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Despite Gains, Afghan Night Raids Split U.S. and Karzai

Senator Lindsey Graham believes that if night raids end then this would be a “disaster” for  General Petreaus’ strategy – that in effect, he will fail.   The raids, he said, were crucial to the military strategy.   Now wait a minute, night raids run counter to COIN principles, so why all the drama?  Pull out FM 23-4, the COIN bible Petreaus authored and waxes soothingly to elected officials and policymakers, and review its core principles.  To win, you need the support of the populace.  Both the insurgent and the counter-insurgent need the support of the populace to win.  COIN doctrine obviously allows for targeted kinetic operations that are nested to COIN operations, but if you begin to lose support of the population, to the point where their elected leaders condemn a particular targeted kinetic operation (i.e. night raids), then it is time to swallow the truth and adjust accordingly.  Unless, at this point, you really can’t adjust your operational tempo (i.e. over-reliance on CT) because the seeds of COIN and the requisite scrip paid to the death merchant won’t take hold in Afghanistan until after the July 2011 (or for that matter 2014).  Or maybe Petraeus can’t change or adjust night raid tactics, because the truth is, the much heralded COIN strategy is simply a chimera, and he knows it. 

What we do know is that Petreaus will provide metrics of success to the White House during its ongoing policy review, but it will be hard to square the fact that the real successes on the ground these past 10 months have been a result of Counter-Terrorism operations and not the application of Counter-insurgency doctrine.   I can see his first Power Point slide now, an amended opening quote from George Orwell that reads, “No one in Afghanistan sleeps safely at night, because rough men visit violence on them, sometimes as often as 17 times a night . . .”. 

MARSOC to purchase more powerful pistols

More proof that the 9mm Beretta lacks the punch in combat.  Marine Forces Special Operations Command operators will officially be issued .45-caliber semi-automatic pistols and replace the 9mm Beretta because the .45 larger caliber provides more stopping power.  The exact M45 Close Quarter Battle Pistol will be determined by a competition that began in October.  The open question that remains unanswered is when will the entire stock of 9mm Beretta’s issued to all services be replaced with a higher caliber semi-automatic pistol?  Why train troopers to fire two rounds of a lower caliber to defeat a threat when one .45 round is oftentimes sufficient?  SFTT will continue to monitor this development and inform the public, elected officials, and policy makers that troops deserve a side-arm with real stopping power.

GIs testing ‘smart’ weapons that leave nowhere to hide

The XM25 Counter Defilade Targeting Engagement System will certainly compliment Infantry squads and Special Operations units.  If the system works as designed, troopers will have the ability to place an air-burst 25mm round over the threat hiding behind a wall or other cover out to 700 meters.   While being touted as a “smart weapon”, in reality this system will add to the arsenal to apply critical fires where the current inventory of weapons can’t engage.  The program manager states that the XM25 is a “game changer” and that it will “essentially take cover away from the enemy forever”.  But before we place a stamp of approval on the XM25 we still have to take into account: the basic load and weight of the system, maintenance requirements, batteries, spare parts, contractor support issues, training, tactical adjustments, collateral damage, and overall costs – these are issues that SFTT will monitor as the XM25 is fielded and put into active operation across the base force.

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Military News Highlights for November 15, 2010

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Karzai wants U.S. to reduce military operations in Afghanistan

In the starkest terms to date, President Karzai said that the visibility and intensity of US/NATO operations must be reduced and that US SOF night raids end. “It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly,” he said. These were not off the cuff remarks, but instead provided to reporters in an hour-long sit-down interview (an exasperated General Petreaus responded – see associated news report).  Karzai continues to highlight that US/NATO operations are exacerbating the war fatigue Afghans experience daily.

While US/NATO continues to make the claim for a 2014 transition date for full security and the end of combat operations, Karzai increasingly appears to support accelerating the pace of withdrawals and the transition.  His avowed “skepticism” of US policy in Afghanistan will only complicate the next two weeks of debate and the ongoing review, while ground commanders and SOF units continue “endless” operations (to include night raids). 

