Military News Highlights: February 2, 2011

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Losses at Afghan Bank Could Be $900 Million

“Fraud and mismanagement at Afghanistan’s largest bank have resulted in potential losses of as much as $900 million — three times previous estimates — heightening concerns that the bank could collapse and trigger a broad financial panic in Afghanistan, according to American, European and Afghan officials.”

The missing $900 million and the zero-balance payroll for Afghan security forces, just might be the “Tunisian” type spark to engulf Karzai and Kabul.

And if anyone is wondering if the “illiterate Afghan” can tweet or Facebook, check this out:

Arab world transfixed by Egyptian protests

Why does this matter?  You know, the potential and likely domino falling effect of autocratic governments throughout the Middle East, sparked by Tunisia, and now engulfing Egypt?

A simplistic strategic calculus would find that US military capabilities and deterrence options are stretched to the breaking point already.  And while it is too early to say how this will eventually play out throughout the arc of instability; what we can agree to is that the US mission, role, and security in the region just got decidedly more difficult.

Lest we forget that the US continues to provide the bulk of Multinational Forces and Observers supporting the Sinai mission.  Currently there are 440 National Guard troops assisting in this mission.

Stryker unit’s early arrival in Afghanistan means Germany brigade coming home early

Bravado and Beethoven!

“The enemy left southern Afghanistan because we kicked his ass out,” Colonel Blackburn,  told the town hall meeting. “All over southern Afghanistan, you will find Dragoons with their foot on the throat of the enemy.”

Colonel Blackburn showed an aerial film, accompanied by Beethoven, that recorded the last moments of an insurgent leader before he disappeared in a cloud of smoke from an air-strike.

“Dragoons are doing that all over southern Afghanistan,” Blackburn said.

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Military News Highlights: January 27, 2011

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Dispute With Parliament Leaves Afghan Leader Isolated

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

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

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

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

The ingredients are ominously present.

A Reservist in a New War, Against Foreclosure

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

Lack of Full Auto on M4s Cost Lives

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

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Military News Highlights: January 24, 2011

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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.

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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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Military News Highlights: December 16 & 17

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Uncertainty marks White House review on Afghanistan, Pakistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

The official White House report summary can be read here:

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

Key highlights:

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

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

Key highlights:

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

Ratlines’ threaten White House Afghan war plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unused in Afghanistan, Longbow Deliveries Continue

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

 

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Military News Highlights: December 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 7, 2010

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War’s Progress Measured By Commanders In Afghanistan

Two points of interest in this interview with Major General John Campbell, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division and Regional Command East – Afghanistan:

[The interview is timed at 7 minutes, 48 seconds; the points of interest are at 5:38 and 6:15 respectively]

5:35 of 7:48  “Cricket?” “Roger that Sir…and we suck sir…” (A young captain’s remark to General Campbell on his units attempt to bridge the cultural Afghan gap and play cricket with the locals) and;

6:15 of 7:48 General Campbell’s view on the likely adjustments and troop dispositions (i.e. refocusing where the 101st can protect the populace) and the withdrawal of forces from the Pech River Valley [vicinity of Korengal Valley].

Infantry automatic rifle is Afghan-bound

Designated Marine Corps units will be issued the new M27 infantry automatic rifle which fires a 5.56mm round from a 30 round magazine.  The M249 SAW may see its final days if the M27 performs as advertised.  Problem is, it’s tough to go “automatic” at the cyclic rate when you have to change magazines every 30 rounds.  Kind of defeats the purpose of establishing fire superiority, and if the plan goes forward there will be less light machine guns in a rifle company limiting tactical options.  Go figure.

For Invaders, A Well-Worn Path Out Of Afghanistan

National Public Radio has posted a handy online report of Afghanistan for reference.

Key highlights:

  • Many observers remain pessimistic about the administration strategy. History does not offer encouragement. What do the armies of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British Empire, the Soviet Union and now the United States all have in common? They all shed blood and tears in the indomitable mountains of Afghanistan.
  • Afghanistan became a “bleeding wound” for the Soviets, as President Mikhail Gorbachev said in 1986. He decided to pull his country’s troops out, a process that took another three years. “All foreign forces invading must learn it’s easy to enter Afghanistan,” Seraj says. “It’s very difficult to leave Afghanistan.”
  • Population: 28.4 million; Religion: 80% Sunni Muslim, 19% Shiite Muslim, 1% other; Literacy: 43% male, 12% female; GDP per capita: $800; Population 14 and under: 44%; Population 65 and older: 2.4%; Life expectancy: 44.7 years
  • Karzai has proven to be a problematic ally for the U.S., with his administration widely accused of corruption and mismanagement. Karzai, in turn, has criticized U.S. strategy and methods with increasing frequency in recent months. Diplomats who have encountered him and others who know him say Karzai has a conspiratorial streak, can be emotional and lashes out when he feels he is being criticized.
  • A year ago, President Obama announced a new strategy for Afghanistan, committing 30,000 additional troops to the effort. Those were on top of a 21,000-troop increase he’d announced shortly after taking office, bringing total U.S. force levels above 100,000.Obama’s strategy calls for the beginning of troop withdrawals in July 2011. In recent weeks, the administration said it will maintain a major military presence in Afghanistan until 2014 — more than a dozen years after the initial invasion.
  • Obama and his generals are arguing that the more engaged and aggressive strategy put in place a year ago needs more time to succeed. In recent weeks, the administration has laid out a new timetable, which calls for a continuing Western military presence in Afghanistan until 2014. In an interview with ABC on Monday (12/6/10), Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Afghanistan, refused to say that he is “confident” that the Afghan army will be prepared to take over control by 2014.
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Karzai still against NATO Night Raids

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The New York Times reports that Afghan President Karzai is still against NATO night raids.  In President Karzai’s first press conference since returning from Lisbon and the NATO conference had the following to say:

“The position and stance of the Afghan government was very clear and is very clear, those night raids which cause civilian houses to be destroyed, cause civilian causalities or they are entering people’s houses without coordinating with the Afghan forces … we are against them. If we go with international forces on the night raids without enough information, that is our fault. We should not go with them. We should stop them. Because we are the owners of this soil, this country. We are very clear with the foreigners right now, in the past, we didn’t know the language of each other, but now we know what we are talking about. This is our time to prove ourselves, the responsibility for bringing peace is the responsibility of the political leaders and elders of Afghanistan.”  

But it gets better, because President Karzai also complained that NATO was not providing enough equipment for Afghan security forces and said that “if more was not provided, Afghanistan would seek it from other nations outside the NATO alliance. Without any doubt, the Afghan government is not happy with the equipment for the Afghan forces. It is not enough.”

Happy times in Kabul indeed!

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Military News: November 18, 2010

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NATO official: Afghan leader affirms NATO mission  

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

U.S. Must Sustain Military Might, Gates Says

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

New Equipment Brings Greater Mobility in Afghanistan

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

Bugle Calls

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

“Fading light dims the sight,

And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.

From afar drawing nigh — Falls the night.

Day is done, gone the sun,

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

All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Then good night, peaceful night,

Till the light of the dawn shineth bright;

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

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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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