Afghanistan: New General, Same Strategy?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

From CBS News:

In announcing that he was replacing General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus as the top commander in Afghanistan, President Obama made clear that while there would be a different man at the top, the war strategy would remain exactly the same.

“This is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy,” the president said in the Rose Garden, stressing that Petraeus, as the commander of U.S. Central Command, “supported and helped design the strategy we have in place.”

This is important.  It’s either true, in which case we have a massive problem, or it’s false, and General Petraeus has been biting his lower lip while General McChrystal ran the campaign into the ground.  My judgment is that the comments by Mr. Obama are true and salient, but there’s always hope that my analysis is wrong.

There is no question that the use of artillery and air power was heavier in Iraq than it is in Afghanistan (and Iraq was more urban).  As late as 2008 (well after the surge), artillery elements fired as many as 11,000 155 mm (M105) rounds in Baquba, Iraq in response to insurgent mortar activity.  There are many thousands more examples of heavy force projection, one such from Ramadi.

Col. Sean MacFarland arrived in Ramadi as commander of the U.S. 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division. His four Army and Marine battalion commanders built small outposts throughout the city, from which troops patrolled every block. When al Qaeda in Iraq challenged this intrusion, the Americans fought back with overwhelming firepower. Unlike other American commanders at the time, who sought to minimize their losses, Col. MacFarland did not relent when American casualties mounted. “My measure of effectiveness would not be low friendly casualties,” he told Mr. Michaels. “My measure of success would be defeating the enemy.”

No one wants to use artillery or air power if ground troops are available.  It’s always better for the population to look into the eyes of determined infantrymen.  But even with the infantry, their hands are tied.  We can talk strategy all day, but it’s impossible to go from tactical defeat to tactical defeat, ad nauseum, and succeed with strategy.  At some point, successful strategy requires successful tactical engagements.

Tim Lynch has a sobering post on the current situation in Afghanistan, and I sense from the usually sanguine Tim a different tone.  Reader TSAlfabet at TCJ also has a depressing observation and some questions for us.

Perhaps the choice is purely political: Obama chooses Petraeus because he knows that the GOP will not question it, and, if that Newsweek article is to be believed— a BIG if– then Obama already has Petraeus’ affirmation that a handover to the ANA can be done by July 2011. If Petraeus fails, Obama can blame it on him for not telling Obama back in Sept 2009 that it was a faulty strategy. In short, Petraeus gives Obama maximum political coverage. Conservatives will not want to criticize Petraeus and it will be difficult to fault Obama who gave the reins to the very person that the GOP wanted in charge all along.

How will this play out? Will Petraeus be given the latitude to make changes, to go on the offensive? What will Petraeus do with Karzai? What about Amb. Eikenberry?

How will all of this work out indeed?  I still believe that we are losing the campaign at the present.  Time will tell if Petraeus takes the necessary actions to turn this around.  But time is short.

  • http://www.tenfingers6strings.com TF6S

    Herschel, it looks like we’re seeing some good signs that a more competent sheriff is town:

    “A military source close to Gen. David Petraeus told Fox News that one of the first things the general will do when he takes over in Afghanistan is to modify the rules of engagement to make it easier for U.S. troops to engage in combat with the enemy, though a Petraeus spokesman pushed back on the claim. ”

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/06/25/petraeus-modify-afghanistan-rules-engagement-source-says/

    This definitely goes to Petraeus’s strengths in Iraq where he was a firm believer in adaptive leadership. The further down the chain they allow our guys to make offensive decisions, the better.


You are currently reading "Afghanistan: New General, Same Strategy?", entry #5129 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Obama Administration,Petraeus and was published June 24th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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