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Trigger Puller Boots on the ground, steel on target -- the pointy end of the spear.

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Old 10-05-2009   #21
MikeF
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Bob, ever read Street without Joy? Shows the (lack of) value of undermanned outposts in bad country. These posts had little/nothing to do with AQIZ targeting. We still have ways to get there without these outposts, which have become logistical/tactical challenges and are having precisely the opposite effect on the population they intended because of lack of force structure to do more than really protect themselves ...
This may be one of the few times that I disagree with Niel. I think we should look at reinforcing Nuristan. Here's my take reposted from the front page. Looking forward to feedback or disagreement. I think it's an important thing to discuss.

Mike's World of COIN

First, my heart goes out to the unit and the families of the Fallen in Nuristan. I have been in that situation before, and I understand the psychological and morale effects of everyone involved.

Second, we have the opportunity to effect the IO war with this battle. Back in 2007, my sister company experienced an attack on their patrol base in Sadah, Iraq. Nine paratroopers died and another 20 were wounded. I wrote about the events leading up to it in "Love and Hate" for SWJ. Seventy-two hours prior, I had lunch with the AQ leadership and offered an ultimatum: 1. Peace, 2. Destruction. They chose the latter and answered with that attack.

Sadah was unimportant in our scheme of maneuver. It was a mere foothold into the DRV so I could seize Zaganiyah, the military key terrain. C Troop was one week from leaving that patrol base in order to prepare for further clearance up the Diyala River. We were a shaping effort to a supporting effort, and our force ration was 300 paratroopers for a population of 100,000.

Immediately after the attack, COL David Sutherland, CDR 3/1 BCT, and LTC Andrew Poppas, CDR 5-73, rushed to the scene. I sent a platoon plus to secure the scene and dig through the ruble trying to recover anyone still alive. For twleve hours, we listened as battle rosters were called. Every once in a while, a medic would think that he had found a pulse or the hint of breathing. We would hold our breathe and pray until the casualty was finally pronounced dead.

Simultaneously, I took my remaining platoon and we tracked down the videographer killing him in a late night raid- My biggest fear was a video hitting the web of an American Patrol Base getting destroyed.

The command team made a decision. F*ck the plan, things changed, and we were staying. We rebuilt the patrol base, reinforced the area with two american platoons and an Iraqi battalion. Our actions were our IO message.

In the short term, attacks soared up to twelve a day on my troop. Sixty days later, we pacified the area and violence went to almost zero.

Sometimes, we have to allow the events on the ground to help shape our actions. This battle could be one of those moments. For a moment, we could forget the debate on A'stan strategy, COIN v/s CT, and make a stand in Nuranistan.

Send a battalion or brigade there. Let everyone in the province know you are staying the course. Taunt the enemy. Send broadcast proclaiming that AQ/Taliban are weak. Challenge them to come to Nuranistan to die.

Be the biggest Tribe.

v/r

Mike
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Old 10-05-2009   #22
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Mike,
Ignoring the "big picture" (whether the US should be there in the first place and what victory may look like overall), you are perfectly correct in tactical terms and one hopes that a capable and determined army would have officers trained to think like this. The single most effective response would indeed be to go in full force and stay, but I dont think that is going to happen.. Are there other options? Just pulling out would give them a big propaganda victory, but is it possible to pull out but still send the message that there will be payback and eventually THIS army will win? I am asking as an amateur with no knowledge of the local area (and little knowledge of the nuts and bolts of modern war). What would an alternative "second best" strategy look like? Drones? raids? blockade? what?
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Old 10-05-2009   #23
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The command team made a decision. F*ck the plan, things changed, and we were staying. We rebuilt the patrol base, reinforced the area with two american platoons and an Iraqi battalion. Our actions were our IO message.

...

In the short term, attacks soared up to twelve a day on my troop. Sixty days later, we pacified the area and violence went to almost zero.

Sometimes, we have to allow the events on the ground to help shape our actions. This battle could be one of those moments. For a moment, we could forget the debate on A'stan strategy, COIN v/s CT, and make a stand in Nuranistan.

Send a battalion or brigade there. Let everyone in the province know you are staying the course. Taunt the enemy. Send broadcast proclaiming that AQ/Taliban are weak. Challenge them to come to Nuranistan to die.

