Military News Highlights: January 25, 2011

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An Uncharacteristically Upbeat General in Afghanistan

While the “Happy Talk” continues, consider the accompanying charts/reports on “the progress” and the “teeth in the jugular vein”, as you read the latest coming out of US/NATO in Kabul.

Afghan NGO Safety Office, 2010 4th Quarter Report

2010 4th Quarter Report

Claim: Afghans Heart G.I.s Who Flattened Their Village [Updated]

Apparently, if you are not on the ground, and you are a skeptic of tactics that “demolish” entire villages, then you can’t understand or even fathom how this tactic creates a “small victory” for the war effort.  At least that is the latest attempt to square the circle of heavy-handed COIN in Kandahar province by the ISAF/NATO commander’s biographer.  In fact, the villagers love that we destroyed their entire village.  Hearts and minds…

U.S. says to monitor Afghan parliament progress

Finally.  A US/NATO statement on the Afghan parliament:

The U.S. embassy in Kabul commended the agreement to convene the newly elected Afghan parliament tomorrow, saying in a statement that the decision demonstrated “respect for democratic governance,” but added “…while the United States welcomes today’s outcome, we will continue to closely monitor this situation.”

Note that it was an “embassy” statement, not specifically from the US Ambassador or US/NATO.

We all understand that this is a delicate situation and there have (and will be) behind-the-scene discusses, negotiations, etc.  But, flat out silence calms no nerves nor demonstrates any leadership.   Wake up Kabul, we are “closely monitoring” the situation.


Military News Highlights: January 14, 2011

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Vantage Point: The Challenges of Small-Unit Patrolling in Afghanistan

C.J. Cheevers from the New York Times has been a go-to 24/7 resource for the SFTT news project; CJ also recently published the definitive history of the Avtomat Kalashnikov this past year in “The Gun.”  his NYT blog is a new entry that he will update periodically that the SFTT news team directs your attention to.

The first video blog provides an upfront and personal look at an aero-medevac of a wounded Marine in Marja.

As these video blogs become available, the SFTT news team will re-post them.

U.S. moves to strengthen local Afghan officials

In an attempt to improve legitimacy and capacity, the cornerstones to good governance, Regional Command South has created “security bubbles” that allow local residents and government officials to interact and “govern”, while “200-300” Taliban fighters remain around Kandahar.

Let’s do some math.  The population of Afghanistan is approximately 30 million.  The population of Kandarhar city proper is approximately 500,000.  Who knows the what the number of government officials and employees are required to make the trains run on time.

Oh, and the most recent  estimate of insurgents in Afghanistan is 25,000, but now we are supposed to believe that there are “200-300” Taliban fighters “around” Kandahar.   Do the math.

Rush for results in Afghanistan may undermine aid goals

In 2008, the USG approved a $75 million rule of law reform initiative for Afghanistan that neither reformed nor proved to be much of an initiative.  Unless you can accept that $15 million was spent to hire consultants that hosted kite-flying competitions.

Great way to spend US tax dollars.


Five US/NATO troops were killed in action on January 12, 2011 in Afghanistan.

The grind continues.


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.



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, 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.


Eickenberry calls for more “assets” on Afghan border

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The Stars and Stripes reports that US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry cites progress and requests more “assets” at the Afghan border.  