Karzai did express gratitude for the American support Afghans have received, but questioned the administrations motives.  If this is the “status” of where the US/NATO-Afghanistan relationship, where the President questions “motives”, we have failed in our strategic communications. 

 Petraeus Says Karzai Comments Hurt War Effort – Report

“Astonishment and disappointment”?  Hurting the war effort?  “Undermining General Petreaus?” Hypothetical references to “an inability to continue US operations in the face of Karzai’s remarks”?  The remarks were not a “no-vote confidence of General Petreaus.”    

It is becoming increasingly harder to see the path to any positive outcome in Afghanistan after this recent public rift (of many) between President Karzai and General Petreaus.  The bottomline is that US/NATO policy objectives are at odds.  The US/NATO mission of COIN, with its requisite resources and timeframe, cuts against the grain of Afghan sensibilities, while the reality on the ground is that any progress is not only not welcome but appears counter-productive. Worse yet is that the senior commander and President Karzai continue to raise the stakes of any effective outcome with increasingly public disagreements.  Nothing good can come of this.

Marines Learn Lessons From Tragedy in Afghanistan

Marines deploy for seven-month stints and rotate in and out Afghanistan under a tight set of conditions and protocol.  It has become clear that the most dangerous time for any unit is during this transition period as the new unit adapts to the situation on the ground and the redeploying unit thins their lines.  As this report highlights, even after repeated deployments, this transition often leads to tragedy – but in this instance the Marine unit applied lessons learned to overcome their losses and improve their tactical posture.

As in every conflict, the enemy gets a vote.  Here, in vicinity of Patrol Base Fulod, the enemy has shown its ingenuity and tenacity by improving their tactics and procedures while engaging Marines – and this should not be a surprise.

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Military News Highlights for November 10, 2010

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235th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps!

To all the Devil Dogs out there today, congratulations on the 235th Birthday of the Marine Corps!

M4 Carbine and Accessories

Mark Fingar M4 Carbine Poster

If there was any question as to whether the M4 Carbine currently issued to Soldiers and Marines will be replaced for a more durable and lethal carbine or not, one only needs to look at the accompanying layout of the M4 Carbine and Accessories to see  how difficult this proposition will be to carry out.  It is not going to be a simple task considering all of the accessories and associated equipment that will be replaced as well.  In fact the M4 Carbine has become a complex system that is modified and tailored to meet individual and unit requirements requiring a dedicated logistics and maintenance support system that oftentimes is not sufficiently responsive on today’s battlefield.  Ultimately the debate to replace the M4 Carbine must take the “accessories”, the logistics and maintenance tail, and the increasing contractor support base into account.  Hopefully this “poster” featured on Mark Fingar’s Blog brings this issue into perspective.

The list of accessories includes the following:

  • Colt M4 (SOPMOD STYLE) with KAC RAS Handguard & KAC Vertical Grip.
  • Optics & Iron Sights:  ACOG; EOTech 552; Aimpoint COMPM2 & 3X Magnifier; Leupold CQ/T MK4; Nightforce NXS Riflescope; Trijicon AccuPoint; Trijicon Reflex; Colt C-MORE Tactical Sight; A3 Detachable Carry Handle; LaRue Tactical IronDot; Troy BUIS; Matech BUIS; A.R.M.S. #40 BUIS; LaRue BUIS; LMT BUIS; Troy Front Sight; PRI Front Sight
  • Lasers:  PEQ-2A; PAQ-4C; DBAL-A2; OTAL; VITAL-2
  • Lights: Surefire L72; Surefire M910; Insight M6; Surefire Millennium; Surefire Scout
  • Silencers & DD’s: Knight’s Armament M4QD; YHM Phantom, and QD Flash Hider; GemTech M496D; Surefire M4FA556-BK; Ops Inc CQB 15th Model
  • M203 Grenade Launcher with AN/PSQ-18A Day/Night Sight
  • Night Vision: PVS-22; PVS-14 & Magnifier; PVS-17
  • Misc Hardware: LMT SOPMOD Stock; Magpul CTR Stock; Colt M4Stock; LaRue Tactical Free-Floating Handguard; TangoDown Vertical Grip; TangoDown Battle Grip; Magpul MIAD Grip; Magpul Magazine Pull; Harris Bipod with LaRue QD mount

