November 09, 2012
Petraeus resigns over an affair with Paula Broadwell. You may remember Paula Broadwell.
Question: would Paula have gotten access to those declassified photos of the destruction of an Afghan village without her enhanced level of "access," or was it her blithe acceptance of what they actually showed? As I said back here, "the Arghandab district continues to mess with people's careers."
September 24, 2012
Lang on green-on-blue: not following
I quoted Pat Lang approvingly two posts below, but I don't follow him here:
General Allen can argue what he likes but the Taliban have found the key to a stratagem that will give the "coup de grace" to the Afghanistan COIN project.
I think Allen's point, that most of these attacks are from frustrated Afghan soldiers, not insurgents, really isn't arguable on any of the facts I've seen. My quibble is with Lang's causational fallacy. To say that an increasing number of Afghans, including soldiers, are buying into the insurgents' world view to the point of being willing to kill and die for it, even granting that view is being transmitted in as well propagated an information operation as they can make it, does not mean most of these green-on-blue events were in any way coordinated by them. In 90% of the cases it appears to be pure cultural, societal and religious friction in an incredibly heavily armed, exceedingly high stress environment. That alone can mark the failure of a mission without the Taliban being mostly fascinated bystanders, and calling it their "strategem" seems obfuscatory on Lang's part.
Further thoughts: Afghanistan, Mali
A Canadian army major of significant Kandahar-area experience writes thoughtfully, in reference to my post below:
I've generally thought that the overarching problem was we identified the wrong enemy. The enemy was (and perhaps still is) AQ, which is made up of Arabs following the teachings of fringe elements of the Muslim Brotherhoods. But we went after the Taliban. And HiG. And Haqqani. None of them were interested in exporting violence, and I don't actually think they were all that close to AQ either. And then we compounded the error by lacking unity of purpose and command, but that's a political and strategic problem that comes with coalitions. Heck, even the US couldn't agree on a common purpose between Enduring Freedom and ISAF. Actually, we probably exasperated the situation by helping the ISI further strengthen its influence in Pak, with long term consequences to be determined over the coming decades.
As far as training the ANSF, I really think we need to be more honest with ourselves.Continue reading "Further thoughts: Afghanistan, Mali"
September 17, 2012
Afghanistan: yeah, it's pretty much over
US suspends joint operations with Afghan army in wake of recent green-on-blues.
Militarily significant? Not as much as you'd think. But yeah... the mutual hatred and misunderstanding is clearly now at such intolerable levels it's difficult to see any way back even to where we were 3 years ago. As a veteran of this particular fight, I'm not surprised any more, but still disappointed. I wish the outcome could have been different, but not with the inputs going in. I hate to say it, but in retrospect the 2009 US surge into Afghanistan was pretty much a failure. What was needed then was a different vision, involving a radical drawdown of the Western presence and retrenching to what was achievable, if there was even any chance of salvaging anything long term by that point. My personal hopes that we had held the line in a dysfunctional environment until the US could get there in mid 2009 were basically shattered on the realization that that surge--with all of its trying to apply the Iraq surge template to a very different country--just made everything all the more dysfunctional still.
I will say one thing though, about the anonymous spox comment that "we can't trust these people." We never trusted them. Ever. Not as far as we could throw them. And they never trusted us in return. Maybe because that's because we grew the Afghan army too fast. Maybe that's because we had insufficient people we could mentor the right way, with all the cultural immersion and risk and unorthodoxy that entailed. Maybe that's because ultimately their war aims and ours were completely divergent, something we could never ever paper over. Maybe all of the above. But the trust was always something you could measure in a teaspoon. Hospitality? sure (at least by them); politeness? no doubt. But tangible, operationally-significant trust between fellow soldiers? Yeah, not so much.
See also Pat Lang.
UPDATE: In retrospect, the suspension of Afghan Local Police training was indicative.
September 13, 2012
On the embassy attacks
I'm not conceding that the Obama administration has been apologizing for America (it hasn't, that's another Romneylie). I'm just saying, given what is now known about the current hothead instigator sheltering behind rights he doesn't deserve, that the world as a whole probably deserves an apology from somebody about now.
May 02, 2012
Devastating F-35 takedown
Don't read this if you're still an F-35 fan. Choice quote: "A virtual flying piano, the F-35 lacks the F-16's agility in the air-to-air mode and the F-15E's range and payload in the bombing mode." See also this more detailed analysis.
