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Thread: Securing the Afghan border (merged thread)

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Securing the Afghan border (merged thread)

    Posturing for the Durand Line - ‘We Can and Must do Better’?
    by Paul Smyth, Small Wars Journal

    On 10 July 2008, the Pakistan Daily Times reported a political agent in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as stating that the Pakistan-Afghanistan border had been ‘completely sealed’ to criminals. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation along the forbidding 2430km border is rather different, and the 24 coalition casualties suffered in the insurgent attack against a joint US/Afghan outpost in Eastern Afghanistan on 13 July, clearly illustrated the severe consequences of instability in the border zone. Unsurprisingly, when speaking about security in the border region at a Pentagon press briefing on 16 July, Admiral Michael Mullen (Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff) said ‘we can and must do better'. While this sound-bite has more application in Washington, Islamabad and other capitals than in-theatre, he was right, and with the significance of the border area indubitably set to increase, his public sentiment is a timely catalyst to consider the ‘border problem’ in a little more detail...
    Last edited by SWJED; 07-25-2008 at 10:40 PM.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Air-centric epistle; some good points

    but two, IMO, glaring errors. First, aerial ISTAR is not the solution to the problem; while more is better, it will not be a panacea and will not curtail most of the line crossers.

    Secondly and more important, any reduction of CAS/TIC is a very bad idea.

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    Council Member Anthony Hoh's Avatar
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    Default The use of ABP

    I agree that an increased use of UAV and CAS platforms could help seal up the border...
    But one thing I feel the article failed to mention was the lackluster use and training of the Afghan Border Police. ABP seems to be coming in a distant third compared to the capacity building efforts of the ANA, and the ANP/AUP. Currently their pay is so low the only way these Soldiers live is by creating "tolls". ( I am not defending their actions, just stating an observation. Additionally when SOF units pay individuals what an Afghan doctor makes to work them. It makes recruiting ABP that much more difficult.) If we could scratch up the advisors, fix the pay scale, provide funding, and create a training strategy... Oh who am I kidding, ok lets just put more UAV with Hellfires on station!

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    "Sealing the border" is flat impossible, much less 24/7 surveillance of the border (by air or otherwise) which is also essentially impossible. With all due respect to Mr. Smyth, does he have any clue what the FOV is for a typical UAV sensor?

    No amount of forces we could ever hope to deploy along the border will prevent infiltration. At best the tide can be stemmed from time-to-time, while a real solution to the problem is implemented. And any such solution requires, in my view, the realization that Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot be treated seperately.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    It's in the rings as usual. What do we want Afghanistan to look like as a system when we get finished?? What is our Future Picture? This is where we should start and then see what tools can achieve that. Simply reaching for really cool Air weapons will not get us anywhere if they are aimed at the wrong targets. I liked how we started in Afghanistan with a CIA/SF/indeginous ground force/Air Force flying cover type operation.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I suspect that what

    we want Afghanistan to look like as a system and what it will look like will be two quite different things...

    I know the theory is that what we want should be something attainable but I also believe that few if any Westerners can be comfortable with what may be attainable.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    we want Afghanistan to look like as a system and what it will look like will be two quite different things...

    I know the theory is that what we want should be something attainable but I also believe that few if any Westerners can be comfortable with what may be attainable.
    That is one of the best answers I have heard (especially with their drug problem looming over everything).

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    we want Afghanistan to look like as a system and what it will look like will be two quite different things...

    I know the theory is that what we want should be something attainable but I also believe that few if any Westerners can be comfortable with what may be attainable.
    As you said, "Welcome to South Asia."

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    Smile Clarification

    Quote Originally Posted by Entropy View Post
    "Sealing the border" is flat impossible, much less 24/7 surveillance of the border (by air or otherwise) which is also essentially impossible. With all due respect to Mr. Smyth, does he have any clue what the FOV is for a typical UAV sensor?

