit on the phone. Forces from the U.S. 10th Mountain Division arrived soon after, and the building was cleared. As is frequently the case in joint operations, the U.S. said Afghan forces led the rescue.

Analysis:   SFTT has recently provided comment on the disconnect between the effectiveness of Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF) trumpeted by General Caldwell and the stark reality on the ground — the ANSF is not a competent fighting force and when they lead they fail.

The fight in Afghanistan, geographically speaking is a 360 degree fight and encompasses every province. The current troop-to-task list for NATO and ANSF prevents effective operations 24/7 throughout the entire Afghan battle space, and so in effect, we are fighting in a whack-a-mole fashion – hit the enemy where they emerge, but as you “whack” one another comes up else where – it’s an endless cycle.

After almost 10 years of fighting in Afghanistan, NATO forces are still unable to coordinate operationsand security for non-governmental agencies that are filling the gap left wide open by ineffective Afghan  governance and services.

Policy – U.S. operations in Kandahar push out Taliban

Key Highlights:

  •  The Taliban departure from some areas could be a strategic response to an operation NATO has trumpeted for months. Or insurgents could be lying low, developing new avenues of attack. NATO forces have cleared villages before, including in Kandahar province, and failed to hold them. Whether insurgents can be kept away this time, or prevented from grabbing new parts of the city or its surroundings, remains to be seen.
  • Afghans who live in these areas, and have witnessed earlier clearing operations give way to Taliban comebacks, often do not share the U.S. military’s optimism. And some believe insurgents may be moving into the city to avoid U.S. troops on the periphery. “Security in the city is now drastically worse,” said Samsor Afghan, 27, a university student who runs a computer software store downtown, across the street from where a suicide bomber attacked the day before. “The Taliban are everywhere. We don’t feel safe even inside the city.” American commanders have nevertheless been buoyed by changes in areas where the bulk of their forces are located. Among the shifts is what they describe as a new assertiveness from Afghan security forces, which now outnumber NATO troops in this operation.
  • The Afghans, who took 72 hours to capture 50 detainees, five large bombs and 500 pounds of explosives, required only advice and air support from the Americans, said Lt. Col. Rodger Lemons, the battalion commander at the Argandab district center. “We basically sat in here and monitored the fight,” Resnick said, referring to his outpost at the village of Sarkari Bagh. “They essentially cleared this entire place out.” U.S. military officials acknowledge that it is not ideal to have the border police leading the operation, because the goal is for the Afghan army and police to provide security in their own areas. “We need to make sure this is not undermining the legitimacy of the Afghan government,” said a senior NATO military official in southern Afghanistan.

Analysis:  Read carefully, while there are near-term successes, the brunt of success in this area of operations has been a combination of Special Operation Force actions and an ad-hoc Afghan Border Police unit cobbled together when ANSF units weren’t up to the task.  Legitimacy of local/national security forces is a key cornerstone of COIN doctrine. It appears operations in Argandab valley sidestepped this doctrinal underpinning, because ANSF legitimacy is non-existent.  Creating “parking lots” can be performed by the Air Force at 30,000 feet – no need to commit a Brigade to the area of operations if that is the intent.

Policy — Karzai Rails Against America in Diatribe

Key Highlights:

  • “The money starts in the name of the private security companies in the hallways of the U.S. government ,” Mr. Karzai said. “The profits are made and arranged there.” The money then goes to private security firms, he said, adding, “then they send the money to kill people here.” “When this money comes Afghanistan, it causes insecurity in Afghan homes and causes the killing of Afghan children and causes explosions and terrorism in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Karzai in the news conference.
  • His calm tone contrasted with the explosive accusations he leveled at Western interests in Afghanistan and the news media, even going so far as to say that the security companies were interchangeable with the Taliban. “In fact we don’t know how many of the explosions are the fault of the Taliban and how much by them,” said Mr. Karzai, referring to the security companies. Mr. Karzai’s distrust and alienation from the Western alliance has increased over the past several months even as more soldiers have flowed into the country and more civilian development workers have begun to carry out projects, leaving diplomats and military officials increasingly frustrated and confused.
  • The accusations followed a stormy meeting he had on Sunday night with the NATO commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, as well as other senior Afghan and western officials in which Mr. Karzai stormed out, saying that he did not need the West’s help, according to people knowledgeable about the confrontation. 

