“A New Kind of War Part 1” Richard Sale

A118_predator_firing_hellfire_2050081722-16359 Escalating violence, an acceleration of targeted killings, and deniable attacks by U.S. Special Forces on Taliban strong holds in Pakistan will all be the major results of the administration’s U.S. latest change in command  in Afghanistan, according to senior Pentagon officials.

   The very public May 11 firing of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, replaced by Special Forces expert, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, portends a much bloodier phase of the war, these sources said.

     “McChrystal is an expert killer. That’s what the teams he heads are good at,” said former senior DIA official Pat Lang.

     “The idea is to put out the eyes of the insurgency using force,” a Pentagon official said.

     McChrystal, who headed U.S. Special Operations forces during the famous troop surge  in Iraq in the late spring of  2007, used a whole new array of methods to detect, locate and kill insurgent leaders which many claim was key to the success of the operation.


     As McChrystal, then the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC,  told The Washington Post last year, the surge involved waging “collaborate warfare “ using every available tool ranging from signals intercepts, human intelligence, double agents and other devices that allowed lightning quick and coordinated strikes on targets.

     In practice this meant an unprecedented blending of military and intelligence assets, Defense Dept. officials said. One key innovation was something called “fusion cells.”  As first reported by the Washington Post and confirmed by U.S. intelligence sources, these consist of small, highly mobile teams of Special Forces and intelligence specialists working together supported by forensic and computer specialists, mapping experts, along with political and tribal analysts.

     Some of the intelligence collection techniques involve using GPS devices to locate hostile bands, new space-based surveillance strategies, new methods of infiltrating enemy communications, and the use of tiny,  hand-launched  miniature drones like the Gnat which is packed in a tube that looks like a rolled-up umbrella. When when the drone is taken out, its spring-powered wings pop open, and it can be tossed into the air and can track targets up to three hours. Larger drones like the Predator can loiter for up to 14 hours.

    The sensors and cameras on the Gnat are operated from a lap top computer by a single operator and are so powerful that can relay data to major command centers and even the White House Situation Room in real time, according to former and serving military officials.

     Other collection devices include cameras mounted on the helmets of elite troops that relay intelligence such as papers found on dead insurgents to headquarter analysts who can analyze it with such a fast turn-around time, that, once interpreted, it can be used immediately to stage  additional raids, sometimes several in one night, sources said.

    Where in Iraq, the high-value targets were al-Qaida leaders, but in Afghanistan, the fusion cells will be focusing on Taliban leadership cadres in Afghanistan and in northwestern Pakistan, they said.

   As in Iraq, quick, lethal reaction to intelligence is everything, and from now on,  U.S. counterterror operations will be small, swift, mobile, based on precise information about targets, they said.

     A key factor in the firing of General David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, rested on the perception that the general “was wedded to the old fashioned big unit kind of warfare,” said one former DOD official.

    According to this official, McKiernan’s fate was sealed in early May when Secretary of Defense Bob Gates visited Camp Leatherneck, a large military base under construction in the Afghan province of Helmand on the Pakistan border.

   Mike O’Hanlon, a top military analyst at the Brookings Institution, disputes this, saying that locating the big logistics hub at Kandahar was inevitable and did not play a part in the removal of Mc Kiernan, adding that the decision had been made “some time before” Mullin’s visit.

     Several U.S. officials said that McKiernan’s preference for slow, cumbersome, large-unit sweeps, confined to Afghanistan’s few useable roads, allowed the insurgents to disperse without suffering damage. The elements of surprise that is key to fighting insurgents was never obtained, they said.

     These sources argue that Camp Leatherneck also reinforced the propensity for large groups of conventional forces to withdraw after an operation to a fixed strong point at night, a location which is kept under constant surveillance by the jihadis.

   But O’Hanlon argued that McKiernan had “an excellent understanding of counterinsurgency warfare,”  but that McKiernan’s “implementation” of the strategy was seen by superiors as “lacking in energy.” This perception sealed his fate, O’Hanlon said.

     Since the Afghan road system is so poor, any large unit movements are under constant surveillance by the enemy, and even in the case of patrols, U.S. troops use the same routes over and over, and quickly become a target for ambushes, these sources said.