  • Nine years into the Afghan war, efforts to monitor the border with Pakistan have met with little success; massive amounts of bomb-making chemicals, drugs, weapons and enemy fighters continue to pour into Afghanistan.  US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry visited Wesh, a town on the road between Kandahar and the Pakistani city of Quetta, one of just two crossings where U.S. forces have any permanent presence. The U.S. also has troops at Torkham Gate in the Khyber Pass, which links Jalalabad and Peshawar in northern Pakistan, according to U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Johnson, an International Security Assistance Force spokesman. U.S. soldiers at Wesh say there is so much explosive material flowing across the border that the Taliban must be hauling it in large trucks through the legitimate border crossings. However, the Afghan Border Police, whose job it is to secure the border, are undermanned and undertrained.
  • “You need a comprehensive approach … that begins with the frontline support of the Afghan Border Police,” Eikenberry said. “You need a strong, coherent customs system … and ultimately you need the help of the neighbor. You need the help of Pakistan.” Eikenberry also chatted briefly with Pakistani officials, who said cooperation has been good on both sides of the border. Daily traffic across the border at Wesh includes 25,000 to 50,000 pedestrians, 4,000 civilian vehicles, 550 commercial trucks and 80 to 125 ISAF supply trucks.  One platoon of U.S. soldiers — the first real U.S. presence here — works with 130 Afghan Border Police at Wesh to boost security.  From their base, soldiers from Troop D, 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, can see the “Friendship Gate” that marks the border with Pakistan.
  • New scanners enabling border guards to see inside 12 trucks per hour will soon be introduced to boost security. Right now it takes 15 men two to three hours to inspect a single truck, since loads are irregular and not palletized, and it can take between three hours and two days for a truck to clear the border, said troop commander Capt. Matthew Kelley.  Many of the pedestrians who cross the border live in the nearby Pakistani city of Chaman but cross into Afghanistan each day to work in Wesh or Spin Boldak, he said. “You have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Afghanistan here,” Kelley said.  “There is stability and relative security and there are jobs with the trucks coming across. They need repairs and people need a place to stay and food to eat. And Afghan government ministries are actually doing their jobs here, which is different to other places in Afghanistan.”

SFTT Analysis:

  • One Afghanistan legacy is that its eastern boundaries were established with little regard over ethnic and tribal populations making securing the border an impossible task unless there is a significant government commitment.  Here it appears that progress is being made, but the breadth of the task at hand overwhelms the limited resources being applied.    Additionally, the photo gallery accompanying this story brings a sharp perspective to the daunting task at hand.
  • If border security is a critical task, and if stemming the flow of insurgents and their resources will improve security, than why is it that NATO has only assigned one US platoon to this border post?   FYI – none of the troopers pictured are wearing the complete outfit of issued body armor; no throat, groin, or deltoid protection. 

Afghan government falls short in Kandahar

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In an article published by the Washington Post on November 2, it would appear that the Afghan government falls short in Kandahar.  A “learning” experience for the US military.


  • Despite months of American prodding, the Afghan government has failed to fill dozens of key positions in Kandahar, leaving an ineffectual local administration that U.S. officials fear will cripple the battlefield progress the military says it is making in the Taliban stronghold.  Just a month before President Obama will review the state of the Afghan war, top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus and other military officers are making their case that the influx of American troops has pushed the Taliban out of key parts of Kandahar. But the Afghan government that U.S. officials hoped could step in to provide basic services remains a skeleton staff of unskilled bureaucrats that is incapable of functioning on its own, according to U.S. officials.  For the past year, the United States and its NATO allies have tried to build a Kandahar administration that can address residents’ grievances and sway them from the Taliban. The U.S. has also embarked on a massive spending spree in order to prop up Kandahar authorities and provide basic services. But with power monopolized by the central government in Kabul, the provincial and municipal offices in southern Afghanistan’s largest city are hamstrung and undermanned.  “The security picture is improving so fast and so dramatically that it puts the shortfall in civilian capacity in alarming relief,” said one U.S. official in Kandahar. “The potential single failure point is the Afghan government.”
  • With little help coming from Kabul, American money is pouring in for Afghans to build roads, dig wells, pick-up trash, repair culverts and refurbish mosques with solar-powered public-address systems. For $2.8 million in U.S. military funds, Kandahar residents will receive a nursing and midwifery clinic, and $4.7 million more will bring a secure housing complex for judges afraid to work in Taliban territory. Hundreds of millions more are being pumped through United States Agency for International Development contracts to supply electricity, water, and new office buildings for Afghan officials who, in many cases, do not exist. “Right now, the government capacity is so anemic we have to do it,” said the U.S. official who, like others, was not authorized to speak for the record. “We are acting as donor and government. That’s not sustainable.”

