Permissible Arms

A Tin-Plated Anniversary

Posted in afghanistan, isaf, united states by Karaka on 21 October 2010

Another unpleasant, unplanned absence. Sigh. To everyone that I owe email: apologies for being out of contact. I’m trying to wade through everything now. Shoot me another one if you don’t hear from me by this weekend. Mea maxima culpa.

Say what you will about the ANA–and there’s a lot to be said–but there’s something compelling about this collection of photos of an ANA graduation. (From thruafghaneyes.)

Newly trained female officers of the Afghan National Army (ANA) attended their graduation ceremony at the National Army training center in Kabul on Thursday, 23 September 2010.

There are real problems with a transition from ISAF to ANSF in 2011. In the US, the President has a real political problem if he doesn’t stay the course of at least semi-withdrawal by that date. In Afghanistan, there are competency issues, numbers issues, readiness issues, and that whole pesky desertion/retention problem. Not that this is news to anyone who’s been paying attention for the last (gulp) ten years.

Petraeus, speaking from London, is trying his best to make hay from hash by citing progress in literacy and health programs. But who really thinks the ANSF will grow big enough in such little time–at the very least, not without cutting some corners in training, recruiting, and over all quality.

We’re coming close to the exact two choices that have been present since this plan for Afghanistan came out last year: either find a way to keep this 2011 deadline soft enough that ISAF can keep trying to make the ANSF work; or accept that after ten years ISAF only started the real work a year and a half ago, and the political time on this war has run out. Sucks to be in the Afghan Army or Police Force, here’s the keys to the car, try not to wreck it too badly.

Not to be too pessimistic or anything. I think I’m just going to go look at those pictures some more and think about the counter-factual world that might have been if real ANSF training had started in 2003.

Friday Miscellany (Think long, think hard.)

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 27 August 2010

My Afghanistan in 2050 post has been cross-posted to Feminist Philosophers, which pleases me to no end. There’s been some interesting discussion in the comments of the Chicago Boyz post as well that I’m working on parsing.

Also from that discussion, see Afghanistan 2050: A Chronic Low-Grade Sameness. Or, Each Life, A Story. by Madhu.

Ours was not a typical refugee or disaster victim virtopsy. Those we had done in Africa, in Asia, in Europe, on international hospital ships in rough and calm seas both. We only needed the scans to do those. The bodies were not ours and were disposed of as the locals or families saw fit. (Presuming the families would let us scan them. This was sometimes difficult to arrange.) From the scanned images, however, we could compile data and enter it into the open database that our physician-NGO group provided to the public. We shared our conclusions with a world-wide audience of academics, the curious, the bored, the skeptics, war proponents, human rights activists, nationalists, speculators, terrorists, cranks, freaks, perverts, politicians – whoever felt like “tuning in.”

In the “things I never expected” file, Murfreesboro, TN on The Daily Show this week. I would embed, but WordPress apparently hates anything but Youtube. Murfreesboro–where we used to shop for back-to-school clothes, and maybe hit the Red Lobster. Weird.

Andrew Bacevich’s personal missive in Salon this week about the “unmaking of a company man” seems to shed some light on his point of view, light that helps to understand something of his recent pieces, I think.

These visits to Jena and Berlin offered glimpses of a reality radically at odds with my most fundamental assumptions. Uninvited and unexpected, subversive forces had begun to infiltrate my consciousness. Bit by bit, my worldview started to crumble.

That worldview had derived from this conviction: that American power manifested a commitment to global leadership, and that both together expressed and affirmed the nation’s enduring devotion to its founding ideals. That American power, policies, and purpose were bound together in a neat, internally consistent package, each element drawing strength from and reinforcing the others, was something I took as a given. That, during my adult life, a penchant for interventionism had become a signature of U.S. policy did not — to me, at least — in any way contradict America’s aspirations for peace. Instead, a willingness to expend lives and treasure in distant places testified to the seriousness of those aspirations.

Interesting. I missed an opportunity to see Bacevich speak earlier this month, which I regret.

