Fewer Troops is Better: Riding Unicorns Over Rainbows

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

From David Adams and Ann Marlowe, via the WSJ.

From the beginning of 2007 to March 2008, the 82nd Airborne Division’s strategy in Khost proved that 250 paratroopers could secure a province of a million people in the Pashtun belt. The key to success in Khost—which shares a 184 kilometer-long border with Pakistan’s lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas—was working within the Afghan system. By partnering with closely supervised Afghan National Security Forces and a competent governor and subgovernors, U.S. forces were able to win the support of Khost’s 13 tribes.

Today, 2,400 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Khost. But the province is more dangerous.

Mohammed Aiaz, a 32-year-old Khosti advising the Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team, puts it plainly: “The answer is not more troops, which will put Afghans in more danger.” If troops don’t understand Afghan culture and fail to work within the tribal system, they will only fuel the insurgency. When we get the tribes on our side, that will change. When a tribe says no, it means no. IEDs will be reported and no insurgent fighters will be allowed to operate in or across their area.

Khost once had security forces with tribal links. Between 1988 and 1991, the Soviet client government in Kabul was able to secure much of eastern and southern Afghanistan by paying the tribal militias. Khost was secured by the 25th Division of the Afghan National Army (ANA), which incorporated militias with more than 400 fighters from five of Khost’s 13 major tribes. The mujahedeen were not able to take Khost until internal rifts among Pashtuns in then-President Mohammed Najibullah’s government resulted in a loss of support for the militias in Khost and, eventually, the defection of the 25th Division in April 1991.

The mistake the Najibullah government made was not integrating advisers to train the tribal militias and transform them into a permanent part of the government security forces. During the Taliban period between 1996-2001 the 25th Division dispersed amongst the tribes. Many fled to Pakistan.

When the U.S. invaded in 2001, the 25th Division, reformed under the command of Gen. Kilbaz Sherzai, immediately secured Khost. But the division was disbanded by the new Afghan government for fear of warlordism.

Today, some elements of the 25th still work for the Americans as contract security forces. However, the ANA now stationed in Khost is mainly composed of northern, non-Pashtun Dari speakers, and it is regarded as a foreign body. Without local influence and tribal support, the ANA tends to stay on its bases.

Part of this is our fault. We built the ANA in our own Army’s image. Its soldiers live on nice bases and see themselves as the protectors of Afghanistan from conventional attacks by Pakistan. But to be effective, the ANA must be structured more like a National Guard, responsible for creating civil authority and training the police.

We saw how this could work in the Tani district of Khost starting in 2007. By assisting an ANA company—with a platoon of American paratroopers, a civil affairs team from the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team, the local Afghan National Police, and a determined Afghan subgovernor named Badi Zaman Sabari—we secured the district despite its long border with Pakistan.

Raids by the paratroopers under the leadership of Lt. Col. Scott Custer were extremely rare because the team had such good relations with the tribes that they would generally turn over any suspect. These good tribal relations were strengthened further by meeting the communities’ demands for a new paved road, five schools, and a spring water system that supplies 12,000 villagers.

Yet security has deteriorated in Khost, despite increases of U.S. troops in mid-2008. American strategy began to focus more on chasing the insurgents in the mountains instead of securing the towns and villages where most Khostis live.

Analysis & Commentary

Make friends with the right people, empower their men, and ride unicorns over rainbows.  Presto!  Counterinsurgency made simple.  Note that at least one strategic argument all along is that Afghanistan isn’t like Iraq and the tribal awakening may not in fact apply, so it will be harder in Afghanistan than it was in the Anbar Province.  Now Adams and Marlowe turn that argument on its head.  Not only is the tribal awakening possible, but it should be easier in Afghanistan than in Iraq, and more troops are certainly not necessary.

Grim at Blackfive has a roundup of views that complement Marlowe’s plan, but on a more sophisticated level.  But as with Marlowe’s view, Grim’s discussion relies on tribal engagement.  Regular readers know that I reject the narrative (of now mythical and magical proportions) that the campaign for Anbar was all about the tribes.  It was much more complicated than that.

In Haditha it required sand berms to prevent the influx of foreign fighters into the city, combined with a local police chief strong man named Colonel Faruq to bring the town to heel.  In al Qaim it required heavy kinetic operations by the U.S. Marines, combined with a local police chief strong man named Abu Ahmed to keep out foreign fighters and bring local insurgents under control.  In Fallujah in 2007 it required heavy kinetic operations by the U.S. Marines followed on by gated communities, biometrics, and block captains (or Muktars) and strong men police all over the city.

