Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What the hell is going on in the Arghandab River Valley?

One week ago yesterday, on 19 January, CPT Paul Pena died of wounds suffered when his foot patrol through the Arghandab district of Kandahar province was attacked by an IED. Tech. Sgt. Adam K. Ginett, 29, an Air Force explosive ordnance disposal specialist and veteran of five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was also killed. Pena, 27, was the commander of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82d Airborne.

The commander of 2-508, LTC Frank Jenio, had been relieved of duty on 13 January. (According to Army Times, there are 961 battalion-level commands in the Army; a service spokesman estimated that around five per year are relieved.) LTC Clarence Counts, a spokesman for the 82d Airborne Division's commanding general, said that Jenio and his senior non-commisioned officer, CSM Herbert Puckett, has been relieved "after a 15-6 investigation was conducted and found that the team's actions were of poor judgment which fostered a command climate that was not consistent with our Army Values." Counts did not elaborate on what those actions were.

The Army Values are Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

As noted above, 2-508 is one of the battalions that makes up the 4th BCT of the 82d Airborne. (Readers of the blog might recognize this unit as the modular brigade augmented for security force assistance that was sent to Afghanistan last fall to train and advise ANSF.) In December of last year, 2-508 was pulled off the SFA mission and re-assigned to the Arghandab as a maneuver battalion under the tactical control of Task Force Kandahar, commanded by Canadian BG Daniel Menard.

Prior to 2-508's arrival, the Arghandab mission had been assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. The battalion had sustained extremely heavy casualties, by the standards of this war, since it arrived in country in the summer. Indeed, by mid-December, only five months into a year-long deployment, 1-17 had taken 21 KIA -- more than any battalion in Afghanistan in the post-9/11 period.

Just before Christmas, the Army Times ran a story by Sean Naylor highlighting the complaints of junior leaders and soldiers throughout 1-17 about how the battalion and brigade leadership had chosen to operate. COL Harry Tunnell, commander of 5/2 ID SBCT, had incensed many in 1-17 by firing a popular company commander, CPT Jason Kassulke. Described by his soldiers as "the backbone" and "the glue" of the company, Kassulke had openly disagreed with Tunnell's emphasis on brigade-sized sweeps and other heavily kinetic operations. Many speculated that Kassulke was the scapegoat for 1-17's heavy losses; a dozen of the dead had served in his Charlie Company.

What I've written up to this point is fact. The only concrete, certain correlation between the facts above is a relationship to the same battlespace: the Arghandab River Valley. The Naylor piece in December resulted in a lot of commentary (and even a "rebuttal" on SWJ from one of Tunnell's staff officers), and Jenio's firing (also reported by Naylor in yesterday's Army Times, but only in paper/subscription form) has been more grist for the speculation mill. What follows here will be in that vein. I have no special insights, no access, no combat experience, and no personal knowledge of any of the men involved. My analysis is based only on what's available in the public domain -- on public statements and published writings -- and not on any unique understanding of anyone's individual character. There's a lot here to digest, so this is going to be long and rather detailed; prepare yourself. And so with that disclaimer...

Let's first examine the plight of 1-17. The unit's leadership spent Reset and most of the Train/Ready period preparing for deployment to Iraq, only learning in February 2009 that 5 BCT and its Strykers would head to Afghanistan instead. Here's Naylor:

However, 1-17 soldiers said their training, which had been focused on highly “kinetic” urban warfare drills such as room clearing, did not change much to accommodate the change in mission. “The COIN-intensive fight here … isn’t so much what we trained on,” said 1st Lt. Kevin Turnblom, Charlie Company’s fire support officer.

“We trained [in] urban fighting in Iraq and then they give us Afghanistan,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Hughes, Weapons Squad leader in 1st Platoon, Charlie Company. “The principles are the same but the details are day-and-night different, and we’ve learned that the hard way over the last almost five months.”

In response to e-mailed questions from Army Times to Tunnell, Maj. Brian DeSantis, a spokesman for Regional Command-South, said the Stryker brigade “showed a great understanding of what it would take to operate in a COIN environment by the training they conducted before arrival in Afghanistan.”

Kassulke also defended the pre-deployment training in e-mailed answers to Army Times’ questions, saying it was “as realistic” as could be achieved. “[I]t is hard to say that the training didn’t prepare us,” he said. “We have done a lot of kinetic, enemy-focused missions and the soldiers were definitely trained to do that."

Kassulke's reply is telling, and is representative of the careful, politic tone of most of his responses: the brigade trained on kinetic, enemy-focused missions, and that's what they ended up doing.

There are a couple of different possible complaints about preparation, really, and you see hints of both of them above. The first is that the brigade trained for one mission set and ended up doing another that they weren't prepared for. This could be the legitimate grievance of men who feel poorly led, perhaps even betrayed by their command. But to be under-prepared (or mis-prepared) for Afghanistan as a result of a training focus on a different AO is an understandable consequence of having a stressed, stretched force. That ought not be a gripe about brigade, but about the realities of the modern Army (and FORSCOM). There's some contradictory information here, too: some say that the problem was that the unit trained for urban warfare and ended up operating in different terrain, while others (notably battalion commander LTC Jonathan Neumann) suggest the opposite:

“What we didn’t understand is really where the enemy was making his push against Kandahar city,” [Neumann] said. “We did expect more of an open desert fight.”

The second possible complaint is that the brigade trained for one mission set and ended up doing exactly that, in spite of the fact that many soldiers and junior leaders feel the situation called for a different mission and mode of operation. This one, to be blunt, is really sort of above an O-3's pay grade. According to Naylor's article, battalion and brigade senior leadership paid lip service to the COIN mission, but still focused on offensive, kinetic, "enemy-centric" operations.

But lower down the rank structure, 1-17 soldiers said that a major factor behind the battalion’s difficulties in the Arghandab was the failure of their battalion and brigade commanders to adhere to McChrystal’s published counterinsurgency guidance, which states up front: “Protecting the people is the mission. The conflict will not be won by destroying the enemy.”

Soldiers in 1-17 say that while the battalion’s junior leaders have embraced these principles, Neumann and Tunnell — whose brigade’s motto is “Strike — Destroy” — have not. “There’s definitely a disconnect between the platoon and company level and the battalion and brigade level,” said a Charlie Company soldier in a leadership position, who requested he remain anonymous.

“McChrystal’s guidance is very clear on its population focus,” said another junior leader.

But 1-17 soldiers thought that focus was missing from their operations. “When we first started operations, we were told we were going to stay enemy-focused,” said Capt. Jon Burton, an assistant fire support officer who is also 1-17’s civil-military and information operations officer co-located with Charlie Company. “That came from brigade.”

“That has absolutely been the message that’s been delivered from higher,” agreed Turnblom, the Charlie Company fire support officer.