SFTT Analysis:

  • “Good Governance” is a line of operation that supports a COIN campaign plan and is nested with the other standard “Security, Economy, and the Rule of Law” lines of operation.  The Power Point gods are very familiar with these terms as they frame daily commander’s updates and highlight necessary metrics to gauge progress.  Given that reality, that commanders are fully aware of success and progress, the lack of effective “Good Governance” in Kandahar should not be a surprise to commanders on the ground, but it appears that it is.  The point is that the Kandahar campaign was delayed this past year in order to set the appropriate conditions (i.e. local power broker buy-in; limit Karzai’s brothers influence; check corruption, etc), but now in October 2010 we are beginning to acknowledge that NATO security is operating in a local-government vacuum.  It’s not like this realization of the “Afghan government falling short in Kandahar” happened overnight?  
  • More surprising is the fact that the US military institution is a “learning” organization and conducts numerous after-action reviews and applies lessons learned to ensure future success.  Why is than that after nine-years of slogging through nation-building in Afghanistan, we continue to “clear” but can’t seem to “build”?   Where is the “lesson” in all of this?  Maybe this will become the pillar of rationale to extend the clock past July 2011 – that NATO cannot begin to reduce its presence and effort because the “Afghans aren’t ready” – and that will then be the ultimate lesson learned that we will never admit, that being that we can “clear” but can’t “build”.  In other words we should limit our objectives and simply focus on the kinetic target.

Medics Improvise to save lives on killing fields of Afghanistan

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In a compelling story published today by the Washington Post, “Military medics combine ultramodern and time-honored methods to save lives on the battlefield” of Afghanistan.

Key Highlights:

  • At 6:09 p.m., Dustoff 57 has just left this base deep in Taliban-infiltrated Kandahar province, headed for a POI, or point of injury. Somewhere ahead of the aircraft is a soldier who minutes earlier stepped on an improvised explosive device, the signature weapon of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All the helicopter crew knows is that he’s “category A” – critical.  The trip out takes nine minutes.  Fifteen minutes have now passed since the soldier was wounded. Speed, simplicity and priority have always been the hallmarks of emergency medicine. The new battlefield care that flight medics and others on the ground practice takes those attributes to the extreme.
  • Four people run to the helicopter with the stretcher holding the wounded soldier. He lies on his back partially wrapped in a foil blanket. His chest is bare. In the middle of it is an “intraosseous device,” a large-bore needle that has been punched into his breastbone by the medic on the ground. It’s used to infuse fluids and drugs directly into the circulatory system when a vein can’t be found. It’s a no-nonsense technology, used occasionally in World War II, that fell out of favor when cheap and durable plastic tubing made IV catheters ubiquitous in the postwar years. Until they were revived for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, intraosseus devices were used almost exclusively in infants whose veins were too small to find. On each leg the soldier has a tourniquet, ratcheted down and locked to stop all bleeding below it. These ancient devices went out of military use more than half a century ago because of concern that they caused tissue damage. Now every soldier carries a tourniquet and is instructed to put one on any severely bleeding limb and not think of taking it off.
  • Tourniquets have saved at least 1,000 lives, and possibly as many as 2,000, in the past eight years. This soldier is almost certainly one of them. They’re a big part of why only about 10 percent of casualties in these wars have died, compared with 16 percent in Vietnam.  On the soldier’s left leg, the tourniquet is above the knee. The tourniquet on his right leg is lower, below the knee; how badly his foot is injured is hard to tell from the dressings. His left hand is splinted and bandaged, too. Whether he will need an amputation is uncertain. The hospital where he’s headed treated 16 patients in September who needed at least one limb amputated. Half were U.S. soldiers, and the monthly number has been climbing since March.
  • After three minutes on the ground, the helicopter takes off.  Eleven minutes after lifting off from the POI, the helicopter lands at the so-called Role 3, or fully equipped, hospital at Kandahar Airfield, about 30 miles to the east of the also well-fortified Forward Operating Base Wilson. There, surgeons will take care of the injuries before transferring the patient, probably within two days, to the huge military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and there, after a week or so, to the United States. It’s been 28 minutes since the helicopter left Forward Operating Base Wilson.