David Wood sort of cheerleads General Conway, or at least doesn’t criticize:

But it took the Marine Corps’ blunt-spoken commandant, Gen. James Conway, who retires this fall, to name the rhetorical fig leaf that emerges from all the comments officials have made about July 2011: the White House could order an inconsequentially small withdrawal of, say, three dozen troops — and claim it had fulfilled Obama’s promise.

“I certainly believe some American unit, somewhere in Afghanistan, will turn over responsibilities to Afghan security forces in 2011,” he told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday. But not Marines in southern Afghanistan, he said, where “it will be a few years” before any withdrawals are possible.

Seeming to call for some forthright talk from the Oval Office, the outgoing commandant added: “I sense our country is increasingly growing tired of the war, but I would remind [them] that the last of the 30,000 troops only arrived this month. I would also quote the analysis of one of my regimental commanders when asked about the pace of the war. He said, ‘We can either lose fast or win slow.’ ” The upshot of all this hedging and backtracking, together with the steady drumbeat of sobering news from Afghanistan, is that a general understanding is emerging in Washington that July 2011 may come and go without any significant troop reductions, and perhaps without any troop reductions at all.

Conway spent the last week and a half going off without a filter, for which one might rightly be wary of engaging in his claims, but I do think there’s a fair assessment here of where ISAF will actually be in July 2011. In addition, Karzai has stated that the withdrawal deadline has boosted Taliban morale, for whatever that is worth.

In the amusing-and-truthful file, this post by @laurenist on celebrity aid appeals has both edgy humor and pointed assessment. Good for a Friday afternoon read.

At least when it was Sean Penn, I didn’t care. But with Misha, I care. Misha, I want you to succeed! You seem like a smart guy, I figure maybe there’s hope.

Let’s start with the orphanages. They tug at heartstrings, the stories about Haitian orphans were all over the news cycle, I get why there is a natural desire to support and fund orphanages. One of the things Misha says in the Random Acts’ introductory video is he wants to “cut out the middleman” in aid delivery. (That was the sound of a thousand heads hitting their desks in aid agencies across the land.) That means sending funds not to an Oxfam America, Mercy Corps, or even Save the Children, but instead sending funds directly to three orphanages in Haiti.

Long story short: bad idea. Disaster relief, especially after an earthquake like the one that hit Haiti, takes years, not just months. Long-term development projects for rebuilding livelihoods, schools, and public services are essential.

Here’s the gentleman in question, give you his best brooding, smoldering stare:

People, you do not understand how much effort it takes to resist photoshopping Starbuck’s head onto this image. (It would make such a good profile picture, man!)

Back to Reality

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 9 August 2010

Adam Weinsten has some good thought on Brad Manning over at Attackerman today. Also at ZIA, some of the data culled from the leak is graphically represented. I still think it’s a grey area, whether to utilize the information or not, but still interesting to see.

As I blogged at Attackerman this morning, Secretary Gates announced today some big cutbacks in the defense department budget–including the closing of JFCOM, which General Odierno was recently nominated to head. According to the Secdef, Odierno knew and was supportive of the decision (of course, he would have to be so publicly) but I wonder where he–and the many defense contractors who will be made redundant very soon–will eventually go.

Matt Gallagher at Kerplunk opined as to why the US needs to return to the draft.

Which brings me back to the Draft. I’ve become more and more convinced that a healthy republic needs conscription to keep it healthy and honest. The gulf discussed isn’t anyone’s fault, an unforeseen byproduct of the all-volunteer force – but this gulf must be filled, unless we’re intent on recreating Legions loyal to their commanders over country. (An extreme example. We’re nowhere near there. Yet.) The Draft would be controversial, debated, and very likely protested. All good things in a properly functioning people’s government. Meanwhile, the benefits of such would be twofold:

1) The citizenry would actually hold their political leaders accountable, as they’re supposed to. Apathy being a republic/democracy’s worst enemy is not a new understanding, but it remains a poignant one…

2) Wars would become a collective undertaking by the nation as a whole, rather than an isolated segment of the population. This would prove beneficial to both society and to the military. The number of sons and daughters involved would greatly increase, thus increasing personal connections and a sense of engagement, thus increasing product output.

