Talking Proud - The American withdrawal from Afghanistan 2012

President Obama has set out his plan for our withdrawal from Afghanistan, one with which his military chain of command is not pleased. I intend to start tracking this withdrawal in a serial article updated as I get new information. I began my effort on June 24, 2011.

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2012 Report


2013 will see increased Afghan casualties and expose Afghan faults

The Afghans now are in charge of securing about 75 percent of their country. That will increase in 2013, or it could decease as the Taliban puts on the pressure. Afghan security force casualties ail also increase, and we’ll have to wait to see how that affects morale and desertions. Along with that, the Afghan Security Forces’ fault lines and successes will be exposed for all to see. The intensified green on blue attacks against NATO forces, especially American, has slowed Afghan training, something the Afghans could not afford. All of this will affect US-Afghan negotiations on the post-2014 arrangement. So 2013 in Afghanistan is going to be a huge important year. (123112)

US withdrawals may heighten tensions with Afghan Security Forces

US forces are facing many tough problems as they withdraw from Afghanistan. One that has not received much publicity has to do with actions taken by US forces against Afghan forces to lessen the chance of increased attacks against them by Afghan forces. David Zucchino highlighted some problems for the Los Angeles Times on December 25, 2012. In a nutshell, many Afghan forces, especially senior officers, feel insulted by forcing Afghan forces to disarm before entering American bases. Further, senior officers must go through a scanner. Generals are searched by low ranking American GIs. Conversely, the Afghans say the Americans remain fully armed and go wherever they wish. Tension has long been a problem between the two forces. Dealing with it as more and more Americans withdraw could create new issues. Sixty-two Western coalition troops have been killed this year in 46 Afghan on NATO attacks, known as “green on Blue.” On the other side, Afghan soldiers say the Americans have not learned Afghan customs and in one case, a US Army soldier allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians. So as the saying goes, “Houston, we have a problem.” (121712)

US ground force withdrawals will create problems in Afghanistan

Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of the forthcoming book, “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present.” In this book, he cites multiple problems for US forces once ground force withdrawals pick up pace. First, most US forces will operate from Bagram AB. So responding to high value targets and catering them in cities like Kandahar, 310 miles away, will be very hard. Gaining intelligence on the ground will be almost impossible. Sending special forces to distant targets will take longer, will often require helicopter refueling, and it will be very hard to provide quick reaction rescue forces available. As a result, commanders will not like sending special forces to distant targets. USAF and USN fighters will have to be employed more than commanders would like. It ill be very difficult to have aircraft from Bagram orbiting for long periods of times over potential targets. If you have them sit alert at Bagram, it could still take well over an hour for them to get to a target. There are also the risks of collateral damage, especially given the absence of forward air controllers or US forces embedded with the Afghans. Intelligence gathering is going to be a big loss --- not having troops on the ground to gather this will mean less captures and interrogation by Americans. In addition, American forces will not be out there protecting civilians, and we are unsure how this will work with Afghan forces. Since the Afghans will lack a functioning air force, US air forces will probably have to provide medevac and close air support. (122612)

Brits to withdraw at least 4,000 by end of 2013, leaving 5,000

Prime Minister David Cameron announced on December 19, 2012 that at least 4,000 British troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2013. Around 5,000 will remain into 2014. Cameron said the remaining troops would stay to pack up and work logistics issues. Cameron said no one will be in a combat role. The withdrawal will begin in April 2013. A further reduction will come after the fighting season winds down in September or October 2013. Afghan President Karzai says he is happy about the British withdrawal. The British have closed 50 bases and checkpoints across Helmand Province.(121912)

Karzai wants NATO forces out of Afghan villages

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Afghan President Karzai wants NATO forces to retire to their fortifications get out of afghan villages. He says Afghan security forces can handle the job. He said this at the opening of an Afghan foreign policy strategy conference: “ "The U.S. and NATO forces are going to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but before that — in 2013 — the transition of security is going to be completed and there will be no military activity of foreign forces in Afghanistan. We are working to make this transition of security happen sooner. We want all the foreign forces to come out of the villages and go to their bases so the Afghan forces can carry out the security.” This would seem to say that NATO can accelerate its withdrawal and get out during 2013, which is what more and more in Congress want to see happen. The nay problem I see here is whether NATO forces can get out so fast safely. If they can, they should. (121612)

Last French combat troops leave Afghan

The final installment of French combat forces left Afghanistan on December 15, 2012. The French now have 1,500 forces still there. They will remain into 2013 to pack up and ship the remaining equipment. Only a few hundred will conduct cooperation missions with the Afghans. (121612)

Bomb threat growing during US withdrawal

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Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, USA, head of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on December 13, 2012, that IEDs are likely to pose an increased threat over the next year as NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan. IEDs are responsible for more than 60 percent of U.S. troops killed and wounded in Afghanistan. Part of the challenge will have to do with fewer troops on the road meaning their travel will be more predictable and less awareness of what is going on in the vicinity. Most IEDs are fertilizer-based explosives and much of the fertilizers are made in Pakistan. Thy are commonly used for agricultural purposes. I have expressed my own view that I think it likely that US forces will have to fight their way out and that we will need to reinforce them to cover their withdrawal. (121412)

4th BCT returns home

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The last 300 from the 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 4th Infantry Division, eturned home from Afghan on December 11, 2012. The BCT, which had about 3,000 deployed, lost nine KIAs during its nine month deployment. Among other achievements, the BCT formed up a new Afrghan National Army Brigade which assumed responsibility for Nangahar Province. The photo shows one of them marching into the Special Events Center at Fort Carson for their homecoming. (121212)

Panetta makes surprise visit to Afghan --- to talk about troop levels

SecDef Panetta made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on December 12, 2012 to discuss future troop levels with senior commanders. He said he would forward his recommendations to the president “within the next few weeks.” Once ironed out, the levels will form the basis for withdrawal planning. The Tribune is reporting that commanders wanted about 15,000 to remain after 2014, but are likely to get only from 6,000-9,000. This is all, of course, speculation, We’ll have to wait and see. Of some concern for a military that relishes maneuver is the Tribune report that most of the remaining troops will be confined to fortified garrisons near Kabul. Bagram AB will be a central location and hub. One can only look back to the Beirut bombings of Marines to question this strategy. (121212)

10th Mountain heading back with new mission

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Two scaled back brigades of the 10th Mountain Division, the 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), are heading off to Afghan again --- the 10th Mountain is the Army’s most deployed division since 9-11 --- not necessarily to fight, but instead to form up “Security Force Assistance Teams” (SFAT). They will work in small units and be assigned to Afghan Army and Police units. Each BCT will have about 1,400 soldiers whereas they normally have from 3,000 to 3,500. Sources say they are among the last units to be deployed. Richard Sisk, reporting for military.com, said, “The SFAT mission calls for a concentration of officers and non-commissioned officers who will organize in 12-16 troop teams to live and work in close concert with the Afghan national police, national army, and national civil order police. The small teams are similar to the embedded military transition teams that were used to train Iraqi army and police units.” While the SFATs are being defined as different from combat units, if they are embedded, they will go out on patrols and they will fight. This will be worth watching. The same idea was used in Iraq. The photo shows two 101 Airborne soldiers training as SFATs in the US --- as you can see, they are armed to the teeth. (121212)

Pentagon says withdrawal on track, depending on what you mean by “on track”

The DoD owes Congress a report on Afghan progress twice per year. The latest report just came out and says the withdrawal is on track, despite the recent spikes in violence. However, Vanda Felbab-Brown, foreign policy fellow at the Brooking Institution and author of a new book about the future of Afghanistan suggests this: “To the extent that we define transition as getting out of Afghanistan, which I see as increasingly the mood… then we are certainly on track. If one defines on track as leaving behind a stable government with a capable security component, then no, we are not on track.” The NewYork Times reported on December 10, 2012 that the DoD report acknowledges that only one of 23 Afghan Army brigades can operate independently. The Times said, “The assessment found that the Taliban remain resilient, that widespread corruption continues to weaken the central Afghan government and that Pakistan persists in providing critical support to the insurgency. Insider attacks by Afghan security forces on their NATO coalition partners, while still small, are up significantly: there have been 37 so far in 2012, compared with 2 in 2007.” (121112)

Obama cutting back on civilians in Afghan beyond 2014

Karen Deyoung reported for Stars and Stripes on December 5, 2012 that President Obama is cutting back significantly on the number of US civilians who ail be in Afghan beyond 2014. The problems have to do with protecting them, and whether or not they can serve any useful purpose.

Afghans buying up weapons

Heath Druzan reported for Stars & Stripes on December 5, 2012 that demand is high and growing among Afghans to buy weapons for the post-2014 era. Prices are rising rapidly. Most of the buying is on the Black Market, and all sides are buying them up. Weapons smuggling from Pakistan has increased as well. (120612)

Some anxiety over General Dunford’s qualifications to command ISAF

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So-called “experts” are wondering about General Joseph Dunford, USMC, and his qualifications to command ISAF forces as they withdraw from Afghanistan. He was known as “Fighting Joe” when fighting in Iraq and has been praised from many quarters for the way he handled his job then. As a colonel, he commanded Regimental Combat Ream Five (RCT-5) and led it in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He kicked off the invasion and was told to cross the line on an accelerated schedule. He led his force all the way to Baghdad. He served there for 22 months. Those who know him have enormous confidence in him as a warrior and leader. bye is not flashy but has a record of accomplishment. If there are any causes for worry about his abilities to handle command in Afghanistan, they center on the fact he has little experience with Afghanistan, which he openly acknowledged during his Senate confirmation hearings, and he will be executing a strategy he did not draw up. Furthermore, he has been openly supportive of the 2014 deadline which makes one wonder whether he might be too political and whether he would ask for more time or more troops if that were militarily needed. None of this really matters. He is in command, he has commanded forces in combat, the strategy has been set, he might tweak it a bit, but the entire NATO ISAF force is conforming to the strategy. His supporters say this is no time to change the strategy. His challenge, which any new commander would face, is to execute that strategy. But yes, he will have to learn quickly and adapt to what might end up as a very dynamic environment. My own concern, no matter who would be in command, is that our forces will have to fight their way out. My personal expectation is this is going to be a difficult withdrawal. (120612)

77th Engineers from Missouri National Guard to demolish Afghan bases

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The 77th Engineer Co., 94th Engineer Battalion, from the Missouri National Guard, Ft. Leonard Wood, is deployed to Afghanistan on December 5, 2012 toto start demolish bases no longer being used, many of which were built as far back as 11 years ago. Most of these are temporary outposts, bases and landing zones. The engineers should be there for about nine months. The 77th has been in Afghanistan multiple times, and has incurred casualties in the past. They know this will not be a cake-walk endeavor. (120612)

We’ll be fighting al Qaeda in Afghan for years --- Panetta

Prior to the presidential election, Obama was telling us we had al Qaeda on the run, that it was on its last legs. Phil Stewart reported for Reuters today that "Al Qaeda fighters are still trying to make inroads into Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday, cautioning that battling the group would be a core U.S. mission there for years to come," that according to SecDef Panetta. Will that be our residual force of about 10,000 troopers who will handle this job Leon? (113012)

General Dunford approved for Afghan command

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The US Senate confirmed General Joseph Dunford, USMC, to replace General Allen in command of NATO forces in Afghanistan. General Dunford is currently assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. During his testimony, he said he has not been involved in troop reduction planning for Afghan and had no idea what combat commanders consider to be the right number, though he did say forces will have to stay beyond 2014. He said the two main missions would be counterterrorism and assisting and advising Afghan security forces. He is scheduled to take command in February 2013. (113012)

US Senate votes for accelerated withdrawal

The US Senate voted 62-33 on a non-binding amendment to a defense policy bill to withdraw from Afghanistan before 2014, though the Senate did not specify any details. A similar House bill stays with the end of 2014 date. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich) has indicated that a decision on the withdrawal timetable could be made in a matter of weeks. If I am reading the tea leaves correctly, in the Senate there is a question about whether NATo forces can achieve the mission in Afghan or not. If they cannot, then the feeling is they should be brought home as quickly as possible. Of course, it is hard to understand what the mission is and how success would be measured before the troops are withdrawn. (113012)

NATO has handed over 250 bases to Afghans, Logar Province said to be Taliban country

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An ISAF spokesman said on November 26, 2012 that ISAF has turned over 240 of 400 bases to the Afghan National security Forces (ANSF). The Global Post reported on November 26, 2012 that the Taliban now controls most of Logar province as NATO forces withdraw. It is no considered one of the most dangerous provinces in Afghan, and is just south of Kabul. NATO transitions to Afghan control began earlier this year. US Task Force 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team is there, with its main force the 1-503rd Infantry, recently deployed to Afghan for nine months. The BCT is also putting forces into Wardak Province. (112912)

Operational updates are being discontinued (112812)

Go to the ISAF site to read them if you wish. They are in the ISAF News section.

US “Force Assistance Brigades” to replace combat brigades

Paul McLeary, reporting for USA Today on November 25, 2012, said, “Bringing a new focus to the training and advising mission while pushing Afghans to take the lead in security operations, up to eight newly designed units -- dubbed security force assistance brigades -- will replace an equal number of Army brigade combat teams across the east and south of Afghanistan by next spring … Each security force assistance brigade is 1,400 to 2,000 soldiers, as opposed to the 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers in a fully manned brigade … At their core, the brigades will be made up of a number of security force assistance teams of 10 to 20 officers and noncommissioned officers each, who will rely on the remainder of the brigade for their security, logistics, intelligence and joint fires needs.” The idea is for these new brigades to operate independently and be as self-sufficient as possible given their small numbers. (112712)

Pentagon will tell how many troops should remain within a few weeks

Pentagon press secretary George Little said on November 26, 2012, “We really haven’t reached a point at which any single number (doe US troop strength beyond 2014) has ripened into a recommendation … Within the next several weeks, we’ll see this process play out.” He added that numbers such as 10,000 reported by The New York Times were “entirely premature.” Afghan’s deficiencies are thought to be in the areas of logistics and air power. Little also noted, “Any U.S. presence would only be at the invitation of the Afghan government,” and as we have reported, there are issues among Afghans about immunity for our forces. There is no issue on the US side --- our forces will not remain without immunity. (112712)

Operational updates November 13-21, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders, and catching enemy groups with explosives and other contraband dominated Allied operations in Afghanistan. Nov. 14: Taliban weapons and ammo facilitator in Kandahar Province, Taliban IED attack leader in Kandahar Province; Taliban weapons facilitator in Helmand Province and another in Logar Province; Haqqani IED facilitator in Paktiya Province. Nov. 15: Taliban explosives expert in Helmand; Taliban weapons, ammo and suicide IED facilitator in Nangahar; discovered and removed eight IEDs in Kandahar; killed Taliban leader directing IED and direct fire attacks. Nov. 16: Taliban weapons facilitator in Nangahar, Haqqani RPG and rocket attack leader in Logar. Nov. 17 Taliban leader moving weapons in Kandahar; disabled seven victim-operated IEDs ignited by walking on pressure plates. Nov. 18: two Taliban weapons and explosives facilitators in Kandahar, destroyed weapons cache of AK-47s and RPGs in Helmand. Nov. 19: Taliban suicide attack planner in Kandahar, Taliban facilitator moving explosives in Helmand, Taliban attack planner in Logar; found 15 emplaced IEDs and two weapons caches in Kandahar. Nov. 21: Killed Taliban leader in Ghazni responsible for moving Taliban fighters and conducting attacks; Killed several enemy in Kandahar and several more in Logar. And the beat goes on. A reminder: these are largely the result of very good intelligence, much of it gained from local Afghans. It is also worth noting that much of this activity is occurring in the volatile southern and eastern provinces --- hitting the leadership there before 2014 comes. (112612)
Immunity for US forces post-2014 could (probably will) block US-Afghan security agreement

As was the case with Iraq, the US demand for immunity for its forces remaining in Afghan after 2014 could --- an in my view, probably will --- block the US security agreement it desires. This would mean all US forces except those attached to the US embassy would have to leave by the end of 2014. Relations between the US and President Karzai are weak and getting weaker; the neighbors want the US out completely; as I result, I believe the immunity thing is likely to cause a total withdrawal. Much depends on the security situation at the time. (112412)

France terminates all combat operations

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France terminated all its combat missions in Afghan on November 20, 2012. All French combat soldiers will leave next month, two years ahead of the NATO schedule. Some 1,500 French soldiers will remain in 2013 to repatriate equipment and to train Afghan forces. (112012)

Operational updates November 12, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders, and catching enemy groups with explosives and other contraband dominated Allied operations in Afghanistan. The Allies got a Taliban explosives expert in Helmand, distributing and constructing IEDs province wide. The Allies found and removed eight IEDs in Kandahar, after getting some good tips. They also snatched a Taliban leader distributing IED components and facilitating IED ambushes. They got another Taliban weapons, ammo and suicide IED facilitator on Nangahar. (111512)

Questions about numbers of forces to be left after 2014 --- immunity for US troops will be a problem

