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