I shrunk this down a little, to avoid reproducing his post, but I will note that I’ve had a discussion about a draft with a friend of mine several times, and we were both a little surprised to discover that the both of us–liberal Portlanders that we are–support the draft. And not solely a military draft, but a civilian draft as well. The idea being that you gave a year, two years, in service to your country either in defense or administration. We never fully worked out the weedy parts of it, but I still find it an interesting idea, analogous to Americorps or the Peace Corps or Teach for America. Worth reading, even if (especially if) you disagree. You can also catch Matt on CSPAN Books here.

I wish I’d caught this live, but the New America Foundation hosted a roundtable on civilian casualties in Afghanistan last week.

Using recently declassified data from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Jacob Shapiro and a team of academic researchers have produced the first detailed analysis of the link between civilian casualties and violence directed against ISAF troops.

I’m about halfway through, and hopefully I’ll be able to watch the rest this week if work is even slightly more placid than it has been.

MoI’s post on organized crime in Iraq struck some real chords. The U.S. invasion in 2003 removed all restrictions upon Iraq’s gangs. First, before the U.S. attack Saddam released 30,000-100,000 criminals in October 2002. Second, the Americans invaded without enough troops to secure the country. Then the government collapsed, followed by the economy falling apart. Finally the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi military. All of those factors together emboldened gangs, and the anarchic situation that Iraq found itself in created powerful incentives towards lawlessness to make a living.

Josh Keating and Mike Few ask What’s the Difference Between Combat and Noncombat Troops? in the FP Explainer; see Mike’s extended thoughts at SW Council. (That totally looks like Star Wars Council, doesn’t it?) I’m working on a brain dump, but life as I know is has still not fully returned to peaceable normal. But I have high hopes for tomorrow.

Document Dumping

Posted in afghanistan, intelligence, united states, us military by Karaka on 26 July 2010

Brian Platt at Canada-Afghanistan Blog has it by the nose:

A targeted leak, meant to disseminate information that needs to be brought to public attention, is one thing. Militaries all over the world have a sordid history of covering up scandals. There is certainly a time and a place for whistle-blowing.

But this was a senseless leak, an act of pure treason. A democratic country with an all-volunteer military operating in the field has a legitimate reason to keep action reports classified. To dump almost 100,000 reports into the public detailing what your fellow soldiers are doing is not principled, it’s dangerous and foolhardy, and I hope that everyone responsible for sending these reports to Wikileaks gets locked up for a long, long time.

The Taliban can now go online and read the secret files of the NATO soldiers allied against them. If you want a scandal, there it is.

And as Josh Foust put it at CJR:

You don’t need access to specialized knowledge of the war, or the histories of either country, or insight into the inner workings of the intelligence community to understand these things—you can learn it watching CNN.

Which brings us back to Assange, who seems to lack any sort of insight into the war or where it’s being fought; he just has his own ideology, which involves exposing secrets he thinks are immoral to keep. (There are secrets Assange will not leak onto the Internet—the identities of his sources, for example.) Just clicking at random in the Wikileaks War Diary reveals the names of Afghan sources you hope will not be targeted as a result of this leak: Simon Hermes, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; Mohammed Moubin, who met with the Paktika Provincial Reconstruction team in 2006; Gul Said, who was assisting the PRT near the American Base at Bagram. On and on it goes, name after name of “collaborators” with the U.S. military, name after name of people whose lives are now in direct danger.

The New Yorker had an in-depth profile of Julian Assange last month that provided insight into WL, its founder, and the agenda behind it all. On reading it, I understood more of what drives WL and Assange to release the information turned over to him–not that it makes me agree with that decision at all–but after yesterday’s document release, I’m more inclined to charge Assange with an egoistic drive for publishing these files more than any adherence to a vision or a belief system about making information public in order to drive a resulting agenda.

WL didn’t get the reaction it/he wanted from the publication of the ’07 civilian casualty video. So it upped the ante with these documents to press for action, or at least response, to the Afghan war in the manner Assange and his community view it. I don’t think they’ve ever thought of themselves as something other than an agenda-driven organization, and that agenda includes making public classified information and documents as well as presenting those documents with some editorialization to make them as damning as possible.

