Military News Highlights: January 21, 2011

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Afghan Political Crisis Grows as Legislators Vow to Defy Karzai and Open Parliament

You only need to read the headline to know that this situation is only to get worse.  If you can’t settle your scores via the ballot box, then what are your options?  And again, not a peep or any happy talk coming from US/NATO in Kabul.  So everyone continues to hold their collective breath to see what happens next, but sadly we know which direction this is headed.

“We don’t care about President Karzai’s decree about delaying the new Parliament, because this is totally against our national Constitution and against the election laws,” said the interim speaker of the new Parliament, Hajji Mohammad Sarwar Osmani, who is from Farah Province.  “Even if the government forces oppose us from going to the Parliament building,” he added, “those soldiers are also our sons, and we won’t arm wrestle with them. We will go to one of the big mosques in Kabul City or come to this hotel if the owner of the hotel lets us and start work of our new Parliament here.”

McChrystal denies claims of secret military crusade against Islam

Come on Sy Hersh, give Big Stan a break.  Of course he’s not a member of the “Knights of Malta.”

25 Tons of Bombs Wipe Afghan Town Off Map

Torak Kolache before and after 25 tons of ordnance.

Now that’s counterinsurgency at its best: winning hearts and minds…

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • “If they use rockets to hit the [forward operating base] we can’t shoot back because they were within 500 meters of the village. If they shoot at us and drop their weapon in the process we can’t shoot back,” said Spc. Charles Brooks, 26, a U.S. Army medic with 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, in Zabul province.
  • “I don’t think the military leaders, president or anybody really cares about what we’re going through,” said Spc. Matthew “Silver” Fuhrken, 25, from Watertown, N.Y. “I’m sick of people trying to cover up what’s really going on over here. They won’t let us do our job. I don’t care if they try to kick me out for what I’m saying — war is war and this is no war. I don’t know what this is.”
  • “If we walk away, cut a deal with the Taliban, desert the people who needed us most, then this war was pointless,” said Pvt. Jeffrey Ward, with 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, who is stationed at Forward Operating Base Bullard in southern Afghanistan. “Everyone dies for their own reasons but it’s sad to think that our friends, the troops, have given their lives for something we’re not going to see through.” Other soldiers agreed. They said they feared few officials in the Pentagon understand the reality on the ground.

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

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

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“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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Should US Troops Wear Body Armor?

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There appears to be a bit of a backlash within military circles and families of men and women currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the “suggestion” that our troops should leave their body armor behind to ingratiate themselves with local civilians.   This “new” strategy to win the “hearts and minds” of the local populace first came to my attention during an airing of a 60 minute special on General McChrystal some months ago.

I recall similar “hearts and mind” arguments in other engagements by the US military and I have always reacted the same way:  Send in the Peace Corps.   It is one thing for General McChrystal and other US military and civilian dignitaries to walk into a village without their protective gear when surrounded by a heavily armed security detail with air cover and quite another to for military personnel to doff their body armor and helmet to play a game of cards and drink tea with the Afghans.

Befriending the local population has always been a welcome characteristic of US troops serving in harm’s way, but it is quite another mission altogether when the military brass “asks” our frontline troops to become social workers at the expense of their own safety.  Unfortunately, military “suggestions” and leaders acting in ways to encourage this behavior encourages a chain reaction of idiocy right down the military chain of command. 

Witness this bizarre military “spin” on the appropriate use of body armor that was reported in the Honolulu Advisor

QUOTE

Col. Walter Piatt, who commanded the approximately 3,500 soldiers in 3rd Brigade in Iraq and now back at Schofield, said there was no order to not wear body armor.  “My guidance was that commanders at every level would determine the force protection equipment required to accomplish the mission,” he said.

That guidance went to high-level government meetings “inside a very well-furnished office with a mayor or a provincial representative who was wearing a thousand-dollar suit or a very nice dress and the furniture is very expensive,” Piatt said. “I told our soldiers we should not be wearing our kit (body armor) in those rooms because we’ll destroy the furniture.”  Commanders could decide to keep body armor on, leave it in vehicles, or take it off in an antechamber at a meeting, he said.

Piatt also said it was “key leaders” only who would leave their body armor in a vehicle. Even without body armor, the soldiers retained their weapons. There also always was a security element wearing all protective gear that accompanied those soldiers.  Bland said “guidance” is the same as an order. When a commander gives guidance or a suggestion, “it’s exactly the same as giving an order. It’s just more politely phrased.”

UNQUOTE

Nuance aside, I would be hard-pressed to determine how to act if I were currently deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Even Farmer McGregor would not leave behind his overalls and gloves to work in the Brier patch, but it seems to me that we are asking our soldiers to take on additional risk to win some pyrrhic victory for General McChrystal.   Mind you, this is the same military leadership that barred troops from wearing any other body armor other than official “Army Issue” at the risk of losing their medical coverage if wounded.    As Alice in Wonderland said:  This is getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

Richard W. May

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