November 25, 2010

Today's essential Afghan reading

Alex Strick van Lindschoten has spent more time in Kandahar City than many Kandaharis. His opinion is always worth listening to. His "Five Things David Petraeus Wants You to Believe" is cutting:

Truth #1: "It's Working!"
Truth #2: "The Night Raids and Targeting of the Insurgency’s Leadership is an Effective Tool."
Truth #3: "The Military Effort is Subservient to Broader Political Goals."
Truth #4: "Mullah Mohammad Omar is irrelevant."
Truth #5: "Don’t mind the Afghan Government."

Another old-time Afghan hand, Tim Lynch, is with the Marines in Sangin these days. His posts give a good sense of what COIN is supposed to look like, when it's resourced and fully committed to.

There's no question the Marines are probably more effective man for man than most ISAF contingents at the moment. There's a few reasons for that: one, as Lynch mentions, is their larger unit sizes. Another is clearly that these are some of the best trained, aggressive, focussed fighting men in the world. One simply cannot avoid the truth that their sustained patrol rate, in terms of patrols per day per company or battalion, so key in this kind of fight, is miles ahead of any U.S. or other NATO army unit. It would be very hard to keep up any kind of counter-counterinsurgent tempo against them by virtue of that simple statistic alone. But as David Morris notes, the current success in Sangin has come at a heavy cost in lives and men, too.

Posted by BruceR at 10:50 PM

A reader comment, and an ISAF return

A well-placed U.S. civilian official who has served in southern Afghanistan and whose opinion I've come to respect offers his thoughts on a couple recent posts:

You are right on the mark on pointing out the mismatch between Canada's desire to have all of its future training positions "behind the wire" and the actual available slots in NTM-A. I haven't seen any media reports about this. Is DND not paying attention or are they not saying anything for fear of getting smacked down by the Privy Council Office?

On another issue, I see a lot of arrogance and even hubris connected with the U.S. surge in Kandahar. Demolishing grape huts and replacing them with a "better" design? And the bizarre statement in an article in today's Washington Post (concerning armor deployment) that destroying buildings has the benefit of connecting people with the government by making them approach government officials to seek compensation? I hope these are just examples of media spin and not illustrations that people just don't get it.

Finally, on the pushback on President Karzai's criticism of hard-knock SOF ops, there seems to be lack of understanding of the role that the home plays in Afghan, and especially Pashtun, culture. As you know, Afghans take to an extreme the idea that "a man's home is his castle" and it is intertwined with maintenance of honor through seclusion of women. Dismissing these concerns by basically saying that the Afghans need to shut up and let us win the war is, in my mind, symptomatic of the mindset that led to defeat in Vietnam.

BruceR's comment: I thought it was interesting that the quote about how destroying structures forced locals to visit their district office was repeated twice in a couple days... first in the Global Post article linked above, spoken by Capt. Ryan Kort, and then as my correspondent notes, by an anonymous "senior officer" in the Washington Post. That means that wasn't just one moron saying something off the cuff: that there's what you call a talking point. Nice try, PAOs.

As far as hard-knock ops, I think we need to start considering that our current way of war can actively inhibit any kind of truces or negotiated settlements. The shoe that didn't drop with the Fake Taliban Fiasco is that if we had known enough about the real Taliban leader to confirm the impostor's identity, odds are he'd have been JPEL'd and dead long before. By not taking prisoners of war (we don't, really, they almost all are let go) and engaging in targetted assassination against the equivalent of section commanders and up, we've already removed any realistic possibility of dialogue or reconciliation. There's no realistic role for a third-party neutral mediator, either... no insurgent leader of any weight could reasonably expect that a trip to, say, Saudi Arabia for instance, to engage in negotiations would not result in their electronic trail leading back to the crosshairs of a Hellfire in the end. The precision and lethality of our intelligence targetting and strike methods guarantees a persistent doubt in the less technological opponent in the counterinsurgent situation that simply can't be offset by any kind of unclassified public assurances: they figure they'd have to be fools to trust us enough to come out into the open, and frankly they're probably right. The kind of neutral location talks we saw at the end of wars like Vietnam, or even the freedom for "the real Taliban to stand up" simply aren't going to happen here: in fact, the inability for an insurgent to relax his guard for any reason means it's likely there may simply be no negotiated way out of this kind of a high-tech-enabled counterinsurgency. That's kinda problematic.

In other news, Canadian OMLT vets will be interested to note that the posts of Mushan, Zangabad and Talukan, given up in 2008-09, have been reoccupied by U.S. troops. Where before it was a section-minus of Canadians and a company(ish) of Afghans, now it's a company of U.S. airmobile infantry in each... well over a ten-fold increase in ISAF combat power. They can't use the roads any more than we could... the difference was we didn't have helicopters, and they do. Anyone know if we've taken back Gumbad or Martello yet? My thanks to reader Jan. S. for the link.

Posted by BruceR at 09:53 PM

November 17, 2010

I hear Mazar in spring is even nicer than Kabul in winter

Matthew Fisher continues to perform the sin of actual journalism by trying to pin down people on where Canadian troops in Afghanistan post-2011 will be going and what they'll be doing. This was telling:

As Canada is insisting that most of its trainers will be in or near the capital, which is already awash with trainers from other countries, there is immense interest in what specific training tasks Canada is to be assigned by NATO and how its trainers will be shoehorned into already-crowded bases in the capital.