Gates: U.S. Open to Talks on Post-2011 Presence in Iraq

Secretary of Defense Gates said yesterday in a news conference in Malaysia that the United States is open to the idea of maintaining a troop presence in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline to leave, but only if Iraq were to make such a request.  Secretary Gates stated that the required conditions for these discussions to take place include: the Iraqis forming an inclusive and non-sectarian government; selection of a president, prime minister, a speaker of the council of representatives; and ministerial-level appointments.  No mention of improving security, no mention of countering Iran’s ascendancy, and no mention of defeating a reemerging AQ in Mesopotamia.

Obviously the US is committed to a strategic partnership with Iraq in the future, but we also know that the Iraqi’s voted on and approved the deadline for all US troops to withdraw from Iraq no later than December 31, 2011.  Any signals contrary to remaining resolute on the deadline will only increase the growing sense of instability and the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi’s to govern.  Further, the 50,000 US troops currently deployed in Iraq (and subsequent replacements that will serve there until December 31, 2011) contribute to the more than 250,000 US troops deployed in the region.  Maintaining this troop end-strength to allow the Iraqi’s to continue dithering with “democracy” will not increase “dwell time” for the rest of the Army as the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Casey recently asserted whereby the 50,000 troops in Iraq that would no longer be required for Iraq as of December 31, 2011 would provide relief to troop deployment requirements.

Review Will Influence U.S. Troop Pullout

There will be an increasingly mixed bag of reporting on the pending Afghanistan review this December – shift in strategy; increase of resources; metrics of success; the genius of COIN; the lethality of CT; the increase in casualties; influencing US pullout, etc…as this Reuters news report provides.

What would be useful to keep in mind during this period is to recall exactly what President Obama stated on December 1, 2009 when he announced his decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

“These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.”

The intent is pretty clear: the increase of troops would allow for accelerating the handing over of responsibility; the transfer of forces begins in July 2011; the transition will be executed responsibly and be conditions based.

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Military News you may have missed: November 8, 2010

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The narrative is set for the Administrations pending Afghanistan Policy Review slated for this December – who to believe whether sufficient progress is currently being made, the lack of viable options to address the ongoing threat that emanates from Pakistan’s tribal regions, and how soon will Karzai’s government be capable of providing security on its own?   The following news reports provide background on this Gordian Knot.

Some Skeptics Questioning Rosy Reports on War Zone

Highlights:

