June 30, 2010

Today's essential Afghan reading: the SIGAR report

The SIGAR report on the problems with the ANSF Capability Milestone (CM) system is out, and worth a read. The clear implication is that prior to the arrival of Gen McChrystal and his team, ANSF mentoring had really been spinning its wheels.

The fact that this report was coming has been known by ISAF for some time: so long that the current official response that it's now so out-of-date as to be unnecessary seems a little disingenuous. Indeed, the prospect of the report itself would seem the most likely impetus for those changes they now say invalidate it. From the press release linked above:

"SIGAR auditors briefed International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commanders on March 12, 2010 on the initial findings as the audit work progressed. On April 23, 2010 ISAF Joint Command (IJC) scrapped the CM rating system and replaced it with an entirely new system for assessing ANSF capabilities. The new system is called Command Unit Assessment Tools (CUAT)."

Everyone should read the response by Lt. Gen. Caldwell, commander of the NATO training mission appended to the PDF of the report. He feels the report, because it's based on the situation up to late last year, does not reflect the tremendous progress since he came into the position in November. I'm sure there's a lot of truth to that. But it is also tantamount to conceding ISAF is still effectively in the middle of Year One as far as ANSF capacity building is going, and that much of what happened in 2009 and before was wasted effort. This has obvious implications on how much longer is required before transfer of lead security responsibility over parts of the country is possible.

(The sad story on page 13, about how a ANP unit rated CM1 (and therefore capable of running the district on its own, without mentors) in Baghlan province "had withered away to the point that it barely functions" and the district was now "overrun with insurgents", is a good example of the potential problems of the previous system.)

In their official responses, both ISAF and DOD, and Gen. Petraeus before Congress yesterday, refer back to the April DOD Progress report, which states (p. 111):

"It is also important to note that the current CM ratings look only at the manning, training and equipping of a unit, so a combat unit can be operationally effective without necessarily being rated at CM1."

This is significant: up until the month the SIGAR report's conclusions were known, the DOD position was that the CM system was actually understating ANSF capability. Now that the SIGAR report has come out, along with other evidence that ANSF capability has been, if anything, historically overstated, they're saying that in fact, they weren't even measuring capability at all. By dropping off the last part of the quote.

I'll only say that that statement and the one from the previous DOD progress report from October 2009, that the CM ratings "simply depict the manning, training and equipment" description of CM would have seemed inconsistent with the (unclas) CM brigade intelligence evaluation checklist I was given by the local VTT and was expected to be operating under in early 2009.* I was asked to evaluate as an S2 mentor whether the brigade S2 cell could:

*Develop humint sources and fuse humint into operations
*Provide situational understanding of the enemy to higher, lower, own HQs
*Provide reasonably accurate understanding of enemy capabilities
*Track historical and background information on threats within their sector
*Determine threat patterns and trends
*Employ and manage the brigade recce company effectively
*Provide intelligence to enable ops through IPB
*Develop enemy COAs as part of planning
*Conduct intelligence gathering from detainees

Now obviously, none of these are purely "manning, training and equipment" questions. I understand the argument that saying they had the "manning, training and equipment" to potentially do these things is not quite the same as saying they are operationally effective at them. Lots of people and teams have the appropriate training and are still not effective at their jobs, for all kinds of reasons.

But I would then have to ask why at the time both VTT (Validation Training Teams; the US units that gave the ratings) commanders I worked with would not give ratings unless they had actually seen the evaluated unit on combat operations, taking considerable personal risk upon themselves to do so, when a pure "manning, training and equipment" assessment could presumably have been done as effectively by reviewing the unit's documentation and hard deliverables in a garrison setting. ("Did the S2 have his trade course? Did they have maps they could read? Was the second sergeant used for more than making tea?" None of these questions would have required observing the command team in combat conditions.)

The reason a pure "establishment measurement" system was not appropriate for units already in combat should be clear: combat tends to have an attritional effect on all three of these metrics. If the CM system had been purely an on-paper evaluation, and a truthful one, the units incurring heavy fighting should have seen their evaluation scores go DOWN, not up. And given the importance of a high CM rating to the Afghan defence ministry, this in turn would have led to Afghan units avoiding potential combat situations even more than they did, to keep from hurting their "scores."**

As ISAF mentors to a brigade that was losing men to the enemy weekly, focussing purely on measuring and enhancing those sorts "manning, training and equipment" progress-on-paper measures would not have seemed consistent with our professional responsibilities, either. We needed a system in place that measured whether they could and would FIGHT, and whether our efforts were having an effect on bettering that. This apparent ambiguity (to be charitable) over what CM ratings really represented could not have served us well in this regard.