If only these answers were on the web somewhere... oh, yes, they are*. Now, first off, it seems I was off on my previous SWAG of the "behind the wire" strength of NTM-A, but not by a huge number: total current planned number according to Fig. 13 is about 1800, with the hope of rising to 2800 over the next year. Assuming most of that increase were Canadian in the end, that would mean we would be increasing the strength of the trainer force single-handedly by about 50%.

But where are the jobs, actually, and what would they be doing? Ah, for that you'll have to click on the link.

The key figure here is figure 14, which breaks down the 442 most critical deficiencies by location and trade. Cross-referencing that with the training locations on pages 30 and 31 gives, as a provincial breakdown:

Kabul: 184
Herat: 56
Kandahar: 48
Balkh: 46
Nangarhar: 31
Laghman: 23
Helmand: 18
Farah: 15
Jawzjan: 15
Bamyan: 6

Put another way (splitting by ISAF Regions):

Kabul: 184
West: 71
South: 66
North: 61
East: 60

The difficulties with any kind of a mission that involves small detachments spanning the width and breadth of Afghanistan should be obvious. One could argue probably that many or most of the northern and eastern positions were supportable by a Canadian command/support element in Kabul, but the western positions would likely not be as viable, and the southern ones could create political difficulties.

By type of trainer, the critical shortages break down:

Police trainers : 160
Air force: 64
Medical: 72
Army signals: 33
Other army: 113

If that kind of breakdown persists, it's going to be difficult to answer the call with an existing unit, like an infantry battalion. Sure, combat arms soldiers can cover Afghan police training easily enough, but 38% of the shortfall are in specialist trades not found in the line units.

Put the two together, and the demand for what could be readily offered becomes rather small. So in the Kabul area, there were only 106 critical jobs in police and army training that could be filled by "regular" soldiers as of the NTM-A annual report, dated three weeks ago... far less than what Canada is now offering.

(What's not defined are the locations and trades of the 450+ "non-critical" positions. One should expect a significant number of those will be in logistics, though, where according to the NTM-A report, exactly 0 (out of an undefined total number) have so far been secured.)

*I'm grateful to ANSF freelance researcher Anand Choudhuri for the pointer.

Posted by BruceR at 11:15 PM

November 16, 2010

Hey, wait a minute: CFR report on ANSF

From the CFR's latest blue-ribbon panel report on how to fix Af-Pak:

The ANSF are a central pillar in the Obama administration’s exit strategy for Afghanistan. Over time, they—along with local community defense units—must assume a greater security responsibility in order for U.S. and other coalition forces to withdraw. But NATO need not build an Afghan army in its image. The primary mission of the ANSF should be to support NATO-led operations, to maintain security after insurgents have been cleared, and ultimately to provide security to the population. Such missions may be challenging, but they do not require the creation of a military capable of full-spectrum operations. As it builds the Afghan army, NATO should therefore continue to devote its main resources to building light infantry forces. It is not clear, for instance, that current plans to fund fixed-wing aircraft and training for the Afghan National Army Air Corps are critical to the most urgent missions at hand. Bearing more limited expectations in mind, the goal of rapid ANSF expansion to bolster population security becomes more conceivable, if still extremely difficult.

I think creating an Afghan military with a primary role of "supporting NATO-led operations", as opposed to NATO supporting theirs, is short-sighted, as said here frequently before. One note on the air corps, though. I've been as skeptical as the next guy about Afghans flying helicopters*, but it might be worth recalling in this instance that a primary impetus for the ANAAC's development was a general unwillingness to let Afghan soldiers onto or use ISAF helicopters except in very unusual circumstances... making it effectively impossible to support any kind of isolated post manned predominantly by ANA. As Canadians well know a lack of helicopter support means you go by road, and IEDs take their toll. I'd hope things have been fixed, but if Afghans can't have their own helicopters or be allowed to borrow ours, their use on the kinds of terrain "light infantry" forces are normally best at will be very limited. It would have been nice for the CFR panel to indicate they'd thought through those sorts of force integration issues, or at least shown a greater familiarity with Afghan terrain.

The real reason to limit one's growth goals for the ANSF, as the CFR report rightly points out, is that currently ISAF is looking at spending something like $20,000 US a year per Afghan soldier or policeman, or $6 billion a year indefinitely. Compared to the rest of Afghan spending, it's a bargain, but for a country with $2.5 billion in government revenues and $2 billion in total exports, it's clearly unsustainable as it is, without throwing on any kind of military capacity that doesn't have a clear need in the current fight.

So, while ANAAC transport aircraft and helicopters might make a ton of sense, ANAAC air superiority fighters (if those were ever contemplated) might not. Similarly, saying a force should be "light infantry" should not exclude training in things like intelligence, reconnaissance, direct support artillery, or logistics, if they're ever going to be anything more than our door-kickers.

*I remember an extended conversation while waiting for an appointment at KAF with one of the first US mentors for the Afghan Mi-17 helo detachment that was just standing up at the airfield. It was surreally optimistic... kind of like I was my first day on the job, too.

Posted by BruceR at 01:03 AM

Today's essential Afghan reading


In an operation called Dragon Strike launched more than two months ago, the U.S. military has been hunting the Taliban in the fields and vineyards outside Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban.

The operation, now winding down, has included artillery barrages, strafing runs and helicopter assaults in the dead of night.

"The last couple of months after we started our clearance ops, it's completely emptied out. And we haven't seen any activity," says Capt. Brant Auge, a company commander with the 101st Airborne Division operating just west of the city of Kandahar.

