Guest Blogger, Joe Carr- COIN at the Micro level

SHINWARI, Afghanistan — Just as night was approaching a small car
went off the road and went down a 130-foot bank. The car rolled
multiple times sending three of the four passengers to a local
hospital. Though the owner was unharmed, the outlook was grim for the
recovery of his car, as in the remote village of Shinwari in the
Parwan District of Afghanistan; there is no local towing service.

Fortunately, the Soldiers of Troop A, 1-172nd Cavalry Squadron, 86th
Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain) happened to be in the area for
a leaders meeting, and when the village elders turned to them for
help, they soon found themselves providing a solution to a daunting
problem.

“We were at the Afghan national army compound and they asked us if we
could help,” said SFC Todd Gagnon an infantryman, from Alexandria,
N.H., and a U.S. Army Mountain School Instructor.

By the time they got to the scene a small crowd had formed to see what happened.

“We went and looked at it, and it was at least a 130-foot drop but it
was easy with these [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain]
vehicles,” said Gagnon.

As the Soldiers set out to retrieve the car, Gagnon stationed his MATV
to stop traffic and use the winch installed on the front of the
vehicle. Another MATV was stopping traffic in the other direction
while Gagnon headed down the embankment.

“The hardest thing was using the cables, it was a small car and only
one place to hook it up and that broke about ten feet from the top but
we hooked it back up and pulled it up,” said Gagnon.

The crowd of onlookers grew as the car started to make its way back to
the road.

After they recovered the car, the Cavalry Soldiers, learned that that
they had saved the small town a lot of money in recovery costs.

“The interpreter said that we saved them about 1,400 U.S. dollars
because there is no wrecker service out there,” said Gagnon. “They
would have had to bring in a crane from a local jobsite, so that was a
good thing, and we enjoyed doing it for them,” added Gagnon.

When they finally got the car to the top of the ravine the Soldiers
were surprised when the owner was able to jump in and start his
vehicle back up.

“He jumped in when it was almost to the top and it started right up,”
said Gagnon. “Even though the windows were all smashed and the front
was a mess he did not have a scratch on him.”

They knew by the sheer size of the crowd that they were really helping
out the local community and they were strengthening their relationship
with the local Afghans.

“There was quite a lot of people there not just because we shut down
the street, but to see us pull this car out of the ditch.” Gagnon
said. “The interpreter could hear the crowd talking and saying
encouraging things the whole time we were pulling it out.”

Supervising the event was 1st Lt. Peter Burnham who was very pleased
with the performance of the team and the outcome for the citizens of
Shinwari.

“They did an excellent job in the recovery of the car and helped out
the population,” said Burnham. “It just shows you that no matter what
mission you are on, you never know how it is going to turn out or what
could happen.”


The war between McChrystal and Eikenberry

I have made it very clear on this blog and to many that I have talked to that I never have and never will like Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. I wrote about him here, $5 billion unspent by the Anti-Morale Device as one example. When he was the Commander in Afghanistan (for 3 years) he grossly mis-managed the war effort. He tried to implement a false sense of success. This is why ADM Mullen stated in 2007 that the war was not managed correctly for the previous 3 years.

Eikenberry was known on Camp Eggers and by his staff as the “Commander, Morale Suppression Team”. When he was not on the Camp all of his staff celebrated. One time he came down to my FOB to talk to some of the guys on the “tip of the spear” my ETT team. We welcomed the chance to tell him the real deal ground truth. However right before he showed up we were told he did not want to hear bad news or anyone talking bad about Afghans. He only wanted “good news stories”. After my team spoke a few expletives, we all went back to our rooms and said to let us know when he was gone so we could come out again. If he didn’t want the truth, then we had no reason to talk to him. The I saw his path of destruction first hand and have ZERO respect for him.

So, needless to say this great Op-Ed from Trudy Rubin (who’s opinions and insight into Afghanistan I love to read) I knew I had to write about it.

