December 21, 2008
More Troops for Afghanistan: The Real Question
We've heard a lot about how President-elect Obama wants to send more troops to Afghanistan to win that war. For years we've all heard liberals tell us that Iraq was a distraction, but that oh they wanted to fight in Afghanistan.
So the news is full of stories like this one:
The top U.S. military officer said Saturday that the Pentagon could double the number of American forces in Afghanistan by next summer to 60,000 -- the largest estimate of potential reinforcements ever publicly suggested.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that between 20,000 and 30,000 additional U.S. troops could be sent to Afghanistan to bolster the 31,000 already there.
All well and good, and we should be thankful that Petraeus' surge strategy has been so successful that we can now safely draw down troops in Iraq so that we will have some to send to Afghanistan. If the commanders in Afghanistan want more troops, then by all means lets send them.
Let's also ask how those troops are going to be used, however. After the surge was announced in January 2007, there was much criticism from the left to the effect that "more troops to do the same thing won't do any good." And indeed, if that's all the troops were going to do then such criticism would have been justified.
The problem in Afghanistan is summed up by Tim Lynch, as quoted by Bill Roggio in The Weekly Standard:
America cannot bring security to the rural population of Afghanistan if every time they interact with that population they treat them as potential enemy fighters. The military believes "force protection" is the job number one and I have listened to officers wax eloquent on the subject of protecting their men and woman no matter what because this country is not worth the noble sacrifice that their young troopers would represent if they lost life or limb here. I have used all my self control to avoid kicking these idiots in the teeth which is what they deserve. That kind of thinking will lead to our defeat just as certain as day follows night. It is ridiculous and based on an inflated self centered egotism which I find alarming. Infantry officers are paid to think - to think about the best way to beat those who ask for it while maintaining the cohesion and high morale amongst their troops. The job of military leaders is to spend blood, American blood, and spend it wisely in pursuit of the missions and objectives given them by their civilian masters. I know what those masters have said is our mission in Afghanistan. I also know the current American TTP (tactics, techniques and procedures) do not in any way support the mission they have been given and in fact do the exact opposite by alienating the very population we are supposed to be "winning." I might be being a little harsh here but how else do you explain the performance of our military to date?
Ouch. I have little way of knowing whether such criticism is accurate or not, but Roggio is generally a reliable source.
Roggio also says this about how U.S. and allied forces are operating
Unfortunately in Afghanistan, the United States and NATO have learned little from the success in Iraq, and are still largely operating from large bases (there are of course exceptions to this, but as a whole, combat power is concentrated in large bases).
This is very bothersome, if true. Roggio is dead right about Iraq. Prior to the surge, we tended to keep our troops on 5 large bases and only send them out on raids (a simplification to be sure, but as a general observation correct). We did this because we wanted to protect our troops, and thought that keeping them secure on bases was the way to do it. No one likes casualties.
Then came then-Lt. Gen. David Petreaus, who in October of 2005 returned from his second tour in Iraq to take command of the Combined Arms Center (CAC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He took charge of the team that was writing what would eventually become the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, released on December 15, 2006.
FM 3-24 revolutionized how we fought the war in Iraq. The 5 additional surge brigades to bolster the existing 15 in Iraq weren't just sent to do the same thing; there was a radical change in strategy. No more were we going to stay on our bases and only head out on raids.
Not only did this lead to a more successful prosecution of the war, it also made our troops safer. Here is one of the key insights from 3-24 as it applies to the problem in Afghanistan stated above:
1-149 SOMETIMES, THE MORE YOU PROTECT YOUR FORCE, THE LESS SECURE YOU MAY BE. Ultimate success in COIN (counterinsurgency) is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained...These practices endure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.
In other words, get off the bases and be among the people. Get to know them personally. Know your area of operations backwards and forwards; economics, religious sects, clans, tribes, ancient rivalries, who owns every store and shop, what holidays the celebrate and how, who the village/clan/tribal leaders are, local politics, on and on. Yes kinetics are important. It's just that alone firepower cannot win.
Petraeus' team wrote about this in FM 3-24
7-7 ...Effective commanders know the people, topography, economy, history, and culture of their area of operations (AO). They know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader, and ancient grievance within it...
7-8 Another part of analyzing a COIN (counterinsurgency) mission involves assuming responsibility for everyone in the AO. This means that leaders feel the pulse of the local populace, understand their motivations and care about what they want and need. Genuine compassion and empathy for the population provide an effective weapon against insurgents.
You can't do this if your emphasis is on "force protection," and indeed as stated above such an emphasis is counterproductive, as counterintuitive as that may sound. Now, I understand that it's easy for me to sit here and type these words, never having served myself. And I'm not an original thinker here; all I'm doing is relaying what other more learned and experienced men and women have said.
Here are just a few posts in which our commanders in Iraq explained how they did these things and more:
Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work"
Iraq Briefing - 22 February 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"
October 12, 2008 - Gen Petraeus' Speech on Iraq - How We Did It
Earning the trust of the people is critical to beating an insurgency. As Lt. Col. (Dr.) David Kilcullen wrote in FM 3-24
A-60 ...Whatever else is done, the focus must remain on gaining and maintaining the support of the population. With their support, victory is assured; without it, COIN efforts cannot succeed.
What is important to note that this emphatically does not mean "making the people like us." The people can hate the counterinsurgents for all it matters. What is important is that they believe the counterinsurgents will win and that it is in their best interests that they win. It is a hard-headed calculation of self interest, not emotion.
In some recent Afghanistan briefings (here and here), our commanders discussed something called "Human Terrain Teams." Essentially, the HTT is part of a "counter-insurgency effort of the United States military which embeds anthropologists with combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan to help tacticians in the field understand local cultures."
All fine and good, but Tim Lynch isn't convinced it's all working (direct link to his post here). He points out that although we can beat the Taliban every time even when outnumbered 10-1, this doesn't mean we are winning. Kinetics, as stated above, alone will not beat an insurgency. More to the point, he lays out the relationship between the HTT and the concept of "living with the people" as discussed above:
The mixing of civilian experts with the military in the current Human Terrain Team program has not gone well and I don't care what you read in the press on the subject believe me when I say the program is an abject (multi-million dollar) failure. HTT teams can only venture off base when embedded with large American convoys and therefore seldom get out. Because their offices are on base they use the military computer networks which will not allow them to access the very Jihadist website they are supposed to be monitoring. They will not be a useful tool to any commander until they are let off base and given the freedom of action to move about their areas of responsibility, develop relationships with the tribal elders and basically gather the information the program is supposed to gather.
In other words, force protection is more important than getting out among the people, however risky that may seem. No one, including Lynch, is saying that we send the HTT civilians out unprotected. What is being said is that they're being sent out with too large a force, one that intimidates the very people whose trust we're supposed to be winning. Send them out with a smaller security force and let them do their job. Keep airpower and other resources on standby but that's it.
Let's hope that President Obama takes heed of this and more. Sending more troops to Afghanistan to do the same thing is not only unlikely to produce results, it will lead to declining popular support for the war. It's not only the population in Afghanistan that matters, but the one back home as well.
November 24, 2008
Afghanistan Briefing - 21 November 2008 - Winning Hearts and Minds in Khost
This briefing is by Colonel John P. Johnson, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division, otherwise known as Task Force Currahee. Last Friday he spoke via satellite from Forward Operating Base Salerno in the Khost province with reporters at the Pentagon.
Task Force Currahee is responsible for security and stability operations in the central eastern area of Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border.
I am not entirely sure of the chain of command here, but Johnson's's unit is part of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), the NATO operation in Afghanistan. It's commander is General David D. McKiernan. During the briefing Johnson mentioned "General Schloesser, my commanding general." Major General Jeffrey Schloesser is the commander of Combined Joint Task Force 101 in Afghanistan.
Col. Johnson has an "ISAF" patch on his shoulder, yet Task Force 101 is part of Operation Enduring Freedom, so I'm not quite sure how the chain of command works above Gen. Schloesser. I have yet to figure out the command structure for the units in Afghanistan. Be that as it may, please watch the briefing in its entirety.
The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.
There was much of interest, but we'll concentrate on how we are separating the populace from the enemy and how this is part of a "hearts and minds" strategy.
From Col. Johnson's opening statement:
COL. JOHNSON: Thanks. To the press corps, good morning. Thanks for attending today. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss our current status here in Afghanistan and to provide some insight from the perspective of a brigade-level task force that has actually been in the fight for the past eight months.
First, let me say that we recognize and appreciate the role all of you play in keeping the American public informed on the tremendous service of their sons and daughters in uniform.....
Combined Task Force Currahee is comprised of approximately 5,000 NATO soldiers, built around the 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. It also includes three U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams or PRTs, one Czech Republic PRT and coordination with a Turkish PRT.
We also have unique enablers, such as a human terrain team, law enforcement professionals and interagency advisors at the brigade level from the Department of State, USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Next February and March, we will also be joined by two Agribusiness Development Teams from the great states of Indiana and Tennessee.
The precise composition of the task force has changed over time and, up until last month, also included a Polish battle group that now serves as a separate brigade-level task force in Ghazni Province.
We partnered to accomplish our mission with two brigades in the headquarters of the Afghan National Army 203rd Corps, the 2nd Zone of the Afghan Border Police, which is roughly a brigade-sized element, and our regional, provincial, district-level Afghan National Police, composed of almost 5,700 policemen.
Our operational area is part of the U.S.-led Regional Command East, led by CJTF 101, and currently includes the five provinces of Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Lowgar and Wardak, three of which border Pakistan. The under our -- the area under our responsibility is vast, covering almost 43,000 square kilometers.
The terrain is extreme, with an average elevation at around 6,000 to 7,000 feet, and mountains at 10,000) to 11,000 feet. I'm speaking to you from the province of Khost, which includes our lowest elevations, from 3,500 to 5,000 feet....
As I said, the focus of everything we do is the Afghan people, and our intent is to separate the people from the enemy physically, but more important, psychologically. The enemy we face is very complex, but can be broadly defined as any actor the draws the population away from the vision of legitimate government of Afghanistan. This could range from criminals to ideological Taliban led by Mullah Omar to power-based groups such as those led by Jallaludin Haqqani and Hekmatyar Gulbuddin, alliance groups such as the Taliban of Pakistan, led by Baitullah Mehsud, as well as to a variety of foreign fighter elements -- some organized, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or the Islamic Jihad Union -- to ultimately al Qaeda.
As we separate the Afghan people from this complex enemy, we also strive to connect them with the legitimate government of Afghanistan and also connect them with their Afghan national security forces. We do all of this from behind, ensuring that our number-one priority is the capacity-building of the institutions, so vital to convincing the people to reject any alternate vision.
We discussed the "Human Terrain Teams" last week in Col. Spiszer's Afghanistan briefing, and saw the important role that they play. Follow the link for detains. Spiszer also discussed the challenges posed by the extreme terrain in his area of responsibility also, even going so far as to call it his greatest challenge.
The most important statement, though, I think, was Johnson's statement that they were trying to " separate the people from the enemy physically, but more important, psychologically." When I saw this it brought back that most important aspect of winning a counterinsurgency, that of "hearts and minds."
Unfortunately, it's also probably the most misunderstood phrase in warfare. Here's the definitive explanation:
"Hearts" means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. "Minds" means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, successful trusted networks grow like roots into the populace. They displace enemy networks, which forces enemies into the open, letting military forces seize the initiative and destroy the insurgents.
Please, please, follow the link before that quote for the whole story.
Col Johnson continues:
Broadly speaking, our purpose here is to transform the environment in a way that increases the legitimacy of the Afghan government, at the provincial and the district level, an influences the people of Afghanistan to reject the ultimate vision offered by the anti-Afghan forces.
To secure the people and to accomplish our purpose, the preponderance of our effort has focused on conducting combined planning and operations, with our ANSF brothers of the ANA 203rd Thunder Corps as well as the regional police.
This is exactly what we did in Iraq. Before anything else can be done, the populace must be secured. Political and economic progress can only occur after security is achieved, not before.
It is also all straight out of the book then-Lt Gen. David Petraeus wrote (ok, he led the team that wrote it); the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. FM-3-24 provided the theory behind everything that we did in the "surge" in Iraq. It doesn't take a genius to know that there are lessons here we can apply in Afghanistan.
As to why we are still at this point in Afghanistan, well that's a long story. Suffice it to say here as Lt. Col. (Dr) David Kilcullentold Charlie Rose "There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years." For what it's worth, Kilcullen contributed to FM 3-24 and was senior counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus during most of the surge.
Bottom like though, is that now that we've won the kinetic phase of Iraq we should be able to send more troops to Afghanistan. Hopefully President Obama will beat up our "allies" to do their share, but I'm not holding my breath that they'll come through.
Col. Johnson again:
Quickly shifting to development, we all know that we cannot ultimately succeed here with military power alone, and it is critical to comprehensively approach all of our operations. Where we achieve separation from the enemy, we have to quickly follow with non-lethal effects, such as the infrastructure development necessary to improving the quality of life for Afghans.
In our area, our flagship development project is the $100 million, USAID-funded Khost to Gardez Road, which we call the K-G Pass Road. It will connect the Khost Province, where I'm at, with the rest of the interior of Afghanistan. It also cuts at the heart of the operational intent of our main enemy in this area, the Haqqani Network, which aims to isolate Khost and has a clearly stated objective to prevent the road's construction.
The K-G Pass Road is an example of the "hearts" aspect, of "persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success."
Also, if we can convince the farmers to grow wheat instead of poppies, we deny the Taliban et al a major source of funding. See the UN report here and the US government report here for details on how that is proceeding.
From the Q & A, here's how we're trying to increase agricultural production of food crops and entice the farmers to stop growing poppies:
Q Colonel, it's Jim Garamone, from American Forces Press Service. You mentioned in your introduction something about two teams -- two Agribusiness Development Teams -- I guess one from Tennessee and the other one I didn't quite catch. What are these teams? Are they military teams? Are they -- and what are they going to do for you when they arrive?
COL. JOHNSON: We're really excited about gaining these two Agribusiness Development Teams in our area of operations. They are multi-disciplinary teams that are provided by the National Guards from different states.
There have already been some states -- as a matter of fact, I used to have the province of Ghazni under my area of responsibility. And they currently have an Agribusiness Development Team from the great state of Texas. We are going to gain two additional ones, one from Indiana and one from Tennessee.
And they bring forward a significant amount of expertise in agriculture in a wide variety of ways, not only hydrology, farming, dairy to chicken farming. But as you know -- and I may not have described well in my opening statement, but Afghanistan is largely an agrarian society. But right now, it is largely subsistence farming. And there is a tremendous amount of capacity and potential that is lost every year and food security remains a prime concern over here.
These Agribusiness Development Teams are going to assist the Afghans through Afghan government as well as the development of business models to move from subsistence farming to really sustainable farming, where they have an entire system that allows them to increase production and take advantage of all of the great potential that is here.
