American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul.
We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat, said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.
The title is deceptive. There may be Afghans shot at checkpoints but that seems to be a very rare occurrence. Most of these shootings occur in escalation of force incidents involving rear vehicle turret gunners. To the best of my knowledge a VBIED has never been prevented from hitting an ISAF vehicle by a rear turret gunner although at least one died trying to stop one. That brave soldier would have most likely survived had he ducked down inside the MRAP.
There is a problem with the concept that a turret gunner can identify, and identify as friend or foe, a potential Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) in time to stop it with machinegun fire. That problem is the OODA Loop which I discussed at length in this post. There is another problem and that is with the rules that American military units most conform to. There is a standing order that every vehicle convoy leaving a FOB must have four MRAP’s and 16 soldiers at a minimum. If the Commanding General wants to preach about getting off the FOBs to protect the population on one hand, but declares that four MRAP’s and 16 riflemen, at minimum, for “force protection” is necessary, then there is a rhetorical disconnect. Is the local environment safe enough to conduct COIN operations or are the atmospherics such that it is reasonable to anticipate a determined IED followed by SAF (small arms fire) complex attack in all areas at all times in Afghanistan? I believe that in the vast majority of this nation ISAF vehicles (especially MRAP’s) can travel without any concern from IED or SAF attack. I would further stipulate that even if they were attacked, a two vehicle MRAP convoy could easily hold its own against the dozen to two dozen Taliban who comprise your average shoot and scoot squad.
There is another aspect of the article which I find hard to believe – from the article linked above:
The people are tired of all these cruel actions by the foreigners, and we can’t suffer it anymore, said Naqibullah Samim, a village elder from Hodkail, where Mr. Yonus lived. The people do not have any other choice, they will rise against the government and fight them and the foreigners. There are a lot of cases of killing of innocent people.
The Taliban kill many more innocent civilians than does ISAF. That being the case why have we not seen an increase in ANA recruitment from the families who have had innocents killed by the Taliban? Pashtunwali is supposed to work both ways when it comes to things like blood debt.
Finally the article ends, as these things must do, with a shot at the boogeymen of whatever the War on Terror is now called; security contractors.
“A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Zemary Bashary, said private security contractors sometimes killed civilians during escalation of force episodes, but he said he did not know the number of instances.”
Let me help the good minister out. There was a fatal shooting last spring by two Blackwater guys (they were working for a subcontractor so technically not BW guys in the eyes of the law) in Kabul and both of them are facing 2 counts of murder each back in America. There was an Aussie national from Four Horsemen who shot and killed what he thought to be a legitimate threat and he has been sentenced to death by hanging by an Afghan court and is currently sitting in Poli Charki. Yesterday a Global team out of Lashka Gar was hit by an IED/SAF attack outside of Marjah. They took 3 KIA and 1 WIA claiming to have killed seven villains as they fought to free up their mates hit in the IED blast. That claim is, as these things normally are, inconceivable. The villains tend to stay behind cover and blast away from around 500 to 600 meters after an IED attack knowing that PSD teams will leave as soon as they have recovered their injured or dead. There is no way the Global team would know how many guys (if any) they hit in a quick, fierce engagement of that nature. Those three examples cover all the shootings in the last three years involving Afghan expat contractors.
The reason that contractors do not get involved in that many shootings is that they do not ride around with machinegunners in turrets who think that they can stop a VBIED by shooting at it in time. That is the way to solve the entire “shoot the civilians” problem for ISAF – remove turret gunners. They have never stopped a VBIED, have killed over 600 innocent Afghans (and a few internationals) and started at least one riot. When force protection policy matches the COIN population centric rhetoric from on high, the numbers of innocent Afghans killed by “escalation of force” incidents will dramatically decrease.
Editors Note: Chim Chim wanted to provide his perspective on the recent CIA versus contractor story which exploded in the main stream media last week. He knows of what he speaks:
The World has changed. I hear that a lot. As a matter of fact, I have heard it since I was in grade school. The reality is the World is constantly changing. The Intelligence community is no exception. I generally don’t like blanket statements, but the bureaucracy at the Agency is broken and has been for a long time. Those of us who know have participated and watched the slow death of a once effective organization for a long time.
