Military News Highlights: January 27, 2011

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Dispute With Parliament Leaves Afghan Leader Isolated

President Karzai’s isolation was preventable, and now enters a period of increased tension and uncertainty as to his ability to lead and work with “power brokers.”  The list includes:  losing parliamentary candidates who he has “deserted”; new Parliament members who were delayed more than 5 months from “governing”; and most importantly, further alienated “western backers” who have lost faith in his abilities. 

While US/NATO continues heavy-handed military operations, efforts at good governance and extending the reach of Afghan capacity and services suffers daily – what’s in it for the common Afghan.  The impact is already being felt as Afghani support for the war erodes.  COIN can only succeed with a host-nation that is seen as legitimate by the populace counter-insurgents are trying to secure.   Compounding any claim to legitimacy is the blatant isolation that President Karzai finds himself in. 

If a singular self act of immolation and social media can prompt unrest to cause Tunisian autocrats to flee, and in turn create awareness amongst similar repressed population in neighboring countries who are beginning to storm the gates (i.e. Egypt, Algeria, Yemen), then one shouldn’t be surprised if a similar grass-roots ground swell takes place in Kabul. 

Ask the British, who learned this painful lesson in the 1840’s, when Afghan tribes revolted and forced a death march eventually resulting in the end of British rule. 

The ingredients are ominously present.

A Reservist in a New War, Against Foreclosure

Buried in this awful mess of a story about a warrior whose home was unlawfully foreclosed while he was deployed to Iraq is the fact that the root of his financial woes began when he was required to spend his own money to purchase maintenance kits to support his mission.   It is understandable that some warriors, prior to deployment, might shell out some cash to purchase fieldcraft items (i.e. head-harness flashlights, pocket knives, specialized wick-away cold weather gear, sunglasses, etc…), but to dole out personal funds to purchase critical mission-related equipment is beyond the pale.  

Lack of Full Auto on M4s Cost Lives

The majority (if not all) of the currently fielded M4 Carbines do not have a fully automatic fire capability.  An operator can select semi-automatic or a three-round burst.   Mark Westrom’s critique and analysis of the current M4 upgrade program currently underway is revealing because it supports the contention that when the M4 carbine removed full automatic capability, that that decision in turn cost lives.  The fact that the M4 carbine upgrade program (i.e. re-establish fully automatic capability) is under-funded and only addresses 20% of the current stock will only place trigger-pullers on the ground in greater danger.  Not comforting at all.

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Military News Highlights: January 20, 2011

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Afghanistan turns to local defense groups

While US/NATO continue to apply OIF lessons learned to OEF (well at least COIN-centric surge “successes”, whatever that means). This latest gambit, to create Afghan local defense groups, in a country steeped with a history of warlordism, while Karzai increasingly appears that he will refuse to seat a legitimate Parliament, can and will lead to arming the populace just when racial/ethnic tensions are about to spill out into the street.

US/NATO views the program “as a temporary means to bolster security while conventional Afghan security forces are growing.”  The problem is that the program has buy-in from the Interior Ministry, the department directly responsible for institutionalizing legitimate Afghan security forces.  So instead of forcing the ministry to work harder to create credible Afghan security forces, we offer an easy way out for the ministry by turning to “local defense groups” to do the heavy lifting.  This is not an “awakening.”

Regardless of the stakes and consequences, apparently a process is in place to vett the Afghanistan local defense force through the MOI, when that doesn’t happen, and commanders stand them up on their own .