    No amount of forces we could ever hope to deploy along the border will prevent infiltration. At best the tide can be stemmed from time-to-time, while a real solution to the problem is implemented. And any such solution requires, in my view, the realization that Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot be treated seperately.
    Entropy, thank you, perhaps I should take this opportunity to make a few points clear(er):
    1. I don't believe the article called for (or even envisioned) 'sealing the border'. As you correctly point out, such a proposition is impossible, not only because of the vast scale and daunting topography of the Durand Line, but also because perhaps upwards of 60 000 people routinely cross the border each day.
    2. Similarly, there was no call for 24/7 surveillance, but better surveillance. As written: The existing mix of ISAF ISTAR platforms is impressive, but insufficient for the specific demands of an operating area that covers tens of thousands of square miles, is bisected by an international boundary and in which the enemy may adopt a raiding strategy.
    3. I do have a clue of the FOV for a typical UAV sensor, and should perhaps have included that limitation in the article's list of comparative ISTAR attributes, but as the case being made is for ISTAR assets with much greater FOVs/collection capabilities, your observation reinforces the point.
    4. I agree, realistically no amount of forces on the border will stop infiltration, and the paper is not about preventing infiltration, but addressing it. To stop insurgents raiding from Pakistan requires action within Pakistan - as you clearly recognise - but the article is focused on what ISAF can do within the art of the possible, not what it could do if there were no political context to its activities. To reduce (not eliminate) the increasing vulnerability of ISAF/Afghan forces to short-notice or surprise attacks from within the FATA/NWFP demands better protection and better situational awareness, and one (not the only) way to promote those enhancements is to put the best (ISTAR) assets for the job in theatre.
    5. RAPTOR/DB-110s capabilities are rightly classified, but believe me that they are much better than a typical UAV's FOV.

    Separately, and this is an observation that has nothing to do with your remarks, I've noticed that in attempted discussions about improving the Joint conduct of the enduring ops in either Iraq or Afghanistan, the conversation often deteriorates into a 'Land v Air' debate. This tendency appears especially strong West of the Atlantic and is routinely unhelpful. There are obviously strong views held in either 'camp', and many will be valid, but sometimes they appear to obstruct, not rpomote, progress and when material is viewed through one of those lenses perhaps people read what they wish to see and not what is written.

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    Paul,

    Thanks for responding to my comment. Rereading what I wrote now, I see the there was some condescension in it and for that I would like to apologize.

    Separately, and this is an observation that has nothing to do with your remarks I've noticed that in attempted discussions about improving the Joint conduct of the enduring ops in either Iraq or Afghanistan, the conversation often deteriorates into a 'Land v Air' debate.
    Just for the record, I'm one of the few "Air" guys here. I supported air ops in the Navy and then in the Air Force, so I've never been a ground guy (excepting some SoF support). If you look at some of my previous posts, you'll see I've spent a lot of time defending and attempting to explain the air point of view, but I try to see and understand both sides.

    Now, to address your points in turn:

    1. You're right - my mistake for misreading your piece, but consider my points below.

    2. Better surveillance is always nice, but with limited assets the opportunity cost of using them for border surveillance in lieu of some other ISTAR requirement has to be taken into account.

    4. The problem here, again, is cost-benefit. Not only that, but I think that "addressing" infiltration is a vague objective to begin with. What does that mean?

    While I'm certainly not advocating ignoring border infiltration, I do believe that the law of diminishing returns applies.* Since we agree that closing or sealing the border is impossible, the question becomes one of what is a reasonable amount of achievable interdiction given a certain amount of forces. This is a question your paper doesn't really address. In calling for more ISTAR on the border you don't really provide much evidence or argument for how much more is needed nor what impact it will have on the border. Nor do you spend much time on how those additional assets would actually be employed.

    Calling for more border security in general and ISTAR in particular is probably a good thing but I just don't find your particular argument convincing. More importantly, the Commanders who decide such things probably won't be convinced either, especially when the cost, as you argued, is a sacrifice CAS capability. What Commander will make a very real sacrifice in CAS without any idea of what he would get in return?