  •  The recent reports circulating in Washington’s national security establishment about the Afghan battleground of Marja show glimmerings of progress: bazaars are open, some 1,000 children are in school, and a new (and only) restaurant even serves goat curry and kebabs.  In Kandahar, NATO officials say that American and Afghan forces continue to rout the Taliban. In new statistics offered by American commanders in Kabul, Special Operations units have killed 339 midlevel Taliban commanders and 949 of the group’s foot soldiers in the past three months alone. At the Pentagon, the draft of a war assessment to be submitted to Congress this month cites a shift in momentum in some areas of the country away from the insurgency.
  • But as a new White House review of President Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan gets under way, the rosy signs have opened an intense debate at the Defense Department, the White House, the State Department and the intelligence agencies over what they really mean. Are they indications of future success, are they fleeting and not replicable, or are they evidence that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top United States and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is simply more masterful than his predecessor at shaping opinion?
  • The debate centers on the resiliency of the Taliban and the extent to which the group can rebuild from the hammering it is taking. Most involved say that there are positive trends for the Americans, but that the real answer will not be clear until a new fighting season begins as the weather warms next year.  “The fundamental question is how deep is their bench,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. official and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who led last year’s extended White House review of Afghan strategy that resulted in Mr. Obama’s ordering 30,000 additional United States forces to the country. “By next summer we should have a pretty good idea. If they’re having trouble replacing people that we’re killing on the battlefield, then we’re on the right track. But if by next summer they’re producing new cadres that are on the same order of quality, then we’re in deep trouble.”
  • A former C.I.A. official with longtime experience in Afghanistan said that the recent statements about American progress in Afghanistan reminded him of what was sometimes written about the Russians before they began withdrawing from Afghanistan in defeat in 1988, when they had been at war there for nearly 10 years. “I don’t find many people I talk to who really believe any of this,” he said.  The military’s more positive view is hardly monolithic; doubts also exist within its ranks. The Defense Department’s coming war assessment says that violence once again increased in Afghanistan in the past year, in large part because of the aggressive American military operations in the south, while Pentagon officials readily acknowledge that security has deteriorated in previously quiet areas of the north.
  • “It is certainly true that Petraeus is attempting to shape public opinion ahead of the December review,” said an administration official who is supportive of the general.  “He is the most skilled public relations official in the business, and he’s trying to narrow the president’s options.”  But national security officials across Washington are already saying that the December review will only tweak the policy, not change the strategy, and that the real assessment will come in July 2011, the deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal of American troops. “The bidding is still out,” the White House official said.

SFTT Analysis

  • If the data in December proves that the most effective means of reducing the threat has been through targeted Counter-terrorism (CT) operations versus Counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, then “a shift of strategy” to recalibrate CT with more resources and effort should be considered – ultimately reducing the threat through increased CT will provide more “security” to the populace which COIN strives for.
  • COIN will naturally continue but the focus should be on those areas where gains can be marginally made and be “tweaked” so that the Administration can “off-ramp” forces as scheduled in July 2011.  The “tweaking” in December 2010 should be made to support CT, not vice versa, which reports indicate is the objective.
  • Waiting until July 2011 to determine whether COIN is the proper strategy and then make a decision then may be too late to create the conditions for Afghan Security Forces to take the lead.

 U.S. concerns grow as militants move bases along Pakistan border

 Highlights

  • The U.S. has been trying to stamp out the Haqqani network, which attacks coalition forces in Afghanistan from its base in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. Now its fighters, fleeing drone strikes, are setting up in the highlands of Kurram. The militant network that is a major Western adversary in Afghanistan is expanding its reach into tribal badlands outside its longtime sanctuary in Pakistan, a move that could complicate U.S. efforts to eradicate the group.
  • Pakistani tribal elders in the Kurram region along the Afghan border say large numbers of fighters from the Haqqani network, an ally of Al Qaeda, have been stationing themselves in the highlands of their rugged district and are demanding the freedom to move in and out of Afghanistan at will to carry out attacks in the neighboring country.
  • American military commanders regard the group as a major roadblock to concluding the nine-year war in Afghanistan. Though the U.S. has endorsed Karzai’s push for peace talks with insurgent leaders, many in Washington see the Haqqani network as inextricably linked with Al Qaeda and therefore irreconcilable.  Haqqani militants have long maintained bonds with Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which has allowed the insurgents to use the North Waziristan region as their nerve center. A dramatic increase in U.S. drone missile attacks on the network’s compounds and training centers there this fall has helped trigger the movement of the militants during the last two months, experts and Kurram tribal leaders say. Tribal elders in Kurram, who are sectarian rivals of the Haqqani network, say they believe the Islamic militant group views the snowcapped region as an ideal vantage point from which to launch forays into Afghanistan.  Haqqani movement into Kurram could force the United States to expand its missile strike campaign there, a move that might further inflame anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis who see the drone strikes as a gross violation of their country’s sovereignty. Right now, Islamabad tacitly allows the strikes against Al Qaeda, Taliban and Haqqani network targets in North and South Waziristan, and at times even facilitates those strikes with intelligence. 
  • Meanwhile, the appearance of Haqqani network fighters has exacerbated simmering sectarian frictions within Kurram. Large swaths of the region are populated by a Shiite Muslim tribe, the Turi, which has been fending off attacks from local Taliban for years. Like the Haqqanis, the Taliban is Sunni Muslim. The influx of Haqqani fighters has sparked fierce clashes with Turi tribesmen, said Musarrat Hussain Muntazir, a tribal elder.  After the fighting, Turi tribal elders began negotiations with a Haqqani contingent in hopes of ending a four-year, Taliban-imposed blockade of the only road that connects Turi lands in upper Kurram with the city of Peshawar, northwestern Pakistan’s major hub. The blockade has forced Turi villagers to take a circuitous, 230-mile trek into Afghanistan’s eastern provinces and then back into Pakistan in order to buy supplies or get to a hospital.
  • Pakistan, which regards the Haqqani group as a valuable hedge against Indian influence in a post-U.S. Afghanistan, has so far resisted repeated urgings from Washington to launch a major offensive against Haqqani network hide-outs in North Waziristan. A U.S. offer to Pakistan of $2 billion in military aid is seen by many as an incentive for Pakistan to mount an attack on the Haqqani network. Pakistan has told the U.S. it will eventually carry out that offensive, but only when it believes the time is right.  “I think they’ll start the operation,” said Hussain, the think tank analyst, “once every single fighter has moved out of North Waziristan and into Kurram.” 

