The report discussed in the NYT is not new. I read the report about six weeks ago, and from personal experience it makes some sense. I would encourage leaders preparing to deploy to read it. This is why I’m disappointed that ISAF is refuting the report rather than learning from it. At least they appear to not be taking it seriously. If this is true, it is a mistake.
Granted, the sample was small and geographically limited. The sampling of US troops is even smaller than the sample of Afghans. So, yes, the report has limitations. It is less science than it is anecdotal… but as a combat advisor who has worked with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the report does carry the ring of truth. The NYT scarcely touches on the real point; the enemy is within… us. It turns out that most of the fratricidal murders that have occurred were not the work of insurgent infiltrators, but the work of very angry ANSF. It is easier to put more money into vetting ANSF recruits than it is to effectively deal with the real problem.
Our counterinsurgency manual lists a set of behaviors that are historically proven to be unsuccessful practices. One of those is a “low priority on quality advisors.” Army Special Forces have a selection process that is designed to weed out those who, among other things, are not suited to working with indigenous peoples. My own experience demonstrates what every other non-SF combat advisor knows; we were not selected based upon on any key criteria for what it takes to be a high quality advisor. We were warm bodies with the requisite military skill set and the requisite rank. Some didn’t even have those prerequisites; they simply had a pulse. There was no personality testing. There was no stress testing. There was no selection process. Individual team chiefs (those who actually had an opportunity and a pool to select from) sometimes made efforts to select a quality team… mostly based on records reviews and interviews, which are very limited in what they can tell a leader. It was a shot in the dark. Mostly, it has worked out. We are discussing what happens when it doesn’t.
Trends emerged. Guardsmen turned out to be particularly well-suited to advisor roles. This does not mean that Regular Army officers and NCO’s were never successful; there are lots of success stories. But, on the whole, the Guard is better suited to advisory roles. It is generally accepted that Guardsmen have more well-rounded experience based on their immersion in civilian culture. There is a lot there to be plumbed; another entire discussion could be had about what the reasons for this phenomenon are. At this point, suffice to say that it has been more than adequately demonstrated to those of us who have served in close relationships with ANSF that some people have absolutely no business being in proximity to Afghans. We have all seen them, Guard and Regular alike; they are a danger to themselves and others, and sometimes they have gotten people killed. The last several paragraphs address the advisor issue, but more and more American line troops, not trained as advisors, are coming into constant contact with ANSF.
These types of killings are not new, but there has been an increase. The article quotes the report’s author, Dr. Bordin, as stating that 16% of hostile Coalition deaths are attributable to these fratricidal murders. I don’t know if this is accurate, but any other problem, the resolution of which could result in 16% fewer casualties, would be attacked with vigor. Well, they are attacking… but they are attacking the statistically much less significant problem of preventing insurgent infiltrators. It appears that the problems that contribute to the majority of these events are being left to smolder, dismissed by officials. Those officials can smear the techniques, they can smear the language, but I’m here to tell you that the message makes sense to me and many other advisors, and it can be addressed just as the military addresses any other recognized source of injuries and deaths; command emphasis.
A few questions may come to mind. Why would a non-insurgent Afghan soldier or policeman decide to open fire on his own allies? The report indicates a number of reasons, key among them being issues related to respect. Profane language and behavior are cited.
Afghans do not use profanity in their language as a matter of course. In the American military, the use of profanity surpasses even the use of profanity in American culture in general (with the possible exception of gangsta rap). Use of the f-bomb is rampant in American movies. Profane name-calling is an art form. In Afghan culture, to insinuate even jokingly that a man has intimate relations with his mother is an offense so great that it may inspire lethal ire. Americans call each other “motherfuckers” all the time. I have witnessed American soldiers calling Afghans such things, or referring to an Afghan as such when discussing them with another Afghan. This then gets back to the Afghan so-referenced and a resentment is begun. This may seem a simple misunderstanding, but it has been known to have lethal consequences.
I’ve seen violence almost break out over cultural issues. I’ve heard Afghan soldiers make death threats against American soldiers because the American soldier made a statement about Afghan women. The American soldier who had been threatened saw hypocrisy in the anger. Afghans see American movies and the promiscuity depicted as a matter of course. They also see American porn. Afghan soldiers love American porn, and they view American women as loose. The American soldier had been listening to his Afghan counterparts talking about American women, became irritated and said that he wanted to see photos of naked Afghan women. That was all it took. It could have resulted in a killing, but the situation was diffused and the soldier was strongly admonished not to engage in such discussions with Afghans for any reason. He survived. Others have not.
Basically, the problem is akin to racism; ignorance and arrogance combine to form a sense of natural superiority that is difficult and sometimes impossible to overcome. Just as many do not suffer from such delusions, some do things that endanger themselves and others. We have a military culture that is not only fond of profanity, it is fond of judging one’s self in relation to others. Esprit d’ corps is often built upon inculcating the belief that the members of a given unit are somehow superior and more elite than members of another unit. Now, how is a young man who has been raised since he was at the tail end of his childhood to believe that this is how to judge others (especially those in uniform) supposed to suddenly suspend this value system because he is put into close daily contact with indigenous forces?
It is nigh on impossible. Some will have the personal characteristics to overcome it, but enough who cannot will make it into these close situations. Some leaders, even some commanders, will recognize the danger and take action. Enough do not, and there is no higher-level emphasis that this is a responsibility of leadership; to recognize and remove such threats from our own ranks. To do so leaves us even more short-handed than we appear to be on paper. To not do so leaves us open to up to 16% higher casualties.
Why has the rate of such incidents increased? What has changed? An emphasis on “partnering” with Afghan units and a move away from emphasizing advising/mentoring. The cited report indicates that ANSF had uniformly positive impressions of American advisors, such as ETT’s and PMT’s, and are less happy with American units more recently. American and Coalition regular units are being placed in close living and working situations with ANSF on a frequent basis. This is, overall, a good thing; even if the advising is being downplayed (generally, there is a mixture). However, since we have the immature and arrogant in our midst, there is a greater potential for dangerous situations to occur. They have, in fact.
Younger soldiers who have been in a strictly military environment since shortly after they graduated from high school have a greater tendency to be unable to adapt to the cultural differences between Afghans and Americans. They are more likely to blithely err in ways that are not intuitively dangerous to American youth. Add to this the small but significant enough number of officers and NCO’s who are unable to effectively work with ANSF and you have a recipe for isolated outbreaks of lethal violence among allies.
While cultural training has improved, it is spotty in its stress on language and gestures. Afghan cultural training often stresses not using the left hand to gesture and emphasizes never showing the soles of your feet. Well, Afghans will often wave with their left hand, especially if the right hand is busy… but they will never shake with it. They will offer the right forearm if the right hand is busy, wet or dirty. Afghans do not appreciate the carelessly rude or purposeful display of the sole of the foot, but they are not so sensitive that accidental or comfort-related moves that expose the sole are taken as an offense.
While making too much an issue of the left hand, offensive gestures and language are often overlooked. Afghans view profane language as very distasteful and ignorant (even if they are illiterate). Profane names are absolutely out and never acceptable. The thumbs-up used to be an offensive gesture, but because of its common American use, it is accepted. However, the American fist pump to the chest is the equivalent of flipping an Afghan the bird and is considered to be extremely offensive… but I’ve only seen one cultural trainer who actually explained this. It’s not just cultural training that can be improved, it’s also incorporating this knowledge into individual task training.