Whereas Captain Travis Patriquin’s outline for counterinsurgency in Anbar seems to have carried the day when it comes to narrative, even in Ramadi (where the tribal awakening supposedly got its start), Colonel MacFarland’s observations are telling concerning the tribes upon his arrival to Anbar.

… the sheiks were sitting on the fence.

They were not sympathetic to al-Qaeda, but they tolerated its members, MacFarland says.

The sheiks’ outlook had been shaped by watching an earlier clash between Iraqi nationalists — primarily former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party — and hard-core al-Qaeda operatives who were a mix of foreign fighters and Iraqis. Al-Qaeda beat the nationalists. That rattled the sheiks.

“Al-Qaeda just mopped up the floor with those guys,” he says.

While Captain Patriquin wanted to talk to Sheik Risha, U.S. forces were engaged in heavy combat to shut down his smuggling lines, even at the expense of killing his tribal and family members.  The U.S. Marine Corps operations in Iraq are best described by diplomacy with a gun (and this is consistent with the literally countless interviews of Marines that I have conducted).  When it was all finished, more than one thousand Marines had perished in Anbar, and tens of thousands of both indigenous insurgents and foreign fighters had died.  There were no unicorns or rainbows in Anbar, popular myths to the contrary.

In spite of the sophistication of the Anbari tribes compared to the Afghan tribes, even they couldn’t hold off al Qaeda without heavy kinetics by the Marines.  The Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan were also said to have a strong sense of unity and organization, that is, until Baitullah Mehsud had some 600 tribal elders assassinated.  The Pashtun tribal structure is said to have been decimated by the Pakistan Taliban.

Upon the initial liberation of Garmsir by the U.S. Marines in 2008, the tribal elders pleaded with the Marines to join with them to fight the Taliban.  The 24th MEU did, at least until their deployment ended.  The British weren’t able to hold Garmsir, and no U.S. Marines followed up the 24th MEU into the Garmsir (in a tip of the hat to the “economy of force” campaign).  Thus did Operation Khanjar have to be launched in 2009 to do some of the same things that the Marines did in 2008.  Even now with U.S. Marines present in the Helmand Province, fear of retribution for cooperating with the Marines against the Taliban is pervasive.

There are certain elements of Marlowe’s analysis that are salient.  You cannot find more criticism of the ANA and ANP than I have lodged, and I objected to the use of ANA soldiers from Tajik areas to control Pashtun tribes before Marlowe did.  But for those naive analysts who believe that reorganization of the ANA is the answer to our problems in Afghanistan, you only need to know that the U.S. Marines are still trying to talk the ANA troops aligned with them to go on night time patrols.

There may also be some virtue to the notion of better engagement of the tribes.  Steven Pressfield has a continuing stream of conversation and analysis at his blog on this very topic (to be fair, I should also mention that Joshua Foust has another view on this, and both positions are well worth studying).  But after the tribes are engaged and the ANA has been reorganized, the tribes cannot stop the Taliban and allied foreign fighters alone, and the ANA is far from ready to take on defense of their country from internal threats.

What Davis and Marlowe are missing is the general evolution of the campaign and the warp and woof of the Afghan countryside now as compared to the utopia they describe.  The Taliban have grown stronger, and it will take heavy kinetics, patrolling, policing and engagement of the population by other-than-ANA forces to dislodge them.

There aren’t any easy solutions, but the general reluctance to send additional troops being demonstrated by this administration cannot possibly be a doctrinal or strategic basis for denying the necessary resources to complete the campaign.  U.S. troops are the currency upon which the campaign will succeed or fail.

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Warbucks
Member

If I read earlier analysis correctly, there was mention that a significant portion of any US Military force increase in country was needed to help train ANA and ANP forces. If this is the case, there seems to be general agreement regardless of the political attunment of the analysist that ANA and ANP training is needed for long term success.

Why can we not put together a program of Air-lifting large elements of the ANA and/or ANP out-of-country for their training? It seems to me (a) we could train and motivate and (b) find a US, politically acceptable balance point of compromise without detrimental effects.

In implementing the air-lift for training concept, we end up creating a different dimension to the war for the enemy, which would be very hard for the enemy to adapt to. The new dimension of the war would be ANA and/or ANP forces entering existing forces with a more nationalistic-oppimistic can-do spirit. We send these guys back into their war with pride not developed in them, apparently, internally through their own force structures in-country.

