Recently the Pentagon released a Department of Defense Directive on Irregular Warfare. This has been greeted with a few articles in the press and much discussion amongst the various players on the ground in Afghanistan. When you see documents that say “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff shall” that is a powerful piece of paper from on high and thus to be treated with a certain amount of reverence by military aficionados. There are a finite number of people in the world who can task four star generals or deputy secretaries of defense so guys like us pay attention when they publish directives. Professionals in the business study them if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls. We engage in endless discussions about meaning, intent, who wrote it, what it will mean on the ground; really boring stuff to normal folks. This comment came from a discussion thread amongst a group I correspond with regularly.
“I find it particularly interesting that DoD would come up with a “Directive of the obvious”… For all of its claims the Army as an organization doesn’t learn so quickly. I suppose that it took years of doing the same things expecting different results for the light to shine on reality. Not to be condescending in any way; I am glad to see the directive has been introduced. I hope that it grows roots quickly and flourishes… There is a full-spectrum under which many current peripheral entities can be brought to bear in order to surpass the expectations that DoD may currently have.”
I could not have said it better myself; it will be interesting to see how this directive impacts the template used by the U.S. military as it introduces more maneuver units into the country. Reports in the press indicate that the Army is planning on sending combat units in to Loghar and Wardak Provinces which are just outside of Kabul. The Marine Corps appears to be preparing at to deploy in expeditionary force strength into the south. That could mean up to three infantry regiments of Marines with all their supporting arms and logistics. That is a lot of gunfighters. They bring their own supporting arms and aircraft too which can generate overwhelming firepower with speed and precision. Nobody can take the kind of punishment Marines can generate on the fly no matter how many virgins may or may not be waiting for enemy fighters on the other side. Marine units in the south have proven that they can roll around at platoon strength and literally beat Taliban fighters like a drum even when facing ambushers who have a 10 1 advantage. Not only can they break units that size but do so without taking casualties themselves. That is pretty damn impressive performance by any standard of measurement. The Question is – does it matter?
The Taliban are controlling large swaths of Afghanistan not because they are better fighters they are beating the Karzai regime because they bring better governance in the areas they control. The people know that a Taliban tribunal will not award land and water rights based on the largest bribe. They also know that once issues of this nature are settled the dispute is officially over and the loser has no choice but to accept the ruling. Fire fights between families involved in land and water disputes are frequent and bloody affairs unless the Taliban controls the area. In those areas the losing party must accept the Taliban ruling or they will cut his head off. People tend to cooperate in a system like that.
But they don’t like it too much and would rather see a platoon of Marines or Army soldiers hanging around than a crew of religious zealots. It would be a pleasant surprise to see the Army and Marine units who flow into the country next year deployed down to the district level. I suspect that there will be tentative steps to branch out like that and these steps will involve what the new directive terms “civilian-military teams.” That will be really interesting to see and I believe strongly that small teams working at the district level can, if properly funded and deployed, make a huge difference in the battle to control the only thing that matters in Afghanistan and that’s the people. The mixing of civilian experts with the military in the current Human Terrain Team program has not gone well and I don’t care what you read in the press on the subject believe me when I say the program is an abject (multi-million dollar) failure. HTT teams can only venture off base when embedded with large American convoys and therefore seldom get out. Because their offices are on base they use the military computer networks which will not allow them to access the very Jihadist website they are supposed to be monitoring. They will not be a useful tool to any commander until they are let off base and given the freedom of action to move about their areas of responsibility, develop relationships with the tribal elders and basically gather the information the program is supposed to gather.
One hopes that is what the “civilian military teams” end up doing. Add in a few security guys, an agriculture expert or two, some construction types, and irrigation specialist and maybe a female medic and you have a little group of civilian-military warriors capable of going out daily in separate teams to do good deeds. They would all need to be armed and may well have to fight from time to time but when you are at the district level and know the district power structure every time you have to fight or take an IED strike you can go right back to the Shura with a well deserved “WTF?” “You guys promised this would stop if we came in here to help better let me know who did this and what you did to them.” Or words to that effect it is a different way to fight but could prove very effective if we give those types of tactics a chance to mature.
We were able to conduct a “civilian military team” field trial a few days ago on a road mission to Kabul. The Army guys are digitized due to their current assignments. They were able to use our unarmored vehicles and we wore local hats and scarves not really making too big an effort to blend in but not looking that military either. This was a demonstration of why we prefer unarmored local vehicles for most road missions and they caught on fast. One of the Captains remarked that he never really got to see too much of the country from because the visibility out of armored humvees is so restricted. They also marveled at how we attracted absolutely no attention except for in the busy, narrow main street of Surobi. We also rolled up (at speed of course) on a French convoy which gave the boys an excellent opportunity to experience the joy of low visibility ops as the a Frenchman on a .50 cal swung the barrel towards just in case we hadn’t figured we should stop on our own. I hate that kind of thing because you never know who is behind that massive machinegun I have been shot at by both the British and American armies once in an American embassy vehicle and the other in a brand new armored truck which belonged to the ambassador of Japan. If you can get shot at in large embassy vehicles bearing diplomatic plates imagine what can happen on a lonely stretch of road outside Surobi, which to the French is a modern Waterloo. It turned out when the convoy passed us that the machinegunner was female. I don’t know if that makes it more or less likely that she would be quick on the trigger but do know that rolling through Pashtun villages with woman pointing machineguns at everyone they pass is about as stupid an idea as I have heard in a long time. Whoever thought that a good idea should join the current democratic US congress he’d find himself surrounded by like minded geniuses. You can’t buy stupidity that profound on the open market you have to elect it. At least in America you do don’t know what the France’s excuse could be.
