General Rod’s War

BY Herschel Smith
3 years ago

Surprisingly, no military blog of which I am aware picked up and commented on a Newsweek article on General David Rodriguez.  Part of this article is repeated below.

If the past 18 months of U.S. military gains withstand the upcoming troop drawdown in Afghanistan, people can thank Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez. Few Americans are likely to do that. In fact, not many even know the publicity-shy general’s name. “He’ll never tell you that this whole thing was his baby,” says his top aide, Col. Kimberly Field. “But it was.” Although Rodriguez’s mediagenic boss, Gen. David Petraeus, gets most credit for the Afghan surge’s success, it was actually Rodriguez—General Rod, his troops call him—who drafted the operational plan even before President Obama announced the executive decision to send in 30,000 additional U.S. troops in November 2009. “You never hear of General Rod as long as General Petraeus is within a hundred miles,” says one of Rodriguez’s staff officers. “But he could care less.”

You wouldn’t think the 6-foot-5 paratrooper was easy to ignore. “He looks kind of scary,” one of his officers confesses. But his staff officers describe him as gentle, low-key, even humble. And low-maintenance: in contrast to some three-stars, they say, Rodriguez doesn’t demand to be treated like royalty. In fact, his unassuming nature is one of his most valuable strengths: he knows how to listen. “I tell everybody, ‘If we used our two ears and one mouth in the same ratio we had them, we would be better off,’ ” he told NEWSWEEK in an exclusive interview. As Rodriguez drew up and refined his plans for the surge, he took the unconventional step of consulting civilian and military Afghan officials, who helped him identify the key terrain that had to be secured. “We have all the technology and skills, but they know the human terrain,” he says. “You just have to ask them and listen. They know what they have to do to win this fight.”

Rodriguez called his plan Operation Omid (the Dari word for “hope”), and it has centered from the very start on enabling the Afghan government forces to stand on their own. The country’s security forces have grown by 94,000 new police and soldiers since the surge began, Rodriguez says, and their total strength is expected to reach 350,000 by next year. Afghanistan’s highly regarded chief of Army staff, Gen. Shir Mohammad Karimi, credits Rodriguez with building professionalism and loyalty in the Afghan National Army (ANA). “He’s patient and tolerant,” says Karimi, “but most important, he listens to Afghan ideas, suggestions, and recommendations.” For one thing, Karimi says, Rodriguez is now paying closer attention to sparsely populated Nuristan province, where the Americans pulled out in late 2009. “Rod frankly says that Afghan proposals are sometimes better than those he worked on with his own staff,” he adds.

[ ... ]

Rodriguez says he’s confident that Afghan soldiers at the platoon and company level are up to the job of taking over from U.S. forces. “We’re going to get them in the front line from the bottom to the top,” he says. “We’ve got to keep the momentum going while we are doing less and less.” Still, he acknowledges, building up the ANA’s command-and-control capacity will take a little longer. His friend and counterpart General Karimi promises that the ANA will be ready to replace the withdrawing U.S. forces—as long as his men have what he calls “enablers”: artillery, air, helicopter gunship, medevac, and logistical support from the Americans, together with U.S. intelligence feeds. Rodriguez says Karimi can count on all those until at least 2014, the deadline President Obama has set for a final withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. The backup Karimi’s men need will leave only at the tail end of the pullout, at the same time as U.S. Special Operations troops and a quick reaction force, Rodriguez says.

Newsweek is certainly feeling the general-love in this piece.  The fawning nature of this article really is objectionable, and it isn’t clear why Newsweek would have felt the freedom to go to the general’s top aide to get the perspective that “this whole thing was his baby” without any balancing opinions.

I don’t get into the general-love that most Americans feel.  Throughout history, we have set our generals on pedestals, in positions of higher honor that they usually deserve.  As for this piece on Rodriguez, after reading how we have him to thank for our military gains, and after listening to the description of him (6′-5″ paratrooper, “he looks kind of scary …”), I found myself waiting for the account of how Babe the blue ox drags his gigantic axe behind him, you know, the one he uses to fell giant trees.

As for that notion that the ANA are “up to the job,” I guess General Rod isn’t referring to those ANA boys at Kamdesh who curled up in a fetal position on their bed to wait out the fight.  As for General Rodriguez himself, recall that he and his staff were the ones who decided that they wanted to micromanage every aspect of the Marines’ engagement in the Helmand Province, including ROE.  As for Nuristan, I guess General Rodriguez was the first out of the gate to describe how it was important.

Whatever else one thinks of General Rodriguez, let me make one thing absolutely clear (and this is one thing that sets me apart from his staff, all of whom who should be spending more time carrying a rifle on patrol).  If there is any success in Afghanistan, to the extent that there is success in Afghanistan, it shouldn’t be ascribed to General Rodriguez or his staff (any more than it should be ascribed to General Petraeus).  There is no debate about the contributions of Generals Petraeus or Rodriguez on the pages of The Captain’s Journal.  Any success redounds from the blood, sweat and tears of Army specialists and Sergeants and Marine Corps Lance Corporals and Corporals in the field under fire.

No one in their right mind would argue this last point.


You are currently reading "General Rod’s War", entry #7210 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,General Rodriguez and was published July 10th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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