Archive for the 'Afghan National Army' Category



A Middle East Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 6 months ago

After watching the third and final presidential debate on Monday night, I was disturbed to hear the two candidates talk about foreign policy with such lack of focus or context.   Admittedly, Obama was intent on baiting Romney into a game-changing gaffe and Romney was intent on not committing any, such error.   Presidential debates, ironically enough, are the last place to hear what a candidate actually thinks about any particular subject.

Both candidates, for example, endorsed the comic notion that the Afghan Army will be able to take over the fight against the Taliban by 2014 as the precursor to an American retreat.  Both candidates vowed that Iran will not be allowed to field a nuclear weapon (Romney actually drew the line at “nuclear capability” which is better), but neither one mentioned that the deeper problem with Iran is its current, Islamist government and not their pursuit of nuclear weapons per se.    So, for instance, Romney seemed to accept the continuation of the Iranian Regime so long as it did not have nukes.

Reflecting on this event further I am reminded of  a post by Walter Russel Mead which is an excellent springboard, summarizing all that is wrong with the current American approach to the Middle East:

The anti-American riots that have been rocking the Muslim world since 9/11 have shaken the establishment out of its complacency. Increasingly, even those who sympathize with the basic elements of the administration’s Middle East policy are connecting the dots. What they are seeing isn’t pretty. It’s not just that the US remains widely disliked and distrusted in the region. It’s not just that the radicals and the jihadis have demonstrated more political sophistication and a greater ability to organize and strike than expected and that the struggle against radical terror looks longer lasting and more dangerous than thought; it’s that the strategic underpinnings of the administration’s Middle East policy seem to be falling apart. A series of crises is sweeping through the region, and the US does not—at least not yet—seem to have a clue what to do.

***

The Israeli-Palestinian problem, for example, cannot be settled quickly; the consequence of the region’s lack of democratic traditions and liberal institutions cannot be overcome in four or eight years; the underdevelopment and mass unemployment afflicting so many countries has no known cure; the ethnic and sectarian hatreds that poison the region will not soon be tamed; the deep sense of grievance and injustice that shapes the attitudes of so many toward the Christian or post-Christian West will not soon fade away; the radical and terror groups now roaming the region cannot be easily stopped or mollified; the resource curse will continue to corrupt and poison large parts of the region; the resurgence of Islam, even in less radical forms, inevitably heightens a sense of confrontation with the US and its western allies; and Iran’s ambitions are hard to tame and impossible to accept.

Mr. Mead challenged both Obama and Mitt Romney to articulate a policy or at least initiatives that might address these problems.  Neither has done so.

At the risk of being what Mr. Mead terms “an armchair strategist” offering simple solutions, I believe that the U.S. needs to fundamentally reconsider its approach to foreign policy and the methods and tools used to pursue that policy.

First, it is not enough, unfortunately, for the United States to be in favor of “democracy” or “freedom” for those around the world.  These terms are simply too amorphous and chameleon to be useful in building a coherent foreign policy.   Instead, the U.S. should be an ardent advocate for the foundations of civil society:  respect for individual rights;  free exercise of religion; freedom of speech; respect for the rule of law rather than resort to rioting and violence; the orderly transition of political power free from intimidation.   This is a sampling of the bedrock, Anglo-American traditions that are prerequisites  for a democratic republic.    As Mark Levin argues in his latest book, Ameritopia, you cannot hope to have a real democracy without the foundations of a civil society.

The Middle East is bereft of genuine democracies (with the notable exception of Israel) because it is bereft of the foundational traditions of a civil society.   That is why it was unforgivably foolish of George W. Bush to insist on the hasty installation of a “democracy” in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Neither of these societies had the foundations needed for democracy to take root.   Yes, Iraq and Afghanistan may have the outer trappings of democracy with parliaments and elections, but form is not substance.  Iraq is headed back towards civil war as the ethnic and sectarian factions escalate violence against one another.   Afghanistan is a cardboard cut-out of democracy propped up with billions of dollars of U.S. aid and military assistance.   Once the props are removed in 2014 (or sooner), the facade will collapse.

So then, it is a tragic and self-defeating mistake for the U.S. to blindly push for elections.   In Gaza, for example, such elections mean nothing.    They mean less than nothing since they serve to legitimate blood-thirsty ideologues, putting the U.S. in the untenable position of undermining what we previously declared to be a “freely elected” government.    No matter that said government throws its political opponents off of rooftops.

Rather, the U.S. must be very specific, unapologetic and insistent about the type of democracy and “freedom” we are talking about– an Anglo-American civil society that can support the pressures of representative government and tolerate religious diversity and dissenting opinions.

Furthermore, the U.S. must take a hard look at the nations as they are and not how we wish them to be.   It took hundreds of years for civil traditions to develop in the West.   It may take much longer in the Middle East, burdened as it is with Islamic notions of subjugation, subservience and nihilism.

As an example of this, consider this piece by Robert Kagan in The Washington Post.   Kagan argues in favor of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt mainly because it was “democratically” elected:

The Obama administration has not been wrong to reach out to the popularly elected government in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood won that election, and no one doubts that it did so fairly. We either support democracy or we don’t. But the administration has not been forthright enough in making clear, publicly as well as privately, what it expects of that government.  (Emphasis added)

First, it is not beyond dispute that the Muslim Brotherhood won the election “fairly” when it is essentially the only, organized political party in the country.   There is evidence that a sizable number of Egyptians do not support the Muslim Brotherhood but no, unified opposition party could be organized in the relatively short time allowed before the vote.    In any event, to say that an Islamist party received the most number of votes in an election does not lead ineluctably to the conclusion that it is a “democracy” that we are obligated to support.   In fact, Kagan goes on to point out that the U.S. must make it clear what a “democracy” entails:

Out of fear of making the United States the issue in Egyptian politics, the Obama administration, like past administrations, has been too reticent about stating clearly the expectations that we and the democratic world have for Egyptian democracy: a sound constitution that protects the rights of all individuals, an open press, a free and vital opposition, an independent judiciary and a thriving civil society. President Obama owes it to the Egyptian people to stand up for these principles. Congress needs to support democracy in Egypt by providing aid that ensures it advances those principles and, therefore, U.S. interests.