Perhaps the most surprising divergence between the two men is their approach to Karzai. Eikenberry the diplomat (who is also a retired general and former U.S. commander in Kabul) has a strained relationship with the Afghan leader. McChrystal, the general, diplomatically praises Karzai in public and has encouraged him to take a more active role in efforts to stabilize Kandahar. The general has perhaps the best relationship with Karzai of any U.S. official.

After the unproductive war of words between the White House and Karzai, the administration seems to have adopted the McChrystal approach of public praise, while reserving tough talk for private meetings.

But it’s disconcerting to see the top two U.S. civilian and military officials working on such different wavelengths. If U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is to be effective, they must work as a team.

She has outed some of the behind the scenes issues between a guy who was mistakenly put into place as an Ambassador to Afghanistan after he mis-handled the war there for three years and a guy who is there doing great things and oh by the way, got his fourth star out of this command. If you ask me Karl (E3) Eikenberry is just as full of hate and jealousy towards GEN McChrystal as he was towards US Military who tried to hold Afghans accountable for their substandard performance.

Read Trudy’s entire Op-Ed HERE.


Does General McChrystal read Bouhammer.com?

I talked about One of the Worst Ideas Ever! the other day on this blog when it was recommended to have a medal or award an existing medal to troops for NOT SHOOTING. In fact in that blog post I pleaded with GEN McChrystal to shoot that idea down.

I have a lot of respect for Gen McChrystal and know he is trying hard to avoid civilian casualties but there is no zero tolerance when you talk about the fluidness of combat. Gen McChrysal I plead to you to shoot down this dumb idea. You, as a warfighter yourself, know damn well that the troops on the battlefield don’t give a crap about an award. They need training, leadership and if applicable, the right technologies to try and avoid as many civilian casulties as possible.

I am not sure if he reads the blog here at Bouhammer.com (Lord knows I would be honored and flattered beyond all belief if he did), or if he is as smart as I though he is and employs common sense with all his decision. But I pleaded and he has voiced his opinion on the matter. I am glad to see him feel the same way I do. There are reasons and ways to recognize bravery and courage on the battlefield of all types without having to create a medal or categorize a justification as “not shooting”.

Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal may have put the kibosh on plans to establish a valor award for troops who hold fire rather than risk the lives of innocents.

Talk of a so-called Courageous Restraint Medal has gotten a great deal of attention in the past 24-hiours, especially since radio talker Rush Limbaugh took the airwaves on May 12 to blast the concept. The story seemed to have merit since an Air Force officer was quoted in news reports as saying such an award “is consistent” with Coalition forces’ approach to defeating the insurgency while limiting civilian casualties.

But McChrystal, who is leading coalition forces in Afghanistan, told reporters during a press conference at the Pentagon today that the military does not need a new medal to recognize a particular kind of valor.

Today, however, in reply to a reporter’s question about the rumored medal, McChrystal said the military already has “a number of ways to recognize courage.”
“And I think courage in uniform can come under enemy fire in the most traditional ways or if u come under actions that may not be as expected or as traditional and involve killing,” he said. “It may involve protecting civilians.”

He referred to a photo that came out of the fighting in Marjah, in which a Marine is seen using his own body to shield an Afghan man and child from harm.
“He wasn’t shooting anyone, he didn’t kill any Taliban,” McChrystal said of the Marine, “but I would argue that he showed as much courage as any that I’ve seen on the battlefield.”
“So when you talk about courage, I don’t’ think we need a ‘different’ medal to differentiate different kinds of courage.”

The idea for the medal originated with British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, NATO commander of troops in southern Afghanistan, according to a May 5 report in The Daily Mail. The British paper said Carter floated the idea during a visit to Kandahar in April by British Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall.

British and U.S. forces have accidentally killed innocents in the past, with those incidents sparking outrage among the civilian population that Coalition forces are trying to win over.
While some have said there is merit to recognizing that courage is involved when a soldier does not open fire on questionable targets, the flip side is that troops may put themselves and allies in jeopardy by second-guessing threats or reacting too slowly.


One of the worst ideas ever!

You have got to be kidding me? Promising awards to soldiers for “not shooting”!

NATO commanders are weighing a new way to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan: recognizing troops for “courageous restraint” if they avoid using force that could endanger innocent lives.