SecDef Panetta has said, “General Allen has worked on several options (about troop levels beyond 2014 in Afghan) that we are now reviewing and working with the White House on. And my hope is that we'll be able to complete this process within the next few weeks. I’m confident that we're going to be able to get to the right number that we're going to need for the post-2014 presence.” With General Allen in hot water at the moment, one would still expect the planning to proceed, as it is actually being done by subordinates who are no doubt being led by a senior officer. But the important thing to remember is that these numbers have to be negotiated with the Karzai government and the conditions and stipulations have to be negotiated, as they were in Iraq. Of course, in Iraq, they could not reach agreement so everyone left. The same could happen in Afghan --- no one knows at present. Reuters reported on November 15, 012, “The thorniest issue is whether U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are given immunity from prosecution under Afghan law.” That was the same issue raised in Iraq that caused the US to leave entirely. General Joseph Dunford, USMC, slated to be the next Afghan commander, told Congress that the two post-2014 missions would be counterterrorism and assisting Afghan security forces. He also said 1,000 troops would not be enough to do that. Not sure where that number came from. (111512)

Operational updates November 13-14, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders dominated Allied operations in Afghanistan, big time. On November 14, 2012, the Allies captured a Taliban facilitator in Kandahar who was arranging to buy RPGs and a large quantity of assault rifles; they got another Taliban leader in the same province who was coordinating and emplacing IEDs; They got a Taliban leader in Helmand who was distributing heavy weapons and ammo to the enemy. The Allies also snatched a Haqqani weapons facilitator in Logar who was transferring weapons, arming the enemy, and planning attacks against the Allies and another Haqqani IED facilitator in Paktiya Province. That was a good day’s work on November 14. On November 13, the Allies killed a Taliban leader in Helmand who was providing intelligence to the Taliban senior leadership. (111412)

Panetta says US forces will remain in Afghan beyond 2014

SecDef Panetta told Afghan Channel One on November 13, 2012 that US forces will remain in country after the 2014 withdrawal deadline. Afghan Director of the Government Media Center Sefatollah Sapai said this support will include helping the Afghan government in the security sector. (111312)

Afghan militias forming up for post-2014 world, and so are neighbors

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It might come as a surprise to many, but Iran has little use for the Taliban other than to enable it to hassle the US. But Iran does not want the Taliban to become too powerful again, and is helping various militias inside Afghan form up, train and arm to fight the Taliban after NATO forces leave in 2014, with little regard for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) for whom Iran and many Afghans have little regard. Indeed, there is a good amount of speculation in the region that the ASF will disintegrate into many militias after the US withdrawal. In addition, Pakistan is taking steps to ally with the Karzai administration, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, India, Iran and, more recently, Russia as a means to limit Taliban power after 2014. The photo shows, from l-r, Presidents Karzai of Afghan, Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Ahmadinejad of Iran at a joint press conference February 17, 2012. In the mean time, this is all making Saudi Arabia nervous. There is a great deal of history behind foreign interventions and withdrawals in Afghan --- The Macedonians, Arabs, Mongols, Turks, Persians, British and Russians have come and gone, and now the Americans. The British had to fight their way out each time. (111212)

Operational updates November 12, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders dominated Allied operations in Afghanistan. The Allies got a Taliban leader in Kandahar, commanded IED attack cell and provided IED bomb-making materials to enemy forces. They also grabbed a Haqqani leader in Paktiya Province, transferred weapons and IEDs to enemy forces, and another Haqqani leader in Logar Province, facilitating weapons and directing attacks. (111212)

Operational updates November 9, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders, and catching enemy groups with explosives and other contraband dominated Allied operations in Afghanistan. The Allies picked up a Haqqani facilitator in Khost Province on November 9, 2012, coordinating delivery of weapons, IED materials, and fighters. Grabbed a Taliban leader in Helmand as well, directing purchase of IED materials and overseeing IED emplacements. Also nabbed a senior Haqqani leader in Logar, planning and conducting attacks. Allies continue to find arms caches by the boatloads, 36 RPG warheads, 15,000 rounds of 12.7 mm ammo in one operation in Bhaglan Province, another operation got anti-tank weapons and 100,000 rounds of ammo, several hand grenades in Uruzgan Province. (110912)

NATO says it might --- probably will --- remain in Afghan after 2014

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Responding to a question from a Russian reporter, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said this on November 5, 2012: "We operate right now in Afghanistan on the basis of a United Nations Mandate; we would be able to operate in Afghanistan after 2014 on the basis of an invitation from the Afghan government. That will be fully in accordance with international law … On top of that if we could have a United Nations mandate it will be a good thing, but we could operate in Afghanistan on the basis of an invitation.” He said the focus would be on training but NATO would provide protection for the trainers, to wit, combat forces. He said, "We have started planning for our post-2014 mission in Afghanistan. The core will be the training mission. It will be a mission different from the current ISAF combat mission – it will be a training mission – but obviously we will make sure that our trainers and instructors can operate in a secure environment … We are in the very early stage of our planning. We took the first step when the defense ministers met in October, we will take the next step when they meet in February, and I would expect the final preparation to be completed by mid 2013. So, at this stage we have not made details and decision as regard how to protect our trainers and instructors effectively, but it goes without saying that we will provide necessary protection of trainers and instructors. (110912)

Operational updates November 6, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders, and catching enemy groups with explosives and other contraband dominated Allied operations in Afghanistan. The Allies picked up a Haqqani leader in Logar involved in vehicle borne IEDs and attacks against the Allies; a senior Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan facilitator and weapons trafficker was nabbed in Kunduz province. He has been financing weapons acquisition and weapons transfer and deliveries. Numbers of enemy have been picked up in Uruzgan, Zabul, and Pakitiya provinces with hundreds and hundreds of pounds of explosives, weapons and ammo. These operational reports from ISAF seldom reflect much combat, but seem to concentrate on these targeted captures. Such targeted captures require excellent intelligence, much of which must be coming from Afghan citizens themselves.(110212)

First three fixed-wing Afghan pilots graduate from US training

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The USAF has graduated Afghanistan’s first three fixed wing air force pilots from the USAF training facility in Shindand AB, Herat Province.

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The pilots, all first lieutenants, completed undergraduate pilot training in Cessna 182 and 208 aircraft, and upon completion of copilot initial qualification training, these new Afghan pilots will become operational C-208 copilots for the Afghan air force. The photo shows an Iraqi Air Force C-208 in flight. A training school in the US has graduated 21 Afghan rotary wing pilots last year, and the Shindand facility will kick out 38 more fixed wing pilots in the next 12 months. (110212)

Operational updates November 2, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders continues to dominate Allied operations in Afghanistan. The Allies picked up a Taliban leader in Kandahar involved in IEDs, kidnappings, and attacks against the Allies; a Taliban facilitator in Nangahar province organizing attacks against the Allies; and a Haqqani leader in Paktiya province dieting attacks against government officials, kidnappings, and executions. (110212)

Report says Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) cannot handle the job

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Foreign Policy reported on November 2, 2012, “A report released Thursday (November 1, 2012) by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) says, ‘The Afghan government will likely be incapable of fully sustaining ANSF facilities after the transition in 2014 and the expected decrease in U.S. and coalition support.’ The SIGAR audit found that Afghan forces lack the engineers and maintenance personnel necessary to keep up "critical facilities" at their bases such as water supply, waste disposal, and electricity generation.” SIGAR is an American entity: Congress created the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to provide independent and objective oversight of Afghanistan reconstruction projects and activities. Politico reported it this way: “Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko's regular report to Congress, released yesterday (NOvember 1, 2012), describes in painstaking detail how after more than a decade of war and $90 billion in mostly U.S. funding for reconstruction costs, efforts to turn the country over to Afghan security forces remain plagued by corruption, mismanagement and a troubling increase in ‘insider attacks.’” The DoD says it is aware of these problems. Pentagon Press Secretary Little said on November 1, 2012, “There are problems that do come up and obstacles … But our commitment to the strategy remains sound. I think we’ve been very clear-eyed in our public statements about the fact that, while we’re making progress, challenges remain.” IT should be noted here that this runs counter to what some US commanders in the field are saying. Colonel John Shafer, USMC, commander Regimental Combat Team 6 in southwest Afghan, said on or about October 23, 2912, “We reduced the force in the regimental combat team by approximately 60 percent, and we have made up the difference with the Afghan national security forces … So … the Marines of the regional combat team … effectively created the conditions to allow the Afghan national security forces to come in and create the space for them to be able to effectively operate … Initially, there was hesitation from the local national perspective, because they didn’t know how capable their Afghan national security forces were … But … as a result of the thinning of the [International Security Assistance Force] and coalition forces, the Afghan national security forces have had to step up to meet the challenges that the Taliban have presented. And overwhelmingly, they have done very well and been very successful … And with that, it has really bolstered the confidence of the local national population and … given the Afghan national security forces credibility in the eyes of the people of Afghanistan,” Shafer continued. “So I think we are well on track.” (110212)

Operational updates November 1, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders continues to dominate Allied operations in Afghanistan. On November 1, the Allies grabbed a Taliban leader who conducted an insider attack that killed one American and injured three others back on August 7. They also got his ANA identification card. The Allies snatched a Haqqani leader in Khost, tied directly to a suicide attack on coalition forces on June 20. The Allies killed a Haqqani leader in Paktiya province on October 31. He was directing attacks against the Allies, and coordinating weapons and bomb-making materiel movements. The Allies also seized large weapons caches in Ghazni on October 31 and in Parwan on October 30. (110112)

Afghan dressed as a cop murders two more US troops

A man dressed in an Afghan police uniform murdered two US troops in Khas Uruzgan on or about October 25, 2012 (announcement made that day). Thus far this year, 52 foreign troops, about half of them Americans, have fallen to such murders. A similar number of Afghan troops have been killed in the same way. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has called for more such killings. (102512)

Operational updates, October 23, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders continues to dominate Allied operations in Afghanistan. The Allies killed a Taliban leader in Wardak. He was involved in coordinating attacks against the Allies. The Allies arrested another Taliban leader in Kunduz, also one coordinating attacks against the Allies. The Allies also confirmed the death of another Taliban leader in Kandahar on October 22. This guy was a weapons broker and distributor. The Allies further confirmed they killed a senior Taliban leader in Uruzgan on October 21, and they killed a Haqqani leader in Paktiya province on October 22. The latter was arrested on October 14. And the beat goes on. That said, Taliban enemy killed 10 Afghan troops in an ambush in western Herat province on or about October 23.(101912)

Centerpiece of NATO withdrawal plan --- ANA-ANP --- not going well

Building up the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) is not going well at all. We are all aware of the problem of insider attacks on NATO forces. This has bred great mistrust between the ANA-ANP and NATO troops. Another big problem is that the Afghan government mud place enormous efforts on recruiting because the desertion rate is so high. The Afghan Army now has to replace one-third of its forces every year due to rampant desertions and low re-enlistment rates. One is also forced to wonder how many of these deserters are taking their training and perhaps even weapons o the enemy. And then, the speed of a rapid expansion of the AFA-AFP has resulted in their reduced readiness. The goal is to raise and train an Army-Police Force of 352,000. Odds are that NATO will not achieve this, or, if NATO does, the force will be hollow and unprepared to fight and win. This all is bound to have some impact on the NATO plan. Some say get out faster, while others say stay longer. (102312)

Signs of local Afghan citizens rising up against Taliban

A militant anti-Taliban movement has risen up in the Andar District, Ghazni province, a long-time enemy stronghold south of Kabul, known as the “Andar Uprising.” The Institute for the Study of War has suggested that this could become a trend in other villages and districts. The Andar Uprising occurred while the 30,000 surge force from the US was in place beating up on the enemy, giving locals incentive to do their thing to help the Allies. That surge force has been withdrawn, so we’ll have to see what develops. (101912)

Operational updates, October 19, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders continues to dominate Allied operations in Afghanistan. The Allies picked up a Taliban leader in Kunduz involved in IED operations and another one in Helmand who commanded IED cells. The latter was arrested on October 14. The Allies have confirmed they killed a Taliban leader who commanded dozens of enemy attacking Allied forces; they killed him on October 16. (101912)

Marines needed to help ANA deal with Helmand district

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Weapons Co., 1-1 Marines, was called on to go to Patrol Base Lambadand in the Trek Nawa district of Helmand Province to help the ANA deal with enemy in the region in late September 2012. The Marines pushed out on combined patrols with the ANA and taught them improved tactics. They say they will only be there for about four days. They came under attack and quickly dealt with the enemy. Look for this kind of thing to occur throughout the country as we near the withdrawal. The photo shows a combined patrol on September 27, 2012. (101912)

Karzai says his people can handle the job if NATO leaves early

AP reported on October 18, 2012, “President Hamid Karzai said Thursday the nation's military and police are ready and willing to take full responsibility for security in the country if the U.S.-led international coalition decides to speed up the handover to Afghan government forces.” NATO officials say there is no intention of changing the current timeline, 2014 stands, with training forces left thereafter. As one reads the daily reports coming from Afghan, there is little to suggest Karzai’s forces are up to the job. The Taliban seems as though it is ramping up its attacks, which are growing more lethal, now that the US has withdrawn 30,000 troops. A report by Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2012, said, “Now, with those additional troops having departed, American forces cannot leave Camp Leatherneck (Sangin Province, the most deadly of them all) without getting fired at or bombed on any given day. An unprecedented assault on their base in mid-September saw 15 Taliban fighters enter Leatherneck, blow up six Harrier jets and three refueling stations and kill two Marines before they were stopped. The daily fight right beyond the wire is bitter and unwelcome evidence of the stalemate that exists in southern and eastern Afghanistan.” (101812)

A sense for logistics

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This is a photo of a C5 Galaxy transport, our largest, loading up an AH-64 Apache helicopter. Much of the Apache had to be taken apart to fit. Uploading it takes time, lots of it. A C-5 is capable of transporting up to six AH-64 Apaches or five Bradley Fighting Vehicles. I do not know how many of these are in Afghanistan, but my guess is a lot. I suspect the Apaches and other helicopters will go out by air transport. Just wanted readers to get a sense for the logistics of withdrawal. (101812)

New issue on Afghan withdrawal: how to protect remaining forces

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Matthias Gebauer and Gordon Repinski, reporting for der Spiegel of Germany, have highlighted that German authorities, recognizing that the NATO-Afghan plan is for NATO forces to remain in Afghan beyond 2014 to train Afghan forces, now are worried about how to protect them. Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière refers to those who will stay or come back as “return transfer” troops. Inded Maizière is worried about the entire withdrawal, saying, "The withdrawal is the biggest challenge for the Bundeswehr since its conception,” recalling the events surrounding the US withdrawal from Vietnam. He is also worried about the logistics of removing equipment, since he will have rely on train. He has also acknowledged that protection forces able to engage in combat will have to accompany the trainers, which in turn will demand a UN Chapter 7 mandate beyond 2014, something which will have to be arranged through the UN Security Council.

Operational updates, October 17, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders continues to dominate Allied operations in Afghanistan. They nabbed a Taliban leader in the Kandahar district province on October 16, an enemy who controlled Taliban assassination attempts, improvised explosive device operations, and suicide attacks throughout Kandahar district. Two enemy lads in the process of burying an IED on October 16 in Logar Province are off to their Maker by means of a precision air strike. During an operation in Nangahar Province the Allies sent another batch of five enemy to their Maker as well. (101512)

Operational updates, October 16, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders continues to dominate Allied operations in Afghanistan. They nabbed a Haqqani leader in Ghazni province on October 16, an enemy who has been coordinating attacks against Allied forces. The Allies also captured a Taliban leader in Nangahar province on October 16. He has been associated with insider-attack shooters. in Ghazni, on October 15-16, Allied forces killed 16 enemy, two of whom were Afghans, the rest from Pakistan, Chechnya and Arab countries.(101512)

Afghan Army desertions exceedingly high

The Afghan Army now has to replace one-third of its forces every year due to rampant desertions and low re-enlistment rates. This presents a high challenge to NATO achieving its Afghan force structure goals and raises questions about whether anything is working in Afghan other than the pure bravery and valor of the NATO military forces fighting there. One is also forced to wonder how many of these deserters are taking their training and perhaps even weapons o the enemy.(101612)

Two more Americans murdered by Afghan “ally”

A member of the Afghan intelligence service killed two Americans and four Afghan intelligence officers in a suicide bomb attack on October 13, 2012. The National Directorate of Security (NDS) denied on October 16, 012 that the attacker was actually an NDS employee, but was instead an insurgent wearing an NDS uniform. (101612)

Operational updates, October 12-15, 2012

Hunting and catching enemy leaders continues to dominate Allied operations in Afghanistan. They nabbed a Haqqani leader in Paktiya province on October 12, one of those IED guys harboring lots of weapons and explosive materials. The grabbed up a Taliban leader in Kandahar province on October 13, another one of these IED guys who was directing deliveries of explosives; arrested another Taliban honcho in Kandahar, yet another in Nimroz Province, and killed another one in Kandahar on October 13; they arrested a Haqqani leader in Ghazni Province on October 14. Allied forces also continue to run down enemy forces and kill them: a bunch in Sar-e Pal province on October 12, which included killing a Taliban commander; they killed a number of enemy in Kunduz province on October 13; and they whacked a group of enemy in Paktiya province after the enemy made the mistake of ambushing them. Many, indeed most, of the leaders they have been arresting and killing were heavy-duty in the IED and explosives business, the main threats to our forces in Afghan. (101512)

It’s about time someone stands up for our troops in Afghan


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US Secretary of Defense Panetta got his dandruff up on October 11, 2012 on his way to Peru complaining that Afghan President Karzai kept blaming the US military for problems in the war. Panetta said:

"We have made progress in Afghanistan because there are men and women in uniform who are willing to fight and die for Afghanistan's sovereignty and their right to govern and secure themselves … We've lost over 2,000 US men and women, ISAF (NATO) has lost forces there and the Afghans have lost a large number of their forces in battle … Those lives were lost fighting the right enemy, not the wrong enemy. And I think it would be helpful if the president, every once in a while, expressed his thanks for the sacrifices that have been made by those who have fought and died for Afghanistan rather than criticize." (101512)


