Jul 31, 2010

Buffalo Soldiers!!

Buffalo Soldiers in DC:
29 July 2010:

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) met with 12 original Buffalo Soldiers from the 9th & 10th (Horse) Cavalry and 24th Infantry Regiment who served in World War II. They visited her in Washington, DC office yesterday while in town attending the 144th Anniversary Reunion of the Buffalo Soldiers. Buffalo Soldier Day is celebrated July 28. Throughout the year they visit schools, churches and community groups to raise awareness about the historic challenges and accomplishments of the Buffalo Soldiers.

From left: Trooper Bruce Dennis; Trooper Albert Curley; Trooper James Madison; Trooper Harold S. Cole; House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA); Trooper Ernest Collier; Congresswoman Waters; Trooper Al Benson; Trooper James Cooper; and Trooper Andrew Aaron.
July 29, 2010.

Jul 30, 2010

Brit Op in Nad Ali

30 July 2010 Last updated at 08:06 ET
UK troops launch Operation Tor Shezada in Afghanistan

By Ian Pannell

BBC News, Helmand Military chiefs said Operation Tor Shezada got off to a "successful" start. Hundreds of British soldiers have launched an operation against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

Operation Tor Shezada began early on Friday morning in Helmand province in the south of the country.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment are trying to clear the Taliban from an important stronghold in the Nad Ali district. The Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) was among the first wave of troops.

UK troops in Afghanistan
Under cover of darkness, this small elite unit launched an airborne assault deep into insurgent-held territory.

Operation Tor Shezada, which means black prince, is a mission to seize a Taliban-controlled town in central Helmand and try to restore government rule.

Hundreds of British and Afghan forces are moving by land and air towards the town of Saidabad. It is one of the areas that UK forces were unable to clear during Operation Moshtarak earlier this year. As many as 180 insurgents are believed to use the town as a base; it is where bombs are made, attacks are planned and injured fighters are treated.

The area is seeded with IEDs, the home-made bombs that have killed and maimed so many soldiers and civilians. When troops have entered the area in the past they have encountered stiff resistance.

In the words of the commanding officer, Lt Col Fraser Lawrence, they will try to "steal" Saidabad but are "prepared to fight for it".

The BBC's Ian Pannell examines the aims of Operation Tor Shezada

Maj Marcus Mudd, the commander of the BRF, said his troops would be dropping in behind enemy lines.

In an eve-of-battle address, he urged his men to move quickly to win over the local population with the message that the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) would be here to stay.

Radio broadcasts have been used to warn people that this operation is taking place, although it is unclear how many will have been able to hear the message.

Frank Gardner BBC security correspondent --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
There are two ways of viewing Operation Tor Shezada.
On the positive side, the area now being 'cleared' of Taliban is said to be the last remaining centre of population in the Nad Ali area not yet under Afghan government control. This is a joint operation with the Afghan army, a continuation of the largely successful process of British troops mentoring and partnering their Afghan allies.

But on the negative side one might well ask why, if Nad Ali has been officially such a success, do hundreds of British and Afghan soldiers need to risk their lives going in to clear an area (Saidabad) that we had never heard of but is apparently a hotbed of Taliban insurgents?

The truth is that clearing central Helmand of insurgents, then bringing in elements of government that the local population can actually trust, is taking rather longer than commanders had hoped.

The Taliban have certainly lost a safe haven there this year, but they have not gone away. They are lurking in the background, intimidating locals not to co-operate with Nato and the Afghan government, and waiting for the day when foreign forces pull out. And they believe they can sweep aside government forces and reassert control.
Operation Tor Shehzade may well achieve short-term tactical success. The challenge will be to see if it delivers lasting security.

It is a mark of how controversial the issue of civilian casualties is that Maj Mudd cautioned his men to show restraint, telling them "if we fail to protect the population, we will fail in our mission".

Until a few years ago, Nad Ali was a relatively peaceful district in the central Helmand river valley.

But the combination of a corrupt and brutal police force and an abusive local government, together with an aggressive poppy eradication programme, turned it into a virulent insurgent stronghold.

Local farmers, with encouragement and support from the Taliban, took up arms, creating additional strain on Britain's already overstretched troops.

Operation Black Prince is just the latest in a series of missions over the last year-and-a-half that have attempted to "clear" the insurgents from the district.

There has been progress.
Most of the towns and villages here are no longer under the complete control of the Taliban. The media and politicians are regularly flown in to witness what the military see as a success story.

But the veneer of normality is dangerously thin. The Taliban have always been able to exert influence far beyond their numerical strength.

It is true that intimidation is the weapon of choice when it comes to coercing the local population, but there is also genuine support for insurgents who are largely drawn from the area.

Shopkeepers in the district centre complain that security is not good.

