Friday, December 13, 2019

Fullbore Friday

We've posted on it before, but on its 80th Anniversary - we have to post again a great battle and a great story with many lessons on leadership, intelligence, and the realities and uncertainties of war..

Speed. Superior technology. Superior Sailors. Long-range, accurate weapons. Superior training.

From LCS to DDG-1000, we are all told that these are the key to victory at sea. They make up for inferior numbers. They are Transformational. War has changed. We own them.

All that came to mind when I thought of three ships, HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax, and HMNZS Achilles.

The Graf Spee was, well, the Graf Spee. With memories of the SMS Emden in mind, she was the terror of the seas.

To go after her you had three old, under armed, and relatively unarmored cruisers. On paper, there should be no contest. But the combined British and New Zealand Force had a plan. They had what you cannot put on paper or PowePoint - but that which wins almost all battles at sea; audacity.
13th. of December 1939.At 0520 ( 5.20 AM ) the squadron was in position 34 degrees 34 minutes South, 49 degrees 17 minutes West, on a course of 060 degrees, at a speed of 14 knots, cruising in line ahead Ajax, Achilles and Exeter. Smoke bearing 320 degrees, ie to the South West from the force, was sighted at 0610 ( 6.10 AM ) and Exeter was ordered to investigate, she soon replied:
"I think it is a pocket Battleship!"
It did not take long for Graf Spee to act, in only two minutes she opened fire with her 11 inch turrets, one firing at Exeter, and one at Ajax.
The first division altered course to 340 degrees to close the range to the enemy, whilst Captain Bell hauled out of the line, altering course to the west, so he might attack Graf Spee from a widely different angle. All ships increased speed, now it should be noted that the enemy armament had almost twice the power of the British
cruisers, both Ajax and Achilles were light cruisers mounting 6 inch guns in their turrets, whilst Exeter was the lone ship of her class, mounting 6 by 8 inch guns in three twin turrets, A and B turrets forward, and a single Y turret mounted aft.