VP debate brings out Obama Afghan policy

The vice presidential debate between Messrs. Biden and Ryan has brought out some Obama Afghan policies that somehow I had missed, so I want to highlight. Biden said, “We are leaving in 2014. Period.” But Paul Miller, writing for Foreign Policy on October 12, 2012, said, “The position he (Biden) outlined last night -- a complete withdrawal of all troops by 2014 -- is not the Obama administration's position, at least not its public position. President Obama has committed to an enduring international military presence beyond 2014. At the very least, it will include continued training for the Afghan army and police and an American counterterrorism capability. At the NATO Summit in Chicago earlier this year, ISAF's Declaration on Afghanistan promised NATO support to Afghanistan ‘up to 2014 and beyond," and promised to establish "a new training, advising and assistance mission.’ In the new U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement, signed in May 2012, Afghanistan agreed to ‘provide U.S. forces continued access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014, and beyond as may be agreed...for the purposes of combating al-Qaeda and its affiliates.’” As it turns out, the airwaves are buzzing with differing positions on where we are headed in Afghan. I have seen reports that Obama’s people are now looking at getting out by the end of 2013. I have also seen reports that the panning is to keep some 30,000 military people in-country beyond 2014. It seems to me that this underscores why it is not wise to come out with a withdrawal date certain: too many rumors float around and too many people voice differing opinions. Perhaps all this uncertainty creates desired deception. I think it would have been better to leave a date certain out of the mix in the first place. (101412)

1-7 Marines return home from Sangin --- one battalion left to handle the job of three

The 1-7 Marines returned Twentynine Palms, California on October 7, 2012 after a seven-month deployment to the Sangin Valley in Helmand Province. Most were from B/1-7 though some were from A and D/1-7. The 1-7 Marines were in charge in the Sangin Valley in September 2012 and were controlling rice as much territory with half as many Marines back in 2011. The 1-7 Marines returned to the US on October 7, 2012, and the situation is now taking a turn for the worse as the Afghan National Army (ANA) finds itself unable to cope. While the 1-7 was preparing to leave, it had to remain in the fight to help the ANA. One officer said the Taliban keep coming back. The 1-7 was then limited in what it could do as the high command stopped combined patrols with the ANA because of the green-on-blue attacks by friendlies against US forces. The 2-5 Marines left in September. This has left the 2-7 Marines as the only battalion left in this northern region of Helmand. The 3-8 Marines are handling southern Helmand. The ANA thus far appears unprepared to handle the job without the Marines by their side. We’ll need to keep an eye on how well the 2-7 can operate as the lone marine wolf in the Sangin, among the most violent districts in Afghanistan. (101312)

Enemy attack against Camp Bastion a helluva fight


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You will recall the enemy attack against Camp Bastion, Afghanistan on September 14-15, 2012. This was a helluva fight, no ordinary engagement. Camp Bastion is the main British military base in Afghanistan, at Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province. It adjoins Camp Leatherneck and an Afghan Army camp. Some 15 enemy dressed in US Army uniforms were armed with automatic rifles, RPGs, and suicide vests. They breached a perimeter fence at 10 pm on September 14 and dispersed in three teams, attacking from ti positions. They began their attack against fixed and rotary wing aircraft in the flight line, aircraft hangars and other buildings. At first, Marines on duty and those roused out of their sleep, were unsure what the explosions were all about since they often conduct controlled explosions outside the base. It did not take them long to figure out they were under attack, so they kicked into action, and called to their Command pertains Center for help.

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One enemy team went to the Marine AV-8 Harriers and destroyed six (one destroyed AV-8 shown here), seriously damaging another two. Marine AH-1W Cobras and UH-1Y Hueys were on alert to respond elsewhere, so it took a minute to realize they had to respond to a fight on their own base. They got aloft promptly. But it was night, no moon, there was a lot of fire and smoke, and many Marines were engaged on the ground with the enemy, often in close proximity. The helos stayed in contact with Marines on the ground for direction. A British Quick Reaction Force (QRF) responded and the battle was on full force, said by some to be fierce. As is the Marine modus operand, they began to push forward against the enemy while the attack helicopters engaged the enemy from 200 ft. altitude. Fourteen enemy were killed, nearly the entire attacking force, the other was captured, and two American Marines were killed. Everyone was in the fight, with mechanics dropping their wrenches to fight, as Marine training is that every Marine is first and foremost a rifleman. The fight lasted about four hours. (100812)

Operational report October 4, 2012

The Allies concluded a six-day operation against insurgent networks in the Chak district, Wardak province on October 3, 2012, killing more than 30 enemy, including five high level Taliban commanders. Operations continue nation-wide to detain suspected enemy (100412)

US throws in towel on negotiating with Taliban

The New York Times reported on October 1 that senior military officials have all but given up on the peace talks, and instead are now focused on bulking up the Afghan army to push back against the Taliban after NATO forces depart. The US has concluded the Taliban are waiting for the NATO withdrawal and will then make their move. Many experts reduct a civil war at some level. How the Afghan security forces will react to that is anyone’s guess. (100312)

“Rakkasans” deploy to Afghan on sixth deployment

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 101 Airborne “Rakkasans” is preparing to assume responsibility from the 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry on October 6, 2012. This is its sixth deployment in the war on terrorism. Following this, BCTs apparently will not be used any longer, but instead Security Force Assistance Teams will be used.

Operational report October 3, 2012

The Allies killed the leader of a Taliban improvised explosive device cell in Alisheng district, Laghman province. Rohullah Kahoon, is believed to be responsible for multiple attacks against Afghan and coalition forces using IEDs, rocket-propelled grenades and indirect fire munitions, such as rockets and mortars. In the weeks prior to his death, the Taliban IED cell leader had reportedly been stockpiling weapons for future insurgent attacks, including ammunition and explosives. He and his goombas were positively identified on the ground, and a precision air strike did the rest. The Allies confirmed one of the insurgents captured during a security operation in Pul-e 'Alam district, Logar province on October 2, 2012 is a Haqqani leader and weapons financier. He is believed to have overseen the acquisition and distribution of rockets, heavy weapons, assault rifles, explosives and body armor to support insurgent operations throughout Logar province. Prior to his capture, the weapons financier had reportedly purchased multiple missiles to be used in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. During the operation, the security force also detained two other suspected insurgents. Allied forces have confirmed the deaths of two insurgent leaders targeted in a coalition airstrike September 28 in Shindand district, Herat province: Mullah Sultan, a top level Taliban leader, weapons supplier, kidnapper, and attack planner; Mullah Akhtar Mohammad, a Taliban leader in Shindand, Herat, was reportedly involved in the facilitation of suicide bombers and attacks. He is also known to have disrupted local elections in the district by intimidating the local population. The removal of these two insurgent leaders, said a coalition official, will have a major impact on Taliban command and logistics networks in Farah province. (100312)

NATO can withdraw early!
Errata - maybe they can, but they will not

The DoD has said the report below form the Guardian of the UK is wrong, that NATO and the US are in lock-step to hold to the 2014 deadline. Geroge Little, the DoD spokesman said, “The press report is incorrect … The secretary general is in fact committed to the timeline.” Little’s rendition of Rasmussen’s position does accurately reflect what the secretary general has said all along. (100312)

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NATO Secretary General Rasmussen (shown here) told The Guardian on October 1, 2012 that the international coalition could withdraw troops faster than originally planned. He is specifically concerned about the insider attacks and the overall security situation. He believes "a significant part of the insider attacks are due to Taliban tactics (in an effort to) undermine public and political support (for the war in NATO member countries).” This is a change in his tone, and it must reflect a change in attitude among member states in the fight. Frankly, that he would say this is surprising. NATO defense ministers will meet in Brussels next week to talk. (100212)

Operational prate October 2, 2012

Nabbing enemy leaders leads the news. The Afghan Special Operations Unit, supported by coalition troops, arrested a Taliban leader in Maiwand district, Kandahar province, on October 2, 2012. The arrested leader is suspected of reporting directly to the senior Taliban leader for the district and was responsible for coordinating and directing improvised explosive device emplacement operations, as well as insurgent attacks throughout the region. An Afghan and coalition security force arrested a senior Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader and weapons facilitator in Chahar Darah district, Kunduz province on October 2. The arrested IMU leader is suspected of planning and conducting improvised explosive device attacks throughout Kunduz province, as well as coordinating the movement of IED materials for future attacks on Afghan and coalition security forces. Afghan Special Police and coalition forces confirmed the arrest of a Taliban commander during an operation in Gereshk district, Helmand province on October 1. The Taliban commander, Abdul Bari, who operates across southwest Afghanistan, is suspected of coordinating delivery of heavy machine guns and IED components to insurgents across central Helmand province. An Afghan and coalition security force today confirmed the arrest of a Haqqani leader suspected of being behind the September 26 suicide attack that killed two coalition service members in Pul-e ‘Alam district, Logar province. An Afghan and coalition security force confirmed the arrest of a Haqqani leader in Sabari district, Khost province on September 30. The Haqqani leader is alleged to have spearheaded the planning, supply coordination and execution of insurgent attacks on Afghan and coalition forces throughout the Paktiya province. He is also believed to be tied to several rocket attacks on Afghan civilians. During the operation, several suspected insurgents were also detained. The second in command to the Taliban leadership in Shindand district, Herat province was removed from the battlefield by a coalition air strike September 30. The Taliban key leader, Mullah Mansur, is believed to have commanded an IED cell and having been actively involved in coordinating ambush attacks on Afghan National Security Forces in the province, in addition to moving IED and narcotics. Mullah Mansur was also suspected of recruiting young males into the insurgency. If the Iraq War pattern applies here, these kinds of arrests-killing reflect that the locals are asking to the Allies and providing valuable intelligence. (100212)

General Allen to be replaced to gain a “fresh look?”

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David Cloud reported for the Tribune on September 29, 2012 that President Obama has decided to replace General John Allen, USMC, as our commander in Afghanistan, after serving since only mid-2011, according to David Barno, a retired Army general, because “the president wants somebody who can take a fresh look at the effort in Afghanistan and isn’t an architect of the current strategy.” General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the current assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, shown here, will replace Allen in January 2013. Allen will have served for only about 18 months. Dunford will likely command NATO forces through the final withdrawal scheduled for the end of 2014. Allen will be the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR), in charge of the NATO military, a promotion. I don’t see it that way. The green-on-blue attacks have soured the entire NATO strategy and have increased, not decreased, under Allen’s command. Why that is requires much further study. I am not prepared to blame General Alllen. Speaking editorially, what irks me as that after 11 years at war in Afghanistan, we need yet another fresh look. My view is we do not need a fresh look at all. The suits in Washington erred massively by wanting to spread democracy and doing nation building after defeating the Taliban government and getting some licks in on al Qaeda. We should have left after a year or so. We don’t need a fresh look. Our military is not in the business of nation building. It fights wars. It did that, and it won, and should have left. There is talk about accelerating the pace of withdrawal. I agree with that, and would start leaving en masse now --- if that’s the fresh look, then I applaud it. (100112)

Operational update, October 1, 2012

The number one Taliban leader in Sherzad district, Nawab AFA Nil, was killed by Afghan and coalition forces during an operation in Nangarhar province, September 31, 2012. He equipped and coordinated fighters in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He facilitated the movement of weapons and explosives. After ensuring no civilians were in the vicinity, the security force engaged Nawab and the insurgent with a precision airstrike, killing both. Afghan Special Police and coalition forces conducted a vehicle interdiction operation in Chakhansur district, Nimroz province September 31, 2012 resulting in the recovery of more than 2,660 kilograms (5,864 pounds) of drugs and the detention of a number of insurgents. The detained insurgents are believed to be involved in narcotics and weapons facilitation to the Taliban. Afghan and coalition security forces detained numerous suspected insurgents throughout the country, as they do as a matter of routine. (100112)

NATO forces in firefight with Afghan Army allies, two Americans dead

Foreign Policy reported on October 1, 2012, “Two Americans and three Afghans were reportedly killed Saturday in a firefight between the two allied forces, which broke out after an argument at an Afghan National Army checkpoint in the Said Abad district of Wardak Province, just west of the capital city of Kabul. The apparent insider attack came just two days after the U.S. military said combined operations in which NATO troops fight alongside Afghan troops were on the rise again, having been suspended briefly a week earlier.” General Allen has said publicly, “I’m mad as hell about them (green on blue attacks), to be honest with you. We're going to go after this. It reverberates everywhere across the United States. ... We're willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we're not willing to be murdered for it." The question now is what to do about it. Obviously, the general has not yet arrived at the answer, or his desired response has not been approved. This firefight pushed the US death toll for this war over 2,000. (100112)

Some in Congress want early withdrawal

Former strong supporters of the war in Afghan, some in Congress are now advocating early withdrawal. Bill Young, (R-FL), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Committee, said, "I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can … I just think we're killing kids that don't need to die." Though he has backed away from this a bit, Senator John McCain also suggested that Washington should consider an early withdrawal. A major motivator of course has been the “green on blue” attacks that have killed 51 Americans thus far this year. But there is also a growing sense that the Karzai government cannot hold together, that the country may split at any time into warring factions, and that civil war is a most likely outcome, even before 2014. That in turn could mean NATO forces would have to fight their way out. (092712)

NATO and Afghan forces partnering resumes?

It is a little hard to nail this down precisely, but SecDef Panbetta said on September 27, 2012 that most NATO combat units have resumed partnering with Afghan forces. You will recall General Allen, our commander in Afghan, ordered on September 16, 2012 that all combined International Security Assistance Force and Afghan operations below the battalion level must be approved at the regional command level, following insider attacks that have killed 51 members of the coalition forces so far this year. So eleven days later they have resumed? What is difficult here is to understand what Panetta means. The latest reports I have seen indicates senior regional commanders must still approve such operations, plans must be presented to reflect how NATO forces will be safeguarded, and American troops apparently still must carry their weapons, loaded, at all times. So in the surface it appears NATO and Afghan forces may be going out together, but a strict set of rules remains in effect, to wit, little change. (092712)

Operational update, September 27, 2012

Allied forces killed an al Qaeda facilitator Abdul Rauf, a Pakistani in Marawarah District, Kunar Province, employing a precision air strike. They also recovered a cache of weapons, IEDs and components such as pressure plates and chemicals in Qalat District, Zabul Province. An Afghan led force killed a number of enemy in Sabari District, Khost Province in search pot a Haqqani leader. Approaching his suspected location, the enemy engaged the force and the Afghan force killed them, captured two, and seized multiple assault rifles and military equipment. No civilians hurt in these operations. (092712)

Afghan insider attacks a larger problem than leadership is admitting

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The Langley Intelligence Group, LIGNET, led by former CIA Director General Michael Hayden, USAF (Ret.), reported on September 24, 2012, “The insider attacks are doing enormous damage to ISAF troop morale and to relations between ISAF and the Afghan army. Insufficient funding and time have already raised serious questions about whether ISAF will be able to train the Afghan army before it departs in 2014. The damage being caused by insider attacks will make training the Afghan army by 2014 even more difficult.” LIGNT maintains that the ISAF NATO command is unsure of what is happening and what to do about it, asserting, “High command and leaders on the ground are not sure which Afghans could be behind the next attack.” LIGNET adds, “The withdrawal deadline is fast approaching and political support for ISAF is dying. This is raising the potential of a collapse of the Afghan government after ISAF withdraws because the insider attacks could lead to early withdrawals of ISAF troops and insufficient training that will result in an Afghan army incapable of withstanding the Taliban.” We reported earlier that at least 25 percent of the Afghan security forces are believed to have been infiltrated by enemy forces, and former Ambassador to Kabul Crocker has said the percentage is higher. The Atlantic Council of the US is also very worried, saying on September 19, 2012, “Three years after doubling down on an unachievable mission, trust between NATO and Afghan forces is at an all-time low. Already this year, there have been thirty-six of these insider attacks,killing fifty-one NATO troops, most of them Americans … Even before the latest policy announcement, Joint Chiefs chairman Martin Dempsey acknowledged the severity of the problem, declaring, ‘You can't whitewash it. We can't convince ourselves that we just have to work harder to get through it. Something has to change" and admitting that "It is a very serious threat to the campaign.’ The NATO strategy, articulated at the November 2010 Lisbon Summit, is for Afghan forces to assume ‘full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan’ by the end of 2014. How that's going to be possible when we can't even trust them not to shoot their trainers is unfathomable.” The NATO leadership has acknowledged that the attacks are designed to weaken NATO resolve --- they must certainly be affecting our forces, and retaliation is not obvious to us. (092412)

Surge troops out

SecDef Panetta announced on September 21, 2012 that all 33,000 surge troops have left Afghanistan, ahead of the September 30 deadline. He said, "The surge did accomplish it objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increasing the size and capability of the Afghan national security force.” Panetta refuses to say that the 51 murders of NATO forces by Afghans thought to be friendlies reflect a strategy failure. Panetta said that General Allen, our commander there, believes “the force he has put in place is sufficient to accomplish that mission." There are many who disagree with Panetta’s assessment. Senator McCain has called for a halt to the withdrawals.(092112)

Enemy strategy in Afghan appears to have changed


The Washington Post reported on September 20, 2012 that the enemy in Afghanistan is now focused on assigning suicide fighters to conduct attacks against prominent targets across the country rather than taking and holding territory. Joshua Foust, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who has worked in Afghanistan and is now a fellow with the American Security Project, said, “The Taliban are fighting a political war while the United States and its allies are still fighting a tactical military war … We remain focused on terrain. They are focused on attacking the transition process and seizing the narrative of victory.” Part of this new strategy is to infiltrate the Afghan security forces as mentioned in an article below. (092012)

2-5 Marines return home from Afghan

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More than 1,100 Marines and Sailors of the 2-5 Marines have returned home to Camp Pendleton, California from Afghanistan. The battalion deployed there in February 2012, part of Regimental Combat Team 6 serving in northern Helmand Province, Now Zad and Musa Qala districts. The battalion conducted a 17-day operation against the Taliban, Operation Branding Iron, and smothered the enemy. Three of its Marines were KIA. This battalion is the most decorated infantry battalion in the Marine Corps. (092012)

Commanders thought 25 percent of Afghan Army infiltrated: worse than that!


