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Sep 25th, 2010

Strategists Look Outside the Box for Afghan Fixes

Using brainpower rather than firepower, ‘Red Team’ rethinks approach to war

Image: Members of a U.S. military "Red Team"
Members of a U.S. military “Red Team” gather at a base in Kabul on Sept. 15, 2010. From left, Staff Sgt. Steven Dietz, Ph.D.; Lt. Col. Bruce Ferrell; Lt. Col. Michael McGee; and Lt. Col. Brian Hammerness. (Photo credit: Ahmed Massoud / AP)

By Kimberly Dozier

September 25, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan â€” On a NATO base in Kabul, a five-member team is rethinking the war in Afghanistan and questioning some of the basic assumptions behind the effort to clean up corruption and gain the upper hand over the Taliban.

Among the ideas this so-called “Red Team” is generating:

— Accept that Afghanistan’s entrenched system of graft won’t change overnight, so pick your battles.

— Recognize that for Afghans, some corruption is worse than others, so tackle what affects them day-to-day first.

— Study how the Taliban won power by exploiting Afghanistan’s system of payoffs and patronage in the 1990s, and borrow those tactics.

The Red Team’s studies are part of an evolution of thinking among diplomats, commanders and analysts alike that applying Western standards to combat corruption has not produced results fast enough.

Further, concentrating on what is most important to Americans — such as raiding Afghan government offices over large-scale abuses — has served only to alienate the government of President Hamid Karzai. Such raids have done little to erase the nickel-and-dime bribes Afghans have to pay to drive down a highway, or see a government doctor — the daily shakedowns that drive the people into the arms of the insurgents, who provide similar services without the graft.

The Taliban, meanwhile, have used the Afghan government’s behavior, and NATO’s paralysis over the issue, to their advantage. The militants are seen as providing “cleaner” government in areas they control. And they pay off or intimidate local leaders and warlords behind the scenes, as they did the last time they took power.

Net result: NATO is losing this fight.

It’s unwelcome news that presents no easy answers for those trying to craft a new strategy to combat corruption. But the Red Team’s job is to challenge the status quo, at the direction of the day-to-day commander of operations, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez.

The Red Team itself is a concept that was developed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was used effectively in Iraq.

They call themselves “cognitive insurgents,” fighting the established system with brainpower rather than firepower. Team leader Lt. Col. Brian Hammerness says they spend “a lot of time balancing” their analysis so commanders on the receiving end don’t shoot the messenger. …

Some of the Red team’s ideas seem to be getting attention. Its report on how the Taliban seized power in the 1990s — by building a network of dependencies with public officials — is required reading for commanders who want to re-evaluate how U.S. troops are prosecuting the war, and how a Western strategy can be tailored to Afghan culture.

The team studied how the Taliban first organized, as a motley crew of locals and returned refugees who had studied at religious schools in Pakistan led by Mullah Omar, the future Taliban leader. Taliban members then worked their way into territory of the Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, by expanding their influence until they were strong enough to take and hold Kabul by force, in 1996. …

Full story


Related reports on this site

Image: Lt. Col. Thomas B. Gukeisen
Lt. Col. Thomas B. Gukeisen talks to his men at the Altimur Forward Operating Base in Logar province, Afghanistan. Gukeisen, who commands 600 soldiers, is operating by his own ideas about counterinsurgency warfare. (Photo credit: Dario Lopez-Mills / AP)

Outside the Box in Afghanistan (Dec. 20, 2009)

Iraq, AfPak Have Little in Common (Dec. 5, 2009)

Obama Rolls Dice on AfPak War (Dec. 2, 2009)

Afghanistan Tougher Than Iraq (Nov. 28, 2009)

Afghanistan War Strategy Review (Oct. 3, 2009)

Trillion-Dollar Wars Since 9/11 (March 30, 2009)


9/26/10 Update

Suspected U.S. missile attacks kill 7 in Pakistan (AP, Sept. 26, 2010) — Suspected U.S. drone aircraft carried out two missile strikes against a house and a vehicle near the Afghan border in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday, killing seven alleged militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said. The U.S. is now suspected of conducting 19 such attacks this month — the most intense barrage since the strikes began in 2004. … Full story


10/3/10 Update

Photos Show U.S. Soldiers Posing with Afghan Corpses

Troops allegedly passed around grisly images like trading cards


Tapes describe U.S. troops killing for sport (NBC Nightly News, Sept. 28, 2010) — An interrogation video provided chilling details about how a group of American soldiers allegedly murdered Afghan civilians. NBC’s Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reports. (02:27)

By Gene Johnson

October 1, 2010

SEATTLE â€” Those who have seen the photos say they are grisly: soldiers beside newly killed bodies, decaying corpses and severed fingers.

The dozens of photos, described in interviews and in e-mails and military documents obtained by The Associated Press, were seized by Army investigators and are a crucial part of the case against five soldiers accused of killing three Afghan civilians earlier this year.

Troops allegedly shared the photos by e-mail and thumb drive like electronic trading cards. Now 60 to 70 of them are being kept tightly shielded from the public and even defense attorneys because of fears they could wind up in the news media and provoke anti-American violence. …

Maj. Kathleen Turner, a spokeswoman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle, where the accused soldiers are stationed, acknowledged that the images were “highly sensitive, and that’s why that protective order was put in place.” …

Among the most gruesome allegations is that some of the soldiers kept fingers from the bodies of Afghans they killed as war trophies. The troops also are accused of passing around photos of the dead and of the fingers.

Four members of the unit — two of whom are also charged in the killings — have been accused of wrongfully possessing images of human casualties, and another is charged with trying to impede an investigation by having someone erase incriminating evidence from a computer hard drive.