Kassulke made no bones about the fact that he understood his priorities in a similar fashion, and Charlie Company built counterinsurgency missions around and within the offensive operations directed by brigade and battalion. The climate in his company as described by Naylor was one of nearly open dissent (if not defiance) against the directives of Neumann and Tunnell. In one noteworthy example, Kassulke responded to frequent brigade clearing operations by posting an excerpt from COMISAF's Counterinsurgency Guidance on the wall of his command post:

Sporadically moving into an area for a few hours or even a few days solely to search for the enemy and then leave does little good, and may do much harm. The local insurgents hide in plain sight and the people remain ambivalent. Once we depart, the militants re-emerge and life under insurgent control resumes.

(Neumann directed him to take it down.) Another posted sign, attributed to Kassulke's first sergeant: "Apparently COIN stands for 'Clearing Operations in November.'"

Kassulke's superiors, for their part, insist that these sorts of disagreements and petty dissent had nothing to do with the company commander's early relief. They intimated that the men of Charlie Company may have lost confidence in their commander, or that Kassulke was suffering unduly from the stress of combat. His men, for their part, vehemently disagreed.

Neumann said if it had been up to him, he would not have replaced Kassulke, but the decision was Tunnell’s. “His main point to me was [that he was] worried both about the company and about the man,” Neumann said. “Either one can hit a breaking point.”

But Kassulke’s troops didn’t see any strain affecting him. “I saw him every day,” said Staff Sgt. David Myers, also of 4th Platoon’s second squad. “He never once lost focus. He was on top of his game.”

Tunnell said that the casualties suffered by Charlie Company influenced his decision to replace Kassulke “a month or two” earlier than planned. “It was going to happen in the December/January time frame anyway,” he said.

Can we really believe that Kassulke's dissent played no part? I can't. Even his supporters recognized the risks involved: "It was probably bad juju for an O-3 to tell an O-6, 'hey, you're not doing what the four-star wants you to do,'" said one soldier. Probably. (And that's completely leaving aside the question of whether or not Kassulke was right.) This, for me, is one of the pernicious effects of the full-bore strategic communications/IO campaign that GEN McChrystal and his supporters have engaged in since last summer, to include his Afghanistan assessment (leaked helpfully to the press) and the aforementioned Counterinsurgency Guidance: a failure to effectively disambiguate what is essentially a political argument -- the pro-COIN, population-protection, progressive rationale for escalation and increased troop levels -- from the tactical and operational directives essential to letting subordinate commanders understand their job and how it ought to be done. Everyone has spent so much time talking about the tactics of counterinsurgency, the platoon- and company-level, on-the-ground prescriptions, that alternative methods are viewed as inadvisable, impermissible, or even impossible. And I really don't think a four-star intended to tell every company commander in Afghanistan how to do his job, or how his brigade commander ought to be doing his job.

But what of this particular O-6? COL Harry Tunnell, on the evidence of what little I've read of him, is perhaps perfectly suited to play Darth Vader to the COINdinistas. More from Naylor:

When the brigade deployed to Afghanistan, Tunnell announced his intention to pursue a “counter-guerrilla” campaign. Most observers perceived a conflict between Tunnell’s approach and McChrystal’s population-centric counterinsurgency campaign.

But Tunnell said that his approach was drawn straight from Army Field Manual 90-8, Counterguerrilla Operations (last updated in 1986), and that it was complementary to, not competitive with counterinsurgency. However, he added, the “counter-guerrilla” concept “is misunderstood. ... That’s why we don’t use the term anymore.”

Brenda Donnell, spokeswoman for the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., said FM 90-8 had been superseded by FM 3-24.2, Tactics in Counterinsurgency. “It’s not supposed to be used anymore,” she said of the counter-guerrilla manual.

Ms. Donnell's comment, of course, is correct: the introduction to FM 3-24.2, published in April of 2009, expressly states that it is the successor manual to FM 90-8 (which itself succeeded FMs 31-20 Operations Against Guerrilla Forces, 31-15 Operations Against Irregular Forces, and 31-16 Counterguerrilla Operations). But the quoted sentiments are entirely consistent with Tunnell's conclusions in a Combat Studies Institute Press study focused on his command of the 1st Battalion of the 508th PIR in Iraq in 2003, "Red Devils: Tactical Perspectives from Iraq." In Appendix A, "Some Final Impressions From Iraq," then-LTC Tunnell advocated for doctrinal terminology more clearly derived from combat operations than that commonly used to describe COIN and stability operations, using FM 90-8 as a reference.

While on this subject, an interesting digression: COL Tunnell has a Master's Degree in professional communication studies from Purdue University and spent time assigned to the National Defense University's Center for Strategic Communications while recovering from his wounds. During his time at NDU, Tunnell co-authored a paper called "Choosing Words Carefully: Language to Help Fight Islamic Terrorism." (This was actually my first acquaintance with the man, as I read the paper -- which I thought was excellent -- when it came out in the summer of 2006. It never occurred to me that I'd later be analyzing the author's operational decisions amidst accusations that he "doesn't get COIN.") This is clearly an individual who understands the power of language. That's why this observation from the CSI study is worth examining:

Kinetic and non-kinetic are terms without any military meaning, usefulness, or purpose. Army units conduct some form of maneuver, they attack or they defend. If a leader wants to restrict his unit’s authority to attack an objective with fires then the leader should describe what he expects. Lethal or non-lethal fires, maneuver, assault, etc. are terms that we routinely use and are in doctrine. “Kinetic” sounds sophisticated but means absolutely nothing to a sergeant, lieutenant, or lieutenant colonel for that matter. Do not tell a subordinate to “go kinetic” or “don’t go kinetic,” tell them to conduct some type of maneuver. Be understandable and straightforward—if you expect your unit to make direct-fire contact with an enemy force then say so; if you do not want them to engage an enemy for a particular reason then simply tell them not to shoot and why.

Even more noteworthy is a passage that follows shortly thereafter:

In Iraq, many operational level leaders, and this includes those who are traditionally tactical leaders but circumstances require that they frequently operate at the operational level, tended to employ a “social scientist” approach to fighting an insurgency. They concentrated on the development of infrastructure, political systems, etc., which quickly consumed all of their attention and the bulk of their resources. IPB and combat operations, consequently, could quickly become unsynchronized throughout a large area, or an economy of force effort. While in tactical operations, the enemy “still gets a vote” and tactical leaders therefore should continue to focus a large part of their efforts on destroying the enemy, or denying him resources.

And then:

Military leaders must stay focused on the destruction of the enemy. It is virtually impossible to convince any committed terrorist who hates America to change his or her point of view—they simply must be attacked relentlessly. CMO and stabilization operations are important; commanders should use these activities to help define the operating environment, and gain knowledge about an adversary. It is appropriate for military units to develop goals that include appreciating local culture, improving quality of life for the populace, and promoting good governance whenever these concepts improve access to the enemy. However, if the pursuit of them does not advance one’s knowledge of threats and a unit’s capability to maintain the offensive, then they are of little practical value as tactical or operational objectives. Destruction of the enemy force must remain the most important step to defeating terrorists and insurgents—everything else supports this goal but is not a substitute for it.