Military.com reported on September 18, 2012 that our commanders thought that 25 percent of the Afghan Army and Police had been infiltrated by the enemy. That is astounding. But former Ambassador to Kabul Ryan Crocker says it’s worse than that, saying, “I would put the percentage rather higher … I think we underestimate at our peril (the number of Taliban) sleepers (in the ranks.” Sarah Chayes, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment and a former advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "So do I. There was an explicit announcement by the Taliban that they were planning to infiltrate … When insider attacks increased sharply some months after that announcement (by the Taliban earlier this year), there is no reason to dismiss the idea that they executed their strategy.” (091912)

US throttles back combined patrols with Afghans

NATO intends to reduce the number of combined military patrols with Afghan forces as a means to limit exposure of NATO forces to what are being called “insider attacks” from the Afghans they are trying to train. Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, USA, commander V Corps and deputy commander US Forces Afghanistan, “such operations are no longer routine” and now require the approval of a regional commander. This effectively means Afghan forces more and more will go out on patrol alone, which begs the question, “Why not withdraw faster?” The centerpiece of the NATO strategy is to train Afghan forces to go it alone by the end of 2014. This has always demanded NATO forces to go out on patrol with their Afghan counterparts in the lead, but with NATO forces there to help. So this new policy reflects a major change in strategy and acknowledges that enemy forces are making headway against NATO. Even President Karzai exhibits animosity toward the NATO forces, especially the US forces. There is a chance here that NATO will lose the battlefield momentum built as the result of the surge right at the time when forces are packing up and leaving, and at the same time having to fight. This is not good. (091812)

Army operating three “retrostart yards” in Afghan, preparing to leave: Pace of equipment departures stepped up, fighting continues

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The Army is operating three retrosort yards in Afghan preparing to leave: Kandahar (shown in photo), Bagram Air Field and Camp Barmal. . Bagram Airfield is the highest producing yard. The Retrosort Yard reduces of the amount of excess materiel in Afghanistan. For example, in August the yard filled more than 400 TEUs (Twenty foot shipping container equivalent units), the most yet. It also redistributes equipment not needed by one unit to a unit that dos need it. Shipping stuff out has picked up pace the past few months. As of September 1, 208 US and NATO coalition bases have been closed, 310 have been transferred to the Afghans, and 323 remain open. The drawdown of 33,000 troops, 0,000 last year, 23,000 more this year, is to be completed within a couple weeks, by end of Septeber. In the mean time, our forces are having to pack and fight at the same time. Deb Riechmann reported for AP on September 17, 2012, “Vehicles are being gathered in Kandahar, Bagram Air Field near Kabul and Camp Barmal in northern Afghanistan. Containers are being staged for shipment at nine locations around the country, she said. Some equipment is taken by truck, train, ships or planes to military depots in the United States. MRAPS are rolled onto airplanes. Some Humvees sit in shipping containers for a test trip on a railroad leaving Afghanistan via Uzbekistan to the north. Other equipment will also go north through Central Asia or else be trucked into Pakistan – some of it down to the port of Karachi, where it will sail back to the United States or other destinations. Various items will stay in Afghanistan to be used by the Americans troops not going home – yet. Still other materiel will be transferred to the Afghan government, tossed out, taken to a scrap heap or shipped to other countries for use by U.S. forces.(091712)

2-7 Marine Wardogs on their way to Afghanistan

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While many Marines are leaving Afghanistan as part of the US drawdown, the 2-7 Marine Wardogs are on their way over. They were last in Afghan four years ago. SSgt. Ira Prahl, deputy family readiness, said, “The last time in 2008 was a very kinetic deployment for the battalion. There was a lot of fighting going on. The mission this time is to partner with the Afghan National Security Forces to get them into a position where they are ready to take over … The last time, we were there to take over and stabilize areas. Now, we’re talking joint patrols. The commander’s intent is to shift it all over to the Afghans. We should not be participating in big, Marine-only operations like we have had in the past.” Given the recent devastating enemy attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, let’s see if his forecast holds water. (091712)

Britain thinking about leaving Afghan early

Reuters has reported Briatin might withdraw its troops from Afghan by the end of 2013. She is withdrawing 500 this year, leaving 9,000. What is in the air at present is whether to bring this figure down further in 2013. The Brit leadership is saying the Afghan Army is able to handle things better than thought. (091612)

1 BCT 82 Airborne returns home

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About 150 soldiers, including the brigade’s leadership, from the 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 82nd Airborne Division have returned home to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina after a six month deployment to Afghanistan. Earlier this year, the 82 Airborne had about 9,000 soldiers in Afghan. In the past week the 1st and 4th Brigades have returned. The 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) and a battalion with the 3rd BCT remain, but are expected home soon. The 1st Brigade deployed 3,000 paratroopers to Ghazni Province. Initially, it was involved in continuous engagements with the enemy, losing eight KIAS and suffering about 100 injuries. However, for the past two months they could hardly find a fight, and local anti-Taliban movements have arisen where they were located.

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The 82 CAB recently lost two pilots when their OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter crashed in eastern Afghan, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thalia Ramirez and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jose Montenegro. The photo shows one of the CAB’s Kiowa’s firing 2.75 inch rockets at a mountainous terrain during a test flight in eastern Afghan. Rigged territory indeed. (091012)

New Zealand to leave early, Australia to stay

Australian Prime Minster Julia Gillard said on September 4, 2012 that Australia will keep its forces in Afghan until the final withdrawal date of end of 2014. New Zealand said on September 3, 2012 it would withdraw all its forces by April 2013, five months earlier than originally planned. Afghan forces murdered three Australian military in August and New Zealand lost five military in combat operations in less than three weeks. (090912)

US suspends police training, Canadians press ahead

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Major General Raymond Thomas III, USA, the head of the US Special Operations command in Afghan (shown here), has suspended the training of new Afghan Local Police recruits for at least a month. Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw, the British deputy commander of the American-led military coalition, has said that the entire vetting process for training all Afghan military and police forces must be reviewed. The Marine training academy for Afghans will stand down the end of this year. The Marines say the Afghans can do it better so it may not be related to the problems described above This is as a result of Afghans in uniform murdering NATO forces who were training them. The decision has apparently surprised officials in Washington and in the Afghan government, but was approved by General John Allen, USMC, the NATO commander. All this notwithstanding, the Canadians have decided to press ahead with their training. About 900 Canadian trainers are involved. (090912)

NATO may need reinforcements to withdraw

Military planners in Brussels are now thinking they may need to send moor troops to Afghanistan to cover the withdrawal. I have been suggesting that such might be the case for some time. The spokesman, Lt. Colonel Colin Richardson, said all sensitive equipment, such as weapons, ammunition and communications devices, would be shipped out by air as it was the most secure method. But for starters, the troops are needed to help pack up, load up, and move out. Right now, the estimate is they will have to move 200,000 shipping containers and $60 billion worth of equipment, concomitant with NATO forces trying to protect themselves and continue operations against the enemy. Some troops are already complaining that packing up is disrupting their capacity to fight. At least one general, Major General Joseph Reynes, USA, says this is not the case. I’ll go with the troops. (083112)

Helmand Province a worry

The US Marines and various British forces have been stationed in Helmand for some time, focused on the most dangerous areas including the Kajaki, Musa Qala, Nad Ali, Nahr-e Saraj, Now Zad and Sangin districts. NATO forces have taken high casualties in this province for some time. Sangin has been among the worst (see our November 2011 report, “Afghanistan’s hell, the Sangin Valley: Why Sangin?”). The Marines have begun their withdrawal. By October 1, 2012, the Marine force level there will have dropped from a high of 21,000 to somewhere between 7,000 - 10,000. Those departing are slowly deploying from forward bases to large main bases to prepare for withdrawal. The Stratfor Global Intelligence Group reported on August 28, 2012, “The remaining Marine forces have been chosen based on the Afghan armed forces' weaknesses. Most will consist of logistical support elements, such as aviation support, along with various training detachments and some command and control elements.” The Stratfor analysis is that this Marine withdrawal carries “substantial risks.” The main risk is that smaller Marine units will be left behind and subject to stepped up attacks with Afghan forces in the lead. As this region has traditionally been Taliban country, the Taliban can be expected to return in force. It is unknown whether the Afghans will be able to handle this without greater Marine support, and it not clear how this will all affect the potential for Marine casualties. There are also concerns about the rising number of Afghan Allied murders of US forces. The remaining Marines will most certainly have to watch their backs. (082912)

1st MARDIV (Fwd) returns home

The 1st Marine Division (MARDIV) Forward (FWD) returned home from Afghanistan after serving seven months there on this tour. The return involved about 130 Marines and Sailors. The group was in charge of Task Force Leatherneck in Helmand Province. (082912)

Over 200 bases closed in Afghan

Col. David Olson, a NATO forces spokesman, told reporters on August 26, 2012 that NATO has closed 202 bases in Afghanistan. They were small outposts to small bases with as many as 300 troops. NATO has handed over another 282 of the same size to the Afghan government. In October 2011, NATO had over 800 bases. NATO now has about half that amount. The US withdrawals continue, and the force level will be 68,000 by October 2012. (082912)

Casualties in Afghan very high over past 27 months


Foreign Policy reported on August 22, 2012 that the number of US forces killed in the Afghan war has now reached 2,000. That is bad enough. But what is really bad is that 50 percent of those fatalities occurred in the past 27 months, or roughly two years in a war that is now in year 11. (082212)

Russians continue to encounter big problems with Islamic population --- possible impacts on Afghan withdrawal

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Muslims in southern Russia and the North Caucasus region continue to experience tough problems with the Islamic populations there. This is important because there are some 170,000-190,000 Muslims living in Moscow and the NATO withdrawal route through the Northern Distribution Network, the NDN, runs just south of this region. On August 19, 2012, a suicide bomber blew himself up killing seven Russian policemen and badly wounding 12 other people in Rostov-on-Don, which is in southern Russia, off the map, just to the west a bit. The bombing occurred at a funeral of an officer killed the night before by a militant. In the North Caucasus, where insurgencies have been raging for some time, two masked gunmen went into a Shiite mosque in Dagestan on August 18, 2012 and opened fire, wound eight. Shiites are a minority in the Caucasus region. In Ingushetia, militants killed a police officer to set up the attack at the funeral for the next day. Four policemen were killed on August 17, 2012 in Chechnya, where an Islamic insurgency began in the 1990s. This is a volatile region that could impact the NATO withdrawal through the the NDN which will employ rail and truck lines through Azerbaijan and Georgia, both friends but vulnerable to insurgent attacks nonetheless. (082112)

Afghan “insider” murders of US forces complicating withdrawal

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An Afghan cop murdered yet another US trooper in southern Afghan while on patrol on or about August 18, 2012. Thus far in 2012, Afghans in police or Army uniforms have conducted 32 attacks against their American allies and killed 40. The problem, excused by a NATO official as not reflecting the overall situation in Afghanistan, now has the attention of the SecDef and CJCS, the former having kcal led President Karzai to complain and the latter in Afghan now to talk this problem over. Laura King, reporting for the Los Angeles Times on August 20, 2012, said. “(The attacks) could threaten a linchpin of the Western exit strategy: training Afghan security forces in preparation for handing over most fighting duties to them by 2014.” Troops have now been ordered to carry their weapons at all times with loaded magazine (but not one in the chamber!). In looking at the photo above, where US forces are training Afghans in live fire, you can see how dangerous the situation can get --- all one of those Afghans has to do is turn around and open fire on the Americans. That could be done in a second, with almost no chance to ward off the attack before it occurs. (082012)

Russian air base operational for NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan

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The Russian air base at Ulyanovsk became operational earlier in August 2012 to support NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. There is wide opposition within Russia to this, but President Putin has said it will go forward, though there is a lot of grumbling and maneuvering in the background to stop it. Nonetheless, at this point, the base is operational. This is not a NATO base; it remains a Russian base, and a transit point for flights carrying NATO equipment and supplies out of Afghanistan. The air base is mainly a cargo base. I am not exactly sure what the rules of engagement are, but I believe non-lethal equipment will be flying through the base. I have seen conflicting reports as to whether NATO forces can transit through. I believe the aircraft must be chartered and cannot be NATO military aircraft. The Ulyanovsk transit hub will receive mostly the An-124 (shown here) and Il-76 planes of the Russian Volga-Dnepr carrier, which NATO frequently uses for cargo deliveries. I also believe no NATO military people will be at the base, but I have seen Russian officials say none will be permanently based there, implying some could be there temporarily to help move the cargo. Most of the cargo will be offloaded and put on rail and truck transportation vehicles for onward delivery to Estonia, Lativia, Riga or Tallinn.(081512)

Marine HMH-466 concludes Helmand missions

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Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466 (HMH-466), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, flew its final mission over Helmand Province in Afghan on August 14, 2012. I believe this is part of the Marine withdrawal and that the squadron will be heading home. HMH-466 has been resupplying forces on the front lines, as well as tactically inserting them into dangerous areas as coalition forces have been taking the fight to the enemy. The photo shows one of its CH-53Es being refueled at Camp Bastion on August 14. (081512)Ulyanovsk


US policy in Afghan fragile

The US is hoping to get regional powers in the area of Afghanistan to set their own interests aside and develop a more stable Afghanistan, according to a recent analysis by the Langley Intelligence Group (LIGNET). The Pakistani intelligence agency and extremist groups are the most notable to stand in the way of that objective. LIGNET, which is led by former CIA honcho General Michael Hayden, USAF (Ret.), has suggested that this policy is doomed to failure because of all the competing interests in the region. Supporting this thesis, LIGNET notes that time is on everyone’s side except the US, since the US has set a date certain for leaving, end of 2014. The others can just sit and wait and then do their thing. (081412)

Belgium begins troop withdrawal from Afghan

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Belgium has begun what will be a slow withdrawal from Afghanistan. Twenty-four from Belgium and 10 from Luxembourg partnered in a mixed platoon have been stationed at Kabul airport and have withdrawn and gone home. Belgium will complete its airport mission by September 30, 2012. Between September and November 2012, five more platoons, 230 troopers, will leave. Six Belgian F-16 fighters will remain on station until the end of 2014, leaving about 360 people. Belgian forces are shown in the photo going out on patrol in Kabul form the airport.(080712)


Marines’ Camp Leatherneck packing it up

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The Marines’ Camp Leatherneck has been a focal point for assembling gear and equipment for transport back to the US or hand over to the Afghans. A receiving yard has been set up and the Marines are packing what has to be shipped home, 24-7. The Marines have a detailed plan on how to do this. There are several areas where they have to be careful. First, the Afghans are watching the packing and are worried about what happens when the Americans are gone. Second the Americans want to leave Afghan in better shape than the Soviets did with regard to leaving stuff strewn all over the place. Third, arguably the biggest area of attention is that the US forces expect fighting to still be going on as they ship stuff and troops out. Fourth, distances to departure points are greater than seen in Iraq, and Kuwait was a friendly destination whereas no such friendly detonation exists for this exit. Karachi is 600 miles away and the Northern Distribution Network will one each long haul operation. The Marines are shipping a great deal of equipment out by air, some 18-24 flights per day. Once the initial troop withdrawal is finished by end of September 2012, there will be 68,000 US troops left, of whom only 7,000 will be Marines. Finally, there are concerns about the many Afghan civilians who worked for the US at their bases. How will they find new jobs, and what risks might they endure because they helped the US? (080512)

Combat Logistics Battalion 5 Marines leaving Afghan early

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Combat Logistics Battalion 5 Marines, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) terminated their mission in Afghan on July 30, 2012 and are headed home. Their deployment was cut short from six months to about 100 days. Sgt. Michele Watson reported for the Marines, “During their time forward deployed, Marines and sailors with CLB-5 conducted daily combat logistics patrols to multiple forward operating bases, patrol bases and combat outposts. In addition to supporting the retrograde throughout the area, the battalion also provided direct support to infantry units by delivering food, mail and needed to supplies to remote locations.” The photo shows Marines with a Quick Reaction Force team from Combat Logistics Battalion 5 excavating a vehicle stuck in the sand during a QRF mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan, during an earlier deployment back in 2010. Soft sand can cause vehicles to get stuck while driving through the desert. Wrecker teams recover these downed vehicles. (080112)

Pakistan-US sign formal agreement on shipping equipment-supplies

Pakistan and the United States signed a deal regulating the shipment of American troop supplies to and from Afghanistan on July 31, 2012. AP has reported, “The new deal prohibits the U.S. from shipping weapons by land through Pakistan -- as demanded by the country's parliament -- unless intended for Afghan national security forces. Estimates are 100,000 containers have to be shipped out of Afghan within the next 18 months, demanding the routes through Pakistan and the Northern Distribution Network combined, plus air. (080112)