But there have been unintended consequences. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of refugees are fleeing into the city. Taliban fighters are streaming there, too, and now are stepping up a terrorism campaign...

More on Zhari, a Vietnamese officer's view, and the disconnect between night raids and pullout dates, after the jump...

More on Zhari from Global Post:

The U.S. military has destroyed hundreds of Afghan civilian homes, farm houses, walls, trees and plowed through fields and buildings using explosives and bulldozers in war-torn Zhari district, a practice that has begun to anger Afghan villagers...

One structure the Americans aren't paying for is grape huts. [Maj. Todd] Clark said they're pairing up Afghan farmers with a USAID contractor, called AVIPA, whose engineers have come up with a new design for grape huts, and will rebuild them for free.

"It has wider gaps in it, it’s faster to build, a bit less expensive, and it’s not so much of a fort that it can be used against us," Clark said.

Interesting about trying to change native behaviour with the grape huts. Canadian demolitions and damage claims in Zhari were not zero, but there's no question they've gone up after American assumption of control for that district.

Elsewhere, Tom Ricks with a perceptive comment:

By the way, for those compiling information on how to revise the COIN manual: My friend Quang X. Pham points out in the epilogue to the paperback edition of his fine memoir (268) that of his one of the major omissions in the Army/Marine counterinsurgency manual is that there is almost no discussion of mistakes the Americans committed in dealing with their South Vietnamese allies. He thinks the Americans tried to do too much, and so undercut the initiative of South Vietnamese commanders. (It looks like old Karzai agrees with Quang, too.)

As Andrew Exum has pointed out, the whole issue of the U.S. relationship with the host country is fraught, especially because the desired outcome is different from the colonial goals of the countries on whose COIN experience the U.S. military has drawn most from, Britain and France of the 1950s and 1960s. The British and French were fighting to stay. We are fighting to leave, albeit leaving behind a friendly government, which I am not sure is possible, especially in the Mideast, if that government is to last.

The whole point of this sort of fight, as has been said here before, is to use Western troops in a way to close the delta between a host nation security force's capability and the requirement for it. Attriting the threat is one way, but it's strictly a means to an end. Ricks' friend is absolutely right that training local forces to be adjuncts to our own kinetic efforts is almost certain to ultimately be self-defeating.

Which brings us back to the current headline war between the Afghan President and the ISAF commander, and the latest developments on transferring of security responsibility in stages, with the revised "end date" of 2014. (Also here.)

In late 2008, this was called TLSR, "transfer of lead security responsibility," and the official deadline for TLSR nation-wide was 2011 (which was part of the reason for Canada setting that deadline for its own withdrawal of combat troops). Lisbon will apparently see the concession that that goal has now shifted three full years to the right, with Afghan districts and provinces progressively being handed over to an ANA lead, with Western battlegroups pulling out of those areas. That was the endgame plan years ago, just as it is today.

The one item that might be worth noting is that, although they're being blended together by Yglesias, the current Karzai concerns about night raids by SOF personnel is really almost a separate issue that security responsibility transfer doesn't actually promise to address. Main force "landowner" ISAF units have often had very little influence themselves over special forces activities in their areas of operation... there's no reason to believe Afghan units taking over local control would have any more influence against the high-value targeteering effort in their areas.

Posted by BruceR at 12:45 AM

November 15, 2010

Update to Canadian Afghan mission part 4: Not all in Kabul?

Matthew Fisher interviews the Canadian deputy commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) and elicits a couple new facts. Specifically:

--Not all the Canadian positions in any new mission would necessarily be in the Kabul area: the need is country-wide.

--The current demand is not so much for drill sergeants and instructors, since Afghans are supposed to do that, but senior instructor standards types and administrators (suggesting this deployment might be even more officer-heavy than current OMLT deployments).

--A significant number of positions in the new mission could be Canadian police officers or public service professionals (working as mentors in Afghan civilian ministries) instead of soldiers.

Another Fisher interview with Canadian Col. Paul Scagnetti* at the Afghan staff college gives more detail on the kind of work involved. Note the small number of actual Canadians required for this "behind the wire" stuff, though.

On the flip side, you have the CBC's Greg Weston doing a real drive-by on the subject, gutting a key phrase out of a Gen. (retd.) Rick Hillier piece, apparently only to score cheap points.

In a recent interview with Maclean's magazine, retired general Rick Hillier said: "You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in camp and train people for the Afghan army, but they lack credibility. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army … you are going to be in combat."

Nice ellipses, Greg. The full quote, with the piece that makes all the difference:

If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army or police in southern Afghanistan you are going to be in combat.

As a former Afghan army trainer in southern Afghanistan, I would tend to agree. But this simply isn't what was being floated by the government, which was quite clearly all about exploring an expanded role outside the south. Given that it's a web piece where length doesn't matter, there's no real reason Weston and the CBC couldn't have been honest with their readers.

That doesn't mean somebody's soldiers won't have to take over that work, though. Other than praising the Weston piece, I think this comment by the Galloping Beaver on some of the questions still to be answered was quite good. It raises the good point that a lot of the manning gap in the NATO Training Mission manning that we're now trying to fill is actually a result of our pulling our OMLT organization out of Kandahar in 2011.

UPDATE: The point here is not that there aren't ways that 950 Canadian personnel couldn't benefit the Afghan effort, and in "behind the wire" roles. There almost certainly is. The point is that there's likely not 950 jobs specifically in ANSF training roles for army personnel all clustered in just a couple facilities outside Kabul, as Fisher is clearly trying to emphasize.