Here we've come to the real crux of the issue, haven't we? Tunnell simply rejects the construct in which an insurgency can be defeated through control of the population, insisting instead that the only way to do COIN is through destruction of the enemy's force. Once more, back to Naylor:

Tunnell, who was badly wounded as a battalion commander in Iraq in 2003, was adamant that the situation in the Arghandab lent itself to the counter-guerrilla approach.

“Here in the green zone ... they’re hard-core guerrillas,” Tunnell said. “They form and they operate in teams and squads, and they mass into platoons very quickly. So I think you can’t ignore that. We haven’t seen any $10-a-day Taliban here.”

He outlined how he intended his approach to work. “[W]hen it comes to the enemy, you have leadership, supply chains and formations. And you’ve really got to tackle all three of those,” Tunnell said. “I was wounded as a battalion commander and they had a perfectly capable battalion commander in to replace me very quickly; our supply lines were interdicted with ambushes and they never stopped us from getting any resources, but when you degrade a formation substantially, that will stop operations. And then if you degrade formations, supply chains and leadership near simultaneously, you’ll cause the enemy in the area to collapse, and that is what we’re trying to do here.”

Asked if this was an enemy-centric approach, Tunnell replied: “The enemy informs how you gain access to the population. You cannot ignore it. We were taking horrible casualties trying to gain access to the population, and we knew that we needed to get to the population, and so if we didn’t conduct the types of operations that we’re conducting throughout the brigade’s area ... we wouldn’t be able to get to the population. So you can’t separate the two.”

Surprisingly, considering his work at NDU (this makes it surprising to me, anyway), COL Tunnell seems to believe that the vast majority of insurgents are in fact hardened Islamist "terrorists" who will only quit fighting with victory or death. This makes it easy to understand Tunnell's contention that there are no "$10-a-day Taliban" in his AOR, though one suspects that this conclusion may be based more on ideology than intelligence analysis.

But even if you do accept Tunnell's philosophical predisposition, I think he makes a dramatic mistake in equating the insurgency's structure and resiliency to that of the U.S. Army. American forces can replace commanders and keep formations supplied because we have a "deep bench" of talented, well-trained personnel; a flexible, modular, plug-and-play organizational structure; and consistent, standardized training. All of these factors mean that attacks on key leaders or sustainment structures are less likely to destroy a U.S. unit's ability to continue the fight than simple degradation of the formation, but this same equation doesn't apply to insurgent forces. (A counterargument related to "safe havens" and sanctuary can be made here, but this is already going to be long enough.)

In short, Tunnell believes he can kill enough of the enemy to make him quit, or render him incapable of continuing the fight -- in Tunnell's own words, his operations were intended "to dislocate the enemy so they don't want to continue operations." And isn't this the great divide in the great COIN debate: between those who think you can make the bad guys quit by hurting him badly enough, eroding his will to continue, and those who don't buy it?

All of this means that we ought not be particularly shocked when we learn of Tunnell's significant philosophical disagreements with CPT Kassulke (and GEN McChrystal, for that matter): COMISAF is one of the "doesn't buy it" types. But the brigade commander insists that this isn't why Kassulke was relieved, and Kassulke is diplomatic and considered in his own statements on the subject. And then the brigade, in some sense, would be relieved itself: replaced in Arghandab by the battalion from 4/82 at the decision of British MG Nick Carter, the commanding general of RC-South. His explanation for the switch is eminently sensible, as 1-17's Strykers made them uniquely suited for a road-security mission: "in terms of an organization that can bring freedom of movement as an effect to me, there is no better capability than the Stryker brigade." Fair enough. What about their replacement?

2-508, like the other battalions in 4/82, spent its time in the States preparing for the SFA mission in Afghanistan, training up on advisor skills and integrating an augmentee package of additional field-grade officers designed to facilitate splitting the brigade into many small training teams for deployment across both RC-South and RC-West. After spending a couple of months in country performing that mission, the battalion was directed to re-form as a maneuver formation and head for the Arghandab River Valley. This challenge would test the Army's contention that SFA brigades would maintain the capability for full-spectrum operations; though the vast majority of training time was still spent on kinetic, maneuver tasks, the fact remains that the brigade was mentally and philosophically prepared for advising and mentoring.

There's little reason to believe that LTC Frank Jenio was anything but an enthusiastic proponent of this mission, though he obviously retained an offensive mindset: a message the battalion commander posted on a Facebook page for 2-508 families after the unit's arrival in country in September indicated enthusiasm at the opportunity to get into the fight and an assurance that the enemy "are quickly learning that there's a new unit in town... and they are a hellova lot more aggressive than the previous one."

Jenio, according to the accounts I've seen (and to Naylor's most recent article), is generally considered to be a "rock star" in the Army. He's an alternate on this year's Senior Service College list (meaning he was a candidate to attend the Army War College, headed for O-6 and perhaps beyond), and is known to be friendly with GEN McChrystal from his time as the general's executive officer at the Joint Special Operations Command. Jenio also served in the 75th Ranger Regiment -- another commonality with McChrystal -- commanding Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion.

And then all of a sudden, just a month after his battalion takes over for 1-17 in TF Kandahar, just days after briefing GEN McChrystal, Ambassador Eikenberry, and a Congressional delegation, LTC Jenio is relieved along with his CSM. Why? Like I said, I don't have any inside information. I've seen speculation about inappropriate slides, which would seem to fit with the bit about inconsistency with Army Values and fostering an inappropriate command climate, but aside from the apparent sensibility of it I've got nothing to commend that explanation. It strikes me as irresponsible to cast aspersions and try to guess what may have prompted the dismissal when we're not even really sure who pulled the trigger on this disciplinary action: 2-508 is under OPCON to BG Menard at TF Kandahar, but LTC Jenio's administrative chain of command runs through COL Brian Drinkwine (commander of 4/82) up to MG Mike Scaparotti, CG of Task Force 82, the 82d Abn Div, and RC-East. I don't know what kind of weight it takes to fire a battalion commander in a combat zone, particularly one seen as a rising star, but it strikes me that it would probably have to originate beyond COL Drinkwine.

As Bruce has already noted on flit, the nature of the explanation (however limited) given by Scaparotti's spokesman indicates that this decision is not related to operations. The fact that both the battalion commander and command sergeant major were dismissed suggests that this was indeed a matter of "command climate," as both men could be considered responsible for the environment fostered in the unit. On the subject of operational approach, though, it's worth noting that LTC Jenio served as COL Mike Steele's operations officer in 3/101 in Iraq. Steele, as you may know, has expressed many of the same sentiments as those detailed above from COL Tunnell about the utility of COIN doctrine and the necessity of crushing the enemy's will through the application of offensive firepower. (He also, quite incidentally, was a company commander in the Ranger Regiment during the Battle of Mogadishu, an experience that no doubt helped to shape his feelings about force protection and the ascendancy of violence in irregular conflict.)

