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Thread: Two frontline reports

  1. #1
    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Two frontline reports

    Two different articles on Afghanistan for consideration. The first reports on a former XO of mine now leading a RSTA Squadron. The second was sent to me by a former JTAC. His question is whether or not the limitations of the new CAS ROE is hampering progress for the marines engaged in daily firefights. I didn't have an answer for him.


    Afghanistan: The Good War Gets Complicated
    David Wood
    Politics Daily

    COMBAT OUTPOST ZORMAT, Afghanistan -- When a warning crackled over the radio of a suspected ambush ahead, Lt. Col. Rob Campbell swore softly and ordered his three armored trucks to a halt. What happened next illustrates why the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is failing, why commanders here are asking for more manpower -- and why they are pleading for more time.


    Leaping out with his M-4 carbine, Campbell, a tall cavalry officer with sandy hair and freckles, strode through the empty, sun-baked fields flanking the road while his men fanned out, checking the ground for IEDs, sweeping the fields for snipers. The Afghan police assigned to patrol this stretch of road? Nowhere in



    Calm- then sudden death in Afghan War
    Alfred de Montesquiou and Julie Jacobson
    Associated Press

    DAHANEH, Afghanistan The pomegranate grove looked ominous.

    The U.S. patrol had a tip that Taliban fighters were lying in ambush, and a Marine had his weapon trained on the trees 70 yards away. "If you see anything move from there, light it up," Cpl. Braxton Russell told him.

    Thirty seconds later, a salvo of gunfire and RPGs rocket-propelled grenades poured out of the grove. "Casualty! We've got a casualty!" someone shouted. A grenade had hit Lance Cpl. Joshua "Bernie" Bernard in the legs.
    v/r

    Mike

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default A Plea from Afghanistan- My friend, Don't Go

    David Wood continues his reporting. From the extracted quotes, it seems that the boys on the ground are debating the same force mixture that we are. The GPF says give me more infantrymen. SF says give me more civilians.

    A Plea from Afghanistan: My Friend, Don't Go
    David Wood
    Afghanistan Journal

    "We are getting there, but not fast enough,'' Col. Michael Howard, the senior combat commander in eastern Afghanistan, told me. "The violence has to come down to a level where it doesn't affect the daily lives of people, to a point where people aren't afraid to take an active part in their government. Right now we're not at that level.'' Howard has asked for additional troops, knowing that manpower is limited. But, he argued, "if you apply an additional 100 infantry soldiers, then you will have a commensurate increase in the speed at which the violence comes down."

    In a related program, soldiers are teaching village women to make high-protein baby formula from locally available produce. That's a project of the civil affairs teams led by Special Forces Maj. James N. Schafer. "I wish I had more teams,'' he told me. "We are doing better; things are better than a year ago. But we need more civilians we don't need more guys carrying guns.''

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    Default

    One guy wants Infantrymen because they can provide security. The other wants civilians because they bring with them a stream of funding and access to humanitarian assistance. Why don't we just give the chain of command for the infantrymen the stream of funding and access to humanitarian assistance?

    We tried this on a smaller scale and it worked out fairly well. It was called CERP.

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    Default Intelligence is the biggest need

    In a perfect world, we would provide each battalion with 50-100 HUMINT specialists. Our reliance on SIGINT, IMINT and single-source HUMINT is one of our biggest problems. Since we don't live in a perfect world, at least we need to start pushing intel assets down to the field level instead of concentrating them in fusion centers at FOBs. We also need to take a serious look at modifying, if not doing away with, the NOFORN caveat on intelligence.

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    Default

    FSO,

    What do you think about the USMC concept of the CLIC cell? The way it worked on my reserve unit's deployment in 2008, we just gave shake-and-bake training to some motivated NCOs and lance corporals during workup, mostly focused on site exploitation. I wasn't part of it, so I have no idea what they did for language support in country. Do we need dedicated intel specialists at the batt level, or is this sort of fly-by-night solution workable?

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    Council Member Abu Suleyman's Avatar
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by tequila View Post
    Do we need dedicated intel specialists at the batt level, or is this sort of fly-by-night solution workable?
    We absolutely need dedicated intel specialists. Intel is an art and a science, and not something that can be taught in a two week course. In fact, part of the reason that our HUMINT is so bad in the force in general is that most of the intel collectors on the ground (outside special units) are less than five years in. It takes years to get to the chops for good interrogation and source cultivation, not to mention legalities.