Glastris on Romney-Bin Laden: exactly
Paul Glastris cuts to the point of whether Romney was misquoted in a recent Obama ad. Of course, Romney misquotes Obama constantly, to the point of entirely reversing what he's said in some cases, so the whole debate is rich. But yeah, I personally have no problem with people hearing the whole of Romney's actual remarks... specifically:
"Global Jihad is not an effort that is being populated by a handful or even a football stadium full of people. It isóit involves millions of people..."
Millions. Romney's position, as was Bush's, was that they could not afford to hunt the one person who had actually masterminded a significant attack killing Americans (and Canadians), because they had to fight a war instead with those millions of "jihadists" who hadn't attacked the U.S. yet. Far more than a football stadium's worth of hostiles, he said, mentioning Hamas and Hezbollah specifically.
The alternate, sane position has always been that you deter future attacks best by making continued survival as difficult as possible for anyone who has attacked you directly, first. And the millions will come around to the point of view that, whether you're hateful or not, attacking you isn't going to work out well for them, either.
There's no misquoting here. Romney was saying never mind Bin Laden, he's just one more bad Muslim like all the rest, just one more foot soldier in a global civilizational clash. He clearly wasn't, and retribution was both just and required (and undoubtedly effective in spooking other Bin Laden wannabes). Romney was a fool for saying otherwise then, and a fool he remains today.
See also James Fallows. He's right, you don't actually get to dodge wartime military service in France and then say "even [Lt (N)] Jimmy Carter."
April 16, 2012
Ah, the Killian memos
Texas Monthly takes 10,000 words to tell us absolutely nothing new of consequence about George Bush's Air National Guard service and the controversy around them. Stories about Bush's spotty military service basically stopped after Dan Rather aired a poorly vetted story based on obviously forged documents ("The Killian memos") and destroyed his reputation. As the story rightly points out, that meant all the questionable military service allegations about challenger John Kerry effectively went unanswered in the press. But the nut graphs of the assessment of the Killian memo forgeries is very misleading:
But the man officially credited with inspiring a fusillade of blog attacks was Harry MacDougald, known on message boards as Buckhead, a GOP lawyer in Atlanta... He specifically claimed that the memos used proportional spacing and superscripts that didnít exist on typewriters of the early seventies...
In any case, MacDougaldís arguments about the documents turned out to be inaccurate. He acknowledged as much in an interview with me in 2008. And in a speech given that same year, Mike Missal, a lawyer for the firm that CBS hired to investigate its own report, said, "Itís ironic that the blogs were actually wrong. . . . We actually did find typewriters that did have the superscript, did have proportional spacing. And on the fonts, given that these are copies, itís really hard to say, but there were some typewriters that looked like they could have some similar fonts there. So the initial concerns didnít seem as though they would hold up."
The story does take pains to point out that the source's explanation of the memos relied on imaginary people, that no one else would offer any evidence supporting the memos' provenance, and that the man the memos named as Bush's commander was no longer in command on the date they were "written." Really, that should be enough to confirm this was a clear (and successful) attempt to fox CBS News.
But just to be clear, there has never been, nor ever will be, a plausible scenario where regular office memos in a small air force national guard office would have been created on the high-end printing house equipment that would have been necessary in 1973 to give the exact look of a Microsoft Word document from 2004, that was typed in on just any old PC lying around. But that was, and apparently remains, Rather's position, and Missal's, above. It's crazy talk, though, and any article that cited it as anything other than crazy talk, like this one, is just being wishywashy and dishonest.
UPDATE: See also Kevin Drum.
April 15, 2012
Tim Lynch: He's baaack... and, Afghan band camp
So Tim Lynch is blogging from Afghanistan again, and has some comments on this weekend's attacks and the announced ISAF "offensive" they were designed to pre-empt. Nice to read some clear-eyed assessment.
Meanwhile in Kandahar, old mentor hands will be no doubt pleased to know at least the war is going well for the 205th Corps band, which was in 2008-09 the most dangerous and disturbing thing about Corps headquarters... my god they were awful. The story, with the Afghan army sergeant who hides his profession and sneaks onto base to work, and bandsmen who are only there so they can stay off the firing line, regardless of any musical ability, warmed my heart. Finally an Afghan army unit in the news I could recognize (I remember the Camp Hero masjid tower behind them in the picture fondly, too). The below may just be the best military mentor quote ever:
And with money from a special U.S. fund for outfitting Afghan security forces, [CWO Tim] Wallace bought the band new instruments. He skipped woodwinds, American favorites that would likely be ruined by Kandaharís dry, searing heat, and instead added a French horn and a tuba, though no one knows how to play them.
