Category Archives: counterinsurency in afghanistan

Failing to Learn from History: The Lesson of the First Anglo-Afghan War and Questions about the US-NATO Campaign

“The Americans in Afghanistan are Demons. They claim they burned Korans by mistake, but really those were “Satanic acts that will never be forgiven by apologies.” Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai

It seems that we in the West seldom learn from history nor do certain Afghan leaders like Hamid Karzai. The situation in Afghanistan has taken on a more ominous tone as the situation continues to spiral downward with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s demand for the US and NATO to redeploy their troops to large bases and leave the countryside to Afghan control. Even more ominously he said that the Afghan-NATO relationship was “at the end of the rope.”  Karzai alluded that he did not believe that US and NATO account of the killing of 16 Afghan villagers near Kandahar.

This should come as no surprise to any observer of Afghanistan or anyone familiar with the relationship of Afghan leaders with western occupiers.  Karzai knows that the US-NATO era is coming to an end and even though he rules only because he is buttressed by western military power he is now trying to ensure his political and literal survival when we leave be it in 2013 or 2014.  The one thing that Karzai needs to keep in mind is that like his predecessors who turned on their western supporters be they British or Soviet he will be dangling from the end of the rope when we leave. He and his corrupt band of thieves who have alienated and plundered their own people will not survive their wrath once the protective cordon of American and NATO troops is withdrawn.

Karzai’s anti-American stance is further reinforced by the growing number of killings of US and NATO troops by Afghan police, soldiers and other personnel. Even this week an attack was made by an interpreter who drove a stolen pickup truck at a Marine Corps General and his British Brigadier assistant commander at Kandahar while awaiting the arrival of Secretary of Defense Panetta. Likewise the death of a Marine in February was officially announced as being at the hand of an Afghan soldier. The death occurred before the Afghan reaction to the burning of the Koran and was the 7th NATO service member who died at the hands of Afghan forces in February.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales at the National Training Center in 2011 (US Army/DoD Photo)

The final nail in the coffin for the campaign occurred last week when Staff Sergeant Robert Bales for unknown reasons went on a shooting rampage killing 16 Afghan civilians including 9 children when they were asleep in their homes.  Bales actions whether attributable to a psychological breakdown, being drunk or if he was simply a cold blooded killer have effectively destroyed any chance of the United States and NATO recovering the situation in Afghanistan. It is already said that Bales attorney plans to use the case to also put the US war effort on trial. Since Bales reportedly has a Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI and possibly PTSD who allegedly was told that he would not be deployed again expect that the Army Medical Department and Madigan Army Medical Center will be raked over the coals. Those institutions and the Commanders of Joint-Base Lewis McChord are already being investigated for downgrading PTSD diagnosis to other mental illnesses that do not qualify for medical disability payments.

Staff Sergeant Bales appears to be a man who appeared until this incident to be an honorable and professional soldier with a distinguished combat record. However he had a number of potentially troubling legal and personal situations occur over the past number of years and had not been selected for promotion. How those events play into this and what may have happened to push him over the edge or to unleash an evil in him that no one knew was there will be the subject of much debate in the coming weeks.  None of it will be good for the United States.

At the same time the question will have to be asked how and why a soldier with injuries of PTSD and TBI was deployed as part of a small team supporting Special Forces troops instead of with his own unit even after allegedly being told that he would not redeploy.  That is a question that must be answered.  Why would the Army deploy a soldier with known PTSD and TBI as an Individual Augment with different unit than which he was assigned? In this environment he would not be in a place to have the same camaraderie of being part of his own unit probably suffer much more isolation with the inherent dangers of such a situation. Having served on small bases in Iraq with the small teams of advisors and having worked with Sailors, Soldiers, Marines and Airmen assigned to commands as Individual Augments (IAs) and having been one myself I can say that these assignments are often much more dangerous for those with preexisting trauma.

The result of this latest incident coming on the heels of the burning of the Koran and other religious texts at Bagram Air Base, the release of a You Tube video of a US Marine Scout Sniper team urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters and the revelation of the “Kill team” in 2010 has for all practical purposes ended any chance of making a successful transition in Afghanistan.

Last Stand of the 44th Regiment of Foot 1842

Afghanistan was supposed to be the “good war” and for a couple of years that is what it was. US forces had taken down the Taliban regime with minimal effort in 2001 and appeared to be well on their way to finishing off Al Qaeda and banishing the Taliban from Afghanistan. However in 2003 the US took its focus off of Afghanistan by invading Iraq. We also had placed our trust in Hamid Karzai to guide Afghanistan into a new and democratic era. Karzai has proven to be much like Sujah Shah Durrani who the British imposed on Afghanistan in 1838 when they could not get Emir Dost Mohammed Khan to do their bidding in trying to keep Russia and Persia from dominating Afghanistan. That was a mistake of epic proportions that led to one of the greatest British military, diplomatic and political disasters of the Empire.