*As an aside, it was Col. Scagnetti who came down to see me and my chalk off from CFB Trenton when we departed for ROTO 6, and had some very kind words for me in the terminal waiting room, something I quite appreciated at the time.

Posted by BruceR at 11:44 PM

Expert feedback on ISAF and Raziq: "Good program, good idea, wrong guy, place and time"

A little while ago I wrote a little bit about the decision to rely more heavily on Abdul Raziq and his Spin Boldak-based "police" to keep the peace in the Kandahar City area, and some of the issues that raised. I shopped it around to four people of my acquaintance with real experience with Kandahar, and elicited their responses to this development. None of them were very positive, but some of their reasons might surprise you. It's all after the fold.

Before I forget, also worth reading in this context is Anand Gopal's piece on the history behind the current Kandahar-area violence, which comes strongly recommended. I think it's a great stab at Part One of the history of the Kandahar Civil War: consider all that follows some rough notes for Part Two some day. The big takeaway, I should think, is how peripheral to the real local power dynamics ISAF frequently has been, and may still remain.

1) An experienced historian of the Kandahar area writes:

Raziq on the one hand gets the job done and it’s also said he instills a certain “fear” in the Taliban and the local population. Sometimes I think that we suffer by not matching the Taliban in our failure to prudently apply fear.

On the other hand, Kandaharis tell me that using Raziq even for very short operations has irrevocably tainted Op Hamkari as the Abdul Raziq operation. And unlike ISAF, Kandaharis do not forget Raziq’s past crimes. Our efforts to convince the population that Hamkari will alter the current despised political order are off to a dismal start.

I’m learning how much Afghan politics is theater and messaging, and the whole Raziq incident demonstrates our failures on that front.

2) A Canadian military officer and a one-time personal acquaintance of Raziq writes:

I'd never really considered US support for Raziq to be 'arming the tribes,' likely due to his sticking to the talking point that his ABP [Afghan Border Police] Brigade contains Afghans from all regional tribes. We never conducted a census to confirm that statement, but I think it was true to a degree, though I'm sure that being an Achackzai had the same benefits as a class ring or Masonic membership etc might provide elsewhere. As an aside, it's worth remembering that although he's the de facto leader, he's never actually commanded that brigade. He's the chief of staff.

Re the first article suggesting that the ABP are more effective than the ANA: I'm sceptical. My knowledge is, of course, outdated, but as I recall the ABP was spread fairly thin and was lightly armed. Raziq kept a small personal bodyguard (and I'll bet THEY were all Achackzai), but mounting a sizeable attack involved stripping the border. He would occasionally go off on a mission with his [ISAF mentors from] TF Phoenix ETT (C/S Fish Hook), but it was usually a pl/coy(-) sized operation off in Maruf or way down in the Reg [eastern and southern peripheries of Kandahar Province] - and always within about 50km of the border, as I don't think the Border Police had jurisdiction beyond that (or so I was told by the ETT). I'm sure, though, that because such actions were rare, when they did happen they happened with gusto. These guys were not as worn down as 205 [ANA] Corps. I suspect that if called upon to do this every day they would start to slow down to the point where they only really performed on operations that directly benefited Raziq.

Re the allegations about mixing it up in Panjwaii just prior to Op Medusa: I'm pretty confident that is true ... I also think it is a better indicator of his motivations and ambitions than any one-off direct action with US forces.

I'm curious why you think that pairing him up with SF would mollify his behaviour. He had an ETT when I was there, full of some really level-headed officers (mostly Armo[u]r, and mostly Iraq vets with some Afgh experience too). The SF guys I met, by contrast, were a lot more of a 'shoot from the hip' crowd. They also had a different approach to local forces, likely due to their Foreign Internal Defence backgrounds. Whereas the conventional ETTs were of the mindset that they were building institutions, the SF guys were looking for short term allies with whom they could hunt high value targets. I would think they'd tend to encourage more extreme behaviour. That might explain why he's suddenly operating in the Arghandab, which is more than a little way outside his normal area of responsibility.

Ultimately, though, I agree with your conclusion that this is all support for the Karzai faction, albeit not in the way envisioned by idealists.

Bruce responds: I was trying to say there that compared to having none at all, having an ETT/OMLT with him, Special Forces or not, could mollify Raziq's behaviour. I don't believe he had any mentor support at the time of the earlier alleged depredations against Noorzai Afghans in Panjwaii. I tend to agree that Special Forces FID support in Afghanistan where I've encountered it seemed to be tended to be more focussed on achieving kinetic results than capacity development, but that's just personal experience.

3) An American officer with extensive experience in Zhari and Arghandab writes:

I grew very familiar with Raziq all the way in Zhari/Panjwaii. The man is a god. It seemed as if every tribal elder, every businessman, had their income stemming from some Raziq operation...(or was being threatened to become apart of one). At the end of the day, Raziq is a businessman and he will work for the highest bidder. If he was making $5-6 mil a month working with Taliban drug cartels, I can only imagine how much the US is paying him to clear out these villages.

But what fascinates me is what separates Raziq from guys like Atta, Dostum, Mohaqueq, and other warlords who we've managed to sweep under perview of the legitimate government (at least publicly). How does the NATO solve the issue of bringing Raziq into this fold? How do we make it in his self-interest to become a legitimate security leader in Kandahar? The answer is sure to be expensive and one that will require a lot more of our attention that either of our countries are willing to invest.

