Analysis Military

The Afghan Commandos are taking a beating

Last month an Afghan Commando company was committed piecemeal into Jaghari district, a rural Hazara dominated area of Ghazni province, and defeated in detail. This is the second Afghan Commando company to meet this fate in the past three months; another was lost in the adjacent Ajristan district last August. The destruction of that Commando company was overshadowed by the fighting to push the Taliban out of the city of Ghazni which is just 100 miles from Kabul. In the pre-dawn darkness of August 10, over 1,000 Taliban, reportedly reinforced with Al Qaeda affiliated foreign fighters, stormed Ghazni city, forcing Afghanistan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) to retreat into the main government facilities (governor’s compound, Police HQ, NDS Compound and the main prison).

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Hazara’s are an ethnic minority who practice the Shia version of Islam. Note how their lands are surrounded by Pashtun tribes who are Taliban friendly and Sunni.

Ghazni was not the only major city to be overrun by Taliban. They held onto Kunduz for two weeks in 2015, and attacked it again in 2017. This year they also overran the capitols of Farah, and Uruzgan provinces. In all of these battles, American SF teams were inserted with Afghan Commando units, where they controlled air strikes as ANDSF units drove the Taliban out of the city centers while inflicting heavy casualties.

When American SF units insert into a direct combat role, they bring more than air strikes,…they bring responsive logistic and medical evacuation support which inserts a degree of organization into the battlefield rhythm. When the Americans are absent from the fight, valuable units like Afghan Commando companies are inserted into situations where they are outnumbered, out-gunned, and unsupported. Part of the rationale behind the train-and-assist effort in Afghanistan was to prevent self-inflicted debacles like those mentioned above. NATO leadership has repeatedly said the training effort will take time and include many setbacks but it does not appear that time is on our side.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the Afghanistan Commandos have performed so well that the Taliban created their own version called the Sara Khitta — which is Pashto for Red Group or Danger Group. They are allegedly armed with captured American weapons, armored HMMWVs, night vision devices, and American tactical radios. The effectiveness of Sara Khitta units is questionable, Taliban photographs of these special warriors reveal a conspicuous lack of American weapons, radios or night vision gear. But facts don’t count; the perception of the Afghans is the only metric that matters. Their perception is the Sara Khitta is an elite force that does not require American supervision to fight well. Meanwhile the Afghan Commandos are getting their butts kicked when they deploy without Americans to provide fire support and adult supervision.

Taliban-SF-Laghman-6-768x432
Taliban Red Unit members – they claim to have American weapons and NVGs, which are not evident in any of the pictures they have released, but that is not important. The perception that they are a high-speed low-drag outfit is what matters now on the Afghan streets.

One of the fundamental problems with Afghanistan security forces is their insistence on manning small check points on all major roads and inside every district center. These checkpoints are easy to isolate and over-run and they are impossible to reinforce once they are isolated. That is exactly what happened to the Commando company in Ajristan district last August, and probably contributed to the destruction of the other company last month.

There are major structural problems with the Afghanistan war; the central government in Kabul is hopelessly corrupt, and the Taliban can easily access safe sanctuaries in the tribal lands in Pakistan to rest, train and re-fit. There are no near-term fixes for these problems, which should curb the enthusiasm of anyone who mistakes our current 4Rs+S strategy as a viable way forward.

When Gen. John Nicholson relinquished command of all NATO forces in Afghanistan last September, he said, “It is time for the war in Afghanistan to end.” You hear that often from senior Americans these days, but that rhetoric is being employed to mask the cognitive dissonance of the reality on the ground. The Taliban is a fragmented enemy who has proven capable of enforcing a country-wide cease fire for three days. That demonstrated that the Taliban has some ability at exercising unity of command which surprised NATO observers. The Taliban has been working with the Afghan government to help administer the areas they control, and that too has surprised NATO observers. I don’t think the Taliban Red Units have surprised anyone, which may be the only good news from the country this year.

Large swaths of the country are controlled by the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ (the Taliban), and that is a major strategic problem. Islamic extremists fleeing from Syria and Iraq are finding safe haven inside the Emirate, and are arriving in ever-increasing numbers. Although the Taliban and ISIS-K have actually fought each other repeatedly, the Taliban has always maintained solid relations with al Qaeda. The current leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has been living in the Taliban controlled areas of both Pakistan and Afghanistan since 9/11 with a 25-million-dollar bounty on his head. Surviving that long with that large a price on your head indicates we have limited — if not zero — Human Intelligence (HUMINT) guiding our targeting efforts.

