February 28, 2012

An Apology Too Far

From the article below, here are the facts about what happened in Afghanistan:

The facts are that the Korans were seized at a jail because jihadists imprisoned there were using them not for prayer but to communicate incendiary messages. The soldiers dispatched to burn refuse from the jail were not the officials who had seized the books, had no idea they were burning Korans, and tried desperately to retrieve the books when the situation was brought to their attention.

The local commander apologized. Then the Secretary of Defense apologized. Now President Obama has apologized. And what did we get for it? More of this:


As Andy McCarthy says, this is insane:

Why Apologize to Afghanistan?
The reaction to an accidental Koran-burning was inexcusable
By Andrew C. McCarthy
February 25, 2012

We have officially lost our minds.

The New York Times reports that President Obama has sent a formal letter of apology to Afghanistan's ingrate president, Hamid Karzai, for the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base. The only upside of the apology is that it appears (based on the Times account) to be couched as coming personally from our blindly Islamophilic president -- "I wish to express my deep regret for the reported incident. . . . I extend to you and the Afghani people my sincere apologies." It is not couched as an apology from the American people, whose frame of mind will be outrage, not contrition, as the facts become more widely known.

The facts are that the Korans were seized at a jail because jihadists imprisoned there were using them not for prayer but to communicate incendiary messages. The soldiers dispatched to burn refuse from the jail were not the officials who had seized the books, had no idea they were burning Korans, and tried desperately to retrieve the books when the situation was brought to their attention.

Of course, these facts may not become widely known, because no one is supposed to mention the main significance of what has happened here. First, as usual, Muslims -- not al-Qaeda terrorists, but ordinary, mainstream Muslims -- are rioting and murdering over the burning (indeed, the inadvertent burning) of a book. Yes, it's the Koran, but it's a book all the same -- and one that, moderate Muslims never tire of telling us, doesn't really mean everything it says anyhow.

Muslim leaders and their leftist apologists are also forever lecturing the United States about "proportionality" in our war-fighting. Yet when it comes to Muslim proportionality, Americans are supposed to shrug meekly and accept the "you burn books, we kill people" law of the jungle. Disgustingly, the Times would inure us to this moral equivalence by rationalizing that "Afghans are fiercely protective of their Islamic faith." Well then, I guess that makes it all right, huh?

Then there's the second not-to-be-uttered truth: Defiling the Koran becomes an issue for Muslims only when it has been done by non-Muslims. Observe that the unintentional burning would not have occurred if these "fiercely protective of their Islamic faith" Afghans had not defiled the Korans in the first place. They were Muslim prisoners who annotated the "holy" pages with what a U.S. military official described as "extremist inscriptions" in covert messages sent back and forth, just as the jihadists held at Gitmo have been known to do (notwithstanding that Muslim prisoners get their Korans courtesy of the American taxpayers they construe the book to justify killing).

Do you know why you are supposed to stay mum about the intentional Muslim sacrilege but plead to be forgiven for the accidental American offense? Because you would otherwise have to observe that the Koran and other Islamic scriptures instruct Muslims that they are in a civilizational jihad against non-Muslims, and that it is therefore permissible for them to do whatever is necessary -- including scrawl militant graffiti on their holy book -- if it advances the cause. Abdul Sattar Khawasi -- not a member of al-Qaeda but a member in good standing of the Afghan government for which our troops are inexplicably fighting and dying -- put it this way: "Americans are invaders, and jihad against the Americans is an obligation."

Because exploiting America's hyper-sensitivity to things Islamic advances the jihad, the ostensible abuse of the Koran by using it for secret communiqués is to be overlooked. Actionable abuse occurs only when the book is touched by the bare hands of, or otherwise maltreated by, an infidel.

Understand this: Muslims are killing Muslims all the time. Sunnis attack Shiites, Shiites attack Sunnis. Ahmadi Muslims are attacked in sundry Islamic countries. Often, these Muslim-on-Muslim atrocities involve not only murder but also the torching of the other sect's homes and mosques -- necessarily meaning Muslims are burning Korans, and with far more mens rea than the American personnel had in Afghanistan. None of these atrocities incite global Islamic rioting -- it is just Muslim-on-Muslim violence, the numbing familiarity of which calls for no comment, except perhaps to mumble that it must have something to do with how "fiercely protective of their Islamic faith" Muslims are. (Actually, it has to do with Muslims' deeming the perceived heresies of other Muslims to be apostasy, for which sharia prescribes the death penalty.)

Also understand this: In sharia societies, non-Muslim religious articles are confiscated and destroyed every single day as a matter of policy. In Saudi Arabia, where sharia is the law of the land, where Mecca and Medina are closed to non-Muslims, government guidelines prohibit Jews and Christians from bringing Bibles, crucifixes, Stars of David, and similar artifacts emblematic of their faith into the country. When that prohibition is violated, the offending items are seized and burned or otherwise destroyed.

In spite of this shameful, conscious, systematic abuse of non-Muslims and their religious articles, King Abdullah has yet to send a letter of apology to Obama.

That, however, cannot be the end of it. If, according to the president, we need to apologize to Muslims because we must accept that they have such an innate, extraordinary ardor for their religion that barbaric reactions to trivial slights are inevitable, then they should not be invited to enter a civilized country. At the very least, our immigration laws should exclude entry from Muslim-majority countries unless and until those countries expressly repeal repressive sharia laws (e.g., the death penalty for apostates) and adopt American standards of non-discrimination against, tolerance of, and protection for religious minorities.

If you really want to promote freedom in Islamic countries, an immigration policy based on civil-rights reciprocity would be a lot more effective, and a lot less expensive, than dispatching tens of thousands of troops to build sharia "democracies." It would also protect Americans from people whose countries and cultures have not prepared them for the obligations of citizenship in a free society.

I disagree with McCarthy's recommendation as regards our immigration policy, but his analysis of the monumental hypocrisy is spot-on.

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April 5, 2011

It's Not a Scandal if Obama is President

Do you recognize this soldier? If not, don't worry, I don't think most other people have either.

Jamie Morlock Kill Team

Spc. Jeremy Morlock pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and one count each of conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years in prison. Washington Times (AP Photo/U.S. Army)

Bet you have heard of Lynndie England, though:


The Kill Team
Rolling Stone
March 27, 2011
By Mark Boal

How U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan murdered innocent civilians and mutilated their corpses - and how their officers failed to stop them. Plus: an exclusive look at the war crime photos censored by the Pentagon.

I was going to post a few of the photos on my website, but there's too bad. Hop on over to Rolling Stone if you want to see them

A quick excerpt in the Rolling Stone story:

...The two soldiers, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock and Pfc. Andrew Holmes, saw a young farmer who was working by himself among the spiky shoots. Off in the distance, a few other soldiers stood sentry. But the farmer was the only Afghan in sight. With no one around to witness, the timing was right. And just like that, they picked him for execution.

He was a smooth-faced kid, about 15 years old. Not much younger than they were: Morlock was 21, Holmes was 19. His name, they would later learn, was Gul Mudin, a common name in Afghanistan. He was wearing a little cap and a Western-style green jacket. He held nothing in his hand that could be interpreted as a weapon, not even a shovel. The expression on his face was welcoming. "He was not a threat," Morlock later confessed.

After the killing, the soldiers involved in Mudin's death were not disciplined or punished in any way. Emboldened, the platoon went on a shooting spree over the next four months that claimed the lives of at least three more innocent civilians. When the killings finally became public last summer, the Army moved aggressively to frame the incidents as the work of a "rogue unit" operating completely on its own, without the knowledge of its superiors. Military prosecutors swiftly charged five low-ranking soldiers with murder, and the Pentagon clamped down on any information about the killings. Soldiers in Bravo Company were barred from giving interviews, and lawyers for the accused say their clients faced harsh treatment if they spoke to the press, including solitary confinement. No officers were charged.

But a review of internal Army records and investigative files obtained by Rolling Stone, including dozens of interviews with members of Bravo Company compiled by military investigators, indicates that the dozen infantrymen being portrayed as members of a secretive "kill team" were operating out in the open, in plain view of the rest of the company. Far from being clandestine, as the Pentagon has implied, the murders of civilians were common knowledge among the unit and understood to be illegal by "pretty much the whole platoon," according to one soldier who complained about them. Staged killings were an open topic of conversation, and at least one soldier from another battalion in the 3,800-man Stryker Brigade participated in attacks on unarmed civilians. "The platoon has a reputation," a whistle-blower named Pfc. Justin Stoner told the Army Criminal Investigation Command. "They have had a lot of practice staging killings and getting away with it."

There's a lot more, but you get the point.

Howard Poitnoy at Hot Air makes the relevant points:

When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2003, the mainstream media and liberal blogosphere couldn't find enough column inches to express adequately their shock and revulsion. The New York Times alone published 56 stories on the hideous revelation that members of the U.S. Army Reserve had tortured prisoners of war and posed for "trophy pictures"--inexcusable acts that the Times placed squarely at the feet of then-president George W. Bush.

Nor could left-leaning sources conceal their delight when President-elect Barack Obama boldly proclaimed:

[U]nder my administration the United States does not torture. We will abide by the Geneva Conventions. We will uphold our highest ideals.

What a difference a president makes. Until you flash forward to today's bombshell, dropped by the British newspaper The Guardian, noting that members of a self-styled U.S. Army "kill team" posed for photos not with tortured prisoners but with corpses. Of civilians. Whom they had killed.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is more than a little ticked off. As he told the Washington Times:

TWT: What are your thoughts on the latest kill team photos out of Afghanistan?

DONALD RUMSFELD: If they're the ones that I'm thinking of it's where some... there are some allegations that some soldiers killed some people. You know, I feel such a responsibility as an American that when people are in our custody, we treat them properly. It is always heartbreaking when we see that there are allegations and photographs or suggestions that people have mismanaged that process. And of course the courts will decide in this case. But it is interesting, in the case of Abhu Ghraib, that it was such an important press event and nobody was killed. And in this case, it looks like there are allegations that some people were actually killed.

TWT: How does this stack up against the Abu Ghraib photos, for example?

RUMSFELD: The situation, of course, is much worse if someone dies, but it's a sad thing. It's unfortunate. The overwhelming majority of men and women in uniform are professional. They handle themselves well. They treat people properly in our custody. And no question but that they are punished in the event that the courts and the military commissions under the uniform code of military justice decide that they've done something wrong. They get punished.

I'm not going to say that one scandal is worse than another because they're both bad and that gets into splitting hairs. But Rumsfeld does have a right to be upset at the hypocrisy.

Sure, the scandal isn't President Obama's fault any more than Abu Ghraib was President Bush's but that's the point.

It's all pretty simple, really: Obama is president and they're out to protect him.

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March 17, 2011

A Few Quick Comments on Some of the Issues of the Day

Not having much time to blog these days, I won't be able to do my usual in depth analysis of the issues of the day. It's a terrible confluence of events; I get involved in some big projects just as the world goes nuts. On the other hand, while it bugged me greatly for a while to be away from the blog, pretty soon you get used to it. About three of four years ago I decided to just up TV entirely because it was just taking up too much time. For a few weeks I missed my shows, but now I can't imagine going back to it.

The Japanese Nuclear Crisis

Yes the situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant is serious. Let's also recall that it was hit by not only an earthquake that registered a whopping 9 on the Richter scale, but a tsunami as well. This is not Three Mile Island... which oh by the way didn't kill anyone.

The bigger question is what the effect will be on nuclear power as a source of electricity. One can only despair after looking at the news, which is in full meltdown over the situation. The extreme environmentalists are licking their chops, figuring that (finally!) they can stop new plants from being built and shut down existing ones.

Amazingly, over 50 percent of Americans still think that nuclear power is generally safe. Unfortunately, another poll shows that half of all voters see Obama as being serious about reducing the deficit, so I guess we shouldn't put too much faith in either polls or the intelligence of the American people, take your pick.

The bottom line is that there is no energy source that is free of pitfalls. Nuclear plants run the risk of meltdown. Coal, oil, and natural gas emit greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide, which the enviros now tell us is a pollutant (who would have guessed?). There are no more locations for hydrodynamic dams, and solar and wind are a joke. Biofuels based on sugar products, grass, or waste hold some promise, but only barely. Only nuclear and fossil fuels can produce enough electricity to matter, and of course the enviros are against both.

Yes let's make nuclear plants safer. Yes let's learn from this and make sure that if they're in earthquake zones they are more survivable. But we either need them as a power source or the enviros need to stop complaining about fossil fuels.

And yes I would be perfectly fine if they built a nuclear power plant in my neighborhood.

The Libyan Revolution

The unrest started on Feb 15, and within a week or two it was clear that a revolution was under way. Unlike his Egyptian neighbor Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi has decided to stay and fight it out. No doubt the Mubarak left because he lost the support of the army, whereas Ghaddafi has cobbled enough of a force from mercenaries and his own army to put up a good fight. In fact, some say he's winning.

"The world," has mostly told Ghaddafi that shooting his own civilians isn't so good, which is kind of ironic since the government in most of those nations would do the same thing if they felt their rule threatened.

On March 10 France even went so far as to recognize the rebel National Transitional Council as the legitimate government.

Most recently, the UN Security Council has approved a no-fly zone over Libya. "The world" seems to see that something needs to be done. Unlike, that is, our own president. But more on that below.

Gasoline Prices

Gas is about $3.50 a gallon where I live. From what I can see there are two general reasons for the rise; the crisis in the Middle East and our own refusal to exploit our own reserves.

Yes we risk spills if we drill. And no it won't solve all our problems. But if you don't like drilling then come up with your own energy source... and please don't embarrass yourself by talking about electric cars, wind, or solar.

I hear Obama and his advisers want to open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Big mistake. One, the reserve was meant for a true crisis, and we're not near that. Two, it's only a short-term solution.

The Federal Budget Standoff

Democrats want to spend, Republicans want to make a few tepid cuts. The entire federal budget is about $3.8 trillion. Republicans want to cut a measly $61 billion, and the Dems a pathetic $6 billion.

Put in context, the Republicans want to cut 61 cents of a budget of 380 dollars, and the Dems 6 cents on the same.

Guess what? The Dems tell us the world will come to an end if we cut any more than $6 billion.

Oh and the deficit is about $1.5 trillion, and by his own projections Obama will have doubled the national debt. But no one aside from those crazy Tea Party types seems to want to do anything about it.


Chris Christie is getting some competition for status most admired governors among conservatives. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has rode the storm in his state admirably and refused to back down in the face of an unprecedented level of threats and intimidation from union thugs. He kept his party together, and as a result they have achieved the unthinkable; a serious rollback of union abuses.

You don't have to believe everything muckrackers like Upton Sinclair wrote to know that abuses in the workplace were horrendous a hundred or so years ago. I would have been a union organizer myself in the 19th and early 20th centuries. When it comes to coal mines I'm still sympathetic to unions.

But today over 50 percent of union members are white collar workers. The only reason unions were or are needed is to ensure workplace safety and obtain more than starvation wages. There is no reason for labor unions in most work environments today, let alone in white collar environments.

Public sector unions are especially odious, especially so if they have collective bargaining power. The reason is pretty straightforward: The people elect legislators to determine the salaries of public employees. When public sector unions put forth a special representative to bargain with these legislators, they've effectively elected their own special legislator. Worse, they're doing it all with our tax dollars.

This is an usurpation of democracy. The "seat at the table" for public sector employees is and must be only through normally elected legislators. They don't get another seat, or a special representative. If they don't like their salaries they need to work to elect different legislators.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the incredible thuggish behavior of the unions in Wisconsin foretold of what will happen around the country if we do not get a handle on this situation now. As mentioned earlier, while union membership is declining among blue-collar workers it is increasing among public-sector white-collar workers. While workers everywhere should have the right to form an organization (provided they do it on their own time and not at the workplace), the absolutely must not have collective bargaining power.

In the old days there was an implicit agreement in the trade-off of benefits between private and public sector employment. You got higher wages in the private sector, but your job was always somewhat at risk. Public sector employees made less, but had more job security, to the point where in some professions such as teaching you basically have a guaranteed job for life.

Public sector employees now want it all. They want wages equal to or greater than their counterparts in the private sector. The latest rationale is that public sector employees are supposedly more talented and thus deserve more. Besides being arrogant and condescending, such an argument ignores the fact that public sector employment enjoys better job security.

The NPR Scandal

That a few big shots at NPR have whacko leftist views and are willing to take money from the world's biggest Jihadist-terrorist organization is in a way not news. Conservatives have known this for years.

If the big media - "mainstream media" - did their jobs NPR would have been exposed long ago and their funding eliminated. As it is they don't care because with the exception of Fox News and a few other conservative outlets they are only different by degree, not by kind.

The NPR scandal comes on the heals of other citizen-journalist pieces by James O'Keefe and Lila Rose exposing ACORN and Planned Parenthood. What's amazing, and irritating at the same time, is that all three of these; NPR, ACORN, and Planned Parenthood, were ripe targets just waiting to be picked. Everyone who is not drinking the liberal cool-aide knows they're corrupt. And it was so easy to trip them up. If a few ordinary young folks could do it with cheap store-bought equipment, why can't the big media with their millions of dollars in resources?

Instead of introspection on such questions, though, we are treated to idiotic pieces about how "There is no ethical canon or tradition that would excuse such deception on the part of a professional journalist." Yeah that's the important part.

What's scary is what the liberal media must have gotten away with in the days before the internet.

Where's Obama?

So where's our president? Dithering, of course. Playing golf. Going to fundraisers. Consulting with Michelle over this year's vegetable garden. Having fun being president, I guess, but whatever he's up to the issues of the day don't seem to concern him.

His supposedly pro-nuclear power secretary of energy is mostly silent on nuclear power.

He doesn't seem to care a whit about Libya. He and his SecState are always "consulting," but this is a process, not a policy. We have no policy. The UN can pass any resolution it wants about no-fly zones, but we all know that only the US can enforce it.

Worse, he seems to treat foreign policy problems as annoyances, not concerns that should be at the front and center for any president. The only thing that seems to bother him are Israeli "settlements" on the West Bank.

Union thugs? He's behind them. Some on the right say it's all about the money and donations to the Democrat Party, but it's more than that. Public sector unions are integral to his plan to bring European-style socialism to this country.

Before the election Obama told us that "under my plan... electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket." If that's his plan for electricity, why should he think any differently for gasoline?

And the budget? He's AWOL on that too, letting the Dems in Congress do the negotiating for him.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 12, 2010

Signs of Success in Afghanistan

Afghanistan 10-11-10

RESCUE READY: Air Force Pararescueman Alejandro Serrano with the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron test-fires his weapon over Kandahar province in case it's needed during casualty-pickup missions in Afghanistan. (Associated Press Photo)

There is some good news today about the war in Afghanistan. One story is from a conservative newspaper, another a liberal one. That we're hearing essentially the same thing from both is telling.

First up is the conservative paper:

Payoff seen in Afghan surge
Taliban demoralized and changing sides, military says
The Washington Times By Rowan Scarborough
Monday, October 11, 2010

The U.S. military is starting to see signs that the troop surge in Afghanistan is working on a timetable similar to the Iraq reinforcement campaign in 2007, according to an outside adviser and military sources.

"There are already some early signs of a beginning of a momentum shift in our favor," retired Army Gen. Jack Keane told The Washington Times.

Gen. Keane just returned from a two-week tour of the battlefield, where the focus is on ousting the Taliban from Kandahar, its birthplace, as well as from Helmand province and other southern and eastern areas.

Gen. Keane reported his findings to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Kabul, who saw the surge of 30,000 troops completed in August, placing about 100,000 American service members in country.

An architect of the Bush administration's surge of troops in Iraq, Gen. Keane advised Gen. Petraeus when he was the top commander there.

Gen. Keane told The Times he has witnessed in Afghanistan the same shift in fortunes: Taliban fighters are changing sides, villages are being cleansed of the enemy and protected, and intercepted communications show flagging Taliban morale.

"Overall, we can see now that the surge forces are starting to make a difference," he said. "And you have to be encouraged by some of the progress that's being made. All that said, we're in a tough fight, and I believe we will continue to gain momentum."

Gen. Keane offered two observations as evidence. First, most commanders with whom he spoke said they are encountering Taliban who want to stop fighting and reintegrate into Afghan society. "That's a big deal," he said.

Second, "There's evidence of erosion of some of the will of the Taliban. We pick it up in interrogations, and we also pick it up listening to their radio traffic and telephone calls in terms of the morale problems they're starting to have," Gen. Keane said.

I've written not a little bit about Gen. Jack Keane (Ret) and he is an impressive figure. Keane was Vice-Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army at the time Operation Iraqi Freedom was initiated in March of 2003, and admitted straight up later that they had not anticipated the insurgency. Rather than give up, however, he (now retired), Frederick Kagan, and a few others developed the idea of a "surge" in 2006, and Keane presented the idea to Bush later that year. The surge, of course, worked, and while not out of the woods yet Iraq is a better place than it has been in decades.

Bottom line here is that over the past 6 or 7 years I've learned who gets military matters right and who doesn't. There are are analysts (StrategyPage.com) and retired generals (Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney) who got a lot wrong and who I no longer trust. Yes, Keane did not anticipate the insurgency. MacArthur also didn't anticipate the Japanese attacks on the Philippines in Dec 1941 or the Chinese invasion of Korea in 1950. But as MacArthur learned from (most) of his mistakes, so did Keane.

Next up is the liberal newspaper:

In Afghanistan, the first hints of success
The Washington Post
By Michael Gerson
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Success in Afghanistan is beginning to come in the first muddy trickles after a long drought.

Small groups of Taliban fighters -- sometimes a dozen with a leader -- are approaching local Afghan government officials, asking what kind of deal they might get. "First, they want to be taken off any list, so they are not targeted," explains a NATO official in Afghanistan. "Second, they want protection from the insurgency. Third, some kind of economic opportunity."

In counterinsurgency doctrine, this is known as "reintegration." The official admits it is "spotty" in Afghanistan but spreading in all regions. "It is happening in small numbers -- drip, drip, drip. It has not yet changed the battle space. . . . It is not a tipping point, at this point." The goal is to push these numbers much higher, with more insurgents driven to negotiation and exhaustion, so they "put down their weapons and go home."

Many Americans ask: What would victory look like in Afghanistan? It would look like this -- except more of it.

Eighteen months ago, Afghan insurgents had the morale that comes from momentum. But the surge in NATO operations, particularly Special Operations, has started to change the psychological battlefield. Special Forces now go after eight to 10 major objectives each night -- perhaps three-quarters of these raids result in the death or capture of an insurgent leader. Two Taliban shadow governors -- a key position in the leadership structure -- were killed in the last week. Such roles are quickly refilled, but replacements tend to be less seasoned and more frightened.

"We hear a lot of chatter," says the official, "from networks inside of Afghanistan." Some fighters don't feel "a moment of peace. They can't sleep. They keep moving all the time. They can't plan attacks because they are planning to survive." And this is opening up a "real rift" with Taliban "bosses leading from the relative comfort of Pakistan." While some units are well supplied, others are "not supplied, not paid, but told to keep fighting."

Reintegration of low- and mid-level fighters is based on their concern for survival. Reconciliation between the Afghan government and higher-level Taliban leaders is a political matter, gaining much recent attention. President Hamid Karzai has convened a "high peace council," open to Taliban overtures but insisting on certain conditions: repudiating al-Qaeda, laying down arms, accepting the Afghan constitution. The most ideological of Taliban leaders will never reconcile. Others may calculate, as many Sunni leaders eventually did in Iraq, that their rejectionism is undermining their long-term political influence.

In a national settlement, some kind of power-sharing arrangement is probably inevitable. But sharing power in a united government is very different from the concession of Taliban control over any portion of Afghanistan's territory.

Indeed. Just as the arrival late in the day of Gebhard von Blücher's IV Prussian Corps at Waterloo demoralized the tired French, the surge in operations by the United States showed the Taliban that far from giving up we were redoubling our efforts. Just as what happened in Iraq is happening in Afghanistan.

As the official says, we're not quite at the tipping point yet, one reason why President Obama's announcement of a withdrawal date was so ill-advised. As I said so often during the surge in Iraq, if we stop too soon we risk losing all that we had gained. Likewise with Afghanistan.

All successful counterinsurgencies involve some sort of negotiations with at least some of the insurgents and at least some sort of political settlement.

Obviously there are still huge challenges ahead. There are naysayers on the right and left. Yet we cannot throw up our hands and ignore these signs of progress. If we lose Afghanistan, jihadists worldwide will take it as a sign from Allah that he is on their side. The ruling Taliban will invite in the al Qaeda, who will use it as a base from which to launch attacks. The stakes are high, we must press on.

Posted by Tom at 8:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 19, 2010

For the Democrats, Aghanistan isn't "The Good War" Any More

We all know the drill; from sometime around 2005 until the election of Barack Obama, Democrats told us incessantly that while Iraq was "the wrong war," they couldn't wait to fight in Afghanistan. Iraq was a distraction and was diverting resources from the "real fight." "Saddam never attacked us," whereas bin Laden had, and we had to get him and his henchmen who were in or around Afghanistan. Yessirree, the Democrats assured us that they were raring to go in Afghanistan.

Once they captured the White House and both houses of congress their ardor cooled. Now suddenly winning in Afghanistan isn't so important, and we need the money at home.

While Bush went for broke with his 2007 surge in Iraq, President Obama only gave General McChrystal 3/4 of the troops he asked for, and that was only on condition of what is an apparently firm timeline for withdrawal. Democrats nationwide are noticeably cool on the need to win.

To be sure, it's not precisely a partisan divide, as you don't have to go far to find Republicans and conservatives whose war ardor is not exactly red-hot either. Michael Barone sums up the situation in a piece in National Review

Over the last eight years, most Democratic politicians have made a distinction between The Good War (Afghanistan) and The Bad War (Iraq). That very much includes Barack Obama.

As an Illinois state senator, he spoke out against military action in Iraq in 2002. And as a U.S. senator at a September 2007 hearing, he offered a blisteringly negative assessment of Iraq so lengthy that it left no time for Gen. David Petraeus to reply. But he has always said he supported military action in Afghanistan as a valid response to the September 11 attacks that were planned there. So it is a little surprising to see in the results of this month's ABC/Washington Post poll that most American voters are not making the Good War/Bad War distinction.

Has the war in Afghanistan contributed to the long-term security of the United States? Some 53 percent say it has, while 44 percent say it hasn't.

Has the war in Iraq contributed to the long-term security of the United States? Some 50 percent say it has, while 48 percent say it hasn't.

Those are virtually identical numbers. It seems that about half of Americans think both were Good Wars and about half consider them both Bad Wars.

Substantial majorities of Republican voters consider both to be wars worth fighting, while majorities of Democratic voters disagree. What's most interesting is the switch among Democratic voters. A year ago, 41 percent of them thought Afghanistan was worth fighting for, while only 12 percent felt that way about Iraq. In this month's polls, the corresponding numbers were 36 percent and 29 percent. The Good War-Bad War distinction is disappearing.

One reason for this is that things have been going pretty well in Iraq, while things in Afghanistan look dicey. The ABC/Post poll reported that 71 percent of Americans oppose immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and 60 percent favor keeping 50,000 non-combat troops in Iraq in a supporting role. Keeping U.S. troops there seems hardly more controversial than keeping them in Germany.

...the dovish instincts that have been such a prominent part of Democrats' DNA since they recoiled from Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam War are apparent in their assessment of the war in Afghanistan. Barack Obama's decision last December, after a three-month review, to seek something like victory there is still supported by most Republican voters, but after negative developments many Democratic voters are turning against the president's policy. Increasingly, they regard Afghanistan as a Bad War.

Long story short, the Democrats hammered us with this notion that boy oh boy they couldn't wait to "get bin Laden" in Afghanistan, insisting that they only wanted to get out of Iraq so they could send our troops to Afghanistan to fight "the real war." We on the right said it was a lie and not to believe them all the time. Turns out we were mostly right.

Defenders will say that while Afghanistan was winnable in 2005, Bush so screwed it up that it isn't winnable now. But this is obvious nonsense, if for no other reason than no one has every explained how the Taliban and al Qaeda are supposedly stronger now than they were then. If we could beat them then we could beat them now. It's really only a matter of resources and will power.

Andrew McCarthy nailed it at the time in a May 26 2007 post on NRO's The Corner, in which he sums up the arguments being made at the time and why Obama and his Democrats were so full of it:

Good for Senator McCain on his sharp rebuttal to Senator Obama. May I add one point, though, that continues to make me nuts?

Senator Obama says: " It is time to end this war so that we can redeploy our forces to focus on the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and all those who plan to do us harm."

Senator Obama, are you proposing that we move U.S. troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, where you guys keep saying the "real" War on Terror is?

There is also a very good chance that bin Laden and some al Qaeda hierarchy are in Pakistan. When you say "redeploy," are you suggesting that we invade Pakistan?

Folks, let's not let these guys get away with this. By "redeploy," they don't really mean move the troops to where they say al Qaeda is. They don't want to fight al Qaeda. If they wanted to fight al Qaeda, al Qaeda is in Iraq -- that is indisputable. Bin Laden has said repeatedly that Iraq is the central battle. You can argue about whether al Qaeda has been in Iraq all along or whether they are there only because we've drawn them there. Reasonable minds differ on that. But however they got there, they're there.

If you really want to fight al Qaeda, you stay in Iraq.

If you really believe al Qaeda is not in Iraq -- that the real al Qaeda is only in Afghanistan and its environs -- then you're on drugs. But, sure, fine, "redeploy" our troops ... to Afghanistan. But can we please have five seconds of honesty? You guys don't have the slightest intention of doing that. You don't want to go to Afghanistan. You want to go home.

When you say redeploy, you mean withdraw. You don't actually want to "focus on the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11." You are content to bring the troops home and leave "the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11" to build a safe-haven in Iraq even as they continue to make mayhem in Afghanistan.

You think Bush is incompetent and "his" war in Iraq is a terrible mistake? Fine. You think the price of that is that we should pull everyone out of Iraq even though we all know that will be a monumental victory for al Qaeda -- geometrically abetting its future fundraising and recruiting for future terrorist attacks on America? Fine.

But have the good grace to say so. Don't give us this BS that you want to redeploy to fight al Qaeda, when the truth is that you want to "redeploy" to NOT fight al Qaeda.

Posted by Tom at 10:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 27, 2010

Yes We Can... Win in Afghanistan

It took me several years after the invasion of Iraq to find people who were reliable in their analysis and accurate in their prescriptions. I listened to and read retired generals, civilian academics and ex-government types, journalists, and websites. By 2006 it was clear that many or most were getting it wrong. I stopped paying attention these pundits.

Two who got it right were the husband and wife team of Frederick and Kimberly Kagan. Academics and Ph D.s both, Frederick W. Kagan is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. Kimberly Kagan is president of the Institute for the Study of War. In December of 2006 Frederick Kagan and retired General Jack Keane developed a plan for turning Iraq around that eventually became the surge. I have read much of Kimberly's analysis of the situation in Iraq since then, including her book on the siubect, The Surge: A Military History, and found her quite accurate as well.

Bottom line is that despite all the naysayers, the surge worked and despite all the problems Iraq is headed in the right direction (though it is still not quite out of the woods). As such, when they write something about Iraq or Afghanistan, it is best to take it seriously.

Last October Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War produced a comprehensive strategy for victory in Iraq, which I covered in two posts:

A Comprehensive Strategy: Afghanistan Force Requirements
Part 1: The Legitimacy of the Afghan Government


A Comprehensive Strategy: Afghanistan Force Requirements
Part II: The Number of Troops Required

Bottom line is that they recommended a change in strategy and an additional 40,000 troops, which is similar to what General McChrystal requested. President Obama ended up sending 30,000 troops. Imagine Roosevelt and Churchill giving Eisenhower 117,000 troops for D-Day instead of the 156,000 that actually landed and you'll get the point.

Today team Kagan has an article in The Weekly Standard in which they lay out their case for why we can win in Afghanistan. Excerpts follow, but be sure to read the whole thing:

A Winnable War
With a new commander and a renewed commitment from the commander in chief, we will make military progress in Afghanistan
by Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan
The Weekly Standard
July 5 - July 12, 2010

Success in Afghanistan is possible. The policy that President Obama announced in December and firmly reiterated last week is sound. So is the strategy that General Stanley McChrystal devised last summer and has been implementing this year. There have been setbacks and disappointments during this campaign, and adjustments will likely be necessary. These are inescapable in war. Success is not by any means inevitable. Enemies adapt and spoilers spoil. But both panic and despair are premature. The coalition has made significant military progress against the Taliban, and will make more progress as the last surge forces arrive in August. Although military progress is insufficient by itself to resolve the conflict, it is a vital precondition. As the New York Times editors recently noted, "Until the insurgents are genuinely bloodied, they will keep insisting on a full restoration of their repressive power." General David Petraeus knows how to bloody insurgents--and he also knows how to support and encourage political development and conflict resolution. He takes over the mission with the renewed support of the White House.

Neither the recent setbacks nor the manner of McChrystal's departure should be allowed to obscure the enormous progress he has made in setting conditions for successful campaigns over the next two years. The internal, structural changes he made have revolutionized the ability of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to conduct counterinsurgency operations.

While undertaking these enormous tasks of internal reorganization, he has also taken the fight to the enemy. The controversies about his restrictions on the operations of Special Forces and rules of engagement that limit the use of destructive force in inhabited areas have obscured the fact that both Special Forces and conventional forces have been fighting harder than ever before and disrupting and seriously damaging enemy networks and strongholds.

Iraqi sectarian actors did not suddenly see the light and embrace diversity. They changed their behavior in response to a wide array of pressures brought on them and their patrons by the entire American team, from General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker down to soldiers in the streets. Petraeus and Crocker in particular adopted a highly nuanced approach to the problem.

There are never any guarantees in war. But the fact that efforts now will be led by General David Petraeus, with his record of judgment and creativity, is grounds for confidence that we can succeed.

The contributions of Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his team are not as widely recognized as that of General Petraeus, Odierno, and the other military leaders, but they were just as important. As such, President Obama ought to use the current change in military command to change the entire civilian State Department team as well. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry ought to be replaced with a man of Petreus' selection of approval.

The president also ought to abandon his silly timeline for withdrawal. As soon as his speech announcing the Afghan surge got out, Afghanis assumed that we'd abandon them in 2011 regardless of the situation. Those who claim that timelines force or incent the Afghanis (or Iraqis) to "get their act together" are ignorant of counterinsurgencies in particular and human behavior in general.

But for these and more details follow the links above. We can win, and President Obama should commit us to that goal.

Posted by Tom at 9:15 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 23, 2010

Afghanistan: McChrystal Out, Petraeus In

We've got a new top dog in Afghanistan:

President Obama said Wednesday he feels no "personal insult" from Gen. Stanley McChrystal but accepted his resignation as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan because he couldn't abide scathing comments by McChrystal and his aides that appeared in an article out this week in Rolling Stone magazine.

"The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan," Obama said.

In Rose Garden remarks, Obama nominated Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command and the former commanding general in Iraq, to replace McChrystal. Petraeus' confirmation hearing in the Senate could come as early as Thursday.

The president said he had no disagreements with McChrystal's policy or conduct in the war in Afghanistan, and the change in personnel does not mean a change in policy. He said the two were on the same page in terms of war strategy, but no "diversion" to the mission was acceptable.

President Obama absolutely did the right thing. We simply cannot have the military publicly criticizing their civilian bosses.

Yesterday, in Yes, Gen. Stanley McChrystal Should be Fired, I wrote that Obama should fire him but probably wouldn't. This is one instance in which I am glad I was wrong.

The most famous incident in which a president fired a general was, of course, when Truman dismissed Douglas MacArthur. The general had criticized the president's limited war strategy, particularly his desire to avoid involving China.

Forty years ago, in another incident that caused much controversy at the time, President Carter fired General john Singlaub over comments the latter publicly criticized the President's decision to withdraw troops from Korea.

More recently, in 2008 President Bush essentially fired Admiral William Fallon, commander of CENTCOM. Fallon had made comments to a reporter from Esquire in which he indicated that if it wasn't for him Bush would be at war with Iran. The story that came out was that Fallon retired, but there is no doubt that it was a case of "retire or be fired."

In all three cases the president did the right thing. Whether the general or admiral was right in some existential sense is irrelevant.

In the case of Afghanistan, the war effort will be in good hands with Petraeus. If anyone can put us on the path to victory, it is him.

To be sure, most liberals and liberal media outlets are being completely hypocritical about generals who criticize their president. But of course.

All in all, I'm in agreement with Rich Lowry that Obama hit a home run:

I'm not sure how Obama could have handled this any better. He was genuinely graceful about McChrystal and his explanation of why he had to go made perfect sense. He called for unity within his adminstration in pursuing the war and sounded quite stalwart about both the war and about the strategy. More importantly, his choice of Petraeus as a replacement for McChrystal is a brilliant move: He gets a heavy-weight, an unassailable expert in this kind of warfare, and someone who presumably can step in pretty seamlessly. He also picked someone who has expressed (very diplomatic) misgivings about the July 2011 deadline and who will have the clout and credibility to tell the president that he can't afford to go down in troops when July comes, should circumstances warrant. (It should also be noted that this is a step down for Petraeus and he can't relish directly managing another war -- that he will do so speaks to his selfless patriotism.) In short, Obama has made the most of a rotten situation.