As a side note- when 5/2 was in Kandahar, the 8-1 Cavalry Squadron Commander, LTC Clark, was Raziq's biggest supporter. The entire HTT [Human Terrain Team] and Civil Affairs staff that actually patrolled those areas brought up countless examples of Raziq's crew harming civilians and pillaging enemy tribal areas. COL Tunnell and LTC Clark continued to disregard those reports, or at least view those examples as the lesser of two evils: the other being a Raziq who operated with Taliban money as opposed to US money.

Bruce notes: It's really interesting how Col. Harry Tunnell's name keeps coming up in the Kandahar context in these sorts of ways. I hadn't previously noted his role in elevating Raziq to his current position.

4) Finally, a former U.S. intelligence officer with extensive personal relationships with Soviet-era Afghan mujahideen leaders writes:

In general Raziq is Shirzai-lite [Gul Agha Shirzai, former warlord and current Karzai ally]. He is really a creation of last ten years. He does not really fit into the traditional tribal pattern.

Raziq's Dad used to work with Shirzai's Dad during the Soviet War. Shirzai's
Dad was a Barakzai but not a leadership family over the last century. Raziq's Dad strangely enough was also heavily involved with Road tolls etc from the Chaman crossing and to some extent played both sides during the Soviet Occupation. Raziq's family are Achekzai and have been power players in the Spin Boldak area for a long time. When the Taliban came in, they took over the road tolls from Raziq's family and group thus the enmity.

(I met Shirzai's Dad before he was killed and he did not get a whole lot of respect from the HiK guys but was known as a good fighter.)

Raziq's original ties thus come from his connection to Shirzai. When the US occupied Kandahar, there was a lot of back and forth and the initial power broker at the Airfield was Shirzai and not the Karzais. Raziq was set up as a small time road master at first, back then he was about 20 years old. As Shirzai got bigger, Raziq's importance grew.

Around 5 years ago, Shirzai was moved out of Kandahar. He was moved out before the population rose up and hung him. He was that unpopular. Mention of his name in many parts will cause someone to curse. As part of the deal, Raziq was set up on the Border Police unit and slowly since 2007 started to change or add to his contacts with Wali [Karzai] and guys like Ruholah and the Noors etc.

It was in this capacity that he first started coming to the US Command's attention. Since they did not get the history of his relations with Shirzai he seemed good enough. He did keep the road open and the Taliban down and a blind eye was turned to "other activities."

This last year and a half he has become the go to guy. But the problem is

A. He is not a "real" tribal leader
B. He is tainted by his relations with Shirzai
C. Sending him on operations to Malajat and Arghandab is not a good idea as this just pisses off the other tribes.

YES, he is being called names now by the normal folks on the street who equate him with Wali and the foreigners as a corrupt SOB. Going in on a two day raid cowboy style wins him nor us any points with the other groups out of his area. The level of destruction on these raids is not being covered but all those villages have people in Kandahar City counting their losses to Raziq and the Surge.

He is fine in Spin Boldak. North of there no. I would cut him off on the Dand District line for sure and that is where he has his limits.

I would not have used him because he is not a "traditional" leader and rather perceived more as an American favorite and not as an Afghan leader. This goes for Matiullah Khan [Raziq's equivalent north of Kandahar], Shirzai, Dostum and a few others, but not Noor. These folks say the right thing when the US folks are in the room and run rampant when they are not. Not good eggs and the Afghans do not respect, like or want them anywhere around.

The Iraq comparisions do not work well since this encompasses the whole country and not just Anbar etc..and this is NOT sectarian in nature. But we DO need Pres. Karzai IN CHARGE now of HIS WAR and HIS COUNTRY. NOW.

We cannot create our own "tribal leaders" they do not come ready made or pliable just because they push the right buttons with our SOF guys. This does not work. It is a short cut. Takes real time to sit down with Afghans for a week and hash things out, maybe two weeks. That is the the only way to work because that is how they do things together. It may take a month, but that is what must be done by all parties everywhere to get everyone working together in the right direction.

There are many other, off the radar leaders that do command respect, forces and have stayed out of going haywire-corrupt in the past ten years. These are the ones we need to find and work with in the next five years. They will have a place in ten years, these "created" tribal leaders will not.

Each province needs a specific study and recommendations as what mix ANSF tribal will work. But everyone needs on the same page now immediately. The Afghans need to work this out and advise Karzai as he knows some areas and not others. This needs to be thought out not done off-the-cuff in dartboard, get-your-good-OER style.

This is the problem in Kandahar, a lot of the older structure has been washed out over time with both Taliban new leadership and traditional leaders being frozen out. This is not the case in other parts of the country. Kandahar was not the ideal area for a Surge at all.

The sidelining of the ANSF using Raziq in this case was not perceived too well and with the governance vacuum and surge drawdown a lot of creative thinking needs to be done by Pres. Karzai as to how to create a new tribal order here. Very difficult now. Pres. Karzai has a tough job especially here as it hits close to home for him not only on a family level but a tribal level. ISAF has kept things busy for the past year, the future the Afghans need to structure. This is going to be very, very tough. There are a lot of bad feelings out there now. Next year will be a litmus test for this area.

(I have a lot of friends who are intermarried with Kandaharis so I am getting good feedback from Uncle this and Uncle that and Cousin that. They are a wild bunch.)