A survivor to the First Anglo-Afghan War Chaplain G.R. Gleig wrote about that war something that may be said about our campaign there in years to come:

“a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.” 

We can pray that it doesn’t happen that way. What started as an attempt to find and kill Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan in October of 2001 has turned into a long term occupation that serves no strategic interest of the United States.  Nearly 100,000 US troops are tied down in a country where they can do little conduct local operations against an intractable enemy to support a corrupt government that the people of Afghanistan loathe.  It is so similar to the British experience that it makes one wonder if anyone has ever read a book about the country before invading it.

Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is still reeling from continued strikes on its leadership. The goal of the war was achieved. Afghanistan is Afghanistan. It will not change and any threats brought by terrorists that may try to use it as a base can be defended so long as we are able and willing to whack a mole whenever they raise their head up, just as we are in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and even Pakistan. That does not require 100,000 tied down in Afghanistan where they are exposed to local threats as well as the possibility of being cut off from supplies should Pakistan or the Russian Federation cut supply lines or should hostilities break out with Iran.

Peace

Padre Steve+

About these ads

2 Comments

Filed under counterinsurency in afghanistan, Foreign Policy, iraq,afghanistan, Military, national security, News and current events

Fighting a World Wide Insurgency: The Problem Fighting Revolutionary Terrorists and Insurgents- Part One

Taliban Insurgents

“Warfare is now an interlocking system of actions political, economic, psychological; military that aims at the overthrow of the established authority in a country and its replacement by another regime.  To achieve this end, the aggressor tries to exploit the internal tensions of the country attacked ideological, social, religious, economic, any conflict liable to have a profound influence on the population to be conquered.” Roger Trinquier Modern Warfare

The United State and our allies have been at war with Islamic terrorists as well as nationally based insurgencies for over nine years.  The war that we are fighting is not like the Second World War where we fought a conventional war against enemies that were defined by national, political and geographic boundaries.  That war as well as the First World War and most recently the 1991 Gulf War but rather is a global insurgency in which we are pitted against a number of sometimes disparate groups One of the things that seems to be misunderstood by much of the media as well as the public

Muslim terrorist groups they use some tenants of Islam, mostly from the Wahabi school that emerged on the Arabian Peninsula in the late 1700s to justify what they do. Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard use the Islam taught by the school of the Ayatollah to do the same.

However that being said there are a sizable number of Muslims worldwide that oppose the terrorists and their brands of Islam but still can be offended and driven to the other side by Americans doing just what pastor Jones got started. The radicals take this and use it as propaganda against us.

The fact is that it is all about using propaganda effectively and not giving the terrorists the grist they need to use against us. The terrorist or the insurgent has no need to tell the truth and usually will not and will twist any “truth” to his own end. This is true in every revolutionary war, which is what all of these groups are waging. They are fighting to turn all of Islam and anyone else they can against us. This is the case since the beginning of time and not limited to Muslims.

We as Americans have been pretty lousy at this except when we were the revolutionaries. It is a fact, not just with the Muslims but all revolutionaries that since they are on the weak side of the military equation that they use propaganda, especially what any of our people do to radicalize people on the fence against us. Jones and others played into their hands and by doing so jeopardize the mission and endanger our troops. The fact is that we neither have the resources or people to allow this to become a war against all of Islam. Thus we have to exploit natural divisions and cultural divides in the Moslem world to isolate and neutralize the radicals of Al Qaeda, Hamas, the Taliban, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

It may seem on the surface to be politically correct appeasement but a true strategic purpose is served. The counter-insurgent cannot do what the insurgent can as they will lose the propaganda war and with it the broader war. We are fighting a world-wide revolutionary war against Moslem fundamentalist extremists that want us to make it a war against all of Islam. If that were to be the case we would have to go to a total war footing, ignore our own economy renew the draft and prepare for a war that in the long run we cannot win and will leave us as broken as Germany after WWII.

The problem with Islam as that for the most part much of Islam especially in the Middle East still lives in the 14th century with fancy technology. They did not have the Renaissance, Reformation or the enlightenment thus the appeal of the fundamentalist sects and radical Islam. That makes our job hard and that of Bin Laden easy as their world-view  promotes a black and white understanding of the world which makes recruitment of youthful idealists easy especially when the conflict is framed as against “Crusaders” or “Imperialists” opposed to Islam.

The war that we are engaged in is not conventional and we do not have a good record in recent times of fighting this kind of war. We lost in Vietnam because we ignored this. We won all the battles and lost the war. Despite what some pundits believe this is not like WWII and no new incarnation of George Patton will win it.

