Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Another Mission Ends...Sort Of

As 2014 comes to a close I would be remiss if I didn't remind my readers that ISAF mission in Afghanistan is officially over. The conflict, of course, is far from over; but the combat mission for NATO and the US has come to an end. I still have some colleagues and friends over there at the moment and I doubt they see Afghanistan as anything close to over.

The Taliban, to no one's surprise, is claiming victory. However, I don't believe true victory will come for them very easily, or at all, in the near future.

My thoughts on this official ending to the United States' longest conflict: meh. Iraq was much more important to my life, and during my time in the Army Afghanistan was always "that other thing happening". Even though I did a year in the Stan, it felt much more like a job than anything else. I never felt a true part of it. The best way to describe my feelings are those of an individual who shows up late to a movie and asks those around him to catch him up. I had a better understanding of Iraq, and likely always will.

Friday, December 19, 2014

At Least There Wasn't Any Torture

My original idea for this week's blog was to discuss the Afghan Taliban's condemnation of the attack against a school by the Pakistani Taliban. However, that topic is waaaaaaaaaay out of my knowledge league when it comes to having an intelligent discussion about why the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban dislike each other (short answer: it's tribal).

Then I decided to write about the ISIS attack on Al Assad Air Base in Iraq, but became irked when all the reporting on it stated it was the first time US ground troops and ISIS have fought. First time US troops have fought ISIS since the group changed its name perhaps. I recall several years in Iraq where I tried hunting down AQI/ISI assholes. This is either a case of lazy or shitty reporting. Take your pick.

Today, however, was my lucky day. It was reported yesterday that the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO for short, I really love acronyms that include acronyms in the actual name), which was established to help fight the IED problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, apparently did some intelligence collection no no's. JIEDDO had established a program called the Counter-IED Operations Intelligence Integration Center (COIC) which it then staffed with contractors. These contractors acted as intelligence analysts and were tasked with the mission of analyzing intelligence dealing with IEDs and the various insurgent IED networks.

I'm going to break here for a moment just to inform you of my bias on this subject. COIC was one of the main rivals to the program I was employed with for a time, the Counter Insurgency Targeting Program (CITP). Mildly interesting fact, the "I" in CITP was changed from "IED" to "insurgency" in an attempt to stay relevant as combat forces (and money) were reduced in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So what did COIC do wrong? It's analysts, at this instruction of COIC leadership (likely both military and civilian), collected information and intelligence on US persons and companies. Collecting information on US persons/companies is absolutely illegal for intelligence analysts working for the US military. The organization also was collecting information on SGT Bowe Bergdahl, which is two violations...the first being collecting on Bergdahl who is a US citizen, and the second being gathering information on a subject that had nothing to do with IEDs...a mission outside of COIC's scope.

 As an analyst, both military and civilian, I've had it beaten into my head that collecting on US persons/companies is against federal regulations and therefore illegal. I also know that fighting a complex insurgency is extremely challenging (understatement of the week). People are going to slip up on occasion, but from what I read in the article this was a systemic issue. I'm shocked that no one in the leadership of COIC or JIEDDO stepped in to stop these violations.

No wait, I'm not shocked.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Short Comment On Torture

I've been enjoying beautifully scenic Killeen, Texas for the past week and half or so assisting with a training exercise on Fort Hood so I have not been paying too much attention to anything outside of "The Great Place". What did catch my eye was the release of the Senate's study of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques (torture). I have not had time to read it, nor do I think I will (because...boring) but based on the little I've seen from the news people are pretty angry at the CIA, and for good reason. Here are my thoughts:

Torture is wrong. The end.

To expand a bit...torture doesn't work. Under torture people will say whatever you want them to say. Using torture also puts a dark stain on the United States. Our enemies...now and in the past...use torture. We should and need to be above such despicable practices.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Is Helmand Falling To the Taliban Already?

It may no longer be the fighting season in Afghanistan due to the onset of winter but someone forgot to tell that to the Taliban operating in Helmand Province. Late last month, Taliban forces attacked Camp Bastion which was turned over to Afghanistan by U.S. Marines and the British Army in October. According to Afghan press, the fighting lasted a couple of days and the Taliban were able to breach the base perimeter and occupy some buildings.

You may remember, Camp Bastion was attacked in September 2012 and the Taliban were able to destroy several Marine aircraft in that assault.

Taliban forces have also attacked Afghan Army bases in the Sangin and Shorabak areas of Helmand Province. These guys aren't messing around.

Next Spring is going to be very very interesting.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Taliban, Shabaab, and ISIS...Oh My

I've got some interesting stories/articles to share for you to peruse at your leisure this weekend and/or while you are trying to avoid interacting with family during Thanksgiving. Some of this news is good, some is neutral, and some is bad. Spoiler alert: it's all going to end up bad in the long term. There I go being pessimistic again.

News out of Afghanistan is that the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, is dead. The information is coming from the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) so I'm going to take it with a grain of salt. Having said that, I tend to believe NDS reporting over some of the crap the US puts out concerning the Taliban. The NDS also claim that due to Mullah Omar's death, Taliban leadership has split into three groups and "differences" have arisen.

Here's my perspective: Mullah Omar hasn't been credibly seen since fleeing Kandahar on a motorbike back when the US invaded Afghanistan. There have been many reports saying he's dead and many reports saying he's alive. On occasion Mullah Omar has issued written statements but those statements could just be some senior Taliban leader claiming to be Mullah Omar. As for Taliban infighting, that's probably pretty likely. During my brief time in Kabul there was information out there about senior Taliban members splintering off or creating discord due to difference of opinions. It's a slight glimmer of hope I have for Afghanistan that the Taliban can't/won't be organized enough to completely over-run the country again.

For some actual optimism, the Somali president claimed that by the end of the year Al Shabaab fighters would be pushed out of all the remaining territory the group holds. For awhile on this blog I was predicting every few months that Al Shabaab only had about 6 months left until it was defeated. Well screw it, I'm saying it again: by the middle of next year Al Shabaab will hold no territory and be nothing but a small terrorist group that is merely a thorn in the side of the Somali government and the African Union.

Feel free to call me out on that in June.

ISIS just captured the Syrian town of Derna...wait did I write Syrian? I meant Libyan. THE FUCK IS ISIS DOING IN LIBYA??!! Calm down, no need to panic. Apparently some punks called the Islamic Youth Council changed their name and flag and pledged their allegiance to ISIS. It helps that members of that particular militia just returned from Syria after fighting for ISIS; so it's not so much as ISIS suddenly expanding and more like ISIS attempting to set up a colony. Eastern Libya was already pretty extremist to begin with (think Alabama/Mississippi of Libya) and the whole country is just a mess so I'm not overly concerned.

I'll become concerned when ISIS can actually make some real friends.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Iran Makes Its Own "Beast"

Iranian military development is at it again...or so they claim. Back in 2011 the U.S. apparently lost a super secret UAV (the Beast of Kandahar) along the border area between Iran and Afghanistan. Iran claimed to have recovered the aircraft and paraded it to news media (or at least a flimsy looking mock up).

Now Iran is stating to have reverse engineered the U.S. drone and made one of their own. The video they've released does not create any sense of dread for me. It looks like a strong breeze would blow that thing off course.

It's not like Iran would lie about new military technology.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Another Goodbye

I woke up Wednesday morning to some expected but sad and unfortunate news. A former coworker of mine, Major Christopher Franco, passed away after a long battle with cancer. I will always remember Chris fondly as a quirky guy who always pushed himself and didn't let anything bother him.

I first met Chris when I was in the 296 Brigade Support Battalion and he came over from 5-20 Infantry (or as he called them, "The Tweez"). Chris was a former infantry officer branch detailed over to logistics, but he refused to give up his infantry mentality. One memory I have of him is from PT when the officers were scheduled to run the route around the airfield on FT Lewis. Chris shows up in his PT uniform plus his flak vest with the kevlar sapi plates inside. As he put it to us, he wasn't about the BSB "make him soft."

We both worked on staff and since I was a 1st lieutenant still figuring things out and Chris was a captain, he took me under his wing a bit. He was there to talk to when I was going through a tough period in my life and during the 2006-07 deployment he could be counted on to always have a ridiculously funny story about his first trip to Iraq.