By 0623 ( 6.23 AM ) all ships had opened fire, and an enemy report was broadcast.Graf Spee straddled Exeter ( that means shells in a salvo fall both sides of the target ), one shell burst short, and killed the starboard torpedo tube crews, riddled the searchlights and the aircraft on the catapult, which was manhandled over the side, leaving the ship without any spotting capability from that source. The enemy ship seemed undecided about her gunnery policy, as she shifted targets several times before concentrating both turrets upon Exeter. The third salvo from
By 0624 ( 6.24 AM ) Exeter sent off 8 salvoes against the enemy, but on the incoming path, she received a direct hit from an 11 shell in the fore part of the B turret, putting it out of action, as splinters from this shell burst swept the bridge it killed or wounded all personnel there except for the Captain and two others. It also demolished the wheel house communications, leaving Captain Bell without any means of giving wheel orders to enable course changes, or orders to the engine room regarding speed changes. He decided to fight his ship from the after conning position, but the communication system here was also damaged from the shell burst earlier that effected the torpedo tube crews etc. A chain of messengers was set up to pass orders to the after steering position.
Now two further 11 inch shell hits registerd in the fore part of the cruiser, and Graf Spee shifted one 11 inch turret onto Ajax, who was straddled three times. The secondary armament of the German ship now took on Ajax and Achilles alternately, but to little effect.
During all of this intensive engagement, Ajax achieved a minor miracle by being able to catapult her aircraft for spotting purposes.
Exeter had fired off her torpedoes at 0632 ( 6.32 AM, ) but did not achieve any result, now at 0637 ( 6.37 AM ) Graf Spee altered course some 150 degrees, steering to the North West under cover of smoke.
0638 to 0650 ( 6.38 to 6.50 AM )At about 0638 ( 6.38 AM ) Exeter altered course to Straboard to allow the firing of her starboard torpedoes, then took off to the North East to close the First Division, at 0645 ( 6.45 AM ) she turned westerly to keep within range.
Two more 11 inch hits fell upon Exeter, one put A turret out of action, and another started a fierce fire in the Chief Petty Officer's flat amidships, the 4 inch magazine was flooded through a burst water main. All the compass repeaters were out of action, the Captain had to rely on a simple boat's compass to allow him to keep the ship pointed so that Y turret might keep up her firing at the enemy, locally controlled, with the Gunnery Officer taking control from the searchlight platform.
At 0640 ( 6.40. AM ) an 11 inch shell fell just short of Achilles in line with her bridge, it burst at the waterline, with splinters killing four sailors, stunning the Gunnery Officer, ( many unkind Officers might comment, But that is but the normal condition for most Gunnery Officers. ) and slightly wounding the Captain and his Chief Yeoman of Signals.
0650 to 0708. ( 6.50 to 7.08 AM )Achilles with her guns firing in local control could not find the right line with her gun fire, her salvoes falling short. The aircraft from Ajax, reporting that the salvoes were all falling short, but in Achilles, their gun control officer was unaware that Ajax was not still in concentrated firing, he therefore wrongly concluded it was his fall of shot being reported as short, and corrected accordingly, this had the effect of all his gunfire falling way over the enemy pocket battleship. A real mix up at a time when to achieve hits on the enemy was crucial. With all the smoke added to the general confusion, direct spotting was quite hard.
Graf Spee made frequent course alterations trying to throw off the British ship's gunfire, she also made skilful use of the smoke she generated.
Exeter valiently kept up firing her Y turret in local control, but she now had developed a 7 degree list to starboard, adding to the difficulties of keeping Y turret firing. She was still a target for fire from Graf Spee, but shots fell consistantly over.
0708 to 0728. ( 7.08 to 7.28 AM )Graf Spee was still 16,000 yards from theFirst Division, and they were ordered to close the enemy at speed, accepting they would lose the benefit of having their guns bear on the enemy whilst they steamed closer to the German ship.
At 0708 ( 7. 08 AM ) Graf Spee made a dramatic alteration of course to port under cover of her smoke, and at 0720 ( 7. 20 AM ) she turned back to the North West to bring her guns to bear, and Ajax was very quickly straddled three times from a range of 11,000 yards.
At the same time, the First Division turned to starboard to bring all their main armament bearing on Graf Spee, their fire appeared to most effective with Graf Spee on fire amidships. But at 0725 ( 7. 25 AM ) Ajax was hit by an 11 inch delayed action shell on the after superstructure, its passed through some cabins, wrecking them, then it went through X turret trunk, wrecking all the turret machinery below the gun house, a part of this shell base then struck Y turret barbette, close to the turret training rack, and jammed the turret. Thus one shell was responsible for putting both X and Y turrets out of action, for killing four, and wounding another six of X turret's crew.
It appeared that Graf Spee was neglecting Exeter, as she steered North West to close on the First Division, with Ajax assuming that the German ship would hold this course, she decided to fire off a broadside of her torpedoes. At 0724 ( 7. 24 A M ) she turned to starboard, and let go four torpedoes at a range of 9,000 yards, but without result.
Graf Spee must have seen them coming, and quickly took avoiding action by turning 130 degrees to port, and then returned to the North West after about three minutes.
Exeter was slowly dropping astern of the action, the forward damage taking it's toll. At 0740 ( 7. 40 A M ) Y turret still in local control stopped firing, this was due to a power failure caused by flooding. At 0740 ( 7. 40 A M ) Exeter was steering South East at a very slow speed, she needed to both make repairs and herself seaworthy again.
Now Ajax and Achilles altered course to 260 degrees so that the range to the enemy was reduced even more, then at 0721 ( 7.21 A M ) the spotting aircraft reported "Torpedoes approaching, they will pass ahead of you." The two cruisers decided to make sure they missed, and altered course to 180 degrees.
At 0732 ( 7.32 AM ) Graf Spee turned away to the West and started to zig zag, and Ajax seemed to be making good use of her three available guns, one of the hoists had failed in B turret, and both X and Y turrets were out of action.
Suddenly at 0736, ( 7.36 AM ) Graf Spee altered course to the South West to again bring all her armament to bear on the First Division, the range now down to 8,000 yards.
Ajax reported she had only 20% of her ammunition left.
The shooting by Graf Spee was accurate, and Commodore Harwood did not think she had suffered much damage from the salvoes from the British ships, so he decided to break off the action, at least till after dark. One of the last salvoes from the enemy had demolished Ajax's top mast, and with it all of her aerials, so jury aerials were rigged as quickly as possible. As the British ships turned away, Graf Spee did not follow them, but then altered course to 270 degrees, her speed 22 knots, this course would take her directly to the River Plate. The First Division, now turned to place themselves in shadowing positions on both quarters of the German ship, at a distance of about 15 miles.
British shipping in the area was alerted to Graf Spee's position, course and speed, this information was also sent off to the British Admiralty.
At 0912 ( 9.12 AM ) Ajax recovered her aircraft, then at 0916 ( 9.16 AM ) Harwood ordered Cumberland from the Falkland Islands to close the River Plate at full speed, he was in dire need of reinforcements to his force.
At 1104 ( 11.04 AM ) a merchant ship close to Graf Spee was stopped and blowing off clouds of steam, a signal from the pocket battleship read: "Please pick up lifeboats of English steamer." When coming up to the British ship, SS Shakespeare, all her boats were hoisted, and she reported that she was not in need of any assistance.
At 1105 ( 11.05 AM ) Exeter signalled that all her turrets were out of action, she was flooded up to No. 14 bulkhead, but could proceed at 18 knots, she was ordered to sail to the Falkland Islands at her best speed without placing strain on her bulkheads.
At 1342 ( 1.42 PM ) the British Naval Attache at Buenos Airies was informed that Graf Spee was making for the Plate. The shadowing of Graf Spee continued, and at 1915 ( 7.15 PM ) she suddenly fired off two salvoes at Ajax who turned away under smoke, the first salvo fell in line, the second in her wake as she turned, the range 26,000 yards.
It now seemed that Graf Spee intended to enter the Plate, and Achilles was told to follow her if she went West of Lobos, now Ajax was to proceed South of the English Bank, just in case the German doubled back that way.
Just after sunset, Graf Spee fired off three salvoes at Achilles, the third lobbed very close, in return, AchillesGraf Spee now proceeded North of the English Bank, and anchored in Montevideo roads at 0050. ( 00.50 AM ) fired 5 salvoes that seemed to straddle the enemy ship.
Harwood now reports that his main concern was how long Graf Spee intended to stay here.
At 2350 ( 11.50 PM ) Ajax and Achilles were ordered to withdraw from the Plate, Harwood did not want to risk them having to face Graf Spee silhouetted by the rising sun behind them. Achilles was to patrol the area from the Urugayan coast to a line 120 degrees from English Bank, whilst Ajax was to look after the Southern area. Both cruisers were to move back to the mouth of the Plate after the threat posed by the dawn had passed.

UPDATE: Reader Oyster sends along the radio report. Cool.

UPDATE II, Electric Boogaloo: Since the first posting, even more is available.

Did you know that HMS Achilles flew the New Zealand flag ... the first time that flag flew in battle? You can also find the Y-turret from HMS Achilles on display at Devonport Naval Base in Auckland. 

To understand the battle more, click the 80th anniversary link at the top, and this video is helpful.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

How did our Navy Reward Service in Afghanistan?