Would some of you analysts put some thinking into such an air-lift training program and offer some estimates on how that might be achieved?

rrk3
Member
Well if the administration is going with counter-insurgency lite then we should pack our trash and leave. Sorry for the doom and gloom but we all know that 10-20,000 troops is not going to cut it. I advocate counter-insurgency only after we have killed enough of the Taliban in this case to make them pause and let us move in the civil affairs and PRT folks to work with the tribes. Warbucks, we airlifted and trained a lot of the Chinese Nationalist army in India during World War II. Here is my question do where do we train them and how. Do we line them up in the yellow footprints at PI or San Diego? Do we train them as conventional troops or guerrilla fighters which is more to the inclination anyway? It is not just a matter of training but capacity as well. The ANA has no where close to the air and vehicle assets it needs to engage in major operations. As we all do at this blog we spend a lot of time studying this area of the world and in my opinion there are Taliban and AQ commanders with big smiles on their faces this morning… Read more »
Warbucks
Member
rrk3 you make excellent points on past failures of such a “compromise strategy of out-of-country training” for ANA and/or ANP troops. The question of where to train them does seem easy to answer on the other hand. I think where to train them will prove to be the easy part. The hard part is (a) what to train them, (b) how to re-integrate them seamlessly when returned to their own country, hyped-up and ready to build a country and aggressively fight for it. Some of the elements of training, which I am totally incompetent to analyse would be: (1) Send them back after completion of their training with such high skills that their officer corp looks incompetent; (2) Send them back with such high skills that they expect to win and receive an NCO ranking; even grant them courtesy ranks recognized by the US as holding leadership, experience, and abilities which equate to various NCO status in the US as an “honorary” recognition. (3) Send back an elite small group of trained officers married to these men in spirit and purpose as well that are able to use the troops trained and argue moral and ethical support for the honorary… Read more »
rrk3
Member
Warbucks, On the subject of airpower I was thinking more along the lines of transport, I am not advocating giving them F-16s. They will need a bunch of helicopters, and midsized fixed wing transport aricraft. Not to mention a bunch of trucks, humvees etc. Just a quick thought on out of country training. It takes at least three if not four years to make a decent Corpral I know current operations have increased promotions to a certain extent. When I reached my unit after 11 weeks of basic and 2 months of MOS school not counting basic infantry I was considered basically trained. It would take a minimum of 6 months to get these folks to the level of competence of a basically trained Private-PFC in the Corps. Also we have to make sure the guys we take are healthy as has been reported here a good number of the ANA has a drug problem and there is also the nutrition problem. These guys are not made to hump a 60lbs ruck all day. Also the cultural differences in discipline come into play you cannot treat an Afghani like you do a 18 year old kid from Texas. They are… Read more »
Warbucks
Member
rrk3, “deserve a look” is a good starting point. I think Sam, (Uncle Sam) can figure ways to work through tiered random selection of male-only personnel with (a) 6 months training cycle, (b) humping 60-lbs rucks all day, (c) nutrition problems, which leaves us down to the issue of (d) cultural differences and coming after you in your sleep. Item (d) multiple phases: (1) We enable and encourage them spiritually to realize that at our core we are both partakers of the Abrahamic faith and worship the same God and as brothers we should learn from each other. They teach us, we listen, then we teach them, they listen in an atmosphere of two way respect. Also while Shiite and Sunni might be a war with the world in their fringes, true, inspired Sufi’s live on another plane of enlightenment altogether. They carry in the hearts what you and I might call “the personal experience of the loving Christ,” which by definition extends beyond just Muslim. (2) Coming after the trainer in his sleep may be the key to training them effectively. I think we can work around death even if one or two or three or more occur. There… Read more »
rrk3
Member
Warbucks, I am positive there are better trainers in the group because I concentrate more on the anti-terror, law enforcement side of the fence, but I would be honored to continue this conversation. As far as (D) goes it is not even a Muslim thing per se as a pashtunwali thing this is a real cultural difference between the Pastuns and other Muslims. I am not sure how far this tradition goes with the Uzbeks, Hazari, and other tribes but this will be an issue. I think this can be gotten around treat them as warriors and then as soldiers and like you said they listen and we listen. This could have another added benefit as it would help both sides with the language issue. We have to keep in mind at all levels a Western solution is not always the best solution. Strengths: -The average rural Afghan male already thinks of himself as a warrior, training will have to turn them into soldiers. -Some will already have basic weapons training -The rural Afghan males can already hump hills like a mountain goat. -They are prideful build on that. Weaknesses -Poor education -Lack of national pride -They are not Western… Read more »
Warbucks
Member
The noble Pashtun. We might agree that Queen Elizabeth did no one a favor when she honored the dividing line between the Pashtun culture drawn down the middle of their 5000 plus year old mountain top, battle secure, culture over 100 years ago. I think of the Pashtun as a beautiful, noble people. They survived over 5000 years in the isolated Cush in conditions I doubt I would last 72 hours. Here are the few positive (and possibly negative) things I’ve heard about the Pastun which seem relevant in building a strategy: (a) They are survivors who have 5000+ years of belief in their core security brought about by their remote, mountainous terrain. This has never failed them in the past. Armies come and go. They believe ours will too. (b) Their hospitality is rumored to be a absolute, unbreakable bond, that if you are formally granted “hospitality” by agreement of the senior jurga (spelling), that becomes an unbreakable blood oath, i.e. their very lives will be given in your defense. I can not help but admire this quality even as the dedicated abilities of modern armies are tending to render this tribal trait as unwise to be practiced on… Read more »
rrk3
Member
Warbucks, While our conversation has centered on the Pashtuns we are going to have to intergrate the rest of the tribes if the goal is to build a national army. Training and arming the Pashtuns only would be a huge mistake. As this would only turn the rest of the country against us and the Pashtuns. When I think of building an effective Afghan Army I think of the things that we did with the CIDG units in Vietnam. These were both used as a guerrilla force and and regular forces that protected the base camps and proved to be very effective. This calls for close training and living with the people. It also is very kinetic in its operations something that the current strategy is not calling for but I can see the same program being used. We taught these forces airborne operations, radio usage, and how to use the weapons organic to company sized units and these tribesmen were also illiterate for the most part. The force I would envision would be light AKs, RPKs, RPGs, and Mortars for the most part however they will have airpower and QRF back up for big fights or if the Taliban… Read more »
Warbucks
Member