Rest in peace Chris. I'll meet you at Fiddlers' Green.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Few Links To Keep You Occupied

I've been feeling rather lazy lately so instead of a full post I'm just going to link to some interesting articles I've come across over the past several days.

The first is a fun little interview with John Nagl. For those not in the know, Dr Nagl is a former U.S. Army officer and one of the leaders in counter-insurgency movement that swept the U.S. military around 2006. The Army is currently moving away from counter-insurgency to focus more on conventional force on force tactics which I find a bit frightening. After the Vietnam War, the U.S. believed the conflict was an anomaly and refocused on tank vs tank warfare. The U.S. moving back to that "big armored formation" mentality now that Afghanistan is winding down and Iraq is several years over (or is it?). Lessons that were learned through blood, sweat, and treasure are going to have to be relearned sooner rather than later...and it will be hell to pay.

Some brighter news, Iraq is getting rid of fake bomb detectors that the Maliki government stubbornly refused to give up. Even with no moving parts; even after being told time and time again they don't work; even after the man that sold them was arrested in the UK; the Iraqi government kept ADE-651s on checkpoints in and around Baghdad. How many innocent Iraqis died because of this hubris?

Remember back in September when it was reported that the government of Nigeria was in talks with Boko Haram to release those kidnapped school girls? Do you also happen to remember that I wrote that I had assumed the girls had already been sold into slavery? I hate to say this, but it appears I may have been right. Boko Haram is denying a cease-fire with the government and is also claiming the school girls have already been "married off".

I'll be over here in the corner attempting to not be so cynical.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Yemen Being Yemen

While I was distracted with tiny little inconveniences such as living my life, Yemen has become quite the busy place. A quick summary: Houthi rebels from the north went on the offensive (much like ISIS did in Iraq), captured the capital of Sana'a, forced the prime minister to step down, occupied multiple government buildings, signed a political deal with the Yemenis president, and then started battling Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters when their offensive collided with AQAP's offensive. At least that's how I'm interpreting all of what I'm reading.

Pause for breath.

First off, who the fuck are the Houthis? I'm showing my Yemen ignorance because apparently they've been around for awhile. Read the BBC article on them but in a nutshell they are a political movement/rebel group that follow a minority brand of Shia Islam. The Houthis did not particularly like the prime minister and after a military offensive in the north along with protests in the capital, they captured Sana'a. Of course, once you have the capital people start paying attention to what you want and President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi quickly signed a deal with the Houthis giving them what they wanted, mostly a new government under a new prime minister.

The Houthis aren't done, however. After taking Sana'a they've continued their offensive momentum and pushed into central and western Yemen capturing the port of al-Hudaydah which is Yemen's second largest port next to Aden. By moving into central Yemen, the Houthis have now come into conflict with fighters and tribal members loyal to our old friends Al Qaeda who have blunted the Houthi advance.

For a short while, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was seen as the AQ franchise most likely to cause trouble for The West and there were rumors Yemen may become the next Afghanistan. If you recall, The Underwear Bomber was part of a plot by AQAP to conduct attacks against the United States. Then AQAP fell out of the news and we all became distracted by ISIS, Ebola, The Bachelor, and whatever else we in The West (America) tend to get distracted by.

Of course I realize that I'm over-simplifying this conflict. The Houthis didn't just come out of nowhere and AQAP hasn't become entrenched in southern and eastern Yemen by accident. Yemen is a complicated place full of tribal grievances and political strife that goes back to the civil war in 1994. Well, more likely the conflict can be traced to when Yemen was actually two separate countries, or possibly when it was under British colonial rule. Or maybe the Ottomans are the blame? No no no, this must go back to the Ayyubid Dynasty.

But what can solve this everlasting tribal/political/cultural crisis? Airstrikes...duh.

Update: I'm aware that U.S. airstrikes are not meant to solve the conflict in Yemen. They are for killing AQAP douchewaffles.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Islamic State Has Chemical Weapons OH NOOOOO!!!!

In the past few days there have been a multitude of articles reporting that insurgents with the Islamic State have acquired and probably used chemical weapons, primarily against the Kurdish militia YPG in Syria. Many analysts and writers are claiming that ISIS must have gotten the chemical weapons (most likely artillery rounds) from leftover Saddam-era Iraqi stockpiles. There are now many bloggers and pundits getting on their soap boxes stating the invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration was the correct course of action because it's now obvious that these chemical weapons are a clear indicator that Saddam had and was hiding a WMD program.

People need to calm the fuck down.

ISIS having and using chemical munitions does not mean Saddam Hussein had a chemical weapons program after 1991. Syria has had a chemical weapons program for some time now and only in the past year have they allowed those weapons to be destroyed. ISIS cells could have acquired Syrian munitions prior to those munitions being collected and destroyed.

However, there's an even more likely explanation, one I've made off handed comments about in the past. See the third paragraph in this post from February 2011. If you don't want to click, here's the statement:
During a short stretch of 2007 patrols in northern Baghdad were being hit by IEDs made from artillery shells containing chemical agents. Those artillery shells were believed to have come from a bunker complex that had once housed chemical rounds that had not yet been destroyed by inspectors; it was unlikely the insurgents making the IEDs had any idea the rounds were chemical munitions.
Or check out this post from August 2011 where I'm griping about stupid questions I got during my various times as a battalion intelligence officer. Check out #7 from that post:
7. *Battalion update brief some time in 2007 in Baghdad after one of the brigade Stryker patrols had been hit with an IED which consisted of a chemical weapon artillery shell.* "Why isn't the media reporting on the chemical weapon attacks? Doesn't this prove Saddam had WMD?!" -BSB command sergeant major 
- This was just part of the rant the CSM launched at me after I briefed this particular attack. The artillery shell likely came from a stockpile of chemical weapons that the old Iraqi Army had but hadn't destroyed yet, or forgot about. These stockpiles were known to the UN and the US and were not part of the WMD reasoning when Iraq was invaded/liberated. The insurgents who used this round likely didn't even know the shell had chemical weapons in it. 
If my statements are not convincing enough here's a CIA assessment of the Al Muthanna Chemical Weapons Complex, the facility where Saddam's chemical weapons were stored. Three paragraphs stood out to me (ISG is the Iraq Survey Group, the guys looking for WMD):
ISG conducted multiple exploitations of the Al Muthanna site to determine whether old chemical weapons, equipment, or toxic chemicals had been looted or tampered with since the last UN visit to the site. ISG is unable to unambiguously determine the complete fate of old munitions, materials, and chemicals produced and stored there.The matter is further complicated by the looting and razing done by the Iraqis. 
An exploitation of the facility reconfirmed previous imagery analysis that the site remained inoperable from bombings and UNSCOM compliance, including destruction of equipment and resources, and no significant production capabilities existed. Facilities and bunkers revealed no evidence of production since UNSCOM departed. 
Stockpiles of chemical munitions are still stored there. The most dangerous ones have been declared to the UN and are sealed in bunkers. Although declared, the bunkers contents have yet to be confirmed. These areas of the compound pose a hazard to civilians and potential blackmarketers. 
So even the CIA states that chemical weapon manufacturing was not being conducted and Iraq was complying with UN demands regarding previous chemical weapons sites. But what about the rounds that were stored there that had not yet been destroyed? Well, as I mentioned above, insurgent groups managed to get a few of those rounds and used them against US forces. Whether the IED cells knew they were chemical weapons or not can be debated but my analysis is the insurgents were unaware, or at the very least did not know how to properly use them.

However, why weren't these cases of chemical munitions use reported? Probably multiple reasons. US forces likely didn't want the information getting out that there were all these chemical rounds that were found and not yet destroyed...that just looks bad; not to mention the egg of the face of insurgents getting weapons that were supposedly secured . Also, higher echelons probably didn't want to spread panic among the troops that insurgents possibly had chemical weapons. Lets not even discuss the fact that these were rounds the US allowed Saddam to have and the 1980s when using chemical weapons was OK as long as it was against Iran.

Except then Wikileaks happened and all those reports of chemical munitions being used as IEDs were released to media...and reported. But nobody cared because it was 2010 and people didn't want to think about Iraq anymore. Which brings us to today and some insurgent bastards have those chemical munitions again. Suddenly, people care again and are claiming Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld were correct all along.