Be the biggest Tribe.
Mike,

You and I had very similar experiences in Iraq. I had a patrol base in a very bad area attacked VBIED which wounded four only 48h after establishing it. We established a second (structure was unsafe after the bomb) nearby and carried forward. Two months later sector was secure - zero attacks. So my initial reaction was the same as yours. I would normally agree but my studies have led me to conclude that these are very different contexts.

I've been reading about and talking to lots of guys stationed in this area - here's the difference:

1) Locals are Afghan equivilants of hillbillies who don't like *any* foreigners. These are not urbane, (comparitively) civilized Iraqis of Diyala.

2) We don't posess enough force to be credible. It would take many more troops to even begin to impose our will on the population. The police were obviously unable to stand up for themselves and more importantly we couldn't protect them. Even if we did have the force, right now the pressing need is to turn the tide in places like Khost, Gardez, Herat, and Kandahar, where the Taliban is threatening once completely safe areas.

3) The only way to operate here is by CH-47 resuppy at night - because of the threat. Wedidn't face a (significantly) vulnerable supply line in Iraq, where a well planned enemy attack could negate your ability to CASEVAC and resuppy.

4) Taliban has freedom of movement and family ties in the population. This is home turf. Unlike Iraq, the insurgents aren't unpopular or bringing a foreign ideology. In Iraq the majority of people wanted return to "normal" - meaning security. The Afghans in this area just want us the hell out and to be left alone. Big difference.

5) The amount of force required to "fight it out" there is an opportunity cost. Even if we apply extra support and succeed - the population there isn't decisive to the overall campaign in any way - it doesn't influence or move any other group. Security in Nuristan won't likely have spillover effects anywhere else because of physical and logistical isolation from the rest of the country. It would be similar to expecting the security/perception of NYC to be changed based on how well you did COIN in West Virginia. No linkages to the center of Afghanistan. If the goal is to keep AQIZ attritted, there are better ways to do that than operating out of fixed, vulnerable outposts.

Given that the major cities are under heavy threat, the resources (in my opinion) dedicated to maintaining these outposts would be better applied in more strategically vital area than endless battle in an area with very little (if any) prospects of success.

I think the location/culture/context of this particular place and area make it different, from my current understanding. As always, I stand ready to be challenged.
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Old 10-05-2009   #24
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Cavguy,
your assessment of the locals seems accurate to me and would be a good reason NOT to try Mike's response. But do you think some response is needed or would it be OK to just pull out and say good riddance to Nuristan? Would that have any impact further out in Afghanistan or is it such an isolated place that Hikmatyar could have himself crowned King Emperor and it would make no difference at all?
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Old 10-05-2009   #25
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MikeF,

My instinct says that you're absolutely right.

My rational side argues that not a little bit of that instinct is based on the emotional desire for payback. More importantly, since despite all the media attention we are still in an economy-of-force mission for Afghanistan, what areas will be shorted to pay for a brigade in Nuristan? Do we want to be that kind of reactive force, piling into whatever area where the enemy chooses to hurt us badly? Would it really be worth it to us that much to dominate Nuristan, vs. protecting Kabul or Badghis or Kunduz?
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Old 10-05-2009   #26
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Mike,

You and I had very similar experiences in Iraq. I had a patrol base in a very bad area attacked VBIED which wounded four only 48h after establishing it. We established a second (structure was unsat after the bomb) nearby and carried forward. Two months later sector was secure - zero attacks. So my initial reaction was the same as yours. I would normally agree but my studies have led me to conclude that these are very different contexts.

I've been reading about and talking to lots of guys stationed in this area - here's the difference:

1) Locals are Afghan equivilants of hillbillies who don't like *any* foreigners. These are not urbane, (comparitively) civilized Iraqis of Diyala.

2) We don't posess enough force to be credible. It would take many more troops to even begin to impose our will on the population. The police were obviously unable to stand up for themselves and more importantly we couldn't protect them. Even if we did have the force, right now the pressing need is to turn the tide in places like Khost, Gardez, Herat, and Kandahar, where the Taliban is threatening once completely safe areas.

3) The only way to operate here is by CH-47 resuppy at night - because of the threat. Wedidn't face a (significantly) vulnerable supply line in Iraq, where a well planned enemy attack could negate your ability to CASEVAC and resuppy.