And yet Wallace, like other military mentors across Afghanistan, is learning that many of the stubbornest deficiencies here are not material, but institutional. A vivid illustration of the problem comes midway through practice, when [band leader Maj.] Nejrabi tells me he doesnít hold high aspirations for his band.
"They donít really like to be musicians," he says, nodding toward his men, who sit a few feet away, listening. "Itís an easy job, and theyíre not going out on missions. They come out here to pass the time, make some money, and be safe."
As Nejrabi speaks, Wallace stares at him in disbelief. "He doesnít know the first thing about leadership," Wallace tells me later. "Why is he saying that in front of them?" He shakes his head. ďI have my work cut out for me."
All kinds of awesome there. The taxpayer money for instruments for the Afghan army that no one can play, the laconic assessment of the Afghan major, and the mid-tour Western mentor's insistence in marketing our way to victory, all tied up together... just beautiful.
March 12, 2012
Update: It was (or wasn't) Belanday, dammit
Updating the entry below, I've had it semi-confirmed that that mass killing of Afghan civilians over the weekend occurred at the Belanday village on the Panjwaii-Dand district border that Canadians spent a lot of time making one of our "model villages" not so long ago. That's a lot of our national effort in that country down the drain, I'm afraid. Basically the killer worked out of the combat outpost we built and handed over to the U.S. on our departure, then. So sad. See also Fisher. His assessment here also seems, sadly, sound.
Update, 5 pm: Okay, looking like my semi-informed source was insufficiently semi-informed, and both he and Matt Fisher were actually wrong on the location here. Best evidence I have now is that the primary location of the killings was the town I originally thought it was back in the Sunday post, below, which I now recall we actually called Belambay. With an "M", not "N". NOT the model village better known from later rotos with a similar name, more south of Kandahar City than southwest, with that Canadian-built outpost Fisher and I were thinking about. Should have stuck to my first instincts on this one, I guess.
A correspondent points to this story, which points to Americans working out of a COP Belambay, which it also places close to the Zangabad area, which means we'd be talking much closer to the Arghandab River.
We had a couple different outposts in that area over the years, including COP Zangabad and COP "Old School", and that whole area was (theoretically) well dominated by the hilltop fortresses of Mas'um Ghar to the north and Sperwan Ghar overlooking it. This also makes more sense given the name of the second village, Alkozai, which is also in that same locale. So hopefully that places it better for any vets reading than the post above did.
Makes no real difference, I suppose, but for them, at least, I'd like to get it right. (I suppose I got the correction out ahead of Fisher, at least.) It's always important to remember in a place like Afghanistan that the (transliterated) English nomenclature we and Google have for a given area, including village names, feature names, and district boundaries, even when we have good maps, often turns out to be either out of date or wildly variant from local usage. The locals' system, which makes perfect sense to them, ends up on our maps as looking like three adjacent villages all called Zangabad, for instance. It's a real anthropological exercise just to get clear on the basic geography and document it for followon rotations, a step we often jump over to launch into semi-informed analyses of clans and local social networks before we can even really understand what we're being told.
Update, 8 pm: A quick map. Still can't pin Belambay precisely, but in this map it would be closer to FOB Sperwan Ghar on the extreme West. The western border of Panjwaii district is the Arghandab River (blue). The Dand Belanday is also indicated, with the Panjwaii eastern district border with Dand District somewhere in the space between that Belanday and Salavat. (Positions for Alkozai and Zangabad are approximate, and after today's lesson I'm not even going to try to give a fix for Belambay or COP Belambay again until I see something more definitive. But hopefully at least it allows you to place some of the places I've been throwing around.)
Click for Panjwaii-Dand map.
March 11, 2012
Well, so much for the 'peaceful' part of Panjwaii
Today's unprovoked shootings of women and children in the Panjwaii district villages of Balandi-Alkozai*, allegedly by a single American serviceman, are a horrible indication of how little the U.S. surge into Afghanistan can be said to have helped the inhabitants of the area Canadians once worked in.