Recently, a National Guard unit was performing its pre-mobilization required individual task training. One of these tasks was “perform detainee operations.” The emphasis was on searching detainees. The trainers were well-rehearsed and professional, executing the task to the precise standards they were given; including how a male searches a female. Teaching male soldiers how to search females puts the idea in their heads that an American male soldier searching an Afghan female could under some bizarre circumstance be acceptable. It is never acceptable, ever (did I mention ever?). There are other ways to deal with the problem. Always. Our premobilization task training is not battle focused on the only battle these young men will serve in. We can adjust that. We can do better with tailoring our training to suit the combat environment, especially culturally.
Finally, a quote from an American officer emerges from the end of the article:
“In this culture, they shoot first, ask questions later,” said Lt. Col. David C. Simons, a spokesman for the training mission in Afghanistan. “Back in the States, if this happens a guy punches you and you walk away and hope you don’t get arrested. But here, you just hope you don’t get killed.”
Well, okay… but part of that is bullshit. Afghans do value human life, and it’s not “shoot first and ask questions later.” It’s a difference in what is worth taking life over. If you call an Afghan a “motherfucker” (just an example) and he actually understands you… as more and more of them do… you are taking your life and possibly those of your buddies into dangerous waters. Oh, and everyone has a weapon capable of ending life with the twitch of a finger. No, the questions do not need to be asked later. You have answered any question required to convince that man that you need to die based on every value he was raised with. In fact, his honor demands it. With all due respect to LTC Simons, he is a spokesman and does not appear to be an advisor. If it were shoot first and ask questions later, many more advisors would have died during the course of this war. I never walked around wondering if I was about to be shot by the Afghans I worked with. That’s a cowboy quote that is unhelpful in considering the problem. The view from Camp Eggers does not include the experience necessary to evaluate what is worth killing a man over in Afghanistan, but since he is actually in Afghanistan, it was a juicy quote that sounded ominous in the NYT. All I can say is, “Thank you, Sir.”
It’s stuff like that which makes young men go to Afghanistan fearing sudden death from any quarter. Being respectful when you are frightened is more difficult than having awareness of the cultural don’ts.
As noted, the report is not great science; but it still hits home. To ignore its findings is to continue to suffer unnecessary casualties. A recommendation to mitigate the risk is to encourage commanders and leaders in general to identify and remove from contact with Afghans any individuals who appear to lack the ability to adapt to working with ANSF. Just as each unit is mandated to have an Equal Opportunity (EO) officer or NCO to investigate and recommend action to mitigate issues of racism and sexism, a similar emphasis should be made to identify and remediate the risks of both soldiers and leaders who place their fellows at risk through imprudent language and behaviors. Education and training are helpful, but we have all seen that they are not enough. Some individuals simply will not adapt. Sometimes, in the immortal words of Offspring, “you gotta keep ‘em separated.”
If the end result is 16% fewer casualties, you tell me where the effort is a waste of time.
In 2007-2008, I would have described the grasp of COIN by Army units as a “buzzword” level of competence. They knew the buzzwords and applied them in more or less the proper places to describe their operations as “COIN Operations.” This did not mean that they were actually doing COIN, just that they were applying the new terminology to explain their actions. In 2009-2010, I would describe the knowledge as more of a “pop-culture” level of understanding. There are still a lot of misconceptions, but more units are doing a lot better with it, and employing techniques that are much more advanced than those of two and three years ago. That’s a good thing. Education has improved, training has improved and both are continuing to improve. A lot more cross-talk is going on between the military and civilian organs of our government. Even the Afghans are catching on. At least, some of them are. Yet the American people are still at a loss as to what COIN really means.
No one is explaining it very well, and while there are bits and pieces out there, some of which are darned good, there is a lack of an overall understanding that would help people to recognize what they are looking at and how to demand better information about it. So, what is counterinsurgency?
Counterinsurgency is, literally, opposing an insurgency. Of course, that seems manifest, but there are different approaches one could take to oppose an insurgency. First, we must understand what an insurgency is, how it starts and what sustains it. We can use any number of examples. We have a good example in Afghanistan, though, and so we can use that.
First, insurgency is a political issue turned violent. It is not a general uprising. It occurs when a group of people that cannot be described as a popular rebellion fails or ceases to engage in the political process, breaks the social contract and turns to violence as a political tool. They become willing to kill. In Afghanistan, for instance, the insurgency comprises about one tenth of one percent of the population. This varies, of course, from location to location, but as a percentage of the overall population of Afghanistan, that’s what we wind up with. Violence is how such a small minority can have such a tremendous impact on the general population and the fledgling government. Violence and the threat of violence are used for specific purposes but they are, in the end, oriented on a political goal.
Normally, resort to violence in a civil society is called, “criminality.” However, in the political context, it is warfare. Warfare is violence used to political ends. Therefore, insurgency is a form of warfare. But it must not be forgotten that the end goal is political in nature.
Secondly, insurgency is a competition to govern. The insurgency seeks, eventually, to replace the sitting government with one of their own choosing. Often insurgent leaders seek to rule themselves. We see this as a feature of both the Taliban and HiG leadership in Afghanistan. Whatever the goal of the leadership personally, the end goal is to destabilize the government and, either by popular uprising or by becoming strong enough to unseat the government by force, to replace it.
Insurgencies often start small. In a governed country, an insurgency may start as a grievance towards the government or the standing social system. It does not require widespread support. It can be small and it can be very focused in its demographics. In the early, latent or incipient, phase, the insurgency gathers strength, support and materials necessary. It also becomes more organized. In countries with existing governments, such movements are often often overlooked until it is too late. The transition from the latent or incipient phase into what Mao called the “Strategic Stalemate Phase” is often the first “wake-up call” to the government indicating that there is a challenge.
Keep in mind, if the government works to address the grievances, the cause of the insurgency may lose steam. This can be done most easily in the earlier stages of the insurgency. In later stages, the degee of destabilization may be too great to deliver on changed policies.
The Strategic Stalemate phase, sometimes called the “Guerrilla Warfare phase,” includes violence, whereas the Latent phase may include very little if any violence. During the Strategic Stalemate phase, the insurgent is too weak to take on government security forces openly. The insurgent must control his loss rate because his group is small. The insurgent does this by choosing when and where to engage in ambushes, bombings, IED attacks. These attacks are designed to achieve an effect, but the ultimate audience is the population. The government must be destabilized, disabled and discredited in the eyes of the governed. This will convince the population that change is inevitable if not desired. An enabling goal would be to appeal to the population to join in a more popular uprising or revolution. This result can develop at any time and will often result in the rapid fall of the government.
One of the challenges the government has at this point is in identifying the insurgents. During this phase, insurgents often wear no identifying material sign that they are insurgents. They do not wear uniforms. They look like everyone else. They may or may not be indigenous to the area they are operating in. Often, leadership elements are not indigenous but the part-time fighters upon whom they rely to fill their ranks are. These indigenous fighters fight for a number of reasons, such as ideology or opportunity. For disenfranchised youth, for instance, it may give them opportunities to make money, to belong to something powerful that is bigger than themselves, or even to join the new “ruling elite.” Regardless of the reason why they joined, they are hard to identify from the mass of population that is not taking part in the insurgency. This is why the analogy has been made that the insurgents are fish who swim in the water that consists of the population.
Violence is used to disrupt and delegitimize the sitting government and to intimidate the population. It is used to support and further the overall message that the insurgency sends to the population. This, their narrative, is a key. It is what gives the insurgency its identity and discriminates it from the government. The insurgent realizes, since his goals are political, that an ongoing “conversation” must be had with the population. It does not have to be a two-way conversation, but the insurgent does listen to the concerns and fears of the population so that it can appeal to and even shape those perceptions. It is a consistent barrage of messages that are all “on-message.” It does not have to be true, only plausible. Tales of government abuses, corruption and malfeasance raise suspicions or reinforce existing grievances among the population.
