Operation Magistral

There was an article on Afghanistan last week that got my immediate attention.  The article had a one day life cycle and I have not seen any follow ups which, given the content, is surprising.   I am not referring to the change in  night raid policy – I couldn’t care less about night raids because tangible results after years of doing them are nil. The argument for them is that the tactical situation on the ground would be much worse without them. I’m not seeing how it could get much worse.

The big news (for me) was an article running titled Details Emerge on Coming U.S. Offensive in Eastern Afghanistan. One can only hope it was another April Fools prank because I cannot believe we would do something so utterly pointless.  Here are the alleged objectives:

A senior U.S. government official in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new troops will have three primary missions. First, they will work to expand the so-called security bubble surrounding the Afghan capital, which has been battered by a spate of insurgent attacks in recent months. Second, they will try to better connect Kabul with the key southern city of Kandahar, a hotbed of resistance that NATO forces largely reclaimed last year.

The third mission will be the most important, the most complicated, and potentially the most dangerous. The troops, the senior government official said, will move toward the Afghan-Pakistani border as part of a broad push to reduce the numbers of anti-government fighters, weaponry, and bomb-making material flowing in from Pakistan, where militants operate freely from large safe havens.

Extend the “security bubble” from Kabul to Ghazni, clear route one from Kabul to Kandahar and then turn east and clear all the Taliban from the border provinces of Paktya and  Khost with 5000 extra paratroopers?  That’s not going to happen. That plan is not only DOA; its crazy.

Late in the Soviet Afghan War the Soviets tried the same kind of Op for probably the same reasons only they had 28,000 men trying to clear a tiny piece of road running from Gardez to Khost. The Soviet Offensive was called Operation Magistral and if you’re a gamer and have played The Battle For Hill 3234 you were playing a game based on a battle from Operation Magistral. It took two months for Soviets and their Afghan partners to get to Khost and the offensive was conducted in November through January – the non fighting season when the weather is cold, the snow deep and most of the Muj fighters still sitting out the winter in Pakistan.

The Southeast Region - the next offensive is supposed to clear all of this
The Southeast Region – the next offensive is supposed to clear all of this with the forces on hand plus an extra 5,000 troop mini surge.


The Gardez to Khost highway - this tiny part of the Southeast Region
The Gardez to Khost highway – this tiny part of the Southeast Region took the Soviets 2 months to clear using 28,000 troops

Number comparisons between Soviet forces back in 1987 and American forces now are irrelevant. The Soviets had to dig out the thick belt of heavy weapons the Muj used to fortify the Satukandav Pass (30 km east of Gardez) using infantry fire and maneuver. Americans have drone pilots back in Nevada who could sort that out. Any Taliban fortifications uncovered by our side would get plastered by rockets and 2000lb JDAMS. That’s why the villains now use IED’s and when they do fight they do so in areas where there are lots of civilians so they can drop their weapons blend back into the normal pattern of life when hard pressed. The area between Highway 1 and the Pakistan border is huge and has heavily populated flat lands with lots of mountains in between.  It is not the Helmand Province where the Marines were able (with twice the manpower) to dominate the lower Helmand basin in large part because terrain, vegetation, and population density favored their direct fire weapon systems. That still took years for them to accomplish and I don’t want to get into what that effort cost in casualties because it is too damn depressing. It’s depressing because those sacrifices gained nothing that will last.

The reason I bring up Operation Magistral is not to point out the Soviets had 28,000 men and still got their asses kicked – they didn’t. The Paratroopers from the 82nd who are scheduled to conduct this offensive (if it happens as outlined in the article) won’t get their asses kicked either. But they’re going to take some casualties and they are going to inflict much more than they take and my question is to what end?

Brother _B_ and I were chatting on Skype earlier trying to figure out why ISAF would launch an “offensive” in a such a heavily populated area .  _B_ figures its to demonstrate the “capabilities of the Afghan Army we have been mentoring while creating space to withdraw”.  I agree – that is the classic reason to do this kind of operation but it also showcases the Pentagon’s steadfast refusal to deal with reality. The whole American COIN concept is predicated on having a legitimate host nation partner and our ability to build host nation security forces. We don’t have a legitimate host nation government to partner with and have failed to build meaningful capacity in the Afghan Security Forces (ANSF).