There, can't say I never said anything good about our president.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 30, 2010

Afghanistan Briefing - 26 May 2010 - Connecting the Population to the Government

This briefing is by British Army Major General Nick Carter. Maj. Gen. Carter is the commanding general of Regional Command-South of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Carter assumed his current duties in November of last year. Last Wednesday he spoke via satellite fromhis headquarters in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, with reporters at the Pentagon.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

In Afghanistan we are fighting insurgents who use terror as a tactic. Therefore, we should use a counterinsurgency strategy, not counterterror. Raiding and relying on Predator drones is counterterror. While these tactics certainly have a role, by themselves they are a recipe for defeat. The basis of counterinsurgency is protecting the population from the insurgents, not chasing the latter around the countryside. In this briefing Major General Carter discusses elements of the counterinsurgency strategy we are using. I have boldfaced those parts which are the most instructive.

From his opening remarks:

GEN. CARTER: What I thought I'd do for you this evening in Afghanistan -- this morning in Washington, if you like -- is to give you a sense of where we've got to on Operation Moshtarak. When I last spoke to you about it, it was about a week after we had done the launching of the clear phase of the operation. And we now find ourselves at about D-plus-102, so some three months into that phase. ...

Now, the operations that we mounted starting on the 13th of February were designed to reassert Afghan government authority and control over much of central Helmand. They were focused principally on the district of Nad e Ali, where around 100,000 people live; on the district of Marja; and the area of Kariz e Saydi and Badula Qulp, just to the northeast of Marja on that battlefield geometry diagram. And in that area, around 80,000 people live. So we're focused on between 180,000 and 200,000 people.

Now, since the operation was mounted, things have moved on. And in Marja, we find ourselves now in a position where we have a security presence throughout Marja. We have, entirely as we planned to do, conducted a relief of place with the original Afghan National Army troops that did the operation, and replaced them with new Afghan National Army kandaks in full partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps who are based there.

You'll find around eight of the 15 schools are open, with teachers. You'll find all the bazaars are functioning. And you'll find a good deal of cash-for-work projects going on under some of the USAID projects, under ASI. And you'll find that the USAID AVIPA Plus projects -- that's the agriculture voucher program -- is working well.

What you'll also find, which is important, is the district governor, one Haji Zahir, who's becoming increasingly assertive and is outreaching to the population, trying to connect himself and therefore the Afghan government to the population. And that's all very positive.

That said, we are not that -- not yet where we need to be. It's very important that Haji Zahir's community council, his shura, becomes genuinely representative of all of the people in Marja. And at the moment, that is not the case.

What is also striking -- remember I said we're focusing on central Helmand, of 600,000 people -- is that we now have freedom of movement throughout central Helmand. Again, before the 12th of February, it wasn't possible for Governor Mangal, the provincial governor, to travel from Lashkar Gar to Nad e Ali or to Marja or to Nawa. He can now do that on his own, with his own security detail. Before the 11th of February, he'd have had to have done it in a helicopter to go to Nad e Ali or Nawa, and he couldn't have gone anywhere near Marja at all. Indeed, we didn't even fly helicopters over Marja ourselves.

So we're making progress. But in counterinsurgency, it takes time, it takes patience, and it's frustrating. And that is what we see at the moment. But nonetheless, we're going in the right direction.

And whilst that is partly a security problem, it's a problem that is political. It's involving impunity and the culture of impunity that has grown up, during the last eight years. And it's also about delivering the sort of stabilization and reconstruction projects which go to the heart of removing the causes of the insurgency.

Now, how do we get to that point? It's about connecting the population to the people, to the government. And that requires building representative governance from the bottom up.

Now, clearly, what is needed is for the governor's capacity to increase and for the governor to become connected to his population -- and that is what is happening at the moment

On to the Q & A

The following is based on this McClatchy News article

McChrystal calls Marjah a 'bleeding ulcer' in Afghan campaign
May 24, 2010
by Dion Nissenbaum

MARJAH, Afghanistan -- Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top allied military commander in Afghanistan, sat gazing at maps of Marjah as a Marine battalion commander asked him for more time to oust Taliban fighters from a longtime stronghold in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.

"You've got to be patient," Lt. Col. Brian Christmas told McChrystal. "We've only been here 90 days."

"How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?" McChrystal replied.

A charged silence settled in the stuffy, crowded chapel tent at the Marine base in the Marjah district.

"I can't tell you, sir," the tall, towheaded, Fort Bragg, N.C., native finally answered.

"I'm telling you," McChrystal said. "We don't have as many days as we'd like."

The operation in Marjah is supposed to be the first blow in a decisive campaign to oust the Taliban from their spiritual homeland in adjacent Kandahar province, one that McChrystal had hoped would bring security and stability to Marjah and begin to convey an "irreversible sense of momentum" in the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Instead, a tour last week of Marjah and the nearby Nad Ali district, during which McClatchy had rare access to meetings between McChrystal and top Western strategists, drove home the hard fact that President Barack Obama's plan to begin pulling American troops out of Afghanistan in July 2011 is colliding with the realities of the war.

There aren't enough U.S. and Afghan forces to provide the security that's needed to win the loyalty of wary locals. The Taliban have beheaded Afghans who cooperate with foreigners in a creeping intimidation campaign. The Afghan government hasn't dispatched enough local administrators or trained police to establish credible governance, and now the Taliban have begun their anticipated spring offensive.

"This is a bleeding ulcer right now," McChrystal told a group of Afghan officials, international commanders in southern Afghanistan and civilian strategists who are leading the effort to oust the Taliban fighters from Helmand.

"You don't feel it here," he said during a 10-hour front-line strategy review, "but I'll tell you, it's a bleeding ulcer outside."

Throughout the day, McChrystal expressed impatience with the pace of operations, echoing the mounting pressure he's under from his civilian bosses in Washington and Europe to start showing progress.

The article generated no small amount of controversy, with US military calling the headline "intellectually dishonest" and demanding that it be changed. See this story for more: McChrystal v. McClatchy

Q General, General McChrystal visited with your region a few days ago and was quoted as talking about the situation -- the public perception of the situation being a bleeding ulcer. He talked about challenging the assumptions on that.

What is your sense? Is it a bleeding ulcer right now? Can you overcome the perception in many quarters of the public that the strategy is not working? Did you tell General McChrystal any changes you'd like to see in the strategy, such as more troops?

GEN. CARTER: Yes. Last Thursday General McChrystal did come down to have a look at what was going on in central Helmand. And I think, importantly, he didn't just look at Marja; he looked at Nad e Ali and he looked at Lashkar Gar, and he looked at the context, as I set it out for you a few moments ago in terms of central Helmand. But of course, what he wanted to see was how all of central Helmand was evolving and how things were or were not improving for the 600,000 people that we're talking about.

And he asked, as you'd expect a professional commander to ask, some difficult questions about whether we were going as quickly as we can. And the answer is that, as the process we went through of all those difficult questions, we all concluded by the end of the day, that we were doing what was needed in the right way, that the strategy was appropriate and that it would deliver results.

But as I said in my opening remarks, we'll have to be patient during the course of the summer watching as the intimidation reduces and the population becomes more on side.

The point, of course, though, is that this is all about perception. And counterinsurgency is about an argument between the forces of the insurgent and the policies of the government. And what the population in central Helmand is doing at the moment is forming a view about whether it's better off with the government and whether it believes that its neighbors, which is often what the Taliban is in political terms, are also going to come across to the side of the government.

And that, I think, is the key point of this, is that it's a political movement, the Taliban. And the extent to which your neighbor is genuinely on side with the government is something that you don't necessarily know. And of course, like all political movements, it takes time for people to be convinced. So what is going on in central Helmand at the moment is people are being convinced.

Now, of course, when General McChrystal referred to Marja as a bleeding ulcer, he was talking about the perception of the outside world. And of course, in the same way that it's important that Afghan perceptions go in the right direction, it's important that the outside world also has the right perceptions. And I think his feeling was that some people in the outside world would regard Marja as being a bleeding ulcer. That's not the way he sees it in theater, nor, indeed, is that the way that the Afghans see it. It's very important, I think, that things are set properly in context.

"Bleeding ulcer." "Perception." "Patience." What do they mean?

The Viet Cong launched what has become known as the Tet Offensive on January 31, 1968. Although the VC were defeated on the battlefield, suffering casualties to the point where they were no longer an effective fighting force for the rest of the war, the perception back home was that we were losing the war. The reason for this perception is that the Johnson Administration and military spokesmen had been telling Americans that the war was going well, and so the mere fact the offensive took place seemed by belay that assertion. The Tet Offensive was a tactical victory for the United States, but a strategic defeat.

Conservatives typically complain about this, saying that "we really won and it was the media that misrepresented the situation." This may be true, but it's also irrelevant. We must live with the world as it is, not how we want it to be. Perception is therefore important, and anyone who thinks we can win wars through military means alone without regard to the information-perception-media aspect is fooling only themselves. More, this is nothing new to history. Perception and public support, even in dictatorships, has always been vital. We must win the information war as well as the war on the ground.

Back to the Q & A. There were several questions about "connecting the people to the government," and MG Carter spent some time addressing the subject. We'll quote just this one:

Q General, Luis Martinez, with ABC News. If I could ask you about the operation, the upcoming operation in Kandahar, there's been much stress put on the fact that this is going to be much less of a military operation, and a holistic operation. How do you measure progress if -- you, being a military man -- how do you measure progress of this kind of operation as the months go on.

GEN. CARTER: Well, of course, that's always our challenge, because we have to -- we have to assess it, for two reasons. One, we have to measure progress, so that we know whether or not our strategy is going in the right direction and we can touch on the tiller as appropriate. And of course, the other reason that we have to measure progress is to demonstrate to the doubting Thomas sitting in the room with you that we're going in the right direction.

And that is where it becomes really challenging, because, as I tried to set out in my opening remarks, it's very difficult for you guys and girls to visualize what life is like for the average Afghan, and what it's been like for the last 30 years. So when I talk about freedom of movement and I talk about connecting to the government, and I talk about the range of stock on the shelves of a bazaar becoming more fulsome, and I talk about prices go down, and I talk about the ability for you to take your pomegranates from your orchard in the Arghandab and send them to a marketplace other than in Pakistan, those are things that are probably quite difficult for people to comprehend. But those, of course, are the criteria against which we will judge success, because that is what population-centric counterinsurgency is all about.

In traditional nation-state wars, the center of gravity is the enemy's government and/or armed forces, with more or less weight applied to one or the other depending on the circumstances. In an insurgency the center of gravity is the population. It is not, oddly, the insurgents. Chasing them around the countryside is not the path to success.

As has been said a kazillion times on this blog because it was proven in Iraq under generals Petraeus and Odierno, the path to success lies in three things

  1. Protecting the population
  2. Convincing the people that the countersinsurgents will win
  3. Convincing the people that it is in their best interests for the counterinsurgents will win.

Note that #3 is a cold calculation of self-interest, not some philosophical attachment to Jeffersonian democracy. While the latter would be nice, history shows it isn't going to happen and pushing that doesn't work anyway. As Gen. Carter implied, it's the economy, stupid. It's about being able to live your daily routine in a normal manner, about sending your kids to school, holding a job and being able to go the market and shop in relative safety. Achieve those things and the population will be on your side. The people do not have to like the counterinsurgents, they just have to think they're working for their self interest.

Whether all this works in Afghanistan remains to be see, but from what I can tell in this briefing Gen. Carter understands how to win.

Posted by Tom at 7:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 11, 2010

Krauthammer Nails it on Counterinsurgency
Are We Finally Beginning to Understand How to Win?

Charles Krauthammer last night on Fox News as one of the "all star" commentators:

...I think it fits with the interesting strategy that McChrystal has because the objective is not the killing of the Taliban. The objective is to gain the confidence of the civilians.

If you announce in advance you will do Kandahar, the capital [of the Taliban], the prize here, you hope that the small bands of the enemy roaming around will think twice about hanging around and facing the U.S. Marines, because they will lose.

And you are doing is appealing to the less fanatical and less ideological and the less suicidal enemy who will sneak around and join the population and give up the fight and become civilians. And we aren't against that.

The idea is once they get integrated in society, that's OK. You don't want a victory where you have to surrender on the battleship Missouri. What you want is to win the confidence of the population.

I don't know whether to be happy or sad when I read this. I didn't see the video, but Krauthammer seems to think this is some sort of a unique strategy. If so, I'm disappointed, because protecting the population as opposed to simply hunting and killing insurgents was the entire strategic basis of the surge in Iraq. I guess that Charles hasn't been reading The Redhunter.

I've gone over this a kazillion times on Redhunter, but once more can't hurt. Maybe there's a new reader who cares about this stuff.

Our strategy for what became known as the "surge" in Iraq was published in December of 2006 in the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24("3-24" is sometimes written as "3024" for reasons I'm not clear on). Long story short, the manual was written by a team led by then-Lieutenant General David Petraeus. A few months later Petraeus was promoted to four-star rank and sent to Iraq to implement the strategy he developed.

The authors of the manual examined the history of insurgency over the past hundred years or so to determine their nature and what strategies worked and which failed. The team included civilians as well as military personnel.

The essence of the new strategy was that raiding from remote bases does not work. Troops must get off their big bases and live among the people. Rather than concentrate on hunting and killing insurgents, troops should focus on protecting the population. There were three basic phases: Clear - Hold - Build.

Small Wars Journal explains it best, and quotes from the section of the manual written by Lt. Col. (Dr) David Kilcullen:

Counterinsurgency: FM 3024 / MCWP 3.33.5 defines the true meaning of the phrase hearts and minds as the two components in building trusted networks in the conduct of COIN operations:
"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.

I think Dr. David Kilcullen defined hearts and minds as two components of COIN operations quite nicely during a COIN seminar at Quantico, Virginia, several weeks ago.

In addressing the reality of hearts and minds Kilcullen explained how the following 1952 statement by General Sir Gerald Templer, Director of Operations and High Commissioner for Malaya, has been misinterpreted:

"The answer lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle, but in the hearts and minds of the Malayan People"

General Templer did not mean (or say) that we must "be nice to the population" or make them like us. What he meant, and his subsequent actions played out, was that success in COIN rests on the popular perception and this perception has an emotive ("hearts") component and a cognitive ("minds") component.

Kilculen continued - what is essential here is making the population choose. The gratitude theory - "be nice to the people, meet their needs and they will feel grateful and stop supporting the insurgents" - does not work. The enemy simply intimidates the population when COIN forces / government are not present resulting in lip-service as the population sees COIN forces / government as weak and easily manipulated. In time, this leads to hatred of COIN forces / government by the population. On the other hand, the choice theory - "enable (persuade, coerce, co-opt) the population to make an irrevocable choice to support COIN forces / government usually works better. The population typically desires to "sit on the fence" and not commit to supporting any side in an insurgency / COIN environment. COIN forces / government need to get the population off that fence and keep them there. This requires persuading the population, then protecting them, where they live. While this cannot be done everywhere, it must be done where it politically counts.

Go to the right sidebar on this blog, and under "Categories" you'll see some for Iraq. Choose Iraq II 2007 - 2008 and scroll away. Time and again you'll come across our commanders saying that the key to victory was living among the people so that we can protect them.

Or you can watch Gen Petraus give the definitive speech on the matter, or just read my summary of it at my October 12, 2008 post: Gen Petraeus' Speech on Iraq - How We Did It .

Or if you want to hear it from the colonels who commanded the brigades themselves read

Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work"
Iraq Briefing - 22 Feb 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"
Iraq Briefing - 14 April 2008 - "From Clear to Hold and Build"
Iraq Briefing - 09 June 2008 - Job Creation to Defeat the Insurgency
Iraq Briefing - 04 August 2008 - Achieving Durable Security

Did it work? Even the leftist rag Newsweek, something I usually pay absolutely no attention to but saw at my gym just this evening, says so. In an article titled "Rebirth of a Nation: Something that looks an awful lot like democracy is beginning to take hold in Iraq. It may not be 'mission accomplished'--but it's a start" they basically admit that in the end Bush's surge strategy worked.

Yes yes, I know, we're not out of the woods there yet. There are dangers galore. Ditto that of the United States until the civil rights movement of fifty years ago, if you want to play that game. We won, the insurgents and naysayers lost, and we need to apply those lessons to Afghanistan and wherever else we need to fight.

Posted by Tom at 9:45 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 9, 2010

Afghanistan Briefing - 04 March 2010 - A Taliban Who Trusts Americans

This briefing is by Brigadier General Lawrence D. Nicholson. General Nicholson is the commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. Last Thursday he spoke via satellite from Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan with reporters at the Pentagon.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

First, an excerpt from Gen Nicholson's opening statement, then on with the Q & A from the assembled journalists:

GEN. NICHOLSON: ... as you know, right now we're on day 20 going into day 21 of Operation Moshtarak, a planned 30-day op, at least for the initial phase.

RC (Regional Command) South, my higher headquarters, is working Op Moshtarak in two different AOs (Area of Operations). Really one is the Task Force Helmand, the British AO, in Nad Ali. And within Task Force Helmand, you had Afghans, of course, Brits, Danes and Estonians.

And then the port that we'll talk about tonight was in southern Nad Ali district or what we better know as Marja, where we had Task Force Leatherneck. Again we had Afghan, Marine, Navy of course and an Army Stryker Battalion....

What we wanted to accomplish very quickly was to go big, strong and fast, get into the center of Marja, occupy the spine of Marja if you will, and start clearing out. We were able to insert all of our heliborne forces without incident, and at first light -- we wanted to wait till first light to begin moving our ground forces in. We were prepared to breach at several different sites.

...we were able to move in relatively unencumbered. So we got about 4,000 Marines, Afghans and soldiers into Marja relatively quickly.

...within Marja today, we have about 2,500 U.S. Marines and about 1,500 Afghan soldiers. In addition, we have about 600 ANCOP, or National Police....

Marines don't search any of the homes. In an area this large, when you decide you've got to search a home, the guys going in are going to be Afghan soldiers....

And the other piece I would add is, when we did Operation Khanjar in July, we had -- for every Afghan soldier we had about 10 Marines. So for this operation, Moshtarak, I think it's almost a 2-to-1 ratio, maybe a little less than that, but -- you know, maybe closer to 3-to- 1, but the fact of the matter is, it's a tremendous improvement in not only the numbers but in the capability of the force that we have....

We've got a very skeptical population here, though. And I think, unlike some of the other areas that we've been in that were generally glad to see us but were always wondering if we would stay, the population here is concerned about what we're going to be able to do for them....

"wondering if we would stay" - That indeed is the crux of the matter. As we finally learned in Iraq, raiding does not work. When up against an insurgency you cannot go in, kill the bad guys, leave, and expect things to remain stable.

In a nutshell, the path to victory is Clear - Hold - Build. Unless you have enough troops and the gumption to Hold, you cannot Build. And unless you can Build, you do not give the populace a reason to help you resist the insurgents. If you have the populace on your side you stand a chance of winning, but without them all is lost.

I've only time for one exchange. it's a strange story, but actually provides a lot of insight into how insurgencies can be defeated.

Q General, it's Craig Whitlock with The Washington Post. You mentioned that the population there in Marja has been standoffish and skeptical. To what degree is that because they feel let down in the past by the Afghan government? And to what degree is it because maybe they're broadly supportive of the Taliban and their beliefs and goals?

GEN. NICHOLSON: Yeah, I had a great shura the other day. I was at City Market, I think on day five or six, and there were 40 or 50 elders that showed up. And they were one of the first guys to make any kind of appearance, because everyone had pretty well been locked down in their houses.

But in the middle of the shura this fellow stood up -- and this was reported somewhere, but an individual stood up and said -- he pointed at the Americans and said, "Hey, I like the Americans. The Americans built Marja. And I trust the Americans." And then he pointed to some Afghan leaders and said, "But I don't trust you, because in the past, you know, you've represented a failed and corrupt government." You know, my words, not his, but essentially that was the theme.

And then he said, "I'm a Taliban. I'm a Taliban leader. And we're all Taliban here."

And then he said -- the amazing thing was, he pointed at the Afghan leader and said, "I'm going to give you a chance. And you have a limited amount of time to prove to me that you're not the old government." Because I think one of the great talking points right now of the new Afghan government that's coming into Marja is, hey, we're not the guys from three, four years ago. We're different. And you need to give us your shot, you need to give us your chance to earn your trust.

So I think that's a positive. But that's why I'm so very impatient that we've got to get in here and we've got to start demonstrating and earning that trust.

A Taliban who supports Americans. How about that?

The lesson is that not all Taliban are hard-core Jihadists. Those who are, we must kill or take prisoner. But many are insurgents-of-opportunity. They can be co-opted and brought over to our side. This is what seems to be happening at this shura. May it continue.

Previous on Operation Moshtarak

Afghanistan Briefing - 18 February 2010 - Operation Moshtarak Update

Operation Moshtarak: Kinetic Operations in Afghanistan Begin Anew

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February 21, 2010

Afghanistan Briefing - 18 February 2010 - Operation Moshtarak Update

This briefing is by British Army Major General Patrick Carter. MG Carter is the commander of ISAF Regional Command [RC] South, which is comprised of about 45,000 troops from a number of nations.

number of nations.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

MG Carter updates us on the progress we're making in Operation Moshtarak in his opening remarks:

GEN. CARTER: Thank you very much. And good morning to you all in the Pentagon....

And what we've tried -- been trying to do here is to get the Afghan government to assert its authority over a number of places in Helmand which have been ungoverned for some months now. So that was the key objective, about the Afghan government asserting its control and authority over central Helmand and the ungoverned spaces that existed within it....

Now, the second part of setting the political context was about making sure that the Afghan government in Kabul was fully behind this operation. And Governor Mangal about three-and-a-half weeks ago led a delegation consisting of my two security partners -- General Wardak, who runs the regional police that corresponds to RC South; and General Zazai, who commands the 205th Corps of the Afghan National Army.

He led this delegation up to Kabul, where they briefed President Karzai and his national-security committee on how the operation would work.

What they showed to him was that the operation had been planned from the finish back to the start, with, importantly, governance at the tip of the spear. So what Governor Mangal was able to reassure the president about was that they had thought through very carefully the sorts of services that people wanted to have on the ground and how that would represent betterment for the population....

Now, up front, as the commander on the ground, there were two things that I wanted to ensure were put in place before the operation was mounted, the first one of which was to ensure that the political context was properly set, and the second one was to ensure that we had adequate resources to conduct the operation. And I'll talk to the setting of the political context first of all....

Now, a second part of the operational prerequisite that I had for this operation was to ensure that we had adequate resources. And what I'm talking about here is predominantly Afghan national security force resources. And for the operation, six ANA [Afghan National Army] kandaks, or battalion, were -- battalions, were made available, as were two of the special commando kandaks, around a thousand of the ANCOP, or the Afghan gendarmerie -- that's their special police force that's nationally recruited. And we are in the process of training around a thousand new Afghan national policemen, who will be fed into Nad Ali and Marja once the hold phase of the operation starts to bite effectively.

And, of course, what's made all of this possible is the fact that the first two U.S. Marine Corps battalions that President Obama announced as part of his uplift before Christmas became available to us during the course of December and January. And they, in partnership with these Afghan national security forces and an uplift that Gordon Brown announced for British forces, has made it possible for us to put on the ground around 8,000 combined troops, who have provided the sort of force densities that are needed generally to bring the sort of security that's required on the ground.

Now, inserting all of this in a way that guarantees surprise, given that we were quite open about the fact this operation was happening, was a challenge. Now, I know that the scale of aviation assault that happened at the beginning of the Iraq war was a sight to behold. But in terms of detail coordination, I think the aviation insertion that took place last Saturday morning was most impressive, for it brought together not just one nation, but five nations' worth of helicopter pilots and a whole load of Afghans de-busing from the back of these helicopters as well....

And the upshot of this was that complete tactical surprise was achieved. And the insurgence was entirely dislocated in the first 24 hours of the operation....

Although there was much of interest in the briefing, we'll just concentrate on one exchange in the Q & A, because it goes to the heart of counterinsurgency warfare

Q Sir, Bryan Bender with the Boston Globe. To try and follow up on that, obviously your focus -- a lot of your focus now is this operation, but can you give us a broader assessment of your headquarters and the larger region of the south? What does the enemy look like? What does the population look like in terms of their view of the government? Kind of give us a sense of what your challenge is going forward in the next six months to stabilize not just this region but what you just said has been one of the most unstable.

GEN. CARTER: Yes. I mean, I think one of the things -- the key things that changed with General McChrystal's population-centric approach is that a mission statement that was very much focused on defeating an insurgency switched firmly to protecting a population.

Now in the south, that means that given even the additional resources we've got, that we have to be very focused on where the population is living.

Central Helmand is therefore important to us because, taking Lashkar Gah as the center, from Lashkar Gah north by about 50 kilometers, and from Lashkar Gah south down to Garmsir, another distance of about a hundred kilometers, within that part of the Helmand Valley around 750,000 people live.

Equally, over in Kandahar, in the urban area lives around 500,000 people, and around it, in its rural environs, all of which are very closely irrigated and therefore significantly populated, another 500,000 people live.

So taking the overall population in the south -- there's around 3 million -- you can see if you focused your attention in population- centric terms on those two population areas, you're picking up around two-thirds of the population.

So from my perspective as an RC South commander, my principal effort goes towards central Helmand and to the population living in and around Kandahar and the urban area.

I'm also very conscious of freedom of movement between those two population centers, because if you can get Afghans to be able to move freely on those roads, you'll begin to get the economy to move and governance to be delivered more broadly across the region.

Now as the population sees it at the moment, it does not feel able to move freely on those roads, and indeed it is regularly fleeced at illegal checkpoints if it tries to move goods and services that it has grown in these agricultural areas, as it were, to market or indeed further afield. And what we have to do is to improve that paradigm and to make that population feel protected.

The challenge, though, is that we need adequate ANSF (Afghanistan National Security Forces) to be able to do that. And the big difficulty for us at the moment is that we need more policemen to do this, and we're therefore working extremely hard to build on the police force, in conjunction with the army, to give ourself [sic] that partnership to be able genuinely to pop -- to protect that population.

I've gone over this a kazillion times on this blog while discussing Iraq and Afghanistan, but once more can't hurt; the key to beating insurgents is to win over the population. This does not mean they have to like the counterinsurgents, rather that they must 1) believe the counterinsurgents must win and that 2) it is their best interests that they win. The first step is protecting the population. If the counterinsurgents cannot protect the people, all the building projects in the world are worthless.

We were able to protect the population in Iraq after the surge of 2007, and after we won them over this led to a process whereby the insurgents had no place to hide.

Now I realize this is a quite simplified version of events, that there were several regional insurgencies in Iraq, each of which was quite different. And there was the Anbar Awakening. But it is a good description of the overall picture and the definition of how to win.

It's so far so good with Operation Moshtarak, and we'll just have to wait and see whether our gains are permanent.

Operation Moshtarak: Kinetic Operations in Afghanistan Begin Anew

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February 17, 2010

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Captured!

As we've all seen in the news, the tactical leader of the Taliban was captured in Pakistan a few weeks ago. This is very good news. On Monday the New York Times reported that:

The Taliban's top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.

he commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban's founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mullah Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with American and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, according to the officials.

Another AP story yesterday indicates that he has, in fact, been talking:

Baradar, who also functioned as the link between Mullah Omar and field commanders, has been in detention for more than 10 days and was talking to interrogators, two Pakistani intelligence officials said Tuesday. One said several other suspects were also captured in the raid. He said Baradar had provided "useful information" to them and that Pakistan had shared it with their U.S. counterparts.

All in all this is very good news in that we have neutralized the top Taliban commander just after the launch of Operation Moshtarak, which I covered on Monday. Their propaganda to the contrary, Taliban and other insurgent leaders must not be happy.

Of course, there's more to it than just this. As always with the Obama Administration, the capture and treatment of Baradar illustrates the contradictions inherent in their policies. The New York Times story quoted above goes on to highlight one of them:

The officials said that Pakistan was leading the interrogation of Mullah Baradar, but that Americans were also involved. The conditions of the questioning are unclear. In its first week in office, the Obama administration banned harsh interrogations like waterboarding by Americans, but the Pakistanis have long been known to subject prisoners to brutal questioning.

Liberals complain to high heaven that Bush "tortured" captured "suspects" but we'll see if they complain about the treatment of Baradar, who I guarantee you was not read his Miranda rights and does not have ACLU lawyers by his side.

Did we deliberatly allow the Pakistani's to capture Baradar, or hand him over to them after we caught him, simply to avoid these legal issues of so much concern to the left? How long will this de facto "rendition" last?

In fact, I would imagine it's pretty clear the Pakistanis are using all sorts of unpleasant methods to get information out of Baradar. In the months and years to come they'll dig strategic information out of him, but in the short term they're looking for tactical details that are actionable on the battlefield.

Further, AG Eric Holder, and by implication President Obama, plan on trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellows in New York City, even though he too was captured in Pakistan in 2003. Of course, as we all know, bringing KSM to New York City was all about appeasing the left wing of the Democrat party and little else.

Conclusion: It's OK if Obama does it, but it was torture and violation of international law when Bush-Cheney did it.

Who is Abdul Ghani Baradar?

In The Taliban Explained I quoted at length a backgrounder report published by Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War. Read the whole thing, but here is the relevant section

Although Mullah Mohammad Omar remains the figurehead atop the QST (Quetta Shura Taliban) organization, he no longer directs day-to-day operations. His reputation and admiration among rank-and-file Taliban still make him the spiritual leader of the movement,....The QST's day-to-day operations are handled by Omar's top deputy, Mullah Barader (or "Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar")....

Back to Afghanistan

The NYT story makes clear the implications of the capture:

His capture could cripple the Taliban's military operations, at least in the short term, said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer who last spring led the Obama administration's Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review.

Readers of this website will know that while I lambasted Obama for dithering in making his decision to "surge" troops into Afghanistan, and that I was unhappy that he only gave McChrystal only 30,000 of the 40,000 troops he requested, and that he put a ridiculous timelimit on success, I am generally pleased with his decision. It's certainly better than the alternates he could have chosen.

I'll have more to say about the capture of Baradar and Operation Moshtarak, but I've got to go so for now here is some commentary that I largely agree with.

Cliff May:

The news of his capture in Pakistan is a pretty big deal.

Among the reasons:

Next to Mullah Omar, Mullah Baradar was the biggest fish. It won't be easy to replace him with someone as skilled.

He probably has a lot to tell -- and the Pakistanis will not read him his Miranda rights.

It's significant that the ISI, Pakistani intelligence, decided to cooperate with us and capture him. They've been ambivalent at best about the Afghan Taliban (which they separate from the Pakistani Taliban).

Mullah Baradar may know where Osama bin Laden is or at least have information that could help find him. (I'm assuming the Pakistanis don't know already -- not sure that's true. I don't think Osama is living in a cave. I think he's in a quite comfortable villa.

Also interesting that Baradar was captured in Karachi -- a major Pakistani city (which I visited just a few months ago -- and which is a very dangerous place). But this proves once again that it's not just the wild and wooly tribal areas that are infested with terrorists.

Bill Roggio:

The Afghan Taliban's leadership cadre have long operated from within Pakistan. The Taliban's leadership council, called the Quetta Shura, has operated from the Pakistani city of the same name for years, according to Afghan and US officials.

Last fall, the Quetta Shura, and Mullah Omar himself, were reported to have been relocated to Karachi.

Baradar's arrest, if confirmed, creates problems for the Pakistani government. Numerous Pakistani government, military, and intelligence officials have repeatedly denied the existence of the Quetta Shura and have disputed claims that it had moved to Karachi.

But Baradar's arrest in Karachi would provide the strongest evidence that the Quetta Shura is now in the Pakistani port city.

The Inter-Services Intelligence agency has long been accused of sheltering the Quetta Shura, as it views the Afghan Taliban as its greatest asset in regaining influence in Afghanistan. The terror group would also serve as strategic depth, or a reserve, against India and Indian influence inside Afghanistan.

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February 15, 2010

Operation Moshtarak: Kinetic Operations in Afghanistan Begin Anew

"The War in Afghanistan has truly begun. This will be a long, difficult fight that is set to eclipse anything we've seen in Iraq."

Michael Yon

The fight for Afghanistan has begun anew with the launching of Operation Mostarak, or "Together," this past week. For various reasons, our efforts from 2001 to 2005 failed to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban that started in 2006 and by 2009 threatened to grow completely out of control.

A decent and concise summary, I think, of Operation Moshtarak can be found on Wikipedia:

Operation Moshtarak (Dari and Arabic for Together or Joint) is an ISAF pacification offensive in the area that is described as the "poppy-growing belt" of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. The combat operations started on February 13, 2010, and focuses on the Nad Ali District and Lashkar Gah district. It involves Afghan and troops of several ISAF-members in addition to the USMC and U.S. Army units.

The main target of the offensive was widely considered to be Marja (also Marjah or Marjeh), which had been controlled for years by Taliban militants as well as drug traffickers. Reports indicate that some 2,500 or more Afghan troops participated, rising to more than 15,000 when American, British, and other coalition troops are included.

As such, the offensive has been described as the largest since the fall of the Taliban, whose government was ousted from Kabul and Kandahar in October-December 2001, but proceeded to resist in the following years in an ongoing guerrilla war known as the Taliban insurgency. This became especially clear during the violent campaign in the midst of the Afghan presidential elections in 2009.

ISAF - International Security Assistance Force, the NATO led operation in Afghanistan

The 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines seize a key junction of roads just outside of Marja:

Moshtarak 1

Via the BBC (follow the link to enlarge):

Moshtarak 3 Map

For months the United States has been building up troops in Afghanistan since President Obama's decision to "surge" troops last December 1. Between now and then we have been moving troops and supplies into the country, in particular Helmund Province, the area that has seen the most activity from the Taliban (or Quetta Shura Taliban (QST), as they are most properly called.) No doubt that between Dec 1 and now, these additional troops have not simply been getting settled in their bases but engaged in what the military calls "preparing the ground," which entails things such as getting familiar with the terrain and populace, identifying enemy targets, and even "herding" enemy forces into certain areas by selective targeting and precision strikes.

Via the BBC: British and Afghan forces prepare for battle in Helmand:

Moshtarak 5

CNN has a very good Q & A with Andrew Exum, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was on Gen. Stanley McChrystal's review team of the Afghanistan strategy, and Mark Moyar, professor of national security affairs at the Marine Corps University, on why Marjah and why now:

Q: Many have never even heard of Marjah - why is the area such a big deal?

Moyar: Marjah is in Helmand province where they've made a major push in the past year with the Marines. It is the last major enemy holdout, and it is serving as a sanctuary - it is allowing them to stage military attacks, build IEDs. And it is militarily imperative and also psychologically imperative that we remove this sanctuary area, make it harder for the insurgents to operate. It's much harder for them if they don't have that sanctuary area now so they can still move into sanctuaries in other places like Pakistan, but we're going to work on those as well. But this is really a big thorn in our side and one that we're clearly going to address in the near future.

Q: Why haven't coalition forces tried securing Marjah before now?

Exum: Unfortunately, when you look at our force-to-population ratios in Helmand and throughout Afghanistan really, we're not matched up to a degree where we can secure every place all the time. However, the Marines have had a lot of security gains in Helmand province over the past year, and so now it makes sense to go after Marjah at this time because we have had some gains elsewhere through that Helmand River valley.

Q: If indeed this will be a victory for NATO forces, will this be a game-changer for the whole war?

Exum: No, it's not. In Afghanistan, unfortunately, there's no silver bullet. There's no one thing that we're going to do that's going to turn the tide. What you're going to see in Afghanistan is very steady, very unglamorous offensives whereby we're moving in and trying to secure the population, to buy the Afghan government some time and space to build up key institutions. No one thing is going to be a game-changer. There is no silver bullet in Afghanistan. This is the long, hard slog of counterinsurgency, unfortunately. But so far the Marines in Helmand province have done very well over the past year since they've been deployed there.

Moyar: That's right, it is going to be a long process. These types of wars aren't going to be decided by a single battle, and we're going to have to hold this area. Even bigger than going in and clearing it out is going to be what we do afterward, because we have gone in and cleared that area several times before but we haven't had a good follow-on plan, we haven't had robust security forces, and the enemy has come back.

Don't be put off by the implied timeframe. This isn't a high-intensity war like World War II. As I've written about a zillion times, that it takes years if not decades to defeat an insurgency does NOT mean that the same level of troops are required the entire time. High-intensity wars end with a bang, low-intensity wars (insurgencies) end with a whimper; the peter out over the course of several years.

Via Fox News, a U.S. Marine from Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines runs during a heavy gun battle in the town of Marjah, Afghanistan:

Moshtarak 2

From what I can tell, Operation Mostarak is our first use of these troops in a full-scale offensive operation. As such, it is somewhat equivalent to Operation Phantom Thunder, launched June 16, 2007, the first of a series of operations in Iraq which made use of surge troops there.

Bill Roggio assesses the situation and describes the overall military strategy:

Since 2006, the Taliban have made a dramatic comeback in Afghanistan after being driven from the country in 2002. As security has deteriorated, they have steadily taken control of more and more territory. In response, a new strategic plan for Afghanistan has been formulated by General Stanley McChrystal, Commander of ISAF and US Forces - Afghanistan. On Dec. 3, 2009, this plan was approved by the Obama administration. While there are several important aspects of the strategy, such as political development, economic development, counter narcotics, and the police and justice system, this article will focus on the military aspect. ...

The McChrystal military plan covers the short term, the next 12-18 months. The plan's main goal is to halt the progress of the Taliban, to reverse it in key areas, and to regain the initiative.