As I said we are engaged in a revolutionary war which is different than other types of war. In revolutionary wars the revolutionary no matter what his cause is able to use propaganda to influence opinion, usually of people that they are trying to bring to their side. Our founders were very good in portraying the British as violent and brutal occupiers. We used British excess especially in Boston and in the South against them very well. The Jihadists are promoting a revolutionary cause, that cause being the overthrow of established governments in the Middle East and bringing about a radical and fundamental brand of Islamic rule. This happened in Iran and after 30 years the young people are beginning to revolt against the Ayatollahs. It is also revolutionary because they are actively promoting the overthrow of established states and have a goal of establishing their brand of Islam over the entire world. The use revolutionary techniques and strategies used successfully by other revolutionaries attempting to control the populations where they operate through both terror and by discrediting unpopular or corrupt governments.

One of the problems that we in the United States have in understanding Al Qaida and other Islamic groups that rely on terrorism as their primary means of conducting warfare is the nature of the terrorist himself.  Roger Trinquier who observed and fought against such groups in the 1940s and 1950s wrote one of the fundamental books on this type of warfare.  Trinquier said something that will undoubtedly be taken wrong by some readers of this essay but if one understands the nature of Revolutionary war has been true going back for centuries and is not confined to militant Islamic Fundamentalism.   Trinquier observed that “the terrorist should not be considered an ordinary criminal.  Actually he fights within the framework of his organization, without personal interest, for a cause he considers noble and for a respectable ideal, the same as soldiers in the armies confronting him.”

One can see how this is demonstrated in history in such disparate groups as the Israeli Irgun fighters who used terrorist tactics from 1931 until the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 against the British occupiers, the Irish Republican Army.  This is even part of the American experience in the post Civil War South of the Reconstruction era.  Then many Southern whites organized into guerrilla terrorist units such as the Klan in Tennessee, the Red Shirts in South Carolina, the Knights of the White Camellia in Louisiana, the Young Men’s Democratic Club in Florida in order to attack anyone associated with Reconstruction. Their targets included newly free blacks, carpetbaggers, Scalawags, teachers from the North, Freedmen Bureau officials, northern troops, and Republicans.  If you read their writings or even query their current day descendants you will find that none believed that they were criminals and their actions, while unacceptable to many were justified.  One does not have to agree that the terrorists cause is right to acknowledge that terrorists believe this to be true.  Thus in fighting the terrorist organizations one has to employ a wide variety of tactics to protect the populations targeted by terrorists to include police, limited military involvement, the use of propaganda, and “soft” methods to provide aid to these populations and isolate the terrorists from them.

The current batch of Jihadists are actually fairly disparate and not necessarily allies as we found out in Iraq where Al Qaeda and the foreign fighters turned the population of Al Anbar Province against them and brought that Sunni population to our side. They also have sometimes conflicting goals or limit their cause to local areas. The Sunni and the Shi’a have a hard time working together so while this is a global revolution it is not monolithic. Thus if we are smart we can exploit natural divisions in these groups. To do so we have to play smart in how we fight them recognizing that the “soft” approach often is better as the French found out too late in Vietnam but did well with in Algeria. See books by David Galula “Counterinsurgency in Algeria 1956-1954″ “Counterinsurgency Warfare”, Roger Trinquier’s “Modern Warfare” as well as the book by Alister Horne “A Savage War of Peace” all are excellent reads. Bernard Fall’s book “Street Without Joy” is a good study of how this happened in French Indochina. The US Counterinsurgency Manual is available online or in bookstores as is “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife” by John Nagl, a major writer of US Counterinsurgency doctrine.

US Advisors with Afghan Army Officers

In a world-wide insurgency even actions which seem logical to Americans at home can be detrimental to US Forces and political goals in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq and throughout the Muslim world. I’m not a fan of the Mosque near the World Trade Center even though it is the equivalent of 6 normal city blocks away and not visible from the site. Many Americans if not an outright majority oppose this building project yet the builders don’t seem to understand the raw wounds that the project has opened for many Americans. I’m sure for them that much of it is a business, they are developers in New York City and the land was available. Yet the project can quite rightly be seen as insensitive because of what it means to the victims.

At the same time politicians and protesters by naming it the “Ground Zero Mosque” has raised its propaganda value exponentially, that is why Hamas and Hezbollah have also raised the ante in their talk about it. Thus what was an annoyance and hurtful to the victims has become a propaganda victory for the terrorists. In a sense we have let our collective outrage play into the terrorist’s hands. When he pastor of a small church in Florida threatened to burn a large number of copies of the Koran he helped ignite a firestorm of protest in many parts of the Islamic world especially in the epicenter of our current struggle in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

We are at war with the warlike highly militant strains of Islam and trying to keep the more Western leaning peaceful variants on the sidelines or enlist them to our side. This is a hard path for our leaders to walk as President Bush found out and President Obama is finding out is that most Americans don’t see it that way.  To many Americans all of Islam is the enemy and nothing can change that and the heated passion of our population often plays into the hands of our enemies.  Thus both Presidents’ comments about Islam have usually fallen on deaf ears and both have been excoriated for straddling this fence.