Those people haven't been paying attention.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Introducing the YPG!

I've written here and there about the Kurdish security forces in Iraq, namely the Kurdistan Regional Government's Peshmerga militia and their "secret" police, the Asayish. Long time readers will understand why: I was deployed to northeast Diyala Province, Iraq in 2009-10 in an area disputed between Arabs and Kurds and dealt quite a bit with both the Peshmerga and the Asayish. The "Pesh" have been engaging AQI/ISI/ISIS/ISIL/IS as well as various other Iraqi insurgent groups (namely Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq Naqshabandi and Ansar al Sunna) for years now; primarily in defense of the Iraqi Kurdish people, but also to reclaim "lost" territory. They've had success in some areas, failures in others, and stalemates pretty much everywhere.

But what about the Syrian Kurds? Who is defending them?

A Kurdish militia known as the Yekineyen Parastina Gel (acronym time again: YPG); or the Kurdish People's Protection Units for those who prefer English. The group is tied with Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union Party and Turkey's Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK). YPG denies links to the PKK which is a designated terrorist organization by Turkey and is currently waging an insurgency against that country.

I'm going to need a flow chart soon.

The YPG militia, along with their cousins the Peshmerga, utilize female soldiers which is extremely useful for propaganda purposes when you're fighting an extremist group whose fighters reportedly fear being killed by a woman (NY Post article, take it with a grain of salt). However, ISIS is known for it's brutality against women which has led to at least one fighter killing herself to avoid being captured.

Or this female fighter utilizing a terrorist tactic against terrorists. That's one hell of a symbol.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Turkey On Board

As you are likely well aware, this whole Iraq/Syria/ISIS/ISIL thing is a tad complicated. ISIS is gaining ground in Syria near the Turkish border and in the Anbar Province of Iraq. However, they are losing ground to Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the Iraqi provinces of Ninewa and Diyala. The province of Salah al-Din appears to be in a stalemate, especially in and around Tikrit. US airstrikes are helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces, but only in those areas where those forces are going on the offensive.

Some more good (?) news may be on the way. Turkey's Parliament voted to allow the Turkish military to conduct operations in Iraq and Syria. I'm glad they are finally on board, but what was the catalyst for pushing Turkey into this fight?

It may be a little known Turkish enclave (technically an exclave, but who the hell cares) in Syria.

The enclave is the tomb of Suleyman Shah, who was the grandfather of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire. In 1921 a treaty was signed between France and Turkey, the tomb and some surrounding land was allowed to remain Turkish territory and Turkey is allowed to raise the Turkish flag and have troops guarding the shrine. Turkish commanders have stated they will defend the enclave and come to the aid of the guards there should ISIS attack.

I read about this enclave a few months ago when Turkey was concerned about an ISIS threat to the shrine, but the story never gained much traction. However, wherever ISIS goes they tend to destroy shrines, tombs, and anything else of cultural value; and now ISIS is just a few miles to the north, in Kobani. Will we see a Turkish invasion of Syria in the coming weeks/months? My gut instinct says not...maybe some airstrikes, but no ground troops. Unless ISIS takes the shrine. Then all bets are off.

Edit: I originally stated that Suleyman Shah was the father of Osman I. He is actually the grandfather.





Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Update on the Update: Boko Haram Update

Last time I mentioned Nigeria and Boko Haram back in May violence was increasing, the US was getting involved mildly, and the 300 school girls Boko Haram had kidnapped were no closer to being released. Nigeria even made my "Warhorse Top 10".

So how is Nigeria these days? Better? Worse?

I can't say better, but there are reports that Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, was killed in a battle near, or possibly in, Cameroon. Shekau was a bit of an asshole, and seemed to be effective, so his removal may actually do some good and bring Boko Haram to the negotiating table.

Oh, look at that. The government of Nigeria and the Red Cross are in talks with Boko Haram about swapping the kidnapped girls for captured Boko Haram leaders. I'm a bit shocked, I figured those girls had been sold into slavery and/or something worse awhile ago.

I should try being more optimistic.

Update: The Nigerian military is now claiming they killed the impersonator of Abubakar Shekau and not Shekau himself. What the hell is going on over there?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

AQIS Wastes No Time

In my last post I mentioned that Al Qaeda had formed a new franchise named Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. Well, the group has wasted no time in claiming and conducting attacks.

The first was an assassination targeting a senior officer in the Pakistani army, Brigadier Fazal Zahoor. AQIS claimed that Brigadier Zahoor killed innocent women and children in Waziristan. The attackers rode motorcycles and managed to escape.

The second attack is a bit confusing. Original news reports state on September 11 AQIS operatives attacked a ship in the Karachi port thinking it was a US aircraft carrier. Instead of a carrier, the attackers found a Pakistani Navy frigate and were overwhelmed by security forces before they caused any damage. Later reports claim the attack actually occurred on September 6 and that the Pakistani ship was the actual target. AQIS announced that Pakistani naval officers were part of the assault and the goal was to capture the ship and use its missiles to strike US ships in the Indian Ocean.

So which story is correct? As usual, the truth is probably some combination of the two. However, the story of inept terrorists attacking a US carrier only to find a Pakistani frigate seems to be a bit too far fetched to me. For a change I'm going to believe the AQIS statement. You don't attack a target without knowing what that target is. That's military tactics 101.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Back With Airstrikes and New Al Qaeda Franchises

Okay loyal readers, I'm back. Croatia was excellent, my apartment in Virginia has been packed up, and I have a new place and job in Maryland. It's been an insane few weeks. So what's been going on since I've been gone?

Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq were successful in taking back a town in Salah al Din Province from ISIS. That's good I suppose. Oh they did it with help from US airstrikes? Hmm, a State Department listed terrorist group being supported in its actions against another State Department listed terrorist group. I knew this new chapter in Iraq was going to make for some very strange bedfellows.

In other airstrike news the US targeted the al Shabaab emir in Somalia. Apparently we killed him, good. I'm experienced and cynical enough to know that this strike won't be the end of Shabaab, which like the metaphorical cockroach just won't die, but I do hope Ahmed Abdi Godane's death disrupts Shabaab's operations enough that African Union and Somali forces can gain some more momentum in defeating the group.

Holy crap a new acronym! Al Qaeda has claimed to have formed a new franchise in the Indian Subcontinent called Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent. In usual Western fashion we're shortening that to Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS. The group was formed from several groups already operating in the region and brings them all under one banner. I'm interested in seeing how this plays out.

That's all for now. Maybe more in a few days.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Another Summer Hiatus


I'm taking another summer hiatus from blogging for the next couple of weeks. Primary reason is that I'll be on vacation hanging out on some beaches that look very similar to the one above. Also, I've resigned my position here in central Virginia and will be starting a new job up in Maryland next month. Between vacation, moving, and settling in to my new place, I don't want to stress about the blog. I'm sure you can handle life without it for a bit.

Friday, August 8, 2014

How Many GBUs Does It Take To Stop An ISIS Assault?

Iraq is...well...a complete clusterfuck mess right now. My initial thoughts on the rapid offensive by ISIS were of tentative optimism. I saw the collapse of Iraqi security forces in the Sunni regions along with ISIS territory gains in Syria as a potential catalyst for redrawing the borders in the Middle East. Perhaps that's a bit of a pipe dream.

My current thoughts are more along the lines of, "holy hell, can anybody step in and stop these jackasses?!"

The Kurds have lost their initial gains that they acquired after ISIS captured Mosul and the Iraqi Army fled Ninewa Province. The Peshmerga are regrouping around Dahuk but any kind of counter offensive seems unlikely in the near term. This retreat has caused a bit of a humanitarian crisis amongst the population in the area, specifically with the minority Yazidi. I liked the Yazidi and found their religion to be unique and interesting, even if they worshipped a peacock who may or may not be Satan.

The Peshmerga aren't exactly doing all that hot at the other end of the disputed zone either. At the same time that Iraqi security forces were leaving Ninewa, they were also leaving northeast Diyala Province...the area I was deployed to with 1-14 Cav back in '09-10. Kurds moved into the towns of Jalula and As Sadiya but have been forced out of As Sadiyah and due to lack of ammunition and funds, are forced to be on the defensive in Jalula. While there is a significant Kurdish minority in that area, many of the Sunni tribes are extremely hostile towards the Kurds which makes controlling that area all the more difficult.