Afghan Official Expects Court to Void Election

We’ve been here before.  When the results of a legitimate election are thrown out, well, nothing good can come of it.  Get this.  Pashtuns, 40% of the Afghan population, don’t turn out to the polls, and lose seats in the new Parliament.  Tajiks and Hazari’s, ethnic minorities, gain seats.  You know, that representative thing.  Well, Karzai is a Pashtun.  Needs to keep Pashtun support.  So what does he do?  Claims excessive fraud, appoints a special court, a five-judge panel, and will most likely support their pending decision to throw out the results and recommend not seating the new Parliament this upcoming weekend.  The court in question resides outside constitutional bounds by the way.  Now we all know, fraud and corruption run rampant in Afghanistan.  In fact, Karzai’s election was marred by fraud, deceit, and corruption – so I guess Karzai knows how to call the shots.  But, regardless of his know-how, the most recent parliamentary elections were deemed legitimate (barring minor instances of fraud) by numerous neutral reviews and observers.  Annulling the vote will certainly cause a constitutional crisis.  To this slog the US and 100,000 troops are hitched to.  Democracy at its best.  So tell me, how do you answer the Private or the Lance Corporal who asks the question, why are we fighting and dying for here in Afghanistan?   Well if they are looking for answers, don’t ask US/NATO in Kabul because they’ve been mum – at a loss for words, but with plenty of Power Point slides tracking “progress.”

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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 Highlights: January 4, 2011

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U.S.-funded infrastructure deteriorates once under Afghan control, report says

Since 2001, the Commanders Emergency Relief Program (CERP) in Afghanistan has provided commanders quick and readily available resources to fund projects – to build schools, to build local government facilities, purchase generators, pave roads, etc.  And because Afghanistan is a target rich environment for CERP related projects given the effects of over 30 years of war and the lack of government capacity to provide services, CERP is sometimes the only means in which a small village or neglected district can survive.  Key to success of any CERP project, and the first question that is answered in doling out funds is whether the Afghans at the local, district, or provincial level will be able to maintain the project (i.e. maintenance and repair, sustainability, inspections, ensuring that the people benefit versus a power broker) after the US hands it off.   Ask any trooper with repetitive deployments to Afghanistan and ask him/her if the projects they put in place are still standing after their return and nine-times-out-of-ten the response will be no.  Numerous GAO reports, IG investigations, commanders inquiries, Afghan government inspections all produce the same response – deterioration.  Why is that?  And why does that matter?  The causes for deterioration are many – standard neglect, Afghans not trained to maintain the infrastructure, shoddy contractor construction, attacks by the Taliban, and/or the populace unwilling to use/maintain in fear of Taliban reprisal for US support.  And it matters because of the billions of dollars already expended and the fact that in the COIN narrative, effective and efficient maintenance of these projects is a metric to gauge how prepared Afghanistan is to take on governance on their own.   It appears that the 2014 goalposts could be moved back a little further back since local Afghans are incapable of maintaining the infrastructure put in place at the cost of untold blood and treasure.  If we the US/NATO can’t responsibly shift these projects to the Afghans, then how will they be able to hand off security responsibilities in the near future? 

 U.S. Marines report peace deal with tribe in Afghan hot spot (McClatchy Newspapers)

After 25 days of negotiations, the Marines in Helmand Province have agreed to a “peace deal” with the Alokozai Tribe.  The tribe has agreed to rein in Taliban confederates and cease attacks in exchange for the release of a religious leader being held by US/NATO, and funding for projects in the affected district (i.e. Sarwan Qala – 30 villages in Sangin District).  The tribe will expel foreign fighters, allow US/Afghan patrols, and provide intel on IED locations.  Question is what prompted the deal?  Steep US/NATO casualty rates?

Policy puts troops at risk for identity theft

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that US servicemembers are certainly at risk for identify theft, especially if their social security number is plastered on every document and identification card that they carry.  So yes, it is true, that in the digital age, anytime you pony up your social security number onto the spectrum you quickly become a target.  Really?  

And if military cultural norms and outdated reporting procedures are perpetuating this, then it’s time to adjust fire.  And doing it quick, very quick.  

So let me get this straight, an Army Private with a Secret Clearance downloads and exports thousands of classified reports and cables resulting in investigations, criminal charges, changes in policies, Pentagon edicts on no-access to “that site”; all of which is instituted in a matter of weeks and months. 