Much Afghan equipment-supplies may go to Pacific

The DoD has said that many of the supplies and equipments being withdrawn from Afghanistan may go to the Pacific theater for contingency storage and use. This would help the Pacific Command (PACOM) to pre-position equipment for the future. (080112)

Pakistan closes Torkham border crossing

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On July 26, 2012,I reported Pakistan temporarily halted NATO supply trucks at Jamrud on July 25, 2012. Pakistan cited concerns about militant attacks. Jamrud is east of the Torkham Crossing on Hwy N5, known as the Torkaham Road. AFP reported on July 30, 2012 that Pakistan took the next step and closed the Torkham border crossing due to security concerns. Bakhtiar Khan, a local administration official, told AFP, "The security plan by the political administration, police and Frontier Corps (a paramilitary force) is being prepared and once it is finalised and approved, NATO trucks will be allowed to pass.” A truck driver at the crossing was shot and killed in Jamrud last week. AFP further reported, “In Karachi, many truckers won't leave without security guarantees and compensation, said Akram Khan Durrani, president of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Owners Association. ‘Until that, we are not going anywhere,’ he told AFP. ‘It is too dangerous to take our vehicles out without solid guarantees. The situation has changed dangerously as many political and religious groups are against it and the Taliban could strike anywhere if we have no security.’ “ This is not good. (073112)

Tajikistan closes border with Afghan, but lets NATO through

We reported earlier that Tajikistan, a player in the NATO Northern Distribution Network (NDN) out of Afghanistan. was fighting opposition forces in the east. That fighting has escalated to where Tajikistan closed its borders with Afghanistan to all traffic while it conducts its military operations. However, the country is letting NATO supply trucks through. As we have been indicating, the NDN carries risks. (072912)

Juggling forces in Afghan

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General James Amos, CMC, talked to USA Today about his views on the Afghan transition during his visit to the country on or about July 26, 2012. He said, "It will be a rolling transition to more training and advising and assisting and less of the counterinsurgency operations. Hard to know exactly what he means by “rolling transition.” I believe he means that his Marines and others will maintain a strong combat capability even as they reduce their force levels, so they can roll with the punches and how things develop on the ground. The number of Marines in Helmand has gone down to 13,000 from the peak of 21,000 last year while Afghan forces have increased. Our military leadership seems confident. Some feel we can knock out the Taliban punch soon, though that does not mean a complete defeat. It simply means the Taliban will not be a formidable threat to Afghan forces. Marine Col. John Shafer, commander of Regional Combat Team 6 in Helmand said, "The insurgency cannot generate anything that can threaten the Afghan security forces at this time … Another couple punches, I think they're going to go down.” (072912)

Unrest in Central Asia cold affect NATO Afghan withdrawal

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The “Stans” of the former USSR are experiencing some domestic upheavals which bear watching as they host the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) through which NATO plans to withdraw much of its supplies and equipment from Afghanistan. We reported on July 15, 2012, “There are only two ways out: rail into Uzbekistan and by road to Tajikistan. Then, private shipping companies will have to move the stuff through Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, and then on what he calls ‘zig-zagging’ routes through Russia to ports in Siberia or on the Baltic Sea.” Briefly, here is a look at the “Stans” at present: Kazakhstan-Experiencing numerous militant attacks and bombings that are unprecedented in its modern history; Tajikistan-Experiencing significant instability, with military forces fighting opposition forces in the eastern areas. Civil war a possibility; Uzbekistan-Seemingly quiet, but the media is suppressed. There have been multiple security events this year. Uzbek and Kyrgyzistan border guards have skirmished; Kyrgyzstan-Experienced a revolution in 2010, followed by large scale ethnic violence. Most violence has subsided, though border skirmishes with Uzbekistan could pose problems; Turkmenistan-The quietest of the all, though external developments could spark problems. Overall-No regional wide conflicts foreseen, Russia working to keep calm, but it cannot control all the domestic power struggles underway. The possibility of destabilization does exist and bears watching. (072712)

Traffic from Pakistan moving at faster pace, but one checkpoint on the way closed

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Officials at the Torkham border crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan say that about 100 trucks per day are now moving through transporting NATO supplies. This crossing is close to Kabul. Many hundreds of trucks are parked here. However, Pakistan temporarily halted NATO supply trucks at Jamrud on July 25, 2012. Pakistan cited concerns about militant attacks. Jamrud is east of the Torkham Crossing on Hwy N5, known as the Torkaham Road. (072612)

Enemy offensive in Afghan intensifying

AS the US continues its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the enemy is intensifying its offensive action against NATO forces, more so than during their summer offensive of 2011. The violence especially picks up as you move south and east. IED attacks are also increasing. On average, at least one NATO soldier and several civilians are being killed each day. The enemy also seems to have become more diversified, and experts expect more red-on-red attacks where they fight among themselves. (072612)

2012 Withdrawal about 50 percent complete --- August a big month

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General John Allen, USMC, our commander in Afghan, told AP on JUuy 22, 2012 that this year’s withdrawal of 23,000 troops is halfway finished. He said, "The preponderance still remains to go out. August will be the heaviest month," Allen said. "A lot is coming out now and a great deal will come out in August and early September. We'll be done probably around mid-September or so." He also said excess military equipment is flowing out. He said, To get all the excess out by the end of 2014, Allen said either a shipping container or a vehicle will have to be moved out “every seven minutes between now and then.” But he warned, “The stakes are very high. The fact that we were attacked on the 11th of September (2001) is a direct line relationship between what happened on that day and what could happen again if we don’t get this right … I think an awful lot has gone in during the last several years into getting this right. It’s not going to end at the end of 2014.” The combat effort this year has been directed at pushing the enemy out of population centers to where they can be isolated, disrupted, and be “rendered irrelevant.” The lightly populated south and southwest remain the most volatile. (072312)

Truck traffic stalled in Karachi

Trucks carrying NATO supplies, hundreds of them, remain stalled at Karachi, Pakistan port. The truck owners will not move them until they are compensated for all the time their trucks have been idle. One owner has 310 trucks there and wants $15 million in compensation. (072212)

A little more on the NDN

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We have done a lot of reporting about the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) as a logistics route out of Afghanistan, through the “Stans” of the former USSR and through Russia. Just a couple more tidbits to help get the full picture together. Andre deNesnera of Voice of America (VOA) reported on July 17, 2012 that the US and Russia now have a formal agreement on using the Russian military base at Ulyanovsk (red dot on map). NATO will not call it an air base because there is already popular anger in Russia regarding their allowing NATO use of the base. NATO sees it as a logistics hub, to move things in and out. All of the stuff will move in and out by air transport, so it looks like the Volga River will not have a play. It also looks like all aircraft carrying NATO supplies and equipment will be commercial with no military aircraft being used. They will be contract aircraft. Interestingly, no NATO military personnel will be at the base and no NATO military operations will occur at the base, so it appears Russians will offload, download, refuel, conduct maintenance etc.

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One additional note. NATO and the US will use the border crossing at Termez, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan as one transit point out. The Soviets used this during their withdrawal. (072012)


If NATO supply routes into Afghan are so dangerous, we may have to fight our way out

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Enemy forces in Afghanistan detained a bomb on a fuel tanker and opened fire against other NATO supply trucks on July 18, 2012 that ended up destroying 22 vehicles loaded with fuel and other supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan. The attacks occurred in the area of Rabatak area of Samangan, north of Kabul. Sayed Salahuddin reported for The Washington Post on July 18, 2012, “Samangan straddles a highway that has been used in recent months as the key overland supply line for foreign forces after Pakistan barred NATO supply convoys from its territory.” This attack underscores my concern about what it will like as NATO forces withdraw. As we have reported, there is a significant amount of equipment and materiel that must be moved out. If the enemy is able to destroy 22 NATO vehicles within Afghanistan as they deliver goods in, one must wonder what it will be like as we move out. I believe that if we use the Northern Distribution Route (NDN) and perhaps even the Pakistan routes, the trucks may well be civilian. So the question arises, what kind of security they will be afforded --- NATO military seems unlikely at this moment. That would make the logistics flow very vulnerable if true. If NATO military is employed to provide security, fasten your seat belts because I believe they will have to fight their way, which they may have to anyway. (071812)

The way out of Afghanistan continues to be a huge challenge --- “Hang on Sloopy”

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Craig Whitlock, reporting for the Sydney Morning Herald of Australia on July 14, 2012, has highlighted the logistics challenges associated with NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. He suggests Pakistan is sufficiently unreliable, and there is so much equipment to get out, that the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) through the “Stans” of the former USSR and Russia remain a “must have” and prominent exit route. Set aside for the moment the risks that their leadership could change their minds or make demands we will refuse to meet. NATO has been using elements of the NDN to bring stuff in, but had not made agreements to take stuff out until recently. In the public domain, it is as yet unclear whether the lethal equipment and ammunition can go out. It was not allowed to come in. My greatest concern has to do with the incredibly long logistics lines through the NDN by rail and road. Whitlock says there are only two ways out: by rail into Uzbekistan and by road to Tajikistan. Then, private shipping companies will have to move the stuff through Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, and then on what he calls “zig-zagging” routes through Russia to ports in Siberia or on the Baltic Sea. He makes no mention of moving cargo through the Black Sea. I was surprised to see Whitlock report that the Russian airport at Ulyanovsk would be for air movement only. I had thought much of the equipment could be downloaded and put on boats to the Volga River and out by sea. It does not look like that option is open, or perhaps it is not workable. I know military planners know how to do this, but it will be interesting to watch how the troops separate from their equipment, and get out. My sense is most of them will be flown out. But we’ll have to watch at what point they give up their equipment and then board aircraft out. I think our planners dealt with this in Iraq, but I suspect Afghan to be much more risky. Even in Iraq our forces did not want to give up their equipment until the last nanosecond. As the song goes, “Hang on Sloopy!” (071512)

Another truck trickles across Pak border

The second batch of trucks with NATO supplies crossed the Pak border into Afghan on July 12, 2012, this time four more trucks through Chaman. It is believed seven to 10 trucks loaded with NATO supplies are ready to cross the only other crossing at Torkham. There are more than 1,500 vehicles waiting to cross. (071412)

Talk of Afghan-Pakistan War

The Taliban may not be Afghan’s biggest problem once NATO forces leave. There is reason to believe that it will go to war against Pakistan. Tensions along the border have been building with rocket attacks from Pakistan into Afghan, allegedly some 850 in Kunar provence alone in June. Hafizullah Gardesh, reporting for IWPR on July 11, 2012, reminds us, “The two neighbors are separated by the disputed Durand Line – a poorly-defined border established by an 1893 agreement. Kabul does not recognize the line, which Pakistan would like to see formalized as the official frontier.” It is hard to ascertain exactly what is going on. We have Afghan and Pakistan Taliban operating along the border, not always brothers, not always enemies, and we have the Pakistani military and the NATO military, primarily US, along with the Afghan Army there as well. In short, a very volatile area. Recently the Pakistan Taliban claimed to have killed and beheaded 17 Pakistani soldiers and Afghan forces have been accused of crossing into Pakistan. (071312)

Supplies moving through Pakistan, well, sort of …

AP reported on July 11, 2012 that only a handful of trucks have moved across the Pakistan border to Afghan since the ban was lifted. Two trucks moved through the Chaman border crossing on July 5, 2012 and no others since. No trucks have passed through the second crossing, Torkham. Officials are blaming bureaucracy. Prior to the closure, 150-1200 trucks were moving across the border daily. This helps explain why US and NATO military planners are planning to get going through the Northern distribution Network regardless of what happens with Pakistan. (071312)

NATO can commence withdrawing from Afghan through Russia in August 2012

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The Moscow Times reported on July 10, 2012 that NATO forces in Afghanistan can expect to start using the Ulyanovsk Airport in August to move equipment out of Afghanistan. The agreement between NATO and Russia was finalized on July 6, 2012. This is significant, because Ulyanovsk lies on the Volga River which flows to the Black Sea offering a way out to the Mediterranean. The cargo must be non-lethal and the freight will be handled commercially. It is not clear whether any NATO forces will be at the airport, nor is it clear whether NATO military aircraft can fly the cargo to the airport for offloading and subsequent shipment out. (071012)

Two trucks pass from Pakistan to Afghanistan --- Guess it is open, for now

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The Stratfor Global Intelligence Group reported on July 5, 2012 that two trucks carrying NATO supplies crossed from Pakistan into Afghanistan on July 5, 2012, at the Charman border crossing. The photo shows the trucks lined up to move across the Charman border. It was taken on July 5, 2012. Logistically, this is good. However, the US alone has some 100,000 shipping containers filled with stuff and 50,000 wheeled vehicles to send through the pipeline back to the US before the end of 2014. Estimates at present are that the US will still have to use the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) to get everything out on time.

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It is worth noting that the political and diplomatic situations for all the routes available, except air, are filled with uncertainty. Any one of those countries agreeing now to letting us pass through could change its minds at any time or make unacceptable demands. One final word. The networks out are complex, as can be seen in this graphic, published by
The Washington Post and sourced to National Geographic Intelligence Agency. And many of them are filled with multiple risks. (070512)

Pakistani routes to Afghan said to reopen

The Stars & Stripes reported on July 3, 2012 that Pakistan has re-opened the supply routes from Pakistan into Afghan and vice versa. The paper said SecState Clinton apologized on July 3 for the attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November. (070312)

Afghan’s treacherous Salang Tunnel will be the way out

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This is the Salang Tunnel, built by the Soviets. It travels 11,000 feet up the Hindu Kush Mountains. Sean Carberry, reporting for NPR on June 24, 2012, described it like this: “Years of war, neglect and geology have turned it into a dangerous bottleneck. Driving through the Salang Tunnel is a pretty harrowing experience. Water pours in through holes in the wall. Whatever pavement might once have existed has long since deteriorated into an extremely rough, bumpy, dirt, and in some places, mud road. The tunnel is barely wide enough for two lanes of traffic, and the uneven road surface means trucks often tilt over at precarious angles. Even though the tunnel is only 1.6 miles long, a recent drive through it took more than 20 minutes because it's jammed with massive trucks inching along the cratered road. The diesel fumes were dizzying. At one point, the dust was so thick you could barely see five feet in front of you. It's no wonder the tunnel has become known as a choke point. ‘It takes us 10 to 12 days to get from the [Afghan] border through the Salang Tunnel,’ says Najibullah — Afghans typically go by a single name — a truck driver sitting on the southbound side of the road. The distance covered in this journey? About 200 miles. Lines of trucks waiting to pass through the tunnel often stretch up to 10 miles on either side. That's because truck traffic is restricted to one direction at a time. Every 12 hours, the traffic alternates directions.”

NATO is already sending supplies through the tunnel. Moving lot a bulk of our equipment and supplies during the withdrawal will be quite the experience. And it does not get much better on the either side. (062812)


US, Kyrgyzstan conducting combined military exercise

The US and Kyrgyzstan have begun combined military exercises, ostensibly to learn better how to respond to natural disasters. This is interesting in that Kyrgzstan is part of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) through which the US and other NATO forces might have to withdraw from Afghan. (062112)

No breakthrough in sight to reopen Pakistan supply routes

These diplomatic maneuvers are always hard to read, as so much is done in secret, but Foreign Policy reported on June 12, 2012 that US diplomats have withdrawn from negotiations with Pakistan on re-opening supply route to and from Afghanistan. The publication said they left on June 11, 2012. Apparently higher level negotiations remain in train, but these lower level ones are crucial to the detailed planning and execution. (061512)

Be careful of the politicians, many of our troops are still in the fight, with diminishing support

In an article by Graham Bowley published by the New York Times on June 9, 2012, we are reminded that regardless of all the talk about withdrawing from Afghan, we still have and will continue to have many troops in the fight. Bowley talks of Lt. Col. Shawn Daniel visiting a group of 70 soldiers from a company of the 4th BCT at a remote outpost in eastern Afghan and reassuring them of their job and that they will be going home. Their Combat Outpost Rahman Khel is close to the Pakistan border and they are in battles of one sort or another nearly every day. Oft times the outposts along this region are ambushed and the fights can get serious. They watch enemy forces flow into Afghan from Pakistan each day. The soldiers have to patrol a very large area each day to hunt them down, find their caches, clear the roads of land mines, and attempt to befriend the locals. This is all happening at a time when US forces are withdrawing and the level of support that will be available to these men will diminish. (061512)

NATO says it has a deal to withdraw from Afghan through Central Asia

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on June 4, 2012 that NATO has concluded agreements with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to withdraw its forces and equipment through their countries. Russia has already agreed to this. Getting the equipment to Ulyanovsk, Russia will allow NATO to gain access to the sea for more efficient logistics movement out. (060412)

