July 08, 2009

Tomorrow's essential Afghan reading, early

Didn't want to wait until tomorrow. This is spot-on analysis, by Australian MGen (retd.) Jim Molan. I think it goes a long way toward explaining the odd remarks on the lack of ANSF in the NYT (post below):

There is unlikely to be anything like a decisive result out of this operation, even in the local area in the short term. Marine commanders will talk up the operation because that is what you do, and the media, Congress and commentators will project their own hopes and desires onto the operation, and then castigate the Marines for not meeting them.

Molan, Chief of Operations (ChOps) for Multinational Force-Iraq in 2004-05, has some more good stuff below the fold.

With 4000 deployed troops from this 11,000-strong Marine force, relatively few small outposts can be established because each outpost must be big enough to protect itself against initial attack, and must be backed up by quick reaction forces held in reserve. So even if this operation goes perfectly it will merely establish small groups of Marines in a number of local areas. This is the right first step. It then requires the re-establishment of local governance, which will take years, and the replacement of the Marines with Afghan troops and police...

The other side of locating Marines in many local villages to help establish governance, control and protection is that this Marine force is now tied down in that area for (probably) some years to come. If there were adequate coalition troops in Afghanistan this would not be a problem. Given there is only one-third to one-half the number of capable troops needed in Afghanistan, this is a big problem indeed. And the area in which they are tied down is relatively close to the Pakistan border and (it is assumed) to larger numbers of Taliban forces. An even greater reliance on air power may be the result.

Once again, non-military agencies have failed to support the US military’s actions. Talk in the Obama strategy about diplomacy, aid, governance, policing, agriculture and local infrastructure has come to nought because none of the people have been made available by their agencies. The US military might be at war, but the rest of the US and the US government certainly is not. The troops will have to do it all, probably until at least the end of this year. The two constants of modern military operations (Australia included) are the failure of our societies to ever provide enough troops initially, and the failure of our governments to provide non-military (interagency) personnel.

The pitiful lack of Afghan troops involved in KHANJAR (4000 Marines deployed but only about 650 Afghan troops) indicates that the hope of producing an Afghan force numerous and capable enough to take over counterinsurgency from the coalition is five to ten years away. Most of the Marines won't have nearby Afghan troops to provide them with local knowledge.

The nature of this operation indicates that regardless of what Obama’s strategy might say, the US is still in a holding strategy. Petraeus knows this better than anyone and as much said so at recent House Armed Services Committee hearings...

Posted by BruceR at 09:23 PM

ANSF deployment limits: people starting to notice?


One week after several battalions of Marines swept through the Helmand River valley, military commanders appear increasingly concerned about a lack of Afghan forces in the field.

Oh, there's plenty of Afghans. They just can't be moved to Helmand, some of the reasons for which I tried to explain here. And for reasons explained by Dorronsoro in the post below, one could argue they probably shouldn't be, either.

What I don't understand is why this would come as such a surprise, in the way the reporter tells it. The deployment and laydown limitations and other related ANSF problems have been totally self-evident to anyone who has worked with them regularly in theatre recently. I could have told the Americans they weren't going to get another brigade's worth in Helmand by June, as could any number of other people I worked with or for. If the linked report is to be believed, that would imply that in our effort to certify their success, someone has been glossing over deep weaknesses in their capability in their reports to higher. Of course, to misquote Feynman, "reality can't be fooled," so in the end, the only risk there is that we'd end up fooling ourselves. Which, again if the linked report is to be believed, would be implied by what is happening now.

No, I don't buy that the Americans are "increasingly concerned" now, because I honestly don't know who could have dissembled here so badly, and told Gen. Nicholson or his superiors confidently that he'd be getting the numbers of Afghan soldiers he felt he needed for his plan to work, or that having that information he would not identify it as a critical flaw before, you know, the operation actually was launched. But I'll tell you right now it wouldn't have been mentors working at my level... or the ANA, for that matter. They know the score better than we do in that respect. I also recall reading or hearing at least two senior-level officers in theatre making statements roughly congruous to what I'm saying in this post in semi-privileged forums there, too, and that was months before Nicholson would have arrived. So if there was any wishful thinking about the Afghan security forces in evidence before the operation, where exactly would it have been coming from?

UPDATE: For that matter, I can recall a couple Helmand ANA operations that were cancelled or called off in the last year precisely because it was clear the ANSF were not going to be able to materialize in the numbers required for success. Surely the initial read-in into their area of operations would have brought that to staff planners' attention. No, having this complaint come to the fore just now makes no sense at all from a planning perspective.

No, the Marines knew the problem going in, all right. Perhaps the only person "increasingly concerned" here is the reporter himself. Hey, TIA, man. ("This Is Afghanistan", to misquote Blood Diamond).

UPDATE: For that matter, the DOD's report to Congress back in January said (page 34) only 8 new kandaks could be added any time soon to the ANA orbat. A brigade would be at least 4 of those, so for this to work the South Helmand Marine brigade would have had to expect getting fully half the current ANA troop increase.

Posted by BruceR at 02:37 PM

Today's essential Afghan reading

Gilles Dorronsoro again, one of the more clear-eyed Afghan commentators:

The ANA’s command and control is still weak and does not enable it to operate on its own, independent of [international] leadership. Observers in direct contact with the ANA report that operations involving more than 100 troops cannot be effectively conducted autonomously.

True dat. Also of interest:

[Helmand] is not the main base of the Taliban—even though the opposition is extremely strong there, the organization of the insurgency is not classically Taliban. Overall, the core territory for the movement is Kandahar, Zabul, and from Ghazni to the south of Wardak. In this area, the Taliban have the support of a significant part of the population and its elites (mostly mullahs, but also landlords and tribal leaders).

Note this is exactly counter to all the planning assumptions that have gone into Western strategy in the south the last two years: that insurgents were primarily crossing into Helmand from Pakistan and then moving west to east toward Kandahar City. Dorronsoro's thesis is that the inflow we need to worry about is actually primarily the other way, with Zabul province "totally under Taliban control."

Now these things do change, and change back, over time. Dorronsoro says Zabul has been the route of choice for guerrilla infiltration historically, but what's not clear is whether he sees this as something that's been the case throughout, or might have recently changed back to something more like the historical norm after the large Western deployments in Helmand started in mid-2008. I can't believe we were so entirely misguided in our earlier assessments there, but certainly it's fair to say that the increased effort in Helmand in the last 12 months has not had the positive effects on the rest of the south we might have hoped for.

Posted by BruceR at 01:53 PM