They insist that the Taliban still operate just 2km away and they fear being caught up in the fighting. Motorcycle mechanic Sultan Mohammed wants the government to talk to the Taliban.

"You cannot bring peace by fighting - war is not the answer," he told me.

A large crowd gathered to listen in, nodding in agreement.

When asked whom they would like to see in charge in Nad Ali - the government, army, foreign forces or the insurgents - they all agreed that they wanted the Taliban.

In a rare insight into the insurgency they insisted that people do not join the Taliban for the money.

This contradicts ISAF's categorisation of the bulk of fighters as "$10 Taliban", who are susceptible to inducements to switch to the government side.

Instead, the men told me that the Taliban are people motivated by religion, anger at corrupt police and local officials and affront at the presence of foreign, non-Muslim soldiers in their midst.

Yet the military insists Nad Ali is a model of progress.

Lt Col Fraser Lawrence says Operation Moshtarak, which took place here and in neighbouring Marjah earlier this year, was "a huge success".

But attacks and casualties have continued to mount in both areas. The US Marine Corps to the South West of here is struggling with a resurgent Taliban.

A combination of influence and intimidation means that progress has been far slower than first predicted by military commanders.

Sultan Mohammed wants the government to open dialogue with the Taliban
Operation Tor Shezada is only possible because extra British forces have been brought in to Afghanistan.

The transfer of other troops from areas like Sangin will also increase their ability to tackle the insurgency later this year.

But the challenge in Helmand is, and always has been, to win over the local population. As British troops embark on another bloody summer in Afghanistan, it is a battle they have yet to win.

Jul 29, 2010

Understanding the Human Terrain: Key to Success in Afghanistan

Understanding the Human Terrain: Key to Success in Afghanistan

Posted by SMALL WARS JOURNAL Editors on July 16, 2010

Understanding the Human Terrain: Key to Success in Afghanistan
by Andrew Garfield

General Petraeus, in his recent Senate Confirmation Hearing, reminded everyone that in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, “the key terrain is the human terrain.” Taking and holding the human terrain is the essential prerequisite for ultimate success in Afghanistan, as it was in Iraq. This battle for control of and support from a contested population can only be won if we understand the Afghan people, whose cooperation, trust and support we are trying to secure. Armed with this understanding, we can navigate the human terrain successfully. Without it, we continue to be confused by the complexities of their culture, faith and society; oblivious to their desires, grievances and opinions; distracted by the lies and distortions of our enemies; and blind to opportunities to enhance our reputation.

In much of Eastern and Southern Afghanistan today, the Taliban hide, recruit, train, prepare and attack from safe havens provided by the local Pashtun population. They remain hidden for extended periods simply by hiding in plain sight; well known to elements of the local population who are unwilling or unable to challenge their presence. If we are to challenge the Taliban in Kandahar and elsewhere in Afghanistan, and enhance the influence and effectiveness of the Afghan Government, our soldiers and diplomats must understand fully the society and culture in which they operate.

To develop an in depth understanding of the human terrain, one must first conduct comprehensive, systematic, timely, and ethically appropriate social science research and analysis. In order to do so, one must operate in the field and conduct primary face-to-face research, utilizing all available sources. One cannot learn how to navigate the human terrain in Afghanistan from the Internet.

Social Science research, which is primarily face to face research, helps our military understand why so many Kandaharis support the Taliban or are willing to turn a blind eye to their activities. It tells them what Afghans’ expect from their Government and what they need to survive and prosper. It tells our military how to avoid cultural missteps and explains the narratives that they must understand and utilize in order to communicate effectively with the population. It identifies Taliban behaviors and excesses that the population rejects and can be exploited, while providing Afghan perspectives on how to exert pressure on, and reconcile with, the Taliban.

Yet, far too little effort has been dedicated to the systematic, on-the-ground collection of this essential socio-cultural information. This type of human terrain data is being collected, however the budget for its collection is minuscule in relation to its importance. In addition to budgetary constraints, such research collection is attacked regularly by ivory tower academics that falsely question research ethics and methods based on personal ideologies, instead of defending the lives of Afghans, and U.S. military and civilian personnel.

Our military and diplomats must be given direct access to the full range of Social Science field research capabilities as a means to protect themselves and the people they engage and support. If this access is denied for budgetary, ideological or methodological reasons, many more Afghan civilians, and American and Allied soldiers will die, allowing the Taliban to prevail.

Andrew Garfield is the Founder of Glevum Associates, a Massachusetts-based social science research and analysis company that conducts extensive multi-disciplinary face-to-face research in Afghanistan and Iraq on behalf of the Department of Defense and other clients.

