Page: Richard's Blog
Nov 29th, 2009 by Richard Lowry
Afghanistan – the Road Ahead

afghan-girl National GeographicThe weapons of 21st Century counter-insurgent warfare are books and jobs not bullets and bombs. Victory in Afghanistan requires a cultural and economic shift. But, in order to achieve success, we must first secure the people. We cannot wave a magic wand and instantly bring Afghanistan into the modern world; it will take years to improve the Afghan people’s lives. Nothing can be accomplished with violence in the streets and fear in the countryside. First, and foremost, we must establish a modicum of security.

This is no simple task. Afghanistan’s population is dispersed in small villages throughout a rugged terrain, in a nation one-and-one-half times the size of Iraq. The enemy can go anywhere and we have to defend everywhere. We must work to protect the people and improve their daily lives against all factions: al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Iranian infiltrators, local warlords and a corrupt government. Establishing security is a manpower intensive proposition. This is why General McChrystal has asked for additional troops. He needs to secure the major population centers: Kabul, Qandahar and Jalabad and then slowly expand the perimeter of peace throughout the land.

Then, and only then, can we work to build a modern society. Then, and only then, can we improve governance and the Afghan economy. Then, and only then, can we improve the plight of the everyday Afghan family. Victory will be measured by the number of children attending school and the number of breadwinners earning an honest day’s pay.

A basic tenant of counter-insurgent operations is not to take the fight to the enemy, but to be prepared to defeat them when they bring the fight to you. The goal is to protect the people and eliminate the enemy’s influence among the population. The goal is to make the enemy irrelevant. Again, the geography of Afghanistan calls for large numbers of troops. We must be able to saturate an area with massive force in response to enemy activity and be able to have sufficient other forces to protect the people from insurgent intimidation and more troops to train the Afghanis to protect themselves.

Today, we can neither protect the people nor lessen the enemy’s influence. Today, the enemy has the advantage and we are in a reactionary mode.


Until we gain the initiative, we are losing the fight. We must force the enemy to react to us. But, focusing on American only goals is the surest way to be seen as an occupying force and the fastest way to failure. A purely military operation will eventually be defeated. We must avoid the temptation to focus on Al Qaeda’s leaders alone. We must attack on all fronts: military, economic and diplomatic. We must work to better the lives of the people—to win their “hearts and minds.”

Today, there are only three career paths in Afghanistan: Drug Lord, War Lord and corrupt government official. To win in Afghanistan we must reach out to the Afghan people—first—to protect them, and then to provide decent medical care and an education for their children. We must work to help villagers develop micro-economies; helping them plant alternative crops, dig wells, build roads, set up windmills and solar energy sources to help pump water to their fields and villages. In short, we need to help them obtain clean water, good food, and hope for the future.

Surely we need fast-moving, agile combat forces, but we also need mechanics, electricians and nurses to win this war. The United States Army has already created a paradigm for the forces required. The Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division is currently operating as the first Advice and Assist Brigade in southern Iraq.

It is collaborating with Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Military Transition Teams, and Police Training Teams to merge diplomatic, information, economic, and military power into an effective force for good in southern Iraq. The Brigade’s soldiers are currently enabling the Iraqi provincial governments to progress and establish a solid foundation for long-term security and peace.


Many here in America view this as a shooting war, a war in the classic sense where enemy combatants are shooting and killing each other until one is defeated, often with innocent civilian casualties. Some even consider this a war of aggression. The fact is that America has been at war with Islamic Fundamentalists since 9/11. We first attacked their safe-havens in Afghanistan in 2002 and then continued the fight in Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and the Philippines. That war continues. Our enemies still mean us harm. We cannot just come home and declare that the war is over. They will follow us home.

We must defeat the enemy by making him irrelevant not by appeasing him or even killing him. “It is a year-round struggle [in Afghanistan], often conducted with little apparent violence, to win the support of the people.”[1] This modern-day conflict will be won by improving the daily lives of real people. America’s military wants nothing more than to bring peace and security to the region. If you hate war, you should be in favor of sending more troops to the area, as McChrystal’s plan provides the only hope for stability in the region.


Richard S. Lowry is a military historian and the award-winning author of Marines in the Garden of Eden and The Gulf War Chronicles. Watch for his new book: New Dawn: the Battles for Fallujah. It tells the entire story of Operation Phantom Fury and will be in bookstores in May of 2010. Visit to learn more about Richard and his work.

