Why Another Blog?

I've decided to set up another blog, (my other one is called Writer's Musings), because there are some topics just too weighty for that blog.

So here it is. In this space I'll explore more serious issues in more detail. I do not expect visitors to agree with me in all cases.
In this forum feel free to take off the gloves, grab a handful of mud and fight for what you believe in.

Simple rules, rather like cage-fighting in the blogosphere:
No direct name calling. No excessive profanity. No whining when smacked in the face with mud.
Sling inuendo. Feel free to ask leading questions even if in a snide tone.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Some Follow up...

Afghan National Army (ANA) troops gather around their trophies, two dead Taliban.
17 July 2008.
The grim part of the mission in Afghanistan. Killing the enemy. If they won't quit, we must kill them. Yet this is only a small part of the job over here. Apart from all the humanitarian work that is absolutely the most important mission, there is training this fledging army. While their individual courage should never be doubted, it takes time to mold that into a cohesive, disciplined fighting force. They want to take over the fight and do more...that's good for us. The people best suited for defeating the Taliban are the Afghans. They speak the language, they know the customs and the land.

Now for the follow up. On 13 July, nine American soldiers were killed in an attack by the Taliban near the Kunar/Nuristan border in the eastern part of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. We know that the enemy suffered very heavy casualties. The press called the attack, "an attack on an American base." Well, it wasn't a base at all. There is some confusion as to what was actually in place, but early indicators are that there were some leadership failures.

In otherwords, the casualties we took possibly could have been avoided. The Army is still investigating, but everything from the piece of ground chosen, to lack of wire and overhead cover points to someone not doing their job, maybe several someones. Was it incompetence, complacency, or inexperience? Perhaps all three. With three days to prepare, there should have been better defenses, but the details have not yet been released. Those outside the military may not know this, but the Army carefully examines each engagement (regardless of outcome). That is how we learn and hopefully prevent future blunders, or replicate past successes. I'll be looking for the report.

"You’ve got to kill people. And when you’ve killed enough, they stop fighting."

General Curtis LeMay

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Playing With Numbers

Read these statements carefully:

“More than 2,500 people — mostly militants — have been killed in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan this year.”

“More than 8,000 people died in attacks last year, according to the U.N., the most since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.”

“The number of militant attacks has been on the rise this summer compared with the same period last year, NATO officials say.”

These three statements occur in the same AP report that is attempting to show how the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating in the face of a “resurgent” Taliban. Did anyone do the math? Did anyone question? All three statements may be true independently, but together as proof to support a faulty analysis, they are false.

In 6.5 months in 2008, we have had roughly 2,500 people killed, or 385 killed per month (mostly militants…a good thing, yes?). In the 12 months of 2007 there were roughly 8,000 killed, or 667 killed per month. So in the face of the “deteriorating situation” in Afghanistan, we are seeing a net decline in fatalities of 282 per month, or a decline of 42%. This represents a deteriorating situation? This is evidence of a “resurgent” Taliban? I would think it’s an improvement.

If the number of attacks has increased overall, then the lethality of those attacks has declined. Clearly the bad guys are not very efficient killers. If they attack more, but fail to produce greater casualties, then this should be cause for celebration. The bad guys have been forced to scale down their attacks, opting instead for more small attacks with reduced lethality, particularly in light of locals, police the Afghan National Army and NATO being more aggressive in stopping attacks and hunting down insurgents.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Powerful Taliban Weapon

The Taliban has a powerful weapon and they are employing it to help turn the tide against Afghan and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan. Is it a new type of IED? Is it a new, deadlier rocket launcher or mortar? Is it Islamic fanaticism fueled by hatred of foreign invaders? Is it thousands of new dedicated and trained recruits? No, it is none of these things.

The Taliban’s powerful weapon is the Western media. Bored with peace seemingly breaking out in Iraq, the media have turned their attention to Afghanistan where a number of factors have contributed to a higher level of violence. It is almost as if, stung by their dire predictions and analysis proving false in Iraq, they feel compelled to try again in Afghanistan. A recent battle near the remote village of Wanat along the border between Nuristan Province and Kunar Province in Afghanistan is an excellent example of how the media twists facts to their defeatist world-view.