Paul McCleary correctly stated that “What the #wikileaks docs describe is war. People are only shocked because they hadn’t paid attention before — but this is how war looks.” That’s the traction that will come out of this. Shock, for the first half of this week’s newscycle, and then retreat from daily thought. Because the important things, about the ISI, about heat-seeking missiles, about civilian casualties, were largely either already known or inferred. And the only real thrust WL has is the scandal of the leak itself–but scandals have expiry dates. This won’t change policy, it won’t force ISAF’s hand, it won’t do anything in the long run but get WL name and Julian Assange’s picture in the papers for a brief moment in time.

The vision fails.

Wikileaks, Making Headlines Again

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 26 July 2010

In what will be news to no one who reads this blog, Wikileaks dumped 92k documents on the world at large related to the war in Afghanistan. Most of the initial commentary I’ve seen has less to do with the content of the documents–which isn’t really shocking or surprising to anyone who even lightly follows the war–and more to do with the ethical/practical results of a watershed leak. Is this, more than the previous Wikileaks story, a germinal moment in the development of new media? Or is it merely opportunism?

The best analysis I’ve read thus far (given that this just happened yesterday) comes from John McCreary’s Nightwatch, which I encourage you to read in its entirety as it’s a veteran intelligence analyst’s take on the information leaked, the interpretation of the documents from other sources, and an intelligence angle on the manner in which the information should be interpreted.

In today’s reports the new outlets did not reach the obvious conclusion that the increased use of manpads against US helicopters might have contributed to McChrystal’s decision to limit tactical air support because aircraft losses were mounting, mimicking the Soviet experience. In other words, the deaths of innocent Afghan civilians might have been less significant than the rising losses of US airframes. That possibility needs follow-up research.

92,201 reports are not the same as 92,201 facts. In the NightWatch/KGS materials on Intelligence as Evidence the central theme is that every field report must be subjected to six foundation tests and two argument tests, after a filtering process that identifies it as having potential value. None of the news outlets did any of that difficult, tedious work.

Thus, it is only partially accurate to assert the reports provide new insights into how “grim” the war is. Some provide local insights that need to be matched to other reports. Some are fabrications. Many are time sensitive, with no enduring value except as time capsules.

Much more at Nightwatch.

Best Kept Contained

Posted in afghanistan, american media, counterinsurgency, united states, us military by Karaka on 9 May 2010

There’s something of a culture of Brooks-bashing, I’ve noticed. Many folks respond to whatever he’s published at the NYTimes with skepticism, if not outright derision. Perhaps its because of his tendency to make sweeping claims in his opinion column without ever really backing them up, as if his audience is either expected to know the sourcing he is doing already or to take his word at face value. Those that I read, however, are less than inclined to accept what he says without first questioning, which is for the best, really.

Brooks’ current op-ed is Leading With Two Minds, an eight hundred word romp through the contemporary history of counterinsurgency. Ricks called it, effectively, an account of the dominant narrative, which I suppose is accurate enough, but wow are those some broad strokes Brooks is painting with.

The first women to be trained to serve on submarines in the USN have been selected and are preparing to train this summer.

From Kabul, Shootings of Afghans on Rise at Checkpoints:

Civilian deaths from aerial bombings have declined, General Rodriguez said. But in convoys and at checkpoints, “you’re faced with a different challenge of snap decisions” by troops “much closer to not only the people but the enemy.”

At least 28 Afghans have been killed and 43 wounded in convoy and checkpoint shootings this year — 42 percent of total civilian deaths and injuries and the largest overall source of casualties at the hands of American and NATO troops, according to statistics kept by the military.

In the same period last year, 8 Afghans were killed and 29 wounded in similar episodes. For all of 2009, 36 Afghan civilians were killed in the so-called escalation of force incidents by Western and Afghan troops, according to the United Nations. Over all, the Taliban and other militants account for a much larger number of civilian casualties than Western forces do, the United Nations found.

Since last summer, none of the Afghans killed or wounded in convoy and checkpoint shootings had weapons that would have posed a danger for troops who killed them, commanders said.

The new military guidelines instruct troops to “tailor” procedures to the local environment by consulting local Afghan leaders, and whenever possible, to remain at the scene of convoy shootings and take responsibility for their actions.