They lose a lot of potential every year. And as an example, here in the province of Khost, much of the wheat that is produced here is -- you know, really provides excess capacity for the province, and most of it has to go to Pakistan for processing into flour and then is returned back to Afghanistan and sold at premium, especially when flour prices are high.
Q Colonel, how large are these teams?
COL. JOHNSON: They're roughly 50 to 80 soldiers strong. Much of it, however -- there is a security force element to it. But I would tell you at the heart of it is about 20 or so soldiers that have a significant amount of agricultural, you know, experience. And much of them -- and the entire agribusiness development team also has great backing with academia. They're tied to university systems and a large and growing collaborative network back in the United States that's going to help them, you know, solve problems while they're deployed over here.
Look, I know things aren't going as well as hoped in Afghanistan. I've discussed this in some detail before, so click on "Afghanistan" under "Categories" at right for more.
It is not at all clear, though, that had we not "been diverted' by Iraq we would have won in Afghanistan. Go back and follow the link to Kilcullen's interview with Charlie Rose. it's long but well worth it. Remember that it took the Brits 12 years or more to defeat the communist insurgents in Malaya. We didn't win in El Salvador in a year or two either. Fighting insurgencies is not like World War II. This is what they call "low intensity" war for a reason; it's not all bombs and bullets and it's not all over quickly.
But I also don't really care, as the last thing I want to do is argue over what we should have done. We are where we are. We need to finish up in Iraq and tackle Afghanistan anew. Let's get on with it.
November 21, 2008
Afghanistan Briefing - 18 November 2008 - Task Force Duke
This briefing is by Col John Spiszer, Commander, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. On Wednesday he spoke via satellite from Kabul with reporters at the Pentagon.
Col. Spiszer's unit is known as Task Force Duke, and they are responsible for security and stability operations in the northeastern area of Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border.
I am not entirely sure of the chain of command here, but Spiszer's unit is part of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), the NATO operation in Afghanistan. It's commander is General David D. McKiernan. I'm not sure if McKiernan reports up through NATO or CENTCOM. If it's the latter, his commanding officer is Gen. David Petraeus, who in turn reports directly to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. If, on the other hand, ISAF reports directly up through NATO, I'm not sure, as their structure is more than I have time to figure out. Take the Wikipedia article on ISAF for what it's worth.
The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.
There was much of interest, but we'll concentrate on four topics; Provisional Reconstruction Teams, Human Terrain Teams (something new to me), relations with the Pakistani military, and the fractious nature of the insurgency.
From Col Spiszer's opening comment, where he discusses the PRTs (Provisional Reconstruction Teams):
COL. SPISZER: ...We have very high hopes for our area. We see great potential in N2KL. A lot of progress has already been made through CERP and by good coordination and the hard work of all of our PRTs, which just rotated over the past few weeks.
In FY 2008, they worked numerous projects to the sum of $160 million toward the advancement and development of Afghanistan.
All the provinces were very heavy into road building, as was Nangarhar, which was also focused on some of its irrigation projects and bridges. Kunar developed a trade school to teach Afghans necessary skills for carpentry, painting, road construction, welding and masonry. Nuristan has started a forest conservation program. And Laghman is working on its agricultural capabilities. It has three rivers that actually run through it, that have water in them year round.
PRTs bring civilian expertise to various projects designed to defeat insurgencies by providing essential services to the people. According to Wikipedia,
There are currently 12 US PRTs in Afghanistan. Within the PRTs in Afghanistan, there are typically three to five civilians; the remainder is made up of military forces. PRTs are backed by local and international security forces. PRTs were originally built and operated by US forces as means of facilitating reconstruction efforts in provinces outside the capital, Kabul. Following NATO's involvement in Afghanistan, command of some PRTs was transferred from the US to the nations under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
It would seem that we're trying to ramp them up, as there are job openings in PRTs listed at the State Dept website.
Gen. Barry McCaffrey (ret) noted that they have been extremely successful in Iraq, and recommended that while we've been using them in Afghanistan too, they'd work a lot better there if the international community would step up and provide some help.
On to the Q & A, and something called a "human terrain team"
Q Colonel, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. I'm interested to know, are you working with a human terrain team, and if so, what value do they -- does the data they provide bring you?
COL. SPISZER: Well, yes, we do have a human terrain team, got a very good officer on my staff who in his training prior to this point had some good relationships with those guys as they formed out of Fort Leavenworth and out in Monterey. And it's a been a great value added to us. It provides kind of the critical element to our staff that we need to help us understand and gather some of the data that we need to get a full picture of the environment that we're operating in.
The counterinsurgency environment is all about the people, and understanding how to connect to the people, to provide them security and to provide them good governance. And without that understanding, we have a really hard time. And these guys are giving us some of that critical effort.
The thing that we've done mostly is to push them down to the lower unit so they could start interacting and engaging in gathering that information that we need, so that we can further our plans and coordination.
But there's definite value added, and I wish I had more of them, in fact.
Googling around, the best I can find as a definition in the short time for all this I have is again, alas, from Wikipedia:
The Human Terrain Team (HTT) program, begun in late 2003, is a controversial, experimental counter-insurgency effort of the United States military which embeds anthropologists with combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan to help tacticians in the field understand local cultures. "Academic embeds" as the social scientists on teams are known, help troops understand relevant cultural history, engage locals in a way they can appreciate, and incorporate knowledge about tribal traditions in conflict resolution. In interviews, US military officers in Afghanistan have stated that the aim of the program is to improve the performance of local government officials, persuade tribesmen to join the police, ease poverty and protect villagers from the Taliban and criminals. The deputy director is James Greer.
Everything is controversial to someone. These teams sound like a pretty good idea, though. Googling around, I found this article that describes how one HTT (is that the acronym?) helped soldiers in Iraq "understand the cultural landscape." We also get this pearl:
Outside the military, however, the teams have sparked some controversy. Much of the opposition has come from people in the academic world, who, according to Prof. Matsuda, fear the Army will misuse the knowledge offered by social scientists.
"Some are saying anthropology can't be part of the Army without being corrupted," he said.
Prof. Matsuda said some of the concerns are valid, and some are motivated by knee-jerk antimilitarism. Regardless, he said, the stakes are too high in Iraq right now to sit on the sidelines.
Knee-jerk anti-military attitudes in academia? Perish the thought!
Last, we'll cover a few exchanges which touch on relations with the Pakistani military;
Q Colonel, this is Jim Garamone, from American Forces Press Service. Two questions, really. Do you have the coordination centers set up where you work with the Pakistani army and Frontier Corps? And second, what's the trend in violence right now? Has the winter sort of cut down on the number of violent episodes in your AO?
COL. SPISZER: ..But I have not seen a real reduction in the level of violent acts. But it -- you know, I compare it from last year to this year, and May and June were higher. July and August were lower. September was about the same, and October was actually higher. So this past month in my area it was actually higher, despite what was going on with the Pak military in the Bajaur Agency. I think part of that is because of what's going on. Initially we saw a drop when they started their operations, and now I think they might actually be pushing some guys back this way, which might account for some of the rise.
So it's hard to categorize when you compare from one year to the next, and it's also a matter of qualitative differences. Many of the contacts we see now are much less in duration or intensity as well, almost more just -- just to do something is kind of how I characterize it. They're out there just trying to do something. They haven't had very great effect on us at all, in fact, in the last month, despite the levels.
So overall we've had a slightly more this year than last year, but it's been different....
And later, Col Spiszer was asked about what he considered to be his greatest success and greatest challenge. For our purposes here we won't go through the questions. First his success
COL. SPISZER:...The biggest success I'll tell you straight up is the cooperation and coordination that's developing between the Pakistani military. I wish I had more resources to devote to it, and we will have more over the -- over the coming months, but it's also paving the way in this cooperation.
...from my perspective, what they've been doing over the last two months is a sustained offensive that's really put the pressure on the enemy in a way that I don't think, from what I've learned in the past, has happened before. So I think that's the biggest change.
Ok but we also learn that the Paks seem to want to shoot down our drones. I'm not at all saying that Col. Spiszer is being anything less than completely honest. It's just that the Paks are cooperating in some areas, but certainly not in others. I doubt their military is even completely under the control of the government.
And although it doesn't touch on our topic directly, his greatest challenge is of course relevant to understanding the overall situation there:
COL. SPISZER:...Well, I -- you know, along the border, terrain's a pretty big impediment. (Laughs.) Everything else seems to pale beside the terrain.
We've got -- let me take a look at my -- 470 kilometers of -- (audio break) -- N2KL and virtually all of it's above 5,000 feet. So it can't get much worse than that. And then you've got about 10 kilometers of mountains stretching into Pakistan and 10 kilometers or so stretching into Afghanistan. So it's a pretty big mountain range with very few roads and trails through it.
And then, like other places, the enemy's actions as he goes through there and attacks different sides, it makes it hard for them to trust each other and work together because they're never sure who's who. It's very difficult. So the enemy's actions themselves in targeting the border posts make it the next most difficult thing, I think.
I don't know which would be worse, the heat of Iraq being enough to fry your brain, or the mountaintop thin-air cold of Afghanistan.
This next exchange highlights the complexity of fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan. As with Iraq, there is no completely unified insurgency. Neither country is like Vietnam, whereby our enemy was quite unified.
U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 speaks to how an insurgency can be quite different from one village to the next, and as such there is no "one size fits all" counterinsurgency strategy. Commanders must be able to evaluate each situation and adapt as needed.
Q Can I follow up(David Morgan of Reuters)? If you could -- can you please tell us what sort of volumes you're seeing in terms of militants coming across the border? And are they Afghan, Taliban returning to Afghanistan? Are they foreign fighters? Who are they?
COL. SPISZER: Okay, well, if I saw them all, they wouldn't be around anymore. So I can't give you real definitive figures on what I see happening there. We have a very broad mix up in this area.
In the south, we have what's called the Taliban front, or, correction, the Tora Bora front, which is kind of successors of the Hezb-i-Islami Unis Kalis (ph) faction. We also have a lot of drug smuggling. Then as you work your way up to the eastern side, we have TNSM, which is a Pakistani -- Islamic fundamentalist group that's associated with the Pakistan Taliban. Then we also have Taliban and we also have LET (ph) the Kashmiri separatists.
And they all kind of come across and do different things. Some of them come over here and basically train. They fight us to train to go do things in Pakistan or in Kashmir. Some of them come here because they're paid to. So there's a lot of different reasons and different groups here that don't coordinate their activities very well, which in fact gives us an advantage here.
But I don't see large numbers of foreigners. We hear lots of rumors of foreigners. And you got to remember, up in Nuristan, a foreigner is anybody not from that valley. So it gets very hard to sort some of that stuff out, because it's very isolated. But, you know, and a foreigner is definitely a Pakistani or Punjabi, which we -- is not what we're thinking of when we talk about it. We're talking about Arabs and Chechens and Uzbeks. We hear about them quite a bit, but finding good, solid evidence is very rare.
We face a lot of problems in Afgthanistan, but at least one of them isn't a unified insurgency, which made Vietnam that much harder. Winning here, I think, is going to take longer than Iraq.
November 13, 2008
Afghanistan Briefing - 12 November 2008 - Building the Afghan National Army
This briefing is by Major General Robert Cone, Commanding General of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. On Wednesday he spoke via satellite from Kabul with reporters at the Pentagon.
From it's website, the mission statement of CSTC-A:
Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan in conjunction with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan (ISAF) and the International Community, and nested with the US Forces - Afghanistan Commander's intent, plans, programs and implements the generation and development of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) in order to enable GIRoA to achieve security and stability in Afghanistan.
As stated, CSTC-A reports to ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), the NATO operation in Afghanistan. This is separate from OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom), the main U.S. effort in that country.
Note; yes this means there is a split command in Afghanistan, which is a problem. Gen. Barry McCaffrey (ret) said yes it's a problem, and in another post I explained why the command is split (short version; some of our allies are "wobbly")
I may be missing a step, but somewhere Maj. Gen. Cone reports to General David D. McKiernan, the U.S. commander of ISAF. He, in turn, reports to Gen. David Petraeus, newly installed as commander of CENTCOM. Petreus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.
There was much of interest in this briefing, and it was primarily focused on building the Afghan National Army.
From Gen. Cone's opening remarks:
GEN. CONE: ...The ANA (Afghan National Army) are leading about 60 percent of the operations they participate in and have proven themselves as an effective fighting force. The ANA is also in the midst of expanding from their current strength of 68,000 to an end strength of about 134,000. Last year, we trained and added some 26,000 soldiers to the Afghan National Army. This year, we plan to expand the ANA by an additional 28,000.
This expansion is much more than raw numbers, though. The Afghan National Army is undergoing at the same time a significant force modernization effort. We are already well into the fielding the force with NATO weapons and also have begun fielding up-armored humvees.
From FM 3-24, the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual the importance of an indigenous army.
6-1 Success in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations requires establishing a legitimate government supported by the people and able to address the fundamental causes that insurgents use to gain support. Achieving these goals requires the host nation to defeat insurgents or render them irrelevant, upholding the rule of law, and provide a basic level os essential and security for the populace. Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation (HN) security force.
6-29 Training HN (host nation) security forces is a slow and painstaking process. It does not lend itself to a "quick fix".
Yes, but does it have to be this hard? I guess it's all part of that Clausewitzian friction:
Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction which no man can imagine exactly who has not seen war.
All of which is a fancy way of saying that war is harder than it looks.
On to the Q & A
Some people say that we should shift resources from Iraq to Afghanistan. If we were to do so, how soon might additional resources make a difference? Could we accelerate the development of the ANA?
Q General, it's Tom Bowman with NPR. There's a lot of talk here in all the reviews going on of Afghanistan about accelerating the training of the Afghan security forces. And when I was over there, they said it will take five years to double the size of the Afghan army to 134,000. And I'm wondering, can you accelerate that number? Can you shave off some of that time? And to do that, how many more trainers would you need? Have you estimated that?
GEN. CONE: Yes, we have. I would say that we are working on a number of options that would accelerate the development of the army far faster. I think right now the current plan would complete the army by the third quarter of 2013. And again, we're working on a plan that essentially would shave seven quarters off of that and deliver the 134k army by 2011. The key point would be a lot of the light infantry capabilities needed in the current fight would be delivered a lot sooner.
In fact, our challenge in the near term would be really three things that I think when you deal with the rapid acceleration of a force like this -- the first is sort -- is the dearth of human capital.
And I just had a very excellent conversation with the minister of defense today, talking about the need to accelerate officer and non- commissioned officer training programs. And again, that's really where we have -- because of the generational loss that has occurred here through years of war, and we really have to focus our energies.
The second complicating factor we have here is certainly the long lead time in terms of the purchase of equipment and the buildout of facilities. Here in Afghanistan, because it is such an austere environment, just to expand training facilities, what we would need are -- certain -- you have to scratch something literally out of the desert to -- to build a training center for the Afghans that can support the kind of quality of life that's necessary to do training in the army.