I would differ with Kagan to the extent that U.S. aid money is provided directly and up front to an Egyptian government that is showing every indication that it intends to implement its Islamist beliefs.  Egyptians must see that voting in an Islamist government will have certain and severe consequences.   In any event, the United States cannot be in the business of funding our enemies and, regardless of Kagan’s view that the Muslim Brotherhood is not clearly against us, a weak or failing Islamist regime in Egypt is better than one that is buying up the latest weapons systems (e.g., German submarines for example) with U.S. tax dollars.   Kagan and those like him are desperate to see a civil society where none exists and, so, are easily taken in by democratic happy talk that Egyptian President Morsi (and other Islamists in the region) are all too adept at feeding to willing dupes.

The second, radical change to U.S. foreign policy must be to view everything in terms of U.S. national interests and the tactics and lines of effort that best advance those interests.

For example, for the better part of four years, the Obama Administration has confused the agenda of the United Nations with that of the United States of America.   While it would be hoped that the international body that the U.S. founded at the end of World War II and funds disproportionately would be at least sympathetic to U.S. national interests, this is decidedly not the case.  The U.N. has largely been subverted and overrun by authoritarian member states with interests that directly conflict with those of the U.S.   In an ideal world, the U.S. would explicitly repudiate the U.N., evict it from its expensive quarters in Manhattan and rent out the space to a new organization made up of democratic U.S. allies.   Alas, the best we can hope for is to limit the damage of the U.N. by ignoring it, working around it and forging coalitions of allies to negate the U.N.’s malign influence in the world.

In the Middle East and around the globe, the U.S. needs to re-evaluate its position in the light of our national interest.  We must, for example, reconsider our relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of their unrelenting funding of Salafist and Wahhabist ideologies directly hostile to the U.S. and the West in general.   We cannot elevate the Saudis to the high status of ally or even “friend” when they are bankrolling our enemies.   This need not mean open conflict with them, but it surely must mean a reduction in relations.  (The fact that the U.S. is set to soon surpass the Saudis as the world’s largest oil producer should translate into tangible, state leverage).

Syria is another example where the U.S. must evaluate the opportunities and risks for involvement based primarily upon national interest rather than the threat of a “humanitarian crisis” or “instability.”  Even a Syria riven by civil war and instability will stalemate Iran’s ability to fund and support Hezbollah and bring greater opportunities for U.S. influence in the region as a whole.   The U.S. has been at war with Iran since 1979 and rarely have we had an opportunity to deal the regime in Tehran such a critical blow as exists in Syria.

Throughout the Middle East U.S. policy is plagued by a lack of a driving force.  The U.S. intervened in Libya under the pretext of potential civilian casualties but recoils from Syria with actual casualties.    The U.S. dithers over supporting former President Mubarak in Egypt while supporting the  no-less tyrannical Saudi royal family.   The U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars on a corrupt government in Kabul but argues whether to pull funding from Israel if it does not halt new housing settlements or show enough “flexibility” on Arab demands for land.   It is high time to clarify who our friends and enemies are and why.  Israel is not merely a kindred democracy, for example.   They are a vital ally because they directly serve U.S. interests in the region as a bulwark against Islamists.  There is, perhaps, no greater return on U.S. investments than Israel given the plethora of hostile, Islamist states in the region.   But here again, the U.S. policy is to adopt the hectoring, self-righteous tone of the international community, treating Israel and the Palestinians on equal terms for no good reason.

It is my hope that Mitt Romney wins the election and does so in convincing fashion.   The next four years could be pivotal as a showdown with Iran cannot be delayed beyond the next term in office.  War is everywhere in the Middle East and the next President will need to have a clear-eyed view of what America’s interests are and how to achieve them.   The last 11 years have certainly taught us that “nation building” and “elections” are not effective tools of American power.   May President Romney absorb the lessons and chart a better course in 2013.

The Collected Wisdom of Fools: Defense Department and ANA Infiltration

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 6 months ago

I keep telling myself to forswear any more posts about Afghanistan.  It is beyond merely beating a dead horse.  It is akin to saddling the horse up.

Still, this article in The Hill (hat tip to Instapundit), while dealing with the problem of enemy infiltration of the ANA, is really about the complete and utter cluelessness of the Department of Defense, its leadership and the lack of direction in U.S. policy in general.

Here is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff– the highest ranking member of the military, the one responsible for advising the President on military matters:

U.S. and coalition commanders are no closer to knowing how deep the Taliban has penetrated Afghanistan’s security forces despite increased efforts to flush out infiltrators who are carrying out attacks against Americans.

“As for what percentage of the insider threat is related to infiltration or radicalization, I mean, it’s really difficult to determine,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said Thursday.

“I’m sure a certain percentage of it is. And we’re treating it … as a threat,” he told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.

Taliban double agents, posing as members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), are responsible for executing some of the deadly “insider” attacks that have killed 51 coalition troops, mostly from the United States.

Really, General Dempsey?  It is “really difficult to determine” what percentage of the ANA is infiltrated by the Taliban?   But you are sure that “a certain percentage of it is.”   That’s just swell.  From purely a public relations perspective, you need to fire whomever is advising you, General.   There is absolutely no need to have the JCS Chairman get up in front of a bunch of reporters and say idiotic things like this.   Isn’t White House spokesman Jay Carney available for this kind of thing?  At least he gets lots of practice.

I am not interested here in examining the problems and solutions to infiltration of government forces by an insurgency.   There were certainly comparable problems with this in the Iraq Campaign.  But notice that in Iraq the approach of U.S. forces to the problem was commonsense:  don’t trust any of the Iraqis units being mentored.   There was not the same air of desperation in Iraq to train up security forces by a date certain as there clearly is in Afghanistan.   This is just one of the many evils unleashed by El Presidente’s foolish 2014 withdrawal date.   My interest here, however, is in the depths of inanity to which otherwise sane and presumably rational men will sink in obedience to the political dictates of the Child President.

Continuing on in this same article, lest anyone think that General Dempsey has a monopoly on foolishness, here is Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, no less:

But as Washington continues to eye the finish line in Afghanistan, the spate of insider attacks — no matter who is carrying them out — will likely continue all the way through the final withdrawal in 2014.

“I expect that there will be more of these high-profile attacks,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told reporters Thursday. “The enemy will do whatever they can to try and break our will using this kind of tactic. That will not happen.”

Oh.  I see, Leon.  So you’re not scared of those big, bad Taliban.   Let them keep infiltrating the ANA in order to kill more U.S. service members.   No matter how high the toll, the United States is determined to stand by its commitment to the Afghan people and to fight the forces of evil to the bitter end.   All the way up to, er….2014.   That would be another 15 months or so.  The Taliban can be forgiven if they are not as intimidated as Leon would like.   The bad guys may not be taking window measurements at the presidential residence in Kabul just yet, but is there anyone who cannot see the utter chaos in the Pentagon that has left our most senior leaders grasping at rhetorical fig leaves like this?