The insurgents in Afghanistan have a national-level theme, but in each area the particulars of the message are tailored to the specific conditions on the ground. They address the specific weaknesses of the government locally, including the various personalities and conditions as well as the legitimate or perceptive concerns of the local population.
The majority of people will attempt to remain “above the fray.” In Afghanistan, fence-sitting is a tried-and-true survival technique. The insurgent seeks to convert some to their cause, but failing that will seek to at least freeze them on the fence. In all, if the insurgent can separate the people from their government either through active or passive support for the insurgency, that is best for the insurgent; but freezing them in place will do. Ultimately they seek to dissuade the population from continuing to accede to being governed by the government. They will seek to influence the population to accede to insurgent governance. Developing the perception that it time to give up on the government, or at least that it is too dangerous to support the government, is a key goal.
Mao did not write the book on insurgency, the principles of which have existed for thousands of years. He did write a book on insurgency, though, and laid out a pretty effective plan for staging one. This is the “Maoist model” of insurgency. Now, most of us tend to think of “Maoist insurgency” as necessarily having a communist ideology, but that is not necessary. The methodology is universal, and can be applied independent of the specific ideology carried by the insurgents themselves. It is simply a set of observations of insurgency and organizing the resulting principles into a set of guidelines to stage an effective insurgency.
One of the criticisms of our current COIN doctrine is that it was designed to counter Maoist insurgency. Well, it turns out that the insurgency in Afghanistan is remarkably Maoist in its actions and its perceptions of itself and its methods. In fact, communications intercepts in Afghanistan have often included insurgents speaking to each other in the same terms that Mao used. In the world of “open-source warfare,” the insurgents have studied from the masters.
One of the precepts that Mao wrote of was the necessity for identifying where the sitting government was weakened in its capacity, either physically or functionally. Physically incapable means that the government has no presence or real capacity to provide governance. Functional incapability may be due to incompetence or corruption. This weakness, or these weaknesses (as is often the case), must not be inconsequential. They must have meaning to the people and make a difference in their functional lives. They may be created or exacerbated by violence. If good judges are rare and there is a good judge, kill him and make way for an incompetent or corrupt one. Then, provide what the government cannot. Out-govern the government. This should be based on the strengths or perceived strengths of the insurgents.
Do we see this “Maoist” approach in Afghanistan? Absolutely. Here in the west, we think of government as a three-legged stool. The legs are the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial. Well, in Afghanistan, the Executive and Legislative have their own challenges; but the weakest leg is the Judicial. Afghanistan has a horrible problem with their government court system. At the Bonn Conference, the responsibilities for assisting in the development of the various organs of a newly-created Afghan government were divided up. For instance, the US took the lead role in the development of the Afghan National Army. The Germans took the lead role in the development of the Afghan National Police. The Italians took the lead role in the Judicial branch. That hasn’t gone so well. The Judicial system in Afghanistan is beset by both incompetence and corruption. That’s why the easiest, and often the first in any discrete area, way to out-govern the government is to provide courts for both criminal complaints and dispute resolution.
It also removes one whole leg of the three-legged stool of governance. Now the insurgent begins to construct his own stool to replace the broken one.
Providing such a parallel justice system is effective because there is great demand for “justice.” The insurgent courts are seen as being far less corrupt than the government system, where the rich get their way and those who cannot pay bribes are marginalized. This brings legitimacy to the insurgency as a government and is known as “shadow governance.” The Judicial branch (or leg) is not the only branch under attack. Each province and many districts have a “shadow governor.” Some are little more than figureheads. Some are capable of a great deal of administration. “All politics is local,” and insurgency, being a political problem, is localized. A national insurgency gains strength through a series of localized successes.
The insurgency can be successful in toppling and replacing the existing government in any phase, but if it is not successful in either the Latent or Strategic Stalemate phases, it will seek to eventually move into what Mao called the “Strategic Counteroffensive” phase, or what is called “War of Movement,” or “Maneuver Warfare” phase. This is when the insurgent has gained enough strength, and his opponent is weak enough, that the insurgents can mass forces and begin to seize territory and clear it of all government influence. The insurgency in Afghanistan has attempted on several occasions to move into Phase III operations in localized areas. These attempts to mass forces have generally resulted in serious loss to the insurgents due to the American ability to mass firepower quickly. This is the primary reason for the insurgents’ consistent demand that, order to engage in negotiations, foreign troops must first leave. It is possible that in the absence of foreign troops, the Afghan government could be easily overwhelmed in a number of areas in Afghanistan.
It could be said that the operations in Helmand have forced the Taliban to regress into Phase II operations in areas such as Marjah after having been the de facto government there for a period of time. The insurgency will flex backwards and forwards through the various phases as needed for success or survival.
Structurally, insurgencies include not just militants, but being political at their core, they also include political and support functions. Some of the participants in each of these areas will devote their full efforts to these functions. They are the hard-core “cadre.” Many will be part-time insurgents or supporters. Each participant has his own set of reasons for participating, much as each voter in the United States has his or her own set of concerns upon which their voting behavior is based.
In Afghanistan, the insurgency consists of, to a certain extent, members of or adherents to the previous regime. It started as soon as the Taliban fell from power, but took time to convert and manifest itself as an insurgency. Some outlying areas were never truly cleared of Taliban influence. In the vacuum created after the fall of the Taliban and before the government was able to establish itself, the insurgency gained power in the outlying areas. As the government sought to extend its influence, violence ensued. Having lost every vestige of a functioning government, there were no skilled administrators to run the various ministries. For various reasons including incompetence, corruption took hold in the fledgling Afghan government and continues to provide fuel for the fire in Afghanistan.
Grievances, the presence of leadership available to direct this anger into action and a weak (or perceived to be weak) government provides the breeding ground for insurgency. We see each of these present in Afghanistan and we also see how the insurgents have learned the lessons of Mao in organizing and running an insurgency.
Josh Foust over at Registan wrote recently about the attacks in Nuristan being part of a larger strategy, and also questioned the possibility that American presence increased violence there. I’m convinced that the latest attack in Nuristan is part of a larger operational strategy on the part of insurgents. Actually, I believe that it ties in to the persistent insurgent presence in the Tag Ab Valley of Kapisa. Numerous rat lines have existed through Kunar and Nuristan, many of them leading to Tag Ab, which ties them in to the ancient smuggling route that avoids the capital… or leads to it. There is no doubt in my mind that the increase in violence is tied to the increase in Coalition (and GIRoA) presence in Kunar and Nuristan. There was no reason for violence prior to the increased presence and control in Kunar and Nuristan, because they had free run of the area. The people were easily intimidated and there is significant appeal to residents because they are so isolated and fear outside (especially un-Islamic) presence. In this area, Arabs are preferable to Americans as far as the locals are concerned… and they bring money to pay for local men to participate.
Yes, Haqqani is more active in this area, but Haqqani has been pushing more to the southwest in seeking influence, whereas HiG has always been relatively strong along the rat lines from Pakistan and has always been stronger in Tag Ab than the Taliban. We did see Taliban and HiG cooperating in Tag Ab in 2007 and through to today. Haqqani is seeking, and having, more influence in Khost, for instance, but he is starting to run into QST and they are pushing back. Sirajudin Haqqani is more aggressive in this way than his father. During my service in Nuristan, it was well known that there were Arabic speakers in the local area, reputedly carrying large sums of money with which to pay part-time fighters, buy ammunition for them, etc. They would also transport 107mm rockets etc.
