4 years 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.