Jul 26, 2010

WikiLeaks: A View from Pakistan

The WikiLeaks Fiasco
by Ali K.Chishti
Daily Times

WikiLeaks, a Swedish whistleblower project which consists of activist journalists who had previously leaked videos and articles embarrassing the US Government Sunday leaked damaging 90,000 top secret documents of US military records consisting on cables, internal memos and emails sent out to various DoD officials related to Afghanistan revealing and again exposing i)how coalition forces have killed thousands of civilians in unreported incidents ii) Talibans attacks have soared and iii) and how NATO commanders fear neighboring Pakistan & Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

And while Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L.Jones (the same man McChrystal called an “oldie”) deplored the disclosure of classified information putting that it “would put the lives of Americans and US partners at risk”. A top Pakistani diplomat responded that, “the leaks are troubling and shows the nature of alliance and trust between the US & Pakistan which could only be termed as “damaging” to Pakistan and Pakistani Military”.

The most disturbing aspect of the WikiLeaks is the “ISI’s working alongside Al-Qaeda” to plan attacks and as the NYT puts it, “The behind the scene’s frustration of soldiers on the ground and flimpses of what appear to be Pakistani skullduggery contrast sharply with the frequently rosy public pronouncements of Pakistan as an ally by American officials, looking to sustain a drone campaign over parts of Pakistani territory to strike to Qaeda havens.” Another document on WikiLeaks describes how the ISI trains group of insurgents and has a pool of suicide bombers used to destabilize peace in Afghanistan. One such report from Dec, 18, 2006 describes how suicide bombers are recruited and trained in Pakistan and sent out on missions where ANP (Afghan National Police) helps them to carry out their missions.

While ISI official in Pakistan failed to comment on the WikiLeaks and would only do so after examining the papers, ISI and Pakistan have to do a lot more serious PR to get out this latest scandal. According to an embarrassed US Army official who works closely with Pakistanis commented on the whole WikiLeaks incident, “now we have to face an ISI who would be more angry and suspicious on us and where we think the whole WikiLeak is ISI specific and is definitely an attempt to strain relationship between the two allies”. Apparently the word "ISI" in 90,000 documents appeared more than 50,000+ times” said a source from WikiLeaks who himself sheepishly admitted that, “the Americans soldiers and CIA seems to be ISIphobic”. Accordingly to the WikiLeak, “we are not helping making an opinion about anyone – we are just interested in transparency”.

In what we call the most direct allegation on the Pakistani top-spy agency, the ISI the WikiLeaks gives an insiders view of how top American defense official’s view ISI role “who is rigidly hierarchical organization that has little tolerance for roge” activity”; where it is worth mentioning that according to WikiLeaks, ISI’s S-Wing which deals with external operations had been given “broad-autonomy” which if, true shatters the assertion that ISI is in the control of the army and is allowed “freelance missions”. In another disturbing account reported is how CIA’s deputy director, Stephen R.Kappes confronts Pakistanis officials with evidence that the ISI helped planned a deadly suicide bombing on India’s Embassy in Kabul in July, 2008 or how in August, 2008 an ISI presumably “gone-rouge” colonel plotted to assassinate President Hamid Karzai? news which could potentially disturb Pakistan’s new-found relationship with Hamid Karzai who had recently emerged as Pakistan’s staunch ally in Kabul.

Another aspect of the WikiLeaks is how PAKMIL (a word used to describe the Pakistani Army) helps the Taliban destabilize ISAF/NATO in Afghanistan: describing the networks of Pakistani assets and collaborators that run from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan and all the way to the capital, Kabul.

And finally the view and damaging details which could in point of fact leads to an arrest of Pakistan’s former top spy-master and general Hameed Gul who after almost two decades of retirement from the ISI, “don’t seem to be out of work”. WikiLeaks documents in detail indicate and confirms that Hameed Gul still works tirelessly with Haqqanis and Hekmatyar to destabilize Afghanistan and in some cases given an impression that Hameed Gul acts as a “front man” and a “proxy” for the ISI. The amazing leaks gives out a detailed example where Hameed Gul met with Afghan Talibans and “three older Arab men” (presumably Al Qaeda) to plan and avenge the death of “Zamarai” an important Al-Queda leader who was killed by a drone attack. In another report, our wily ol’Gen Gul urged, Taliban commanders, “to focus their operations inside Afghanistan in exchange for Pakistan turning a “a blind eye” to their presence in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Well, the ever-dismissive Gen Gul dismissed the report terming it as, “another conspiracy” and “absolute non-sense”. An interior ministry source failed to comment on Hameed Gul but confirmed “a proper investigation would take place” – another, source from an intelligence agency confirmed that Hameed Gul had, “always been on our radar” and is known to make “random trips and communications to the tribal areas”.