        The strategy of McChrystal will be different.

     The traditional strategy of using big units to “Find ‘em, fix ‘em, finish ‘em,” searching for main force insurgent units to destroy, will be abandoned since it ignores small bands of jihais in key areas , Pentagon officials said.     

      Under the new strategy, the chief aim will be to prevent the Taliban infiltration of neighborhoods in Afghanistan’s major cities, with U.S. forces working in close support with Afghan security forces, they said.

     In the case of rural areas regarded as strategically valuable, a former CIA official said: “What are needed are swift envelopments of a well-mapped sector – a smothering of the sector that allows no escape for the jihadis.”

      To gain that information, Coalition forces are trying to prepare an organizational chart of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. intelligence officials said.

     “We need to know exactly who these  bastards are and their weak points,” said one official.

     But the chief burden of the new U.S. mission will fall on the Afghan police. According to U.S. Institute of Peace analyst, Alexander Thier, even with 60,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, there will not be sufficient forces to do “an outreach” into remote rural areas.

     Several U. S. sources said that the chief aim of U.S. operations will be to ensure the safety of the Afghan population, and this means having U.S. units embedded with Afghan security forces the neighborhoods of the major towns.

   There will also be more initiative in U.S. tactics instead of merely reacting to enemy raids and ambushes, U.S. officials said.

     A retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, writing in the Small Wars Journal, stated recently that where past practice in Iraq had been to take State Dept. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and post them to areas recaptured from insurgents, the new policy should be to establish such teams in areas still free of the Taliban and before the insurgents can gain a foothold in them. Anderson is currently serving with an embedded PRT in Iraq.

     Questioned about Anderson’s suggestion, a former senior DOD official said, “We have all sorts of initiatives under consideration.”


By Richard Sale, Middle East Times Intelligence Correspondent


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34 Responses to “A New Kind of War Part 1” Richard Sale

  1. Dave of Maryland says:

    Why are you posting PR propaganda? Sounds straight out of Donny Rumsfeld. Implementation, where gnats call in stand-off predator drones, means many more innocents die & the whole situation worsens. In the US, these kinds of operations are done by civilian SWAT teams. Why not here?

  2. jr786 says:

    How is this different from Russian operational doctrine that used Spetsnaz?
    Afghan tactics are exactly like those used against the Russians (small, independent bands of fighters) so does that mean we have to do what they did?
    I still think the critical error here is in using blanket terms like Taliban to describe any and all Afghans who may actually be a) pissed off at the continued occupation of their country, and/or b) pissed off at having family members blown up in drone attacks or misguided jdams.
    I hope planners realize the historical associations that Afghans have with Russian Spetsnaz.

  3. Patrick Lang says:

    You can’t face the truth? pl

  4. Highlander says:

    Wait until the NORKOs or PAKIs sell somebody real bad a Nuke.
    Then the Obama/Bush adventures will get real interesting real fast.
    As we use to say in my professional aviator days,”strap in tightly boys, its going to be a real rough ride”.

  5. curious says:

    Breaking news. Let’s just say, this is a major diplomatic failure. (Hillary position looks very shaky if she can’t explain.)
    Bloomberg is now confirming North Korea’s withdrawal from the 1953 Armistice:
    By Heejin Koo
    May 27 (Bloomberg) — North Korea threatened military action in response to South Korea joining an anti-proliferation program and said it’s no longer bound by the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.
    I wonder what Iran position is.

  6. srv says:

    “trying to prepare an organizational chart”.
    Nearly eight years in and they have initiatives…
    I wonder how many #2’s the Taliban have.

  7. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    I had inferred, perhaps in error, that it was these kinds of tactics Woodruff was hinting at that helped increase the effectiveness of the surge in Iraq.
    Regardless, I’m not sure I understand why the use of these tactics in an ongoing military operation are being discussed in a public forum. Or, is the discussion really meant to be about McChrystal?

