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The offensive planned for this summer to clear and hold Kandahar city will now be delayed until the fall, Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal tells the Financial Times. The delay will give commanders time to evaluate what went wrong in Marja where a major offensive earlier this year failed to secure the area from Taliban insurgents.

Speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels today, McChrystal said operations in Kandahar would be “more deliberate” than initially planned: “I think it will take a number of months for this to play out. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s more important we get it right than we get it fast.”

McChrystal said there must be visible progress in southern Afghanistan by the end of the year, certainly before NATO’s annual summit in November. After nine years of war, he acknowledged that patience among Afghans, as well as NATO allies, is wearing very thin.

Assessing operations in the Helmand River Valley, he said the major lesson was that the Afghan governance piece, the “build” component of the “clear, hold and build” strategy, must be more robust.

I thought this comment from McChrystal on the difficulty of counterinsurgency was particularly telling:

“Unlike conventional military operations where you circle a hill on the map and then you take the hill, when you go to protect people, the people have to want you to protect them.”

– Greg Grant

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The New York Times runs a story today from reporter Rod Nordland in Kandahar about the shift in strategy there away from a military headlined offensive to more aid and reconstruction efforts, with a gradual increase in coalition constables walking the streets.

Partly this is due to local opposition to a military offensive by an “unsympathetic population.” The other major reason, according to the NYT, is the realization among the ISAF command that the much ballyhooed “Operation Moshtarak Phase II,” the Marine Corps air and ground assault on Marja in February, failed.

In a briefing to Pentagon reporters last month, Afghan commander Gen. Stanly McChrystal gave his assessment of the Marja offensive:

“As a counterinsurgency force pushes out insurgents, their smart move is to contest that, to try to undermine what we’ve done. They can’t come in and control Marja like they did before. They can’t raise the flag; they can’t hold terrain. But they can try to convince the people that they’re not secure: Murders, night letters, taxation. And they can try to send a message that says, “This won’t last. The coalition will leave. The government of Afghanistan will leave.”

Then McChrystal described the current security environment in Kandahar:

“[The Taliban] certainly do not control Kandahar city. They can contest parts of Kandahar city and they can create acts so there’s not sufficient security in Kandahar city, but the Taliban do not control the city. You know, you can walk around the streets in Kandahar and there’s business going on. It’s a functioning city.”

These are surprising statements coming from somebody as well versed in counterinsurgency as McChrystal. Insurgents don’t typically “raise the flag,” except perhaps in the final stages of an insurgency when they’ve won the political contest. As far as Kandahar is concerned, the fact that Kandahar city is “functioning” doesn’t mean the insurgents don’t control Kandahar.

One of the many fatal flaws in U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine is the failure to understand the “lone guerrilla paradox,” a concept that has vexed counterinsurgents from Algeria to Vietnam to now Afghanistan.

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Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency guidance has taken what many considered to be a very, very soft approach to combating insurgents as laid down in the COIN manual, and softened it even more.

Protecting the population, respecting their culture and sitting and drinking lots of tea with local leaders to gain their trust basically by doing no wrong is the basis of what has been labeled the “population centric counterinsurgency” approach in Afghanistan. The Economist called it “the least violence-oriented military document you’re ever likely to see.”

“We will not win by simply killing insurgents,” McChrystal wrote; the supply of willing insurgent foot soldiers in that part of the world is infinity. He then explained his version of COIN arithmetic which turns the conventional mindset of wearing down the enemy through attrition on its head.

“From a conventional standpoint, the killing of two insurgents in a group of ten leaves eight remaining: 10–2=8. From the insurgent standpoint, those two killed were likely related to many others who will want vengeance… Therefore, the death of two creates more willing recruits: 10 minus 2 equals 20 (or more) rather than 8.”

According to some reports, the highest ranking Navy SEAL and the commander of Special Operations Command, Adm. Eric Olson, believes this whole counterinsurgency thing is getting out of hand. He called the prevailing COIN doctrine an “imperfect template,” crafted as an Iraq specific doctrine, that should be discarded. “Counterinsurgency should involve countering the insurgents,” he said.

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The Economist reports that military delegations from some of the world’s less savory regimes have been visiting Sri Lanka ever since it crushed the Tamil Tiger insurgency in search of a model they can reverse engineer and apply in their own countries.

Sri Lanka’s COIN approach is about as far from Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s population centric COIN as you’re likely to find, outside of maybe German counter-partisan operations during World War II.

“Louise Arbour, head of the International Crisis Group (ICG), says the Sri Lanka model consists of three parts: what she dubs “scorched-earth tactics” (full operational freedom for the army, no negotiations with terrorists, no ceasefires to let them regroup); next, ignoring differences between combatants and non-combatants (the new ICG report documents many such examples); lastly, the dismissal of international and media concerns.