Analysis: Not much to add here except to say that NATO is in bed with an irrational, disrespectful, and unappreciative national leader – maybe Petreaus should return the protocol and have our troops stormout of the country. Enough said.

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Military News you might have missed: Oct 25, 2010

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Policy — 8 Enemy Deaths, 46 Shootings: War by the Numbers

Key Highlights

  • He’s done laundry twice, mailed five letters and received two. He’s spent 378 hours on post and 256 hours on patrol. He’s crossed 140 miles (230 kilometers) of thorny bomb-laced farmland and waist-high trenches of water on foot.  Along the way, he’s ripped eight pairs of pants, ruined two pairs of boots, and downed 1,350 half-liter bottles of water. His platoon has killed at least eight militants in battle and nine farm animals in crossfire. The rugged outposts he’s lived in have been shot at 46 times.
  • At many bases, Marines sleep outside on cots inside hot-dog shaped mosquito nets. There are no toilets — just “wag” bags, no showers — just pouches you can fill up with water warmed by the afternoon sun. Fleas are such a problem, many Marines have taken to wearing flea collars made for cats or dogs around their wrists and belts.  “It’s definitely a culture shock,” Lance Cpl. Benjamin Long, 21, of Trussville, Ala. said of life for incoming troops. “Some people come here and they think we’re living like cavemen.”
  • Troops routinely patrol weighed down with 80 or 90 pounds of gear — armored jackets, rifles — traversing a harsh terrain of water-filled trenches. The canal system was built by American aid money half a century ago; today both insurgents and coalition forces use them as cover to avoid or stage attacks.  “All the guys out here have lost weight,” Martin said, speaking of the pace doing three patrols a day, then back-to-back six-hour post shifts the next. It “really beats you up.”

Analysis – SFTT has consistently highlighted the fact that when our frontline troops are deployed that there “is no downtime…it’s a constant gruel,” as well as highlighting the austere conditions they operate from and the burdensome nature of the gear the troops are directed to wear.  Bottomline, while combat is, at the end of the day “war by numbers,” shame on us all if we lose the perspective that organizing violence in a desperate land is a human endeavor where outside and distant observers oftentimes lose sight of the mundane nature of sacrifice made on their behalf.

Policy – U.S. military treats many soldiers’ wounds ‘in theater’

Key Highlights

  • A growing number of soldiers like Milton are being treated for non-life-threatening wounds and sent back to combat without ever leaving Afghanistan. Army doctors and commanders say the practice speeds recovery and gets injured soldiers back to their units more quickly than sending them to Germany or the United States for treatment. Caring for the wounded in Afghanistan helps their morale, they say, by keeping them more connected to their buddies.
  • Milton was injured during a supply mission in July. He was traveling in one of the Army’s heavily armored mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles when a bomb detonated beneath it and blasted the front end skyward. Then the vehicle slammed to the ground, and “all I remember is grabbing the gunner” in the rooftop turret to keep from being thrown out, Milton said.  He suffered a compressed spine. Army medics gave him painkillers so he could remain with his squad, because his dwindling unit needed every available man. That suited Milton, who couldn’t stand the thought of leaving.  “I didn’t want to be evacuated,” he said. “I had to be there for my soldiers.” But the drugs only masked his injuries, and his back gave out three weeks later as he was carrying a soldier who had collapsed from the heat. Doctors prescribed more painkillers, but he stopped taking them, convinced that they exacerbated his injuries.  “They had me so doped up before that I didn’t know I was injured,” he said.

