October 20, 2009

On NATO collaboration

I see Gen. Hillier's in the news again for his comments on NATO. Anne Applebaum said it well yesterday:

"Only very rarely do the casualties of one country make it into the media, the political debates or the prime ministerial speeches of another country. There has been an international coalition operating in Afghanistan since 2001. NATO has been in charge of that coalition since 2003. Yet to read the British press, one would think the British are there almost alone, fighting a war in which they have no national interest. The same is true in France and in the Netherlands... There is almost no sense anywhere that the war in Afghanistan is an international operation, or that the stakes and goals are international, or that the soldiers on the ground represent anything other than their own national flags and national armed forces..."

True, but I'd take it one step farther. Deaths of Afghan National Army forces, even those incurred in direct support of a NATO country's operations, are almost never mentioned in the non-Afghan press, by any country. By extension, if the NATO alliance is dying, NATO's alliance with Afghanistan never seems to have been born, at all.

UPDATE: Just so it's mentioned somewhere, there have been six U.S. fatalities in Kandahar Province, all apparently in the once quiet Arghandab district, reported by DoD in the last 3 days. As per normal, this has not yet been mentioned in Canadian media.

Posted by BruceR at 01:38 PM

Today's essential Afghan reading

Steve Coll on the crucialness (is that a word?) of continued engagement in Afghanistan, with a focus on political reform. The conclusion:

"America's record of policy failure in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the last 30 years should humble all of us. It should bring humility to the way we define our goals and realism about the means required to achieve them. It should lead us to choose political approaches over kinetic military ones, urban population security over provocative rural patrolling, and Afghan and Pakistani solutions over American blueprints. But it should not lead us to defeatism or to acquiescence in a violent or forcible Taliban takeover of either country. We have the means to prevent that, and it is in our interest to do so.

For future mentor wannabes, K from Kunar again. I think the guy's got a book in him:

In retrospect, I should have remained consistent with the way I had been conducting things…only with more patience and with my expectations in check. Our team had a lot of different personalities, and they all did things different ways; the guys (including myself) who were dictatorial toward their ANA commanders and lost patience with them eventually were unable to accomplish anything at all...to the point where they hardly even worked together. The ETTs who were patient and encouraging with their ANA were able to slowly but surely get more and more out of their ANA.

The key, I found, was having an outlet for the private blowing off of steam. Mentoring is extremely frustrating, not just because of the Afghans, but because of your coalition partners as well. Whenever I came back to KAF from something like an op, I could always count on our assistant ops O to be in the CP, ready to offer me a patient sounding board. It became a ritual: I'd come back, say, "well, THAT was f***ed up," and then we'd go off for a Tim's. He helped keep me sane.

The other expression we'd use amongst ourselves in our weaker moments was a "Gong Show" motif*. One of us would come back in after a planning meeting at Camp Hero or TFK headquarters, and announce, as calmly as we could, "well, first off, we're going to need a bigger gong." It almost always got a smile. The alternative, remember, was to take out our frustrations on our Afghan and ISAF colleagues in their presence: better to have a few smiles, sighs and headshakes, and then we could start working on the solution in good spirits.

One time I was out in the sticks with a satphone as our only backlink and a minor coordination crisis ongoing. I asked for "Seagull Minor" (NATO-speak for the assistant ops o) to come to the phone on the KAF end. I then said "stores request, prepare to copy."
A/Ops O: "Send."
"Para Alpha: Require one times..."
"Um, roger."
I hope he got a laugh out of it.

*As in, "This is a ******* ****ing Gong Show."

Posted by BruceR at 11:47 AM