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"The Third Way of COIN: Defeating the Taliban in Sangin"
July 12, 2011 8:52 AM   Subscribe

100 Firefights, Three Weeks: Inside Afghanistan's Most Insane Fight
"In its first three weeks in Afghanistan’s Sangin district, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines got into more than 100 firefights and sustained 62 casualties. The insurgents managed to negate the Marines’ night-vision gear, and rendered their traditional close-combat tactics useless. Things got so bad, the 3/5’s superior officers even suggested pulling their troops back. That didn’t happen. Instead, the 3/5 went after the militants, hard. When the 3/5 came home, they told counterinsurgency historian Mark Moyar all about their deeply unconventional approach to what was already an unconventional war."
This is an excerpt in Wired of Moyar’s 74-page after action report. (pdf)

The Military Times' Battle Rattle blog has posted somewhat extensively on Sangin.

The Guardian embedded a reporter with British paratroopers fighting in Sangin back in 2006. More.
posted by zarq (23 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
from pg. 35:
The Marine leadership also decided that they would not try to destroy the
poppy crop in Sangin and other areas of Helmand, since so much of the population derived their livelihood from it and would be more likely to fight the Marines if that livelihood were at stake. Once the district had been secured, they would let the provincial governor conduct poppy eradication and bring in civilians who could help farmers grow alternative crops...


That's great, we are getting it. And now this (Wiki):

However, currently 100% of Afghan opium is diverted to the illegal opium trade and funds in some cases terrorist activities.

100%? Seems..definitive. So, illegal according to whom? How can we leave it to "them" to prosecute poppies if they are a baseline economic indicator? Sorry I have no new light to shed, just confused...
posted by obscurator at 9:21 AM on July 12, 2011


> 100%? Seems..definitive.

Yes, mainly because companies that produce opium derived drugs for the legal markets don't want Afghan opium because 1)it's not standardized for pharmaceutical use 2) too many middle men and thugs trying to get a cut.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:33 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


obscurator: "So, illegal according to whom?"

The Karzai government made poppy cultivation and opium trafficking illegal in '02.
posted by zarq at 9:36 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because of the high rate at which 3/5 was suffering casualties, higher headquarters encouraged General Mills to withdraw the battalion from Sangin for a period of physical and psychological recuperation.

This name pleases me greatly.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:43 AM on July 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


General Mills

Turns out a key part of his strategy is to abrade the insurgents' palate via a lightning raid by Captain Crunch.
posted by dubold at 10:00 AM on July 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


umm...

So, the marines get into a small-scale war of attrition with the local opium dealers i.e. the mainstays of the local economy. these opium dealers have a sophisticated knowledge of small arms warfare and superior numbers leading to high marine casualties. of course, the casualties inflicted by the marines are also high. eventually, both sides get tired of this. the marines agree to let the opium farmers continue unmolested and the marines agree to pay the local insurgents to stop fighting... hey everyone wins except for some luckless pakistani madrassa students get slaughtered.

but, wait a minute, the people who were fighting us are still the mainstays of the local economy and now we're paying them on top of what they get from the opium trade. do you think for one minute they are going to listen to Karzai the puppet (puppet to the Uzbeck warlords who made up the core of the northern alliance)? Does anyone really think that once the marines are gone, the relations between the pakistani taliban (i.e. the ISI) and the locals will remain frosty?

So, as long as the marines stay there and keep on handing out cash... everything is cool.

Does this look like victory? Victory for whom? Who was defeated? What lessons would you draw from this experience?

(the futility looks obvious to me, who gains by portraying this as a victory for the fighting spirit of the marines?)
posted by ennui.bz at 10:15 AM on July 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


Heh, the British Lieutenant Colonel, Nick Kitson, who is mentioned in the actual report as the British commander in Sangin who was following a population-centric COIN strategy, is the nephew of General Sir Frank Kitson, who is perhaps the British Army's leading COIN strategist from wars in Kenya, Malaysia, and Northern Ireland.
posted by carter at 10:24 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Afghan opium: Hamid Karzai's brother assassinated in southern Afghanistan
posted by homunculus at 10:30 AM on July 12, 2011


General Sir Frank Kitson, who is perhaps the British Army's leading COIN strategist from wars in Kenya, Malaysia, and Northern Ireland.

The Kenyan Emergency was also shocking on another level - and should have been far more so, for British observers and commentators, than it was. White settler and British security-force casualties were very low, despite the huge and gruesome publicity given to them in British media. Just 95 Europeans were killed, 32 of them civilians.

Deaths among the Kikuyu were massive. Official figures gave the total of Mau Mau "killed in combat" as 11,503. Most were slaughtered in cold blood, many were entirely innocent, and the real total was probably over 20,000. By Caroline Elkins's estimate, at least 160,000 Kikuyu were detained (almost all without trial) and often brutally ill-treated. Torture was routine.