All in all, if WikiLeaks are to be believed (and their reputation is reliable), Pakistan has a lot of cleaning to do. However, what one must realize that the whole, time-frame of the 90,000+ leaks was between 2004-2009 before the whole Af-Pak Policy was laid down by the new administration in the White House and prior to the US-PAK Strategic dialogues in which Gen.Ashfaq Keyani himself gave out a long presentation winning many admirers within the US administration. However, although the new WikiLeaks fiasco is embarrassing for both the United States and Pakistan as it reflects the “mistrust” between one of the two closest allies in the War on Terror – what one must do from now is realize that without each other we cannot win this war and where the Pakistani Military needs to come clean on folks like Hameed Gul; the United States has to realize Pakistan has legitimate concerns in Afghanistan and try to stop such embarrassing leaks.

(Mr. Ali Chisti is a political and counter-terrorism expert who can be reached at akchishti@hotmail.com)

Jul 23, 2010

VA Loan Benefits

The Benefits of a VA Loan
By Adam Gibson

((Note: We're pleased to post this article by Adam Gibson, a financial writer and consultant. VA Mortgage details on: http://valoans.vamortgagecenter.com))

Buying a new home is an exciting process. A homeowner no longer has to answer to a landlord or live in the unpredictable situation of rental responsibilities. However, with homeownership comes a great financial obligation. One of the biggest questions will be, what can be done to save the most money in this exhilarating process?

If one is a U.S. veteran or an active duty service member, he or she most definitely wants to use the benefits offered through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Realizing the great sacrifices service men and women have made for their country, the VA secures a loan program for such military members. Because of this, lenders usually approve the VA loan with lower rates than conventional programs. Through the VA loan, military members can take advantage of the many opportunities to save money. How?

VA Loan Benefits
No Money Down—The VA mortgage program is one of the few government-backed loans that require no money down on a new home. Most conventional loans require a 20% down payment. No down payment gives families the opportunity to save up.

No Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)--With conventional loans, mortgage insurance can cost an extra $100 to $700 per month. Veteran’s families save hundreds of dollars a month from this feature alone.

A Variety of Plans--Not unlike conventional loans, VA loans offer fixed and adjustable rate mortgages (ARM). Having multiple payment options allows a family to choose what’s best for them.

Lower Closing Costs--VA closing costs are usually lower than conventional financing costs. This is because VA guidelines do not allow mortgage companies to charge certain types of added on fees.

Getting Serious
The process for obtaining a new home is no easy one. And with each year, it gets harder. Families need to be financially ready. Credit scores need to be at a decent level. Fix credit errors. People with good credit and a reasonable debt to income ratio will always receive better deals than the next person.

Because buying a home is such a popular and exciting endeavor, many people tend to rush into the process, making huge mistakes. The best way to save money is to take time and read the fine print. Do not let anyone speed up the process.

Other Tips for Saving on Mortgage
Only buy what’s affordable. What is affordable? If one can spare an extra $100 on top of their mortgage payments, then that is a comfortable obligation. Put the extra $100 a month towards the interest on the loan. By doing so, a family can shave five or more years off of their mortgage. Some tricks, be sure to put the $100 in a separate envelope with instructions for it to be applied only to the interest.

A mortgage should not burden a family. Buying a home is a dream come true, so follow all money saving advice and take the process slow and seriously.


Adam Gibson is an author of Accrued Interest, a popular financial world blog. Check out Accrued Interest for the latest on the bond market, treasuries, mortgages and other financial news

Jul 21, 2010

Afghanistan: Transition to ANA Must Start Now

Afghanistan: Transition to ANA Must Start Now

By Col Jeff Haynes (USMC, ret)
Glevum Associates

At the current rate the U.S. military will not leave Afghanistan — ever. After eight years of dedicated effort, billions of dollars in training and investment, and numerous advisers killed or wounded, there is still not a single province where the Afghan National Army (ANA) is entirely responsible for security.

The American troop withdrawal will largely be determined by how well the ANA provides security within its borders and creates a safe environment for the government of Afghanistan to effectively govern. Today, the ANA relies too heavily on American forces that are all too willing to bear the brunt of the fighting.

The Afghan government and In ternational Security Assistance Force (ISAF) must commence a transition strategy with clear benchmarks to compel the Afghan Army to begin assuming a more prominent security role. Until the ANA is required to operationally do more, even the start of a meaningful U.S. troop withdrawal is off the table.

The scarcity of good ANA leaders prompts ISAF to maintain the dominant role. Officer accountability is uneven because of habitual cronyism and a fear of reprisal. To fix this problem, the ANA must institute a commissioning program for senior non commissioned officers (NCOs).

Many of these quality leaders are in their late 20s or early 30s and are ready to serve as captains or majors of units.

Further, we must insist the ANA address the stagnation of officers firmly entrenched in Kabul that breeds cronyism and lowers morale among the ranks.