[1] General Stanley A. McChrystal, Commander’s Initial Assessment, 30 August, 2009, NATO International Security Assistance Force, Afghanistan.

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Nov 25th, 2009 by Richard Lowry
Thanksgiving Message Today, Americans enjoy a freedom unequaled in the history of civilization. Our good fortune goes unnoticed by most everyone in their day-to-day lives. We are free to express ourselves. We are free of oppression. We are free of fear.

We move about in our daily lives taking our children to school, little league games, and the movies. We are safe and comfortable in our homes at night and the vast majority of us do not want for the necessities of life – food, clean water, and shelter.

Our lives are utopian, yet most Americans never stop to think about the hundreds of thousands – millions – of brave young men and women who are standing at the gates, guarding our nation: the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who are fighting, bleeding and dying in foreign lands so that we may remain free.

My family has not forgotten the sacrifices made by these men and women and their families. I would personally like to voice our thanksgiving to all of the members of our armed forces and their families for the contribution they are making on my family’s, on our nation’s, and on the world’s behalf.

We know that you all stand on a thin green line which protects us from the dark side of today’s world.

Let us not forget the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedom; and let us all take a moment to remember the mothers, fathers, wives, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters of these heroes. Let us all mourn their losses.

The greatest tribute we could ever pay to our American servicemen and women, both living and deceased, is to stop on Thanksgiving, pause during that football game, or stop and think as you sit down to dinner with your family that our lives are good because of the sacrifices of others. Consider what America would be without the men and women of our military. Stop and thank the next Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine you see. We all owe our freedom to them.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard S. Lowry

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Nov 21st, 2009 by Richard Lowry
FALLUJAH – 5 Yrs Ago – The fight continues
On the Euphrates River

On the Euphrates River

Operation Phantom Fury raged for several weeks and the fighting was widespread, not limited to Fallujah’s city streets. Here is an excerpt form New Dawn, on bookshelves in May, 2010:

On December 5, 2004, Dan Wittnam’s Small Craft Company went out again on a sweep along the Euphrates River, east of Ramadi with engineers from Colonel Patton’s 44th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division. After a productive day of clearing caches, the boats turned west to return to Camp Blue Diamond. And again, the enemy had set up a large ambush to attack the Marines as they returned to their base. They were only seven or eight kilometers from Blue Diamond when the insurgents attacked with RPGs and heavy machine guns.

An RPG whizzed across the water and hit the side of Staff Sergeant Iversen’s boat. It pierced the hull and severed the port fuel line, killing his port engine. The starboard engine took a round in its block. The engine sputtered and coughed and Iversen’s boat slowed to a crawl. Now, they were sitting ducks in the hot zone. Iversen’s crew lit up both sides of the river, allowing the other boats to safely navigate through the ambush, but four soldiers had been hit, one in the neck. Pfc Andrew M. Ward was bleeding out and in urgent need of surgical attention. Iversen called Vasey for help and Doc Rubio jumped to Iversen’s boat and started working on the wounded.

Rubio had two of the soldiers bandaged before he learned of the critically-wounded soldier in the front of the boat. Rubio rushed to Ward’s side. Ward was bleeding profusely, but was still alert. Soldiers and Marines quickly moved Ward to the back of the boat and Rubio went to work. He knew that if he didn’t stop the bleeding, this young soldier would die. Rubio quickly sliced into Ward’s neck, located the damaged artery and clamped off the bleeding with and IV hose clamp. Just as he finished, Iversen said, “Doc, we need to move the people off to another boat.” Parrello, driving Vasey’s boat, was already alongside.

“What?” This was not the time to be moving this soldier. Rubio didn’t know that Iversen’s engines were nearly dead and that they were still in the kill zone. Rubio was so focused on treating the severely wounded soldier that he didn’t notice the bullets whizzing over his head. If Rubio had learned anything in his years with the Marines, it was that when you are told to do something, you don’t ask why, you just do it. Rubio rallied the soldiers around him. They lifted Ward and Rubio straddled the two boats. Rounds crackled by Rubio, standing with one foot on Vasey’s boat, the other on Iversen’s.

“Oh my God, I cannot believe I’m doing this.” He thought.

The soldiers passed Ward to Rubio and Rubio passed Ward to an Army medic in Vasey’s boat. As they were moving to Vasey’s boat, the Army medic slipped and dropped Ward on the deck. Ward started bleeding again. Rubio went to work again to secure the clamp.