Remember, though, we Canadians chose to leave Panjwaii, so we're in no way responsible for what happened after our replacements showed up. Let's just keep telling ourselves that, k?
*Location on this one's a little uncertain to me. There was a small village of Alkoz(a)i about 5 km east of FOB Masum Ghar, south of what we called Route FOSTERS, halfway to Salavat. What Canadians called and patrolled as "Belanday" in the last couple rotos of the tour is a larger predominantly Noorzai-clan village 10 km further east (too far for it to be involved in the same incident with Alkozai village), but that village was technically in the Dand (sort of the "greater Kandahar City" district). (That district border with Panjwaii tends to be a bit fuzzy, too, though.) I seem to recall a hamlet close to Alkozai called something similar, so for now I'm going to assume reporters have got the district right (and that the Noorzai Belanday's still considered part of the Dand, for that matter) and this atrocity didn't occur in the Dand(ish) Belanday. The other possibility is that this was the larger Belanday, which would really be even more of a tragedy: Canadians poured a lot of resources into making that a peaceful, friendly village. Will correct if it turns out I'm off there.
Alkozai, of course, is named after a Pashtun subtribe (aka Alikozai), and (at least until now) a relatively pro-government one, that dominated commercial business in Panjwaii and whose elders "held the Arghandab" for President Karzai, for a time, anyway.
March 09, 2012
Epic webmaster fail
Within days of the premature demise of lying gadfly Andrew Breitbart, his successors have completely screwed up all the backlinks on his website in a redesign. LGF has the tracking details. Remarkable. The net effect will be ensuring he (and they) will be forgotten faster than they otherwise would have been, which is a comforting thought.
At least when the Egyptians were defacing all the public references to the Pharaoh Akhenaten to erase him from history they were doing so intentionally.
March 07, 2012
Good UAV piece, one flaw
I liked Micah Zenko's primer on drones (aka, "unmanned aerial vehicles") at foreignpolicy.com, because I think a little more knowledge on the subject in the public realm is not a bad thing. One quibble, though: where Zenko talks about the fragility of drones in hostile weather and climate conditions (something every soldier knows well) his basis is a citation about something completely different:
The primary reasons for the crashes: bad weather, loss or disruption of communications links, and "human error factors," according to the Air Force. As Lt. Gen. David Deptula, former Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, has noted with refreshing honesty, "Some of the [drones] that we have today, you put in a high-threat environment, and they'll start falling from the sky like rain."
I'm assuming there's a missing sentence or two in there, because of course Gen. Deptula wasn't talking about bad weather. His "high threat environment" is when your opponent has some weapon capable of shooting a drone down. So far, over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Libya, this hasn't been an issue. Deptula's point is that as soon as you have a hostile air force capable of air-to-air combat in the picture, the environment for UAVs suddenly becomes a lot less permissive, and a lot of the stuff we're getting away with in counterinsurgency ops simply won't be as possible. He's not talking about bad weather or crashes, he's talking drones getting hit with missiles, a different order of problem altogether.
Now, the counter-argument has always been that drones are cheap enough, in cost and lives, to waste in just such a fashion, that there's an inherently lower risk of loss involved in using them. And I for one am skeptical that interceptor aircraft or surface to air missiles are going to be quite as useful against them as some might think. Historical analogies would be artillery spotter aircraft or helicopters or maritime patrol aircraft, none of which are very survivable when jet fighters are around either, but they still have long and illustrious service histories in shooting wars when the local conditions are favourable to them flying. There's every reason to believe that, wherever you can maintain air superiority (which fighters like the F-22 and F-35 are designed to do) then you can continue to operate pretty much as now. If you can't, well, then, the enemy's drones are not going to be the biggest of your problems.
Look, I know finding public affairs successes in ANSF advising these days is hard work, but really, if your central metaphor is "building a plane while flying it" in a Afghan army mentoring success story, your public affairs staff is either burned out or trying to get fired, or both.
Look, the whole expression is meant to define something as inherently impossible, because the act it refers to is not actually humanly achievable. The written-up (and I have no doubt meritable) accomplishments of yon Sgt. MacAlister are therefore undercut by a headline that's basically shouting to our unconscious minds: "Stop This! This is insane!"
March 02, 2012
He's on a roll
"endearingly macho" -- Mark Steyn
"wonderfully detailed analysis" -- John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"unusually candid" -- Tom Ricks, Foreignpolicy.com
Bill & Bob
Ghosts of Alex