Anti-terrorist laws suspended the rights of suspects, imposed collective punishments and extended the death penalty to a wide range of almost trivial offences. A total of 1,090 were hanged - when Britain "at home" was debating abolition of the death penalty. The evidence was often scanty in the extreme, many confessions probably extracted by torture, and the trials perfunctory.

As David Anderson points out, judicial killing had not taken place on such a scale anywhere else or at any other time in the history of British imperialism. His description of central Kenya during the Fifties as a "police state in the very fullest sense", or Elkins's of the detention camps as "Britain's Gulag", seem all too apt.

posted by ennui.bz at 10:39 AM on July 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


You're right, ennui.bz. The COIN wars in Malaysia and Northern Ireland was not exactly fun either.
posted by carter at 10:44 AM on July 12, 2011


Ennui—

It's important to note that the Taliban is against opium growers too. Given the choice, most of the growers sided with local enemies against foreign enemies, but when the US stopped caring about opium, that choice flipped.
posted by klangklangston at 11:34 AM on July 12, 2011


It's important to note that the Taliban is against opium growers too. Given the choice, most of the growers sided with local enemies against foreign enemies, but when the US stopped caring about opium, that choice flipped.

my point was that you have to be almost completely insane to count the possible severing of a not very well understood political link between local opium dealers villagers and someone in pakistan as a sign of victory.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:31 PM on July 12, 2011


So what I'm gathering from this is that if we ever need to fight the Mexican cartels head on in a stand up fight, we can certainly knock them flat.

So glad the worlds dominant military force has had its ability to fight semi-conventional battles reaffirmed.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:33 PM on July 12, 2011


> It's important to note that the Taliban is against opium growers too

This is largely a myth. The Taliban thrive on opium. Mullah Omar shut it down for precisely one year, and all that did was drive up prices (and there was enough in storage to supply the markets for years anyway). The Taliban are not fond of its use, but they wouldn't have any money without opium. See "The Seeds of Terror" for detailed explorations of this.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:38 PM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is no military solution and the sooner that is understood the better.
The solution like all such solutions is political and involves discussion with all parties and all neighbours.
Until the Politicians both Civilian and Military realize and accept this more young and not so young Americans will continue to die for nothing except the profit of the military industrial complex. I strongly advise reading "Cables From Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign" by Sherard Cowper-Coles who was the British Ambassador to Afghanistan who tells it as he saw it and was therefore sidelined. Review by William Dalrymple.
posted by adamvasco at 1:17 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


is the nephew of General Sir Frank Kitson, who is perhaps the British Army's leading COIN strategist from wars in Kenya, Malaysia, and Northern Ireland.

You may notice that the British are no longer in Kenya and Malaysia.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:53 PM on July 12, 2011


There is no military solution and the sooner that is understood the better.
The solution like all such solutions is political and involves discussion with all parties and all neighbours.


Parties and neighbours who hate you and everything you stand for and want you dead, dead, dead.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:51 PM on July 12, 2011


You may notice that the British are no longer in Kenya and Malaysia.

Hah! Well, they'll be out of Afghanistan, too, and not for the first time, not least because the terrain is too difficult.
posted by carter at 5:43 PM on July 12, 2011


Clusterfuck.
posted by bardic at 8:45 PM on July 12, 2011


Parties and neighbours who hate you and everything you stand for and want you dead, dead, dead.

You say this as if it precludes a favourable outcome. Hating someone and wanting them dead doesn't automatically mean you'll sacrifice your firstborn and pour everything you own into making it happen personally. Or if it does, there will be some further limit beyond which it's just too much trouble, or starts to seem like it when something better beckons.

Hatred and wanting you dead and violence towards that end is the starting point. The end point may simply be hatred and wanting you dead.
posted by anonymisc at 8:54 PM on July 12, 2011


Horseless Phattie is right. Prices more than tripled, and output more than doubled the next year (from the previous production year). Once everyone figured out that there was no enforcement it was game on again.

Farmers are expected to tithe a percentage of their crop to whatever armed whoever is in power at the time, Taliban, government whatever.

And there is no alternative for almost all farmers but poppie.

I don't even want to get into the military part of it. Clusterfuck indeed.
posted by stratastar at 10:04 PM on July 12, 2011


tl;dr for those interested in the actual military failures: it's all about Improvised Explosive Devices.

Basically, plant enough IEDs in an area and you render the marines useless. They can't fight at night because they can't spot the IEDs. And they're severely limited during the day because the enemy forces put them everywhere, including the spots the marines used for cover.

All that expensive gear and all those hours of training rendered completely useless. Boy, that was easy!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:55 AM on July 13, 2011


obscurator: "So, illegal according to whom?"

The Karzai government made poppy cultivation and opium trafficking illegal in '02.


You could have just said "the U.S.A."
posted by CautionToTheWind at 4:57 AM on July 13, 2011


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