Indeed yes. If you would be so kind as to email your paper to dtrn@pacbell.net

That should reach me. In the subject line of the email please say: Captain’s Journal. That email dumps incoming into trash bin and I have to search through and carefully salvage. Once we hook up I can privately transfer over to my primary email.

LOL, after I posted the prior missive, I realized it would likely be read as though it was an all Pastun affair. That would place an interesting new power element into this world now wouldn’t it? I have a hunch the first thing they’d do is declare indpendence and start their own country.

Thanks for keeping this discussion going. I will wait to hear from you on that email.

rrk3
Member

You should have the paper now bear with me it is very long.

A fully armed and trained Pashtun nation would be a scary thought in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. I think that might be something that would unite the lowland Pakis and the other tribes in Afghanistan. A scary thought indeed.

I do hope that clear heads prevail and that our current administration does the right thing and by that I mean not surrendering the countryside to the Taliban. I am all for anyway possible to create a more effective Afghan army and police and if it is taking them somewhere else to train then so much the better.

I appreciate this conversation and look forward to more.

Warbucks
Member

rrk3 Thank you. I will dig for it and report back. As a Sunday morning recreational diversion in the meanwhile, my community is having a Veterans’ Parade this morning at 11 am. I accepted an invitation from a friend to ride “shotgun” on his “fully restored and authentically armed” historic army jeep.

The only part of my uniform that is authentic and barely fits, is my old flight jacket. “My personal war” is the daily battle to remain ready, willing, and able, to fit back into my old freaking leather flight jacket. Can somebody help me with this zipper?

Okay….. On the count of three….

rrk3
Member

Well Have a good afternoon I am getting ready for another semester to start and having a quiet day at the house while the kids go into sugar detox.

Warbucks
Member
Intuitively military planners tend to get the future right. The larger question is, do we create our own self-fulfilling prophecy…. speaking in general terms, as I am not qualified beyond that. Just like most of us, our intuition, when we listen to it, tends to be right on. Who among us, did not see this push to the boarder coming in through Afghanistan who follows Herschel’s blog. We tend to get it right when we look ahead. We see the most likely scenarios. While we all want to be peacemakers isn’t it true that we all end up usually creating more war not less. And it’s not like having to have the last word. Oh no, this is far greater and deeper. It’s having to win because loosing is unthinkable. Loosing means being perceived as weak and laying ourselves open to attack as a nation because we seem weak, and that’s where would-be enemies always, always, always misjudge Americans. It’s that Christian culture-thing we lug around, wanting to give a second and third and fourth and fifth chances to would-be enemies. At first we are seen as naïve, weak, over-weight, self-indulgent, materialistic, decadent, without will or backbone and they attack… Read more »
rrk3
Member

Warbucks,
It is documented that we will need to kill 10,000 a year just to cut into their males coming a military age. Is our young President willing to commit that type of violence in a war that I am not sure he entirely supports? If this is acceptable to him and the American people the ROE need to be changed.