Analysis

  • The policy of treating non-life threatening wounds in theater is flawed – while the trooper recovers there is no battlefield replacement and the unit that suffers the temporary loss must fill the position internally or redistribute the tasks that the wounded trooper was responsible for.
  • Keeping the non-life threatening wounded in theater to recover, while meant to provide morale, by “keeping them more connected to their buddies,” at the end of the day has a deleterious effect on the organization’s medical capabilities because resources that are required to treat them (i.e. prescriptions, monitoring, access to medical care, etc) are diverted from core-mission medical tasks and requirements (i.e.  combat medic support, building medical capacity of the local populace).

PolicyGeneral Petraeus says progress is faster than expected in Afghanistan operation

Key Highlights

  • Military officials and Afghan leaders have reported increasing stability in large swaths of the area that had been firmly in the grip of insurgents a few weeks ago, although they acknowledge that they remain contested by pockets of Taliban holdouts.
  • Petraeus emphasized that kill-and-capture operations are part of his counterinsurgency strategy. He said the ramp-up in Special Operations forces activity has been matched with increasing effort in all parts of the overall mission, from training Afghan security forces to rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.  “W e have increased, and we are increasing, every component of a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign,” he said.
  • Petraeus did not provide new details about the embryonic reconciliation talks between the Afghan government and some Taliban leaders. He also shied from talking about an ongoing dispute between the government and foreign diplomats over the use of private security guards to protect development workers. President Hamid Karzai has issued a decree banning private guards from protecting aid workers starting Dec. 17, a decision that has led several development firms to begin shutting down their programs. U.S. officials estimate that up to $2.5 billion in foreign assistance projects could be shuttered, and as many as 40,000 Afghan jobs lost, if the ban is not rescinded.  The development projects – from roads to schools to local government reform – are central to the military’s counterinsurgency strategy, a way to win Afghan support after soldiers clear out insurgents. In a bid to preserve these programs, American and foreign diplomats are lobbying Karzai intensely to exempt development firms from the ban on private security.

Analysis –  SFTT continues to monitor a proverbial back-and-forth on the progress (or lack thereof) in Afghanistan.  While it appears it is too early to conclude that there has been a shift in strategy that focuses exclusively on counter-terrorism versus counter-insurgency – SFTT and other observers will be hard pressed to accept Petreaus’ comments as anything more than wanting to fight an endless round of COIN in perpetuity.

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Military News you may have missed: Oct 23, 2010

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Military News you may have missed – Oct 22, 2010

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Policy – General Sees Progress in Counter-IED Fight

Key Highlights:

  •  Despite an increase in incidents that tracks with the build-up of forces in Afghanistan, Oates said, “my assessment is we’re making progress” in the fight against IEDs. The growing number of forces in the country and increased fighting caused the number of roadside-bomb incidents in Afghanistan to spike to 8,994 in 2009 -– from 2,677 in 2007 — and to nearly 10,500 so far this year.
  • Officials hope to model their strategy to counter the deadly devices in Afghanistan on successes in Iraq, where the downward trend of incidents illustrates the success of the strategy there, Oates said. In 2007, Iraq reported nearly 24,000 incidents; so far in 2010, the number is just over 1,100.

Analysis:        

 

Making progress?  Road-side incidents in Afghanistan = 2.6K in 2007, 8.9K in 2009, 10.5K so far in 2010.  That’s an increase General Oates.  Progress?  Clearly countering the IED threat is a complex and resource intensive process and any gains made, and the efforts behind them are noteworthy, but to claim “progress” when the data says the opposite doesn’t square. 

In 2007, at the height of the surge in Iraq, there were 24K reported incidents.  Thus far in 2010 there has only been 1.1K reported incidents in Afghanistan.  The question someone should have asked General Oates is “What tactics, techniques, and procedures were being used in Iraq to get Iraqi’s to report 24,000 incidents that could be applied to Afghanistan?”  “And if you are applying them, then why are they not obviously working?   Instead, the briefing ended up detailing how the IED task force would simply throw billions of more dollars at the problem and deploy a battalions worth of analysts to study the problem.  Hey, General Oates, the US is downsizing it’s footprint in Afghanistan starting in July 2011 in case you haven’t heard.  Well, at least that is what everyone has told the troops.  So, maybe the General might want to reconsider his plan – sadly, it might be a little too late.