Remember, “Taliban” has become a catch-all word for the Coalition, whereas “Dushman” is the catch-all Afghan (cross-language) word. Various factions and even criminal elements can be lumped under or can attach themselves to the “Taliban” brand as it suits them. There is a significant criminal element in Nuristan, partially driven by the primary industry there, gem mining, which has been criminalized by the Afghan government because they do not have the capacity to manage and tax it. As the natural resources are considered the property of the government, they don’t want the gems mined until they can benefit from it, so they have criminalized gem mining. Whereas the opium crop is more prevalent in other provinces, here the driver is gems. Again, the “Taliban” blends with the criminal element to mutual benefit… but are they Taliban, Haqqani or HiG? All three names are heard locally. Haqqani’s faction is often just called, “Taliban” by the locals, so it’s hard to tell… at least that’s my take on it.
While all politics is local, it is tied to other local politics. The issues in Kunar and Nuristan are not disconnected from the problems in Tag Ab. It is part of a chain that leads back to Pakistan. In Tag Ab we didn’t get a lot of Arabic-speakers, but we did get significant Pakistani presence and also at one point a suspected Chechen cell was present, with a marked increase in the effects of small arms and RPG’s (after weeks of misses with RPG’s, there were 8 turret hits with RPG’s in a three week span and several head shots with aimed fire). This corresponded with information that one insurgent commander had agreed to accept “foreign” help, an action that caused actual firefights among sub-factions of insurgents in the Ala Say area in September of 2007. The brothers of two local commanders were killed in these clashes.
Also, the insurgents in Tag Ab have shown a remarkable ability to reinforce. Locals in the Ala Say area have been frustrated this year by the inability to clear the district of insurgents (again commonly referred to as Taliban but certainly including both Taliban and HiG elements).
The ability to mass forces for the assaults on both Wanat and Keating are very likely seasoned cadre brought in from Pakistan (both Afghan and foreign cadre), reinforced with locals who provide logistics support, shelter and fighters. A deal was struck in 2007 at Keating to stay out of the local villages in return for a lack of attacks. The villages were ceded to insurgent influence, but the Coalition and Afghan forces did not have the strength locally to quash the pressure (attacks) to acquiesce to the villages’ demands to keep out. They could not stop the attacks on Keating, so they agreed to the deal to cede the village. The deal struck pretty much guaranteed that insurgent influence would grow in the village over time. Keating has always been a thorn in the side of the insurgent rat lines, but never completely effective. Insurgent checkpoints have been well-known only a few kilometers north, still in the Kamdesh District. Insurgents operated relatively nearby as if they had impugnity for the past couple of years. Did Keating interfere with the rat lines? Yes. Were they capable of having a tremendous impact towards extending GIRoA control/legitimacy in Kamdesh District or Nuristan? No, not really.
There were different dynamics at work as far as proximal causes for the two attacks. Wanat was a case of quashing an outpost before it became a problem, whereas Keating was simply taking advantage of a planned withdrawal. The abandonment of COP Keating was due to happen, anyway. This attack did not change that. What it did do was make it appear, for IO purposes, to be an insurgent victory. Wanat involved complicity with the local ANP and almost certainly the Sub-Governor, whereas there is no evidence (at this point) of complicity of ANSF in or near Keating… although it is possible that some of the ANP, knowing that they are about to be abandoned to their fate, were currying favor with insurgent leaders in preparation for the abandonment. The root cause of the attacks were the same; clear the rat lines to improve communications along the lines that lead to Kapisa, bypassing Jalalabad and Kabul and allowing control of/access to the ancient smuggling route up the Tag Ab Valley. This provides the ability to either bypass or infiltrate Kabul, and potentially allows massing of forces within a few dozen kilometers of Kabul.
Many actors at play here, for various reasons ranging from political to military to criminal. International actors are at play as well, but thin out the farther from the Pakistani border that they get.
The current strategy is to leave areas alone until the Coalition/GIRoA has the strength to deal with them. Instead of spreading too thinly across a vast mountainous area, focus on the areas that can be controlled now and then push out over time. If the rest of the area is well-governed, the government can push into these areas and subdue them one by one. In the meantime, violence in those areas will decrease as the insurgents won’t have targets in that particular area. This may seem like giving up, but what it really is doing is putting a stop to unproductive behaviors, trying to influence or hang on to areas where there isn’t the ability to mass effects on the target population. This is consistent with current guidance, which is not to clear what we cannot hold and not to try to hold unless there is the capacity to build. The timing of the assault on Keating was unfortunate, but certainly no accident. A weakened outpost was attacked, certainly hoping to overrun it and claim a great victory to add to the illusion of inexorable victory for the insurgents. I would have to describe that effort as a success, even though they failed to annihiliate the garrison and overrun the entire COP. The end result; Americans abandoning the outpost within a short time afterward and the appearance of insurgents causation… as in Wanat… is the same.
Earlier this year came the shocking revelation of an Air Force Chaplain at Bagram Air Field (BAF) who received a shipment of Bibles translated into Dari, and who gave a sermon that appeared to exhort troops to proselytize. This is a crime under Afghan law that is punishable by death. That Chaplain directly fed into the propaganda operation by the Taliban, who claim that we are here to destroy Islam. The aftereffects still ripple through Afghan society. His actions, both in receiving the Dari Bibles and in his speech, may actually have tipped the scales in the minds of some to begin supporting or actually participating in operations against the Taliban and the GIRoA. His actions could actually be lethal; but not to the enemy.
Today an article was published in The Times (UK) quoting two U.S. Army Chaplains as saying that American troops in their two battalions are losing heart. It is difficult to explain the power of the urge to find these men of the cloth and grasp them firmly by the neck while calling upon the very stones of the earth to turn against them.
When Soldiers struggle with their purpose, it is clear that they are untrained in what that purpose is. They are kinetically trained warriors put into a political/military struggle where a great percentage of activity is not directly targeting the enemy, all while functioning in an environment where the enemy may target you anonymously with weapons that permit him to hide while he tries to kill you. They have been failed by their training. Many senior leaders cannot adequately train or supervise Soldiers in a COIN environment because they have not studied it themselves. I have met precisely one Chaplain who has actually read FM 3-24. Our Army is still struggling with COIN doctrine, and many of our Chaplains are wandering around lost while they could be of great benefit. These men should keep one thing in mind: First, do no harm. What they did by speaking on the record to this reporter was harmful. Calling the overall morale of our troops into question in front of a foreign media outlet boggles the mind.
In a strongly religious society such as Afghanistan, where Islam is woven tightly into the fabric of life and into the nature of conflict, what can a Christian Chaplain do? Again; first, he/she should do no harm. Secondly, he/she should read the book about this type of conflict and understand what it is that the Soldiers are involved in. He (going forward meaning either gender) should be able to assist a Soldier in understanding the nature of risk and loss in this type of environment, where a peaceful moment can be shattered beyond all recognition and with it the bodies of friends and colleagues. He, above all, needs to find his place in this from the perspective of our Soldiers and their purpose, that he can be the crutch for the spiritually and emotionally wounded. There is no place on the battlefield for the weak, and in this battle the mentally and spiritually weak are a particular liability. We cannot bear broken crutches with us. The damage done by these two men, while not on the par of the Dari Bible Fiasco, is actually only moderately less severe.