Anyway as you gather I have spent a considerable amount of time studying this type of warfare. I admit that this is pretty unusual for a chaplain, but I also have a Masters degree in Military History as well as the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. When I was in Iraq I knew more than many Marine and Army officers about fighting this type of war. Kind of weird I know but what can I say?

One of the most famous and successful practitioners of Counterinsurgency Warfare was French Colonel David Galula.  Galula in a sense is the “voice crying in the wilderness” of counterinsurgency doctrine and his methods have been used with some measure of success during the “Surge” in Iraq and the “Anbar Awakening” which turned the tide of the Iraqi insurgency.  Galula commented about terrorist tactics, tactics that have not changed in either Iraq or Afghanistan:

“The rebels realized that they could achieve the greatest psychological effect on the French and on world opinion at the cheapest price by stepping up terrorism in the main cities, notably in Algiers, which served as headquarters to most French and foreign correspondents and thus acted as a natural amplifier. A grenade or a bomb in a café there would produce far more noise than an obscure ambush against French soldiers in the Ouarsenis Mountains.” Galula “Counterinsurgency in Algeria”

One of the most frustrating aspects for military and police personnel fighting insurgencies that employ terrorist tactics is that quite often superior forces cannot finish off the insurgents. Galula provides an answer to this question.

“Our forces were vastly superior to the rebels. Then why couldn’t we finish with them quickly? Because they managed to mobilize the population through terror and persuasion . . . It was therefore imperative that we isolate the rebels from the population and that we gain the support of the population.  This implied that under no circumstances could we afford to antagonize the population even if we had to take risks for ourselves in sparing it.”

This is a lesson that we have not always learned as incidents such as the Abu Ghraib torture and most recently a series of targeted killings of Afghan civilians by a squad of Army Soldiers in Afghanistan in which they allegedly planned the killings in advance and kept body parts of their victims.  Unfortunately atrocities like this as was demonstrated at Mei Lai in Vietnam do little to the enemy and everything to turn the populations that we are trying to protect and world opinion against us. It also provides grist for the terrorist propaganda purposes and aids him in recruiting more insurgents to his cause.

Galula recognized the quandary that commanders of police and military units involved in counterinsurgency operations face when dealing with populations where terrorists operate. Galula was a realist about this and noted “If we distinguish between people and rebels, then we have a chance. One cannot catch a fly with vinegar. My rules are this: outwardly treat every civilian as a friend; inwardly you must consider him as a rebel ally until you have positive proof to the contrary.” This may seem contradictory but the concept was used by Ronald Reagan during the Cold War using the term “trust but verify” in relationship to the Soviet Union and arms control.

David Kilcullen an Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel and counterinsurgency expert and advisor to General David Petreus noted

Colonel Dennis Drew writing in 1988 understood the linkage of all parts of insurgency and how well an insurgency represents the essence of the thought of Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz: “Although theorists consider insurgent warfare to be anti-Clausewitzian, such warfare is the very embodiment of the Prussian master’s most famous dictum. Insurgency represents the total integration of political and military factors, but with political factors always in complete domination.” (INSURGENCY AND COUNTERINSURGENCY American Military Dilemmas and Doctrinal Proposals- Air University Press Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama 1988)

Thus attempting to fight an insurgency and terrorist groups thinking that one can defeat them in the style of world War Two, as is so often espoused by pundits and amateur military theorists that crowd the airwaves and cyber space is foolish and only leads to the defeat of the counter-insurgent and the loss of the population targeted by the insurgent. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not conventional wars and the political outweighs the military in every respect.  As Drew noted:

“Although the military aspect of the struggle may ebb and flow, the source of insurgent strength–a covert political infrastructure–remains constant. This infrastructure, the bitter fruit resulting from the perceived political and economic inequities sown much earlier, is the most important ingredient in the insurgent recipe for success. The political infrastructure performs at least six major functions vital to the survival, growth, and eventual success of the insurgency: (1) intelligence gathering and transmission; (2) provision of supplies and financial resources; (13) recruitment; (4) political expansion and penetration; (5) sabotage, terrorism, and intimidation; and (6) establishment of a shadow government.”

This is exactly what has happened in Afghanistan and why we have such difficulty in fighting the insurgency.

One of the most common tactics that the United States has attempted in attacking the insurgents is the strategy of decapitation. In this the U.S. has attempted to kill the leaders at the top echelons of the insurgency with limited success. Even when we kill off a senior Al Qaida or Taliban leader others rapidly take their place with little affect in their operations against us. Galula recognized the fallacy of this approach in Algeria when the French government succeeded in capturing five top leaders of the Algerian rebellion. “Then, five top leaders of the rebellion, including Ben Bella, had been neatly caught during a flight from Rabat to Tunis. Their capture, I admit, had little effect on the direction of the rebellion, because the movement was too loosely organized to crumble under such a blow.” The lesson here is that should we ever succeed in capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden or Mullah Omar that this will not lead to victory unless we are able to protect the population of Afghanistan.