SFTT Analysis

  • Too often the numerous threats to Afghan stability are labeled as “Taliban”, which can distort the “purpose” of the mission while failing to properly address the scope of the conflict – the Haqqani network is an example.
  • If it is true tha the Haqqani network is decamping from current safe-havens to the Kurram Agency, then critical intelligence and targeting resources that are currently fighting under economy-of-force constraints, may have to shift from the South to the East to counter the network while delicately balancing Af-Pak-US relations. 

Pentagon chiefs: Afghans can manage by 2014

Highlights 

  • Afghanistan should be ready to handle its own security by the year 2014, the top U.S. defense chiefs said Monday.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said NATO should endorse the 2014 timeline proposed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai when the alliance holds its annual summit later this month. “As a target at this point that makes sense, so I am comfortable with it,” Mullen said. The 2014 date would give a symbolic deadline for ending the war and bringing most combat forces home. The war is already in its 10th year and unpopular in the U.S. and Europe.
  • U.S. responsibility will extend for years, Gates said Monday.  President Barack Obama and other NATO allies will consider plans for transition of security control at the November 19-20 summit in Lisbon, Portugal. Although Gates had once said he hoped a few districts could be transferred this year, NATO is now looking at beginning the process in the spring. U.S. officials say the war is beginning to turn around after two years of stalemate. Although eager to underscore that claim of progress by handing over some security control, military officials are worried about backsliding. The first districts to move under Afghan police and Army control will probably be in safer areas far from front line fighting in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
  • Gates also said that although he welcomes preliminary talks between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government, the insurgency isn’t likely to cut a deal unless it is weakened further. “The Taliban need to clearly see that the prospects for success have diminished dramatically, and in fact that they may well lose,” before senior leaders would be ready to negotiate a lasting political settlement, Gates said. That tipping point would be difficult to foresee at least until next spring, Gates added. The Taliban deny they are being beaten down.

SFTT Analysis

  • The fight in Afghanistan has metastasized to an all encompassing Afghanistan wide provincial 360 degree – north, south, east, and west.  Every province and every district.
  • The start of transferring a few districts to Afghan control was supposed to begin in 2010, but will not begin until spring 2011. If NATO/ISAF cannot hand off a “few” districts anywhere in Afghanistan until spring, then clearly this is another indicator that the “progress” being made is at odds with the reality on the ground.  Not a single district!
  • A “symbolic” deadline for ending the war and bringing most combat forces home by 2014 does not make sense nor should we feel “comfortable” about it.  A sooner date would force Karzai and the Afghan Security Forces to prepare for and accept responsibility for security.  2014 appears to be a Karzai proposal –when will the US and NATO stop coddling him and tell him “no” for a change?
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Afghan government falls short in Kandahar

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In an article published by the Washington Post on November 2, it would appear that the Afghan government falls short in Kandahar.  A “learning” experience for the US military.

