Friday, June 11, 2010

Shaping Operations

In advance of any major military operation like the Marine assault on Marjah a few months ago, U.S. forces conduct what they call "shaping operations." That particulary elegant euphemism covers the various activities that take place before the full assault is launched, everything from information operations (i.e. propoganda) to securing important avenues of approach or transit points. The most important element of shaping operations is the movement of small teams of Special Operations troops into the future area of conflict with the mission of killing or capturing Taliban leader or other key personnel. The idea is that the enemy's leadership and operational staff will be significantly eroded by the time the regular forces move in, thereby disrupting the Taliban's ability to resist.

Although the nature of the upcoming Kandahar offensive may have changed somewhat recently, with a seemingly greater emphasis on reconstruction and governance and less on purely 'kinetic' action*, SOF units down south are still engaging in these shaping operations.

*Another wonderful military euphemism. "Kinetic" = "shooting at bad guys"

However, the Taliban aren't stupid and have learned to conduct their own shaping operations in advance of the anticipated attack. In fact, one could argue that the bad guys have been doing such operations for a long time.

Recently, the Taliban have stepped up their campaign of intimidation and assassination in Kandahar, almost certainly in an effort to so degrade the government's ability to govern that any military success will be quickly undercut by political failure. As I said, these guys ain't stupid.

Couple of things jump out at me from the article, one small and petty and the other not so much.


The insurgents have just as busily been trying to undermine that approach, by killing local officials and intimidating others into leaving their posts.
“They read the papers; they know what we are doing,” said a NATO
official here, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with his government’s policy. “It’s very much game on between the coalition and the Taliban.”
I know it's just a handy little phrase not meant to be taken literally, but these guys don't really "read the papers." Most of them can't read at all. They do know what we're doing, but it ain't coming from the New York Times.


The youngest victim was a 7-year-old boy, identified only as the grandson of a farmer named Qodos Khan Alokozy, from the village of Heratiano in the Sangin District of Helmand Province. According to Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor’s office in Helmand, Taliban insurgents came to his village and dragged the boy from his home at 10:30 in the morning, accusing him of acting as a government informant for telling authorities of their movements. They killed him by hanging him from a tree in the middle of the village, Mr. Ahmadi said. A spokesman for the Taliban, reached by telephone, denied that the incident took place.
Deny it all you want, but I seriously doubt that a 7-year old was hung from a tree because of some land dispute or a criminal enterprise gone wrong. Nope, that was classic Taliban all the way. No doubt the higher-ups in Quetta aren't going to be happy about the bad PR, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the ruthlessness of the Taliban's local operatives.

Was he an informant for ISAF or the ANSF? Quite possibly, but it seems unlikely that one could gain significant actionable intelligence from a 7-year old. More likely they made an example of the kid to send a message to the locals. Talk to the police and no one is safe, not even your children.

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