Afghanistan Policy in Disarray

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

The first living Medal of Honor recipient since Vietnam is soon to be named, which is good news.  The disturbing part of the Washington Post article is at the end.

“We should be stationing our troops in places where they won’t be earning the Medal of Honor because the population and terrain favor us and we have quick access to air support,” said John Nagl, one of the authors of the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine and president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense think tank.

Leaving behind the issue of allowing the insurgents safe haven for recruiting, raising of funds, training and rest, and leaving behind the issue of protection of lines of logistics and all of the other objections that could be raised to this incredibly stolid statement, Nagl’s quote betrays an Afghanistan policy and strategy that is in complete disarray.

He wants retreat in the face of enemy fires, allowing air power to accomplish the engagement.  But the incredibly incompetent Afghan National Army is embedded with U.S. troops, and is learning to retreat and allow air power to finish the fight.  What they will do when the U.S. has withdrawn in a year or two Nagl doesn’t say.

More importantly, McChrystal’s tactical directive severely restricts the use of air power.  In fact, the Taliban know this and have used it to their advantage.

The Taliban no longer run and hide when they see a fighter jet overhead, brazenness that airmen attribute to the nearly year-old directive to limit close-air support.

Joint terminal attack controllers, airmen on the ground who call in airstrikes, and fighter pilots report that insurgents are encouraging each other to continue firing because they know the Air Force’s F-16s and A-10s are dropping far fewer bombs now than this time last year.

“Keep fighting; [coalition forces] won’t shoot” is the order that enemy leaders are giving — in Pashtun and Dari, words that the JTACs have heard over their radios.

Pilots notice the bolder attitude, even from their bird’s-eye view in the sky.

“It can be very frustrating when you can see them shooting at our guys,” said Capt. Andy Vaughan as he walked out to his A-10 on a March 24 mission over southern Afghanistan. “They know we are not allowed to engage in certain situations.”

“The A-10 pilots … are just left circling in the skies,” said an Air Force officer here who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak on the record.

So Nagl and CNAS want severely restrictive rules of engagement, including for the use of air power, because of their belief in the doctrines of population-centric counterinsurgency and the possibility for noncombatant casualties, but CNAS also wants to send this severely restricted air power after the Taliban in order to keep it safe for the Soldiers who engage the Taliban.

I’m pointing out the paradox not so much in an attempt to embarrass Nagl or CNAS, but to show the depressing lack of leadership and strategic vision for the campaign.  It is just that bad.



  • jj

    Have not heard a whole lot of common sense out of CNAS lately.

  • Warbucks

    Perhaps there may be a politically (deceptive) work-around to the ANA level of competency (a question posted here on The Captain’s Journal :http://www.captainsjournal.com/2010/06/30/counterinsurgency-and-the-enervation-of-the-warrior-spirit/).

    What can not be accomplished quickly on a large scale in readying the ANA to function, may be achievable on a much smaller scale and be quite adequate: develop a special-ops delta-force within the ANA. Surely they already have something going in this department on their own, probably under a totally different label.

    It seems to me it would be easier to pick-and-choose those few motivated warriors aligned with our own elite forces and give them some on-the-job-training, than to worry about the status of the entire ANA. Then turn over the reins of power projection to them as we draw down, forcing acceptance of them back on to the power structures of the ANA.

    The hard part is to “force acceptance of them back on to the power structures of the ANA,” as we draw down. This would seem to take behind the scenes political will exerted at least up to the level of our own Secretary of Defense level of operations.

    I have heard the arguments against doing this, the primary concern being a runaway power structure that subjugates all expression of civil liberties…. i.e. the creation of another Al-Qaeda. I think that’s a reasonable risk to take in that it is one of the more controllable risks. We can structure this elite delta-force and make their power heavily dependent on US lines of support materially.

    No doubt we would have to look after this elite team, and their families for a generation. The goal would be in direct conflict with much of the sheikdom entitlements underlying existing power structures. They would have to be seen locally within their society as heroic figures to be admired. This would mean probably that the warrior would need to be trained in service over self.

    Because this sort of operation is out of sight, (black ops) it would likely continue even as we “start” our political draw down of our own troops.

    All these guys need would be about three operations to acquire a fearsome reputation. Their tactics do not have to reflect our current tactics and our own attendant political sensibilities. They could be encouraged to be more ruthless in ways that are culturally respected whereas we can not. They could be embedded in high profile ANA independent operations as cover and thus deflect and absorb political backlash.

  • Pingback: Restricted air support–Another reason we need to get out of Afghanistan « ELP Defens(c)e Blog

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You are currently reading "Afghanistan Policy in Disarray", entry #5159 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Rules of Engagement and was published July 2nd, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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