Understanding the nature of this conflict and the society, especially the religious nature of the operating environment, is difficult for anyone. As the primary religious and spiritual advisor to the commander and Soldiers, is the Chaplain making contributions that increase the realistic cultural understanding of the commander and his Soldiers? Is he making it his business to be the go-to guy on issues of realistic understanding of cultural norms? Is he finding his counterpart in the ANA or other ANSF and empowering both understanding and the tremendous effects that can be brought to bear by the RCA (ANSF equivalent of a Chaplain)? Can the Chaplain explain that Afghans aren’t offended by the inadvertent showing of the sole of the foot, as long as it’s not purposely done to insult? Can the Chaplain explain that waving with the left hand, when the right hand is full, is not insulting? Can the Chaplain help a Specialist learn simple greetings in Dari and Pashto, so that Soldier can get along better with his counterparts or civilians he may meet? Can the Chaplain explain the basics of Muslim prayer to a Baptist kid from southern Georgia, so that he can understand what and why his Afghan counterpart is doing?
The positive potential of ANA RCA’s is, in many places, untapped. RCA’s are usually educated, literate, moderate mullahs who can fight the Taliban message that the ANA and ANP are apostatic puppets of the Coalition. They can bring moderate education to village mullahs who are often illiterate themselves. Given the power of mullahs in Afghanistan to spread messages and themes, this is powerful. It has been done, and it works amazingly well. Are our Chaplains assisting and empowering the ANA and ANP RCA’s to do this?
The answer to the questions above, with extremely rare exceptions, is, “No.”
There is being helpful, and there is being harmful. Every person here in a uniform is by definition a counterinsurgent. Each and every action either supports the work of counterinsurgency or it harms it. Even a wasted action is harmful. You are either providing thrust or you are adding drag. There is no middle ground. Today, The Times may as well have carried the words of insurgents themselves, for just about as much harm was done. When a man, by virtue of his particular office, is largely unsupervised, he must find a way to make a positive contribution to the mission.
But first, he must do no harm.
A blogger friend, military supporter whose husband has served in this war, asked what victory looks like in Afghanistan. It’s a good question, and one that I think is probably in more minds than just hers. So I’m going to take a whack at answering it.
First, I never really think in terms of “victory.” There will be no grand surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship in this conflict. Insurgencies don’t die in a horrendous bright flash of light and culminate in a giant sigh of acceptance of defeat. They dwindle and starve, become a criminal problem, and finally fade out largely from lack of interest. Twenty years from now, former insurgents will own shops and other businesses and live relatively obscure lives here in Afghanistan. Some may even be in government. No, I don’t use the word victory. The words that we use are important, and they are powerful. They evoke images. Americans love victory, even as they love the underdog, most Cincinnati Bengals fans who don’t even bother to show up to games by mid-season demonstrate that the underdog appeal fades in the face of repeated defeat.
I think in terms of success or failure. The previous Afghan government, if you could call it that, was not so much governing as ruling over a failed state. So let’s talk about what success looks like in Afghanistan. We can describe it simply, but then you have to drill down to what that actually means. For starters, success in Afghanistan includes a stable government devoid of dysfunctional or disabling corruption. What does that mean? Look at our own level of corruption in the United States… don’t act like we don’t have corruption… but it’s generally not disabling. Disabling means that whatever corruption is present interferes materially and consistently with the provision of basic governmental responsibilities; what we often call basic services. It means an Afghanistan with a rising economy, dropping unemployment, a growing standard of living, climbing literacy rates and ever higher standards of education. It means an Afghanistan where there is a basic rule of law and where the citizens feel relatively safe in their homes and neighborhoods and where nearly all feel that there is some access to justice. This means that one of the basic services is security; the ability of the populace to live without threat or intimidation.
Can we do that? I think that perhaps we can. Should we do that? Topic for another post, but I am here of my own volition. I don’t like to lose any more than the next guy, and this is not just Operation Enduring Paycheck for me; so you can guess that my answer is likely positive on that one, too.
There are a lot of encouraging signs. The vanguard of the civilian surge is coming aboard. There are hundreds more on the way, and while they don’t meet the typical State Department mold, the community organizers of the Obama Campaign are finding their way to Afghanistan. Just this week I met and worked with a State Department employee of five months standing, four of which were in Afghanistan. She had worked on the Obama campaign, before that on “another candidate’s campaign,” and prior to that was, “in business.” Very well-intentioned. I could write an entire post about that one, but give us the raw material and you might be surprised where we can take this. The point is that we are beginning to develop the civilian capacity-building arm of our foreign policy apparatus.
Just as encouraging is the participation that we are seeing from Afghans in the civilian government and the military. COIN doctrine is Afghan doctrine as well. Everything that is being taught to Americans and NATO/Coalition partners coming into Afghanistan is Afghan doctrine. It is also being taught to Afghans. Tons of Afghan officers, including the very senior ones, are active participants in the dissemination of the doctrine and in planning for the rapid growth necessary in Afghan forces. I can’t brief it, because it’s not for public release, but there are certain economies of force that are being strongly considered to leverage the existing forces as cadre for rapid expansion. Growth becomes easier when you have a professional core upon which to build, and that core exists in greater numbers every day. The growth within the leadership of the ANA, including the NCO Corps, has been a huge success story here.
Afghan government ministries, Afghan NGO’s and Afghan contractors are also participants. They are also being trained and enthusiastically receiving the training in how to work across organizational boundaries to target effects based on the input and needs of local people. One of the legacies of the Taliban days is that the Taliban destroyed traditional structures that used to regulate Afghan life. Those weakened tribal and village structures are now the target of efforts to strengthen them and by doing so, return a sense of normal life forces in Afghan society. There is a significant movement afoot to leverage traditional methods of local justice. This may, on the surface, appear to be contrary to what we are used to… but in the United States, Mayor’s Courts thrive and are still in widespread use. Think of it along those lines.
Host nation support is unprecedented and growing.
The plan to add resources to the ANP also cannot be described in detail, but it is possible that a plan to move significant resources in that direction, quickly, may be approved for implementation very soon. This will also build upon lessons learned from the successful but time-consuming Focused District Development (FDD) program, as well. The ANP have lacked large-scale mentoring efforts for quite some time, and it appears possible that some horsepower may be directly applied to this most important counterinsurgent force very soon. Another reason for optimism. While months and years will be required, this is not really a long time in context. Positive results may occur very quickly. Remember, you don’t have to be the faster than the bear; you just have to be faster than the next guy. The next guy, in this case, is very small and while agile, he is actually hobbled. The people don’t like him, and only need to feel safe to push back. There are approximately 30,000 active insurgents in Afghanistan to try to subdue approximately 30,000,000 people. Another thing to remember is that while the entire country needs governance and development, there is only a serious insurgent threat in portions of the country. Some threats are actually criminal in nature, sometimes under the guise of insurgency. Lots of weapons trafficking and drug trafficking-related violence is attributed to political violence, which it is not.
Overall, we are going to temporarily construct a national security apparatus that is actually economically unsustainable in the long term. Afghanistan will only need these large forces long enough for the insurgency to be beaten back. If the other factors are addressed during this process… and we are building that capacity now… then the insurgency will begin to fade. As it fades, so long as the positive changes continue, the Afghan people will themselves be less and less likely to feel drawn to any radical ideology. Young men will find fulfillment in licit work rather than finding identity with radical leadership, and the need for such massive security forces will wane. For those who fear that a massive army will need to be sustained in perpetuity, that is usually a red herring used as a bogeyman to frighten others. It’s just fallacious logic.
One of our Achilles heels is public opinion. During the elections, many gravitated towards the “good war” versus “bad war” line of thinking. Many of those folks were simply setting up a straw man. Another thing to take into consideration was that the overwhelming majority of the population knew little about Afghanistan. Our networks were flooded with Iraq doom and gloom. Now those same people who held up the “good” vs “bad” argument are openly questioning Afghanistan.
That’s because it makes their head hurt.
