Military News Highlights: January 24, 2011

Posted by:

Karzai Agrees to Seat New Afghan Parliament

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

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

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

Marines pay a price trying to secure an Afghan hot spot

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

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

Some key highlights for the scorecard:

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

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

IG says weak planning puts Afghan projects at risk

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

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

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

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

0

Military News Highlights: January 4, 2011

Posted by:

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.

0

Military News Highlights: December 2, 2010

Posted by:

‘Progress Made’ In Afghanistan’s Helmand Province

When interviewed by . Generic drugs that do so should have the same therapeutic effect and therefore the same benefits as their brand-name counterparts, but at less cost.

“But let’s talk a little bit about Marja, because I know that’s one you’ve been following. If you could come over and visit today I would take you down to the district center, where across the street is a very nice restaurant that’s opened up – two dining rooms. You can get a really nice chicken dinner there. There’s three major bazaars in town, all three flourishing. All of the activity now – all the enemy activity in Marja’s been pushed to the perimeter, where a few lone insurgents creep back, usually at night, and try to intimidate some of the locals. And have not done a very good job of it.”

When asked to comment on Sanjin, heartland of the current bloodbath that has claimed the lives of at least 14 Marines assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment since mid-September, General Mills made no mention of this sacrifice but commented that, “It’s been tough fighting. It continues to be tough fighting. I think that Sangin is Marja, perhaps five months ago. And we are going to remain focused on that mission up there, and we will win.”

When they start serving chicken dinners in Sangin, I guess the General can claim victory.

The following two news reports from the New York Times add to SFTT’s recent discussion on combat related and sports related head injuries and trauma and the stark difference between the actions taken by the sports industry and lack of action and non-prioritization of these type injuries taken by the Congress, DoD, and the Services.

Scans Could Aid Diagnosis of Brain Trauma in Living

If athletes are subject to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CET) as a result of sustained head trauma, then it’s obvious that US troops are prone to CET in the future as well due to combat related head trauma.   In fact, Boston-based researchers have developed new imaging techniques that confirmed CET in athletes brains with a history of head trauma.  Currently, CET can only be confirmed through a specialized brain tissue examination after death.  So imagine if you can monitor CET and its symptoms and treat these injuries effectively.  Why wait until you are on the morticians slab to confirm the obvious?  While there is more work to be done with the initial positive results of this new type of imagining and study, the question that remains is whether or not this type of sports/medical science will ever transfer over to DoD and its medical services as it identifies, monitors, and treats troops suffering from TBI. Probably not given their track record.

Ward Calls League Hypocritical on Safety

Maybe Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is onto something in his criticism of the National Football League’s recent call and emphasis on safety.  Ward’s take is that the league only toughened its stance because of a pending desire to extend the season to 18 games.   If DoD, the services, and Congress ever wake up and start addressing combat related head injuries and trauma properly maybe it’s because they want to extend the time spent on the battlefield as well.  Nah, just because 2011 turned into 2014 and beyond in Afghanistan doesn’t mean that there is going to be new emphasis placed on improving helmets and reducing head injuries and traumas.  In Afghanistan, its all systems forward without these types of safety and quality of life considerations.  Why should we kid ourselves and believe there was a purpose for “extending the season”.

Department of Defense Headquarters Staff Comparisons (2000-2010)

Senator James Webb requested a pre-and post-9/11 staff comparison of Department of Defense, Services, and Combat Command Headquarter as he studies the Department’s recent decision to axe Joint Forces Command.   After nearly a decade, of the 17 reporting headquarters there has been approximately 11,000 civilian/military staff personnel billets added.  If you only take uniform personnel back into the fold you could man at least two Brigade Combat Teams – imagine that!  Read more from Tom Ricks.

Dragon EOD Squad Leader Sergeant First Class “William”

Just in time for the holidays.  Your very own toy-set of body armor, Advanced Combat Helmet, and an M-4 carbine!  Enjoy!

  • The set is outfitted in the newer ACH, with older style Interceptor body armor in woodland camouflage, and helmet with woodland camouflage cloth cover.
  • Weapon: M4 Assault Rifle or M4 Carbine with Infrared Pointer / Illuminator, Aimpoint optic sight, Forward Hand Grip, tactical light attached under the barrel, retractable / extendable butt stock and removable magazine.
1

What’s inside a Taliban Gun Locker

Posted by:

In an interesting article published on the New York Times “At War” Blog, we recently had an opportunity to reflect on

Want to know what type of small arms the enemy uses to fight us with in Afghanistan?  Specifically in Helmand province?  

No one should be shocked at the simple and rudimentary arsenal that is being used against our troops – bolt-action rifles, Kalashnikov assault rifles, and PK machine guns, all of which are resilient and adaptable firearms for the area of operations that they were captured in.  

The “At War” blog entry ends with: “Together the technical qualities of these rifles and the thinking behind them, along with the quality of their manufacture and the relative simplicity of their ammunition resupply, have helped a largely illiterate insurgent movement not just to exert its will on its own country, but also to stand up to the most sophisticated military in the world.”

1

Military News Highlights: November 19, 2010

Posted by:

U.S. deploying heavily armored battle tanks for first time in Afghan war

Let’s be frank about why a company of M1 Abrams tanks are being added to the fight in Helmand province – because of their survivability and the firepower they bring to the fight against the current threat in Helmand (i.e. IED’s that disrupt lines of communications, concentrated enemy positions supported by complex IED/minefields, lack of local support).  The reality on the ground is that in order to gain an upper hand requires a new combination of light and heavy armor to defeat it.  In simple terms we must escalate to de-escalate.

The Washington Post does not discuss the timing of the M1 Abrams tank deployment or in otherwords when they will be put into action.  But if you really wanted to surprise the enemy, the M1 tanks would be flown in one-by-one on C17 cargo aircraft into Kandarhar Airfield under the cover of night, and then quickly added to the fight.  But, CNN has confirmed that the M1 tanks will not be deployed until early spring.  Really?  Next spring?  Here is the CNN report, read it yourself.

“The U.S. Marine Corps plans to use a company of M1A1 Abrams tanks in restive Helmand province by early spring, said Marine Maj. Gabrielle Chapin.”

I don’t get it.  On one hand the US telegraphs to the world and the Taliban that the US is in a hurtbox in Helmand and requires heavy armor like yesterday to secure victory, but then on the other hand announces that they tanks will not arrive until spring.   If you need tanks in Afghanistan, you can get them there in relatively short order – delaying their deployment until next spring makes no sense.

Details given on attack that killed 5 soldiers

Last weekend was a particularly bloody day for one unit in Afghanistan as it conducted a series of missions in support of Operation Bulldog Bite. Six US soldiers were killed, five of them in a six-hour gunfight, details of which are just being reported.  The firefight was so intense that medical evacuation of the wounded (a figure not released) was not successful until late in the evening.  The commanding general stated that, “this is a huge blow to the enemy” and had broken the morale of Taliban in the area.

U.S. Army to Weigh Buying More FCS Gear

The Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors, the Class 1 Unmanned Aircraft System, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle and the Network Integration Kit are the remaining components of the failed Future Combat System.  In short order, top Army officials will decide whether to outfit one Army Brigade in 2012 with these systems.  The systems scored poorly in recent evaluations and were not considered reliable, there are unknown costs, and most importantly a  potential a lack of operational utility.  Given these circumstances, you can bet that Boeing will secure the contract.

1