All of which is a long way of saying that I still have precisely zero idea of how the leadership styles of the various officers I've discussed have impacted the level of violence and/or success of counterinsurgency operations in the Arghandab, but hopefully this helps to illustrate how the "gets it"/"doesn't get it" dichotomy breaks down at the tactical and operational levels. If it's as simple as some guys "getting COIN" and other guys not getting it, then how is it that we've seen successive commanders at the battalion and/or brigade levels with aggressive, offensive, kinetic outlooks assigned to operate in one of the most vital AOs in the country? TF Kandahar, RC-South, and others in the senior leadership of the coalition have made encouraging noises about building on progress in the region and so on, but this is pretty much what they always say. So here's the question: are we any better off in Arghandab, or in Kandahar, or in RC-South, than we were six months ago? Is the escalation and much-talked-about strategic re-orientation toward the "Pashtun heartland" of the south going to be executed by aggressive maneuver commanders in apparent contradiction of GEN McChrystal's softly, softly approach? Is "pop-centric COIN" a PR campaign designed for public and congressional consumption, to be abandoned on the ground for tactical exigencies?

Paul Pena was killed eight days ago. LTC Guy Jones, formerly the operations officer for 4/82, now the new commander of 2-508, lost one of his company commanders less than a week after taking over the battalion. I don't know where he stands on counterinsurgency doctrine, but American paratroopers continue to fight in Kandahar province.

CPT Pena was a friend of one of my very close friends, a fellow graduate with him of little bitty San Marcos Baptist Academy in central Texas (and also a West Pointer, just like Jenio, Drinkwine, Tunnell, Scaparotti, and McChrystal). I don't include him in this post to place blame for his death on his superiors, present or former, or to imagine that his fate would have been any different in a different place on the map or in a different brigade. But reading the details of his biography in the casualty report that came over email from DoD last week, thinking "hey, San Marcos, I wonder if R knows him?", hearing the details of the single mother and loving friends he left behind... it all helped to remind me that this isn't a soap opera. It's not about personalities. It's not Monday Night Football. Our commentary should mean something, should advance our understanding of the conflict or improve the quality of the dialogue about how and why we fight.

I hope -- if you've made it this far -- that you'll help me do that. Apologies for the encyclopedic word count of this post.

UPDATE: I was remiss in not originally thanking Tintin for his contributions to this post, both by pointing me to a lot of the relevant source material -- all the way back to the original Army Times article about a month ago -- and in discussing a lot of the content over email.


  1. I just got back to Bragg last week. Here's what I've been briefed on the 2-508 firings. The CG has a zero-tolerance policy for anything considered non-professional in battle update (BUB) powerpoint briefings. Apparently, he observed some past BUB slides of that unit and found the material and was very upset with what he saw. He directed an investigation of all the unit's previous briefs and found them to be outside of what he perceives as Army values calling them borderline sexist and racist. I have not seen any of the slides, but from what I was told, it was similar to what most units do- place a clip from the Hangover or Office Space before the brief starts to bring some humor to an otherwise war-filled day. Anyways, that is the first spot report. I guess we'll have to wait and see if anything more comes of it.

  2. Mike, please say it ain't so. PowerPoint used for evil purposes? This might be the nail in the coffin for us.

  3. The Arghandab (region, river, etc) fascinates me for some reason. Sarah Chayes' descriptions of it in some papers I've run across, the stuff I've been reading at snapping turtle about the Canadian experience in the region (flit's got a bunch of posts).

    Also a tough nut to crack, it seems, because the area is in the logistical flow of the QST (I think - as usual, given my non-military background I may be getting a lot wrong and misremembering), it's the spiritual home or birthplace of some groups we are countering, it's a tough terrain, and Western projects and works in the region span back to the 1950s! We build, country is invaded, stuff falls apart, we come back! Goodness. The Canadians had some trouble, apparently, from what I've gleaned from my reading. It's just a tough place.

    As to the other stuff: who knows? It seems a mess, but first reports are rarely accurate. Sometimes - in the civilian sector anyway - when a person is fired the official reason is just whan can be documented and defended, legally. Other stuff leads up to the decision, but it's not given as the official reason. I have no idea what the Army is like or if the actions and judgments are honorable or fair to date. I only hope that as things move forward the truth will out.

  4. I'm sorry about your friend's friend, Gulliver. "Little bitty San Marcos Baptist Academy" - those are the details that stop you in your tracks for some reason.

  5. Okay - that part about, "we didn't really understand the push the enemy was making into Kandahar City." Does this relate, a bit, to what flit is saying about the Canadians experience?

    1. Just before we arrived the Taliban breached the Kandahar prison wall releasing numerous detainees, and the arghandab was just 12klicks north and hardly patrolled or shown any aggressive action by the Canadians. When I showed up they were tanning and in swim trunks

  6. Oh, woops. I totally missed the paragraph where you wrote about Bruce. Darn. Maybe those studies about screen versus paper reading - and what you miss visually - are correct! Sorry

  7. The thing that sticks out to me is the apparent conflict between McChrystal's pop-COIN guidance and the BDE Commander's plan to do counter-guerrilla. I say "apparent conflict" because I see no conflict. The operation is a COIN op. There is no reason why a BDE cannot have a supporting mission to do counter-guerrilla ops in one part of the AO.

  8. @Schmedlap:

    True, but Arghandab's tricky. (See Carl Forsberg's excellent writeup on the Canadian effort to date for background.)

    Up until 1/17 rotated in you had an area with a population that was still somewhat resistant to insurgent influence, although less than in the past, but also resistant to a large government or ISAF profile (the Canadians and ANA could never secure good bases there, which meant predictability of movements in the use of certain chokepoints that rapidly became IED traps). They simply didn't want the war to come to their town.

    1/17 was the first significant permanent ISAF presence in the area, which was intended to pre-empt what was seen as a growing but still largely below the surface insurgent presence before it manifested and we had another Zhari District on our hands. As it started patrolling 1/17's vehicles then got hammered in IED attacks at a higher rate than anyone there before had been. So, was that insurgent capability there all along, and the only difference is there were just more targets in the traps to strike (all those nice juicy Strykers) now?

    I'm still baffled, btw, that 1/17 was briefed coming in that small arms was their greatest threat in that area, as Naylor reports. That is the exact opposite of the truth. Firefights in Arghandab (and Kandahar generally) have been extremely rare since 2006.

    So maybe the first unit was a victim of bad int or bad prep. But if Naylor's right about the 1/17 CO being overly tolerant of battalion sweep-and-pull-back operations, and a company commander resisting that approach because of what he saw on the ground and wanting to try a CAP/COIN approach instead, that would be a very common ISAF experience. And given the nature of the actual threat and terrain, it's hard to see what mowing that particular grass could ever accomplish; especially given that the population could be seen as basically neutralist/on the fence before the US arrival, no sweep-and-go approach was ever going to gain enough targetable int to justify the costs to goodwill and ones own resources.