Over at WaPo, nice summary of who served in Afghanistan by service; How 775,000 U.S. troops fought in one war: Afghanistan military deployments by the numbers.

Here's a shot of the Navy's wedge:

I would love to see the regression analysis here showing, relative to the entire Navy ecosystem:

1. What percentage of these were USNR?

2. For the active duty officers, who were selected for command after their AFG service?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

REFORGER is Back; New Name - Same Awesomeness

It's been a quarter century ... but we're getting back in the game in support of our natural state; a maritime and aerospace power positioned to have global reach.

We can say it ... but to do it we have to practice it.

More over at USNIBlog.

Head on over and gloat with me.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Shaping the Blame in Afghanistan

It is one of my favorite photos of my last deployment before becoming a civilian less than a year later. It was taken almost exactly 11 yrs ago.

It was a beautiful mid-day afternoon to sit outside on a table at Destile Gardens right outside HQ ISAF in Kabul. It was one of our regular smoke breaks for our organized gossip group where the message went out to meet, and we wandered over from our various desks in the 3-Shop, 5-Shop, security, and the front office to enjoy a pipe or cigar ... but more importantly - catch up on the latest developments.

It was the usual Star Wars bar gathering like you'd see at HQ ISAF, but this one was slightly different - it was all Anglosphere. Only half of us were USA, from O3-O6, including a guy at the back of the table, the oldest US Army Major you have ever seen. Always quiet, but he knew everything. Retired since the late 1980s, he was brought back on active duty a few years ago because of his specialty; he did civil affairs as a JO in Vietnam.

It was 2008, and we knew we were running out of time.

Most of us at the table had been working for most of the year, and in my and another's case even longer, on the uplift of forces that started to come late that summer. There are things you can do with Five-Eyes nations that just make planning easier, thus the Anglosphere nature of our gathering.

We had no idea what exactly the election a month before would mean for what we were trying to do, but we knew what the plan was meant to do. We had one last meeting in Qatar run by the Joint Staff to suffer through, and then the last part of the surge would be fairly well understood.

We were at the point then only trying to find enough airfield matting and rhino snot for the Red Horse and Seabees to expand airfields in RC(S), so the hard stuff was done.

We were happy about our timing, all things considered. 2007 made it clear that the short experiment of NATO running AFG was a mistake. The failure of filling the Aviation Bridging Forces of RW aircraft in RC(S) combined with the earlier announcement that the maneuver forces of Canada in Kandahar and the Dutch in Uruzgan were going home for good told us all we needed to know.

US Army to the East, USMC to the South; Uncle Sam was taking the keys back from a spent NATO force as the drawdown of forces in Iraq made it easier to find ready to deploy units.

We knew none of the trends were going our way and that there was no easy fix. This was going to take a long time. The general consensus at the table: 10-years if we stuck with Shape-Clear-Hold-Build.

We all knew the district map - and district by district we would have to create the conditions so AFG could be stable on AFG terms and we could all go home.

The key to us going home, we told each other, were those 8-yr old kids in schools who would have a different mindset when they became 18 ... if we could help the adults build a better AFG for them while they grew up.

If we didn't have the patience to see it through. Well, it got quite. None of us saw a high probability of anything but a lot of killing with any other plan - and more importantly, any path to something resembling peace on AFG terms. My take at the moment was, darkly, if we can't stick it out - retreat to the airfields, get everyone home, take what we can, leave what the ANSF can use, blow the rest in place. Let them work it out.

Well, the rest is history, and 11 years later all we have is hope and killing. As what little is left of our national patience runs out, we seem to be moving on to the recrimination phase where the responsible try to place their portion of the blame on the innocent. 

Honest mistakes are twisted in to conspiracies, PAO optimism is seen as propaganda, and the truth gets lost in a miasma of incomplete stories, ignorance, and the inefficiencies of agendas and templates.

All that is to be done at this point is for those who were there and still give a damn to step up and tell their story - and critique the stories of others.

So, after about 4 different drafts and a good night's sleep, I'm going to wade in to it. Before that though, I know a lot of the regular readers here, the "Front Porch," have honored me by being here reading my prattle for a decade or more. They have heard most of this before, some as it was happening. For those new or newish here, go to the bottom of the post where the Afghanistan tag is. It's all there. Almost a decade and a half on Afghanistan as a USA tactical operator, staff weenie, and finally a NATO fonctionnaire.

I should just walk away, but I won't.

...and so it starts.

With Craig Whitlocks article out, many are selectively focused on what little they paid attention small attention to for so long - and I'm about to crawl out of my skin.

This will not stand. I will not let what happened to those who served in Vietnam be saddled to those of us who served in Afghanistan.

I will not let "the military lied and lost the war" smear start before we've even drafted the MOVEORD to the Friendship Bridge.

Did we cover ourselves with glory? No ... but what GOFO said or did not say was closely scoped by what D&G their civilian masters gave them ... and it is they - the folks in suits - who need to answer first before anyone else comes under the spotlight.

There are partial stories, wrong stories, selectively edited stories ... and a whole lot of ass-covering stories in the impressive Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) interviews behind the paywall.

There are some good things here, but as a body, it is incredibly incomplete. It is as if he is writing a restaurant review about a bad slice of apple pie he was served, but only discusses the type of apple in the pie and the fork it was served with. No discussion of the crust, filling, temperature … just little bits here and there.

Whitlock can only write about what he got from his FOIA, but the gaps here are mind boggling. Yes, it has been a long war - but some periods and institutions are more important than others. Some you simply cannot do without. At least my friendly acquaintance Sarah Chayes (read her 2007 book) got some mention and a chance to respond.