Positive Steps
There is some hope, however.

Under the capable leadership of U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, now responsible for building both the ANA and the national police, the Afghan Army will grow to 171,000 by 2011, a significant expansion from today’s total of roughly 130,000.

And recent external assessments conclude that 46 of the ANA’s 82 combat battalions are capable of conducting independent operations.

Still, I caution against placing too much emphasis on units rated as “capable” that have yet to prove themselves in the field. Plus, what does capable actually mean to Afghans: Capable of defending the Afghan people, which they say they want, or capable of militarily defeating the Taliban, which the coalition seems to desire?

Given that Afghans in recent surveys conducted by Glevum Associates in three provinces (Kandahar, Helmand and Kunduz) described the Taliban as their “Afghan brothers” and overwhelmingly expressed a desire for a negotiated settlement, per haps the ANA simply needs to be capable of protecting Afghans and showing that the Taliban can not prevail.

After all, the realization that an insurgency cannot win is very of ten a key reason why they eventually come to the negotiating table. By that measure of success, significant elements of ANA are ready now for an expanded role. The rating system for Afghan units therefore needs an overhaul. Instead of a construct that focuses primarily on personnel numbers and equipment, ANA commanders should be graded on how well they establish and maintain stability within their as signed area, how secure the Afghan population feels in that area, and how much this success reduces Taliban intimidation of the population.

What Do the People Think?

We should start the transition to ANA operations by first listen ing to the Afghan people. Additional research by Glevum reveals key perceptions held by many Afghans, most notably widespread public confidence in the ANA as an institution and the desire for more Community Development Councils (CDC).

CDCs are comprised of elected village representatives who apply to the Afghan government (via the National Solidarity Program) for development projects. Be­cause CDC members are elected by local villages, many Afghans see the councils as a functioning form of local democracy. CDC’s have a good track record of successfully delivering projects that meet the needs of local Afghans.

A sense of community ownership inhibits corruption and maintains accountability.

Afghans also see corruption as the primary threat to their well being. Adequate jobs, basic services, education and even hope are scarce and under the thumb of what is largely perceived to be a corrupt and ineffective government. The Tal­iban, however, are often seen as incorruptible. It is no wonder then that in Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold, 97 percent of the 1,900 respondents interviewed expressed support for reconciliation with the Taliban.

We should assist the ANA in establishing a secure environment for fostering a rapid and broadly expanded CDC program. Projects should employ locals and deliver basic services, remembering that people vote with their stomachs.

Other research indicates some Afghan commanders recognize the urgent need to begin ANA transition by making it more responsible for modest amounts of terrain. As one of the more competent commanders told me during a recent visit to ANA fielded forces, “even if the security decreases once we take over, it is better to understand that now, while ISAF aid and support is still in Afghanistan, than when it’s just Afghans.” We must acknowledge that Afghan “good enough” is, in fact, good enough for our needs and take immediate and deliberate steps to begin transitioning security to the Afghan government by way of the Afghan National Army. Our successful exit strategy utterly depends on it.


By Jeff Haynes , vice president business development for Glevum Associates, Burlington, Mass., and a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel. He served as commander of Regional Corps Advisor Command-Central in Afghanistan.

Jul 19, 2010

Gen James Mattis @ Centcom

Petraeus’s Successor Is Known for Impolitic Words

WASHINGTON — To those who have served under him, Gen. James N. Mattis is the consummate Marine commander, a warrior who chooses to lead from the front lines and speaks bluntly rather than concerning himself with political correctness.

But General Mattis, President Obama’s choice to command American forces across the strategic crescent that encompasses Iraq and Afghanistan, has also been occasionally seen by his civilian superiors as too rough-edged at a time when military strategy is as much about winning the allegiance of local populations as it is about firepower.

If his predecessor as the commander of Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus, is known for his skill at winning over constituencies outside the military, General Mattis has a reputation for candid, Patton-esque statements that are not always appreciated inside or outside the Pentagon.

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil,” General Mattis said during a forum in San Diego in 2005. “You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

For those comments, he received an official rebuke. His career path, however, was not seriously altered, and he now finds himself awaiting Senate confirmation to take over one of the most important jobs in the military. His new assignment would nominally put him atop General Petraeus — now the commander in Afghanistan — in the chain of command and leave him overseeing the reduction of American troops in Iraq, the escalation in Afghanistan and an array of potential threats from across the Middle East and South Asia, including Iran.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described General Mattis’s significant professional growth as he rose through the senior ranks, in particular at his current post atop the military’s Joint Forces Command. “I watched him interact in NATO at the highest levels, diplomatically, politically, and on very sensitive subjects,” Admiral Mullen said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates described General Mattis as “one of our military’s outstanding combat leaders and strategic thinkers.”