SFTT Analysis:

  • Before every Grunt leaves the wire, they want to know if air or artillery support is readily available and more importantly, if required, will an aerial medevac be responsive – in Joe speak “Time on Target for Air and Arty and a quick Nine-line medevac request . . . how quick will the angels of mercy get here?”.   Quick means quick, the sooner the better obviously, since every minute counts.  Secretary Gates figured this out when he began his battlefield circulation tours in Afghanistan when he became Secretary of Defense and quickly realized that the “Golden Hour”, that period in time that is the standard from time of request for a medevac to arrival at the point of injury and back to medical care on a base, was not being met in Afghanistan due to lack of medevac resources and the distant out-posts that troopers were operating from.  Secretary Gates made it a personal mission to close the gap and ensure that troopers were supported by the “Golden Hour” standard and personally kept the pressure on logistics planners to increase medevac resources and establish medical unit facilities in support of all forward deployed personnel.   The only question SFTT raises regarding this issue is why did it take the Secretary of Defense to correct this situation?  
  • The Washinton Post online article provides a remarkable photo gallery,  – of note is:
    • the destructive nature of an IED that targeted a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP).  The simplicity of a pressure plate device loaded with hundreds of pounds of fertilizer (and other components) can defeat US “resistant” vehicles.  More telling is that a device of this size takes time and local support to emplace;
    • grunts not wearing all of their protective gear – no throat, deltoid, or groin protectors – obviously a commanders call, but is the decision not to wear the complete armor suite because of weight and comfort?;
    • the chinstrap for the Advanced Combat Helmet is a flimsy strap of material – no chin pads are provided and the harness is simply used to hold the “brain bucket” in place.  At least the trooper is being medevaced for treatment of a possible TBI.

Update on the Kandahar Campaign

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The New York Times reports that a NATO field commander suggests that the “fate” of the Kandahar Campaign will not become clear until June (2011).

Key Highlights:

  • A NATO offensive to secure the Taliban’s birthplace of Kandahar is putting pressure on militants, but genuine success will not be clear until next June, the region’s top commander said on Thursday. British Major-General Nick Carter’s comments were the latest by U.S. and NATO officials touting battlefield advances but also calling for patience ahead of a NATO summit in November and a White House strategy review in December. Kandahar is expected to figure prominently at both events. Thousands of U.S. and Afghan troops are engaged in a campaign to flush insurgents from districts around Kandahar city, a campaign seen as vital to turning the tide of a war now in its 10th year.
  • General Carter, briefing Pentagon reporters, said he saw “some encouraging signs, definitely momentum.” “(There is) a sense that probably the initiative is now with us and not, as it was a year ago, with the insurgency,” he said. Carter said it is impossible to gauge advances from one season to the next because fighting in Afghanistan is seasonal. Fighting peaks in the summer, when foliage provides Taliban fighters with cover and casualties are at their highest. “You, in Afghanistan, have to be very careful about not measuring progress until you match it to the appropriate season and the appropriate time of year,” Carter said.  “And I sense it won’t be until June next year that we’ll be sure that the advances we’ve made during the course of the last few months are genuinely success.”

SFTT Analysis:

  • More mixed signals from Kandahar on whether current progress is being made or whether it is too early to assess effects.  British Major General Carter chirps that “we won’t know if we are making progress until June 2011.”
  • Either NATO lacks a coherent and coordinated strategic communications plan – not very plausible given Petreaus’ background and modus operandi.  But perhaps this is simply a very sophisticated strategic communication effort designed to:
    • 1) sow confusion within policy makers as they contemplate how to begin reducing troop strength next July or
    • 2) provide some breathing room for NATO capitals while they consider the “next steps” in Afghanistan.  Regardless, imagine trying to explain “progress” to a rifleman before he leaves the wire for the umpteenth time – he can see right through all this.
  • Major General Carter also cautions matching any progress to “seasons,” prattling on about foliage, etc, and how this impacts an effective measure of progress until June 2011.  Unfortunately that logic doesn’t square.  Perhaps there are some lingering frictions and

    bruised feelings between the US and our British allies post-Basra, Iraq on who lost Basra and now that has carried over to Afghanistan proper.  Maybe the remarks are meant to support a future blame-game on who lost the south in Afghanistan?