 But changing a policy so that individual social security numbers are no longer part of a servicemembers digital profile (and subjecting him/her to these risks) takes more time?   

Priority?

 From the Pentagon to the private sector

In the last two decades alone, most of the 750 generals and flag officers who have retired have entered the “rent-a-general” business.  Conflict of interests?  Sure, but they get a pass on “pitting his/her duty to the US military against the interests of his employers.  “Sprinting” to the door?  Don’t let the door hit your fourth point of contact.  Anything being done about this revolving door syndrome where generals and admirals get tucked in bed by the defense-private sector?  Unfortunately not, and the rate of the turnstile has only increased over the past few years in comparison to the boom years from 1994 to 1998.  Good times for those lucky enough to cash in.  Good times indeed.

Weight hikes prompt uniform, armor review

During the past few years the Army has reissued an improved Army Combat Uniform, female-cut Army Combat Uniforms, a medium-sized rucksack, enhanced Night Vision Goggles, a second generation Improved Outer Tactical Vest, and an Enhanced Combat Helmet.  All of which did not have the benefit of updated data regarding the size and composition of the force that ultimately would (and are) using/wearing this gear.  A new review has been ordered that will collect the proper data of the size, weight, and body composition of a set sample of surveyed troops with the goal of upgrading the data used to develop new equipment and uniform items.  Glad to hear that they are finally getting their act together, you know, the proverbial cart behind the horse thingy.

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Military News Highlights: December 30, 2010

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Busy With Afghanistan, the U.S. Military Has No Time to Train for Big Wars

Clearly the US military, and especially our infantry-centric units, are on the “margins” when only one brigade combat team has been able to break away from COIN focused training this past decade and conduct full-spectrum operations type training necessary to maintain current and future US strategic interests.  Further, the capability to conduct forcible entry operations has atrophied and “takes practice, and we don’t get a lot of practice.”

The tip of the spear, needed to respond to certain crisis, has dulled from the grueling focus of COIN, the perpetuity of Afghanistan deployments, the decade long wear and tear of equipment, and lack of strategic reserves.  While the US military remains preeminent, the sad fact of the matter is that the longer the US military focuses on COIN with endless deployments, the higher the probability that it will not be prepared for future contingencies.

Let no man’s soul cry out “had I the proper training.”

Aid groups in Afghanistan question U.S. claim of Taliban setbacks

While the happy talk on the progress and positive trends resulting from COIN and the “surge” in Afghanistan continues, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), aid groups, and notable security analysts are citing evidence to the contrary.  The most startling claim that insurgents now control less territory than they did in 2009 is being seriously challenged. While it may be true many Taliban insurgents and confederate strongholds in southern Afghanistan have been driven out, their ability to increase operational control and influence in the rest of the country, most notably in the west and north (non-traditional Taliban areas), has increased at a larger pace than they were driven out of their strongholds.  When NCO’s and aid groups can’t operate throughout Afghanistan, a reality check that COIN has not “had any impact on the five-year trajectory” on security is needed.  In fact, a 20 percent increase in civilian casualties and the highest coalition death toll since Operation Enduring Freedom began is not happy talk (i.e. “The surge in coalition military and civilian resources … has reduced overall Taliban influence and arrested the momentum they had achieved in recent years in key parts of the country.”)

“Thundering Third” Victories Come at Huge Cost

A revealing account on one Marine squad from Weapons Company, 3/1 Marines during their seven-month slugfest to control a 3×5 mile strip of poppy and wheatfields in Garmsir (southern Afghanistan).  Close-in hand grenade exchanges, four-day fire fights, IED encounters, refusal of extended medical care in order to stay in the fight, and the death of warrior while carrying a wounded comrade to a medevac bird.  The grind continues…

The CBS embed’s blogs can be read here:

Marines Push Taliban Back from Base

“Thundering Third” Meet with Local Afghan Leaders

“Thundering Third” Adapts to IED Threat

Basic Military Pay Effective January 1, 2011

Monthly Basic Military Pay for an E-1 (Private): $1,467.60

Monthly Basic Pay for an O-10/General (4-Stars):  $14,975.10

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Military News Highlights: December 16 & 17

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Uncertainty marks White House review on Afghanistan, Pakistan

In regards to the highly touted release of the administrations review of Afghanistan, one-step up and two-steps back. 