That is as dumb as what Shinsenki did when he came up with the idea of the Black Beret. He did that because he saw how proud and great looking Special Operations troops looked in their berets so he wanted the whole Army to have them. The thought that a soldier will be more professional or proud looking because of a piece of wool on their head was as foolish then as it is now.

The idea that the promise of an award will be in the decision making process of taking a human life is flippin’ ludicrous.

Anyone that has been in a TIC or firefight (as they are commonly known as) can tell you that when you are behind cover, returning fire and being fired on, the last FRIGGEN thing you are thinking of is “I wonder what medal I will get out of this”. IT JUST DOES NOT HAPPEN. If someone is thinking that, then they are truly not engaged in the battle.

I don’t know anything about the British Army award system, but I would hope they have enough to recognize their troops that they are not that desperate to have to come up with one in order to award soldiers for not shooting. I am glad it was not an American leader that came up with this, but it bothers me that GEN McChrystal or CSM Hall may actually even be considering this.

It appears the original idea came from a CAAT team, which is even more scary as CAAT teams are supposed to be subject matter experts in COIN and all ex-senior leaders and warfighters themselves.

The idea of using awards as another way to encourage soldiers to avoid civilian casualties came from a team that advises NATO on counterinsurgency, or COIN, doctrine, said an official with knowledge of the process. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal is still under review.
“We routinely and systematically recognize valor, courage and effectiveness during kinetic combat operations,” said a statement recently posted on the NATO coalition’s website by the group, the Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team.

A soldier does not engage targets of opportunity (i.e. human beings) to kill them or not engage and at the same time worry about a damn medal or recognition from his/her command. In fact this idea is essentially a slap in the face and a huge sign of disrespect towards our American fighting men and women to think that is what they need to keep from killing civilians.

Our troops don’t want to kill civilians, period. They don’t sign up hoping to or dream of it while deployed. If anything, they fear that as one of their greatest fears. And if they end up doing it, they usually have nightmares about it for a very long time, if not for life. There are many I know who are dealing with decision they have made which took the life of innocent civilians years after having to do it and they were completely justified in their actions.

But some U.S. Army soldiers here at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Kandahar province are skeptical that the chance of winning an award is going to change the way troops make decisions on the battlefield.

“Not a single one of these guys does it for the medals,” said Capt. Edward Graham, referring to the soldiers in his company.

Graham, whose company is part of the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, said soldiers are constantly forced to weigh the duty they have to protect their colleagues against the goal of avoiding civilian casualties.

“The bottom line is I have to find a way to go to sleep at night,” said Graham. “If I hurt women and children, I’m not going to sleep. If I lose my men, I’m not going to sleep. I have to find a balance.”

I have a lot of respect for Gen McChrystal and know he is trying hard to avoid civilian casualties but there is no zero tolerance when you talk about the fluidness of combat. Gen McChrysal I plead to you to shoot down this dumb idea. You, as a warfighter yourself, know damn well that the troops on the battlefield don’t give a crap about an award. They need training, leadership and if applicable, the right technologies to try and avoid as many civilian casulties as possible.

Read the entire story at http://ap.stripes.com/dynamic/stories/A/AS_AFGHAN_COURAGEOUS_RESTRAINT?SITE=DCSAS


Afghanistan Shell Game?

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog posting (http://www.bouhammer.com/2010/04/us-forces-leave-afghanistans-korengal-valley/) about the US forces pulling out of Korengal Valley as part of GEN McChrystal’s directive to pull back from small, less-populated areas.

I even posted a series of pictures in a second posting that was related to the same topic at http://www.bouhammer.com/2010/04/2-12-infantry-leaves-korengal-valley/

Well now it seems that maybe it is just a Afghanistan shell game moving forces around the battlefield. Almost like robbing Achmed (Peter) to pay Shariz (Paul). There are reports coming out of Afghanistan now that are saying US Forces are pushing into brand new areas they have never been in or where forces have not been in a long time.