MSNBC screamed “Taliban Overrun US Base” on the Internet, however clicking on the link and reading the story we find out that this is not exactly true. The story was laced with statements by anonymous “experts” and “officials” making verification of anything more than a little difficult. The Associated Press soberly tells us, “Deadly raid raises doubts in Afghanistan: Attack highlights uncertainty about U.S. ability to turn back Taliban.” (AP, 14 July 2008) Does it really? Whose doubts are “raised” and who is “uncertain?” We are never really told because all their “sources” don’t want to be identified.

I understand the need to have attention-grabbing headlines, but “Deadly raid” in the context of combat between armed military forces is a bit ridiculous. Excuse me, but part of the exercise in fighting a war is to inflict casualties on one’s enemy. That’s the package, that’s what both sides are trying to do. So to hyperventilate over casualties strikes me as more than a trifle silly. Police attempting to arrest someone in a raid that turns violent and ends in fatalities deserves such a headline. A story about combat does not.

The AP goes on to say, “Violence has been increasing in Afghanistan, and many people are questioning whether the Taliban-led insurgency is gaining, not losing, momentum seven years after the hard-line Islamic regime was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion.” Many people? Who are these “many people?” We have done a proper statistically significant poll to determine this, no doubt. The AP leaned very heavily on the recently disgraced and recently fired former Governor of Nuristan Province Tamim Nuristani whose own ineptitude contributed to security problems in Nuristan.

Further down in the article, where few American readers will venture, are some cogent answers. Of course, the media know that most Western readers do not read more than the first couple paragraphs, so all the doom and gloom is printed there. Any intelligent analysis and reason lies toward the end of the story where it will be least effective in influencing public opinion.

Why was this particular base attacked and why now? It was not because the Taliban are that much stronger, which the AP leads the reader to believe in the first third of their story. The base was attacked because it was a new base with incomplete defenses. It looked like it might be an easy target. While sounding the siren call of defeat over “the most deadly attack on US troops since 2005,” the AP completely ignores the fact that the majority of US casualties actually occurred outside the main camp in a lightly secured observation post. The casualties were not due to the enemy “breaching the defenses” and engaging the defenders from within the perimeter.

What gets glossed over is that the bad guys threw their best punch and got the stuffing kicked out of them. The bad guys outnumbered the defenders by about 3 to 1 and ended up with a casualty exchange of 11 to 1. In military terms for our side, it was not a bad day’s work. The bad guys found this nut tougher to crack than they anticipated. It is guessed, even by the former governor, that there were about 600 Taliban/Al-Qaeda fighters in the area before the attack. Their numbers have been reduced by about a third in just one fight. The Taliban did exactly what we want them to do: namely, seek an open engagement with our troops. The Taliban will lose any such fight.

The media keep pounding the drum for the Taliban, emphasizing the fact of higher NATO casualties, specifically US casualties as compared to Iraq the last two months. What gets ignored, or placed in that “unread” portion of their reporting, is that our forces are going into remote regions where we have not yet had a presence. We are bound to have more contact with Taliban and Al-Qaeda as a result of patrolling their sanctuaries. We are doing the right thing by placing small units out in the country-side rather than hiding on our well-secured large base camps.

Using correct counter-insurgency methods increases our casualties in the short run, but helps us separate insurgents from the populace. Separated from the populace, insurgents lose their ability to hide and operate freely. Thus segregated, they are more easily drawn into combat and defeated. They lose their “street cred.”

Lastly there is the usual AP disclaimer at the end of virtually every combat or suicide attack report they file. “More than 2,500 people — mostly militants — have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials.” The number of casualties changes as the year goes on, but the quick comment, “mostly militants” should make people sit up and take notice. If most of the casualties are the very people we are trying to kill, how is that an indicator of a resurgent Taliban?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Insurgency: A Primer for Those Who Watch From the Sidelines

Insurgency: a protracted political-military activity conducted by an organized movement seeking to subvert or displace the government and completely or partially control the resources and/or population of a country through the use of force and alternative political organizations. (Department of State Publication 11456, p.9, October 2007)

The operative and controlling words here are “protracted” and “political-military.” Here is where the American public is misled by both the current Administration and the liberal media. On the one hand, the Administration promises a “quick victory” given our obvious technical and tactical superiority. And I say that with no sarcasm intended. On the other hand, the media rails that “things are going badly” every time a car bomb goes off or we take casualties. In part, the media is speaking from ignorance, but the media also speak from their peculiar world view in which the United States is always the bad guy.