Protecting the population Iraqi Police and Civilians in Ramadi

To do this the population must come to our side because they know that we will stay the course and that we can be counted on to help them.  This cannot just be the military aspect of protecting them against the terrorists as well as economic and political reforms that is consistent with their traditional way of life which is not necessarily consistent with Western political and social traditions or practices. In fact the difficulty for the United States and NATO in Afghanistan is the political struggle on the home front where as Drew states:

“American military dilemma concerns time, public support, and image. Time is the ally of the insurgent; the longer an insurgent survives, the stronger its chances of growing. Meanwhile, as time drags on, the American military position is weakened by declining support, impatience, and war weariness at home, particularly if there is no perceived progress in the struggle. Maintaining public support is clearly a responsibility of the political side of the equation and involves factors far beyond the battlefield–although military progress is a key ingredient. The connection between the duration of the struggle and public support is the image of the insurgency presented to the American body politic.”

To be continued….

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under counterinsurency in afghanistan, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, national security, Political Commentary

Goodbyes and Prayers: Sending Friends off to War

My little war within the war, Christmas with the Bedouin

Yesterday I was honored to be at a pre-deployment ceremony for a number of my shipmates from Portsmouth Naval Medical Center about half of I know fairly well.  There were physicians, nurses and hospital corpsmen in the group, some going to Afghanistan with the Marines, NATO or the Army while others were going to Guantanamo Bay or Djibouti, the country rejected by both Eritrea and Ethiopia. I already have seen a good number of friends and colleagues from our Medical Center deploy and in some cases return and I know of one corpsman that came back wounded while serving with the Marines in Afghanistan.

COP South

I have done many of these send offs since coming to Portsmouth but I think that today I knew a higher percentage of the personnel deploying than normally is the case.  At these ceremonies it is customary for the chaplain to pray for our shipmates as well as their family members.  This deployment comes in the midst of monthly casualties reaching their highest point in the war and shortly after two US Navy sailors being killed when for whatever reason they left their base in Kabul in an up armored Toyota Land Cruiser and proceeded to drive alone to one of the most dangerous areas of the country.  With that in mind the safety of our shipmates is something that I and those that serve are ever mindful of when we send our people to deploy.  Yesterday I spent more time with the deploying sailors before and following the ceremony because so many were friends or close colleagues. The goodbyes from me this time were different as I will not be at Portsmouth when my friends return. My assignment as the Command Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJuene means that I won’t be there but I will continue to keep them in my prayers and stay in contact with as many as I can through e-mail or Facebook.  At LeJuene I will meet old friends from Portsmouth as well as from my Marine tours.  I will also get to deal with a lot more Marines and Sailors dealing with physical as well as psychological injuries resulting from their time in harm’s way in either Iraq or Afghanistan or in many cases both countries.

Pause for possible IED

It has been three years since I deployed to Iraq, in fact three years to the day yesterday that I arrived in Kuwait to complete final training before going into country.  When I was over in Iraq I was blessed my many expressions of support of many people, churches, schools and veterans groups.  At the same time I did not sense the overwhelming support of the people for our troops and that included many members of the political establishment that seemed more interested in using the war to advance their political objectives and unfortunately that was truly a bi-partisan endeavor.  Since we are an all volunteer force it seems to me that the only people really paying attention are people with sons, daughters, mothers or fathers or other family members or friends in harm’s way.  For others supporting the troops is little more than a bumper sticker affirmation, which I appreciate as at least most people aren’t damning us as so many did in Vietnam, a war that my dad served in and which as a Navy dependant experienced in the way that military families were treated by the protest set.

On Syrian Border with Iraqi Border Troops

Today I saw an article about an Army Lieutenant one Christopher Babcock http://gen-reading.blogspot.com/ at a tiny base in Afghanistan.  I often felt this way when in Iraq, especially those times that I came back into the large base that I operated from and saw various news channels on AFN including Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.  Much of what I saw coming out of the mouths of reporters or politicians, showed me just how out of touch and how little our leaders on both sides of the political divide, the media and the American public understood this war.

Convoy in Ramadi shortly before we took fire

My war experience was different. The places I went were the places most people never heard of or will ever hear about.  My assistant and I travelled thousands of miles in fixed and rotor wing aircraft as well as in many tiny poorly armed convoys in the badlands of Al Anbar Province to the small Iraqi bases where our advisors to the Iraqi Army and security forces worked.  In the assignment I got to know a decent number of Iraqi officers and even spoke to the first class of female Iraqi Police officers in training at Ramadi.  I believed then and now that Iraq will do well in the long run.  Back in 2007 very few people believed that, but having gotten to know many fine Iraqis I know that they will repair their country and move on with life. They have been at war in some way shape or form since 1980 and are war weary and most want to move on to live in peace and raise their children.