Afghanistan is a complicated environment. Major and minor ethnic groups abound. Tribal rivalries go back centuries. There are over three thousand distinct insurgent groups in Afghanistan. They are linked into confederations of varying degrees of cohesiveness. There are rifts and alliances and more rifts and alliances. These provide many opportunities to leverage cracks… and many opportunities for headaches. For many, who otherwise appear to be very intelligent people, it just makes their head hurt. Unable to comprehend, they prognosticate in the only direction they can. Lots of that from talking heads who know little about actuality in Afghanistan lately. These hurt-headed failures do influence, though. Sadly, some just can’t say that they are ignorant and don’t really need to be involved in the discussion. Sadder still is their inability to listen to or take seriously those who do see and do know, apparently because of some academic sense of superiority or well-developed ego. We’ve all known those types, and the foreign policy wonkworld certainly abounds with them. Their keyboards are aflame with addlepated hammerings this year.
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Afghanistan is not Iraq. No question. But there is a similarity. COIN was not executed perfectly in Iraq. The surge didn’t do everything right down to the last detail. But what happened was amazing. Some will ascribe the changes in that country during the time surrounding the surge to be the result of nearly anything but the application of some very basic COIN principles, but that’s driven, often, by personal politics and disingenuous motives. What happened, at least in part, was that even imperfect application of population-centric tactics on a large scale led to disproportionate reactions within society. Positive reactions. We lost momentum in Afghanistan for a number of reasons, but the people here truly want to see us regain it and begin providing hope again. I think that it will take less to switch that momentum than the blithering heads would ever think. They will ascribe it, again, to nearly anything other than acceptably applied COIN, but that doesn’t matter. The proof is in the pudding.
One more key; the Afghans really need to know that we are here for the long haul with them. Our history in the past half century doesn’t bear this out, but it’s time to show the world that we can keep going even when our head hurts and helping ourselves means helping someone else first. There are a lot of Americans who resent spending a cup of urine to extinguish a flaming neighbor, bewailing whatever other purpose they may have had for that cup of urine. Think about how those people feel when it is tax dollars they could be using for some pet project. We’ve got lots of those types, too. They often have headaches and think themselves truly brilliant analysts, too. Don’t even get me started about how they pretend to give two shits about my life or my family, though. They don’t. That’s just political fodder for them. The Afghans need to know that we are not quitters any more; that our word actually means something. The meaning of a person’s word has lost something in our society, but not in theirs nor in the eyes of the rest of the world.
The partnering of units remains to be seen. There are concerns that the American Regular Army units will revert to the same old behaviors that they had in the past; abusing their Afghan “partners” as the equivalent of their own pissboys. These units have received some basic COIN training, but there will be another factor, and that would be the Mc-Rod Factor. McChrystal and Rodriguez are serious about enforcing the application of their plan… that Afghan forces are going to lead and the Americans are there as a multiplier. It will only take a few bell-ringers to correct the old ways. Neither impresses me as a man to spare a career in the presence of failure to execute his orders.
Lastly a reason for optimism is the total lack of traction of failed ideas such as strict reliance on “CT” or counter terrorist operations. Discussions which contain references with suggestions to abandoning population-centric concepts for a strictly CT approach are the equivalent of discussing the merits of a football bat. It’s like asking if someone thinks that roughing the passer should be called more strictly during the World Series. Just roll your eyes and know that you’ve just heard from someone who has as much credibility in the current fight as a gelding on a stud farm. No one here on the ground is able to open their mouths and make such ridiculously inane noises. I think it’s happening back home on a regular basis, but no worries; no traction whatsoever where COIN meets the real world.
Afghanistan won’t look like a Mini-Me version of the United States. It will look like a war torn country with hope, though. Success looks like Afghans making plans to access their sub-soil resources in partnership with companies who don’t just buy the rights to a seam of ore. It looks like a court system that functions in such a way that Afghans feel that if they have a dispute, no one can buy the decision. It takes a while to come from the 19th century to the 20th, much less the 21st. We have to understand that success in Afghanistan doesn’t look like perfection; it looks like positive momentum and a lack of interest in further insurgency. There will be die-hards, but the police will be tracking them down. Success looks like most people not having time to listen to radicals because they are either on their way to work or on their way home from school. There is a lot to do to get there, but with the buy-in we’re seeing from the Afghan Army, Police and civil Ministries, as well as the civilian and NGO surge, there’s a sense that the momentum can be regained.
Back when I was a youngin, the idea of being directly overflown by a Hind D (big, evil-looking Russian attack helicopter) was a horrifying prospect. Today I was overflown at an altitude of about 100 feet on several occasions by Afghan National Army Hind D’s.
It was vaguely uncomfortable. I knew, on a conscious level, that they were “friendlies,” but all the old aircraft ID classes built in a negative reaction. Something inside me said, “Shoot it! Shooooooot it!”
A 5.56mm rifle will not bring down a Hind D, barring divine intervention.
Sometimes thoughts are just thoughts. Vaguely uncomfortable, but just thoughts.
What a week it’s been. In order to become a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the Academy of Bellicose Numismatists you have to study hard, know the curriculum and class materials, and you have to complete the 5 day course as a student. It’s a rite of passage. Well, it’s a little more than that, but I’m simplifying it.
So that was fun.
After a day to change gears and get prepped, a couple of other instructors and I trundled off early each morning to teach a more focused, shorter course at a branch school for Afghan officers. This was an advanced course. These officers had already completed their basic course. They also had combat experience and knew a fair amount about enemy behavior. We have been teaching the Afghans classic AirLand Battle doctrine for nearly 7 years now. Here we come all of a sudden with a new plan for them; COIN. One of them did ask the obvious question; “Why did you wait until now to come up with this?”
I didn’t want to tell them that the book was published two and a half years ago and we just got around to reading it. Uh… that would be some of us. We still get field grade officers in the course here who have not read the book. A significant portion of company grade officers have not read it.
Most of them are taking to it like a duck takes to water. There are a couple of die-hards, but most of them see the truth in what we have told them. The strange thing is that in the Afghan National Army you have a mixture of Mujaheddin and leftovers from the Najibullah regime; the Communists who the Soviets invaded to “assist.” Many of these officers were insurgents. But that was a different insurgency. Question that all you will, but I can tell you, and so can they, that it was another matter altogether.
Part of the training is, “Be the insurgent,” a take on the Caddyshack golfing philosophy of, “Be the ball.” One ANA officer briefed a plan that had an ANA Colonel wondering if he needed to run a background check on the officer. It was that good. When you can think like an insurgent, you can get inside his loop and get in between him and the cookie that he strives to possess… the acquiescence, if not active participation, of the populace.
If you don’t like the term, “cookie,” then insert your word of choice for something that someone wants to possess and strives for by hook or by crook. I think of the kid and the cookie jar, or in some cases the schoolkid who gets a cookie of he/she behaves. But, suit yourself by all means.
Most of the ANA officers nod their heads knowingly at the way that information is now interrelated. It makes sense to them. They understand the challenges of appealing to the people intrinsically… they are the people. They know who in the village they looked up to as children. It was usually not the Provincial Governor. No, it was an elder, a mullah, a big brother, a father, an uncle. These are the men who shape the minds and opinions in Afghanistan. The Afghans understand that some men are fighting for money, some for other grievances, and some to take over their own corner of the world.
They know that they will likely have to kill the would-be warlords. They can live without killing the part-time insurgent, the aggrieved, the threatened or the misled. They can live without killing “The Accidental Guerrilla” of Kilcullen’s writings.