General Allen says 23,000 out by September 30, 2012

General John Allen, USMC, our commander in Afghan, said on May 23, 2012 that 23,000 of his 88,000 US troops (25 percent) now in Afghanistan will be home by September 30, 2012. He argued, however, that he still needs significant firepower through the end of 2014. We knew that the 23,000 were coming out by this date. What interests me the most is this means some or many are packing up now, which means a bunch of equipment and supplies is either already leaving Afghan or will leave soon. Given that the routes through Pakistan are closed, this means we are using and will be using air and the Northern Distribution Network. It is important that we watch how well this works out. A moment on Allen’s talk of significant combat power will be required in months ahead. He said that as forces leave, and he has to reposition and reposture his remaining forces and Afghan forces this, moving US forces back and Afghan forces in the lead this summer at a time when the Taliban steps up its combat activities, he will need “combat power” and he said he owes the president an analysis on that. He said, “Its not our intention to cede ground.” He said he needs to get his analysis to the president by the end of this planned withdrawal and the fighting season. I believe this translates to increased air power --- this is historically what the military has done, most especially in Vietnam during Linebacker I and Linebacker II air bombing operations over North Vietnam in 1972 --- in those days, it was massive B-52s and extensive fighter-bomber strikes over Hanoi and Haiphong. (052412)

Pakistan president says no deal on transit routes out of Afghan

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L-R: OBama, Karzai, Zardari


On May 18, 2012, I reported the Stratfor Global Intelligence Group said that four US trucks carrying supplies for the US embassy in Kabul were allowed to cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan, according to unnamed Pakistani officials. The officials reportedly said many more trucks are expected to cross over in the coming days, though they will be carrying only non-NATO supplies. On May 16, 2012 I reported Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said Pakistan should reopen its Afghan border to NATO troop supplies. I added that I do not intend to report on this again until the route is reopened as I expect lots of political maneuvering in Pakistani before anything is really done. Pakistan Prsident Asif Ali Zardari attended the NATO Summit in Chicago and Pakistan informed NATO that there was no deal and the routes remain closed. In effect, Zardari refuses to reopen the routes. As a result, President Obama refused to meet with Zardari but did “bump into him” twice for chats on the sidelines. I continue to believe US military planners must dismiss Pakistan as a route out and plan on using a combination of air and the Northern Distribution Network out. (052312)

Kyrgyzstan on board for NATO withdrawal routes

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Interfax has reported that Kyrgyzstan and NATO signed an agreement on the ground transit of cargo through Kyrgyzstan. The Stratfor Global Intelligence Group said, “The deal covers the transport of cargo by truck and railroad for the International Security Assistance Force and was signed during the NATO summit in Chicago on May 22 … the deal helps develop cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and NATO and is geared at stabilizing Afghanistan and ensuring security in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia.” It’s a long way out, but it is a way out, and you can be sure military planners are preparing to use the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) to get out, betting against Pakistan. (052312)

NATO Summit runs to Afghan exit door, sort of

Now that the NAT Summit is coming to a conclusion in Chicago, there is no denying that NATO is rushing to the exit door in Afghanistan. President Obama has called the 2013 and 2014 deadlines an “irreversible transition.” While Politico reported on May 21, 2012 that President Obama told journalists during the NATO summit, “ ‘The Afghan war, as we understand it, is over' with the withdrawal of ground forces at the end of 2014,” and General Douglas Lute, USA (Ret.), Obama’s deputy security advisor, added, “Combat will end at the stroke of midnight (on Dec. 31, 2014),” pay attention to the word-smithing. Lute said at the NATO summit that NATO will maintain a significant presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 but it will not be a combat mission. Lute added, "After this milestone in 2013 (withdrawal form combat) there still will be combat capability, combat authority and an expectation there will be combat.” The NATO leaders keep talking about “train, advise, and assist,” and I keep saying that to train, advise and assist will most certainly mean US forces will go out on combat missions with their Afghan counterparts to observe how well they do and how poor they do. (052112)

Afghan war over at midnight, December 31, 2014 … what?

Politico reported on May 21, 2012 that President Obama told journalists during the NATO summit, “ ‘The Afghan war, as we understand it, is over' with the withdrawal of ground forces at the end of 2014.” Politico further reported that General Douglas Lute, USA (Ret.), Obama’s deputy security advisor, added, “Combat will end at the stroke of midnight (on Dec. 31, 2014.)” Two points. First, consistent word from Washington has been that the US will maintain some level of forces in Afghanistan for the out-years. Second, the word on the street in Washington is that Obama and his aides are making many of these timeline decisions without consulting with the our military commanders. (052112)

House “endorses” continued war in Afghanistan, what’s that?

Donna Cassata reported for AP on May 17, 2012 that the "House (of Representatives) endorsed the continued war in Afghanistan" on May 17, 2012 ... By a vote of 303-113, lawmakers rejected an amendment that would have swiftly ended combat operations in Afghanistan by limiting funds only to the 'safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors from Afghanistan.' " As I look at the US Constitution, I see no provision for the House to "endorse" war. I only see provision for the Congress to Declare War. I understand well that our governments since WWII have conducted warfare without declarations of war. There's not much I can do about that. But the time is now to stop the practice. I love my troops and I will support them to the bitter end, by working to be sure they have everything they need to fight and get out of there alive and honorably. Ed Marek, editor (051912)

French president tells Obama he will withdraw combat forces by year’s end

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Newly elected French President Hollande told President Obama on May 18, 2012 that he will stick to his campaign pledge to withdraw French combat forces from Afghan by years end, far ahead of the NATO schedule. An estimated 3,300 soldiers re involved. Some French presence will remain. Should other NATO members chose a similar route, this could mark the demise of NATO at a time when the Eurozone and even European Union seem on the brink of dissolving, in large part because of Europe’s enormous debt problems. There are already issues related to whether Germany is willing to shoulder her responsibilities. The European members are simply not up to the task, and the US will be better off seeking ad hoc alliances to fit the needs of the challenge at hand, and then disband once the challenge is neutralized. (051812)

Marines starting to move out of Helmand Province

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The Marines are starting their withdrawal from Helmand Province. At the moment, Camp Leatherneck is hosting the logistics units needed to handle the move of equipment. Since arriving in Afghanistan last month, Marines with Storage Platoon, Supply Company,1st Maintenance Battalion (-) (Reinforced), 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) have helped retrograde ( to an operable but inferior condition) more than 130,000 items back to the U.S. The Supply Management Group there has more than 500,000 pieces of gear to move. LCp. Moises Vasquez said, “My job is to pick, pack and stow.” The Marines retrograde some of the equipment, and fix up other stuff for sustainment of current operations. This is the kind of balancing act they will have to play as the Marines leave but must still defend. (051812)

Trucks are moving from Pakistan into Afghanistan, but…

The Stratfor Global Intelligence Group reported on May 18, 2012 that four US trucks carrying supplies for the US embassy in Kabul were allowed to cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan, according to unnamed Pakistani officials. The officials reportedly said many more trucks are expected to cross over in the coming days, though they will be carrying only non-NATO supplies. (051812)

US forces brace for heavy combat this summer in the Sangin Valley


The Sangin Valley this summer will reflect how we can expect the overall American withdrawal from Afghanistan to go this year. The Marines will soon start withdrawing from the Helmand Province and at the same time face an enemy that is still strong and is still on the offensive in the Sangin Valley. Marines there now face small arms ambushes, grenade attics, and a plethora of hidden IEDs, just as Allied forces there have faced since at least 2006. The 1-7 Marines are there now, having arrived in April. They are expecting violence to ramp up significantly over the coming weeks. It is true that much progress has been made. The Marines have made great advances. They are aware of the progress and proud of it, but they are also aware that heavy combat is imminent. The 1-7 was attacked shortly after it arrived. They are now bracing for the worst. (051812)

French may not be able logistically to leave Afghan by year’s end

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France’s new president, Francois Hollande, promised to withdraw all French forces from Afghan by year’s end. But his military leadership is showing him the logistics numbers that say that may not be possible. France has 3,400 troops deployed. He may have to withdraw only combatants, and that has yet to be defined. It is also thought the French are considering withdrawing but keeping a quick reaction force in the region to come in and help if needed. (051612)

“Green on Blue” attacks threaten US withdrawal strategy

Thus far this year, men dressed in Afghan military uniforms have murdered 22 coalition service members, compared to 35 last year. This highlights the degree of danger involved with the US strategy that says turn over responsibilities to the Afghans, embed a few soldiers with each Afghan team, and withdraw all at the same time. (051612)

Afghans announce schedule for taking responsibilities

The Afghans have announced a schedule for taking over combat responsibilities from NATO forces. They have already executed two “tranches” of five, putting 50 percent of the country under Afghan security control. They started that process in July 2011. In the third, they will take over 122 more districts, giving Afghan forces security control over 75 percent of the country. Kapisa province, where most French forces are, is conclude in the third tranche in its entirety. The third tranche is to start immediately. Once done, the Afghans will control 260 districts in 34 provinces, covering every provincial capital. This is an accelerated timetable, that was to begin next year, but will begin now, most secure ares to least secure. During the transition, the Allies will attempt to clear out the least secure areas. (051612)

Pak Foreign Minister says should reopen routes for NATO supplies

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Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said on May 14, 2012 that Pakistan should reopen its Afghan border to NATO troop supplies. I do not intend to report on this again until the route is reopened as I expect lots of political maneuvering in Pakistani before anything is really done. Word is the Paks want an extra $365 million annually. As a result, NATO has invited Pakista to the upcoming Chicago NATO Summit. I understand that Pakistan Prsident Asif Ali Zardari will attend. (051612)

General Allen to leave command in Afghan next year

Our commander in Afghan, General John Allen, USMC will be leaving his command in Afghan to take command of the European Command (EUCOM) in Stuttgart, Germany. It is not yet known who might replace him. Normally, the commander EUCOM also serves as the NATO Supreme Allied Command Europe (SACEUR), but I have not yet seen that confirmed. This strikes me as an odd time to pull him out, when US forces will be in the process of executing one of the trickiest and I think riskiest military withdrawals in their history. It is my understanding this is not a final decision. (051512)

General Allen working to speed up turnover of responsibilities to Afghans

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Our commander in Afghan, General John Allen, USMC, is moving away from counterinsurgency and counterterrorism to a posture where he promotes a speed-up for the turn-over of responsibilities from NATO forces to Afghan forces. He is looking to Afghan forces to take as much of the lead as is possible this summer. US forces are now preparing for what Allen hopes will be their last major offensive of the war, planned for Ghazni Province. General Allen said, “My instruction to my commanders is to get the [Afghans] into the fight. The sooner I can get them there, while I still have the time and the combat power, the more I can catch them if they fall.” Allen is in a tough spot. He faces mandatory withdrawal of his forces, limited routes out of Afghanistan, and an active enemy. His response is to force the Afghan military to take on the Taliban while NATO forces prepare to leave yet retain sufficient power to help where they can. Unlike other commanders before him, he is not fighting the withdrawal plan, but instead is accepting it as fait accompli and developing what he sees as the best strategy to employ under the circumstance. (051412)

Military planners focused on high degree of difficulty of Afghan withdrawal

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Military.com reported on May 10, 2012 that military planners are preparing for a very difficult withdrawal from Afghanistan. We have been highlighting this as a scenario for some time. Given that they have to plan on Pakistan’s borders remaining closed, we will have to move stuff out by land through the northern routes or by air. There are two huge problems. First, Pakistan ocean ports will not be available, so the stuff has to be driven or flown out. Second, in turn this is going to present special problems for our forces located at smaller posts up in the mountainous areas. For the Iraq withdrawal, the Army set up staging areas to move equipment from the outback to various staging areas, where it was prepared for shipment, and then moved to Kuwait for storage until ready to be shipped out by ocean transport. They will not have these luxuries in Afghanistan. This could mean the smaller outposts will have to pack themselves up and ready for road transport out all the while being vulnerable to attack. Then they have to face all the risks of driving out of the mountains themselves. NATO wil not invite Pakistan from upcoming NATO summit in Chicago later this month because of its route closure stance. (051312)

DoD believes Afghan situation slipping away


Expert observers at the Langley Intelligence Group (LIGNET) have reported that a DoD report contradicts President Obama’s assertion, “We broke the Taliban’s momentum,” instead saying, “The insurgency remains a resilient and determined enemy and will likely attempt to regain lost ground and influence this spring and summer.” So there is a dichotomy here, which has been the norm for a long time. The Taliban has said it will wage a spring offensive. There is evidence such an offensive has begun, and while it has done damage, it is not impressive militarily. General Michael Hayden, USAF (Ret.), former CIA chief, has inferred that if this is the best they can do, then this does not look a potent enemy. Hayden believes we and our Afghan allies can get the job done so long as the US maintains 15,000-20,000 troops there. Others do not share his more optimistic view. This has always been tough to sort out. (050812)

Americans disapprove of strategic pact with Afghan, Christian Science Monitor

The Christian Science Monitor reported on May 8, 2012 that a Monitor/TIPP poll indicated a 63 percent majority of Americans polled disapprove of the US-Afghan strategic pact that would leave US forces in Afghan beyond 2014. Under the 10-year agreement, US forces would have access to Afghan bases beyond 2014 for training Afghans and hunting Al Qaeda. No force structure has yet been identified. I am assuming the pact has to be ratified by the Senate. (050812)

Germans want out by end of 2013, French by end of 2012?

German Chancellor Merkel has said international forces in Afghanistan are on a course for a planned withdrawal by the end of 2013. At a NATO leadership meeting held on May 4, reports are saying that the NATO allies have agreed to be out by the end of 2013. France’s new president, Francois Hollande, has been saying he wants France out by the end of 2012. None of this jives with the date we keep hearing in the US, which is end of 2014. None of this jives with the line we keep hearing that the NATO allies are in synch either. It is possible Merkel meant that international forces will cease combat operations and move into a support role by the end of 2013. The British and US are both saying their withdrawals will be complete by the end of 2014. (050712)

US does not expect Pakistan to open transport routes soon

Missy Ryan reported for Reuters on May 4, 2012 that the US does not expect Pakistan to re-open transport routes for US supplies and equipment soon. As a result, NATO will enter perhaps the last major fighting season against the Taliban having to resupply through Central Asia, very costly. The Taliban has said it plans a major offensives for this fighting season. The talks with Pakistan have stalled because of differences on tariffs and US aid to Pakistan. Discussions will continue but no significant result is expected. Prior to the closure, the US moved about one-third of its cargo through Pakistan. The DoD released a report this past week that said prolonged closure of the supply routes could “significantly degrade” withdrawal operations. (050612)

Use of Manas military base in Kyrgyzstan on the table again

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The AP reported on May 3, 2012, “All US troops moving in and out of Afghanistan travel through Manas (AB, Kyrgyzstan).” I am not sure that is correct. I believe many go through Bagram AB, Afghanistan as well. However, Manas is a very important logistics center for the US war in Afghanistan. Termination of US use of that base as been up and down over the years. President Atambayev has now indicated that he might change his mind again and terminate use, instead offering use of a civilian airport. That would change the logistics of our withdrawal, since we can pile things up at Manas for later movement but probably could not at a civilian airport. Interestingly, the president said Russia would have a big say in any Manas decision. Atambayev said money is not the sonly issue; he said he is concerned about retaliation for allowing the US to use the base. The photo shows a lineup of C-17 strategic transports at Manas with one in the landing pattern. (050412)

Pentagon worried about situation in Afghanistan

The DoD has issued a biannual progress report on Afghanistan and said Pakistan is the number one obstacle to a successful conclusion to the war due to enemy operating from safe havens in Pakistan. The report said, “It’s Pakistan’s duty as a responsible international country to control all violence that emanates from its borders and other areas. We’re going to continue to push it.” Expert observers at the Langley Intelligence Group (LIGNET) think that US-Pakistani relations are spiraling downward, they say, “near breaking point.” But there are other huge worries expressed in the report. One of the big ones has to do with declining force levels: 88,000 are there now, down from 101,000 last year, set to decline 20,000 by year’s end; the Marines are withdrawing from the most violent province in the country, Helmand, dropping from 18,000 to less than 7,000; corruption rampant, even at presidential level, a problem with which the military cannot address; al Qaeda remains a serious problem. This all raises worries about the security of the forces that will remain during the drawdown. (050312)

Route clearance patrols, among the most dangerous in Afghan

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Route clearance patrols go on all the time in Afghanistan to detect, neutralize and clear routes of any type of explosives and traps. They are among a soldier’s most dangerous tasks. This photo shows Spc. Francis Cremone and Spc. Joaquin Valera, USA, leading 1st Platoon, 182nd Engineer Company, 223rd Engineer Battalion, Task Force Knight, in a halt during their route around Forward Operating Base Sakari Kharez, April 18, 2012. These kinds of operations will be intensive as NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan. They already are as NATO continues the fight in the country. (043012)

Oops, talks with Pakistan flop

The most recent talks between the US and Pakistan have failed. Pakistan has insisted the US apologize unconditionally about an airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border. The US has expressed regret, but refuses to apologize. Marc Grossman, the American senior diplomat, left Islamabad on April 28, 2012 with no agreement. The routes in and out will remain closed. The US is now withholding between $1.8 and $3 billion in aid. There is no end in sight to the deadlock. NATO planners will have to continue planning their withdrawal without using routes in Pakistan. (042912)

Expectations are Pakistan routes will reopen for NATO in-out Afghan, but ...