Guests of Major General Sabah of 7th Iraqi Division

I do not believe this to be the case in Afghanistan. History tells me that we will have no better outcome than the Soviets.  We lost our opportunity when we let up on the pressure in Afghanistan to concentrate on Iraq. The Taliban were able to rebuild and regain control of much of the country between the Iraq invasion and 2010.  I honestly don’t know if we as a nation have the wherewithal to win this war or the resources to do so.  Many outstanding Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen as well as personnel from the CIA perform heroic work on a daily basis but they do not have the numbers or resources to fight a successful counter-insurgency campaign when the Afghan people by and large hate the Karzai regime and cast their lot with the Taliban despite their miserable life under that brutal, medieval fundamentalist Islamic regime.

But we go on with each service sacrificing needed equipment and personnel to fund the war. Even now the Navy is going to be cut maybe up to 25,000 sailors without any mission decrease. Likewise there will be no let up of the use of Navy personnel as Individual Augments to Marine, Army or NATO forces in the Middle East and in other locations.  As it is the force seems to be stretched beyond belief with many sailors not only deploying in traditional at seas, Fleet Marine Force, Seabee or Special Operations billets but when they are supposedly on the downhill side in a shore billet are pulled to serve as an Individual Augment.   The Army and the Marines are worn down by constant deployments with no end in sight.  There are no new drafts of personnel, end strength is limited and the same people go back time and time again.  If I was told I needed to head to Afghanistan I would because that is where many of my friends are and as a Priest and Chaplain I could do no other, but I would go with no illusions about the mission, the risk or the likely outcome of the war. It would be the place to care for God’s people serving in harm’s way.

Brotherhood of War

While this is going on there is the ever present threat of war on the Korean Peninsula or with Iran. A war in either location would open yet another front in a worldwide conflict, when we are already stretched to the breaking point elsewhere.  Any conflict in those areas could generate more casualties in a short period of time than all the personnel that we have lost in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Goodbyes and prayers… I am sure that there will be more of both in my future.  I just ask my readers to keep their head in the game when it comes to the wars that we are in.  Don’t leave the troops on a bumper sticker but keep them in your hearts and prayers and serve them through your actions.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under counterinsurency in afghanistan, iraq,afghanistan, Military, shipmates and veterans, US Navy

Padre Steve’s Military History and Theory Articles

I am not normal, ask anyone who knows me.  I am a Priest who is also a military history and theory “wonk.”  I guess part of the reason for this as that I did not begin life as a clergyman. In fact way back when, when I was a young whippersnapper it was my desire to be in the military.  I was a Navy brat who grew up during the height of the Vietnam War and had friends whose fathers did not return from that war.  Likewise when my dad was serving in Vietnam surrounded by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong in a town called An Loc I had a blessed Sunday school teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer.”  When you are an eleven year or twelve year-old and get told that your dad is a baby killer by some hippie wench you grow somewhat cynical about such people early in life.

Even worse than Limbaugh and Hannity is Michael Savage. Savage who despite having an earned PhD in the field of nutrition is so clueless and rude in discussing military issues that I can’t believe my ears whenever I run into his program. His absolute disdain that he shows for military leadership and actual implications of how we wage war in this era is so off base that it isn’t even funny.  For all of their lack of understanding of military strategy and policy at least Limbaugh and Hannity for the most part treat people in the military respectfully.

We no longer live in the World War Two world, warfare has changed and as the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review notes that the United States must “prevail in today’s wars” while at the same time “prevent and deter conflict” which involves “preventing the rise of threats to U.S. interests requires the integrated use of diplomacy, development, and defense, along with intelligence, law enforcement, and economic tools of statecraft, to help build the capacity of partners to maintain and promote stability.” If deterrence fails we must Prepare to defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies: If deterrence fails and adversaries challenge our interests with the threat or use of force, the United States must be prepared to respond in support of U.S. national interests. Not all contingencies will require the involvement of U.S. military forces, but the Defense Department must be prepared to provide the President with options across a wide range of contingencies, which include supporting a response to an attack or natural disaster at home, defeating aggression by adversary states, supporting and stabilizing fragile states facing serious internal threats, and preventing human suffering due to mass atrocities or large-scale natural disasters abroad.” (2010 QDR Executive Summary pp. v-vi)

So tonight I am highlighting a series of articles that I have written that deal with the kind of war that we are waging in Afghanistan and have done in Iraq as well as a couple of studies from military history that discuss how the diplomatic, intelligence, economic and military resources of a nation are all important in the continuum of conflict and the importance of alliances when waging global warfare. These are the articles that I have produced so far and will as time goes on continue to add to.  They span the spectrum and hopefully will assist the reader in sorting through a lot of the mindless gibberish that is pumped out from the political right and left on TV, radio and the internet.  Some of these are drawn out of military history but have an application today while others are more targeted at what is going on today.  Since this is an ever expanding subject for me I expect to post more articles on a regular basis.