It appeared that an ISIS assault against Irbil was likely very soon as well which would have really put a wrench in the Peshmerga defensive lines. Luckily for the Kurds, Uncle Sam flew in to prevent, or at least delay, this attack.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Personal Pilgrimage

Many of you are aware that during my third deployment to Iraq in 2009-10 I lost one of my soldiers to suicide. The day I learned of SSG Amy Tirador's death was the worst day of my Army career and quite possibly the worst day of my life. I'm still haunted by it all to this day. I've written about it several times before including here, a few days after it happened; here, where I discuss the day in detail; the days following the incident; and finally, feeling followed by my memories.

In that last post I mention that one day I'll make the trip to New York to see her grave and hopefully make my peace.

I finally had that opportunity on Tuesday during a roadtrip to Albany, NY and Boston, MA. I'm certainly never going to forget what happened that day in Iraq, but I hope to get some closure with this visit and start putting my demons to rest.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Top 10 "Global Concerns" 2014 Edition

This year's Warhorse Global Concerns is coming a few days early because I'm leaving shortly to go on a quick vacation and I don't want to have to think about it while sitting in a hotel room. As mentioned in last year's Top 10 I compile this list based on what I've read and my own personal analysis...and by analysis I mean bias. This is what the list looked like last year:

10. Nigeria
9. Iran
8. Tunisia
7. Somalia
6. Mali
5. North Korea
4. Iraq
3. Egypt
2. Syria
1. Afghanistan/Pakistan

Loyal readers of this blog likely recall that my Top 10 doesn't change all that much from year to year. There are some fluctuations and some countries fall off or are added, but for the most part conflicts continue to simmer. For this year, Iran, Tunisia, and Mali fell off. I also combined Iraq and Syria because, well, duh. Iran was removed due to my belief that they are way too distracted with Syria/Iraq to really try anything silly in the near term, but we shall see. Tunisia and Mali also fell off because while I don't think those particular conflicts (Tunisia's being residual leftovers from Arab Spring and Mali's being the Tuareg/AQIM uprising) are over, I do believe they are contained...for the most part. Enough blabbering! Here's the list for 2014:

10. South Sudan
Conflict between the government and rebels forced various African countries to send military forces into South Sudan. A peace deal was signed in May, but I don't think peace will last.

9. North Korea
I'm dropping Best Korea from 5th to 9th but I just can't take them off the list entirely. There is just too much tension between North and South and I'm not convinced of Kim Jong-un's sanity. If I were China, I would attempt regime change.

8. Xinjiang, China
Speaking of China...something is afoot in the western region of Xinjiang. Is there a red line for the Muslim Uighur population and how long before they attempt a full on revolt?

7. Somalia
African nations contributing peacekeeping/counter insurgency forces to Somalia continue to find themselves stretched thin by other conflicts. Al Shabaab has taken advantage and brought the fight to Kenya on a few occasions.

6. Nigeria
Hashtag activism isn't going to stop Boko Haram. Especially when I suspect they may be winning.

5. Egypt
There's a war in the Sinai but nobody seems to care. Things aren't exactly peachy in the west either.

4. Libya
I haven't been paying much attention here. From what I can gather there are lots of militia groups claiming territory and fighting over neighborhoods in Tripoli and Benghazi. The government is pretty much ineffective. What happens when you only help with one half of regime change? The situation in Libya happens.

3. Ukraine
This potential WWIII flash point certainly came out of nowhere.

2. Afghanistan/Pakistan
The Taliban made a "fighting season" push in Helmand but were not all that successful thanks to the Afghan security forces. The country also managed to pull off presidential elections. A glimmer of hope?

1. Iraq/Syria
A clusterfuck. That is all.

Edit: I did not include Israel-Palestine/Gaza on this list because conflict between those two is essentially "same shit, different day".

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Iraq Is Like A Really Messed Up Soap Opera

It's been about 2 weeks since The Islamic State (aka IS, aka ISIS, aka ISIL, aka ISI, aka AQI, aka I'm done here) announced their name change and the formation of The Caliphate. As you'll recall from my last post there were quite a few important and influential folks who rejected this announcement and spoke out against it. So how are things working out for our newly minted Islamic State and Iraq as a whole since this announcement?

Just for honesty's sake, these links are all from the Long War Journal. I love those guys.

An Iraqi military convoy was ambushed in between Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar Province. Among the vehicles abandoned (and maybe non-operational?) were M113 armored personnel carriers and M1 Abrams tanks. So much for American military equipment being invincible no matter who uses them. If the Islamic State...and that's a big fucking giant IF...makes some kind of massive assault on Baghdad, I'm going to laugh my ass off if the head of the column is an Abrams. And then I'll cry myself to sleep a little bit.

It gets worse, much worse. The Iraqi military attempted to re-capture Tikrit. How did that go? Not so well. Iraqi troops were forced to withdraw from the city. Mortar fire and snipers will do that. Military commanders are blaming Prime Minister Maliki for being a micro managing jerk face.

ISIS...sorry...sorry...IS hasn't forgotten its bread and butter though. An IS suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shia shrine in Baghdad. My favorite part? The suicide bomber was Australian going by the name of Abu Bakr al Australi.

Not going so well for Iraq. But things aren't all peachy for the Islamic State either. Nobody wants to play along with their caliphate idea. Not Al QaidaNot the Al Nusrah Front (well there's a shocker). And not even the AQ franchise AQIM is on board.

So hard to start a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy these days.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Just Because You Announce Something, Doesn't Mean It's True

As I mentioned in my last post, ISIS/ISIL announced it has formed a caliphate in Iraq and Syria under the leadership of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. They've also rebranded and changed their name (again!). The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham/Syria/the Levant is now just The Islamic State (IS). Much easier to write out. My future carpal tunnel appreciates this.

Just for fun, let's list out the former names of this organization:

- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi forms al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in the 1990s and brings the organization into Iraq just prior to the US invasion in 2003.

- Zarqawi pledges allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and joins al Qaida in 2004. Al-Tawhid wal-Jihad becomes Al Qaida in Iraq.

- Zarqawi is killed in 2006. His successor, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, renames AQI to the Mujahadeen Shura Council.

- Short time later, MSC, is rebranded as the Islamic State of Iraq...although many cells still called themselves Al Qaida.

- Shit goes down in Syria and ISI joins the fun and names itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham/Syria and/or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant...depends on your translation.

- June 2014, the Caliphate is announced and now we just have the Islamic State.

But here's my question: how legitimate is the Islamic State and the announcement of a caliphate in the view of other Islamic groups and leaders in the region? Not legit at all. And those organizations ISIL was fighting with in Syria, they reject the Caliphate as well.

Essentially, al Baghdadi announcing the Caliphate has about as much authority as me declaring the Grand Duchy of Central Virginia. I demand you call me duke or lord or something.

Duke Warhorse, Lord and Viceroy of the Grand Duchy of Central Virginia. I like it.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Interesting Links On Iraq

My professional crush Emma Sky recently authored an article asking the question, "who lost Iraq?" Spoiler: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is primarily to blame.

Are the Kurdish Peshmerga any good? Yes...when they are fighting in the mountains and defending their fellow Kurds. On the plains in among the Arabs...not so much. As my old squadron XO used to say, "even a Girl Scout troop can defend the mountains of Kurdistan."

Remember that Caliphate thingy that ISIS is claiming it is fighting to create? They just formally announced it. What does this mean? Probably nothing.

The hardest part of all of this is watching everything I spent my 20s fighting for falling apart as I sit here incapable of doing anything about it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Civilian to Veteran Interactions: Part IV

Part I


Part II


Part III


One day I hope to no longer have anything to add to this series of posts, but today is not that day...


If you come across a veteran that you have just met or don't know very well do not...I repeat...do not ask about their mental health. Two reasons:


1. It's fucking rude.


2. It's none of your business.


That is all.


Ok, that's not all. Please go to the following links:


Wes Moore: How to talk to veterans about the war.