Can anyone point me to discussions on this, if there are any?

Finally, part of the 170th BCT are all shined up for their march on Victory Day. (H/t Danger Room.)

And how long the list

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 28 April 2010

I was disheartened to read this morning that Abdul Rahman was killed. Well, assassinated. “Murder of a public figure by surprise attack,” yep, assassinated.

Mr Rahman was shot dead in his home district of Zharai, not far from Kandahar city. He was among elders who took President Karzai to task at an angry meeting of 1,500 tribesmen in the city at the start of April.

On a rare visit to the area, the birthplace of the Taliban, the president was sharply criticised on issues of security, corruption, bribery and nepotism. He was also told few dared join the army for fear of being killed by the militants. Mr Rahman was one of a number of elders who said they feared being killed by the Taliban if they spoke out against them.

I doubt anyone is surprised to find his worries were well founded. Democracy Arsenal had a scathing criticism of Ahmed Wali Karzai this morning, which is germane to the topic by way of AWK’s control of the region and general dismissal of such targeted attacks and killings as business as usual for Kandahar City and surrounding districts. If the fellow in charge of the place won’t even take seriously his own elder citizens’ concerns about imminent death for opening their mouths, how likely is it that ISAF could effectively work with the guy to any desired end?

DA pulled a quote from that Steve Coll’s report from Kandahar I linked to last week. Worth re-reading again, and again and again as ISAF moves into the summer offensive.

Numbers, numbers, numbers.

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 25 January 2010

As I’m wading backwards through the last several weeks of posts, articles, papers, and other items, I’ll be revisiting things that have probably been put to bed already. Apologies if the ongoing conversation has moved elsewhere, but I find virtue in dealing with the things I read as I read them.

From Nightwatch circa 2010-01-20:

The Afghan government announced its goals for expanding its security forces in the next three to five years. The plan calls for security force levels to reach 400,000, including 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 national police, the Associated Press reported today.

At present Afghanistan claims to have 94,000 police officers and 97,000 soldiers. A British Colonel who is a member of the planning team for the security forces said that the team would be asked to approve a goal of 134,000 soldiers and 109,000 police by the end of this year. That would increase to 172,000 soldiers and 134,000 police by the end of next year.

The numbers are mainly on paper. The purpose of this entry is to update readers about the official numbers.

The literacy rate and level of familiarity with technology are so low that the goal of adding 40,000 soldiers this year is not credible and can only be a paper drill. In the past 8 years, the annual average increase has been just over 11,700 soldiers and more than half desert. What would make anyone think an increase of 40,000 soldiers, regardless of their lack of capability, was achievable this year? Moreover, while Afghanistan needs more police, it urgently needs paramilitary police.

“Not credible” is the polite way of saying “this is bullshit.” I’ve always been wary of giving credence to the development targets for a professional Afghan security force, and this does nothing to assuage that wariness. It seems that it must constantly be reiterated that Afghanistan is not Iraq; hell, you can’t do justice by comparing it to Pakistan either, which has had enough stability to maintain the ISI and other security operations for far longer than Afghanistan has had the Taliban pried from its capitol. At a basic level, to manage as large numbers of professional (somewhat Westernized) security forces as is targeted in Afghanistan, there has to be enough literacy amongst a managerial corps to handle those forces. And it simply doesn’t exist.

Not to be facile, but it takes time to build basic education into an illiterate society, and it won’t be accomplished by any exit deadline set by the West. This is a ridiculous inflation of the capability of Afghan infrastructure and Western efficacy in this field.

The exponential increase the “British colonel” is describing just makes me heave a sigh. I bet Rory Stewart is doing the same thing.

In time, a city of wonders

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, isaf, kuwait, nato, pakistan by Karaka on 8 November 2009

I really can’t deal with the incredible swathes of bigotry currently dominating blogs I normally enjoy reading, so instead I’m going to talk about a couple less immediately inflammatory yet still important items I’ve read lately.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Wazhma Frogh’s editorial in the Washington Post. Quick refresher:

Handing over Afghanistan to those who intend to keep the country centuries behind most of the world — to men who do not view women as human beings — would not only call into doubt the global commitment to human rights, it would also raise questions about the commitment of Western democracies to such rights and to democratic values. Bearing in mind how fragile the Afghan government is at this moment, it will not take long for the country’s women to come under attack again. The consequences will be even more bitter this time because no matter how limited our success, we have at least managed to act in the forefront of public life in Afghanistan. We have had a taste of what it’s like to have rights.