Let there be no mistake about the source of this folly.  The Pentagon has been given a completely untenable mission in Afghanistan– beat down a home-grown insurgency using less than half the necessary forces with half their collective arms tied in R.O.E. red tape behind their backs; training an Afghan national army heavily infiltrated by the enemy and on a timeline for surrender known to everyone.   El Presidente Obama is squarely to blame for the bloody and expensive failure unfolding in Afghanistan.  (There’s that dead horse).

Nonetheless, in more heroic and patriotic times, I would hope that there would be military officers who would rather resign than play the Fool.

The Ugly Future for Afghanistan: Civil War and Militias

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 9 months ago

This lengthy and well-written piece by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker is must reading.

Filkins attempts to give an overall assessment of Afghanistan’s future as American forces shrink and the country must increasingly rely upon the Afghan National Army for its security.   By all means, read the entire article, but the gist of Filkins’ assessment can be succinctly summarized as, “bleak.”

Filkins explores the question of whether Afghanistan is destined to return to a state of civil war as American combat troops leave.   While he makes no firm conclusions, the answer is an inescapable “yes.”   While American policymakers and military leaders boldly talk up the prospects for turning over security responsibilities to the ANA while hoping to garner a power-sharing deal with the Taliban, it is clear from the article that a debacle of enormous proportions is looming in 2014 (if not before) when American force levels are expected to drop to just fifteen thousand from an expected sixty-eight thousand after the September 2012 draw-down.

Some Western and Afghan experts say that fifteen thousand American troops would not be enough to secure Afghanistan, particularly when it comes to the use of airpower. The Afghan Air Force is far less advanced than the Soviet-trained force was at a similar moment. American officers told me that air strikes—bombs and rockets—are usually restricted to units in which Americans direct the fire. A force of fifteen thousand Americans would probably not be large enough to spread trainers and air controllers throughout the Afghan Army (and not throughout the police, who are at tiny checkpoints scattered around the country). “If they go below thirty thousand, it will be difficult for them to do any serious mentoring, and without the mentors they won’t call in airpower,” Giustozzi, the Italian researcher, said.

American officers have another concern. Currently, Afghan units are stationed where the Americans are, in hundreds of small bases, mostly in populated areas. Some American officers say that the Afghans will find it difficult to disperse themselves as fully, because of problems with supplies and communications. Once the coalition forces leave, those officers say, the Afghans are likely to consolidate their units on bigger and fewer bases. If that happens, the Afghans could end up ceding large tracts of territory to the Taliban—much as the Afghan Army did after 1989.

Filkins interviews several Afghans in and outside of the Afghan government who all candidly admit that each of the rival factions that fought each other prior to the 2001 American invasion are actively preparing for the resumption of civil war when U.S. forces leave.

Afghan and American officials believe that some precipitating event could prompt the country’s ethnic minorities to fall back into their enclaves in northern Afghanistan, taking large chunks of the Army and police forces with them. Another concern is that Jamiat officers within the Afghan Army could indeed try to mount a coup against Karzai or a successor. The most likely trigger for a coup, these officials say, would be a peace deal with the Taliban that would bring them into the government or even into the Army itself. Tajiks and other ethnic minorities would find this intolerable. Another scenario would most likely unfold after 2014: a series of dramatic military advances by the Taliban after the American pullout.

“A coup is one of the big possibilities—a coup or civil war,” a former American official who was based in Kabul and has since left the country told me. “It’s clear that the main factions assume that civil war is a possibility and they are hedging their bets. And, of course, once people assume that civil war is going to happen then that can sometimes be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

One Afghan, Abdul Nasir, made this point quite clear:

These days, Nasir said, the nineties are very much on his mind. The announced departure of American and NATO combat troops has convinced him and his friends that the civil war, suspended but never settled, is on the verge of resuming. “Everyone is preparing,” he said. “It will be bloodier and longer than before, street to street. This time, everyone has more guns, more to lose. It will be the same groups, the same commanders.” Hezb-e-Wahdat and Jamiat-e-Islami and Hezb-e-Islami and Junbish—all now political parties—are rearming. The Afghan Army is unlikely to be able to restore order as it did in the time of Najibullah. “It’s a joke,” Nasir said. “I’ve worked with the Afghan Army. They get tired making TV commercials!”

A few weeks ago, Nasir returned to Deh Afghanan. The Taliban were back, practically ignored by U.S. forces in the area. “The Americans have a big base there, and they never go out,” he said. “And, only four kilometres from the front gate, the Taliban control everything. You can see them carrying their weapons.” On a drive to Jalrez, a town a little farther west, Nasir was stopped at ten Taliban checkpoints. “How can you expect me to be optimistic?” he said. “Everyone is getting ready for 2014.”

In the process of his interviews, however, Filkins did discover one, unsettling truth:  the most effective force against the Taliban so far have been local militias.

The most effective weapon against the Taliban were people like Mohammad Omar, the commander of a local militia. In late 2008, Omar was asked by agents with the National Directorate of Security (N.D.S.)—the Afghan intelligence agency––if he could raise a militia. It wasn’t hard to do. Omar’s brother Habibullah had been a lieutenant for Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, one of the leading commanders in the war against the Soviets, and a warlord who helped destroy Kabul during the civil war. The Taliban had killed Habibullah in 1999, and Omar jumped at the opportunity to take revenge. Using his brother’s old contacts, he raised an army of volunteers from around Khanabad and began attacking the Taliban. He set up forces in a string of villages on the southern bank of the Khanabad River. “We pushed all the Taliban out,” he told me.

The Taliban are gone from Khanabad now, but Omar and his fighters are not. Indeed, Omar’s militia appears to be the only effective government on the south side of the Khanabad River. “Without Omar, we could never defeat the Taliban,” a local police chief, Mohammad Sharif, said. “I’ve got two hundred men. Omar has four thousand.”

The N.D.S. and American Special Forces have set up armed neighborhood groups like Omar’s across Afghanistan. Some groups, like the Afghanistan Local Police, have official supervision, but others, like Omar’s, are on their own. Omar insists that he and his men are not being paid by either the Americans or the Afghan government, but he appears to enjoy the support of both. His stack of business cards includes that of Brigadier General Edward Reeder, an American in charge of Special Forces in Afghanistan in 2009, when the Americans began counterattacking in Kunduz.

