December 04, 2009

Looking for some Afghan graphs?

Tony Cordesman's CSIS group has collected, um, all of them, I think.

Posted by BruceR at 05:09 PM

What happened to my doughnut?

The Globe and Mail's Patrick White, who is evidently still getting his chops as a war correspondent, amused me this week by putting forward the headline, "Canadian troops to form doughnut of stability," referring to efforts around Kandahar City. At some point later, sober individuals prevailed, and "doughnut" was changed to "ring."

To be fair, since there's no real approaches to Kandahar City from the Northeast, it really was more like a croissant of stability, anyway...

All the indications are that the effort is being placed where it should be, that being in the semi-rural districts around Kandahar City, rather than in Kandahar City proper. Joe Klein's fever dreams aside, it's hard to see how more Western forces inside the city proper would help.

That's largely because of the vehicles. The city itself is densely packed, and there is no bypassing highway... everything going west to east or vice versa through this part of the country goes through the city centre, on a two-lane road (with a partition, thankfully). Daytime traffic is always congested... night time is much better.

There's already massive numbers of Western vehicles on that road. And, through no fault of the drivers that means they sometimes scrape foot carts, hit bicycles, or run into ditches and stop traffic getting pulled out, for hours. Or get attacked: there's that, too.

(A related problem is remote weapons stations, like on the RG-31. The RG is a great vehicle for highway patrol. But despite the bullet-proof windows, visibility to the side and rear is extremely limited except through the gunner's viewscreen. Unfortunately, unlike the periscope on a tank, which can swivel independent of the gun, a remote weapon station's camera is normally slaved to the gun. Which means if you're trying to watch behind you you have to point a .50 calibre machine gun at everything you look closely at. Which especially given that an rooftop RWS being used effectively looks a little like something out of a Terminator movie, elevating and swivelling jerkily and robotically around, can be unintentionally intimidating. I'm not sure the average Afghan knows there's a person operating it. And whereas a vehicle like a LAV can use humans standing in rooftop hatches as "air sentries" to watch all around it instead, the RG and other mine-resistant vehicles tend to be hermetically sealed against overpressure, so they don't have that option. Overall, RG-31s and similar RWS-dependent vehicles can't help but look hostile to the average person. They're simply not good vehicles for crowded cityscapes, I'm afraid.)


It's all well and good to say there's value in more presence patrols in the city. But the only kind that is likely to have a positive impact is the dismounted kind. Mounted presence patrols exert a presence, all right, but it's an annoying and intimidating one. The trouble is, to get more dismounts into the city will also increase the amount of vehicle traffic getting them in and out and around.

What Kandaharis would really like, other than reliable electricity, is to be able to get through the night without the sound of artillery fire, gunfire, or loud explosions. It's the areas around the city, which can be used by insurgents for their campaigns of assassination, intimidation, and bombing in the city proper, that would benefit the most from a greater Western presence. In the heart of the city, Western troops, and particularly their vehicles, are only ever going to be at best a necessary evil in limiting that. The people don't see the attack we might have prevented from happening, they just see that they missed an appointment, or that we hit somebody's pet goat.

Having read "The Good Soldiers" recently, I'm not totally convinced Western troops were that valuable in Iraq, either, at least when they were mounted. Certainly, there is value in constant contact between Afghan and Western forces... having an infantry section or platoon 24/7 at each major police or army installation in the city to provide a "hard seal" between Western and Afghan efforts would be very helpful, I'm sure. So long as they don't have to drive around in the day too much.

Posted by BruceR at 09:03 AM


Kevin Drum asks "what's the plan?" in Afghanistan. I don't feel the same disconnect. I thought Obama, when read with Gen. McChrystal's previous staff work, doesn't leave much in the way of ambiguity, actually.

The key date is July 2011, and the deliverable the "beginning of the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces. Not winning the war, or fixing the country, or something else equally ephemeral.

It's always been a key deliverable, long before the President's speech. During my tour, the phrase was "Transfer of Lead Security Responsibility," or TLSR. The question was always how far away it really was: it was always a real moving target of a deadline. Previously in this space I've tried to indicate some reasons why. Col Haynes' paper gives another good summary of the problems.

To fully get this, you have to understand that as of a year ago there were no military boundaries between Coalition and Afghan-controlled areas. There was near total overlap. No distinct Canadian or Afghan AO (area of operations). The reason being that Afghans weren't considered ready enough to take on the insurgents, or even know roughly who and where those insurgents were within a given geographic area, even with ISAF mentors in overwatch.

