July 13, 2009

Generals negotiate over a platoon

This rings a few bells. WashPost:

But plans to partner with the Afghan army have been scaled back because the Marines have been allotted only about 400 Afghan soldiers instead of the several thousand Nicholson had sought.

He has been promised more troops, but they will not start rolling in until next year...

In the interim, he has asked his superiors for permission to arm young men and train them to serve as a local protection force. It is similar to the Sons of Iraq initiative the Marines created in Anbar that resulted in locals turning against foreign fighters in the group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

But senior commanders have shown no sign of approving the request. They feel Helmand has too many overlapping tribal rivalries. Arming groups of young men could exacerbate tensions and lead some factions to turn to the Taliban for protection.

With that option closing, Nicholson has turned to wringing out as many soldiers from the Afghan army as possible. When he heard that a new battalion would be deployed to the south -- but not to his part of Helmand -- he flew to the NATO base near Kandahar five days before the operation began to ask a senior Afghan general for 30 of the soldiers. Nicholson promised to train them to be commandos.

The general refused to commit and told Nicholson to talk to a lower-ranking general whose base adjoins Camp Leatherneck. So the next day, Nicholson dispatched three colonels to see the general for a lunch of goat stew and rice.

"General Nicholson wants to make sure we have an ANA [Afghan National Army] face wherever we go," Col. Barry Neulen said.

"I wish the same thing, but I cannot promise them to you right now," said Brig. Gen. Muhayadin Ghori, commander of the Afghan army's 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps.

The men then began to negotiate. Ghori wanted to send two of his officers to the United States for training. "They have to see the U.S.A., what it's all about," he said.

And the 30 troops? Ghori promised an answer.

That was a week ago. The Marines still had not received any men.

To be clear, the force we're talking about is one of the new security force kandaks, 8 of which are the only new Afghan units being rolled out this year. They're only at 40% vehicle strength, as discussed below. Apparently 3/205, Brig. Ghori's brigade, is getting one of them. 3/205 presumably already gave up one of its 3 infantry kandaks to Nicholson, which this arrival is now presumably backfilling in security tasks in the secured area. Given that one of the other 2 kandaks will be in a training cycle (all those new NATO weapons and HMMVWs), and another will be tied to the British brigade operating to Nicholson's north, mathematically speaking that means giving Nicholson the new arrival, the fourth one, would likely endanger the hold on whatever part of Helmand Gen. Ghori thinks he can keep clear of the enemy now. And until there's parts of Helmand you could give outright to reliable police, or next year when kandak #5, #6, etc. could show up, that math is not going to change.

Posted by BruceR at 01:16 PM

U.S. PRTs going all-green?


McChrystal, who has spent most of his career in special operations units, is backing a proposal by Adm. Eric T. Olson, head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, to replace the current Navy and Air Force commanders of at least half of the 12 U.S. provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan with Special Operations officers who served previous tours in Afghanistan and have training in at least one of its two languages, Dari and Pashto.

Olson and McChrystal believe that the Navy and Air Force officers, who typically have backgrounds as pilots, navigators or ship commanders, lack the necessary experience. "We want to have the smartest and most culturally aware officers in charge of the reconstruction teams," said the senior military official in Kabul.

Posted by BruceR at 01:04 PM

More on the new guy

Time magazine on Gen. McChrystal:

In Afghanistan, they say, he gets up at 4 a.m. to run and e-mail before his workday really begins with an 8:30 video briefing with his regional commanders across the country. His iPod and Kindle (the newest model) are stocked by his wife with serious tomes on Pakistan, Lincoln and Vietnam. Right now, he is reading William Maley's 2002 book The Afghanistan Wars, a catalog of the long list of British failures in Afghanistan...

Good he's reading Maley, it's an excellent book; but that synopsis is just completely wrong, given that fully half the book describes the post 1979 era.

McChrystal famously eats little during the day, recently only picking at an Afghan spread featuring four kinds of meat. To the chagrin of Afghans, who see drinking tea as an inalienable human right, he scrapped a morning tea break at a recent security briefing in Kandahar...

Maybe not so smart, if getting the ANSF to do more is part of your brief.

Posted by BruceR at 10:07 AM

Today's essential Afghan reading

Afghan army size remains the elephant in the middle of the room. Rory Stewart:

Yet the current state-building project, at the heart of our policy, is justified in the most instrumental terms not as an end in itself but as a means towards counter-terrorism. In pursuit of this objective, Obama has committed to building "an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000", and adds that "increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed." US generals have spoken openly about wanting a combined Afghan army-police-security apparatus of 450,000 soldiers (in a country with a population half the size of Britain's).

Such a force would cost $2 or $3 billion a year to maintain; the annual revenue of the Afghan government is just $600 million. We criticise developing countries for spending 30 per cent of their budget on defence; we are encouraging Afghanistan to spend 500 per cent of its budget.

As Colin Powell would say, there is no real "exit strategy" here. We are building an indigenous army that will only be sustainable in anything like its current form so long as it remains wholly subsidized by the west. On the other hand, although everything is paid for by someone else, the Afghan government still retains full operational and administrative control. All the best intentions in the world have been falling into that basic gap in accountability.

Posted by BruceR at 09:24 AM