4) Taliban has freedom of movement and family ties in the population. This is home turf. Unlike Iraq, the insurgents aren't unpopular or bringing a foreign ideology. In Iraq the majority of people wanted return to "normal" - meaning security. The Afghans in this area just want us the hell out and to be left alone. Big difference.

5) The amount of force required to "fight it out" there is an opportunity cost. Even if we apply extra support and succeed - the population there isn't decisive to the overall campaign in any way - it doesn't influence or move any other group. Security in Nuristan won't likely have spillover effects anywhere else because of physical and logistical isolation from the rest of the country. It would be similar to expecting the security/perception of NYC to be changed based on how well you did COIN in West Virginia. No linkages to the center of Afghanistan. If the goal is to keep AQIZ attritted, there are better ways to do that than operating out of fixed, vulnerable outposts.

Given that the major cities are under heavy threat, the resources (in my opinion) dedicated to maintaining these outposts would be better applied in more strategically vital area than endless battle in an area with very little (if any) prospects of success.

I think the location/culture/context of this particular place and area make it different, from my current understanding. As always, I stand ready to be challenged.
Niel,

You maybe right. I'm suggesting holding it through the winter. Here's my thoughts (double-tapping from the front page). As far as resourcing goes, I'm sure we could muster 500 soldiers from the Green Beans, internet cafes, and gyms of the Big FOBs.

During the Ardennes Offensive (Battle of the Bulge), then COL Bruce Clark arrived at St. Vith, a key junction for track and motorized units, to find an American Army confused, panicking, and some retreating. He took charge, assembling infantrymen, tankers, cooks, and mechanics, establishing a hasty defense, he held St. Vith for several days until Patton's 3rd Army showed up. His actions proved decisive in the overall battle.

I think his actions apply- here's why.

In one of the articles I read (Foust I think), shadow governments, training camps, and denied areas were suggested. Additionally, we know it's a gateway for fighters coming from Pakistan. (Nuristan could be more important than we think).

If we leave now, then we're likely to return to an area scorched by Taliban reprisals. In some areas, entire villages will be wiped out. The locals will never forgive us.

If we stay and reinforce for another two months, we achieve victory as we head into the winter months and large-scale offensives are minimized until spring. We can use that time to dismantle the local shadow gov't and training camps AND muster support from the locals.

Then, we can re-evaluate the situation and determine if the area requires more or less force. If we need to reposition, we can leave proclaiming the Taliban/AQ were too cowardly to fight.

v/r

Mike

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Old 10-05-2009   #27
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Default Sounds like to me that somebody needs to do

a map recon and then apply some basic METT-TC considerations.

The US, NATO, other Coalition Members and the Afghan government do not and will not have enough force to do the population centric COIN thing.

Moving Coalition Forces to the population centers will cede those Afghans, predominately Pushtuns who do NOT live in the centers and are the bulk of the population in the south where the problems are, to the opponent.

Platoon and Company sized outposts can always be overrun by the ability of the opponents to mass flexibly and covertly.

If you apply adequate force in Area A, the bad guys will simply go to Area B, knowing you do not have enough people to cover the region. Move to Area B and they'll go to C, cover all three and they go to City X -- they will always be more flexible than you and they will always have people who know the terrain intimately.

Thus, other than continued pointless frittering away of troops in overrun outposts there are two basic options. Fewer outposts with massive backup forces a short helicopter ride away (with all the military and political problems and shortfalls that entails) or careful selection of choke points to interdict the movement of the opponent -- we and they can only do so much with given terrain -- and a whole lot of foot and light vehicle mobile hunting teams on our part.

My perception is that the we will do neither. We do not have the force to do the first and the force we do have is inadequately trained to do the second.
Sixty years of over emphasis on Armor has had an adverse impact on us. We have forgotten how to fight on foot.

We've also forgotten, unbelievably, that installations and that's what we're building -- installations in a COIN fight, fer chissakes, -- are static and invite attack and that if they are located in a Valley, the bad guys will simply occupy the high ground and nail you while you cannot see them. We should've figured that out at Ticonderoga 232 years ago (among other places ...).

