Military News Highlights: January 24, 2011

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Karzai Agrees to Seat New Afghan Parliament

Afghanistan’s fragile government still stands after President Karzai’s decision this past weekend to inaugurate the newly elected Afghan government this Wednesday, January 26, 2011.  Karzai stepped back from the precipice he created after “intense pressure from legislators and the international community.”  During the crisis, not much happy talked leaked out of US/NATO in Kabul, and it took a UN inspired rally of Western allies to “break the silence on the crisis.”

Now this one is not over yet – anything can (and does) still happen to reverse or amend Karzai’s latest pronouncement.  In fact, the candidates that lost the election and claim fraud have constituents who have been marginalized since the election; very sizable ethnic constituencies that now will have limited representation.  “There are already too many people who have gone to the mountains to fight…this will make more distance with the government, and send more people up to the mountains.”

So, again, when a Joe is about to leave the wire on his umpteenth patrol and climb another mountain, what reason do you tell him he’s fighting for?

Marines pay a price trying to secure an Afghan hot spot

The SFTT news team has previously highlighted US/NATO operations in Sangin, Helmand Province, Afghanistan – specifically the high casualty rates, tactics, and the deployment of additional firepower (i.e. USMC M-1 Abrams tank company).

To recap Sangin, the LA Times features three Marines and the price they paid while trying to secure Sangin during continuous combat operations.

Some key highlights for the scorecard:

  • In four years in Sangin, the British had lost more than 100 soldiers, about a third of all their nation’s losses in the war.
  • In four months, 24 Marines with the Camp Pendleton-based Three-Five have been killed.
  • More than 140 others have been wounded, some of them catastrophically, losing limbs and the futures they had imagined for themselves.
  • 3/5 Marines (“Get Some”) has been in more than 408 firefights and found 434 buried roadside bombs.
  • An additional 122 bombs exploded before they could be discovered, in many instances killing or injuring Afghan civilians who travel the same roads as the Marines.
  • US military hospitals in Landstuhl, Germany; Bethesda; and San Diego have seen a steady stream of wounded Marines and sailors from the Three-Five, including at least four triple-amputees.
  • Less severely wounded Marines have been sent to the Wounded Warrior Battalion West barracks at Camp Pendleton. Still others among the 3/5 Marines injured have been transferred to the Veterans Affairs facility in Palo Alto, which specializes in traumatic brain injuries.
  • Fifty-six replacements have been rushed from Camp Pendleton to Afghanistan to take the places of the dead and severely wounded.
  • Many of the volunteers were Marines from other battalions who had been wounded in Afghanistan.

“We don’t know who we’re fighting over there, who’s friendly and who isn’t,” Lance Cpl. Juan Dominguez said. “They’re always watching us. We’re basically fighting blind.”

IG says weak planning puts Afghan projects at risk

The current special inspector general for Afghanistan, Arnold Fields informed the Commission on Wartime Contracting what the SFTT news team has been tracking, that the effort to build up Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) was fraught with “poor planning and weak management.”  As we have said along, billions of US tax dollars are at risk and being misspent.

What is revealing about Fields’ testimony was that he (i.e. the special inspector general) is not clear how in fact US/NATO would be able to construct enough bases and training facilities by the end of 2013, when ANSF capacity and capability are supposed to be ready to fully assume security in 2014.

What is staggering is that less than 20 percent of the more than 800 projects, which are valued at over $11 billion, and planned for completion over the next 2 years, are finished.   While more than 65% of the pending projects have not even been started.  Not a very good rate of return.  Complicating any progress is whether or not the Afghans will be capable to maintain the few projects that have been completed thus far.

“These issues place the entire U.S. investment of $11.4 billion in (Afghan security force) facilities construction at risk of not meeting Afghan needs of intended purposes and resulting in a large degree of waste,” Fields said.

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Military News Highlights: January 19, 2011

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Costly coalition plan to recruit thousands more Afghan forces draws concerns

The initial U.S. end strength goal of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by October 2011 is approximately 300,000.  A new plan entails hiring an additional 73,000.  The bill to Uncle Sam is an additional $6 billion with unknown future budget outlays.  But before another shekel is spent, don’t you think we should gauge the quality of the current force and assess capabilities.  You know, take the training wheels off, make sure Kabul maintains its balance, etc, before we add a bell on the handlebar and a basket behind the seat? Did someone in “Happyland” pull out the COIN manual and review “insurgent to counter-insurgent ratios” and realize how underesourced and undermanned NATO/ANSF really is according to doctrine?  And we really can’t afford to cut corners on how many US/NATO grunts we need on the line versus using line units to become trainers for this new batch of recruits, which would further stress out an all-ready stressed out 24-7-365 fighting formation.  Pull out the abacus and do the math – it doesn’t add up.  So why then are we rushing to failure?

On final tour in Iraq, daily grind combines with goodwill missions

Hey trooper, be careful what you ask for, you just might get it there in good old Iraq.  No need to wish to see the elephant in Afghanistan, because things are predictably heating up in Babylon (i.e. everyday suicide bombings, the return of Mookie, and an ever increasing disenfranchisement of the Sunni minority) and you’ll get slapped out of your deployment doldrums here sooner rather than later.  Stay vigilant, especially during 90-minute mind-numbing Power Point presentation.

Bank apologizes for overcharging troops for mortgages

I really don’t make this stuff up – a bank overcharged 4,000 military families for their mortgages.  Not a handful, not a dozen, nor a hundred or two, but 4,000.  Really?

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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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