Indeed, saying now that a system that was described (in its title!) as a "Capability Milestone" system should not have been expected to infer anything about "capability" at all seems at best misleading on the part of its inventors and supporters. We should all be happy to be rid of it. And the only criticism that the leaders of the ANSF capacity building effort should feel reflects negatively in any way on their current efforts is how long it has taken to do just that.

*If a unit could do the things on the list, it (or at least, its intelligence office) was CM1. All the other command functions had similar lists. The SIGAR report notes the definition of CM1 has varied through the literature, but the one we were using was not significantly different from the one in the DOD progress report (p. 111): "The unit... is capable of conducting primary operational missions." Note, NOT, "The unit has the manning, equipment and training to potentially conduct..." CAPABLE of conducting.

**Notably the new CUAT system, unlike its predecessor, is classified, so there is little in the public domain about how it works or how much it differs. One of the problems with the CM system that SIGAR does not dwell on is that, because it was effectively a "report card" that was supposed to be shared with the ANSF commanders to let them know where they stood, it couldn't be classified (because it was forbidden at the time to share any ISAF classified info with any ANSF agency). It also meant that it had to be scrubbed of any accurate assessments of the integrity or competence of individual Afghan commanders, so very little of that sort of assessment could ever officially be collected in mentor reporting.

Posted by BruceR at 08:15 AM

OK, this was cool: Orbital at Glastonbury

Don't know Who this "Matt Smith" fellow thinks he is, but Orbital seems to like having him around... great modernization of a geek classic.

UPDATE: BBC's lawyers have taken this down, so in its place, I offer Kirk and Spock arguing about a bike.

Posted by BruceR at 12:00 AM

June 23, 2010

Marine mentoring in Helmand

Good article, this.

But the general consensus from rank and file infantrymen is that for every good ANA soldier, there are at least five or six who are lazy, incompetent or both.

“They’re not willing to do the job it takes to defend their country,” said Lance Cpl. Lucas McGary, a rifleman with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. “They’re so worthless that their worthlessness doesn’t faze anyone anymore.”

I hadn't realized before this that soldiers from ANA 203 Corps in the East came to Helmand for a while while the Marjah op was going down (along with Canadian-mentored soldiers from 2 Kandak, 1/205 Bde). They undoubtedly were missed in the East, but the simple reality is it can be very difficult to accommodate the mentor teams from other ISAF nations that would be brought in if Afghan soldiers from the relatively unblooded ANA corps in the north and west were used: interoperability, caveats, etc. So only American (and Canadian, we'll apparently go anywhere)-mentored Afghans could be used to reinforce the other American-mentored Afghans.

UPDATE: Frequent correspondent Anand writes in to note that the Marja op used French-mentored ANA, as well.

Posted by BruceR at 12:10 AM

June 22, 2010

Meanwhile, back in Afg 3: Dahla update

Francoise Ducros of CIDA attempts to put Canadians at ease about the Dahla Dam project, which the Toronto Star has been hound-dogging recently.

For another point of view, see the always-entertaining Tim Lynch, which has the immortal quote (not Tim's):

Two years for engineering studies! It’s a dirt dam with a gate!

Posted by BruceR at 05:59 PM

Meanwhile, back in Afg 2: the Good Guys of Gizab

The WashPost has a "ray of light" piece on Afghanistan.

Gizab, a valley in Daikundi province (although that is disputed) with a majority Pashtun population (also disputed), is apparently steadfastly anti-Taliban. Good for them. People are wondering how to replicate that success, which is a good discussion. Three points.

The obvious fact is this is a place in completely marginal territory for the Taliban, hard up against or in the Hazarajat, the central Afghanistan refuge of the Shia Hazara people, who the Taliban in the past have done every depredation short of hunting for sport. The Pashtuns in this area are economically and socially interlinked with the Hazara, who form the overwhelming majority of the region's population. For them to be anything other than pro-peace given that situation (and the likelihood they'd be running for their lives the moment civil war ever breaks out again) would be surprising. Indeed, if the government can't keep these Pashtuns onside, it's fair to see it couldn't keep any.