This is a strange twist in U.S. strategy.  While the State Department, the White House and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan all blather about the progress of the ANA and the expected success of the transition to Afghan security forces, the American Special Forces seem to be busy setting up militias all over Afghanistan, perhaps in the grim realization that these militias are the only native force capable of actually eradicating the Taliban.

This would be welcome news indeed, if it is true, because it finally faces the truth that Afghanistan today simply cannot function as a modern, centrally governed nation state.   This is not to say that it never has in the past (clearly it has) nor that it will never function as one in the future, but only that the combination of religious fanaticism, the interference of Pakistan (and Iran to some extent), the ethnic divisions and the drug trade militate in favor of local control.    And this seems to be the main trade-off where militias effectively keep out the Taliban but bring their own set of problems:

Kunduz Province is divided into fiefdoms, each controlled by one of the new militias. In Khanabad district alone, I counted nine armed groups. Omar’s is among the biggest; another is led by a rival, on the northern bank of the Khanabad River, named Mir Alam. Like Omar, Alam was a commander during the civil war. He was a member of Jamiat-e-Islami. Alam and his men, who declined to speak to me, are said to be paid by the Afghan government.

As in the nineties, the militias around Kunduz have begun fighting each other for territory. They also steal, tax, and rape. “I have to give ten per cent of my crops to Mir Alam’s men,” a villager named Mohammad Omar said. (He is unrelated to the militia commander.) “That is the only tax I pay. The government is not strong enough to collect taxes.” When I accompanied the warlord Omar to Jannat Bagh, one of the villages under his control, his fighters told me that Mir Alam’s men were just a few hundred yards away. “We fight them whenever they try to move into our village,” one of Omar’s men said.

U.S. policy in Afghanistan, then, must take a hard look  at our national interests.   The primary, national interest for the United States in Afghanistan is to ensure that international terrorists do not find safe havens from which to plot and launch attacks against U.S. interests.   If militias will ensure that their territory will not be used for Islamist terror activities, that is enough.   We may be able to exercise some leverage over warlords and militias by doling out more arms and money to those who refrain from humanitarian abuses, but it is not in our national interest to force-feed an entire nation on Western morality and values as we have done for the last 11 years.

In fact, some Afghans appear to be leaning in the direction of a decentralized approach:

One political change that might prevent civil war, some opposition leaders say, would be the imposition of a federal system in which power would devolve to the provinces. Such a move could essentially cede dominion to the Taliban in the south and the east but protect the rest of the country. In 2004, when the new Afghan constitution was ratified, under American supervision, the central government, in Kabul, was given extraordinary powers, including the right to appoint local officials. The hope then was that a strong central government would unite the country.

If a federal system were to be adopted, some Afghan leaders say, it might matter less to the Tajiks and other minorities if the Taliban were allowed to govern Pashtun provinces in the south and the east. (How it would matter to the Pashtuns, and particularly to Pashtun women, isn’t much discussed.) As it is, many of the most prominent leaders of Afghanistan’s minority groups appear to be preparing for civil war.

While I disagree that the U.S. needs to “cede dominion to the Taliban in the south and the east” (there is no reason to think that Pashtun militias could not be set up in these regions as in other areas), the fact remains that Afghanistan is headed for division one way or another.  Current U.S. policy is wishful thinking and a criminal waste of American lives and treasure.

As a parting thought, it is even possible that by empowering local militias and tribes in this fashion, the U.S. may be able to deal a severe if not fatal blow to the Islamists across the border in Pakistan.  It is axiomatic that insurgencies work in both directions.   If Pakistan can support, for example, the Haqqanis in infiltrating into Afghanistan, so, too, can the U.S. support Pashtun militias on the Afghan side of the border to infiltrate and take away territory from Islamists in the FATA.   This provides U.S. policymakers with a unique lever in the tense relations with Pakistan.   This approach also allows a dramatically smaller footprint for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, enough one would expect, to deprive Pakistan of its logistical choke-hold.

If there is a new Administration in 2013, a new approach in Afghanistan is at least possible.

Afghan National Army Feels Disrespected!

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 11 months ago

They even sound a bit mad.

They say their M16s are dust-prone antiques. Their boots fall apart after a couple of months, they complain, and many of their helmets are cracked and patched. Yet they set out on patrol.

They are the men of the Afghan National Army, the critical part of the huge machine being built to protect Afghanistan’s security after the NATO alliance is gone in less than three years.

With Afghanistan topping the agenda at a gathering of NATO leaders in Chicago on Sunday and Monday, an Associated Press reporter and photographer traveling with Afghan army forces in Logar and Paktia provinces are hearing a mix of messages from dozens of officers and enlisted men.

The foreign forces are leaving too soon, the men say. Why then are attacks by Afghan soldiers on NATO forces increasing, killing 35 last year and 22 so far this year? Because the Afghans feel disrespected, the soldiers say. Handing out inferior equipment is disrespectful; burning Qurans, however accidental, is disrespectful; urinating on dead bodies, even Taliban, as video that emerged in January showed U.S. troops doing, is disrespectful.

Washington spent more than $20 billion in 2010-2011 on training and equipping a 352,000 strong army and police force — one of the costliest projects ever undertaken by the Pentagon.

Yet the foot soldiers don’t have night-vision goggles to go after the Taliban under cover of darkness.

At the rock-strewn firing range of the 203 Thunder Corps in Paktia province, Sgt. Said Aga recalled his M16 jamming in the middle of a fierce firefight with the Taliban, and grimaced as his young charges aired their gripes about the Vietnam-era firearm.

“The Americans have really much better equipment than us,” he said. “Our vehicles and weapons are very weak compared to theirs.”

A soldier named Abdul Karim said he’d prefer a 30-year-old Russian-made Kalashnikov to an M16. The Americans “are giving us old weapons and try to make them look new with polish and paint. We don’t want their throwaways,” he said.

In Kabul, Lt. Col. Timothy M. Stauffer, U. S. Army Director, Public Affairs, rejected the complaints about aging weapons, saying the Afghans get basically the same firearms that U.S. soldiers have. “I am not sure their complaints are valid,” he said. “The equipment they are asking for and are being issued is sufficient to meet the current threat.”

Most American troops in Afghanistan carry the M4, a shorter version of the M16. Both models have been criticized by some in the military for jamming in harsh conditions and requiring greater maintenance. The Kalashnikov is known as an easier-upkeep, all-conditions weapon, fueling its popularity in the developing world.

Meh.  My rifle, a Rock River Arms Elite CAR A4, has had thousands of rounds put through it without any failure to feed or failure to eject.  It is in a competition with my Springfield Armory XDm .45, which, above all of my other handguns, could sustain a beating with a sledge hammer and still keep functioning.  My rifle (think M4) is one of the most well-functioning, precise machines I have ever owned.