We are playing to the strengths of our opponents.
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Old 10-05-2009   #28
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We've also forgotten, unbelievably, that installations and that's what we're building -- installations in a COIN fight, fer chissakes, -- are static and invite attack and that if they are located in a Valley, the bad guys will simply occupy the high ground and nail you while you cannot see them. We should've figured that out at Ticonderoga 232 years ago (among other places ...).

We are playing to the strengths of our opponents.
To quote Robert DeNiro in the movie Heat:

A guy told me one time, "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner." Now, if you're on me and you gotta move when I move, how do you expect to keep a... a marriage?

Just change marriage to installation....
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Old 10-05-2009   #29
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If we leave now, then we're likely to return to an area scorched by Taliban reprisals. In some areas, entire villages will be wiped out. The locals will never forgive us.
I'm not sure about this. If there are genuinely friendly villages, we can probably reinforce areas where CF can cover them, but in eastern Nuristan I'm under the impression that those are few and far between.

After seeing the recent Frontline episode on Helmand (see Abu Muqawama's blog) I'm not sure that plunking down bases in the middle of villages/populated areas is such a good idea any more. The locals know that those places are mortar and RPG magnets, and move away from them. After all, would you want to raise your kids in a place where slightly off-course rockets could kill them in the middle of the night?

Also, as to Ken's comment, totally agree. If we're already resupplying via rotary wing, why not put the base in a tactically sound position?
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Old 10-05-2009   #30
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An old article that describes Camp Keating in Nurestan:
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/20...tan/index.html

From the article:
Quote:
From the pine- and cedar-lined mountain slope that loomed over the base, several insurgents were firing down on us
I believe this is the same outpost that was attacked on Saturday - just manned by a different unit two years later.

Ken, you said:
Quote:
the bad guys will simply occupy the high ground and nail you while you cannot see them. We should've figured that out at Ticonderoga 232 years ago (among other places ...).
I had just finished skimming that salon article when I read your comment. I had been thinking something very similar.

Thanks for the discussion.

My heart, too, goes out to the family and friends of the fallen.
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Old 10-05-2009   #31
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I'm not sure about this. If there are genuinely friendly villages, we can probably reinforce areas where CF can cover them, but in eastern Nuristan I'm under the impression that those are few and far between.

After seeing the recent Frontline episode on Helmand (see Abu Muqawama's blog) I'm not sure that plunking down bases in the middle of villages/populated areas is such a good idea any more. The locals know that those places are mortar and RPG magnets, and move away from them. After all, would you want to raise your kids in a place where slightly off-course rockets could kill them in the middle of the night?

Also, as to Ken's comment, totally agree. If we're already resupplying via rotary wing, why not put the base in a tactically sound position?
Good points IntelTrooper. Along with everyone else's. I don't know the situation in Nuristan, but I know my own experiences. What we did worked in Diyala. I made an ASSUMPTION that the same recourse could happen in Nuristan. I could definitely be wrong. That's why I appreciate the conversation here

On a side note, I'd be willing to get on a plane tonight and head out to hold Nuristan.

v/r

Mike
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Old 10-05-2009   #32
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Niel,
If we leave now, then we're likely to return to an area scorched by Taliban reprisals. In some areas, entire villages will be wiped out. The locals will never forgive us.

If we stay and reinforce for another two months, we achieve victory as we head into the winter months and large-scale offensives are minimized until spring. We can use that time to dismantle the local shadow gov't and training camps AND muster support from the locals.
First, here's some good background on Nuristan.

Mike, the locals have always been hostile to our presence and they are not worried about the local "Taliban" coming in and burning them out. We are not protecting the population from the Taliban since the population pretty much support most of the insurgent forces.

Secondly, there isn't much of a shadow government to dismantle. This area is controlled by local tribes and powerbrokers, not a Pashtun shadow-government.

Third is the terrain. As Neil indicated there isn't any infrastructure and the population is highly diffused. There are 24 major villages in Kamdesh district with a total population of only around 20k people (The entire province only has an estimated 100k population). Getting from one village to another requires walking (or helos) and can take all day and our forces are almost always ambushed when they leave the wire. We simply don't have the resources to keep an adequate force there and what we have there now is not remotely adequate for interdicting infiltration routes.

