Military News Highlights: December 15, 2010

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U.S. intelligence reports cast doubt on war progress in Afghanistan

National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) are authoritative assessments by the Director of National Intelligence related to a particular national security issue.  NIE’s are not written in a vacuum and express coordinated judgments of the entire US intelligence community.  Although these assessments are classified, summaries and excerpts are simultaneously provided to policy makers and/or leaked to the media when NIE’s are published. 

Commanders in Afghanistan argue that the most recent spate of Afghan related NIE’s are “dated” because they do not take into account the full effects of the surge these past six weeks because the NIE’s assessment period only covers the time frame up through September.  Additionally, they also argue that the drafters of the report are too far removed from Afghanistan to fully appreciate the success being made.  In fact, the NIE’s contend that large swaths of Afghanistan remain at risk of falling to the Taliban and that Pakistan remains a constant thorn in the side of any future progress – and these are just a few of the salient points made.  As to the assertion that these reports are being written by analysts from fog-induced cubicles within the beltway without connection to events on the ground, that is simply “preposterous.”  And it’s pure bunk that analysts and intelligence officers are not working “hand-in-hand” with the military when creating these assessments.  There is no vacuum!

One thing to consider is that Secretary of Defense Gates once served at the helm of the CIA, so he is not likely to discount the intelligence community.  However, after his recent Afghanistan tour he “is convinced” that the strategy is turning around the Afghanistan war and great progress is being made.  So who do we believe?  The intelligence community, commanders on the ground, or the former number one spook who serves as Secretary of Defense?  That’s a tough call.  What is known is that it never bodes well when operators “cherry pick” intelligence, because once someone starts down that road, all bets are off because the integrity of the process becomes compromised. 

US treading in bloody footsteps

Pulling no punches, The Australian provides a brutal account of a Marine rifle platoon as it fights to hold on to security in Sangin District, while contrasting a separate set of tactics used by British units that until this past September operated in the same area of operations.  You can read the account yourself and judge whether occupying static positions and conducting limited patrolling (Brits) or constant-active patrolling (US) offers the best solution for “securing” the populace in Sangin District. 


  • “I knew when I saw it there was nothing we could do for him. Half his face was missing,” Buckholz says. “When we got back to base it was like someone had stolen the life out of everyone. All you could see were pale faces and blank looks.”
  • “The British shed a lot of blood here,” says captain Matthew Peterson, commanding officer of Lima Company. “They sacrificed a lot of men holding on to Sangin. Let’s not forget that the British started what we are doing . . . We are building on [that].”
  • “It all just happened so fast,” Buckholz says. “We knew Sangin would be tough but we didn’t realise how fast it would happen. As soon as we got here it was, like, bam. There was no time to ease into it. People started dying immediately.”
  • “It’s strange to know that being able to shoot back at the people who did this acted as a kind of relief. It helped purge some of the grief,” Buckholz says.
  • “Out here it’s the small victories that count,” Owen said. “I got to this place and into cover and I didn’t get blown up. I am good. I didn’t get blown up or shot. It comes down to that.”
  • “We were all pretty pissed off when we heard,” says a British veteran. “To say that we had no success is both ignorant and short-sighted. We were there for four years and we’d already tried what they are now trying, which is obviously not working judging by the casualties.”
  • “We increased the number of patrol bases in Sangin and as a result the insurgents’ movement became more limited, as did their ability to lay IEDs freely,” says one.
  • “They have an amazing ability to watch what we do and to adapt their tactics to ours,” Owen says.
  • “There’s no panacea,” captain Mathew Peterson said. “It’s about situational awareness. The only ground that’s safe is the ground you are standing on. We must use cover wisely. We have to make ourselves harder to kill.”
  • “The first couple of times it f . . ks with you: you can’t believe that your friend was with you a few minutes before and now he’s dead,” Buckholz says. “But after a bit, it’s so sad, you become desensitised. That’s when you start to wonder whether that’s even more f . . ked up. There’s the thought that you’re not dealing with it right now, but that you’re going to have to eventually. I don’t want to be a different person when I get home.”

The Wounded of the Afghan War

The news for the next few days and weeks is certain to be dominated by the war in Afghanistan and the administrations review of its strategy and whether progress is being made.  This CBS news video story and the   fatalities list should keep things in perspective during this debate.

SAS Commander Resigns

“The Sun”, a British tabloid (famous for Page 3) is reporting that a senior British SAS Colonel resigned because of “the general erosion of living standards” in the British military.  Makes you wonder why American Colonels don’t follow his example …

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