 

Policy – Are We Starting To Win? New weapon systems—and, even more, improved intelligence—may be giving Americans an edge in Afghanistan.

 

Key Highlights:

  • It’s the intelligence that’s changed in recent months—and it has changed dramatically.  Along with the surge of troops and the shift toward much more aggressive attacks on insurgency strongholds, Petraeus, has intensified intelligence-gathering operations to a still greater (though less-reported) extent.
  • The air over Afghanistan’s heavy fighting spots is jammed with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance devices—drones, towers, even blimps filled with various sensors. (Number of blimps has soared from eight to 64 just in the last month.)
  • All this information is collected and interpreted by a growing number of imaging and intelligence analysts. Still more important, it’s coordinated with information gathered on the ground by special-operations officers and—increasingly—by Afghan security forces, who are better able to gain the trust of local Afghans who dislike the Taliban.

Analysis

The NYT reports success one day attributed to precision strikes from MLRS’ and so it must be true.

 

Policy – ‘Wolfpack Wall’ Designed To Push Insurgents Into Open Terrain

 Highlights:

  • The Wolfpack Wall, a mile-long Hesco barrier, follows the bank of a wadi, or dry stream bed, and cuts across a strip of marijuana and poppy fields in Maiwand district, Kandahar province. Hesco containers are large, wire mesh boxes, shipped flat, which are assembled and have a plastic bag inserted and filled with dirt. Alongside the barrier, erected by U.S. Navy Seabees late last month, there’s a trench dug as an extra obstacle.  The wall is designed to force insurgents into open desert, where soldiers monitoring the area from strategically placed outposts or cameras on unmanned aircraft hovering overhead can spot them.
  • The motor pool at Combat Outpost Terminator, just north of the wadi, was a graveyard of damaged military vehicles, including an MRAP that had been cut in half by one bomb.  “Every one of those vehicles, you look at them and say: ‘How did anyone live?’ ” Redick said. “It just blows my mind.”

Analysis

Can you imagine a mile-long HESCO wall with ditches and wire?  Should work right?  What does the enemy do?  Employs women and children to emplace bombs to defeat your efforts.  What do the bombs do?  Split MRAP’s in half.  What happens to the troopers inside the MRAP?  They live.  What happens next?  WolfPack builds more walls and hopelessly watch more women and children plant more bombs, and General Oates briefs that “the strategy is working.”  A vicious cycle with no end in sight.

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Bloody Sunday: 16 (US Troop Casualties) vs. 6 (NFL Player Casualties)

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 I follow football.  High School, College, Professional – all levels, all kinds. It’s a blood sport.  So there was no way I could ignore the blaring RSS feed headlines on Monday morning announcing that this past weekend’s games will be forever known as “Bloody Sunday.” Sports Illustrated football analyst Peter King reported that “Last Sunday could go down as a seminal moment in NFL history,” because of the injuries sustained on the playing field and the impact on future play, rules and equipment.  The Vice President of Operations for the NFL, Ray Anderson, said that “We’ve got to protect players from themselves” as a result of the violent day.

I also follow the war and the troops.  You know, the ones who allow us to watch sports on weekends without having to worry about some mushroom cloud or Mumbai-style attack here on American soil.  The ones out there protecting that freedom thing, right? 

But, “Bloody Sunday” in the NFL?  Six vicious and violent hits?  Four concussions?  A couple of broken bones?  Oh, my . . . especially compared to how “Bloody” it was in Afghanistan last week.  And compare the changes the NFL is making for head injuries sustained by players, to DOD’s lack of concern for frontline troops.