Like the old saw goes; victory has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan – but not when it comes to the blame game. People, institutions, and agendas will point fingers all over the place to avoid any blame being put on them. Oldest game in the book … and like we saw in Vietnam, the cheap and easy thing to do is blame “the generals” – specifically those at the Operational and Tactical levels.

Nope. Not here. Not today Satan; not today.

First some comments I made on twitter Monday that I will consolidate here.

I’ll start with what was most missing; General  McKiernan's tenure at the end of Bush43 and start of the Obama administration and what we saw as the only way to do what DC and Brussels was asking to be done; Shape-Clear-Hold-Build a better Afghanistan. The plan I helped write at CENTCOM in NATO? He knew, we knew - we had a plan.

No one was hiding anything from anyone when I worked with/for him.

From an article in The Guardian, of all places, in 2009, here is a summary that should show you why the absence of any discussion of McKiernan’s experience is such a hole in Whitlock’s article;
"We can win all the tactical battles but that doesn't mean we win. To win, we have to win the battle of ideas," he said. "We must define winning in Afghan terms: meaning improved security, reduced civilian casualties, trustworthy government, economic and social progress."
McKiernan spoke of the need to increase Afghan army forces, provide a better-respected police force, root out foreign jihadis and Taliban extremists, and seek regional solutions via a "bottom-up" approach. "Most Afghans don't want the re-emergence of the Taliban. But we need a greater commitment by the international community ... Afghanistan will not ultimately be a military outcome. Isaf will not run out of bad people to kill. It will be a political solution."
These approaches accurately reflect Obama's Afghan policy, except McKiernan was already pursuing it six months before Obama made it his own. So the question remains: why was he fired?
One answer seems to lie with General David Petraeus, the Centcom commander and hero of the Iraq surge. Petraeus was the baleful, missing figure in the room when Gates and Mullen wielded the knife. Subordinate to McKiernan in Iraq, he is now his superior. The two men are not said to be close.  
McKiernan had allegedly been slow to adopt Petraeus's favoured counter-insurgency tactics, such as co-opting local tribal groups (as in Iraq). McChrystal, in contrast, is a special operations expert with a reputation for hunting down "high value" enemy targets.
Petraeus, McChrystal, Mullen … yeah, those guys.

That leads to the second largest gap in the article – and something missing from the majority of reporting from American media; the role of NATO.

Again, you can find more detail over the years at the Afghanistan tab below, but let me summarize.

The first stage of the war was invasion and set up, mostly ‘01-03. From ’03 to ’05 the initial inertia started to slow, but we did not fully see that the Western experience in Afghanistan in the 21st Century was going to be like it was in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Our NATO allies were joining – in a fashion – and by ‘05 things were set up to by early ’06 to hand things over to NATO.

Yes, the General in charge of NATO at HQ ISAF in Kabul was an American, but the Americans only had significant forces in Regional Command-East (RC-(E)). The Anglo-Canadian-Dutch-Australians had RC-(S). Spain-Italy RC-(W). The Germans and Scandinavians RC-(N). RC-(C) was, nominally, the dominion of the Turks (that is a long story in to itself).

That construct held until the Summer of 2007 when another attempt to fill the never filled Combined Joint Statement of Requirements (CJSOR) failed. When the promised Aviation Bridging Force NATO nations promised did not appear, as we do, the USA cobbled together a fix at the last minute. That is when the USA realized that NATO would never be able to do what it promised. When NATO couldn’t even scrape enough cargo and support rotary wing – not to mention the never filled maneuver forces in the CJSOR – the USA knew NATO cumulated.

Canada and The Netherlands announcing they were withdrawing their maneuver forces that year was just icing on the cake.

Farcical national caveats that limited utility of most partner nations gave a false view of actual usable forces. (Best example, German Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) trains and mentors an ANA Kandak that has to move to another province to reinforce another Kandak … and the Germans refuse to cross a provincial boundary, leaving the Kandak to go forward with either no mentors, or as was the case, American mentors from an American Embedded Training Team (ETT) working with another Kandak have to come in and make it happen. 

Second best was the Belgian security at the airport. If my convoy was 200 meters from the gate and was under attack, they could not support us. They couldn’t leave the airport.

As I’ll quote from Whitlock’s article later, another thing that grabbed me was the hand wringing from those clueless staffers at USAID.

They were exceptionally difficult to work with in AFG regardless of how hard we tried to integrate efforts with them. They are in no position to throw shade on anyone.

The ones who told me they were building 1,800km of gravel road regardless of which areas were controlled by the enemy or not ...and had no clue about what kind of culverts were needed for IED mitigation? Never came to the follow-on meetings as asked?

Those guys? Sit. Down (at least those who were their before 2010).

Also in the article, the dates are not quite in line with what actually happened. The surge was dead in 2009 after the strategic sea-change on the ground after Obama's DEC09 West Point speech. Again, read what I said at the time.

So, are we going to play the blame game are we? 

We are going to selectively focus on certain time periods and turn a blind eye to the more complicated experience that was/is Afghanistan?

Well, bollocks to that. We all knew this was losable from junior staffers to the 4-star level in '05 on. 

Why do you think McKiernan came in with SCHB a few years later? 

We briefed the Obama advance team before the inauguration about the surge and SCHB that was already underway and the importance of momentum ... and they pissed it all ways in DEC09. 

The article has some great information, but I am left screaming in to the void with the complete lack of emphasis on the Bonn Accords, McKiernan, lead nation construct early on, and more.  There is a lot of self-serving people quoted making excuses for their own self interest - accuracy for history be damned as far as they're concerned.