Learning to Apply the Principles of Counterinsurgency Part One: Introduction to the Soviet-Afghan War

Mission Accomplished in Al Anbar: The Marines Turn Over the Mission to the Iraqis

The Anomaly of Operation Desert Storm and Its Consequences Today

War Without Mercy: Race, Religion, Ideology and Total War

Lessons on Coalition Warfare: The Dysfunctional Coalition German and the Axis Partners on the Eastern Front

The Afghan War 2009-2012: Lessons from Algeria 1954-1960 A Review of “A Savage War of Peace

Moslem Allies and Friends

Lessons for the Afghan War: The Effects of Counterinsurgency Warfare on the French Army in Indo-China and Algeria and the United States Military in Vietnam

The most dangerous assignment: 4 More Advisers Die In Afghanistan

Brothers to the End…the Bond between those Who Serve Together in Unpopular Wars

Iran Makes Noise in Persian Gulf: Obama Dispatches Patriots and Ships to Deter

Mission Accomplished in Al Anbar: The Marines Turn Over the Mission to the Iraqis

The Dangerous and Often Thankless Duty of Military Advisers

More on our Unsung Heroes-Military Advisers, Past and Present

The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia

D-Day- Courage, Sacrifice and Luck, the Costs of War and Reconciliation

Dien Bien Phu- Reflections 55 Years Later

God in the Empty Places

I hope that this rather diverse series of articles and my comments will be helpful to the reader in sorting through all the crap that floats about as “truth” from all sides of the media and the various political parties, special interest groups and others more intent on seeing their often divergent and uninformed agendas.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under counterinsurency in afghanistan, Foreign Policy, hampton roads and tidewater, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military

Learning to Apply the Principles of Counterinsurgency Part One: Introduction to the Soviet-Afghan War

Soviets Enter Afghanistan

Note: This is the First Part of a Series which I will be writing on Afghanistan and Counterinsurgency strategy in that country. Part of this will be a review of various historical materials especially from Russian sources as well as analysis of the Afghan insurgency and its foreign supporters including Al Qaeda. I have written a number of other articles on the Afghan War and associated topics.  Links are provided at the end of this article.

Counterinsurgency is not just thinking man’s warfare—it is the graduate level of war. Special Forces Officer in Iraq, 2005

“Protracted conflicts favor insurgents, and no approach makes better use of that asymmetry than the protracted popular war. The Chinese Communists used this approach to conquer China after World War II. The North Vietnamese and Algerians adapted it to fit their respective situations. And some Al Qaeda leaders suggest it in their writings today. This approach is complex; few contemporary insurgent movements apply its full program, although many apply parts of it. It is, therefore, of more than just historical interest. Knowledge of it can be a powerful aid to understanding some insurgent movements.”[i]

Introduction

US Training Team Base

The United States has entered its 9th year of military involvement in Afghanistan following the October 2001 invasion that came as a response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon of September 11th 2001.  In that time the United States, its NATO allies and the United Nations have endeavored to bring stability as well as a more democratic and accountable government to the country in the face of resistance from various political, religious and tribal groups with a diverse and sometimes conflicting agendas.  The foremost of these resistance groups was and is the Taliban which arose during the Soviet occupation of the country and eventually took power after winning a civil war against a number of other Mujahidin groups.   As the United States diverted force and focused its efforts on Iraq’s insurgency the Taliban using bases in remote areas along the Pakistani border and monetary and political support from Moslem groups with similar goals rehabilitated and reorganized its forces and began the process of regaining influence in Afghanistan.  By 2008 it was apparent that the situation had reached a crisis point.  The vast majority of Afghans as well as many in the international community came to view the Karzai government as corrupt, weak and unpopular.  The Taliban and other groups began to work more closely together despite differing agendas and the political and military situation deteriorated to the point that the incoming Obama administration appointed a new commander, General Stanley McChrystal to evaluate the situation and based on his recommendations and those of General David Petreus, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and others announced a “surge” to try to regain the initiative in the country.  That troop buildup is currently underway. By the time it reaches its maximum the United States will have approximately 100, 000 troops in Afghanistan and the NATO and ISAF allies approximately another 38,000.  These are supporting and training the Afghan National Army and Police which number approximately 97,000 in the Army and another 98,000 in the National Police.  The Afghan forces have not proven to be reliable and have been infiltrated by Taliban and Al Qaeda members and the NATO and ISAF allies are often limited in the scope of their mission and have restrictive rules of engagement.  Thus the bulk of the fight rests on the United States and some allies with more robust rules of engagement such as Canada, Britain and France.  The lack of internal credibility of the Afghan Government, the weakness of its army and security forces coupled with the numerical weakness of US and ISAF forces has given the various indigenous insurgent groups, especially the Taliban to make a comeback that threatens the mission.  General McChrystal noted:

“The situation in Afghanistan is serious; neither success nor failure can be taken for granted. Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating. We face not only a resilient and growing insurgency; there is also a crisis of confidence among Afghans—in both their government and the international community—that undermines our credibility and emboldens the insurgents. Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.”[ii]

Taliban Insurgents

The situation is such in Afghanistan that many Americans are struggling how the “good war” could go “bad.”  Many armchair strategists, many political and media figures and even some in the military fail to understand the nature of Counterinsurgency and its complexity as opposed to conventional warfare. In fact many of these assume that the simple application of combat force using conventional tactics is the cure for the situation, however history shows that such is not the case especially in Afghanistan.