Two, the lack of any ISAF or ANSF presence (at ALL) up to this point is notable. The Taliban may simply have had no targets there to pursue. It's a fair first-order approximation to say adding ISAF or ANSF forces to an area increases attacks, because the target set is richer. The discomfiting upshot, however, is that this state of grace can't last: the fact Gizab is in the news all but guarantees both ISAF and the insurgents will pay closer attention to it in future. It shouldn't be a quiet little valley for long as a result.

Finally, if the question is how do you keep the Taliban out in such a place, well the answer seems pretty clear: extrajudicial executions of the suspected insurgents who had kidnapped the leader's relatives, combined with the explicit tying by ISAF SOF personnel of any aid delivery to the valley on them ejecting the Taliban first. In Gizab it worked great, apparently. Leaving aside the likelihood of expanding that concept elsewhere, it could at least give current fans of the Afghan detainee abuse scandal here in Canada pause. In Gizab, they're clearly well past that those sorts of niceties... if that is the only route to victory in Afghanistan, it wouldn't appear to be a route Canadians could ever follow. Not that that's a bad thing.

Look, these issues have been around since long before Joseph Conrad, even if he nailed it. You get into the poorly lit crannies of the world, and some of that darkness is going to get into you. If the Helmand River was navigable that far north, someone would certainly be telling somebody else not to get out of the boat about now. T.I.A., people.

Last point: at the very end of the article, note the reference to "a private militia" from Uruzgan arming the "Good Guys", and the locals pushing the government for more money and arms in exchange for security, and the leader's requests for government salaries for 300 of his men (in a district with a population of 54,000). Dollars to donuts that's the Karzai-family affiliated KAU militia. Could those guys use those weapons some day to keep the Karzai faction in power in Uruzgan? Or could they use them to keep the Hazara off their back if the civil war returns? You betcha.

Posted by BruceR at 05:55 PM

Meanwhile, back in Afg

The McChrystal article, if you haven't read it yet.

Schmedlap has a point. The U.S. commander for Afghanistan is quoted saying the current Afghan policy was a hard sell in Washington at first ("I was selling an unsellable position"), pretends not to know the vice-president, ("Who's that?") and does make some scathing remarks about both Ambassador Eikenberry and special envoy Richard Holbrooke. But that's still pretty borderline as far as the whole-military-law-subordination-to-civil-authority sort of thing.

All the other smack-talking is his anonymous aides, a couple of whom, if they are ever exposed, really do need to resign. And it does pretty clearly show that the Obama civilian-military team for Afghanistan (or at least its top three people) is dysfunctional to the point of needing to replace SOMEBODY. But no, it's not *quite* MacArthur-Truman.

UPDATE: A better comparison might be Lincoln-McClellan in the winter of 1861-62. Or maybe FDR-Patton. Or Clinton-Campbell.

UPDATE #2: Just going back to MacArthur-Truman for a minute, it's worth mentioning that was a dual offense. First came the ultimatum to China that might have interfered with an American cease-fire proposal, and then the letter made public two weeks later to the House Minority Leader. So Slate is wrong when it says MacArthur defied "orders to refrain from attacking China" but Bernard Finel is over-the-top when he says this is comparable. In the MacArthur case you're talking very public on-the-record disagreements with the President's policy by the general personally, not anonymous trash-talking by his aides. Permitting a culture of insubordination is bad command practice, but the military offence can only be committed by the speaker themselves, and on that score McChrystal can't be accused based on the evidence to date.

Truman himself defined the criteria best: "I fired [MacArthur] because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail."

UPDATE #3: Bernard Finel makes a good argument that this is, in fact, exactly like MacArthur. He downplays MacArthur's March interference with cease-fire feelers; I guess I've previously assumed that was the real reason (Truman later said he should have fired MacArthur when that happened) and the letter to the House Minority Leader the next convenient opportunity. Finel feels that the letter itself was the camelback-breaking straw.

Posted by BruceR at 12:57 PM

June 21, 2010

Good World Cup commentary

The long-form web commentary out of Canadian outlets on the World Cup being so shockingly poor (compared to 2006), people have started to look elsewhere. I'm enjoying TNR's blog, and also Zonal Marking.