“Everyone would share the photographs,” one of the defendants, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, told investigators. “They were of every guy we ever killed in Afghanistan.” …

The graphic nature of the images recalled famous photos that emerged in 2004 from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Those pictures — showing smiling soldiers posing with naked, tortured or dead detainees, sometimes giving a thumbs-up — stirred outrage against the United States at a critical juncture. The photos were a major embarrassment to the American military in an increasingly unpopular and bloody war.

In a chilling videotaped interview with investigators, Morlock talked about hurling a grenade at a civilian as a sergeant discussed the need to “wax this guy.”

Morlock’s attorney, Michael Waddington, said the photos was not just shared among the defendants or even their platoon. He cited witnesses who told him that many at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Kandahar Province kept such images, including one photograph of someone holding up a decapitated head blown off in an explosion.

That photo had nothing to do with Morlock, he said. It’s not clear whether it’s among the photos seized in the case. …

Michael T. Corgan, a Vietnam veteran who teaches international relations at Boston University, said it should be no surprise that, even after Abu Ghraib, some soldiers take gruesome pictures as war souvenirs.

“They’re proof people are as tough as they say they are,” Corgan said. “War is the one lyric experience in their lives — by comparison every else is punching a time clock. They revel in it, and they collect memories of it.”


Related report

Afghan killings, body parts at center of inquiry (Sept. 27, 2010)


U.S. troops on trial in killing ‘for sport’ charges in Afghanistan (MSNBC, Sept. 28, 2010) — NBC’s Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reports on an a trial involving U.S. troops charged with killing “for sport” in Afghanistan. (02:11)


3/22/11 Update

Soldiers pose with Afghan corpse (March 21, 2011)

This image shows the body of Gul Mudin, the son of a farmer, who was killed on Jan. 15, 2010. Der Spiegel published three photos out of the some 4,000 images and videos it has seen. The U.S. Army has apologized for the behavior of the soldiers involved in the “kill team.” (Photo credit: Der Spiegel)


7/22/11 Update

Image: Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock
Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, the first prosecution witness in the court-martial of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs. (Photo credit: AP)

Alleged ringleader in Afghan murders faces accuser (Reuters, July 21, 2011) — Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs,  the U.S. Army sergeant charged with murdering unarmed Afghan civilians as ringleader of a rogue combat platoon, faced his chief accuser, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, in a military court. Morlock was sentenced in March to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of murder for his role in the same killings with which Gibbs is accused. … Full story


11/2/11 Update

Image: A courtroom sketch shows Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs during his court-martial on Monday.
A courtroom sketch shows Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs during his court-martial on Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. He is charged with murdering three Afghan civilians. (Photo credit: Peter Millett / AP)

U.S. sergeant admits cutting off Afghans’ fingers (Reuters, Nov. 1, 2011) — The lawyer for a U.S. Army sergeant charged with murdering three unarmed Afghan civilians as leader of a rogue platoon acknowledged Monday that his client had removed fingers from Afghans killed in combat. Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, sentenced in March to 24 years in prison for his role in the same killings, was the first prosecution witness called to the stand as testimony got underway in the court-martial of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs. … Full story


11/11/11 Update

Army sergeant gets life prison term for Afghan murders (Reuters, Nov. 10, 2011) — A U.S. Army sergeant was convicted by court-martial on Thursday of murdering unarmed civilians and cutting fingers from corpses as ringleader of a rogue platoon that terrorized villagers in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. The guilty verdict on all counts, returned after five hours of deliberations, carried an automatic life prison sentence, but the five-member jury panel then decided that Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, 26, would be eligible for parole in 8-1/2 years. … Full story


11/20/11 Update

‘Kill Team’ soldier David Bram gets 5 years in jail over Afghan misconduct (Reuters, Nov. 19, 2011) — A U.S. Army sergeant was sentenced to five years in prison on Friday for crimes that included beating a subordinate whose whistle-blowing led to an investigation of rogue soldiers murdering unarmed Afghan civilians. Staff Sergeant David Bram was found guilty by court-martial on most of the charges against him, becoming the 11th soldier convicted in connection with the widest-ranging prosecution of U.S. military atrocities and other misconduct during 10 years of war in Afghanistan. … Full story


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — September 25, 2009

Image: A man walks on debris at the site of a suicide bomb attack in the town of Bannu
A man walks on debris at the site of a suicide bomb attack in the town of Bannu, Pakistan, on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009. (Photo credit: Adil Khan / Reuters)

‘Tiring’ of Afghanistan War

One year ago today, I reported that President Barack Obama, speaking at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh on a day the Pentagon announced five more American deaths in Afghanistan, said he understood that Americans were tiring of the war in Afghanistan and that he was examining whether the U.S. was pursuing the right strategy there.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — September 25, 2008

Pakistani schoolchildren are admitted to a hospital after they were injured in a suicide attack in Quetta, Pakistan on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008. Militants threatened to escalate the violence if Pakistan did not cease cooperating with the United States on the war in Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Arshad Butt / AP)

After the Primary Election: Day 16

Two years ago today, on the 16th day after losing my 2008 primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, in line with my focus on national security, I reported on a speech at the United Nations by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in which he decried civilian casualties in his country from foreign bombing raids, telling world leaders that innocent deaths can seriously hurt legitimate efforts to fight terrorism. I also reported on continuing violence in Iraq and threats by militants in Pakistan to escalate the violence in that country if Pakistan did not cease cooperating with the United States.

8 Responses to “Afghanistan Strategic Thinking”
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  6. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Soldiers Pose with Afghan Corpse Says:

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