  • Or maybe Major General Carter took umbrage with US Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills’ recent comments that Regional Command Southwest would not rest during the winter and press the fight to the enemy.
  • As for winter and the “seasons”, someone should remind the chap that over 25% (82 of 341) British casualties suffered in Afghanistan since 9/11 have come during the winter “season” (November through February).

Military News you may have missed: Oct 27, 2010

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Policy – Corruption Perceptions Index 2010 

Key Highlights

  • The 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 178 countries around the world.

    Afghanistan is 176 of 178 and scored a 1.4 on the index.

  • Iraq is 175 of 178 and scored a 1.5 on the index.


Analysis:  After almost 10 years of war in Afghanistan and almost 7 years after the US toppled the Saddam regime we have these lovely achievements to pass on to future generations – puts things into perspective. 

Policy — Four More Years of War

Key Highlights:

  • The secret date for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan has been hiding in plain sight for months. It’s certainly not the much ballyhooed July 2011 date, which will only begin withdrawals. It’s not even July 2012 to smooth President Obama’s reelection campaign. It’s the end of 2014. The plan, NATO diplomats say, is for NATO leaders to formally announce this date at their Lisbon summit on November 19-20. Their thinking is to do this soon to reassure worried, friendly Afghans, to signal resolution to the Taliban, and to use their allied unity for political cushioning at home. NATO emissaries are still bargaining over exactly how many troops will remain after departure day and for what purposes.
  • Details aside, the devastating truth is that U.S. forces will be fighting in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

Analysis:   The fact of the matter is that we are looking at being stuck in the Afghan tar-baby for an additional four years without effectively deterring the threat of global terrorism or knowing what the outcome in Afghanistan will have on Pakistan.   This reality will impact the viability of beginning to reduce the current US footprint (and troop strength) in July 2011 as called for by the President – while the NATO summit decisions are critical, they will be superimposed by the December 2010 policy review ordered by the President – maybe at this juncture in July 2011, the costs of COIN in perpetuity will become evident and a realistic strategy will take hold.  In the mean time the Army’s patchchart continues to upload Brigade Combat Teams for Deployment-Dwell-Deployment.

Policy – The Afghan War: Why the Kandahar Campaign Matters

Key Highlights:

  • Late last month, the push began to move insurgents back from the critical roadway, and U.S. Army scouts, who are relied upon as a flexible, quick response unit, assaulted the area by helicopter. Within minutes of securing a compound, they came under heavy fire from fighters on all sides and hiding in the tree line. The gun battle raged for more than 12 hours the first day, 10 hours the second, with soldiers nearly going “black,” or out of ammunition, before a resupply chopper bailed them out. Air support, in the form of helicopter gunships, fighter jets and bombers that loom overhead with devastating weapons at the ready, is a crucial U.S. advantage. Indeed, when the engagement ended, officers estimate that close to 20,000 lb. (9,000 kg) of ordnance was dropped.
  • Since then, it has been a steady grind. In the latest phase of the operation, the scouts were tasked with supporting another company engaged in house-to-house clearing aimed at extending the security belt further away from the highway, while armored vehicles plowed up roads for bombs. Massive booms erupted in the distance over the first few days, some going off beneath the hulking vehicles, but mostly from air strikes against various IED-placement teams spotted by the balloon cameras and unmanned drones that also prowl the skies. The crescendo peaked at around noon on Day Two, when a 500-lb. (230 kg) bomb crashed to earth less than a half-mile from where the scout platoon was holed up, instantly killing a pair of Taliban bombmakers.
  • But, as one Scout bluntly put it, “We have air support. The Taliban has IEDs.” Of the dozens of casualties suffered by 101st Airborne Division so far, more than 80% have been caused by IEDs. They come in every conceivable form, spanning the ordinary (pressure plates, trip wires, remote control) to the elaborate (directional fragmentation devices, which might be triggered on the ground and explode sideways, and crush boxes that can be stepped on multiple times before finally detonating). The dizzying array of booby traps demands that soldiers keep an eye on the ground even as they survey the badlands around them for signs of trouble. A fatal pop could happen anywhere. “If you get lazy, you can be sure an IED will be there. It’s a minefield,” says Captain Bill Faucher, 25, who cited hypervigilance and good fortune as reasons why no one in his platoon has gotten hurt.