Since January 2010, on average, 15 troops have been wounded in Afghanistan every single day.  Every. Single. Day. Period.  Simply put, that’s a lot of bloody days.  This past Sunday, there were 15 wounded troopers, and sadly, one killed in action; that equals 16 casualties.  Bloody indeed!  But maybe last Sunday in Afghanistan was simply a bad day, so for some perspective, let’s add up all the casualties from last week.  On average, there were over 100 troopers wounded in action, and 18 US service members paid the ultimate sacrifice and were killed in action.  15 deaths resulted from IED strikes, and 3 deaths resulted from hostile fire.  Of the 15 deaths resulting from IED strikes, 4 were killed in one vehicle, 3 were killed in another, and 2 were sharing another vehicle when they were killed by IED’s.[1]  Statistics that detail the type and extent of the more than 100 wounds suffered are not available (or accurate).  However, we can pretty safely assume that the troopers that survived IED blasts in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles suffered some type of mild-to-severe brain injury—or at the least were concussed—and  that these injuries clearly outpaced those suffered by football players last week. 

I’m comparing head trauma in football and combat, because everyone involved is wearing a helmet.  And if on a given Sunday, the spike in head trauma injuries prompts immediate change in policy and a new commitment to equipment upgrades by the NFL—but not the Department of Defense—then it seems to me that we should all take notice.

So what actions did the NFL take? The concern from head injuries and concussions forced the NFL to impose huge fines on three players this Tuesday for dangerous and flagrant hits and warned the league that violent conduct will be cause for suspension.  It only took the NFL 48-flipping-hours!  And I guarantee that helmets, padding, chinstraps, buckles, screws and straps for every single NFL football helmet is being inspected by equipment maintenance personnel and will be carefully repaired, replaced or some new whiz-bang safety component will be added.  I also guarantee that any and all big-contract players who suffered the slightest head injury have received top-shelf medical care and will most likely be forced to sit out a game or two to protect their team’s “investment.”

So what was the response from the Pentagon after last week’s bloody fray in Afghanistan?  Not a peep except to update the casualty data base and keep issuing sub-standard Advanced Combat Helmets to troops.   From what the troops report to SFTT, some troops obviously get Medevac’ed out of theater due to the severity of their injuries; but some don’t.  And for those who weren’t, maybe the mission profile will allow them to take a one-day or two-day respite from being outside the wire.  But probably not, in line with the old adage, “Every man strengthen the north wall.”  Most ludicrous is the appalling fact that no comparison can be made between frontline troops and NFL players regarding the quality of available medical care, the amount of investment in science and technology to improve the equipment and the commitment to provide long term treatment for traumatic brain injuries.  Must be nice to play in the NFL, and that is the bloody truth!


[1] Department of Defense and icasualties.org data.

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Military News you may have missed – Oct 21

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Policy — Taliban’s Elite, Aided by NATO, Join Talks for Afghan Peace

Key highlights:

  • Taliban Quetta and Peshawar Shura and Haqqani Network are participating in Afghan peace talks
  • NATO/ISAF is providing transport and security to delegates from safe-havens to Kabul
  • Delegates are senior members

Analysis:  These talks have become a necessary component of an overall strategy to obtain a political solution because a viable military solution does not exist – we cannot “kill/capture” our way to victory in Afghanistan.

Policy — Petraeus rewrites the playbook in Afghanistan

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/18/AR2010101803596.html

Key Highlights:

  • Ignatius argues that Petreaus is applying a two-part approach to his Afghan strategy – “shooting more, increasing special operations raids and bombings on Taliban commanders, but talking more by endorsing peace talks and providing security for participants.
  • Ignatius argues that Petreaus is putting distance between COIN ethos of protecting the populace and actually conducting a more enemy centric fight. (I.E.  Less COIN, more CT and begs the question, then why the surge?)
  • Ignatius argues that Petreaus will finesse a way to add more time to the clock past July 2011.

Analysis:  If Counter-terrorism (CT) operations are the key to success, then why is ISAF/NATO still fighting COIN?

