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 03 Jul 2010 @ 5:15 AM 

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.

My squadron, 8-10 Cavalry, Fourth Infantry Division, conducted close to 3,500 combat patrols and operations during our year in west Baghdad.

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.

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Categories: Afghanistan, analysis, COIN, COINdinistas, COINiots, doctrine
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 03 Jul 2010 @ 05 15 AM

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 03 Jun 2009 @ 9:54 PM 

Read the post below first and then…

Contrast Cohen’s chickenshit with Tim Lynch’s brains and brass cajones. One man gets it, does it. One man does neither. The contrast is nearly perfect.

‘Nuff said.

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Categories: Afghanistan, development
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 21 Jun 2009 @ 03 58 AM

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 29 Jan 2009 @ 8:19 PM 

I’ve had a number of folks tossing me bones to chew on; and some choices to make. Should I gnaw more on the continuing saga of the victimization/demonization of combat veterans, or should I look once more towards the little country that could?

Today, I choose to shift my gaze eastward… past New York and the arrogant media who know all and are all… to the place with more rocks than can be imagined, and a people who are losing hope in a country that just swore in a president who was elected on a platform of “hope.”

John of Argghhh! sent me a link with a simple note: “This looks like something you can sink your teeth into.”

Indeed. It also leaves a better taste in my mouth than Michael Sweeney’s ass. Go figure.

John tossed me a tidbit to gnosh on, a bit on National Review Online by Lisa Schiffren about winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan. While not offering specific solutions, Ms. Schiffren has a very good point; our history of delivering “recovery” in Afghanistan has been abysmal. I disagree with her, however, on a couple of things.

Ms. Schiffren’s critiques of Karzai and our economic aid failures are a bit too shrill for me; I don’t buy off on the criminal aspects of it. Karzai was elected by the majority of Afghans in their first election, so he’s not an installed president; he is their president, just as much as Mr. Obama is our president, duly elected and sworn. Karzai was installed by the Bonn agreements, but gone are the days of the interim government in Kabul. To echo the Taliban meme that he is somehow illegitimate is to legitimize their cry, and I don’t subscribe to that. As far as the economic mismanagement, if she is talking about throwing money over the compound walls to Afghan contractors who don’t produce results proportionate to the money spent, then she has a good point. If she’s on that tired “Haliburton” type kick, I’m deaf. We’ve been phoning in our economic aid, no doubt.

For an original idea on how to deploy economic aid that has a prayer of working, see Tim Lynch’s latest over at Free Range International.

We’ve got to get out to get the job done. In counterinsurgency (COIN,) the safer you try to make yourself, the less secure you actually are. The Taliban are currently schooling us in insurgency. They are doing a pretty good job. More on that another time.

The real point of Ms. Schiffren’s post was Senator Joe Lieberman’s comments at the Brookings Institution, a transcript of which can be found here. It was a good speech. While I think he was a bit too kind to my Army, referring to us as the most capable counterinsurgent force that the world has ever seen, he does get to some very good points later on in the speech, when he discusses five points that he feels will pave the way there.

The problem in Afghanistan today is not only that we have devoted too few resources, but that the resources we have devoted are being applied incoherently. In contrast to Iraq, where General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker came together two years ago to develop a nationwide civil-military campaign plan to defeat the insurgency, there is still no such integrated nationwide counterinsurgency plan for Afghanistan. This is an unacceptable failure. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

I’d call that accurate. Heavy on the unacceptable failure. There is no excuse for this. While some may construe this statement as harshly focused on one person, it is no way intended that way. This unacceptable failure is more, in my mind, an institutional failure than it is the failure of one man or even a small group of men. Again, Mr. Lieberman was too kind to my Army. Our sacred trust with this nation is not to have such unacceptable failures, and this is bigger than one man or one small group of men. If most of us were getting this right, that man or small group of men would look like freaking geniuses; but we are not, so it may seem to some that the ones in charge downrange are failing.