 One-step up, “strategy is showing progress”; two-steps back, no new information on how soon Afghan Security Forces will be able to assume responsibility for security and when the “rat-lines” coming out of Pakistan can be severed.

 One-step up, “we are on track to achieve our goals”; two-steps back, gains are still “fragile and reversible” and the size of the July 2011 drawdown is unknown.

 One-step up, “COIN is working”; two-steps back, but we can’t truly measure its progress until late Spring 2011, which may shift the strategy to pure-kinetic counter-terrorism. 

Oh, and the word “corruption” is only mentioned once in the report.  Two-steps back. 

While the report mentions six times in the sparse five-page summary/report that success hinges on Pakistan shutting down its borders and “safe havens.”  Two-steps back. 

The official White House report summary can be read here:

 A summary of how the report exposes a split over Afganistan pullout timelines can be read here:

Key highlights:

  •  Already, parts of the country with fewer troops are showing a deterioration of security, and the gains that have been made were hard won, coming at the cost of third more casualties among NATO forces this year.
  • Then there are the starkly different timelines being used in Washington and on the ground. President Obama is on a political timetable, needing to assure a restless public and his political base that a withdrawal is on track to begin by the deadline he set of next summer and that he can show measurable success before the next election cycle.
  • Afghanistan and the American military, are running on a different clock, based on more intractable realities. Some of the most stubborn and important scourges they face — ineffectual governance, deep-rooted corruption and the lack of a functioning judicial system — the report barely glanced at.
  • A fundamental conundrum, unmentioned in the report, is that the United States and its NATO allies constantly speak of Mr. Karzai and his government as an ally and a partner and try to shore up his image as the leader of his people. Yet many Afghans view his government as a cabal of strongmen, who enrich themselves and their families at the expense of the country.
  • Also largely glossed over in the report is the extent and implications of pervasive corruption. Bribery and nepotism remain a feature of daily life for the vast majority of Afghans, and nowhere is it more clear than in the judicial system.
  • The elephant in the room is that whatever the trajectory of the war, the Afghan government does not envision a defeat of the Taliban, but a negotiated peace. Unmentioned in the report is what the Americans may be looking for in such a deal, and what they are willing to do to bring that peace.

A summary of what the White House report on the Afghanistan War didn’t mention or highlight can be read

Key highlights:

  • State Department diplomats have complained that President Hamid Karzai has been an unreliable ally. Political resolution is key, but the review’s language on governance questions and on the shape of an Afghan “end-state” is vague.
  • Coalition support has helped the Afghan army meet its targets in terms of troop buildup. The Afghan force quality is a mixed bag. The majority of Afghan soldiers lack basic skills, including literacy. Preparing the Afghan army and police to be capable of providing security as Western troops depart has become an increasing focus of coalition efforts but remains a challenge.
  • The administration’s review summary highlights NATO’s “enduring commitment beyond 2014,” yet it’s clear that European leaders face considerable political pressure back home to withdraw, and only Britain has a sizable number of troops on the ground. As a result, the war is becoming increasingly Americanized. On Thursday, Germany’s foreign minister confirmed that country’s intention to begin withdrawing its 4,600 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
  • The review summary devotes considerable attention to the problem of AQ and Taliban leaders finding a safe haven across the board in Pakistan.  The document calls for greater cooperation with Pakistan but is short on specifics about how to get there. Pakistan clearly has ambivalent feelings about the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. It doesn’t want Western forces to leave behind a mess in its backyard, but at the same time it doesn’t trust the government in Afghanistan.
  • The review summary highlights “significant progress” in disrupting al-Qaida’s leadership in Pakistan. “Al-Qaida’s senior leadership has been depleted, the group’s safe haven is smaller and less secure, and its ability to prepare and conduct terrorist operations has been degraded in important ways,” it states. The war’s initial aim of driving al-Qaida from Afghanistan has also largely been successful. Yet al-Qaida remains a mobile threat, and it’s unlikely the U.S. can readily muster 100,000 more troops to chase it outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Ratlines’ threaten White House Afghan war plans