But the fact that Afghan soldiers and police were still necessary under ISAF and Afghan rules for door-kicking and detainee collection duties on all operations, but believed to be incapable of surviving long on the battlefield alone, left ISAF/ANSF with little choice other than this sort of bifurcation of the "monopoly of force" an armed force normally enjoys, if anyone from either army was going to ever leave a FOB.

Also completely missing, as Col. Haynes pointed out, was any kind of memorandum of agreement between the two forces similar to what there was in Iraq, which allowed the one army's commanders tactical control of the other under the right circumstances. Instead, what you had was an atmosphere of total ad hockery. They had their plans, and we had ours, and sometimes if the mentors were on the ball we'd show up at the same spot for the same reason. At best, they were our adjuncts, there to support our operations by providing that interpository layer between us and the Afghan people. But unity of effort or shared intent were completely theoretical.

It is the belief of many military mentors that the sum total of these effects has been the perpetuation of tendencies towards passivity and dependence within the ANSF. Gen. McChrystal's review concurred with this, saying that the forces must actually start to work closely together now, not just continue the lip service: enabling Afghan operations, not just dragging them along on ours. This change in attitude towards ANSF development is the most important part of his new strategy, separate from any change in troop levels. As McChrystal himself said, in the absence of the attitudinal change, any troop increase is irrelevant.

The end state here, at least within the parts of the country the government is trying to hold, is akin to what was supposed to happen in the early 1970s with Vietnamization... Afghan ground forces, supported and backed up by Western enablers... ISR drones, helicopters, fast air, casevac, highly accurate artillery, delivered to them through control relationships or imbedded mentors. Everyone agrees that gradually the part of the country patrolled on foot and in vehicles by Western soldiers needs to decrease... this is the way to get there. First, drop the bureaucratic and operational barriers to full cooperation. Then start handing back the country, district by district and province by province, with only Western mentors or their military equivalents (albeit with radios that can call down whatever's needed) remaining. The areas where a Western battalion has the lead will correspondingly shrink progressively, removing them as a presence from populated areas.

That means there will still be lots of Americans and ISAF troops post July '11. But they'll be less visible... and in a real sense working for and with the Afghans, not around them. Much of the sense of being an occupying army will hopefully be lifted without losing too much actual fighting capability. So that's the plan, Kevin.

(The plan will likely be combined with an expanded effort in the more remote areas outside the growing ANSF ambit, involving SOF, Special Forces Gant-type tribal engagement teams and the like, to keep the enemy from getting comfortable there, as well. The two are complementary, not contradictory: the one approach suited for where there's a Afghan population to defend, the other where there isn't. These more remote areas could remain with coalition forces having the security lead in that sense for a very long time yet.)

One of those enablers we're going to continue to provide for a long time is ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance). Now, there's one complication with that plan, and for that I need to show a picture.

This is the 1/205 ANA Brigade's intelligence desk on deployed operations. Seriously, this is all of it. There is no more. 1/205 was responsible for fighting the insurgency in Kandahar Province, which has roughly a million people. What you are seeing is all the tools, all of them, the Afghan army had at the time to find their enemy and evaluate the effect they were having on them in that province. Consider that when we're evaluating how far we are from TLSR.

Now, there's a reason for that... the Afghans aren't stupid. They don't feel a need for huge intelligence capabilities in their army brigades, because those brigades are expected to get all their intelligence support from somewhere else. No, not us... when I was there we weren't allowed to share squat. From their own National Directorate of Security, or NDS. The NDS guys actually know what's going on, actually keep files, and the like. At least, we think they do... during my time we had very little interaction with them, and they were too good as secret police and intelligence agents to volunteer much to us, either. But they did seem to find the bad people reliably, and know when we'd captured a couple, using undoubtedly a combination of humint, interrogation, and decades of accumulated street sense.

The trouble is, the NDS ARE a secret police in every sense, with an unsavoury reputation, as the recent Colvin allegations in Canada are reminding us. How, exactly, do you interact with such an organization, without bringing guilt on yourself by association? If you don't, however, we can never really provide the kind of ongoing support from our much more complex intelligence resources to the Afghan security effort... if the army has no capacity to ingest those kind of inputs, and we're shunning the Afghans who do, who, exactly, would we support? It was a problem we never found a solution to during my time there, sadly.

Posted by BruceR at 08:19 AM