This consistent lack of HUMINT was so debilitating to NATO’s efforts, that in 2010 MG Michael Flynn (along with a Marine Captain and a DIA analyst) wrote a remarkable paper titled “Fixing Intel: A blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan.” This problem also launched one of the most improbable programs in modern intelligence history, involving former CIA legend Dewey Clarridge — who ran multiple spy rings fronted by former military men who were on the ground and off the bases.  The original reporting by the NYT’s Mark Mazzetti said the product provided by Clarridge’s operatives was little more than rumor and innuendo. When Mr. Mazzetti published a book about the CIA during the post 9/11 era, The Way of the Knife, his assessment on the quality of the intelligence collected by Clarridge had changed dramatically. It is mind blowing that an old retired spook was able to run multiple spy rings inside Afghanistan, from the side of his pool in Southern California, for (reportedly) a few million dollars. That is a rounding error for the CIA; they spend more importing German mineral water to their bases every year.

Human Intelligence remains relevant because it is apparent NATO and Kabul have little of it. The Taliban can pre-stage ammunition and fighters, prior to an attack, without the fear of being compromised. That’s the definition of good HUMINT. NATO and Kabul are consistently surprised when the Taliban attacks a major city or town; that is the definition of bad HUMINT.

The only stop gap solution that could keep Afghanistan in the fight is contractors. Eric Prince has been shopping around a plan to replace NATO military forces with armed contractors. The reason his plan makes sense (besides the fact it would save the American taxpayers billions of dollars) is he plans to insert mentors down to the battalion level. Mentors would be assigned to the same unit indefinitely, promoting the personal relationships required for effective combat cohesion.

The United States in counting on time to bring about an acceptable solution in Afghanistan but time is running out. Today, the Pentagon reported yet another combat death that was attributed to an insider attack.  Sergeant Leandro Jasso, from the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, reportedly died in the Garmsir district of Helmand province after being shot during an operation in the Khash Rod district of Numruz province. That sounds like he was stationed at the former Marine FOB Dwyer and fighting outside the old Marine FOB Delaram. A reasonable assumption is that SGT Jasso was supporting an American SF effort directed at some sort of high value target.

In absolute numbers, the casualties we are sustaining in Afghanistan are low. But numbers are not the issue; perceptions are, and in that respect there is an elephant in the room nobody is comfortable addressing. That would be the newly elected democrat controlled congress who has made it clear their priority is to go after President Trump. The percentage of American casualties from insider attacks is an issue that Congress could use to hammer away at the credibility of the administration. I don’t think that is a smart tactic for the democrats, but rational discourse is no longer a component of our two party system, so stand by.

The Prince Plan has a better chance of buying the West time to allow the government of Afghanistan to get a grip on the country. The chances of the current administration adopting the Prince Plan are zero as long as Mattis remains the Secretary of Defense. It’s not that the military hates contractors, they (like the CIA) have more of them in the field than troops because they are cheaper to deploy and you don’t have to take care of them if they are hit. The issue also isn’t paying Americans to fight for another country — we’ve done that many times before in places like Haiti, Nicaragua, and China before we had an economy that could generate billions of dollars to spend on propping up corrupt foreign governments.

Back when we sent civilians to war in the service of another country they were given catchy names like ‘The Flying Tigers‘. Now they are smeared with the pejorative “mercenaries.” Both time and money are running out in Afghanistan; we may be re-visiting the use of “mercenaries” again in the near future.

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Yankee Papa
Member
Yankee Papa

. …The *only* reason that you ever send in forces piecemeal…is if there is no other way to prevent a catastrophe. Even then… assuming that it works… the casualties suffered by your people are far higher. Far too often it doesn’t work. …But to deliberately start an op piecemeal indeed shows a lack of “adult supervision…” Why? It’s not as if Afghans are noted far and wide for their pacifism. Could it be that the chain of command is corrupt? Could it be that higher commanders are chosen for political reasons rather than military ones? …In 1948 Israel started with… Read more »

Mic-Mac
Member
Mic-Mac

YP and BABA TIM, and anyone else who would like to comment, I would truly like to know your thoughts on the U.S led counterinsurgency tribal engagement strategy spearheaded by Major Jim Gant back in 2010-2012. I believe this was refereed to Village Stability Operations program.

susanh
Member
susanh

Great question, Mic-Mac. What’s the name of the book again?

susanh
Member
susanh

YP, thank you for a wonderfully insightful comment.

Mic-Mac
Member
Mic-Mac

YP. I read the book a few times and i do agree with much of what this review states. But the strategy if it had been managed better by the higher ups, could it have helped in long term. Of course thise that start to act too far out of the box need to be sent home to destabilize. Thanks for the review.

Yankee Papa
Member
Yankee Papa

Mic-Mac, I like this site, but it needs some work. No way to add pictures… and I can’t seem to remove an erroneous link. The exact wrong link re “…reinvent the wheel… SHOULD have been… https://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/jim-gant-top-green-beret-officer-forced-resign/story?id=24266710 Please ignore the other one… As to my own personal opinion… His professional judgement on what was needed was splendid. But his own stability… more to the point his lack of it… showed that his brilliance offset by combination of age, stress, injuries (including head) and PTSD. The Army acted without honor in its treatment of him as a criminal rather than a casualty.… Read more »

Mic-Mac
Member
Mic-Mac

“The Army acted without honor in its treatment of him as a criminal rather than a casualty.”. YP, you are so right. It was heart breaking to read Ann Scott Tysons words about how General Mulholland treated him. I wish this wrong could be corrected.