And then the last point I would make is that all of this has to be done in an accountable manner. And one of the problems you have here with corruption across this country is that you have to closely watch all of the things that you do. So you can't go too quickly or you'll create an environment that might be conducive to a loss of control and accountability. So we have to watch all of that very quickly.
The request in regard to the number of additional trainers that we will need will be about 60 additional training teams. And there are about 12 to 16 trainers depending upon what their purpose is, whether it be -- for instance, logistics is a smaller team; infantry battalion mentors are a slightly larger team.
So yes, we can accelerate, but it's not so simple, and you can only speed things up so much. As Gen. Cone said, if you go too quickly you'll lose control and accountability will suffer.
A bit of history quoted in FM-3-24 is relevant:
"It is a persistently methodical approach and steady pressure which will gradually wear the insurgent down. The government must not allow itself to be diverted either by counter-moves on the part of the insurgent or by the critics on its own side who will be seeking a simpler and quicker solution. There are no short-cuts and no gimmicks - Sir Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam, 1966
Continuing with that line of questioning, Tom Bowman pursues the matter:
Q Have you put that request in, or is that something you're just considering?
GEN. CONE: The Afghans, I will tell you, are -- are moving out. I can tell you that we've already started in -- intake. We normally recruit about 2,000 Afghan recruits a month, and this month nearly 3,950 entered the training centers. And so we are -- the Afghans, within their capability and within their program, are going to aggressively move as fast as possible.
And when I say we can grow 28,000 in a year and bring eight battalions online sooner than was projected, I think if we, in fact, can meet those three constraints that I talked about, we could, in fact, go faster. And what we're looking at right now is getting the budgetary resources to have that -- that sort of flexibility.
Q Again, have you requested those 60 additional teams?
GEN. CONE: Yes. They are a part of the current requests for forces that are working both through NATO and through the U.S. channel.
So we'll see whether President Obama sends the additional resources to Afghanistan that he's been promising. If he does so, hopefully he'll do so without taking them prematurely from Iraq, or we're just robbing Peter to pay Paul.
This next exchange is also important in light of the financial crisis and our incoming administration:
Q This Daphne Benoit with Agence France-Presse. Good morning.
Given the resistance of NATO allies to contribute more, in Afghanistan, but also given the context of the financial crisis, are you concerned that you might experience a financial shortage, at some point, to fund your training programs? And can you remind us of the estimated cost of that program, please?
GEN. CONE: Actually I think everyone is aware of the financial crises and issues that are working currently both in the United States and around the world. But I think from our perspective, what we focus on, our request to the U.S. government, through the U.S. Congress, through the Department of Defense, and I'm relatively certain that they will make assessments, in regard to what is financially feasible. So our job is to really focus on the military dimensions of this and to allow others to make those kinds of assessments.
We have been told that a president Obama will be able to better work with our allies than was President Bush. Now that he's been elected, we shall see.
Lastly, the Sons of Iraq program (originally called Concerned Local Citizens) were very successful and contributed towards defeating the insurgency. It has been much discussed in the Iraq briefings I've covered. Would such a program work in Afghanistan?
Q General, Tom Bowman again with NPR.
As you know, there's a lot of talk about working more closely with the tribes over in Afghanistan. The word you keep hearing is empowering the tribes. Some say you should follow the model of Iraq, create maybe a Sons of Iraq-style program, sort of armed community watch kind of thing. Is that a good model, do you think, for Afghanistan?
GEN. CONE: I think there are a number of good ideas that come out of the experience in Iraq that we put to use here on a regular basis. I think that there is willingness today among senior Afghan government officials to engage in some form of -- actually the term they prefer to use is community engagement. And I think the point that I would make is there's some 425 tribes here in Afghanistan and oftentimes a single tribe might be on one side of a valley and another tribe on the other side. So you need to be careful about which tribe you engage because they may have traditional hostile rivalries, etcetera.
The notion the Afghan government is talking about today really focuses on community engagement that would take sort of an accumulation of the multitude of tribes that might be in an area and use a shura to provide additional members to assist in security. Typically the area they talk most about is in regard to highway security, the emerging requirement that we have there. So I think we're looking very carefully at the experience in Iraq, looking for lessons learned, but certainly doing it with a real sensitivity to the unique situation that we find on the ground here in Afghanistan, and trying to find the right mix. And I could tell you that the Afghan government, the ISAF leadership and CSTC-A are all involved in those discussions and I think we'll be fairly soon trying to work through some of those in meeting with some local tribal elders to further explore what is the right variant of that program for Afghanistan.
In response to a follow up question, Gen. Cone said that a decision on whether to proceed with such a program would come in a few months.
Surely there are lessons we can learn from Iraq. But each country is different, and must be approached as separate problem. FM-24 makes it clear that the nature of an insurgency can vary dramatically from one village to the next, and the counterinsurgents must vary their approach accordingly. Given this, the differences from one country to the next are even greater.
But all in all an interesting briefing and much can be learned from it.
September 17, 2008
The Trouble with Afghanistan
Steve Schippert, writing for the military blog over at National Review, illustrates today why Afghanistan is so hard to win.
In the first post, he quotes an AP story in which the Pakistani military says they'll fire on U.S. troops that cross the border:
Pakistan's military has ordered its forces to open fire if U.S. troops launch another air or ground raid across the Afghan border, an army spokesman said Tuesday. ...
Pakistani officials warn that stepped-up cross-border raids will accomplish little while fueling violent religious extremism in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Some complain that the country is a scapegoat for the failure to stabilize Afghanistan.
Pakistan's civilian leaders, who have taken a hard line against Islamic militants since forcing Pervez Musharraf to resign as president last month, have insisted that Pakistan must resolve the dispute with Washington through diplomatic channels.
"The orders are clear," Abbas said in an interview. "In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire."
The issue is that al Qaeda, Taliban, and their allies (see Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser's press briefing) are hiding out in the Waziristan region of Pakistan. This is an area that is not and has never been controlled by the government in Islamabad. Ever since 9/11, at our urging the Pakistanis have sent their military into Waziristan many times, and each time have been defeated. Because they can't do the job, we have sent in our military.
As Schippert notes, there was even apparently an agreement of the sort on the matter:
Rules of Engagement (ROE) agreed to since 2001 have stated that US forces can cross into Pakistan up to 6 miles if they are in "hot pursuit" of retreating Taliban/al-Qaeda attackers. That appears out the window with this order. It should be, or should be treated as such by American forces. If not, then there will most assuredly be an event of 'confusion' and a very hot battle with disastrous results.
Even this, it appears, is now out the window.
In his second post, Schippert quotes a Reuters story in which it looks like the Bush Administration may have thrown in the towel, at least as far as using overt acts of force is concerned.
The Bush administration is unlikely to use commando raids as a common tactic against militant safe havens in Pakistan due to the high-stake risks to U.S. policy in the region, officials and analysts say.
Bush approved a U.S. commando assault in Pakistan's South Waziristan on Sept. 3, without Islamabad's permission, as part of a presidential order on clandestine and covert operations, officials and sources familiar with the matter said.
Bush's authorization for the use of ground forces without Pakistani approval was part of a larger ramp-up in U.S. strikes against militant safe havens along the shared border with Afghanistan.
As the rest of the Reuters story makes clear, the reason we have been raiding into Pakistan is that the latter has been completely unwilling or unable to do anything about the terrorists in their country. U.S. officials grew frustrated with the enemy having a sanctuary, and decided to do something about it.
How Did We Get Here?
In the past seven years we have tried to persuade, bribe, threaten, and cajole the Pakistanis into doing something about the terrorists in Waziristan. As indicated earlier, they have tried but failed.
Part of the reason they have failed is that they're not entirely enthusiastic about the job. The reason for that is that far too many Pakistanis are sympathetic to al Qaeda and/or the Salafist tradition within Islam("Islamists"). It's not so much that they are "anti-American", though they are that too, but that they are Islamist. It is well known that the ISI (InterServices Intelligence, their version of the KGB, and basically a state within a state) is run through with Islamists. Given that the secret police (essentially what they are) are always very influential in such societies, we should not be surprised that not many people want to do much about al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their allies.
This was not what Pakistan was supposed to be. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the "father of the nation", had in mind a secular state.
The story is of course quite complicated, but essentially the country started down the path to where it is today under the rule of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who ran the place from 1977 until his death in a mysterious plane crash in 1988. He instituted Sharia law and long story short we now have massive Saudi (read Wahhabist) funding of Pakistani Madrassas. The Muslim Brotherhood is also active in the country.
Andy McCarthy outlines the whole sad story in an excellent piece published after Benazir Bhutto's assassination in which he starts off with a few arresting statistics:
A recent CNN poll showed that 46 percent of Pakistanis approve of Osama bin Laden.
Aspirants to the American presidency should hope to score so highly in the United States. In Pakistan, though, the al-Qaeda emir easily beat out that country's current president, Pervez Musharraf, who polled at 38 percent.
President George Bush, the face of a campaign to bring democracy -- or, at least, some form of sharia-lite that might pass for democracy -- to the Islamic world, registered nine percent. Nine!
That gets your attention.
No doubt the number of Pakistanis who support al Qaeda goes up and down, so who knows what the number is now. Nevertheless, the "real Pakistan", he says, is not a pretty place
The real Pakistan is a breeding ground of Islamic holy war where, for about half the population, the only thing more intolerable than Western democracy is the prospect of a faux democracy led by a woman -- indeed, a product of feudal Pakistani privilege and secular Western breeding whose father, President Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, had been branded as an enemy of Islam by influential Muslim clerics in the early 1970s.
The real Pakistan is a place where the intelligence services are salted with Islamic fundamentalists: jihadist sympathizers who, during the 1980s, steered hundreds of millions in U.S. aid for the anti-Soviet mujahideen to the most anti-Western Afghan fighters -- warlords like Gilbuddin Hekmatyar whose Arab allies included bin Laden and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the stalwarts of today's global jihad against America.
The real Pakistan is a place where the military, ineffective and half-hearted though it is in combating Islamic terror, is the thin line between today's boiling pot and what tomorrow is more likely to be a jihadist nuclear power than a Western-style democracy.
Ouch. That's a reality wake up.
For a dissenting view see Max Boot's The Real Real Pakistan, in which he disagrees with McCarthy and says that the reason we're not liked over there because of our past support for dictatorships. I side with McCarthy, but Boot is no dummy and does make good points.
What are We to Do?
While additional troops from both the United States and our (mostly unwilling) allies are to be desired, this issue with sanctuary in Waziristan illustrates why Afghanistan is so difficult to win. While the insurgency in Iraq receives support from Syria and Iran, the insurgents there could never rely on those countries as absolute sanctuaries and still conduct a meaningful war in Iraq. Said another way, the insurgency there was winnable in Iraq alone without going after them in Iran or Syria. In Afghanistan it's not clear that it's winnable without destroying their bases in Pakistan.
Further, it's clear that any such drivel such as "we need to engage in hard-headed diplomacy" with the Pakistanis "on a basis of mutual respect" or that "we need to pressure the Pakistanis" that we hear, whether from Barack Obama or John McCain, can be dismissed out of hand. Anyone who thinks that the problem can be solved by diplomacy of any sort isn't paying attention.
Get out a map. We can't even get to Afghanistan except through Pakistan. According to Schippert, this time writing at ThreatsWatch, "70% of the NATO supplies reach the forces in Afghanistan" through the Khyber Pass, which is on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Point is that everything we do with Pakistan is like walking on eggs - if we lose Pakistan, or annoy them enough so that they shut off access through their country, we're going to have a heck of a time keeping anything going in Afghanistan.
I don't think there is a short-term solution. The best we can do is clandestine raids and try to buy what militias or local leaders ("warlords" as they're sometimes called in the press) that we can. We probably won't win in this area until we make progress in the overall war on jihadism. And that's too big a subject for this post, but one I've addressed elsewhere; look under "Categories" at right.
Schippert at the Threatswatch, agrees
However, the ultimate solution to the defeat of al-Qaeda in Pakistan is one centered on a popular civilian rejection of al-Qaeda and the Taliban where they lay in Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghanistan border. This was how al-Qaeda was defeated in Iraq, and decisively so. The central question is how can we (to ideally though not assuredly include Pakistani forces) protect the citizens and their villages in order to embolden them to stand up against the terrorists? We need to identify who they are and how we can gain their trust - and be prepared to do what's necessary to keep it, just as we did in Iraq. But even more fundamentally, do enough of them actually even want to?
He's basically arguing along the lines of Walid Phares that it's a War of Ideas. I think there's a lot of merit to that.
But on the whole subject of Afghanistan and Pakistan, I'm open to all ideas.
September 9, 2008
Afghanistan Briefing - 05 September 2008 - We're Not Winning
This briefing is by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, Commander of Combined Joint Task Force-101, and Commanding General, 101st Airborne Division. He spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon last Friday.
There are two military operations in Afghanistan. Combined Joint Task Force-101 is part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The other is International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is the NATO operation. Between the two OEF does the vast majority of the fighting. Besides the United States, Canada, the UK, and The Netherlands have done the most as part of OEF. ISAF consists mainly of European countries, and its Rules of Engagement prevent it from doing much serious fighting. Among other things, this violates the principle of Unity of Command, something pointed out by ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey in his July report on the situation.
The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.
What is remarkable about this briefing is how different the questions from the reporters were compared to the Iraq briefings. In the latter, the journalists accept the claims of remarkable progress and direct their questions elsewhere. They've come to accept that we are winning the war against the insurgents and the "battle" is now moving to the political sphere.
With Afghanistan, however, the reporters clearly believe that we are in trouble. Many times during this briefing they asked Gen. Schloesser whether we were winning. Here's how it went:
Gen. Schloesser gave a very long and rather boring opening statement, which was notable for what he didn't say; that we're making progress. Since most of it is not worth reprinting, here are a few brief excerpts:
GEN. SCHLOESSER:..You know, we've got a lot of other coalition and international partners here in eastern Afghanistan, and I probably haven't done a great job of highlighting them to the public. I'd like to highlight one for you, and that is, is our Egyptian hospital. You know, I'd asked for some numbers just recently as I was preparing for this, and what I found out is that our great Egyptian docs and nurses and Corpsmen have treated over 31,000 local nationals in about a four- month time frame, since in April. That number is really amazing, and in counterinsurgency being able to do things like that is absolutely critical as we help improve the quality of life.
That Egypt supplies a hospital is great but the fact is that we need allies who will fight. As I've documented many times, we don't have many who will.
GEN. SCHLOESSER:..What we're trying to do is to address the enemy intent to really cut away our gains from last year in Khost, or Khost (using alternate pronunciation), which is a pretty significant province as far as commercial gains as well as people. And it's right on that area that borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a critical area, you know, for movement back and forth.
There is a road that we are trying to build. It's a $100 million road, 101 kilometers, between the city of Khost and the city of Gardez. It goes through a 10,000-mountain -- a 10,000-foot pass. It's a story unto itself, because we know the enemy has decided that they don't want us to build the road, they don't want to have the development in that area, and they realize that this road will help link government, whether it's from Kabul or whether it's from the province, to a bunch of villages as well as towns in that area.