Why don't civilians ask veterans more questions?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

UPDATE: ISIS Takes The North

Holy hell. I turn my back for a couple of days and Iraq's security forces completely break down. Six days ago the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (yeah, you know the acronym by now) began an assault on Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. Yesterday, the city fell after security forces fled, leaving not only the city for the insurgents, but massive amounts of weapons and ammunition.

Iraqi security forces have already been stretched thin dealing with ISIS in the Anbar Province. ISIS has taken over Fallujah, several towns, and nearly captured Ramadi as well. ISIS forces have apparently been operating in Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad.

But it gets worse, today ISIS fighters captured Tikrit, the capital of Salahaddin Province as well as the town of Bayji...which is the location of a massive oil refinery. On top of all that, ISIS is moving in on towns in the Kirkuk Province.

I suspect Samarra, a short drive south of Tikrit, will fall either tomorrow or the next day. From there ISIS can take Balad and the large airbase outside of that city. After that is the sizable military base Taji. Baghdad is a stones throw from there.

Prime Minister Maliki will likely shift forces from Anbar to prevent further ISIS movement south, but that will just allow an emboldened ISIS to move on Ramadi and the Sunni towns south of Baghdad. I give it three weeks before Baghdad is virtually surrounded...assuming no miracles occur.

But a miracle may occur...in the form of the Kurds. The Kurds will defend their territory tenaciously and any perception that that territory is under threat will bring Peshmerga reinforcements. Kirkuk is a disputed city and if ISIS attempts to take it the Kurds will most likely move in to prevent that from occuring. The whole situation is a win-win for the Kurds because with the Iraqi military collapsing, the Maliki government is likely going to ask for Kurdish assistance...and the Kurds will likely gain Kirkuk for helping defeat ISIS.

Hmm, I wonder if this was the Kurds' plan all along?

UPDATE: Kurdish Peshmerga forces have taken Kirkuk. ISIS/ISIL is threatening Samarra and the extremely holy Shia shrine there.

UPDATE 2: My old stomping grounds of Jalula and As Sadiya have fallen to ISIS/ISIL. Insurgents are now likely sleeping in my old room on the former FOB COBRA. This irks me.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Please, No More Wandering Off the Base

Popping in from my self imposed break due to an event that occurred over the weekend. If you weren't paying attention to the news, Bowe Bergdahl was released by the Haqqani Network in exchange for five Taliban prisoners. Bergdahl was a soldier who was captured by insurgents back in 2009 and has been held by Haqqani/Taliban since then. He is the last remaining missing/captured soldier from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and I'm quite glad that he has been released.

However, having said that, there are numerous questions that I...as well as many others...have about the situation leading up to Bergdahl's capture and what transpired while he was detained.

First of all, it's likely he went AWOL.

Now I wasn't there, during this time I was dealing with Iraq and quite happily ignoring Afghanistan. I was not paying attention to the situation and currently I am no where near having all of the facts. But just for fun...and because this is my blog...here are the various rumors I have heard come down the grapevine from multiple individuals who were either in Afghanistan at the time, or were there later and assisted in trying to hunt down Bergdahl's location:

- He walked off his patrol base because he was drunk. (Official Army line at the time was that he was captured when he fell behind during a combat patrol.)
- He walked off his patrol base because he was high on drugs.
- He walked off his patrol base because he was drunk AND high.
- He walked off his patrol base to get alcohol or drugs.
- Bergdahl left the base and actively sought out the Taliban in order to defect.
- Bergdahl was actively helping the Taliban in conducting attacks against American forces to include getting on the radio and assisting the Taliban with directing mortar fire.

There's also some concern that the US gave up some high level Taliban guys for just one soldier. I don't exactly have a lot of issues with this because 1) the US should do everything it can to bring back everyone...including assholes; and 2) those Taliban detainees have been out of the fight since the beginning of the war. They lack what we in Iraq would call "wasta" and honestly I don't think they'll have much impact on US operations in Afghanistan or the tactical fight there.

I hope one day the true story of events comes out, but that may take awhile.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Short Hiatus

Due to being busy with work and busy having a social life I've decided to take a short hiatus from this blog. I'm not expecting this break to be very long, I should return in time for the yearly "Warhorse Top 10 Shitty Places".

If anything of interest pops up I'll certainly write about it as well.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

LTG Flynn Out From The DIA

A little over 2 years ago I wrote a post on LTG Michael Flynn being nominated to head the Defense Intelligence Agency. I approved of the move based on some things I had read about LTG Flynn as well as a paper that he had written about intelligence analysis and what deployed analysts should be doing. My ending statement was a hope that LTG Flynn "...will be able to break the Cold War mentality that often can be found at the upper echelons of the intel bureaucracy."

At the end of last month, word was leaked that LTG Flynn would be stepping down from his position. He stated that he was retiring and that this had been planned for some time. I have no doubt that LTG Flynn likely planned his retirement for some time but he still had about a year left on his tenure. Also, as head of the DIA and a 3-star general why retire now? You can't tell me a fourth star wasn't in his future.

RUMINT has it that LTG Flynn was forced to step down from pressure within the intelligence community, especially by the civilian leadership. It appears that he was stepping on quite a few toes, toes that had been at this business for a long time and didn't want to change.

LTG Flynn had been developing plans to send more of the civilian analysts overseas...“up and out of their cubicles into the field to support war fighters.." as one official put it. Also, apparently his management style was chaotic and his plans met resistance from both his superiors and his subordinates.

As a former intelligence officer and current civilian analyst, I have no issue with LTG Flynn's ideas of sending more analysts into the fight. Too often analysts get set in the steady 9-5 office job and have little to no clue about the tactical, or even operational, fight in a combat zone. I've seen it here at NGIC a number of times...especially amongst the government analysts who often have no clue about the "small picture" on the ground in Afghanistan...the conflict we are supposed to be supporting.

But I suppose breaking that Cold War mentality is just too difficult for some folks.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Boko...Have Trouble Giving A Damn

If you have been watching, reading, or listening to the news lately then you are likely aware of increased violence in Nigeria due to  the terrorist group Boko Haram as well as the kidnapping of nearly 300 school girls by that organization. I haven't written much about Nigeria or Boko Haram, although the country made my "Top 10" List last year (spoiler: Nigeria will probably make it again this year).


Boko Haram, aka The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad (or in Arabic, Jamat Ahl as-Sunnah lid-da'wa wal-Jihad), was founded in 2002 and is an Islamic group found primarily in northern Nigeria as well as parts of Cameroon and Niger. They seek an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law. Boko Haram's tactics to gain this state are through terrorism and guerilla warfare...because fuck peaceful means (bias alert).


So yeah, another part of the world that I'll keep a closer eye on. One never knows when the US will decide to get involved. But it's not like Nigeria has oil or anything...oh wait, they do. However, the kidnapping of some school girls won't likely turn the eyes of the US government which is working to cut the budget of the military to save some cash. Events would have to seriously escalate for that to happen.


Look at that. We are getting involved...a little bit.


300 hundred more dead? This is going downhill fast.


But why the sudden interest in Nigeria? Sure, nearly 300 school girls is a lot but school girls get attacked in Afghanistan all the time. Schools are burned to the ground. Villagers' fingers cut off for voting. Etc, etc, etc. When did Americans stop caring about that?


How about over 300 children kidnapped by the Kurdistan Workers Pary (PKK) in Turkey? Anybody care about that? Bueller? Bueller?


No? Funny...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

ISIL Just Hates Everyone, Don't Take It Personally

I've written a few times in the past about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and how the organization is currently in conflict with other insurgent groups in Syria. ISIL/ISIS for whatever reason has appeared to decide that if you are not in that specific organization, then you must be the enemy. I wonder how many resources and personnel have been used up by infighting between ISIL, Al Nusrah Front, the Free Syrian Army, etc. It boggles my mind and does nothing but help out the Bashar al Assad regime.


ISIL apparently isn't making many friends in Iraq either where they've stepped up their game in recent months and have control over much of the Al Anbar Province. ISIL has pushed into other Sunni dominated provinces where they've come into conflict with not just the Iraqi Security Forces but the various other insurgent groups who I recall quite fondly: Ansar al Sunna, 1920's Revolutionary Brigade, and my personal favorite, Jaysh Rijal al Tariq Naqshabandia.