  8. William R. Cumming says:

    Is it the die are cast or the dies are cast? Either way looks like good chance of boots on the ground needed in South and East Asia in near future to me? Are we going to go through another long national “nightmare” watching the DEMS conclude that in fact they not the Republicans are the party of WARFARE? How much ego and hubris in Washington drives this set of policy makers? LBJ used to say “Not on My Watch.” okay let’s just see but by Labor Day we may have real insights as to the full militarization of US foregin policy and the ramping up of the National Security State. Yesterday without any transparency Obama decided to merge the NSC and HSC staffs intothe NSS staff supporting both orgs. Will the state and locals, law enforcement, public health have a seat at the staff table for NSC or will this be the Russian studies specialist retreading to a new set of issues for which they have no training or background?

  9. jonst says:

    To the extent this sentence is true: ” But the chief burden of the new U.S. mission will fall on the Afghan police.” I must say I am not filled with confidence.
    Nor, does it fill me with confidence that after 8 years of this….we are still asking (to the extent we are asking) ‘who are these guys?’.

  10. Brett says:

    Thanks for the post. On first read these tactics do sound more suitable to the Afghan geography and situation.

  11. Bobo says:

    This recession we are having here in the US is starting to show its ugly side thus I do not think we as a populace have much patience left for the actions of North Korea, Afghanistan, Taliban or others.
    Thus my belief that the insertion of McChrystal and his style is one that is bent on cleaning out the crap so we can come out of there within 18 months after sending a pointed message to all those who detest our way of life.
    Its been 40 years since our men were let loose and it will probably be another 40 before it happens again so make good use of your time.

  12. VietnamVet says:

    Have the professionals thought this all out? Fear and selective killing is ideology of the Made Men you dealt with at Fort Drum.
    How does selectively killing of men and their families bring peace? All killing does is inflame hatreds and passions. “Hitting the hornets nest”. Sooner or later revenge wins out.
    The only way to win foreign wars is with Colin Powell’s forgotten doctrine of overwhelming force. Even then it has to have the backing of moral authority, civilization, and the rule of law to have any chance of long term success.

  13. arbogast says:

    “We need to know exactly who these bastards are and their weak points,” said one official.
    According to U.S. Institute of Peace analyst, Alexander Thier, even with 60,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, there will not be sufficient forces to do “an outreach” into remote rural areas.
    Several U. S. sources said that the chief aim of U.S. operations will be to ensure the safety of the Afghan population.

    OK, we don’t know who we’re fighting. We don’t have enough troops to fight the people we don’t know. And we are trying to guarantee the safety of the Afghan population by accidentally killing them from time to time.
    Sounds like a policy to me.

  14. Dan M says:

    Let the boys loose, oh yes. If only the lilly-livered Bush people had been willing to send a “pointed message” with warfare and torture after 9/11 we wouldn’t be in this afghan mess now.
    The afghan’s have demonstrated time and again that the only way to prevent them from sending their navy and airforce over to the US to “destroy our way of life” is to cow them by dropping bombs on their villages. This is clearly the only way to distract them from their constant focus on (and attendant scheming to destroy) “our” way of life. By forcing some tribal leader to paw through the wreckage of his hovel looking for bodyparts of family members, we distract him from his america-hating and get him to focus on his mixed-nuts and poppy farm (and the need to find a new wife and start a family). Excellent plan.

  15. John Howley says:

    “…the war on terror was necessary in order to justify and explain the manifold expansion of America’s invasive military posture in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere since 2001. This expansion was clearly intended to be the basis for a massive, long-term American military presence through the region. The fact that in and of itself this presence is a striking innovation is something that is almost totally ignored in American public discourse. The depth and novelty of the engagement of United States military forces in various countries in the Middle East and adjacent states, whether in combat operations or in other ways, has been little appreciated or understood by public opinion, the press or Congress. Nor has the public appreciated that this new and massive military presence constitutes a radical departure from past practice. Few people realize that from the 1960s through the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, when the United States faced a formidable Soviet rival and its regional allies and proxies, it somehow managed to protect its vital interests in the Gulf region and most of the Middle East successfully, essentially through an “over the horizon” military presence combined with the tiniest regional military footprint. During these decades there were few American military bases (all of them small and unobtrusive), no occupations, and no high-profile U.S. military presence anywhere in the Middle East. The broad rubric of the ‘global war on terror,’ with the concomitant exploitation of fear to cow citizens and prevent them from asking pertinent questions, conveniently obviates explaining why, long after the demise of such a formidable rival as the USSR, it is today necessary to have a much more extensive American military presence in this region than at any time since World War II. It also makes it possible to obscure the fact that this presence involves deployments and bases that go far beyond those directly related to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” [Rashid Khalidi, Sowing Crisis The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East, pp. 220-1.]