Again, this is fine but what about defeating the Taliban and other various insurgent groups?
GEN. SCHLOESSER:..I would say definitely they'll continue to try to attempt what I -- what we would call, you know, spectacular attacks like you're seeing from time to time in Kabul and other cities, such as in Khost. They'll continue to use indiscriminate weapons, such as IEDs. Since January of this year through the end of August, they've increased their IED attacks in Afghanistan by about 30 percent over that same period of time last year. And I mean, it's really clear when I look at the numbers, though, the people that they're killing first and foremost are innocent civilians and then Afghan national security forces, predominantly police, Afghan National Army less so, and then the coalition forces even less after that..
I believe they're going to continue to drive a wedge between our international partners by deliberately causing civilian casualties, as well as attempting to weaken international resolve by targeting our alliance partner nations -- their forces here, rather. They're going to continue their attack against the symbols of governance, such as district centers -- those attacks are up 40 percent this year from last year -- as well as schools. And they'll continue to try to create a perception of pressure on Kabul, especially I think to disrupt the upcoming presidential elections which will occur here in 2009...
Enough. Long on hope and short on accomplishments. This sounds like Iraq circa 2006. It is not at all like the Iraq briefings we get.
Lastly, from his opening statement, here's something important:
GEN. SCHLOESSER:..I'm going to ask for more troops. I think it's pretty commonly known that I already have. And I'm optimistic that we'll potentially see them in the coming months...
That confirms what we've known; that we need more troops in Afghanistan. And I'll repeat what I've always said; we need a larger overall military, we do not need to take them from other areas where they're needed, as Iraq.
In 2004-5, when the insurgency heated up in Iraq, Bush and Rumsfeld took a gamble; that we could defeat it quickly with the troops we had. We lost.
Unfortunately if this story over at Yahoo News is right, Gen Schloesser is not going to get his additional troops.
On to the Q & A.
Q General, this is Bob Burns from AP. In regard to your request for additional U.S. troops, and given your stated expectation of very significant enemy activity this winter, how urgent is that requirement, and what are the consequences of not getting it in the next few months?
GEN. SCHLOESSER: Okay. Well, first let me just say that we're not losing a war out here, by any means, you know. So it's not something that is in extremis or it's life or death to the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen that we have here. But however, if we're going to continue to make good progress in a timely way, which is what I believe the American people want and desire, and clearly that's what the international community wants, and the Afghans do, as well, then I believe that more forces are required. And I think that over the next several months we can put them, certainly, to good use.
Q Could you address the second part of my question about the consequences of not getting them in a timely manner?
GEN. SCHLOESSER: I'm sorry, I thought I did that in the front. We're not losing this war, and we won't lose them if those troops don't show up in the next several months. Again I'll reiterate, though, if we're going to try to do this in a more timely way and be as effective as I want to be and as I've laid out for you and, you know, maintain the momentum and get after this winter campaign, then we're going to need them, you know, within, say, the winter time frame.
Gen. Schloesser certainly seems defensive. Burns didn't even ask whether we were winning and Gen Schloesser went right to the "we're not losing this war."
And later, in another exchange with an unknown reporter:
GEN. SCHLOESSER:...Are we losing this war? Absolutely no way. Can the enemy win it? Absolutely no way. The Afghans won't allow -- and the Afghan National Army is well beyond that already.
Q (Off mike) -- follow up too quickly. I'm sorry. Are you winning?
GEN. SCHLOESSER: I'm sorry. I -- did you ask me if I'm winning?
MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike) -- yes, that was the follow-up question.
GEN. SCHLOESSER: Yeah, I'm sorry. I thought I'd answered it towards the end there. Maybe I got cut off.
What I said was -- is, at this point in time we need more resources to continue this endeavor in a timely fashion. We are not losing it, and the enemy cannot win, even given what we have here now.
But if we want to proceed onwards and make the improvements that I've laid out, yes, we're going to have to continue to do what I've asked and already said.
And later, again we have this exchange:
Q Hi, General. Jeff with Stars and Stripes. I just wanted to see if I understood your answer to Tom's question correctly. When you said you are not losing, are you saying that you are winning?
Q (?) (Off mike) -- one more shot at it.
GEN. SCHLOESSER: I can see the columns tomorrow in all of the -- (inaudible). Look, you know, the truth is -- is that I -- I feel like, you know, we're making some steady progress. It's a slow win, I guess, is probably what we're accomplishing right on over here. It's not the way that I think both the Afghans, the international community and the American people would like to see us conduct this war. It will take longer the way we are doing it right now as far as the level of resources that we have. I'd like to speed that up.
So it's a slow win. I want to make it into a solid, strong win. It's going to take time, no matter what, but I'd like to do it in a more robust way.
Wow. You don't get anything like this in any of the Iraq briefings, and I've seen just about every one since the start of the surge in early 2007.
Whether we're losing in Afghanistan or not I don't know. But we're determinately not winning, and the reporters know it. And with all due respect to the general, we can lose - if we give up and go home. Do not discount this possibility. Afghanistan is a much tougher nut to crack than Iraq, and I can see a U.S. president someday deciding the whole thing's not worth it.
It'll be awhile before we can shift significant forces from Iraq to Afghanistan. It'd be nice if our "allies" would step up, but we all know they won't. In the meantime, the situation will most likely remain a stalemate.
September 1, 2008
Gen. Barry McCaffrey Report - July 2008 - Afghanistan
Gen Barry McCaffrey (ret) has recently returned from Afghanistan and on July 30 issued an After Action Report. I know this post is a bit late but I was out of action for much of August. I haven't always agreed with Gen. McCaffrey, but he is an experienced soldier and his opinion seems honest and devoid of allegiance to either party.
You must download and read the report yourself. It is important to note that Gen. McCaffrey did not just wander around in Afghanistan for awhile talking to whomever he met, but had scheduled a series of meetings with a variety of military officers, diplomats, and advisers in different disciplines. As he notes up front
This report is based on a series of briefings and conversations at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) in Mons, Belgium and then subsequent field observations in Afghanistan while accompanying General John Craddock SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander, Europe ) during his command update visit. I am very appreciative that the JCS Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen approved the trip and gave me his own take on the situation prior to my travel in theater.
The best part about McCaffrey's reports is that he lists his conclusions up front in quick easy to digest bullet points. Here is his "Bottom Line: Six Assertions," along with my comments after each:
1) Afghanistan is in misery. 68% of the population has never known peace. Life expectancy is 44 years. It has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world: One of six pregnant Afghan women dies for each live birth. Terrorist incidents and main force insurgent violence is rising (34% increase this year in kinetic events.) Battle action and casualties are now much higher in Afghanistan for US forces than they are in Iraq. The Afghan government at provincial and district level is largely dysfunctional and corrupt. The security situation (2.8 million refugees); the economy (unemployment 40% and rising, extreme poverty 41%, acute food shortages, inflation 12% and rising, agriculture broken); the giant heroin/opium criminal enterprise ($4 billion and 800 metric tons of heroin); and Afghan governance are all likely to get worse in the coming 24 months.
Liberals and Democrats will not want to hear this, but the truth is that between Iraq and Afghanistan the latter is the tougher nut to crack. Iraq was always more winnable as long as we had the willpower, correct strategy, and number of troops. In other words, if you think Iraq is a mess wait until you read McCaffrey's entire report on Afghanistan. And by "mess", I'm not talking about our forces or those of our allies, but about the indigenous situation.
If we hadn't invaded Iraq but rather concentrated on Afghanistan as we're told we should have done, we'd most likely have a similar situation in Afghanistan to what we have today, and an Iraq mostly free of sanctions, causing trouble in the region, and on the way to rebuilding it's stockpile of WMD.
2) The magnificent, resilient Afghan people absolutely reject the ideology and violence of the Taliban (90% or greater) but have little faith in the ability of the government to provide security, justice, clean water, electricity, or jobs. Much of Afghanistan has great faith in US military forces, but enormous suspicion of the commitment and staying power of our NATO allies.
Suspicious of the "commitment and staying power of our NATO allies?" I thought this was the war we were all supposed to be in favor of? You mean that they're not committed?
3) The courageous and determined NATO Forces (the employable forces are principally US, Canadian, British, Polish, and Dutch) and the Afghan National Army (the ANA is a splendid success story) cannot be defeated in battle. They will continue to slaughter the Pashtun insurgents, criminals, and international terrorist syndicates who directly confront them. (7000+ killed during 2007 alone.) The Taliban will increasingly turn to terrorism directed against the people and the Afghan National Police. However, the atmosphere of terror cannot be countered by relying mainly on military means. We cannot win through a war of attrition. The economic and political support provided by the international community is currently inadequate to deal with the situation.
Sounds like the people running the Afghan campaign need to read Gen. Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. The "international community" also needs to be whacked over the head.
4) 2009 will be the year of decision. The Taliban and a greatly enhanced foreign fighter presence will: strike decisive blows against selected NATO units; will try to erase the FATA and Baluchi borders with Afghanistan; will try to sever the road networks and stop the construction of new roads (Route # 1 -- the Ring Road from Kabul to Kandahar is frequently now interdicted); and will try to strangle and isolate the capital. Without more effective and non-corrupt Afghan political leadership at province and district level, Afghanistan may become a failed state hosting foreign terrorist communities with global ambitions. Afghan political elites are focused more on the struggle for power than governance.
This doesn't portend well for the future.
5) US unilateral reinforcements driven by US Defense Secretary Bob Gates have provided additional Army and Marine combat forces and significant enhanced training and equipment support for Afghan security forces. This has combined with greatly increased US nation-building support (PRT's, road building, support for the Pakistani Armed Forces, etc.) to temporarily halt the slide into total warfare. The total US outlay in Afghanistan this year will be in excess of $34 billion: a burn rate of more than $2.8 billion per month. However, there has been no corresponding significant effort by the international community. The skillful employment of US Air Force, Army, and Naval air power (to include greatly expanded use of armed and reconnaissance UAV's : Predator, Reaper, Global hawk, and Shadow) has narrowly prevented the Taliban from massing and achieving local tactical victories over isolated and outnumbered US and coalition forces in the East and South.
"No corresponding significant effort by the international community." That Gen. McCaffrey hammers at this in each of his points is significant. The question is, why haven't they stepped up?
Liberals and Democrats usually point to Iraq and claim that we squandered post-9/11 goodwill through an ill-considered invasion. No doubt that it did not make us popular, and indeed earned us a good deal of enmity. But what would it say about our "allies" if indeed they were holding back in Afghanistan because of Iraq? It would say that they're a bunch of petulant children too immature to act in their own best interests because they did not get their way elsewhere. Tempting though it may be for me to say this is the reason for their behavior, I think it really lies elsewhere.
My take is that our "allies" do not support our efforts in Afghanistan for several interrelated reasons. The biggest problem is that they do not see the reality of the Jihadist threat. Most of them believe that the terrorists will leave them alone if they do not stir the hornets nest. After all, most do not even see the threat from within their own borders from their restless Muslim populations. Related to this is the effect of cradle-to-grave socialism on the psyche. It's what Mark Steyn called the "softening and feminization of the Western world" in his best-seller America Alone. In Europe, he says, "the soft culture is so pervasive - state pensions, protected jobs, six weeks of paid vacation, lavish unemployment benefits if the thirty-five-hour work week sounds too grueling - that the citizen is little more than a junkie on the state narcotic." Add to this the moral confusion of multiculturalism and you get a society in which the people don't care about anything but their own health care and pensions.
I'm not at all saying that the Bush Administration couldn't have done a better job. I've stated many times on this blog that they've done a miserable job at getting our message out and tapping our vast reservoirs of "soft power." What I am saying is that if you think that the reason NATO isn't stepping up is because of the Bush Administration and Iraq you're wrong.
6) There is no unity of command in Afghanistan. A sensible coordination of all political and military elements of the Afghan theater of operations does not exist. There is no single military headquarters tactically commanding all US forces. All NATO military forces do not fully respond to the NATO ISAF Commander because of extensive national operational restrictions and caveats. In theory, NATO ISAF Forces respond to the (US) SACEUR...but US Forces in ISAF (half the total ISAF forces are US) respond to the US CENTCOM commander. However, US Special Operations Forces respond to US SOCOM.....not (US) SACEUR or US CENTCOM. There is no accepted Combined NATO-Afghan military headquarters. There is no clear political governance relationship organizing the government of Afghanistan, the United Nations and its many Agencies, NATO and its political and military presence, the 26 Afghan deployed allied nations, the hundreds of NGO's, and private entities and contractors. There is little formal dialog between the government and military of Pakistan and Afghanistan, except that cobbled together by the US Forces in Regional Command East along the Pakistan frontier.
Part of the problem with establishing unity of command is that too many of our European "partners" simply do not want to fight. They're willing to contribute troops; as long as they're kept in safe locations where there is little chance they'll incur casualties. In other words, they're there so that they can say they are "doing something." The only countries really fighting are us, Canada, the UK, and The Netherlands.
This said, "without NATO we are lost in Afghanistan." We cannot do it alone unless we drastically increase our spending, and this is not going to happen. The next president has got to whack some sense into the Europeans.
How do we win? McCaffrey tells us that
The battle will be won in Afghanistan when there is an operational Afghan police presence in the nation's 34 provinces and 398 Districts. The battle will be won when the current Afghan National Army expands from 80,000 troops to 200,000 troops with appropriate equipment, training, and leadership and embedded NATO LNO teams. (Afghanistan is 50% larger than Iraq and has a larger population.) The battle will be won when we deploy a five battalion US Army engineer brigade with attached Stryker security elements to lead a five year road building effort employing Afghan contractors and training and mentoring Afghan engineers. The war will be won when we fix the Afghan agricultural system which employs 82% of the population. The war will be won when the international community demands the eradication of the opium and cannabis crops and robustly supports the development of alternative economic activity.
Elsewhere McCaffrey praises the "superb" U.S. troops but also that "much of our ground and air equipment is falling apart."
We need more troops, and more money for equipment. But we can get them both without taking them from the required fight in Iraq. I've said for a long time that we should spend more on our military. One thing we can do is eliminate wasteful things like the U.S. Department of Education and spend the savings building the five battalion US Army engineer brigade that McCaffrey talks about.
So we've got our work cut out for us in Afghanistan. Whoever is elected president will have the luxury of inheriting an Iraq that is mostly won (thank you to President Bush who finally saw the light). They'd better step up to the plate.
July 19, 2008
Afghanistan Briefing - 16 July 2008 - Border Problems
This briefing was by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen. The former needs no introduction, and the latter is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Last week they visited Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
What was most interesting about this briefing was their frank discussion about the problems along the border with Pakistan. From Adm. Mullen's opening statement:
ADM. MULLEN:..As many of you know, I visited Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan last week. For me, the trip was all about expectations -- expectations I had going over and new expectations I formed while I was there.