Highlights

  • Despite months of American prodding, the Afghan government has failed to fill dozens of key positions in Kandahar, leaving an ineffectual local administration that U.S. officials fear will cripple the battlefield progress the military says it is making in the Taliban stronghold.  Just a month before President Obama will review the state of the Afghan war, top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus and other military officers are making their case that the influx of American troops has pushed the Taliban out of key parts of Kandahar. But the Afghan government that U.S. officials hoped could step in to provide basic services remains a skeleton staff of unskilled bureaucrats that is incapable of functioning on its own, according to U.S. officials.  For the past year, the United States and its NATO allies have tried to build a Kandahar administration that can address residents’ grievances and sway them from the Taliban. The U.S. has also embarked on a massive spending spree in order to prop up Kandahar authorities and provide basic services. But with power monopolized by the central government in Kabul, the provincial and municipal offices in southern Afghanistan’s largest city are hamstrung and undermanned.  “The security picture is improving so fast and so dramatically that it puts the shortfall in civilian capacity in alarming relief,” said one U.S. official in Kandahar. “The potential single failure point is the Afghan government.”
  • With little help coming from Kabul, American money is pouring in for Afghans to build roads, dig wells, pick-up trash, repair culverts and refurbish mosques with solar-powered public-address systems. For $2.8 million in U.S. military funds, Kandahar residents will receive a nursing and midwifery clinic, and $4.7 million more will bring a secure housing complex for judges afraid to work in Taliban territory. Hundreds of millions more are being pumped through United States Agency for International Development contracts to supply electricity, water, and new office buildings for Afghan officials who, in many cases, do not exist. “Right now, the government capacity is so anemic we have to do it,” said the U.S. official who, like others, was not authorized to speak for the record. “We are acting as donor and government. That’s not sustainable.”

SFTT Analysis:

  • “Good Governance” is a line of operation that supports a COIN campaign plan and is nested with the other standard “Security, Economy, and the Rule of Law” lines of operation.  The Power Point gods are very familiar with these terms as they frame daily commander’s updates and highlight necessary metrics to gauge progress.  Given that reality, that commanders are fully aware of success and progress, the lack of effective “Good Governance” in Kandahar should not be a surprise to commanders on the ground, but it appears that it is.  The point is that the Kandahar campaign was delayed this past year in order to set the appropriate conditions (i.e. local power broker buy-in; limit Karzai’s brothers influence; check corruption, etc), but now in October 2010 we are beginning to acknowledge that NATO security is operating in a local-government vacuum.  It’s not like this realization of the “Afghan government falling short in Kandahar” happened overnight?  
  • More surprising is the fact that the US military institution is a “learning” organization and conducts numerous after-action reviews and applies lessons learned to ensure future success.  Why is than that after nine-years of slogging through nation-building in Afghanistan, we continue to “clear” but can’t seem to “build”?   Where is the “lesson” in all of this?  Maybe this will become the pillar of rationale to extend the clock past July 2011 – that NATO cannot begin to reduce its presence and effort because the “Afghans aren’t ready” – and that will then be the ultimate lesson learned that we will never admit, that being that we can “clear” but can’t “build”.  In other words we should limit our objectives and simply focus on the kinetic target.
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War in Afghanistan: A distraction to our fight against terrorism?

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In a recent article from Foreign Policy entitled  An Unnecessary War – – Afthanistan used to be the central front in the war against terrorism.  Now it’s a distraction from it, the author argues that policy makers may be taking their eyes off the “bigger” picture and one that is more critical to US security.