It takes a little bit of effort, and instead of smoking hash and laying around while the coalition troops do the work, they might actually have to maintain the weapons.  Their precision makes them needful of attention.  My son, who operated an M249 SAW in Fallujah, Iraq, would take along a paintbrush with him on patrol, and during breaks he would clean the [open] bolt and other accessible components of the weapon, while he also removed and reseated each, individual round in the belts (sometimes the motion of running or walking jiggled the rounds loose in the belts).  At least partially as a result of his efforts, his SAW never malfunctioned in Iraq – not even once (perhaps prayers of his father also had something to do with it).

Just give them AKs and don’t pretend that precision or accuracy matters.  The problems are much larger than what kind of weapon they tote.  This scene below depicts some of them, and we have covered it and many other examples in Afghan National Army.

So as you see, discussions like the one we had above aren’t really relevant, are they?

Political Gain On The Backs Of Patriots

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 11 months ago

So Glenn Reynolds links a report about the Obama administration outing the double agent who informed us of the new type of underwear bomb.  He continues, “The leaks not only scuttled the mission but put the life of the asset in jeopardy. Even CIA officials, joining their MI5 and MI6 counterparts, were describing the leaks as ‘despicable,’ attributing them to the Obama administration.”

I continue to call for the use of explosive trace detection portals rather than ridiculous, groping searches of persons.  But aside from that complaint, while this double agent was doing patriotic duty for British intelligence, for which we are the beneficiary, how is this outing any more morally reprehensible than the current administration riding the backs of American patriots to score political points?

Consider quadruple amputee Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills and what he will endure for the remainder of his life.  Or consider the visit that had to be made to the family of the most recent Marine who was gunned down by the horrible, terrible, loathsome ANA.  Isn’t it morally reprehensible to do this to American patriots for a campaign we have no intention of winning?

This appears to be a pattern of behavior for an administration which sees lovers of America as mere fodder for its next political campaign.

Obama’s Magical Mystery Tour: Long Term Afghan Security Agreement

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years ago

Roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour, Step right this way!

According to this New York Times article, the Obama Administration has just completed the “draft” of a long-term security agreement with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that provides a “framework” for support and assistance from the U.S. for at least ten years after the 2014 draw-down of U.S. forces:

The agreement, whose text was not released, represents an important moment when the United States begins the transition from being the predominant foreign force in Afghanistan to serving a more traditional role of supportive ally.

By broadly redefining the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, the deal builds on hard-won new understandings the two countries reached in recent weeks on the thorny issues of detainees and Special Operations raids. It covers social and economic development, institution building, regional cooperation and security.

Sounds terrific!  Let’s all hop on this bus and ride away in the sunset because this promises to be a swell ride.

Wait.  It’s just a draft and the actual, written text hasn’t been released?  So, we don’t actually know what is in it?

And the NYT article is extremely sparse on sources or attribution?

So what we have here is a very general agreement to get around to having a specific agreement in the very near future, right?

In many respects the strategic partnership agreement is more symbolic than substantive. It does not lay out specific dollar amounts of aid or name programs that the Americans will support; the financing must be authorized and appropriated by Congress from year to year.

Nor does it lay out specifically what the American military and security presence will be after 2014 or what role it will play. A more detailed security agreement is to come later, perhaps in the next year, Western diplomats said, once it becomes clear how much support European nations will give to the Afghan security forces.

I see.  A “more detailed security agreement is to come later, perhaps in the next year…“   After the November elections, of course.  But the U.S. has committed itself to keeping the Afghan government and its security forces as a viable entity, right?

Even so, the United States expects to make substantial contributions toward the cost of Afghanistan’s security forces beyond 2014. A total figure for the United States of $2.7 billion a year has been discussed, and it could easily be more; there would most likely be aid for civilian programs as well.

That would be a steep reduction from the amount the United States now spends here, which has been $110 billion to $120 billion a year since the “surge” in American troop levels began in 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Sorry, folks.  Get off the Obama Mystery Tour Bus.   This thing is going nowhere.  No specific commitments, funding slashed to $2.7 billion per year from over $100 billion per year and meager U.S. combat forces.

Interestingly, Max Boot is still a true believer in the Mystery Tour.  He recently penned an editorial for The Wall Street Journal that is pure, hilarious fantasy.   Or it would be if Mr. Boot did not seem to seriously believe the notion that the U.S. can still save Afghanistan:

The bulk of future fighting must be carried out by the Afghans themselves, but in order to have any chance of success they must have enough troops to garrison a far-flung country of 30 million people. And that in turn will require outside funding. The Kabul government remains too impoverished to pay its own security costs.

Maintaining an Afghan force of 350,000 soldiers and police, the level which will be reached this year, will require $6 billion a year. Yet the Obama administration wants to provide only $4.1 billion a year. That would require laying off 120,000 soldiers and cops—a move that would significantly destabilize Afghanistan without producing significant savings in a $3.8 trillion U.S. budget.

If we avoid such unforced errors and stick with the plans developed by Gens. Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus and John Allen, we have a good chance to maintain a pro-Western regime in power. The Taliban are too weak to defeat us or our Afghan allies. But we can defeat ourselves.

As the recent posts by Herschel Smith amply demonstrate, Afghanistan is going to hell in a hand basket and the American people know it full well.  Mr. Boot himself acknowledges that it is less and less likely that his recipe for avoiding defeat in Afghanistan can be attained and yet he makes the argument nonetheless.   It is part and parcel of the same fantasy that Obama is selling, that Afghanistan can make a transition from U.S. combat forces leading the fight to Afghan security forces taking over.   It is not going to happen.  The ANA and police are a farce and no amount of training is going to change that in any time frame that matters.   Long-term security agreements are a laughable dog-and-pony show for the electorate, but very few people are fooled this time around.

Dishonesty About Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 2 months ago

In the Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis drops a bombshell on the community.

I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.

Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.

Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.

My arrival in country in late 2010 marked the start of my fourth combat deployment, and my second in Afghanistan. A Regular Army officer in the Armor Branch, I served in Operation Desert Storm, in Afghanistan in 2005-06 and in Iraq in 2008-09. In the middle of my career, I spent eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve and held a number of civilian jobs — among them, legislative correspondent for defense and foreign affairs for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

As a representative for the Rapid Equipping Force, I set out to talk to our troops about their needs and their circumstances. Along the way, I conducted mounted and dismounted combat patrols, spending time with conventional and Special Forces troops. I interviewed or had conversations with more than 250 soldiers in the field, from the lowest-ranking 19-year-old private to division commanders and staff members at every echelon. I spoke at length with Afghan security officials, Afghan civilians and a few village elders.