I won't go into the boring details, but if you're interested, Joel Wing over at Musing On Iraq explains the situation as best as anyone using open source can.


Seriously, now long before the US is back in Iraq?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Philippines Goes On the Offensive

Earlier this month I wrote about the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front insurgent group signed a peace agreement. I saw this as good news and although there are still a few other insurgent/terrorist groups operation in the Philippines, the agreement will most likely lead to peace in the southern portion of the country in the long term.

Apparently, it's also freed up the government to allocate resources to going after Abu Sayyaf, the Al Qaida linked terrorist group known to conduct attacks in the Philippines. On Friday, the government launched an operation to capture Puruji Indama, a commander in Abu Sayyaf. This led to a day long gun battle in which 3 militants and 2 soldiers were killed. Yesterday, police conducted a raid targeting an Abu Sayyaf linked kidnapping cell, a raid which led to the detainment of a MILF commander (don't giggle).

Abu Sayyaf will likely retaliate shortly and I have no idea how the MILF will react to the arrest of one of their commanders, but it appears that the government has the upper hand along with the initiative for now.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Afghan Elections: 2014 Edition

Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

Last Saturday, Afghanistan held presidential elections to determine who will next lead the country...or at least determine who would be on the ballot for the inevitable run-off elections. I had my concerns about violence and voter turnout. In the last elections voter turnout was reportedly low. There was also plenty of reporting leading up to April 5th that indicated that the Taliban was doing everything it could to prevent people from voting and to de-legitimize the elections.

Happily, election day saw a relatively low level of violence and about a 58% voter turnout. Not great, but also not bad for a country where ballots have to be brought in by donkey in many areas.

The day wasn't perfect, however, as more remote districts and districts heavily influenced by the Taliban saw an extremely low turnout. But to be perfectly honest, this was expected and I'll take what I can get in Afghanistan. The government had even closed about 1,000 polling centers, or approximately 1/8 of the places people could vote due to insecurity in those areas.

But as I said, this isn't a developed nation free of violence and 58% turnout is pretty damn good. This good news was improved when I learned two key Taliban leaders in the area that my section is focused on blew themselves up attempting to attack a polling center.

So now that April 5th is done and in the history books, I wait patiently for a few weeks for the official count to be announced...which as I stated above, will likely just lead to a run-off between two or three of the candidates; and who knows how that will go.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

MILF Agrees To Give Up Toys...I Mean Weapons

I don't post enough "good" news on this blog so here's something good that has occurred in the past few days (not an April Fools joke). The Philippines has signed a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. If you are not aware, the MILF (greatest insurgent acronym ever) is the largest Muslim insurgent group in the Philippines and has been fighting the government for the past 40 years or so for the right of self determination on the island of Mindanao.

According to the agreement, the MILF gives up its weapons and the government gives Mindanao more autonomy. It's a decent deal and hopefully this ends the violence in that part of the Philippines. However, of concern is the splinter group  Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters which has claimed it will keep fighting, although I see them dying out with this agreement. There's also the Al Qaida linked Abu Sayyaf that operates in the area.

But I'm going to chalk this one up as a win and see the world as just a little bit safer. In celebration I'll post something that I haven't posted in awhile:


That's right! A cute fucking puppy!




Friday, March 28, 2014

What Did the Bear Face When He Went Over the Mountain?

In my last post I posted quotes of interest from The Bear Went Over the Mountain by Lester Grau. As I stated in that blog, Bear was a series of vignettes and stories about Soviet tactics in Afghanistan. But what about the mujahedeen and their tactics? Lucky for us, Grau got the other side of the story and wrote The Other Side Of the Mountain. Here are the quotes I found of interest, with my comments:

"The Mujahideen use the Mamur Hotel ambush site over and over again, yet apparently the Soviets or DRA seldom dismounted troops to search the area to spoil the ambush or to try to set a counter-ambush."

Warfare is about adapting. If you don't adapt, your enemy certainly will. And you will die.

"The RPG-7 was probably the most effective weapon of the Mujahideen."

The RPG is a simple weapon but is extremely inaccurate. However, when used effectively it can be a game changer.

"...we had time to set up during the daylight before the column arrived, since the convoys always left Kabul in the morning well after dawn."

Don't set patterns. Just don't.

"If the terrain at the ambush site is very constricted, the guerrilla may want to attack the head of the convoy and block the route with a combination of a roadblock and burning vehicles. If the convoy has armored vehicles and engineer vehicles concentrated to the front of the convoy, the guerrilla may want to attack the middle or tail of the convoy with the hope that the convoy commander will not divert a great deal of combat power back to deal with his attack. If the guerrilla is after supplies, the middle of the convoy is best if he can isolate a piece of the middle, since most convoys have a rear guard."

The Soviets used large logistics convoys with lots of vehicles. These made for tempting targets since there were only so many armored and armed vehicles to go around. There are 2 ways to combat an ambush by insurgents in my experience: either look unimportant, or look too alert and scary to want to attack.

"The cover provided by the orchards and vegetation that flanked both sides of the Kabul-Charikar highway helped the Mujahideen lay successful ambushes. Later in the war, the Soviets destroyed the roadside orchards and villages to prevent the Mujahideen from using them in their ambushes."

Destroying the orchards and villages may have prevented ambushes along that route, but by doing so the Soviets most likely angered the local population and created way more enemies than they had before.

"Security elements should be the last elements to pull out of an ambush – not the first."

If you have a tank and the enemy doesn't, don't run away.

"However, in order to prevent future ambushes in the area, the Soviet forces bulldozed Deh-Khwaja homes along the main road out to a distance of 300 meters from the highway."

Keep destroying those villages, I'm sure that will work out for you.

"In a guerilla war, the loss of initiative becomes decisive in the outcome of tactical combat."

A tactical fight is like a sports game. If you lose the initiative you have to claw and fight to get it back. You have to hope your enemy makes a mistake, and hope is not a course of action you want to rely on.

"We gave him first aid and released him. He was a conscript soldier from the Panjsher Valley who had recently been press-ganged into the military."

The mujahedeen most likely made a friend and ally by letting this Afghan soldier go instead of keeping him captured. Forced conscription makes for bad soldiers.

"...the most important Mujahideen weapon in the conflict was the RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher."

So important that I highlighted it twice!

"On the morning of the raid, the Mujahideen raiders moved to the target within a herd of sheep. Some Mujahideen posed as shepherds, while others crawled along in the middle of the grazing sheep."

Didn't I read about this in The Odyssey? Brilliant move.

"Less than 15% of the Mujahideen commanders had previous military experience, yet the impact of the military who joined the Mujahideen was significant. They provided a continuity, an understanding of military planning and issues, a modicum of uniform training and an ability to deal with outside agencies providing aid to the Mujahideen."

Find that one person who is useful and exploit the hell out of them.

"Tactically, the Mujahideen realized that movement along streets is suicidal in urban combat."

That's what we call a linear danger area. Even ROTC cadets know that.

"Even during the fighting, the women from the villages would bring bread and milk forward to our positions. The whole area was actively supporting us."

The population is key for both the insurgent and the counter-insurgent.

"The Mujahideen lack of a structured, viable supply system hampered their tactical capabilities significantly."

Amateurs study tactics. Professionals study logistics. Lack of both supplies and a stable supply base will doom an insurgency...sometimes.

"The combination of overwhelming firepower and ground maneuver unhinged the Mujahideen defense and the decisive action taken by the Soviet infantry forced the poorly-supplied Mujahideen to break contact"

Two key words: overwhelming and maneuver. Bring everything to bear and then don't sit still.

"We engaged the paratroopers with all our air defense machine guns and whatever other air defense weapons we had. As the paratroopers drifted closer, we realized that we had been duped. The 'paratroopers' were dummies and the reconnaissance aircraft had photographed our response and pinpointed our positions."

I highlighted this in my previous post. Using dummy paratroopers was a genius move by the Soviets.

"During the first week of November, representatives of fruit dealers appealed to the Mujahideen to open the highway, but to no avail. In a guerrilla war, support of the local population is too valuable to be risked by actions that hurt local economy."

Mujahideen groups made mistakes on occasion. This was one of those occasions.