Highlights

  • First as candidate and later as president, Barack Obama famously described Afghanistan as “a war of necessity:” a war the United States could not afford to lose. Obama restated the case in the speech he gave last December announcing his decision to add 30,000 troops to the battle, asserting that Afghanistan and Pakistan constituted “the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda,” and adding that the threat would “only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity.” The only way to counteract this threat, Obama insisted, was to bolster American military capacity, and to adopt a counterinsurgency strategy to “increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.” Most of the debate around Obama’s war plans has centered on that counterinsurgency strategy: Is President Hamid Karzai too corrupt and erratic, are the Afghan people too hostile to foreign forces, is institution-building too intrinsically difficult, and are Afghan security forces too inept to justify the massive and belated effort to build Afghan stability and capacity? But this is actually the secondary issue. The central question is: Is it necessary? Would withdrawal in fact gravely jeopardize American national security?
  • Marc Sageman, a CIA veteran now with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, has asserted in congressional testimony that more than three-quarters of the terrorist plots against the West executed or foiled over the last five years have been carried out by “homegrown terrorists” with no organizational connection to al Qaeda — a phenomenon he calls “leaderless jihad.” Focusing vast resources on any piece of geographical space is thus a strategic mistake. On the other hand, the terrorism expert Peter Bergen argues that “the numbers are a red herring.” Osama bin Laden only had 200 loyalists at the time of 9/11, after all, and still managed to do a great deal of damage. What’s more, he adds, since al Qaeda “has infected other groups they’re embedded with,” including the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani body which carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, counting al Qaeda alone is misleading. And the lack of recent spectacular attacks hardly proves that al Qaeda central is history.
  • But all costs are relative. And against the uncertain benefits of maintaining a very large military presence in Afghanistan over the next three to four years are the very large costs of staying in such large numbers. The $100 billion a year or so in resources may be the least of it. The war is a terrible drain on Washington’s attention, and on U.S. soft power and prestige. “It’s hard to be taken seriously in Asia when we are still bogged down in Afghanistan,” as Cronin says. There are very few true wars of necessity. The Civil War was one; World War II was another. When Mullah Omar refused to give up Osama bin Laden, a war in Afghanistan became necessary. But then the war changed character, and the nature of the adversary changed as well. A war against Islamic terrorism, in some form, remains necessary. But the war in Afghanistan does not.

SFTT Analysis:

  • The threat that emanates from Afghanistan is marginal and requires a reallocation of resources and a change in strategy and policy, given the fact that recently failed operations were either born or bred in Pakistan’s tribal regions,Yemen, and western European capitols or attempted by “home-grown” operatives and confederates.
  • If it is true that AQ has metastesized into a “headless” jihad with limited global reach, then it would make more strategic and operational sense to concentrate US/NATO efforts where the threat roosts with a robust counter-terrorism strategy.
  • Afghanistan is proving history correct that to continue to engage in an economy-of-force COIN effort with limited resources only creates a never ending supply of new insurgents (and jihadists).
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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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“Young Officer”

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 A young officer I once served with recently changed command and is now attending the Army’s Intermediate Level Education course for field grade officers; when he graduates he’ll report to a new unit and redeploy. His tedious ride from the east coast to Kansas coincided with the sacking of McChrystal. Remember him? After the storm broke and his pension was paid, follow up analysis of the “crisis” revealed that the majority of attributable quotes and “off-the-record” background was provided by a score of “young officers” and not necessarily the General himself. Nevertheless, the collateral effect of their untimely and heartfelt Parisian disclosures to the Rolling Stone embedded reporter resulted in an Inspector General investigation of these young officers’ actions and statements. Imagine that, an investigation. Really? For what purpose? And as we’ve all learned by now, after the Wanat reversal, even if they’re found culpable of some level of insubordination or violation of policy, they won’t be held accountable they’ll simply be “Wanated,” yep, as in “to be Wanated,” the non-accountability finesse of a failed leader by his self-protective superiors.

