I was very pessimistic after my tour as a PMT in 2007-2008. What I saw then was a near-complete disconnect between the military and civilian efforts. Two of the main lines of operation were largely absent, and so any security gains were followed by… nothing. The Army cleared and then left, turning hard-fought gains back over to the tender mercies of insurgents, criminals and ineffectual governance. Units fobbed-up and commuted to work, bound by vehicles and often interacting poorly or not at all with the local population. The influx of Iraq-trained troops who brought the driving tactics they had learned there began to irritate everyday Afghans with overt aggression. Units were often interested more in self-protection than in accomplishing anything. The answer to nearly every tactical situation was spelled, “J-D-A-M.” The doctrine of COIN was known only as a set of buzzwords which everyone immediately put into use… to describe actions that were most often decidedly un-COIN. The war was on a seemingly inexorable downward spiral.
I arrived back in Afghanistan in July of 2010 determined to make a difference by educating whoever I could on COIN. That I did, to varying effect. I trained and worked with troops and civilians from over 30 different countries over the course of the subsequent fifteen months. General McChrystal had just taken over the reigns in Afghanistan. A renewed emphasis on COIN had been settled upon, along with an increase in the numbers of troops and civilians on the ground, as the strategy that would be employed to stop the downward spiral.
Field grade military officers were often quite resistant to the concepts taught in the COIN course. Many had either no previous experience fighting an insurgency or had served only in Iraq pre-2007. Some of the questions posed to the instructors were quite oppositional, showing the mindsets that we were dealing with. Informal polling showed that, consistently, about 15% of incoming US Army field grade officers had read even so much as FM 3-24, much less any other texts regarding insurgencies or how to counter them. Senior NCO’s almost universally had not read the manual describing the doctrine. Ignorance of the available information, prejudices inculcated by years of conventional training and pop-culture influence and any number of internal resentments combined to provide many oppositional students. A great deal of patience was required. Angrily countering such arguments as were raised could “lose” a student permanently, yet it was necessary to understand how to counter each objection in an intelligent and persuasive way.
The COIN Leaders Course (CLC) conducted during the last week of every month, was the most comprehensive course offered. This five day course incorporated the normal curriculum with a fair number of guest speakers, many of them Afghan senior officials from the ministries, Army and National Police. Students from many participating nations attended the course, with a heavy attendance by civilians. As much time as possible was devoted to discussions involving the members of each small group, or “syndicates” as they were called (the Australian influence was clearly visible in this). The time available for discussions varied, but was never enough for the students. Practical exercises sparked discussions and raised issues in microcosm, such as working with Afghans through language barriers. Prejudices surfaced; military, political, national and ethnic. Some interfered, many were overcome.
The CLC was not the only course offered. There were other, shorter courses at the CTC-A during the month, and each regional team ventured forth into their respective region for several weeks each month. Units and organizations were trained in the field, sometimes in tents. Our interpreters got a full workout and were often subjected to poor treatment at the hands of American forces, such as our adventures at Bagram (truly horrible at times). Still, our interpreters hung in there and sometimes taught classes to Afghans practically unaided. They were that good.
As I traveled around the country, I was able to witness the behaviors of various units from various countries on the ground… and the effects they were achieving. It wasn’t looking all that great. I was teaching commanders and staffs about the virtues of learning the details of their Areas of Responsibility (AOR) regarding the people and what was important to them using a framework called ASCOPE/PMESII. “That’s great!” they all said as they completed the course. Weeks or months later I would see them out in the provinces, working their magic.
“So, how is your ASCOPE coming?”
“Yeah, uh… we don’t really have time for that,” they would reply.
I began to acquire a persistent shallow in my forehead from smacking the heel of my hand into it and making the Homer Simpson “Doh!” sound.
Conventionally organized staffs, who had trained for months on staff processes geared more towards conventional operations than to support COIN information flows, simply could not implement an informational framework such as the ASCOPE/PMESII while simultaneously supporting ongoing operations on the ground. Reorganizing staff processes on the fly turned out to be as challenging as changing shoes while running without breaking stride.
Civilians were pouring into the country; USAID, State and contractors. Many had scant knowledge of Afghanistan and were full of prejudices about the country and what it needed. Many civilians attend the CTC-A or are taught the course out in the field as the instructors roam about the Regional Commands. They provided their own challenges. One civilian I trained, who was very disruptive in training, had been in the country for four months, had worked for State for five, and her previous work experience was working on Hillary Clinton’s campaign followed by, in her words and with quotation marks swiped at the air, “another campaign.” Political appointees with no prior experience were side by side with workers whose prior experience was in Africa. They had a tendency to believe that they had it all in hand and knew exactly what was needed both locally and nationally. Afghanistan would soon beat that out of them, however. Reality is an awesome mindset adjustment tool, and in reality these were smart people with good intentions.
Another problem they had was in working with the military. It was mutual. The military has a tendency to view civilians engaged in development work as flower-munching, Birkenstock-wearing tree-huggers. Civilians engaged in development work have a tendency to view military personnel as linear-thinking knuckle-draggers. Fun.
Meanwhile, USAID’s Dr. Jim Derleth had brought the District Stability Framework to Afghanistan and was out busily training units to perform it… in the absence of the deep understanding that thorough reconnaissance of the human terrain (ASCOPE, which is now built into the toolset) brings. Units, starting with the Brits, were beginning to recognize the pitfalls of having foreign military personnel conducting TCAPF (Tactical Conflict Assessment Planning Framework) questioning, the famous four questions, to gather local inputs necessary for the accurate completion of the Tactical Stability Matrix were proving more than problematic in that regard. Everything was disconnected. Efforts were scattered and much less effective than coordinated actions can be. USAID became frustrated with their ability to train people how to use the methodology in significant numbers.
I’m not sure how it came to be, but there were talks about training the COIN instructors at the COIN Training Center – Afghanistan (CTC-A) to teach the DSF. COL John Agoglia, the visionary director of the CTC-A during that time, recognized the value of the DSF. It was the missing link; a common operational framework that could be used by military, foreign civilians, Afghan civilian development workers and the local populations. In COIN and Stability Operations, unity of effort is key… and highly elusive. A common operational framework enabled the development of a common operational picture, a necessity to develop unity of effort. Even across languages, if you are talking about the same information organized in a framework that is commonly understood, you are speaking the same “language.” It was decided to train the instructors. This was followed by a couple of weeks of intensive work at the CTC-A and the assignment of an instructor as a subject matter expert to assist in adapting the DSF training to dovetail with the COIN training in partnership with USAID.
As the military “surge” gained momentum, the most common feedback we heard was, “We wish we had gotten this education six to nine months earlier… so we could practice it in training.” We were training leaders, most often at the battalion level and above. Soldiers and NCO’s got, at best, a few hours and were full of the same prejudices. As I was seeing in practice in the field, the lessons of COIN are not best taught after boots-on-ground. We were a band-aid on a gushing arterial bleed.
Things weren’t looking all that encouraging. One thing about COIN and Stability Ops is the perception delay. Just as poor performance is not manifested immediately, so positive inputs do not create immediate and undeniable positive effects. This is one of the reasons that appropriate metrics are so difficult to choose.
Six months into my tour I was feeling enormous frustration.
Gian Gentile has not been silent in my absence, nor have his arguments progressed. In the July 2010 edition of Joint Force Quarterly, COL Gentile once again states his long-standing argument that COIN doctrine, now three and a half years old, was never properly vetted. He continues to compare it to Active Defense doctrine of the 1970’s, and he continues to compare his calls for reevaluation of the existing doctrine to the calls which eventually resulted in AirLand Battle doctrine (the doctrine of Desert Storm). There are subtle differences. Two years ago, COL Gentile asserted that FM 3-24 was designed to defeat Maoist insurgencies and that this made FM 3-24 woefully inadequate for the current usage. Then it became widely known that the Islamic insurgents are using Maoist doctrine adapted for Islamic insurgency in Abd Al-‘Aziz Al-Muqrin’s A Practical Course for Guerrilla War. We no longer hear COL Gentile pressing that particular button.