Warbucks
Member
How do we break away from the most likely war scenario and bring forth peace and understanding and reach through to the hearts of “the enemy” in a renewed peace effort on a global scale? Thought ONE: Is there a role for high tec? Of course, but how and what? Regarding: Micro Air Vehciles (MAVs) http://video.designworldonline.com/video/vid=0f7d1e1689b1472a83149c3c5d822235 Here is what I think might be true. A lot of the promo surrounding MAV’s is technologically already on-line. The brains and mechanics all work except one thing… sound level controls. These devices need more stealth in the level of sound their little motors generate while airborne. Everything I’ve ever seen is too noisy. There are many applications where they are applied even still. Hovering over a doorway above the enemy’s head is not one of them currently. However, a very useful protocol includes massive networking and sensing and movement tracking in the use of resident units each stationed in discrete gps-confirmed-spots alone the suspected enemy route where the units have much longer life expectancy while in passive-mode and able to recharge in changing weather conditions; sunlight keeps them ticking. The trouble with this technology is that it is quickly compromised and used back… Read more »
Warbucks
Member
World Class Dramatic Impacts Battle flags have been used throughout the ages to rally and guide human will in the most difficult of times. The brace of common religious icons have been used throughout the ages on the other hand are used to reach through human will and touch the uncorrupted human soul. The ancient Chinese were among the earliest practitioners to realize and incorporate rituals in all the affairs of state. Former nun and author Karen Armstrong, in her book “The Great Transformation – The Beginning of Religious Traditions,” carefully walks us through the history of religious traditions from 1600 B.C. to modern times. See concludes by saying “The sages demanded that every single person become self-conscious, aware of what he was doing; rituals had to be appropriated by each sacrificer, and individuals must take responsibility for their actions. Today we are making another quantum leap forward. Our technology has created a global society, which is interconnected electronically, militarily, economically, and politically. We now have to develop a global consciousness, because, whether we like it or not we live in one world. (My emphasis) …… If religion is to bring light to our broken world, we need, as Mencius… Read more »
Warbucks
Member
Possible Dramatic Symbols with Positive Global Impact: Assumption and operating premise: A. In conflict resolution, results matter and a leader’s actions can make a difference. Theorizing in practical terms —- local level searches. Actions of religious and political leaders could actually alter the methods our troops use in neighborhood searches. Consider The Captain’s Journal review (Nov 5, 2009, “Dangerous Precedents in Afghanistan”: http://www.captainsjournal.com/2009/11/04/dangerous-precedents-in-afghanistan/) of the perceived offensiveness caused by our canine teams, where dogs are considered, apparently, within the local Islamic religious belief system as “unclean” and thus offering an historic-based, emotional response offense and presumably deep personal offense on various spiritual levels to both the Afghan officers, the Afghan troops conducting the inspection, and the local populace who’s hearts and minds we are trying to win over, religious leadership perhaps should be tasked to serve in this cause through a more constructive role. When I read the Captain’s report on “Dangerous Precedents in Afghanistan” my intuition suggests complaints issues by the Afghan officers are all a ruse in an obvious attempt to defeat US efforts. That’s the first response from me as it probably is in most readers. Taking a step beyond my first emotional response requires of me… Read more »
Warbucks
Member
Continuing the hypothetical and make-believe world in which we currently find Warbucks frolicking, seemingly oblivious and naïve to the death, mayhem, and evil surrounding him, we venture into his wonderland rabbit hole and peak once again, at the risk to our own sanity, into his continuing thoughts: “Fewer Troops is Better: Riding Unicorns Over Rainbows” (http://www.captainsjournal.com/2009/10/28/fewer-troops-is-better-riding-unicorns-over-rainbows/) on The Captain’s Journal. The sane thing to do is to pray for the soldiers and their families at Ft. Hood. That would be the normal, healthy, psychologically balanced mind, functioning in the here and now. The sane thing to do would be to cry and let it all out, then dig in and remind yourself you’re still a warrior, there is a duty on your shoulders, others need your help. At least pray. Warbucks has done all that, and he’s read today’s column from Victor Davis Hanson’s Private Papers (http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson110409.html), he’s listened to more episodes of Andy Basiago in stunning amazement starting with his favorite part (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQskUx20MeM). When we last left Warbucks in wonderland he was desperately grasping at straws drifting between two realities of compassion and understanding wondering about the Second Coming on the one hand and seriously unleashing the Dogs of… Read more »
Warbucks
Member

Possible Dramatic Symbols with Positive Global Impact:

Assumption and operating premise:

Theorizing in practical terms: Will we follow?

In conflict resolution results matters and a leaders actions can make a difference. http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=tCAffMSWSzY#t=28

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You are currently reading "Fewer Troops is Better: Riding Unicorns Over Rainbows", entry #4115 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Tribes and was published October 28th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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