Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sit-Rep; Afghanistan

As the situation continues to deteriorate in Khandahar, the question is not when the publicized offensive will come, but in what form. As the main thrust of the operation was winding down in Marjah, stories began to seep out that the Taliban had largely fled the area and either melted into the background and local population or moved off into Khandahar and other larger population centers. The ISAF M.O. has been to publish the intent to launch an offensive weeks before the first troops arrive. The intent of the announcements, has been an effort to preserve civilian lives by offering them an opportunity to flee the area before combat. The problem is that the Taliban have taken the opportunity to flee and morph as well.

This continuous game has been referred to as a perverse game of 'wack-a-mole'. I prefer to think of it as a balloon that has pressure exerted on it from one end, forcing air into the opposing, unaffected end. The result is you find yourself 'chasing' air from one side of the latex sack to the other until you grow weary of the game. Of course, the only result is; unmolested air. This is not to say that there aren't successes during engagements with the Taliban. The fact is our Warriors destroy them when given the opportunity, but one has to question just how much more effective we would be if our concentration was on destroying them rather than attempting to garner friendships with the locals. One stated argument is, of course, that all this does is provide recruitment opportunities for the Taliban. I have held the opinion that if you make the experience painful and horrendous enough for the Taliban, joining them won't seem quite so wonderful. A trip back on memory lane to the Philippine War and the experience the Moro's had with us once we took off the gloves might be a worthy use of time for the theorists.

The Taliban have been known to regularly 'disappear' into the 'innocent civilian population' when pressured. Thinking that will change with each new pronouncement and that they will eventually stand and fight is a sign of insanity. Playing this game with them illuminates some not too subtle problems;

First, if you are going to share the definition of the battle space with them in advance, you lose the element of surprise. The intent should be to force the enemy to react to you. This keeps him off balance. Expecting to root him out of a battle space he has been given the opportunity to define is costly and difficult. This is made more difficult in Afghanistan and Pakistan because the enemy is indigenous and part of the larger society. Culling them from the rest of society is a nearly impossible task especially since they are melting into; wait... oh yeah, their homeland.

Second, if you are going to publicize every engagement and larger incursion, in advance, you are giving the enemy everything he needs to plan defensive, evasive and disruptive strategies. Again; allowing him to define the battle space.

In the meantime; the issue over control of the drug trade there is just as volatile now as it was. As a side note; it strikes me that this issue could be used to keep the Taliban's attention diverted. It has been suggested more than a few times that the poppy fields, directly or indirectly (poll tax), finance their ability to operate. It's actually kind of win/win for them. Money on the front end for operations against the 'crusader forces' and more poison for the infidel on the back end. Of course, as is usual, our Warriors are caught in the middle; well trained and armed and prepared for battle on the one hand and hog-tied by unreasonable ROE and ideological/political maneuvering on the other.

Then there is this new tid-bit from the Marine Corps Times and Staff Writer Tony Lombardo concerning our new mission to train the Afghan National Army to play Water Polo. Herschel Smith at the Captain's Journal had some well spoken concerns about this effort as well as questioning why the State Department types aren't stepping in to perform this most auspicious task. Maybe the place isn't safe enough for them; maybe we haven't won over enough 'hearts and minds'. It seems to me about time the ideologues in this country started putting their collective butts where their mouths are. If this new 'kinder, gentler' approach to combat is so hopeful and effective, it would seem to me to be most appropriate for the proponents of it to prove their belief by walking in the midst of it.

Semper Fidelis;

John Bernard

A few Days ago I ran a blog entry entitled 'Corroboration'. The reporter has since recanted and apologized in the comments section of that entry. In the interest of doing what the reporter desired, to publicly apologize for public comments he now regrets; we are publishing his apology:

Ben Shaw byshaw said...

Recently, I posted an emotionally-driven comment on a small blog I found on the internet (http://www.captainsjournal.com/2010/04/19/in-defense-of-michael-yon-an-open-letter-to-milbloggers/), making several derogatory claims about military commands and commanders, US foreign policy in Afghanistan, and the merits of the conflict itself.

Soon thereafter, these remarks appeared on this blog, without my permission, publicizing them widely. The more I look at my own writing, the more I logically examine every claim I made, the more I realize that my statements are altogether out of line and demand a retraction and apology. Below is that piece:

Dear Sirs;

Recently, in an attempt to advocate US servicemembers deployed in Afghanistan, I have committed a series of grave errors. Rather than maintaining any sort of journalistic integrity, I chose instead to write based on my own opinions and emotions, and wrongly presented that material as fact.

When discussing a command and its supposed shortcomings, it behooves me to confirm every potential accusation, ensure that sources are properly-informed, and where possible interview the person(s) in question. In the case of this recent article, I did no such thing, taking vague conjecture and presenting it as factual. My behavior was both foolish and unprofessional.

For my statement that lower commanders are making efforts to charge subordinates for uniform and PPE violations, I sincerely and wholeheartedly apologize. I have witnessed no such thing on any occasion, and regret my accusations, which were rooted entirely in personal anger and not fact. Additionally, there was only one Soldier whose PPE choices were in question.

For suggesting that other commanders are attempting to level these charges against their subordinates, I again apologize. This was unprofessional devolution into hearsay at the total disregard of fact.