IMO, our presence there is counter-productive. Better to pull-out and attempt to rent some local powerbrokers to combat the infiltration, though that probably won't have a huge effect.
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Old 10-05-2009   #33
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Good points IntelTrooper. Along with everyone else's. I don't know the situation in Nuristan, but I know my own experiences. What we did worked in Diyala. I made an ASSUMPTION that the same recourse could happen in Nuristan. I could definitely be wrong. That's why I appreciate the conversation here

On a side note, I'd be willing to get on a plane tonight and head out to hold Nuristan.

v/r

Mike
I've been meaning to write a post about it, but one of the major differences between Iraq and Afghanistan is population diffusion. In general, the number of counterinsurgents needed increases the more diffuse a population is.
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Old 10-05-2009   #34
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Good points IntelTrooper. Along with everyone else's. I don't know the situation in Nuristan, but I know my own experiences. What we did worked in Diyala. I made an ASSUMPTION that the same recourse could happen in Nuristan. I could definitely be wrong. That's why I appreciate the conversation here

On a side note, I'd be willing to get on a plane tonight and head out to hold Nuristan.

v/r

Mike
Thats exactly the thinking anyone would value in a cavalry officer, but taking a step back: are there alternatives in between pulling out and going all in? I ask because I get the impression that the place cannot be held easily and is not worth the intense effort it would take to hold it (even if the resources were available). But just pulling out may hand Gulbuddin too much of a victory. What (if anything) could be done while pulling out? Not necessarily in Nuristan, but even beyond (I am assuming Gulbuddin acid-thrower is not personally holed up in some village in Nuristan??)..
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Old 10-05-2009   #35
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1) Locals are Afghan equivilants of hillbillies who don't like *any* foreigners. These are not urbane, (comparitively) civilized Iraqis of Diyala.
that is a far more accurate and significant comment than many will believe...
Quote:
2) We don't posess enough force to be credible.
Or the force we do have isn't as credible as we'd like to think it is...
Quote:
4) Taliban has freedom of movement and family ties in the population. This is home turf. The Afghans in this area just want us the hell out and to be left alone. Big difference.
Yes!
Quote:
5)...If the goal is to keep AQIZ attritted, there are better ways to do that than operating out of fixed, vulnerable outposts.
.................Money quote!.............

As you know, I'm not in whole hearted agreement on the cities due to the 1st, 2d and 4th items you cited but your post is excellent. My disagreement is immaterial, McChrystal apparently agree with you to an extent so that may be what occurs. I just hope he is not transferring too much of Iraq to a very different rural / urban milieu.

Mike's idea will work, so will yours. The most important thing is to realize that due to your item 2 (and my follow on comment to it) we are not going to turn this thing into achievement of the stated -- not necessarily the actual -- goals in Afghanistan. Thus, in the interim, we simply need to do what we are doing but get better at the Tactical side of things.

My impression, second hand that it is, is that we are getting less good instead of better on that count. That can be attributed, IMO, to lack of strategic AND operational clarity and to over emphasis on force protection ILO tactical agility (that does not bode well for any future...). The operational clarity may get fixed, the strategic element is unlikely to and the Tactical side seems as though it's teaching some really bad habits. Hesco Barriers are neat and a good military engineering innovation. MRAPS are not neat and are not good military innovations. Both are very dangerous to their users...
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Old 10-05-2009   #36
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Good points IntelTrooper. Along with everyone else's. I don't know the situation in Nuristan, but I know my own experiences. What we did worked in Diyala. I made an ASSUMPTION that the same recourse could happen in Nuristan. I could definitely be wrong. That's why I appreciate the conversation here
You're a good man, sir.
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Old 10-05-2009   #37
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Entropy- thanks for the links and background.

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You're a good man, sir.
IntelTrooper- no man is an island particularly in a small war. Any commander that does not recognize that is either stupid or caught up in his own ego. This thread reminds me of the "huddles" I had with my PLs, PSGs, and SLs a long time ago. Heated debates to find truth.

Ken said to Niel:

Quote:
Mike's idea will work, so will yours. The most important thing is to realize that due to your item 2 (and my follow on comment to it) we are not going to turn this thing into achievement of the stated -- not necessarily the actual -- goals in Afghanistan. Thus, in the interim, we simply need to do what we are doing but get better at the Tactical side of things.
I think we just developed the best COA for our reaction to Nuristan. In the short term, reinforce as I suggested to prove a point and hold through the winter. Second, do a map recon and analysis as Ken suggested. Use METT-TC. Third, consider Niel's points- "Is this worth it?"