    We Canadians tried that approach in Zhari next door, which is very similar terrain-wise, for two years before giving up. Pretty much all we managed by it was to depopulate the place.

    To use the vernacular, the argument would be you didn't have to "clear" in Arghandab; it was already permissive enough to go to the "hold." But the battalion commander in question evidently disagreed with that analysis and acted accordingly until Carter pulled the unit out.

    I was suprised to see Jenio flat-out state that his unit was a "helluva lot more aggressive" than 1-17, though. I'm not clear whether that means a) that he thought the sweep-and-pull-back approach had been the right one, and just needed to be turned up to 11, or b) the wrong one, and when he says "aggressive" he really means doing more COIN-y things like dismounting, staying the night, and foot patrolling.

  9. Bruce -- I was suprised to see Jenio flat-out state that his unit was a "helluva lot more aggressive" than 1-17, though.

    He actually wrote that note in September, as part of an update about his Bravo Company's operations in Helmand province. (Before their reassignment to Arghandab, the battalion was spread out across RC-South doing SFA/partnering.) I probably should've made this clearer.

    I'm not sure who Bravo 2-508 took over for in Helmand, but Jenio wasn't talking about 1-17.

  10. Please forgive me--I don't have professional military experience, but I have been following this situation because it appears to represent an excellent example of the white elephant of the ideology gap between Senior Leaders' and Junior Leaders' understanding of both COIN and "intent".

    I agree that the statement referenced above ("helluva lot more aggressive") seems unclear, but I believe it makes more sense contextually when you read the rest of LTC Jenio's Facebook update.

    As you'll see, there are plenty of COIN-y words throughout his posts. Perhaps it's possible that LTC Jenio meant "assertive" instead of aggressive?

  11. Anon @ 2:09 -- As you'll see, there are plenty of COIN-y words throughout his posts. Perhaps it's possible that LTC Jenio meant "assertive" instead of aggressive?

    When it comes right down to it, I don't really have any idea how LTC Jenio's battalion operated, either before its reassignment to Arghandab or before, when it was spread out doing SFA. It seems that my impressions about how an SFA brigade would go about its business were probably wrong, and that 2-508's subordinate companies and platoons were engaged in offensive operations even before their reconstitution as a maneuver battalion. I'd be very, very interested in any details about this, though of course I understand that there are probably OPSEC and classification concerns that prevent this information from being circulated in the public domain.

  12. "...either after its reaassignment or before...", that should obviously read.

  13. For the record, 2-508s "less aggressive" predecessor unit in Helmand would likely have been from 33rd BCT (Illinois National Guard), which had the SFA mission there until last August. Nir Rosen rode with them as their tour was winding down:

  14. @Gulliver:

    That's the thing we always loved about US PMTs. They always showed up ready for a fight even when their Afghan police didn't. It was always nice those times when they could actually encourage a few to come along, of course, but worst case you still had at least a section of Americans ready to pitch in. Oftentimes when you saw "ANP" in an SITREP (as in, "at 1600 ANP uncovered a weapons cache"), that's what it *really* meant (nudge nudge, wink). It was the same for all mentored-ANSF units.

  15. That part about pre-deployment training focus and the follow on discussion about doctrinal references raises a good point - what does a Training Support Package (TSP) for COIN look like? Anybody seen one? What exactly are the specific major collective tasks and supporting collective, leader and individual tasks that would drive training? Any doctrinal references which lay it all out and not just what tactics may be useful? After all in order to task organize and plan its useful to know what tasks are required to achieve the purpose. Is there a UJTL for COIN that runs it all the way down and matches up unit and individual capabilities to tasks? How about an AUTL?

    Recently on the USA COIN forum a CWO who was part of a unit that was tasked to train a partner coalition unit (Polish I think) on COIN? The Chief was looking for a TSP, and could not find one. There was some advice from some of the community, but I really did not see any list of tasks, mostly it was advice on how to replicate an environment in which other tasks would be done. The best I could do was offer that since this particular CF partner had a history of operating in the same area, and would perhaps as other CF partners had done return time and again to that location - they might ask what tasks the current and previous Polish units had been doing, and why - and they might also asks what "insurgent" actions the enemy had been taking in the area. This way they might consider the tasks they would have to do to counter the tasks the insurgents appeared to be doing - be they kinetic or other.

    While COMISAF issued guidance that would appear to characterize the approach to be taken when conducting COIN - that alone does not tell a CDR what COIN is and what COIN is not. If COIN is anything that counters the insurgent's action and keeps the insurgent from attaining their objectives, it would seem much depends on what actions (tasks) the insurgent is doing, and what are their objectives.

    As for what prompted the relief of a BN CDR and his CSM while conducting operations to counter the insurgents, I suspect it would have to be significant. A major change in leadership can be a big event in a unit's life, I wish the new leadership all the best in their mission and in leading that BN.

    Best, Rob

  16. apologies that this doesn't add to the conversation. but impressive roll-up, well done.

  17. Great catch on Tunnell's observations about COIN. Basically, he will never get COIN the way McChrystal understands it. He says in that paper that "it is virtually impossible" to convince a terrorist to change his mind. The idea that you can convince insurgents to lay down arms not through kinetic operations but through pop-centric COIN is the heart of Kilcullen, Petraues and McChrystal's approach. If he can think that and be allowed to command, then there is something wrong with the command structure.

    As for counter-guerilla operations, I am all for them. But from what I remember of reading the manual, BDE sized operations never kill guerillas. Instead, the best counter-G missions from Vietnam and other fights were small six man teams with great intelligence. That is why the counter-G mission is vital to the COIN fight in Afghanistan, but should be the domain of SOC units who have the training and capability.

    Again, it all comes down to limiting civilian casaulties. BDE and BN sized missions cause tons of casualties with limited results. SOC missions on limited targets help the mission. The only thing good about BDE and BN sized missions are there use as OER bullets.

  18. “We trained [in] urban fighting in Iraq and then they give us Afghanistan,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Hughes, Weapons Squad leader in 1st Platoon, Charlie Company. “The principles are the same but the details are day-and-night different, and we’ve learned that the hard way over the last almost five months.”

    Training Soldiers what to think, rather than how to think. Exposed once again. But we'll keep on doing it.

    @ BruceR at 1:08,
    Got it, but my only point was that there is no inherent contradiction between a COIN op and a supporting effort doing counter-guerrilla. I've seen a raid conducted as a supporting effort of a peacekeeping operation.