The first part of the strategy de-emphasizes the counterterrorism strategy and institutes a counterinsurgency strategy. This means reducing efforts on going after Taliban combatants and increasing efforts to provide security to the population. While the insurgency can afford to lose fighters and leaders, it cannot afford to lose control of the population.

For the short term, the US does not consider it necessary to control the entire country but rather to secure a few key areas and population centers. The goal is for the people of Afghanistan to first see an opportunity for a normal, better future, and then to start to experience it.

The key areas that General McChrystal has identified are:

• Helmand province, particularly the Helmand River valley
• Kandahar City and the areas surrounding the city
• The provinces of Paktika, Paktia, and Khost

The second part of the strategy is to develop the Afghan National Security Force into a force that is capable of providing security for the country. Although ANSF development will not be completed in 18 months, it needs to demonstrate both substantial progress and that the long term goal of the ANSF providing for security for the entire country is achievable. A major review will be held in December 2010 to assess progress.

Additional details at The Long War

Also from the BBC: A US soldier returns fire as others run for cover during a firefight with insurgents in the Badula Qulp area, West of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan:

Moshtarak 3 Map

Vice-President Joe Biden and others advocated the counter-terror approach to Afghanistan, which President Obama wisely rejected. General Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (released Dec 2006), which laid out the strategy behind the successful surge in Iraq, says flat out that in order to defeat an insurgency troops must maintain a presence in areas under contention, and that "raiding from remote, secure bases does not work." FM 3-24 also speaks to part two of McChrystal's strategy

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".

BBC: British soldiers from the First Battalion The Royal Welsh mobilise for Operation Moshtarak at Camp Bastion:

Moshtarak 4

As to how well Moshtark is working, an ISAF press release says we've achieved our initial objectives:

The initial key objectives of Operation Moshtarak have been achieved in a short space of time and with minimal interference from the Taliban, according to UK military spokesman Major General Gordon Messenger.

The "clearing" phase of the operation was launched at 0400hrs local time this morning with a series of simultaneous helicopter assaults and ground offensives undertaken by thousands of Afghan Army forces and ISAF soldiers from nations including the UK, US, Denmark and Estonia.

Major General Messenger said:

"It is still early days but operational commanders are currently pleased with the progress that has been made since the operation was launched this morning.

"There has been some resistance but it has been relatively light and the initial objective of surprising the Taliban with the time and place of the operation appears to have been achieved."

Major General Messenger said the key objectives of this phase of the operation was the built up population areas where troops were inserted via helicopters. Ground elements, linked up with these troops according to plan.

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January 16, 2010

Afghanistan Briefing - 12 January 2010 - Problems in Recruitment and Retention of Afghans

This briefing is by Colonel Brian Drinkwine. Col Drinkwine commands the 4th Brigade Combat Team, otherwise known as Task Force Fury. They are part of the 82nd Airborne Division, which is commanded by Major General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, and is based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He spoke via satellite from Afghanistan to reporters at the Pentagon last Tuesday, January 12.

From the transcript, Task Force Fury is "responsible for the training and mentoring of the Afghan security forces in the southern and western parts of Afghanistan. Colonel Drinkwine has been commanding his unit in Afghanistan since August of last year, and he is speaking to us today from Kandahar air field in southern Afghanistan."

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Following are excerpts. First, from Col Drinkwine's opening statement:

COL. DRINKWINE: ... The brigade's initial mission was to conduct security-force assistance with Afghanistan's national security forces, in cooperation with many coalition partners, in order to build Afghan capability and capacity and to defeat insurgents or criminals and bring greater security to the population and the people of Afghanistan. We assumed this mission from the departing embedded training teams, or ETTs, and quickly integrated into both regional commands West and South, and have been operating very decentralized in aid of 10 provinces.

As you know, Afghanistan's comparable to the size of the state of Texas, and my unit is spread about half of the state of Texas, which is a first for a brigade combat team.

I'll tell you, we approached our mission through embedding and partnering with numerous Army, Afghan police and border police units. It's a much less traditional mission than other U.S. brigade combat teams operating in previous deployments. Our overall purpose, as I said, is to increase the capability and capacity of our Afghan security forces by training, advising, conducting combined planning and conducting combined-action operations

Since our arrival, Task Force Fury has now grown to over 5,000 service members -- and that's Army, Air Force and Navy -- to include Department of State civilians, agricultural and developmental and reconstruction effort -- experts, and NATO coalition teammates, either inside my staff, under the control of the BCT. And we operate as a greater collective to support and execute General McChrystal's and Lieutenant General Rodriguez's strategy in Afghanistan.

On to the Q & A

Q Hi. This is Daphne Benoit, with Agence France-Presse. I have two questions for you. First of all, General Rodriguez last month was expressing some concerns about recruitment and the capacity of retaining Afghan security forces in the south, particularly, because of the violence there.

How hard do you find it to recruit and retain those soldiers and policemen there? And has the increase -- the recent increase of pay helped you in any way?

And my second question is, to what extent do contractors help you accomplish that mission in this area?

COL. DRINKWINE: Okay, two questions. And I'll work on the first, about recruitment.

Right now our assessment is a large part of the Afghan army that works in the south, and a significant portion of the police, have not come and joined the army or police from the south or the southern provinces, and this is definitely something that has been recognized and we're working on.

One of the approaches to increase the recruitment is, through the engagements that the Afghan leaders of their units, whether it's police or army, and along with a coalition in the elected or selected government officials of Afghanistan, we go out and we do -- we meet with the village elders, the mullahs, with the locals, and we talk to them....

I have yet to see droves of recruitment happen, but I know that in Helmand, where the Marines and the British are right now, they are starting to see positive effects. But it takes time. I think it's not something that you can walk in and say I'll hire a hundred Afghan males or females today. It takes time, and you have to win the trust of the locals.

And the other competing demand is, here in the south many of the military-age males or -- have duties at home with regards to agriculture. And so there's that constant tear between supporting the tribe or the family or now supporting a greater institution.

I think in the months ahead we will see greater improvement, and it's essential to winning here...

Q Follow-up on Carl's question, maybe make it a little bit more pointed. Is there a higher desertion rate in units that are assigned to the south? Do the -- do the soldiers and police, are they more likely to leave their unit and return to their home if they get assigned to some place where the fighting is heavy?

And a related question is, where, within your area of operations, has been the -- has improvement of the security forces been the most dramatic? Where are those units that are nearly operating by themselves?

COL. DRINKWINE: Right now, there has been -- you know, there's been discussion, and you've seen it at times in the south -- you have some AWOL -- AWOL rates, or absent without leave rates, that are somewhat high. And what we have found, as you track that back, I think it ties to the level of leadership in those Afghan units, the amount of partnership that we have with them, and also the ability of those soldiers to take the lead.

Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. If I can ask you another question on some statistics. What's the current literacy rate among the ANA and the ANP? And then, can you update us on the Afghan National Civil Order Police? How big is that force now? And what part of the country are they primarily operating in?

COL. DRINKWINE: Okay, thanks for the question. I'm really not the best individual to kind of talk literacy rate from a statistics standpoint. I think what's more important and more pressing is that the Afghan senior leaders, either the brigade commander, the corps commander or provincial police chief level, have all realized that literacy is something that they need in their security forces and that Afghanistan needs; it's just not their security forces. So in the initial training program for both the police and the army, there are literacy classes, and that's just a start.

Q Colonel, this is Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. First of all, happy new year to you all. My question is that young men and women are still trained there by the al Qaeda, joining al Qaeda and terrorism or Taliban. So some Afghans are still living in fear, or they are fear of -- from the Taliban....

COL. DRINKWINE: ... the Taliban uses terror and intimidation and fear to gain its resources or to try to take control of small pockets, you know, of Afghan population or small villages.

Summarizing the problems we face, they are:

1) Lack of Afghans volunteering for the armed forces
2) Need for agricultural labor, which is seen as more important than the armed forces
3) Afghan primary loyalty is to the tribe and not the nation
4) High desertion rates
5) Poor leadership in the Afghan national army
6) Low literacy rate among Afghans makes training more difficult
7) The people are afraid of cooperating because the Taliban have intimidated them

As many commentators have said, Afghanistan is the third world country for other third world countries. Changing the place is not the dozen year project Iraq is, it's a 50 or 100 year project. Note that this does not necessarily mean a high-level of U.S. or otherwise forgeign troops will be needed that entire time, but it does mean that we've got to be in this for the long haul.

If we abandon the country the Taliban will take over. They will invite back al Qaeda and we'll be where we were before our original invasion in November of 2001.

Of course, one is excused for wondering why we're at this point after eight years. There are many reasons, of course, but in the end it's like what I wrote about Iraq in 2006; "we are where we are." If you want to blame George Bush knock yourself out, but at the end of the day none of us have a time machine. Leaving Afghanistan to spite Republicans doesn't get us anywhere.

This said, yes, there does come a point where if we just can't make progress we may have to leave. And that said, the dumbest thing we could do would be to announce a date certain. Far from "encouraging the Afghans to step up," it tells them that we're not committed to winning and so they will "hedge their bets."

One thing in particular that Col. Drinkwine said that stuck out at me. Astute readers will recognize it from the oft-cited and quoted U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (written by a team assembled by then-Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, and published in December of 2006)

One of the things Col. Drinkwine said that stood out to me was

One of my first patrols that I participated on was with the MPs, or the military police, at Kandahar. And I observed the police in Kandahar not really make eye contact with the people that they were there to serve and protect. And very slowly over time, working closely day-in, day-out with the police in those subdistricts, we were able to coach and advise them. And they were actually able to watch us and the Canadians talk to the people, talk to the storekeepers and make contact and actually dialogue with them and ask them about security, ask them about the price of their goods.....

And where I'm seeing greater success is where the security forces realize and internalize they're there to secure the people but must have a relationship and earn the trust of the people.

Counterinsurgency is all about getting to know the populace and getting them to trust you. Counterinsurgents win when the convince the people that they will win and it is in the people's best interests for them to win. Counerinsurgent troops must be seen as caring about and protecting the people. To do this you've got to know everything there is to know about the locality you are assigned to protect. You can't do this behind the armor of a Stryker or MRAP.

We may not win, but we're giving it out best.

Posted by Tom at 10:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 13, 2010

The Taliban Explained

President Obama has - sort of - committed us to fighting anew in Afghanistan. Given that we'll be there for at least another 18 months, it behooves us to understand who we are fighting.

The Quetta Shura Taliban are the main enemy. A new report by Dr. Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War details who the enemy is and what motivates them.

The Quetta Shura Taliban in Southern Afghanistan
January 4, 2010
Jeffrey Dressler, Carl Forsberg


Much of the recent debate regarding the war in Afghanistan has focused on al Qaeda, specifically, the extent of their operations in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border region. Often overlooked in the strategic calculus are other enemy groups operating in the region and their ability to challenge the Afghan government and coalition forces for control in the war-torn country. It is precisely these groups that have provided al Qaeda a sanctuary to train, plan, and launch some of the most catastrophic terrorist attacks in recent history. Indeed, their relationships with key al Qaeda leaders have been forged over the past quarter-century of resistance.

For much of the past eight years, these groups have made substantial gains while the international community pursued a limited counterterrorism strategy coupled with insufficient resources. The enemy has seized the opportunity to expand their operating environment and have seized the initiative from the world's most advanced fighting forces. However, these are not an amalgamation of rag-tag fighters. They see themselves as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in exile. Among these groups, one stands out far and above the rest, the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST).

To download the full backgrounder, click here.

Excerpts follow.

Enemy Objectives And Organization

The enemy system in southern Afghanistan is resourced and directed by the QST, reorganized leadership structure based on the early 1990s Supreme Shura that served as
the governing body of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan prior to 2001.1 The QST is
headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar, who calls himself the Amir-ul-Momineen or Leader of the Faithful. The term 'Quetta Shura' originated from Mullah Omar's relocation of the Taliban organization to Quetta during the winter of 2002. Mullah Omar and his group continue to refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, despite being removed from power in 2001. This is revealing, as the Taliban see themselves as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and aim to extend their control over the entirety of the country. The Quetta Shura Taliban, whose operations have systematically spread from southern Afghanistan to the west and north of the country, is by far the most active enemy group in Afghanistan. Virtually all enemy groups operating in the country have sworn allegiance (in varying degrees) to the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Although Mullah Mohammad Omar remains the figurehead atop the QST organization, he no longer directs day-to-day operations. His reputation and admiration among rank-and-file Taliban still make him the spiritual leader of the movement,....The QST's day-to-day operations are handled by Omar's top deputy, Mullah Barader (or "Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar")....

Large fighting units range in size from groups of twelve to thirty-plus fighters.17 They typically carry out more sophisticated attacks, such as coordinated, multi-directional ambushes or raids on ANP fortifications in Taliban-controlled territory.18 Foreign fighters are better trained to conduct these sophisticated attacks. Suicide bombers are also more likely to be foreign. Their deaths will not be mourned by local families and relatives, potentially eroding public support for Taliban operations and will not start the vicious cycle of retributive justice that is part of the pashtunwali code.

Infiltration and intimidation campaigns

More than the local or national government, the QST have demonstrated a greater ability to influence the population. As the Taliban have sought to expand their control in the south, they have continued to conduct a sophisticated, multi-pronged campaign of intimidation designed to dissuade the population from cooperating with the coalition and Afghan government.

Shadow Governance Structures

Perhaps the most troubling development in Afghanistan is that the Afghan government is being out-governed by the enemy. The proliferation of Taliban shadow governance structures is significant, not only in its ability to provide justice, security, and dispute resolution, but because these structures are more effective than anything the Afghan government or international community have been able to muster. Years of corruption, mismanagement, and neglect have weakened the writ of the Afghan government at every level and provided a vacuum that the Taliban has filled with great success.

The Taliban assigns a governor to each province, responsible for nearly all civil and military matters within the provincial boundaries. The Taliban governor's primary functions include coordinating the efforts of the commanders working in his province and administering and providing oversight of Taliban finances and judicial mechanisms

The establishment of sharia law courts are one of the defining aspects of Taliban control.

The Taliban's judicial system is backed by the Taliban's military power. Taliban courts have the power to serve warrants and call villagers to testify before them. The Taliban's provision and enforcement of justice has become a key source for building legitimacy in Kandahar. Anecdotal evidence suggests Taliban courts are more efficient and transparent than are government-funded courts, and that many locals prefer them. Not only are local courts corrupt, but they are also inadequate for the size of Kandahar's population.

A major source of Taliban funding is a zakat collected from villagers in areas under Taliban control. The exact tax assessment likely varies from area to area, though in some places the ushr, or a ten percent Islamic tithe, is collected.

The Taliban's connection to opium and heroin trafficking remains a subject of debate, but what is clear is that the movement is closely connected to opium cultivation at the lowest levels. Most Taliban fighters are farmers and Taliban campaigns are timed to allow the Taliban to harvest their opium fields every April. The Taliban have historically charged opium farmers an ushr on opium at harvest time.


The Quetta Shura Taliban is sophisticated, resourceful, and fully-entrenched in many of Afghanistan's southern, western, and northern provinces. Perhaps the most glaring failure of the eight-year long war effort has been underestimating the enemy in Afghanistan. The QST has demonstrated their ability to adapt, institute lessons learned, and best practices. Indeed, QST are an entirely different enemy in both form and function than they were just years ago. With designs on seizing all of Afghanistan, mirrored in historical events, it is all the more necessary to seize the initiative from this formidable foe.

Posted by Tom at 9:45 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 10, 2010

Finger-Pointing on Pace of the Surge for Afghanistan?

It's been obvious for some time that Obama he regarded Afghanistan more as a distraction than as a war we had to win. Don't get me wrong; I understand that he has a domestic agenda that he believed was more important. While I disagree with that agenda, I understand his sense of priorities.

But what I don't get or accept is his seeming annoyance that he has to deal with Afghanistan at all. Time and again as a Senator and on the campaign trail he assured us that while he regarded Iraq as the wrong war, boy oh boy did he want to in in Afghanistan. In fact, this was the line we heard from just about the entire left, at least until you got into Code Pink territory.

Once elected though Obama promptly put the war on the back burner. On March 27 he sent more troops and announced what seemed to be a new plan. In May he correctly fired General McKiernan and replace him with Gen. Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal did a study of the situation, and on August 30 submitted a request for 40,000 additional troops.

Rather than approve the request immediately, a move that would have been in keeping with his campaign promised, he dithered for three months. Finally, on December 1, he announced that he was giving McChrystal 30,000, or three quarters, of the troops he had requested.

As I said at the time, Obama was doing mostly the right thing by sending the additional troops, but the deadline was stupid and counterproductive, and more importantly it was obvious his heart wasn't in it. It's not a matter of sounding "Churchillian," as one commenter protested, but rather a matter of leadership. Who wants to go into a war when you know your president doesn't really seem to think it very important that you win?

All this leads us to an article that appeared in last Friday's New York Times titled "White House Aides Said to Chafe at Slow Pace of Afghan Surge."

An excerpt:

Senior White House advisers are frustrated by what they say is the Pentagon's slow pace in deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and its inability to live up to an initial promise to have all of the forces in the country by next summer, senior administration officials said Friday.

Tensions over the deployment schedule have been growing in recent weeks between senior White House officials -- among them Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff -- and top commanders, including Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan.

A rapid deployment is central to President Obama's strategy, to have a jolt of American forces pound the Taliban enough for Afghan security forces to take over the fight. Administration officials said that part of the White House frustration stemmed from the view that the longer the American military presence in Afghanistan continued, the more of a political liability it would become for Mr. Obama. But beyond the politics, the speeded up deployment -- which Mr. Obama paired with a promise to begin troop withdrawals by July 2011 -- is part of Mr. Obama's so-called "bell curve" Afghanistan strategy, whereby American troops would increase their force in Afghanistan and step up attacks meant to quickly take out insurgents.

One administration official said that the White House believed that top Pentagon and military officials misled them by promising to deploy the 30,000 additional troops by the summer. General McChrystal and some of his top aides have privately expressed anger at that accusation, saying that they are being held responsible for a pace of deployments they never thought was realistic, the official said....

I hope this is news hype, or the result of a disgruntled staffer at either the White House or Pentagon feeding misleading information to a reporter. I hope that's the case because the alternative is that the Obama Administration doesn't care about winning and is looking to blame the military if things don't go as they want.

More, and again assuming the story has legs, it's clear that the first priority of the administration is not to win but a distraction that they'd just as soon get out of the way so they can get on with their main goal of pushing the country in the direction of European-style socialism.

Yes, let's push to get the troops there as fast as possible. But anyone who thinks the situation easy should read my post Supply Lines to Afghanistan, which I think is a good primer on the subject, or Afghanistan Briefing - 06 March 2009 - Building An Alternative to the Khyber Pass for a discussion on how we are trying to improve the situation.

But there's always that Clausewitzian friction, a concept totally lost on Obama and the liberals in his administration. A more current term would be Murphy's Law, which I don't need a link to explain.

Either way, Obama and his liberals need to understand that this will take time, and instead of pointing fingers, our president needs to use his formidable oratorical skills to sell and resell the case for fighting and winning in Afghanistan to the American people. Or course, that presumes that he actually wants to win it, and that his campaign rhetoric was not just a bunch of hot air to get himself elected. Kind of, you know, like that campaign promise to conduct healthcare negotiations on TV that he hasn't quite kept.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 3, 2009

President Obama's New Plan for Afghanistan: Additional Commentary

Two days ago I reviewed President Obama's speech in which he announced his new plan for Afghanistan. Following is some commentary that I found insightful:

Posted just before the speech, Kim R. Holmes explains why failure is not an option:

The alternative to victory in Afghanistan is a return to chaos and, quite possibly, genocide. Al-Qaeda and its local Taliban enablers would immediately fill the ensuing power vacuum, turning that benighted land into an apocalyptic failed state. This would recreate the exact conditions that produced the 9/11 attacks.

Only this time, things could be worse. We could witness a regional conflagration that quickly turned nuclear and went global. Afghanistan borders on Pakistan, a nuclear nation with many Taliban sympathizers (especially among its ethnic Pashtuns).

A Taliban-dominated Afghanistan could easily inject further instability in Pakistan, strengthening extremist forces in the region that also threaten India. The likelihood of war between India and Pakistan -- a war that could potentially go nuclear -- would rise significantly. Remember, these two countries have already fought three wars since the partition of British India in 1947, and enmity between the two still abounds.

These are the stakes in Afghanistan. Defeating our enemies there and leaving behind a stable state is a national-security priority. President Obama must make this case without hesitation, obfuscation, or qualification.

Remember how for these past 6 or 7 years we had to listen to the left insist that while Iraq was "the wrong war," they were raring to go fight in Afghanistan? They chided Bush for failing to get bin Laden but once they got power they were going to fix that.

Reviewing the speech, Andy McCarthy reminds us of these promises and takes Obama and his movement apart:

If you accept, as I do, the premise that President Obama is an Alinskyite, last night's speech was totally predictable. From 2003 forward, he and his party cynically raised the Afghanistan mission into a noble calling -- not because they thought it really was one, but because it made their political attack on the war in Iraq more effective. Now, Obama is cratering in the polls and his party is in even worse shape. Politically, they can't afford to abandon the noble calling at this point: Even the legacy media couldn't protect them from the fallout, which would intensify when the Taliban overran Karzai right as we headed into our midterm elections next year.

So we can't leave, but we can't wage war either. The Obama Left can tolerate, barely, the appearance of waging war if that's what it takes to prevent rank-and-file Democrats from revolting. But they have no interest in defeating anti-American Muslims (who, after all, have a point, right?) or in pursuing American interests for their own sake.

What to do? Well, the Right has given Obama his escape hatch. Conservatives keep talking about "victory" but they never define it. We keep saying, "Give General McChrystal the troops he needs to win," but because we're as vague as Obama when it comes to what "winning" means, no one will really care what the additional troops actually do in Afghanistan. Thus, as long as Obama agreed to send a contingent -- low-balled, but reasonably close to the 40,000 in McChrystal's last request -- he knew he'd be fine....Our unwavering resolve for this task will last 18 months -- during which we will continue solidifying the new narrative that the war is not ours but Afghanistan's, and that the hapless Karzai isn't producing results fast enough. That will get Democrats through the midterms.

By that point, it will be the middle of 2011 -- and that's when the "taking into account conditions on the ground" kicks in. If the Left has succeeded in souring the country on the whole enterprise such that Obama's reelection chances won't be impaired by a withdrawal, we'll pull-out. On the other hand, if the noble calling is still perceived as noble, Obama will satisfy the Right by bravely staying the course and giving General McChrystal the time he needs "to complete the mission successfully," and satisfy the Left by re-promising a phased withdrawal in about 18 months, so that those resources can be invested here at home in rebuilding our economy and putting Americans back to work (since unemployment should be hovering around 12 percent by then).

All true enough, but Marin Strmecki reminds us it could have been far worse, starting off by pointing out that anything that annoys the left can't be all bad:

When a president from the liberal wing of the Democratic party defies part of his political base in order to protect the national security and vital interests of the United States, it is not wise to begrudge him a measure of praise....

The president deserves praise for the way he has defined the problem. The United States faces a syndicate of violent extremist groups -- al-Qaeda among them -- that is based in western Pakistan....

In addition, the president deserves plaudits for rejecting a narrow counterterrorist strategy -- essentially drone attacks on steroids -- and for adopting a strategy for defeating the enemy by working with and strengthening our partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A narrow counterterrorist strategy was tried in the 1990s, and it failed....

The president has also rightly endorsed the counterinsurgency approach articulated by General McChrystal. This approach is based on using the persistent presence of forces at the local level to protect the population from attacks and intimidation by the Taliban....

Moreover, when the president signaled to Pakistan that we will not "tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear," he demonstrated a new realism about the problematic conduct of elements of the Pakistani security establishment, which has permitted the development of sanctuaries in its territory.

Victor Davis Hanson asks if we are we to be led in war by a "tiger" or a kitten? Apparently neither a lion or fox was under consideration:

...the problem is that the commander-in-chief was clearly pained by the decision -- sometimes fobbing off his dilemma on the prior administration, at other times trying to contextualize the war as a complex socio-legal problem rather than a struggle to force our enemy to accept our own political aims (i.e., a consensual government in Kabul that is inhospitable, rather than welcoming, to global terrorists).

And when a war leader visibly regrets the situation he has found himself in -- rather than being determined to prevail in the struggle at hand -- that hesitancy inevitably ripples through the ranks. Think of the British or French war effort between September 1939 and May 1940, or America in Vietnam between 1964 and 1969. Chamberlain was no Churchill, and LBJ, like it or not, was not a Nixon, at least when it came to trying to win in Vietnam.

In contrast, with the ascension of the "Tiger," Georges Clemenceau, as prime minister in 1917, his will to win ("la guerre jusqu'au bout") filtered throughout the French ranks and soon made an enormous difference in the trenches. Take away a win-at-all-costs Lincoln in the dark days of spring and summer 1864, and the Army of the Potomac, Grant or no Grant, would have lost its soul. During the Cold War, American forces, down to the level of private, were more enthused with a "tear down this wall" president than an earlier "free of that inordinate fear of communism" commander-in-chief.

So, yes, in the short term, troops will be sent. Two brilliant generals will have leeway. And we will have a year and a half at the new troop levels. But no nation can -- or should try to -- win a war when the heart of the man at the top is not in the struggle.

The invaluable Charles Krauthammer saw the speech as quite strange:

It was a very strange speech. It was supposed to be a clarion call to battle ... But it was so hedged and cramped and ambivalent. There was a huge reluctance you could hear in his tone.

On one hand, he sends in the troops, and on the other hand, he says we are leaving in 18 months. ... You can say it's a sop to the left, but we heard his national security adviser today in testimony say the date is fixed one. The withdrawals will start. The only question is [that] conditions will determine the pace of withdrawal.

So James Jones was saying it is a real date. That's the reason why I think people are unsure about this. There are a lot of people on the right who think this was OK. They won the policy, and the left won the speech -- [meaning] all the caveats are in a speech, but the president is committed to the surge and his commanders have at least partial victory in what they want.

But the issue is this -- Is his heart in it? He spoke about unwavering resolve, and yet he talks about exit. He talks about how the security of the world hangs on this, and yet he had a whole riff in the speech about how we have to look after our economy and how expensive war is and how we have to balance the needs of our country.

Finally, Peter Kirsanow reminds us that we weren't the only ones listening to the speech:

The Taliban and al-Qaeda were not the only ones marking their calendars while listening to President Obama's speech last night. Certain parties in Tehran and Moscow were making self-interested calculations as well. In those cities, the lines from the speech that mattered most were those pertaining to the 18-month timetable. If the president of the United States pronounces this war to be so important, yet spends much of his time plotting an exit seemingly untethered to victory (indeed, doesn't even define what "victory" in Afghanistan would be), that sends a signal to our adversaries likely to produce headaches in the future: Be patient, and your aims shall be realized. If there was any doubt in Tehran that no serious effort would be made to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, that doubt was markedly diminished, if not extinguished, last night. And the gleam of adventurism in Mr. Putin's eyes shines brighter today as well. The dog whistle in last night's speech alerted a few wolves as well.

We may well pull a victory out, but by only sending 3/4 of what General McChrystal asked for he's made it unnecessarily risky. His timeline telegraphs to friends and enemies alike that we're not dedicated to victory. To our enemies it means that all they have to do is survive another 18 months. Our friends must make a hard calculation; "will the U.S. win in 18 months?" If they conclude no, they'll "make their accomodations" with the Taliban now, if they conclude yes, they had better be right, or we'll have what happened in south Vietnam and Cambodia all over again.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 2, 2009

President Obama Announces His Plan for Afghanistan

Tuesday evening Obama delivered an address at West Point in which he laid out his plan for Afghanistan.

One thing is certainly true now: President Obama owns the war in Afghanistan. By refusing to accept Gen McChrystal's plan as presented, he cannot blame anyone but himself if the war goes awry. By insisting on his own unique plan, he accepts sole responsibility for success or failure.

Quick Take

The good - All in all I'm fairly pleased with the plan. He is sending 30,000 more troops, a decent number,and that is good. He also recognizes that the presence of U.S. troops is not the problem in that we are not "occupiers," but our troops are part of the solution. He could have chosen a low-troop counterterror strategy, or just announced that we were pulling troops out, or some other screwball plan, and he didn't

The bad - This seems less a strategy for victory, a word that Obama doesn't utter even once, than one to get the issue off of his plate. Another 10,000 troops would have been better and less risk. Fewer troops always increases the possibility of failure. Announcing a date for withdrawal is dumb. He displayed his usual pettiness of blaming his predecessor time and again. Obama is very self-reverential and loves to pat himself on the back.

The Speech

I'll have much more to say about this speech and his new strategy in the days to come, but for now here are some excerpts along with my commentary:

... it is important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of the passengers on board one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.

Excellent. Pity that he doesn't say this ever week. George W Bush stopped making the case for Afghanistan and Iraq and it cost him politically. Here's the paradox: Bush could have had all the troops and money for either early on, but he didn't ask for them. When he finally decided he needed more troops for Iraq, it became very difficult to get them. Obama faces the same problem.

Col. Harry Summers made much the same point about Lyndon Johnson in his seminal work On Strategy; A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, in 1982. He pointed out that Johnson didn't think he needed a declaration of war in 1964, so he didn't seek one. By 1968, when he did need one, he couldn't get it.

As such, Obama needs to make the case for Afghanistan on a regular basis. Not just one big speech and then back to healthcare or global warming or whatever, but he needs to do this again and again. If he doesn't he's going to find it very difficult to get the money and support that he needs to see this through.

Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war in Iraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq War is well-known and need not be repeated here. It is enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq War drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention - and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world.

Now we're back to typical Obama pettyness: "Hey everyone, none of this is my fault! Blame George W Bush!" The man is incapable of giving a speech in which he doesn't do this. This quite in contrast to another wartime leader who inherited a mess, one Winston Spencer Churchill, who instead of blaming his predecessors just got on with it. Follow the link and listen to Churchill's speech; note that he talks about "we," while with Obama it's always me me me.

He plays the blame game again and again, and of course it's all about him. I'll spare you the quotes as you can read the transcript for yourself.

As your Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service. That is why, after the Afghan voting was completed, I insisted on a thorough review of our strategy. Let me be clear: there has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war. Instead, the review has allowed me ask the hard questions, and to explore all of the different options along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and with our key partners. Given the stakes involved, I owed the American people - and our troops - no less.

This review is now complete.

Oh bullcrap. The reason he dithered is that he wanted to push healthcare as far in the congress as he could without making its more leftist members mad at him.

And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.

This is less than the 40 - 45,000 that Frederick and Kimberly Kagan recommended, and that McChrystal apparently requested, but we'll apparently get 5,000 from NATO as well. The question is any or how many of those NATO troops will be encumbered with rules of engagement so restrictive as to make them useless, like the German troops are now.

I'm not quite sure if he's promising to bring home all troops after 18 months, or just these "surge" forces. Most likely it's the latter, which would make this surge similar to the one in Iraq, where we went from 15 to 20 brigades for about 18 months, then brought the surge forces home, and have slowly drawn down further since then.

To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.

We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increase Afghanistan's capacity over the next 18 months.

The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 - the fastest pace possible - so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

All good here. Securing the key population centers is the most fundamental aspect of counterinsurgency there is, as I've said about a kazillion times.

Because this is an international effort, I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies.

Ha. They'll betray us, just as they have in the past. The same countries that landed tens of thousands of troops in Normany on one day alone seem to have trouble ponying up more than a handful now, and this with far larger populations.

Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.

We shall see. Obama will find this timeline easier to read on a teleprompter than to actually carry out. The oft said phrase, "the enemy gets a vote," is true. You don't have to read much history, or know much Clausewitz, to know that events seldom unfold as expected.

Second, we will work with our partners, the UN, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.

This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai's inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance.

On the good side Obama seems to recognize that our enemy is not Hamid Karzai, and that for better or worse he's the president of Afghanistan and that we've got to work with him. Constantly attacking him will only make him wary that we're going to abandon him, and this in turn will cause him to seek "an accommodation" with the Taliban.

We need to understand that just as with Iraq, the lack of performance was because the Afghans couldn't be sure we wouldn't cut and run on them. Why should they give it their all if we weren't committed? Look, if I was a local governor unsure about the United States, I wouldn't want to make the Taliban too mad as I might have to live under their rule in the near future. In fact, I'b be sorely tempted to "make my arrangements" with them, just in case. In Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki and his government performed much better once the surge got underway, and the realized that yes we were committed to win.

On the down side,, Obama can't just announce anything without blaming his predecessor - "the days of providing a blank check are over" - his pettiness doesn't know any bounds.

Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.

We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.

In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust.

"Mutual respect" with a nation where Sharia is the law of the land. This sounds like Bush 41 and 43 all over again. Where's that "change" again?

And of course there's that "in the past" blame again.

Ok ok, I know we have to work with the Pakistani government whether we like them or not. But I don't think we need to listen to the left anymore tell us that it's only the conservatives who are in bed with dictators and thugs and such.

...there are those who acknowledge that we cannot leave Afghanistan in its current state, but suggest that we go forward with the troops that we have. But this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through, and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there.

He's certainly right here. This is a point I and many others have made time and again.

...there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort - one that would commit us to a nation building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government.

I understand the second argument, in which a timeline gives us leverage and the Afghanis incentive. John McCain gives a good rebuttal:

A date for withdrawal sends exactly the wrong message to both our friends and our enemies - in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entire region - all of whom currently doubt whether America is committed to winning this war. A withdrawal date only emboldens Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while dispiriting our Afghan partners and making it less likely that they will risk their lives to take our side in this fight.

"Success is the real exit strategy. When we have achieved our goals in Afghanistan, our troops should begin to return home with honor, but that withdrawal should be based on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary deadlines.

Obama, however, isn't interested in winning. He's interested in getting the whole thing off the table so he can get on with socializing the United States

Back to the president:

Over the past several years, we have lost that balance, and failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy.... All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars.

Grrrr. The man is insufferable.

Obama goes on for some time more, but it's all boilerplate blather and not worth quoting.


My first thought after reading the speech was, "he took all these months to come up with this?" The strategy he came up with is nothing remarkable. Much of the speech is boilerplate and there's not a lot of details.

This increase in troops might be enough to do the trick, but by shorting McChrystal 10,000 he's making it more difficult to win. Also, while Obama may be able to claim credit if it works, he certainly will take the blame if it doesn't. He should have chosen "the full McChrystal," which stands a better chance of success, and he could still have claimed credit because it was he who appointed McChrystal as top dog in Afghanistan back in June of this year.

The hardest part of reading any Obama speech is getting past his incredible pettiness and lack of class. Churchill and Roosevelt spoke about challenges and tried to rally the nation, with Obama it's all about him, how smart he is; his speeches are full of "I" "I" I"I. All leaders think they inherited a mess when they took over; that's why they ran in the first place, to "clean things up." But they don't say so time and time again. He is the most narcissistic, vain, and arrogant president I've ever read about, exceeding that of even Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson.

One gets the unmistakable impression that Obama doesn't really care about winning. When George W Bush finally realized that the Rumsfeld-Abizaid-Casey strategy wasn't working in Iraq, he appointed a new team and gave them what we had to get the job done. There were no timelines (though surely he knew that there was a political one lurking in the background).

Indeed you can't help but think that he's ordering this troop increase because he wants to get it off the table as a political issue. My guess is that he figured he'd send just enough troops to keep the right happy, but not go with "the full McChrystal," so that he might have some credibility left with his base. In other words, the whole thing was just a big political decision.

As I said earlier, Obama dithered over this decision not because he wanted to conduct a " thorough review of our strategy," but because he wanted to push healthcare as far in the congress as he could without making its more leftist members mad at him. The whole thing is political.

More importantly, the man just can't come out and say "let's win this thing!" No, he approaches it as a policywonk would. There's nothing wrong in formulating policy that way, but the reality is that issues, most of all that of warfare, is about passion. Winning requires passion because political leaders require support as much as anything else.

Politically, he's in the odd position of having most of the right congratulate him and the left attack him. More on this in future posts, but from what I can tell his base is furious that he didn't surrender Afghanistan and withdraw willy-nilly.

Posted by Tom at 7:30 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 23, 2009

FPI Fact Sheet: The case for a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan

I've long advocated "the full McChrystal" as our strategy for winning in Afghanistan. I sincerely hope President Obama agrees. My fear is that he will adopt a halfway measure that ensures both that we do not win and that Americans will continue to be killed.

The reason for our being in Afghanistan is ultimately pretty simple; do you want more 9-11s? If we pull out it is only a matter of time before the Quetta Shura Taliban and Haqqani network take over the country, which they would most likely do in a few short years. When they do, they will invite back al Qaeda. If we learned anything from 9-11 is is or should be that you cannot let terrorists have an entire nation as a home base and sponsor, even one as backward as Afghanistan. Fifty years ago it didn't matter what happened in these countries, but with the advent of modern technology all that has changed. Now the most backward of third world nations can reach out and touch us.

In many posts I've outlined what the full McChrystal would entail and why it alone is the only chance for success. The Foreign Policy Initiative has helpfully summarized the case for a fully resourced counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Following is the entire piece:

FPI Fact Sheet: The case for a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan:
During the time that President Obama has been mulling the way forward in Afghanistan, a number of politicians, advisors, and analysts have put forth various arguments against a significant increase in troop strength and a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy. The arguments, when closely considered, expose a default resistance to completing the mission, not a thoughtful dismantling of the pro "surge" case. Below you'll find a list of the most popular critiques of General Stanley McChrystal's COIN strategy and resource request, each followed by clear refutations from relevant experts.