From the viewpoint of someone who is on the ground and engaged in the counterinsurgency, and who has a fairly broad view of what is occurring, the current incarnation of the Gentile Argument remains short on a couple of points. COL Gentile asserts that the theories upon which the current COIN doctrine are based have not been successfully used elsewhere. Students of the doctrine can easily see where these principles are not new. Many were, in fact, drawn from successful practice by the British in Malaya. There are, on the other hand, no clear examples of where a different approach has been successful. Witness the Germans in the Balkans. The question then becomes, if not this, then what?
Andrew Bacevich claims that just leaving would be entirely acceptable. Of course, this ignores one of our chief impediments in Afghanistan; our own history. We are easily and believably depicted by our enemies as quitters. This is easily believed by significant segments of the population who, being wooed by both sides, must make a choice as to which direction their future lies. Pakistan, too, is being asked to make a choice based on who is going to be present and helpful over the long term. Our history, which Mr. Bacevich would now have us add to, says loudly that it will not be us.
COL Gentile, who finds himself lumped in with Mr. Bacevich in many examinations of the issue, announces the failure of the doctrine without first having empirical evidence that it has been even adequately applied. A good idea, implemented poorly, looks like a bad idea. COL Gentile himself states that his unit, 8-10 CAV, 4ID was doing COIN in Baghdad in 2006. He goes on to prove this by giving us a measure of performance rather than a measure of effectiveness in COIN.
This is a common error amongst military officers who are ineffectually attempting COIN operations. His offering of a measure of output rather than any indication of what effect it actually had leads one to believe that the Colonel doesn’t actually understand COIN well enough to argue effectively about whether it is effective or not. It certainly does not indicate a level of understanding sufficient to declare the doctrine useless or failed. Excellent COIN practitioners know that measures of effectiveness are not universal, but that they cannot be denoted by the number of patrols conducted, the amount of Humanitarian Assistance dispensed or the number of Medical Engagements conducted. One must seek the effect that this had on the population’s perception of their own government as a result of these actions. This is particularly true when the population knows that the presence of the United States is transitory at best. We still see units on the ground in Afghanistan where commanders are struggling to arrive at measures of effectiveness rather than output.
To be sure, one must be able to measure one’s activities, but those activities must be aimed at an effect that is oriented on establishing a relationship between the people and their own government. Granted, COL Gentile’s quote was taken somewhat out of context, but it is consistent with lines of information briefed by units here in Afghanistan. One unit, conducting what amounts to a PR campaign to salvage its reputation after having been removed from its original operational area after failing to conduct effective COIN operations, literally produced a slick document in which it provided “proof” of its excellent COIN operations. The preponderance of information, provided in easy-to-read pie chart and bar chart format, was on how much money they spent. To a counterinsurgent, that could just as much be a damage estimate as a measure of effectiveness. We can do a lot of damage with our money. How did they spend that money? Did it help bring he people closer to their government? Did it add to a perception of GIRoA effectiveness? We don’t know. I doubt that they do, either. IF it was what was important to them, they would have briefed that information. If COL Gentile had had measures of effectiveness to discuss in his articles, he would have used them.
The Colonel also describes COIN doctrine as “prescriptive.” Again, this shows a lack of grasp of the doctrine, which is based on principles and methodologies that commanders then use to arrive at their own conclusions about how to conduct operations in their discrete areas. All politics is local, therefore all insurgency is local, therefore all counterinsurgency must be local. FM 3-24 recognizes this. In fact, it states it. In Armor terms, each area requires a tank-discrete CCF (Computer Correction Factor).* There is no fleet CCF for COIN. Just like the Tank Gunnery manual (doctrine), where there is a methodology for determining a discrete CCF for each tank when required. This is what FM 3-24 and FM 3-07 do for commanders. This is not prescriptive, it is a thought process laid out for a commander to use to adequately appreciate the area in which he is operating.
COL Gentile’s latest article is a re-hash of his old argument. But, it is consistent. One of the greatest areas of consistency is that it fails to offer a viable alternative. The Colonel also has a tendency to insist that what was being done prior to the publication of FM 3-24 was basically working. He points to successes by officers such as COL (now BG) H.R. McMaster which preceded the surge. BG McMaster was using lessons he learned from reading works by such men as Galula and applying them in the absence of doctrine. We see the results of his COIN effects. We know that 8-10 CAV did 3,500 patrols. Do we know what that accomplished as far as COIN effect? No. Is that an indictment of 8-10 CAV’s Soldiers or leadership? No more than when one Soldier is awarded a Silver Star and another a Bronze Star w/ “V” device. Which one sucked? Neither. One did his job very well and one did it extraordinarily well. We need to be able to divorce learning from blaming. This is not something that we are doing well.
Finally, before anyone argues that COIN has taken over the Army, it should at least be a true statement. COIN is just now making its way into the NCOES. A former instructor from the COIN Training Center – Afghanistan went straight to the Captain’s Career Course and was confronted with truly terribly COIN training. The institution has not quite caught up with the training. It is moving that way, and there are a lot of people who are doing the best that they can. But it’s not there yet. This is the war that we are in, and this is the one that we need to learn to win. It is possible that not a single soul who is currently in a uniform will still be wearing it when the next major peer-to-peer or near peer-to-peer conflict happens. Crying out about losing our warfighting edge is a bit premature at this point. Particularly when the only alternative being offered is to lose this one in favor of winning the one that may or may not happen in the unforeseeable future. For a pretty frank discussion of that side of the COIN (so to speak) see this post at Travels with Shiloh
* In the ballistic computer of an M1 tank, there is for each type of ammunition a mathematical CCF. This is the fleet CCF (the CCF for the fleet of vehicles). This tells the computer that, for instance, when HEAT is selected, the round will have certain characteristics in flight. This enables the computer to adjust for such variables as range, barometric pressure, crosswind and the temperature of the propellant before it is burned to adjust the position of the tank gun’s barrel relative to the target. Each tank, when boresighted, fires a round of each type of ammunition at a target. For various reasons, every once in a while a tank cannot hit with a fleet CCF. There is a procedure detailed in the Tank Gunnery manual for determining a tank-discrete CCF for that type of ammunition, which is then recorded on the 2404-8 for use in the future with that same type of ammunition on that tank.
One of the comments on the last post, “RC South,” brought me to realize that the ASCOPE/PMESII crosswalk needs some explanation. Here is the comment:
Not that it matters much, but your Brit Brigadier’s approach, the ASCOPE/PMESII matrix, is based on futures research methods. The model is called Cross-Impact Analysis or Event-Impact Matrix Analysis. It is used to figure out what programs one needs to get from an unfortunate present to a desired future. It does fit the nature of the task in your world, doesnt it?
One thing, though. PMESII is a terrifically flawed way to define the operating environment especially for civic aciton. PMESII is designed to be a targeting method for the environment (John Waldron of USAF fame invented the method.) That’s why PMESII is associated with EBO (another bozo idea.) A better subsitute for PMESII in your part of the world would be to lay out the environment according to Social, Technological, Economic, Political, Environmental and Military (STEP-EM) factors. This latter approach is used in many non-US military cross-impact efforts similar to what the Brits are doing.
Hope this isn’t TMI (too much information.) Stay safe as the mission allows!