  19. It's worth looking at Bing West's last trip report from Afghanistan to see a smart perspective on the balance between kinetic vs. nonkinetic, or counter-guerrilla I guess, or carnivore vs. herbivore operations down at the brigade and battalion level. West thinks that restricting the kinetic, hunt-the-enemy side of the show to SOF while confining infantry/cav units to the "soft side" is misguided, and that battalions should be able to focus on the latter while dabbling in the former to keep the enemy on his heels and to "improve troop morale." He suggests that battalions should try to launch large raids like this about monthly, punctuating their normal COIN work.

    Basically what Schmedlap is saying, too, I think. The two sides are not mutually exclusive. A good unit is an omnivore unit.

  20. @Tintin- I disagree. You almost perfectly describe my BN's approach to COIN by doing about monthly battalion sized operations. Frankly, you can't protect the population then leave for four or five days while illum is good to go do a raid on a target that nine times out of ten yields nothing. "Improving troop morale" will come from less soldiers getting killed, and the best way to do that is to use our Soldiers to protect the population, not conduct battalion sized operations.

  21. @Michael C:

    Concur, that was my experience, as well. To start with, all your ISR during and for weeks before is saved up to plan for the big raid, so you lose all visibility over the rest of the AO each time. Then the bad guys see you coming; now they're all farmers, and their friends take the opportunity to overrun a police station 50 miles away -- and connect a couple wires on your likely exit routes. Net win for them.

    The point of larger operations was never because the intelligence justified simultaneous kinetics over a broad area and multiple targets: it was to extend freedom of movement into an area denied to smaller forces by concentrating a larger mass there. "There's 20 compounds over there we haven't checked out in a year," etc. You generally find some fertilizer, some drugs, a few AKs; but nobody fires a shot, and the IEDs take their toll on the way out. All too often that's a battalion op in Afghanistan.

    Platoon or company-level fighting patrols, etc., acting on intelligence from the framework ops in their own company stalking ground seemed, always to bear much greater fruit for the effort invested. There were no targets in Kandahar worth a battalion, frankly. And especially not in the heavily populated parts of Arghandab.

    Battalion-level ops would and did make sense on the "break-in" phase, to set the atmospherics and support the establishment of a new set of platoon or company strongpoints to patrol from and expand our reach... but it sounds like 1-17 didn't have that in mind (the fired company commander was one of the advocates for establishing smaller patrol bases, rather than pulling back to the FOB, according to Naylor). And in fairness, Arghandab is famously resistant to obtaining new land for strongpoints anyway.

  22. Bruce -- Thanks for the Rosen article.

    Rob -- Lots of great questions. Let me take a bit for all that to sink in and then see if I can address any of them. (MikeF: any answers from your end?)

    Michael -- The idea that you can convince insurgents to lay down arms not through kinetic operations but through pop-centric COIN is the heart of Kilcullen, Petraues and McChrystal's approach. If he can think that and be allowed to command, then there is something wrong with the command structure.

    See, I don't know if it's that simple. And this is what I mean when I say that the full-on sell job we've been doing on "pop-centric COIN" sort of helps to limit people's imagination to bumper sticker solutions, and a lot of aggressive leaders get tarred with the "overly kinetic, doesn't get it" brush. Now this may be true of COL Tunnell, or it may not. But I don't think we should be so quick to dismiss anything that doesn't look exactly like the COMISAF guidance. A big part of doing good COIN, as I understand it, is tailoring TTPs to the operational environment. A broad document put out at the four-star level can't possibly provide detailed instruction down to the company level, though it obviously helps to elaborate commander's intent.

    Rambling a bit now, but I guess my point is that we really don't have enough information to know whether Tunnell is a good commander or a bad commander, or whether his brigade's operations were appropriate for the AO. Complaints from his subordinates suggest otherwise, as does the local color added here by Bruce. But was Tunnell wrong when he drew his conclusions back in '03, or wrote about them in '05 or '06 or whenever it was, before the zeitgeist was so clear?

    That said, Michael and Bruce, great points on BN and BDE sized clearing operations.

    What I'm trying to say here is that while Tunnell's approach may have been ineffective or counterproductive, our criticism should stem from these sorts of specific objections -- from the fact that it didn't work! -- and not from the simple fact of his diversion from COIN orthodoxy.

  23. About LTC Jenio's comment on B/2-508 being "more aggressive" than the 33rd BCT guys that were there before - I don't think this is a suggestion that B/2-508 was going out doing unilateral operations at all, just that because of limited resources and numbers, the Guardsmen who were there before were extremely restricted in what they could do. I embedded with the PMT in Helmand in June, and it was sort of platoon-sized, with a major in charge and three teams of like ten guys, each led by a captain. They had maybe a half dozen vehicles overall and no maintenance except what the British unit they lived with could offer them. Three little teams is not a lot for advising all the ANPs from Nad Ali down beyond Garmsir. The paratrooper company, on the other hand, had what, like 160 guys in four platoons and presumably a full complement of vehicles and maintenance/supply support from 2-508?

  24. I can't help but wonder how the generating force side is positioned to prepare our folks to counter insurgent activities. Schmedlap brings up a great point and highlights the difference between training and education. One way I have heard it thought of is that training is generally focused on the known, while education should be focused on the unknown.

    When we say somebody "gets it", we need to consider what exactly it is that they get, and then "why we think they get it", and "also why they get it". The use of "it" implies a thing - in this case probably a concept which is really an abstraction of how to go about doing something.

    Schmedlap's point about "what" rather than "how" is the essence of it. Since in this case the "how do I/we counter insurgency". This gets to the question of exactly what role U.S. military forces play in countering insurgency in the particular are they are operating in. This is relative to the issue of what are the insurgents doing (and trying to do) locally, but it is also tied to the issue of what others are trying to do more broadly.

    COMISAF issues guidance that characterizes the way he wants subordinate CDRs to carry out their operations - broadly, this is to orient on securing the population vs. destroying the enemy. This is where theory influences guidance (note - guidance has to based on something right?).

    The theory, as I understand it, is that by securing a population (from the insurgents) the benefits and functions of government can be supplied and the population will enjoy the associated freedoms while also seeing improvements on some relative scale that government and concepts such as RoL provide. As such the insurgency on both a local and a broad scale will lose influence and power because the population will reject the insurgency as illegitimate and counter to their best interests. Without the political power and means ($$, men, freedom of movement, materiel, etc.) that the population provides, the insurgency dies off, or is reduced to either a manageable problem to be readily handled by a government's security forces, or the movement goes through something like a DDR program and is content to assume a more limited role in whatever passes for a political process.

    Right or wrong, that is my take on the theory. So what are the tasks exactly that support that at a local level? The truth is I think we may be limited to developing a methodology for determining those key tasks for a specific location at a specific point in time, rather than trying to rigidly apply a one size fits all set of tasks because the tasks are contingent to the issue of legitimacy as a political concept – or why do you allow someone or something else to exercise some degree of social authority over you?

    more to follow

  25. continued:

    This is not to say that we cannot put some more meat on the task tree associated with COIN, however, I suspect that many of those tasks might fit better under a “stability” rubric than a COIN one - I’m not sure we have much on the vie as far as a decomposition of likely stability tasks to the tune of those things that would normally be done by non-military and security force elements in our UJTL and service tasks lists either – just as we don’t have much on what the generating force functions and executive functions are either. The issue may be “why can’t we come up with a COIN task tree” upon which capabilities can be generated during pre-deployment.