Charge: The illegitimate election of Hamid Karzai means failure for any stepped up effort in Afghanistan.

Response: "[C]onsider the analogous case of Iraq over the last three years," write Richard Fontaine and John Nagl in the Los Angeles Times. "At the time [of the surge of forces to Iraq], Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Shiite-led government was widely viewed as weak and sectarian. An overwhelming number of Sunni Arabs -- who formed the center of gravity of the insurgency -- rejected its legitimacy and had boycotted the December 2005 elections that brought it to power. The Maliki government had done little to allay these feelings; on the contrary, elements of its security forces participated in sectarian violence against Sunnis through 2006." Yet Gen. David H. Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy was able to protect populations, restore order, and make room for the political reconciliation that would not have otherwise been possible. "Prospects for such an outcome in Afghanistan actually look better now than they did in Iraq in early 2007," write Fontaine and Nagl, "unlike Iraq -- where success hinged on persuading a critical mass of the Sunni Arab community to accept the bitter reality of a Shiite-led government -- no deep existential issue drives Afghans (primarily Pashtuns) into the arms of the insurgents." In fact, all polls and other data indicate that "the national government in Afghanistan almost certainly retains greater legitimacy among the people than did the Iraqi government before things began to turn for the better there." -- Los Angeles Times

Charge: Afghanistan is too "naturally" tribal and backward for a COIN strategy to work.

Response: In reality, Afghanistan "has been a state since the 18th century (longer than Germany and Italy) and has been governed by strong rulers such as Dost Mohammad, who ruled from 1826 to 1863," writes Max Boot, in Commentary. "Afghanistan made considerable social, political, and economic progress during the equally long reign of Mohammad Zahir Shah from 1933 to 1973. The country was actually relatively peaceful and prosperous before a Marxist coup in 1978, followed by a Soviet invasion the next year, triggered turmoil that still has not subsided. . . . Afghanistan has not always been as unstable and violent as it is today. . . it is hard to know why Afghanistan would be uniquely resistant to methods and tactics that have worked in countries as disparate as Malaya, El Salvador, and Iraq." -- Commentary

Charge: Al Qaeda is our real enemy. COIN focuses unnecessarily on defeating the Taliban and other related groups.

Response: "Al Qaeda does not exist in a vacuum like the -SPECTRE of James Bond movies. It has always operated in close coordination with allies," write Frederick and Kimberly Kagan in The Weekly Standard. "The anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s was the crucible in which al Qaeda leaders first bonded with the partners who would shelter them in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden met Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose network is now fighting U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, as both were raising support in Saudi Arabia for the mujahedeen in the 1980s. They then fought the Soviets together. . . Bin Laden and al Qaeda could not have functioned as they did in the 1990s without the active support of Mullah Omar and Haqqani. The Taliban and Haqqani fighters protected bin Laden, fed him and his troops, facilitated the movement of al Qaeda leaders and fighters, and generated recruits. They also provided a socio-religious human network that strengthened the personal resilience and organizational reach of bin Laden and his team. Islamist revolution has always been an activity of groups nested within communities, not an undertaking of isolated individuals. . . There is no reason whatever to believe that Mullah Omar or the Haqqanis--whose religious and political views remain closely aligned with al Qaeda's--would fail to offer renewed hospitality to their friend and ally of 20 years, bin Laden. Al Qaeda's allies "provide them with shelter and food, with warning of impending attacks, with the means to move rapidly. Their allies provide communications services--runners and the use of their own more modern systems to help al Qaeda's senior leaders avoid creating electronic footprints that our forces could use to track and target them. Their allies provide means of moving money and other strategic resources around, as well as the means of imparting critical knowledge (like expertise in explosives) to cadres. Their allies provide media support, helping to get the al Qaeda message out and then serving as an echo chamber to magnify it via their own media resources." -- Weekly Standard

Charge: We can defeat our enemy in Afghanistan with a more limited counterterrorism strategy, using drones and increased intelligence gathering.

Response: "If the United States should adopt a small-footprint counterterrorism strategy, Afghanistan would descend again into civil war," Frederick Kagan testified before the House Armed Services Committee. "The Taliban group headed by Mullah Omar and operating in southern Afghanistan (including especially Helmand, Kandahar, and Oruzgan Provinces) is well positioned to take control of that area upon the withdrawal of American and allied combat forces. The remaining Afghan security forces would be unable to resist a Taliban offensive. They would be defeated and would disintegrate. The fear of renewed Taliban assaults would mobilize the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras in northern and central Afghanistan. The Taliban itself would certainly drive on Herat and Kabul, leading to war with northern militias. This conflict would collapse the Afghan state, mobilize the Afghan population, and cause many Afghans to flee into Pakistan and Iran. Within Pakistan, the U.S. reversion to a counterterrorism strategy (from the counterinsurgency strategy for which Obama reaffirmed his support as recently as August) would disrupt the delicate balance that has made possible recent Pakistani progress against internal foes and al Qaeda." -- House Armed Services Committee

In Commentary, Max Boot notes, "it is hard to point to any place where pure [counterterrorism] has defeated a determined terrorist or guerrilla group. This is the strategy that Israel has used against Hamas and Hezbollah. The result is that Hamas controls Gaza, and Hezbollah controls southern Lebanon. It is the strategy that the U.S. has employed in Somalia since our forces pulled out in 1994. The result is that the country is utterly chaotic and lawless, and an Islamic fundamentalist group called the Shabab, which has close links to al-Qaeda, is gaining strength. Most pertinently, it is also the strategy the U.S. has used for years in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The result is that the Taliban control the tribal areas of Pakistan and are extending their influence across large swathes of Afghanistan." -- Commentary

Charge: Our army is already stretched too thin. A troops surge in Afghanistan is unsustainable.

Response: "This fear, heard often about Iraq in 2004-06, is no truer now than it was then," writes Tom Cotton in the Weekly Standard. "At the 2007 peak, the United States had 200,000 troops deployed to Iraq (170,000) and Afghanistan (30,000). Currently, there are 110,000 troops in Iraq and 68,000 in Afghanistan, well below that peak. And 60,000 troops are expected to leave Iraq by next August as more troops flow into Afghanistan. Thus, overall deployed troop levels in 2010 will remain the same or fall. The Army has also grown to accommodate repeated deployments. It expanded over the last two years from 512,000 to 547,000 soldiers and now plans to add another 22,000 troops by 2012. Further, it just exceeded its annual recruitment and retention goals, hardly the stuff of a broken Army." -- Weekly Standard

Charge: The American public believes we have no need to stay in Afghanistan after eight years of fighting.

Response: "Barack Obama has yet to talk about America or its ideals as being worth the fight. It's no wonder public support for our commitment in Afghanistan is lower today than at any point during the Bush administration," writes Foreign Policy Initiative Policy Advisor Abe Greenwald at the American Spectator. "The disconnect between rhetoric and mission is stark. Since taking office, President Obama has continuously spoken of the United States as a country that 'all too often...starts by dictating,' a place that 'has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive' toward allies, where 'our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight, [and] all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.' America, in Mr. Obama's words, 'is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history.' What kind of dupe would rally behind that place? To make matters worse, while the situation deteriorated in Afghanistan and loose speculation abounded the president went silent on matters of war. . . If the president wants to boost morale on Afghanistan, he is going to have to drink from the well of American exceptionalism." -- American Spectator

Charge: Dealing with the problems in Pakistan is more important than finishing the fight in Afghanistan.

Response: "The debate over whether to commit the resources necessary to succeed in Afghanistan must recognize the extreme danger that a withdrawal or failure in Afghanistan would pose to the stability of Pakistan," writes Frederick Kagan in the Wall Street Journal. the fight against the Taliban must be pursued on both sides of the border. Pakistan's successes have been assisted by the deployment of American conventional forces along the Afghanistan border opposite the areas in which Pakistani forces were operating, particularly in Konar and Khowst Provinces. Those forces have not so much interdicted the border crossings (almost impossible in such terrain) as they have created conditions unfavorable to the free movement of insurgents. They have conducted effective counterinsurgency operations in areas that might otherwise provide sanctuary to insurgents fleeing Pakistani operations (Nangarhar and Paktia provinces especially, in addition to Konar and Khowst). Without those operations, Pakistan's insurgents would likely have found new safe havens in those provinces, rendering the painful progress made by Pakistan's military irrelevant. Pakistan's stability cannot be secured solely within its borders any more than can Afghanistan's." -- Wall Street Journal

Charge: Afghans view coalition forces as "occupiers" and want us to leave.

Response: "In fact repeated polls have shown that majority of Afghans want the U.S. and NATO there," writes Brian Glyn Williams in Foreign Policy. "As they watch Indian soap operas on televisions the Taliban once smashed, send their girls to school, and drive on newly paved roads, millions of Afghans are experiencing the direct benefits of the U.S. presence in their country. This is the work we could have been doing in 1991 and, for all its obvious flaws, it is a tentative sign of progress in the long journey to rebuild civil society in this long suffering land. In other words, compassionate, global-minded Democrats who supported President Bill Clinton's humanitarian interventions in places like Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia owe it to the Afghan people to be patient and do the same for Afghanistan." -- Foreign Policy

Charge: Afghanistan is the "graveyard of empires."

Response: "This refrain belongs, as they say now in the military, in the graveyard of analogies," writes Tom Cotton in the Weekly Standard. "The Soviets, in particular, teach us how not to win in Afghanistan. A heavily mechanized force, the Red Army was ill-suited for Afghanistan's treacherous terrain, and it was dependent on long, vulnerable supply lines. It also discouraged innovative junior leadership, which is critical against an insurgency. To compensate, the Soviets employed vicious, massively destructive tactics that inflamed the Afghan people and still scar the country with depopulated valleys and adult amputees maimed as children by toy-shaped mines. Our present way of war couldn't be more different. We deploy light and wheeled infantry to Afghanistan, making our tactics more flexible, our supply lines shorter, and our soldiers more engaged with the locals. We also radically decentralize decision-making authority to our junior soldiers and leaders, who increasingly can draw on years of combat experience. In short, America has a counter-insurgency strategy, whereas the Soviet Union had a genocide strategy. Afghans I spoke with always recognized the difference, reviled the Russians, and respected our troops." -- Weekly Standard

Max Boot makes a similar point in Commentary, "The two most commonly cited examples in support of this proposition are the British in the 19th century and the Russians in the 1980s. This selective history conveniently omits the military success enjoyed by earlier conquerors, from Alexander the Great in the 4th century b.c.e. to Babur (founder of the Mughal Empire) in the 16th century. In any case, neither the British nor the Russians ever employed proper counterinsurgency tactics. The British briefly occupied Kabul on two occasions (1839 and 1879) and then pulled out, turning Afghanistan into a buffer zone between the Russian Empire and their own. In the 1980s, the Russians employed scorched-earth tactics, killing large numbers of civilians and turning much of the country against them. Neither empire had popular support on its side, as foreign forces do today." -- Commentary

Charge: We can manage Afghanistan by focusing on the training of Afghans.

Response: "The Afghan Army is reasonably effective. It is too small, with roughly 90,000 total soldiers," writes Michael O'Hanlon in the Wall Street Journal. "But by most accounts, the Afghan Army is fighting well, and cooperating well with NATO forces. Gen. McChrystal's new approach to training Afghan troops will greatly strengthen and deepen this cooperation." Here is the key point as it relates to a troop build-up. "Not only will NATO finally field enough personnel to embed with each Afghan unit in mentoring teams, but its combat units will partner with Afghans at every level on every major operation - living, planning, operating, and fighting with each other in one-to-one formal partnerships." In order for that partnering to be fully implemented, a large troop surge is required. -- Wall Street Journal

Charge: There is no rush to get all of the requested resources to Afghanistan.

Response: "We face both a short and long-term fight," wrote Gen. Stanley McChrystal in his comprehensive assessment of the war. The long-term fight will require patience and commitment, but I believe the short-term fight will be decisive. Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) - while Afghan security capacity matures -risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

Many Americans are understandably resistant to the amplification of war after eight years of combat in Afghanistan and other taxing military deployments. But distaste for combat cannot supersede obligations of national security. Those who seek to sidestep those obligations must be challenged head-on, so that the illogical bases for their claims can be exposed and America can get about the business of winning a war and bringing our soldiers home in victory.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 12, 2009

The Cost of Obama's Dithering on Afghanistan

We sometimes hear from the left how wonderful it is that we have a president who takes issues of war so seriously that he takes his time to gather all the facts and consult with all the experts before coming to a decision. He doesn't rush, we are told, but thinks through everything carefully.

It's a crock, of course. The real reasons for the delay are simple. President Obama doesn't really care about Afghanistan, and all of his promises to fight and win there as Senator were just so much hot air.

What he really does care about is his healthcare bill. He knows that if he adopts Geneeral McChrystal's full set of recommendations it will make the anti-war left very mad at him, so much so that it could jeopardize his healthcare initiative. Given that it is priority number one, he's delaying a decision on Afghanistan as long as he can, hoping that Pelosi and Reid will get something, anything, passed.

The problem is that there are real costs to this delay. Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, the former the intellectual author of the surge in Iraq and the latter his scholar-wife, lay them out in The Weekly Standard. Following are excerpts:

General Stanley McChrystal's assessment and force-requirement studies were largely complete by the beginning of August. The White House has stated that the president will not be announcing a decision until the end of November at the earliest. White House officials claim that the delay does not affect the movement of U.S. forces or our prospects for military success next year. These claims are inaccurate. The delay in White House decision-making is protracting and complicating the campaign in Afghanistan and has reduced General McChrystal's ability to prepare for and conduct decisive operations next year.

When McChrystal took command of the Afghan war in June, the White House made it clear that he was expected to make dramatic progress within a year--by the summer of 2010. McChrystal worked quickly both to understand the situation and to develop an appropriate course of action that would meet the goals of the White House strategy. His concept of operations aimed to reverse the enemy's momentum and address important problems in Afghan governance. At the same time, he oversaw the establishment of a new three-star headquarters, the deployment of the last of the additional forces his predecessor had requested for election security, the securing of the elections themselves, and major operations in Helmand and elsewhere. He also made the painful decision to pull U.S. forces back from isolated outposts that required too much manpower and were in danger of being overrun. He sought to create conditions for decisive operations.

in time to meet the expectations of the White House. He was supported in that effort by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and by CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus.

The White House has not done its part to allow General McChrystal to meet its own deadline. It was slow to receive and act on the assessment he sent, and it deliberately refused even to review his force recommendations for weeks after they were complete. In the intervening months the White House has held a series of seminars on Afghanistan and the region that should have been conducted before the new strategy was announced in March.

If the White House had immediately received and acted on General McChrystal's recommendations--which were specifically tailored to meet the objectives described in the president's March 27 speech--the following critical initiatives could already be underway:

* Expanding the Afghan National Security Forces as rapidly as possible toward the goal of 400,000 total, a figure agreed-upon by the Afghan Ministers of Defense and Interior and by the U.S. military's own reviews;

* Preparing infrastructure within Afghanistan and the region to accommodate a large and rapid surge of U.S. forces;

* Sending more forces immediately to support ongoing operations in Helmand;

* Issuing orders to deploy all of the forces McChrystal requested as rapidly as possible.

The White House could have begun all of those initiatives and still conducted a thoughtful review over the ensuing weeks.

White House preoccupation with troop levels has also hindered the development and implementation of a coherent political strategy to improve Afghan governance to match McChrystal's military strategy. The administration's response to the predictably flawed elections has been reactive and defensive. Even now that the election crisis has ended, the White House appears more intent on micromanaging the deployment of forces down to the last soldier than on developing a coherent approach to improving Afghan governance. The White House is now considering three, four, or five different force-level options, depending on the (official or anonymous) source. It has yet to show that it has developed any serious options for political strategy.

But the administration must also buy more time for its commander. The White House cannot sit on the general's proposals and requests for months and still expect him to meet a deadline set when he took command. It is still possible, if the White House sends General McChrystal the forces he needs, to see a significant improvement in Afghanistan in a year--but the year begins when the additional resources start flowing. That, in turn, means that Afghanistan may not seem to be doing that well next summer when both the Taliban fighting season and the congressional campaign season are at their heights. The president has a responsibility to keep Washington politics from derailing the effort in Afghanistan at a critical moment next year.

Unfortunately, it seems to be Washington politics that is keeping the Administration from taking a decision on Afghanistan.

Worse, if news reports turn out to be accurate, Obama will "split the difference," that is, given General McChrystal only some of what he requested. The result will be the worst of both worlds; not enough to win but enough to get more Americans killed.

I do sincerely hope that our president does the right thing and adopts General McChrystal's entire recommendation. I think we'll know soon.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 10, 2009

A Comprehensive Strategy: Afghanistan Force Requirements
Part II: The Number of Troops Required

As President Obama nears a decision on Afghanistan, I will look at the force requirements for winning the war. Then, when he announces his decision, I will compare that to what is really needed, and grade him accordingly.

The case for fighting and winning in Afghanistan is pretty simple; preventing more 9-11's. Large, well funded, terrorist groups can wreck enough havoc when they have regions such as Waziristan, or parts of Lebanon, Ireland or Spain to themselves. But when they have an entire country, even one that is backward by third world standards, the results are devastating even by "normal" terrorist-attack standards.

In other posts I have explored the details of counterinsurgency strategy, and why other options than a full surge of troops into Afghanistan will fail. It is time to lay out exactly what troops are required to win.

I do not have the ability to do that myself, but I know who does; Frederick and Kimberly Kagan. Frederick was the "intellectual architect" of the successful surge in Iraq, and his wife Kimberly has been a professor at West Point and is president of her own think tank, the Institute for the Study of War. On September 21 they laid out the force requirements for victory in Afghanistan and although I've touched on it before it's high time I went into more detail on it here. The full study is called A Comprehensive Strategy: Afghanistan Force Requirements. You can download the entire thing as either a pdf file or as Powerpoint slides, take your pick.

Before we get to the details of what forces are required, their bottom line assessment:

To inform the national discussion, therefore, we have produced a report that argues for an addition of 40,000-45,000 US troops in 2010 to the 68,000 American forces that will be there by the end of this year. The report illustrates where US, NATO, and Afghan forces are now and where additional forces are needed to accomplish the mission. It links the US force requirements to the growth of the Afghan National Security Forces on an accelerated timeline. It explains the methodology for assessing the adequacy of a proposed force-level. This product, and our recommendations and assessments, are entirely our own--they do not necessarily reflect the views of General McChrystal or anyone else." - Fred and Kim Kagan

Now for the specifics:

• As of June 2009, the Afghan Ministry of Defense had 103,475 authorized
personnel, with 89,521 actually assigned. Of those, Afghan National Army
operational units had 66,406 soldiers authorized with 53,417 assigned in around
80 kandaks (battalions). The remaining MoD personnel were assigned to
headquarters, infrastructure, ministerial and general staff positions, and training
and transfer accounts. The AWOL rate is running at around 9%. The official
capability ratings of Afghan kandaks puts about 66% of them in operational status
(CM1 or CM2).

Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) Expansion

• Current plans call for expanding the Afghan National Army (ANA) to 134,000 by the end of 2011
• This expansion can be accelerated to meet that goal by October 2010
• Assuming the current ratio of combat forces to end strength of around 60%, the ANA can probably have around 80,000 troops in combat formations by October 2010, an addition of 30,000 over June 2009
• Adding that many troops requires recruiting and training even more to account for significant casualty rates among the combat forces

Bottom line: The ANA can add around 30,000 counter‐insurgents by October 2010, for total of 80 000--but 9/21/2009 Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan 14 a 80,000--only if decisions to accelerate ANSF expansion and resources necessary for it are made and committed at once

US Forces

• US Forces in Afghanistan currently number around 64,000
• Of those, roughly 34,000 are combat formations assigned to counter‐insurgency roles; the rest are support elements, trainers, and classified forces
• US COIN formations include roughly 17 maneuver battalions and as many as 12 combat support battalions remissioned to function as counter‐insurgents
• The US contingent therefore can put about 23,300 soldiers on the ground doing counter‐insurgency
- In Iraq, by contrast, the 15 US brigades before the surge could put around 72,000 counter‐insurgents on the ground; at the height of the surge, it was more like 105,000.

• ISAF and ANA forces are generally deployed in accord with the threat and theater priorities--there are no excess forces in any areas to be moved around

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF i.e. NATO) Forces

• 42 countries now contribute military forces to the NATO mission in Afghanistan
• 11 of them provide battalion‐sized maneuver formations that can participate in COIN operations

Available Counter‐Insurgents

• US: 23,200
• Non‐US ISAF: 16,000
• Afghan National Army: 50,000*
• TOTAL: 89,200
• ANA expansion can add 30,000 more by October 2010, bringing the total to 119,200

Bottom Line: Additional Requirements
• Helmand: 1.5 brigades
• Kandahar: 1‐4 brigades (depending on assumptions about Kandahar City)
• Greater Paktia: 1 brigade
• Total: 3.5‐6.5 brigades
• NB: The Dutch battalion in Oruzgan will not be replaced in 2010 and the two Canadian battalions in Kandahar will not be replaced in 2011
• Either the US or NATO will thus have to find an additional brigade to offset those departures within the next two years

Priority Areas

Priority Areas

Previous for this Series
A Comprehensive Strategy: Afghanistan Force Requirements

Part 1: The Legitimacy of the Afghan Government

Red Teaming Afghanistan: Strategic Options and Enemy Responses

How to Win in Afghanistan: Kimberly Kagan and Jeffrey Dressler

Key Facts on Afghanistan

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 22, 2009

A Comprehensive Strategy: Afghanistan Force Requirements
Part 1: The Legitimacy of the Afghan Government

I was originally going to do this in one post, but once I got into it I realized it would be too long and no one would read it all. As such, in this post we'll take up the issue of the legitimacy of the Afghan government. Counterinsurgency 101 says that in order to defeat an insurgency the government must get the people on it's side, and the only way to do that is if they perceive their government as being legitimate. As then-Lt Gen Petraeus' team wrote in the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (pub Dec 2006)

1-113 LEGITIMACY IS THE MAIN OBJECTIVE. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.

5-1 ...Successful counterinsurgents support or develop local institutions with legitimacy and the ability to provide basic services, economic opportunity, public order, and security.

The case for fighting and winning in Afghanistan is pretty simple; preventing more 9-11's. Large, well funded, terrorist groups can wreck enough havoc when they have regions such as Waziristan, or parts of Lebanon, Ireland or Spain to themselves. But when they have an entire country, even one that is backward by third world standards, the results are devastating even by "normal" terrorist-attack standards.

In other posts I have explored the details of counterinsurgency strategy, and why other options than a full surge of troops into Afghanistan will fail. It is time to lay out exactly what troops are required to win.

I do not have the ability to do that myself, but I know who does; Frederick and Kimberly Kagan. Frederick was the "intellectual architect" of the successful surge in Iraq, and his wife Kimberly has been a professor at West Point and is president of her own think tank, the Institute for the Study of War. On September 21 they laid out the force requirements for victory in Afghanistan and although I've touched on it before it's high time I went into more detail on it here. The full study is called A Comprehensive Strategy: Afghanistan Force Requirements. You can download the entire thing as either a pdf file or as Powerpoint slides, take your pick.

Their bottom line first:

To inform the national discussion, therefore, we have produced a report that argues for an addition of 40,000-45,000 US troops in 2010 to the 68,000 American forces that will be there by the end of this year. The report illustrates where US, NATO, and Afghan forces are now and where additional forces are needed to accomplish the mission. It links the US force requirements to the growth of the Afghan National Security Forces on an accelerated timeline. It explains the methodology for assessing the adequacy of a proposed force-level. This product, and our recommendations and assessments, are entirely our own--they do not necessarily reflect the views of General McChrystal or anyone else." - Fred and Kim Kagan

Now for the report:


• Create conditions in Afghanistan to prevent the re‐establishment of safe havens for al
Qaeda and other trans‐national terrorist groups
• Establish sufficient stability to ensure that these conditions can be sustained over time with foreign financial assistance but with very limited foreign military presence

COIN (counterinsurgency) Strategic Framework

- Defeat the insurgency together with the ANSF
- Expand and improve the ANSF as rapidly as possible
- Make the lines cross
- Remediate damage that corruption and abuse of power have done to the legitimacy of the Afghan Government
- Help and cajole GIRoA to emplace systems and procedures to improve legitimacy over the next few years
- Improve the capacity of GIRoA at all levels to provide essential services to the Afghan people, especially security, justice, dispute resolution, and basic agricultural and transportation infrastructure
- Focus development efforts on building Afghan capacity to develop their own country rather than on developing it for them
- Ensure that development empowers the government, not the enemy
- Address corruption and the perception of corruption within the international development effort
• Security and governance have priority over development

Me - that last line is vital; securing the population must come before economic development, and indeed even before political progress. For years we had it backward in Iraq, and with the surge in 2007 we finally got it right. As such, we succeeded.

Afghan Government Legitimacy

• Establishing the legitimacy of the Afghan government is a requirement for successful counter‐insurgency
• Elections are one way of establishing legitimacy, but they are neither sufficient nor necessarily determinative
• US must redouble its efforts to help Afghanistan establish the legitimacy of the institutions of its government
• A key part of these efforts must be dramatically increasing transparency in Afghan budgetary procedures (building on models already in place in some ministries)
• The US must also work to encourage the Afghan government to establish procedures for electing provincial and district governors and sub‐governors who are currently appointed by the president
• The US and the international community together control virtually all of Afghanistan's budget; they have enormous leverage if they choose to use it (much more than the leverage the US had on oil‐rich Iraq)
• The presence of large numbers of American and international forces and the irreplaceable role they currently play in providing security for the Afghan government and its officials also offer enormous leverage

Sources of Legitimacy

• Elections are one source of legitimacy, but only one
• Legitimacy is also defined by the performance of the government, both in its ability to provide desired services and in its adherence to social norms
• Karzai would likely have won fair elections, although possibly not in the first round, and he would almost certainly have carried the Pashtun areas heavily--so the problem is not the imposition of an unacceptable leader but rather the manipulations that led to this particular outcome
• The fraud is unquestionably damaging to Karzai's legitimacy and therefore harmful to the ISAF effort
• But in the mid‐ and long‐term, legitimacy will be defined much more by the actions Karzai and the international community take now than by the fraudulence of these elections
• We should not condone the fraud; on the contrary, we should deplore it
• But we should accept the outcome of the Afghan legal processes now underway to review the result and then develop and use all possible leverage with Karzai to shape the new government in ways the will repair the damage to its legitimacy and begin to improve the situation

Me - so we see that while elections are necessary, we should not focus too much on them. The reality is that most Afghans didn't even know there was an election, and many who voted didn't really understand what they were doing. What they want is a government that they believe is looking out for their interests, is reasonably free of corruption, and can provide basic services.

Legitimacy After the Election

• The US can also work to help the Afghan government reform itself using tools similar to those we employed in helping the Iraqi government rid itself of malign actors supporting sectarian cleansing and death‐squads in 2007:
- US forces can collect evidence of malfeasance by Afghan officials at all levels
- That evidence can be presented to those officials, to their superiors, to Karzai, to Afghan courts, to the public, or, in some cases, to international courts
- In some cases, criminal action should result; in some cases, the officials should be removed; in some cases, the aim is simply to pressure those officials to stop certain specific behaviors that threaten the success of the mission
- This is not a crusade against corruption--officials are only targeted when their actions seriously jeopardize our efforts
- This does not require the removal of Karzai or some of his key allies (including family members) from positions of power--as in Iraq, it should be possible to rechannel their behavior away from the activities that are most damaging
• The US has demonstrated that it can generate such precise and surgical
pressure on critical points in a political system in Iraq
• This approach requires significant numbers of American forces actively patrolling among the population--only in that way can our leaders develop the intelligence they need to determine which malign actors must be addressed and to gather the information needed to address them

Me - the good news is that unlike Iraq, we have a lot of leverage with the Afghan government.

Legitimacy and the ANSF

• What is the ANSF fighting for if the US makes it clear that it regards the Afghan Government as illegitimate?
• The ANSF leadership is well aware that it cannot manage the violence in Afghanistan on its own
• Announcing that no US reinforcements are on the way is likely to damage ANSF morale seriously, particularly coupled with US interactions with the Afghan government that suggest the US does not accept its legitimacy
• The ANSF does not exist or fight in a vacuum--its quality and performance depends heavily on its belief that the international community supports it and will continue to support it adequately, and on its belief that its cause is just Legitimacy and Force Levels
• The flaws of the August 20 election increase the requirement for additional forces rather than decreasing it
• If the US declares that it will not send additional forces because of those flaws, it is de facto declaring that it regards the election as illegitimate, the Karzai government as illegitimate, and the Afghan enterprise as unworthy of additional effort, all of which will seriously exacerbate damage to the legitimacy of the government within Afghanistan as well as to the will of the international community to continue the struggle
• Failing to send additional forces, moreover, deprives the US of the ability to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this flawed election, particularly the opportunities to leverage Karzai's insecurity and growing recognition that he must take real steps to re‐establish the legitimacy of his government
• This is not a symbolic question--undertaking any of the steps outlined in this document to address systemic problems that undermine the legitimacy of the Afghan government require additional American military forces operating in a COIN mission on the ground

Me - let 's not cut off our nose to spite our face by not sending troops because of a fraudulent election. This is Afghanistan, folks, not Idaho. Let's concentrate on basic government services, which is all the people there really care about, anyway. What we don't want to do is create a situation that undermines the Afghan security forces, because if they lose confidence in us it will be very difficult if not impossible to regain their trust.

Next: The current size and state of the Allied and Afghan security forces

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October 16, 2009

Red Teaming Afghanistan: Strategic Options and Enemy Responses

The Obama Administration is currently debating several options with regard to Afghanistan. Frederick and Kimberly Kagan have helpfully summarized them, and "red teamed" each for likely enemy responses. The results are posted at Kim Kagan's Institute for the Study of War.

As President Obama has finally gotten around to holding informational meetings on Afghanistan and started the decision making progress, it is important for us to know the options under consideration. Looking at the situation at the strategic level, the options are quite finite and thus easy to categorize.

In this post I am only going to quote the highlights of their report. Interested readers will want to follow the link above and read the entire report (or you can download it EnemyReactionstoUSStrategyinAfghanistan.pdf) Following are excerpts from their analysis.

The five strategic options are:

  1. Scenario 1: The President orders all US forces out of Afghanistan, including Special Operations Forces (SOF) and classified forces.
  2. Scenario 2: The President orders US combat forces out of Afghanistan, including all trainers and forces supporting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), but not including SOF and classified forces.
  3. Scenario 3: The President orders US combat forces out of Afghanistan, but trainers, SOF, classified forces, and forces assisting the ANSF remain.
  4. Scenario 4: US combat forces remain as currently deployed, with additional emphasis on expansion of the ANS.
  5. Scenario 5: US combat forces are augmented as proposed by General McChrystal and the expansion of the ANSF is accelerated.

Analysis of each with most likely enemy response follows:

Scenario 1 (Withdrawal)Summary

  • Taliban takes control of the region from Farah to the gates of Kabul in 2010; Kabul likely falls in 2010 or early 2011
  • Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) and Haqqani Network (HQN) likely conduct determined attacks on critical Lines of Communication (LOC) to cause significant casualties during the withdrawal of Coalition combat forces
  • Al Qaeda senior leadership and training centers likely re‐emerge in Taliban‐held areas
  • Ethnic civil war likely develops between Taliban‐led Pashtuns and Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras
  • Conflict likely generates new waves of refugees into Iran and Pakistan
  • Malign elements within Pakistan prevail in their efforts to support the Taliban and to stop the Pakistani government from fighting Islamist extremists within Pakistan
  • NATO withdraws in defeat, possibly with significant resentment of the US for abandoning the alliance
  • Al Qaeda will portray the US withdrawal as a stunning victory over the infidels, greater than the defeat of the Soviet Union
  • Humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and possibly Central Asia
  • Reimposition of Taliban interpretation of shari'a law, including violent reaction to efforts to emancipate women over the last decade

Scenario 2 (Special Operations Forces Only) Summary

  • Taliban takes control of the region from Farah to the gates of Kabul in 2010; Kabul likely falls in 2010 or early 2011
  • QST and HQN likely conduct determined attacks on critical Lines of Communication (LOC) to cause significant casualties during the withdrawal of Coalition combat forces
  • Al Qaeda senior leadership and training centers likely re‐emerge in Taliban‐held areas cautiously and covertly
  • Ethnic civil war likely develops between Taliban‐led Pashtuns and Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras
  • Conflict likely generates new waves of refugees into Iran and Pakistan
  • Malign elements within Pakistan prevail in their efforts to support the Taliban and to stop the Pakistani government from fighting Islamist extremists within Pakistan
  • NATO withdraws in defeat, possibly with significant resentment of the US for abandoning the alliance
  • Al Qaeda will portray the US withdrawal as a stunning victory over the infidels, greater than the defeat of the Soviet Union
  • Humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and possibly Central Asia
  • Reimposition of Taliban interpretation of shari'a law, including violent reaction to efforts to emancipate women over the last decade

Scenario 3 (SOF and Training Only) Summary

  • QST operations:
  • launches major effort to capture and kill embedded trainers
  • conducts large‐scale targeted assassination campaign against Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) leaders
  • redoubles efforts to acquire advanced Man‐portable air‐defense system (MANPADs)
  • seeks to establish firing positions from which to rocket/mortar airfields
  • HQN pursues similar tactics in attempt to regain control of Greater Paktia
  • HQN also expands reach of radicalizing madrassas in Greater Paktia
  • Both groups likely conduct determined attacks on critical Lines of Communication (LOC) to cause significant casualties during the withdrawal of Coalition combat forces
  • Al Qaeda senior leadership and training centers may start to re‐emerge in Taliban‐held areas cautiously and covertly
  • Ethnic civil war likely develops between Taliban‐led Pashtuns and Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras
  • Increasing conflict and loss of confidence likely generates new waves of refugees into Iran and Pakistan
  • Malign elements within Pakistan prevail in their efforts to support the Taliban and to stop the Pakistani government from fighting Islamist extremists within Pakistan
  • NATO withdraws, with possible exception of some UK trainers, support elements
  • Al Qaeda will portray the US withdrawal as a stunning victory over the infidels, greater than the defeat of the Soviet Union
  • When the Soviets withdrew, they also left behind a "puppet government" of Najibullah
  • Al Qaeda and the Taliban will portray the US transition to a pure SOF/Training mission as a repetition of the 1989 Soviet withdrawal

Scenario 4 (Steady‐State with Increased Training) Summary

  • QST continues ongoing efforts
  • consolidate control of areas lacking ANSF and Coalition forces, especially: Farah, Oruzgan
  • outside TK, Kandahar, Now Zad and Nad Ali in Helmand, northern Ghazni, most of Zabol
  • contest coalition operations in the Helmand River Valley (HRV), working to inflict maximum casualties on British forces
  • vigorously contests US operations in Arghandab and Canadian operations in Zharay‐Panjwayi
  • districts of Kandahar, working to inflict maximum casualties on Canadian forces
  • continues to infiltrate Kandahar City and solidify shadow governance throughout the south
  • emphasizes Afghan nationalism to build anti‐occupation sentiment
  • QST may
  • attempt to spark inter‐ethnic fighting through mass‐casualty attacks, information operations, or other means
  • launch a concerted campaign of Suicide vehicle‐borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED), rocket, and mortar attacks on coalition bases
  • HQN continues ongoing efforts to
  • disrupt construction of the Khowst‐Gardez Pass (K‐G Pass) road
  • gain influence and, where possible, control over the Khowst Bowl
  • conduct spectacular attacks in Kabul and elsewhere to raise funds and international support
  • expand its presence in Wardak and Lowgar Provinces and to interdict Highway One
  • Pakistan will very likely view the rejection of GEN McChrystal's request for
  • additional forces as an indication of waning US commitment to Afghanistan
  • Islamabad will become more likely to increase support to HQN and QST in the expectation of a complete US withdrawal
  • The death of Beitullah Mehsud and the perception of waning American commitment in Afghanistan may also persuade Islamabad to reduce American operations of all varieties within Pakistan

Scenario 5 (Fully‐Resourced Counterinsurgency (COIN)) Summary

  • QST will likely
  • contest important areas in Helmand and Kandahar (esp. Arghandab, Zharay‐Panjwayi, Sangin, Nad
  • Ali) coalition forces achieve until overmatch in those areas, whereupon QST withdraws leaders and strategic assets to surrounding safe havens; local fighters either reconcile or go to ground
  • attempt to consolidate control, maintain Freedom of movement (FOM), support contested areas, and prepare to defend sanctuaries
  • prominently seize isolated district centers and attempt to retake areas "cleared" by coalition forces
  • increase attacks against more vulnerable coalition partners
  • QST highlights illegitimacy of GIRoA
  • QST emphasizes Afghan nationalism to build anti‐occupation sentiment
  • Pakistan
  • will most likely view the deployment of more US forces to Afghanistan as an indication of US commitment, although that perception depends on the way the deployment is described (i.e., if the president emphasizes a time‐limit or hints at the likelihood of a changed strategy within a year, the perception of US commitment may be undermined even despite the increased deployment)
  • will not take action against the QST or HQN in any likely scenario, regardless of US decisions
  • is more likely to continue the fight against its own internal enemies if it believes that the US will prevail in Afghanistan
  • is very unlikely to increase support to the QST and HQN if the US deploys additional forces
  • if and when Islamabad becomes persuaded that the QST and HQN will NOT likely prevail in Afghanistan, it becomes more likely to reduce support to those groups

Next - A Comprehensive Strategy: Afghanistan Force Requirements

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October 12, 2009

How to Win in Afghanistan: Kimberly Kagan and Jeffrey Dressler

A bit longer than the interview with Lara Logan below, but well worth your time

Make sure you also read Dr. Kagan's Key Facts on Afghanistan for background.l

Following are my notes from the briefing:

  • The enemy in Helmund has the initiative
  • What the coalition has been doing has not worked
  • The 4,000 Marines sent to southern Helmund earlier this year have done some good but are not enough
  • Civil projects will not work since the population is unsecured
  • We need more troops in order to implement a proper counterinsurgency strategy
  • A population-centric counterinsurgency is what is needed for us to succeed
  • The key is protecting the population, or at least major population centers
  • The main enemy insurgent group is the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) does not call itself the "Quetta Shura Taliban," but the "Islamic Emerate of Afghanistan" it sees itself as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. It is in Pakistan now.
  • The other enemy insurgent group is the The Haqqani network, named after its leader Jalaluhuddin Haqqani, is an insurgent group operates in eastern Afghanistan
  • These Taliban are imposing taxes on some population areas in southern Afghanistan as a way to fund their activities. They are the government in some areas. They have their own court system
  • Both of these groups have historical and current links to other terrorist groups such as but not limited to al Qaeda.
  • The insurgents are succeeding through a campaign of intimidation, not just of the population at large but they target local leaders. Assassination is a key tool. They have a platform and agenda
  • The enemy is not a group of ragtag fighters. They are determined and well organized.
  • Currently, when our forces go into a town in Helmund, they're asked "are you staying?" When our forces answer no, the people say "then we won't help you because if we do the Taliban will come back and punish us." (me - parallel to Iraq pre-surge!)
  • If we withdraw or go to a counterterror strategy the Taliban will form a shadow government in southern Afghanistan.
  • The Taliban are Afghans, not Pakistanis.
  • We cannot impose a government on the people in Afghanistan, but must do what we are doing very well in Iraq: hold the government accountable to the people. If the government is predatory and does not provide services we must help the people hold them accountable. We cannot indiscriminately support the government officials. We are there to serve the people and make sure the government is accountable to them and that they serve you. So we must strengthen the institutions of local government. We must also leverage the international community to strengthen the national government, or at least the parts of it that work.
  • Although opium and the drug trade is a source of income for the Taliban, they also make money by taxing legal crops. So even if we got rid of poppy production they'd still make money by taxing other crops. So an eradication campaign may not do much good. Further, it alienates the farmers. In fact, the Taliban does not conduct operations during harvest time (of all crops) so as not to disturb the farmers.
  • Chasing the insurgents around Afghanistan will not work.