The ASCOPE/PMESII crosswalk is a combination of two sets of information that are found in the FM 3-24. The manual doesn’t link them per se, but alludes to the linkage. What the Counterinsurgency Training Center – Afghanistan has done is create a crosswalk so that critical elements of information are not ignored when gathering information about the specific area of operations (AO). What this does is spur a commander to learn about the AO in-depth. The purpose is to get to know an area the way that the population… and the enemy… does. When teaching this to Afghans, they get the idea instantly when explained to them as, “You need to get to know your AO the way that you knew the village where you grew up.” For Coalition forces, the best way to explain is to compare it to the way that a beat cop gets to know the area where he operates. An Afghan growing up in a village develops this knowledge over the course of many years. A beat cop also takes years to develop this kind of knowledge. We, on the other hand, do not have this kind of time.
Another issue that we’ve had in Afghanistan is the “experiencing Afghanistan for the first time nine years in a row” effect. What having a detailed ASCOPE/PMESII crosswalk completed for each area does to resolve this cannot be understated. What you are doing is creating a living, breathing document focused on the people, places and things that are important in the daily lives of the people who live in that area. Everything from the Social Structures (meaning things like mosques, schools and clinics, not the family tree) to the Information People (a lot of information is passed by word-of-mouth in Afghanistan). Being a living document, it changes as the people, places and things in an area change. People move, die, or become less relevant, for instance. Things change. For this reason, the document changes with them. But, as a snapshot in time, it can be handed over to the unit arriving on the ground, giving them the “brain dump” in a document and saving the precious time of the Relief in Place (RIP) for doing more important things… like handing over the relationships that drive so much in any human situation.
We like to say that “every Soldier is a sensor,” but we rarely tune our sensors. The result is that they pick up white noise or general atmospherics at best. When a commander is conscientiously focused on collecting relevant information for his ASCOPE/PMESII, he is reminded by the document itself of what he does not know. Therefore, he can generate Priority Information Requirements (PIR) and Information Requirements (IR). This then causes NCO’s to focus on the real discipline of war; focus on the mission. Instead of focusing on reflective belt wear, they become relentless about their Pre-Combat Checks (PCC’s) and Pre-Combat Inspections (PCI’s), ensuring that each Soldier can tell him exactly what the commander is looking for. Driven by the ASCOPE/PMESII, this is bound to be population-centric in focus. We no longer find our Soldiers conducting “Presence Patrols” (a term that does not exist in doctrine), but instead they are performing Reconnaissance (which is found in doctrine). We cease to violate our own principles, which we have and continue to violate due to not understanding what our roles should be. Instead of the oft-heard phrase, “We came to a war and garrison broke out,” now we are back to fighting a war which relies on information and ideas just as much as it does physical force.
The ASCOPE/PMESII also is the beginning of bigger and better things. From it, as we learn more about an area, we should begin to recognize the three prerequisites for insurgency as they emerge from the human mosaic that we are creating; a vulnerable population, a weak (or perceived to be weak) government, and leadership available for direction (insurgent leaders both military and political). If all politics is local, then insurgency is local and therefore counterinsurgency is local. There is no prescription that works in each area, and so each area must be examined in detail in order for these prerequisites to emerge. Oddly enough, these prerequisites are parallel to the factors of instability, where, for instance, the vulnerability of the population is the grievances they hold that keep them separate from their government. The information gathered in the ASCOPE/PMESII then becomes the basis for the Stability Framework (or District Stability Framework).
Designed at USAID as the District Stability Framework, this is a logical process which drives program design at whatever level it is employed. It can be applied at the village, district and provincial levels. It is often confused with the Tactical Conflict Assessment and Planning Framework (TCAPF) which can be applied as part of the Stability Framework. TCAPF, however, has gotten something of a bad name, as a key part of it is the four questions that have proven problematic in implementation. That could be the subject of a post all its own. Whether the four questions are used or not, local perceptions must be discovered and used during the design process. The intent is to avoid the behavior which has gotten us to where we are after having spent billions of dollars, often without any positive impact on stability. There have been successes, true, but there have also been dismal failures; and they are legion. Our standard answer to any question of development has seemingly been, “build a road, build a school, build a clinic.” However, what if the people in a given area do not need a road, cannot staff a school and have no doctor for their clinic? What if the real dissatisfaction with the government in that area has nothing to do with anything that can be addressed by a road, school or clinic? Often enough, this has been the case. We have built schools only to have them burned. We have built roads that only inspired strife over whose property was damaged and the fact that local communities watched workers from other provinces or even other countries make money building them, while their own people suffered unemployment. We have built clinics only to have the doctors intimidated into leaving, or having no practitioners to staff them and few medical supplies. All the while, the real causes of violence and instability in that area may be, for instance, land disputes due to displaced persons returning to find their land occupied by squatters who now refuse to leave their crops. We find people who are disgusted with their inability to gain access to justice unless they can pay the bribes. Meanwhile, our understaffed clinic does nothing to heal the wounds of neighbors coming to blows over squabbles that need to be adjudicated.
The Taliban can offer governance; courts that cannot be bought, justice that is impartial if harsh.
When the enemy offers a competing “product” that is preferred over the government services, you’ve got a real problem. Insurgency is a competition to govern. All the violence stems from that. Destroy the insurgent’s ability to influence and you’ve rendered him irrelevant, regardless of whether or not you’ve rendered him inert. There will be violence. If you are successful, the insurgent will become enraged and desperate. Military tactics will have to find ways to prevent the insurgent access to the population in order to prevent widespread intimidation campaigns from succeeding. But all the while, any appeal that the insurgent may have, you are addressing. You have learned about the people, places and things that are important in that community. You have listened to the insurgent explain to you your weaknesses as he pleads his case to the people. You have listened to the people (not just the “leaders”) and then analyzed what the systemic cause, rather than the perceptive cause, of the problem is. You’ve developed a logical program to address these systemic problems along with not only measures of output (which we are good at), but measures of effectiveness (which are more difficult). You are measuring and adjusting as you go.
All of this starts with learning about the area in which you are assigned the responsibility to operate. You did this by utilizing a simple framework which established a common operational language with your partners (because they’re using this, too). This, in turn, helped you to establish a common operational picture, which promoted unity of effort. By using a common framework, all of that is achievable. It is doctrinally sound, based on the principles of FM 3-24. The Stability Framework (or District Stability Framework), developed and used by USAID, is doctrinally sound by FM 3-07 (Stability Operations). They used military doctrine to their own advantage and it works when it is utilized in a holistic, partnered environment. But the first step is actually doing the ASCOPE/PMESII.
Is the ASCOPE/PMESII framework perfect? Simply, no. Nothing is. It is a pretty good tool, though. Pretty good is good enough. We can drive ourselves crazy shopping for the perfect tool that doesn’t exist. One problem is the endless series of “X is better,” or “we started using X, and we don’t want to change.” Many units and organizations, prior to being exposed to the ASCOPE/PMESII crosswalk, recognize the tool gap and either search for a tool or create one themselves. Once there is intellectual ownership, particularly among academics, it is difficult to get them to migrate to a standard toolset. However, there is tremendous power in using standardized tools, as discussed above. COMISAF has realized this, and we are expecting a FRAGO to standardize the tools. The benefit of having specific tools to train with and then execute on the ground is that units can share data… on a common framework… prior to actually arriving on the ground. This is not modeling software or simulation stuff. This is real world data about the area in which a unit operates or will operate. This is situational awareness. Most of the big rocks are covered in this framework, and if there is something that overlaps data “fields,” then you put it in each area where it could have pertinence. Think outside the box, but write your answer in the box… where you can find it when you need it.