Civilian capacity must also be ramped up outside our embassy—at the provincial, district, and village levels, embedding non-military experts among our troops as they move in. Provincial Reconstruction Teams need to be expanded in number, size, and sophistication, with seasoned experts pulled from across the U.S. government and the private sector. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

Bingo. That’s similar to what I’ve been saying for awhile. The military’s major malfunction is our difficulty with getting past our original raison d’etre (in our military minds;) to break things and kill bad guys, and to get on with the 90% non-kinetic work of counterinsurgency. The Army is not full of governmental mentors. We can teach others how to break things and kill bad guys very well. We can even do fairly well in teaching others how to be better police in a Wild West sort of country.

We simply aren’t equipped for teaching a Wuliswahl how to make life better day by day for the people of his district. We aren’t equipped for teaching others how to pry massive deposits of iron and copper out of the ground. We aren’t equipped to teach others how to leverage the massive mineral wealth that comes with a still-growing mountain range pushing up the treasures of the earth from deep within. We have no idea how to manage a gem mining industry. We don’t know how to show someone how to start and run a business in a developing country.

Afghanistan isn’t even a pre-industrial country, and we don’t know how to jump-start industries. We know how to destroy them. There are loads of civilians out there who do know how to do these things. We need, along with our NATO partners, to get on that. Afghanistan will not long survive without an economy, and an organization that primarily breaks things is not the organization that is needed to build a durable economy.

It has been pointed out many times that some of our NATO allies cannot fully participate militarily in Afghanistan. “Caveats,” as they are called, prevent full participation in what we like to call, “full spectrum operations.” As Senator Lieberman points out, there are other, crucial contributions that can be made. Perhaps it’s time to renegotiate with some of our NATO partners to find a role for them in improving the economic and governmental life of Afghanistan.

…getting the appropriate civilian talent from a recalcitrant federal bureaucracy for an unconventional assignment is a difficult task. But it is absolutely critical to the success of any counterinsurgency campaign. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

That’s putting it mildly.

We need to further expand the Afghan National Army, beyond the current goal of 134,000 troops, to at least 200,000 troops, while taking a fresh look at how our forces partner with the other, more neglected branches of the Afghan National Security Forces, in particular the police and the internal intelligence service.

We must also take tough action to combat the pervasive corruption that is destroying the legitimacy of the Afghan government and fueling the insurgency. This requires more than threatening specific leaders on an ad hoc basis. Because the problem is systemic, it requires a systemic response.

We must roll back corruption by strengthening Afghan governance and development comprehensively—both from top-down and bottom-up. The truth is, in the last seven years, we have only invested in one Afghan state institution in a patient, resource-intensive, and system-wide way: the Afghan army.

And the ANA, as a consequence, is emerging as a capable, courageous, professional, multi-ethnic force. If we want other Afghan institutions to operate this way, we need to make similarly focused, long-term investments in them. If we can build an army of 200,000 that works, we should be able to build a civil service of 20,000 that also works. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

My enthusiasm for Mr. Lieberman’s speech is beginning to swell. I don’t know about the beginning part, but I could have written this part of his speech myself. I think I have written very similar things on this very blog, among other places. The Afghans have no institutional memory of governance. It has been wiped out by thirty years of warfare. What makes us think that even a dedicated group can take over a nation of thirty million people and just make it work?

Here’s a better question: What makes us think that we can expect that even the most committed people can take over a country of thirty million people five minutes out of the Stone Age and make it work? These people need help; we can give it to them, and it will make us a lot more secure to do so. Now all we have to do is believe that.

As Caspar Weinberger Jr., wrote in Human Events in June: “While wars of insurgency are what are happening now, it is correct to say that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan, regardless of these two wars’ outcomes, will cause the downfall of America. However, a loss of any type of World War III most certainly would.” Weinberger quotes George Friedman: “The United States can lose a dozen Vietnams or Iraqs and not have its (most important) interests harmed. But losing a war with a nation-state could be catastrophic.”