I have been on both sides of the equation. I have sat in DoD meetings dealing with the Agency and Agency meetings dealing with DoD. The relationship has always been dysfunctional and in some cases downright hostile. One could chalk it up to a language issue but it really comes down to turf. Folks, turf in beltway speak means Budget. Budget means power and there in essence is the core of the problem. For the last 30 years, the Agency has resisted restructure or effective coordination because it has always felt that any concession would degrade their never ending battle for budget. Sure, you have the Intellicrats (I’ll take credit for this descriptive term). The Intellicrats job is to guard the family jewels or the sacred and God given mission of Intelligence.
They see anyone else who engages in this endeavor as second class citizens at best and unworthy of attention. That is unless they do a good job Then, whomever this effective and of course offending entity is must be dealt with. Normally, when the Agency sees a viable network it will attempt to hijack it utilizing their imperial right of way. Failing to do that, they will suggest a task force or panel (read that mini-hijack). Failing in both these endeavors, they will outright attack the network or capability. The first two, I have no problem with. I have done it myself and if still in, I would have suggested it in this case. The attacking and undermining of an effective network which is providing definitive product to the DoD (read that, the USA) is unconscionable. But, unlike most Americans who have shown shock at this behavior I understand the real reasons and it is turf and budget. Anyone who has ever worked in a task force with multiple players from the Intel community will tell you.
The Agency doesn’t play well with others. When I was in, I didn’t play well with others. It’s just the way the Agency works. The closest comparison for this cross cultural hubris is the Secret Service. They hold the sacred grail for protective operations. Anyone who isn’t Secret Service surely doesn’t understand protective operations. Get the picture? Unlike the Agency, the Secret Service is quite happy with their patch of turf, as long as you don’t get in their way. Ask anyone from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security what happens when the Secret Service walks in the room. There is a tangible order of relevance and no butt sniffing is required. The Secret Service is here and we will let you know when we need you. Is it nice? Is it professional? Who cares? The fact of the matter is this it doesn’t matter. The Secret Service does their job and goes home. If feelings are hurt then so be it. Job gets done. The similarities are evident, although the differences in the going home part are as well. The Secret Service goes home and does whatever they do for fun. The Agency goes home and tries to figure out how to usurp whatever is causing them discomfort.
In this case, the Agency jumped right into an offensive operation targeting this DoD sponsored program totally by-passing the age old accepted ritual of hijacking or at least piggybacking. What does that tell us? Well, it tells me that whatever these guys are doing is kicking somebody’s ass! It tells me that whatever these guys are doing is reverberating in hallow halls where budgets are being decided! In other words, the Agency could not afford to let this go on in its current iteration. Not because the Agency sits around and dreams up ways to scuttle effective programs which help the war effort. It’s simply because someday very soon, someone is going to say to the Director, Who are these guys and why don’t they work for you? and the subsequent conversation will go along the lines of, Well, we need to continue to fund them, and that is unacceptable to the Director. You have to understand, not since Colby has a Director of CIA been an actual spy. (One could argue Gates but that brings personal issues of mine into play so let’s not go there.)
The main mission of the politically appointed Director is too ensure the Agency stays in its lane and doesn’t go too far afield which most recent Presidents are deathly afraid of. Once the new Director gets in place, he quickly realizes that the Agency expects him to bring home the bacon. In other words, get us the budget!!!! Get the picture? Programs, like the one allegedly being run by the DoD in Afghanistan effectively reduce the Agency’s ability to make the case for their budget. And, so here we are For those of you who love conspiracies, let me offer this, if you believe the U.S. and its coalition partners went to war in Iraq because of oil why is it too hard to imagine the Agency going to war over budget? As the Japanese say, Business is war. And, inside the beltway (or just down the Parkway a little) budget IS business.
Luckily for whoever these guys are, the uncovering of the Agency’s smear campaign has resulted in a backlash from the DoD and surprisingly from the American Intelligence community at large condemning the Agency’s conduct. I even read an article in the Washington Post which lambasted the Agency’s behavior (not surprising!) but goes further to, I won’t say support but certainly highlights the alleged, DoD program’s operational effectiveness (very surprising) Trust me, when the Washington Post says a DoD initiative is doing a good jobyou have to take it seriously. Doing a good job does not sell newspapers or get you a Pulitzer. I truly feel bad about my old team. But, I am reconciled and proud that someone out there is doing the job and doing it well.