In Iraq, for example, I fully expected to find security conditions much improved, and they were. I did not expect, however, that those conditions would be at such a level that I could walk the Jamila market in Sadr City, or visit an outpost in what had recently been one of the most violent neighborhoods in Mosul, or that Iraqi security forces would now have the confidence and the command to take the lead as much as they are.
In Afghanistan, as I expected, the fight remains tough and complicated. One need look no further than the well-coordinated attack on the Wanat outpost this weekend to see that the enemy in Afghanistan has grown bolder, more sophisticated and more diverse.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones of those killed in the attack. And my best wishes go to those, American and Afghani (sic), who were wounded.
The bottom line is this. We're seeing a greater number of insurgents and foreign fighters flowing, across the border with Pakistan, unmolested and unhindered. This movement needs to stop. We simply must all do a better job, of policing the border region and eliminating the safe havens, which serve today as launching pads for attacks on coalition forces.
On to the questions from the press corps
Q Mr. Secretary, Admiral Mullen, you were just in Pakistan. Can you tell us how much of this increase in violence, do you believe, is related to Pakistan and what your message was to them, as to how much they need to do more?
And can you afford to wait, until next season or next year, to send more U.S. reinforcements to the commanders there, who have made it clear that they really believe they need more troops now?
ADM. MULLEN: I think the complexity, which we've talked about frequently in recent weeks, of the attacks was certainly represented in what happened in Wanat. And that is, it's a more sophisticated group.
They've been able to train in a safer environment in the safe havens in Pakistan. So that is -- it has become a significant contribution, and it's the freedom of movement across that border.
The increase in violence is tied certainly to that. It's also tied to what I said in my statement, which is -- which is we're generating a lot of increased contact. In particular, the Marines from the two battalions have as well. But the border there is a really critical issue that we're going to have to solve. And certainly that's a message that I delivered to each of the leaders that I visited in Pakistan, and it has to be solved sooner rather than later.
Q And the troops -- U.S. troops?
ADM. MULLEN: Clearly -- and I talked with all our leaders there, and they all indicated that, you know, they need more troops. That's -- that's not inconsistent with what I've said over a significant period of time. It really is, however, that combination of progress -- I mean, I didn't ask them about making progress. They sought me out to ensure that I understood they were making progress. It's a tougher fight. It's a more complex fight. And they need more troops to have the long-term impact that we all want to have there.
We don't need to give up the fight in Iraq to send more troops to Afghanistan. What we need to do is increase the size of the U.S. military. This is the Bush Administration's biggest failure. When it became clear that there was an insurgency in Iraq, they should have gone to Congress and asked for more funds. They did not. The reason, I think, is that Secretary Rumsfeld gambled that they could defeat the insurgency before the strain on our troops took it's toll.
Obviously they lost the gamble. Any history of counterinsurgencies should have told them that fighting one was not like World War II or the Gulf War. They take a long time to defeat, and there are no shortcuts. In fact, as Lt Col. (Dr) David Kilcullen has noted, the shortest time in the twentieth century that it has taken to defeat an insurgency is 10 years. This does not mean that counterinsurgents need the same number of troops the entire 10 years, far from it as insurgencies tend to peter out, not end World War II style. But it does mean that you'll need some level of forces there for many years.
Q Or are you also considering unilateral cross-border operations?
SEC. GATES: We have not -- we will take defensive actions. We have taken defensive actions when fired upon from places right across the border. Generally that's been in counterartillery. And beyond that, I think I won't say.
Q Mr. Secretary and Chairman Mullen, can you tie the two thoughts together of more troops for Afghanistan yet significant issues with the Pakistan border? Is it fair to say that no matter how many U.S troops you put in or coalition troops you put in Afghanistan, without some clarity or some solution to the border issue in Pakistan, it's not going to really reduce the level of violence in Afghanistan?
SEC. GATES: Well, I wouldn't -- let me take a stab at it and then turn to Admiral Mullen. I wouldn't say that no matter how many troops you put in, it wouldn't make any difference. I think clearly it would make a significant difference if you had additional forces.
There is no question that the absence of pressure on the Pakistani side of the border is creating an opportunity for more people to cross the border and to launch attacks. There are efforts underway to try and improve that on both the Pakistani side and on the Afghan and coalition side in Afghanistan. But I think clearly, as the admiral said earlier, there is a real need to do something on the Pakistani side of the border to bring pressure to bear on the Taliban and some of these other violent groups.
ADM. MULLEN: What I would add to that, Tony, is that, you know, where I flew -- which was pretty close to the border -- and in discussions with the brigade commander who's been there for almost 15 months, it's very clear that additional troops will have a big impact on insurgents coming across that border. And I think that would be the case.
It would be much better, clearly, if there was that pressure on the Pakistani side than without it. But clearly, additional troops there would have a significant impact. And so if you -- to get to your question of would it make any difference no matter how many you put in there, absolutely, it would make a difference.
Yes, we need more troops, but as long as the insurgents have a sanctuary in Pakistan problems will continue. The problem needs to be attacked on both sides of the border.
It's all very easy to talk about "pressuring Pakistan", quite another to actually change their behavior. And beyond that, it's not as if someone in Islamabad can simply issue an order and presto it's all solved. Pakistan lacks the capability to "sweep" the border area and deal with all insurgents. Time and again since 2001 they've sent their army into the border regions only to see it defeated.
More to the point, the Pakistanis have internal political difficulties that prevent them from taking decisive action. There is simply much sympathy for Al Qaeda and the Taliban among the population and the army, and especially inside their intelligence service, the ISI (Inter Services Agency). The sobering fact is that the political leaders cannot just issue orders and expect them to be followed.
Q You opened up with a couple of promotions. Yesterday Colonel H.R. McMaster was nominated for his first star, after having been passed over a couple of times. That was just a bare-bones list. Do you care to elaborate on what this means, if anything?
SEC. GATES: Probably not. (Laughs.) (Laughter.)
ADM. MULLEN: Let me -- actually, the one thing I would take some issue with is that he's, quote-unquote, "been passed over." I come from a position when you get selected for admiral or general, you go into the zone and it's an enormously small percentage that get picked. And actually, as years in the service, I think he's either got 23 or 24, having been selected a couple years after that myself, I'm not sure that he's not more junior than many people think.
Delighted with his selection, and I think it says an awful lot about where we are, the kind of fights that we're in and the kind of focus that we need.
I haven't followed Col H.R. McMaster's career as well as I probably should have, but to say he is a rising star (double entendre alert) in the army would if anything be an understatement. I'm hardly sure of all the issues surrounding his possibly delayed promotion, but the bottom line is that I'm glad to learn that he was in fact promoted. We need to hang on to soldiers like him.
Q One question for each of you, if I might.
Mr. Secretary, President Bush said in his news conference at the White House yesterday, quote, "We are surging troops in Afghanistan." Is that true? And if so, where are we surging them? How is that surge unfolding?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that what the president clearly was talking about was the fact that we've sent some 3,500 Marines there. We sent them in the spring. They will come home in November. And that has represented a significant contribution and addition to our capabilities in Afghanistan, if only for the current fighting season.
They have gone into areas in the south where coalition forces and government forces have not been in a long time. And one of the reasons, sadly, that we have suffered so many casualties is that they are engaged in heavy fighting in areas where we have not been engaged before. So I think that's the surge that the president was talking about.
But I would go back also to the beginning of last year, because at the beginning of last year one of my first acts was to extend the brigade of the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan, and then we added another brigade in Afghanistan. You've also seen the Germans and the French up the ante in terms of the number of troops that they are sending. Those troops are going to be flowing from now forward. So I think that there is an effort to bring a number of additional forces to bear.
Obviously we've got work to do in Afghanistan. Oddly, despite the overall smaller size of the insurgency there relative to Iraq, it's the tougher nut to crack. It hasn't really ever had a central government, the infrastructure is lacking even by the standards of the region, the allied command is fractured (most Europeans won't accept our tougher ROE), there is a horrendous and seemingly intractable drug problem that the Taliban use to make tons of money, and the insurgent terrorists have a sanctuary in Pakistan, which for complicated reasons we can't get at.
Winning in Afghanistan is going to take a long time. Even with more troops it'll probably take ten, twenty, or more years. Although this is the war we're all supposed to support, I've noted time and again (and again) that we've basically been betrayed by our "allies." And sorry, but I don't accept the notion that it's all because the evil Bush Administration made them all mad with the invasion of Iraq.
January 28, 2008
Afghanistan Update - Whither Waziristan?
There may be some good news across the border, for the government of Pakistan may be getting ready to start a major new offensive into South Waziristan, the lawless area of that country where so many al Qaeda and Taliban are holed up. Stanley Kurtz reports that it's all terribly complicated, though, because of the significant sympathy for the Taliban and al Qaeda in the government, and indeed thoughout Pakistani society. On the one hand Musharraf wants to defeat the terrorists, but on the other if he is too blatant about military operations he could lose control of his country. Unfortunatly, too many here in the United States do not seem to have an appreciation for the percariousness of Musharraf's rule. Kurtz concludes by noting that
The recent meetings between Adm. William Fallon, the senior American military commander in the Middle East, and the head of Pakistan’s army fit nicely into this picture. America would like to take on the Taliban in its home base in Pakistan before the Taliban’s spring offensive in Afghanistan begins. Musharraf’s political weakness may actually have created precisely the conditions we need to see a serious offensive in Waziristan. Musharraf is trying to prove to us that we need him, and that he can deliver. The Pakistani army’s successful assault on Swat was clearly a confidence builder, and even the Anbar tribal strategy is seeing a kind of revival in a Pakistani context.
Key to defeating our enemy will be ridding them of a sanctuary. The entire situation in Pakistan is impossible and there are no easy answers. Let's look at a few maps
This first one is a general map of the region
This next one focuses on the Wazirisan area of Pakistan
And in this last one we see Tora Bora pinpointed. This, of course, was where Osama bin Laden was likely hiding for a time before fleeing into Pakistan.
As I think we all know by now, the Taliban and al Qaeda have a de facto sanctuary in the Waziristan region of Pakistan. Given enough time, determination, and resources, we can eventually get Afghanistan to the point where it can adequately defend itself against cross-border infiltration by the above. But it would be a whole lot easier of we could deny our enemy their sanctuary.
The problem is that this area of Pakistan has never been effectively governed. When Pakistan was formed in 1948, the government essentially did a deal with the local tribes; we'll let you alone, and in return you don't declare indepenence or harbor those who try and overthrow our government. This worked up until al Qaeda and the Taliban fled to the region, where they found sanctuary. When the government of Pakistan tried to go in and get them it was defeated. On Sept 5, 2006, the Pakistani government signed the Waziristan Accords with the tribes in which the government effectively cried uncle.
The United States cannot simply "go in" and get the Taliban and al Qaeda in Waziristan. There are three primary reasons why this is so.
One is simply that Pakistan will explode if we attack their country. Osama bin Laden is popular, even if people don't necessarily want to be ruled by him. Even since the rulf of General Zia ul-Haq (1977-88), radical madrassas have injected Islamist beliefs into the population to the point where the West in general and the United States in particular are unpopular, and radical Islam is favored. Look again at the maps; if Pakistan falls we can't even get to Afghanistan anymore. Peopl, like Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, who suggest that we should attack into Pakistan, need to consider this likely consequence.
Second is logistics. The region is vast and hard to get to. Road networks are spotty and rail largely nonesistent and certainly unreliable. We can't even get to Afghanistan without going through Pakistan, and there is simply no way that the latter will allow our transit if they think it is to attack their own country. Further, getting enough troops to the Waziristan region to do enough good is logistically impossible. Remember, troops must be supplied and supported. Parachuting them in is all very cool, but unless they are properly supported we'll have another Operation Market Garden on our hands.
Third, even if we sent troops to Waziristan it's not likely they'd find Osama bin Laden. They could do some damage to al Qaeda and the Taliban, but would suffer many cansualties themselves. Would all those who insist that we "get bin Laden" continue their support in the face of mounting casualties? The civilian population would suffer, all of which would be highlighted in the media.
This is not to say that there is nothing we can do. We can supply the Pakistanis with intelligence and other forms of support so that they might be more effective in future invasions. Simply giving them moral support will count.
The second thing we can do is probably what we're doing now; trying to buy off the tribes. This would not be done with Special Forces, but black ops, more like the Vietnam era SOG teams than anything else.
Either way, there are no good options for dealing with this situation. Winning in Afghanistan is going to take years, if not decades, of determined effort. It will be hard and there will be many bad days. Afghanistan is not even as coherent a country as Iraq, so getting it's government and army off the ground are even more difficult. Our "allies" in Europe and Canada are showing signs of wanting out. We'll likely have to fight this with reduced assistance before long. Whether we can stick it out will determine whether the terrorists get their country back.
January 26, 2008
Afghanistan Update - Our Allies
Let's first set the stage with a quick primer on organization.
CENTCOM is the overall US command for the area, and has responsibility for the region. Adm William Fallon commands CENTCOM, and reporting to him are Gen Petraeus of MNF-Iraq. The structure in Afghanistan is a bit more complex than that in Iraq:
There are two separate Allied operations in Afghanistan right now. There is Operation Enduring Freedom, led by the Americans with British participation. And there is the International Security Assistance Force, which is a NATO operation and manned mainly by Europeans and Canadians....Operation Enduring Freedom ... has a more robust mandate and stronger rules of engagement.
ISAF has a long list of Taliban personnel it is prepared to target. These are the so-called high-value targets. However, at times the restrictions on its rules of engagement are ridiculous. If ISAF coalition forces discover a house with two Taliban high-value targets, and four other Taliban fighters who are not on the list of ISAF approved targets, it cannot attack the house. This is not a scenario of protecting civilians but of protecting Taliban targets who are just not specifically on the list. ...
Most European nations that do deploy in Afghanistan do so in the much more relatively peaceful north , rather than the violent south where the Australians are.
That's not encouraging.
Earlier this week I discussed the situation with regards to Canada, and how the public up north was souring on the war. Today we'll cover some of our other allies
There's a brief history of OEF on their website, and it's worth quoting from it a bit just so we have the organization straight
Combined Joint Task Force-82 (CJTF-82) is a U.S.-led subordinate command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). CJTF-82 serves as both the National Command Element for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, reporting directly to the U.S. Central Command commander, and as ISAF’s Regional Command – East.
CJTF-82 is headquartered at Bagram Airfield.
The 82nd Airborne Division has been leading this effort since February 2007.
The ISAF website identifies 39 countries that are participating in some way:
NATO Countries (26) Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada , Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States
Non-NATO Countries (13)
Albania, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Finland, The Former Yoguslav
Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, and Jordan
The number of troops from each country is not listed, and I do not have time to search the website of each country individually. If anyone has that information please leave it and a link in a comment.