  • The IED threat has mushroomed and it appears that there is very little that US/NATO forces can do about it except to report the data.
  • Anytime you have to rely on a scout/reconnaissance unit for real-time objective intelligence, you are in fact conducting a kinetic operation with very little local support – so to that end, throw out the COIN manual and dust off your Operations manual.  Oh, and by the way, being cut off for 12 hours in a raging firefight never bodes well for any unit or operational plan – something FUBAR was up the minute the insertion of the scouts was complete.
  • SFTT added a Time Magazine Photo array titled “R&R at Kandarhar Airfield” for your viewing pleasure.  Imagine the organizational energy and contractor upkeep required to maintain this level of “R&R”.  Now compare it to the comfort items deposited to the Scout Platoon that was almost “black on ammunition”…bet the Scouts had a door bundle of re-supply water and MRE’s, batteries, 5.56/7.62, but no “Salsa” music.

Military News you may have missed: Oct 26, 2010

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Policy – A Firefight Exposes Afghan Weakness

(Wall Street Journal – Pay to View: Article Obtained via OSINT) 

Key Highlights

  • An account of the six-hour siege on the U.S. agency on July 2, drawn from interviews with witnesses and survivors and an internal investigation by the aid agency, shows an Afghan force that appears ill-equipped to take over national security from their foreign counterparts.
  •  About 15 to 20 minutes after the attack began, the Afghan army and police occupied a four-story hotel about 30 yards across the street from the DAI compound. Afghan soldiers started launching rocket-propelled grenades at the DAI building, according to an Afghan witnessand government officials. Some of these RPGs hit the roof. Shrapnel from one hit an expatriate in the face, causing serious injuries, according to internal DAI briefings.
  • “There were at least two different shooters wearing camouflage on two different levels of the hotel,” the Western survivor recounted. “Maybe about 90% of fire on the compound” came from the hotel, he said. He said he counted dozens of RPG blasts.”
  •  At about 4:30 a.m., Shaun Sexton, a British EI employee, was told by the Afghan army on-scene commander to come down from the roof because the building had been cleared of Taliban militants, according to the survivor and accounts of incident briefings received by DAI staff. Mr. Sexton, another EI guard and two DAI employees left their colleagues on the roof and went down the stairs. Two Taliban fighters hiding between the fourth and third floors opened fire, killing Mr. Sexton on the spot and injuring a DAI female staffer in the arm. Another EI employee shot and killed one of the insurgents. The second fighter retreated. The three survivors fled back to the roof and again called the German military for help. The Germans didn’t come. At 7 a.m., a DAI survivor managed to get through to an American unit on the phone. Forces from the U.S. 10th Mountain Division arrived soon after, and the building was cleared. As is frequently the case in joint operations, the U.S. said Afghan forces led the rescue.

Analysis:   SFTT has recently provided comment on the disconnect between the effectiveness of Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF) trumpeted by General Caldwell and the stark reality on the ground — the ANSF is not a competent fighting force and when they lead they fail.