Late last month, Michelle Goldberg at the American Prospect filed an article titled, rather leadingly, A Feminist Case for War? In it, she reported on an NGO called Women for Afghan Women, and a suspended representative of Afghanistan’s parliament, Malalai Joya. The two, in the article, represent opposite sides of opinion on the NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

In fact WAW, which has over 100 staffers in Afghanistan and four in New York, is, with some reluctance, calling for a troop increase. “Women for Afghan Women deeply regrets having a position in favor of maintaining, even increasing troops,” it said in a recent statement. “We are not advocates for war, and conditions did not have to reach this dire point, but we believe that withdrawing troops means abandoning 15 million women and children to madmen who will sacrifice them to their lust for power.”

And from the opposite side:

Joya insists that contrary to mainstream American opinion, the war in Afghanistan has done little to liberate women. “As I write these words, the situation in Afghanistan is getting progressively worse,” she says. “And not just for women, but for all Afghans. We are caught between two enemies — the Taliban on one side and the U.S./NATO forces and their warlord friends on the other. And the dark-minded forces in our country are gaining power with every allied airstrike that kills civilians, with every corrupt government official who grows fat on bribes and thievery, and with every criminal who escapes justice.”

Rock, meet hard place. There are no easy answers, and while I sympathize with Joya’s argument I am inclined to agree with WAW. However, I think Golberg’s intimation, that remaining in Afghanistan as protection for women and children is justified by a feminist argument, is flawed. It would be better to make the argument from humanism, because in truth striving for the basic rights of Afghans–in the context of this article–is not necessarily gender-specific. It is a strong and accurate claim that giving women the right to vote, the right to live free of sharia, the right to enjoy their own person without fear of harm, resulted in part from the toppling of the Taliban in that country and the installation of a Western-friendly leader. But Afghan women were not the only Afghans whose personal power shifted when the Taliban were driven out–the ethnic minorities of Afghanistan, as an example, found their power shifted as well.

This isn’t to handwave away the very real problems of the NATO occupation of Afghanistan, or the corruption that appears to be inherent in the Afghan government, or the role that NATO/ISAF played in destabilizing the lives of Afghans when a war was begun there in 2001. But as important as I view championing the voices and rights of women, theirs was not the only power that was shifted in that year, from none to some, and to view any argument solely from that perspective is to be somewhat myopic.

I do, however, wish that more journos would talk to Afghan women. It’s a perspective not heard often enough.

***

To round out this late weekend post, some recent news articles of relevance:

  • Pakistan models defy Taliban with 1st fashion week: Many of the models, designers and well-heeled fashionistas packing out each night said the gathering was a symbolic blow to the Taliban and their vision of society, where women are largely confined to the house and must wear a sack-like covering known as a burqa.
  • In Kuwait, Headscarf not a must for female lawmakers: Kuwait’s highest court ruled Wednesday that women lawmakers are not obliged by law to wear the headscarf, a blow to Muslim fundamentalists who want to fully impose Islamic Sharia law in this small oil-rich state.
  • Iraqi Women Receive Business Admin Training: Representatives from eight Iraqi women’s associations meet to discuss possible business training with members of the Ninawa Provincial Reconstruction Team in the town of Qare Qosh in Ninawa province, Oct 27.
  • 200 girls complete training courses in Kandahar: As many as 200 girls completed training courses in different skills and were awarded course completion certificates during a ceremony in this southern city on Tuesday. The training programme, organised by the Afghan-Canadian Social Centre in collaboration with Canada’s leading polytechnic institute, SAIT, included online courses in management sciences, business, English language, and Information & Communication Technology (ICT).

More to come.

Boom Goes the Dynamite

Posted in afghanistan, us defense, us military by Karaka on 6 November 2009

I meant to do this on Thursday, but Thursday was a sucking void of meetings followed by the whiskey applied to ameliorate said meetings, so instead it’s getting done today. Let’s talk about bombs, and the things that stop them.