"The Mujahideen who had the most difficulty with cordon and search operations were usually separate groups who had little or no ties to a central Mujahideen planning authority, had worked out no contingency plans and had taken no steps to fortify the area."

Best to make friends in the next valley over just in case you need to make a hasty withdrawal.

"Mujahideen insistence on holding base camps cost them dearly. At this point in the war, base camps were not essential to Mujahideen logistics and Abdullah’s base camp was not the only one which the Soviets overran."

A few of these quotes are going to appear contradictory. However, in the beginning stages of an insurgency, the insurgent should not try to hold ground. Holding ground just allows the counter-insurgent a place to attack you and win, which decreases the insurgent's morale and ability to recruit.

"When the Mujahideen held real estate, it allowed the Soviets to concentrate their superior firepower on the Mujahideen."

The insurgent is most effective when he's fighting uncoventionally and not holding territory that can be taken from him. Insurgents learn quickly not to hold ground until the enemy they are fighting is too weak or incapable of re-taking that territory.

"The enemy was very stylized and never did anything different. We knew from where they would come, how they would act and how long they could stay."

Adapt, adapt, adapt, adapt...and don't set patterns!

"Instead of defending in positions being pounded by fighter-bombers and close-air support aircraft, the Mujahideen went on the offensive and attacked the landing zones."

The best defense is a good offense. To expand on that thought, an assault force is at its most vulnerable when it is first getting off the helicopters and getting organized. By attacking the landing zones you seize the initiative, disrupt your enemy's attack, and can likely prevent any follow on forces or reinforcements from arriving.

"The Soviet advance on Chaghni was slow, but the Soviets were finally learning to dominate the high ground before they moved their ground force."

In Afghanistan it's absolutely crucial to control the high ground as you manuever a force through any of the valleys. Otherwise you're just asking for machine gun fire or mortars to come raining down on you.

"A dictum of guerrilla warfare is that the guerrilla should not hold ground. Mujahideen logistics forced the Mujahideen to hold ground."

Look at this dead horse, I'm going to keep beating it.

"Soviet soldiers were the main source of our gasoline. We would buy it from them."

This is what happens when your soldiers are underpaid and unsupervised.

"Bombing is a necessary part of being an urban guerrilla. The object is to create fear and take out selected individuals."

The war against the Soviets, much like the current conflict in Afghanistan, was a rural fight. However, insurgents did operate in the urban areas. Roadside bombs and carbombs strike fear in the populace and delegitimize the government. Also, as the quote states, they are good for assassinations as well.

"The urban guerrilla attacks the credibility of the government by chipping away at morale, attacking notable government targets and disrupting the daily life of the populace."

What I've found interesting is my multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan is that when bombs go off and the population of a city is living in daily fear, there isn't a lot of anger directed towards those conducting the attacks. Anger is directed towards the government and the occupation forces for not preventing those attacks; or in the case of the occupation forces, anger that they are even there because the very presence of foreign troops invites attacks.

The Other Side Of the Mountain was written in the same style as The Bear Went Over the Mountain and while slightly tedious to read and often repetitive it was interesting to gain the perspective of the mujahideen. I really hope that someone takes the time to write a book from the perspective of some of the Iraqi insurgents as well as those insurgents currently fighting in Afghanistan. It would likely provide for some real lessons as well as provoke some thinking on the tactics the US applied to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Bear, A Mountain, And A Whole Lot Of Pissed Off Afghans

In December I wrote a brief summary of the books about Afghanistan that I read prior to, or during, my latest deployment. I've already covered Caravans so the next book on the list is The Bear Went Over the Mountain by Lester Grau. As I wrote in my previous post, Bear is essentially a collection of after action reviews critiquing Soviet tactics and operations in Afghanistan. Below are some quotes that stuck out at me with my own comments:


"The citizens of the Soviet Union did not understand why their sons were being conscripted for battle in a strange land and failed to see how their sacrifices contributed to the security of the fatherland. Those with connections sought to avoid the draft. Unlike their fathers who fought the Nazi invaders, the returning soldiers were not welcomed as heroes or treated with respect. They were shunned and often scorned by their fellow citizens. A gap opened between the Armed Forces and the citizenry and many veterans found they could not fit back into the lifestyle of the complacent and self-centered citizenry."


Well doesn't this seems familiar...


"However, unlike in the United States Army (in Vietnam), the Afghanistan war was not an all-encompassing experience for the officer corps. Barely 10 percent of the Soviet motorized rifle, armor, aviation and artillery officers served in Afghanistan."


This is how you burn out an army. Send only a small portion of it to a conflict over and over and over again. This policy also keeps combat experience to a small minority when modern combat experience is crucial for the effectiveness of an army. I realize the Soviets were more concerned with NATO and Europe at the time but this policy just appears short sighted to me.


"As in Vietnam, tactics needed a major overhaul to meet the changed circumstances. Units which adapted enjoyed relative success while units which did not paid a price in blood."


It's easy to stick with the status quo. Forcing adaptation in any large organization takes a leader (often several) willing to try different approaches to a problem.


"Excellent results were achieved by suddenly blocking-off those regions which had been the site of military activity several days prior."


My experience in Iraq showed that when we cleared a neighborhood or small town the insurgents typically stayed away for a few weeks to a couple of months before they returned. In Afghanistan they were often back the next day. Change things up a bit and go back into an area you just cleared seems counterproductive and a waste of time but the results may surprise you.


"Although inspections are good ideas, these massive formal inspections were almost always conducted before a planned action. Any mujahideen in the vicinity were tipped off that an action was pending and could sound the warning."

Ahh, communists and their constant need for inspections. I'd fault them for this but to be perfectly honest, insurgents are going to find out about any major action hours if not days or weeks before you conduct it. Two men can keep a secret if one of them is dead and all that.


"The Soviet force did a weak job of reconnaissance. Their failure to seize the dominant terrain allowed the enemy to suppress practically the entire company area with fire."


Recon will likely tip off the enemy that your coming but if done right will keep you from being slaughtered. Modern militaries have the luxury of UAVs and satellite imagery but even a couple of light armored vehicles looking unimportant and checking out several different areas can be useful. That part of failing to seize dominant terrain? That's just begging for trouble when your in a valley in Afghanistan.


"Soviet artillery was hard pressed to “hip shoot” without their own FO on the ground. Soviet normative firing methodology was unsuited for combating mobile guerrilla forces who refused to stay put for massed artillery fires."


Damn insurgents not doing what we want them to do!


"The mujahideen did not react to the helicopter flight since we used Mi-6 helicopters – a cargo helicopter not usually used for air assaults. This deception effort against the enemy paid off."


If you can lull your enemy into a sense of complacency so that he doesn't react to your first few chess moves you've gone a long way to defeating him...today anyway.


"...misleading the enemy as to the actual region in which the combat actions were planned (through information supplied to the Afghan division..."


You have to work with local security forces when fighting an insurgency, but those "allies" often accidentally, or in many cases purposely, leak information to the insurgents. This tactic of giving false location data of an assault may work a few times, but it will create resentment within your partnered forces and a lack of trust.


"Tactical surprise gained from air landings and air assaults dissipates rapidly."


Insurgents are always more tactically maneuverable than you are...always.


"As a rule, they would lure us into predetermined areas and then open fire on us at a distance of no more than 50 to 100 meters."


If there is a possibility, hell, a high likelihood, of getting blown up by your own artillery or close air support then you are less inclined to call it in.


"The sweep would seize supply caches and draft young men on the spot into the Afghan army."


What's an excellent way to keep an insurgency going and make your job even harder? Instead of protecting the population, force them into a job they don't want to do. No wonder the communist Afghan Army faced high desertion rates.


"However, using standard or SOP displays of panels or pyrotechnics to mark friendly positions or communicate with pilots is risky. The enemy is quick to learn these codes and to use them against the force which needs air support."


Hell, even with all our technology, the US Air Force still sometimes drops bombs on friendly soldiers. Pilots are dumb. (Oh shit, shots fired!)


"The Soviets apparently showed little concern for the civilian population and started each sweep with an artillery bombardment."


What's a surefire way of keeping an insurgency going other than forced conscription? Blowing up everything in site. It may have been effective for the Mongols, but it won't be effective for you.