I have been waiting for this; At Afghan outpost, Marines gone rogue or leading the fight against counterinsurgency. It was a matter of time before the losers in Washington DC and Kabul took their bureaucratic infighting public by leaking to the press. You send in the Marines, ask them to do a job nobody else has been successful doing, and what do they get? A shank in the back. My contempt for FOB-bound bureaucrats knows no limit, but at least the reporter presented a fair, easily understood accounting of the debate. Not so for my boy Dexter “call it in” Filkins of the New York Times, which I will get to in a minute. Check out this quote from the WaPo article on the Marines:
“We have better operational coherence with virtually all of our NATO allies than we have with the U.S. Marine Corps,” said a senior Obama administration official involved in Afghanistan policy.
Some senior officials at the White House, at the Pentagon and in McChrystal’s headquarters would rather have many of the 20,000 Marines who will be in Afghanistan by summer deploy around Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city, to assist in a U.S. campaign to wrest the area from Taliban control instead of concentrating in neighboring Helmand province and points west. According to an analysis conducted by the National Security Council, fewer than 1 percent of the country’s population lives in the Marine area of operations.”
Are you kidding me? Better operational coherence with NATO allies than our own Marine Corps? ISAF would rather have the Marines redeploy to assist in the upcoming campaign for Kandahar? Senior Obama Administration official airing out our dirty laundry to the press? Stand by for a rant:
The 36 or so NATO countries operating in Afghanistan have in combination some 83 “caveats” which allow them to say “no” to any request from ISAF they do not feel like complying with. Most of these “caveats” involve active combat and they read something like, “If you ask us to go outside the FOB and fight Taliban (especially at night) we will say no.” This is why you have a NATO-staffed air base in Kandahar with over 20,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen, yet still not enough “boots on the ground” to deal with a growing insurgent threat. The idea that the Marines have to move into the Kandahar area “because that is where the population is” makes as much sense as the Vietnam era debate about forcing the Marines into the Da Nang “rocket belt”. It was a stupid idea then, and it is a stupid idea now. Kandahar is the second largest city in Afghanistan and if there is to be a fight for the city, it is best done with Afghan forces in the lead, not the Marines. The Afghan Security Forces launched a huge operation over the winter of 2008 to bring the rule of law into Kandahar, which seemed to calm the place down for a bit. All they need to do now is replay that operation and stay on the ground when the operation is over.
The Marines have demonstrated that it is possible to do COIN in Afghanistan and they have a huge advantage. They own all the aircraft, armor, and combat service support they need to operate. When they work in areas where tanks or AAV’s are not effective, they dismount the Marines from those units and use them as infantry. The Marines were forced to operate as independent battalions working for the Army back in 2004/2005 in the Kunar Province. That story is told in the excellent book Victory Point by Ed Darack. I encourage you to read it. Pay particular attention to the loss of the SEAL team during operation Red Wings. Had the SEALs let the Marines handle the mission they had planned, or executed the mission the way the Marines planned it, they would have avoided losing almost an entire team (the surviving team member wrote the book Lone Survivor). The men from SEAL Team 10 were compromised on insert that day – clearly lady luck turned her head on these guys. But when you read how and why that mission came about you will learn why the Marines will not allow themselves to be parcelled out and left to the tender mercies of other services. So, they are executing their assigned missions like Marines do, and it is making the other services look bad. To which I say too bad.
I need to add this; the Marines are not alone in the Helmand. They have plenty of American Army, Air Force, Navy, Brits, Canadians, and a French infantry officer who snuck over with the 2nd Marines (he is apparently an exceptional talent and the de facto S3 alpha for RCT 2) working with them. Col Kennedy told me he has a couple of Army SF A teams in his AO and both of them are absolutely first rate, constantly outside the wire, constantly working with the locals, and frequently involved in big fights where they are always outnumbered and out-gunned yet they never lose. He loves his SF teams and, therefore, I love them too. I am sorry Lara Logan did not spend 3 months with them, because her story on 60 minutes would not have been so damn embarrassing for the SF community, and I would not have gotten so much hate mail for blogging it.
The Marines are in the Helmand because that is where the Army leadership who runs the war sent them. The Marines are sitting in Marjah because that is the key terrain for the drug trade, which fuels a good portion of the conflict. They are sitting on the goose which lays the golden poppy eggs and “anonymous sources” now want them to move into the Kandahar area because the 20,000 troops they have there cannot manage to get off their asses and outside the wire? Nothing brings out the long knives like success… here is another example.