It has been said that Afghanistan is the graveyard not of empires, but of databases. There is so much information out there that has been gathered and then lost in the morass of isolated (unlinked) proprietary databases. You can never find what you need when you need it. We have created the crazy cat lady garage of data, and you can barely find anything amongst all the cat feces and rubbish. The ASCOPE/PMESII can be done in any format, but it is organized. You can use A through E binders with PMESII tabs, or you can use the nifty Excel spreadsheet that the British developed for their Human Terrain Packs. Either way, when you talk about your data elements, all your partners will know what you are talking about and why it’s relevant. And, when you want to do an economic project, you will know who the Economic People are and where to find them.
This is the tool that is going to be used. Tool shopping time is over. Now it’s time to learn how to use them and then actually apply these principles on the ground.
That’s the short answer to a detailed, well-timed comment.
A couple of commenters on the post “Trending Positive” deserve answers. I’m going to take them in logical instead of chronological order. So the first question is, “Is this (COIN) what we our troops should be doing?”.
Yes. The why of it requires an answer that spans a number of subjects ranging from the purpose of having armed forces to the dangers of foreign national/regional instability in the era of globalization. We have, in part, created this very situation with our own might. By that I don’t mean that our various “nefarious plots” are coming home to roost. I mean that we are too strong for others to take on toe-to-toe with any reasonable assurance of possible success.
Insurgents are not insurgents because they always aspired to be insurgents. They are insurgents out of weakness in the face of vastly superior physical strength. They dare not mass and present targets for overmatching firepower. In 2007, Afghan insurgents dared on several occasions to mass up to company-plus strength and attempt maneuver warfare. This led to mass casualties for the insurgents. One of the strengths of the insurgent is his ability to control his loss rate by controllong how much of his force he exposes to the risk of loss. This, however, sacrifices the ability to inflict more losses on the counterinsurgent… nothing ventured, nothing gained. We know that this insurgency actually thinks in this manner, as they have openly referred to their operations in terms of classic Maoist insurgent doctrinal terms such as “strategic defensive,” the phase they have achieved in much of the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan.
All of that is enemy centric. Insurgency is a political problem with an armed and violent component, not a military problem with a political element. If you choose a method other than Counterinsurgency to fight an insurgency, such as counter-guerrilla warfare, you are doomed to fail; you are fighting a type of warfare other than that in which you are engaged. If you are not conducting Stability Operations, you are leaving in place the very problems that left room for an insurgency to gain traction. In analyzing the events in Afghanistan, it is chrystal clear that we are are engaged in countering an insurgency. Therefore, COIN and its parent, Stability Operations are the types of operations we must use to defeat it.
This is not impossible, nor is it an impenetrable mystery. It is less dangerous for the average American Soldier or Marine than nearly any other American conflict to date. It is not an unreasonable task to ask of the Armed Forces of the United States… unless we do not train them for or support them in the effort.
Yes, this what our forces should be doing. Now, it must be understood that the military/security aspect is only one leg of a three-legged stool that includes Governance and Reconstruction and Development as the other two legs. Military COIN Operations are useless without these concurrent efforts, and these efforts are not most effectively performed by military forces. They require such governmental organs as the State Department and USAID. That is part of supporting the troops in the field; not committing them to an effort that is half-baked from the start.
Appropriate delivery of Stabilization Operations can actually diffuse a latent insurgency and innoculate against the potential of having to engage in COIN Operations.
In order to buy in to the concept that our organs of foreign policy need to be engaged in Stability Operations in far-flung regions of the world, one must accept the events of 9/11, London, Madrid, and Mumbai as manifestations of the new reality of living in a globalized world. Non-state actors can now deliver violence on a scale that would previously have been available only to nation-states. The Soviet Union would have loved to have punched a hole in the Pentagon. The Third Reich would have have committed significant resources to knocking down the tallest buildings in New York if it had been feasible. Both would have found it delicious to do so without presenting a clear, easy target for retribution. Neither found it within their grasp to do so. Yet non-state groups, loosely confederated and working in a distributed manner, headquartered in a dark backwater of the world found the means to organize and execute such attacks employing effective methods, such as the largest cruise missiles ever launched, without presenting an obvious target for retaliation. The deterrent of our massive conventional capability and nuclear arsenal meant nothing. Welcome to the New World Order.
The second question had to do with the President’s “run away date.”. It’s not a run away date. It is a date that he hopes to start drawing down from the surge. This has caused some problems domestically, although the Democratic Party leadership is happy; it’s what they always demanded from President Bush. It has caused more problems in Afghanistan, because the message was misunderstood. Many, both here and abroad, heard, “run away date.” For Afghans, that could easily mean, “Time for me to figure out Plan B.” That is not what I need for my Afghan counterpart to be doing. We could really use a clarification from the President on what he really meant when he made the statement.
It was also a call to action for both the Coalition and the Afghans to show progress, the lack of which could spur abandonment of the mission. To be fair, the only ones who probably have a solid definition of the consequences for failing to show adequate progress are GEN McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry. The rest of us only have educate guesses at best.
That being said, GEN McChrystal has a more than solid grasp of both Stability and COIN Operations. His problem is not one of a lack of personal vision, but the challenge of getting a very diverse group of people of all levels of education to understand and to execute the intent that the vision generates. This challenge cannot be understated, but it is not insurmountable. GEN McChrystal has demonstrated not only a powerful vision, but the tactical patience to get the ship to begin turning despite counterforce and inertia. That is an achievement in its own right. I’m encouraged.
Those who disparage GEN McChrystal demonstrate a marked lack of knowledge of COIN and Stability Operations. When you don’t know what right looks like, there are many stones to be thrown. Unfortunately, some of those voices have developed the illusion of authority on the subject, but my observations lead me to sense a lack of any deep understanding other than a bunch of popular buzzwords. This is also indicated by praise for commanders who have been some of the worst practitioners of COIN ever to wear an American flag in Afghanistan while slamming the best commander that has yet served on the ground here.
None of these spurious calls for GEN McChrystal to be fired do anyone any favors. History will show these calls to be ill-advised. That’s a long time to wait. In the meantime, perhaps my current, firsthand knowledge of Afghanistan, fairly extensive travel within the country, and experience as a combat asdvisor in this theater, along with a strong enough knowledge of both COIN and Stability Operations to have taught them to the O-7 level, will suffice as my bona fides. Assuming that these qualifications are adequate, let me be clear that such wildly cast aspersions as to the abilities of COMISAF are not the works of an educated, well-considered opinion and are of no analytical value whatsoever. In fact, such unsupported yet vociferous noises are irresponsible and potentially dangerous. It would be, in my informed and considered opinion, wise to ignore such calls and understand that correspondents can be very skilled at description and capturing imagery while being dangerously ill-equipped for providing worthwhile analysis. To the reader at home it may be difficult to tell, so hopefully hearing it from a serving Soldier with a stromg enough knowledge of COIN to successfully teach it will be helpful in clarifying the issue.
I run around training, mostly the militaries of the various nations present, in counterinsurgency. There is a fair amount of traveling as well. So far it is rare to find a unit actually implementing the most basic of population-centric tools to get to know the people whom they operate amongst. We teach a framework called ASCOPE/PMESII (usually called ASCOPE for short… long “a”). It’s frustrating. ASCOPE is just a framework for gathering information. It helps a unit to organize information across much of the society and the main influencing factors as possible. Many leaders that I’ve met in my travels say, “Oh, yeah! I took the COIN course. Good stuff!” So I suggest that we look at their ASCOPE and see how they’re doing on it, where they are having problems identifying key players, etc.
“Oh. Well, we don’t have time for that.”
Really? No time for the steppingstone behavior to not only learning about the operational environment… but to actually passing it on to your successor? No time for that. Great. So, the thing that units have been complaining about for years… that they come in with no real understanding of the people and key systems in place in the local communities… will simply continue. Some of the other instructors say that they have run into units who are actually documenting their environments, but I personally have not.
