US military withdrawal from Afghanistan battle zone

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The New York Times reported today that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.”

The Times claims that “at least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks . . . and many times more have been wounded, often severely. Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. “‘People say, ‘You are coming out of the Pech’; I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. “I don’t want the impression we’re abandoning the Pech.”

Indeed!  The “compelling” rationale according to US officials is that  “the valley consumed resources disproportionate with its importance; those forces could be deployed in other areas; and there are not enough troops to win decisively in the Pech Valley in any case.”

Can’t the same be said for the entire war effort in Afghanistan?  Let’s face it, the US is spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan and have suffered 1,483 fatalities with 6,588 wounded in a war that many consider un-winnable.   And how about the tens of thousands of vets suffering TBI and PTSD?   The aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be with us for many more years as our brave heroes recover from the violent effects IED attacks against a ground army that was not provided adequate protective gear.  It is not surprising that over 96% of those wounded are US Army personnel (includes Army Reserves) and the Marines.   It’s the grunt on the ground that is most exposed to the horrors of war.

I do not know if the war is “winnable” or not.  The appropriate question is: “Is it worth it?”  I seem to recall reading an article by Admiral Rickover in which he argued that we use a country’s GNP (gross national product) to determine its political and strategic importance to the United States.   While geo-political and social purists may object to basing one’s political policy on economic relevance, common sense and our huge budget deficits dictate otherwise (let alone the blood and suffering of our young men and women serving in Afghanistan).

Specifically, examine the following three Arab countries in the news today:

  • Afghanistan:    GNP $31 billion, Population 30 million;
  • Egypt:             GNP $445 billion, Population 81 million; 
  • Libya:              GNP $162 billion, Population 6 million.

In the case of Egypt (a country where US aid is only $1.5 billion a year), Egyptian citizens from all walks of life brought down the dictatorship with the benign intervention of the military and very little direct influence by the United States.  Things are certainly more violent in Libya, but the same result can be expected.   While the future is uncertain in both of these countries, the situation is Afghanistan is clear:  the US will continue to prop up a corrupt and largely ineffective Karzai government.   

The question that must be asked:  Wouldn’t the US do better allocating our scarce resources to help shape geo-political events in Egypt and Libya, countries that have more strategic relevance to our country.  Keeping our powder dry – to use a Revolutionary War term – certainly seems far better and far less expensive than having our brave heroes provide police and security services in Afghanistan.  You be the judge.

Richard W. May

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Stand For The Troops

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Soldiers For The Truth has become Stand For The Troops. Our new name reflects exactly what we do on behalf of all concerned  Americans—stand for the troops—and more specifically, stand for our frontline troops, our young heroes who stand tall for us and our country out at the tip of the spear.   

 Our mission remains the same: to ensure that America’s frontline troops get the best available personal combat gear and protective equipment, including body armor and helmets. In fact, the military has been testing helmet sensors in Afghanistan for well over two years to evaluate the effect of IED attacks on our troops while the attacks continue to escalate with little being done to provide our warriors with more adequate head protection.   The sorry result is a near epidemic of troops suffering from traumatic brain injury (“TBI”) and post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) from their service in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

While senior military officials acknowledge that PTSD is a serious and growing problem, diagnosis and treatment remains disjointed, not to mention that admitting to the disorder on record seem to be a career stopper.  Meanwhile new stories break daily about veterans taking their own lives or behaving erratically despite desperate pleas by the families, friends and fellow service members to the chain of command for more easily available, more effective treatment. 

As part of Stand For The Troops’ expanded mission, we’re mobilizing a task force of eminent medical professionals to evaluate existing PTSD treatment within the military and general communities so that a comprehensive, targeted, more effective treatment protocol can be established and offered for the benefit of our warriors. For too long the military has allowed frontline troops to resume active duty while suffering from this debilitating condition—all too often resulting in devastating consequences for both our brave warriors and their loved ones.  

 We as citizens have a responsibility to Stand For The Troops and not allow PTSD—and TBI—to be the legacy of the war in Afghanistan.