While US troops logistics and lines of communications are held hostage to: the tyranny of terrain, the necessity of maintaining logistic hubs in a very inhospitable nature of Pakistan (and now the end around the bordering “stans”), the growing contractor base of support, and the necessity of pushing supplies to forward combat outposts and patrols.  It appears that the insurgency has little trouble maintaining their flow of supplies and refitting at their leisure while ensconced in Pakistan (and in controlled Taliban areas within Afghnistan, i.e. anywhere outside of Kabul, Kandahar, and Khost). 

The border with Pakistan remains porous and US/NATO/Afghan efforts to seal the flow of supplies “threaten Afghan war plans.”   Practically speaking we should dissuade ourselves from thinking that there are “safe havens” per se – a clearly marked area or region – in fact the entire country of Pakistan is a safe haven for the Taliban, AQ, and their confederates (i.e Haqqani and Hekmatyar network). 

Ultimately that is the root of the problem and one without a solution.

U.S. Army Modernization Review Set for Dec. 22

“Here we go again, same old stuff again.  Marching down the avenue…”  Next week senior Army leaders will conduct a modernization review to determine the future of weapon and equipment systems.  Called the Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) equipment set, it was originally developed as part of the whiz-bang, bells-and-whistles Future Combat Systems (FCS) program which thankfully Secretary of Defense Gates ended.  But here we go again, marching back up that avenue to see if the Army can get some of the FCS components and systems approved for further development and tactical issue.  The question Undersecretary Ashton Carter should ask is, “would any of these equipment sets and systems, if deployed tomorrow to a Soldier in Afghanistan, and given the costs required to field them, improve his/her force protection while defeating the threat he/she faces?”  It’s a simple standard, because what Joe needs right now, this very moment, is equipment and small-arms that will increase his force protection posture while providing him a dead-certain lethality.  If the “Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors, the Class 1 Unmanned Aircraft System, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle and the Network Integration Kit can’t meet this standard, then don’t waste the money, time, industrial base, or organizational energy that is being put into the E-IBCT.

Yearly Price Tab for Afghan Forces: $6 Billion, Indefinitely

Speaking of guns and butter, the waiter serving security in the outdoor cafes of Kabul, Kandarhar, and Khost just gave Uncle Sam the tab for training and equipping Afghan security forces — $6 Billion annually – indefinitely.   No problem, we’ll pay with a Chinese credit card.

Unused in Afghanistan, Longbow Deliveries Continue

The vaunted “Longbow” didn’t help the 11th Aviation Regiment in support of the 3rd Infantry Division’s fight north in OIF I, yet we still are procuring the system and deploying it to Afghanistan where it is not being put to use.  Great investment.  Great idea.

 

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Military News Highlights: December 13, 2010

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6 Americans Killed by Bomb at a New U.S.-Afghan Outpost

Six American soldiers were killed and more than a dozen American and Afghan troops were wounded on Sunday morning when a van packed with explosives was detonated at a new jointly operated outpost in southern Afghanistan.

The soldiers were inside a small mud-walled building near the village of Sangsar, north of the Arghandab River, when the bomber drove up to one of the walls and exploded his charge around 9 a.m.

The blast could be heard eight miles away, and it sent a dusty cloud towering over the surrounding farmland.