The ASCOPE also a document where the prerequisites for insurgency should begin to disclose themselves; a vulnerable population, leadership available for direction, and lack (or perceived lack) of government control. It’s where, by grouping the information, the unit should begin to see patterns emerge. Still not interested.
I’m actually astounded by the massive proportion of American military officers who have never cracked open the manual, FM 3-24. We are averaging 3 out of every 25-30 who come through here who have actually read the doctrine, the methodology by which they are expected to work. There will sometimes be one who has read Galula. These are informal hand-raising polls, but the results are fairly consistent.
There has been an influx of civilians. I don’t know that I would call it a “surge,” but it has certainly been an influx. Lots of USAID, State Department and contractors that work for such entities and others. They are focused on governance and development issues. A USAID contractor developed a tool called “TCAPF” (Tactical Conflict Assessment Planning Framework) to measure popular opinion. It starts with four questions asked to random citizens in isolation (meaning not in the middle of a crowd, not hustled into a soundproof booth). From that, trends analysis, problem set identification and program design can be done… if the tool is used properly from front to back end. It is meant to help identify and set a methodology for addressing the root causes of instability. If the questioner leads the interviewee even a little it can horribly skew the output, so it is a sensitive tool, but it is showing promising results and a number of areas are using a lot of TCAPF data to good effect. It provides a way to include local input that doesn’t come strictly from leaders who may be biased in their own motives.
We teach that TCAPF is to be used in conjunction with ASCOPE information to correlate to and to help identify what are referred to in Stability doctrine as factors of instability. To my mind, these factors are parallel to the prerequisites of insurgency. However, the evangelists of TCAPF have gotten some units using it before they even received any COIN training, and while that may not be disastrous it is certainly not optimal.
Civilians and military working together is proving challenging. There are preconceived notions on each side. You can imagine. Yes, the civilian preconception is that the military is full of knuckle-dragging linear thinkers who would prefer to drop JDAMs rather than figure out how to unscrew a corrupt sub-governor. Yes, the military preconception is that the civilians are granola-munching, Birkenstock-wearing flower children wannabe’s with naive ideas about what they are in for.
Those preconceptions are being challenged every day. There are some really good relationships being formed out there. There are places where Fusion Cells are working extremely well.
There are challenging people on both sides. We do, apparently, have a knuckle-dragger or two. The civilians have people such as Hoh, the poster child for civilian idiots… even if he is/was a military officer. He was here functioning as a civilian and epitomizes the Ugly American in action. Fortunately, there are a lot of really good people who are doing the best that they can. Hoh and is ilk are anomalies. Granted, we cannot yet call them rarities. I’m aware of a few Hoh’s in the making, just as I’ve spotted a few knuckle-dragging gravel angel-makers. But, the good ones outnumber the poor ones by a goodly percentage. At least they are thinking right.
Civilians often don’t view themselves as counterinsurgents, but they can get along with the Stability idea. Okay… so let’s teach them Stability Ops and dovetail it in with the COIN the way that it should be. It seems to be working okay. Unless, of course, you put a group through training, but they somehow have the idea that it’s a working group to improve the training instead of actually taking the course where feedback is welcome. You can imagine the clash of paradigms. This is where I got a rather negative impression of a person who also blogs, whose writings I had appreciated before, but who I had no idea was at the course.
Poorly established expectation, that. It set up an adversarial dynamic which pretty much derailed the learning environment and upset everyone. We’re working to fix that. One of the comments taken from the class written reviews on the training was, “Don’t have a working group and try to instruct at the same time.” That tells you where their heads were right there. They actually thought it was a working group, not a class. No, it was a class. I don’t know who told them it was a working group and that they were a bunch of SME’s whose sole intent was to critique the new POI (which had been taught to a similar group several weeks ago without the same outcome). We won’t be making that mistake again.
Granted, the same instructional techniques used for teaching ANA officers and NCO’s can’t be used with a group full of people with advanced degrees, but when very few of them have read the Stability Operations manual, it’s difficult to teach the doctrine when they want to argue with points that we cannot change and which require submission of suggestions through the proponent agency. Even if they are good ideas. But the dynamic that arose diverted the normal instruction into a series of defenses of doctrine and trying to provide examples to demonstrate the behaviors that have been observed in theater. It became adversarial and unnecessarily so. Everyone walked away exhausted, and the students actually became resistant to being taught.
They didn’t think that’s what they were there for.
It seems that we have learned from the experience. One suggestion was that if students had suggestions for improvements, they write them down and submit them at the end of the day or the end of the course. That would allow students to assist in improving the training without being disruptive. Secondly, it became clear that expectations need to be clarified on the front end. Students at a course must not be led to believe that they are part of a peer review of the material, even though we want their honest feedback on how to make the Program of Instruction (POI) better.
While COIN and Stability Operations dovetail with each other, Stability Operations uses a more civilian-friendly approach and language. In COIN, we talk about “Targeting,” which means targeting all kinds of effects, not just kinetic (lethal) effects. Civilians have a hard time with that terminology, even though back home we are all parts of someone’s “target demographic.” Civilians “target” things. They have target markets, target goals, fund-raising targets and programs that target specific issues or problems… but when there are guys in green suits around, suddenly “Targeting” means dropping a JDAM or aiming a weapon.
Okay. So let’s call it something nice and do the same thing. The end result is that we have to target specific problems that groups of people have in an area. These are things that are causing them to either not care or actually oppose the government. They are very often valid issues, with their anger directed against the government or the coalition who is here to help them establish a decent government so that they can govern themselves without having to put up with a bunch of terrorists coming around. We need to identify what those issues are and help them address them in a non-violent way. If we (the government and the coalition) need to use a little violence to rid the neighborhood of a particularly noisome troublemaker or to defend ourselves or the people because said troublemaker decides to interfere with governance kinetically (bad guys shoot at us), then that’s part of it, too. But, let’s come up with a name everyone can live with.
“Problem set identification” seems to be catching on.
Most of the problems here that prove most troublesome are not problems that the military can solve. Once we accept that security is a key in each locality, but that issues such as good courts and non-corrupt administrators are the essential keys to ongoing development and legitimacy, then we see that lots of civilian help is needed. Using terminology that works for them, as well as a methodology (doctrine) that provides a more well-rounded approach is important. Stability goes beyond counterinsurgency.
Recently Captain Scaribay and I trained three Turkish OMLT’s (Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams) at the Turkish Camp Dogan. We had been told that all the Turks could speak and read English, so we sauntered on over to teach a nationality that we had never worked with totally unconcerned with the challenges of language.
Bad intel. About a third could speak a reasonable amount of English, another third understood a good bit of what was said but found it difficult to discuss it in English, and a good third of them couldn’t speak a lick of English. For us, who are used to working with and through interpreters, you would think that the situation would not be that difficult. But we had no interpreter. The team leaders, Lieutenant Colonels, had to interpret for their men. This was incredibly time consuming compared to using an experienced interpreter. The Turks themselves were very interested in in-depth discussions on nearly every point, which made for a great learning experience for them; it also made a one hour class drag into three hours.
Still, they did well.
I had not seen Camp Dogan since early May, 2007. Even then, I had only seen what I could from just inside the gate. I had a significant emotional experience there that I mentioned on a post, describing two young Afghan children who appeared to be about two playing with what I imagined were their only toys… made of mud. The field where I had seen them playing is now occupied by a new home. In fact, on the road next to Camp Dogan there has been a significant amount of construction. Kids still hang out at the ECP (Entry Control Point,) but the ECP itself has changed considerably and Camp Dogan itself has changed as well.