    This discussion is going to turn into a personnel issue, though, because there is a ready supply of experienced intel specialists, although perhaps not enough to fill the need, but they are all civilians(CIA, DIA, NSA, Contractors etc.) many of whom were in the military but got out for better pay and less jerking around. In fact, many of them have only gotten better doing work on the outside related to what they had done on the inside. Unfortunately, there is currently not a mechanism to bring those people into the military, which is, in part, why I think many intel focused people would like to see more civilian support: that is where many of the most talented soldiers of the past now are.
    Audentes adiuvat fortuna
    "Abu Suleyman"

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    Default Way back when

    I was learning how to be an intel officer, one lesson I learned was that the best source of intel information was our own troops. Now, the fact is that ordinary soldiers may not be the BEST source but they are a critical source. In my day, many intel folks didn't bother to do the 2 key things needed to take advantage of that source:
    1. Brief the troops on what to look for whenever they went on a patrol or operation. And
    2. debrief them on what they observed when they came back.

    Cheers

    JohnT

    PS Also always ask the local civilians what you want to know. they may actually give you useful answeres.

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    Council Member Greyhawk's Avatar
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    Default Troops are good sources...

    But I've noticed there's a feedback loop that can't be ignored. Even guys downrange are prone to state as fact things they've read in the papers or online (and then there's the scuttlebutt...).

    I've never heard/read a single troop quote that didn't make me wish I could ask the source the five obvious questions it brings to mind.

    This is not to say any specific statement is wrong or to be dismissed, but from my experience virtually anything short of "the building is on fire" (or under fire) is worthy of a "how do you know this" or "please clarify" response prior to leaping into action.

    Another side of that: seemingly innocuous statements are often worth a follow-up question or two also. Experience taught me that "why the hell are you telling me this?" is also usually worth asking - first to yourself and then aloud in a more polite way.

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    Default Good points Grayhawk

    but back in my day there was nothing like the feedback loop you describe.
    That said, I agree with your comments - especially the "how do you know" etc follow up questions.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Default Intel in the field

    Tequila:

    The Company Level Intelligence Cells (CLICs) are a good start, but I have heard that at least in some cases the Marines assigned to these positions do not have Intelligence MOSes. Intellectual curiosity and innate intelligence help but I do not think they can fully substitute for formal intelligence training, especially when dealing with military collection and production systems.

    More importantly, I think one of the key required skills is the ability to evaluate the credibility of sources. This is not something one can learn from a book or in the school house, rather, it takes some instinctive talent and substantial on-the-job experience. It also obviously requires some cultural and historical knowledge to create a frame of reference about the source. To make it even more complicated, a source can be credible on some issues and not credible on other issues. To explain what I mean on this point - when assigned to a Latin American country earlier in my career, one of my contacts was a Major in the host nation National Police. This Major provided consistently accurate information on human rights and misconduct issues and consistently false/misleading information on the internal politics of the National Police.

    In my experience, the two groups that are best at sorting this out are U.S. Army Foreign Area Officers working in Defense Attache Offices and DEA agents. Intelligence analysts at the Headquarters level (which I would define to include in-country FOBs such as BAF and KAF) tend to lack a feel for the country and the people. Some of my fellow FSOs are also good at this, but it is usually a matter of luck rather than any systematic planning or training on the part of the State Department.

    Another key variable is what I call a "soft" versus "hard" collection environment. For example, I consider the Dominican Republic and Indonesia to be soft collection environments because these are countries where there is a vast amount of information in circulation with the key problem being a needle in the haystack issue of trying to determine the few truths in the sea of falsehoods. In contrast, the Bolivian Altiplano (high plateau) is a hard environment as this western third of Bolivia has many villages inhabited by indigenous peoples (speaking Aymara or Quecha as a first language) who are extremely suspicious of, and even hostile towards, outsiders.