Nearly nine years into the Afghan war, many small valleys in mountainous eastern Afghanistan remain mostly off limits to NATO and Afghan troops. In their absence, smugglers, isolationists and religious extremists dominate. The U.S. Army recently launched a mission to re-establish a presence in one dangerous valley. These soldiers with the 503rd Infantry Regiment face a risky mission. They intend to drive deep into the Chowkay Valley in eastern Kunar province.

So now we will have to see if these new moves will be successful or executed poorly and deadly. Lets hope and pray for the first option. God Speed Paratroopers!


US forces leave Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley

Over at Stars and Stripes they have a story about the famed and bloody Korengal Valley in Afghanistan and how US Forces are now pulling out of there. I am a little confused by GEN McChrystal’s directive on this as the tenants of Counter-Insurgency is the CLEAR, HOLD, BUILD. When you pull out all the forces from a very enemy-active area, aren’t you just turning it over to the enemy?

 

U.S. troops are pulling out of Afghanistan’s perilous Korengal Valley as part of a new focus on protecting population centers, NATO said Wednesday, ending a mission that saw some of the most intense fighting of the nearly nine-year American presence in the country.

The isolated mountainous region of caves and canyons on the eastern border with Pakistan has been the scene of near daily exchanges of fire between NATO and insurgents, who use it as a route for infiltrating weapons and fighters into Afghanistan.

Read the whole story HERE on the Stars and Stripes website.

Quit bailing the boat with a teaspoon

I get is Gen McChrystal, I really do. I know why you have implemented so many new rule and restrictions as protecting the Afghan people is important and well the enemy is kicking out butt in the Information Operations (IO) campaign. But these little one-off rules that are so micro in nature don’t really do much in the grand scheme of trying to keep the locals happy. Limiting night raids, carte-blanche is  like using a teaspoon to bail out your sinking boat. I mean, yeah it may help a teeny, tiny bit but in the overall objective of keeping the boat a float, it will not help any.

Our country used to “Own the night” and we did it for a reason. Because it gave us the tactical advantage in combat and I know you know this General. You know it better than most based on your career. Rather than limiting night raids, how about micro-manage the intel gatherers a little more or vett the intel through one or two more loops before acting on it. Conducting raids at night is not a bad thing, it is a great thing. It keep our foes on edge and keeps them awake at night. They never know when we are coming after them and if we keep the heat on long enough they will make mistakes and we will be there to capitalize on them.

We don’t need to stop the night raids, we just need to make 100% sure that the location we raid is the right place with the right bad people in it at the time. I ask you sir, to please reconsider this directive and to let our professional warriors do their job…the one they perform superbly at night.

 

The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan has ordered troops to limit nighttime raids to avoid alienating Afghan civilians, U.S. defense officials said on Wednesday.

The classified directive was issued last month by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has stressed the need for coalition troops to win the support of Afghans and prevent civilian casualties, officials told AFP.

"It’s important that we not make new enemies while catching old ones," said one defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The directive was first reported by CNN television.

The orders advise coalition soldiers to rely on Afghan troops when possible to knock on the doors of Afghans’ homes and to take the lead where force becomes necessary, another defense official said.

NATO-led forces, taking advantage of night-vision equipment, often stage operations at nightfall as it provides an element of surprise over insurgents, officials say.

But the night raids, with coalition troops entering private homes, can provoke tension with civilians in a culture that often keeps women from public view.

A report issued on Tuesday said the night raids by NATO-led forces are widely resented, often based on bad tips and can lead to the detention of innocent civilians.

The paper by the New York-based Open Society Institute and an Afghan nongovernmental organization, The Liaison Office, said the raids alienate Afghans and feed a negative image of international forces in the country.

The report was based on research in the eastern provincies of Paktia and Khost, the groups said.

The move to restrict night raids comes amid efforts by McChrystal to reduce civilian casualties from international troops after three mistaken bombing raids in a week.

The commander recorded a public apology to the Afghan people this week after a NATO air strike killed 27 civilians.