You do have to give WaPo credit allowing people mentioned to respond behind the paywall - and there are a lot of valid critiques to be found that, sure, I will admit are not wildly known ... but we are 19 years in to this conflict.

The happy talk? That part of the critique is ligit. A lot of that has to do with the PAOisms that people feel the need to form up behind. The constant "just around the corner" stuff does, after awhile, grind down credibility. 

Part of the problem is the sound bite world we live in. It is hard to explain to people in 5-seconds nuance and branches - must less effects and military planning. We've all been there when the primary goes in front of the press and makes his hostage tape, only to come back looking deflated. 

That is a tough row to hoe, but that is part of the job. A hard job with many masters. Your #1 master? The civilian leadership at the POLMIL level.

What are in-theater operational commanders supposed to do when on high orders state that, "Under no circumstances are you to discuss the impact of partner nation national caveats or issues with IO/NGO/GO."

The press has a lot to blame on itself.

Again,  "we" knew this had the potential to go south 15 yrs ago, but that odds were it would go south on AFG time. The press knew too. They were all in our HQ and in the field. They ate, drank, smoked, traveled and deployed with us. 

People love yelling at "the generals" but the suits in DC and Brussels and those in Bonn in the first year are the ones who need to be held to account first.

The shortcomings I have with the summary article sitting on top of the big FOIA dump should not be seen as shade thrown at the author. Whitlock has done a great job here with what he had on hand and should be commended for it. 

That being said, there are significant problems with what is there – or not there – and that is where the danger is for those that are just now starting to think about Afghanistan. The problem is the source material. There are huge gaps in both time and personality.

I was both a US and a NATO guy at different times in AFG, all during the first decade of the conflict, and have watched from the sidelines for the second decade. That is where I noticed the first glaring gap, as I’ve seen it before; the data is too USA centric.

I’ll put my biases right out there, my sympathies are more on the NATO view of the conflict vice the USA view of the conflict. Even for USA officers in the first decade of the war who were working the NATO side, what the USA was doing in RC-(E) was another war. 

RC-(E) never communicated well with the rest of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), even to the USA components working under the NATO umbrella. It was dysfunctional, but not isolated to RC-(E) alone. 

None of the RC’s mid/late decade worked well together. People like to talk about Afghans’ tribal issues, but ISAF had its own tribal problem; the stubborn German tribe to the north; the haughty Anglo-Dutch tribe to the South, the sedate Mediterranean tribe out West, and the reclusive yet violent American tribe in the East. There was also the strange case of the Turkish tribe in Kabul with their secret agreements with the shadows no one would speak of.

All my sympathies aside about the NATO vice USA view of AFG, NATO was a mess and mostly hapless. When I stepped back in for my last tour, the Canadians and Dutch were already heading out the door and the Brits were maxed out. We had lots of other nations, but they were slathered with an amazingly complex matrix of national caveats that made them mostly useless for much of the spectrum of tasks. 

The Anglosphere nations, Dutch, Danes, Estonians and a couple others were of mostly full use, but the others only a fraction once you took their national caveats in to account. As a result, what I considered the superior view of the conflict coming from the NATO side of the house simply never had enough useful force to garner much credibility. At the end of the day, everyone knew the USA would have to do the heavy lifting.

He who does the heavy lifting wins the argument.

Oh, the USA. Beyond that strange and violent tribe in RC-(E), there was the strangely distant and blinkered view coming from CENTCOM in Tampa and the Joint Staff in DC. 

I’d spent some time in Tampa, and knew their angle, but the Joint Staff seemed to be running their own war. We’d come out of a VTC with the JS and wonder, “Where are they getting this stuff?” We’d show up in Qatar for a big confab, and often it seemed that the JS never read anything that came out of Kabul - and they sure weren't sharing their stuff ahead of time. 

The only thing more disconnected were the Department of State delegations and the Obama advance team.

Everything seemed like a blank slate with them. Not that they were too lazy to do their homework – they just didn’t think years of work, observations, and lessons from others were of any value. They were talking to someone and reading something, but not from the staff in-country. That was the impression at least. They were good, passionate people (especially Holbrooke who was right about a lot and stood out), but there wasn’t a curious attitude from most of those at the staff level – more imperious. 

Well, that’s my rambling intro … so here we go.

Craig Whitlock's, The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War.

I want you to read it all and I free-formed enough in the intro, so let me just pull a couple of things;

First, know the context of what you are reading;
With a bluntness rarely expressed in public, the interviews lay bare pent-up complaints, frustrations and confessions, along with second-guessing and backbiting.
People are people;
Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.
Not while I was involved from 05-09, and unquestionably when I was in Kabul in '08-09. Nope. Not once while I was there, in the CUB, publishing reports, briefing various people, did anyone at any time distort statistics. Never, not once. I didn't see it in Tampa while I was there either. I can't speak to what happened at the Joint Staff; but in Brussels, Kabul and Tampa - no one screwed with numbers.

Name names.
“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”
'13-14? That was General Dunford, USMC's tenure has COMISAF. He ended up as CJCS, retiring at the end of September this year.