The explosion blasted a hole in the thick wall, causing the roof to collapse on the soldiers inside. Others quickly arrived and clawed and pulled at the waist-deep rubble to free the buried troops.

The building had been occupied by the Americans and Afghans for only a few days, an American official said, and was beside a narrow road. It was not immediately clear how the van managed to get so close without being challenged or stopped.

Gen. Abdul Hameed, a commander in the Afghan National Army, said in a telephone interview that his soldiers had tried to stop the van, but that its driver ignored them and rammed the vehicle into the building.

After the van exploded, the field beside the ruined building became a busy landing zone, with four medical evacuation helicopters arriving to shuttle the victims to two military hospitals in nearby Kandahar.

The Taliban swiftly claimed responsibility for the bombing. “We have killed numbers of Americans and Afghan soldiers and wrecked and ruined their security checkpost,” a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said by telephone. “We will carry out similar attacks in the future.”

In addition to the six Americans who were killed, four American soldiers were wounded, but their injuries were not considered life-threatening, according to officials familiar with their conditions. The names of the victims were being withheld pending the notification of their families.

American fatalities in Afghanistan have risen steadily for five years, with 479 American soldiers killed so far in 2010, according to icasualties.org, an independent Web site that compiles battlefield data. That is more than three times the 155 American casualties in 2008.

Despite the Taliban’s claim, it appeared that no Afghan soldiers had been killed in the attack. There were conflicting official reports of the number of Afghans wounded. Some reports said 11 Afghan soldiers had been wounded; others put the number as high as 14. At least one Afghan soldier, who was seen by two journalists aboard a medical evacuation helicopter, had a head injury and appeared to be gravely wounded.

Most of the other Afghans who were injured were walking on their own and appeared to have suffered cuts and shrapnel wounds. A medical official said they were all expected to survive.

The attack occurred in an area where the Americans and Afghans have maintained a heavy military presence this fall, when NATO and Afghan forces flowed into Taliban-controlled territory of Kandahar Province in an effort to clear it of insurgents and bring the area under the control of the government in Kabul.

The Arghandab River Valley, a belt of irrigated fields and small villages, is now dotted with a network of American and Afghan outposts. Patrols crisscross the region each day, and new positions — like the outpost that was attacked on Sunday — are being built.

Fighting has subsided in recent weeks as the weather has cooled and the leaves have fallen, making it more difficult for insurgents to hide.

But the Taliban has continued to plant bombs and send suicide bombers, and American and Afghan soldiers are wounded or killed in the province almost every day.

Taliban small-arms attacks nearly double

 Commentators opine that Taliban small-arms attacks in 2010 have doubled from 2009 as a result of increased US/NATO/ANA operations in “contested” areas.  And that may be true.  But, more importantly, and left out of this USA report is the logistics and support required to field a well-armed insurgency and whether the personal protective equipment issued to troops is effective.  18,000 attacks in one year equals almost 50 daily violent “troops in contact” engagements.  While IED’s remain the number one killer on the battlefield (57%), death by bullet(s) accounts for almost 37% this past year.  

Two facts to consider.  The first, in terms of resiliency, the Taliban appears to have a sophisticated logistics and supply/re-supply system in place for ammunition, parts, and maintenance.  This requires a careful assessment as to how effective COIN operations have been in the “clearing” stage, because there will not be any “holding” or “building” if the local populace remains armed to the teeth (which, by the way is an Afghan’s nature).  And second, it appears that improving body armor is required to increase battlefield survivability.  While there are numerous reported instances when body armor works as advertised, a 37% small-arms fatality rate begs the question as to whether we are doing enough to outfit our troops with the best available gear.  Probably not if you simply read the data for what it is.

