Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bull Feather Merchants Revisited

It ran in the Los Angeles Times so it’s official: the key to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s success in the Bananastans will be a “civilian surge.” The thinking apparently goes that if McChrystal stops killing as many Afghans as he used to when he was head of the secret Joint Special Operations Command, they’ll flock to his arms in gratitude.

It’s clear that no one in the national security establishment is serious about “winning” in the Bananastans, but they’re certainly serious about their war propaganda. In the old days, four-star generals like David Petraeus had personal public affairs colonels. McChrystal is so important he’s snagged himself a public affairs admiral: Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith. Like all military reporting now, the LAT piece, titled “U.S. to limit airstrikes in Afghanistan to help reduce civilian deaths,” is a poorly camouflaged piece of stenography, and it’s clear that Smith did the dictating.

Smith told the LAT that the civilian surge strategy will be outlined in a “tactical directive” that will order “new operational standards.” McChrystal, Smith says, will limit the use of airstrikes in order to “help cut down” on civilian casualties. This new direction came about as a result of the “listening tour” of Afghanistan that McChrystal took upon his arrival. “Listening tour” is a euphemism for the rounds a new boss makes to ensure everyone knows he doesn’t give a flying tackle what they think.

The LAT (i.e., Smith) reports that part of McChrystal’s plan to improve relationships with Afghans involves efforts to “speed up and sharpen the military's message in so-called information operations.” The real crux of his plan, however, involves information operations aimed at the American public.

The airstrike mantra is covering smoke. According to a UN report, airstrikes accounted for 64 percent of civilians killed by U.S. or Afghan forces in Afghanistan last year. Those civilians could just as easily have been killed by artillery or other heavy ground based weapons. Supporting fires are supporting fires, whether they come from land, sea or sky. A 19-year old private can kill just as many civilians with a grenade launcher as the 42-year old pilot of an F/A-18 Hornet can.

What’s more, a “staff member” told the LAT that, “the directive does not mean that use of air power will be sharply reduced—only that the emphasis is on protecting civilians rather than killing insurgents.” If the emphasis is on protecting civilians, why not stop airstrikes altogether? In my 20 years as an air operations planner, I never once designed a strike for the primary purpose of saving lives. In fact, why not halt air and ground based offensive actions completely? As best we can tell, we’ve killed about as many civilians as the Taliban have. Shoot, we can cut civilian deaths in half just by packing up and climbing on a plane for home.

McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen. David D. McKiernan, issued orders last year that required commanders to "minimize the need to resort to deadly force." How is this new directive on protecting civilians any different from the old orders on protecting civilians? According to the LAT/Smith/unnamed Smith underling, “McChrystal's directive appears to be more emphatic and specific.”


But the new directive emphatically and specifically does not expect commanders to let their troops become sitting ducks. The LAT says that Smith says that McChrystal "made it very clear that if our troops find themselves in a situation where they are receiving fire from a location, if their lives are in danger, they'll have to address the problem as best they can, either with ground forces or close air support."

They’ll “address the problem” by blowing the location in question to smithereens. They have no other choice. Nothing in any superior’s orders overrides a commander’s authority and obligation to use all necessary means available to defend his unit, and no unit commander worth the market value of his precious bodily fluids is going to let a single troop in his charge be harmed in a firefight as the result of a pulled punch.

The LAT also says that Smith says that McChrystal says, "If it's a situation where clearly [hostile] individuals are in a structure or move into a structure . . . where you do not know precisely whether or not civilians are . . . in those structures and you can move away safely, you should do so."

Again, why bother going after “hostile” individuals at all if you’re going to withdraw the second you think there may be civilians in the vicinity? In the Bananastans, civilians will almost always be in the vicinity. McChrystal’s notion of separating the civilian population from the Taliban is the kind of lunacy you’d expect from a guy who only sleeps three hours a night. What he’s talking about is the precise equivalent of wading into Miami to separate Hispanics from Latinos.

Well, not the precise equivalent: in the Miami scenario, we would have a fair number of reliable Spanish speakers to provide us with good intelligence. We’ll never develop good intelligence in the Bananastans. Ever.