The boys got to enjoy all the perks of using locally procured transport including the monkey drill of changing tires using the local jacks the original equipment never seems to survive the trip to Afghanistan for some reason. More importantly they got to “feel” the road to Kabul like we do and we do not consider the people using that road a threat. The military travels in convoys and do not allow the local vehicles to get near them. They do this to avoid being hit by “suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive devices” (VBIED’s.) But it is impossible for a turret gunner to recognize a potential VBIED, orient on it and engage it before it slams into them from the opposite lane. That’s a function of the OODA loop an infantry 101 subject understood (in theory) by every infantry officer and SNCO in America. Many gunners have thought they spotted one and engaged it killing the occupants inside. To the best of my knowledge they have never stopped a VBIED and have killed over 400 civilians who were driving aggressively but were not VBIED’s. In the south Canadian and British forces force all traffic off the road to prevent VBIED’s. That is an easy tactic for VBIED’s to beat they just pull off to the side and wait for the vehicles to draw abreast of them. In the east sometimes all the traffic will pull off to the side and sometimes it won’t it can be confusing and very tense to run up on an American convoy at speed; we always just pull over. I once saw a patrol of Humvees allowing the local traffic to intermix with them and pass like they would Afghan Army convoys that was smart because the Taliban doesn’t like killing innocent Afghans too much. Kill the wrong ones and you may find a little “badal” (pashtun concept of blood debt) action heading your way which can cost experienced leaders. Unemployment is high in Afghanistan on any given day you can see 6 to 7 thousand military aged males just hanging out around Jalalabad and the surrounding districts who would welcome a good blood feud for the sense of purpose it brings them. Plus it is something to do even the most dim witted amongst us would get tired of squatting on a wall watching the traffic go by every day no matter how much hash he was smoking.
Using unarmored local vehicles with light body armor and fighting kit is another option. This appears to be taking unwarranted risks but I’ll let the quote below from Col David Hackworth, lifted from an excellent article in the Small War Journal by Sgt Michael Hanson, USMC, to address that issue.
“In Vietnam, today’s most successful infantry tactics and techniques were yesterday’s heresy and madness. When these ‘overly reckless’ ideas were first introduced by farseeing innovators in 1965 and 1966, few commanders took them seriously. Most, because of parochial conventional orientation, looked upon these new concepts with contempt not unlike many reactionary English lords’ attitude toward the longbow before Crecy. But today in Vietnam, these once ‘wild schemes’ have become standard drill. These bold techniques have changed the thrust of the war from uneconomical multi brigade operations to fights that are fought almost exclusively by the squad and platoon.”
He says it better than I can it was true in Vietnam, and it is true today we need to win the people and that means being in the districts with them 24/7. We can do it and do it for pennies on the dollar we currently spend to support our forces in the field. But only if we reach back to our past and remember how to conduct independent small unit operations on a very large scale. Not by using more command and control but by pushing the decision making very low and allowing our military to focus on stability operations. Throw in some augmentation to facilitate reconstruction, medcaps, and mentoring of local officials and now you’re talking solutions. Let them live and move around like myself and the thousands of others outside the wire and you’re talking change. Change you can really believe in because it will cost billions LESS than we are spending now. That’s the kind of change I can believe in effective and cheap.
One last point and the topic of my next post America cannot bring security to the rural population of Afghanistan if every time they interact with that population they treat them as potential enemy fighters. The military believes “force protection” is the job number one and I have listened to officers wax eloquent on the subject of protecting their men and woman no matter what because this country is not worth the noble sacrifice that their young troopers would represent if they lost life or limb here. I have used all my self control to avoid kicking these idiots in the teeth which is what they deserve. That kind of thinking will lead to our defeat just as certain as day follows night. It is ridiculous and based on an inflated self centered egotism which I find alarming. Infantry officers are paid to think to think about the best way to beat those who ask for it while maintaining the cohesion and high morale amongst their troops. The job of military leaders is to spend blood, American blood, and spend it wisely in pursuit of the missions and objectives given them by their civilian masters. I know what those masters have said is our mission in Afghanistan. I also know the current American TTP (tactics, techniques and procedures) do not in any way support the mission they have been given and in fact do the exact opposite by alienating the very population we are supposed to be “winning.” I might be being a little harsh here but how else do you explain the performance of our military to date? Sure they can fight like demons against the Taliban in the south but the Taliban in the south are not the same ones who currently own every province around Kabul except Laghman which is only half Taliban. So what difference does it make killing hundreds of Taliban in the south while a majority of the population (not in the south) falls to Taliban control.
It is time for some “outside the box” thinking and last week’s demonstration we hope will lead to more discussions between the big base behind the wire military and all the other internationals in Afghanistan who feel safer at night on the streets of Kabul or Jalalabad than we do in Washington DC or Chicago. I say “Big Base Behind the Wire” because I know and correspond with men in the various embedded training teams who see things exactly the same way I do. Inshallah they will rapidly move into positions of influence God knows they have earned it by staying true to the warrior virtues which make American infantry the deadliest collection of fighters the world has ever known. And “force protection” is not one of those virtues.