But I digress, so back to my “young officer” driving to the brain-shed at Leavenworth for the consumption of more COIN kool-aid. As we commiserated over the amount of Galula theory he would have to suck down, I asked him to imagine for a moment being on the McCrystal staff still in Kabul tasked with General Petraeus’ transition and the integration of his new brain-trust of soon-to-arrive COIN-dinistas. For those who’ve never experienced the ins and outs of transitioning a four star commander while politely showing the door to the outgoing commander and his immediate staff, suffice to say, it’s a painful exercise. We’ll probably never know the behind-the-scene dynamics of the arrival of King David until Bob Woodward or Tom Ricks writes another breathtaking insider account of the administration or the war. However, we can safely assume that a new master of strategic communications is firmly in place in Kabul and a new brain-trust is arriving to assist the effort. If you want more proof, check out what was reported earlier this week by the New York Times coupled—not coincidentally—with the announcement of General Petraeus’ pending media blitz in the coming weeks. Here it is: “Meanwhile, a rising generation of young officers, who have become experts over the past nine years in the art of counterinsurgency, have begun quietly telling administration officials they need time to get their work done. “Their argument,” said one senior administration official, who would not speak for attribution about the internal policy discussions, “is that while we’ve been in Afghanistan for nine years, only in the past 12 months or so have we started doing this right, and we need to give it some time and think about what our long-term presence in Afghanistan should look like.”

So let me get this straight—the administration is soliciting advice from “young officers” on whether to continue the effort in Afghanistan after next summer when the US is going to begin withdrawal? And they are “experts” as well? For sure we’ve been down this road before, in 2006 when General (Retired) Jack Keane, the American Enterprise Institute and a couple of Army majors and captains from the Army’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (who subsequently retired) with recent expertise in Anbar province/Iraq drew up a Power Point plan for the “surge,” which was then sold by Keane to John Hannah in Cheney’s office, and well, the rest is history.

Maybe that example is too remote (or simply a footnote to hubris) to apply to this master stroke of strategic messaging wrapped in a soft pitch to the public that “young officers…want more time.” My money is on Petraeus as point man preaching next summer on why the 2011 withdrawal timeline needs to be extended in part because the administration and the public should listen to the “troops”—i.e., these “young officers”—for a change. It’s brilliant.

No doubt the new “experts” are a group of planners from the services “Jedi-knight” programs to plan contingencies and back up plans when the current COIN mantra begins to die down. They are probably joined by other “young officer” staffers assigned to the Joint Staff or the National Security Council who’ve somehow wedged themselves into preparing slides, position papers or might even have a seat at the table at very low-level planning meetings. Regardless, I would also bet they’re Petraeus acolytes or COIN enthusiasts from a different father committed to re-validating their previous deployment successes by pushing the COIN theory as the remedy to whatever threatens US interests. In any case, the word is you best be a Petraeus COIN follower or you’ll be placed in the slow lane. After all, Petraeus was flown back to Washington in 2008 to supervise the Army’s Brigadier General promotion board…

Bottomline, the simple statement that a rising generation of young officers are calling for more time to complete the mission will deeply influence the now-rigged debate. For starters, it will serve as a green light on the battlefield for other young officers to inform VIP’s, respond to the media and brief their troops that “they need more time to get the job done”. Unfortunately, it will also serve as a blanket statement that the entire Army stands behind this call.

What is truly shameful here is the total disregard for those officers and leaders who know the gig is up but aren’t allowed to report the truth—veiled censorship by a master of strategic communications suspending us all in disbelief for at least the time being.

I was tempted to call my “young officer” when I figured out what was going on and wish him luck because he’s the type who’ll tell his superiors that no amount of time, resources or troops will change the dynamics on the ground in Afghanistan. But he beat me to the punch and sent me a short note expressing his hope that the Chief of Staff will visit the brain shed soon so he can tell him directly that a small cadre of the “rising generation of young officers” doesn’t speak for the rest of the Army. Let’s all hope my guy gets to talk.

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