On with the Story
First up; the Gates controversy. From The Belmont Club last week
When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates accused NATO forces in Afghanistan as being untrained and unready to conduct counterinsurgency warfare it set off a spasm of transatlantic recrimination. British conservative lawmaker Patrick Mercer called Gates' comments "bloody outrageous". But Gate's remarks were a subsidiary part of a much larger accusation that he made before the House Armed Services Committee in December, 2007 which tellingly evoked not outrage but silence. "I am not ready to let NATO off the hook in Afghanistan at this point," Gates told the House Armed Services Committee. Ticking off a list of vital requirements -- about 3,500 more military trainers, 20 helicopters, and three infantry battalions -- Gates voiced "frustration" at "our allies not being able to step up to the plate." Gates was baldly accusing the NATO allies of reneging on their commitments. To make the criticism even more stinging, these statements coincided with an announcement the US was about to send 3,200 Marines to cover the 7,500 man shortfall in the NATO deployments. The answer to that criticism wasn't outrage but rationalization. The NATO troops, the European allies countered, were bearing the brunt of the fighting against the al-Qaeda/Taliban forces. Bill Roggio looked at the validity of the British claim.
Long story short: Roggio didn't buy it. But follow the link and judge for yourself.
The LA Times has additional information on the committments of our allies. In a story titled" Going It Alone Because We Have To"
The tragedy is that he had to rob Peter to pay Paul because Britain can't maintain 7,000 troops in Iraq and 7,000 in Afghanistan.... Look at Afghanistan, where NATO is always having trouble dredging up an extra helicopter or another infantry battalion to throw into the fray. The British and Canadians are doing more than their share; their willingness to fight hard and take casualties sets them apart from most NATO countries, which prefer to send troops to safe parts of Afghanistan rather than to the front lines in the south and east. But 5,500 British and 2,500 Canadian soldiers can cover only so much ground, even with another 1,500 Brits thrown in. As usual, the United States, with more than 27,000 troops in Afghanistan, is left to carry the lion's share of the burden.
Meanwhile, over at The Corner, John Hood links to a story that shows European public opinion turning against the war in Afghanistan
[F]our years into NATO's mission - the alliance took over ISAF in 2003 - mounting troop and civilian casualties, the latter often caused by airstrikes used when soldiers have been lacking, are turning public opinion.
A survey in Canada in August showed that solid majorities of people in Britain, France, Germany, and Italy thought the ISAF-mission was a failure, while almost one in two Canadians agreed.
A poll in Germany, which has lost more than 20 troops since 2002, found that almost two out of every three people want the government to withdraw its 3,000 troops, even though they are deployed in relatively stable areas.
The Netherlands, which one official said is "punching above its weight class," is expected to renew in coming weeks the mandate of some 1,500 Dutch troops deployed in the southern province of Oruzgan.
Surveys suggest the majority of Dutch people are against an extension.
Responding to this story, Mark Steyn made the obvious but still worth quoting observation:
John, that story on the Nato mission in Afghanistan is very dispiriting. This, after all, is supposed to be "the good war," not like illegal blood-for-oil Iraq. Yet countries that steered clear of Bush's Mesopotamian adventure have no stomach even for a mission with impeccable multilateral bonafides. The Canadians have been taking casualties at a higher rate than the U.S., U.K. or any other nation, but they've also been doing a tough job very well of which their countrymen should be proud. But they're not, not really. Huge numbers of the Canadian public don't support the mission, don't think it's worth it, and want it ended. And so do the Brits and Europeans and most other members of the Nato "alliance."
That's how it would go here, too. When Democrats complain that Iraq is a distraction from the real war in Afghanistan, it's worth remembering that's just a shell game. If America pulled out of Mesopotamia and devoted its attentions to the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan would become the new Democrat-media quagmire in nothing flat.
But the bigger lesson is that most western nations have signaled to the world they have no stomach for any fight. And it's not just the Taliban and al-Qaeda who draw their conclusions from that, but the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans and all kinds of other folks.
This in turn leads to Jonathan Forman's discussion of the "Information Battle Space" last May in National Review. Although it's 8 months old, his observations are still relevant. Forman reviews several stories that had recently appeared in the Western press, all of them critical of European soldiers, accusing them of various atrocities. All were shown to be false, or at least highly questionable.
For the most part, Taliban claims are assumed to be true. Statements by Coalition spokesmen, on the other hand, are a different matter. Such officials are said to make “claims,” and they are essentially assumed to be propagandists, if not flat out liars, by many correspondents....
The critical part though is nearer the beginning of the piece
Make no mistake, the Taliban and their allies, like the Sunni insurgents in Iraq, know perfectly well that they don’t have to defeat the Coalition militarily; all they have to do is undermine the political will of the Western electorates.
It looks like they're succeeding in reducing the will of our allies.
Next up: Whither Waziristan?
January 23, 2008
Afghanistan Update - Who's Winning?
In the wake of their being squeezed out of Iraq, al Qaeda has been "redeploying" assets to Afghanistan. To help counter this, the United States is sending 3,000 additional Marines. Even so, the troops we already have there inflicted a significant defeat on them and their allies, the Taliban, last month.
It's devilishly hard to know who's winning in Afghanistan, because individual battles may prove illusory. At the end of October Michael Yon wrote a pessimistic piece in which he said point blank that "there are many indicators that the Afghan campaign is at this date a complete failure." He discussed many reasons for his conclusion, not the least of which was the ever-increasing drug trade. "Approximately half of Afghanistan’s economy is based on opium", and much of the profit goes to the Taliban and al Qaeda. As with Central America, it's hard to stop at the supply end. And, indeed, this years opium crop was the largest ever.
Eradicating the poppy crop isn't easy as it it sounds. It might not even be desirable, at least in the short run. While some in the Bush Administration are apparently bent on destroying it, others point out that
Poppy eradication is a double-edged sword. Afghanistan provides nine out of every ten grams of heroin sold on the streets of Britain, and officials are determined to stamp out poppy growth. Yet a successful campaign would leave many unemployed as potential recruits for the Taleban. Afghans, ever the pragmatists, have devised their own solution. “We leave some fields without destroying the poppy so everyone is happy . . . otherwise they will go and support the Taleban,” said Aminullah, 21, a policeman with the eradication force in Helmand. "
Yon also points out that although "there is a widespread notion that Afghanistan is safer for our troops than Iraq... Coalition and NATO combat deaths in Afghanistan are per capita nearly identical to those in Iraq."
But then again, there are other credible reports that suggest just the opposite
Back in August Ann Marlowe had a piece in the Wall Street Journal subtitled "Don't believe the naysayers. Afghanistan is doing as well as anyone has a right to expect." She concluded that "on my eighth trip to Afghanistan (last month) I saw that the trend lines are up, not down."
Christian Lowe reported in The Weekly Standard in November that while the fighting was up in Afghanistan, the battles were very one-sided, with the Taliban taking huge losses. While Michael Yon, in his piece linked to above, ominously quoted retired Gen Barry McCaffrey's 2006 report which said that the Taliban were massing in larger formations to attack, Lowe cites an American officer with a different perspective
"In this type of war, when you mass against forces like us . . . without firepower, we're able to destroy them quite easily and we've shown that over the last six to seven months," said Col. Thomas McGrath, the American commander in charge of training Afghan security forces near Kandahar. "They're bringing in cohorts of young men who really don't know any better and it's been a colossal failure for them."
I'm not sure whether to put this next one in the "good news" or "bad news" column, but the U.S. Army has - finally - decided to establish a counterinsurgency school in Afghanistan. Better late than never, I suppose.
So who's winning? I don't know. Noone probably does, and we won't know for a long time. As Lt Col David Kilcullen (one-time senior counterinsurgency advisor to Gen Petraeus) said on the Charlie Rose show, "there has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years."
In other words, we just have to stick it out. Fighting smart is important, but just being there is half the battle. As such, in my next update on Afghanistan I'll discuss the participation of our allies.
January 22, 2008
Afghanistan Update - Canada
I've been ignoring Afghanistan for too long. Over the next few days I'm going to try and pst some of the articles on that war that I've been saving.
Today's Washington Times has a story about Canadian troops in Afghanistan. There is much in the story that is interesting, but this stuck out at me
...like many of the NATO allies fighting in Afghanistan, they find themselves in a two-front public-relations war — struggling for the cooperation of the Afghans as well as the support of a skeptical public at home. And in such a war, perceptions are as important as territory and body counts.
The soldiers charged with defeating insurgents and restoring calm in Zhari District, just 21 miles west of Kandahar, say privately that their jobs have been made much more difficult by aggressive American military tactics.
The "hot-trigger" U.S. troops, they say, created unnecessary tension with the local populations whose support is essential to progress in the war on terror.
Equally damaging, they say, the Americans' indiscriminate use of air power and aggressive interrogation techniques that have eroded support for the mission among Canadian voters and taxpayers.
Poll after poll shows support for Afghan combat is dwindling in Canada, as it is in other countries that have taken significant casualties. Canadians account for more than one-third of the 220 NATO troops who have been killed since 2002 in the United Nations-endorsed action.
Ok ok, so the Canadians think they can do it better. Whatever. My hat is off to the Canadian troops who are there and who have served. If our commanders and their commanders want to argue about the best way to go about doing things that's fine with me. That's not the interesting part.
It's the part that I highlighted that gets me. I though that Afghanistan was the war that "our allies" were all supposed to support,.
Here are some recent polls of Canadians that I found doing a quick google search:
We're not at the critical point yet, but you can see the trend. bty, Canada has 2,000 troops in Afghanistan. Even though their population is much smaller than ours, at just over 33 million, 2,000 is not a huge number.
Forty-seven per cent of Canadians want our troops brought back from Afghanistan as soon as possible.... In Quebec, 57 per cent want the mission to end right away.
The poll showed that only 17 per cent of Canadians want troops to continue in their combat role and 31 per cent said Canadians should remain in Kandahar but turn over the combat role to another NATO country.
We're talking about Afghanistan, not Iraq, if you need reminding.
In your view, is the Canadian mission in Afghanistan:
___________________Apr. 2007_____Feb. 2007
A) A peace mission_____31%__________29%
B) A war mission_______57%__________53%
C) Not sure____________12%__________18%
Apparently it's a subject of great debate whether what we (or they) are doing in Afghanistan constitutes war fighting or peacekeeping. The Canadian public, you see, will support "peacekeeping", but is opposed to war missions.
67% of those asked believe the number of casualties suffered by Canadian troops is unacceptably high, even with whatever progress has been made in rebuilding the war-torn country.
That is a five-point rise from a poll taken a little over a month ago.
Only 25% of respondents said the number of killed and wounded was acceptable.
Bruce Anderson, the CEO of Decima Research, says Canadians are clearly becoming more doubtful about whether progress is being made, in light of the deaths of 66 soldiers and one diplomat.
What in the world is going on here?
Poor Leadership: Another finding of the Angus-Reid poll cited above is that "61 per cent of respondents believe the Conservative government has not effectively explained the mission in Afghanistan." The Canadian public has obviously not bought into the notion that they need to fight in Afghanistan, not just stand around like "peacekeepers". This somewhat mirrors that situation in the U.S. with regard to Iraq. Conservative critics, including me, have said time and again that the Bush Administration has done a miserable job at explaining the stakes in Iraq. It looks like we have a similar situation in Afghanistan.
Ignorance as to the Threat: Most people in Canada and Europe, I think think that the only threat is from outright terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. Even here, though, they tend to think that if they only lay low they can avoid attack themselves. "It's an American problem because of their arrogant foreign policy" seems to be the attitude. As I have demonstrated, however, the entire West is in grave danger.
Unrealistic Expectations: As counter-insurgency expert Lt Col David Kilcullen said a few months ago "There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years." People are still thinking in terms of conventional wars.
Pacifism Peacekeeping missions are fine when appropriate. But there is also a time for fighting. Too many Canadians seem to have degenerated into a moral smugness whereby they believe that peacekeeping missions are so morally superior that's all they will do.
What It's Not: I'm just going to preempt a criticism that often comes from the left: "It's George Bush's fault! If he hadn't invaded Iraq, hadn't been so arrogant..." This argument treats Canadians, and others, as if they were little children. It says that they are unable to reason, and that we must pat them on the head, smile, and say "now be a good Canadian and help us out".
To be sure, President Bush could make the case for Afghanistan better. No doubt Candians and others really do need the eduction about radical Islam Walid Phares is always talking about.
Some will say that without Iraq we'd be concentrating on Afghanistan, but I don't think so. Frankly I think the anti-Iraq crowd would just as soon ignore Afghanistan too, so as to get on with their objective of putting us all under the rule of the EPA. I think that most Democrats just want the whole "War on Terror" to go away.
Am I being too hard on the Canadians? Maybe, but I don't think so. Mind you I am eternally thankful for what Canada has done. I just fear that sooner or later we're going to shoulder more of the burden of Afghanistan too.
August 1, 2007
Here's an Idea Guaranteed to Stir Up Trouble
Let's invade Pakistan.
So says Barack Obama in a speech to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars this morning
...let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.
What exactly Obama means by "act" he doesn't actually say. Maybe he just means a strike with a Hellfire missile from a Preditor drone, maybe special forces lifted in by helicoper, maybe an invasion by the 10th Mountain Division... who knows.
Either way, Obama seems not to understand the import of his words.
The speech is full of tough talk. Obama sounds like a regular warmongering conservative through most of it, full of threats and intimidating talk. It's also full of several outright lies, such as his claiming that the Bush Administration followed a "a deliberate strategy to misrepresent 9/11 to sell a war against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11." But never mind that for now. Jim Geraghty "Fisks" the speech brilliantly over at NRO. I don't have the time tonight to go through it line-by-line.
The main thing that strikes me about the speech is that typical of the left these days it's always to fight another war, to send troops to another location, to talk tough to someone else. Wherever it is we're fighing, he's against it. But boy he's tough when it comes to doing something else. Call me cynical, but I rather think that this speech today is more a response to Hillary's criticsm than anything else. If by some accident he does become president something tells me that the Democrat left will make sure that none of these strong words become action.
It all reminds me of the latter stages of the Cold War, when most Democrats could be counted on to oppose whatever weapons system was currently being proposed by the Pengagon; but in favor of something that was safely years down the road.
Instead of going on, I think that John Podhoretz has it about right so I'll just quote him
Obama is full of it. This country is never — never — going to stage a major military action against Pakistan. Pakistan is a nation of 170 million people that has nuclear weapons and whose admittedly problematic and troublesome regime has, to some extent, cooperated with the United States in the war against Al Qaeda both in ways we know and ways we have no idea about. The concern that this strategically vital county might become an Islamic fundamentalist state is, should be, and will be paramount in every and all discussions about how to conduct the fight against Al Qaeda.
What's more, every serious person knows the United States won't invade Pakistan, even with Special Forces — since the reason we cancelled the proposed action against Al Qaeda in 2005 is that it was going to take many hundreds of American troops to do it. This isn't 15 people dropping like ninjas in the darkness. It's an invasion, with helicopters and supply lines and routes of ingress and escape. It would have had unforseen and unforeseeable consequences, but it would have been reasonable to assume the Pakistanis would have turned violently against the United States and hurtled toward Islamic fundamentalist control.
