March 03, 2010

Frontier justice

Bernard Finel is horrified that the Americans are teaching Afghans how to run a justice system.

The WashPost article he's riffing on is another one of those "missing the point" Afghan pieces. The real issue is that because there is no actual Afghan military detention apparatus (and no one wants to strong arm the Afghans into having one), the civilian criminal and prison systems are being used as the only method the Afghans and ISAF have for detaining their insurgents. And this isn't working (see the 96-hour rule, below), because it's the wrong tool for the job. You couldn't have run a POW system in any past war with "habeas corpus" as your primary value. Soldiers need to detain those they capture in arms on the battlefield first, and treat them humanely to make further surrenders more likely, but they need to continue to hold them in anything other than mistaken identity cases until the fighting is over. That is the reason for Geneva protections, so that military detainees are given basic rights even though they haven't been convicted of anything.

If judicial reform efforts in Afghanistan were focussed on improving how regular crime is handled, improving means of handling property disputes, and the like, the West could no doubt sort things out with a modicum of effort. But the system is now swamped beyond all reason by the demands of detaining, questioning, and trying hundreds of individual low-level insurgents taken in battlefield conditions around the country, each of whom needs to have a "case" built against him as if they were alleged pickpockets or robbers. Surging American investment into the civilian criminal system now so that there is at least some sort of national ability to keep insurgents off the battlefield, rather than helping the Afghans erect some sort of an alternative to handle that specific problem, has to be seen as the sub-optimal course of action.

Posted by BruceR at 01:08 PM

Yon bridge update

Yon's little temper tantrum seems to have made the papers, I see.

With all the respect that's due to him, he's missing the real issue here, which is the total deniability that always will exist when you don't clearly define areas of operation between ANSF and ISAF to rationalize any overlap or gaps, and have little in the way of shared command and control capabilities. In the end, this will likely come down, as LCol Fortin says, to the ANP on the bridge failing to stop an attack on it. But they will in turn say that ISAF failed (why were they out driving before the ANP had finished checking the road, they will ask). And further investigation will undoubtedly show that neither felt they had been able to do sufficient coordination with the other.

It's too simple to say, "we trusted the Afghans to do something and they screwed up." Careful management, whether civilian or military, is about trust AND verify. But verification of ANSF activities when you don't actually work side by side with them or at least are able to phone them once in a while (In our time there was a shared C2 facility in Kandahar City finally and slowly being stood up, but essentially no Afghans were allowed onto KAF, and no landlines or standby interpreters in any of the ISAF headquarters to enable phone conversation either; obviously email was a complete impossibility. This was the case throughout Afghanistan as of a year ago.) is extremely difficult.

These conditions also exist within the ISAF coalition between national contingents, which is the drum Yon's beating now, but to a much lesser extent. (Any UK-Canadian-US coord over this bridge, if Afghan security hadn't been also involved at the point end, would have been completely solvable using existing procedures.) The bigger problem that always is in the background in these sorts of situations is coordination in a battlespace with Westerners and Afghans co-located and dependent on each other for things like road security but without the ability or mandate to effectively collaborate to achieve them. This was, in a nutshell, the biggest problem in this fight a year ago, and while it's getting better, it's nowhere near solved yet. The bridge is only another symptom of that.

Posted by BruceR at 12:43 PM

Michael Yon's stuck in KAF update

Yon steps it up today (same link as below): "Our combat soldiers should not be commanded from a country that is quitting the fight. The bridge fiasco on Monday underlines that fact. With our next big offensive set for Kandahar, command should be with British and U.S. forces. Canada needs to step out of the way."

In the comments, he also claims "it's looking more like a cover-up by the hour,", apparently because Canadian PR has been referring his questions to the British base defence organization (it was a squadron from the RAF Regiment when I was there) whose AO it apparently still is.

There were issues with KAF base defence a year ago, too. The RAF troops (despite their air rank structure, they're ground-pounder infantry, and quite good at their job) reported up to Regional Command (South), not Task Force Kandahar. They had a large AO around the airbase to roam in hunting for the sporadic rocket launch attempts that never did much damage, and were separate from the Eastern European troop contingents who had the actual entry control point duties on the inner perimeter (ANSF forces had the outer checkpoints; the whole thing was in theory quite effectively layered). Although I always found them to be switched on and amenable, there were always challenges because RC (South) isn't a tactical-level headquarters and had difficulty pretending it was, and had an even more tenuous comms link than the Canadians did with local Afghan forces to coordinate these sorts of efforts. I'm sure the rapid growth of the base has only complicated matters.

Quick story: UAV goes down at dawn on recovery approach close to base. No biggie, it happens. (Leading to the now classic chat exchange that all of us on watch that day killed ourselves over: Sitrep: "UAV has crashlanded." Duty officer's first response: "Was it manned?" But I digress...) I stagger in at my usual time and find the map rack in the process of being turned upside down. The UAV, it appears, had gone down in a marked mine area, and TFK, the Canadian headquarters, was reaching down to us in the OMLT S2 shop for any better maps to give more definition.

Which was flattering, I suppose (I was very proud of our map rack), but I didn't have any better than they did at that point. I told them the mine trace in question was held by RC (South)'s C-IED crew, which meant they would need to RFI up to a regional command (on the same base, of course) to find out more about their immediate vicinity, which was kind of weird. In any case, I told them the person they really needed to talk to was the RAF Regiment S2 (either the superb Hannah or Sandy the Scot at that time, can't remember: they were both top-notch S2s) who in my experience knew everything there was to know in a 20 km radius from the airbase. Later that morning I did the same rounds, and picked up some better maps just in case we ever did get a piece of the minefield recovery gig someday. I didn't write it up in an RFI format and send it up on the Secret network, through TFK, to RC (South), and then down to the RAF Regiment and Div Engineers: I just walked over and talked to people and brought back a roll of maps and the straight dope. I did it a lot, and I tended to respect others who did likewise, which is why I knew who would have the best map in the first place when others didn't.

Sometimes people suggested I shouldn't be playing havoc with institutional processes this way. But I saw it as just part of the S2's job: in the lingo, my "area of interest" had to be much larger than my "area of operations" at all times, and that meant talking to anyone who'd talk to me if I plied them with coffee. This is actually a common issue I find with professional militaries. Civilian organizations, even the big ones, are flatter, less hierarchical. It's not a career-destroying move as a civvy manager to talk to someone or send an email two levels above you, or two levels up and one over as in this case. But for regular force officers in a peacetime context, it is frowned upon: "follow the chain of command," etc. Everyone agrees these rules can be relaxed when they interfere with the mission, but professional military officers still tend to be overcautious on this score. Me, I didn't really care about my professional military future at the time, which allowed me to ignore rules if they got in the way while I was in KAF without much in the way of self-doubt, or backlash so long as there was a payoff from time to time. Call it the technet, or whatever, but breaking down these sorts of barriers through unannounced drop-ins and small favours is a big part of an S2's job, too.

In any case, with this sort of park and blow suicide car attack, it's not clear what any of these forces could have done. Again, Yon's just looking for ammo to condemn the non-US elements of the mission, because he feels they've screwed his travel plans.

Posted by BruceR at 08:50 AM