Alex Green

YP,

While not particularly user-friendly, you can currently add in pictures by posting the html IMG code (pasted below). All you need to do is get the URL of the image that you would like and replace the text in quotes (keep the quotes).

I will continue to explore solutions for allowing users to upload files.

Code:
<img src=”http://somesite.com/picture.jpg”>

Susan B
Member

Glad I can enjoy your comments on this site, too, YP.

susanh
Member
susanh

Me too, Susan!

JoyB
Guest
JoyB

One of my friends is an Army CO, who started off as an enlisted Marine, and spent a year on deployment training Afghan Forces, or at least trying to. From talking to him, especially during his deployment, I think the biggest obstacle is that we’re trying to make Afghanistan behave like Americans, which will never ever happen. I think we need to look closer at why and how the Taliban can be fragmented but actually effective for ideas on a long term solution.

Yankee Papa
Member
Yankee Papa

Joy, One of the biggest challenges is being an advisor to troops from another culture, another language, probably a different religion… and a very different history. The Special Forces are mostly the only group that are purpose built for that… generally in irregular situations. In Vietnam we had some fine advisors… and many not so fine. Best advisors often knew what the top brass did not. You could not train the South Vietnamese Army to become Fort Benning soldiers. You can’t treat a native officer (who sometimes outranks you and many times has been shot at since long before you… Read more »

Yankee Papa
Member
Yankee Papa

Joy, I can’t edit my reply to you a few minutes ago, so I’ll just add info here. I said two articles “post Vietnam”… well, one of them deals with…among other things… two WWII examples. Also… though Vietnam not covered in either article… first one headed with a good photo from Vietnam… but not relevant and not my selection… Somebody on staff replaced my modern shot with helo on hill in Philippines with Filipino troops… I mention in more detail the many opportunities for local politicos to corrupt or disband even the finest unit that American advisors might create even… Read more »

Yankee Papa
Member
Yankee Papa

TIM OR SOMEBODY; PLEASE REMOVE MY REPLY WITH LINK https://warontherocks.com/2014/04/the-rise-and-fall-of-major-jim-gant/

The wrong link was downloaded and is at odds with what I intended. I posted up a longer reply with the correct link… But this one needs to go, and I see no way to do it myself…

Thanks,

-YP-

Mic-Mac
Member
Mic-Mac

Ah yes, need a way to edit or delete our comments.

Alex Green

YP,

I have removed the reply that you are referencing. We are working to improve our commenting process to accommodate editing of personal comments and the uploading of pictures. We hope to have this capability soon!

susanh
Member
susanh

Alex, would it be possible to get a notification when someone likes or replies to one of our comments?

Also, is it possible to “follow” any of the people who leave comments on the site?

Thank you.

Alex Green

Susanjh01,

You should now see checkboxes below the comment section that will notify you of new comments. When someone likes your comment, you should be receiving an email – let me know if you don’t.

As for following individual people, I’m not sure that is a function offered today. I will see what I can do!

Yankee Papa
Member
Yankee Papa

Alex,

Hopefully the image shows.

“Old China hand… U.S. Marine early 1900s…”

-YP-

Yankee Papa
Member
Yankee Papa

Alex,

img src=comment image

“Old China hand… U.S. Marine early 1900s”

-YP-

Mic-Mac
Member
Mic-Mac

Baba Tim, I was extremely excited to read your comments. I have the audio-book “American Spartan” and have listened to it at least six times and each time I am awed over the achievements of Major Gant with the tribes in Afganistan. I think he is an amazing man and a brave warrior I am glad to hear you say he is a good man, because that is how I have portrait him in my mind.

Mason
Member
Mason

My first foray here Mic-Mac, thanks for the pointer. I have never heard of this book, just ordered.

susanh
Member
susanh

Tim, thank you for a great article.

Susan B
Member

Enjoyed the article, BT. It continues to seem like we are throwing money down the drain for all the good our being in Afghanistan is doing for the citizens or for ourselves. I agree that we should have picked up our winning hand and cashed it in way back when before we tried (and continue to try) to build a nation to our specs. It’s never going to happen and we are just creating harder enemies out of the people we are supposed to be helping. Does not compute!!

Susan B
Member

Alex, I am unable to “like” someone’s comment. I filled out the WordPress to be able to leave a comment, why can’t I do the like part, too? Also, is there a way to know when people leave a reply to your comment like Disqus does? I have to keep scrolling back through the stories to see if anyone replied to a comment I made. Takes so much time. I’d love to know how to fix this issue and Luke says you’re the “go-to” guy for the site.

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