    Additionally, I'm not sure I agree there is an either/or choice between CAS and ISTAR to begin with. My experience is that a variety of airframes can and do roll from one to the other as needed, which is a credit to the flexibility of our force. More than that, though, the limfac for ISTAR is mostly the result of a limited number of dedicated endurance airframes and, as you mention in your paper, airfield limitations for tactical aircraft. For border surveillance, I would think the endurance UAV option is probably better than a tactical aircraft. In short, I think we could get more aircraft in Afghanistan (and I think we are working on that) to provide greater ISTAR without sacrificing CAS.

    *Consider the Soviet experience. They implemented a multi-faceted strategy that included denuding the border area of people, the creation of free-fire zones, extensive use of land-mines, and extensive use of air power as well as satellite and other types of surveillance. Despite all that, they were never successful in seriously impacting Muhahadeen supply and at one point, they even considered building an East German-style wall along the border. As you said at the beginning - upwards of 60,000 people cross the border each day. Given the realities of the situation and in light of the Soviet experience, I simply don't think that reallocating what would be a relatively modest amount of airpower to ISTAR along the border will make a substantial difference.

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    Smile Re: Clarification

    Entropy,
    there is no need to apologise, I didn't feel you were being condescending, and as an ex-FJ puke that accusation usually sits at my feet! To keep the chain going:

    2. I totally agree that limited ISTAR assets must be used in accordance with mission priorities, especially as within this Theatre there is a paucity of ISTAR assets for the size of the task. My sense is that the border area (on both sides, but increasingly to the south and east) is rapidly assuming 'top' priority.

    4. You are quite correct to highlight the broad character of the paper's argument. I hope there are some mitigating factors. First, the paper (hopefully) raises an issue (the increasing importance of the FATA/NWFP/border region) which needs close examination by those with all the relevant information before them (both in Theatre and in capitals); but it does not (cannot) provide the 'answer' to the 'question' that it poses. I can propose potential solutions (e.g. improve outpost protection and ISTAR coverage of the area) but I am not in theatre and do not have current access to classified data, so with an incomplete picture in view it would seem unwise to be overly prescriptive or presumptive in detail. Your point is well made: what is the resulting cost-benefit calculation if more effort is put into border ISTAR and/or interdiction? The answer is I don't know, and that analysis can only be conducted by ISAF commanders and Service chiefs back home, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't ask 'the question', particularly if it seems that the analysis has not taken place... I also take the point that the absense of detail doesn't strengthen the argument, but to surmise with detail which I would have to make-up (estimate/assume) might actually prove counter-productive. Lacking a compelling edge will limit the paper's usefulness, but if it acts as a catalyst to further debate/investigation then I'm happy.

    Second (and more importantly), I do not use detail that might add weight to a case being made if I know it to be classified information or believe that it could be of use to opponents. This is obviously a concern we all have when discussing operational matters in the public domain. So I'm not going to describe how RAPTOR should be used and I have to accept that the case for it is diluted accordingly. But if an ISAF land commander now asks the RAF for information on it, for me, that would be progress. Unfortunately, by being 'vague' I have to accept that the paper may appear 'unfinished' and you correctly highlight areas where a classified paper should add compelling detail.

    However, security concerns do not excuse an absence of definition (e.g. 'addressing'), which you also sensibly highlight. By 'addressing' here I mean preventing the defeat of an ISAF/Afghan outpost by cross-border raiding. This is important as the terrorist character of insurgent activities has diminished strategic effect, whereas the overrunning of an outpost does not. As we know where our own bases are this naturally allows for more focused surveillance etc, which brings it closer to the art of the possible.

    With respect to CAS, the principle that we are considering is this: is it worth taking action which might cause short-term damage but long-term benefit? We all agree that judgment can/must only be made by commanderrs, but we have seen this principle applied in numerous ways in the ongoing campaigns:
    - do we surge more troops to Iraq?
    - do we put troops into dangerous communities in Joint Security Staions or Combat Outposts?
    - do we conduct more foot patrols outside of our MRAPS?
    - do we advance into areas which have been quiet but are of importance to the enemy?
    It seems that although these moves initially involved taking greater casualties they led to much improved outcomes. The same principle applies to what we do with air assets (e.g. CAS/TIC). With all of the above there was no 'proof' available beforehand that the course of action would work, but that is why commanders exercise judgment. Observers like me on the outside looking in can't prove that more ISTAR activity at the expense of CAS is the best thing to do, but we can/should ask the question, particularly if it seems that discussion on the issue hasn't taken place.