“Are you good, Doc?” Vasey asked.

“Roger, I’m good.”

Parrello gunned his engines. The stern sank in the water, the water jets kicked up large white plumes and the boat lurched forward at fifty knots. When they arrived at the boat ramp only minutes later, there were three ambulances waiting. Soldiers and Marines rushed to offload Ward on a stretcher. When they hit the water, one of the soldiers panicked and let go of his corner of the stretcher. Rubio jumped into neck-deep water, grabbed the untended corner, pushed it above his head and helped get Ward to shore. They rushed Ward into one of the waiting ambulances and a First Class Corpsman said, “What are you doing? He’s going to die.”

Rubio felt the anger sweep through his body. He got in the guy’s face and said, “He’s alert and he knows where he’s at. Get his ass to the Battalion Aid Station.”

Ward was rushed to a helicopter that whisked him to surgery. That night, Lieutenant Thomas came to Rubio, sat down and told him that Ward had made it back to the hospital and into the operating room, but died while the surgeons were trying to repair his artery. The next morning, Juan Rubio went to the Battalion Aid Station to confront the First Class Corpsman. “How can I trust my casualties to someone who has already given up?” Rubio asked, not expecting an answer. “I don’t want to see you on my medevac team ever again.” Then, he turned and walked out.

Wittnam’s company ranged the Iraqi waterways in twenty Small Unit Riverine Craft (SURC). These were the modern-day version of the Vietnam-era riverboats. The boats were nearly forty feet long and 20,000 lbs, yet they only had a nine inch draft. They were powered by twin 440 hp water jet engines that could propel the craft at speeds exceeding forty knots[1]. These powerful boats could also turn on a dime. Fast and agile, the boats packed a powerful punch. They had 240G and .50 caliber machine guns as well as MK-19 automatic grenade launchers. Some even carried the GAU-17, 7.62mm, mini-gun. In addition to all this, each boat could transport sixteen battle-ready Marines.

Watch for New Dawn: the Battles for Fallujah by Richard S. Lowry (author of Marines in the Garden of Eden and The Gulf War Chronicles). It tells the entire story of Operation Phantom Fury and will be in bookstores in May of 2010. Visit to learn more about Richard and his work.

[1] 1 knot = 1.151 miles per hour.

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Nov 10th, 2009 by Richard Lowry
NOVEMBER 10th, 2004 – Fallujah

It was November 10th, 2004, the United States Marine Corps’ 229th birthday and the soldiers, sailors and Marines of Regimental Combat Team – 7 had been fighting their way into Fallujah for nearly forty-eight hours. Colonel Craig Tucker, the RCT-7 commander, had handed out MRE pound cakes and cards with the Commandant’s message to all his squad leaders. When there was a break in the fighting, each squad leader would read the birthday message to their Marines and they would slice the birthday cakes in their time-honored ceremony. As a final ceremonial touch, Tucker had asked his commanders to try to play the Marines Hymn at some point during the day.

After General Natonski left the Government Center in the late afternoon, Colonel Tucker and Lieutenant Colonel Gary Brandl were standing around during a lull in the fighting. Brandl turned to his boss. “Maybe we should play the Marines Hymn now.” Brandl called over to the Army psyops team and told them to play the Hymn over their loudspeakers. As soon as the music started, every enemy fighter within earshot opened fire. They were either incensed at the brazen taunt or they anticipated that the music was heralding an attack. They lost their discipline and began showing themselves, firing on the Marines. The Marines cut down the exposed fighters as if they were shooting pop-ups at a carnival shooting gallery.

The Marines Hymn was playing and Brandl’s Marines were killing the exposed enemy fighters. The spontaneous battle raged until the final note. As if on queue, the enemy quit firing. Brandl turned to Tucker, “That worked pretty well, let’s play it again.”[1]

[1] Col Craig Tucker telephone interview, 1/10/08.

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Nov 4th, 2009 by Richard Lowry
Fifth Anniversary of Phantom Fury

November 7th will be the 5th anniversary of Operation Phantom Fury, the attack to free Fallujah from the grips of the Iraqi insurgency. Visit Armchair General to read more about the fight that heralded the beginning of the end for al Qaeda in Iraq.

Streets of Fallujah - November, 2004

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Nov 3rd, 2009 by Richard Lowry

Commandant’s Birthday Message

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