For stating that truly 95% of troops do not believe in their mission, I also offer my apology. This claim was in no way based off of statistically-verifiable surveys and should have been presented as strictly my own opinion. Nor is this statement the result of observations or interviews conducted in the past four weeks of my embed in Afghanistan. It is based on roughly seven years as either a US serviceman, or a writer working on their behalf.

For bringing undue scrutiny upon units that have exhibited nothing but the most professional conduct, highest integrity, and ferocity under fire, I retract my inaccurate, unverifiable accusations, apologize for the questions they have raised, and ask that commanders dismiss my writing as poorly-presented opinion statements which cannot be confirmed as factual. I take full responsibility for my writing, regret its negative effects, and humbly request that commanders be released from any proximal responsibility they are believed to have. My writing reflected a personal agenda; not facts, and I regret its publication in full. I have violated my own mission of military and veteran advocacy.

Finally, I apologize to the numbers of Soldiers who brought me into their confidence, who trusted me and cared for me like a brother, only for me to underhandedly level wild accusations against them, their commands, and the United States' military's mission as a whole. I take full responsibility for my actions, and regret whatever loss of confidence I have caused Soldiers to experience in either their commanders or their subordinates.


Ben Y. Shaw

Monday, April 26, 2010

Theory versus Reality

There is a major disconnect in the school of strategic theory. While the students may have a great time considering what 'might be', it must be tested by two things; history and current events on the ground where they 'test' their theories. It seems that when all else fails, they revert to the wondrous theories and writings of the great men of stature rather than the Lt Col's and LCpl's as well as, in this case, the writings of the Islamic Scholars and present sitting Clerics et al. Just because something looks good on a gaming table and in a well written thesis, doesn't mean it is going to work on the ground. As we have mentioned before, there are three human terrain elements that must cooperate with the theory of Counter Insurgency (and it is a theory); the government, the civilian population and the 'insurgency/rebel force'. The problem for the theorist is their seeming inability to understand the 'game pieces' on this board have active minds, creative thinking, an undying loyalty to Islam and familial ties with the other two elements - going back hundreds of years.

Why is it no one questions why it took such a short period of time to take control 8 years ago and yet we can't trust Haji to cooperate in an effort that the theorists are convinced is in his best interest? Maybe he doesn't believe it is in his best interest. Maybe his ties to his Uncle Taliban is closer than he will ever be to the Demon Crusader trying to convince him to turn on his Uncle. Maybe, just maybe, 1400 years of ideological training trumps it all.

The one big problem none of these tactical gurus seems to have included in the equation is that while they are gaming and theorizing, our Warriors are paying the price. They are testing theories on what is painfully obvious, unknown terrain and using our Warriors as rats. By the way; did you know that our government and the Pentagon use the Muslim Brotherhood for their cultural packages and insert that tripe into the 'equation'? Apparently they have never heard of the doctrine of 'Taqiyya'(deception with infidels; 3:28). Just one more wrinkle in the carefully woven tapestry of an improbable theory and even more so in the midst of Islam. Yes I know; Iraq was a success and it was. The problem is they are attributing the wrong thing to the success and because they are attributing the wrong thing to success they will plan our complete draw down based on that assumption and the country will, will crumble. We are all watching the advance of Iranian influence there and the violence is increasing.

Andy Bostom sent me a reminder in the form of a quote from the past; 1968, Curtis Lemay. His comments in this short piece summarize part of the problem; that it is far more important to sound like you know what you doing than to actually know. It reminds me of a great axiom; 'If you can't dazzle them with brilliance; baffle them with BS'. As follows:

Lemay on The Witch Doctors of Self-Inflicted Death: Defense “Intellectuals”

Another relevant observation from Curtis LeMay, circa 1968 (from “America is in Danger,” 1968, Introduction, p. xii), about the source of recent past, as prologue to present afflictions of the military “mindset”:

Like witch doctors, defense intellectuals have created jargon which tends to becloud understanding. I submit that military strategy and subsequent national defense policies are understandable if clearly presented. Moreover, the average citizen must be familiar with these subjects because, through his franchise, he makes the most fundamental and far-reaching defense decisions.

Gobbledygook has become the union card of defense intellectuals. At a White House meeting with President John F. Kennedy in 1962, I recall being lectured by an articulate defense intellectual who had served briefly in World War II as a bombardier, but whose background was essentially legal and journalistic. For the listening President’s benefit he told me how “provocative” Strategic Air Command bombers were, how their “first strike” characteristics were “destabilizing” and liable to result in a “miscalculated” or “spasm” war. He proposed to “burn” these horrible air weapons to achieve one-for-one ratio with Soviet bombers.

After this dramatic and erudite discourse, which left me almost speechless, I began to wonder if my military education had been complete. A lifetime of study and practice of the military art had not prepared me for the pretentious language of the new breed of military philosophers. And they [emphasis in original] were and are the people who have the most influence on our national military policy.

In the end all of this theorizing is academic and only the future will truly define success vs failure and whether the proponents of COIN were geniuses or deluded. At some point though, we will have to come to the realization that our national security truly trumps the safety and well-being of a people who would just as soon Uncle Taliban and Daddy Al Qaida eradicate us. If they don't; I can predict the end game with a great deal more accuracy than they can the outcome of the coming hand-holding ceremony in Khandahar; we will end up revisiting 1975.

Semper Fidelis;

John Bernard