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Military News Highlights: December 6, 2010

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Proposed 1.4% pay raise for military draws fire

Sergeant Ellis is spot on, it is “absolute garbage” that troops in 2011 will earn the lowest pay raise in almost 50 years. True, we are entering an era of austerity and deficit-reduction economic policies, but streamlining pay for the troops at historic lows, is another example of “taking care of the troops” lip-service. The House of Representative authorized increasing pay 1.9%, a meaningful effort above the average private-sector-wage growth level (i.e. recognizing the sacrifice troops make although only marginally above the private-sector). But the Senate declined to add an additional half-percent and support the administration’s pay increase of only 1.4 percent. Regardless, 1.4% or 1.9% is truly a pittance given the fact that the maximum outlay for increased pay would amount to only $1.4 billion. Absolute garbage.

U.S. fights to open school in Taliban area

Six months of effort and treasure has been expended to open up one school in Senjeray, Zhari District, Afghanistan, the “premier development project” in this district, to little effect or finality. It is clear that support is lacking by a “war-weary” population, and efforts to improve good governance and develop Afghanistan’s security forces in this little corner of the war-front will not take root. Perhaps the shadow of the Taliban’s birthplace will always make this endeavor difficult, but some shadows can disappear with enough exposure to sunlight. The problem for Senjeray and this small “brick and stone complex” is best captured by the company commander who is responsible with giving the locals a different option than that offered by the Taliban. “These people don’t give a damn about us … and quite frankly, why would they? We’re strangers, we’ve been here for a few months, we walk around the town with guns, 40 pounds of body army and (a lot of) grenades.” True indeed, hard to build trust and lower the temperature when you are operating under a constant war footing.

Army eyes use of tanks in Afghanistan

 It is more likely than not that the US Army will follow suit and promptly deploy M1 tanks to support operations in Afghanistan. It would be a prudent measure to have these assets operational before the “spring fighting season” begins, but any deployment needs to be realistic so that expectations are not set too high as the terrain would limit tank capability (i.e. FYI, an M1 would not have helped in “Wanat” or “Keating” because the terrain was too restrictive and inaccessible).

Petraeus Not ‘Sure’ Of U.S. Victory In Afghanistan By 2014

In a recent interview by General Petreaus, more frank talk: “I think-no commander ever is going to come out and say, ‘I’m confident that we can do this.’ I think that you say that you assess that this is– you believe this is, you know, a reasonable prospect and knowing how important it is– that we have to do everything we can to increase the chances of that prospect. But again, I don’t think there are any sure things in this kind of endeavor. And I wouldn’t be honest with you and with the viewers if I didn’t convey that.”

The question is whether this type of frank talk will be repeated during this months Afghanistan policy review, and if so, will it prompt any adjustments to the current COIN strategy?

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Military News Highlights: December 3, 2010

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COIN standards for Afghanistan approved

Secretary Gates has approved a COIN skills list (COIN Qualification Standards) for troops in Afghanistan.  It is rather extraordinary for top civilian officials to approve pre-deployment tactical and operational training tasks.  Perhaps this is an effort for General Petreaus to dictate that a certain level of COIN proficiency is required prior to deployment.  Sounds reasonable, right?  But, why does this kind of guidance have to be rubber-stamped by Secretary Gates?  Can’t the uniformed service leaders and operational commanders work this out amongst themselves?  Unless of course, General Petreaus tried to work the COIN Qualification Standards through uniformed service leaders and operational commanders and they told him to get bent.   Seems that Petreaus’ brand of COIN is the only acceptable goblet at the table – all others don’t get served.  Won’t this stifle initiative and new ideas?   And what happens say, if you follow the list during pre-deployment training, and your unit deploys, and you put the task list into practice and your unit fails?  Then what?  Who then becomes accountable?

And one last thing, what the hell is “Develop a Learning Organization” as a task?

