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Good News Link Drop

This week we have good news, ROE news and then an update on my old stomping grounds, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

Good News:

Remember when we argued that America needed a new “Marshall Plan” two months ago? Well, apparently the billionaires were listening. Last week, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates announced that 48 billionaires have pledged to donate half of their wealth to philanthropic causes. While we wish “philanthropic causes” was more specific--and specifically international--we celebrate this news.

Remember back in January when we took on the sacred cow of the federal budget? Well, Defense Secretary Gates took it on this week. He laid out his plan to cut the Pentagon’s budget this week. Let’s hope he is successful.

On ROE:

Three articles came out in the last week about ROE that, taken altogether, are really funny.

First, this report says that not killing civilians lowers violence in Afghanistan, which we think is obvious but we’re glad we have statistical proof for the anti-COINites. It basically supports stringent ROE and tactical patience from Soldiers and Marines.

Second, General Petraeus released his new ROE for Afghanistan, and it isn’t much different from General McChrystal’s version, thankfully.

Third, in retaliation Mullah Omar--leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan--released his own ROE against civilian casualties.

On Afghanistan:

Stars and Stripes has a new reporter embedded in Konar Province, Afghanistan, and her photos and stories bring back memories. Here Dianna Cahn writes about the struggle for the current unit in the Pech, then here she describes how FOB Michigan is taking massive amounts of contact. The Pech is a mystery for me, even having been there. Do we ramp up the number of troops? Try something new? (Yes.) I don’t know, frankly, what the military will try next, I do however doubt it will work.

four comments

I think more people need to praise Gates and Gates for doing the right thing. We need more people to do the right thing.


I’m grateful for these links. Just read the COIN Field Manual one more time to prep for fall (my beach reading), and I had wondered whether anyone was looking at some sort of empirical, rather than strictly theoretical and anecdotal, approach to studying COIN effects and the links between COIN and shifting ROE.
So thank you.


I´m going to hold off on praising the philanthropy of these billionaires until I have a better idea of exactly how they are going to put it to use. Most of these billionaires already have their own foundations, some of which do good work with charities, and others of which are thinly veiled tax shelters whose money is put to use in the interests of their benefactors.

The military has over 1,000 Generals / Admirals? Thats unbelievable, how many brigades (usually commanded by Colonel but sometimes by a one star) do the Army and Marines even have combined? Plus the number of Carrier Battle Groups and Air Force Wings? Lets even add all the fleet and theater commands, the various Army corps., IG, “special commands” like SOCOM, TRADOC, and CENTCOM, division commands, and than lets double that number to include those who are in some kind of staff capacity instead of a direct link in the chain of command. Even with all that I still don´t believe you´re going to come anywhere close to 1,000.

1,000 generals is shocking, I read somewhere that the ratio of officers to enlisted in the US military is somewhere around 5 enlisted per officer and I found that to be unbelievable, but it takes an incredulous number like nearly 1,000 generals (the very very very top of the pyramid) to put that into perspective. That means there is probably nearly a whole battalion´s worth of enlisted personnel whose sole job is drive around Generals, not even mentioning the rest of the staff every self-respecting General has to have. How did they hide so many officers so well while I was in garrison? Do they have offices underground? They were all over the place on Victory, but there was a reason for that.

I appreciate the fact that both sides of this war are striving for restraint on the civilian population, but I´m not holding my breath until it becomes a competition of who can shower the best gifts unto the Afghani people.


As far the article on Afghanistan, I appreciate direct reporting from Afghanistan, but sometimes the reporting is a bit inaccurate and its missing some key points. I don´t pretend to know how much recruiting is going on for Al Qaeda and other multinational terrorist organizations in Afghanistan currently, but when General Petraeus says there are less than 100 Al Qaeda operatives within the country I´m inclined to believe his intelligence over Stars and Stripes.

Do the math with the statements in this article, they seem to be consistently contradictory:

“Kunar province is notorious for its warrior and isolationist culture. Valleys often have no contact with each other but share the tendency to fight against any outsiders.”

Okay, we will take that as a given.

“In COIN, the enemy is the obstacle to the objective [the people],” said Ryan, who served as a ranger in Kunar province in 2003. “Not here. Here it is the enemy that is the objective…. I can’t turn the people any more on my side.”

You cannot turn people further to your side than having them consistently fighting against any outsiders?

““U.S. forces would be better utilized in conducting active patrols to secure the population along the lower Kunar River Valley … where the population desires U.S. support and presence, unlike the population of the Korengal,””

And the Pech? What about the other people of the lower Kunar Valley? Do they desire US security as well? If the people there would like us to leave, and US forces are needed elsewhere are they remaining there to “hold the front” as if this is conventional warfare? Are they afraid this will appear like a retreat to the Taliban?

“Now, U.S. officers say the Taliban appears to be uniting once-discordant fighters under a single command in the Korengal. Foreign combatants are also coming in to bolster their efforts.”

So foreign combatants besides Americans are operating in the valley? If so how are their relations with the locals that supposedly hate foreign influence? And command and control among insurgents is becoming more centralized and effective?

“Battalion commander Lt. Col. Joe Ryan says there might be some collaboration, but talk of a fully unified insurgent command is as much Taliban propaganda as reality. It’s being monitored, he said, but he did not see an immediate threat.” “I don’t see a massing of fighters in Korengal,” Ryan said. “The groups and tribes each have their own agenda.”

Is that a US officer? With that in mind the next quote on the strategy for dealing with the situation definitely makes sense.

“In the Pech River Valley, the mission now is to “keep these guys at bay by actively targeting senior Taliban commanders,” Muller said.”

I really feel sorry for the guys deployed there right now, they are in a dangerous situation, and it seems like they are not only ill informed about the locals and insurgents with contradictory intelligence and assumptions, but also having trouble on deciding on the best course of action. What does this command do when it is faced with unknowns? I don´t hear anything in the article about intensifying efforts to gather more intelligence, instead they fall back to what they know and are trained to do, static and maneuver warfare. The job now is to “hold the line”, and “target enemy leaders”. The officers don´t even seem to be bothered by the fact that they don´t know what is going on, but rather the fact that they are only “holding ground” and not “gaining ground”.

“Commanders here recognize they are not fighting to gain ground, but rather to simply hold it. Many officers said they were frustrated, but they were doing what they could with the resources they have.”

They do mention some COIN operations to such as paying local farmers not to grow tall corn and training cops, but it hardly seems to be the emphasis of the article. I hope these apparent paradoxes and differences are stirring up a constructive internal debate within their chain of command that can be expediently decided upon.