America needs a large and powerful Army prepared to engage innovatively across the entire spectrum of conflict as part of the joint team. Hybrid conflicts that combine elements of low- and high-intensity war will be common in the 21st century (as they were in many wars of the past). The point is that excessive focus on one sort of operation — and particularly the type that every indicator suggests that the American people are loathe to repeat — as an organizing principle puts at risk the entire armed forces’ ability to provide decision-makers with options that reflect the military’s fullest potential. ~ MG Charles J. Dunlap, Jr

Oooops. Looks like we’re still not “getting it.” There are a lot of rice bowls that are perceived to be at risk when you start talking about COIN. Nobody wants their rice bowl to be broken. They are only moderately more pleased with the concept that it will be filled with dog feces instead of rice. There is a crowd who are building the excuse that it’s really okay to lose in Afghanistan, because losing Viet Nam really didn’t kill us.

Viet Nam’s mantra wasn’t “Death to America,” either. Viet Nam never attacked us on our own soil; Jane Fonda notwithstanding. Viet Nam never vowed to do it again as soon as possible and even more horribly.

Sacred trust. Our nation doesn’t ask us to fight the wars that we want sometimes. Sometimes it asks us to do the hard thing, the unpopular thing (either for them or for us,) and/or the unconventional (irregular) thing; they do not put a caveat in that sacred trust that says that we may determine that it really doesn’t matter; to pre-excuse a failure.

The guys who are paid a lot more than most of us to predict that when we decapitate a country it doesn’t grow a new, better head in a matter of seconds, and that the result will be chaos unless someone (I wonder who that might be) provides some order and structure until a new one does grow, didn’t do their job when it came to Iraq. What makes any of us think that imagining WW-III around the next bend is an indication of some newly-developed prescience instead of an excuse for giving up on that sacred trust in an actual shooting war? Who, exactly, is going to instigate this next, nation-destroying cataclysm? Really?

So, we find ourselves in a very difficult, culture-challenging war (I mean military culture.) This is hard, hard stuff.

Hard is not hopeless. ~ GEN David Petraeus

There is hope.

Fifth and perhaps most importantly, success in Afghanistan requires a sustained, realistic political and public commitment to this mission here at home. ~ Sen Joe Lieberman

I think that perhaps he should have included military leadership in that statement.

Indeed, there are already voices on both the left and the right murmuring the word “quagmire.”

They say Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, that we should abandon any hope of nation-building there, and that President Obama should rethink his pledge to deploy additional forces.

Why, then, is this wrong? Why should we send tens of thousands of our loved ones to a remote country on the far side of the world?

The most direct answer is that Afghanistan is the frontline of the global ideological and military war we are waging with Islamist extremism. Afghanistan is where the attacks of 9/11 were plotted, where al Qaeda made its sanctuary under the Taliban, and where they will do so again if given the chance. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

The essence of the threat to our nation. There is another threat to the content of our character; not following through on our commitments. It is the the single greatest fear of most Afghans I met who were not Taliban supporters, and it’s not like we haven’t done it before.

We all agree, our foremost interest in Afghanistan is preventing that country from becoming a terrorist safe haven. But the only realistic way to prevent that from happening is through the emergence of a stable and legitimate political order in Afghanistan, backed by capable indigenous security forces—and neither of those realities is going to materialize without a significant and sustained American commitment. This will be difficult, but it is absolutely necessary. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

Well, as long as this type of stuff is still part of our national conversation, then all is not lost.

There is some other good stuff there that I will let you find for yourself. We can always discuss them in comments. I am personally thrilled to see someone other than this wee tiny blogauthor has taken up the call for a “civilian surge.” Let’s hope that somehow this discussion gains an audience.

>UPDATE<

Bit of a discussion going on in Comments. I’m going to be out of the loop, over at Castle Argghhh! today for a bit, but I can shut off moderation and risk some porn spam comments for a bit so that lively conversation can continue.

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Categories: COIN
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 29 Jan 2009 @ 08 19 PM

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 31 Dec 2008 @ 12:29 PM 

In the last few posts I have reviewed a posting by “Afghanistan Shrugged” and the latest report on the ANP by the International Crisis Group. One notes how a higher commander can derail an honest effort by a subordinate in a dangerous situation, bringing failure to an operation on the verge of success, and the other details the current state of one of the two main pillars of Afghan security; the ANP (and with it the Ministry of Interior.) The second also touches on the Afghan Judiciary; the shadowy realm where criminal prosecution and corruption blend into a tie-dye of injustice that threatens the very viability of the Afghan government.