A senior official in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office, quoted anonymously in a journal, Indian Defence Review, says “we had to ensure that we regulated the media. We didn’t want the international community to force peace negotiations on us.” The author of that article, V.K. Shashikumar, concludes that “in the final analysis the Rajapaksa model is based on a military precept…Terrorism has to be wiped out militarily and cannot be tackled politically.” This is the opposite of the strategy America is pursuing in Afghanistan. It is winning a widespread hearing.”

– Greg Grant

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If you haven’t already stumbled across Travels With Shiloh’s write up of the Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center COIN conference held earlier this month at Ft. Leavenworth, I heartily recommend it. Here is part one.

Monday’s entry featured notes from a presentation by British Army Lt. Col. Rupert Jones, son of another famous LTC Jones, he who commanded 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment during the Falklands campaign. There, LTC Jones lost his life and won the Victoria Cross by charging an Argentine machine gun nest when his battalion’s attack had stalled in the face of enemy fire at Goose Green.

Jones the son had some interesting, and certain to be controversial, comments on the “tyranny of fires.”

“We have become seduced by the easy availability of air and artillery support. Commanders are giving up maneuver in favor of fire support. Successive ISAF commanders have worked to reduce civilian casualties but we’ve made very little progress and the issue is a strategic threat. We need to break our dependence on fires.

Our reliance on fires creates a toxic psychological dynamic. Among insurgents, the domestic population AND our forces it is assumed that we can’t win without fires and technology.

Assets cost big money to move and maintain in theater. Every asset owner wants to prove their usefulness and contribute to the mission. We’ve got a ‘I’ve got it, I’ll use it’ mentality.

Junior leaders need to accept short term tactical risk and apply the skills they’ve learned when in contact with the enemy.”

[Continue reading…]

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The Center for a New American Security held a press briefing on the occasion of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to D.C. with its counterinsurgency mafia yesterday, including president and reigning COIN evangelist John Nagl, Andrew Exum, and former Afghan commander ret. Gen. David Barno, who just recently joined CNAS.

I’ve been a fan of Barno since 2004, when I was in Afghanistan, he and Zalmay Khalilzad were running the show, and the counterinsurgency effort there to all appearances seemed to be working. How much of that was due to the fact that the Taliban were still very much on their heels after being scattered by the U.S. backed Northern Alliance and how much was due to the command pursuing COIN best practices, I’m not sure.

Barno said the tension between Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Amb. Karl Eikenberry is overplayed. He emphasized how complex Afghanistan is compared to Iraq, since so many other players — NATO, NGOs, China, India, Iran, Pakistan — are intimately involved in goings on there. Also, Eikenberry’s job is greatly complicated by the fact that the diplomatic side of the ledger doesn’t operate with the same clearly delineated chains of command that exist on the military side.

Knowing Karzai as well as he does, Barno said the Obama administration must focus on mending relations there; which of course is one of the reasons Karzai is in town. The moody Afghan leader doesn’t work well under pressure, Barno said, he needs much coddling. The stick approach is just not going to work with him. More carrot needed.

[Continue reading…]

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More perusal of the service budgets reveal details of the Corps interest in the Internally Transportable Vehicle, a modernized version of the Jeep Willy that is designed to fly in the belly of an Osprey. 

The Corps’ original plan was to pair this mini-me vehicle with the Expeditionary Fire Support System 120mm mortar and storm them Warsaw Pact style off the backs of the Osprey’s diminutive loading bay. But many doubt that capability (I for one have never seen it tested and I can’t imagine having flown a lot in Ospreys that the entire suit can fit in the cargo bay). 

Yet the Corps keeps buyin’ ‘em. 

According to the budget submission, the Corps wants to pay General Dynamics of St. Petersburg, Fla., $28 million to purchase 73 ITVs in the Light Attack Vehicle configurations — in other words, not the 120mm towing version. 

Funds will support procurement of 73 ITV Light Strike Vehicles (LSV). The vehicles will be fielded to support upcoming Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) deployments to OEF. The procurement will also support production line activities used for the Expeditionary Fire Support System ( EFSS). The combined procurement of the ITV and EFSS prime mover platforms will allow production line operations to continue until the EFSS needs are fully satisfied. The unit costs for the ITV variants are impacted based on quantity differences and the negotiated prices derived from the negotiations. 

I know there’s a lot of caveats here, but that comes out to around $380K per vehicle. Some of the money is being used for spares and other support costs, but if I’m reading the documents right (page 285) it looks as if the base cost for each ITV is around $273,000. That’s a lot of jack for an unarmored max-4-man minijeeep.

Better have some Corinthian Leather seats, burled wood paneling and full DVD/GPS entertainment system with Bose boosters for that kind of coin.