    I would rate Afghanistan as a very hard collection environment. In addition to the security, language, and culture barriers, I believe there is an understandable reluctance on the part of Pashtuns to provide outsiders with truthful information about social, tribal, and political dynamics. The Marines in Helmand have adopted a USAID-designed collection system called TCAPF (Tactical Conflict Assessment Planning and Framework) that can utilize any Marine to develop information about the needs and desires of villagers but I am skeptical about some of the claims of the proponents and think that it can provide only general information at best.

    During my year in Kandahar I felt that I only got a few titillating glimpses behind the Pashtun curtain. Opening up the curtain and unlocking the secrets requires a steady and long-term cultivation of personal relationships, indirect elicitation of facts, and a patient piecing together of the information. I think I reached this stage in a few instances in Latin America, but it took a minimum of two years of cultivating contacts while using my fluency in the local language. The "Key Leader Engagement" format that we use in Afghanistan is not likely to provide a lot of the information that we need to really understand how Afghanistan works.

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    Default

    In my very limited experience, the Marines in the CLIC most definitely were not MOS-qualified in intel or counterintel. They were basically the older, more mature, high-GP NCOs and lance corporals --- those who weren't doing staff duties. Most were 03s, and the training from what I understand focused mostly on site exploitation and evidence gathering, rather than interrogation or HUMINT-type collection. The idea was to get intel and evidence to convict possible insurgents in the Iraqi courts system rather than developing genuine intelligence about insurgent networks and the like.

    Given the very limited training and experience available, I don't think the CLIC can work at genuine intelligence gathering that can allow commanders in the field to make strategic decisions about how to run their AOs --- whether or not to trust this leader or not, or the level of corruption within the local police force. I think the focus is more on tactical intel of the most basic sort, and that's all it's capable of.

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    Talking Fso

    Don't make it harder than it really is - it is hard enough. Been on the Altiplano and the mountain valleys of Bolivia and Peru and worked fairly extensively with Quechua speakers. From what people I trust tell me, the Aymara speakers are not all that different. My experience with Quechua speakers was that there were various levels of trust - the more you got to know them the deeper that the level of trust (or animosity) could get. Much of it depended on your behavior toward them. From an information collection point of view I could usually get what I needed but not in depth until I had established a relationship. As you suggest, the kind of relationship is largely dependent on time and effort but a decent start could be made in a few hours or a few days although chunka would have been better and huarmey better still.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Default Bolivia

    Dr. Fishel:

    I'll defer to your expertise on Bolivian indigenous rural communities. My interaction with these communities has been limited to supporting Bolivian National Police and DEA counternarcotics investigations. During my time in-country (a decade ago) the BNP and DEA had much less investigative success in the Altiplano than in the Media Luna due to the cultural differences between the two regions.

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    Default Fso

    Might be interesting to ask BG Charlie Cleveland how he found the coca growers in the Chapare 25 years ago.

    Best

    John

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    Default Chapare

    Dr. Fishel:

    I've never met BG Cleveland but I heard that he was with one of the first ODAs that established the Chimore UMOPAR Base Camp of which I have very fond memories. During my three years in Bolivia I spent two-three days a week at that Base Camp at least three and frequently four weeks each month. Although I lived in La Paz I had my own bedroom in the NAS Office at the Chimore Base Camp. I kept all of my fishing poles and most of my firearms at the Base Camp and was able to do a lot of fishing, hunting, and target shooting down in the Chapare. I would spend my weekends in Santa Cruz before flying back to La Paz on Sunday evening or Monday morning. Being a single guy in Santa Cruz, especially as a U.S. diplomat, was like being in heaven.

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    Council Member Surferbeetle's Avatar
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    Default Short visits only...

    ...to Chontales Nicaragua and Cabanas El Salvador but both were good times. Bolivia sounds like fun, so does Peru, Machu Picchu in particular...maybe one of these days
    Sapere Aude

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    Default Front Line

    On the reconstruction side in Iraq, I found a lot of the military folks to be great assets, but they didn't know it, or know what they had, until somebody could bring it into focus.

    In Jan 08, we were trying to map out the ag system and existing econ/ag assets throughout MND-North. Once the Div CA and below got the drift of exactly what we were looking for, the info began to flow from everywhere. One major showed up at my office in Feb 08 at COB Spiecher with a DVD full of pics and assessments of every major ag asset (grain silos, feed mills, slaughter houses) for most of MND-North, and a detailed assessment of what it would take to make them operational. Did I say it was every major ag asset?

