Just grabbed the unclassified 152 page report out of the Pentagon released today, figured I’d pass it on. Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. From Armed Forces Press:
The report, which covers the situation on the ground from Oct. 1 to March 31, cites progress in President Barack Obama’s strategy aimed at disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it offers what a senior defense official speaking on background called a sobering assessment of the conditions on the ground, and a recognition of the importance of what happens within the next six months in determining the direction the operation ultimately will take.
Despite increased violence, the report notes that the downward trend in stability appears to have stemmed, along with Taliban momentum.
It’ll make for interesting reading. Time for that glass of wine.
More on the subject of women–specifically American women serving in the US military–some recent pieces I’ve cobbled together.
First, Boston University has an interview posted with Marine Gunnery Sergeant Patricia Chapman, BU’s new ROTC instructor.
Are female soldiers finding themselves increasingly on the front lines?
In Iraq and Afghanistan, there is really no front line. Even on base, we weren’t safe, because we’d get incoming mortar rounds. Our motor pool took a couple of rounds when we were prepping for a convoy. The front lines are as soon as you step out the gate.
Women are still limited in what we can do as far as infantry roles. On my second tour, I spent time with an infantry unit that was posted at the entrance to a city known for an al-Qaeda cell and other terror groups. They would use females as smugglers. In Iraqi and Arab culture, no man’s allowed to touch a woman other than her husband, so we searched the women as they went through the checkpoints. Large amounts of cash were one of the biggest things we were looking for. We’d find thousands of dollars, and you knew it was probably going toward IED materials.
And, not unrelatedly, this piece from Reuters, Women Marines want a chance outside the Afghan wire:
But those are trivial considerations when it comes to their sincere desire to join the grunts on the frontline if the Pentagon suddenly changed its rules.
“If somebody came and said, ‘do you want to be a grunt today?’, hell yes, I’d jump at the chance to go,” Birker said.
Jones quickly agreed. “I’ll get my M-203, let’s go,” she said, referring to a grenade launcher which can be attached to a rifle.
From Attrition, Girls With Guns Get It Done:
Still, the casualty rate for women in Iraq is over ten times what it was in World War II, Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf War. A lot of the combat operations experienced by women in Iraq involves base security, or guard duty. Female troops have performed well in that. This is a job that requires alertness, attention to detail and ability to quickly use your weapons when needed. In convoy operations, women have also done well, especially when it comes to spotting, and dealing with, IEDs (roadside bombs and ambushes). Going into the 21st century, warfare is becoming more automated, and less dependent on muscle and testosterone. That gives women an edge, and they exploit it, just as they have done in so many other fields.
I think the most important thread in all these pieces is the notion that women are already experiencing combat, in wars where there are no front lines.
I quite liked this article from All Business, A Woman’s Place Is at the Pentagon:
But there is, too, the less discussed reality that the Pentagon is at heart an institution that is in the business of war, and women are not permitted to be on the front lines of combat. That raises the question of whether women can truly rise to the top echelons of the Department of Defense. “I think in some numbers, the answer is yes. As a class, it will not be until we recognize that women are able to do, by and large, all that their compatriots can do, as long as they are held to the same standard, that you will see a true shift,” Hicks says. “I think the appetite is there.”
Of note, Kate Hoit’s documentary, Women of the Military. Kate Hoit, a female soldier, comes home from Iraq, discovers that America has a distorted view of women in the military, and makes a documentary to tell the truth of what it’s really like to be a woman in today’s military.
I wish I could watch this movie. Second to last, a couple quick notes on female veterans:
- Women veterans asked to register at memorial Web site: At the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, these words come to life in the stories and memories of the nearly two million women who have served in defense of our nation
- ‘Their stories go with them’–Vets share experiences during Salute to Veterans: A true Devil Dog, she calls it “a funny story.” Noel is the first female Marine gunnery sergeant to be awarded a Purple Heart. She told her story to a crowd of young attentive Marines, passing shoppers and other veterans during Saturday’s “Salute Veterans” at Jacksonville Mall.
- BPWF, Dear Jane Campaign: Business and Professional Women’s Foundation is looking for WOMEN VETERANS to write letters to deployed women, offering practical advice on how to best transition from the military to the civilian workplace.
- Female Veterans Honored With Monument. [See video.]
And finally, I keep coming back to these images over and over again from Life magazine on women during WWII. Incredible.
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.
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.
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.
There are a couple profiles out of key players in today’s military-political-defense scene. First is Noah Shachtman ‘s look at Sec. Defense Robert Gates over at Wired:
Every secdef talks about changing the Pentagon, then almost immediately gets stymied by bureaucratic resistance. Only this time, Gates’ talk is turning into action—a Gates Doctrine, if you will. Its core tenets: Base policy on the wars that are most likely to happen and the technology that’s most likely to work. Stop trying to buy the future when you can’t afford the present. With a White House veteran’s feel for Washington, a love of policy, a penchant for secrecy, and an old man’s sense of the ticking clock, the silver-haired administrator has become the most dangerous person in the military-industrial complex. “I’ve referred to myself as the secretary of war, because we’re at war,” he says in a nasal Kansas twang, raising his voice over the roar of the plane’s engines. “This is a department that principally plans for war. It’s not organized to wage war. And that’s what I’m trying to fix.”
Also related, a similar look at Gates from the NYT:
The looming decision on Afghanistan could put Mr. Gates’s experience to the test as never before. With both Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, now on record as saying more combat troops would be required for victory, Mr. Gates must balance his commanders’ desires and his president’s stated skepticism.
As sort of the single major holdover from the transition from Bush to Obama, Gates seems to be in a unique position to advise the President on previous doctrine, namely the “suggestions” and “deadlines” left in place by a Cheney-directed group of defence aides; the desires of the military officials (McChrystal and Mullen and, as other bloggers never fail to remind me, McKiernan as well before his dismissal) to shore up the troops and resources; the limits of Obama’s political willingness to remain in Afghanistan; and the places all of those different things intersect.
Either way, he’s an interesting man to follow.
The New Yorker’s George Packer goes in-depth with US Special Representative to Afghanistan-Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. That links to the abstract; the print edition won’t be out until the 28th, and I will be patiently waiting for it until then. (Unless some friendly reader can hook me up with an electronic copy?) Either way, given how much influence Holbrooke has on the President, I am certain it will be an interesting read.