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How to Win in Afghanistan: Lara Logan

This is a must-watch.

CBS News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Lara Logan speaks with Bob Orr about what will work in Afghanistan and what will not work. She absolutely eviscerates advisers such as Vice-President Biden who think that we can succeed with special forces and airpower. She also takes down those who say that the Taliban aren't a threat to the U.S. or that there are "moderate" Taliban with whom we can negotiate.

The lady knows what she's talking about.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Principles of Counterinsurgency: What Does and What Does Not Work

I sent this as an email to a friend the other day, but it will serve our purpose here. It represents everything I have learned and posted on this blog over the past two and a half years about how to defeat an insurgency. I cleaned it up a bit but otherwise not much has changed. I'm posting it here because it serves as a nice backdrop to Ms. Logan's comments.

  • The key is to protect the population. Unless the people feel secure nothing else is possible.
  • You cannot protect the people with a few special forces and certainly not with airpower. It requires regular troops on the ground.
  • Once an insurgency has reached a certain point, simply training the indigenous army to do the job won't work.
  • Political and economic advancement can only occur after the population is secure.
  • The fastest way to lose against an insurgency is the overuse of force. Killing civilians and destroying things turns the people against you, so the counterinsurgents must go out of their way to avoid civilian casualties.
  • Relying on airstrikes and raids by special forces does not work.
  • The insurgents must not be allowed to have a sanctuary.
  • Not all insurgents are equal. Some are hard-core and must be killed or captured, but some are opportunists in it for a few bucks, because they are unemployed and need money to feed their families, or even because their family was threatened if they didn't plant a bomb or two. It is imperative that these individuals be "peeled off" the insurgency and brought into the government - even if they have killed Americans.
  • In the beginning, some of the population will be on the side of the insurgents, and some on the side of the government, but most will want to "sit on the fence." The insurgency will succeed if the mass of people continue to sit on the fence. For the counterinsurgents to be successful, they must convince the people that A) the counterinsurgents will win, and B) it is in their interests for the counterinsurgents to win.
  • Commanders must become expert in all aspects of the area that they are assigned to. This includes local customs, religions observances, economics, social links between families. They must know every village, road, field, business, and ancient grievance.
  • It is vital for the indigenous government to be seen as legitimate by the people. If this is not achieved, the counterinsurgents will not be successful.
  • In the end, the people must take charge of their own future.
  • In the end, the indigenous army must take over the role of counterinsurgents
  • In the end, only political reform can completely end an insurgency.
  • No insurgency in modern times has been defeated in less than ten years, so patience is of the essence.
  • It may be many years until you can be sure you've won. Insurgencies end with a whimper, not a bang. They aren't like World War II, which ended in dramatic fashion (low-intensity v high-intensity war).

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October 11, 2009

Obama's Evolving Promises on Afghanistan

Jim Geraghty traces the evolution of Obama's promises about what he'd do about Afghanistan, from his candidacy to this past week:

Then-candidate Barack Obama, July 15, 2008:
Our troops and our NATO allies are performing heroically in Afghanistan, but I have argued for years that we lack the resources to finish the job because of our commitment to Iraq. That's what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said earlier this month. And that's why, as President, I will make the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.

And then in August, before the VFW:

This is the central front in the war on terrorism. This is where the Taliban is gaining strength and launching new attacks, including one that just took the life of ten French soldiers. This is where Osama bin Laden and the same terrorists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans on our own soil are hiding and plotting seven years after 9/11. This is a war that we have to win.
And then in his convention address:
I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And then on October 22:

Abroad, we need a new direction that ends the war in Iraq, focuses on the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and restores strong alliances and tough American diplomacy.

The New York Times, today:

President Obama's national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States, officials said Wednesday.

I think we know where this is headed.

In the post just previous to this one I showed how the Administration has been laying the groundwork for withdrawal by telling us that

1) "the Taliban is not...a homogenous group."
2) They could bring elements of the Taliban into the government
3) This different Taliban would not harbor al Qaeda
4) Therefore we could draw down troops as we have no fight with the Taliban.

I sincerely hope this does not come to pass. I hope he adopts Gen. McChrystal's recommendations but I fear he will not.

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The Coming Obama Excuse for Withdrawing from Afghanistan?

Ever since the invasion of Iraq turned unpopular in maybe 2005, liberals assured us that while that was the wrong war, Afghanistan was the right one where we had to fight. Yessiree, they were raring to go "get bin Laden."

During the campaign, then-Senator Obama seemed on board too. On October 22, 2008 he said

In 2002, I said we should focus on finishing the fight against Osama bin Laden. Throughout this campaign, I have argued that we need more troops and more resources to win the war in Afghanistan, and to confront the growing threat from al Qaeda along the Pakistani border. ...

Make no mistake: we are confronting an urgent crisis in Afghanistan, and we have to act. It's time to heed the call from General McKiernan and others for more troops. That's why I'd send at least two or three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan. ...Only a comprehensive strategy that prioritizes Afghanistan and the fight against al Qaeda will succeed.

And indeed, last March, Obama seemed to keep his promise when he announced that we were sending another 17,000 troops to Afghanistan.

At the time I congratulated the president, but harbored some doubts as to whether he'd really see it through.

Please Note - President Obama may well do the right thing and order the surge of troops that General McChrystal wants. If he does I will congratulate him.

Right now though I am seeing signs that this is not what they will do. They seem to be floating a justification for scaling back troops, and moving to a counterterror strategy of special forces and airpower.

The Excuse

What they will tell us is that the Taliban are not a threat to the United States, and al Qaeda does not operate in force in Afghanistan, so bringing elements of the Taliban (Quetta Shura Taliban (QST), actually, and they call themselves the "Islamic Emerate of Afghanistan") into the Afghan government. The Obama Administration will tell us that they've struck a deal with the QST by which the latter has agreed not to harbor al Qaeda. As such, we have no beef with QST, the country is safe from al Qaeda, and we can withdraw troops.

On Thursday White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs equivocated when asked if "the administration believe it's possible to defeat the Taliban?"


Q Thanks, Robert. Coming out of the Situation Room meeting yesterday on Afghanistan and Pakistan, obviously, what significance should we attach to the fact that the President's public words lately, a lot of people have been noting that he continues to talk about dismantling al Qaeda but seems to be talking less and less about Taliban. And people are reading that, that's sort of a significant shift and a signal of where the mission is headed. What do you say about that?

MR. GIBBS: I would tell folks to go back and read what the President said -- has said virtually every month leading up to -- and I would -- including the review and the speech coming out of the review from last March.

The President has always evaluated our policy, as I said here yesterday, based on those that pose a direct threat to attack our homeland or to attack our allies. Included in that group are any that would provide safe haven for those activities.

Though, as I said yesterday, we're not talking about the same type of -- they're not the same type of group. Al Qaeda is a global transnational jihadist movement that has conducted attacks on the United States homeland; conducted attacks on our allies; continues to plan, and has the intent and will to do so again. Again, some in the Taliban have similar agendas that have helped al Qaeda with safe havens. There's also a significant number of Taliban that are local warlords that have far different agendas. I think to look at them as separate entities, it's certainly not backed up by any of the intelligence.

What Gibbs does throughout the briefing is stress that "the Taliban is not...a homogenous group." What the Administration is going to do is bring elements of the Taliban into the government that claim that they have an agenda that does not threaten the United States.

This next exchange is the worst:

Q Thanks, Robert. You had the March review on Afghanistan/Pakistan policy. You have General McChrystal's report. You've had hours of discussions over the past couple weeks. Does the administration believe it's possible to defeat the Taliban?

MR. GIBBS: I think -- let me get a better sense of -- let me say this. I think as we get into Friday's discussion, there will be a larger discussion about Afghanistan, particularly, and the threats we face there.

No direct answer, so the answer is "no." Sounds like preparation for a withdrawal to me.

Richard Haas, president of the liberal Council on Foreign Relations, said much the same thing in today's Washington Post:

Al-Qaeda does not require Afghan real estate to constitute a regional or global threat. Terrorists gravitate to areas of least resistance; if they cannot use Afghanistan, they will use countries such as Yemen or Somalia, as in fact they already are. No doubt, the human rights situation would grow worse under Taliban rule, but helping Afghan girls get an education, no matter how laudable, is not a goal that justifies an enormous U.S. military commitment....

All of this argues that U.S. interests in Afghanistan are less than fundamental, rendering the conflict not a war of necessity but a war of choice.

Reading the entire piece, the summary of his argument is that al Qaeda will not be a force in Afghanistan, it does not depend on that country anyway, so it's not so important for us to be there in force. Indeed, he says, "if they cannot use Afghanistan, they will use countries such as Yemen or Somalia, as in fact they already are."

There are two problems with this. One, as Thomas Joscelyn points out, "why not allow al Qaeda and its allies to take over whatever geographic territory they desire?"

The second is that it's all contradicted by history. Have we forgotten that the Taliban harbored al Quaeda prior to our invasion? If given the chance, surely they will do so again.

Indeed, as By Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio conclude

You have undoubtedly heard that Osama bin Laden was the Taliban's "guest" in Afghanistan prior to September 11. That is a vast understatement. The reality is that bin Laden integrated al Qaeda's operations with the Taliban's in a variety of important ways. Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been fighting side-by-side for more than a decade. Long before September 11, al Qaeda successfully integrated itself into the Taliban's infrastructure...

The bottom line is that al Qaeda and the Taliban fight side-by-side today, just as they have for more than a decade.

It is remarkable that anyone would argue that a Taliban safe haven in Afghanistan would not necessarily lead to an al Qaeda safe haven there given that the two currently enjoy the same safe havens in Northern Pakistan. After the two jointly established the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan in 2006, for example, it should have become painfully obvious that they had not given up on their combined territorial ambitions.

If yo udon't believe them maybe you'll believe Al Jazeera:

Another Excuse

The other excuse the Obama Administration may try is that the war is too expensive. Bill Kristol said last Tuesday us that

At today's White House meeting, President Obama, I'm told, reminded the congressional leaders that every thousand troops sent to Afghanistan would cost about a billion dollars a year, and asked whether the lawmakers would really support $40 to $50 billion a year of additional spending for the war.

This from the administration that thought nothing of a trillion dollar "stimulus," no less. $40 - $50 billion is pocket change to Democrats.


All these past several years when I heard liberals say that Iraq was the wrong war but they wanted to fight in Afghanistan, I openly doubted them on this blog. I said that once they got into power they'd say the war was too expensive, because the money was needed at home for "badly needed school lunch program."

I sincerely hope Obama does the right thing, but if not I think I'll be halfway right as to his excuse if he doesn't.

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October 8, 2009

Key Facts on Afghanistan

Download the entire report here

If you want to understand what's really going on in Afghanistan, you can't do better than to read this. As way of short introduction, Frederick Kagan has been described as the "intellectual author" of the surge in Iraq. Both have been to Afghanistan and Iraq numerous times. Kimberly has been a professor at West Point. This doesn't make them right, but it gives them some credibility. Yes, they're married.

More from the Kagans and others on our strategic options and the likely outcome of each choice in a day or two. This post, then, is an introduction to what is coming next.

Key Facts on Afghanistan: A Joint Institute for the Study of War - American Enterprise Institute Report

By Dr. Kimberly Kagan and Dr. Frederick W. Kagan

The Enemy in Afghanistan

The Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) and the Haqqani network pose the greatest threat to stability in Afghanistan.

* The QST is an insurgent group responsible for Taliban operations in Afghanistan. The group is led by Mullah Mohammed Omar. Following the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Omar relocated the senior leadership council to Quetta, Pakistan. Though the QST is most active in southern Afghanistan, its operations have spread into areas of the north and west.

* The Haqqani network, named after its leader Jalaluhuddin Haqqani, is an insurgent group operates in eastern Afghanistan--in Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Ghazni, Wardak and even Kabul provinces. It also retains a base in North Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluhuddin, is reported to be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the movement given his father's ill health.

Historically, the Taliban and the Haqqani network have been strategic enablers for al Qaeda.1

* Prior to 2001, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's success was dependent upon support from the Taliban and Haqqani network.

* In the 1980s, Jalaluhuddin Haqqani met bin Laden while fundraising together for the mujahedeen in Saudi Arabia.

* In the 1990s, Haqqani invited bin Laden to establish training bases in Paktia, Paktika, and Khost (known as Greater Paktia).

* During the rise of the Taliban in the mid-1990s, Haqqani joined Mullah Omar as a minister in the Taliban regime. Together, they welcomed the continued presence of bin Laden and gave sanctuary to al Qaeda training camps.

* Despite the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the relationship between the Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqani network, and al Qaeda continues.

Given the integral links between the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and al Qaeda, it is necessary to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy that prevents these groups from expanding their control and influence in Afghanistan.

The Mission in Afghanistan

On March 27, 2009, President Obama said his goals were, "...to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future."

Currently, President Obama is conducting a review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Several options are being debated, such as a more limited counterterrorism strategy and the adoption of a robust counterinsurgency strategy (advocated by General Stanley McChrystal in his assessment).

Strategic Options

Counterterrorism in Afghanistan2

* The U.S. Department of Defense defines counterterrorism (CT) as, "Operations that include the offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, preempt, and respond to terrorism."

* Given the range of Predator UAVs and the requirements for Special Forces teams, the conduct of CT operations using either requires bases in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

* While an over-the-horizon CT approach is feasible using long-range, precision-guided munitions, this approach relies entirely on Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and CIA networks to locate targets.

* The enemy has become increasingly savvy with its operational security, making SIGINT targeting more difficult.

* Even now it is difficult for CIA networks to provide targetable intelligence on key enemy leaders.

* CT operations have been the primary cause of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Outrage over civilian casualties has damaged the perception of the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan3

* Counterinsurgency Strategy (COIN) has at its core the protection of the population from insurgents by military and political means.

* To achieve the President's stated objectives, one must fully resource and implement a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

* This will require additional forces, as there are currently not enough troops to execute a proper counterinsurgency.

* Even with additional forces, it is necessary to prioritize objectives within Afghanistan and then mass forces in critical areas to protect and positively influence the population. The insurgency is most dangerous in RC (South) and RC (East). Counterinsurgents must focus on the critical population centers in: the central Helmand River Valley; Kandahar City and its surrounding areas; Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan Province; and Khost, Paktia, and Paktika provinces (Greater Paktia).

* Coalition counterinsurgency operations must be coordinated and mutually-reinforcing to achieve decisive effects and prevent the enemy from fleeing during the operation, only to return to the area later.

Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)4

"The role and responsibilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) must be clearly articulated. There has been an overreliance on the Afghan National Police (ANP). The ANP are simply not equipped for the combat-intensive initial phases of counterinsurgency. The appropriate role for the ANP should be maintaining order once the insurgency has been reduced to a manageable level and effective rule of law has been established."

"The Afghan National Army (ANA) are appropriate for the combat-intensive phases of counterinsurgency, though they are not present in sufficient numbers. Growing the size of the ANA and advancing its capacity to carry out mission-critical counterinsurgency operations in Helmand will help to relieve some of the burden that is currently shouldered by coalition forces."

"The best way to rapidly increase the size and capacity of indigenous forces is to partner coalition units with them together in combat"

"Dramatically expanding the size and capacity of the ANSF is only one part of a strategy. It must be paired with steps to defeat the insurgency and improve the legitimacy and capability of the Afghan government."

1 Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, "How Not to Defeat al Qaeda," The Weekly Standard, October 5, 2009.

2 United States Department of Defense, "The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms," Joint Publication 1-02, April 12, 2001 (as amended through August 19, 2009); Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, "Afghanistan Force Requirements," joint publication by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War, September 19, 2009.

3 Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, "Afghanistan Force Requirements," joint publication by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War, September 19, 2009; Jeffrey A. Dressler, "Security Helmand: Understanding and Responding to the Enemy," Afghanistan Report 2, Institute for the Study of War, September 28, 2009.

4 Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, "Afghanistan Force Requirements," joint publication by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War, September 19, 2009; Jeffrey A. Dressler, "Security Helmand: Understanding and Responding to the Enemy," Afghanistan Report 2, Institute for the Study of War, September 28, 2009.

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September 30, 2009

Both Extremes Wrong on Counterinsurgency

As President Obama faces his moment of truth on Afghanistan, we again hear differing views on how the war should be fought. There are two extremes that are both wrong and need to be corrected.

The error made by some on the right is that our forces are hampered by overly restrictive Rules of Engagement, and if we only "took the gloves off" our military would win.

There are two errors made by some on the left. One group says that we can adopt the "small footprint" strategy or reducing our forces and fight the war through targeted raids and precision airpower. The other group says that military progress can only come after political progress.

In addition to the links provided below, my source is everything I've written on this blog from early 2007 on, so for background go to "Categories" at right and see the posts for Afghanistan and Iraq.

I'm also not going to argue the case for winning in Afghanistan here, as that is a subject for another post. As such, I would ask commenters to restrict their remarks to a discussion of strategy and tactics.

Error on the Right

You don't have to go far on the Internet to find a conservative complaining that our forces are hampered by restrictive Rules of Engagement. ROEs "determine when, where, and how force shall be used." They determine when troops can shoot on their own and when they cannot, and when they need to ask for permission from above, and when not. They might say, for example, that troops cannot shoot at anyone they see carrying an AK-47 but can shoot at someone carrying an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher). They may say that troops can keep a round in the chamber, or not.

No doubt some of the concern comes from our experiences in Vietnam. There, we will recall, pilots were prevented from attacking anti-aircraft sites while under construction, having to wait instead until they were fully operational. They were forbidden from attacking shipments of war material being offloaded from Soviet ships in Haiphong harbor where they were still easy targets, instead being made to wait until the war material was transported and dispersed in warehouses much harder to find and hit. On and on.

Whatever the rightness or wrongness of these ROEs, what is almost always forgotten is why they were put into place. The reason was the fear of killing Soviet nationals and thus starting World War III, which in turn might have led to a nuclear Armageddon. The experience of the Korean War was fresh in our minds, where we turned an eight month victory into a three year slugfest because Gen. MacArthur foolishly ignored warnings not to move our troops too close to the Yalu river despite repeated warnings from the Chinese that doing so would force them to enter the war. When they did the U.S. military suffered one of it's worst defeats, and in the end we were barely able to hold on to the south.

The "surge" in Iraq was about two things; the first was sending more troops and extending their stay in theater. Specifically, five additional brigades were sent and everyone's stay was extended to 15 months. The second part was a change in strategy. It is this second part that is of importance to us here.

In October of 2005, then-Lt.Gen. David Petraeus was brought back from Iraq to take charge of a new group that was charged with developing a new counterinsurgency strategy. In December 15, 2006 they released their finished product, the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. It is a public document, and can be purchased from Amazon or other booksellers, or if you google for it you can find sites wher eit can be downloaded as a pdf document.

FM 3-24 was the culmination of an intense study by many scholars, both military and civilian, of all insurgencies in the past few hundred years. Perhaps it's most commented on section was the Zen-like "Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency" that start on page 47. Those on the right would do well to reflect on them:

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 populate, 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.

1-150 SOMETIMES, THE MORE FORCE IS USED, THE LESS EFFECTIVE IT IS Any use offeree produces many effects, not all of which can be foreseen. The more force applied, the greater the chance of collateral damage and mistakes. Using substantial force also increases the opportunity for insurgent propaganda and to portray lethal military activities as brutal. In contrast, using force precisely and discriminately strengthens the rule of law the needs to be established. As note above, the key for counterinsurgents is knowing when more forces is needed - and when it might be counteproductive....

1-151 THE MORE SUCCESSFUL THE COUNTERINSURGENCY IS, THE LESS FORCE CAN BE USED AND THE MORE RISK MUST BE ACCEPTED This paradox is really a corollary to the previous one. As the level of insurgent violence drops, the requirements of international law and the expectations of the populace lead to a reduction in direct military actions by counterinsurgents.

1-152 SOMETIMES DOING NOTHING IS THE BEST REACTION Sometimes insurgents carry out a terrorist act or guerrilla raid with the primary purpose of enticing counterinsurgents to overreact, or at least to react in a way the the insurgents can exploit - for example, opening fire ion a crowd....

1-153 SOME OF THE BEST WEAPONS FOR COUNTERINSURGENTS DO NOT SHOOT. ...While security is essential to setting the stage for overall progress, lasting victory comes from a vibrant economy, political participation,and restored hope. Particularly after security has been achieved, dollars and ballots will have more important effects than bombs and bullets. There is a time when "money is ammunition." Depending on the state of the insurgency, therefore, Soldiers and Marines should prepare to execute many nonmilitary missions to support COIN efforts. Everyone has a role in nation building, not just Department of State and civil affairs personnel.

The reason that these doctrines are successful is also spelled out in FM 3-24; that the only way to beat an insurgency is to get the population on the side of the counterinsurgents. You cannot shoot your way of an insurgency, as you cannot kill insurgents faster than the enemy can recruit them.

Again, FM 3-24:

A-26 Once the unit settles into the AO (Area of Operations), its next task is to build trusted networks. This is the true meaning of the phrase "hearts and minds," which comprises two separate components. "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. (much more here)

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.

The point of ROEs, therefore, is to keep civilian casualties to an absolute minimum, and thus keep the population on our side. Whether anyone likes it or not, people today are far more sensitive to civilian casualties than they were in the past. Long gone are the days of World War II where on or shortly after D-Day, the allies could kill 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians, and no one raised an eyebrow.

Note that I am not arguing for or against the specifics of what General McChrystal has put into place in Afghanistan. It is possible that the more restrictive rules that he has instituted go too far and need to be loosened. My point here is that most of what I hear in this vein is mindless blather from people who have no idea what they're talking about.

Aaron MacLean, writing at The Weekly Standard, sums it up:

...counterinsurgency is a difficult and brutal business of convincing the local population that the monopoly on violence belongs to you, the counterinsurgent, and you alone, that only you can protect them, and that it is in their interest to identify the insurgents to you. Then, based on that intelligence, the counterinsurgent kills. In situations where killing one or two insurgents risks civilian casualties or -- frankly, more importantly -- the perception of civilian casualties, then it is often in the counterinsurgent's interest to hold fire and break contact, and bide time for a better situation. This remains true even when friendly troops are at risk.

Errors on the Left

Some today say that we should bring most American troops home from Afghanistan and fight the war through targeted raids and precision airpower. What these people evidently do not realize is that this is exactly the losing strategy we employed in Iraq in 2004-6.

During that time we kept our troops on five large bases and sent them out on raids. This earned them the contempt of the population, because as often as not the raid hit the wrong house and terrified innocents. As discussed above, whether anyone likes it or not people are very sensitive to this sort of thing, and we an rationalize it all we want with "well do you like al Qaeda better," but it is what it is and we have to deal with it.

This was studied by Gen Petraeus' team as they developed a new counterinsurgency strategy, and one of their conclusions was that

A-24 The first rule of COIN operations is to establish the force's presence in the AO (area of operations).... This requires living in the AO close to the populace. Raiding from remote, secure bases does not work.

In addition, I have watched just about every press briefing by a U.S. combat commander from Iraq and Afghanistan, and they hit on these principles time and again. In particular, see

Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work"
Iraq Briefing - 22 Feb 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"

Living among the population builds credibility, as the counterinsurgents are seen as sharing the same risks that are faced by the people. "Are you staying this time?" was the question asked of our troops when they arrived as part of the surge. When they said "yes," the people opened up and provided the quality intelligence that is required to root out the insurgents without harming innocent civilians.

The other thing we heard from the left was that the surge wouldn't work because political progress had to come first. Petraeus' study of insurgencies proved that just the opposite was correct; that political progress could only come after the population was secured. The reason for this is pretty simple; in the hierarchy of needs, people always put their physical safety first. When you're in danger of being killed, things such as the ability to elect your leaders, or even what we in the West call "essential government services," pale in significance.

A related fallacy is the idea that the way to defeat a strong insurgency is not through American troops but through building up the local indigenous security forces. While in the long run this is surely the answer, in the short term it doesn't work. From 2005-6 the Rumsfeld/Abizaid/Casey strategy was to build up the Iraqi security forces and for American troops to keep as low a profile as possible. Indeed, Gen. Casey's theory was that it was the presence of U.S. forces that was fueling the insurgency and that getting them out of theater as soon as possible was one of the keys to success.

This essentially set up a race, because while we were recruiting and training a new Iraqi security force the insurgents were recruiting and training forces themselves. By late 2006 it had become clear that the we had lost the race, as the insurgency was getting out of hand and the country slipping into civil war (or there already, according to some).

The fact is that once an insurgency has gotten to a certain point it is impossible for the government to tamp it down without outside help. Insurgencies almost always catch everyone by surprise, and this one proved no different. Foreign forces allow the government breathing space to get its act together. The goal during this stage is to "stop the bleeding." Again, FM 3-24

INITIAL STAGE: "STOP THE BLEEDING" 5-4. Initially, COIN operations are similar to emergency first aid for the patient. The goal is to protect the population, break the insurgents' initiative and momentum, and set the conditions for further engagement.

We often hear that the political progress and the development of indigenous security forces is taking too long. And indeed we must do everything we can to speed the processes up. More, it is certainly recognized that in the end, foreign forces cannot win the war:

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.

In the end, counterinsurgency is a difficult process that takes many years to successfully pull off. It's often a frustrating progress, and our commanders occasionally say so. The problems, however, are all part of the standard "friction of war" that Cautzwitz spoke of, and there is nothing that is an insurmountable obstacle.

And again as I and our commanders have said so often, we are not out of the woods yet in Iraq and the country can still fail. But the important lesson is that without the surge Iraq would certainly have failed, with it the country stands a chance.

As I wrote so often in early 2007, what was done was done. The mistakes of the past are behind us and cannot be undone. Arguing about past strategy is useless if one's only objective is to score political points.

I sincerely hope that President Obama does the right thing and sends the additional troops to Afghanistan that General McChrystal has apparently requested. Doing so won't guarantee success, but not doing so guarantees defeat.

Thursday Update

It might make sense to fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan using special forces and airpower alone of it was a simple terrorist group. However, it is not a simple terrorist group like the PLO, ETA, IRA, or even Hamas, but an insurgency. Rather than explain why myself please go to the experts who can do it better than I can:

How Not to Defeat al Qaeda by Frederick W. Kagan & Kimberly Kagan

Countering Global Insurgency by Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) David Kilcullen

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September 22, 2009

Obama's Moment of Truth on Afghanistan

From 2003 on we were told by the left that Iraq was the wrong war but boy oh boy they wanted to fight the 'real war' in Afghanistan. Yessiree, they were itching to fight the terrorists in the country that had attacked us. Then-Senator Obama, as we'll all recall, joined in the chorus.

Now that they're in power suddenly their war ardor has cooled.

As we all know the war in Afghanistan has not been going particularly well. Just as I said with Iraq in late 2006, what's done is done and now is not the time to spend our time pointing fingers and assigning blame. Let's leave that to the voters in the next election and the historians of the future. For now can we please just win this thing?

I was right then and I am right now. In late 2006 and early 2007 I was a proponent of a new strategy that came to be known as "the surge." Despite much political opposition it was implemented and it worked. Iraq is not out of the woods yet but it at least stands a good chance of success and it's people have a future.

We are that point of decision for Afghanistan. Back in March I congratulated President Obama in a post titled Obama's New Plan for Afghanistan Gets It Right...I Think. He seemed to be on the right track, but seemed half-hearted about it, so I wasn't ready to commit.

It would now appear that my hesitation was well founded. General McCrystal needs additional resources to properly implement his new strategy and now is President Obama's Moment of Truth.

The Washington Post reports that General Stanley McChrystal, our top commander in Afghanistan,

...warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure," according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible." ...

McChrystal concludes the document's five-page Commander's Summary on a note of muted optimism: "While the situation is serious, success is still achievable."

But he repeatedly warns that without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely.

The Post story doesn't specify how many troops, but the New York Times says that it could be "from 10,000 to as many as 45,000."

So now President Obama has a decision to make. How important is this? I think Michael Goldfarb has it right when he says that "Health care reform won't make or break Obama's presidency. The way he conducts the war in Afghanistan will."

What Strategy?

When the surge for Iraq was first proposed opponents said that we had to have political progress before we could have military progress. They were wrong for reasons which I have gone over a zillion times on this blog, and they will be wrong for the same reasons if they propose it for Afghanistan. The short version is that the lesson of counterinsurgency is that you cannot have political progress unless you first secure the polulation.

General George Casey, the man who preceded Petraeus as commander in Iraq, thought that the way to victory was to build up the Iraqi army and draw down American troops, who he thought were fueling the insurgency. Some now say the same thing with Afghanistan. They were wrong then and they're wrong now.

When American troops are among the people in force they can protect the population. When the population feels safe they will trust the troops and will give them intelligence, and we can defeat or tamp down the insurgents. This gives us breathing space to build up the indigenous army to the point where they can hold on their own.

Drawing down troops and only sending them in for hit-and-run raids is foolish and won't work. We tried it in Iraq in 2005/6 by keeping our troops on five large bases and sending them out only on raids. It didn't work because the only way to win an insurgency is to get the people to trust the counterinsurgents, and the only way that will happen is if the counterinsurgents live among the people. "Commuting to work" doesn't work.

Illustrating the difference with an example, Aaron MacLean posits two futures for Afghanistan over at The Weekly Standard.

Scenario One - Raiding From Afar

It is 2014, and in places like Helmand province most people have not seen a Coalition serviceman in years. When they do come, they come at night, break down someone's door and take away someone's father or brother, who is usually never seen again. This is, however, a much less common occurrence than the sudden descent of incredible destruction from the sky. Again, this usually happens at night, and in the morning the news spreads of how many women and children were killed, how there were no militants in the area, et cetera. The national government fell in 2013, and what was left of the Afghan army retreated to the north, where it achieved some level of dominance and where the situation has come to resemble the pre-9/11 struggle between the Northern Alliance and the Pashto-dominated Taliban. In the south and the east, a loose confederation of militant groups under the aegis of the Taliban vie for control, and a pre-modern theocratic totalitarianism is the daily situation in most villages and cities: beheadings, stonings, and other manifestations of divine justice are conducted regularly and in public to maintain what order there can be. As foreigners from America and Europe withdrew, foreigners from places like the Caucuses, Arabia, and North Africa have come in increasing numbers, and locals hear rumors of training camps located in remote areas. The most significant consequence of the Coalition's draw-down in 2010 actually has little to do with Afghanistan at all: the Pakistani government is now about to fall, having been fully destabilized by attacks based across the Afghan border. In the highest militant circles, liaisons are being sought with the Pakistani intelligence service to discuss the future of that country's nuclear arsenal.

Scenario Two - Counterinsurgency

In one future, the United States and NATO are beginning to draw down troops from the levels they reached in 2010. That was a bloody year, as were the two that followed it, but the level of violence has been dropping steadily since then as the sense of order and stability improves. As happened in Iraq, Coalition forces have come to be respected as the best guarantor of stability and security in most of the country. In some regions this is because the legitimacy of the Afghan government is fully accepted, and in others it is due to bilateral arrangements made by Coalition troops with local tribes. Terrorist attacks are still a regular occurrence, and a low level of cross border violence from Pakistan-based militants--who are harassed but not significantly hampered by the government in Islamabad--seems to be irreducible. But in general the widespread violence which spiked in the later part of the last decade is fading into memory, and the "safe-havens" within Afghanistan where the Taliban and al Qaeda could trade poppy, train, and operate, are eliminated. There are still such places in Pakistan, but our robust presence along the Afghan border gives us options for dealing with them, and leverage over the Pakistani government.

The real experts are Frederick and Kimberly Kagan. This husband-wife of scholars are probably the smartest military analysts on the planet.

In January of 2007 Frederick Kagan and retired Army Vice-Chief of Staff Jack Keane released an AEI report called Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq. They got the ear of President Bush and the plan eventually morphed into the surge. Frederick Kagan can therefore be considered one of the intellectual architects of the surge.

Kimberly Kagan, a former professor at West Point, now has her own think-tank, the Institute for the Study of War. All of her reports are must-reading.

They are to be listened to. Yesterday they released their plan for Afghanistan, A Comprehensive Strategy for Afghanistan: Afghanistan Force Requirements. I haven't read it, but hope to do so here shortly and will report on it when I do. From their introduction:

To inform the national discussion, therefore, we have produced a report that argues for an addition of 40,000-45,000 US troops in 2010 to the 68,000 American forces that will be there by the end of this year. The report illustrates where US, NATO, and Afghan forces are now and where additional forces are needed to accomplish the mission. It links the US force requirements to the growth of the Afghan National Security Forces on an accelerated timeline. It explains the methodology for assessing the adequacy of a proposed force-level. This product, and our recommendations and assessments, are entirely our own--they do not necessarily reflect the views of General McChrystal or anyone else." - Fred and Kim Kagan

Presidential Leadership

President Bush failed to continue to make the cases for Afghanistan and Iraq once the initial invasions were over. President Obama is on track to make the same mistake with regard to Afghanistan. I understand that he has a domestic agenda that he considers important, but instead of going on Letterman he needs to get serious and address the American people about Afghanistan. If he does not, he will lose what support he has left.

Charles Krauthammer rips Obama for his lack of leadership Fox News All-Stars last night:

I think what's really important here are two dates. The first is August 30. That's when the McChrystal report was sent to Washington. That is three weeks ago. Obama has had a single meeting [on that report] since then.

He says he hasn't reached a conclusion -- I suppose because he is spending all his time preparing for Letterman and speeches to schoolchildren -- to focus on a war in which our soldiers are in the field getting shot at and, as the president himself is saying, without a strategy.

Now, the other date is the 27th of March, when Obama gave a speech in the White House flanked by his Secretaries of Defense and State, in which he said, and I will read you this, because it is as if it never happened, "Today I'm announcing a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan."

So we for six months have been living under the new Obama strategy, of which he says today we have none. And his next sentence is, again in March, "This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review" -- not the beginning, the end of the policy review.

So it has been his policy, and now he tells us we don't have a cart and we don't have a horse.

What's happening here is he announced the strategy of counterinsurgency in March. He said at the time that we "cannot afford" an "Afghanistan that slides [back] into chaos."

He said "My message to the terrorists who oppose us -- We will defeat you," And now he's not sure he wants to defeat them.

Swell. Obama needs to get on the ball and fast or this will consume him. We must win in Afghanistan or we face multimple 9-11s and a resurgent jihadist threat around the world.

Posted by Tom at 10:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 12, 2009

Stalemate in Afghanistan

There has been some stories in the news recently indicating that the war effort is going poorly in Afghanistan. Earlier this week Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen had this to say to the editors of The Washington Times

The top U.S. uniformed military officer Wednesday offered a bleak assessment of the war in Afghanistan, saying that years of neglect before the Obama administration had starved the U.S.-led effort of funds and diplomatic heft - a condition he called "a culture of poverty."

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that nearly eight years after the war began, the U.S. military is still digging its way "out of a hole" and has not reached "year zero" in the campaign to turn back Taliban advances and gain the trust of the Afghan people...