    He had been collecting them on the side for most of his tour, hoping to find somebody who might consider them important. A common occurence in Iraq was the "bottom drawer" in which Div Staff put their personal ideas of what should be done in---the stuff they couldn't pass forward because it was out of their lane, or contrary to big picture. There were some really great solutions in some of those bottom drawers.

    Once we peeled down a layer to chicken houses, hatcheries, and slaughterhouses, we got a lot of ribbing as the "chicken guys," and even a powerpoint slide of the PRT Plans for World Domination through chickens, but, again, once we explained what we were looking for and why, we were only a FRAGO away from a complete map and assessment of everything needed to build regional plans and programs around. Did I say everything?

    One thing we were told was that the chicken business stopped because there were no hatcheries in operation in the North, and no grain, and no grain mills. But on one of our regular trips up Route 1 to Bayji, we got stuck in a traffic tie up, and one of our team saw, off in the distance, a sign with a chick on it, and the name "Khalid's Hatchery." Turned out he had a big hatchery operation, and plenty of grain, and an operating grain mill, and could easily double it if only he had customers... Once everyone knew what a hatchery, and grain mill looked like, they found quite a few. Another exploding Iraq myth, as we learned.

    How did we know what to ask them to look for? Old maps, British ag studies bought from Amazon.com, and lots of discussions with locals about how things used to be, and what things used to happen in the economy, ag sector, etc... But the US had mobility, and these local folks only knew what they could recall. Put it together, though, and you get a rapid picture of how to rebuild sustainably.

    Of course, that was 08, and everybody rotated out at the end of the year...

    I always assumed that every year since 2003, somebody did the exact same things that we did, discovering Iraq over and over again, but never, as an organization, learning anything. A lot like FSO suggested, it takes a few years to put it all together, and nobody is in any of these places that long.

    Organizationally, we need to move beyond field trials of scattered Afghan engagement, and start building and applying a real knowledge base around what they already know, and how to apply/improve that.

    Front Line reports are great, but only, as was suggested, if you can ask the five questions for validation, and even better if they go out as informed analysts to find the things a trained researcher is looking for.

    Steve

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Pushing Intel down

    To help solve some of the gaps in intell collection, assessment, and distribution, I once heard an idea to push intel personnel down one level. It would look a bit like this.

    Batallion S2: 04 or command-qualified senior 03 with accompaying staff.

    Company S2: 02 or E6/E7 with several intel bubbas as a team.

    Short-term personnel shortages could be filled by manuever officers and NCO's.

    Thoughts as to feasibility?

    v/r

    Mike

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    I saw something that was simpler, much less manpower intensive, and worked great. Have an E-4 from the S-2 shop live with the company. Make sure that he is up to speed on what the PIR/IR's are and that he debriefs every patrol. This alone magnifies the value of intelligence by several orders of magnitude.

    No need for another officer, another hand receipt, a bunch more equipment, etc. Just give the company an MI E-4 and make sure the company uses him appropriately.

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    Default

    In regard to my comment above, I would add that the initial reaction from the S-2 will likely be, "hey, you're taking away all of my guys - how will I do all of my analysis?" A good concern, imo, but not one that actually plays out. If that E-4 intel minion is down at the company level collecting intel from the returning patrols, then it is immediately put into the proper format, using proper terminology, and is generally easier to sift through and read. He can format it for immediate consumption by the 2 shop. Contrast that with having all of your 2 shop minions within your reach, but they're spending lots of their time collecting intel from the companies that is light on details, often sloppily put together, and they spend half of their time just rewriting it into a usable form. And, because much of it was not obtained via a proper debrief, it is usually much lighter on details.

    I regret to say that no unit that I was in did this in OIF. The only time that I saw this attempted was in the Balkans and it worked like a charm. In that case, the 2 shop minion was not living with us, as we all operated from one base camp, but each was assigned to a specific AO and that AO was owned by one company, so the minion had a habitual relationship with that company and debriefed every returning patrol. The intel collected by a 2 shop debrief was so much better than even our best efforts at writing up patrol reports.

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