    This also has implications, if we were to decide that it is not feasible to lay out a set of specific COIN tasks that characterize the train up other than those that typically support training small units and staffs, then where do we place our efforts? It may be the emphasis is on education which gets back to preparing folks for the unknown and really gets at the enabling us to focus on the “how” in training and execution.

    more to follow

  26. continued

    Neil Smith just sent me a new article he wrote for proceedings on COIN in the PME (I’ve not cracked it yet, but will). It is not enough to just know what things we should change (in education or other parts of DOTMLPF), we need to articulate why we should change and establish the basis on which those changes should occur in order for it to take root. I keep getting asked what are the specific tasks and objectives for a CDR in SFA, and my answer is that since its purpose is to develop capability in somebody else’s force the objective must be seen in the context of their security problem and how the legitimate authority which generates, employs and sustains that security force rationalizes that security force’s existence. As for the SFA tasks, they are relative to developing the specific capabilities required by the FSF to do the security tasks which address their specific problems. There is no set grouping of tasks outside the idea that all security forces have: operating functions – or those things they do to achieve an objective; generating functions – or those things which generate the capabilities to do those operating tasks; and executive functions – or those things which set some kind of direction or policy which guides priorities. Even a small police station must patrol, recruit and train, and decide a patrol schedule.

    I bring this up because I think the idea behind COIN is similar. Broad success is influenced by local success, and local success is driven ultimately by the idea of local legitimacy. You can have broad success without succeeding in all localities, but you cannot have broad success without succeeding in some localities. In order to succeed in a locality, you have to counter the insurgent and his activities – not all of which are security oriented tasks. The only way I know of to know what the range of tasks are is through a local assessment. This is what takes you from “the theory” to an appreciation for the local problem – or the nature of the “war” you or your unit is fighting. So while a higher CDR may issue guidance (vs. a strict proscription or edict) – the local conditions that must be achieved may call for an approach and operations that fall outside that guidance. This does not mean complete operational freedom to interpret guidance as any CDR sees fit, but that the difference between the guidance and the local conditions must be addressed and articulated vertically and laterally throughout the CoC in order to achieve the objective.

    I’m not sure the institutions in the generating force have fully caught up with this requirement, or even understand what their limitations may be and the implications for policy. Instead, we seem to be leaving it up to individuals to develop on their own the perspectives and experience that move them into a unique category of those who “got it” based on their success at countering insurgents. The rest we eat raw – which I fear will come back on us in the near future – a different flavor of “zero-defects”

    Best, Rob

  27. @Gulliver:

    I don't think I said Tunnell's actions were inappropriate, just sub-optimal. And given the District the way I saw it in April and what I understood 1-17's prep and laydown to be, I don't see he would have had much choice. It would still have been a pickle however he sliced it.

    Any discussion of battalion ops also needs to consider that a lot of them haven't been mounted by the local "framework" battalions at all, but the regional reserve battalions back at Bastion/KAF and BAF who moved from province to province for that purpose.

    Because they didn't have to do framework stuff in between, the reserve battalions' ops I saw were always brilliantly synchronized, meticulously planned marvels. No question they had the on-call capability to tick the bad guys off. But they were yet more battalion-level ops in areas where no targets really justified that kind of effort, planned and forced down on lower by higher HQs (can't have some of our best troops sitting out of the fight now), and ardently pursued by their own staffs (who wanted a full, exciting tour, understandably). But they did the op, and then they'd be off again.

    So worst case you've got SOF, reserve battalions, and the local monthly battalion ops, all chasing very little in the way of intelligence, because no one's doing the framework required to build it up. And all the kinetics are sucking away all your helo lift and ISR (and ANSF). There was never any way to hold the territory swept, either (otherwise we'd have been there already), so six months later the next reserve battalion would just mow the grass again.

    I sometimes wished they'd taken those awesome reserve battalions I worked with and instead of planning and executing those brilliant multi-stage region-wide sweeps of empty compounds, hadparcelled their personnel out a little more instead. They could always have reconstituted quickly if a battalion-level target ever made an appearance in our AO, like back in 2006. I know when they showed up to help in smaller numbers, to give the insurgents a nasty surprise at a beleaguered strong point with a covert mortar team insertion, for instance, they were absolutely valuable.

  28. A lot of really thoughtful and insightful comments here, in response to a great post, Gulliver.

    I want to add just a couple of points - first, echoing BruceR and picking up on Rob's theme of local assessment, it seems to me that the Arghandab is one of the least appropriate places for a counter-guerrilla approach based around big sweeps. The population and community leaders there have been resistant to Taliban influence for years. The Taliban had to force their way in, assassinating a lot of local leaders along the way. Point being, the population may be fence-sitting right now to stay safe, but are probably pretty receptive to efforts to bring them onside.

    Second, the causal mechanism for COIN is not secure the population > provide good governance > win hearts and minds > gain information > defeat insurgency in local area.

    Rather, it is (more or less): secure the population > gain information > defeat insurgency locally > provide good governance > build long-term legitimacy > transition from militarized security to civil security. The last step being part of what allows you to shift your forces and expand the ink spot.

    I'm not saying you don't do QUIPs in 'clear and hold', but getting the population to give you information about the insurgents depends on whether you can keep them safe from reprisals. If the sweeps were part of the 'clear' phase to transition to 'hold', that would be one thing, but it doesn't seem to have been the case with the 1-17.

  29. MK -- Second, the causal mechanism for COIN is not secure the population > provide good governance > win hearts and minds > gain information > defeat insurgency in local area.

    Rather, it is (more or less): secure the population > gain information > defeat insurgency locally > provide good governance > build long-term legitimacy > transition from militarized security to civil security. The last step being part of what allows you to shift your forces and expand the ink spot.

    I am really, really glad you pointed this out, because it's far too often assumed or understood to be the former.

  30. One more small point of clarification: when I say 'defeat insurgency locally,' I mean the information is used to guide intelligence-led missions to kill or capture insurgents and insurgent infrastructure. I don't mean to imply some magical completely non-kinetic mechanism for defeat. I'm pretty sure I'm preaching to choir on this one, but thought I'd better preempt any possible misunderstanding.