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NATO is saying that it expects Pakistan to reopen routes soon in and out of Afghan from Pakistan. They have been closed since November 2011. Matt Milham reported for Stars & Stripes on April 26, 2012, “Since then, all NATO supplies have come over alternate land routes through Central Asia or by air, and costs have skyrocketed.” However, we have learned that Mark Grossman, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, shown in the photo, said he did not expect to get an immediate commitment for the routes to reopen, saying on April 26, 2012, “The task now is to begin a conversation about how to move forward." The US wants a decision before the NATO meetings in Chicago scheduled for May 20. (042812)

NATO estimates it to cost $4 billion per year to prop up Afghan after 2014

NATO Secretary General Rasmussen has estimated it will cost $4 billion per year to prop up the Afghan government after the NATO departure in 2014. Most of the costs will be on American shoulders, though that is sure to be an item of controversy at home. Other NATO states say they will pitch in, but are doing so reluctantly enough to raise questions about follow-through. Afghan President Karzai he wants at least $2 billion per year from the US. (042012)

Karzai pressing for early NATO departure

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on April 19, 2012 that he hopes to see an “accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces” in order to avoid any further “painful experiences” such as those experienced as the result of actions by US forces depicting US soldiers posed with dead Afghan enemies, and others such as urinating on dead enemy bodies and those resulting from Abu Ghraib. (042012)

Aussies to pull out early, in 2013, maybe, seem a bit unsure

Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia said on April 17, 2012 that most Australian forces will leave Afghanistan in 2013, a year early. She said troops will begin leaving as soon as Afghan President Hamid Karzai says Afghan troops can handle responsibility for Uruzgan province. She added that Aussie forces might be available after 2014 for training. Major General Stuart Smith, commander Australian Forces Middle East, indicated earlier this month that Australia’s frontline troops could be taken off the line as early as May 2013, turning over security responsibilities for Oruzgan Province at that time. All that said, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Defense Minister Stephen Smith told NATO counterparts that they would stay through the end of 2014 and beyond. (041712, updated 042012)

General Mattis visits the “Stans”

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General James Mattis, USMC, commander, US Central Command (CENTCOM), just completed visits to the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan to discuss issues of common concern. I am certain one of the top issues is assurances that US forces can use the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) through their countries as we withdraw from Afghanistan. Reports persist that Pakistan will open routes through it at increased expense to the US but those have not yet reached fruition. General Mattis also visited Pakistan. (041712)

Afghan defense minister says US forces needed beyond 2014

Afghanistan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, speaking at the Pentagon on April 10, 2012, said, "We are looking forward to an enduring, long-term cooperation. We can say that it is vital for the survival of our country." He was talking in the context of a long-term strategic agreement that is in its final stages for signature. Interestingly, Afghan forces will be reduced to about 230,000 after 2014. They are scheduled to reach 352,000 by year’s end. (041112)

Aussies see major drawdown of frontline troops in May 2013

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Major General Stuart Smith, commander Australian Forces Middle East, has indicated that Australia’s frontline troops could be taken off the line as early as May 2013, turning over security responsibilities for Oruzgan Province at that time. Australian SAS special force units would remain actively hunting down Taliban leadership and other enemy. Both the US and Australia expect to retain special forces in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 deadline. (040812)

US preparing for major offensive in eastern Afghan --- the last?

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The National Journal reported on April 4, 2012 that US forces from the 1st Brigade, 82 Airborne Division, are preparing to deploy to eastern Afghan’s Ghazni Province in the coming months augmented by other forces in what might be the last major US military ground offensive of the war. Some 5,000 troops are expected to participate. Ghazni Province has been among the most violent and dangerous provinces in the country. The objectives appear to be to extend the “security bubble” surrounding Kabul, improve connectivity between Kabul and Kandahar, and move as close to the Pakistani border as possible to attack enemy forces and reduce the infiltration. This latter objective is seen as very important, and much of the fight is expected to occur along the border. The plan is conduct short assaults against specific targets. While I thought it strange that officials would release the plan at all, Deutsche-Presse-Agentur reported on April 5 that General Allen, USMC, our commander in Afghan, told its reporter, "As I look to reduce the numbers of U.S. forces ... I will use significant combat power in the east, anticipating we are going to have some good bit of fighting in the east this year.” (040512)

British turn over Lashkar Gah to Afghans

The British Queens Royal Hussars and the 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment turned over security responsibility for Lashar Gah in Helmand province to the Afghans recently. Lashkar Gah is the most heavily populated city in the province. US Marines continue to leave the province. (040412)

Germans military concerned about impending withdrawals

Der Spiegel German magazine reported on April 3, 2012 that the German military will withdraw from a northeastern base at Faizabad within the next few months but has numerous concerns about this and the overall withdrawal. While there are only 500 german Army soldiers there, the Germans see departure as a massive undertaking. Ulrike Demmer and Matthias Gebauer said this: “The Germans are taking inventory in Afghanistan at the moment. About 6,000 containers of material, 1,200 armored vehicles and 500 non-armored vehicles need to be brought back to Germany.” Furthermore, there are also many unanswered questions: Which forces will be withdrawn, and when? Which soldiers are organizing the withdrawal? What must be brought back to Germany? What happens after 2014? The Germans, like the Dutch before them, will have to send in more forces to help withdrawal those already there. They are also worried about the future of all those who have helped them. (040412)

Northern route now the high priority planning option for withdrawal … but may have to fight our way out

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Der Spiegel German magazine reported on April 3, 2012 that General William Fraser, USAF, commander US Transportation Command, has said the withdrawal routes through Afghan’s neighbors to the north have top priority for withdrawal since the southern route through Pakistan is not reliable. Christian Neef, writing for Der Spiegel, described the withdrawal this way: “Military withdrawals from Afghanistan have ended in disaster several times in the past. When the British left Kabul in 1842 after their first campaign, because they could no longer control the insurgents there, only a few fortunate members of an expedition force of 17,000 escaped with their lives. The rest were massacred en route. The Soviets lost 15,000 men during their Afghanistan adventure, and their 1989 withdrawal also ended in chaos, as their convoys struggled through the snow-covered mountains at Salang Pass while under fire from the mujahideen. Another 60 men died in the final one-and-a-half months, after being shot or suffocating in avalanches. Both the British and the Soviets left a country that they had been unable to pacify. The same holds true for NATO today. Afghan insurgents will presumably do everything possible to inflict pinprick attacks on NATO troops as they withdraw. And there will be plenty of opportunities, because NATO brought a great deal more weapons and military equipment to Afghanistan to hunt al-Qaida and the Taliban than the British or the Soviets did in their time.” (040412)

France accelerated withdrawal from Afghan

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France withdrew 200 troops from Afghan on March 28, 2012 as part of an accelerated withdrawal resulting from the Afghan murder of four French soldiers in January 2012. The photo shows some of them board their aircraft at Kabul Airport. France intends to withdraw 1,000 by year’s end and will have all of them out by the end of 2013. As an aside, US forces are now using “Guardian Angels” to protect US forces embedded with Afghan forces or working with them while the US soldiers sleep. (033112)

Look for Taliban to try to disrupt NATO withdrawal timetable

The STRATFOR Global Intelligence Group has suggested that the Taliban is going to do what it can to disrupt the NATO timetable for withdrawal in such a way that makes NATO’s continued presence untenable. STRATFOR suggests the best way for the Taliban to do this is to sow distrust between NATO and Afghan forces right at the time when the strategy is to “inidiginize” the war, or strengthen indigenous Afghan forces such that a handoff can be made at the expense of Taliban power and growth. STRATFOR says that this is one reason the NATO leadership is sticking so close to the timetable for building up Afghan forces, handing the war to them, and remaining involved long-term. Disruptive actions can include forcing the Alliance to fall part, individual nations heading to the exits early, and haphazardly; create chaos in the withdrawal planning and execution process. (032812)

Three NATO soldiers murdered by Afghan security forces in one day

An Afghan wearing an Afghan Army uniform shot and killed two British soldiers in Laskhar Gah, Helmand Province, on March 26, 2012. Furthermore, an Afghan police officer shot and killed another NATO soldier, an American, that same day while he was approaching a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan. The first two killings were by an Afghan soldier in the military for four years. The Brits were killed as they entered the main gate of their base. The Afghan Army troop drove up to the soldiers in an Army vehicle and shot them at point blank range. There have been more than 45 attacks by Afghans against NATO allies since 2007, killing 80. More than 75 percent of which have occurred in the last two years. Eighteen percent of the 84 foreign troops killed thus far this year in Afghan were shot and killed by Afghan soldiers, police, or disguised insurgents. We will be watching for further information. We do know the first assailant was killed during the event. (032612)

Pakistan Taliban will attack lawmakers if NATO routes re-opened

The Pakistani Taliban has threatened to attack Pakistani lawmakers if the NATO logistics routes through Pakistan are re-opened. The Parliament has been considering re-opening them and refreshing ties with the US. If the routes are re-opened despite this threat, we can expect the Pakistan Taliban to attack the convoys. While withdrawing from Afghanistan through Pakistan, that might mean our forces would have to fight their way through Pakistan. (032512)

US may end up buying its way out of Afghanistan

The American taxpayer, who has thus far managed to ignore the Afghan War, might soon wish to pay attention as each day it looks more and more like US policymakers are thinking in terms of buying our way out of Afghanistan. Depending on to whom you talk, we are paying $1 billion per week to be there now; others say it’s more. Pakistan said it might reopen the routes out but it will jack up the costs significantly. We are already paying the Central Asian republics some $500 million per year and more to use their facilities and routes. They are sure to jack those prices up as well. Now President Karzai has said the US will pay $4 billion per year for the Afghan military. This editor feels this is all foolish. We will have to pay what we have to pay to move our forces and equipment out. But thereafter, this taxpayer says no dice to Karzai on his little caper. Forget it. Boat owners often say, the best two days of my life were when I bought the boat and sold it. I’ll say the best day of our cumulative American lives is when we are out and free from paying any more to or for Afghan beyond what we have to do for our valiant forces who fought there. (032312)

General Allen hedging on pace of troop withdrawal from Afghan

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General John Allen, USMC, and commander of ISAF in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on March 22, 2012 that he is on schedule to reduce the 23,000 member surge force by September 2012 but has not yet made his recommendations to the president about what force levels ought to be thereafter. The current planning number for post september is 68,000 US troops. The US presently has 90,000 troops there. Allen told Senator McCain, "Sixty-eight thousand is a good going-in number, but I owe the president some analysis on that." He told the committee, "My opinion is that we will need significant combat power in 2013.” Editorially, I believe much will depend on how well the “Army Advisory team” concept works, addressed in my 032112 report below, and what Pakistan does about opening supply withdrawal routes for NATO forces to use. I believe the withdrawal effort is a “sticky wicket.” Allen on the one hand needs to withdraw, but on the other hand must have suitable combat power available to protect the withdrawing forces. I was worried about this in the Iraq withdrawal, and things turned out well. Of course, the US was able to drive straight south to Kuwait to get out. The US has no such easy routing out of Afghanistan at present, and I worry that Afghans will be much more antagonistic towards foreign forces than were the Iraqis at the time of withdrawal. General Allen has his hands full. (032212)

Afghan’s northern neighbors eager to help US withdraw through their routes --- money talks

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As the saying goes, money talks and all the rest walks. Radio Free Europe reported on March 21, 2012 that Afghan’s northern neighbors on the US Northern Distribution Route (NDN) are eager to attract the US and its money to their routes out of Afghan. The US currently pays $500 million per year for transit fees for military cargo through the Central Asian states. That fee is certain to go up as long as Pakistan remains close. Uzbekistan looks to be the best positioned. It has part of a key rail link to Baltic ports through Russia and Kazakhstan. Another route is a road corridor from the Tajikistan-Afghan border through Kyrgyzstan, Kasakhstan, across the Caspian Sea and through Azerbaijan to the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti. This route carries some risks because of the Afghan section, and there are questions about whether the roads can handle the loads. I also reported on March 15 that Russia may offer its air base in the city of Ulyanovsk on the Volga River. Various canals, especially the Don-Volga canal, offer outlets to the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, which in turn, offer outlets to the oceans. Shipping to the south to Karachi, Pakistan is still the best, and Pakistan may allow it, at increased costs, but whether the US accepts this route given Pakistan’s negative attitudes toward the US may be arguable. (031512)

Army advisory teams being trained in Louisiana before leading exit effort in Afghan, but…

The Army has been training soldiers selected for Afghan advisory teams at Ft. Polk, Louisiana prior to their leading the charge in the spring to prepare for the US exit from Afghan. The training mission is to “build small teams of officers and get them into Afghanistan by early spring.” The design is to embed these small teams with Afghan forces to train and advise, an effort which is to enable withdrawal of over 20,000 US troops before September. However, concerns exist about their safety given the recent acts of violence against US forces and the harsh rhetoric coming from President Karzai and his office, on occasion referring to American troops as “Satan.” The first 47 teams is scheduled to head to Afghan in April, another 46 to eastern Afghan in May. The first to go will be drawn from the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. On the one hand, these team members are going to have to train and rely on Afghan forces to lead in combat while at the same time being extra vigilant for their own safety. (032112)

US general target of attack at Panetta arrival in Afghan

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Foreign Policy reported on March 15, 2012, “an Afghan interpreter at Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan attempted to run over a group of U.S. Marines gathered on the runway to meet the visiting U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, but missed the soldiers and crashed his stolen vehicle.” His vehicle later exploded and the driver died. Late reports indicate this to have been a more serious incident that originally thought. Major General Mark Gurganus, USMC, commander of forces in Helmand Province, shown here, and his British deputy, were the targets. Each had to dive away to avoid the oncoming SUV. One British soldier was hit and is in stable condition. (031612)

Two European-based brigades headed to Afghan

As expected, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (BCT) from Vizenza, Itay and the 12 Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) from Katterback, Germany will deploy to afghan this spring. Total troop deployment involved will be about 6,000. (031612)

Afghan soldier murders Marine a month ago --- news just coming out


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AP reported on March 16, 2012 that an Afghan soldier murdered a US Marine at his Marja district outpost in Helmand Province, Afghanistan on February 1, 2012, shooting the Marine in the back of the head. The Marine was LCpl. Edward J. Dycus, 2-9 Marines, of Greenville, Mississippi. Major General Toolan revealed the case on his departure, March 7, 2012, though he did not name the Marine. It is not clear why the Marines waited so long to provide the details. The early reports released by the military said Dycus was killed in combat operations. That was not true, although there is some chance the military wanted to complete an investigation first; if so, the military should have said so. The family has been notified of the murder. By my count, that makes seven US military personnel murdered by Afghan security forces in the past six weeks. (031612)

Karzai demands prompt US withdrawal to bases, says Afghans ready to take over now

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In a surprise announcement, and during SecDef Panetta’s visit to Kabul, Afghan President Karzai has demanded the US withdraw its forces from villages and rural areas and confine them to bases. He said, "Afghanistan is right now ready to completely take all security responsibilities, so we demand a speedy transition and the hand-over of responsibility to the Afghans." It is believed he means 2013, not this minute, but it is hard to tell. In a probable related action, the Taliban has suspended all negotiations saying the “US has turned back on its promises.” The Taliban has also cancelled its plans to open an office in Qatar. NATO will soon hold a scheduled summit and will likely discuss the withdrawal plan. (031512)

Russia may offer use of an air base for US withdrawal from Afghan

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AP reported on March 14, 2012 that the Russian cabinet will soon consider a plan presented by Foreign Minister Lavrov to offer use of a Russian air base in the city of Ulyanovsk on the Volga River for withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Russians may also offer other rail and air corridors. The US would use the air base as a logistics facility for troops and cargo. The Volga River is Europe’s largest river and is seen as the national river of Russia. Various canals, especially the Don-Volga canal, offer outlets to the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, which in turn, offer outlets to the oceans. (031512)

Withdrawal planning getting some curve balls

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Planning for US withdrawal from Afghanistan is getting thrown some curve balls. The report below talks to the importance of being able to use the Manas AB in Kyrgyzstan. While our transports do not have to have the base, our tankers that refuel them do. Kyrgyzstan keeps saying they intend to terminate the lease with the US in 2014. The whole question of the usability of the road sections of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), sketched in this graphic, is largely unknown. As a result, US military planners are now testing how much of its infrastructure it can drive along the route. Pakistan is still showing no bend on allowing US forces to drive out of Afghanistan to the south to Karachi for shipments of equipment out of the Karachi port. Some observers believe the Manas issue is a “biggie,” and could force faster withdrawals than originally planned. Accelerated withdrawals are sure to create chaos within Afghanistan, especially among those who have cooperated with the US. This helps explain why SecDef Panetta recently visited Kyrgyzstan. (031412)

As I see it --- a smooth withdrawal from Afghan is going to be very hard to achieve

In the 19th century, the British invaded Afghanistan several times and occupied it, worried about the Russian moves to the south and potential for Russian infringement on India. The British saw Afghan as a buffer. It has been some time since I read the history, but I do recall that the British had to fight their way out each time, and lost as many or more troops in the withdrawal as when they were occupiers. This is not to say that the US will face the same problem, but I do confess I am worried about it. At present, our forces can only fly out or walk and drive out through the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which I have described below. Pakistan has refused us access. Our troops need the Karachi port to ship out the heavy stuff --- our air transports can carry it out, but it would require thousands of flights and be very expensive. My sense is that our leadership is now becoming more concerned with “how to” get out than defeating the Taliban. Equipment is already being removed by air. The Marines will leave in large numbers this summer. A fairly substantial withdrawal must be completed by September. That leaves dwindling force levels at a time when tensions between foreign forces, especially Americans, and Afghans are rising, arguably exponentially. Our military planners have a full plate and then some. I only wish it were as easy as when the Baltimore Colts slipped out of Baltimore for Indianapolis in the middle of the night.

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As a related aside, SecDef Panetta met with Kyrgyz leaders in Bishek to stress how much the US needs the Manas AB for air logistics movements. Manas is part of the NDN. Stars & Stripes reported on March 13, 2012, “In total, some 580,000 U.S. and allied personnel traveled through Manas in 2011, and about 3,500 aeromedical evacuation flights transited the base. Manas is a key aerial refueling center, and launched nearly 5,000 refueling missions last year.” (031312)

Do Afghan Security Forces trust Americans or not, and vice versa, whom do we believe?

