April 12, 2011

Bam... we're done here

In the Aperture Investment Opportunities (#2 here) Valve has sadistically combined my adoration of actor J.K. Simmons and my love of the game Portal into my new favourite Web advertising promo campaign of all time. Can they please keep making these after the game comes out?

Posted by BruceR at 10:09 PM

This week's essential Afghan reading

The ever-dependable Gary Farber provides some details on the sad fratricide incident out of Helmand. They declared "PID" (positive ID) on "hot spots?" That just doesn't seem right. The Pred would have had IR optics so even at night someone had eyes on here.

The generally reliable Tim Lynch is somewhere between despair and needing a really long vacation. After some regrettably racially tinged commentary about his current president, he hits his Afghan points in rapid fire, all of which I'd say are pretty much inarguable at this point:

--The Kandahar City suicide ambulance attack was fiendish, and effective;

--"General Petraeus can say what he wants but we all know he doesn’t know because he has no human intelligence capacity. That is the price he must pay for having unlimited funds with which to build little islands of America all over the country, isolating most of the forces completely from the Afghans." (See also Alex Berenson on the human tragedy that is Kandahar Air Field; I will only say what I've said here before on this, that any minute one spends beyond what is absolutely necessary on a megabase like KAF is a minute utterly wasted, both personally and militarily.)

--"The United States could easily send half the people deployed in Afghanistan home without diminishing combat power." I wouldn't put it that high, but it's not zero, either.

--"You could easily cut the intelligence effort in half because Afghan intel is an echo chamber with endemic circular reporting coupled to sycophantic analysis. And you can close the COIN Academy – setting up a new “innovative” school house is a loser move..."

--The United States is like pre-Caesarian Rome, he concludes: and in short, "we're losing in Afghanistan."

Finally, I was in a bit of a comment contretemps this week over at Herschel Smith's place. Since he tends to get a little snippy whenever I comment on one of his stories more than once or twice, I'll leave the original issue where it lies. I did read with interest the comments at the end of the comment thread, though, about Operation Strong Eagle I in the Kunar, since followed by Strong Eagle II and III. I do recommend the Stars and Stripes series on the first Strong Eagle last summer, which I think reveals a lot about the issues that continue to bedevil Western action in Afghanistan.

In short, a battalion of the 101st Airborne, one month in country, attempted a battalion-sized clear-op into Daridam, with Afghan military and border police units providing the "Afghan face." The Afghans weren't told about the operation practically until they crossed the LoD, and predictably promptly deserted en masse when the shooting started. By this point, however, the battalion had several platoons it had airmobiled in behind the insurgents' known positions in the hills to extract, and so an 18-hour firefight in 100 degree heat resulted, with the insurgents retreating under cover of night. The battalion, which had lost 2 American and 2 Afghans killed, claimed 125 enemy dead (more in other tellings). At least five other Americans were injured by friendly fire. The battalion concluded their Afghan allies simply had to "want it more."

Now look. This was a frontal assault by a then-untested battalion, against an enemy whose strength had caught them by surprise, in comparable numbers dug in on a ridgeline above them. I'm sorry but you simply don't get 30:1 fatality ratios in favour of the *attacker* in that kind of situation, no matter what the DuPuy ratings of the opposing forces are. So the battle damage assessment here is almost certainly way off, as is probably is their estimate of the number of enemy they faced, for that matter (certainly it was more than they counted on when they devised the plan... ). Certainly the infantry, firing uphill with small arms, didn't get anywhere near that number of kills. Close air support and artillery in support, maybe, but that implies some estimation of effect, estimation that is generally inflated by a certain factor. I thought it interesting that at one point the Americans watch the enemy "through night vision goggles as the insurgents collected their dead." I'm sorry, are you sure about that? Because I don't recall ever giving enemy burial parties a free pass before. If they were seen, presumably they could have been fired upon but weren't, implying the Americans had been fought to a standstill, even before their enemy pulled out before morning.

And seriously, re the Afghan units that fled, want WHAT more? To be pushed ahead of the new foreigners in town, for a purpose they can't even be bothered to tell you, and in something of a sketchy plan at that? Note there's no mention of Afghans going in with the cutoff groups, so they couldn't even go to the Afghan commander and shame him into fighting to save his own men's lives... another classic partnering error. (They learned though; note how the sense of Afghan agency had changed by the time of Strong Eagle II, a month later.) Look, I'm happy for the 101st's tactical victory here, and I'm sure they did some damage, but one were to think this writeup was one of the bigger success stories out of Afghanistan last summer... well, it t'aint much at all.

(The same battalion engaged in the same location again a couple weeks ago, in Op Strong Eagle III... this time the casualty estimate, for a much more experienced American unit by now, with 6 US and an unknown number of ANSF vs 50 Taliban KIA in that fight, seems much more plausible.)

Posted by BruceR at 08:50 PM