  31. I am not so amazed that this matter is only being investigated by Naylor, discussed only here, and at FLIT, and Tom Ricks Blog Please Read the many postings at the following, of many issues and personal tragedies:

    The Most Important Context ? moving forward:
    Command Intent and Visions for the Future in light of a new PAM and the Army Capstone Concept 2016-2028
    I have been around military ( R&D etc technology) for about 25 years and I am no expert on military affairs, let alone RMA. However, this all begs some serious questions from an analytical point of view. What will we need to pull this off? Superhuman clones? If the Bragg guys can't get this right, and often they don't, both on major snafus and FRG hysteria, how can they envision a collaborative, savvy, more than SOF future?? I just don't see this, the disconnect is massive. COIN seems to have matured with FM 3-24 under Patraeus and several years of field-work so to speak, but this new infinity-war? It will combine all the air and the info technology with the ability to think at all levels, with policing and over-the-top psy-ops and intel skills, within a system that may require a completely refurbished set of rules. It will require a force that is not in the pipeline yet!

    What is clear is that the "Valley" and the "Region" had several commanders with what are seemingly conflicting, and yet perhaps not conflicting approaches? None of this seems coherent. The above discussion reviews the 1-17 event in detail, what we need is more on the operational and not the "values" details on the 2-508.

    Note that Drinkwine is cdr of the 4BCT, and author of "Serpent in the Garden'. Not often that one gets to read a thesis by a BCT cdr, but this pays lip service to COIN and the Infinite-War, just go and read it, published by the SSI online.
    Drinkwine was the guy who owned Fallujah the year before the infamous "bridge" picture, so one cannot say he hasn't had credible experience, let alone the tours in the Tenth, on paper you can't say he doesn't make sense. (Perhaps once BTZ?)

    Then there is Scaparotti, tours at the USMA ?? Army Staff ?? and earlier the 10th, so, yes, can fight in the hills, but is he the guy for this operation? Someone has to study that as well.

    Coincidence, the Bn cdrs fired in the Valley, yes, but then, what about the RARE events, that is what has been said, for the 508 under Drinkwine to have Missing soldiers and to fire Jenio,just a coincidence? Combine that with Fallujah, and whatever he says on paper, the stats are just not with this man. But, he answers to the MG, and the MG had to sign off, so Jenio, by the book, was gone. Hopefully we will hear more details and analysis on his conflicts with the intent, two up and two down and all of the sideways views. Please stay on this investigation topic. thank you.

  32. Anon @ 3:04 -- You're a little bit all over the place here, but let me just comment on one thing you've written:

    Note that Drinkwine is cdr of the 4BCT, and author of "Serpent in the Garden'. Not often that one gets to read a thesis by a BCT cdr, but this pays lip service to COIN and the Infinite-War, just go and read it, published by the SSI online.
    Drinkwine was the guy who owned Fallujah the year before the infamous "bridge" picture, so one cannot say he hasn't had credible experience, let alone the tours in the Tenth, on paper you can't say he doesn't make sense. (Perhaps once BTZ?)

    Then there is Scaparotti, tours at the USMA ?? Army Staff ?? and earlier the 10th, so, yes, can fight in the hills, but is he the guy for this operation? Someone has to study that as well.

    My point here is that it's not as simple as looking at a guy's bio and figuring out if he "gets it," if he's part of the cool crowd, if he's properly prepared, if he's commanding his unit as well as we think he ought to. There's an element of armchair quarterbacking here, sure, but the real question is whether or not the country and the service are doing everything possible to best position and prepare our forces and our combat leaders for success. There's no template. These guys aren't characters in a detective novel.

  33. If Afghanistan is the "Graveyard of Empires" then Arghandab River Valley has the makings of the graveyard of Army careers.

  34. This discussion is far more civil and enlightened than the one over at The Best should see the comments from the FRGs of the units involved. Truly an entertaining read :)

  35. Okay, I took Starbuck's bait. Just so that nobody else has to comb through pages of Ricks's blog to find the comments regarding Jenio, like I did, here is the link.

  36. I took the bait, too, and read part of that thread. Um, the *wives* are involved? Please tell me that is just silly internet gossip. But then, I took the bait and read the silly internet gossip, so shame on me....

  37. Madhu,

    FRG's are notorious for spreading unfounded rumors, sticking their noses where they don't belong, creating more tension than they alleviate, and nullifying most of their "readiness" contributions. I suspect that those comments are tame compared to the actual animosities. I got so fed up with a few wives when I was a platoon leader that I just flat out told a Soldier, in the presence of his wife, "if your wife ever speaks to me during duty hours again, I'll make sure you pull CQ for two full weekends."

    Part of the problem, of course, is that young Soldiers who are away from home for the first time and have a wallet full of money tend to make very poor decisions in the types of women they associate with. Half of my Soldiers were married to strippers. Not saying that all strippers are train wrecks, but most of the ones pole dancing in the filthy slums outside of military installations aren't exactly what mom was hoping to see Johnny marry. I've seen Commanders' wives go nuts in trying to work with them. I once accidentally stumbled upon an FRG meeting in a battalion conference room where one Commander's wife - usually a pretty quiet and unassuming lady - was lashing out at a room full of wives like a drill sergeant dressing down his platoon. For many, it's just not something they are prepared for.

  38. The worst are the dual-Soldier marriages, particularly when both of them are in the same company. JAG retained the counseling statement I wrote on one Soldier (he was an E-4, his wife was an E-5 in the same company) in which I wrote something along the lines of "no rational person would ever defend you in this matter unless she was married to you". What made it funny is that it started as the stuff of pure romance--"boom boom" in the mail room in Iraq :)

    One married couple (same battalion, different companies) actually filed an IG complaint because we were not putting he and his wife on duty on the same dates.

  39. Is an FRG on an installation subject to the same oversight-UCMJ, IG, CID-as a military unit? If the alleged FRG actions described in the posts occured in a platoon, company, or battalion the IG would be investigating command climate. How distracting is 4/82's FRG for the commanders deployed to Afghanistan and their mission effectiveness?

  40. Starbuck,
    I can't imagine the headaches. Another great example of why life in the infantry is so much easier, (so long as you don't mind doing something other than flying helicopters).

  41. Well, I am floored. I had no idea.

    "Personnel issues" are always the most difficult. Always.

  42. If we end DADT, Schmedlap, will it really be easier in the infantry?


  43. SNLII,
    I can't imagine what that will be like. If we get rid of DADT, then I will not regret my decision to ETS. I'll treat it like the Beta version of new software. I'll wait it out and see how it works before deciding to go back in. Politicians turn everything that they touch to crap - so they conclude that they need to touch more stuff. I don't get it.

  44. Just stumbled across this. You did a good job. The only thing I disagree with is even in our capacity as an SFA unit from sept to dec 2009 (my company was in the capital of helmand prv.) our unit was never mentally and psychologically an SFA unit. I didnt read all the comments, but the stated reasons for the firings of two of the best battalion level commanders ive ever known had and what transpired in reality would absolutely blow your mind. Author, shoot me a text if you want to follow up on this and want more information about the valley as a whole or any particular aspect of it. 5174896485. I served in B Co 2-508 from the time we replaced 1-17 to the time 101 replaced us.


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