All the “change” hoopla attending Stan McChrystal’s arrival in Afghanistan is cynical hogwash, designed to sucker the American public into turning yet another corner, and sitting patiently through another Friedman unit, and listening to Thomas E. Ricks tell David Gregory or some other bobble-head that sure, what we’re doing is immoral, but it would be even more immoral not to do the immoral thing we’re doing.

The most immoral part of this travesty is that our military chain of command, right up to the commander in chief, continues to put our troops in a deplorable situation—to kill innocents or be killed themselves—for reasons that have nothing to do with national security whatsoever.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. dumb grunt2:17 PM

    I read this LAT story when it came out, and I thought it smelled like, I don't know, something that doesn't smell good. You've nailed the absurdity. Net effect of the new directive: Commanders will change the wording of the sentence in their report that explains why they decided to call for air support.

  2. From an Army Times story yesterday:

    "[McChrystal] refused to give even an estimate of how long [the war in Afghanistan] might be, saying: 'My wife would kill me if she read something too long...'"

    I couldn't figure out what, exactly, that was supposed to mean, but my first thought was, "Please, someone give her a copy of War and Peace and then let her do her worst."

    (Actually, the first thought was, "This guy is married?", but after that came the "long book" idea.)

  3. Anonymous6:27 PM

    Glad McChrystal is so cavalier about his wife's attention span. I attended one of my former students wedding yesterday where it was announced that her husband leaves for Afghanistan in August.

    Wife would kill him? Hope all the folks whose loved ones are returned to Dover read that one, along with all the women who are serving in theatre. What a complete asshole.

    Buzz Meeks

  4. Anonymous9:30 PM

    Yep and as holbrock said keep the O coming because it's a good thing, It would be if it was in dispensors at work. Good to see nothing has changed.
    Thanks Jeff

  5. More on McChrystal's "listening tour" from an embedded reporter at the BBC.

    (Why does "embedded reporter" sound so salacious, and why does it remind me of Petraeus doing one-armed pushups?)

    Back to the main story:

    McChrystal's Afghan 'listening tour'

    "...[T]he [Afghan] official told the commander that he had only taken his job after being led to believe by the Afghan government that the security situation was good - but it turned out it was not.

    Gen McChrystal then joked that US President Barack Obama had "done exactly same thing to me" - provoking laughs from the assembled audience."

    Strange. I don't find that very funny. Maybe I lack a sense of humour.

    "...[T]his campaign is all about perceptions, as military officials will tell you - and the perception at home and abroad is that it is badly adrift."

    All about perceptions. Aha! At last I understand (not).

    A friend's daughter lost her fiancé in Afghanistan in March. She called him her "..unicorn, because he didn't exist, he was perfect."

    Maybe that was just her "perception".

    In one of your previous posts, Jeff, I think you made a mention of the Praetorian Guard. I came across this quote by Seneca about them, "...who of these would not rather see Rome disordered than his hair?"

    Sounds like a few people I know.

  6. Thanks for the great quote, fil.



  7. Anonymous11:13 PM

    Based on the premise that Adm. Smith and Gen. McChrystal can both read and the unlikely possibility that someone would have the balls to show them your post, the mental picture of coal black smoke being blown out of every one of their collective orifices along with other unmentionable chunks gives me a world-class case of grins.
    Good on you, Commander!

  8. Jeff, in case you noticed that one of your generals is missing, I think I know where he can be found.

    Head of U.S. Central Command visiting Calgary Stampede

    "'There's a lot going on out there and we'll compare notes on all that but obviously, we're also here for the Stampede. It's great being one of those wearing a white hat," [Petraeus] chuckled.

    Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier presented Petraeus with a white Smithbilt cowboy hat, a traditional honour for dignitaries and special guests to the city."

    I always thought the Calgary Stampede had more than enough bull to go around, but I guess not.

    No reports of one-armed pushups. Not one of the official Stampede competitions...yet.

  9. Well said, Fil; like the stampede needed any more bull.


  10. Just a couple of pictures for your album, Jeff. They are such stuff as nightmares are made on (with apologies to Shakespeare).

    Just a couple of cowboys, with apologies to all the real cowboys out there.

    Is this the sartorial equivalent of the carpet not matching the drapes?

  11. So sorry to bother you again, but I couldn't let this one pass.

    The Calgary Stampede meets Dr. Strangelove

  12. Anonymous2:18 AM

    lovely quotation. Thank you for giving good site to me.


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