6 years, 5 months ago
From Greg Miller with The Washington Post:
An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency or put meaningful pressure on its leaders to seek peace, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials citing the latest assessments of the war in Afghanistan.
Escalated airstrikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But officials said that insurgents have been adept at absorbing the blows and that they appear confident that they can outlast an American troop buildup set to subside beginning next July.
“The insurgency seems to be maintaining its resilience,” said a senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war. Taliban elements have consistently shown an ability to “reestablish and rejuvenate,” often within days of routed by U.S. forces, the official said, adding that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, “I don’t see it.”
One of the military objectives in targeting mid-level commanders is to compel the Taliban to pursue peace talks with the Afghan government, a nascent effort that NATO officials have helped to facilitate.
The blunt intelligence assessments are consistent across the main spy agencies responsible for analyzing the conflict, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, and come at a critical juncture. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has touted the success of recent operations and indicated that the military thinks it will be able to show meaningful progress by the December review. He said last week that progress is occurring “more rapidly than was anticipated” but acknowledged that major obstacles remain.
U.S. intelligence officials present a similar, but inverted, view – noting tactical successes but warning that well into a major escalation of the conflict, there is little indication that the direction of the war has changed.
Among the troubling findings is that Taliban commanders who are captured or killed are often replaced in a matter of days. Insurgent groups that have ceded territory in Kandahar and elsewhere seem content to melt away temporarily, leaving behind operatives to carry out assassinations or to intimidate villagers while waiting for an opportunity to return.
Analysis & Commentary
Say it ain’t so? The high value target campaign conducted by special operations forces is failing in Afghanistan?
Ten months ago I said:
SOF troops come in the middle of the night and kill high value targets (always members of some one’s family), disappear into the night, and leave the GPF to explain the next day why it all occurred. It’s horrible for the campaign, bad for morale within the GPF, bad for maintenance of capabilities within the GPF, and bad for the overall qualifications of SOF and SF.
Three months ago I gave the counterexample to this bad policy:
The same people who ordered the strike were there to explain it in the morning, just as I suggested should happen. The same people who fight by night are there for the locals to look at in the morning. And look into their eyes. If they see cut and run, they will side with the insurgents, or someone else, whomever that may be. If they see victory and determination, they will side with the stronger horse. We need to be the stronger horse.
Seven months ago I said:
Ending the silly high value target campaign (capturing mid-level Taliban commanders, only to release them 96 hours later) won’t end unintended noncombatant casualties.
Four months ago I said:
We have discussed the issue of a campaign against high value targets conducted by SOF. I don’t believe in it. I don’t think it works to curtail the insurgency. But besides considerations of the utility of the strategy (and it is a strategy, not a tactic), there is the issue of maintenance of troop morale. McChrystal set up a military cultural milieu in which direct action kinetics was relegated (or reserved) to SOF, while the so-called general purpose forces were essentially told to be policemen, and given rules of engagement that are more restrictive than those for police departments in the U.S. Nothing McChrystal could have done would have worked so thoroughly to bust troop morale. McChrystal’s vision is why he worked so poorly with the Marines and within the context of the MAGTF. The Corps doesn’t buy into McChrystal’s bifurcation, and (properly) wants more control of goings-on within their battle space than McChrystal was willing to give them.
And finally, six weeks ago I said:
I continue to advocate reassignment of SOF to be matrixed directly to infantry (their skills could be put to good use), and I continue to advocate the ideas that the HVT campaign did not work in Iraq, is not working in Afghanistan, and will not work anywhere. You may disagree, but you must give me data that shows the effectiveness of this strategy. I have yet to see any such evidence. And as for the use of the term “strategy” to define this approach, it’s exactly in line with the facts. Our strategy in Afghanistan at the present seems to be use of the GPF for force protection for logistics, medical personnel and air power, while the SOF boys take out leaders. Pitiful strategy, this is. If we cannot do any better than that we need to come home.
In fact, some two years ago I received a communication from a SOF commander who told me that the high value target campaign wasn’t working. He told me, with some chagrin, that killing a mid- or even high-level Taliban commander only had an effect on the insurgency for a few days to a few weeks, and then only locally, and that it took only days for them to appoint new commanders.
Our so-called general purpose forces have been relegated to policing the population, while direct action kinetics are being done by the special operations troopers against high value targets. This is our current strategy – not tactics, but overarching strategy. It hasn’t worked in Afghanistan. It didn’t work in Iraq. It won’t work anywhere, any time.
The Taliban will be corralled when we kill enough of the low level fighters that it makes joining their cause inadvisable and unattractive. Then, the leaders will be made irrelevent. This requires counterinsurgency warfare, not policing and counterterrorism by SOF troopers by raiding high value targets.
So why do we have Pentagon strategists still surprised at the fact that this strategy doesn’t work? Is this all they have in their bag of tricks? Really? Have they bet the campaign on this strategy? Really?
UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for the link. Michael Ledeen responds, quite sensibly, that the HVT program can’t exist and be successful on its own. It needs all of the other aspects of the campaign. Ever the thinking man and scholar, Jim Hanson responds: “Dude it is well past time for you to STFU! This is quite possibly the most arrogant bit of garbage from an amateur wannabe I have ever seen. Who the fuck do you think you are? Jesus it is annoying and ridiculous to see someone with a junior high level of understanding opining as if people who actually know what they are talking about ought to listen. You need a big steaming cup of humility and a new hobby.”
And in the interest of openness and giving all points of view, there you have it.
UPDATE #2: A well meaning reader mentions the notion that my prose might be being used by the Pentagon to convince the Taliban commanders that they are winning rather than us. She sends this link. I recommended that she balance her reading with Joshua Foust’s latest piece.
UPDATE #3: Michael Yon drops me a note to point out, correctly, that he was speaking out against exclusive reliance on the HVT program back in 2006 and onward. Make sure to visit his Facebook page.