New York Times ace reporter Dexter Filkins assisted by one Mark Mazzetti came out with a piece titled “Contractors tied to effort to track and kill militants“. The story is about two of the biggest anti-military jackasses produced by the war on terror – Canadian “journalist” Robert Pelton and former CNN executive Eason Jordon. They apparently lost a DoD contract due to total lack of performance. I took the piss out of Pelton last year while reinforcing Old Blue at Afghan Quest because of the completely uncalled for ridicule Pelton dumped on a Lieutenant who did not measure up to Pelton’s “man of action” paradigm. Now that whining shitbird is complaining that, We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people. Bullshit – that is complete nonsense. Why would anyone in their right mind give Pelton millions of dollars to set up a web site? If he did set up a website (I don’t think that he did – that part is unclear) how would he know who was doing what with the crap information he put on it? And if he somehow did come up with anything of worth, why did his contract get cancelled? But the story gets better, Filkins did not rely exclusively on Pelton – he got lots of collaboration from the CIA station chief in Kabul who apparently is feeling serious heat from some sort of “contractor” run program. My favorite action/thriller author Brad Thor took apart this bogus story today on the Big Journalism site – read it here – sour grapes of wrath indeed.
Dexter and his NYT chums need to start doing real reporting and stop phoning in bullshit from malcontents like Pelton and some loser CIA station chief. Here is an example; On Afghan Road Scenes of Beauty and Death, which Dexter wrote last month. I let this one pass when it was published, but now I am pissed so let me perform a 30 second critique. I have driven that road maybe 500 times in the last five years. I drove it before it was even paved and feel I am in the position to correct some of the crap phoned in from by our celebrity reporter… ready? Well hold on a second, you have to read the article linked above so my hasty critique makes sense. OK. Ready?
The “Kabul Gorge” is west of Sarobi, centered on the Mahpar Pass; what you labeled as the gorge is in reality the Tangi valley. Tangi is Dari for “dam” and every valley downstream of a dam is called the “Tangi Valley” which is why there are about 30 of them around the country.
When the British Army withdrew from Kabul in 1842 they went through the Latabad Pass, which is about 7 miles west of the Mahipar Pass. The current Jbad to Kabul road did not exist back in the 1800’s.
It is impossible for vehicles to reach high rates of speed required to “sail through the air” when driving through the town of Sarobi. It is too crowded, with too many turns, and the ANP would not tolerate that kind of recklessness anyway. I have seen plenty of bad accidents on the Jbad to Kabul road, but never seen or heard of one inside the village limits of Sarobi.
Do you see how easy it is to recognize BS when you are not confined to FOB’s or luxury hotels Dexter? The reason I am so upset about the reckless CIA article is it describes operators with backgrounds and experience similar to the several thousand of us internationals who work and live outside the wire. Everyone of us now has a big bulls-eye on our backs. Guess what happened yesterday? An international NGO compound in Lashkar Gah was attacked by two gunmen who had a slew of hand grenades, AK 47’s and one well-designed and constructed suicide vest. The NGO in this compound ran a popular agriculture project and were not involved in poppy eradication or road building – two activities which normally run afoul of the Taliban. Let me make this perfectly clear: it is highly probable that one or more innocent internationals who works outside the wire is going to be targeted and killed because Dexter is carrying water for dumb-as-dirt CIA man and a Canadian shitbird. If I sound like I am pissed off, I am – we now have to dedicate scarce resources which should be going to Afghan reconstruction for counter-surveillance, we need to switch up cars, we now need to vary our movement patterns, and we need to avoid the FOB’s. No more workouts, no more pecan pie and ice cream and a lot more risk because some New York slimy dirtbag is phoning in horseshit in his quest for Pulitzer dust.
Now for an interesting outside the wire story. On 24 February Panjawaii Tim was called to the Kandahar PRT to see if he could help mitigate the damage caused by flooding to the irrigation system of northern Kandahar Province. Knowing why he was going, he called the USAID official in Kabul who adminsters the cash for work program Tim and company are implementing to see if he could free up some cash for a massive emergency project. The AID official immediately gave him permission – to the credit of USAID they do work with incredible speed when they have a vehicle in place which is proving successful. Tim arrived at the PRT and was asked how soon he could get workers to clear 36 canals of an estimated 600,00 cubic meters of silt and debris. The conversation went something like this:
PRT SgtMaj (Canadian Army): “When can you get started, eh?”