There are many problems to be solved. There are more ethnic tensions in Afghanistan than when Cleavon Little wore a hood in Blazing Saddles. These guys need a Cleavon Kabuli to break the tension a little. The problem is that the direct material correlation would be a burqa, and a comic actor in a burqa just isn’t going to cut it here. No way. The ethnic tension isn’t impossible to break; but it’s like racism in the States… it’s going to take a generation of intolerance to it before it really begins to melt. Many feel that it can never be broken, but I don’t believe that. The world is getting smaller, and Afghans will eventually be forced to bond with the folks in the other valley to deal with the pressures of the outside world.
There are other problems, like illiteracy. This is more of a problem than on the surface, because while ignorance is the devil’s playground, it has to be realized that there is an element of religious manipulation involved that is not possible among the literate. Religiosity is built into daily lives to a much greater extent here than is generally realized. It is part of greetings. It is part of institutions. Every briefing starts with, “In the name of Almighty Allah…” Islam is woven so tightly into the normal events of daily life that the religious authority has as much, if not more, sway than the local political apparatus. So, with an illiterate, religious mass it’s possible for an unscrupulous mullah (naaaaaaah, there aren’t any of those…) to mislead people into directions that aren’t in line with the real meaning of spiritual Islam. It’s as if some evangelist in the United States were to tell an illiterate audience that the Bible says it’s okay to abuse a group of people because God doesn’t like them. Not that such a thing would ever happen, of course. We’re much too advanced for anyone to, say, picket funerals of fallen Soldiers because of some misbegotten religious zealotry.
Lawyers are supposed to be able to read, aren’t they?
Anyway, I’m trying to draw a parallel here. The funny thing is that when I draw such parallels, I see that the Afghans really aren’t much different from us. In fact, when I look at them, I see what our great-grandparents were going through in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Just add some technologies like wireless and there you have it. This country is a mix of Biblical times and the Wild West with a hint of Mad Max.
This is the second report from the International Crisis Group that I have read, and comparing it to last year’s, there are but a few changes in the overall picture. Some of those changes are due to recommendations that have been implemented (although those changes were not necessarily implemented due to the ICG report.) Numerous articles have been written in the mainstream media concerning the report, each with its own synopsis. Each synopsis seizes upon the conclusion drawn from the report, which is that the ANP are too busy fighting the Taliban to enforce the law and that the major military driver, the United States, views the ANP only as additional combat forces.
The substantive areas of the report are spot-on. The report points out that the ANP are rife with corruption and that public confidence in the professionalism of the ANP is extremely low. These assertions are, from my personal observations, correct. The report also leaves its lane a bit to delve into the Afghan Judiciary, which certainly needs some delving into and is appropriately addressed for its dysfunctional relationship with the ANP. The report points out that there is a battle for corruption that occurs when a suspect is detained, with each of the two branches (Executive and Judiciary) vying for their piece of the bribery pie.
The Judiciary is another subject all its own, but we certainly do not have anything resembling a grip on it and we truly need help from other (successful) Islamic countries with functioning judiciaries. This may provide opportunities for engagement; again, a totally new subject.
The observations of fact about the ANP are correct, and I found myself cheering the report on these issues. However, the shortcoming of the report lies in the commission’s complete and total lack of understanding (and rightfully so) of COIN. Why does this make a difference? Because the ANP are a linchpin in the COIN fight. Unfortunately, some senior officers do not see this, but a simple perusal of Galula will show that local authority and governance is necessary in the absence of military forces.
The ANA can only take care of so much battlespace. The insurgent tends to leak away from areas with robust military presences, unless that area is necessary to their survival, such as the border areas and the infiltration routes from Pakistan. In areas where there is no such necessity, the insurgent enemy will tend to vacate areas that are stepped on by the Army, the way that water vacates a puddle when a foot lands in it. As with the puddle, when the foot is removed, the water seeps back in; and so do the insurgents.
The Army cannot be everywhere at once, and so the local guarantors of security are the ANP. By this doctrine, the only doctrine that is relevant, the ANP have a key counterinsurgent role. This role does not absolve the ANP for their responsibility in general criminal law enforcement, but rather falls under it. Galula points out that insurgents need to be criminalized. Criminalization of the insurgent brings several beneficial effects, but in order to criminalize the insurgent, there must be a rule of law to begin with.
In the clear, hold and build strategy of counterinsurgency as practiced in Iraq, for instance, the Police can and should participate in all phases. Participation in the Clearing Phase is actually necessary, as the national law in Afghanistan forbids searching of private residences unless it is done by ANP. ANP must be present, at a minimum. This is something of a nod to our Posse Commitatus, in my opinion, designed to prevent abuses by the Army. While the presence of the Army is not necessarily mandated in the Hold and Building Phases (but may be required due to the local situation,) the ANP begin to take the primary role in providing local security. This includes normal law enforcement activity.
When civilians think of the ANP, they tend to think of civilized countries where the only job of the Police is to enforce civil law. This is not the case in Afghanistan, or in any country where there is an active insurgency. The ANP resemble the law enforcement arms in western countries very little in their tasks and armament. While lightly armed compared to the Army, the ANP are excessively armed by any other measure. ANP carry automatic weapons, belt-fed machine guns, and RPG’s, which function more as hip-pocket artillery than as the anti-tank weapons that they are designed to be.
The ANP are more like frontier deputy marshals in our own “wild west” days. They are often running into heavily armed criminals, whether they be insurgents or smugglers. When they make contact or are contacted, they are most often in small groups and usually outgunned. They are also often static, such as at checkpoints. This leads to the much higher death rate as compared to their Army counterparts. Make no mistake, though; they are killed by criminals. Even the Taliban are basically criminals.
Let’s put this into US terms. In the United States, if someone were to run about killing policemen, what would we call them? Criminals. If someone were to (as some drug gangs have done) establish themselves as a local governing body and impose their own rule of law, what would we call them? Criminals. If someone were to refuse to obey the lawfully elected government, declare it to be illegal, and attack governmental offices, officers, and institutions, what would we call it here? Criminal. It is no different there. These are criminal acts. What do we do with “insurgents” here? We label them as criminals and we lock them up for a very long time. It doesn’t matter to us whether their beef with the government is financial or political in nature here in the United States; here they are all just criminals and are treated as such. Timothy McVeigh thought he was an insurgent. He wasn’t. He was just a murderer; a criminal. He was treated as such by the people of the State of Oklahoma. He wasn’t captured by the Army, he was captured by law enforcement.
Insurgency is an internal problem, and therefore a criminal problem. The Taliban could each lay down their arms and take part in the process. They could vote. They could run for office. They could participate. What’s the difference between any of the Taliban and Tim McVeigh?
There are more of them.
Afghanistan is trying to move on in the post-Taliban era. No longer an authoritarian theocracy, this country has ratified a Constitution and has held successful elections. Now, burdened with the detritus of 30 years of warfare and the lack of any real institutional memory of how to govern, this nation struggles to survive. The ANP are, again, key to the development of a healthy country. Are they treated as such?
Uh, I’ll take “No” for a thousand, Alex.
The ANP are the bastard children of the Islamic Republic. Our own Army didn’t want the ANP training mission, again preferring the ANA mission; at least it had the word “Army” in it. The organization I belonged to fell under the ARSIC-East. I heard it said at an ETT team leader conference that even though General Cone said that the ANP were the main effort, he didn’t agree and the ARSIC-East’s main effort would remain with the ANA. If I had disobeyed my commander at that level it would have been my butt, but I suppose that at that level there were gentlemen’s agreements or something. The point is that the ANP are and have been lower on the priority list for training and mentoring, though we have seen what all of that can do for the ANA.