The fight in Afghanistan, geographically speaking is a 360 degree fight and encompasses every province. The current troop-to-task list for NATO and ANSF prevents effective operations 24/7 throughout the entire Afghan battle space, and so in effect, we are fighting in a whack-a-mole fashion – hit the enemy where they emerge, but as you “whack” one another comes up else where – it’s an endless cycle.

After almost 10 years of fighting in Afghanistan, NATO forces are still unable to coordinate operationsand security for non-governmental agencies that are filling the gap left wide open by ineffective Afghan  governance and services.

Policy – U.S. operations in Kandahar push out Taliban

Key Highlights:

  •  The Taliban departure from some areas could be a strategic response to an operation NATO has trumpeted for months. Or insurgents could be lying low, developing new avenues of attack. NATO forces have cleared villages before, including in Kandahar province, and failed to hold them. Whether insurgents can be kept away this time, or prevented from grabbing new parts of the city or its surroundings, remains to be seen.
  • Afghans who live in these areas, and have witnessed earlier clearing operations give way to Taliban comebacks, often do not share the U.S. military’s optimism. And some believe insurgents may be moving into the city to avoid U.S. troops on the periphery. “Security in the city is now drastically worse,” said Samsor Afghan, 27, a university student who runs a computer software store downtown, across the street from where a suicide bomber attacked the day before. “The Taliban are everywhere. We don’t feel safe even inside the city.” American commanders have nevertheless been buoyed by changes in areas where the bulk of their forces are located. Among the shifts is what they describe as a new assertiveness from Afghan security forces, which now outnumber NATO troops in this operation.
  • The Afghans, who took 72 hours to capture 50 detainees, five large bombs and 500 pounds of explosives, required only advice and air support from the Americans, said Lt. Col. Rodger Lemons, the battalion commander at the Argandab district center. “We basically sat in here and monitored the fight,” Resnick said, referring to his outpost at the village of Sarkari Bagh. “They essentially cleared this entire place out.” U.S. military officials acknowledge that it is not ideal to have the border police leading the operation, because the goal is for the Afghan army and police to provide security in their own areas. “We need to make sure this is not undermining the legitimacy of the Afghan government,” said a senior NATO military official in southern Afghanistan.

Analysis:  Read carefully, while there are near-term successes, the brunt of success in this area of operations has been a combination of Special Operation Force actions and an ad-hoc Afghan Border Police unit cobbled together when ANSF units weren’t up to the task.  Legitimacy of local/national security forces is a key cornerstone of COIN doctrine. It appears operations in Argandab valley sidestepped this doctrinal underpinning, because ANSF legitimacy is non-existent.  Creating “parking lots” can be performed by the Air Force at 30,000 feet – no need to commit a Brigade to the area of operations if that is the intent.

Policy — Karzai Rails Against America in Diatribe

Key Highlights:

  • “The money starts in the name of the private security companies in the hallways of the U.S. government ,” Mr. Karzai said. “The profits are made and arranged there.” The money then goes to private security firms, he said, adding, “then they send the money to kill people here.” “When this money comes Afghanistan, it causes insecurity in Afghan homes and causes the killing of Afghan children and causes explosions and terrorism in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Karzai in the news conference.
  • His calm tone contrasted with the explosive accusations he leveled at Western interests in Afghanistan and the news media, even going so far as to say that the security companies were interchangeable with the Taliban. “In fact we don’t know how many of the explosions are the fault of the Taliban and how much by them,” said Mr. Karzai, referring to the security companies. Mr. Karzai’s distrust and alienation from the Western alliance has increased over the past several months even as more soldiers have flowed into the country and more civilian development workers have begun to carry out projects, leaving diplomats and military officials increasingly frustrated and confused.
  • The accusations followed a stormy meeting he had on Sunday night with the NATO commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, as well as other senior Afghan and western officials in which Mr. Karzai stormed out, saying that he did not need the West’s help, according to people knowledgeable about the confrontation. 

Analysis: Not much to add here except to say that NATO is in bed with an irrational, disrespectful, and unappreciative national leader – maybe Petreaus should return the protocol and have our troops stormout of the country. Enough said.

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