It is important to understand why an insurgency is necessarily protracted. The answer is quite simple. The insurgent, recognizing his limitations and relative weakness, has no choice but to think in strategic long-range terms. If the insurgent openly confronts the established authority, he risks destruction. Therefore the insurgent seeks to avoid open confrontation, choosing instead to pick fights he feels certain to win. He must live to fight another day, or his cause is lost. He is fighting for survival first, his long-range goals second. It is in the insurgent’s interest to prolong the struggle as long as possible.

The established authority, the Iraqi government, Afghan government, US and NATO, want to end the conflict quickly. They want to openly confront the insurgent because they have superior capability. An open confrontation will result in the enemy’s annihilation and an early end to the insurgency. Additionally, the established authority is not immediately at risk. They are not fighting for their immediate survival. Hence they often fall into the mistake of taking expedient measures that entail risk or are counter-productive in the hopes of bringing about a quick resolution.

What happens then is that the insurgent, because he has no choice, is planning and thinking long-term and strategically, but also acting tactically. The established authority is only thinking near-term and tactically, giving little thought to the strategic. If the established authority manages to get the insurgent into the open so he can be defeated, that works fine. But far too often the insurgent is too smart to allow this. After all, at the tactical level, the insurgent is fighting for his immediate survival. For the sake of his cause, he must live to fight another day.

The political-military aspect of the definition lies in both the goals and means insurgents employ. A critical differentiation between a pure terrorist and an insurgent lies in the desired end-state. An insurgent seeks to replace the existing order with something else. A terrorist does not necessarily seek to replace the existing order with a different system.

The order of the words in “political-military” is also instructive. An insurgency is, first and foremost, a political movement. The military half of the term is just one of the tools used by the insurgent to accomplish the political goals. Insurgent activity is designed to weaken government control and legitimacy. Methods for weakening government control include guerilla warfare, terrorism, and political mobilizations, propaganda, recruitment and training, front and covert party organization, and international activity. Note that the majority of methods are not violent. Violence plays a role, but that violence is in support of the political aspects of the insurgent campaign.

Therefore fighting an insurgency must be first and foremost a political act. The authorities must recognize the need to think long-term and strategically. The expectation from the outset must be that the conflict will be protracted. It will take time. Too often, the authorities set the expectation that the fight will be short. When it then becomes protracted, the government’s credibility suffers. The Bush Administration comes immediately to mind.

The Bush Administration was correct in saying that the conventional fight against the Taliban government and the Saddam regime would be quick. Neither regime had a chance to against US forces in modern conventional warfare. As things proved out, that portion of the conflict was quick and with minimal loss of life. However, the assumption that neither enemy would resort to insurgency or that any resulting insurgency would be short-lived was ill-advised. The only way to have prevented the insurgency in Iraq would been to properly prepare for it prior to the invasion. We did not.

Once the insurgency in Iraq began, we reacted with short-sighted policy and ill-advised tactics because there wasn’t an understanding of the cultural and political forces in play on the ground.

The same is true, though to a lesser extent in Afghanistan. We benefited from the fact that the Northern Alliance did most of the work on the ground. It was Northern Alliance tanks that first entered Kabul, not American tanks. Although our airpower was in play from the beginning, our ground power was not. Therefore the arrival of our ground forces was seen as supporting, rather than replacing the Afghan authority. And that is how counter-insurgency should be fought. Let the locals do it.

In the words of T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia (I may not have the quote exactly, but it is one of my favorites): “It is better to let the locals do it in their imperfect way, than for you to do it for them in a perfect way. After all, it is their country and your time is short.”