... SIGAR has published seven Lessons Learned reports since 2016 that highlight problems in Afghanistan and recommend changes to stabilize the country.
But the reports, written in dense bureaucratic prose and focused on an alphabet soup of government initiatives, left out the harshest and most frank criticisms from the interviews.
“We found the stabilization strategy and the programs used to achieve it were not properly tailored to the Afghan context, and successes in stabilizing Afghan districts rarely lasted longer than the physical presence of coalition troops and civilians,” read the introduction to one report released in May 2018.
Of course. It is because we abandoned SCHB in DEC09 and only played not to lose since.
Sopko, the inspector general, told The Post that he did not suppress the blistering criticisms and doubts about the war that officials raised in the Lessons Learned interviews. He said it took his office three years to release the records because he has a small staff and because other federal agencies had to review the documents to prevent government secrets from being disclosed.
3 years? We fought and won WWII in under 4 years.
“We didn’t sit on it,” he said. “We’re firm believers in openness and transparency, but we’ve got to follow the law. . . . I think of any inspector general, I’ve probably been the most forthcoming on information.”
No, you slow rolled it or are an inefficient blob. Remember what I have been saying for years about how broke our governmental IG systems are? There's another data point.
“We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich,” James Dobbins, a former senior U.S. diplomat who served as a special envoy to Afghanistan under Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. “We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. We invade violent countries to make them peaceful and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.”
I wish that were true, but I don't think James has read much about what was said in the first 24-months of the war. I don't think he has read the Bonn Agreement. I think I have heard enough from James.
“I may be impatient. In fact I know I’m a bit impatient,” Rumsfeld wrote in one memo to several generals and senior aides. “We are never going to get the U.S. military out of Afghanistan unless we take care to see that there is something going on that will provide the stability that will be necessary for us to leave.”
“Help!” he wrote.
The memo was dated April 17, 2002 — six months after the war started.
It took 6-years to get SCHB off the ground. We dithered and trusted NATO's untested optimism too much. 
Some of the interviews are inexplicably short. The interview record with John Allen, the Marine general who commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, consists of five paragraphs.
LOL! Of course. Allen has gone uber-political. What did you expect?
In contrast, other influential figures, including former U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker, sat for two interviews that yielded 95 transcribed pages.
I always found Crocker a good man trying to do his best. 95 pages is what I would expect from him.
Yet the interviews show that as the war dragged on, the goals and mission kept changing and a lack of faith in the U.S. strategy took root inside the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department.
To be fair, as we say this at the time, even though for most of the first decade of the war the US only "ran" one of the four RC's, DC always acted as if AFG were a US only operation. Also, there was little continuity in the Staffs and Commanders - and there was constant churn and little sustained knowledge. That had a lot to do with the inertia; once people understood their job, they were rotated out and their expertise lost in a personnel system CONUS that did not realize we were at war.
Dec. 1, 2009
“The days of providing a blank check are over. . . . It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.”
— President Barack Obama, in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Read what I said at the time. This was the pivot point. On this day, the Taliban knew they just needed to wait us out, that we lacked the will to win. They did, we didn't.
U.S. officials tried to create — from scratch — a democratic government in Kabul modeled after their own in Washington. It was a foreign concept to the Afghans, who were accustomed to tribalism, monarchism, communism and Islamic law.
The below ... I'm sorry ... but that was the mindset from the beginning!
During the peak of the fighting, from 2009 to 2012, U.S. lawmakers and military commanders believed the more they spent on schools, bridges, canals and other civil-works projects, the faster security would improve. Aid workers told government interviewers it was a colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive.
Amazing amnesia. 
One unnamed executive with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), guessed that 90 percent of what they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.”
That is your fault USAID. Like I mentioned earlier, at least when I was there, you were impossible to work with. Heal thyself.
Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three U.S. generals in charge of the war, said that the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006 — and that U.S. officials failed to recognize the lethal threat it posed to their strategy.
True. It was his entire family. Huge impact on things great and small. For a significant time period if you needed gravel there was only one person you could get it from - Karzai's brother. He had the corner on rock crushers, it seems.

This too was not the fault of "the generals."
In the Lessons Learned interviews, however, U.S. military trainers described the Afghan security forces as incompetent, unmotivated and rife with deserters. They also accused Afghan commanders of pocketing salaries — paid by U.S. taxpayers — for tens of thousands of “ghost soldiers.”
Another long running problem that was nothing but graft driven. Leaders stole their people's paychecks. That simple ... and we let them.
One unidentified U.S. soldier said Special Forces teams “hated” the Afghan police whom they trained and worked with, calling them “awful — the bottom of the barrel in the country that is already at the bottom of the barrel.”
You get what you pay for - and we paid a lot. What do we have for it?

Well ... it isn't worse than it was on 10 SEP 01.

That is enough from the article, I'll let you pick through the rest. 

Is there anything "new" here? Perhaps ... but only for those who were content to let others fight for the better part of two decades, but were too distracted to make the effort to find out what was going on.

Monday, December 09, 2019

France's Long War

The Long War has a lot of fronts and many flavors ... an undertold one is what France is doing in North Africa.

Especially for Europeans, this can be seen as an existential threat. 

If some type of stability is not brought to Africa, then then inevitable pressures of war, famine, and poverty will drive migration north, flooding an already saturated ability of the Europeans to take in migrants ... and all the cultural and societal pressures that will bring with it.
Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly has called on fellow EU governments to despatch special forces to the Sahel, to help curb militant attacks that have killed more than 100 Malian troops in recent weeks.

But France, too, is paying a heavy price for its role in the struggle against Sahel jihadism, with the death of 13 soldiers when two helicopters collided on Monday.

Altogether, it has lost 38 troops in this almost seven-year campaign.

...since 2013 the EU has been retraining the Malian army, while the French anti-terrorism force, Operation Barkhane, deployed across the Sahel is supported by British helicopters, other European allies as well as US surveillance drones.
France and what few partners it can scrape together in Africa can only do so much when their nations invest so little in their military.

They can spend a bit more now, or be swamped later.

For those of us who worked the fight in Afghanistan, this will sound familiar;
Everyone is agreed that military action along cannot bring an end to the violence and restore stability.

Health, education, justice and basic administration are needed to build community support for the Malian state.

More jobs and livelihoods could reduce the risk of disenchanted young men being drawn into jihadist groups or criminal gangs offering money and the status that can come with carrying a weapon.