  16. curious says:

    Iraq is now officially permanent occupation. Long war ahead, as Iraqi will fight for their independence.
    Army chief of staff says US troops could remain in Iraq and Afghanistan past 2012
    The United States could have fighting forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade, the top Army officer said, even though a signed agreement requires all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by 2012.
    Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, said Tuesday his planning envisions combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade as part of a sustained U.S. commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East.

  17. b says:

    @Bobo – after sending a pointed message to all those who detest our way of life.
    rgey detest what you do, not the way you live. After 18 month of prime torturer McCrystal, they will detest you more.

  18. b says:

    Lat comment should start with
    They detest …

  19. Patrick Lang says:

    You misunderstand Casey’s role and statement. the press made that easy to do by misunderstanding both themselves in their search for the sensational.
    Casey is Chief of Staff of the Army. The Army’s role as an institution is to generate and sustain forces, not to operate those forces. That role is played by the operational chain of command from SecDef to the Combatant Commanders (in this case CENTCOM and its subordinate command in Iraq [Odierno]).
    Casey’s much misunderstood statement was a declaration that the Army institution can provide forces through the period that he mentioned. It was not a prediction of ahything.
    It is much more difficult to figure out how to provide these forces than one might think pl

  20. Patrick Lang says:

    We now have a subset of “professionals” who are modeled on SWAT teams. pl

  21. fasteddiez says:

    John Howley quotes:
    “….it is today necessary to have a much more extensive American military presence in this region than at any time since World War II. It also makes it possible to obscure the fact that this presence involves deployments and bases that go far beyond those directly related to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” [Rashid Khalidi, Sowing Crisis The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East, pp. 220-1.] ”
    In other words: Oil (writ large..NG, etc.), Texas Tea…Swimming Pools…..Movie Starzzz.
    I agree, but I think that honesty is the best policy, where the populace needs to be informed as to how much of the “sweet and easily brought up,” of this elixir is needed by the US economy. This, of course, in order to safely transition the 20 odd year transition period to switch to viable alternatives.
    The only problem I see is that them ornery Chinese, Russkies, and Indians have needs for this stuff also.
    How to de-conflict?
    Bobo, Our men?….let loose? Did I miss something forty years ago?

  22. Patrick Lang says:

    Is your cognomen a reference to the “Mote in God’s Eye?”
    “Bobo, Our men?….let loose? Did I miss something forty years ago?”
    What is this, more of the “Winter soldier” crap? pl

  23. arbogast says:

    What is the metric by which we judge that McChrystal’s activities were a success?
    Iraq is safer?
    I love technology as much as the next man, and I’m thrilled to hear that there are drones that pop out of paper toweling tubes and communicate with the White House. But suppose an invading force occupied your neighborhood? How many of you would have to be killed before you would all give up? 100%? 110%?
    Killing is not the answer, even if it is space-age killing.

  24. johnf says:

    This may or may not have something to do with the previous Richard Sale/Col Lang thread about the US opening up a supply route through Iran to Afghanistan.
    The Yorkshire Ranter is a blogger who, amongst many things, watches the flight patterns of dodgy airlines engaged in the arms trade and anything illegal;
    >However, I would like to say this: what is happening in Zahedan that needs several Ilyushin-76s a day, provided by companies like Click Airways International/Click Airways, Transaviaexport, Eastern Express, Sakavia, and East Wing? Rather, that has been generating 2-4 inbound flights to Sharjah a day for 10 days? That’s 30 rotations; 40 tons payload a time; 1,200 tons of stuff. Eh?
    >Wikipedia has it a bigger place than I assumed; apparently work is going on to link up the Pakistani and Iranian railways there. But surely nobody exports bricks or livestock feed (key local industries, apparently) by air? Especially when there is a road straight to a major sea port?