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.

Much of what I saw during my deployment, let alone read or wrote in official reports, I can’t talk about; the information remains classified. But I can say that such reports — mine and others’ — serve to illuminate the gulf between conditions on the ground and official statements of progress.

And I can relate a few representative experiences, of the kind that I observed all over the country.

In January 2011, I made my first trip into the mountains of Kunar province near the Pakistan border to visit the troops of 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry. On a patrol to the northernmost U.S. position in eastern Afghanistan, we arrived at an Afghan National Police (ANP) station that had reported being attacked by the Taliban 2½ hours earlier.

Through the interpreter, I asked the police captain where the attack had originated, and he pointed to the side of a nearby mountain.

“What are your normal procedures in situations like these?” I asked. “Do you form up a squad and go after them? Do you periodically send out harassing patrols? What do you do?”

As the interpreter conveyed my questions, the captain’s head wheeled around, looking first at the interpreter and turning to me with an incredulous expression. Then he laughed.

“No! We don’t go after them,” he said. “That would be dangerous!”

According to the cavalry troopers, the Afghan policemen rarely leave the cover of the checkpoints. In that part of the province, the Taliban literally run free.

In June, I was in the Zharay district of Kandahar province, returning to a base from a dismounted patrol. Gunshots were audible as the Taliban attacked a U.S. checkpoint about one mile away.

As I entered the unit’s command post, the commander and his staff were watching a live video feed of the battle. Two ANP vehicles were blocking the main road leading to the site of the attack. The fire was coming from behind a haystack. We watched as two Afghan men emerged, mounted a motorcycle and began moving toward the Afghan policemen in their vehicles.

The U.S. commander turned around and told the Afghan radio operator to make sure the policemen halted the men. The radio operator shouted into the radio repeatedly, but got no answer.

On the screen, we watched as the two men slowly motored past the ANP vehicles. The policemen neither got out to stop the two men nor answered the radio — until the motorcycle was out of sight.

To a man, the U.S. officers in that unit told me they had nothing but contempt for the Afghan troops in their area — and that was before the above incident occurred.

The bombshell isn’t that things aren’t going well in Afghanistan.  The bombshell is that this specific Lt. Col. went on record saying so.

But the reader would have already known many of these things by reading my categories on the horrible Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.  I repeatedly called for chasing the insurgents, just like Lt. Col. Davis expected would happen, but General McChrystal withdrew troops to the population centers just like the Russians.  I said that al Qaeda and the Haqqani fighters would come back to the Pech River Valley, and they did.

Michael Yon and I have both called for withdrawal (me, because we have not and aren’t taking the campaign seriously).  But it’s significant that staff officers have begun to break ranks.  The campaign is not as advertised.  Regular readers already knew that.  Now staff officers are saying it.

New Approach in the Pech River Valley?

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 7 months ago

From CSM:

Nestled in a lush but mean valley on the banks of the Pech River, Camp Blessing was no longer the sort of place, US commanders decided in February, that warranted the bloodshed of American soldiers.

Instead, the US war effort would benefit from focusing its limited resources on population centers, they concluded, and away from the Pech’s brutal terrain and rather xenophobic citizenry, ready and more than willing to skillfully take up arms against outsiders.

Better, they concluded, to leave this sparsely settled region – where Afghan fighters mustered to make the first successful stand against Soviet occupation – to the Afghan Army.

So soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division towed away the modern toilet trailers and stripped Camp Blessing of its amenities – air-conditioning units, flat-screen monitors, and the covered plywood porch where senior US troops convened to smoke cigars and discuss the news of the day.

In March, they rechristened the base “Nangalam” and turned it over to Afghan forces.

Today, however, US soldiers are back. The conditions at the once built-up outpost are now spartan. Troops bathe with baby wipes and bottled water and sleep on the floors of buildings that, they discovered upon their return in late July, were littered with human feces.

Insurgents had advanced so steadily since March that the Afghan Army could lose the base itself, say a new crop of US commanders.

They see the return as an opportunity to forge a new model for cooperation and mentoring with the Afghan security forces. But while the Pech is admittedly one of Afghanistan’s toughest assignments, the Afghan Army’s failed four-month attempt take the reins of security illustrates its shortfalls – and how far there is to go, US officers say, if NATO is to turn all security responsibilities over to Afghan forces by 2014.

The troops who have come back to this jagged spine of mountain peaks are under no illusions about the difficulty of the task that awaits them. Their code name for this operation: “Hotel California.”

“It’s like the lyrics,” says 2nd battalion intelligence officer Maj. Marcus Wright of the Eagles song: “ ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.’ ”

When US forces moved back into Camp Blessing in late July, they were greeted with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, one of which hit the underbelly of a US Chinook carrying supplies for the base. That marked the first shoot-down of a Chinook this year. The pilot was able to land relatively gently without any serious injuries, though passengers were forced to sprint when thousands of rounds of ammunition caught fire and ignited, causing shrapnel injuries and destroying the helicopter.

It was a pattern of hostility repeatedly encountered by US forces. “We really had to reoccupy the base,” says Maj. Glenn Kozelka, executive officer for the 2nd battalion, 3rd brigade combat team of the 25th Infantry Division.

Security had deteriorated rapidly after US forces departed. Within weeks, the Afghan battalion commander at Nangalam could not safely get to meetings in a Asadabad, Kunar’s bustling capital 25 miles east. The Taliban overran and occupied the capital of a nearby district center.

At the same time, insurgents routinely attacked Afghan National Army (ANA) patrol routes. By May, the Afghan commander stationed at Nangalam had abandoned the outpost, along with his top staff.

“It was better before” the US left, says Afghan commander Col. Adam Khan Matin. “When the coalition forces left, the [insurgent] training camps came back.”

Stopping for a moment for some observations on insurgent bases, U.S. commanders (specifically, McChrystal and his staff) might have argued for a population-centric approach to counterinsurgency, but regular readers know that I didn’t.  Continuing with the CSM article.

Lt. Col. Colin Tuley, the top US commander at Nangalam, grappled with how to address the regression. His battalion now had responsibility for an area that had previously needed two. His 800-plus soldiers were spread out across multiple forward operating bases and command posts.

Simply holding that ground would be challenge enough. After evaluating the capabilities of the ANA at Nangalam, Col. Tuley came to a conclusion. “We needed to do something else.”