A wide range of donors have committed large aid budgets to the Sahel, motivated by concern over poverty and climate change in this fragile region so prone to drought - and also by fear of the knock-on impact of terrorism and a potential resurgence in the flow of migrants across the Sahara and Mediterranean.
The present military approach being pursued by the Sahel armies and their international partners is not working, at least not sufficiently - and France is well aware of the need for a fresh approach.

This is one of the world's poorest regions and a much greater focus on development is essential. But that still cannot happen without better security.

That is why - despite the shocking loss of 13 men in this week's helicopter crash - President Emmanuel Macron remains committed to the military campaign, in alliance with Sahelian governments.

But Paris is desperate for other European countries to do more to help share the burden.
In dark moments you have to wonder - can Western forces make these peoples and cultures fix themselves? Are we making things better in the short run, if at all, but in the long run it will account for nothing?

Is it worth the attempt? 

 I think so, as the alternative is something I don't think our modern sensibilities are ready for ... though our kids might have to.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Holding the Line with Guy Snodgrass - on Midrats

How do you report history as you live it? When, why, and how do you write about it?

When even the most experienced DC watchers are having trouble tracking what is going on in the Trump Administration, what can people expect to learn from first hand accounts?

If you haven't already heard about our next guest and his book - and you count yourself as someone interested in national security - then welcome back on the grid.

Returning to Midrats, our guest for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to discuss his new book, Holding the Line: Inside Trump's Pentagon with Secretary Mattis, will be Guy Snodgress, CDR USN (Ret.)

Guy is a retired American naval aviator, Topgun instructor, and former commanding officer who served as Jim Mattis's chief speechwriter and communications director during his time as Secretary of Defense. Snodgrass owns and manages a strategic advisory firm in Northern Virginia, serving government and tech industry clients.

You can listen to the show at this link or below, but remember, if you don't already, subscribe to the podcast at Spreaker or any of the other podcast aggregators.

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Fullbore Friday

Even though I reposted this 2007 FbF a year ago, they found the Scharnhorst. Worth telling her story again.

Time for Part 2 ... of 3 of the story of Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee' glorious and beautiful, but doomed fleet. It is time for a classic story of revenge at sea: The Battle of the Falkland Islands, 8 December 1914. I like to pay a lot of attention to HMS Canopus. If you review Part 1, you will see how you could dismiss this old ship full of Reservists; but it that what a leader does? No, a leader finds a way to make every bit of kit count.
On November 11 1914 the battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible under Admiral Sturdee left for the Falkland Islands. HMS Princess Royal was dispatched to the Caribbean to guard the Panama Canal. The shock of the defeat at Coronel had made the Royal Navy take decisive action to destroy Spee and the battlecruisers were the chosen means for retribution.

After his victory Spee coaled and then loitered in the Pacific whilst he decided what to do next, little did he realise that this indecision would prove fatal. Eventually he decided to enter the Atlantic and try to make it home. The squadron had passed Cape Horn by December 1 and on the following day they captured the Drummuir carrying coal. They then rested for three days at Pictou Island. Spee wanted to raid the Falkland Islands but his captains were opposed to the idea, however in the end Spee decided to go ahead anyway, another decision he was to regret.
HMS Canopus was now beached at Port Stanley, the capital of the Falklands, as guard ship. On December 7 Sturdee arrived, bringing the British warships at Port Stanley to the pre-dreadnought Canopus, the battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible, the armoured cruisers Kent, Carnarvon and Cornwall, the light cruisers Bristol and Glasgow and the armed merchant cruiser Macedonia.

On the morning of December 8 1914 Gneisenau and Nürnberg were detached from the main squadron, which followed about fifteen miles behind, to attack the wireless station and port facilities at Port Stanley. At 0830 they sighted the wireless mast and smoke from Macedonia returning from patrol.

They didn't know that at 0750 they had been sighted by a hill top spotter which signalled Canopus which then signalled Invincible, flagship, via Glasgow. The British ships were still coaling and most ships, including the battlecruisers, would take a couple of hours to get up steam. If the Germans attacked the British ships would be stationary targets and any ship which tried to leave harbour would face the concentrated fire of the full German squadron, if they were sunk whilst leaving harbour the rest of the squadron would be trapped in port. Sturdee kept calm, ordered steam to be raised and then went and had breakfast!

0900 the Germans made out the tripod masts of capital ships. They were unsure of what theses ships were but they knew Canopus was in the area and they hoped that these were pre-dreadnoughts, which they could easily outrun.

Canopus was beached out of site of the German ships, behind hills but had set up a system for targeting using land based spotters. At 13,000 yards her forward turret fired but was well short, the massive shell splashes astonished the German ships who could see no enemy warships. The rear turret then fired using practice rounds which were already loaded for an expected practice shoot later. The blank shells ricocheted off the sea, one of them hitting the rearmost funnel of Gneisenau. The two German ships turned away. Canopus didn't fire again but she saved the British from a perilous situation.
Also a lesson on not pressing the attack and getting spooked. Probably remembering what happened when the British pushed the attack against his Squadron and were sunk for it - Admiral Graf Spee was too cautious by half, perhaps with a bit of "get-home-itis," a disease that will get you killed.
By 0945 Bristol had left harbour, followed 15 minutes later by Invincible, Inflexible, Kent, Carnarvon and Cornwall, Bristol and Macedonia stayed behind. The German squadron had a 15-20 mile lead but with over eight hours of daylight left and fine weather the battlecruisers would be in action in a couple of hours.

The German lookouts could now tell that the tripod masts belonged to battlecruisers which at c25 knots were considerably faster than the 20 knots the in need of refit German ships could manage. Spee set course to the South East in the hope of finding bad weather.