  25. curious says:

    The U.S. is embarking on a $1 billion crash program to expand its diplomatic presence in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, another sign that the Obama administration is making a costly, long-term commitment to war-torn South Asia, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
    The White House has asked Congress for — and seems likely to receive — $736 million to build a new U.S. embassy in Islamabad, along with permanent housing for U.S. government civilians and new office space in the Pakistani capital.
    The scale of the projects rivals the giant U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which was completed last year after construction delays at a cost of $740 million.

  26. Charles I says:

    “. . the new policy should be to establish such teams in areas still free of the Taliban and before the insurgents can gain a foothold in them.”
    Man, if that’s state of the art thinking after 7, 8 years of this, and now we’re broke to boot, it was over along time ago.
    Still free. . . has a fin de siecle ring to it
    alnval, my country mucking around in a foreign country like that, I’d like to live in a country where its your Duty to discuss these oft harebrained schemes in public.

  27. Patrick Lang says:

    Duty –
    “Stern daughter of the voice of God.” Wordsworth
    “The sublimest word in the English language.” Robert Lee

  28. johnf says:

    Apologies for mentioning the dirty word oil but Iran and Pakistan have just signed up for a gas pipeline deal which, this Asia Times article argues, completely alters the strategic balance in Central Asia and proves a victory for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization view of the world:

  29. Tyler says:

    Colonel Lang,
    What professionals are you talking about that are trained like SWAT teams? I’m honestly curious, and wondering if you could expand on that comment.

  30. Patrick Lang says:

    The whole DA CT SOF ground force. pl

  31. Tyler says:

    Colonel Lang,
    Ah. Well, that’s certainly an understatement of sorts, but fitting.

  32. Alba Etie says:

    What impact will the current Pakistani military operation have -that apparently has driven the Taleban out of the Swat valley -including just today Mingora ,
    Could one ray of hope be that the ISSI and the current Pakistan leadership actually views the Taleban as a larger threat then the Indians?
    And what was the purpose of the recent meeting of the leaders of Pakistan, Afgahnistan and Iran ? Could these three countries have decided to confront alQaida & the Taleban in a regional cohesive manner ? Is it worth considering that the Iranians (who almost went to war with the Taleban at least twice in the late nineties) might actually be willing to help the US/Nato efforts to defeat the jihadis ?
    And where do the Chinese and the Russians figure into this regional equation ?It would appear to be self evident that it is no country’s interest to allow the Taleban/jihadis to overthrow the government of either Afghanistan or Pakistan .
    Are we possibly seeing an emerging coalition of regional action against the Taleban and other extremist ?
    Is it not possible that a regional security approach focued on defeating the extremist could somehow be fashioned ?

  33. curious says:

    video clip. Mingora. Taliban tried to hold this town.
    Peshawar/Islamabad—The security forces on Saturday gained full control of Mingora , the headquarters of Swat which was occupied by the insurgents, killing more than two dozens of militants including their two commanders.
    As the operation was extended to picturesque hill station Kalam and Guli Bagh in the outskirts of Mingora, the security forces and the militants were reportedly locked in fierce fighting near Kalam where at least one soldier embraced Shahadat taking the death toll of the soldiers killed during the ongoing operation to 81. 250 men in uniform sustained injuries during action against the insurgents challenging the government writ in the region. This was confirmed by the DG ISPR who also said 1217 insurgents were killed so far and around 90 others arrested.

  34. opit says:

    Is there a Mission Plan and Objective yet ?
    You’ve been appropriately caustic in the past about any ‘plan’ purporting to ‘rebuild’ Afghanistan. That won’t be happening : no problem, right ? Time line is fun too : how many commenters have heard of the British Army loss of 12,000 in the Khyber Pass…in 1835 ? That makes a ‘100 year war’ sound like definite understatement.
    I’m afraid I tag the ‘anti-drug’ policy as simple Air Amerika which destroys the pitiable local economic base and causes death by starvation as surely as killing the buffalo did for the Plains Indians…and do compare strategies.
    The ‘Post-Saddam Iraq’ wargame ‘Desert Crossing’ still gives the the best compliance with the arc of U.S. activities in support of openly stated PNAC policies and objectives. There is no mystery here : just chronic organized obfuscation of the planned depriving Russia of oil with which to defend herself…an idea with which she is well acquainted.

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