Bother _B_ and I know how this so-called offensive is going to end – we’re going to lose soldiers while killing scores of Pastun tribesmen and dozens of civilians. The second we pull out, the turf will go right back into the hands of the local Taliban and/or Warlord. That  is exactly what happened when the Soviets pulled out of the same area after inflicting a good thumping on the Muj back in 87. This planned offensive may well be the craziest idea floated by the American military since Operation Eagle Claw.

Crazy seems to be a theme lately because guess what those crazy Afghans are up to now? They’re threatening Hillary Clinton’s legacy! This is from the linked article;

Clinton embraced the cause long before the first U.S. troops landed in the country, and as secretary of State she has brought Afghan women worldwide attention, political power and unbending promises of American support.

“We will not abandon you,” she pledged.

First; yes, you will abandon them, you already have in most of the country.  Second, what the hell does Hillary Clinton’s “commitment to women” have to do with the foreign policy of the United States of America? I’m all for helping Afghan woman and have done more than my share of projects in support of that effort. But I was working for an NGO which is the only appropriate vehicle for that kind of change. NGO’s work from the bottom up and can ignore or avoid corrupt officials if they are smart enough to understand cultural dynamics. Why is the office of the Secretary of State now a platform where liberal ruling class elites can indulge in imaginary pet projects designed to build a political legacy? Billions of our dollars and the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens hang in the balance in Afghanistan but the issue is Hillary Clinton’s legacy? The State Department had a lot to do with starting and shaping this conflict (if you break it you own it) while also underhandedly creating the dysfunctional central government by foisting their favored candidate and the SNTV voting system on the Afghan people.  Nobody seems to remember these facts nor the myriad unintended consequences of allowing senior people to dabble in the Great Game and leave others to contended with the fall out. The lessons that normally accompany abject failure are being swept under the rug instead of being mined how to not make the same mistakes in the future. Hillary Clinton’s legacy my rosy red ass….I’ve got her legacy right here;

I do not care for people who create tales of martial exploits in order to win high office because it reinforces the sad fact that they think the rest of us are stupid
I do not care for people who create tales of martial exploits in order to win high office because it reinforces the sad fact that they think the rest of us are stupid

Now that I got off my chest let me throw in some more pictures and get back on track. Check out the photos below:

The US Embassy entrance in 2005
The US Embassy entrance in 2005 looking towards Massoud Circle


School in nangarhar in 2005
Public school in Nangarhar Province 2005


The front entrance to the Embassy gate
The US Embassy entrance in 2012 looking from Massoud Circle back towards the gate; note the difference in security set up


Public School in Nangarhar 2012
Public School in Nangarhar Province 2012

Shortly after the first set of  pictures above were taken ISAF decided that we were going to do COIN and emphasize protecting the people. Every year since then the Taliban and other insurgent groups have grown stronger while not much has changed for the average Afghan. Yet ISAF and the American embassy have never stopped putting up more walls, more wire, and adding more movement restrictions which isolate diplomatic and aid staff even more than before.  Security for me but not for thee is what I had to say about this back in 2010, and not much has changed since. Admitting this seems to be problematic even for  the practical people of Australia. From the linked article:

Australian officials have rejected a report commissioned by the government agency AusAID that is critical of the security assessment in Afghanistan, insisting it be rewritten to match upbeat claims of dramatic progress.

What can you say about that bullshit? What I’d like to say to any Australian government representatives reading this post is that The Bot and I can do a 3 year Provincial security assessment, in any province mind you, for 2.5 million (Australian dollars please – they’re worth more than American dollars) and we’ll have teams on the ground in every district bringing in the ground truth within 96 hours of signing the contract. But we don’t do re-writes; that may seem a disadvantage based on the article above but look at this way: save a million here and million there and before you know it you have a huge budget surplus and are then politically strong enough to take the truth straight.  And that’s how you should want your security assessments….right?

Let me predict something and I know I’m right so don’t even think about emailing me asking to bet…you’ll lose. There will be no offensive by ISAF in eastern Afghanistan this year or next year or any year. The conventional military has done all they can do and it is time for them to leave. They think their fighting big T and little t Taliban but they’re wrong. What they are fighting is a Afghan insurgency because the Afghans don’t like foreigners and they don’t like the government in Kabul no matter who is charge. They know and have known for years that the only way to get a fair settlement in a land dispute or any civil law matter is to take the issue to a Taliban judge for adjudication. We have screwed this up so badly words are not adequate to express my level of disgust with what we have wrought on the Afghans.