At first the British squadron stayed together but the battlecruisers were being slowed down by the other ships and so pulled ahead on their own.

At 1247 at 16,500 yards the battlecruisers opened fire, with little accuracy, taking half an hour to straddle the rear ship, Leipzig. Spee realised he was caught and turned his armoured cruisers to slow the British whilst ordering his light cruisers to try and escape. Sturdee had made contingency plans for this and Invincible, Inflexible and the trailing Carnarvon engaged the armoured cruisers whilst the rest of the force set off after the light cruisers.

The battlecruisers turned onto a parallel course to Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at 14,000 yards. The Germans had the advantage of being in the lee position of the wind, the British gunnery was badly affected by their own smoke. The German shooting was excellent but at this long range their shells did little damage to the battlecruisers. The British also scored a few hits which did more damage but they were unaware of this as the visibility prevented them from seeing these.

In an attempt to gain the lee (smoke free) position Sturdee made a sharp turn to starboard towards Spee's stern. Whilst performing this turn the British were shrouded in their own smoke and Spee took this opportunity to turn south, pulling out of firing range. It took the British another 45 minute stern chase before they could resume firing.

At 1450 the battlecruisers turned to port to bring their broadsides to bear. Spee decided that his only chance was to close the range and use his superior secondary armament but his change of course made the smoke much less of a problem for the British. Their firing became much more accurate and both German ships, but especially Scharnhorst suffered severe damage and casualties. By had received over fifty hits, three funnels were down, she was on fire and listing. The range kept falling and at 1604 Scharnhorst listed suddenly to port and by 1617 she had disappeared. As Gneisenau was still firing no rescue attempts were possible and her entire crew including Spee were lost. Invincible had received 22 hits, over half 8.2 inch, but these caused no serious damage and only one crew member was injured.

Gneisenau kept on alone, zigzagging to the south west. At 1715 she scored her last hit on Invincible before her ammunition ran out. The British stopped firing soon afterwards and the burning German ship ground to a halt, her crew opening the sea-cocks and abandoning ship, 190 crew from a total of 765 were rescued but many of these died from their wounds. Inflexible was only hit 3 times and had 1 killed and 3 injured.
The brutal facts of war at sea. There is little room for caution or pause.
Whilst the big ships were fighting the smaller cruisers were having their own battles. The German light cruisers were in the order Dresden leading followed by Nürnberg and Leipzig whilst the British were led by Glasgow with Cornwall and Kent trying to keep up with her.

At 1445 Glasgow opened fire on Leipzig, Leipzig turning to port to reply, scoring two early ships whilst Glasgow's fell short. Glasgow had to turn away, allowing Leipzig to resume her earlier course. The other German ships had not turned to help Leipzig but had carried on their escape attempt.

Glasgow fired on Leipzig again, but this time the other German cruisers changed course, Dresden to the South West and Nürnberg to the South East. Glasgow's ploy of forcing Leipzig to turn and fire succeeded in slowing her so that at 1617 Cornwall had her in range, Kent setting off after Nürnberg.

Leipzig's firing was good but she didn't hit Glasgow and her shells didn't do much damage to Cornwall. By 1900 Leipzig's mainmast and two funnels were down and she was on fire. When her ammunition was exhausted she made an unsuccessful torpedo attack on Cornwall and then her crew prepared to abandon ship.

Glasgow closed the range to finish her off as her flag was still flying, stopping when two green flares were fired by the crippled German cruiser. At 2120 she rolled over and sank leaving eighteen survivors.

Cornwall had received eighteen hits but no casualties. Glasgow had received no damage after the two early hits which killed one and four wounded. Her boilers were damaged which reduced her speed enough for there to be no chance of catching Dresden which escaped.

Nürnberg had a 10 mile led on Kent and was, on paper, faster, but Nürnberg needed an engine overhaul and Kent's crew worked so hard that the old cruiser exceeded her designed horsepower, reaching 25 knots, being forced to burn all available wood on board and causing the whole ship to vibrate violently.

By 1700 the range was down to 12,000 yards and Nürnberg opened fire with the by now expected superb accuracy. When Kent returned fire ten minutes later her shells fell short. Once the range had fallen to 7,000 yards both sides started to score regular hits and Nürnberg gave up her escape attempt and turned to bring her broadside to action.

By 1730 the range was down to 3,000 yards and Kent's heavier shells and thicker armour gave her the upper hand. An hour later, just as bad weather arrived which may have saved her, two of Nürnberg's boilers exploded, reducing her speed. Kent was now able to easily outmanoeuvre her opponent and within half an hour Nürnberg was dead in the water, at 1926 she rolled over to starboard and sank with only twelve survivors.
Kent had received thirty eight hits but only sixteen casualties.

Whilst these battles had gone on Bristol and Macedonia had sunk Spee's colliers Baden and Santa Isabel, the other collier, Seydlitz escaped, eventually being interned in Argentina.
Even in victory, you will be second guessed by those who don't know; they just don't know but their petty concerns.
Sturdee searched for the Dresden before returning to the UK with the battlecruisers. There was some criticism (mainly from the 1st Sea Lord Fisher) of him for letting Dresden escape and for the heavy ammunition expenditure of his battlecruisers (Invincible 513 12 inch rounds, Inflexible 661 12 inch rounds fired) but generally his clear victory was welcomed. He had destroyed Spee's squadron without any serious damage to any of his ships and their shooting (c.6.5%) was considerably better than was managed by British (and German) battlecruisers at Dogger Bank and Jutland.
Ah, the SMS Dresden. That will be Part 3, with a twist. See you there in March.