Being my first real experiences with Turks, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was amazed at the cleanliness and order of the Turkish headquarters. There was a soldier on duty whose job it was to mop up any footprints as soon as they were made. At least that’s how it seemed. We were shown in to the Commander’s office which was very nicely appointed and served beverages immediately upon arrival. Coffee (Turkish, strong) for me and chai (also Turkish and strong) for CPT Scaribay. When it comes to flavor, the Turks don’t play. We were to find the same to be true of Turkish food.
We had also been told that our accommodations were taken care of as well, but the Turkish Colonel seemed surprised that we were intending to stay with them during the course. He quickly issued a series of orders in Turkish and the aid went scurrying off. We were then shown to the classroom where we would conduct the training. It was, in the words of CPT Scaribay, “the safest classroom ever.” We were to teach in a bunker which had been equipped as an MWR by the Turks. There were several seating areas arranged with sofas and matching chairs, and a few tables. The Turks have a certain flair for decorating, and antique weapons hung on the walls while floral displays adorned brick niches. It had the air of a manly hunting lodge. A coffee and tea bar complete with bar stools graced one side of the room. The bunker/lounge would serve nicely. It was a break from conference rooms or tents.
The Navy Captain who was in charge of arranging for the in-country ISAF training for the OMLT’s left, and we were shown to another office to wait while our accommodations were arranged. Of course, there were more beverages. Turks don’t skimp on hospitality, either.
When our room was ready, the young aid came and led us to the quarters. They were brand new, not yet plumbed. Inside were two beds, a small table and two chairs. The beds were made. We dropped our rucks and helmets and were soon off to walk around and see the camp.
One thing I noticed was that the Turks are extremely well-disciplined. Whenever an officer or senior NCO neared them the soldiers stood at rigid attention, fingers straight as opposed to our curled-fingered position. The officer rank was fairly easy to read, but the NCO rank looked very similar to U.S. Air Force rank, upside down chevrons curling under a symbol comprised of a wreath topped with a crescent and star. The Turks also marched groups of soldiers as small as four. Physical training was often done at the squad and platoon level, with formations running around their 1K track that wound around the small camp. Of all the forces in Afghanistan, the Turks behave most like an army encamped.
We learned that the camp was occupied not only by Turkish soldiers and airmen but also by Albanians and Azerbaijanis. We marveled to see that ordinary soldiers occupied tents with no cots. A soccer game was in full swing on a small soccer field in what looked to have been a fenced-in tennis court… fully lined with astro-turf. Goals had been built into the ends. It was perfect. Nearby, on a volleyball court, the JV warmed up their soccer skills, apparently awaiting an opportunity to play.
We had been told that the Turkish chow was good. It was not. It was excellent. Amazing. The best food I’ve had in Afghanistan, edging out the turkmani palau at Bala Hissar. “Great,” I said to CPT Scaribay, “Now I’m going to have to find a good Turkish restaurant in Cincinnati. Do you know what the chances of that are? There may be one, and I may never find it!”
The Turkish mess hall had several fairly large LCD TV’s hung from the ceiling. Turkish TV is an eye-opener. It is surprisingly like American TV, with really good production values. The commercials were telling as to the economy and scenes of (like American TV, idealized) urban life in Turkey. You can tell a lot about a society from its commercials. While the production values of the commercials were excellent and the scenes and attire were quite western, most of the commercials were fairly serious in their intent, either selling hard or setting an ideal. I prefer humorous commercials, but the insight into Turkish society and the portrayal of the values was interesting.
A few minutes into the meal, the TV’s were muted and suddenly everyone rose. CPT Scaribay and I instinctively rose as well. A senior NCO loudly spoke a sentence, which was repeated by the assembled. He spoke another, which was also repeated. The Sergeant then indicated an individual, who spoke a short sentence which was answered with a one-word shouted response from the soldiers and officers. Then everyone sat and resumed their meal. This was to occur at every meal. CPT Scaribay and I likened it to the singing of the “Big Red One” song by the 1st Infantry Division at Ft Riley. All of the Combat Advisors-in-training there used to just mumble most of the words except the words, “Big Red One” whenever they came up in the song. On the second day we asked one of the senior Sergeants with whom we were eating about the ritual. It is apparently a prayer of thanks for the food.
After dinner we walked back to where we were billeted and observed the Turkish troops living normal garrison life in Afghanistan. As we stood near the prefab building our eyes caught movement. At first glance it was a cat; black and white.
“I don’t think that’s a cat,” said Scaribay.
“It looks like a…,” I began.
“Rabbit? That can’t be a rabbit,” returned Scaribay.
“I’ll be dipped. It’s a FOBrabbit. A frabbit,” I continued.
“That can’t be a wild rabbit,” he pondered.
“I’ve never seen anyone keep frabbits in Afghanistan,” I offered.
“You wouldn’t think of it, would you?” he asked.
“Nope. First time.”
The next morning I was to see that there was not one, but five fully grown frabbits and some wee frabbits as well… which is, after all, the way of frabbits.
Working with the Turks was another excellent experience. They were professional, worked hard to understand the concepts completely while fighting through a language barrier, and applied their existing knowledge to the situation. They certainly brought enthusiasm to the task as well.
On the second day, during a break, I noticed Turkish flags being hung in a decorative way with another flag, which was quickly determined to be the flag of Azerbaijan. We noticed troops marching in formation and music that we thought was coming from a building, but was in fact being broadcast over loudspeakers. I don’t know if it was the national anthem of Azerbaijan, but it was certainly a very patriotic song about Azerbaijan. We could tell because the booming male voice said, “Azerbaijan” a lot. It turned out to be Azerbaijan’s Independence Day. Soon, that song was stuck in my head.
Soon enough, we had to bid the Turkish Army, Air Force and Navy personnel good bye and head back to the ranch. The Turkish hospitality was excellent. They really went out of their way to make us feel welcome. The food was truly excellent, and even the beds were the best I’ve slept in on either tour. The mattresses were like futon mattresses. I almost offered to buy it from them. All of this is rare in a country where we are sometimes very lucky to get a cot in a tent with a gravel floor. None of this should be construed to mean that the Turks live in luxury; they clearly don’t. The camp was fairly austere, and the Turks are serious soldiers, but our hosts made sure that we were well taken care of. It was truly an interesting experience. It will probably be repeated before I leave this country again. New experiences, new people to meet and work with, new challenges in communicating ideas…
… and the legendary Frabbits of Dogan.
An article by the Associated Press’ Robert Reid nicely sums up the two camps that have formed under the Obama Administration regarding the way forward in Afghanistan. This is the second time this year that the two camps have squared off. The first round was apparently won by the COINdinistas, with some wiggle room, of course. That is not what the title of the article specifically addresses, but in a way it has come to serve as a synopsis of the internal argument in the administration. One side says, “Mission Accomplished,” and the other side says, “If we do more or less what we did the last time, we will have commensurate results.”
We are having real problems learning from past experiences. If a boxer fights another boxer, and whenever he bobs to the left he catches a right cross from the opposing boxer, he learns quickly that he need not bob left against this particular opponent. September 11, 2001 was just such a right cross from our opponent. Many say that we did not pick this fight; many others say that we did. They say that we picked it by taking sides surreptitiously in the Soviet-Afghan War, and that we did it again by abandoning a devastated Afghanistan as they tried to reassemble themselves. We funded and trained bin Laden and many of his cronies, and now he has turned that organization, formed to accomplish ends that we wholeheartedly supported, against us.
Now a group led by Vice President Joe Biden wants to repeat that blunder. Some people in the administration are saying that al-Qaeda is down to 100 full-timers.
U.S. national security adviser James Jones said last weekend that the al-Qaida presence has diminished, and he does not “foresee the return of the Taliban” to power.