If the evil Bushitler Cheney Rumsfeld Monster wouldn't do it, nobody will do it. And you can bet there isn't a single person in line to run a Democratic State Department or Democratic Defense Department who would give the idea three seconds of thought. Obama is using Pakistan to talk tough, in the full knowledge that he will never actually pull the trigger.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff is hanging on by a thread. An attack into Pakistan would stir up an already unsettled hornets nest. If he were to be overthrown it is possible that radical Islamists would fill the void. This would be sending us from the frying pan into the fire. Just as the Shah was bad but Khumeini worse, it's hard to see a good outcome to a revolution in Pakistan.
For some reason I can't upload a map of the region tonight, but if you go and find one you'll discover that we can't get to Afghanistan without flying over Pakistan. Close that route off and we're screwed. The only other route from the Persion Gulf is over Iran, and I rather doubt they'll grant permission.
What I Would Do
There is no doubt that al Qaeda and the Taliban are in the Waziristan section of Pakistan, that this is a problem, and that as such we need to do something. That Obama doesn't seem to get that it's not so simple as making aid to Musharraf contingent on acting in the region, he is right that it is a problem we need to deal with.
I think that David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post, has found the best idea
The best answer I've heard comes from Henry Crumpton, a former CIA officer who was one of the heroes of the agency's campaign to destroy al-Qaeda's haven in Afghanistan in late 2001. After retiring from the CIA in 2005, he served as the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism. He resigned from State in February and is now a fellow at the EastWest Institute and a private consultant.
Crumpton argues that the United States must take preventive action but that it should do so carefully, through proxies wherever possible. The right model for a Waziristan campaign is the CIA-led operation in Afghanistan, not the U.S. military invasion of Iraq. Teams of CIA officers and Special Forces soldiers are best suited to work with tribal leaders, providing them weapons and money to fight an al-Qaeda network that has implanted itself brutally in Waziristan through the assassination of more than 100 tribal leaders during the past six years. It would be better to conduct such operations jointly with Pakistan, but if the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf can't or won't cooperate, the United States should be prepared to go it alone, Crumpton argues.
"The United States has an obligation to defend itself and its citizens," says Crumpton. "We either do it now, or we do it after the next attack."
Crumpton proposed a detailed plan last year for rolling up these sanctuaries, which he called the Regional Strategic Initiative. It would combine economic assistance and paramilitary operations in a broad counterinsurgency campaign. In Waziristan, U.S. and Pakistani operatives would give tribal warlords guns and money, to be sure, but they would coordinate this covert action with economic aid to help tribal leaders operate their local stone quarries more efficiently, say, or install windmills and solar panels to generate electricity for their remote mountain villages.
This is a long-term plan but makes a lot of sense to me. CIA paramilitaries, mostly made up of ex-Special Forces and SEAL veterans, could do a lot of damage to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Crumpton's plan seems loosely modeled on the Vietnam-era SOG ("Studies and Observation Group") and other such operations.
So let's go get al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, but let's do so as quietly as possible.
Looks like Obama's stirred up trouble in Pakistan with his comments. Nice guy, but not ready for prime-time.
February 17, 2007
The War The "Allies" Are Supposed To Support
I thought that Iraq was the bad war, but that we were all supposed to agree on the need to win in Afghanistan. So why this AP story "NATO allies question Afghan troop surge"?
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is getting a lukewarm response to his plea for NATO allies to send more troops and aid for a spring offensive in
In his first meeting of NATO defense ministers, Gates said the U.S. made no additional commitments for more troops of its own. Gates recently extended the tour of a brigade in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has 27,000 troops — the most since the war began in 2001.
U.S. and NATO military leaders in recent months have repeatedly called on alliance members to send reinforcements and lift restrictions on where their troops can serve. On Thursday, Gates secured smaller offers from some nations, but he met resistance from key allies.
France and Germany are questioning the wisdom of sending more soldiers, while Spain, Italy and Turkey have also been wary of providing more troops.
Well isn't that special.
excuse reason did our "allies" give?
"When the Russians were in Afghanistan, they had 100,000 soldiers there and they did not win," German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told reporters.
Well no, but they were trying to make the place one of their communist-ruled satellites. If you think Afghan Muslims(the only kind there are) are wary of the US, try an athiest ideology. In case the good German Minister didn't notice, we more or less let the Afghans set up their own government and rule themselves. We're also funding the reconstruction of their country. So it's not the same.
This is not a matter of military incapacity. It is a deliberate refusal of our so-called allies to fight. Supposedly, Europe was with us on Afghanistan. Who but the most radical leftists and pacifists opposed that action? Yet our NATO allies are plainly unwilling to involve themselves in a fight that they themselves said was justified and necessary. If Afghanistan collapses, it will prove that Europe has entirely lost the will to fight.
Just a few weeks ago the Bush Administration requested$10 billion more for Afghanistan, and agreed to send more troops there ourselves to show that we were willing to step it up as well. In fact, 3,200 troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are being diverted from Iraq to Afghanistan. Yet our "allies" have refused to commit more money or troops.
I thought that Afghanistan was the war that we were all supposed to agree was the one we had to win?
Some will no doubt say that the reason why the Europe won't contribute more troops or money is bad diplomacy by President Bush. If that's the case then our "allies" are operating at the grade-school level; "please talk nice to us or we don't do the right thing". And they want us to listen to their advice on what to do about Iran?
So rather than pass stupid and harmful resolutions in Congress, maybe our lawmakers could spend their time trying to find ways to get Europe to help us a little bit.
January 24, 2007
So the anti-war crowd's new line is that they want to win in Afghanistan but not in Iraq.
Last night at the State of the Union speech the Democrats didn't stand up when the President called for victory in Iraq.
How long before they won't stand up when there's a call for victory in Afghanistan?
But the anti-war crowd insists that no, they really and truely want to win in Afghanistan. It's just Iraq that they oppose.
And I believe them, too. I believe that right now that short of the International ANSWER/Code Pink left, they do want to win in Afghanistan. I believe that they want to win, as long as it is politically expedient, that is. Because as soon as it isn't, they'll want to cut-and-run there too.
Supporting the war in Afghanistan has become the latest tool to oppose the war in Iraq.
"We support more troops in Afghanistan!", we are cheerfully told.
Sorry, but I ain't buying it.
Iraq is important in a way that Afghanistan will never be. It is the center of the Middle East, where Afghanistan is a sideshow. I'm not going to review the good reasons we had to invade, suffice it to say that a loss there would be devastating to the West.
Defeat in Iraq will embolden the enemy in Afghanistan. It will also lead to a "redeployment" of forces by the jihadists, who will shift their forces from Iraq to Afghanistan. Do the Democrats realize that a pullout from Iraq will lead to increased attacks on our forces in Afghanistan? Are they ready for additional casualties there?
More to the point, are they willing to commit the money and resources necessary to win in Afghanistan? Sure, leaving Iraq will free up money. But my guess it that before it can be "redeployed" to Afghanistan most of the money be eaten up by domestic spending, with the big-spenders in the GOP happily going along with it. How long before they decide that money can be saved by pulling out of Afghanistan too?
Now, as a matter of record, I think that more troops in Afghanistan would be useful. But anyone who's even taken a cursory look at the situation there knows that as with Iraq it's pretty complicated, and solving it is not just a simple matter of sending more troops.
Besides, the issues in Afghanistan are larger than troop numbers. Let's quickly go over a few of the issues that are preventing a complete victory.
This past summer Pakistan signed an agreement with the Taliban essentially ceding control of North Waziristan to them. Two years ago they signed a similar one giving up South Waziristan. Waziristan is in northwest Pakistan and borders Afghanistan. I can't find the link as present, but have read that the Taliban have 20+ bases there, and al Qaeda at least 5.
So we just go in and take them out, right? Not so fast. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf sits precariously atop a government that is full of anti-American and pro-Taliban Islamists, all of whom would like to overthrow him. Fifty years ago, when Pakistan was formed, it's goverment made a de facto agreement with the tribes of their wild northwestern mountainous
regions. This agreement effectively said "you don't bother us and we won't bother you. You don't support people who want to overthrow us and we'll let you govern yourselves."
It worked out fine until the US discovered that Osama bin Laden was probably hiding there, and we asked the Pakistani government to go and get him. They tried to do so, and thus effectively broke the fifty-year old agreement.
The Pakistanis didn't find OBL, and Musharraf was afraid that if he pissed off the tribes and Islamists too much they'd overthrow him. Since his army was being beaten by the tribes who were aided by the Taliban we chased out of Afghanistan, they decided to do the prudent thing and call a truce.
So if we simply flood Waziristan with American troops, we run a serious risk of all hell breaking lose in Pakistan and Musharraf being replaced with a radical Islamic government. Did I mention that Pakistan has nuclear weapons?
My point here: Since the anti-war crowd isn't willing to take risks in Iraq, what makes you think they'll take risks going after the Taliban inside Pakistan?
If this isn't enough for you to digest, there's the fact that we've been betrayed by our NATO "allies". The reason has more to do with changing demographics in Europe than anything else.
If you want one more vexing problem that won't be solved by adding more troops, there's the issue of the poppy fields. The Taliban make a ton of money off the stuff, and getting rid of it isn't easy. Similar to the situation in Central and South America, farmers grow the stuff because they make more money on it than with traditional food crops. Destroy the crops and they'll trade their plow for a gun and come after us. The only way to solve it that I can see is outbid the Taliban or find another more profitable crop for them to grow.
Will the anti-war crowd be willing to spend the money necessary to get rid of the poppy fields? How long before we're told that we need it here at home for a school lunch program?
Bush's Fault, Too
Although I'm sure some readers won't want to believe this, I do go after both sides when I think they are wrong. I make no secret of my distain for the anti-war left, and think that for all our mistakes the neo-cons are mostly right. But I've gone after the President for screwing things up both domestically and in Iraq, and I'm going to do it again.
Here's the bottom line: Bush fooled around for several years, letting Rumsfeld, Abizaid, and Casey continue on with their "light footprint" strategy. It didn't work. Last year saw the bombing of the Mosque/Golden dome and an escallation in sectarian violence. A year ago he should have fired his generals, if not Rumsfeld, and demanded that more troops be sent while he still had the political capital to do so. Now, finally, he's woken up, but at the political 11th hour.
The President gave a great speech last night, clearly and persuasively laying out the case for victory in Iraq. As with a change in war leadership, he should have done this a year ago.
We shouldn't be surprised that he's lost so much support. The American people want to win, but what they hate is a politician that doesn't seem to have the will to win. Now, the truth may be that Bush had the will but simply bought into the "light footprint" strategy, legitimately thinking that it would work. Perception, however, counts, and many Americans perceived that "light footprint" as a lack of will. Now at the final hour he's decided to send more troops, but many are so fed up that they won't give him one last chance.
There's also the fact that there aren't many more to send, because Bush and the GOP congress spent 6 years increasing domestic spending instead of building up the military.
Back to Iraq
The bottom line is that we're there in Iraq and a victory there for the Jihadists would be devastating for both the Middle East and entire Western world. The communist victory in Vietnam emboldened the Soviet Union for another 10 years. Let's not have another round of Carterism, please.
The most immediate effect of a withdrawal would be a slaughter in Iraq, and then an Iranian influenced or controlled Iraq. The Sunni Arab states would be in an uproar, so if you think there's instability now just wait until we pull out. And then, of course, there's the fact that parts of Iraq would become terrorist training centers. All of this would solve nothing, but would rather only mean fighting by American troops at a later date.
At least the Vietnamese didn't come after us here at home. The Jihadists want to convert the world to Islam or destroy us if we refuse. Laugh if you like but it's the truth. So if you think we've lost a lot of people in Iraq so far, we'll lose a lot more later if we don't win now.
September 14, 2006
Betrayed by NATO
I found this post by Stanley Kurtz at NRO's The Corner particularly interesting
The magnitude of NATO’s failure in Afghanistan is emerging. In retrospect, it’s clear that yesterday’s posts about Norway were preliminary indications of the unraveling scandal. Yes, this failure of the NATO alliance is nothing short of scandalous. American and British troops are stretched to the limit, while the Taliban surges. Behind the scenes, it turns out that our supposed allies in NATO have been shirking their troop obligations in Afghanistan for well over a year. The developing problems in Afghanistan have much to do with this failure. The Telegraph rightly asks, “Has NATO Betrayed Britain on Afghanistan?” In the Independent: “Blair: We need help to stop Afghan failure.” In “Nato nations refuse to commit more troops,” the Telegraph details the minuscule numbers involved.
This is not a matter of military incapacity. It is a deliberate refusal of our so-called allies to fight. Supposedly, Europe was with us on Afghanistan. Who but the most radical leftists and pacifists opposed that action? Yet our NATO allies are plainly unwilling to involve themselves in a fight that they themselves said was justified and necessary. If Afghanistan collapses, it will prove that Europe has entirely lost the will to fight.
Sadly, this is more along the lines of Spain’s capitulation to terrorist blackmail. The same Spanish government that pulled out of Iraq is now among those now refusing to fight in Afghanistan. Fear of internal terrorism by Muslim immigrants likely has much to do with the reluctance of the other Europeans to fight. More broadly, this shows that the West as a whole lacks the troops needed for the war on terror. The failure of will and capacity here is obvious to our enemies, who can only be spectacularly encouraged.
Again, this is Afghanistan, where we’ve been happily multilateral, not Iraq. If NATO cannot fight here, what good is it? Given a chance to help us, in circumstances where we are in agreement, our European allies have simply failed. Can the Europeans seriously hope to bargain Iran into giving up its nuclear weapons when it can’t collectively scrounge up 2,500 troops, all of whom were supposed to have been committed more than a year ago? Bin Laden is laughing. Ahmadinajad is doubled over. And NATO is just plain over.
Here is John Kerry’s response: an utterly unconvincing attempt to blame the United States for the problem (says Kerry, we should goad the Europeans by sending more troops ourselves). And here’s Captain Ed on the issue.
Now that's funny, I thought that we were all supposed to be unified on Afghanistan. I was told that it was only Iraq that set us apart. To be sure, most European armies are pretty small, and they don't have much in the way of logistical support capabilities. But we're not asking for vast numbers here. This isn't Desert Storm, we don't need armored divisions. The truth, I think, is rather simple; most Europeans think that they can avoid terrorist attacks by Muslim fascists if they don't get too involved. In other words, it's a policy of appeasement.
To be fair, Britain and Italy have been pulling their weight, both countries already having troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan (Italy having pledged them to Lebanon as well). The rest of Europe should be ashamed of themselves.
August 23, 2006
The Word from the Generals
Via Powerline, interviews with the Generals running the war in Iraq.
In one Hugh Hewitt interviews General John Abizaid,,commander of CENTCOM. The second is a DOD press conference with Lt. Gen. Sir Robert Fry, deputy commander of the Multinational Forces-Iraq and the senior British representative in Iraq.