Next year we will see how the QST [Quetta Taliban] responds. They seem pretty confident that the Surge has been countered. Kandahar is still a vacuum and up for grabs. Thus, the problem with ISAF putting so many eggs in one basket as we have discussed. Maiwand is getting reinfiltrated now as we speak. Panjwaii will be rehit soon so that everyone knows the QST is not backing down.

[ANA 205 Corps Commander General] Zazai has a good head on his shoulders and will do what he needs to keep the city covered. I do expect the outlying areas will go back to hit or miss operations which is fine to me. This is about all that they can do in this particular zone. The pushback needs to start in Nangarhar, maintain in PPK and get active for real in the North allowing time for more ANSF to come on line and combat capable.

OK...That about covers it. Good program, good idea, wrong guy, place and time.

This is what happens when no one knows what happened in the past 20-30 years which causes a lot of mistakes. Pick the wrong guy, pay the wrong folks, lose them later and everyone else right away...

Bruce notes: Sarah Chayes, another past acquaintance, has previously written about the locals' distaste for Shirzai and his allies as well, in her book The Punishment of Virtue. I'm grateful to all four of the experts above for their input, which I've reprinted here without redaction.

UPDATE: If there is a point to all this, it's that unleashing Raziq in the Kandahar context is a little like the old idea in the China-strategic context of "unleashing Chiang" to fight the communists, which was favoured by American commentators and pooh-poohed by people like the first George Bush who had deep China experience.

There was a reason this lever wasn't seen as pullable, previously, when Canada had the lead in this province... our ignorance of local conditions didn't go that far. At best, this would seem to be a move to maximize short-term gain, at the expense of long-term stability; at worst it's a last-ditch dice throw. By calling Raziq the "Robin Hood" who saved Kandahar, the Washington Post, in other words, was being both a little amnesiac, and certainly very kind to its subject.

Posted by BruceR at 10:41 PM

November 11, 2010

Today's essential Afghan reading

McClatchy is generally pretty reliable on these sorts of stories.

The Obama administration has decided to walk away from what it once touted as key deadlines in the Afghanistan war in an effort to de-emphasize the president's pledge that he would begin withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011, administration and military officials said Tuesday.

The new policy will be on display next week during a NATO conference in Lisbon, Portugal, where the administration hopes to introduce a timeline that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan by 2014, according to three senior officials and others speaking anonymously as a matter of policy.

The Pentagon also has decided not to announce specific dates for handing security responsibility for several Afghan provinces to local officials and instead intends to work out a more vague definition of transition when it meets with its NATO allies, the officials said.

What a year ago had been touted as an extensive December review of the strategy now will be less expansive and will offer no major changes in strategy, the officials said.

Posted by BruceR at 12:24 AM

November 10, 2010

Afghan deployment #4 update

UPDATE to the previous piece: reportedly the U.S. is pushing for a more combative role for us, with Canadians deployed primarily or at least prominently as police mentors. I don't believe the article is correct here, though: "NATO commanders say they need trainers in classrooms, too – they identified a shortfall of about 900 a month ago, and officials say the shortfall is now about 750."

That's the forecast shortfall for NTM-A (NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan) as a whole, I believe, not just "classroom trainers". NTM-A's strength (which must be close to 10,000 authorized personnel) includes both the trainers and battlefield mentors (although mentors are under operational control of ISAF IJC, they fall under the NTM-A ration strength). The upshot is that if Canadians were to join NTM-A with a "behind the wire" caveat in large numbers, they'd likely be supplanting soldiers from other countries (primarily the U.S.) in the safer billets, who would then shift to cover the mentoring responsibilities.

There are large issues with running operational mentoring teams in areas where you don't have main force units or established infrastructure, like the Canadians do in Kandahar right now. Mobility is one obvious one. If you start bringing Canadian vehicles, you have to have that whole maintenance and recovery infrastructure behind them... if you borrow U.S. ones, you need to train a lot of drivers. The same goes for weapons, clothing, and on and on: either you're generally relying on the "land owner" unit for that area for all kinds of support, or you end up recreating a national support capability at the nearest large base for yourself. The twin competing risks are that you end up with a very small number of actual usable soldiers compared to the support "tail" or that we revisit the World War One debate of having Canadian soldiers being broken up into small subunits within another nation's army.

UPDATE: Just some ballpark figures. As of Oct/10, NTM-A had a requirement for about 180 ANA OMLT teams (say 20 personnel each) and 475 ANP POMLT teams (again, say 10 each). Say the total NTM-A total strength is 10,000. So at absolute most you're looking at 1,500 "inside the wire" jobs in the entire country. If the proposal is to lay claim to over half of those, basically the majority of all the "behind the wire" training jobs in the Kabul area in other words, in competition with the rest of NATO, that would seem likely to meet some kind of pushback.

Posted by BruceR at 11:39 PM

November 08, 2010

Afghan deployment pt 4?

Interesting news coming out of Ottawa today, as the Canadian government seems to be reacting to considerable Opposition and foreign pressure to extend its Afghan mission.

Actually, if extended, this would really be the fourth Afghan mission: 2002 in Kandahar, 2003-2005 in Kabul, 2006 to 2011 back in Kandahar, and 2011 to 2014 (?) back in Kabul again. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, or something, I suppose.

The proposed mission would seem to involve a significant presence, of a size almost certainly without precedent in Canadian military experience, at the Afghan police and military training facilities in Kabul. Two weeks ago in a speech, the head of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan identified a shortage of 900 personnel for mid-2011 in his organization, half of them "specialty trainers... gendarmes, pilots, doctors, and other key enablers". This is presuming the manning bill that Canada's evaluating filling, albeit some months later than the general's looking for them for.