This is the trouble with a Twitt-ified news outlet. Seriously, if you're strong at sports analysis, people really don't care about your second-by-second stuff; you can get that elsewhere. We know who won, we want you experts to tell us why. On the Globe site right now, you have Steven Brunt's pretty good Portugal post-game analysis, but it's not even linked on their blog page yet, which has had nothing of significance but previews. John Doyle apparently hasn't written anything in a week; why is he getting a break from writing about TV, again? The Star has been even worse. In quality of analysis, the Canadian websites are a huge step down from 4 years ago.

Posted by BruceR at 11:38 AM

June 16, 2010

Arghandab follies, redux

The Arghandab District continues to mess with people's careers. Following on the "worst briefing ever" incident, where the American battalion commander in the Arghandab was sent home, allegedly over a risque PowerPoint slide, the wife of his brigade commander back home has now been banned from having anything to do with the formation's soldiers. The unusual move by the division commander lends credence to statements, reprinted in a report in the Fayetteville Observer, by the lieutenant-colonel who was fired, Frank Jenio, appearing to blame his firing in part on undue command influence by the brigade commander's wife:

"Mrs. Drinkwine's overbearing influence on the entire command, combined with Col. Drinkwine's [the brigade commander's] self isolation from the battalion commanders and his subordinate battalions, has alienated the battalions from the brigade and created the most dysfunctional military unit I've ever seen or heard of," Jenio wrote in his sworn statement.

Meanwhile, back in the Arghandab, the Afghan district chief and his son were assassinated by insurgents yesterday.

Posted by BruceR at 08:42 AM

Improving military mentoring

Researcher Adam Mausner of CSIS (Tony Cordesman's think tank, not the spy agency) has a new position paper out on improving Afghan military mentoring evaluation methods. This in advance of the report on the problems with the Capability Milestone system that was in place during my time by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which is expected out later this month. That report will undoubtedly talk about the issues we experienced with accurate evaluation in exhaustive detail, but Mausner's paper offers a good summary of the key issues in the interim.

Posted by BruceR at 08:30 AM

Credit where credit's due

For what it's worth, a larger Canadian military presence in the ANA training facilities in the Kabul area (the Kabul Military Training Centre, the National Military Academy, and the Command and General Staff College, the latter two soon to be merged into the National Defense University) would seem consistent with prior House of Commons resolutions, is probably sustainable for a long period by the army, would probably help the Americans by allowing them to reallocate training resources elsewhere, would probably do a lot of good for the Afghan army, and doesn't run into many of the problems with operational mentoring without one's own troops on the ground that have been mentioned before. Not seeing the downside here.

Posted by BruceR at 08:08 AM

June 14, 2010

Online civilization

If you wanted to point to a well-moderated, vibrant, civil manifestation of inline comments that are really almost as much of a pleasure to read as the original posts themselves, you couldn't do much better than the Atlantic blog of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Always nice to find a place where the usual online idiocy hasn't completely taken over yet.

Posted by BruceR at 06:46 AM

June 12, 2010

The better song

Maybe it's just the Canadian nationalist in me, but I think Coca Cola really did the World Cup a disservice this year by snapping up K'Naan's "Waving Flag" which would have been an awesome World Cup anthem, as their ad tune, and left them with... sigh... Shakira. Look, I'm a fan, but years from now, "Waka Waka" will be a trivia question.

PS: Viva Espana. That's all I'm saying on the subject.

Posted by BruceR at 01:33 AM

June 09, 2010

Sunk-cost fallacy watch

Canada's signature project in Afghanistan, not going well:

Foremost among the setbacks, insiders say, was a dramatic confrontation on Feb. 20, when rising tensions between Canadian security officials hired to oversee the project and members of Watan Risk Management, a group of Afghan mercenaries with close ties to the Karzai family, culminated in a “Mexican standoff” — the guns hired to protect the project actually turned on each other in a hair-trigger confrontation...

“Ever since, the project has been basically held hostage by the Karzai mafia, who are using ‘security concerns’ to stall the work. They are able to put fear in the heart of the Canadian contractors, telling them ‘There is evil outside the gates that will eat you.’ The longer they delay, the more money the Afghan security teams make. The Canadians have good intentions but that is the reality.”