He said that according to the maximum estimate, al-Qaida has fewer than 100 fighters operating in Afghanistan without any bases or ability to launch attacks on the West.
“If the Taliban did return to power, I believe we are strong enough to deter them from attacking us again by strong and credible punishment and by containing them with regional allies like India, China and Russia,” said former State Department official Leslie Gelb.
Folks, that’s not what events on the ground here are telling us. Al-Qaeda has recognized that Iraq is a lost cause for them. Yes, there are still local troublemakers trying to regain their lost glory as insurgent leaders stretching out the process, but that is the way of insurgencies. Iraq will not settle completely down this year, but the al-Qaeda cadre has largely left that country and made their way to Pakistan. We have seen that in the level of financial and technical support in the Haqqani elements, the HiG and even the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST). The level of sophistication in the technology of IED’s, for instance, having remained relatively flat for years, has taken leaps. These guys want for us to believe that this is a coincidence. The average Joe on the ground here who has a frame of reference realizes that the Taliban/HiG/Haqqani in Afghanistan have not suddenly and magically reemerged as something radically more capable. Something has been added to the mix.
Coincidence? Uncle Joe, et al, would lead you to believe that. Al-Qaeda is not only not dead; it is only the poster child for a syndrome that is repeatable. We are living in a globalized world. The world has changed, and our thinking has to a great extent not kept up with it. Unstable failed or failing nations can spawn organizations that will wish to influence us and our policies by bringing violence to our shores not via aircraft carriers and intercontinental bombers, but via airliners, tramp steamers, small but far-ranging private aircraft; trains, planes and automobiles. Never before in the history of mankind have small groups had such capabilities. It is one thing for a group to VBIED a U.S. Embassy in a small African country. It is quite another to punch a hole in the Pentagon. Even Mother Russia, with her enormous destructive power, devious KGB and bellicose manners never managed to do that. It doesn’t matter if the name of that group was al-Qaeda or the Hindu Kush Symphony Orchestra. Leaving states like Afghanistan to the whims of radical and primitive organizations is not a recipe for national security.
“Containment.” We have seen what “containment” does. Worked wonders on Iraq, is doing great things for Iran, and has really kept North Korea at bay (missile launches from the last two notwithstanding, of course). So, they don’t see the Taliban taking power again… like anyone saw them coming the first time… but if they do, we can rely on Russia, China and India to contain them? That sounds like a recipe for success now, doesn’t it? We can count on what we are now calling “regional allies” in the entities of Russia and China to look out for our interests and those of our NATO allies? And Pakistan won’t see our reliance on India as a new threat from the east for them, of course. It’s not like they’ve been trying to keep Afghanistan unstable for years in order to provide for their own “strategic depth” in the event of an all-out Indo-Pakistani War.
There are many people who are adding their voices to the din at this point. Some point out that population-centric counterinsurgency, or pop-centric COIN, was ultimately successful in Iraq. Many will contend with that, choosing instead to attribute success to a myriad of factors all exclusive of changing our behaviors, including that the Iraqis were somehow suddenly sick and tired of killing each other. Those who were on the ground at that time, both military and civilian, will tell very different stories. Many of those civilians, and some of those military, have now joined us on the ground here with plans of using lessons learned (not necessarily specific TTP’s) to have similar effects in Afghanistan. Those who argue that the Iraqis somehow magically became more amenable regardless of any changes in our behavior do so, from my perspective, for their own reasons.
Some of the greatest proponents of this argument do so out of what appears to be the politics of personal injury. Some had their young hearts broken in Vietnam and later suffered further loss in this war. Nothing short of an immediate existential threat is a good enough reason for war to them. Some have found themselves left out of or even severely criticized by the narrative of the Iraq Surge. They have lashed out, personally injured and offended, and have wound up on the opposite end of the spectrum in positions now so entrenched as to be nearly a caricature of the overall argument. Some fear that a successful counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan will lock in military counterinsurgency as the cornerstone of national foreign policy for decades. These conversations are now becoming years old. Add to that a public that, while it ignored Afghanistan, somehow assumed it to be morally right and relatively straightforward and easy to understand. Low casualties and this assumption of moral and political simplicity led them to assume that it was not in the least bit as complicated, dangerous or confusing as Iraq.
Then came the divide and conquer tactic: Iraq bad; Afghanistan good. Obama was not weak on the subject of national defence. He only wanted out of the “bad” war so that he could actually devote the proper resources to the “good” war. His supporters parroted this call, as I saw repeatedly in online debates. It allayed the fears of millions that Obama would retreat in the face of adversity. Well, now that the American people have started paying attention to the “good” war, it turns out to be much less simple. As I’ve said, it makes their heads hurt with its complexity. The people, heads all sore, begin to waver. Joe Biden, who is at huge odds with Hamid Karzai (he once, as a Senator, stormed away from the dinner table during a meeting with him), has wanted from day one to make this a Special Forces/drone mission in Pakistan. The looming reelection of Karzai has not tempered that attitude, I am sure. So Team Biden wants to solve our problems by invading Pakistan with with Special Forces, drone strikes that Obama supporters railed against during the election, “credible punishment” like 63 cruise missiles, and containment by India, Russia and China.
One question… has Pakistan agreed to any of this, or is invading a sovereign country only a bad thing when a guy’s name starts with “B”? From everything I’ve heard, Pakistan has refused to let American troops try to chase down al-Qaeda or Pakistani Taliban on sovereign Pakistani soil. The standing Pakistani Army is larger than our own. They are a proud, sovereign country and while their ISI has been singularly unhelpful in Afghanistan, I don’t believe that just doing whatever we want in Pakistan without their approval would be the “right” thing to do. It would almost certainly destabilize Pakistan further. Our alignment with India as one of our strategic containment partners will surely help the Pakistanis feel somewhat more secure, but there is a small chance that they won’t like it at all. Maybe not so small, really. Okay; they would absolutely hate it and feel very threatened.
The Biden Plan reeks of simplistic Rambo thinking. It is also a return to the same types of behaviors that left us with this festering sore on the face of Central Asia and a smoking hole in New York City. It’s amazing that it’s even being considered… unless it is the administration’s straw man. It’s practically an idiot-check. What next; a gravel angel contest? If I were the President, I’d ask all of my advisers who bought this argument and fire everyone who raised their hands for incompetence.
The people who are saying that the answer is to not continue to repeat the mistakes of the past are the people, both military and civilian, who are and have been closely associated with the Afghan question. Those who are claiming that al-Qaeda is in effect finished are not now and never have been intimately familiar with Central Asia. It could be argued that they have a political viewpoint and not a strategic viewpoint. What could possibly be the political pull strong enough to get otherwise intelligent, educated men to forget the lessons of the 1990’s and the foreign policy assumptions of post WW-II anti-communist paranoia that have led to the birth of non-state actors with global destructive reach and goals?
This is the opportunity to reverse the ill effects of the outmoded superpower behaviors of the past. This is an opportunity to begin to practice the types of foreign policy behaviors that will prevent failed and failing nations from becoming such a personal threat to Americans. The true example of Afghanistan is not in our military involvement but in the “civilian surge.” It is in the capacity-building arms that we are developing within our State Department, USAID, and other organizations. It is moving from John Candy in “Volunteers” to the types of foreign policy behaviors that will support and uphold societies who have been broken at their cores to stand back up according to their own needs and values. It is learning the lessons of “The Ugly American”. That is what we are deciding to continue or abandon, because in this very dangerous country we have let it slide to the point that nothing less than a full effort will permit these development efforts to occur. It is, in effect, all or nothing, and that’s something that Americans seem to have lost the ability to comprehend. We complain about the Afghans sitting on the fence, but we need to look at ourselves for sitting on the couch. Now is when we decide to take the easy out or to do the hard right thing.