16 Replies to “Operation Magistral”

  1. Re: COIN-the whole concept is retahhded. A legitimate host nation partner will, by definition, not need our help to build their forces or to fight their internal battles. A government which needs a foreign sponsor/senior partner to survive is, by definition, a client, a dependent, a marionette. There can be no stable middle ground between sovereignity and patronage. The theme of this war has been our total failure to build a proper puppet government for ideological reasons, with the result that our puppet dictates terms to us and collaborates with the nominal enemy while stealing our aid.

    As for the women of Afghanistan-I fail to understand the problem. We all know that women are men’s equals in every way except for upper body strength, and operating an AK doesn’t require much of that. If Afghan women have chosen not to take up arms and overthrow the patriarchy, it must be because the mores of their society are acceptable to them. Who is Hillary Clinton to impose different mores on them against their will? This is blatant cultural imperialism!

  2. Also, it’s ironic that male American troops are being asked to fight to defend the supposed interests of Afghan women (their rights to live more like Arlington housewives, I guess) by the same system which has its legal fist up their misogynist, chauvinist male asses to an unprecedented depth. A nontrivial percentage of the guys who go home intact will have 50% of their retirement pay and most of the rest of their assets taken by their ex-wife in a divorce, have spurious domestic violence/abuse charges dropped on them as part of divorce tactics (and thanks to the Lautenberg Amendment, say goodbye to their military careers,) have their rights to raise their own kids stripped away, etc.

  3. large parts of Paktika and Paktia are only lightly inhabited or just along the river valleys. A lot of the ingress of baddies, especially Hekmatyrs happens up near Zerok and Khost. Problem is they shoot over the border and we have to ask Mom for permission to shoot back, resulting in situations like the battle between the Pakistani Army and our guys leadership has been trying to bury.

    And another thing. Why the hell can’t these maroons spell the town names the same way twice in a row? Zeruk, Zaruk, Zerok…Talk about operational idiocy.

  4. Here’s one of my pet peeves…..

    We spend millions of dollars and untold hours training our troops about OPSEC. After all that, some political hack, be they military, civilian bureaucrat, or self serving politician, throws OPSEC out the window and announces to the world what we plan to do, where we plan to do it, who we are giving the mission to, what the schedule is, and what the ROE are. So we wind up with idiot reporters on hot beaches filming the Marines coming ashore in Somalia, for instance. The enemy either beefs up his forces and we have a major fight, or the enemy gets out of the way, and lives to fight again. If a reporter is injured or killed, or if troops get shot up, it’s the military’s fault for having a bad plan. If PVT Jody Offtheblock is the leak, he gets his butt kicked by everyone in the chain of command. But if the leak is Senator I.M. Betternyu, nobody says a thing. Makes me want to tear someones hair out. Anyone else think this is an injustice? I’d like to see the next “unnamed source” prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law. Will that ever happen? Not likely.

    1. Ron,

      You assume that this leak is unintentional. As can be seen from articles like this one (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/03/inside-special-forces/), the emasculated girly-men of the media are internally torn. Aside from hating their redneck class enemies in the military, they also desperately want to gargle their nuts (although of course the virile beards of the freedom fighters are much more appealing in the long run.)

      The red state-ish jock leadership of the armed forces, while, of course, despising their class enemies in the press and resenting the fact that they have to tapdance backwards for them on the big issues, are not above using the media for a weekday booty call. So why wouldn’t you assume that the release of this info to the media is covering for a concentration of forces to support something else, somewhere else?

      1. Just as an illustration of this sordid relationship-McCrystal. Remember, the media got all wet for his chiseled features when they first met. Sparks flew from across the crowded nightclub: “he’s from JSOC! He’s killed more people than cancer! He eats one meal a day after his seven mile run at a six minute pace! Ooooohhh, he’s so HAWWT…”

        Then the next morning the media woke up and walked home, feeling all dirty and ashamed. So they called the pantsuited HR ladies McCrystal was working for and told them about what a rude, forceful jerk he had been. The HR ladies at the White House, who’d been feeling dirty and used themselves after McCrystal had ridden them like Seabiscuit, called him in for The Talk, and that was that.