The Canadian public's line in the sand on this currently seems to be "behind the wire training," as opposed to the combat advisory mentorship role that was the greater part of the mission in 2006-2009. It's not clear from Caldwell's statement how much of that manning delta of his would accommodate those sorts of provisos. It's worth noting that any insistence on this is a "caveat" of sorts on our participation, something we once used to complain about our NATO allies doing in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

Posted by BruceR at 09:44 PM

Today's essential Afghan reading

Matthieu Aikins in the Walrus, "Last Stand in Kandahar." The cover photo(s) of Canadian soldiers in dress greens* are a little misleading as the article is less about the Canadian presence than it is about the effects of the ISAF presence as a whole on Kandahar and environs. Aikins talks about a lot of things that few other commentators have been noting about the situation, like the drain of any talented Afghans into support roles for ISAF:

As an internal ISAF assessment of Kandahar City noted, “An ironic side-effect of the American civilian surge in Kandahar is that, because we have hired many of the best educated and motivated Afghans to support us, fewer talented Afghans are available to work for the Afghan government itself in Kandahar City.”

More below the jump:

This is largely, as Aikins takes pains to explain, a result of the inflation which now pervades a Kandahar City flush with American dollars, making it irrational to do anything but short-term profit taking. The ISAF mission, as it turns out, has made it largely unaffordable to be an honest Afghan. This applies nowhere so much as it does to the Canadian model village of Deh-e Bagh:

The upsurge in foreign aid over the past year, most of it targeted for Deh-e Bagh, had created new resentments... [district leader Amadullah] Nazek had grown rich off the model village program. In a tag-team set-up classic to post-2001 Afghanistan, his brother, Fatay Khan, who ran a construction company, had become the primary contractor for Canadian and American projects routed through the district’s leadership. As an internal ISAF report published last March pointed out, “Working solely through Fatay Khan allows Nazek to control every aspect of development contracting, and to maximize his own profits.”

He talks about alleged waves of persecution by pro-government Afghans against those traditional rivals they could finger as pro-Taliban:

After the fall of the Taliban, Sherzai and other strongmen launched a campaign of persecution, kidnappings, and harassment against their rivals, often aided and encouraged by international forces, who were content to take their allies’ word that the houses being raided belonged to Taliban members. “We have a saying: if someone tells you the dog stole your ear, you should check your ear before you run after the dog,” a Kandahari friend commented to me. “The Americans were never doing that.”

One observer alleges that oversight of ISAF expenditures is significantly worse now than it was a couple years ago:

Furthermore, Nisar Ahmad Rashedi, a mid-level contractor who has worked for both the Canadian and US militaries in the province since 2004, told me his experience was that as the volume of contracts increased, oversight decreased. “The Canadians were making small contracts for $5,000, and they were checking,” he said. “The Americans are not checking, and they’re paying $50,000, $60,000 or even $100,000 per contract.”

The inflation has been crippling:

The torrent of easy money has unleashed bizarre market forces and affected every level of Afghan society. Once the Americans arrived, the most lucrative activity for a smart, connected person in Kandahar City, hands down, became to get a cut of the pie. Construction companies and development agencies were paying drivers and interpreters five to ten times the salaries of teachers or civil servants. For those with access to contracts or subcontracts, fortunes could be made. It was irrational to want to be a member of the government or the army — an honest one, at least. Inflation became so rampant that the few hundred dollars a month those jobs offered could barely provide for a small family.

With the local ANP now charging businesses $250 a month per officer to provide their 'security', and "Given the perverse incentive system ISAF has created, powerful Afghans now have a strong interest in perpetuating the conflict," Aikins reports:

Under ISAF, international money — along with income from drugs and smuggling — has eaten through Afghan government and society like a universal solvent."

His conclusion:

...the successes of Deh-e Bagh, such as they were, were no less bound up in the virulent network of corruption that has brought stability to a few other parts of Kandahar while alienating the rest. This network has grown alongside the Western forces since they created it in 2001, and it gets stronger with every bullet or meal consumed by soldiers and development workers brought in for the surge. Nation building, as practised by the military in Afghanistan, has become self-defeating.

It's hard to escape the conclusion that this is the largest, almost unbeatable problem with large scale non-host nation counterinsurgency, and for that matter, how we Canadians once saw "responsibility to protect" missions in general. For western countries to deploy sufficient numbers of their own troops to thoroughly pacify a "failed state" requires the injection of so much economic and social distortion that any positive effects of the troop presence risk being completely negated. It is not irrational to conclude that "nation-building" in the worst parts of the world can only be done with a much lighter footprint. Which comes with its own set of problems of course (see also Congo, Democratic Republic of).

*And while I'm at it, since when did we start taking our dress uniforms to Kandahar? I sure didn't. Where and when were these photos taken, exactly?

Posted by BruceR at 06:51 PM

November 02, 2010

He's the good cop AND the bad cop

Just an additional comment on what I wrote a few days back about whether an upwardly trending situation in Kandahar in the fall should be seen as a positive. A correspondent has kindly reminded me of a journalistic juxtaposition of some possible interest.