Both interviews are especially interesting in light of some good news about Baghdad. Both ABC News and The Washington Times are reporting significant drops in sectarian violence in the capital as a result of Operation Together Forward, the ongoing joint US-Iraqi effort to stabilize the situation.
Following are excerpts from each interview. First is Hewett's interview with General Abizaid,
HH: Can you begin, General, by giving us an overview of the situation in Iraq as of mid-August, 2006?
JA: The situation in Iraq right now, as you've seen, of course, there's an awful lot of sectarian violence, particularly in the Baghdad area. We've found it necessary to move additional troops down into the Baghdad area by extending some forces that we were going to redeploy to help shore up some of the work that the Iraqi Security Forces are doing. We're putting additional Iraqi Security Forces in the field there as well. It's very clear to all of us that have been serving in this region that Baghdad's the key to Iraq, and that we've got to get the levels of sectarian violence down in order for Iraq to stabilize. We're confident it can be done. We've seen some changes already that are somewhat positive. It's still too early to say, but the combination of Iraqi Security Forces and our forces, along with some measures being taken by the new government, we're confident can, over time, move Baghdad in the right direction.
HH: General Abizaid, are you confident as well that victory is possible in Iraq? And what will that look like?
JA: Yeah, no, I'm very confident that victory's possible, not only in Iraq, but in the broader Middle East, if you consider victory being a Middle East where extremism is not tolerated, and doesn't have a chance of going mainstream in the region. I certainly think that in Iraq, there'll be violence after the time that American forces depart. I think that the sectarian issues are deep, but they don't need to be fatal. I believe that over time, as you build institutional capacity and the Iraqi government, and especially in the Iraqi armed forces, that Iraqis will be able to do more and more of the day to day security work. And as that happens, we'll be able to bring our forces down.
Next is Lieutenant General Robert Fry at the DOD briefing. I found this one to be a bit more interesting. General Fry talked about many issues facing Iraq, and the questions were varied. But since the question of whether or not the situation in Iraq constitutes a "civil war" or not is oft-discussed, I thought I'd just excerpt that part of the interview.
GEN. FRY:...The second point I made was about the scale of the enterprise that we're involved in here in Iraq, and I think that still is at the very top of the list of what we're doing here. We're involved in trying to transfer -- transform a whole society, to take it from autocracy to liberal democracy, to take it from something which is entirely state controlled in economic terms to bring it to the disciplines of the market. And perhaps as importantly as anything now, we've got a free and sovereign and competent government to deal with. So I think that all those dimensions make life here complicated. ...
Now, something I didn't mention last time but will mention this time is the rather contentious issue of civil war. With the valedictory message of the erstwhile British ambassador being leaked as he was leaving Baghdad, it seems to cause an awful lot of comments, both in London and also in Washington as well. And I'd just like to offer my views on where we are on that issue.
In my judgment, we are not in a situation of civil war, and I think that we collectively have a lot of experience in what civil war looks like. I know what a civil war looks like from experience in the Balkans and parts of Africa. I also know what sectarian violence looks like from all the time that I've spent in Northern Ireland, and it seems to me it's the second of these two conditions rather than the first that we confront here in Iraq at the present time. But if you want to pick me up on my assertion, I'd be delighted for you to do so.
Q:Sir, this is Pam Hess with UPI... What difference does it make from a military perspective whether or not you call it civil war or sectarian violence? Does that change what you do? And is that difference -- does it even matter? Back here, when we look at the number of deaths and the level of violence, what difference does a label make?
GEN. FRY: Well, I think it makes a great deal of difference in this particular case. If you have a civil war, then typically and characteristically, you have the collapse of the central institutions of government. In an absence of government, there's the possibility of chaos. You also tend to lose the instruments of security, and if the army takes part on one side or the other, then, of course, that can have equally significant implications. So I don't think we're talking about labels or military semantics here. I think we're talking about qualitative differences.
There is a very intense sectarian conflict going on, but it is geographically defined. It is not resulting in the mass movement of population, which is characteristically what civil wars do. And it's still being conducted in an environment which has the central institutions of the state functioning. Now, that's the situation that I recognize at the present time. I do not see that as civil war, and neither do I draw glib differences between civil war and sectarian conflict. I think the differences are very substantial and still in existence in Iraq today.
Both generals are cautiously optimistic, as is Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the main source for the Washington Times story cited above. Overall, the violence in the capital has dropped 20-33%, depending on whose numbers are cited. Obviously, we've had reason to be optimistic before, only to see setbacks. The next several months will tell.
For Additional Information: Bill Roggio of the Counterterrorism Blog has an excellent summary of the situation in Baghdad. Kirk H. Sowell of ThreatsWatch says that we're now in Phase II of Operation Together Forward. Both of them are also cautiously optimistic, but warn of dire consequences if we do not succeed.
June 7, 2006
Barry McCaffrey on Afghanistan
Accoding to this post on the National Review blog, he just got back from Afghanistan, and once again give an upbeat assessment. I cannot find this anywhere else on the Internet, so if any readers have McCaffrey's actual report, or a news report on it, please put the link in a comment if you would.
According to Rich Lowry, here are McCaffrey's main observations from his trip:
• Afghanistan has in the short space of five years moved from a situation of mindless violence, cruelty, poverty, massive production of drugs, the absence of government, and isolation - to a nation with a struggling democratic government; an exploding economy; a rapidly growing, disciplined Army; a vibrant free press, and active diplomatic and economic ties with its neighbors and the world. The 30 million people have showed almost unbelievable gratitude for the actions of the international community and have welcomed a significant foreign presence with great hospitality and trust.
• Opium production has been dramatically slashed by 48% just in the past year. In less than three years, 4.4 million refugees have flooded back into the nation. 95% of the refugee camps in Pakistan have been closed. A Constitution has been adopted.
•A President has been elected who is a Statesman of enormous integrity, vision, and courage. A Parliament has been elected with representation from every walk of political life - and a greater percentage of women than any other democracy in the world. The road network and transportation infrastructure have gone from absolutely nonfunctional to a rapidly growing network that is beginning re-vitalize the economy and trade with its neighbors.
• Massive amounts of international and private foreign aid are pouring into the country. The totally destroyed educational system is beginning to function. The agricultural and livestock system has grown enormously. The irrigation system destroyed by the Soviets is coming back.
•The security situation is so dramatically changed for the better that no platoon-sized unit has ever been defeated in battle. U.S. Forces routinely operate in squad sized units.
• As one US Army Aviation Brigade Commander told me - “I have been flying over this country for three combat tours since 2001- the change for the better is almost unbelievable - I can see it with my own eyes from 500 feet.”
As with Iraq, a positive assessment from someone with the background to know. Another post on NRO does caution that we should "take his figures(on opium) with a grain of salt". Maybe so, but even so that does not change his conclusion that we are succeeding.
If I can find his actual report I'll post the link and excerpts.
Meanwhile, StrategyPage offers a similarly positive view
There are now about 23,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, an increase of about 3,000 from last Fall. So far this year, 13 have died in combat (plus twelve from other causes). More NATO troops continue to enter southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban are trying to carry out a Spring Offensive. But the police and foreign troops have kept the Taliban on the defensive. Meanwhile, increased coordination with Pakistani troops just across the border has resulted in more Taliban raiding parties, based in Pakistan, getting hit on both sides of the border.
Some will counter with the observation that "warlords"(a media-invented term) still run parts of the country, and will ask why the Taliban are active at all. StrategyPage points out that
As it has always been, the reach of the government is weak in most of the rural areas. This is what makes it possible for the Taliban to still operate. Afghanistan has always been a place where the tribes, clans and villages were pretty much little worlds all to themselves. Outsiders, especially armed ones, are not welcome. If the government comes in with goodies or other help, that is accepted appreciatively. But most of Afghanistan doesn't know from central government, and never has.
Read the whole thing.
October 29, 2005
Burning Bodies in Afghanistan: Two Views
This past week a story appeared in the media about some US soldiers in Afghanistan who were allegedly buring the bodies of dead Taliban fighters. On Thursday Fox News reported that
Islamic clerics expressed outrage Thursday at television footage that purportedly shows U.S. soldiers burning the bodies of two dead Taliban (search) fighters to taunt other militants and warned of a possible violent anti-American backlash.
On Friday, the BBC added that
The US military has launched a criminal investigation into alleged misconduct by its troops in Afghanistan, including the burning of Taleban corpses.
The move came after an Australian TV station ran footage of what it says was US soldiers burning the remains.
The footage shows other troops apparently taunting residents of a nearby village, which they believed to be harbouring the Taleban.
The act of burning corpses is regarded as a sacrilege in Islam.
If true, does this act create a problem for the United States? Is it something that we should be concerned about?
To help answer this, let's consider the responses of two writers that I have come to respect; Michael Yon, and the editors of StrategyPage.com
James Dunnigan is editor-in-chief of StrategyPage.com, with Austin Bay and Adam Geibel as contributing editors. Al Nofi is senior editor and columnist. All are widely-aclaimed writers on military and political matters. In an October 25 editorial, they conclude that the action will have
...no impact in the Islamic world. That's because, in the Islamic media, stories like this are invented daily. You can check out the English language sites for media in Islamic countries for examples. Some wild stuff there. The Moslems who hate us won’t change their minds because of two burning bodies. Those Moslems who are down on Islamic terrorists won’t get very upset about two of them getting torched, even though cremation is frowned upon in the Islamic world (even for Islamic terrorists who burn fellow Moslems to death in the course of their operations, which explains al Qaedas sagging poll numbers.)
The impact of such actions by our troops may, however, hurt us at home because politicians will overreact:
It will hurt in those parts of the world where there is more concern for burned up Taliban than in the Moslem world. That's largely in the Western world, especially among some American politicians and pundits. How will this hurt? Congress can call for more “oversight” of U.S. military operations. The troops are already irked at the lawyers added to some staffs over the last decade. The lawyers are their to veto operations if there is too great a chance that the action will offend someone in the world and, ultimately, someone in Congress.
The real problem, they conclude, will probably come from local Afghanis
If the bodies were burned as a result of some psychological warfare operation, or just to clean up the battlefield, and the act offended the local Moslems, the troops will pay a higher price than any official investigation (which is already underway) can hand out. The troops have to deal with angry, and heavily armed, people every day.
Michael Yon is a free-lance imbed with the US Army in Iraq. His experiences are widely quoted on popular blogs, such as Belmont Club. He is the author of Danger Close, and, from his website, "His dispatches have the benefit of his life experiences without drawbacks based on deadlines or demands of marketplace."
While Yon does not directly address the issue of the "burning bodies" in his last dispatch, he does have some things to say about the issue of treatment of prisoners which does have some bearing on the matter. He considers the letter we intercepted which had been sent by Usama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is in charge of Al Qaeda operations in Iraq. From this letter Yon concludes that
The author implies that most Muslims have a heart even for those they might once have considered enemies, warning that great numbers of Muslims who may have been supporters will instead turn against the terrorists because they do not approve of slaughtering hostages. Cynical westerners hearing that Muslims are generally peaceful people roll their eyes in disbelief, casting them in the general direction of the most recent homicide bomb attack. But here a top terrorist apparently takes pains to point out that devout Muslims are averse to slaughtering people. When Muslims react in anger about what we did at Abu G and other prisons, they are not merely posturing; they are deadly serious. Just as the terrorists lose support when they slaughter our people, we lose support when we abuse anyone.
Who is right? Both, perphaps, in their own way?
On the one hand, the amount virulence of anti-American and anti-Jewish propaganda coming from much of the Middle East is staggering. One only has to peruse a few translations of it from the invaluable MEMRI to get an idea of how bad it is. Also, we must unfortunately acknowledge that both liberal and conservative politicians at home will sieze on this and demand greater ovbersight, which will hamper our efforts in the field.
But is Yon right that such actions add fuel to the propaganda fire? Perhaps.
My initial take is that we should avoid incidents such as the "burning bodies" one as much as possible. We also have to realize that such things are going to happen in war no matter how much "oversight" we build into the process. Indeed, such things are part of the inevitable consequences of going to war in the first place, which is why such a decision must not be taken lightly.
This does not mean that we just shrug off such incidents as "these things will happen" and let it go at that. As the editors of StrategyPage point out in the article cited above, "Soldiers sent to Afghanistan go through many hours of cultural sensitivity training. They already know that one misstep can destroy lots of good will, and that in turn means fewer Afghans will pass on useful (often life saving) information, and more will fell inclined to take shot at Americans." In other words, Mr and Mrs Politician, there's no need for more of your "oversight", so lay off, please.
Between StragegyPage's conclusion that "stuff like this has no impact in the Islamic world" and Yon's view that "just as the terrorists lose support when they slaughter our people, we lose support when we abuse anyone", I think that both overstate their case, but in the end I am closer to Yon's position. Propaganda matters.
What do you think?
Posted by Tom at 2:14 PM
July 12, 2005
Perseverence, Past and Present
Last week I wrote about Osama bin Laden's 1996 Fatwa, which was essentially a declaration of war on the United States. The other day Wretchard discussed it's significance in a way that I somewhat missed.
The fourth SEAL, who survived, evaded superior numbers until he escaped. Sixteen more Special Operations soldiers died in an attempt to reinforce the recon team when their MH-47 was shot down. The US response to the loss of the recon team was not to run but insert hundreds of troops into the area to find the missing men and possibly to complete the unfinished mission. The Al Qaeda might ask themselves what manner of men these are, who fight to the death rather than surrender, and who though injured evade over high and cold mountains until they have outdistanced their unwounded pursuers. It's not an idle question. One of Osama Bin Laden's strategic assumptions when he wrote contemptuously of the US in his 1996 fatwa was that he was facing cowards.
(from bin Laden's Fatwa) But your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where- after vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post cold war leadership of the new world order- you moved tens of thousands of international force, including twenty eight thousands American solders into Somalia. However, when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge , but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear. It was a pleasure for the "heart" of every Muslim and a remedy to the "chests" of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut , Aden and Mogadishu.
Bin Laden understood and accepted that American logistics, technology and science would be superior to his own. What he was less prepared to believe was the possibility that their fighting spirit would be equal or greater than his. Sixty two years ago the Imperial Japanese Navy fought the USN for three straight days and nights in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, from November 12-15, 1942. Both sides fought at point-blank range in some cases. Two USN Admirals, Scott and Callahan, died in a single night. Still the IJN and USN came on. Only after the USS Washington sank the battlecruiser Kirishima on November 15th did the Japanese break off. But it was not the material loss that shocked the Japanese: losses were about even on both sides; it was the realization that USN would not give up.
It is the canonical assumption of those who set out to conquer the world that all men are not created equal: that there are ubermensch and untermensch, men of divine descent and mongrel races, jihadis and infidels; that somehow these differences in quality will allow the chosen few to dominate the many. Yet in each case these beliefs have proven wrong, whether in the snows of Russia, the waters of Ironbottom Sound, or in the mountains of Afghanistan.