Now is when we decide whether dad finishes the job, or if his son is left with an even larger problem.
The Counterinsurgency Training Center – Afghanistan is growing, and its role in propagating the doctrine of counterinsurgency, or COIN, across many organizations is growing. Students of counterinsurgency from every branch of the United States Military, all of our NATO and Coalition allies, and most importantly Afghans from government, the Afghan Military, Afghan National Police and even non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) are being trained in counterinsurgency every week. Some of this training is conducted on site at the CTC-A, while other training is carried directly to the units and organizations in the field.
The curriculum is reviewed each month in a constant process of refining the presentation of materials to keep the training relevant to the current conditions in the theater. New tools are reviewed carefully for applicability. Pathways to better integration with civilian and military organizations and capabilities are sought, examined carefully, and advice is given on implementation. Partners are discovered, encouraged, educated and assisted. Relationships are cemented and expanded to include new organizations and capabilities. Lastly, through discussion and interface during training including diverse groups, personal contacts are forged that continue to drive productive partnership development.
Innovative doctrinally-based approaches to counterinsurgency training and implementation are being developed and fielded in conjunction with other organizations. Methods for operationalizing doctrinal frameworks and concepts are being sought, developed, tested and fielded. The CTC-A is a center for COIN thought that does not depend on solutions being pushed forward by offices in the United States, with solutions tuned to the specific environment of Afghanistan. The staff at the CTC-A are constantly learning, acquiring as much knowledge as possible to drive insights into such developments.
In that spirit of continuous education and professional development, an Honorary Library has been established at the CTC-A. Donations of books are sought which will be available to students and staff alike to spur further learning about counterinsurgency, history (especially Afghan and Central Asian history) and related topics. It is very easy to donate and become a part of this learning. Simply follow this link and the name of the wish list is “COIN Library – Kabul.” Donations of used books from the wish list can be mailed to:
c/o Scott Kesterson
APO AE 09320
Your contributions will help to keep the minds of the counterinsurgent trainers and students bright as they work together to resolve a very complex insurgency. This is a way that you can support forwarding counterinsurgency doctrine, training and implementation in Afghanistan and have a direct impact on the success of the mission here. Please consider making a contribution to the fight and arming counterinsurgents with knowledge. Sometimes, a counterinsurgent’s best weapons do not shoot.
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.
A few days ago I had the opportunity to visit my old stomping grounds in Kapisa, and stay at FOB Morales-Frazier, the scene of many adventures in Kapisa. It was surprising, pleasant, poignant, encouraging and disappointing all rolled up into one big ball. First, the FOB, which was still called a Firebase when I left, a step down from a FOB in the hierarchy of combat structures, has exploded. FOB Morales-Frazier, or M-F to the local military speakers, has now become home to hundreds. When SFC O, SSG Maniac and I arrived there in late May of 2007, this large area was occupied by a Special Forces ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) and a light company of ANA and their ETT’s; a few dozen people. The entire compound, an area of approximately 400 x 600 meters, is full of tents, structures and vehicles. It is a small town of its own.
Amazed, I climbed the tower in what used to be the ODA compound and looked over the scene. I could easily see the original structures and the original Hesco boundaries of previous fiefdoms; the Special Forces, the compound that the SF referred to as the “overflow” compound, which those of us who suffered its privations called “GITFO” for “Git The Freak Out,” and what the few American Soldiers there now call “The Alamo;” the scene of O, the Maniac and my first good shelling.
The American Provincial Police Mentor Team (PMT-P) for Kapisa occupies structures that my group had built. What was built for us to use as a kitchen/chow hall has now been divided in half and is used for offices for the PMT-P and the PRT. The Hesco compound boundary has had a hole knocked out of it, allowing a pass-through to the French area beyond where French Soldiers and Marines live, for the most part, in tents. Many tents.
The erstwhile Special Forces compound has been partially opened up as well, and at one point I walked through the old front gate, now vestigial. This was the site where, for several weeks during our time there as the Bastard Children, O, Maniac and I had to wait for the precise time of chow in order to be permitted entrance to ODA 744’s compound so that we might share in their victuals… after most of them had eaten, of course. If we arrived a minute too early, the ODA’s hired Afghan guards would hold us in place until the appointed hour. We used to joke that we were like dogs waiting to be fed. I could still see the adhesive marks on the remnants of the gate where the ODA had posted their sign decreeing that we could have access only at those times.
I passed the place where O and I put my four ANP KIA in body bags on my worst day of the first tour. I thought about them for a moment. I can still see their torn bodies when I do think of them. I can still smell the scent of fresh death and torn bowels. I can still see the lifeless eyes, the shroud of death having emptied them of light, and the rendered parts. I remember my surgical-gloved hand resisting against the cloth of their clothing as I searched for identification. I remember the heartbreak of recognizing the young radio operator who had always been near me for over a month as we operated in The Valley from the picture on his ANP identification card. Suddenly I could see the resemblance to the grinning youth in the mask of death, eyes akimbo, missing the top of the skull. I remember seeing deeply into the young man’s head, brokenhearted and at the same time detached; a portion of my brain noting surprise at the small amount of brain matter remaining after what appeared to be a nearly surgical removal of the top rear of his skull. I found this stray, detached thought mildly shocking in its own right. How can one be so emotionally shredded and yet almost clinically detached at the same moment? I still find this dichotomy notable. The events, sensations, and even thoughts of those short hours remain embedded in my memory like few others in my life. They will never go away; and I do not wish them to.
Those men, and that place, are part of me now.
Kapisa is a part of me, and I am a tiny part of it. I am still there, the light of recognition in the eyes of ANP officers and soldiers who recognized me revealing that my time there is still a part of the individual histories of these men’s lives. They greeted me with enthusiasm, there being no doubt that the sign of deep friendship, the handshake followed by the hug with cheeks pressed, was to be exchanged. As others who did not know me looked on curiously, the ANP would explain that I had been in many fights with them. I recognized Dari words in the rapid explanations, “jang” (fight), “Afghanya,” “Tag Ab,” “Ala Say,” “bisyar khoobas” (very good.) I knew the general drift before our interpreter told me in English what the full interpretation was. I felt a deep sense of pride in having reached that level with the Afghan soldiers who I had mentored and operated with. I recall wondering if I would earn such respect from such men; men for whom the stripes on my uniform and the patch on my sleeve matter less than my actions on the dusty ground in the obscure valleys where Afghan life and death are to be found. They judge me on actions that few, if any, Americans were there to witness. Many asked also about others who had impacted them deeply; SFC O, LTC Cold, and SFC Pulvier. Absent were other names. It seems that Afghans have very little time for those who had no real regard for them. Certain things can’t be faked, regardless of the fairy tales told on forms. Some names are left for dead in the dusty past.
There were many such reunions, but none so deeply satisfying as seeing once more the constant thread in Kapisa since the time of LTC SFowski. Sam, the combat terp, dismounted from the MRAP when the team arrived at Bagram to retrieve us from that circus of fobbitry. (I will have an entire post about Bagram soon.) Seeing Sam again was like a bowl of ice cream on an Afghan summer day; so cool I couldn’t believe it. We inquired as to each other’s health, family and after old friends. Again, names were raised from what seems the long ago past, less than two years ago.
Our business at Kapisa was slightly less successful, mostly due to the changing of some leadership and the reluctance of the new leadership to really extend an effort regarding any new training. Excusing his lack of coordination with explanations about the elections and difficulties having to do with that, we were not provided access to the district and provincial leadership who could really drive new ways of organizing information. However, after seeing what we have to offer, I think that upon our return sometime in the future, we will find more cooperation.