– Christian

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The Air Force looks as if it has punted the establishment of a COIN Wing (though we’ll see when the authorization process starts) based on its budget submission yesterday. 

Air Force budget officials said the so-called “light attack aircraft” would not have any significant funding until the 2012 submission, where the service will allot $172 million for the so-called COIN plane. 

The Air Force did, however, take a step toward a COIN wing by ordering up 15 Light Mobility Aircraft to the tune of nearly $66 million. According to a submission to FedBizOpps, the LiMA must be able to carry a minimum of six pax and crew, operate from “austere landing surfaces” and carry a minimum of 1800 pounds with crew. The plane needs a loading door that can take litters and a 36 inch warehouse skid and have two pilot stations but be able to be flown by one pilot. 

The Air Force is budgeting for these planes in FY 2011 only. And part of the idea behind the plane is to help train other air forces during counterinsurgency operations. 

The Light Mobility Aircraft (LiMA) program will acquire Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) aircraft to satisfy the USAF light mobility mission requirement. These aircraft will be suitable for building partner capacity (BPC) especially in lesser developed partner nations (PN). This program supports irregular warfare efforts that help prepare PN to defend and govern themselves by demonstrating an airlift capability that is consistent with their needs for supporting infrastructure, performance, anticipated methods of employment, acquisition and sustainment costs, and multi-role/multi-mission capability. 

– Christian 

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Or is it?

This guy’s clearly wearing MultiCam and has all the high-speed identifiers that a US trooper would wear. I can’t seem to find a high-rez version of this photo, which itself is a mystery, but given the story that surrounds the photo and context of that area of Afghanistan, I’m leaning heavily toward an adoption by at least some groups of French military (their version of the PJs) of MulitCam uniforms.

In this photo released by the French Army, Nato French soldiers evacuate wounded from Tagab, Afghanistan, Monday Nov. 16, 2009. Insurgents fired two rockets Monday into a crowded market northeast of Kabul where the head of French forces in Afghanistan held a meeting with tribal elders. The attack killed at least twelve and wounded 20 other people, the French military said. (AP / HO / ADC Jean-Charles Thorel)

The only thing that makes me pause, is that I reported a while back that USAF PJs were wearing MultiCam combat uniforms in the AO. This guy could be a PJ but I can’t see enough of the helo and am skeptical that an AF bubba would be sporting Rock Star hair and a hillbilly beard. Wouldn’t look too good with the rest of his pals at the Bagram Links.

So help me with this dear readers…who is this guy?

– Christian

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In a move that harkens back to the days of recycled World War II torpedo bombers sheep-dipped as close air support planes, the Navy intends to field a limited number of turbo-prop attack planes outfitted with the most modern surveillance, tracking and weapons systems to help special ops forces keep track of bad guys and, in a pinch, put warheads on foreheads.

Call it an A-1 Skyraider on steroids a Back to the Future-resurrection of a kind of plane last seen pounding enemy positions with rockets, guns and bombs over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1960s.

Code named Imminent Fury, the classified, year-long program has so far produced one fully-outfitted plane and is set to field four more to directly support SEALs and other operators on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

According to a source close to the program who declined to be named, the Navy has leased an EMB-314 Super Tucano for the job. Made by the Brazilian aerospace company Embraer, it is now being tested on desert ranges in California and the services top test facility at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md. The Navy loaded it up with sensors and weapons systems that would make an F-16 pilot blush, the source said.

With top end electro-optical and infrared sensors, laser and GPS-guided bombs, rockets, twin .50 cal. machine guns, encrypted radios and even the capability to tie in UAV surveillance feeds the Super Tucano outfitted for the SEALs is a ground-pounders angel from above.

Military​.com contacted the Navy for comment on this story, but despite a detailed public briefing on the program in March by a high-ranking program official, the service declined to elaborate on the program other than to say in a written statement: Imminent Fury is a classified Navy initiative to address urgent warfighter needs. Initial developmental testing has been promising and the Navy is currently conducting discussions with our Joint partners on various courses of action as this initiative moves forward.

News of the Imminent Fury program comes as commanders in Afghanistan wrestle with the persistent problem of civilian casualties resulting from errant or mistaken bomb strikes typically from aircraft high above the battlefield.

A recent investigation report on a high-profile friendly-fire incident in Farah province showed that high-altitude B-1 bombers had little ability to discriminate enemy from civilians during several bombings in support of Marine spec ops forces under Taliban assault.

Many argue that low-altitude aircraft that can fly for long periods over combat zones loaded with various weapons are needed to avoid such incidents. For advocates of the Imminent Fury program, the Super Tucano with its five-hour endurance fits the bill for a so-called counter insurgency aircraft.

[Continue reading…]

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