Yesterday we saw something very similar in the Wall Street Journal

The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency's spiritual home.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that means U.S. casualties, already running at record levels, will remain high for months to come.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the commander offered a preview of the strategic assessment he is to deliver to Washington later this month, saying the troop shifts are designed to better protect Afghan civilians from rising levels of Taliban violence and intimidation. The coming redeployments are the clearest manifestation to date of Gen. McChrystal's strategy for Afghanistan, which puts a premium on safeguarding the Afghan population rather than hunting down militants.

Are these assessments accurate?

Dealing with the second story first, there's some dispute as to what exactly Gen. McChrystal actually said in the briefing. Jim at Blackfive followed up on the article by contacting the public affairs people at ISAF and he got this back

Jim--I sat in on the interview, and the Journal article overstated Gen McChrystal's position. The Commander did not say the Taliban was winning in his interview, as suggested by the headline. Asked by the reporter if the Taliban had the upper hand, he explained that International Security Assistance Forces are facing an aggressive enemy, employing complex tactics, that has gained momentum in some parts of Afghanistan. During the course of the interview he also observed that ISAF has had some success in reversing the initiative, and that insurgents in Afghanistan face their own long-term problems in terms of public support, group cohesiveness and their ability to sustain morale and fighting capacity. There was much more nuance to his analysis than made it into the Journal article.


Public Affairs Officer for the Commander, ISAF
Headquarters, International Security Assistance Force

This sounds more balanced. To be sure, we aren't winning, as Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, Commander of Combined Joint Task Force-101 pretty much said in a briefing back in September of last year.

We heard similar warnings in briefings I covered this year, including these two:

Afghanistan Briefing - 20 March 2009 - "We've Just Run Out of Troops"
Afghanistan Briefing - 04 February 2009 - Not Enough Progress

Journalist/blogger Bill Roggio takes this (and all the other information he gathers and concludes that we're at a stalemate.

Kimberly Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War says that the Taliban are winning...for now:

The war in Afghanistan has not been going well, and it is no surprise that Americans are frustrated. Many observers can rightly point to signs of progress: the functionality of specific Afghan government ministries and programs, the slow growth of the Afghan National Army, the building of major infrastructure such as roads and dams, and agricultural improvements. These accomplishments, however, have not created the conditions that the United States has aimed to achieve: an Afghan state with a competent government considered legitimate by its people and capable of defending them, such that Afghanistan can no longer function as a safe haven for Islamist terrorist groups. Indeed, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of coalition forces, recently suggested, the situation shows signs of deteriorating: Afghan enemy groups remain highly capable, have gained momentum, and have expanded their areas of operations. Violence against coalition forces is rising. So the question is: Why haven't we been winning in Afghanistan?

Although I served on McChrystal's assessment team, I do not know how he would answer this question, nor could I speculate about his recommendations for the strategy going forward. But after much research, as well as two visits to Afghanistan this year, I personally think that the military operations themselves are failing because there has been no coherent theaterwide counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Despite U.S. President Barack Obama's newly announced "Af-Pak" strategy, the U.S. and coalition campaign this summer is a continuation of the poorly designed operations from 2008. And the sheer inertia of military operations means that it will be hard to turn this supertanker around for the better part of this year. But turn it around we must, starting with correcting the following flaws in the strategy that McChrystal and his team inherited from their predecessors.

Kagan then issues several recommendations, which are more than I can quote here and are somewhat detailed and technical. Let's go straight to her conclusion, where she answers the all-important question; Can we win?

Some answer simply and sharply in the negative: They claim that Afghanistan has never been centrally ruled (which is wrong) and that it has been the "graveyard of empires" (which is true in only a specific handful of cases). Failure is not at all inevitable. The war in Afghanistan has suffered almost from the start from a lack of resources, especially the time and attention of senior policymakers. The United States prioritized the war in Iraq from 2007 until 2009, for strategically sound reasons. Some of this parsimony also comes from flawed theories of counterinsurgency: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, for example, misreads the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, which has consistently led him to argue incorrectly against expanding the size of the force there, claiming that it increases the risks of failure.

We can win in Afghanistan, but only if we restructure the campaign and resource it properly. Adding more resources to the military effort as it has been conducted over the past few years, without fundamentally changing its conception, design, and execution, would achieve little. This was also the case in Iraq before the surge, and the change in strategy and campaign plan that followed was as important to success as the additional resources. This explains why McChrystal might adopt a different campaign design -- perhaps requiring additional military resources -- when he submits his formal assessment to the U.S. secretary of defense and NATO secretary-general sometime after the Afghan elections.

The fact that we have not been doing the right things for the past few years in Afghanistan is actually good news at this moment. A sound, properly resourced counterinsurgency has not failed in Afghanistan; it has never even been tried. So there is good reason to think that such a new strategy can succeed now. But we have to hurry, for as is often the case in these kinds of war, if you aren't winning, you're losing.

I'm with Kagan in that I too reject the "minimalist" approach, as well as the attitude expressed in some quarters that "more U.S. troops only lead to more insurgents." This was what Generals Casey and Abizaid thought about Iraq in 2006, and they were proven very wrong by Petraeus, Odierno, and the surge of troops the next year.

I supported President Obama when he committed more troops to Afghanistan in March. I wasn't sure if he had committed enough troops, but at the time didn't have the knowledge to say one way or the other.

The bottom line is that if General McCrystal wants more resources we need to give it to him and not nickle and dime him. We could not afford to lose in Iraq, and we cannot afford to lose in Afghanistan. As I wrote in Afghanistan and the Long War, this one is going to take a long time to win, but win it we must.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 6, 2009

Afghanistan Briefing - 04 August 2009 - New Rules of Engagement

This briefing is by Major General Curtis Scaparrotti, Commander of Combined Joint Task Force-82 and Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division, who on Tuesday spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon.

What is important for this briefing is that the new commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, instituted new and more strict Rules of Engagement (ROE). Briefly stated, ROE determine not only when we can and cannot shoot, but when a commander must consult a higher authority, and so on.

To understand the command structure, we'll just quote Scaparrotti from the briefing:

Two months ago, the 82nd Airborne Division Headquarters replaced the 101st Airborne Division Headquarters -- that was Combined Joint Task Force 101 -- during the 3 June transition of authority ceremony at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Since then, Combined Joint Task Force 82 has worked hard to build on the work of the 101st with Afghan government officials and Afghan National Security Forces within the 14 provinces of Regional Command East. Although predominantly Army, we have significant contributions from the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Special Operations.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

GEN. SCAPARROTTI: ... Here in RC East, our main priorities are to protect the population, to help build the Afghan government's capacity to serve its people, and to help enable sustainable development to improve the lives of all Afghans. The security of the Afghan people is our main focus, and we carry that out through close partnering with Afghan government officials and Afghan National Security Forces.

A key part of our approach is information, which we see as the key domain in counterinsurgency. We understand that the true center of gravity is not the Taliban but the willing support of the Afghan people. Here in RC East, we're working hard not only to counter the enemy's propaganda and misinformation, but to anticipate and expose them. We are doing this by taking a proactive approach to seize and retain the initiative by preempting events and exploiting opportunities. We see the information line of operation as our primary line of operation.

This is straight out of Gen. Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (released Dec 2006). The mistake we made before the change in strategy that accompanied the "surge" in Iraq was that we thought that the insurgents were the center of gravity. In retrospect this was a mistake, as you cannot shoot your way out of an insurgency, and chasing them around the countryside is just what they want.

Of all the lessons in FM 3-24, the most important is that victory is completely dependent on winning over the people:

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.

The general again;

GEN. SCAPARROTTI: ...This month, Afghans will go to the polls to choose their next president. The Afghan elections are one of the most important things that will happen during our deployment. Close to 1.5 million people in RC East are now registered as first-time voters for the upcoming election on 20 August.

The purpose of elections, of course, is to establish legitimacy. If the people perceive that their government is legitimate, cares about them and is concerned about their interests, counterinsurgents can win. If not they the insurgents will win.

On with the Q & A. We'll only look at one exchange.

As mentioned at the beginning, newly installed General McChrystal issued new Rules of Engagement (ROE) designed to reduce civilian casualties.

From an AP story last month:

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan will soon order U.S. and NATO forces to break away from fights with militants hiding among villagers, an official said Monday, announcing one of the strongest measures yet to protect Afghan civilians.

The most contentious civilian casualty cases in recent years occurred during battles in Afghan villages when U.S. airstrikes aimed at militants also killed civilians. American commanders say such deaths hurt their mission because they turn average Afghans against the government and international forces ...

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who took command of international forces in Afghanistan this month, has said his measure of effectiveness will be the "number of Afghans shielded from violence" -- not the number of militants killed.

Many on the right bemoan any restrictions on the use of force by our troops, seeing them as hindering their ability to fight and win. "Take the gloves off!" is a typical refrain.

Part of this is a reaction to Vietnam, where our air forces were restricted in what they could attack because policy makers feared killing Russian advisers and thus sparking World War III. The lessons of the Korean War were also paramount, where we turned an eight month victory over North Korea into a three year slugfest with China.

Part also is ignorance. FM 3-24 is the result of almost two years of intense research into all 20th century insurgencies, and one of it's key findings was that

1-150 SOMETIMES, THE MORE FORCE IS USED, THE LESS EFFECTIVE IT IS Any use offeree produces many effects, not all of which can be foreseen. The more force applied, the greater the chance of collateral damage and mistakes. Using substantial force also increases the opportunity for insurgent propaganda and to portray lethal military activities as brutal. In contrast, using force precisely and discriminately strengthens the rule of law the needs to be established. As note above, the key for counterinsurgents is knowing when more forces is needed - and when it might be counteproductive....

It worked in Iraq. While Afghanistan is different, the same general principles apply.

Those interested in serious discussion of these new ROE along with many links to others who generally know what they're talking about should go to The Captain's Journal.

To be sure, it would be helpful if we had an Afghan president who tried to explain our tactics to his people rather than just complain every time a civilian is killed. I understand that he does this partially to maintain legitimacy among his people, and this is important and not to be dismissed. That said it would be helpful if he coupled his criticism with an explanation of what we're tying to do and a frank admission that some civilian casualties are unavoidable.

With all this in mind, let's look at the relevant exchange

Q General, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. General McChrystal issued a tactical directive recently. Can you explain what impact that may have had on the operations of your forces in your region since that directive came out? Or has this been something that -- has -- have you followed a consistent pattern even before that directive came out? GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, I'll take the first part. The tactical directive was issued, and General McChrystal's intent -- the center of that is the protection of the Afghan people. That's the intent of the order. And, as you probably know, it deals with the measured use of force, primarily having to do with air power, indirect fire and munitions that can cause greater property and personal damage. But, again, it is the measured use of that in order to protect the Afghan people.

In terms of the impact on operations, we have been very deliberate about our use of any munition, and, in particular, large munitions, always with the view toward being careful, that we employ munitions where we would not endanger noncombatants.

We have refocused our efforts as a result of the tactical directive, being additionally cautious in this regard.. I think that in some cases it may have slowed the pace of our operations, in the sense that we take more time. We allow a situation to develop, to ensure that we know whether or not civilians are in the area.. We may maneuver a little more, to gain a more advantageous position where we know that we can exclude any civilian casualties. We may in fact back off and cordon an area, and then call out the enemy, for instance.

So it impacts it in the sense of the pace of operations. But I would tell you that, given the predominance of our force, that we can have tactical impatience -- tactical patience, and still defeat the enemy.

Finally, the protection of the people is more important than the pursuit of an insurgent. And that's really the -- the crux of the tactical directive.

Only time will tell as to whether McChrystal's new ROEs are wise or will have to be changed. He did a good job in Iraq, where his work led to the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq in June of 2006. We'll give him some time here, and then reassess.

Posted by Tom at 9:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 12, 2009

Afghanistan Briefing - 08 July 2009 - Operation Strike of the Sword / Operation Khanjar

This briefing is by Marine Corps Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, who spoke via satellite from Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, with reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday, providing an update on combat operations in Iraq. Operation Strike of the Sword / Operation Khanjar.

General Nicholson is the commanding general of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, which is spearheading Camp Leatherneck is in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Helmand is in the south central part of the country.

The main takeaway from this briefing is that we have enough troops, but we need more Afghans in uniform. Iraq is much father ahead in this regard.

The full briefing is not posted at DODvClips.mil, which is unusual. We only have this brief news segment:

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Wikipedia has a reasonably good summary of the operation

Operation Strike of the Sword or Operation Khanjar is an ongoing US-led offensive in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. About 4,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade as well as 650 Afghan troops are involved, supported by NATO planes. The operation began when units moved into the Helmand river valley in the early hours of July 2, 2009. This operation is the largest Marine offensive since the battle of Fallujah, Operation Phantom Fury, in 2004.[5] The operation is also the largest airlift offensive since the Vietnam War.

Small Wars Journal
has a statement by BG Nicholson to his Marines at the start of the offensive that is a must-read.

From General Nicholson's opening remarks:

GEN. NICHOLSON: Okay. Thanks, Dave. Yeah, I've really just got two quick issues I'd like to hit. And first of all, I appreciate the opportunity to talk to the men and women of the media there today.

We certainly have had no shortage of media here over the last week or so. And frankly I think it's been a pretty good news story. And we certainly appreciate their being here.

Let me start with the start. And that is seven days ago tonight, we inserted -- at 01:00 local, we inserted about 4,000 Marines and sailors into the Helmand River Valley, over a period of about seven hours.

The intention was to go in big, strong, fast; overwhelm any opposition and frankly save lives on all sides but most specifically save civilian lives. And I think what we have found here is that in some areas, there's still some fighting going on. But in large part, the enemy has not resisted too strongly.

Now, we have essentially come into their areas. Every area we went into were areas that were considered Taliban heartland areas, where they had strongholds in there. And these are areas that have been visited before by coalition forces and Special Operations forces. But they never stayed. It was always just passing through.

The number-one question we're getting across the board right now is, how long are you staying? And one of my requirements, to every one of our company commanders, was that within 24 hours of hitting the deck, you will have a shura with the local elders. And that has occurred. I've attended several of those myself.

Let me just start with, what makes this so different? And first of all, I think, it was the size of the force going in and the speed in which it inserted. We almost looked at this like an amphibious operation, back to our Marine roots.

We really had the force sort of contained on Camp Leatherneck and Camp Dwyer. And when the word go ashore was launched, when we hit execute at 01:00, when the weather was right, when the conditions were right, we moved very quickly and decisively, almost the way we would for an amphibious op.

And again those first couple hours ashore are very vulnerable. And we understood that there was some risk but also high gain. It was a high-risk/high-gain type of operation.

When I heard Nicholson say "the number-one question we're getting across the board right now is, how long are you staying?" it immediately reminded me of the Iraq briefings in 2007. The commanders said that they heard the same thing from Iraqis. Previously, they'd had to answer that they were not going to be able to stay, and as such the Iraqis were reluctant to help, knowing that they'd be punished by the insurgents for doing so.

With the surge forces, however, they were able to answer "we're staying," and the Iraqis responded to this by helping us as never before. All of this and more is outlined by Gen. Petraeus' team in their 2006 U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24

On to the Q & A. We'll only quote one exchange, since it highlights a point made several times during the briefing:

Q General, could you tell us -- are you satisfied with the number of Afghan forces and the number of U.S. government and other civilians you have helping you in the operation? Do you have enough to hold and build?

GEN. NICHOLSON: Yeah, well, you know, what we've said is what makes this all so very different as an operation is where we go, we stay; and where we stay, we hold; and where we hold, we build; and where we build, we work with an eye towards transition.

I mean, I'm not going to sugarcoat it. The fact of the matter is, I -- we don't have enough Afghan forces, and I'd like more. You know, imagine right now I've got 4,000 Marines in Helmand with about 600...650 Afghan forces. Imagine if I had 4,000 Marines with 4,000 Afghan forces. I mean, it would not even be comparable to this -- even the success that we -- the relative success that we've had over these first seven days.

So no, I have -- but I have told, from General Petraeus to General McChrystal, everyone who's come through here, even General Jones, the national security adviser -- I mean, the fact of the matter is, there is a plan to source more. I'd have liked to have had more. They're just not available right now...

But the bottom-line answer is, I'd like more, I need more.

So we need to increase the number of Afghan forces by a factor of 10. Wow.

Following this were at least three more questions asking when additional Afghan forces would be available. Each time the general would not be specific, but spoke in generalities. The most he would say was that the Afghans "ave a ministry of defense, and they have leadership in Kabul and will decide, you know, where and when these forces will be applied."

Iraq was easy compared to Afghanistan. Lest you immediately conclude that this *must* be due to U.S. (read Bush Administration) incompetence, let's do a brief comparison of Iraq v Afghanistan with the U.S. as a "base" using the CIA Factbook:

Infant mortality rate: Iraq - total: 43.82 deaths/1,000 live births Afghanistan - total: 151.95 deaths/1,000 live births USA - total: 6.26 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth:
Iraq - total population: 69.94 years
Afghanistan - total population: 44.64 years
USA - total population: 78.11 years

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education):
Iraq - total: 10 years
Afghanistan - total: 8 years
total: 16 years

GDP - per capita (PPP):
Iraq - $4,000 (2008 est.)
Afghanistan - $800 (2008 est.)
USA - $47,000 (2008 est.)

Both Iraq and Afghanistan are in bad shape, but Afghanistan is backward compared to Iraq. Michael Yon was right - Afghanistan isn't the 10 year war, it's the 100.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 1, 2009

Afghanistan Briefing - 23 June 2009 - Cookie Cutter Solutions Don't Work Everywhere

This briefing is by Colonel John Spiszer of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, otherwise known as Task Force Duke.

The order of battle is not as well defined on the various military websites for our operations in Afghanistan, comparing very poorly to what you'll find on the Multi-National Forces-Iraq website. Much of this is because many (but not all!) of our "allies" do not want their troops to fight, and insist on a command structure that does not run exclusively through the United States. Fortunately, Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has an excellent Order of Battle that was published in February. Their document tells us that the 3rd BCT is part of Regional Command - East / based at Bagram Airfield. The 3rd BCT itself operates out of FOB Fenty, Jalalabad, and is responsible for Kunar, Laghman, Nangarhar, and Nuristan provinces.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

From Col. Spiszer's opening remarks:

COL. SPISZER: ...Good morning, everyone. As stated, I'm Colonel John Spiszer of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, or Task Force Duke. And we're in the process of redeploying back as we complete our year of operations in Afghanistan. We're headed back to Fort Hood. In addition, over the next 90 days at Fort Hood, we're going to start standing down the brigade so we can relocate it to Fort Knox, in accordance with the Base Realignment and Closure directives....

We've continued efforts on what we call Operation Open Highway, where we've dedicated ourselves to protect the main avenue for supply, Highway 1-Alpha, also known as Highway 7, with a grand -- a grand trunk road, which runs through Nangarhar and Laghman. But it really is the main road through the Khyber Pass from Pakistan to Kabul. It is essential that supplies and citizens are able to traverse the road freely, both for the country here and for the NATO forces. We've successfully encouraged and incorporated Afghan security forces to do the vast bulk of this mission....

For our purposes that's all we'll cover of his opening statement, but be sure to watch the entire briefing and read the transcript.

On to the Q & A. We'll cover a few of the more important exchanges

Q Colonel, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. I would like to ask you about your experience, your service during the last month in Afghanistan. I know that you are leaving, you're going back to Fort Hood. What kind of lessons you are taking with you regarding the counterinsurgency? And I have a follow-up question, too.

COL. SPISZER: Boy, I'm sorry, I'm really having a hard time hearing you. My -- Major Stokes (sp) here is sitting here.

Lessons learned for counterinsurgency, I think, is what you're looking for. The biggest lesson learned, I would have to say, is that it is different and that the cookie-cutter solutions are not necessarily the same. I've been here before, I worked with the Afghan National Army in Kabul, I've been to Iraq, in Baghdad, and in just this area, the 25,000 square kilometers here, it's a little bit different everywhere you go.

And they say you need to be population-centric. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to base with the population.

It means you have to keep the enemy away from them. There's a variety of different ways of doing that.

You can interdict the border. You can position yourself in between the enemy and the populace. You can -- depending on what phase of the operation you're in, you can develop the Afghan security forces to take the bulk of it, like we have done mostly in Nangarhar here. The Afghan security forces do the vast bulk of the security operations. And we back them up and enable them.

So it is very different in each place. The biggest thing I've learned here is that the people here, after 30 years, they're not buying what I think the enemy is trying to sell them, as long as you give them a little hope. And for the vast bulk of the population here in our region, you have good water and rivers. You have good roads.

You have a reasonable amount of security and governance, where the bulk of the 3.5 million people are. And because of that, they're not willing to let the enemy operate in their areas. And that is key. You get over that step. And then the next step to work on is, how do you build their faith in their government and their security forces that it's going to stay that way? And that's hard here because for 30 years, they haven't had that faith.

So now they've got hope for the future. We've got to build on the faith that they have, in their government, to work on it. In some ways, this area might be a little unique. And that's the key thing is, you've got to recognize, every area is going to be a little bit unique.

One of the most important lessons of Gen. Petraeus' 2006 U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 is that the nature of insurgencies not only varies from country to country, they vary from village to village. Iraq was mostly a war in urban areas, cities and towns. Afghanistan is fought in the countryside. The particulars of what worked in Iraq won't work in Afghanistan, if for no other reason than that we didn't do the same thing in all parts of Iraq.

Indeed one of the authors of the surge itself, Frederick Kagan, discussed the similarities and differences between the two countries in a February article that appeared in The Weekly Standard.

We've seen in the news recently complains from Afghans that U.S. airstrikes were killing too many civilians. This last exchange that we'll cover centers on that issue:

Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. There is discussion about changing the emphasis or the use of air strikes in tactical situations in Afghanistan. Can you discuss how that might have impacted your operations? Because obviously, that's a situation with a tactical commander who has to make that judgment call when he feels he may have to be overrun -- which I think is what they're leaning towards right now, that the issue of air strikes would be limited to only when troops would be overrun. Could you discuss that, sir?

COL. SPISZER: Yeah, I think that in air strikes and other operations and the current emphasis from the new COM-ISAF is -- I think it's just entirely in line with what we have to do. We have to show restraint. We have to ensure that we do everything we can to defeat the enemy, protect the innocent and/or allow our soldiers to protect themselves. And there is definitely a balance in there.

And I don't think it's going to change much the way operations are done in this region because, generally speaking, where we have used air strikes and where we are generally fighting the enemy is not in the vicinity of most of the populated areas. It ends up being further into the mountains. We have -- we've created some space I think where most of the population is safe. And when we do use air strikes -- and it's pretty much we're toe-to-toe with the enemy and it's up in the mountains.

So I don't think it's going to change a lot with how this AO is run and fought and we work the counterinsurgency strategy. It's the right emphasis. It's something that we try and do and we inculcate in all our soldiers, from the lowest private on when he shoots his rifle, all the way up to the leader deciding to drop a bomb, is the element of restraint and the impact it has on the overall campaign.

It's just receiving a well-timed and good emphasis, I think, at this point.

Colonel Spiszer gave a very politically correct response. He's not in a position here to speak freely.

The question, then, is whether these complaints from the Afghans and others are justified. The short answer is that no, they're not, but at least in the short run we're going to have to live with them. As such, reacting like Col Spiszer did in the briefing is the correct and proper thing to do.

The fact is that American and allied forces are more careful now in our use of force than ever before in history. This is right and proper, and we must reject the belacist view (which one sometimes hears from the far right) which says that we should just bomb willy nilly and how dare anyone object. One of the clear lessons of FM 3-24 is that brute force alone will not win a counterinsurgency. And indeed discrimination and proportionality are and must be part of fighting a just war.

The problem now is that Afghan President Hamid Karzai will not or cannot explain to his people that civilian casualties are inevitable. He cannot or will not adequately explain the reasons for the war, sell it if you will, and state why the benefits of victory outweigh the pain of the war.

Civilian populations will accept casualties if the believe that the results will justify the means. From the website of the D-Day Museum says that during the ensuing Battle for Normandy "Between 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed, mainly as a result of Allied bombing." Ouch. Yet the French accepted this as necessary to free themselves from the yoke of Nazi tyranny. Of course we have precision weapons nowadays, but even so, civilian casualties are unavoidable. It would be good if we had a president in Afghanistan who could explain all this. Unfortunately from what I hear Karzai will probably be reelected.

All in all an interesting interview and beneficial to understanding the situation in Afghanistan.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 12, 2009

Out with the Old and In with the New in Afghanistan

On Monday General David McKiernan has been fired from his post as top dog in Afghanistan, and was replaced with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Whether McCrystal will be promoted to four star rank is unclear.

Out: General David McKiernan

General David McKiernan

In: Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

My initial reaction is that I am happy to see the change. McKiernan is a good man but this is a tough business, and if you can't produce results it's time to try something new. President Bush had the habit of sticking with people for too long. He should have let Generals Richardo Sanchez, John Abazaid, George Casey, and of course SecDef Don Rumsfeld go long before he did. President Lincoln hired and fired generals right and left until he found someone who could win. But maybe those analogies aren't accurate for the current situation with McKiernan. I know it sounds trite, but time will tell.

Why Was The Change Made?

Retired Vice-Chief of Staff Gen. Jack Keane (one of the authors of the surge) says that "Gen. McKiernan is a good man...but he was the wrong man at the wrong time. What the war needs is a new strategy and a new plan." The article goes on

In Afghanistan, McKiernan has resisted overhauling his operations, sticking with a NATO campaign plan that critics consider outdated and ineffective. McKiernan did not want to alienate NATO allies by changing the organizational structure of the command or altering agreed-upon operational plans, military analysts said.

Current and former officials have also criticized McKiernan and his command for failing to move quickly enough to adapt some of the strategies that worked during the Iraq troop buildup.

One good piece I saw was at, of all places, TIME (via Yahoo News):

...says retired Army officer and military analyst Ralph Peters. "McChrystal will ask for more authority, not more troops." ...

"I still can't figure out why they put an armored guy with no Afghan experience in charge" one said. A second senior official said "Dave McKiernan is clearly part of the Army's old guard - he led troops in [1991's] Desert Storm, for pete's sake.

McChrystal proved adept at using intelligence to multiply the impact of the troops at his disposal when he commanded U.S. Special Forces in Iraq as they hunted down and killed al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And unlike what some call McKiernan's "shy" demeanor and his desire - in Army parlance - to "stay inside his lane," McChrystal is eager to take the spotlight. He's also expected to challenge behavior of the Afghan government that undermines the war effort: One official on the Joint Chiefs of Staff expects McChrystal to warn President Hamid Karzai to shut down drug running operations that fund the Taliban, even when their networks run uncomfortably close to his government. "[McChrystal] will tell him: 'If you don't clean this up, I will.' "

In other words, McKiernan would have been great in a traditional high-intensity war, but McCrystal is better suited for a counterinsurgency.

Michael Goldfarb in The Weekly Standard quotes a "knowledgeable source" as saying that

(McKiernan was) in fact, an uncreative and conventional thinker who was failing palpably at figuring out how to adapt the principles of counterinsurgency into the specific operational context of Afghanistan -- the kind of military art that made the surge a success. Indeed, many visitors to McKiernan's Kabul headquarters walked away with the nagging feeling that he didn't really have a plan to defeat the insurgency at all -- just a vague commitment to keep on slogging, ideally with more resources.

The source also goes on to point out what I did above; that if we are reading this right (and Obama does not have ulterior motives, see below), then this brings a welcome change from the Bush years, where generals were left in place even after it should have been apparent that their policies were not succeeding. Although both Bush presidents have many admirable qualities (I campaigned vigorously for #43 in 2004) one of their negative traits is that they stick with people too long out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

All this wonderful stuff having been said, Tom Donnelly of The Weekly Standard raises a warning flag:

The question is about the Obama administration's basic approach to the war in Afghanistan. McChrystal matters a lot more if it means that the president is getting serious about exerting American leadership and developing a long-term, workable strategy. That's been missing since the Bush administration decided it was happy in 2005 and 2006 to begin passing the Afghanistan baton to NATO....

The McChrystal decision would be bad, however, if it presaged a dumbing-down of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan to a narrower counter-terrorism approach. The Obama administration did not make that mistake in its recent policy review, but it thought about it.

So we shall see whether President Obama is serious or not about his new plan for Afghanistan. I certainly hope he is.

Wednesday Evening Update

Journalist-blogger Michael Yon has some thoughts that are worth paying attention to:

I do know that these ears have never heard someone speak a foul word about him (outgoing General McKiernan), and I talk with lots of interesting people. If he, McKiernan, was a bad general I would have heard about it.

However, General McKiernan did make some statements about additional troops to Afghanistan, and when he made those statements I remember thinking, "He's going to get fired." And so those statements were the first thing that came to my mind. McKiernan has been saying we need more troops than are already on the way. I do not have the training or experience to say how many troops we need in Afghanistan, but I know we could use a lot more than we have there now. Yet it did seem like General McKiernan was pushing the envelope. That doesn't make him a bad general in my eyes. His envelope-pushing speaks of professional courage and honesty, but also one can imagine that leadership might want to keep some opinions in-house.

But another clue is something that Secretary Gates said to me privately. Actually, LTG David Rodriguez was there, and Rodriguez is tapped to take the number two spot in Afghanistan. Secretary Gates said that his number one concern for Afghanistan is that we will lose the support of the Afghan people. The recent loss of a great number of Afghans was undoubtedly upsetting for Secretary Gates and many others. If we lose widespread support from the Afghan people, the war will be lost....

In regard to Lieutenant General McChrystal, his reputation is enviable. McChrystal's reputation is as solid as that of Generals Mattis or Petraeus, but fewer people have heard of McChrystal. I know some very interesting folks in the special operations world, and McChrystal gets a five-star rating out of five stars. That comes from officers and enlisted.

Posted by Tom at 9:50 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 6, 2009

Democracy v Authority in Nation Building

In the wake of Vietnam we forswore nationbuilding. Today we are heavily engaged in at least two such enterprises, Iraq and Afghanistan. Amazing how circumstances force such changes in policy.

But in a sense the West has been engaged in nationbuilding for decades, if not a century, whether we wanted to admit it or not. The Weimar Republic in Germany was a form of nationbuilding in that we pretty much forced democracy on that country in the wake of what was then called The Great War. In the 1950s and 60s, when ex-colonies were becoming nations, we insisted that they choose their government in democratic fashion. While some turned out to be one-man, one-vote, one-time, others, such as India, have turned into successful democratic states.

It is unclear whether our ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan will be successes or failures. What is clear is that it's not easy to create anything like what we would call a democracy in either. One of my pet theories is that we in the West are good at setting up votes, but not so good at instilling true liberty, or creating a pluralistic societies. Germany after World War II was a Western society, so at least had the benefit of having gone through the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Reformation. We pounded Japan so hard that although their society had not gone through these things it didn't really matter. But neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have the Western experience, and we pounded neither into the ground as we did Japan. Thus, perhaps, our difficulty.

It was Rich Lowry's post at NRO's The Corner which set me thinking on this today. He brings up how many conservatives, seeing the difficulty of the project in Iraq, have said "sure these societies are having trouble setting up governments, but so did the United States." This is a fascicle comparison, he says, because it ignores the cultural differences, and that "it's the absence of order and functioning institutions not democracy that is the fundamental problem in these societies."

He then quotes Samuel Huntington from his book Political Order in Changing Societies:

[A] reason for American indifference to political development was the absence in the American historical experience of the need to found a political order. Americans, de Tocqueville said, were born equal and hence never had to worry about creating equality; they enjoyed the fruits of a democratic revolution without having suffered one. So also, America was born with a government, with political institutions and practices imported from seventeenth-century England. Hence Americans never had to worry about creating a government. This gap in historical experience made them peculiarly blind to the problems of creating effective authority in modernizing countries.

When an American thinks about the problem of government-building, he directs himself not to the creation of authority and the accumulation of power but rather to the limitation of authority and the division of power. Asked to design a government, he comes up with a written constitution, bill of rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, regular elections, competitive parties--all excellent devices for limiting government. The Lockean American is so fundamentally anti-government that he identifies government with restrictions on government. Confronted with the need to design a political system which will maximize power and authority, he has no ready answer. His general formula is that governments should be based on free and fair elections.

In many modernizing societies this formula is irrelevant. Elections to be meaningful presuppose a certain level of political organization. The problem is not to hold elections but to create organizations. In many, if not most, modernizing countries elections serve only to enhance the power of disruptive and often reactionary social forces and to tear down the structure of public authority. "In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men," Madison warned in The Federalist, No. 51, "the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." In many modernizing countries governments are still unable to perform the first function, much less the second. The primary problem is not liberty but the creation of a legitimate public order. Men may, of course, have order without liberty, but they cannot have liberty without order. Authority has to exist before it can be limited.

Indeed we take public order for granted in the West. We've had our riots, but nothing that came anywhere near doing anything more than keeping some people from going to work for a few days. The American Civil War happened so long ago it's ancient history for us (in the U.S. we slap a historical marker on a house that's 100 years old, something that must make Europeans smile). We entertain ourselves with an apocalyptic movie here and there, but the idea of it really happening... no, not to us.

And this of course is a good thing. When listing the virtues of the West, most of us put things like democracy, liberty, pluralism, freedom, capitalism, tolerance, that sort of thing. Few people would put "public order." Natan Sharansky failed to discuss the importance of keeping public order as a prerequisite to democracy in his much-discussed 2004 book The Case for Democracy

Fewer people, I think, miss the "(already) functioning institutions not democracy," that Lowry brings up. We know that we inherited our institutions from Britain, as our revolution was fundamentally different than the French or Russian Revolutions, which completely overthrew the old order and started anew. In this sense our revolution was Burkean in that it was "to preserve the rights of Englishmen." But I'm not here to argue history.

My point, and question, is how do we take these lessons and apply them to the future? As I've said ad nauseum here on this blog, we are where we are with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan, so I've little patience in refighting the battle of whether it was right to invade either. I'm all for learning lessons, don't get me wrong. For example, one of the biggest lessons of Iraq is that democracy is impossible unless public safety is first ensured.

More to it, what about other third world countries around the world? What will happen with North Korea implodes? Is there any hope in the near term for African or Arab countries? Pakistan may be on the verge of sliding into Taliban-style fundamentalism, so is there any hope for them as well? What about Iran if or when they can rid themselves of their crazy mullah rulers? We tend to think of how we can create democracy and liberty in these countries, but as we've learned just keeping order is a huge challenge. And as we learned with Afghanistan, ignoring a problem won't make it go away. We forgot about that country when the Soviets left and the resulting chaos led to the Taliban, their hosting of al Qaeda, and 9-11.

I don't know the answers, but it's certainly worth pondering, because whether we like it or not I believe the world is going to present us with more challenges sooner rather than later, regardless of who holds the presidency in the U.S.

Posted by Tom at 10:30 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 1, 2009

Afghanistan Insurgent Attacks Compared to Iraq

Via Kimberly Kagan's excellent Institute for the Study of War comes this from their latest newsletter:

Recently, news stories out of Afghanistan have focused heavily on the increase in violence there. As the U.S. sends more troops into the country to improve the security situation, the upward trend of violence is certainly concerning. However, it is helpful to put the violence into perspective. A new ISW Graph shows how violence levels in Afghanistan compare to violence levels in Iraq. The ISW Graph provides a startling sense of what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan.

And here is the graph:

Afghanistan v. Iraq Violence April 2009 II

I realize it's not completely clear, so follow the link to where you can download it from the Understanding War site directly.

Not to minimize the situation in Afghanistan, but it is useful to put it into perspective. Taking it a step further, via the CIA Factbook here are the population figures for the two countries:


Total area: 437,072 sq km

Area comparative: slightly more than twice the size of Idaho

Population 28,945,657 (July 2009 est.)


Total area: total: 647,500 sq km

Area comparative: slightly smaller than Texas

Population: 33,609,937 (July 2009 est.)


I think most people intuitively know that Afghanistan is the less violent of the two wars, and yet it is still useful to see the actual numbers. However, I've read that American casualties are the same in the two wars on a percentage basis, so when we say Afghanistan is less violent we mean as per the population, not the risk to our troops.

The graph also shows just how violent Iraq really was when things went south in 2006, and really even before then. Had we not instituted the surge things would certainly have spiraled out of control. By the same token, the dramatic improvements in Iraq are made clear as well.

As for Afghanistan, it's not that the violence has really gotten worse, it's just that I think we've noticed it more. There have been some ups and downs but you can't really say there's any trend upward. Senior commanders have said in briefings (covered here) that in the last year or so the insurgents have switched tactics from attacking coalition troops to attacking civilians. This is what their jihadist brothers did in Iraq, and it nearly worked.

All this said, American casualties have been going up in Afghanistan, perhaps because of the increased emphasis there. See icasualties.org for complete details. I am unable to copy their charts and do not have time to recreate them here.

Posted by Tom at 7:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 1, 2009

Afghanistan Briefing - 30 March 2009 - Will the Afghan National Army be Large Enough?


Much is made, and quite rightly, about when the Iraqi or Afghani army can take over security operations themselves and relieve U.S. forces of the effort. Many or most Americans are willing to shoulder the burden for awhile, but as time goes on public approval lessens if it is perceived that the host nation us unable or unwilling to shoulder the burden.

Earlier this week President Obama laid out his new plan for Afghanistan, to which I gave two thumbs up, with the caveat that the future will tell how serious he is about implementing it. One of his key orders was to send an additional 4,00 advisers to help train the Afghanis. In this briefing, the general in charge equipping and training this army provides a progress update.