"The dummy airborne drop was a masterful use of deception to discover enemy firing positions."


Simple, I love it.


"The force failed to clear the roads ahead of time and was three hours late. This appears to be a failure to conduct proper reconnaissance."


Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake. The muj must have been having a field day with this one.


"The Soviet military would have liked to employ far more helicopters in Afghanistan, however, the lack of maintenance facilities, the increased logistics demand and the lack of secure operating bases prevented this."


This is just a long sentence of excuses and bullshit.


"On the day before the attempt, they did a reconnaissance of our obstacles by driving a large flock of sheep into our mine field."


I love this so much. Plus sheep are stupid.


"The mujahideen learned to take out command vehicles early in the battle."


When the US first invaded and occupied Afghanistan there were reports of platoon leaders being targeted quite often by the insurgents. The reason was that the Afghans had found out that Soviet troops could not operate effectively, or at all, without officer leadership. What does a US platoon do when they lose their officer? Carry on this mission, the lieutenant was probably a jackass anyway.


"The Soviet Army seldom left a clean bivouac area or fighting position."


First rule of camping and hunting insurgents...leave no trace. You are both the hunter and the hunted when it comes to counter insurgency.


"The lack of a professional NCO corps and the lack of trust in junior officers kept the battalion leadership doing jobs other armies would entrust to lieutenants and sergeants."


There are times when I think the US military is a mess and that the Soviets would have wiped the floor with us. Then I read sentences like this and it makes me smile.


"And in the end, the soldier and officer returned to a changing Soviet Union. Many were unable to fit back into this staid, bland society. Many of the officers asked to go back to Afghanistan."


This certainly hits close to home...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Following the Worst Day

The details of the days and weeks following the death of SSG Tirador are mostly forgotten by me. What I do remember was that there was a lot going on at the time...as there always seems to be for a cavalry squadron out on the edge of the world. To say Amy's death was a distraction seems extraordinarily harsh and cruel, but it was a distraction. A distraction that, looking back, I needed. I had been so focused on PowerPoint products, targeting meetings, and daily briefings that I was neglecting the health of my section.


Within a few days of Tirador's death I got on a Black Hawk helicopter and flew from COP COBRA down to FOB CALDWELL where the other half of my section resided. Before I left I requested permission to go from the S3. I assumed it was courtesy request and that the S3 would give me carte blache to be wherever I felt like I needed to be. When I went into his office and stated that I would like to go to Caldwell this was his response:


"Why? We have a lot of work here to do."


To say I was at a loss for words is an understatement. Why? Why? What kind of unfeeling, knuckle dragging, incompetent leader was I dealing with here? Oh yeah, our operations officer who was universally despised by every officer on the staff.


"Sir, I need to check on my guys. Make sure they're doing alright. I'll have no problem getting done what needs to be done from Caldwell."


Obviously, since I mentioned it above, I got on the bird to Caldwell. As I got off the helicopter the supply officer a couple of others were carrying several footlockers and placing them on the Black Hawk which was stopping at the brigade HQ at FOB WARHORSE. After all the footlockers were on the helicopter it dawned on me that they were SSG Tirador's personal effects. The situation became real again.


After a couple of days at Caldwell I jumped on the Squadron Commander's convoy to Warhorse for SSG Tirador's memorial ceremony. It was decided that the ceremony would be done there instead of Caldwell because Amy was officially assigned to the brigade's military intelligence company and this way more people, especially her friends, could be at the ceremony. I had been asked if I wanted to speak during the memorial but I politely declined. It didn't feel right to me as I was still blaming myself for her death. Sitting through the memorial trying not to break down was emotionally one of the most difficult things I've ever done. All military memorials are emotionally difficult. A memorial for one of your soldiers...a memorial where you have an assigned seat with your name on it...I don't have the vocabulary to describe it.


After the ceremony I walked outside and stood by alone with my thoughts for some time. The squadron XO eventually found me and talked with me for awhile. He said quite a bit but what has stuck with me was, "Mike, this wasn't your fault. Don't you dare blame yourself for this. You didn't cause her to do this to herself. You were not overly hard on her, you never yelled at her. This wasn't your fault. Remember that."


The XO had a saying he continually brought up in our training leading up to the deployment and our first few months in country:


"We have yet to see our worst day in Iraq."


As the XO turned to leave I said, "Sir, I think we've just had our worst day."


He looked back at me and said, "We'll see."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

With Friends Like These...

Somehow I missed this tidbit of news that came out a few days ago. The representative of Al Qaida Senior Leadership in Syria and Ayman al Zawahiri's intermediary in the conflict, Abu Khalid al Suri, was killed in a suicide attack in Aleppo, Syria. Suri, aka Mohammad Bahaiah, had also established Ahrar al Sham, one of the more successful and powerful rebel organizations in Syria. While no one has claimed responsibility, blame has been quickly placed on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS/AQI/ISI/I love doing this).


The Al Nusrah Front, the organization ISIL attempted to claim and absorb, has issued an ultimatum to ISIL: stop attacking rebel organizations or we're kicking your ass out of Syria and Iraq. Strong words. I like it. The Assad regime has been a small thorn in the side of the United States but if Assad is overthrown, an extremist government would most likely take his place, and that would be much worse. I don't want Assad to come out of this thing victorious, but I certainly don't want Al Nusrah, ISIS, or any of the other myriad of extremist groups to gain victory either. If these groups fight amongst themselves enough, there's hope the moderate Free Syrian Army can claim some sort of victory. But hope is never a good course of action.


It reminds me all a bit of what I've read on the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Insurgents under Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezb-i Islami Gulbuddin organization often fought more with the other mujahedeen groups than they did against the Soviets or the Afghan government. For reasons I'll never understand, Pakistan backed Hekmatyar over the other mujahedeen and so most of the CIA's funds to arm the insurgency went to HiG. These days HiG is still around, a minor annoyance to ISAF, and they still spend more time fighting the Taliban and Haqqani than they do the coalition or Afghan security forces.


Keep killing each other gentlemen, we'll wait.

Monday, February 24, 2014

We Should Send Them Some Hellfires In Exchange

I'm going to break for a moment from my delving into one of the darker periods of my Army career to post a bit about some more current news, SGT Bowe Bergdahl.


Bergdahl, for those who don't know, was captured by insurgents in Afghanistan when he decided to wander off his unit's observation post in 2009. Bergdahl's sobriety and motivations at the time are up for debate and not clearly known. There are rumors that he was either drunk or high at the time and other rumors say he was attempting to defect. I'm not convinced of the latter since all the videos that have been released appear to show him awfully scared.


In the past week it's been reported that US officials are attempting to secure Bergdahl's release by swapping 5 prisoners held at Guantanamo. This has been attempted before and there is probably multiple reasons for why the US is currently trying to swap Taliban prisoners for our one soldiers. First of all, we're likely closing up shop in Afghanistan come the end of the year and as time goes by it will become increasingly difficult to get Bergdahl back, obviously. Second, the Obama administration has always said it wants to close the detention facility at Guantanamo, but has faced many obstacles to doing that, one of them being the prisoners themselves who we can't seem to move or get rid of. Releasing a few of these guys (in Qatar, not Afghanistan/Pakistan, not sure how the Qataris feel about that) would go a long way to reducing the current population of the facility. Thirdly, he's a damn POW and we need to get his ass back.


However, just days after the US announced the renewal of talks, the Taliban suspended them, stating that the current political situation in Afghanistan is complex...well no shit. Election posturing? Likely. Buying time until it gets closer to the US pulling out and we get desperate? Definitely.


Just one minor detail...


The Taliban doesn't have Bergdahl. The Haqqani Network does. The Haqqani are a family run insurgent network that go back to the mujahedeen days of fighting the Soviet invasion. They are allied with the Taliban. Many even say they are a part of the Taliban. A few senior Haqqani members have even said they are part of the Taliban. But even if the Haqqani are a part of the Taliban, they are still their own masters and may not take kindly to the Taliban telling them what they can and can't do with Bergdahl. It wouldn't shock me to learn that even if we released these 5 prisoners the Haqqani decide that's just not good enough and keep Bergdahl for themselves.


Such a complicated mess.