Tim: “Tomorrow, eh?”
SgtMaj: “No, Tim, I mean when can you really get started, eh?”
Tim: “Tomorrow SgtMaj no shit, eh?”
As promised Team Canada was on the job the next day. Yet they still had to deal with senior guys from other agencies who seemed to be upset by the speed at which they got a massive project off the ground. Every day Team Canada expats are out in the bad lands performing the time intensive task of monitoring and evaluation. As usual, they travel in local garb without armored vehicles or armed PSC escorts (PSC gunmen raise your profile, which increases risk for very little gain in security). They did not have to do this job, they are not paid more cash for taking this additional risk, they could have said no and saved themselves hundreds of man hours of additional work for which (I need to stress this point) they receive not one penny of additional compensation. Team Canada is comprised of mission-focused former Canadian soldiers who look upon these dangerous tasks as yet another opportunity to perform. That is what military men are raised to do – accomplish any and all assigned missions to the best of their ability. You would think for doing this they would receive at least a hearty handshake and an ata boy, not a ration of shit from senior bureaucrats who could not manage to do the same no matter how much time and money is thrown at them.
The Marines have found a way to do COIN while avoiding the increasing threat from IED’s by getting off the FOB’s, out of the MRAP’s and patrolling on foot the areas they have cleared. A senior DOD official has found a way to provide critical intelligence which our 16 or so national intelligence agencies cannot get from their FOB-bound operatives. Team Canada, ably assisted by USAID managers in Kabul, are able to immediately start work on restoring a critical irrigation system in the dangerous Kandahar Province while putting 5,600 military aged unemployed males to work. What is the common thread in these stories? The long knives coming out to stab these able, hard-working, mission-focused guys right in the back. Mission-focused people and organizations specialize in getting things done with speed and efficiency. Bureaucrats focus on process, procedures, their individual careers and guarding rice bowls. Nothing upsets bureaucrats more than success by anti-bureaucrats who work the system to achieve the results they are unable to deliver.
And let me insert a word about “contractors”. Team Canada, Mullah John, Raybo and their colleagues are the Marines of the current reconstruction effort. There are a few thousand men and women outside the wire getting the job done, despite the myriad of difficulties which all of us work through everyday. But to mainstream media and the do-nothing bureaucrats who infest the FOBs and Kabul Embassies, “contractors” are de facto scum bags. Let me insert this cool paragraph from a column posted by Ed Gillespie today on National Review online which has nothing to do with what I’m ranting about but is connected to the targets of my scorn:
“Thus, it should come as no surprise that in films and on television, trial lawyers are cast as virtuous crusaders while American soldiers are bloodthirsty villains or hapless victims. University professors are almost always noble and underpaid, corporate CEOs corrupt and overpaid. Wealth is only inherited, never created, and people are poor only because they were born that way, never because of bad decisions or behavior. Conservative politicians are usually unbearable hypocrites, people of faith are for comic relief, and our environment is under constant assault by capitalism’s wantonly wasteful ways.”
The legacy media, just like their elitist fellow travelers in Hollywood have constructed a preferred narrative about contractors based on a few bad examples and their own inherently biased world view. Their callous disregard for those of us who accept the risk to get important work done is disgusting. They could give a shit if their agenda-driven screeds lead directly to the deaths of brave men and women who demonstrate more courage and commitment daily than they will in a lifetime. Do you believe that Pelton or Filkins, or Eason Jordon (what the hell kind of name is Eason anyway?) or that fat ass know-nothing CIA station chief would double their work load and triple their level of risk for no additional compensation? Would they even consider it? Of course not…they probably think Team Canada is a bunch of rubes … and in turn I think they are a crew of elitist scumbags who lack courage, commitment, and personal honor.
I remain optimistic about our chances for success in Afghanistan, but as Mullah John remarked after reading my post about the 2nd Marines, “Optimism is a sign that you are not fully aware of the situation.” He said that in jest (I think) because he likes being clever. The three stories above lead me to believe John isn’t clever, he is clairvoyant.
I’m still on the road trying to make my way back to Jalalabad from a big implementation work group meeting in Lashkar Gah. Step one of the journey back was to hitch a ride to Kandahar where Panjawaii Tim promised to pick me up and take me out to his project HQ in the city. It is a large, comfortable place which has something I have been looking forward to… a few cold beers. The plane was late which was annoying – driving around Kandahar at night is risky even for guys like us.