But the general angered one of Mr. Gates’s predecessors, Donald H. Rumsfeld, in 2001 with another remark that played well with his Marines, but not with civilian leaders in Washington. After Marines under his command seized an airstrip outside Kandahar, establishing the first forward operating base for conventional forces in the country, General Mattis declared, “The Marines have landed, and we now own a piece of Afghanistan.”

Mr. Rumsfeld and other senior officials believed that these words violated the official message of the invasion, that the United States had no desire to occupy a Muslim nation, but was fighting to free Afghanistan from the Taliban tyranny.

General Mattis is viewed differently by those who have been with him on the front lines.

It was the first winter of the war in Afghanistan, when the wind stabbed like an ice pick and fingertips froze to triggers, but a young lieutenant’s blood simmered as he approached a Marine fighting hole and spotted three heads silhouetted in the moonlight. He had ordered only two Marines to stand watch while the rest of the platoon was ordered to rest before an expected Taliban attack at first light.

“I dropped down into the hole, and there were two junior Marines,” the lieutenant, Nathaniel C. Fick, recalled of that overnight operation outside Kandahar. “But the third was General Mattis. He has a star on his collar and could have been sleeping on a cot with a major waiting to make him coffee. But he’s out there in the cold in the middle of the night, doing the same thing I’m doing as a first lieutenant — checking on his men.”

The military career of the previous top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, ended over comments he made to Rolling Stone magazine that were read as disparagements of civilian leadership. Yet even in that context, General Mattis’s past provocative comments do not appear to have caused any serious second thoughts about him at the Pentagon or the White House.

“General Mattis is a warrior’s warrior,” said Mr. Fick, who served twice under his command —in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, and in Iraq in 2003 — and is now chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan policy institute. “That’s a virtue not always appreciated in American society.”

Associates of General Mattis offer an explanation for the contradiction of a general who uses “ain’t” in public but devotes his government moving allowance to hauling a library of 6,000 books from station to station, forgoing most personal effects.

He is a reader of philosophy who has patterned his speeches and writings on Aristotle’s famous dictum on effective communications: Know your audience. When he is speaking to Marines, he speaks like a Marine. When he is speaking to defense chiefs or senior government leaders, he uses their language.

And he is a reader of history. He was once asked which American Indian warrior he most respected. His answer was a tribe-by-tribe, chief-by-chief exposition spanning the first Seminole war to the surrender of the Lakota.

Just hours before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, in which General Mattis ordered his force on a race from Kuwait to Baghdad, sowing chaos among Iraqi units along the way, he wrote a message to Marines under his command that encapsulates the general’s thinking.

While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam’s oppression,” he wrote.

“Engage your brain before you engage your weapon,” the general added.

He is sure to be tested at Central Command, where his tasks include maintaining relations with allies, some dear and some difficult; building the capabilities of unstable nations to defend themselves against terrorists or other threats; and always, always, keeping an eye on Iran.

The Central Command post in some ways is diminished, since there is an officer of equal rank in charge of the war in Iraq and another for Afghanistan, both falling within the Central Command’s area of responsibility.

Senior officers predict there will be little friction as General Mattis moves into command over General Petraeus, who now has been cast, for a second time, in the role of savior for a faltering war effort. In fact, some officers suggested that General Mattis should have been considered for the Afghan command, but senior officials wanted the more polished Petraeus, given the circumstances of General McChrystal’s removal, and the fact that General Petraeus already was involved in developing the Afghan strategy.

Generals Mattis and Petraeus have worked together before, in writing the military’s manual on counterinsurgency, which has become the guiding concept for both wars — and for which General Mattis rarely gets credit.

Jul 13, 2010

A rare happy IED story

SOUTHERN SHORSURAK, Afghanistan (July 12, 2010

Cpl. Matt Garst should be dead.

Few people survive stepping on an improvised explosive device. Even fewer walk away the same day after directly absorbing the force of the blast, but Garst did just that.

A squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Garst was leading his squad on a patrol in Southern Shorsurak, Afghanistan, June 23 to establish a vehicle checkpoint in support of Operation New Dawn.

The men were four miles from Lima Company’s newly established observation post when they approached an abandoned compound close to where they needed to set up their checkpoint. It would serve well as an operating base — a place for the squad to set up communications and rotate Marines in and out of. But first, it had to be secured. As they swept the area with a metal detector, the IED registered no warning on the device. The bomb was buried too deep and its metallic signature too weak. Two men walked over it without it detonating.

At six feet, two inches tall and 260 pounds with all his gear on, Garst is easily the largest man in his squad by 30 or 40 pounds — just enough extra weight to trigger the IED buried deep in hard-packed soil.