Six years ago the ANA were scarcely better than criminals in the eyes of the people. They often did things that the ANP are known for now; shaking down the populace for money, corruption on an incredibly grand scale, nepotism, clannish cronyism, thievery and misdirection of government assets… the ANA were champs of all of that behavior. Now the ANA are widely trusted and looked up to by the population. Their stock in the eyes of the people has risen immeasurably. My ANP were threatened by local village elders during an operation, “We like the ANA. We respect the ANA. When the ANA leave, you are through.”
I also saw the ANP Colonel that I was mentoring taking care of law enforcement calls while engaged in a major combat operation. Arrests were made, referrals to prosecutors made. I then witnessed the same erratic behavior from the Provincial law enforcement system that the ICG report details. On the first day of the operation, one of my cohort’s team captured the Taliban S-2 (Intelligence Officer) for the Tag Ab Valley. Major find, eh? Yep, what a coup; right up to the point where he got to the provincial prosecutor.
The Provincial Governor (brand spanking new one, too) had him released. By the next day, he was leading 60 Taliban all over the Tag Ab Valley trying to kill us. I cannot express my admiration for the Afghan Judiciary and the current Provincial governance structure. During the same period, I was personally asked to intervene by an Afghan mother. Her son had been declared innocent by the court in Kabul, but she couldn’t get the Provincial Government to release him, although she had copies of the decision in her hands.
They wanted a bribe to release him, and she couldn’t afford the bribe.
This is why the Taliban, the criminals, are making headway; because it doesn’t take much to out-govern such a government. All of these problems are fixable, though. If you had seen the ANA six years ago, you would have thrown in the towel. However, it’s going to take a renewed effort, some re-delegation of responsibilities on the part of some of our non-combatant or sub-combatant allies (those countries with national caveats on use of force or employment of armed forces) into roles that don’t require combat except in self-defense but can seriously impact governance, and potentially some help that is not currently being sought or used, such as to rework the Afghan Judiciary into something resembling a fair and honest system.
The ICG report hits the nail on the head with its depiction of the institutional flaws of the ANP, but misses the mark with its stress on removing the ANP from the counterinsurgent role. This is an honest mistake, though, made from the viewpoint of an organization that doesn’t understand that criminalizing insurgents is part of the only strategy that will secure success in Afghanistan, and the fact that where the Army isn’t, the ANP are static and are the government’s first line of contact with the people and their rightful guarantors of security, just like they are here in the States. The report’s recommendations for reforms and accountability are excellent. Overall, it’s a good document and well worth a read.
Parking tickets are a long way off for these folks. Think 1870’s in our own West.
Our very own LTC Stone Cold, BSMV, emailed me a link today to a story that was produced by France 24 about Tag Ab and the neighboring district of Ala Say.
For me, it was both exciting and eerie. I’ve been in all of those places. In the video, they visit the local ANP. I’ve sat in the stuffed chair that is in their new office. I was in that building before it was completed. I worked with those ANP, and I’ve met and talked with the Provincial council member who smuggled the reporters back into Tag Ab for their second trip.
Firebase Kutschbach, which started out as a VPB* and then grew into Firebase Tag Ab and is now named for a Special Forces operator who was killed working out of the firebase shortly after the base was begun, has grown quite a bit in the past months since I’ve left Afghanistan.
The French are sending additional troops to Afghanistan and apparently are going to relieve the soldiers from the 101st who are there currently.
During the first of two visits to Tag Ab, the French crew rides out to Ala Say in an MRAP with soldiers from Co A, 506th INF, 101st ABN during a combat patrol. That was the road that we went up and down numerous times in the valley. I once took a two humvee patrol out there, spent several hours doing a district assessment of the district ANP and returned without incident. Why they didn’t hit me is anyone’s guess. Box of chocolates, I guess.
Days later, six humvees went out and one of our SECFOR gunners had his M-240 blown clean in half by an RPG which struck the top of his humvee. He was unscathed; not so much as a singed eyebrow. Days later the same soldier, now driving, on the same road, was struck in the door by an RPG. It blew the door open and peppered him with metal and glass fragments in his left arm and face.
No one blamed him when he announced that he would like to be rotated to tower guard duty back at Blackhorse. He’s a great kid with a great sense of humor, and he still carries fragments in his left arm. He was one of our awesome SECFOR crew from South Carolina. Can’t say enough good things about our valiant South Carolinians; they were the best.
He was, obviously, an RPG magnet as well; so it was in everyone’s best interest that he did just that. Great guy; not safe to be around.
It must have been his magnetic personality.
It’s a trip to see Afghanistan in the news more often. Americans seem to have a renewed consciousness of this theater of the war. Before I went to Afghanistan, one of my co-workers, Mrs. Howesfrow, asked me with all earnestness, “Is there still a war in Afghanistan?”
My response was one of those that required a conscious effort to leave the “dumbass” off of the end of the sentence.
A commenter on this blog once queried to the effect that he thought that we had already won in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was called “The Forgotten War,” likening American lack of awareness to the blithe ignorance of the Korean War. Now there is a resurgent interest in Afghanistan. Part of that interest was generated by the battles that were fought in 2007 and the continued activity in 2008.
This activity draws pundits out of the woodwork claiming with all earnestness that we are losing. Just days over a year ago, Tag Ab was a place that coalition forces rarely went and the nearest permanent presence was at the north end of the valley at Nijrab. That presence was a Special Forces ODA** and about a company of ANA who rotated in and out. The ANP in Tag Ab were completely non-functional. The now-fired Chief of Police in Tag Ab rarely actually ventured into the valley.
It was Talibanland.
Now there is a struggle going on in Tag Ab, which adds to the violence level reported in Afghanistan, and to the casualty count; but before there was not so much activity, because it was left to the Taliban.
The government of Afghanistan is pushing into these areas that were previously ungoverned, and the ACM, the best known of which are the Taliban, are finding themselves pushed back.
It doesn’t help that the Taliban have their safe havens in Pakistan. It doesn’t help that there is Arab money pouring into those areas, either. It doesn’t help that Al Qaeda still functions there and brings resources to bear in defense of their hiding place and training ground.
But that doesn’t mean that we are losing. Can we lose? Yes. Are we losing? No. We have gained ground in areas like Tag Ab. But we are clearly reaching a decision point in our efforts.
When we arrived in Tag Ab, the paved road in the video was unpaved and rough. The District Center was 40% complete and not in progress. The ANP had been pinned down in their makeshift district center for days at a time by the Taliban and they were afraid to go more than a few hundred meters from the District Center. Now they are part of the fight for their own country. They hopped in their trucks and went tearing off to assist their commander when he was ambushed.
The ANP commander who was injured in that ambush was in for his second flight on a MEDEVAC bird to Bagram. He is one of the bravest Afghans I met in Afghanistan. A quiet, unassuming man, he always went towards the fire.
Tag Ab is obviously still contested. It is a struggle, and partly because it is their closest major activity to Kabul. Suicide attacks that emanate from Pakistan have staged through Tag Ab to reach Kabul. It is a critical area.
Two years ago, convoys were ambushed much further north, but now much of the drive from Bagram to Tag Ab is fairly peaceful. The government is obviously in control in those areas. Police are in evidence and the people go about their daily lives in relative peace. Tag Ab still has a way to go to get to that level, but it will happen.
It takes time, patience, and unfailing commitment.
Our media is still missing the boat. While the French report is not entirely accurate, they did the best that they could. Most of it is either accurate or close to the truth, but it is by far the best piece I’ve seen on Tag Ab. There are a thousand stories that are ongoing in Afghanistan where Americans are doing things that would make people here proud, but they are not being reported. The stories are not being told. America is being ripped off.
We’re being scooped by the French.
*VPB = Vehicle Patrol Base; a group of vehicles arranged in a defensive perimeter, a temporary arrangement
**ODA = Operational Detachment Alpha; an “A Team”