Niel's points should drive the operational actions and subsequent strategy in the spring.

On the backside of any US led COIN operation, we must consider the fall-out. This article had me thinking all weekend. Niel, your AO, so I'd appreciate your thoughts and feeback on the accuracy.

In Anbar, U.S.-Allied Tribal Chiefs Feel Deep Sense of Abandonment
Anthony Shadid
Washington Post


Quote:
RAMADI, Iraq -- There was once a swagger to the scotch-swilling, insurgent-fighting Raed Sabah. He was known as Sheik Raed to his sycophants. Tribesmen who relied on his largess called him the same. So did his fighters, who joined the Americans and helped crush the insurgency in Anbar province.

Sabah still likes his scotch -- Johnnie Walker Black, with Red Bull on the rocks -- but these days, as the Americans withdraw from western Iraq, he has lost his swagger. His neighbors now deride him as an American stooge; they have nicknamed his alley "The Street of the Lackeys."

"The Americans left without even saying goodbye. Not one of them," Sabah said in his villa in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, once the cradle of Iraq's insurgency. "Even when we called them, we got a message that the line had been disconnected."

Nowhere is the U.S. departure from Iraq more visible than in Anbar, where the 27 bases and outposts less than a year ago have dwindled to three today. Far less money is being spent. Since November, more than two-thirds of combat troops have departed. In their wake is a blend of cynicism and bitterness, frustration and fear among many of the tribal leaders who fought with the troops against the insurgents, a tableau of emotion that may color the American legacy in a region that has stood as the U.S. military's single greatest success in the war. Pragmatism, the Americans call their departure. Desertion, their erstwhile allies answer.

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Old 10-05-2009   #38
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Since Slap hasn't applied the appropriate music

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v/r

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Old 10-05-2009   #39
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Thus, other than continued pointless frittering away of troops in overrun outposts there are two basic options. Fewer outposts with massive backup forces a short helicopter ride away (with all the military and political problems and shortfalls that entails) or careful selection of choke points to interdict the movement of the opponent -- we and they can only do so much with given terrain -- and a whole lot of foot and light vehicle mobile hunting teams on our part.
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Originally Posted by IntelTrooper View Post
After seeing the recent Frontline episode on Helmand (see Abu Muqawama's blog) I'm not sure that plunking down bases in the middle of villages/populated areas is such a good idea any more. The locals know that those places are mortar and RPG magnets, and move away from them. After all, would you want to raise your kids in a place where slightly off-course rockets could kill them in the middle of the night?
On the topic of FOBs/COPs/Platoon Houses, why does "troops with the locals" necessarily have to have some sort of tactical infrastructure. How about a good old laager? A fellow Platoon Commander said that an established Patrol Base would last about 72 hours before the local insurgents started to figure out what was up.

It seems plausible that moving around in a village area every 24-72 hours would offer a reasonable alternative to a COP while still maintaining a footprint in a geographic area.
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Old 10-05-2009   #40
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Infanteer View Post
It seems plausible that moving around in a village area every 24-72 hours would offer a reasonable alternative to a COP while still maintaining a footprint in a geographic area.
Less than 24 will leave them unable to do a decent recon and it will also not allow your troops to get into a routine. Keeps the opponent off balance which is where we should always try to place him.

Battalion I was in during the fun and frolic in Viet Nam had several firm rules -- one was no more than 24 hours for anyone, anywhere. We never got attacked in a static position. Most of us routinely moved after 12 hours or so. Another was a quarter of strength on patrols during the day and on ambushes at night -- we never got surprised. Other than two meeting engagements and one major operation where we were supposed to be holding force at the open end of a Valley and were awaited and pounced upon by the entire 18B NVA Regiment who had pulled a neat head fake on the Intel folks, we initiated every contact while I was there -- including the one where Kelly's Platoon chased a Troop of Black Gibbons for about five kilometers before the Gibbons decided they were tired of playing and took to the trees...

It just is not that hard to do it right. It really isn't. This stuff is easy, hard physically to do it right but the brain side is easy...
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