Concerning Senior Leadership in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

LTC Tad Sholtis seems a bit indignant over how the past several months in Afghanistan have turned out.  So be it.  I encourage everyone to visit his site and determine for themselves what they think, since I will not tell them.  What I will say is that I think LTC Sholtis’ biggest problem has been his commander, General McChrystal.  My problems with his tenure – emphasis on HVT hits, denigration of so-called general purpose forces, highly restrictive ROE, and micromanagement of the campaign – are well rehearsed and I won’t repeat the detail I have laid out.  But that doesn’t prevent me from reiterating them via other means and using other sources.  One particularly depressing but interesting comment comes to us from the Small Wars Journal blog.

Take with the caveat that this is how it appears to me, and I’m near the bottom of the pyramid, but the previous commander didn’t seem to think very highly of the conventional force. He was enamored with SOF, and thought they were the only professionals– it would be SOF that’s out running the hills pulling triggers. That’s why there is the over restrictive ROE and stacks of directives that keep the bulk of the force pinned to population centers and highways that are relativetly safe and stable. The bulk of CF have been reacting to contact on the highway while a really small group of guys that aren’t nearly as good as the beards and t-shirts would have you think have been taking the fight to the enemy. Can another General turn it around? I don’t know, but another General has to be better than the last one.

It’s a lot bigger though– We have our “partners” in ISAF that we have to give equal play to, that are bringing in all of their senior leaders who want a spot at the table. We’ve been tossing limited manpower at dozens of competing and often overlapping LOEs. I read the same product produced ten times by ten different teams…and half of those were civilians.

Probably most damaging though, and the reason I’m leaning towards hopeless rather than hard, is the lack of ground truth. IO campaings targeting illiterate people, reports that are purely for the self aggrendization of staff members who have no seat at the table, staffs and command that serve no purpose at all, and complete lack of accountability or understanding by decision makers at all levels above battalion. July has been the worst month of the war, and June was the hardest before that– and in the storyboards of the VBIEDs and underbelly IEDs we actually have the gall to write that because the enemy is able to take out complete vehicles, that they must be desperation attacks…. All those Taliban flags coming being flown by the people of Kandahar City is because the intimidation campaign, the last gasp of enemy IO. WE’RE WINNING.

Yes, General McChrystal is conflicted over the use of the so-called general purpose forces.  I gave LTC Sholtis more than one chance to say something good – anything – about the Marines and the MAGTF command structure and the job that they had accomplished in Helmand.  He did not.  The troops are confined to FOBs for a reason.  General McChrystal and his staff propose that they believe in population-centric counterinsurgency, but they never trusted the troops to do anything more than provide general policing of the population and coupling with and training of the indigenous forces.

The military campaign is only military for the SOF, who are disconnected from the population except from the ubiquitous raids and hits on HVTs.  This trust in the SOF and mistrust in the balance of the forces can be seen in a comment left at The Captain’s Journal just recently.

Calling off the airstrike does not surprise me one bit even though it should be criminal. My brother is an AC-130 gunship pilot who just got back from Afghanistan. They were called off of targets in the open with no troops or buildings around. This caused him and his crew a great deal of frustration as they were flying all night missions and doing nothing but calling in contacts.

What is interesting though he was there for a short after McCrystal left and suddenly the ROE was liberalized.

It’s good to be able to use the very comments left by readers to add to the dialogue.  My only contribution is that I know things about my readers that you don’t.  It’s easy to misconstrue the objection to the restrictive ROE.  While it’s true that I and many others hold that the highly restrictive rules accomplish exactly the opposite of their intended purpose, that’s only part of it.  The ROE fits into a larger framework of micromanagement of the campaign.  Approval of every jot and tittle of the job is the domain of megalomaniacs.  Until we unleash the forces to chase the enemy, we don’t even stand a chance of winning the campaign.

  • rrk3

    McCrystal was a SOF person most of his career and that is what he knows. I think he did the opposite of Gen. Swarzkopf (who mistrusted SOF) in Desert Storm limited SOF operations to some extent. McCrystal went the complete opposite direction. While I have a great amount of respect for the SOF community my personal is we have operations backwards. Army SOF has the skills and training to go into a villiage or town and try and win over the population whereas the main force military does not. We need to be using SOF as the “ink spots” and the main force troops and the direct action guys to hunt the enemy.

    What is hugely frustrating to me is that COIN as it is practiced today in Afghanistan is not what was practiced in Iraq. The COIN effort there worked because we pushed the terrorist away from the people. We did this by killing or capturing them. Does anyone really think that the turn around in al-Anbar happened in a vacum? When the Marines and Army took the city it was a full on conventional fight that in my opinion set the stage for the U.S. to become the strongest tribe.

    Even David Kilcullen (Accidental Guerilla, Counter Insurgency) says there is a need to hunt down and push the enemy back, this type of thinking is also present in our Military’s COIN book. Instead we are allowing the enemy to push back on us and our “ink spots.” Instead of the spots growing they are shrinking or not forming at all.

    Clausewitz talks about defeating your enemies forces and breaking their will. We have not hurt their will enough to dissuade them from wanting to still field troops. Their motivations whether it is religous, criminal, or nationalist do not matter we need to hunt them and make it hurt to the point that it causes new recruits hesitation to grab their rifle and fight us.

    I apologize for the blood-thirsty rant please feel free to correct any errors I have made.

    Regards

  • jbrookins

    “Army SOF has the skills and training to go into a villiage or town and try and win over the population whereas the main force military does not. ”

    Just remember SOF is not Special Forces (SF). Very important distinction. From his BIO it looks like McChrystal was an ODA (SF) Commander for about a year then never returned to SF. SOF is Direct Action while SF wins the hearts and minds. SOF does not win over the population. I don’t think McChrystal was the right guy for this type of job.

  • rrk3

    jbrookins,
    Thank you for the statement I mean SF when I refer to SOF. I apologize I should have explained I make the distinction differently than you do and would be confusing.


You are currently reading "Concerning Senior Leadership in Afghanistan", entry #5299 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,General McChrystal,Micromanaging the Military,Rules of Engagement and was published August 1st, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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