In his idea is a hope central to the American exit strategy: If US troops focused more intently on creating a workable partnership with the Afghans, perhaps the mentoring could make up for the diminished number of US troops and ensure that a decade’s worth of US battles are for not for naught.

So began what Tuley calls a “permanent embedded partnership” – or PEP – an experiment that could hold lessons for the American war effort in Afghanistan.

The PEP will revolve around 40 US troops at Nangalam working with multiple companies of the Afghan Army. Most immediately, with a stronger base here, Tuley hopes US forces “can come in and do operations as necessary,” allowing NATO to extend its reach farther into the valley. Perhaps more long-term, he adds, the PEP “is a great kind of interim phase to get the ANA to where [the transition is] not as abrupt.”

The US platoon will run workshops on basics from marksmanship to first aid – lessons that have been taught before, Tuley acknowledges, but bear repeating.

“If you think about it, this [Afghan commander at Nangalam] never had a partnership, Tuley adds. “It was. ‘Here’s your battlespace.’ ”

The first order of business – and lesson for Afghan commanders – is to bolster base defenses. When the US was here, Nangalam had early-attack warning systems, including towers with cameras that sent images to screens in a base defense center, which allowed troops to monitor the perimeter.

When Tuley returned, no vestige of those defenses remained. “The security definitely wasn’t at the level that I would ever feel too comfortable having my soldiers out there,” he says.

In response, he has assigned a US platoon of about 30 soldiers to patrol the surrounding area, and he stationed a single US soldier with night-vision goggles at each Afghan guard post along the perimeter of the base.

Beyond base defenses, Tuley must help the Afghans carry out their own missions more effectively.

The PEP’s first big test: A humanitarian mission into one of the more isolated and government-averse areas of the country.

PEP teams.  It’s permanent now, except that it’s not.  U.S. troops will be leaving, and leaving the ANA in a lurch without the cultural framework, logistical know-how, equipment or honesty to run an army.  And they don’t understand force protection.  Furthermore, historically, only Western armies can field high quality NCOs.  And it doesn’t really produce much confidence that a humanitarian mission is the first really big test of the ANA.  During the battle of Kamdesh at COP Keating, ANA soldiers were found curled up in fetal positions in bed under blankets.  We’ve got larger problems than whether the ANA can pull off humanitarian missions.  Continuing.

Afghans also lack equipment, including night-vision goggles. “That’s a pretty critical piece of equipment to provide security,” says Tuley. US officials worry, however, that if they give night-vision goggles to the Afghans, particularly with ANA attrition rates remaining high, they could fall into insurgents’ hands.

Yes, expensive equipment will end up in enemy hands.  Said one ANA soldier about his conditions, “Some of the guys wear sandals at the border because their boots have been taken by officers who sell them.”

Finally, the most important part of the report.

For now … the US troop presence at Nangalam is likely only to increase.

As the first week of partnership at Nangalam winds to a close, Tuley is increasingly convinced that rather than the 40-plus soldiers currently taking part in the PEP, he will need closer to 200.

He knows, too, that this plan comes with opportunity costs. With US forces set to draw down across Afghanistan, he can only bolster the American presence at Nangalam by closing a combat outpost or a forward operating base.

After the PEP’s first big mission, though, he believes that expanding US forces here is key to US troops being able to one day go home for good.

This is important enough to bear repeating.  He needs more troops (or a higher ratio of U.S. forces to ANA).  The only way he can accomplish that is to close COPs or FOBs.  I repeat.  Marines to Kunar.

The Horrible, Horrible Afghan National Army

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 10 months ago

From The Boston Globe:

As one of the deadliest battles of the war in Afghanistan raged, Afghan soldiers ran, hid, and even stole personal items from the American soldiers fighting and dying at a remote outpost.

When the Oct. 3, 2009, firefight at Combat Outpost Keating ended near the Pakistan border, eight US soldiers were dead and 22 more were wounded. A military investigation released yesterday said the 53 Americans at Keating fought heroically, repelling hundreds of insurgents, but the investigation also faulted US commanders for leaving their troops in a vulnerable position. And the Afghan soldiers got a withering appraisal from soldiers interviewed by investigators.

The United States has spent billions since 2001 training and equipping the Afghan army and police. Afghan security forces capable of defeating insurgents and terrorists are an essential ingredient in the Obama administration’s plans to begin withdrawing American forces, and senior US national security officials speak optimistically of progress.

But first-hand accounts from the battle at Keating, detailed in witness statements included in the investigation, provide a different, highly critical view.

One of the harshest came from two Latvian soldiers stationed at Keating and responsible for mentoring the three dozen Afghan troops at the base in Nuristan Province. The Latvians told the US investigators that the Afghan soldiers lacked “discipline, motivation, and initiative.’’

Close to 300 insurgents attacked Keating at dawn with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and guns. As the chaos of combat enveloped the base, the Latvians said they saw three Afghan soldiers at the aid station waiting to be treated for minor scratches and cuts. An Afghan platoon sergeant was in a corner of the station, curled up in a fetal position, they told investigators.

Later, they opened a door to one of the buildings and found several other soldiers and Afghan security guards sitting on beds “anxiously waiting.’’ None of them had weapons at the ready or made an aggressive move when the door swung open.

In other buildings, they found Afghan soldiers “in ones and twos, hiding under blankets in the fetal position.’’

Protein drinks, digital cameras, and other personal items that belonged to the Americans were found in the overstuffed duffel bags of Afghan soldiers as they were being moved to another base on an Army helicopter after the battle had ended, investigators were told.

“A majority of the duffels contained materials that had been pillaged from the US soldiers’ barracks rooms,’’ said a memo summarizing comments.

In a summary of the findings, Army General Guy Swan said US ground commanders left the troops at Keating in a vulnerable position without adequate support. Swan recommended giving four officers letters of admonition or reprimand. A reprimand is more serious than an admonition. Both can negatively affect an officer’s career.

A discussion of COP Keating at Kamdesh in the Nuristan Province can be found here.  These Soldiers were indeed left in a vulnerable position, as was the case at Wanat in the Kunar Province.  But to the point here, I just can’t say anything more than what has been said to cast negative light on the ANA.  Running from the fight, curling in fetal positions in bed, and stealing things before they go.

What a sad commentary on a sad state of affairs.

NYT Changing Tune on Afghanistan? Are Fairies Real?

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 2 months ago

When a newspaper as biased and agenda-driven as The New York Times begins to voice even cautious optimism about Afghanistan, there is only one question to ask:  how does this help the liberal agenda?