This introduction to this study will focus on some commonalities of the Soviet and American experiences in Afghanistan.

Soviet Mi-24s

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 they used their 40th Army which initially was composed of “two motorized rifle divisions, an airborne division, an air assault brigade and separate motorized rifle regiments.”[iii] These forces totaled about 52,000 troops and were “considered sufficient to guarantee the viability of Afghanistan.”[iv] The 40th Army was a standard Cold War Soviet Combined Arms Army designed for high tempo conventional operations.  It was not designed for nor trained in counterinsurgency operations or what the Soviets and Russians class as “anti-guerilla operations.” It was poorly suited to mountain and dessert combat and at the beginning “not only had no practical skills in the conduct of counter-guerilla warfare, they also did not have a single well-developed theoretical manual, regulation or tactical guideline for fighting such a war.”[v]

Soviet Tank Guarding Convoy

The Soviets did not expect to be involved in combat operations and the Afghan population reacted to their presence with resistance which spread across the country both against their own government which they viewed as a puppet of the Soviets but also against the Soviet Forces.  As time went on the Soviets attempted to use raids and large scale operations to attempt to bring Mujahidin forces to battle, however the insurgents were very skillful and the Soviets attempted to increase the training of their forces as well as their numbers.  By 1986 the numbers on the ground had increased to 108,000 personnel in four divisions, five separate brigades, four separate regiments and six separate battalions.[vi] In the nearly 10 years of operations over a half million Soviet soldiers and support personnel served in Afghanistan. Tours for enlisted personnel who were primarily conscripts served 12-18 months in country and officers 2 years.  Few returned for subsequent tours meaning that the 40th Army had few personnel very familiar with the country, its people and the challenges faced by Soviet forces.  According to official sources the 40th Army suffered 13,833 killed in action or died of wounds, 49,985 wounded and 311 missing in action a figured of 1 in 8 Soviet Soldiers being casualties.  14.3 percent of the casualties were officers.[vii] Of course the official figure is doubted many believing the number killed in action or died of wounds to be closer to 26,000.[viii]

Soviet Troops Preparing to Leave Afghanistan 1989

The Soviet Forces supported the Army of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan which numbered at their peak on average between 120,000-150,000 soldiers.[ix] The Afghan forces, then as now were at the mercy of tribal, familial and communist party affiliations. Over 70 percent of the DRA was conscripted, desertions averaged 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers a month and units were usually optimistically 25-40 percent under their TO&E strength.[x] Limitations on training and leadership meant that typically DRA units could not conduct large scale missions without Soviet help. As such most of the fighting was done by Soviet formations.

Many of these problems have plagued the United States and ISAF throughout the first 8 years of the current Afghan War.  As General McChrystal has noted in his assessment “ISAF is a conventional force that is poorly configured for COIN, inexperienced in local languages and culture, and struggling with the challenges inherent to coalition warfare. These intrinsic disadvantages are exacerbated by our current culture and how we operate.”[xi]

End of part one to be continued…

Links:

Lessons on Coalition Warfare: The Dysfunctional Coalition German and the Axis Partners on the Eastern Front

The Afghan War 2009-2012: Lessons from Algeria 1954-1960 A Review of “A Savage War of Peace

Unequal Allies: Lessons from The German’s and Their Allies on the Eastern Front for Today

The Effects of Counter-Insurgency Operations on U.S. and French Forces in Vietnam and Algeria and Implications for Afghanistan

Brothers to the End…the Bond between those Who Serve Together in Unpopular Wars


[i] ______________ “The Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual FM 3-24 MCWP 3-33.5,” HQ Department of the Army and HQ Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Washington DC 2006.  p. 1-6

[ii] MCChrystal, Stanley. “Commander’s Initial Assessment Commander International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan” dated 30 August 2009 p. 1-1

[iii] The Russian General Staff. The Soviet Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost” translated and edited by Lester A. Grau and Michael A. Gress, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS 2002 p.17.

[iv] Ibid. p.18

[v] Ibid. p.43

[vi] Ibid. p.28

[vii] Ibid. p.309

[viii] Ibid. p.xix

[ix] Ibid. p.48

[x] Ibid. pp.48-51

[xi] McChrystal. p.1-2

1 Comment

Filed under counterinsurency in afghanistan, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military