    With regard to interdiction and the scale of the problem I would like to add two points:
    - historically, it has been the reverse of dimishing returns that has promoted interdiction as a policy, but that interdiction must be intelligently executed;
    - the fact that infiltration can happen somewhere does not preclude our being focused on preventing it in key areas, e.g. the need for timely interdiction is tied to raiding against vulnerable outposts.

    Finally, I wholeheartedly agree that the Soviet experience illustrates that mass/numbers alone will make little difference. If we do reposture assets for the burgeoning problem astride the Durand Line then we must do it intelligently, which is probably another thread...

    Yours

    Paul

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Smyth View Post
    - historically, it has been the reverse of dimishing returns that has promoted interdiction as a policy, but that interdiction must be intelligently executed;
    - the fact that infiltration can happen somewhere does not preclude our being focused on preventing it in key areas, e.g. the need for timely interdiction is tied to raiding against vulnerable outposts.

    Yours

    Paul

    Some Strategic Thinking Going There

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    Default Feasibility of an Afghanistan "Morice Line"

    All,

    Related to my RFI on crossing points ...

    I have recently been doing some basic research into the effectiveness of barriers or obstacles in counterinsurgency ops. As we know, micro-level barriers (city berms, "gated" communities) were used to good effect in OIF, and have lots of historical basis.

    During Algeria the French successfully employed the "Morice Line" of fences backed by sensors and mobile detachments to interdict resupply from Tunisia. The US attempted with less success to do this in Vietnam. This tactic stretches back to the Romans and Chinese two thousand (+) years ago.

    Would a "modern" version of the Morice line be possible, or effective in Afghanistan? I acknowledge a fence is an impossibility, but what about a sensor barrier backed by a reaction force? It may not even be feasible on the entire 1500 mile border, but perhaps it only needs emplacement in certain areas? Like any obstacle emplacement, it could serve to canalize movement into areas we want it to go.

    A salient argument against such a bariier is that we have been unable (or unwilling?) to do the same with the Mexican border.

    Have modern sensor technology advances made this more affordable/practical? Is it even feasible given Afghanistan's terrain?
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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Lessons from the past

    Niel,

    The UK tried a 'line' along the border with the Irish Republic during 'The Troubles', which was updated as technology etc developed and finally in the "hot zone" of South Armagh took the form of hi-tech obs towers atop hills. Mixed reviews. Perhaps your UK Liasion can point at a Royal Engineers viewpoint? Not sure in the Military Review article three years comments.

    The Rhodesians spent a fortune on a 'line', mainly minefields and in JK Cilliers book IIRC was finally assessed as not worth it. Mines were lifted and used for IEDs etc. Very little technology, sensors - yes mines going off.

    Not even sure if the French finally agreed the 'Morice Line' was worthwhile. Note the Moroccan border rarely appears in the books I've read.

    The Moroccans of course built their huge barrier in former Spanish Sahara, to restrict Polisario and IIRC that is credited with being a success.

    A 'line' on the Afpak border seems uneconomic and impractical from my armchair, except along the non-mountainous parts i.e. Baluchistan border. In my reading on Imperial policing there, there is no mention of a 'line'.

    davidbfpo

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    Cavguy,

    Here's an oldie but goodie you might want to take a look at.

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Entropy View Post
    Cavguy,

    Here's an oldie but goodie you might want to take a look at.
    Great Source. Cites ~500 crossings north and south of the Khyber Pass.
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    I have a couple more I remember that I'm trying to relocate.

