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. 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 an artillery round or ran tac air into the city.
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 lines of communications (LOC’s) to be cut or 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.
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.
15 Replies to “Violence of Action”
What an incredible story. Colonel Kennedy carries an enormous responsibility, one which leaves me a bit gobsmacked just thinking of all the dimensions.
Learning about the Marine way of doing things is incredibly reassuring. God speed to everyone, be safe and fulfill the mission.
In the meanwhile, I’ll be working with Amy to take the responsibility of the Amazon Wish List off her back. I’ve got a great person (Marc Danziger) who will be helping.
Good to hear from you.I have no doubt the marines will do good things there.Just keep the government out of it,or they will muck it up.
“Afghans do not have a cultural history of standing firm in battle and slugging it out toe to toe with heavy infantry. ”
You may want to read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Maiwand?
Ok, you’re a team player and you love, really love the Corps! You and your buds are at the tip of the spear, you feel good, you believe your team can do the job assigned: You and your pals represent the “American Tradition” of winning!
All well and fine. Me, I’m in the rear looking around to see what’s what. I’m looking for how strong and wide is the lifeline to all our troops working this mess with the bad guys.
I don’t have the same level of confidence that you have on the front line, here in the rear. However, I do what I can to support our fighting efforts.
As to you new editor: These are golden moments between a father and his son. Take the young man’s advice, let him have the thrill of helping his Dad fight the good fight.
Nothing beats love, nothing at all!
Strategy always trumps tactics. Economy of Effort is on most lists of Principals of War as is Unity of Effort and Selection of the Aim. The US and NATO haven’t applied a single Principal of War in Afghanistan since about 2004 and they seem to be going further off the rails with the “surge”.
The main strategic question for the US is whether the increase(if any) in security to the US homeland is worth the cost of the current operation.
Even if you agree that Helmand is the key to holding Kandahar which is the key to holding Afghanistan (I disagree with both premises) USMC operations in pacifying it’s AOR aren’t worth the cost. 20,000 Marines could cost as much as $ 20 billion to keep the field for one year. What’s worse the $ 20 billion is borrowed and much from the Chinese. What’s even worse is that the $ 20 billion is an incremental figure and the huge costs for pensions, health care and equipment replacement will probably double or even triple the final bill.
This article and last nights attacks in Kandahar are timely.
Just seen on MSN “Marines going rogue or leading fight.”
B – I don’t think The Corp much likes far-Left Jew-haters and Holocaust deniers like yourself.
WTF is up with that? Nothing on the Wiki link supports your comments.
You’re right, the Wiki link is clean and for the moment historically accurate. Although that one historical exception does not dis-prove the rule.
Click the link in B’s name and you will see his now somewhat dormant blog called Moon Over Alabama. From there its just one or two clicks to straight up Jew hate of the insane far Left variety. With some 9/11 trooferism, the US is doomed to lose in Afghanistan, and when the US loses the “evil empire” (that’s us) will fall, all thrown in to the same pot of rancid stew called Moon Over Alabama blog.
B, or Billmon, has been around the innerwebs for a while. He likes to troll websites like this one.
For the record:
– b isn’t Billmon. Those are two persons who never met.
– b isn’t a Jew hater but is quite critical of Israel’s policies
– b has never and will never deny the holocaust
– b is a conservative with a social touch – since when is that “far Left”?
Besides that, the statement that Afghans do not have a cultural history of standing firm in battle and slugging it out toe to toe with heavy infantry. is historically wrong and that was the only issue I pointed out here.
The battle of Maiwand isn’t the only case where the Afghans took a stand. Read up on some history. In “The bear went over the mountains” there are several vignettes that show that the Afghans are quite capable of infantry battles.
That they do not choose open battle when the chance to loose is high is just smart. Look up “Powell doctrine” for a lecture on that.
Sorry for getting to this conversation late. I have been traveling a lot and just got back on line. I don’t mind being called out on things I write in the blog and if I were not such a lazy ass blogger I would spend more time in the comments section “‘splaining” things. When you site the battle of Maiwand as an example of eastern armies being able to go toe to toe with western infantry you are really making my point. The Afghans sporting a 2 to 1 advantage used western technology to win. Western armies who are thousands of miles away from home are vulnerable to defeat by numerically superior forces especially when those forces are using western military technology. But here is the thing – who was serving in the British Army back then? Mostly to poorest of the poor who came from both urban and rural backgrounds and were not known as a “warrior race.” The Afghans were a “warrior race” who had been decimated by the Brits before Maiwand and were to be again after that battle. The key to British mastery of the Afghans back then (in the military sense) was discipline and cohesion which is a trait of western armies. There was no booty or individual glory to be gained for the 4th rifleman is the 3rd rank of the 66th Regiment of Foot – he fought in a disciplined formation because of cultural mores unique to the west. It is inconceivable that a thousand Afghans could have traveled from Kandahar to England, defeated several British armies only to then been defeated at the gates of London. They could not do that then, they cannot do that now; they will never be able to do that.
I am not making a cultural judgment – just stating historical fact. As brave as Apache warriors were back in the 1800’s they would have never stood for one minute in a battle like Gettysburg because that type of warfare was completely alien to them. I consider myself a pretty brave guy but I could never cut the head off of a bound captive – never; but to modern day Taliban my inability to decapitate or torture prisoners would mark me as a coward. That is the difference of culture and only the west has the cultural history of discipline which allows for large unit operations where every man is functioning as part of a team, not as an individual warrior. When warrior societies face western formations of professional military men they lose, maybe not every battle but they damn sure lose every war. That is just the way it is. But of course winning battles does not always mean winning the entire conflict as we say in Vietnam but there it is.
If Tim is optimistic then I’m optimistic. This is best news I’ve read in a very long time.
Well somebody got there way.I just seen that McChrystal has full control over US,foreign troops.And the Marines too.MSN had the news item posted by the AP.NATO said this would work better. Must have been rogue marines.?
If you see Paul Kennedy anytime soon…Let him know Rich O asked about him…grew up same home town, new his family. A good friend of mine. Former Marine who just retired from the Intel business.
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