The Briefing

This briefing is by Major General Richard Formica, Commanding General of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan(CSTC-A). On Monday he spoke from Camp Eggers, Kabul, to reporters at the Pentagon via satellite, providing an update on security operations.

The order of battle is not at all well defined for our operations in Afghanistan, comparing very poorly to that of Multi-National Forces-Iraq. Much of this is because many (but not all!) of our "allies" do not want their troops to fight, and insist on a command structure that does not run exclusively through the United States. Fortunately, Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has an excellent Order of Battle that was published in February. Their document only tells us that "CSTC-A is commanded by Maj. Gen. Michael Formica. Its mission is separate from ISAF's advisory mission" and that it us under American command. The CSTC-A website tells us that "A military strength of more than 1,000, CSTC-A is under the control of United States Central Command (CENTCOM)" so perhaps Maj. Gen. Formica reports directly to Gen. Petraues but I'd imagine there's at least a strong dashed line to Gen. McKiernan, commander of ISAF.

The mission of CSTC-A is essentially to "organize, train, equip, employ and support" the new Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF).

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

From Gen. Formica's opening remarks:

GEN. FORMICA: ...CSTC-A is a joint and coalition command under the operational control of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. We have servicemen and -women from all three components, active, Guard and Reserve; from all of the services, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines; and from coalition partners, all supported by a professional civilian workforce.

We have been charged with the responsibility to build the sustainable capacity and capability of the ANA and the ANP, so that they can bring stability and security to the Afghan people.

To build this sustainable capacity and capability, we're looking at three areas. First: to develop systems. We've identified three for our current focus -- personnel management, logistics and financial management.

Second, we must continue to develop the institutional base, the training base, medical, logistics, communications, and the ministries, both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior.

And third, we want to build the corps of noncommissioned officers in both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. Our current program builds the ANA to a size of 134,000, accelerated to December of 2011, and reforms the ANP at a size of 82,000. Our approach is to sustain the momentum that has been established with the growth and development of the ANA while we add focus to the ANP. Last year, the ANA expanded its capacity by just over 22,000 soldiers, and it's on track to achieve 134,000 in 2011....

Before I close, I'll comment briefly on the president's recent announcement concerning the strategic review in Afghanistan. With his announcement, the president has reaffirmed our commitment to accelerate the growth of the Afghan National Army to 134,000 and to accelerate the reform of the Afghan National Police force at 82,000.

The decision to send 4,000 U.S. trainers is a demonstrable and significant commitment to the development of the Afghan national security forces. And when coupled with the arrival of the additional U.S. forces, which will have embedded mentor responsibilities, and the provision of Operational Mentor Liaison Teams and police mentor teams by our coalition partners, we will be able to meet the established training requirements for the current year for the first time. And the president has clearly left the door open for potential growth of the Afghan national security forces as we move towards the eventual transfer of security responsibility to the Afghans.

The key to winning a counterinsurgency war is to establish the government as legitimate in the eyes of the people. One way this is done is to train and equip national security forces so that they can protect the people themselves while being relatively free of corruption and human rights abuses. It is generally acceptable for foreign forces to do some or most of the fighting at first, but as time goes on the people want their own military to do the job.

Note that this is not Tom the Redhunter talking, but is straight out of then-Lt. Gen Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, published in December of 2006. If you're not familiar, FM 3-24 provided the theoretical basis for the change in strategy that accompanied the increase in troop levels (5 additional brigades) in Iraq.

The progress outlined by Gen. Formica is all very fine, but is the army big enough? Andrew Gray goes to the heart of the matter with the opening question:

Q General, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters.

As you know, in the runup to the announcement of the new strategy, there was discussion about higher figures, higher numbers for both the army and police. Ambassador Holbrooke said those numbers had been kicked around but not quite scrubbed yet.

What's your estimate of how much bigger the forces need to be? How quickly do you need a decision to start preparing to increase the size, beyond the current targets?

GEN. FORMICA: Yeah, thank you for the question.

First, we, as I said in my statement, we're on track to grow the Afghan national army to 134,000 by December 11th. It's important that we continue to progress towards that significant milestone, while at the same time consider the potential for further growth.

So I don't need a decision anytime soon. But obviously the sooner that you have a commitment to grow, if there is going to be one, then we can put programs in place and start allocating funding against it.

We have made an initial assessment of the requirements, to grow the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police. I know lots of numbers have been batted around, upwards of potentially doubling the size of the Afghan national security forces, with growth in both the army and police.

We have provided our initial analysis back to Washington. As you indicate in your question, these have not been fully vetted. Nor have they been scrubbed with our coalition partners. And I think that's the work that's got to continue in the weeks ahead on that point.

And again I'd bring you back to; the president has left that door open. He has acknowledged the need to continue, to grow to 134 and to reform at 82, and acknowledged that we will need to look at the size of the Afghan national security forces, as we get ready to transfer security responsibility.

Q Just to follow up, General, I mean, is that idea of a doubling, is that about right? Is that the kind of ballpark that you've looked at in your initial assessments?

GEN. FORMICA: There's all sorts of numbers floating around out there. We've looked at numbers that come close to nearly doubling, not quite doubling, both the army and the police. But again that was based on our initial assessment. It's not been vetted by the -- in Washington, nor by our coalition partners. It's something that we'll want to completely scrub, with all of those with a stake in this, and to include with the Afghan -- with the MOD and the MOI.

Q (Off mike) -- that would be -- and I understand that this is not a final figure, but it'd be a doubling of the current targets, roughly, the 134 and the 82

GEN. FORMICA: You -- you're -- first you asked me what the rough order was in our analysis, and I agreed that it -- that one of the things we'd -- we had considered in our analysis was nearly doubling. And now you're trying to pin me down to a number, and I won't get pinned.

While I don't blame Gray for asking, I hope he didn't really expect a direct answer. having watched dozens of these briefings from Afghanistan and Iraq, I've learned that commanders never answer questions based on future needs, as the situation are just too fluid. If decisions have not already been taken, they don't comment. Further, such an answer would be above his level of authority, probably only one that could be answered by Secretary of Defense Gates. Andrew Gray being a veteran of many briefings, my guess is he knew this but decided he had nothing to lose by asking anyway.

Later in the briefing another reporter tried:

Q (Ann Tyson with The Washington Post) It's just a clarification on Andrew's question about the doubling issue, because we don't want to get the wrong impression that you somehow could be talking about doubling from the current size, such as 90,000 for the ANA, versus doubling from the 134,000 size. Now, the phraseology was "further growth," so, you know, you don't want us to walk out of here with that big of a misunderstanding.

GEN. FORMICA: Actually, I'd like you to walk out of there without a number at all. You asked the question. What I -- the first answer is, the president has reasserted and reaffirmed the decision to go forward with 134,000 in the Afghan national army, accelerated to 2011, and the reform of the police at 82,000. The question that was posed to me suggested that Ambassador Holbrooke and others had bantered around numbers upwards of doubling. We have, in fact, done some initial analysis. We have looked at the size of the ANA and the ANP. Doubling from the current program is one of the considerations.

But again, that's not been -- as I said before, it's not a vetted number, it's not an improved number, and it may or may not turn out to be the direction we go. But it's been our assessment, and we have provided that analysis back to Washington.

One thing I've noticed is that our commanders are well trained themselves on how to handle these questions and in all the briefings I've watched I've never seen one give up information after being pressed. They all seem to know exactly what they can and cannot say.

There was much of interest, and I encourage everyone to watch the video and read the transcript, as it is important to understand the situation in Afghanistan. But so this doesn't run on too long we'll only cover one more issue

Q And just the quick follow-up was on ethnic breakdown of the security forces. How much is that something you're concerned about? And if you can, talk about what the breakdown is. Are units one particular ethnic group? Are there units that are mixed? And how does that look, going forward?

GEN. FORMICA: Yeah, specific to the Afghan national army, they are recruited nationally and employed nationally, and the units in the Afghan national army are in fact ethnically diverse and representative of about the ethnic population of the country. And so you'll find in any unit, down to battalion and company level, the ethnic mix that's representative of the ethnic population here in Afghanistan. And that's something that's worked very, very hard, even at the ministerial level, to maintain that ethnic diversity.

This is not political correctness at work. Common sense says that your law enforcement has to somewhat at least be representative of the populations they serve. It is not different in Afghanistan than anywhere else. Counterinsurgents straddle the line between law enforcement and traditional military warfare. National forces must be accepted by the populace.

Further, integration, or diversity, in military units I would think would go a long ways towards breaking down barriers. While I'm not expecting overnight miracles, it's all part of a long term effort. It would also seem to me that while organizing units by ethnic breakdown might have short-term benefits it would be counterproductive towards instilling a sense of nationhood in the long run.

As for the how large the Afghan National Army ultimately needs to be, we're just going to have to wait.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 28, 2009

Obama's New Plan for Afghanistan Gets It Right...I Think

I am generally very pleased with what I see from President Obama's new plan for Afghanistan. From the Fox News report:

President Obama, declaring that coalition forces must "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" Al Qaeda, called on Friday for thousands of additional U.S. troops and billions of dollars in aid to fight terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The president, announcing what he called a "comprehensive new strategy" for the region following a two-month review, outlined an approach to the war that places far more emphasis than before on Pakistan.

Obama said he was ordering 4,000 additional U.S. troops to help train Afghan security forces and was calling on Congress to approve $1.5 billion a year in aid for Pakistan over the next five years.

This is absolutely the right move. Readers of this blog know how critical I have been of candidate and now President Obama, and in most areas I am sure that will continue to be the case. I do try to be honest, and when he does something right I'll say so. This is one of those times. Frankly, I was worried about what he might do, but so far I like what I see.

CNN has additional information:

The new troop deployment is expected to include 8,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as well as 4,000 additional Army troops from Fort Lewis, Washington....

Another 5,000 troops will be deployed at a later date to support combat troops, bringing the total to 17,000 the Defense Department said. A senior administration official confirmed the total.

The Obama administration has been conducting several reviews of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, including a review by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in the region. The president and the Pentagon have been considering a request from the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, to send as many as 30,000 additional troops....

All 17,000 troops announced Tuesday will go to the southern region of the country where Afghanistan borders Pakistan, with the goal mainly being to stop the flow of foreign fighters, according to a U.S. military official with direct knowledge of the deployment and military plans for Afghanistan.

Another story on CNN provides details of their mission, none of which will be terribly surprising to regular readers of this blog:

1. The increased troop levels expected to last at minimum three to four years.

2. Obama authorized 17K, 12K will get orders soon, another 5K of support troops will get their orders at a later date.

3. The additional troops will ALL go to Afghanistan's southern border region with Pakistan. The aim is primarily (but not solely) to begin to stop the flow of foreign fighters across that border.

4. The US troops will be dual purpose: combat and also training afghan army units. But at least another 2,000 US troops needed specifically for the training mission.

5. The concept of operations by the US military: build a new string of forward operating bases (main base areas) and combat outposts (smaller posts in towns and villages like you saw in Iraq)...troops will move around...engaging in both counter terrorism (fighting foreign fighters essentially) and counter insurgency (fighting basic taliban and insurgents inside the country....including the so-called 'day hires' that join the Taliban just for money.

6. Goal: to have enough troops to 'seize and hold' territory...and maintain basic security in an ever broadening area -there simply haven't been enough troops to hold ground.

7. Taliban continue (as we have said since nov) to maintain at least half a dozen safe haven areas inside Afghanistan. these are prime target areas for US.

Excellent on all counts. The President has apparently signed on for the long term. As I wrote in Afghanistan and the Long War, we've got to realize that insurgencies are not World War II, which was relatively short but intensely violent. If we want to win in Afghanistan, and I think it in our vital national interests to do so, we must accept that it will take decades to win there. This does not mean the same level of effort the entire time, because again it's not World War II. It will require relatively significant forces for awhile, but as we make progress we can slowly draw down and hand things over to the Afghans.

Rejecting the "Minimalist" Approach

The President has rejected the "minimalist" approach advocated by some in his administration. Bill Gertz of The Washington Times has the scoop

According to two U.S. government sources close to the issue, senior policymakers were divided over how comprehensive to make the strategy, involving an initial boost of 17,000 U.S. troops.

On the one side were Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg, who argued in closed-door meetings for a minimal strategy of stabilizing Afghanistan that one source described as a "lowest common denominator" approach.

The goal of these advocates was to limit civilian and other nonmilitary efforts in Afghanistan and focus on a main military objective of denying safe haven to the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists.

The other side of the debate was led by Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy for the region, who along with U.S. Central Command leader Gen. David H. Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fought for a major nation-building effort.

The Holbrooke-Petraeus-Clinton faction, according to the sources, prevailed. The result is expected to be a major, long-term military and civilian program to reinvent Afghanistan from one of the most backward, least developed nations to a relatively prosperous democratic state.

It is absolutely predictable that our dope of a vice president was on the wrong side of the issue. A few years ago his solution for Iraq was to split it into three countries, a plan that had the dubious distinction of being opposed by virtually everybody in Iraq.

But Is It Enough?

I don't know. On the one hand, Senator McCain doesn't think so, and we need to remember that he was mostly right on Iraq

Sen. John McCain Friday denounced President Obama's new plan for sending more troops to Afghanistan, saying it was "not enough" and suggesting the president should have been clearer that there will be more troop casualties....

Mr. McCain said he'd send three additional brigades, or around 40,000 additional troops, and suggested a 250,000-person Afghan army instead of the 134,000-strong army the administration aims for.

The Republican said while he appreciates allies who are helping with the effort, some allies have "almost laughable" restrictions on where they will operate. For example, German troops won't go south in the region, he said.

Good point on how our "allies" virtually betrayed us when Bush was on office, and show no signs of doing the right thing now. As I mentioned above, I am not in a position to know if the troop numbers Obama is sending will be sufficient.

We also have these good points from an emailer to The Weekly Standard

The speech was classic Obama -- all show no substance. He announces 17,000 combat troops in a press release but announces 4,000 traniers in a big ceremony. He accepts the Bush level for the ANA [Afghan National Army] when McCain called for at least doubling it last summer. [General David] McKiernan has called for 30,000 troops and candidate Obama said he would get them. President Obama shortchanges the commander he said he would support.

Obama spoke about defeating AQ but not about defeating the Taliban. Obama may have rejected the Biden-Steinberg minimalist path to defeat but he chose a Holbrookian keep options open NOT a Petreaus security first counterinsurgecy strategy. He spoke in platitudes about Afghan governance, counternarcotics, and Pakistan's need to do more on counterterror but offered not a single specific on how to get there. Instead he uses Afghanistan to push his opening to Iran -- as if Iran wants to see the us succeed in Afghanistan so a pro-American, democratic ally is on Tehran'ss eastern border. This is lowest common denominator consensus policy that will not lead to success in Afghanistan.

On the other side, Frederick Kagan and Bill Kristol (the latter the evil neocon publisher of The Weekly Standard are on board with Obama's plan and are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Myself, I'm just going to have to wait until I read more until I can say with certainty. We'll also how this plays out and if Obama really does commit significantly more resources to Afghanistan, or whether his speech was all for show. In the meantime I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Sunday Update

Two trustworthy and unbiased writers on military affairs, Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio, provide some analysis over at The Long War Journal. Make sure you follow the link and read the whole thing, but here are a few tidbits

It is difficult to see how a boost in military and economic support will push Pakistan into taking on Islamist extremists head on. Here, the devil is in the details, and few details are forthcoming at this time...

Afghanistan certainly needs additional forces, and it can be argued that the 24,000 additional troops is too little to achieve positive results quickly. But the troop surge will have a positive impact...

The training partnership model has worked well where it can be implemented, and the additional trainers should serve as force multipliers in allowing the Afghan security forces to shoulder a greater responsibility for security...

The increase in the size of the Afghan Army and police will likely still be insufficient to secure Afghanistan, but the increase in Afghan forces is needed...The Army and police will need to be even larger than the 2011 goal; some estimates indicate there needs to be more than 400,000 members in the Afghan security forces for them to ultimately secure the country and fight the insurgency....

A reconciliation program has been open and underway in Afghanistan for years. The program has pulled thousands of low-level Taliban fighters and leaders away from the insurgency.

This continued effort may peel away additional low-level Taliban members. But the US and Coalition leaders should avoid looking for easy solutions to ending the insurgency such as looking for high-level insurgent leaders or large groups of fighters to pry away....

Their take is generally positive, I think.

Monday Update

The editors of National Review are generally happy, but wish Obama had gone farther:

The Afghan war has always been under-resourced, in terms of U.S. troops and everything else, and Obama has begun to change that....

What is disturbing about Obama's position is the hint of hedging. Commanding general David McKiernan had asked for more troops. Obama approved only part of his request, preferring to wait and make a call on the balance later. But with a tough summer of fighting ahead, it will get politically harder, not easier, to deploy more troops. Obama declined to explicitly endorse an expensive doubling of Afghan security forces today, as some in his administration have advocated, saying only further "increases in Afghan forces may very well be necessary." And he talked of benchmarks for progress in the war, a politically seductive notion that proved useless at best -- and often counter-productive -- in the Iraq war.

In short, today was a start. But much will depend on how Obama performs later, when the Left is more restive and the politics of the war more parlous.

This post is getting long, but journalist-blogger Michael Yon's opinion is always worth considering:

The President's words were disappointing. He talked about our goal to reach a force level of 134,000 Afghan soldiers and 82,000 police by 2011. This is not even in the neighborhood of being enough. Further, the increase of 21,000 U.S. troops is likely just a bucket of water on the growing bonfire. One can only expect that sometime in 2010, the President will again be forced to announce another increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 25, 2009

Afghanistan Briefing - 20 March 2009 - "We've Just Run Out of Troops"

This briefing is by Major General Mart de Kruif, who is the commander of Regional Command South in Afghanistan. Last Friday Maj. Gen. de Kruif spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an operational update.

Regional Command South is part of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the NATO led operation.

de Kruif de Kruif commands some 23,000 international troops, from 17 nations, which is something of a problem because there is no unity of command, as evidenced by the General's own comment at the end that "That having said, being out there most of the days, I can tell you that we might not have a -- unity of command; we definitely have, in RC South, unity of effort." That's all very nice to say, but the fact is that the need for unity of command is military science 101.

I am not entirely sure about the command structure of ISAF. The order of battle is not at all defined on the ISAF website, as comared to the superb job of whomever set up the website of Multi-National Forces-Iraq. Those with more patience and time than me can look it up and leave your findings as a comment.

Fortunately, Dr. Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has an excellent Order of Battle that was published just last month, and is much more up to date than Wikipedia. Their document tells us that

Regional Command - South is Commanded by Dutch Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif (command rotates among British, Canadian, and Dutch officers, with an American deputy). It oversees PRTs in Helmand (British), Kandahar (Canadian) Uruzgan (Dutch), and Zabul (American), and is also responsible for Nimruz province.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

From the general's opening remarks:

Q Good morning, General. David Morgan from Reuters. Can you tell us, please, what security goals you think are reasonable for the upcoming year, given the influx of U..S. forces into RC South? And specifically, do you think that you will be able to break the stalemate that General McKiernan has spoken about? ...

GEN. DE KRUIF: Thank you, David. To start with your first question, when we talk about stalemate, I think it's fair to say that from an ISAF point of view, we are not stopped by the insurgency, but we just run out of troops.

What do I mean with that? It's clear to say that two years ago, the insurgents changed their overall strategy from attacking our strength, being ISAF, towards focusing on terrorizing the local nationals, the Afghan people. And one of the elements of that is the use of IEDs. For ISAF, that means that we have to deliver a 24/7 security in the focus areas where we are placed. It's no use of getting into a village at 8:00 in the morning and then leave that village at 5:00 in the evening.

So once we start the shape, clear, hold and build concept in a region, we have to stay there. And with the available troops we have currently right now in theater, we were able to clear parts of central Helmand and in central Oruzgan. But to be able to extend these focus areas, we definitely need more troops. That's one.

What I think what's going to happen is that once we will see the influence of the U.S. forces that will give us that capability and the capacity not only to expand the areas where we do the shape, clear, hold, build, but also put significant more pressure on the insurgency, on the leadership and on the nexus between that leadership, the narcotics and the IEDs.

So that will lead in the first couple of months after the influx of U.S. forces to what I think is going to be a significant spike in incidents. After that and after the elections, however, I think that what we are doing now is actually planting the seeds and that we will view a significant increase in the security situation across southern Afghanistan next year....

What we learn is that

  1. NATO does not have enough troops to do the job

  2. Two years ago the insurgents switched strategy from attacking our troops to targeting civilians

  3. The additional U.S. troops will allow us to hold and build as well as shape and clear

As Clausewitz once said, "the enemy is an animate object that reacts." Too many forget that lesson. They may be evil but they're not stupid.

MNF-Iraq commander Gen. George Casey learned that not having enough troops will allow you to clear areas of insurgents, but when you leave they'll just come back. His operation to clear Baghdad in the fall of 2006 met just such a fate, and I think led to his dismissal.

The good news is that President Obama is sending 17,000 more troops, which is not enough but better than nothing. Unfortunately, our allies told him they aren't.

Worse, Obama is going to cut the Department of Defense by some 10%, which includes some Army ground-combat vehicles. Not a good idea. Fortunately, 14 US Senators sent a letter to the President today protesting the planned cuts.

But we shouldn't have to do it all. It would be nice if our allies stepped up to the plate and sent more troops. A lot more. After all, Afghanistan is supposed to be the war we all support, isn't it? Now that George Bush is no longer in power, no one has that as an excuse either. The population of NATO countries is several hundred million, and that they can only muster 23,000 or so troops for Afghanistan is a disgrace.

Q General, Barbara Starr from CNN. Can I ask you, what are you looking for in President Obama's upcoming Afghanistan strategy? What can he do in that strategy that would be most helpful, in your mind, to you and your troops?

And if I could also follow up, when you say that you see the Quetta shura as being responsible for the insurgent activity in your area, that suggests that you see direct command and control, perhaps, from across the border in Pakistan. Could you talk a little bit about the organization of the insurgency you see? How well-trained? How well-equipped? Where's the money coming from to fund these guys? What are you really dealing with out there?

GEN. DE KRUIF: Okay. Starting with your first question, I think there are two -- on my level, on the RC South level, I think there are two very important factors, which hopefully are included in the policy of President Obama. The first, of course, is the influx of additional forces, which will really be a game changer from my point of view.

But the second point, and perhaps the most important point I want to make, is that it needs to be nested within a comprehensive approach. So it's not just bringing in the military capability, it's also bringing in the capability to support governance and reconstruction and development....

Once again don't let anyone on the left tell you that we're not just pursuing a military solution. This has been a talking point of theirs for years and it's just as untrue of Afghanistan as it was and is of Iraq.

As I've discussed numerous times on this blog, counterinsurgency requires civilian tasks as well as military ones. Human Terrain Teams and Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams have made huge contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan and have been discussed many times on this blog.

Q General, this is David Wood from the Baltimore Sun. You mentioned that you'd like to see as part of Obama's strategy a civilian surge. Could you tell us more specifically, in terms of capabilities and numbers, what you mean?

GEN. DE KRUIF: Yes. What we absolutely need is that we build the institutions that support the governance at the provincial, district and sub-district level, in governing and administrating their region. What we see time after time is that district governors and provincial governors are appointed. But especially in RC South, with a very high rate of illiteracy, it's very hard to find people who have the capabilities to translate policy and implement the policy into clear action.

So the whole system of administration, building the institutions which are able to support the governance at the provincial and district level into actions, I think that is absolutely critical, and that is number one on my list.

If Obama and our allies follow through on this my hat is off to them.

Although this next question is about IEDs, the interesting part is in the answer

Q General, Barbara Starr again from CNN. Can I come back to this issue of the IEDs? And what can be done, for further protection of your forces, especially when you get the U.S. increased forces?

So many of the hits have been against the armored humvees. What have you requested or do you want to see, in terms of the MRAP vehicles and more protection? Do you have enough MRAPs for your forces right now? Will you have enough when the U.S. troops get there?


Well, getting more protection against IEDs is not just a matter of putting more armor on vehicles.

The first step is having an approach in which you win the hearts and minds of the people. So that means that every day, although we have an IED threat, our forces will go out and have a 24/7 presence amongst the Afghan people. Because by the end of the day, it is the Afghan people who will deny the use of IEDs by the insurgency....

"Hearts and Minds" is probably the most misunderstood term in all of warfare. Please please please follow the link its true definition.

All in all one of the better Afghanistan briefings in that we learned a lot.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 9, 2009

Afghanistan Briefing - 06 March 2009 - Building An Alternative to the Khyber Pass


I discussed our tenuous logistical situation last month in Supply Lines to Afghanistan. In the post, it was pointed out that some 70% of the supplies sent to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan were offloaded in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, most of which then went through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. This was obviously a choke point, and indeed insurgents have targeted out logistical trail in this area. We have been exploring alternatives through the northern 'stans, but none are really satisfactory. It was therefore good news to hear in this briefing that we are building an alternative entry point into Afghanistan for supplies offloaded in Karachi.

The Briefing

This briefing is by Col. John P. "Pete" Johnson, Commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, speaks via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an operational update. Col Johnson is at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province, Afghanistan.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team is known as the Task Force Currahee, and I trust we're all aware that the 101st Airborne Division are also called the Screaming Eagles. The 4th Brigade is responsible for the central eastern area of Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border. They have been there since April of 2008, and are due to rotate back to the United States later this month.

The 4th Brigade is part of Combined Joint Task Force 101, Operation Enduring Freedom. The order of battle is not at all well defined for our operations in Afghanistan, comparing very poorly to the superb job of whomever set up the website of Multi-National Forces-Iraq. Fortunately, Dr. Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has an excellent Order of Battle that was published just last month. Their document tells us at the top of page 2 that Johnson's brigade is based at FOB Salerno, Khost, and is responsible for Khost, Paktia, and Paktika provinces.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

I covered a briefing by Col. Johnson last year
Afghanistan Briefing - 21 November 2008 - Winning Hearts and Minds in Khost,
Interested readers may wish to compare what the Colonel said about the K-G Pass Road they were building then with what he said in this briefing.

From Col. Johnson's opening remarks:

COL. JOHNSON:...Our flagship development effort is the construction of the Khost- to-Gardez, or K-G, road, a 101-kilometer road through the mountains which will connect this province of Khost to the interior of Afghanistan, opening up market lines between centers of commerce and allowing the government of Afghanistan to bring much-needed services and security to a very important population. This USAID project will also potentially offer an alternative port of entry to the Khyber Pass, as it can reduce the travel from Kabul to Karachi by over 400 kilometers.

This ambitious road project is very much contested by the enemies of Afghanistan, who see it as a major threat as we compete for influence with the local population. It's a stated objective by the Haqqani network, our major foe here, to not let this road be built. The Haqqani family is from the Pashtun Zadran tribe, which dominates this mountainous region.

Back in the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, these same tribes prevented the construction of a similar road and also stopped two Army divisions from entering Khost through these passes. Bottom line, the road is being built with the support of the tribes. We continue to work closely in support of the Afghan government to ensure all the needs of the people are addressed....

Now I'd like to provide some perspective on the enemies of Afghanistan. It is certainly a complex enemy, from a multitude of ideological Taliban groups to power-politic groups such as the Haqqani network as well as the Gulbuddin-Hekmatyar-led HIG, all the way up to and including al Qaeda. Whether you believe this is an insurgency or a guerrilla campaign, one thing is clear: The primary means this enemy uses is terrorism. It is completely inhumane, un-Islamic, barbaric, with a total disregard for innocent civilian lives....

While ISAF and Afghan national security forces go to great lengths in their planning and operations to prevent civilian injuries and the loss of innocent lives, over the past year the terrorist indifference to civilian casualties has been appalling. Even though, yes, they've increased their total effort by around 20 percent this year and have increased the sense of insecurity, the sloppiness of their efforts has created five times the civilian casualties over ours.

When we study the nature of their attacks, they have shifted from direct attacks, which are most always soundly defeated, to wanton and indiscriminate suicide, asymmetric IED and indirect-fire attacks, which recklessly endanger the civilian population....

The other key aspect of this enemy is the almost absolute reliance on foreign fighters from Pakistan and other countries to accomplish the majority of their spectacular attacks. We do not see platoons drawn from local population to conduct major attacks. To me, this reflects a lack of willingness within the population to actively support the enemy's efforts and the importance of external support for them to achieve their goals....

Corruption remains a real concern throughout Afghanistan. We've taken the zero-tolerance approach. When corruption is identified, action must be taken. We've seen this happen within some of our security forces. Afghan officials investigated the corruption and dealt with the issue, earning the public's respect and gratitude. This further encouraged the Afghan people to turn toward their government for assistance....

There is much of interest here. Discussed in the introduction was the important of finding a backup to the Khyber pass. On that note I won't add to what Col. Johnson said. Interested parties can follow the link to my other post at top.

We face a complex and evolving enemy in Afghanistan. As Frederick Kagan pointed out last month, "There is no such thing as "the Taliban" today. Many different groups with different leaders and aims call themselves "Taliban," and many more are called "Taliban" by their enemies...."

It is apparent that no only are enemy attacks increasing, they are changing tactics from direct specific attacks to indirect terror attacks. The good news is that most insurgents are not native Afghanis, the bad news is that the existence of the sanctuary in Pakistan is a serious impediment to our ability to victory. One of the primary lessons of Petraeus' US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 was that you must avoid allowing the enemy to have a sanctuary.

As you can read, we are doing our darndest to hit the insurgents when they are in Pakistan (mainly the provinces of North and South Waziristan), but as we all know it remains a huge problem. The issues are terribly complex, and more than I can address here.

Col Johnson's admission of corruption stands in contrast to Col. Scott Spellmon's briefing last month in which he told us that "Over the past seven and a half months, I have a seen a number of allegations of corruption in the provincial governments. However, I have yet to see any evidence, as have the governors -- any evidence that would substantiate any of those claims." I was fairly critical of Col. Spellmon in my analysis, and Col. Johnson's statements seem to validate that.

On to the Q & A. First is more detail on the enemy attacks discussed above:

Q Colonel, this is David Morgan from Reuters. ...what has been the trend in attacks? Have attacks been rising over the course of the past few months or falling? And are your expectations for the next few months?

COL. JOHNSON: ...With respect to what the situation is in terms of the enemy effort, as I said, I think over this past year there's been about a -- you know, roughly a 20 percent increase in overall enemy activity, and over the last two months I would say compared to 2008, roughly about 30 percent.

So it has risen somewhat, partly, I believe, due to the really good weather that the enemy has had to be able to operate in the border regions. Normally the winters are much more severe. And quite frankly, this year has been relatively temperate. We have had snow in the upper elevations, but many of the passes that would normally be blocked just were not.

And also I think that as we look at the -- one of the things we try to measure is the quality of the enemy effort. Over this past year, even with a 20 percent increase, much of that increase has really been in ineffective attacks. There has been a slight qualitative increase, more with respect to indirect-fire attacks and IED attacks against our forces and a more targeted shift from attacks against coalition forces towards our Afghan national security force brothers.

The insurgents seem to be calculating that they can turn the population against us if they kill enough Afghanis. Given how I've seen the Afghanis' react to civilian casualties, I would say their calculation is probably right. The primary lesson of Field Manual 3-24 (and something I've said here a zillion times) is that the first priority of counterinsurgents is protecting the population. Clearly, we've got some work to do.

In the next exchange we get a direct reference to FM 3-24 and the number of troops needed in-country. Note that everyone understands the reference without further elaboration.

The bad news is that we don't have enough troops in country, the good news is that now that we've largely won Iraq we can shift resources to that theater. Unfortunately, the bad news outnumbers the good, since once again we have been betrayed by our European allies (who have said sorry, we're not sending more troops), and even though it is very good that President Obama is sending more troops he is not sending enough.

Q (David Morgan of Reuters) If I can follow up on that, how many soldiers do you have to look after this population of 1.6 million -- not just U.S., but Afghan and any others who are in the area? And how does that number compare with what would be prescribed by the counterinsurgency manual?

COL. JOHNSON: We are not quite reaching the gold standard prescribed in the manual. Right now we're at about a one to 115 ratio of security forces to population. And so we don't quite achieve the standard. But I've got roughly, you know, 5,000 coalition forces under my command to support the effort, an additional 10,000 or so Afghan National Army, another 9,000 or so police forces and then roughly 3,000 Afghan Border Police. That's essentially the security forces that we've got to conduct counterinsurgency operations to secure this population.

A very informative briefing.

It appears that Col. Johnson will soon be awarded a star. During the briefing, Jeff Schogol of Stars and Stripes started off his question with "General -- General?! -- Colonel, soon to be General...." If the progress on the K-G Pass Road is as Col. Johnson says, then I'd say it was a promotion well deserved.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 23, 2009

Afghanistan Briefing - 18 February 2009 - Not at the Tipping Point

This briefing was by General David McKiernan, Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan and NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Last Thursday he was in Washington DC, speaking with reporters at the Pentagon.

Gen. McKiernan reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM. Petraeus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

This briefing was rather long, at 50 minutes, so we'll only cover some of it. The questions were very good, and McKiernan gave what I believe was an honest and informative assessment of the situation.

First of interest is what McKiernan said about the ultimate solution for the country during his opening remarks:

GEN. MCKIERNAN:...But I would like to reinforce what the president has said, that this is not going to be won by military forces alone. And while this will give us a security foundation, we certainly need additional contributions, civilian capacity building programs that will enable people in Afghanistan to feel hope and to develop their abilities to take the lead for their governance....

It was during the early days of the surge that I noticed that the left ramped up their theme of "there can be no military solution to Iraq." What's interesting is that nobody ever said that there was an exclusively military solution. The whole point of the surge was to stop the violence so that political, social, and economic progress could take place. As I trust we're all aware, so far it has worked out very well.

In the end, to defeat an insurgency the people need to believe that the counterinsurgents will win and that the government has their best interests at heart. During any insurgency most people want to sit on the fence, committing to neither side. To win the counterinsurgents must get them off the fence and into their camp.

All of this is part of the "additional contributions" and "civilian capacity building programs" that the general was talking about. But the lesson of the 20th century as spelled out in Petraeus' US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 is that this sort of progress can only take place after the populace has been secured.

Now let's get to the exchange that prompted the title to this post;

Q You couldn't -- if you got the full complement of the 30,000 and you combined that with the Afghan army, the ratio of troops to civilians would still be lower than it is in Iraq and lower than what most counterinsurgency doctrines suggest. Why the 30,000 cap? I mean, can you see it --

GEN. MCKIERNAN: It's not a -- it's not a cap. I've never approached it as a cap. And it's also related to the fact that we need to continue this to be an international effort. So there are NATO contributions and other troop-contributing nations. So it's not just U.S. military capabilities, it's international military capabilities while we are growing the Afghan army, the Afghan police, because what we want to get to is what I've called the tipping point, where the lead for security is in Afghan units, police and army, and we increasingly are more of in a training and mentoring role.

Q (Off mike) -- looking at the big picture, what is the earliest that you would project that this time -- that that tipping point might be reached?

GEN. MCKIERNAN: You know, that's a million-dollar question. I don't -- it's always hard to predict years out. But we have a program to accelerate the growth of the Afghan army, as we talked about earlier, to 134,000. We know we need to increase the size of the police and train and focus our efforts there and reform in many cases. Those are programs that are at least going to go out over the next three to four years.

So I -- let me answer the question by saying for the next three to four years, I think we're going to need to stay heavily committed and sustain -- in a sustained manner in Afghanistan.

Anyone who has followed my extensive posting on Iraq knows that we reached the point where Iraqi forces were in the lead last year (the exact time varied by region). We are nowhere near that point in Afghanistan, and in fact the situation has deteriorated in the south.

Let's be clear; when McKiernan mentioned "three to four years," that wasn't a time until all would be finished and we could pull out all of our troops. As I have said innumerable times, most recently in Afghanistan and the Long War, no insurgency has been defeated in less than 10 years. That's the absolute minimum, and most last longer. That said, I hasten to add that insurgencies don't end World War II style, they peter out. So if all goes well we may be able to draw down troops somewhat in a few years.

But even then it's not so simple. At least Iraq was relatively isolated. We had trouble from Syria and Iran, to be sure, but we could and did defeat the insurgency without striking into their countries. Not so with Afghanistan. Too much of the insurgency has sanctuaries in parts of Pakistan.

This exchange really gets to the heart of the matter:

Q General, why should the U.S. expect to succeed in Afghanistan where other superpowers have failed?

GEN. MCKIERNAN: Because it's in our vital national security interest to succeed as the United States of America. It's a country that is absolutely worth our commitment, the Afghan people. And it's a region that is absolutely worth the commitment of the international community to ensure that it's stable at the end of this.

And I know there is -- especially with the history of Afghanistan, there's always an inclination to relate what we're doing now with previous nations and history that have been in Afghanistan for other reasons. And I think that's a very unhealthy comparison.

We're in Afghanistan with the support of the Afghan people, to bring stability and a better future to that country. That's a, certainly, far different reason than, say, for instance, the Soviets were in there. So I think that to a certain degree is comparing apples with oranges.

And I think the insurgency is not going to win in Afghanistan. The insurgency is not going to win in Afghanistan. By any metric, by any polling data, the vast majority of the people that live in Afghanistan reject the Taliban or other militant insurgent groups. They have nothing to offer them. They do not bring any hope for a better future. The insurgency will not win in Afghanistan.

