As Herschel Smith notes, the Taliban use the tactic of amassing fighters for strikes, ranging from 100 to 400 militants, usually in places where our footprint is light. American forces are commonly outnumbered ten-to-one, which necessitates close air support. However, that close air support has resulted in an uncomfortably high number of civilian casualties and a loss of the information battlespace. We lost the information battle in Farah province and Admiral Mullen knows it. Smith:
It is fairly well known now that the additional troops deployed to Afghanistan are going to the population centers around Kabul and Kandahar – of course, in a tip of the hat to population centric counterinsurgency doctrine. So the balance of Afghanistan is left to the Taliban to raise revenue, recruit fighters, train, interdict our logistics lines, implement their governance and basically control as they see fit.
Then, since the U.S. is massing troops in and around the population centers, far fewer are left for the rural terrain. The most that can usually be accomplished is squad, platoon and company-sized engagements, or even smaller units to embed with the Afghan forces. This is very close to what is considered distributed operations. Few patrols in Taliban-controlled areas, no ensuring that the Taliban feel the strong presence of forces, just bare minimum to “train” the Afghan forces.
Yet when the Taliban are able to mass forces of as much as half a Battalion, the expectation is that much smaller units of U.S. forces will engage them without causing noncombatant casualties, while at the same time, the Taliban are clearly using human shields.
Clearly, we are asking the impossible of U.S. troops. The Obama administration doesn’t want to deploy more than about 68,000 U.S. troops to the theater, and as long as this small footprint obtains, heavy use of air power will be necessary to keep smaller units from being completely overrun when the Taliban mass troops.
There is a solution to this dilemma, but it requires more troops to disengage the Taliban from the population. The number of troops we have at the moment is not enough to do this mission. Hence, while noncombatant casualties are a sad thing and certainly counterproductive, the answer is not to inform the smaller units of U.S. forces that they cannot use air support. As much as The Captain’s Journal hates to see noncombatant casualties, more Marines and Soldiers in coffins would be much worse.
If Barack Obama truly wants to minimize the loss of American military and Afghan civilian lives, we need more than 68,000 troops in the Afghan theater. A doubling of that number would be nice.