We were delayed getting across the Tarnak River bridge by an American convoy – the bridge was blown up a few days back and the convoy was trying to maneuver around it in the river bed. Michael Yon has the story about the loss of that vital bridge here. It turns out the delay was a good thing because as we cleared the bridge area and headed towards the city the sky in front of us lit up like a flashbulb. “That’s not good,” said Tim as his cell started to ring. The boys back in the safe house reported a large explosion in the vicinity of the Karzai compound about 300 meters west of our destination. Then we saw two more explosions, an impressive sized blast followed by a huge VBIED sized blast, both looked to be near our safe house. Then Tim’s cell phone went dead, which was completely uncool.
We were entering the city by then and could see an American QRF force racing towards the area where most of the international compounds, Afghan government offices and the main prison are located. Trying to talk your way through police checkpoints as an attack like this unfolds is a bad idea we switched to plan B. Panjawaii Tim knows Kandahar like I know Jalalabad; he started working his way through side streets, which were full of people milling about looking towards the blast clouds. There were lots of broken store windows – in fact all of them were broken as we worked our way parallel to the main road. We did have to stop once to talk our way through a police checkpoint – it is always funny to see the police react when Tim or I walk up in local garb with our international ID’s and tell the chaps we’re ISAF and need to get through. The Afghan security guys have no idea what to make of us and look like their seeing a Jinn or ghosts when we talk to them. Or maybe they think were crazy for even being there – hard to say.
Being out and about in local clothes and a beater truck is a huge risk when these attacks go down. We had to get to our safe house, so we had no choice but to push on and with Panjawaii Tim at the helm we avoided most of the hasty blocking positions thrown up by the security forces. If tonight’s explosion had been followed by some sort of direct fire attack we would have aborted our attempt to get home and headed back to the FOB. When we arrived we found the compound at a “stand to” with all hands armed, alert, and calm.
Here is Panjawaii Tim’s report on the incident:
“The first bomb was at the Al Jadeed market: 10 20 killed, unknown number injured; second was a large bomb at the Sarpoza prison. 20 -30 killed and 100 injured allegedly; third was the bomb near PHQ, unknown number injured/killed; fourth was bomb near Mandigak mosque, unknown number injured killed. First bombs lured the ANP response out of PHQ and then they were hit. US and CDN units seen responding with ANSF assets. No reports of a prison break at this time. We heard Taliban propaganda broadcast over a megaphone in our neighborhood within half our of attacks. Many ambulances and other vehicles seen transporting casualties to Mirwais (Chinese) Hospital.”
You know what all this means? It means no sitting on the roof and drinking cold beers with my buddies. It also means that I have to get up in the middle of the night to pull sentry duty. Fucking Taliban; killing civilians for no damn reason, damaging people’s stores and homes for no damn reason, and spoiling what looked to be a good piss up….again for no damn reason. I hate them.
My latest trip included a quick stop in a dusty, sparsely populated corner of Afghanistan where I found my best friend Colonel Paul Kennedy USMC. Paul and I were instructors at the Infantry Officer Course (IOC) 20 years ago, after IOC we were both pulled out of the last quarter of the Amphibious Warfare School to work together on a project for then LtGen Krulak. We later ended up in Okinawa at the same time where we were battalion operations officers (we were still captains then). We both were selected to be Recruiting Station commanders back in the late 90’s when every other service were failing to make their annual recruiting quotas. I had RS Salt Lake City and after missing mission the first month of my tour I never failed again. Paul had RS San Francisco and never once failed to make mission. Think about that … San Francisco, not the most military friendly town in America and he not only made his mission but consistently over shipped month in and month out to carry the 12 Marine Corps Recruiting District during the days when making mission was a nightmare. I had all of Montana, Idaho, Utah and a good bit of Wyoming and Nevada to recruit from, but rarely had the bones to over ship. When it comes to leading Marines and accomplishing the mission, regardless of what that mission may be, Paul is one of the guys I’ll admit is better than I was at leading Marines.