Posted by BruceR at 09:23 AM

June 07, 2010

One less blog

Canada's own "milblog", The Torch (aka, toyoufromfailinghands.blogspot.com) has shut its doors, suddenly and apparently permanently. Correspondence with the authors confirms it's over. I'd give a link, but obviously there's no point now. They'll be missed. Best of luck to the contributors in their future endeavours.

Posted by BruceR at 08:04 PM

Inside the wire

On the Question Period TV show this weekend, Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said the Liberals supported the deployment of Canadian soldiers as trainers "inside the wire" in Afghanistan.

That sounds easier than it is. Afghan police and soldiers are trained on their own bases, obviously, but those are not "inside" coalition military facilities in any real sense. Afghans of any kind aren't normally allowed free run of ISAF military facilities, so the two have to remain physically distinct. So really what you're talking about is "inside the Afghan wire," at least part of the time: in other words, either cohabiting with Afghans, or failing that, "commuting" from a nearby ISAF base.

Which can be fine, of course, given some sensible precautions: I always felt quite safe in those sorts of situations. But in this context it might be worth noting today's news from Afghanistan.

...an American contractor died in a suicide attack against the police training center in Kandahar city, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said... The American contractor, who was not identified, and another person were killed when a team of three suicide bombers attacked the gates of the police training center. Afghan officials said one bomber blew a hole in the outer wall, enabling the other two to rush inside. But they were killed in the gunbattle that followed. Afghan officials said three police were wounded.

Posted by BruceR at 07:14 PM

On the Saleh-Atmar firings

National Directorate of Security head Amrulleh Saleh has been sacked by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, allegedly for failing to secure his "peace jirga" adequately, but probably because Saleh opposed Karzai's plan to release some Taliban prisoners, according to the NYT.

It might be worthwhile recalling Carl Forsberg's assessment of Saleh from April:

Hanif Atmar, head of the Ministry of the Interior, Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, and NDS head Amrullah Saleh are all figures who are judged competent and effective leaders and who do not have deep historic ties to the Karzai family. But these men also understand the Karzai family’s ascendancy, and desire to work within this system. As such, they do not challenge the Karzai’s inner circle’s use of appointments, especially in areas like southern Afghanistan, nor do they challenge the tendency of some political actors, including the Karzai inner circle, to build spheres of influence within their ministries...

The NDS in Kabul is directed by Amrullah Saleh, a Tajik and former deputy to Massoud. But Saleh has limited influence over his organization and is kept in power mostly because of American backing. His influence over the organization does not extend to Kandahar...

Saleh has been replaced by a Karzai confidant. The interior minister, Atmar, with authority over the Afghan police and NDS, was forced to resign, as well.* It's hard to see these developments improving anything about the Afghan security or detainee treatment issues any time soon.

*This will undoubtedly be a relief to, among other people, Matiullah Khan, head of the powerful KAU (Kandak-e Amniant-e Uruzgan) militia in North Kandahar-Uruzgan (and a close associate of the president's brother), who had been refusing to acknowledge Atmar's authority over his fighters. For those following along at home, Matiullah, like the Karzais, is Popalzai Pashtun from the Kandahar area; Atmar was also Pashtun, but from Laghman Province in the east. I always enjoyed picking out the Eastern and Southern Pashto speakers I met... the accent is really so different so as to be noticeable even by a beginners-Pashto guy like me.

UPDATE: Matiullah is just one of many, btw: see also Dexter Filkins today on the close links between many prominent Afghans including the Karzais, the many private Afghan security companies convoying ISAF's supplies, and the insurgents. “There are thousands of people that have been paid by both civilian and military organizations to escort their convoys, and they all pose a problem,” said Hanif Atmar, the Afghan interior minister... “The Afghan people are not ready to accept the private companies’ providing public security.” Possibly someone wasn't ready to accept Atmar's opinion of what the people weren't ready to accept?

Posted by BruceR at 04:51 PM

June 03, 2010

A smart hire

Harold Jarche, one of the most readable knowledge transfer theorists, in Canada or anywhere else, has been hired (again!) by Mount Allison University. Smart move. I encourage anyone interested in information transfer and technology-assisted training issues to read his site.

Posted by BruceR at 02:48 PM