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Military News Highlights: January 26, 2011

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Number of U.S. casualties from roadside bombs in Afghanistan skyrocketed from 2009 to 2010

The SFTT news team has been reporting IED lethal effects, propensity/increase of attacks, lack of effective equipment/tactics, and the claims of denial by JIEDDO since early 2010.  In fact, LTG Oates, Commander JIEDDO, predicted this past summer that by winter, IED attacks (and effects) would be marginal.  What the cold hard facts tell us is that in 2010, the number of troops killed by IED’s increased by 60% from 2009, and that the number of wounded troops almost tripled.  Fact: 268 US troops KIA by IED.  Fact:  3,360 US troops WIA by IED.  Those numbers equal an Army Brigade Combat Team or a USMC Regiment.  A BCT or a Regiment.  A BCT or a Regiment.  Marginal?   So a private with a thumbdrive downloads classified information and shares it with some Australian non-sequiter and he’s in the brig on rations, but a three-banger whose singular mission is to figure out this threat and DEFEAT it will probably be promoted.  Where is the accountability?

Report: 35% of warrior-unit soldiers face addiction

The SFTT news team and CLOSE/HOLD has reported on the failure of leadership at Warrior Transition Units in regard to improving the quality of life for our wounded, injured, and diseased troops assigned to Warrior Transition Units.  This new report that details up to 35% of soldiers assigned are addicted to prescription pain-killers is nothing new to SFTT sources – as related to us, “it’s the tip of the iceberg.”    Where is the accountability?

Petraeus Skips Drawdown Talk in New Letter to Troops

A three-page ComISAF missive  by General “Happy Talk” Petreaus failed to mention that US troops will actually begin redeploying home from Afghanistan this July.  Problem is that the Commander in Chief, you know, the POTUS, said this: “This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead [for security]. And, this July we will begin to bring our troops home.”  Now we have been here before, told one thing, then told another – so who knows how many troops will in fact begin the withdrawal process, but what bothers the SFTT news team and our readers is that the Commander, ISAF and the Commander in Chief are not in sync.  More “happy talk” with no straight talk…

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IED Success Rate Paints a Different Picture in Afghanistan

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Ever since Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, US Army Chief of Staff General William Westmoreland and his Asst. Chief of Staff for Intelligence when big chunks of the wall began to be knocked down as East German border guards walked off the job.

IED Attacks in AfghanistanWhat is to make of the latest Defense Department report which points to increased success by the Taliban and Al Qaeda against NATO troops serving in Afghanistan? In a sobering report by Tom Vanden Brook published today by USA Today, “since President Obama took office in January 2009 and vowed to end Taliban gains in Afghanistan, casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have nearly quadrupled.  In 2010, the bombs wounded 3,366 U.S. troops, which is nearly 60% of the total IED-wounded since the war’s start in late 2001, according to Pentagon figures.”    These are numbers which are difficult to ignore and suggest that the battlefield terrain is far more hostile than military briefings to the President and Congress would suggest.

Even those accustomed to spinning the “bright-side” of even the darkest piece of news would have a difficult time finding a ray of light in these grim statistics.   If the trend line of servicemembers killed or wounded by IED attacks is not curbed soon, it will be impossible to pretend that we are making progress in Afghanistan.

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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 20, 2010

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Life and Death Decisions Weigh on Junior Officers

To command soldiers in combat is a privilege, one that this young infantry company commander relishes.  To be clear, life and death decisions weigh more heavily on rifle company commanders than any other combat line officer because of the nature of command and control that battlefield tactics require.  Rifle companies are organized by three-to-four platoons and operate exclusively at the whim of his command.  Often these companies are assigned large swaths of terrain to operate in, and carry out missions issued to him by higher headquarters with little appreciation for their on-the-ground tactical judgment.  It is a lonely perch at the tip of the spear.   What is most compelling about this particular rifle company commander is his commitment to compassion, the prism he uses to gauge his duty while leading his company with steely resolve.    

Afghan War Just a Slice of U.S. Coverage

As the grind continues, U.S. media coverage of the war accounts for only 4% of the news – and as described by the New York Times, “like a faint heartbeat.”  Unfortunately, the old adage that “no news is good news” can’t be applied to the “4%” that gets out to the public since all of the news is one more story or report concerning new casualty records beings set, increased Taliban operational strength in areas that NATO can’t operate in, outlandish tales of government corruption, and so on, and so on.  Simply put, while it may only be “4%” of the total media coverage, the news coming from the war in Afghanistan is bad 100% of the time.

Foreign troop death toll hits 700 in Afghanistan

This weekend the war in Afghanistan claimed its 700th foreign troop death as a result of an IED strike in southern Afghanistan – setting a new record for the number of combat deaths. 

The grind continues.