Cables Depict Heavy Afghan Graft, Starting at the Top

Are we at all surprised that the latest batch of Wikileak cables depicts unprecedented levels of graft, corruption, decadence, and lies coming out of Kabul and Afghanistan?  Are we really surprised by this?  Maybe it’s the scope and breadth of the corruption that is so startling.  Examples of a country where everything is for sale include:

  • The Transportation Ministry collects $200 million a year in trucking fees, but only $30 million is turned over to the government;
  • Bribes and profit-skimming in the organization of travel to Saudi Arabia for the hajj or pilgrimage;
  • a scheme to transfer money via cellphones;
  • in the purchase of wheat seed;
  • in the compilation of an official list of war criminals;
  • and in the voting in Parliament.

Quite staggering after all when you consider the fact that the US  military is stuck with the mission of reversing Afghanistan’s failed moral and cultural compass.

Army Working on Lightweight .50 cal

The XM806 is a new version of the M2 Heavy Machine Gun undergoing a “fundamental redesign” to cut its weight in half, increase its accuracy, and improve its tactical application.  The M2’s basic items of issue including the tripod will also be lightened.  The intent behind the program is to enhance the current stock of M2’s and not replace the M2.  Perhaps the programs efforts can share its results in future redesign of other critical equipment and armaments in order to improve tactical firepower and survivability.

Somber ritual as slain soldiers are returned to U.S.

Hopefully the VIPs (Pentagon and White House officials) that recently attended and observed the dignified transfer of remains recently at Dover Air Base will keep in mind the “human cost of a long-running, faraway war” as they deliberate over the next few weeks reviewing the Afghanistan policy.

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Military News: November 18, 2010

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NATO official: Afghan leader affirms NATO mission  

Not sure how much arm-twisting went on to get Afghan President Karzai to change his mind, but yesterday NATO reported that he was actually on board with NATO’s military campaign and “reluctantly” in support of nighttime SOF raids.  President Karzai nor his staff could be reached for comment, but if the old adage of “the first report is a false report” holds true, we can expect some additional clarifying statements over the next few days as NATO, President Karzai, and regional partners meet in Lisbon to discuss an end state for the NATO mission.  Secretary Gates yesterday affirmed that there was no distance between President Karzai and General Petreaus.  So NATO, the Secretary of Defense and President Karzai are finally all on the same sheet of music.  Finally.

U.S. Must Sustain Military Might, Gates Says

Secretary Gates took on the recommendations to cut defense procurement by 15 percent and its research and development by 10 percent yesterday when he met with the WSJ’s CEO Council.  He called the recommendation to slash the defense budget “math, not strategy” and that the Departments intent was to “figure out how to kill programs that aren’t working.”   Given this position, any effort to review and replace individual equipment and small arms in the near future will compete directly with big-ticket weapons programs and sustaining personnel and manpower requirements.  Yes, it is about strategy, but it is also about math.  Especially if you consider the fact that the Department has embraced a strategic shift to COIN doctrine (and its application), which requires an endless calculus of “counter-insurgents” and proper individual equipment and small arms to support these endeavors.  Unfortunately you can’t have it both ways when trying to sustain US military might under the threats and circumstances that we face.

New Equipment Brings Greater Mobility in Afghanistan

This Youtube video provides some insight into the conundrum troops face when trying to lighten their combat load to improve mobility – a clear sacrifice of safety for survival in higher altitudes.   These troops in the Korengal are now wearing plate carriers instead of the Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV).  Note that there is an underreported deficiency in the IOTV and the pull tab which sometimes, when used “might get caught on something and fall apart”.  If the plate carrier is being used to give troopers mobility – no issue, understand, and that is a commander’s risk assessment call.  But if the plate carrier is being used to replace the IOTV because it “falls apart”, then fixes to the tab need to be addressed immediately. 

Bugle Calls

“Taps” is played everyday at funerals for our fallen heroes…

“Fading light dims the sight,

And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.

From afar drawing nigh — Falls the night.

Day is done, gone the sun,

From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;

All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Then good night, peaceful night,

Till the light of the dawn shineth bright;

God is near, do not fear — Friend, good night.”

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