These are not just my perceptions, but a thread that runs through the actions and decisions of hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, especially leaders. These soldiers have an underlying sense of frustration that sometimes seethes to the surface. The feeling of struggling against the stream is at times intense. The author of “Afghanistan Shrugged” clearly brings this feeling forward in his post describing the events of a night when he was denied illumination and four Taliban rocketeers escaped to rocket another day.

We’re not talking about a JDAM on a village here, folks, we’re talking about mortar illumination rounds. The ANA Vampire 06 advises don’t have NODS, and it was apparently one of those nights in Afghanistan that was darker than Osama’s Soul.

I also reviewed Ghaith Abdul Ahad’s article in The Guardian containing interviews with Taliban leaders in Wardak and Khost. A large part of the value of the article lay in these Talibs explaining their insurgency plan. They explained how they use the general inefficiency of and distrust in the ANP to their advantage, as well as the lack of faith with which the people regard the judicial system of the IRoA government. The Talibs explained the simple truth that the field in which they sought to compete with the government… and therefore destabilize it through de-legitimizing it… was in the provision of essential services to the people. One of the major services that they offer is a sure justice system.

These posts tie together to paint a picture of reality in Afghanistan, one that is felt if not completely articulated in the minds of most who serve outside the wire; a couple of sides of the Rubik’s Cube that is the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. They also tie in to a story of intrigue that is still unfolding.

At at a FOB in Wardak, a small group of puzzlers whose job it was to move individual blocks around in the Rubik’s Cube found themselves ensnared in the Afghan Conundrum. A spy had been identified; a small group of them, actually. They were undoubtedly providing information that was directly used by Qomendan Hemmet in his tactical and probably strategic operations against Afghan and Coalition forces in Wardak. American and Afghan lives were at risk, and the root cause of that risk was identified and in custody. Now the clock started ticking. Afghan law sets a time limit for action to be taken. Local nationals cannot be held indefinitely.

There are two paths to justice in Afghanistan with these types, and one of them is to turn the suspects over to the local judiciary.

Now, with the information provided by several sources, including the International Crisis Group, we have seen that the Afghan Judiciary is most likely to have these guys out and on the run in short order. No justice there; and the individual lives to harm another day. What’s a young Company Commander to do? He may seek option number two; the American military-driven option. This interpreter-turned-spy deserved to spend some days at a nice detention center with American guards and daily interrogation, wouldn’t you think?

BTW, if you’re thinking of going all Abu Ghraib on me, I’ll advise you to not even go there. The detainees at the American facility are very bad people who are treated very humanely and are in much nicer accommodations than any Afghan facility would provide. No, the interrogations do not include torture.

This young American officer then appeals to his commander for option number two and is met with… silence. His boss is leaving him out to dry. His distrust (along with the rest of Wardak’s population) for the Afghan system complete, he takes action. Now he is facing Article 32 hearings (part of the Military Justice System’s path to potential incarceration for crimes) at Khost for his actions.

I do not mean to excuse the men who participated in the interrogations that day in Wardak, but when an American reads an article about this officer and his First Sergeant and the trouble that they find themselves in, they do not see all that is behind it. While this is an extreme example, it is one that many of us who have operated outside the wire could easily imagine. My interpreter in Afghanistan was a stellar young man. Nearly every interpreter I ever met there was. I have also written about how Sam the Combat Terp and his family were threatened on more than one occasion, to the point that he moved his family twice within a few months. The pressure on these young men is intense. I don’t know whether the interpreter in question was a plant or if he was pressured via threats or coercion to his life or his family’s safety, but finding that your terp is a spy is every soldier’s nightmare.

Only having a spy for a terp who is never discovered is a worse scenario.