This was what the Washington Post wrote about the use of the Afghan Border Police belonging to Spin Boldak warlord Abdul Raziq (spelled Raziq in the article) to assist ISAF in clearing insurgents out of the districts around Kandahar last month:

On the border, [Razziq] developed an outsize reputation - part Robin Hood, part warlord. He was a close ally of the Karzais with thousands of tribal warriors at his command. "If you need a mad dog on a leash, he's not a bad one to have," said a U.S. official in Kandahar.

U.S. troops hastily planned support and coordinated to have Afghan forces ring the neighborhood, while Razziq, cellphone and satellite phone in hand, roared up from the southern desert with a few hundred men. They arrested about 20 suspected insurgents and found scores of explosives.

As this partnership has developed, Razziq has been partnered with a U.S. Special Forces commander to help coordinate his moves. He's been called on elsewhere, including particularly treacherous parts of the Argandab valley, where whole villages had been rigged with explosives that had made them impenetrable to previous American units.

The Afghan operations have stunned U.S. troops, accustomed to years of prodding along their reluctant allies. At 3 a.m. on Sept. 15, Capt. Mikel Resnick, a company commander in Argandab, learned that 1,000 Afghan forces were moving into his area. "I don't know if they're going to go burn the orchards down and leave me to clean it up," he said of his initial reaction to the plan.

The Afghans, who took 72 hours to capture 50 detainees, five large bombs and 500 pounds of explosives, required only advice and air support from the Americans, said Lt. Col. Rodger Lemons, the battalion commander at the Argandab district center.

"We basically sat in here and monitored the fight," Resnick said, referring to his outpost at the village of Sarkari Bagh. "They essentially cleared this entire place out."

U.S. military officials acknowledge that it is not ideal to have the border police leading the operation, because the goal is for the Afghan army and police to provide security in their own areas.

"We need to make sure this is not undermining the legitimacy of the Afghan government," said a senior NATO military official in southern Afghanistan.

Okay, here's the opposing view: in December of 2009 Harper's Magazine carried a piece by Canadian journalist Matthieu Aikins about Raziq (which he spells Razik). Among other things, it alleged Raziq made $5-6 million a month personally in drug smuggling revenues, and described Raziq's issues with Taliban from the Noorzai tribe who killed several members of his family in the mid 1990s. He also recounted this anecdote, from the last time Raziq was called in to pacify the districts close to Kandahar City:

One notorious incident took place during the summer of 2006 in Panjwaii District, a volatile area just west of Kandahar city. A predominantly Noorzai district, Panjwaii is a lush river valley crisscrossed by thick orchards and mud-walled compounds, and it provides an excellent springboard for attacks on Kandahar city. During the course of the summer, Taliban fighters had infiltrated the valley, and eventually the district governor, an Achakzai, called in Abdul Razik’s border force.

What followed was a debacle. The Noorzais, fearing their tribal enemies, rose up and joined forces with the Taliban. Razik and his men responded to the unexpected resistance with brutality. “They were killing women and children,” said Ustaz Abdul Halim, a Noorzai and former mujahideen commander who lives in Kandahar city. “After that, everyone was with the Taliban.”

The writer goes on to state that the fierce resistance Canadians faced in Zhari-Panjwaii in 2006, basically the beginning of the southern Taliban's war on ISAF in many ways, was largely due to Raziq's intemperate actions.

Now, unlike some people I know, I've never met or worked with Raziq. And I don't have any firm evidence of my own to confirm or disconfirm either account above. But here's what we do know: American resources have relied heavily on a "Robin Hood" to "clear out" hostile villages around Kandahar City; that said Hood had been accused in a major American periodical less than a year ago of conducting crimes against humanity; that those allegations involved a specific tribe in one of the same districts he's now involved in again; and that all this occurred only the last time that he was summoned by the government to do the same clearing task, less than 4 years ago. As I said here, our memories in this regard are short.

Mind, that doesn't mean that anything untoward necessarily occurred this time: I'm sure Raziq's current close association with U.S. Special Forces is having a mollifying influence on his past behaviour, which also may have been exaggerated, as well. But there should be no question he's a polarizing figure among Southern Pashtuns, Karzai and ISAF's "mad dog on a leash."

In any case, this is pretty much what "arming the tribes" was expected to look like in the Kandahar context so no one need be surprised. One could justifiably argue that the newly successful strategy is, to a first approximation, really about openly supporting, with "air cover and advice", the Karzai faction, with its increasingly powerful Pashtun militias led by Raziq, Matiullah Khan in the north of the province, and Karzai's brother in the city proper, to secure the city for themselves, by acting firmly against the insurgents, who seem disproportionately drawn from those disadvantaged tribal groups (Noorzai, etc.) underrepresented in the government (in elections are, some might say, lacking in legitimacy), and detaining hundreds of those groups' members in the process. This process is largely bypassing those national pan-ethnic instruments of authority, the army and the police, which to be clear have not demonstrated any real capacity to tamp down Pashtun unrest on their own. It also involves discounting sporadic allegations of drug profiteering and crimes against humanity (and election fraud) by the friendly militia leaders. And, it's only fair to say, its backers received a good, if somewhat amnesiac, writeup in the Post for their troubles.

I'd be the last to say definitively, "this won't work." Because the realist in me sees the ruthless divide-and-conquer logic of it. This may even be what needed to be done all along in Kandahar: a couple Kandaharis of my acquaintance from the pro-government side of the tribal equation would certainly have said so. And there's ample historical precedent for its success, and not just in Afghanistan, either. No, it is what it is, even if some might have harbored idle hopes that Afghan progress when it came would look... different, somehow.

Posted by BruceR at 12:56 AM