MRAPS, courtesy "Afghanistan My Last Tour"

Rex/Afghanistan My Last Tour

In the latter part of last month, MRAPs–mine resistant ambush-protected all terrain vehicles–were shipped out to Afghanistan as part of Secdef Gates’ push to overhaul the design to be more appropriate to Afghanistan compared with this version’s predecessor in Iraq. The AFG version is leaner, a bit thinner, designed to traverse the more narrow roads that cross the AFG terrain. At half a million dollars each, these high-tech armoured vehicles were important and expensive:

With an independent suspension system designed for off-road mobility, the M-ATV is built specifically to navigate Afghanistan’s rugged landscape.

“The M-ATV really answers some of the challenges of the terrain, high altitudes and the real unevenness of a lot of the terrain out there,” Haggerty said. The M-ATV seats four passengers and one gunner, and features an armor system with a “V” shaped hull engineered to protect occupants from enemy attack.

“It looks like a modified, huge, heavy-duty Jeep,” said Anthony Deluca, the Kandahar site lead for the mine-resistant, ambush-protected, or MRAP, program. “It’s got very good suspension systems, and everyone raves about how well it functions in the field.”

While some original MRAP vehicles may weigh nearly 60,000 pounds, the M-ATV weighs about 25,000 pounds, including standard equipment and fuel.

But the real test of these modified MRAPs is just beginning. As Danger Room reports, less sophisticated IEDs can do as much or more damage as their more advanced cousins in Iraq:

Afghanistan’s low-tech, relatively primitive bombs might be even harder to stop than Iraq’s comparatively sophisticated improvised explosives. The Pentagon is sinking almost a billion dollars into new tools to stop this dumbed-down threat, like sensors and software that can detect minute changes on the ground, along with dozens of other initiatives.

It’s a particularly urgent need: Between 70 and 80 percent of coalition casualties in Afghanistan are now caused by improvised bombs. The International Security Assistance Force announced today that eight U.S. troops — and an Afghan civilian working for the coalition — were killed in “multiple, complex” roadside bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan.

The effectiveness of such improvised explosives is having a toll. From David Wood, IEDs are the cause of 384 deaths in Afghanistan in 2009, and with the year two months to conclusion that number could still rise. Quoting Wood:

The dramatic upswing in dead and wounded came despite months of preparation for the “surge” of troops authorized last spring by President Obama. The Pentagon deployed close to $1 billion worth of IED jammers, mine-clearing vehicles, heavy armored trucks and other gear as well as intelligence analysts and technical specialists to Afghanistan to blunt the expected wave of new IED attacks. [...]

“The IED is playing a larger and larger role in the enemy’s effort,” Lt. Gen. Tom Metz, the Pentagon’s top IED hunter, said Tuesday.

More to the point, he said, the IED “is a weapon system the enemy has figured out has strategic impact.” Its effect on the battlefield may be horrifying, not only for those it maims, but for the tens of thousands of troops who set out each day under the stress of knowing that an IED blast could come at any second. But for the Taliban, the more critical (“strategic”) target is the American public and politicians, whom the insurgents hope to convince that the cost in blood is simply too high to continue the war.

As Wood notes and Stars and Stripes correlates, the insurgency may be getting their wish:

JIEDDO Director Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz said he thinks IED attacks would continue to increase if the U.S. sent more troops to Afghanistan.

“Just as we found in [Regional Command-South], the enemy had a lot of time to put a lot of IEDs in and we have bumped into a lot of them,” Metz said. “The enemy’s having to replace them, and that’s taking time and energy and money, and the fight’s on.”

Metz, who will retire on Nov. 13, attributed the slight decrease in recent months to the fact that all the extra troops already approved for Afghanistan have arrived are learning the terrain. Still, he acknowledged that the ratio of IED incidents to casualties has remained fairly steady in Afghanistan, compared with Iraq, where insurgents increasingly have to use more IEDs to inflict a single casualty.

Speaking of JIEDDO, you sure can’t claim they’re not earning their paycheck. Its director, LtGen Thomas Metz, spoke before the House Armed Services Committee on 29 October 09 about JIEDDO’s efforts to quell the effect of IEDs.