Lance Cpl. Edgar Jones, a combat engineer with the squad, found a pressure plate inside the compound and hollered to Garst, asking what he should do with it. Garst turned around to answer the Marine and stepped on the bomb. “I can just barely remember the boom,” Garst said. “I remember the start of a loud noise and then I blacked out.”

Since Garst's improbable run-in with the IED, his tale has spread through the rest of the battalion, and as often happens in combat units, the story mutates, the tale becoming more and more extraordinary about what happened next: He held onto his rifle the whole time … He actually landed on his feet … He remained unmoved, absorbing the impact like he was muffling a fart in a crowded elevator …

What really happened even eludes Garst. All went black after the earth uppercut him. When he came to, he was standing on his feet holding his weapon, turning to see the remnants of the blast and wondering why his squad had a look on their faces as if they’d seen a ghost.

Marines in Lima Company think Garst is the luckiest guy in the battalion, and while that may seem a fair assessment, it was the enemy’s shoddy work that left Garst standing. The three-liters of homemade explosive only partially detonated.

Marines who witnessed the event from inside the compound caught glimpses of Garst’s feet flailing through the air just above the other side of the building’s eight-foot walls. The explosion knocked him at least fifteen feet away where he landed on his limp head and shoulders before immediately standing back up.

Not quite sure of what had just happened, Garst turned back toward the blast, now nothing but a column of dirt and smoke rising toward the sun. “My first thought was, ‘Oh shit, I just hit an IED,’” he said. “Then I thought, ‘Well I’m standing. That’s good.’”

Garst’s squad stared at him in disbelief. The square-jawed Marine has a tendency to be short-tempered, and the realization that the blast was meant to kill him spiked his adrenaline and anger.

“It pissed me off,” he said.

He directed his men to establish a security perimeter while letting them know in his own way that he was OK.

“What the f--- are you looking at?” he said. “Get on the cordon!”

Garst quickly radioed back to base, calling an explosive ordnance disposal team and quick reaction force. “I called them and said, ‘hey, I just got blown up. Get ready,’” he said. “The guy thought I was joking at first. ‘You got blown up? You’re not calling me. Get out of here.’”

Once EOD cleared the area, Garst led his squad the four miles back to their observation post — just hours after being ragdolled by an IED blast.“I wasn’t going to let anybody else take my squad back after they’d been there for me,” he said. “That’s my job.”

The next day Garst awoke with a pounding headache and was as sore as he’d ever been in his life. “Just getting up from trying to sleep was painful,” he said.

But he saw no reason being sore should slow him down. He popped some ibuprofen and after a day of rest, Garst was back out on patrol, showing his Marines and the enemy that just like his resolve — Garst is unbreakable.

Jul 9, 2010

Petraeus to Review Mc's inane ROE's

Petraeus reviews directive meant to limit Afghan civilian deaths

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 9, 2010; A01

To the U.S. soldiers getting pounded with thunderous mortar rounds in their combat outpost near Kandahar, it seemed like a legitimate request: allow them to launch retaliatory mortar shells or summon an airstrike against their attackers. The incoming fire was landing perilously close to a guard station, and the soldiers, using a high-powered camera, could clearly see the insurgents shooting.

The response from headquarters -- more than 20 miles away -- was terse. Permission denied. Battalion-level officers deemed the insurgents too close to a cluster of mud-brick houses, perhaps with civilians inside.

Although the insurgents stopped firing before anybody was wounded, the troops were left seething.

"This is not how you fight a war, at least not in Kandahar," said a soldier at the outpost who described the incident, which occurred last month, on the condition of anonymity. "We've been handcuffed by our chain of command."

With insurgent attacks increasing across Afghanistan, frustration about rules of engagement is growing among troops, and among some members of Congress. Addressing those concerns will be one of the most complicated initial tasks facing Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in the country.

The controversy pits the desire of top military officers to limit civilian casualties, something they regard as an essential part of the overall counterinsurgency campaign, against a widespread feeling among rank-and-file troops that restrictions on air and mortar strikes are placing them at unnecessary risk and allowing Taliban fighters to operate with impunity.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Petraeus promised to "look very hard" at the rules of engagement. He has since asked Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the top operational commander in Afghanistan, to review the rules. The examination will include discussions with troops around the country, military officials said.

At issue is a tactical directive issued last July by Petraeus's predecessor, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, that limits the use of air and mortar strikes against houses unless personnel are in imminent danger. The directive requires troops to take extensive measures, including a 48-hour "pattern of life" analysis with on-the-ground or aerial surveillance, to ensure that civilians are not in a housing compound before ordering an airstrike.

Senior U.S. military officials in Afghanistan and Washington said Petraeus almost certainly will not rescind the directive but instead will issue revised guidance in the coming days in an attempt to streamline procedures and ensure uniformity in how the rules are implemented.