Policy — Troops chafe at restrictive rules of engagement, talks with Taliban

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/Troops-chafe-at-restrictive-rules-of-engagement_-talks-with-Taliban-1226055-105202284.html#ixzz12taWBBqF

Key Highlights:

  • “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.
  • “I don’t think the military leaders, president or anybody really cares about what we’re going through,” said Spc. Matthew “Silver” Fuhrken, 25, from Watertown, N.Y. “I’m sick of people trying to cover up what’s really going on over here. They won’t let us do our job. I don’t care if they try to kick me out for what I’m saying — war is war and this is no war. I don’t know what this is.”
  • “If we walk away, cut a deal with the Taliban, desert the people who needed us most, then this war was pointless,” said Pvt. Jeffrey Ward, with 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, who is stationed at Forward Operating Base Bullard in southern Afghanistan. “Everyone dies for their own reasons but it’s sad to think that our friends, the troops, have given their lives for something we’re not going to see through.” Other soldiers agreed. They said they feared few officials in the Pentagon understand the reality on the ground.

Analysis:  Critical game-changing top-level strategic and operational decisions and actions are taking place in Afghanistan, and it appears, at least in Zabul Province, that some troopers are not being kept informed, nor being provided the purpose behind their current mission.

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Rules of Engagement and the Taliban: Blind Man’s Bluff?

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In a revealing article published today (October 20, 2010) in the Washington Examiner, Sara A. Carter, National Security Correspondent reports that “Troops Chafe at Restrictive Rules of Engagement” and reported talks with the Taliban. 

As reported earlier, frontline troops in Afghanistan have not been entirely pleased (read “pissed off”) at  current Rules of Engagement which govern military action by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.    As readers of SFTT are aware, retired General McChrystal, then commander of military forces in Afghanistan, radically modified the Rules of Engagement to reduce civilian casualties.   In a celebrated interview with 60 minutes in September 2009, General McCrystal described the new Rules of Engagement as a way to earn the trust and respect of the local populace.

Needless to say, General McCrystal’s apparent eagerness to place the safety of Aghan civilians in front of the troops that he was commanding was not well received by troops on the ground and their families back home.  When General Petreaus assumed command, he claimed that the safety of U.S. troops was paramount and that McCrystal’s Rules of Engagement would be revised to suit the new circumstances. 

According to Ms. Carter’s article in the Washington Examiner, not much seems to have changed and several frontline troops are venting their frustration at the current Rules of Engagement and the widely reported accomodation given to the Taliban to negotiate a settlement with current Afgan government.

Found below are excerpts from Ms. Carter’s article:

  • “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.
  • “I don’t think the military leaders, president or anybody really cares about what we’re going through,” said Spc. Matthew “Silver” Fuhrken, 25, from Watertown, N.Y. “I’m sick of people trying to cover up what’s really going on over here. They won’t let us do our job. I don’t care if they try to kick me out for what I’m saying — war is war and this is no war. I don’t know what this is.”
  • “If we walk away, cut a deal with the Taliban, desert the people who needed us most, then this war was pointless,” said Pvt. Jeffrey Ward, with 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, who is stationed at Forward Operating Base Bullard in southern Afghanistan. “Everyone dies for their own reasons but it’s sad to think that our friends, the troops, have given their lives for something we’re not going to see through.” Other soldiers agreed. They said they feared few officials in the Pentagon understand the reality on the ground.

SFTT Analysis:  Critical game-changing top-level strategic and operational decisions and actions are taking place in Afghanistan, and it appears, at least in Zabul Province, that some troopers are not being kept informed, nor being provided the purpose behind their current mission.

Maybe we have to wait for more Wikipedia leaks to let the American public and the troops who so galantly defend our liberties (and those of the Afghan people) what the real mission is.   Maybe it’s just a simple case of the Pentagon playing a game of blind man’s bluff with the hope that the Taliban will fold.  Unfortunately, there is no reason why our troops are obliged to sit at the table with a playing hand that has largely been compromised by the current Rules of Engagment.  Does anyone really believe that the Taliban seem willing to negotiate because U.S. troops have been playing by “Peace Corps” Rules of Engagement?

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