    In the meantime, your RFI raises political questions as well, since there are significant disputes on where exactly the border is. Additionally, the Afghan government isn't too crazy about closing the border. This was Karzai's reaction to an announcement that Pakistan intended to build a fence and mine part of the border (From the 29Dec06 edition of the NYT):

    President Hamid Karzai voiced strong opposition on Thursday to Pakistan's announcement that it would lay mines and erect fences along its border with Afghanistan. He said the moves would only hurt the people living in the region and would not stem cross-border terrorism.

    ''Thousands and thousands and thousands of people have been maimed and killed by mines,'' Mr. Karzai said in comments to journalists at the Presidential Palace, ''and we are strongly against this idea. We are politically against it, and in humanitarian terms we are against it.

    ''Mines will not prevent terrorism crossing the border into Afghanistan, or militants who come and kill our people. Laying mines or fencing the border will only separate people and families from each other. Rather than helping, it will cause people difficulty in movement in trade and meeting each other.''
    Karzai's comments on mines are understandable, but the Afghans and Pakistanis have clashed over the placement of Pakistani fences as well.

    All in all, a very tough nut.

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Entropy View Post
    I have a couple more I remember that I'm trying to relocate.

    In the meantime, your RFI raises political questions as well, since there are significant disputes on where exactly the border is. Additionally, the Afghan government isn't too crazy about closing the border. This was Karzai's reaction to an announcement that Pakistan intended to build a fence and mine part of the border (From the 29Dec06 edition of the NYT):

    Karzai's comments on mines are understandable, but the Afghans and Pakistanis have clashed over the placement of Pakistani fences as well.

    All in all, a very tough nut.
    I wouldn't advocate mines or a fence, but a passive sensor barrier backed by (air?) mobile QRF or helicopters. The CIA paper you linked mentioned Mi-24's as the most effective interceptor, but I'm sure our ROE rules are far stricter.
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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Hi Niel

    Here's a startpoint. I'll try to contact some of the Pak infantry officers and see if I can get better data.

    v/r

    Mike



    NATO and Afghanistan: Outlooks and Challenges
    Dr. Maqsudul Hasan Nuri

    It (Pakistan) has established nearly 900 checkpoints and set up many crossing points along its mountaineous border with Afghanistan

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    Here's something interesting on sensors for border monitoring. I particularly like this quote at the end:

    During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, rebels threw live rabbits over base fences to trigger motion detectors. After several weeks of false alarms, the bases turned off the motion detectors, allowing surreptitious attacks, a clear failure to factor systems aspects into the design.
    I can't really find what I was looking for besides that CIA document. I'm thinking I must be remembering it on siprnet. I don't have access now, but I recall some NGA products on border crossings - you might want to look for those if you're able.

    Here's some more background you might be interested in:

    Defeating Transnational Insurgencies: The Best Offense Is a Good Fence


    This references some good sources and is worth your time (see chapter 2), provided you haven't already seen it. Here's a bit from the conclusion:

    The historical examples of transnational sanctuaries in irregular warfare indicate that most limited military operations are not effective in denying combatants sanctuary. Airpower, even extensive bombings and attacks such as those used by the Americans in Vietnam, can hinder enemy operations across borders. However, countermeasures, especially antiaircraft fire and ground concealment, have prevented airpower from effectively shutting down borders on its own. The same goes for barrier systems that rely on technology such as mines or sensors to take the place of human patrolling of borders. Sensors and mines may slow cross border activities for as long as it takes the enemy to figure out a way around them, but there has always been a way around the technology. Likewise, ground raids in force across borders can do serious damage to insurgent sanctuaries, but by definition raids are not sustained efforts, and the guerrillas can and do return when the raids end.
    Personally, I think the best that can be hoped for is a limited amount of harassment and interdiction.

    There are several communities the border divides. The border even cuts through a couple of villages. Many people make their livilihood through cross-border trade, none of which is regulated. Determining who is and isn't an insurgent, even with a comprehensive sensor network, ISR and QRF's isn't going to be easy. Some of the nomadic tribes spend part of the year in Afghanistan and part in Pakistan - and have for generations.

    Ultimately, I think the locals will be the most effective "sensor" and barrier to insurgent use of the border, but that, of course, depends on their support.

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