21 May 2009 @ 1:31 AM 

The “surge” of troops into Afghanistan is something that most of us who have been there have been recommending for years… as long as the added troops do helpful things. It does matter what they do, not just that they are there. It’s important that we change not just the numbers that are in-country, but also the way in which they are used.

Most of us who have been there have pointed out the FOB mentality that reigns in Afghanistan, that ISAF forces withdraw into large FOBs at night and cede control of the countryside to the ACM, primarily operating under the name of the Taliban.

An article recently published details the problems that came up with the attempt to expand FOB Wolverine in Zabul Province. CPT Paul Tanghe, an ETT advising the ANA operating in the area, warned of the backlash that the locals would have against interfering with their water supplies, which run through an underground channel called a “karez.” No one listened to him, and by the time they figured out that there was a problem, they had already really ticked off the locals and unknowingly fed the living hell out of the Taliban IO. Good job, gentlemen.

Next time, listen to the advisor. He might just know something about what he is doing there. He also has closer contact with Afghans than most Americans (NO, a shura once in awhile doesn’t count as having a lot of contact with Afghans.) Instead, as many of my advisor brothers can attest, we are (much) more often regarded with suspicion, as if we’d been photographed leaving a Communist Party meeting or something. More than once, I heard the words, “gone native.” I’ll tell you what; if more senior leaders would go a little native, we’d have a much better grip on what the hell we are doing there and what we need to do to succeed.

My second question about that article is; Why in the hell are we shoving all of these new capabilities into the same boxes? If it’s going to be more commuting to work and a Green Beans Coffee shop, I’d recommend putting a few more FOBs, COPs, Firebases, or whatever you want to call them around the countryside. Hey, I’ve seen it done, and it makes a difference. They don’t have to be really big. The first time I saw FOB Kutschbach, it was a rocky open area at the foot of a ridgeline that overlooked Tag Ab. It started out as a VPB and was grown into a full-fledged FOB from there. A lot of people put serious work into making it into that.

I wonder if the “Mosh Pit” is still there.

In any case, building accommodations to cram all these new troops into FOB Wolverine is just repeating the mistakes of what Tim Lynch calls the “Big Box FOB.” By the way; if anyone wanted to see “change we can believe in” regarding the way we do business in Afghanistan, they’d be beating this guy’s door down to hire him to manage something for us in Afghanistan. Careerists would hate him, those who like to see progress would love him, and Afghans would likely feel like they were being listened to. But what do I know?

Don’t tell him I said that. I don’t think government work is on his agenda. Oddly enough that’s why I think that someone with half a brain would badger him to death to get him on board to change the way that we do business.

He’s safe. That’ll never happen.

Finally, we’ve got the issue of staffing the mentoring effort to do JOB #1; bring the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) like the ANA and ANP up to speed. We’re now throwing Lieutenants and buck Sergeants at Kandak (Battalion)-level mentoring jobs, and a brigade of the 82nd augmented with a very few field grade (Major and above) officers attached to take over mentoring for a significant portion of the ANA. Time will tell, but the level of training that the 4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne is receiving to prepare them for mentoring doesn’t appear to be a lot.

LTC(R) John Nagl once proposed an Advisor Corps. He concept received little serious consideration and is still thrown at him by his detractors. I’m not sure that such an organization is sustainable, but I can testify that mentoring ANSF requires certain attributes. Truly professional mentors are hard to come by. For an Army that doesn’t even bother to train its NCO’s in COIN, I think it’s a pretty ballsy move to just toss a few paratroops at the problem and hope for the best. I think that we’re going to get what we pay for out of it. Dr. Nagl recognized the importance of professional mentors to security force development in foreign countries. His proposal was a way to retain that critical skill as a set. He realized that what we were doing was hit-or-miss. It just got worse.

Hey, if you can’t just toss a BCT at it, how are you supposed to solve the problem?

That’s not to say that a tremendous amount of good can’t be done, but we’ll see.

Two recommendations:

1) Don’t just expand the “Big Box FOBs” and stick all of these new assets into them. Spread it out and take control of area that have lacked control in the past. You have to BE THERE. You can’t mail this shit in. Start pushing out; FOB Kutschbach can be replicated… over and over again.

2) Figure out how to train these BCT-A’s to actually do the “A” part. Just sending in Americans isn’t going to cut it, no matter how highly we think of our young soldiers. We have left them out of the revolution to this point by not training them in COIN. Now we’re going to expect them to advise ANA and ANP in how to perform COIN? Not what I’d call a recipe for resounding success. You need a plan to train the junior leaders in COIN and in advising. Winging it is not a solution.

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Categories: Afghanistan, COIN
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 21 Jun 2009 @ 03 59 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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