Paul is currently commanding Regimental Combat Team 2, which has around 6000 Marines on its rolls. They will ultimately comprise half of the ground combat power for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (forward) when it arrives in country sometime this spring. Paul has developed into one of the finest combat commanders of his generation. His combat tour in Ramadi, Iraq where he commanded the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines (2/4) was a battle from the start, which has been documented in books by Bing West and Oliver North. He was hard pressed on several occasions, sustaining heavy casualties while inflicting much heavier losses on his attackers. Despite fighting virtually every day during his year in Ramadi he was able to restore city infrastructure, open local schools and he never shot artillery or ran tac air into the city. There are at least three Marines in his regiment who are brothers of 2/4 Marines killed in action in Ramadi during Paul’s tenure as the commanding officer. He knows this because their mothers have written him to say that there is no other leader in the Corps they would want watching over their son as he ships out to fight the Taliban. That the younger brothers of those lost warriors would work the system to join his regiment so that they too could have a chance to fight under such a dynamic, proficient combat leader is, even to me, stunning. I don’t know about you but when I hear that a mother who has already lost a son in Iraq has written Paul to tell him another of her precious sons is currently under his command as he again enters the fray and that both Marine and parent would have it no other way, it brings a little water to my eyes. Paul’s too, but I pretended not to notice things like that (USMC Bushido Code rules.)
Paul and the 6000 or so of his closest friends here with him have a very tough road ahead of them. They are taking over towns which have been giving the British army fits over the past years while simultaneously taking on new areas under solid Taliban control. Paul has no intention of using the “penny packet” outpost system currently being used by allied forces in places like Musa Qala. He has no intention of allowing his main LOC’s to be cut and dominated by the Taliban. He has no intention of leaving his maneuver battalions on FOB’s, nor does he plan to be on his for very much of the next year. He intends to find, fix and destroy every armed group operating in his AO so that he can get to the real mission assigned to him, which is to hold and build. Nobody knows how to use violence of action to take the fight to insurgents better than the Marines. All it takes is one look at the infantrymen of RCT 2 to get the clue that a new apex predator has moved into northern Helmand Province. No greater friend, no worse enemy; you can take that to the bank.
Paul already has one of his maneuver battalions on deck, the 1st Battalion 2nd Marines (pronounce one/two in Marine speak), commanded by LtCol Mike Manning, a student of ours back when we were on the IOC staff. Mike and his battalion command group spend four to five days a week on operations with joint Marine/Afghan Army patrols, living and sleeping in the rough like traditional infantry. Two of his three rifle companies are out in the boonies at all times. They are not finding too many bad guys in the Naw Zad area, so they spend most of their time interacting with and helping out the local population. As I have said in the past, there are very few places in this country which do not welcome American infantry. The caveat is that the Afghans would prefer the Americans- or British or Canadian or Norwegians to hang around for a year or two to eradicate the conditions that drive the cycle of violence. One of the places I would not have expected to welcome the Marines would be Naw Zad because most of the farmers in that area have fought for or support the other side in this conflict. That makes little difference to the Marines who are more than willing to let bygones be bygones as long as everyone can get along. It is when the local villains decide not to play nice that the true difference between the Marine way of fighting and theirs becomes evident.
Western armies have three options upon enemy contact: violence of action in the form of direct assault by heavy infantry, using supporting arms to soften the enemy followed by a direct assault, or using direct arms in combination with direct fire to punish the enemy before withdrawing without making physical contact. The last option, although the most common response by NATO units, is the least preferred. Fire without maneuver is a waste of resources and accomplishes little.
As I have said in the past humans can adapt to aerial bombardment over time but they can never adapt to another human who has come to kill them at close range. Bombs ultimately do not scare humans; humans scare humans. Just as the Koreans and Chinese learned to avoid the “yellow legs” during the Korean War and Somalis learned to fear the “black boots” and the Haitians rapidly figured out not to tangle with the “white sleeves“, the Taliban in Northern Helmand are about to get the same graduate-level education that their southern brethren started receiving over a year ago when Duffy White and his Regimental Combat Team arrived in country. Trying to play shoot and scoot with the Marines is a dead mans game. Use IED attacks on the Marines and they will quickly get “left of the boom” to collect the scalps they are due. The local Talib leaders can stay here and go with the program to reap the benefits of American generosity as we re-build this shattered land or they can leave for some other shit hole to cause mischief or they can try to fight. There are no longer any other options for them in the Helmand Province.
