August 12, 2009

Military intelligence reading list

Good post by Tom Ricks here, on military intelligence books one should read. Take this as an evocative second vote for one of the books mentioned, the hard-to-find Front-line Intelligence by Robb and Chandler. If you're a battalion-level or mentor S2 it has a lot to tell you.

Posted by BruceR at 04:13 PM

Where does one sign up for this "sideshow"?

Look, I wouldn't worry so much that somebody considers your part of the Afghan operation a sideshow. Odds are you'll get less micromanaging that way and might actually get something done.

By contrast, in my experience if someone starts telling you you're the "main effort" (for instance, Afghan security force building) that practically guarantees everyone's going to trip over each other with their pet ideas for you and you'll end up getting no useful support of any kind.

Posted by BruceR at 03:53 PM

Today's essential Afghan reading: to-and-fro edition

There's a good to-and-fro on Kandahar Province and the Afghan south specifically here. A couple quotes:

Gilles Dorronsoro: "The failure in Helmand (yes, the offensive has already failed) means it is impossible to control the countryside. Even 50,000 reinforcements will not change that. More troops in Kandahar are useless."

Austin Long: "I am not holding Canadian operations from 2005-2008 up as a model. Many of the Canadians I have talked to explicitly acknowledge that all they did for most of that period was play Taliban whack-a-mole. I am talking about current operations in Dand (and possibly elsewhere soon). Even there, as I noted, it is not clear if it will work, so it may not be a model. But they are trying something different... I should be clear that it was the Canadian military that made the choice to focus on Kandahar City and environs. The Canadian government is still sticking to "signature projects" like Dahla Dam."

Alex Strick van Lindschoten: "As for the Canadian work in Dand at the moment, it's quite nice on paper, but it isn't a strategic-level shift and it certainly isn't going to fundamentally turn the course of the war down south."

Canadians should be clear that, while our military has gained respect for the disproportionate casualties it has incurred since 2005, we haven't necessarily impressed anyone with that military's actual prowess in its counterinsurgency operations, at least to date. Being respected for one's toughness and for one's ingenuity are two different, and sometimes almost unrelated, things. To take a more extreme example, the British army on the Somme is respected rightly for taking heavy casualties and staying in the fight, but condemned for the pointless tactical approach that produced those same casualties.

The problem is that, in leaving in 2011 (which will be seen by many, regardless of the reasons, as an unwillingness to incur further casualties), we risk significantly undercutting our new rep for toughness, while still leaving the historical question open as to our smartness.

(Not that that's disastrous, mind. In that sense, we would be in a somewhat parallel position to the Australians in Vietnam. We may think we had some better ideas than the Americans, but after we leave early, or in a losing effort, it can't be said in retrospect that they received the full historical test. As an army, though, that kind of non-decision does not have to be crippling, as the Australians have since showed.)

See also this post. And Pat Lang, who has the distinction of having danced this dance the first time.

Posted by BruceR at 03:27 PM

Canada's greatest living actor. And a mountain.

Face it, anyone can make fun of Sarah Palin: it's practically the American national pastime now. You don't need Canada's master thespian for that. But this, on the other hand, was pure gold.

Posted by BruceR at 01:24 AM

Past 2011, is mentoring an option?

It's always difficult to read tea leaves, and parse what the government really means when it says Canada will no longer have a "combat role" after 2011 in Kandahar. I'm not sure they know what they really mean. It is, however, a position that now enjoys overwhelming popular and political support. The question is, if we were respondent to American or NATO pressure to continue on in some capacity anyway, what options now remain open with that? Would a continued presence of a Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team still be open for debate? (Probably.) Would the use of helicopters in transport roles be? (Possibly.)

How about continuing ANSF mentoring? Maybe not so much.

It's not just that mentors, with their ANSF partners, are in combat as much as, if not more than the regular battalion troops in the same province, making their "non-combat" designation pretty much a joke. Nor is it that they have to follow the same Western-level force protection standards in their defended locations and vehicles. When you're a 4-man team working a platoon house with 30 dependable ANA or ANP, there's no margin for error there. And it's not just that they'd necessarily have to sponge off the nearest main force battalion for all kinds of things (a logistical train, to start with).

No, it's also that, assuming the Canadian battle group in Kandahar does leave, it will be replaced by another nationality. Almost certainly, in this case, an American battalion. Well, the whole point of Canadian mentors most days is not to teach cute little lectures, it's to achieve synchronization of effects through liaison. Which means explaining the Canadian military to Afghans and the Afghan military to Canadians, and working out all the differences that come with that.

Hey, we're as close to Americans as you can get, I guess, without being American, but it's an open question whether an American battle group commander is really going to achieve maximal value by having soldiers of a third nation, any third nation, as his interface between him and the local ANSF, rather than an American ETT or PMT. A Canadian OMLT might be somewhat better that way than a Romanian one, I suppose, but it isn't the best possible solution for getting that hard seal on the intent side that, if I were a U.S. battalion commander, I would want to have. No, once you remove the Canadian battle group you're there to interface with (and that the Afghans and you are depending on to stay alive) the need for corresponding mentoring teams from the same nationality definitely diminishes.

This is even more strongly the case if you're talking the brigade level, where I worked. I may know something now about Canadian and ANA brigade-level staff procedures, but my knowledge of American brigade-level procedures, in practice, is fairly limited. So why exactly would I be the right person to explain them to Afghans? (Never mind that before Afghanistan, Canada hadn't had a brigade deployed in combat since the Korean War, so maybe we're not the best people to explain brigade procedures to anyone.)

Now, we have a lot of mentoring experience with the ANA as an army, and if you'd like to take advantage of that, possibly with a reduced mentor component (say 30-60 soldiers with previous tour experience) imbedded in a mixed-force structure under overall U.S. leadership (as augmentees, for instance), well, that makes a lot more sense. But having the only way Afghans can talk to Americans being through both an interpreter AND a Canadian in either direction would not seem optimal, and keeping a couple hundred Canadian soldiers in an ANA mentoring role in Kandahar Province past 2011 might not be the best application of our limited resources, sorry to say.

UPDATE: Just an update to this: I'm not saying mentorship roles in a follow-on force structure should be avoided entirely, just rethought. There are ways we could still help ANSF development, if we're smart and selective about it. For instance, one of the unsung success stories of our tours to date has been our police mentoring. We as a nation demonstrably have done a better job at this than American PMTs, as good as they are themselves. Our police mentors have saved lives and discomfited the insurgency to a degree disproportionate to their numbers. And in such a role, integration with landowner battlegroup staff procedures and so on is somewhat less important than it is with ANA mentoring (you're not going to have an American combat subunit attached to or firing in support for an operation to an ANP headquarters, for instance, the way you could with the Afghan army as they grow). So if, for instance, the PRT were to continue on after 2011, and wanted to expand its police mentoring component from the current 2 attached platoons to a full company, that could be an excellent use of national resources.

Posted by BruceR at 12:16 AM