Deadliest Month…Again

It is really getting old to keep typing the same posts every month or two about how a new record has been set about it being the deadliest month. August was really bad, but October has gotten much worse and the month is not even over yet. Of course this should come as no surprise. We are actively going after an enemy with more vigor and more troops than ever before during the time that they tend to try and do as much damage as possible before retreating back across the mountains of Pakistan for the winter.

October and even November in some places are worse in combat action than the summer months. The fair-weather fighters that normally face off against the coalition don’t like to fight in the cold, and have a hard time with their motorcycles trying to escape in the snow-filled wadis. So they like to go out with a bang and leave an impression that they hope carries the fear amongst the people over the winter months. Of course they still attack with the random suicide bomber or car bomb just to remind all they are still around.

I know there is a lot being said about the President’s inability to make a decision on if he should surge or not. I don’t know how much he has to see in order to make a decision, but I wish he would hurry up and be the Commander-in-Chief he is charged to be. The reality is that these deaths would have not have been avoided even if he had made the decision back on August 29th when GEN McChrystal sent it. It takes time to ramp up the troops, move them and logistics, etc. Heck, there probably is not even space anywhere, on any FOB in Afghanistan to take tens of thousands of more troops right now. All of that infrastructure has to be put into place.

Since this is an asymmetrical fight, there are no forward or rear lines. This means they can’t simply drop the troops in the desert and say live here. As the threat is 360 degrees. Hence why we live on FOBs with 360 degree security.

Of course this does not excuse the President from making a decision, but I want to be fair here and say I am not blaming his inability to decide and act like a leader for the loss of all these brave souls right now. However there will be a point in time around January or February that if troops are not in place we can put the blame on this stall in the decision-making process.


Death Before Dismount

That is what the tankers and mechanized Infantry units used to say all the time back in the day. What it referred to was that they would die before they dismounted their vehicles and had to walk.

This mantra had seemed to come back over the last few years in Afghanistan and Iraq with the advent of up-armored Humvees and MRAPs. Over the last couple of years we have seen more and more forces riding through villages and across the countryside behind inches of bullet-proof glass and heavy armor plating.

Even though that is great for personal protection of our forces, it is terrible for executing COIN and collecting Human Intelligence. I realize that sometimes you need to drive to an objective area in order to get there safely and quickly. However once there, you need to dismount the vehicles and walk the ground. You need to get out among the populous, you need to talk to people.

So the old ideal of ‘death before dismount’ is not fitting well in Afghanistan and I think we will see it will not become the doctrine of choice when trying to execute the COIN missions that are needed in Afghanistan. For one thing, the IED threat is huge in Afghanistan. We ship over bigger vehicles like the MRAPs and they just add more explosives to the IEDs. I think the saying is “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”.

IEDs are placed on roads and common areas of approach and travel. If soldiers dismount several miles out and walk to their objective cross-country, then there is no way an IED cell can predict the exact route of travel and successfully plant an IED. By being on foot, it gives the soldiers more latitude in movement, allows them to separate from each other (allowing for greater survivability) and it allows them to have a better 360 degree view of their surroundings.

And of course it makes it easier for them to interact with the locals, observe people and execute all the fundamentals of COIN in regards to working with the local populous. I wish this mindset was in place when I was in Afghanistan back in 2006-2007 because I think we would have been much more successful than we were.

So as we see the forces in Afghanistan take on the new directives of GEN McChrystal and GEN Rodriguez, I think we will see many more of our light-fighters who were used to walking, go back to that very dependable method of movement. It may have some increase of risk and be slower, but I think the positives benefits far out-weigh the negatives.

PBS Frontline Special; Obama’s War

This video is from an upcoming PBS Frontline special called Obama’s War. This special airs on October 13th at 9PM. PBS has decided to make the first 24-minutes available for all of America to see as a preview. This clip shows some great “in the trenches” footage of our Marines fighting the enemy and working COIN amongst the people. There are also some clips of interviews with GEN McChrystal.

If you care about Afghanistan, someone in Afghanistan or what our country is or should be doing there, I strongly suggest you watch this clip and then watch the whole show on October 13th at 9PM.

WARNING- This video contains graphic language, violent imagery, and some footage of wounded US Marines.