The Marines from RCT 2 are going to prove predictable too. When attacked they will respond with direct assaults and once contact is made they will not let go until their tormentors are decimated. Direct assaults break the cycle of violence by stripping the bad guys of experienced fighters. Experienced fighters who keep their wits in the face of direct assault are dangerous adversaries. They can cost you a fortune in time, ammo, or blood – the three commodities you never have enough of in combat. Less experienced cadres will do one of three things: stay in place because they are too freaked out to move; break contact and run because they are too freaked out to stay; or quickly surrender because they are too freaked out to fight. Afghans do not have a cultural history of standing firm in battle and slugging it out toe to toe with heavy infantry. Only men of the west fight using that style of warfare, which is why western armies have dominated those of other lands since the battle of Plataea in 479 B.C. I am not saying the Afghan Taliban does not have brave fighters….they do, but brave individual fighters do not a cohesive combat unit make. The shock of rapid, violent assault by multiple platoons from multiple angles is something only a well trained, well equipped, well supported western army can handle. The Talibs of Helmand Province are accustomed to ISAF forces engaging from a 1000 meters out, dropping some tac air or arty on them and withdrawing. RCT 2 doesn’t play the drop ordinance and withdraw game. They play the close with you and stay on your ass until you are dead game.
Although I was able to talk at great length with Paul about his combat experience that was not why he wanted to see me. I have always wondered if the theories about human factors in combat we studied so diligently, argued over so passionately and taught to our students 20 years ago turned out to be true. They did but I don’t want to bore you with that least I catch you know what from you know who. Paul has the combat part of his mission down cold but understands that his band of Killer Angels has a much harder mission than seeking out and destroying their enemies. They need to master the “hold and build”, which is not something combat units train to do. The true mission of RCT 2 is described perfectly in today’s excellent post by Richard Fernandez at the Belmont Club.
“Kaplan describes how in the process of muddling along through intractable situations, the US military has become the master of the possible, simply because they have had to be. Kaplan predicts they may succeed in Afghanistan yet again and that very success will become a poisoned pawn.
The secret to their success, Kaplan says in his article Man Versus Afghanistan, is that the men in the field have discovered what their political masters have long forgotten: legal concepts are not enough. Governance doesn’t just mean installing someone, anyone – let alone someone as corrupt as Karzai- and recognizing them as sovereign. Governance means the ability to harness a population’s aspirations to make things work. To paraphrase Lenin’s famous observation on Communism, counterinsurgency is the freedom agenda plus competence. And the worst thing about the US military, Kaplan says, is that they’ve learned to do it. Kaplan describes how McChrystal has approached the problem and is at some level alarmed at how good at it they’ve become.”
Mullah John and Raybo who are working the southwest for Ghost Team are going to be helping with the hold and build as they implement a very clever USAID project, which has flat lines of authority, flexibility, and speedy implementation built into the project design. This program is the follow-on to the very small project Panjwai Tim and I did last summer, and to the everlasting credit of USAID, has been reinforced by extra cash. Mullah John has over 10,000 Afghans working in Helmand, Farah and Nimroz Provinces and the only internationals involved are Raybo, an Aussie bloke I don’t know in Farah, and Mullah John. That is an unbelievable accomplishment considering the project started last December. Despite this success the best thing one can say about the other US Government agencies who are responsible for the “hold and build” is that they do not hinder our efforts in the cash for work programs currently being implemented by Ghost Team. The various funding streams for reconstruction, with their associated rules and multiple agencies who manage these complex programs from the safety of big box FOB’s makes the job of executing the “build” portion a supremely difficult task.
What is going to be even more difficult is reinforcing the success of Team Canada and crew as they grow what was once a small cash for work program into a regional reconstruction vehicle. The big boys in the reconstruction biz did not hire a platoon of former AID executives and a squad of retired Marine Colonels to lose business and prestige to a band of small upstarts who have accomplished in months what they have not been able to do in years. The Marine Corps, given their history of innovation, their institutional bias for action and our personal relationships with the current commanders are a perfect match to do effective hold and build. As I have blogged in the past it is possible to do reconstruction in contested areas without ridiculously expensive, completely ineffective security measures like B6 armored trucks and know- nothing gun goons escorting your expats. My good friends and I have been doing it for years and we are just now gaining traction with the guys who matter. I’m feeling more optimistic about the ultimate outcome of our adventure in Afghanistan then I have at any point in the five years I have been here. Time will tell if my optimism is warranted, but my money is and will remain on the Marines.