    2. Maybe somebody at the Pentagon is engaging in what do they call it? Information operations?….yeah that’s the ticket….info ops.

  5. B…..no, I did not assume it was unintentional. But at the same time, I don’t assume that the ass who made the leak had any motive other than stroking his or her own ego. You are right to say that it could be a cleverly devised misdirection. I did not consider that. I suppose time will tell. But even if this is a Jedi mind trick, it’s often enough the case that it’s nothing more than a publicity grab that I feel justified in being scandalized whenever it happens. But then, in my imagination, I already have young Bradley Manning tried, convicted, and standing in front of a stone wall with a last cigarette and blindfold.

  6. Every large organization suffers from the problem that it’s goals aren’t shared by it’s employees. The Army is no different. Whats good for MG “X” may be bad for America, very bad for the mission and very, very bad for Sgt “Y”. Of course the reverse is true. Sgt “Y”s actions although optimal for him may not be for the mission.

    Every contingent in Afghanistan has suffered from the need for commanders to do something big. Region and Brigade commanders command big stuff. They have big ideas. Big hands…small map. They don’t sit back for a tour while squads go patrolling. They need something big to set themselves off from their peers (being selected by a celebrity journalist as a genius “who gets it” is a major plus….being known as a warrior scholar or warrior scholar monk ninja is the jackpot).

    There’s no reason to look for “strategy” in any of this. The answer lies in personal ambition and army culture.

    1. Hey J, guess what I learned the other day while chatting up E2? That back in 03, 04, and even 05 there were A teams and MI dets seeded all over places like Jalalabad and even Kandahar in their own safe houses with their own Afghan staff, living on the economy, interacting with NGO’s and PSC’s and basically operating in a manner I’ve been advocating for years. I had heard that the varsity once operated that way but now learn that battalion level assets were able to set up like that. Then Big Army comes and with it the LogCap contracts to that build out the bases need to support air craft wings, large staffs, and allied units so everyone has to go behind the wire, tactical effectiveness be damned. When you start shelling out the money Big Army is shelling out to build and operate all the FOBs there is no funding source for anyone to be anywhere but on a FOB. It makes sense when you look at the dollars involved providing (what I contend is too lavish) life support.

      I don’t think strategy is the answer either – the best they could have done is a training mission while leaving guys who were running out of their own safe houses back in the early days alone and tasking them to do the community development program that we did from 09 – 11. Ghost Team was 100% former military who had no specialized training just a mandate to get projects done and people working. The military calls that a mission type order and although they talk a lot about the imperative of allowing distributed operations using mission orders and subordinate initiative the fact is they never do it. Big Army Col’s will not risk their star on a bunch of NCO’s running around unsupervised doing what they think should be done with reconstruction money. So the BA Col’s micro-manage their subordinates, rein in all initiative, deflect problems and turn unimportant things (like key leader engagements) into important things in order to mark time while avoiding scandal, excessive casualties, or a drop in retention.

      Is it me or am I starting to sound like B here?

  7. Poor guys…back here at home our “justice” system lingers on working up the case against Major Hasan for his killing efforts at Fort Hood…how many years ago?

    Now the defense asks for another delay in trial to go over 90,000 pages of evidence and to produce 242 witnesses, while claiming they are being denied valuable information, documents, etc. by the prosecution. MILLONS of dollars have been spent and more to be spent on this “problem” by those who want to play the “legal game” in America.

    Over at the Pentagon one can find many who like to play the “military game” too!

    Think about this duality of vested desires and interests.

    1. What was it Mark Styen wrote this morning? Ah yes “Sometimes societies become too stupid to survive”. I feel the same way you do about things like this RJ – and I don’t forget them either. Bet when I write “Metzger” and “100% disability” you know exactly what I’m talking about.

  8. Tim, Glad to see you writing again, good to have you back. Wondering if the stuff from Dalton Thomas is still in the works? Keep safe.

    1. Hey Jon – thanks and yes I am afraid I’ll be forced to print Dalton’s bizarre short stories soon. I thought I might be able to avoid that by hiding out back over here but should have known better.

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