I bring this situation into this thread of posts to illustrate that the situation in Afghanistan is indeed a Rubik’s Cube, and we have a serious need to make a huge difference in reforming not only the ANP but the Afghan Judiciary. We also need to stress that highly trained leaders on the ground need to be trusted when they call for support from the little places in Afghanistan. Here we have two scenarios where the counterinsurgency was foiled by Battalion Commanders who made calls that negated their subordinates’ positive actions (one had four rocket-firing insurgents trapped in the open and couldn’t see them in the dark, the other had a known spy in custody who he feared… and rightly so… that this spy would go free if left to Afghan civilian justice) because they failed to back those subordinates. There is something intrinsically wrong with both of these scenarios. That young Company Commander and his First Sergeant would not be facing the ends of their careers and possibly incarceration if they had been treated with the respect that they were due. Four insurgent rocketeers would be either dead or in custody and unable to fire more rockets if the officers who asked for mortar illumination rounds had been given the respect that their judgment was due on that night near the Pakistani border.

Their commanders replied with, “I don’t trust you to make a sound decision. I know that I will always know better than you what is best for your AO (Area of Operations.)”

I’ll wager that if you asked the officers who are at the slimy end of that stick, “We are going to put you out in a very difficult and dangerous position downrange. We do not trust you and when you most sincerely need it we will not support you. Do you accept this mission?” the answer would be, “No. I hereby submit my resignation.”

That Company Commander and his First Sergeant found themselves confronted by the nightmare scenario which was immediately followed by being left holding a bucket of steaming excrement. Judging their decisions from that point forward is not my job, but the job of the Article 32 Board. What I do know is that they should never have been left holding that bucket.

Yes, Afghanistan is a Rubik’s Cube. Many people have solved Rubik’s Cubes at some point in their lives; sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and we are spinning the individual blocks around in a seemingly disjointed and random pattern instead of in a coordinated series of movements that see the whole cube. I, like CPT Hill, 1SG Scott, and Vampire 06, was working at moving one or two of the little blocks that make up the larger cube, and every once in a while the Big Hand reaches in gives the cube a couple of quick twists that undo considerable effort or short-circuit a favorable turn in battlefield fortunes. We in the Army have a polysyllabic yet simple word for this effect, but I’ll give you a more generally acceptable and family-friendly word that starts with the same letter; counterproductive.

As the warnings of many experts and pundits ring, our window of opportunity in Afghanistan is growing smaller and smaller. It’s time to reconsider… read unscrew… ourselves in how we are approaching this war. A symptom of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Real insanity is the inability or unwillingness to perceive, understand, and abide in the truth. The truth is that what we are doing isn’t working. Putting more effort into what isn’t working isn’t going to work much better. It’s like trying to force a nut onto a bolt counterclockwise. Putting more umph into it isn’t going to make the bolt thread the other way, but possibly just get the nut stuck in a supremely untightened position.

We are trying to go lefty-tighty. It just doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t even sound right.

Of course, there are other sides to the cube. “Free Range International” has an incredibly insightful post on some of the rest of the cube in his most recent post. This guy needs to be listened to.

Read that, “People who make big decisions should be paying attention to what this guy is saying.”

It’s time to figure out the Rubik’s Cube, and it’s time to do it quickly rather than slowly. Our window is closing, and there are those out there who are trying to close it faster.

I realize that all of the things that I linked to are a lot to read, but if you read all of them, or if you have read all of them, it will really help to paint a picture of what it’s like in Afghanistan on a conceptual level on down to some of the dirt-level effects. This isn’t the rantings of some FOBBIT about interpersonal relationships on a deployment, so it’s a bit dry. There aren’t any bullets flying around in these pieces, so it’s not a mile-a-minute thriller; but if you want to get a feeling for some of the challenges and how it comes down to men on the ground making difficult decisions and having their very best efforts on behalf of this country sometimes come to naught, it will help with that. It’s the stuff that is in the back of their heads when they are deciding where to go that they might get shot at or blown up. It’s the stuff that underlies the next words they choose when they mentor their Afghan charges or brief the battlespace owner. It’s the stuff that rattles around inside one’s skull when trying to figure out just how much to trust an Afghan village elder who could seriously screw them over if he had such an inclination, which he will tell them himself is the farthest thing from his mind. It’s the stuff that makes a young Specialist shake his head in disbelief and wonder if it’s all worth it. Like a Rubik’s Cube, it’s all tied firmly together and when you move one piece the rest of it moves, too.

Here’s the best part; it’s Rubik’s Cube by committee, really… but that’s a bigger subject.

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