I reported on March 8, 2012 that our Marines will withdraw 8-10,000 by September. I also said the Marines have already formed up 44 12-18 man troop units that will work with individual Afghan force units. But Col. Rozi Khan of the Afghan army's commando brigade has said recently, “There is no trust between us.” However, US spokesmen in Afghanistan say, “It’s business as usual. Nothing has changed. There definitely is a sound relationship there.” So whom do we believe? President Obama seems to think the Afghans do not trust us, and we do not trust them. He therefore appears anxious to get us out as quickly as we can. This editor does not like the smell of 12-18 Marines embedded with hundreds of Afghan military and police --- they are sitting ducks for trouble. Given that the Afghan security forces have already murdered six US military people in a short span of time, we need to review the bidding quickly. Our greatest mistake, speaking editorially, is that once we removed the Taliban government and dropped some bombs on al Qaeda, we failed to leave, and instead sat around trying to promote democracy. So what if we had exited promptly and the Taliban resumed governance? All we had to do was come back and throw them out again, and leave again. There was no requirement for occupation, spreading democracy, or such a long war. (0310112)

Senator Lindsey Graham ready to pul plug on Afghan after long time support

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US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a long time supporter of the Afghan War, says he is almost ready to “pull the plug” and get out of Afghanistan immediately if President Karzai and his government fail to sign off on a long-term US relationship without the conditions in it on which the Afghans insist, which include no more night bombing and handover of prisoners to Afghan authorities. (030812) Update: The US has signed an agreement to turn over the Parwan detention facility. (031012)

Marines will reduce by 8-10,000 by September 2012

US Marines will reduce by 8-,10,000 by September 2012, down from the present 17,500. The Marines have for the most part been fitting in Helmand province. By this spring, they will have reduced their bases in the province to 75 from 250. This has been among the most volatile provinces, and the Afghans will have to handle it without the Marines. The Marines are forming 44 12-18 troop units each to work with individual Afghan forces. It will be worth watching whether the Afghans with these small Marine teams can hold the ground for which so manyUS and British forces have sacrificed since at least 2006. This comes at a time when tensions and friction between US and Afghan forces seems to be intensifying. (030812)

US forces have begun flying equipment out of Afghanistan


In the wake of the Pakistan overland transportation route closure for US equipment and forces leaving Afghanistan, and in the wake of fragile negotiations with the countries to the north through which the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) travels, the US has begun flying equipment out of Afghanistan as part of the withdrawal. NDN national officials have suggested driving equipment to French, German and US air bases in their countries and flying it out from there, but that makes little sense given that the stuff can be flown out directly from Afghanistan. It does appear these countries do not want lethal items shipped out, which means Bradley and Humvee vehicles would have to have their guns removed, and leaves open how to get the tanks out. Shipping the tanks out over the NDN presents other problems having to do with whether the roads up there can take the weight. The British are have the same problems. My instinct is this is going to be with us for a while. (030112)

NDN transit routes out of Afghan approved

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General William Fraser, USAF, commander US transportation Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 28, 2012 that the US has achieved approval to move military cargo into and out of Afghanistan through Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and that Russia and Uzbekistan have also approved reversed transit routes. All together this constitutes the Northern Distribution Network, NDN. Prior to this, the US could move non-lethal material through these countries into Afghan but not out of Afghan. If this agreements holds, at least the US has an exit route for its equipment though the route is expensive, long, and perilous. It is not yet clear whether lethal items can go out as well. (022912)

Atlantic Council of the US assesses US options in Afghan

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The Atlantic Council of the US, a most esteemed institution in Washington, published an assessment by Sarwar Kashmeri, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, of US options in Afghanistan on February 28, 2012. Kashmeri poses a fundamental question: We do not know whether the Afghan national security forces will start to side with the protesters over the Koran event. What if they do?

  • US rush in reinforcements to fight against the people we have been training and to whom we have been allied.
  • Accelerate our exit from Afghanistan. I would add to this one, by what routes do we get them out with Pakistan closed? (022812)

STRATFOR outlines Afghan withdrawal options

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The STATFOR Global Intelligence Group, on February 28, 2012, published its evaluation of US withdrawal options in Afghanistan. I’ll try to summarize.

  • The Koran incident will serve a strategic purpose. It is now patently obvious to the US and Americans at home that we cannot rely on Afghans in any capacity. The Afghans are not reliable partners.
  • There are intense negotiations with the Taliban, the Afghans and Pakistan underway now. Very complex.
    • Taliban wants the US out with no residual force. It will not play a junior role in a new Afghan government.
    • The US wants out but wants a residual force to protect the existing government and prevent future terrorism from the country.
    • Pakistan wants stability on its borders and no spillover from whatever happens in the future. Pakistan understand it will have to play a role in Afghanistan for some time to come.
  • A new fighting season is approaching. The Taliban aims to inflict damage on the US, it understands the tempo of warfare is on its side now that Obama is moving to an advisory role, US forces now on the defensive.
  • There is no significant push from home to get out, but this fighting season and what has happened over the past week could change that. The election will have an impact.
  • The US is now at a negotiating disadvantage. The Taliban can attack at will, take the offensive at will, inflict great adage on NATO forces which are retrenching to an advisory role.
  • The US will either have to take the offensive back and increase its combat operations, which is not part of the Obama plan, or accept that it will not achieve its objectives. Whichever is selected, the US cannot absorb much more punishment than its forces have received in the past few days. (022812)

US negotiating exit routes from Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal reported on February 25, 2012 that US officials have visited all five Central Asian republics this past week to negotiate new transportation agreements for US military exit routes out of Afghanistan: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the Northern Distribution Network or NDN. Right now, the agreements cover only certain non-lethal items and items going into Afghanistan, not lethal items or any items going out. Negotiations are expected to be very difficult. (022812)

Concerns grow about “how to” get troops and equipment out of landlocked Afghanistan

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Maj. Gen. Kevin Leonard, the head of Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, has voiced concerns about the costs of getting equipment out of Afghanistan if Pakistan fails to open supply lines. Traditionally, the US has used Pakistani pots, such as Karachi, but now some serious planning is underway that says no ports are available. In an item posted here on February 11, 2012, I showed a graphic of the Northern Distribution Network, the NDN. I’ll show it again. Driving the equipment out over that long and winding route would be a major challenge indeed for the troops and equipment involved. Planners do not even know if this route can withstand the loads and speeds at which the convoys would travel. I can envision the day when the US will have to face off with the Pakistanis and, if necessary, force our way out to Karachi. I can also envision leaving a lot of stuff there. This is going to be a hardball story. A hard-line Islamist coalition known as Difa-e-Pakistan (DPC) he emerged and could be a huge anti-US factor in this year’s Pak elections. (022312)

US-Afghan working post-2014 deal

SecDef Panetta said on February 14, 2012 that he expects an agreement between the US and Afghanistan on a post-2014 mission for the American military there to be worked out “within the next few weeks.” A NATO Source rep or of february 20, 2012 suggests that the negotiations involve maintaining as many as 15,000 US troops beyond 2014, most of whom would be special forces to “hunt down militants, and provide air cover, intelligence, logistical support and training for Afghan forces.” (022012)

Afghan transition about to begin by sending five “reconfigured brigades”

The Army is beginning its Afghan transition for 2013 from combat to advisory by identifying five brigades it plans to send to Afghanistan between April and August 2012. But the brigades will be only 50 percent manned and their mission will be to “generate, employ and sustain” Afghan forces, to wit, advise. The reconfigured Army brigades that will deploy starting in April are the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, from Fort Campbell, Ky.; the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Stewart, Ga.; the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, from Fort Carson, Colo.; the 4th Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, from Fort Bliss, Texas; and the 162nd Infantry Brigade from Fort Polk, La. Each brigade will deploy only with officers and senior NCOs along with some DoD civilians. Once in Afghanistan, they will operate as 18-person teams in a train and advise role. As these teams deploy, a total of 28,000 troops now there will leave as part the plan to get to 68,000 left by the end of September 2012. (021612)

Exit route from Afghanistan creating concerns

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The French have expressed concerns about how to get its forces and equipment out of Afghanistan. The route through Pakistan is deemed insecure at present. The other option is known as the Northern Distribution Network, the NDN. The NDN begins in Latvia then goes to Russia, Kazakhstan, and into Uzbekistan. NATO also uses an air base in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and the U.S. uses the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan. The US is said to be paying $500 million per year to use the NDN, which the French consider too costly. Negotiations are underway with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Russia has already offered to use its routes. But Uzbekistan could be a problem. Afghanistan is landlocked, with Pakistan on the east and south, Iran on the west. The map reflects the routes collectively known as the NDN. Traditionally and historically, the US has used Karachi as a main port of entry and exit, used heavily during WWII when it was part of India. (021112)

Afghanistan challenge ripe with multiple interwoven issues hard to track and assess

The American announcement that it will convert from combat to advisory roles in 2013, and French announcement of perhaps withdrawing in 2013, have given rise to all manner of complicated issues and questions about what the future holds for Afghanistan and the US. In looking at just one day’s headlines, you will get the feel. US advisory teams are expected to start arriving this year. The US has been warned it will not be able to organize the Afghan people into any coherent whole. CIA is likely to have a large clandestine operation in Afghanistan after US forces leave. Afghan President Karzai is a main obstacle to negotiations with the Taliban. All kinds of questions emerge around what happens to Afghanistan when US troop-associated dollars leave. Talks, not negotiations, have been underway with the Taliban for years, filled with so many conditions and provisos that one’s head would spin in confusion. Afghans are now forced to hedge their bets regarding on which side to stand. As an aside, Russia has said it would help withdrawing US forces by letting them use Russian territory when they leave. Deep-seeded arguments persist at high levels and among he troops in the fight over how the war is going. (021012)

US has political mess deciding what to do about Afghanistan


The recent flurry of announcements about switching from a combat role to advisory role in Afghanistan in 2013 and the potential for an early French withdrawal have exposed a jumble of differing positions within the US government, executive and legislative, over what to do about Afghanistan. Anthony Cordesman, a respected analyst of military affairs, has said that the US has never had a real strategy for Afghanistan, especially with regard to what it hopes to achieve there. Accusations are emerging that President Obama has moved to this 2013 action in order to ready position himself for the presidential election. However, General David Petraeus, DIRCIA, has explained that a major transition would have to start in 2013 in order to get out by the end of 2014. SecState Clinton has decided to stay above the fray, at least publicly, saying, “I am not going to go into any details about what we are or are not prepared to do, because we are just at the beginning of this process of exploration whether or not there is an opportunity to bring about an end to the conflict through a political solution … There will continue to be all kinds of speculation about what is or is not happening.” Complicating all this now is that a military officer has openly challenged the civilian and military leaderships’ handling of the war. Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis wrote in the Armed Force Journal, "I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level… I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn't want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government … From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency."(020612)

Afghan deployments remain as scheduled, but …

For the moment, schedules for troop deployments to and from Afghanistan remain firm, but SecDef Panetta’s accelerated timetable for terminating combat in favor of advising could impact this downstream. Congressional members seem a bit miffed by his comments, and the administration does so as well. So it is hard to gauge what the plan is in Afghanistan, which is not unusual. Word on the street is there is a major political divide within the administration regarding Afghanistan. One of the more serious problems is, unlike Iraq, the enemy will still be fighting against our forces as they leave, to wit, our forces may have to fight their way out. (020312)

Something significant is happening in Afghanistan and near environs

Figuring out what is going on in Afghanistan and near environs is a dangerous business, but something significant is happening. NATO is meeting in Brussels on February 2-3, 2012 to discuss the future in Afghanistan of ISAF. France has announced it wants NATO to leave in 2013 vice 2014. US SecDef Panetta has announced the US will transition from a combat to an advisory role in 2013 vice 2014. The 2013 date is clever --- it leaves two more fighting seasons in the winter when the Taliban would prefer not to fight, periods when NATO makes major advances against the Taliban. Negotiations in one form or another with the Taliban have been underway for several years, and the Taliban will open an office in Qatar so long as it renounces global jihad. The US is considering letting some jihadists at Gitmo free. A classified NATO report was “leaked” that suggests that the Taliban will take over the Afghan government when the US leaves, and Afghans and others at all levels are playing both sides to save themselves. The US is exposing Pakistan’s duplicity, and even the Afghan government’s duplicity, but understands why this duplicity is taking place. The US is advertising its military as an expeditionary force, not an invasion, occupation, or large land war force. To that end, the Marines are being withdrawn to return to their expeditionary role rather than fighting a lengthy ground war, an Army job. Naval and Air Force forces are being preserved and defined into an expeditionary role, focused in the main on the Pacific. Additionally, the US is going to beef up its special operations capabilities. At the same time, the US is working preserve relations with Pakistan and to help that is making mud pies with India. Furthermore, the US wants Russia involved because the US knows the Russians fear an uncontrollable rampant spread of Islamic jihad to her borders. Finally, it appears the US is willing to live with Taliban governance in some form so long as it does not harbor people who mean to attack the US or its interests. Hold on, this is going to be quite a ride, especially for our combat forces still in the fight. Their efforts will direct much of the future negotiations and define how the US will transition out with honor and a situation with which it can live. We will hear a lot of talk, but we need to be careful about what all the talk means. (020212)

France wants NATO to leave Afghan during 2013 vice 2014

NATO defense ministers meet later this week in Brussels and France is going to suggest that NATO forces leave Afghanistan during 2013 vice 2014. For the moment, the NATO secretary-general has said NATO will stick to end of 2014. French President Sarkozy has said publicly his country will withdraw its forces by the end of 2013, but it is not sure how serious he is. This would cause a split within NATO and US authorities are urging the alliance to hold together. (013112)

Poles turn over Ghazni District to Afghans

The Polish Army turned over responsibility for the Ghazni District to the Afghans on January 12, 2012. It has been a very volute region. (011412)

National Intelligence Estimate of Afghan grim, differs with military assessment


Stars & Stripes, Ken Dilanian and David Cloud, report, “The U.S. intelligence community says in a secret new assessment (National Intelligence Estimate - NIE) that the war in Afghanistan is mired in stalemate, and warns that security gains from an increase in American troops have been undercut by pervasive corruption, incompetent governance and Taliban fighters operating from neighboring Pakistan.” They say the military disagrees and has objected to the report’s findings. The problem is the NIE represents the consensus view of 16 US intelligence agencies. It projects the Afghan government cannot survive as the US withdraws. It brings into question whether the US can withdraw by 2014, or conversely, gives a picture of complete Afghan breakdown if the US does withdraw. I have seen other reports indicating the Taliban is almost sure to regain power after the US leaves. (011212)

Army turns over FOB Lion to Afghans

On December 28, 2011, the Texas National Guard’s 321st Civil Affairs Brigade officially turned over FOB Lion to the Panjshir Provincial Governor. Panjshr has been viewed as a model province. The Afghans intend to convert the FOB to a women’s college. (010612)

The logistics of withdrawing from Afghanistan a major challenge

US Army authorities are challenged by the many difficulties of withdrawing all their equipment from a landlocked Afghanistan bordered by nations hostile to the US, such as Iran, or fickle about the US, such as Pakistan, Russia and the states of the former Soviet Union. This withdrawal will not be easy and will not be cheap. A senior official said, "We have had 10 years of bringing things in, with none of it leaving.” At the moment, as most know, Pakistan is not allowing anything to come in and could do the same for things we want to take out. Moving the kinds of heavy equipment that have to be moved by air is prohibitively expensive, though planners could reduce costs by simply getting the material flown out to the nearest friendly port for shipment by sea. Withdrawal from Afghanistan will be far more difficult and dangerous than the withdrawal from Iraq. We are talking in terms of tens of thousands of vehicles, at least twice as many containers, and all kinds of equipment needed to support some of the more high tech systems like the surveillance blimps. There are also questions about whether Afghan roads can handle some of our more heavy equipment, like the MRAPs. Bases that cannot be used by the Afghan military must be returned to prairie to prevent hostile forces from using them. I will also add that centuries ago, when the British invaded Afghanistan, they lost as many or more troops leaving than they did coming in. Ambush attacks are most worrisome, and significant covering forces air and ground will be needed to protect the convoys moving out. Withdrawal by air requires far more time than by road, and units will be hard pressed to give up equipment they feel they need to protect themselves while such a slow withdrawal is underway. (010612)

US talking to Taliban

US diplomats and military leaders have been secretly talking with the Taliban, searching for a solution to the Afghan war. This has been going on for at least a year. The Taliban says it has made and agreement with Qatar to open an office in Doha. At the moment, it seems that most of the discussions, if not all, have been bilateral, leaving the Karzai government out. (010412)

The Marines continue to prepare to leave Afghanistan

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The Marines continue to prepare to leave Afghanistan in very large numbers this year. You’ll have to learn some new lexicon. The Marines report the drawdown preparations this way:

“Over the last three months, Marine and Sailors of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) have accounted for, sorted, cleaned and processed several millions of dollars worth of gear and equipment in support of Operation Clean Sweep aboard Camp Leatherneck and Camp Dwyer.

“This operation is part of Regional Command Southwest’s plan for redeployment and retrograde in support of reset and reconstitution (R4), which is a four-part term commonly used to refer to the concept of how the Marine Corps will most efficiently and effectively leave Afghanistan.” (010412)