Despite claims from some relatives of military personnel killed in Afghanistan that the directive has limited the ability of troops to defend themselves, the officials said a review by the U.S. military of every combat fatality over the past year has found no evidence that the rules restricted the use of lifesaving firepower.

"We have not found a single situation where a soldier has lost his life because he was not allowed to protect himself," one of the officials said.

If troops are in imminent danger, there is no restriction on the use of airstrikes or mortars. "The rules of engagement provide an absolute right of self-defense," the official said.

The official, like others quoted for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because military regulations limit discussion of rules of engagement.

Differing interpretations

Part of the controversy is rooted in divergent interpretations of the directive. To those atop the chain of command, the restriction has helped reduce civilian casualties, which have been a politically charged issue in Afghanistan and have helped sap popular support for the international military presence. There have been 197 civilian fatalities caused by NATO forces, including U.S. troops, in the 12 months since the directive was issued, compared with 332 in the previous year, according to figures compiled by the NATO command in Kabul.

Although the directive has markedly reduced the bombing of housing compounds, dozens of Afghans continue to die each year in airstrikes on other types of targets, including vehicles.

For troops on the ground, however, the directive has lowered their morale and limited their ability to pursue insurgents. They note that Taliban fighters seem to understand the new rules and have taken to sniping at troops from inside homes or retreating inside houses after staging attacks.

"Minimizing civilian casualties is a fine goal, but should it be the be-all and end-all of the policy?" said a junior Army officer in southern Afghanistan. "If we allow soldiers to die in Afghanistan at the hands of a leader who says, 'We're going to protect civilians rather than soldiers,' what's going to happen on the ground? The soldiers are not going to execute the mission to the best of their ability. They won't put their hearts into the mission. That's the kind of atmosphere we're building."

The principal problem, senior officials say, is that U.S. and allied units across Afghanistan have carried out the directive in ways that are more restrictive than McChrystal intended. Fearful of career-ending sanctions if they violate the order, commanders at every subordinate level down the chain have tightened the rules themselves, often adding their own stipulations to the use of air and mortar strikes.

This spring, the Army brigade to which the soldiers at the outpost near Kandahar belong rescinded authority from on-the-scene commanders to fire mortars or call for air support, except in the most urgent cases of self-defense. Permission now has to be granted by a battalion headquarters -- a requirement not enumerated in the tactical directive that could delay any strike on an enemy.

"Now you have to think like a lawyer when you're getting shot at," the soldier at the outpost said. "It's a case of hesitancy and oversimplification. When you're getting shot at, you don't have a lot of time to build a picture for the guys back at headquarters. Your head is in the ground."

Less than six hours before Marines commenced a major helicopter-borne assault in the town of Marja in February, Rodriguez's headquarters issued an order requiring that his operations center clear any airstrike that was on a housing compound in the area but not sought in self-defense. But before the order was given to the Marines, the British-run regional headquarters in southern Afghanistan amended the language to include any strikes "near" houses, according to two U.S. sources familiar with the incident.

The angst over the directive on airstrikes has been compounded by additional orders on driving -- be polite and don't hog the road -- and escalation-of-force situations, such as when suspicious vehicles approach convoys or entrances to bases. The rules, titled Standard Operating Procedures 373, call for military personnel to "use force for the duration and to the extent required to meet the threat and defeat or neutralize it, but no more." Some soldiers say those orders have also been used in a more draconian and patchwork way than senior commanders intended.

"We have to be absolutely certain that the implementation of the tactical directive and the rules of engagement is even throughout the force, that there are not leaders at certain levels that are perhaps making this more bureaucratic or more restrictive than necessary," Petraeus said at his confirmation hearing.

Permission denied

The tightened rules on airstrikes during the initial days of the Marja operation prompted intense frustration not just among Marines on the ground but for mid-level officers in the combat operations center at their headquarters at Camp Leatherneck.

Within an hour after the first Marines landed in Marja, officers in the command center were watching a live black-and-white video feed from an aerial drone that showed suspicious activity around a cluster of 50-gallon fuel drums within the open courtyard of a house. Marines on the ground also had intelligence that insurgents intended to target approaching U.S. forces with 50-gallon drums filled with homemade explosives and metal fragments.

But when officers at the command asked for permission to strike from the regional command in Kandahar, they were rejected. Too close to the house, they were told.

The Marines proposed targeting the drums at an angle to avoid damaging the house in case, as one officer noted, "they contained baby milk." Again they were denied.

Finally, as the sun rose, a Marine unit began approaching the compound. The frustrated officer, fearful that a detonation would kill the troops, declared the target a case of self-defense. No longer was he required to seek permission.

Three Hellfire missiles were launched at the drums, igniting them into a huge fireball, indicating that they were filled with explosives.

"You can't fight a war like this," the officer growled.