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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 9, 2010

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Gates declares Afghan war strategy is working

 Now it’s all good in Afghanistan.  The strategy is working.  The  goal to hand over the keys to the Afghans in 2014 can be met.  The security climate is improving while Regional Command-East, South, and South-west remain in a constant kinetic posture.  And you can eat chicken in Marja!

Taliban Bombs Hit New High; 1500 in November Alone

Good data provided by the Danger Room on IED’s.  Sadly, a new record was set this past month of November in Afghanistan when more than 1,500 new IED’s were constructed and emplaced.  However, somehow there is good news in all of this because the majority of IED strikes were less lethal and produced lower casualties.  I thought the idea behind COIN was to win the support of the populace by securing them.  If the numbers of IED strikes are a metric to gauge the intensity of an insurgency, and this number continues to increase over time (and set new monthly total records), then where is the good news in the fact that November’s IED totals set a new record?  Obviously we will always take comfort in the efforts to improve survivability and detection, as well as having less casualties, but really, this fact is not good news nor does it shed a good light on how effective or successful US/NATO COIN operations are.

Final note, why do General Officers who fail in their missions (i.e. defeat IED’s) get promoted and assume additional responsibilities?  Where is the accountability?

Handover to Afghan troops will start in few months

A lot happens when the Secretary of Defense visits the battlefield.  Miraculous progress is suddenly noted.  Karzai is suddenly a good guy because he stood stoic during the recent Wiki-imbroglio.  IED strike totals are up, but it doesn’t matter because no one is getting hurt.  And so on and so on…  Now we hear that Nawa district in Helmand Province is “our most advanced district” and will be the first point of security transition from U.S. to Afghan troops “in a few months.”  Well like the First Sergeant used to say “the checks in the mail; there will be trucks on the drop zone; we will be serving Hot-A’s after this mission” and so on and so on…anything to motivate the troops and keep the press happy. 

U.S. soldier dies of wounds in Wassit

Lest we forget that there are 50,000 troops deployed to Iraq still under fire.  This week a soldier assigned to a Provincial Reconstruction Team, north of Kut was gunned down by a sniper and died of his wounds.  The grind continues.

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Military News Highlights: December 8, 2010

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Petraeus’ negative tone at odds with Obama’s optimism

The overall commander on the ground in Afghanistan is saying one thing on the lack of overall progress of the war, while the commander-in-chief and Pentagon officials trumpet a “more optimistic message”.  But the tactical and operational commanders on the ground are telling the blunt truth on the situation.  Grunts don’t like mixed messages, which is what they are getting.  Grunts especially don’t like when senior commanders hedge when they say, “no commander ever is going to come out and say, I’m confident that we can do this…I don’t think there are any sure things in this kind of endeavor”, which is what General Petraeus told ABC News this week.  What grunts do appreciate is when tactical and operational commanders are forthright, like Major General John Campbell who realizes the futility of their “endeavors”.   He is candid when he states that while his troops were making progress, “a lot of the reason we get attacked is because we’re up here.” “People don’t want us up there, but they don’t want the Taliban either,” he said. “They want to be left alone.”  He added that the region was vast and that his forces could not be everywhere. “We can’t be in every single valley; I mean there’s thousands of them out there, we just can’t do it,” he said.

Video thought to show American held in Afghanistan

In the din and bustle of the daily news stream that flows out of Afghanistan, we cannot forget that there is an American missing in action, and hopefully this recent and new video of Specialist Bowe Bergdahl is proof that he remains a Taliban captive.

Afghanistan war: why IEDs are taking a mounting toll

Why are we are losing the IED fight in Afghanistan?  Basically, very little to no local population support.  When you read the Christian Science Monitor report, keep in mind that in a July USA Today interview Lieutenant General Oates, Director of JIEDDO informed that the public that by the end of this year there will be a drop in IED’s.

General sees IED drop by year’s end

A drop.  That’s right, a drop by the end of December 2010.  Well actually, there has been a categorical increase.  Oates blames an Taliban surge.  Simply clueless.  Period. And regardless of the rudimentary technology and methods employed, IED’s remain the number one killer on the battlefield.  I wonder if IED data will be used as a metric to gauge the progress of the war during the ongoing Afghanistan war strategy review.

Troops Re-doubling Advise, Assist Efforts in Iraq

Lest we forget the grind continues in Iraq for our 50,000 troops still deployed.  Here is an update on the ongoing plan to “assist and advise” while troops transition to an Iraqi and State Department lead.   Oh, and morale remains “high”.

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Military News Highlights: November 19, 2010

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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.

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