The environment and the enemy in Afghanistan pose an altogether different challenge. Although initially slower to develop in Afghanistan, the IED has now replaced direct fire weapons as the enemy’s weapon of choice. Our enemies in Afghanistan also use IEDs in combination with conventional direct and indirect fire weapons as a part of complex attacks.

Furthermore, Afghanistan local insurgents, tribal factions, and the Taliban enjoy a greater freedom of action to emplace large numbers of IEDs in movement corridors vital to our success. Our challenge is further compounded because these groups intimidate local populaces, preventing their cooperation with the often suspiciously viewed Afghan government and, in turn, with us.

To ensure the most comprehensive possible support to this complex theater, JIEDDO has undertaken an ongoing Afghanistan support planning process that has so far generated more than 100 counter-IED initiatives for this theater. Continually refined as we move forward, this planning effort provides an ongoing assessment which guides department-level decision makers on critical counter-IED investments and resource allocations.

“Weapon of choice” is, I think, an important phrase. Despite it’s occasional innocuousness, it has a larger and more deadly implication. From AFPS late last month:

More intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, including the most advanced drones and other equipment, are among the supplies the department is working to field to troops in Afghanistan, where one defense official today said the IED has emerged as the enemy’s preferred means of attack.

Gates last month ordered nearly 3,000 extra route clearance and explosive ordnance disposal teams and other key personnel downrange, in addition to a parcel of the more than 6,600 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles designed specifically for Afghanistan’s rugged terrain that the department plans to field.

Morrell has said previously the department would like the M-ATVs, as the vehicles are known, to have an effect in Afghanistan similar to the one that the original MRAP vehicles had when they were delivered en masse to Iraq, leading to a reduction in casualties resulting from roadside bombs.

“Even with all these additional counter-IED resources, there will no doubt be many difficult and dangerous days ahead for our forces,” Morrell cautioned.

Of the various counter-IED resources, the MRAP is probably the most visible and most significant in terms of daily impact. But as Rex over at Afghanistan My Last Tour (Part Two, Part Three) getting them going isn’t always so easy. And are they only going to combatant soldiers? Or will some of these mine-resistant vehicles go to diplos-at-war?

According to a recent post on Dipnote, the State Department’s official blog, the Civilian Response Corps — a newly created organization that has 50 active members, and another 200 on standby — will be receiving a fleet of 28 “fully armored vehicles” next year. “The vehicles will also be available for use by other U.S. Government employees supporting reconstruction and stabilization missions abroad,” the post says.

In addition, the Corps will receive additional gear to become more self-sufficient in the field: Medical kits, solar powered equipment rechargers, and office start-up kits. They will also have body armor, helmets and self-contained, solar-powered communications equipment packages to keep in touch with Foggy Bottom.

That’s not to detract from the importance of diplos (and their security), I caution. Just a note that there are limited quantities so far, even if Secdef Gates is pressing for greater production. And it makes me wonder about those sixth-sense bomb-sniffing wonders and their value to an MRAP-ing unit:

Military researchers have found that two groups of personnel are particularly good at spotting anomalies: those with hunting backgrounds, who traipsed through the woods as youths looking to bag a deer or turkey; and those who grew up in tough urban neighborhoods, where it is often important to know what gang controls which block.

Personnel who fit neither category, often young men who grew up in the suburbs and developed a liking for video games, do not seem to have the depth perception and peripheral vision of the others, even if their eyesight is 20/20.

The findings do not surprise Army Sgt. Maj. Todd Burnett, the top enlisted man with the Pentagon-based Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, which conducted the study. He’s made multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and ridden in more than 1,000 convoys and, on 19 occasions, been in a vehicle hit by a roadside bomb.

The best troops he’s ever seen when it comes to spotting bombs were soldiers from the South Carolina National Guard, nearly all with rural backgrounds that included hunting.

“They just seemed to pick up things much better,” Burnett said. “They know how to look at the entire environment.”

Maybe, in addition to staffing units with well-trained women, units should also have a good deer hunter in their midst. In an appropriately armoured ATV, of course.

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