It was a great question, and the general gave a near perfect answer. The only thing he couldn't say is "whether we win depends on whether we have the willpower to stick it out." The Democrats wanted to abandon Iraq as early as 2004. Despite all of their talk about wanting to fight the "real war" in Afghanistan, it is not at all clear to me that they'll have the fortitude to stick it out. If the economy tanks more than it has, the cries to save money will get louder and louder. And if progress is uneven, we may see a resurgence of the Copperheads.

The last exchange that I'll quote is interesting mostly for it's insight into counterinsurgency tactics:

Q Sir, are you just going to shape, clear, hold and build? What conditions would you not in clear, hold and build?

GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I like to put the word "shape" in front of it, because there are a series of actions in terms of understanding the environment where you're going to work, understanding who lives there, what are the dynamics of the people that live in that area, what are the dynamics of the agriculture system, of the terrain, of the irrigation systems, of governance, intelligence building? What needs to happen before you move a capability in there to clear -- meaning separate the insurgent from the population? There's a whole series of actions that can run from being very non-kinetic, such as coming in with projects, to very kinetic.

I am happy that President Obama is sending 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. We need to send more. We asked our "allies" to help us by sending more themselves, and once more we have been betrayed. If we win this, it will because the people of the United States and Afghanistan do not give up.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 21, 2009

Afghanistan: Harder Before It Gets Easier

Most wars are not fought in linear fashion, but rather go back and forth, and often it is not clear until close to the end who will win. World War II was atypical in this fashion. In both theaters, the Axis won early victories, then you had the turnarounds at Stalingrad and Midway, and then a long string of Allied victories.

Iraq is more typical of most wars. We wiped out the Iraqi Army fairly quickly, and so won the first stage. The insurgency hit us hard and unexpectedly, and so by late 2003 we were clearly losing. We appeared to gain our footing in 2005, only to lost it by the end of 2006, when it became clear that the country was sliding into a type of civil war, or at least mass ethnic cleansing. The surge put us right again, and by 2008 it was clear that we had mostly won the war, and now only had to win the peace. Today I think it's clear that Iraq is making the much of the political progress we had hoped for, although of course it still has a long way to go and could always backslide.

When we did commit the 5 additional brigades to the surge, and kick off kinetic operations with Phantom Thunder, allied casualties rose. So did that of our Iraqi partners, and for that matter of the civilian population as well. Followed by Phantom Strike and Phantom Phoenix, we slowly but surely applied the new counterinsurgency lessons of Field Manual 3-24 to create space where political and economic progress could take place.

Setting aside for the moment the larger War on Jihadism (something that exists whether the Obama Administration wants to admit it or not), our current focus is on Afghanistan. Here, too, we've seen it go back and forth a few times. Early on we clearly were winning when we chased the Taliban and al Qaeda from the country. They've slowly come back, in somewhat different forms, and an uneasy stalemate has persisted.

In Iraq we're in Stage 3 operations, called "OUTPATIENT CARE--MOVEMENT TO SELF-SUFFICIENCY" 5-6. in FM 3-24. In Afghanistan, we still need to go through a "surge" of operations. There we've probably regressed from "MIDDLE STAGE: "INPATIENT CARE--RECOVERY" 5-5." backwards to stage one; "INITIAL STAGE: "STOP THE BLEEDING" 5-4"

General Petraeus, commander MNF-Iraq during the surge and now commanding CENTCOM, had this to say about the future of Afghanistan last month:

In recent months, our President and many others have highlighted the need for additional forces in Afghanistan to reverse the downward spiral in security, help Afghan forces provide security for the elections on August 20th, and enable progress in the tasks essential to achievement of our objectives....

As Senator Lieberman highlighted in his Brookings speech, a surge in civilian capacity is needed to match the increase in military forces in order to field adequate numbers of provincial reconstruction teams and other civilian elements....

First and foremost, our forces and those of our Afghan partners have to strive to secure and serve the population. We have to recognize that the Afghan people are the decisive "terrain." ....

It is also essential that we achieve unity of effort, that we coordinate and synchronize the actions of all ISAF and Afghan forces -- and those of our Pakistani partners across the border -- and that we do the same with the actions of our embassy and international partners, ....

Indeed, as Vice President Biden observed recently, Afghanistan likely will get harder before it gets easier. And sustained progress will require sustained commitment.

There's a lot here, more than I really have time to address properly tonight.

I've blogged on this until my fingers are blue, but since I'm sure my readers do not have encyclopedic knowledge of all of my posts on this, let's go through each of the issues the general raises.

Our Allies

One of the biggest problems in Afghanistan has been getting our European allies to send adequate forces. Bluntly, they've betrayed us, as I've noted time and again (and again).

Just as bad, many of our allies insist on such strict ROE (Rules of Engagement) for their troops that they end up in safe areas guarding things that are not likely to be attacked anyway. As such, there is a split command between ISAF and OEF.

This is not to say that all of our allies do not fight, for that is untrue. The Netherlands, Canada, and UK troops stand out. But even with them there are far too few.

Worse, it's not getting better. We were told that the Obama Administration would make nice with the world and our relations with everyone would improve, but that hasn't carried over to the area of additional troops for Afghanistan. From the Telegraph

Washington had hoped to persuade European allies to contribute more in the wake of the President Barack Obama's election and the announcement this week of the deployment of 17,00 extra American soldiers.

American defence secretary Robert Gates condemned their failure to do so far as "disappointing" with European states promising to deploy no more than just a few hundred extra troops....

With public opposition to the Afghan war hardening across Europe, and disquiet in many European capitals over a command structure in Afghanistan that keeps the vast bulk of the 55,000-strong American force separate from Nato, few expect any member to commit significant additional forces.

And I thought that Afghanistan was the war we were all supposed to want to win.

One can object that that Bush so screwed up the war and poisoned our relations that this is what we get. If so, then they weren't allies worth having to begin with, and anyway the minimum it's ever taken to win against insurgents is 10 years.

Perhaps Obama just needs more time to convince them to come around. Perhaps, but I'm not optimistic. For reasons that have been explained elsewhere I don't think the Europeans care about Afghanistan.

A Surge in Civilian Capacity

By this, I believe, Petraeus is referring to Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and Human Terrain Teams(HTTs).

PRTs bring civilian expertise to various projects designed to defeat insurgencies by providing essential services to the people. 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

I've blogged about HTTs here and here. 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." There is some question about how effectively we are using them in Afghanistan, but I don't have enough information to make a complete judgment.

Secure and Serve the Population.

The key lesson of Petraus' Field Manual 3-24(linked to above) was that political progress cannot come before military progress. In other words, you must secure the population through proper counterinsurgency tactics before you can expect social and political progress. One of our key mistakes in 2004-6 was that we got this backwards. The left made the same mistake when the opposed the surge, insisting that political progress was the only route. The truth is that both need to occur, but in the proper order. See Iraq II 2007 - 2008 for about a zillion posts on the subject.

Afghanistan likely will get harder before it gets easier

I don't think anyone disagrees with this. After all, although President Obama has pledged another 17,000 troops to the fight, a wise idea and I applaud him for it, we have had these things go wrong for us recently

You have the agreement of the government of Pakistan to essentially turn over the Swat Valley to the Taliban, which is a disaster. You've got the announcement two weeks ago our base in Kyrgyzstan is being shut down under the pressure of the Russians. And you have the blowing up of our bridges in our supply areas into Afghanistan.
And just the other week DOD Press Secretary Geoff Morrell admitted to a "deteriorating security situation" in Afghanistan.

I actually think Obama's biggest challenge, assuming he really wants to win there, that is, will come from the American left. For the past several years they've been saying that Iraq was a "distraction" from the "real war" that they wanted to fight oh-so-badly in Afghanistan. Now that they're in power, they'll have to make good on this promise. This story in the Washington Post last month isn't encouraging, and as Charles Krauthammer notes, Obama has been amazingly weak in responding to foreign policy challenges thus far.

So for reasons both at home and in Afghanistan, it is going to get a lot harder before it gets easier.

Posted by Tom at 10:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 15, 2009

Afghanistan and the Long War

In a 2007 interview Lt. Col. (Dr) David Kilcullen stunned Charlie Rose:

DAVID KILCULLEN: . There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years.

CHARLIE ROSE: Less than 10 years?


It doesn't come across as well in print. Watching it, you see Rose lean forward and in utter amazement say "Less than 10 years?" with special emphasis on "10 years."

He had Kilcullen on for a reason; he's arguably the worlds foremost expert on the subject. A retired Austrailian Army officer, he was a contributor to then Lt. Gen. David Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, the book that outlined the strategy behind what was popularly called the "surge." In 2007 he served as Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser to Gen. Petraeus. After that he went on to become a special adviser on counterinsurgency to Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. He knows what's what.

We in the West want our hamburgers fast and we went them perfect. Our system is geared towards not so much instant satisfaction, but a quality product delivered in record time. In What's So Great about America Indian immigrant Dinesh D'Souza writes that what amazes third-world immigrants about the United States is that "everything works." Indeed our capitalist system is geared towards this outcome. Complain about this or that as we may, anyone who has spent any time in a third-world country knows that you can't count on getting a dial tone when you pick up the phone.

Which such a cultural attitude has brought us great riches, it does not necessarily serve us well when dealing with insurgencies.

Let their be no doubt that the situation in Afghanistan is bad. On February 3rd DOD Press Secretary Geoff Morrell admitted to a "deteriorating security situation" in "some parts" of Afghanistan. The Taliban rule many of the border areas of Pakistan, and not just Waziristan either. The Pakistani Government is absolutely not to be trusted when they tell us of their efforts to eradicate them.

How long will Afghanistan take to win? Independent journalist and blogger Michael Yon says a very long time

Take all that, and be prepared to work for a century in Afghanistan. Afghanistan will not be a stable country ten years from now. Truly, be prepared for a century of commitment. Most comparisons to Iraq are false or completely inappropriate. Iraq is a relatively advanced country. To compare Iraq to Afghanistan is to compare the United States to Mexico. Vietnam is incredibly more advanced than Afghanistan. One of the poorest countries on earth, Nepal, is by comparison to Afghanistan an advanced country. We cannot allow ourselves to be deluded by the monumental task ahead in Afghanistan. Putting a man on the moon was simple by comparison.

That's an awfully long time. It's important to note that this doesn't mean the same level of warfare, and thus same number of American or allied troops, that entire time. Insurgencies don't end World War II style, with a dramatic battle, tons of casualties, then suddenly everything ends. They peter out slowly. As Kilcullen pointed out to Charlie Rose in the interview linked to above, although the "Malayan Emergency" (i.e. most of the fighting) took place from 1948 to 1960,

The Malayan Communist Party didn't actually surrender until 1989. OK? So the British ran the thing for 12 years. There was another 30 years after that where the insurgents were still out in the environment, still threatening from the Thai-Malay border, and yet reduced to a level where they couldn't threaten the existence of the Malayan state.

Ouch. It took 12 years to defeat the insurgency, but the entire thing lasted over 40. We've only been at Afghanistan for a little over 8.

A few years ago Iraq veteran Lt. Col. John Nagl explored the question in his book with the interesting title of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

The title comes from a description by Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as "Lawrence of Arabia," on how messy and slow it was to defeat an insurgency. If you stick it out you can do it, but it's a dirty business, it takes a long time, and it's awfully tempting to give up before you're finished.

Despite all this, it is important to note that few insurgencies actually succeed. This may seem counter intuitive, but it's true. Again, don't take it from me, but David Kilcullen

Counterinsurgency is winnable. About 80 percent of counterinsurgency campaigns have been won. It's a bit of a myth to think that we can't win against insurgents. Insurgents usually lose.

It's winnable, but we need patience. As quoted approvingly in then Lt. Gen. Petraeus' Field Manual 3-24,

"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

The Challenge from the Left

Obama is not going to face his biggest challenge from the right on this issue. During the last two campaigns the Democrat candidates told us that Iraq was a distraction from the "real war" in Afghanistan. The left in general has echoed this theme. This, I believe, was simply a stick with which to beat the right for political advantage. The far left never even liked that our presence in Afghanistan, and you don't have to go far on leftist sites like this one to prove it. As such, I predict that it won't be long before they're clamoring for a withdrawal there.

Don't take my word for it. Just last month the Washington Post sounded the alarm about Democrat intentions:

For years, Democrats excoriated the Bush administration for not devoting sufficient resources to Afghanistan. But now that Barack Obama has taken office, some seem to be having second thoughts. "Our original goal was to go in there and take on al-Qaeda. . . . It was not to adopt the 51st state of the United States," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Kerry pioneered the Democratic argument to send more troops during his own presidential campaign in 2004. Now he says "the parallels" to Vietnam "just really keep leaping out in so many different ways."

Ah yes, it is an absolute rule on the left that all American wars must be immediately be said to be "another Vietnam." The better to declare defeat and sound the retreat.

Another story last month in the Post questions whether Obama himself believes we can turn things around

President-elect Barack Obama intends to sign off on Pentagon plans to send up to 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but the incoming administration does not anticipate that the Iraq-like "surge" of forces will significantly change the direction of a conflict that has steadily deteriorated over the past seven years.

Instead, Obama's national security team expects that the new deployments, which will nearly double the current U.S. force of 32,000 (alongside an equal number of non-U.S. NATO troops), will help buy enough time for the new administration to reappraise the entire Afghanistan war effort and develop a comprehensive new strategy for what Obama has called the "central front on terror."

I've no idea what that actually means, and the worrysome part is that I'm not sure he does either.

Nonetheless, I do certainly hope that our president sticks it out and tells anyone who wants to pull out to shove it. I hope that he and Secretary Clinton can persuade our erstwhile allies not only to contribute more troops but to remove the restrictive rules of engagement that keep so many of them from doing anything other than pulling guard duty in safe areas. I'm not optimistic about any of it, but in this area I do want him to succeed.

But if and when the Democrats do demand withdrawal, it will be "for the children," because "the money is badly needed at home for a school lunch program." Mark my words.

Posted by Tom at 8:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 12, 2009

Supply Lines to Afghanistan

It's been said that "amateurs discuss strategy, pros talk logistics." This may be a bit overstated, but it is true that too many people talk about sending troops here or there without any thought about how to get them there or how to keep them supplied. And as many generals throughout history have discovered, it's all very fine to move an army from point A to point B, but if you can't keep them supplied they will be destroyed very fast. Even in our modern age, supply via land route is the only thing that works, as aircraft alone simply do not have the capability to supply anything but the smallest force. Just ask Friedrich Paulus.

It is hard enough, I am sure, to keep our forces in Iraq supplied with all that they need. Much of the material is offloaded in Kuwait and trucked into the country, but in the end at least Iraq has seaports so worst case scenario we can use Iraqi ports. In most of our foreign wars we have had had direct access to seaports for supplying our troops. In all theaters of WWII, in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War we were able to supply our troops without having to go through a third country.

Not so with Afghanistan. It is completely landlocked, and surrounded by the following countries: Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan. Iran is obviously unfriendly. The first three 'stans' are hard to get to in the first place. China only has a small border with Afghanistan, and is out of the question as a supply route anyway. That leaves Pakistan. Take a look:

Map Supply Routes Afghanistan

The point of this post is not to formulate a policy or create a plan by which we can win in Afghanistan (though surely we must). This is rather one in a series of posts in which I will discuss the geopolitical situation in and around the country and explain why it's so hard to make progress.

What first made me think of this was an editorial by Arnaud de Borchgrave in the Washington Times last December (it's taken me awhile to put this together). Here's the key excerpt:

The U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan receive 70 percent of their supplies overland from Karachi, Pakistan's port city of 15 million, now the world's most vulnerable lifeline.

More than 350 trucks and oil tankers transit the Khyber Pass each day where Afghan drivers take over from Pakistanis. Earlier in December, Taliban guerrillas firebombed more than 200 trucks and Humvees in a gigantic parking lot. The battle for the allied supply line was joined.

Up and until now, Pakistani militant attacks against the convoys were kept secret, e.g., 42 oil tankers destroyed in one day last spring. Now they take place between Peshawar, the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) next to the Khyber tribal agency, and the Khyber Pass itself, normally less than an hour by car. U.N. workers are pulling out of Peshawar, described by The News, a Pakistani daily, as "a city under siege" and "the kidnapping capital of the world."

Increasingly brazen, some Taliban commanders now bypass the need to attack convoys protected by private security guards by charging tolls to let them through safely into Afghanistan.

The London Times' Tom Coghlan discovered some convoys got through roadblocks with a Taliban commander in the lead vehicle after paying $1,000 per truck, which is then added to NATO and U.S. bills.

All food, fuel and equipment for 70,000 foreign soldiers come by road from Karachi. Some 30,000 more U.S. troops are due in before summer, for a total of 65,000 Americans, bringing the total of foreign troops to about 100,000. They will all depend on the world's most vulnerable lifeline.

The United States is looking for alternative supply routes from the Georgian Black Sea port Poti through former Soviet republics. This presupposes a new quid pro quo between the Kremlin and President-elect Barack Obama. Given the Soviet Union's 1989 defeat in Afghanistan, and what it sees as U.S. marauding in its former "near abroad," the price may be too high.

What led to de Borchgrave's concern was the increasingly percarious situation inside of Pakistan. The U.S. has been sending our Predator drones over Pakistan, and firing on insurgent bases and terrorist leaders. No matter how careful one is in war, it is inevitable that civilians are killed. When they are it is exploited by jihadist sympathizers, many of whom hold prominent office in the Pakistani government and military. All of this leads to anti-American sentiment. Worst case, the government is taken over by a hard-line Islamist element which puts a stop to U.S. supply routes through their country.

If this happens we're looking forward to a Stalingrad on our hands. Anyone who brazenly says we should "shoot our way through" Pakistan is being silly.

Take another look

Map Supply Routes Afghanistan

The flip side is that if we restrict our operations to Afghanistan, we grant the enemy a safe haven. Of course, it is a prime element of counterinsurgency warfare not to allow your enemy a sanctuary. Our commanders are therefore faced with a difficult decision; attack inside Pakistan and risk a backlash that could have dire consequences, or grant the enemy a sanctuary and lose the war that way.

Knowing all this, our commanders have been looking for alternate supply routes. This Dec 30 story in the International Herald Tribune describes the effort to find a route through the northern 'stans:

The plan to open new paths through Central Asia reflects an American-led effort to seek out a more reliable alternative to the route from Pakistan through the strategic Khyber Pass, which was closed by Pakistani security forces on Tuesday as they launched an offensive against militants in the region.

The militants have shown they can threaten shipments through the pass into Afghanistan, burning cargo trucks and American Humvees over recent weeks. More than 80 percent of the supplies for American and allied forces in Afghanistan now flow through Pakistan.

But the new arrangements could leave the United States more reliant on cooperation from authoritarian countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which have poor records when it comes to democracy and human rights.

So although it makes strategic sense to look to these countries for transit rights, using them opens us to the criticism that we're doing business with human rights abusers and looking the other way at their nefarious deeds. Of course, this is just the criticism we get over our relationship with Pakistan, but adding to it never helps.

Ever at it, just yesterday Arnaud de Borchgrave had another piece in the Washington Times updates us with the latest:

Elevated to the rank of "Major non-NATO Ally" by President Bush (43), Pakistan is now deemed too dangerous for the hundreds of U.S. and NATO supply trucks that keep allied forces fighting against Taliban in Afghanistan.

In the latest attack against the NATO lifeline, 11 trucks and 13 containers were demolished outside Peshawar, near the northern end of the 600-mile route from the port of Karachi to the Khyber Pass. This followed the attack and collapse of a key bridge near the Khyber Pass, which backed up some 1,000 trucks all the way back to Karachi. Normally, some 600 supply trucks a day cross the border into Afghanistan....

On any given day, there are 3 million gallons of fuel on Pakistani roads destined for allied forces in Afghanistan. In some cases, Taliban extracted payments of $1,000 per vehicle at the point of a gun. Helicopter engines valued at $13 million were also hijacked. Taliban fighters gave Pakistani drivers certificates guaranteeing their trucks were requisitioned, not stolen

That's not good. Not having another source I have no perspective, and de Borchgrave does tend to always see the bad side of things. But that too, is valuable, as it provides a sort of "red team" alternative view.

As de Borchgrave points out later in the article, for all the promise of the northern 'stans, relying on them creates it's own set of problems. One, they're not terribly accessible themselves, which means we spend a lot of time and money just getting to Afghanistan. Second, they're right by Russia, who if annoyed with us over something could shut down our supply routes and there would be little we could do to stop them.

There are no easy solutions for Afghanistan, something our new president will soon find out. I wish him well, and hope that he has the fortitude to do what it takes as long as it takes there. In a future piece I'll examine the "long war" concept and why it is foolish to think we can win there in just a few years.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 11, 2009

New Ideas for Afghanistan

It's no secret that the war in Afghanistan is not going as well as we would have hoped. We are probably close to a "tipping point" in public opinion, whereby either we show real progress soon or there will be pressure for withdrawal. Our "allies" are not going to send any more than they have, which is not much, so we're pretty much on our own. We faced this situation in 2006 in Iraq, and had the "surge" plan not been implemented the situation would probably have spun out of control, with resulting overwhelming pressure for withdrawal.

The story behind the "surge" plan is complicated, but one of it's intellectual authors was Frederick Kagan. Along with retired Army Vice-Chief of Staff Jack Keane, he authored a plan called Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq, which was released in January 2008. I first heard of it the following month after a public presentation at the American Enterprise Institute, where they are or were both resident scholars.

Coupled with then Lt. Gen. David Petraeus' just released U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, we were able to turn the situation in Iraq around.

As such, it behooves us to listen to Kagan when it comes to Afghanistan. Granted that just because you were proven right on one war does not necessarily make you right on another, it's a better track record than most.

Earlier this week he published 9 principles that the Obama Administration would be wise to implement in a piece called Planning Victory in Afghanistan. Following are excerpts:

Afghanistan is not now a sanctuary for al-Qaeda, but it would likely become one again if we abandoned it. Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban government we removed in 2001, is alive and well in Pakistan.... Allowing Afghanistan to fail would mean allowing these determined enemies of the United States to regain the freedom they had before 9/11.

Pakistan itself is another reason Afghanistan is vitally important to America....As long as Afghanistan is unstable, Pakistan will be unable to bring order to its own tribal areas, where many terrorist sanctuaries persist. It will also be distracted from addressing the more fundamental problems of Islamic radicalism that threaten its very survival as a state. Further, Afghan instability makes the U.S. dependent on Pakistan logistically.

Stated more simply; do not allow terrorists to have an entire nation or even region to themselves. They must not be allowed to have a sanctuary of any size. Without one they can still be dangerous, with one they can wreck untold havoc. Not only is sanctuary useful from a logistical perspective, they can use the fact of its existence as a propaganda ploy, in this case the seat of their new caliphate.

Success in Afghanistan does not require creating a paradise in one of the poorest countries on earth, but we cannot define victory down. Preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists again, helping Pakistan fight its own terrorist problems, and liberating ourselves from dependence on Pakistan will require building an Afghan state with a representative government.

This almost seems a repudiation of some of what we've been hearing recently about how we have to "redefine expectations" in Afghanistan.

Kagan goes on to say that despite problems, "the country is neither ungovernable nor artificial." Again, unless I am misreading things this is a bit different than what we usually hear.

There is no such thing as "the Taliban" today. Many different groups with different leaders and aims call themselves "Taliban," and many more are called "Taliban" by their enemies....

In general terms, any group that calls itself "Taliban" is identifying itself as against the government in Kabul, the U.S., and U.S. allies. Our job is to understand which groups are truly dangerous, which are irreconcilable with our goals for Afghanistan--and which can be fractured or persuaded to rejoin the Afghan polity. We can't fight them all, and we can't negotiate with them all. Dropping the term "Taliban" and referring to specific groups instead would be a good way to start understanding who is really causing problems.

I had not known this but it makes sense. Unlike, for example, Vietnam, we have been fortunate not to face a unified insurgency in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The advantage from our perspective is that while we can't fight them all, we don't have to. Part of counterinsurgency as outlined in Field Manual 3-24 is determining which parts of the insurgency we can co-opt and turn to our side, or at least neutralize.

Not surprisingly, establishing the legitimacy of the government is important to Kagan. Again, this is stressed in Petraeus' 3-24. Right now the provincial governors and local leaders were appointed by President Karzia, which may have worked as a short-term solution but cannot stand in the long run. Leaders at all levels must be selected by the people or they will not be perceived as legitimate.

The consistent unwillingness of the U.S. government to commit to the success of its endeavors in Afghanistan (and Iraq) over the long term is a serious obstacle to progress. The Pakistani leadership appears convinced that America will abandon its efforts in South Asia sooner rather than later, and this conviction fuels Pakistan's determination to retain support for (and therefore control of) Afghan Taliban groups based in its territory....

When U.S. forces moved into insurgent strongholds in Iraq in 2007, the first thing they were asked was: "Are you going to stay this time?" When the answer was yes (and we proved it by really staying and living among them), the floodgates of local opposition to the insurgents opened. The people of Afghanistan need the same reassurance.

Our history is very much against us in this effort. Islamists point to our retreat following the Marine-barracks bombing in Lebanon in 1983, the "Blackhawk Down" incident in 1993, our abandonment of Afghanistan following the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1989, and our abandonment of Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis to Saddam Hussein's retribution in 1991 and 1992. At the end of 2006, our enemies in Iraq were already declaring victory, convinced that the pattern would repeat itself. The question they are now asking is: Was the surge an aberration in U.S. policy or a new pattern?

When Walid Phares outlined the history of the modern jihad Future Jihad, he stressed that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts watched these and more incidents carefully. Concluding that the United States would run when it's forces sustained losses, in 1998 he released a fatwa that was for all practical purposes a declaration of war on the United States. Seeing no response, he took it as a sign from Allah that we were ripe for the picking, and started planning the operation that became the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001.

"Are you going to stay this time?" This goes to the very heart of counterinsurgency strategy. What we have to do is win their "hearts and minds." Unfortunately, this is perhaps the most misunderstood phrase in all of warfare. As properly explained in 3-24,

"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.

In short

Hearts: The population must be convinced that our success is in their long-term interests.

Minds: The population must be convinced that we actually are going to win, and we (or a transition force) will permanently protect their interests.

It's all about staying power. In the formulation of Osama bin Laden, it's about who the people perceive as being the "strong horse."

We cannot dismiss our extensive and painful experiences in Iraq, but we must recognize the differences between that country and Afghanistan.

Perhaps the most important lesson of Iraq that is transportable to Afghanistan is this: It is impossible to conduct effective counterterrorism operations (i.e., targeting terrorist networks with precise attacks on key leadership nodes) in a fragile state without conducting effective counterinsurgency operations (i.e., protecting the population and using economic and political programs to build support for the government and resistance to insurgents and terrorists).

All this gets terribly complicated, but think about it this way; counterterror focuses on chasing terrorists around the country, counterinsurgency is focuses on protect the population.

The lesson of Iraq is that you cannot "kill your way out of an insurgency." In Iraq we eliminated scores of terrorists from AQI and other organizations, includiing Abu Musab al Zarqawi himself in June 2006, yet the insurgency only kept getting worse.

Killing the leadership is all very fine, but the reason it doesn't work by itself is that we're not dealing with a criminal gang like the mafia. Insurgencies are more horizontally organized than vertically, so are not dependent on a few leaders.

Another thing to remember is that like politics, all insurgencies are local. Their nature varies from village to village. What works in one may not work in another. We did not win in Iraq using the same strategy in all parts of the country, because the problem was not the same in all parts. As the environmentalists say, we must think globally but act locally.

Pashtuns are not Arabs. They have different traditions, different tribal structures, different ways of resolving differences. One of the most important (and least remarked-upon) differences is that Iraqis fight in their cities and villages while Pashtuns, on the whole, do not.

Coalition forces fought their way through Iraqi cities and villages, sometimes doing fearful damage to the cities and local populations. We devastated Fallujah and Ramadi, for example. But local grievances did not focus on the collateral damage. Considering the scale of the destruction, Iraqi complaints about it were very mild....

Pashtuns don't work that way...The major urban centers are not insurgent sanctuaries, and most insurgent attacks occur not only beyond the city limits but outside of the villages as well.

In other words, the war in Iraq was fought in the urban areas, in Afghanistan it is in the countryside. We must adapt our strategy and tactics accordingly.

In fact, to solve the problems in Afghanistan we must have a deep understanding of local dynamics in many different areas. In the current security environment, only American and allied military forces can understand those dynamics, and they can do so only by living among the people in a way that is mutually acceptable to our forces and the Afghans.

This "living among the people" was key to our success in Iraq, a strategy that is stressed in 3-24. You cannot fight an insurgency from large bases, however safe you may think your troops are there.

See Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work" and
Iraq Briefing - 22 Feb 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"

The Afghan National Army consists of perhaps 70,000 troops (on paper). This number will rise gradually to 134,000--itself an arbitrary sum, based on assumptions about what the fifth-poorest country in the world can afford to pay for an army that is certainly too small to establish and maintain security. The Afghan National Police are ineffective when not actively part of the problem. Afghanistan is significantly larger than Iraq, its terrain is far more daunting, and its population is greater. The Iraqi Security Forces that defeated the insurgency (with our help) in 2007 and 2008 numbered over 500,000 by the end. There is simply no way that Afghan Security Forces can defeat the insurgents on their own, with or without large numbers of coalition advisers.

There's not much more to say other than that the Afghanis won't be able to stand on their own for quite some time.

Adding more troops to a failing strategy rarely works. Current military and political leaders recognize this, which is why reviews are underway in CENTCOM, the Joint Staff, and the White House to develop a new strategy for Afghanistan.

Kagan goes on to outline a number of recommendations for theater commander Gen. David McKiernan, some of which involve giving him more staff and bolstering the diplomatic corps that I won't detail here. The lesson though is twofold: One, critics of the Iraqi surge would have been right if in fact all we had done is send more troops to do the same thing. Second, Petraeus did not do it alone, but was ably assisted by a large staff, the most important of whom was then Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno. Odierno planned the individual operations and led the day-to-day conduct of the war during 2007-08.

While the situation in Afghanistan is indeed deteriorating, it would be wrong to rush forces out of Iraq this year in response. Most important, as detailed above, we have not yet established the conditions in Afghanistan that would allow a surge to be decisive. Also, the theater cannot absorb too many reinforcements too quickly. The surge in Iraq brought U.S. troop levels up to something over 160,000 soldiers--about the same number we had had there at the end of 2005. By contrast, coalition force levels in Afghanistan are already at their highest levels. The logistical base that supports them is very sparse. In Iraq there was enough reserve logistical and infrastructure capacity to integrate five additional brigades and two battalions in the space of six months. Because similar resources are lacking, it would be much harder to accomplish such a feat in Afghanistan at this point.

It would be foolish to risk all that we have gained in Iraq for Afghanistan.

Also, it must be remembered that the logistical situation in Afghanistan is infinitely more difficult than in Iraq. In the latter we have direct access to the country by sea, with the former we are dependent on Pakistan and the northern "'stans" for access. It is easy to move units around on a map, quite another to keep them properly supplied, something that does not happen by magic.

In the end, Kagan stresses that this is not an outline for a plan for Afghanistan, but rather "a set of guidelines for thinking about how to develop one." They're good ones, and I do hope they're listening.

Posted by Tom at 7:15 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 8, 2009

Afghanistan Briefing - 04 February 2009 - Not Enough Progress

This briefing is by Colonel Scott Spellmon, who is the commander of 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, otherwise known as Task Force Warrior. Last Wednesday he spoke via satellite from Bagram Airfield in the Parvan province with reporters at the Pentagon.

Task Force Warrior is responsible for improving provincial- and district-level Afghan government capacity in the northern area of Regional Command East, north and west of Kabul.

I am not entirely sure of the chain of command here, but Spellmon'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 Spellmon said that General Schloesser was his boss. 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.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

Usually we can find out a bit about what is happening in country from these briefings. This one proved a disappointment. Col Spellmon seemed to give non-answers to many of the questions. What this tells me is that things are not going as well as they should be in Afghanistan.

I've got a few longer posts about Afghanistan in the works, but for now I want to concentrate on the political drama in Washington with the stimulus bill and Obama's meltdown.

From Col. Spellon's opening remarks:

COL. SPELLMON: ...Broadly speaking, the purpose of our combined operations are to secure the population in these four -- (audio break). Now, to accomplish this with our international partners, we are conducting a counterinsurgency campaign across -- (audio break) -- information and security. And we are seeing success on each one of these.

I'd just like to give you a few brief examples, and I'll begin with security. I would tell you -- I would classify the bulk of my area of responsibility as a semi-permissive environment. And what I mean by that is if you look at the 30 districts that make up these four provinces, we have security challenges in about seven of those districts, and those challenges come from primarily Taliban and Hezb- i-Islami, Islamic party based insurgent groups....

Now, I'll share with you that our partnership, our strong partnership with the provincial governors and their staffs, proved successful during the voter-registration period that we -- (audio break) -- last fall, which was held in these four provinces without a single security-related incident. And we and our Afghan partners are incredibly proud of that accomplishment....

On to the Q & A

Q (Courtney Kube from NBC News) And Colonel, and so it sort of leads to the question of at what point do you think the Afghan security forces in your area will be able to handle the mission on their own without any U.S. presence or French presence there to assist them?

COL. SPELLMON: Well, I will tell you, in two of our provinces they are already doing that. I mentioned Panjshir, but I also mentioned Bamian. The only coalition forces that we have in both of those provinces is our Provincial Reconstruction Team. In fact, in Panjshir, the Provincial Reconstruction Team does not even have an embedded security force. It is all taken care of by the local security forces there. And the governor takes personal ownership of the security of that team while they are out working with his staff and working on improving infrastructure. It is much the same in Bamian.

The news about the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) not having an American security force for protection is very good news indeed. I can't seem to find the link, but I have blogged on this before. For the PRT's to be successful, they have to get out and work with the people. If they're shielded by an American force, or their presence is too heavy handed, the people will be less willing to cooperate.

The questions are whether this practice is widespread in Afghanistan, and more importantly whether the PRT's are becoming more effective.

Before I go on I just have to say it: Col Spellmon is the spitting image of a young Telly Savalis if there ever was one.

Now that I got that out of the way, on to the Q & A:

Q (David Morgan with Reuters) And so where are these seven districts where security is a problem? And how much of a challenge do those problems pose to development in those areas?

COL. SPELLMON: Well, the -- (audio break) -- Kapisa, primarily the Tagab Valley, where I mentioned earlier where we have made significant strides, but also the Alasay Valley and also the southern Nijrab district.

And bombing is primarily in the northeast, in the Kahmard, in the Shibar districts, and then in Parvan -- primarily in central Parvan, in the Ghorband district.

As far as the development challenges, we work very hard to not initiate any major development projects until we are sure that we have enough security in place and enough support from the local population that will allow us to move forward, whether it's a school or it's a road. If there is still security work that needs to be done, more destruction operations in this district, certainly we will continue to do our offensive operations against those insurgent networks, but invest our development dollars elsewhere, where we know it's in a secure environment.

Ok, sort of interesting, but not really much of an answer. In fact, he pretty much avoided answering the question entirely.

Q Colonel, it's David Wood from The Baltimore Sun, with a question about the provincial and district governments that you're working with. The latest DOD report identified corruption and a shortage of human capital, as it were, that's hampering operations of government at all levels. Could you talk about corruption and lack of human capital in governments in -- that you're working with?

COL. SPELLMON: I can. Over the past seven and a half months, I have a seen a number of allegations of corruption in the provincial governments. However, I have yet to see any evidence, as have the governors -- any evidence that would substantiate any of those claims.

The allegations that we do see leveled from -- in this region have primarily been from political opponents of those in office. So again, I have not seen the corruption as reported. The -- (audio break) -- against their staff -- it's an allegation against their staff or a district sub-governor, they have been very aggressive in investigating those claims.

No evidence of corruption? I'm not buying it.

Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. In the four provinces that you mentioned, Khazars and Tajiks are minority populations. But you said that some of the districts in those provinces are security problems. Given that the insurgency is portrayed as a (Pashtun ?) insurgency, are these Pashtun pockets in those provinces? Or are these Khazar and Tajik insurgencies?

COL. SPELLMON: No, it's not (always ?) -- (audio break) -- to the Pashtun minority in these provinces. For example, in northeast Bamian, some of the security challenges that we are having right now are in a Tajik pocket, but we primarily think that this is criminal activity. In Bamian, in that part of the province, there are a lot of coal mines, and we think some -- a lot of landowner disputes in that region, as this -- these mines continue to be developed, on who should benefit from the profits. So we think some of the violence that has occurred at a low level over the past several months is really related to, more, criminal activity than any insurgent-based organization.

This was one of his more direct answers.

All in all not a very useful briefing. I covered it because I'm determined to cover every briefing by a combat commander that comes out of Afghanistan or Iraq, so that if nothing else I can spot trends. I found this one out of the ordinary for Afghanistan so we shall see how future ones go.

Not withstanding the interesting news about the PRTs, I can't say I came away from this briefing with the idea that we are making progress in Afghanistan. It's only one briefing about one area, so we do need to be cautious though and view it in that context.

I am not attacking or criticizing Col. Spellmon. I'm sure he is a highly qualified and competent officer doing the best he can. He comes across very well as a spokesman. It's more that Afghanistan makes Iraq look easy because the challenges there are much more difficult. Even with the best minds, money, people, and equipment, progress in Afghanistan will come very very slowly. Based on everything I've seen I'd say that for what we achieve in Iraq in a year it'll take ten to do as much in Afghanistan.

More to come in future posts.

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