Herschel covered the opinion piece by Nathaniel Fick and John Nagl in his most recent post and threw considerable cold water on Fick and Nagl’s optimism.   Within the space of a day, The New York Times runs an almost companion-piece/follow up article by Carlotta Gall that reports on growing “fissures” between the fighting ranks of the Taliban and their Pakistani-based masters.

Consider this hopeful tone:

Recent defeats and general weariness after nine years of war are creating fissures between the Taliban’s top leadership based in Pakistan and midlevel field commanders, who have borne the brunt of the fighting and are reluctant to return to some battle zones, Taliban members said in interviews.

After suffering defeats with the influx of thousands of new American troops in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand last year, many Taliban fighters retreated across the border to the safety of Pakistan. They are now coming under pressure from their leaders to return to Afghanistan to step up the fight again, a Taliban commander said. Many are hesitant to do so, at least for now.

“I have talked to some commanders, and they are reluctant to fight,” one 45-year-old commander who has been with the Taliban since its founding in 1994 said in an interview in this southern city. He spoke on condition he not be identified because he was in hiding from American and government forces. “Definitely there is disagreement between the field commanders and the leaders over their demands to go and fight.”

It is a bit disorienting, I admit.  I will have to ask my father, a WWII veteran, whether this is what newspapers used to sound like before they began bleating unashamedly for American defeat.

At any rate, after reading these, two articles (and regaining my equilibrium) I wonder whether we are beginning to see the first bit of 2012 Campaign messaging on Afghanistan.

I should state up front that I would like to believe that the war in Afghanistan is going better.  I am not afraid to use the word, “victory.”  Indeed, it is almost impossible to believe that the influx of additional troops — although far too few vis a vis the Iraqi Surge– could not achieve at least some tactical gains.  Furthermore, when I reflect on the unbelievably negative reporting from liberal media throughout the Iraq campaign, I consider that a few, like Michael Yon, who spent long embeds with combat units, pointed to a turnaround in Iraq long before it became clearly established, so, perhaps, Fick and Nagl have insights that the rest of the media is missing.

Could major media outlets like the NYT have learned from their mistakes on Iraq and actually be catching the first signs of a turnaround in Afghanistan?

Maybe.  But I doubt it.  As any parent will tell you, when your 12-year old, who is allergic to washing dirty dishes, starts cheerfully cleaning the kitchen, the first reaction is suspicion not sudden conversion.  It is about knowing with whom you are dealing.

And when we are dealing with liberal media like the NYT, we know that they have a congenital predisposition to echo whatever talking points they are given by Obama and the Democrats in general.

Turning to the Fick/Nagl piece and the Gall article, is there a discernible message being conveyed?  Yes, it seems that way.  When you compare these, two pieces on Afghanistan, there is a narrative that emerges that may very well be Obama’s re-election theme for 2012 on foreign policy: bringing Afghanistan back from the drift of the Bush years and making it possible to “Afghanize” the war by 2014, ending U.S. involvement.

Consider the Fick/Nagl opinion piece.

It stresses themes that are clear, Obama policy goals such as drawing down troop levels:

It now seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability and self-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from 100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.

Here is another liberal talking point that argues that we can prevail in Afghanistan by simply protecting population centers and key road:

Half of the violence in Afghanistan takes place in only 9 of its nearly 400 districts, with Sangin ranking among the very worst. Slowly but surely, even in Sangin, the Taliban are being driven from their sanctuaries as the coalition focuses on protecting the Afghan people in key population centers and hubs of economic activity, and along the roads that connect them. Once these areas are cleared, it will be possible to hold them with Afghan troops and a few American advisers — allowing the United States to thin its deployments over time.

Again, the key aim emphasized is to leave behind a “few American advisers… to thin [U.S.] deployments over time.”  I am not against reducing deployments “over time,” but this is a basic disagreement over strategy between having enough troops to beat down the Taliban and getting by with insufficient numbers for too short a time to do any, lasting good.   In order for the “less is more” approach to work, however, the ANA has to get much bigger, much better and, most importantly, much faster.  Strangely enough that is just what Fick and Nagl find:

Afghan Army troop strength has increased remarkably. The sheer scale of the effort at the Kabul Military Training Center has to be seen to be appreciated. Rows of new barracks surround a blue-domed mosque, and live-fire training ranges stretched to the mountains on the horizon.

It was a revelation to watch an Afghan squad, only days from deployment to Paktika Province on the Pakistani border, demonstrate a fire-and-maneuver exercise before jogging over to chat with American visitors. When asked, each soldier said that he had joined the Army to serve Afghanistan. Most encouraging of all was the response to a question that resonates with 18- and 19-year-old soldiers everywhere: how does your mother feel? “Proud.”

And then we have the theme that Obama and liberals everywhere hooted constantly– the tragic distraction of Bush’s Iraq (the “bad war”) that we are now, at long last overcoming; the prospect of negotiating with the Taliban to end the war that is “vital” to our national interests (the “good war”):

Not since the deterioration in conditions in Iraq that drew our attention away from Afghanistan have coalition forces been in such a strong position to force the enemy to the negotiating table. We should hold fast and work for the day when Afghanistan, and our vital interests there, can be safeguarded primarily by Afghans.

The planned drawdown of forces in 2014 is a foregone conclusion.  Negotiations with the Taliban is a favorite fantasy of the Administration.

The news article by Gall picks up the ball from Fick and Nagl nicely. As noted in the quote above, the “influx of thousands of…troops” has worn down the Taliban and created “fissures” between the fighters and Taliban leadership in Pakistan.   The opportunity for negotiation just keeps getting better and better.  In fact, as Gall frames it, if it wasn’t for those stick-in-the-mud-mullahs in Pakistan, Hillary Clinton would be signing peace deals all over the place:

The differences point not just to the increasing stresses on the battlefield for midlevel Taliban commanders like him, but also to the difficulty of ending the insurgency as long as the Taliban’s top leadership has sanctuary in Pakistan, which has long protected and sponsored the Taliban.

Secure across the border, and tightly controlled by Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, the top Taliban leadership remains uncompromising. At the urging of their protectors in Pakistan, Taliban members say, they continue to push midlevel Taliban commanders back across the border to carry on the insurgency, which extends Pakistan’s influence in southern Afghanistan.

The midlevel commanders have little choice but to comply, as they also depend on sanctuaries in Pakistan, where they maintain their families, say residents in Kandahar who know the Taliban well. The Taliban commander said in his interview that the field commanders would obey their orders to resume the fight, however reluctant they might be.

We have this about won, it seems.  But as Herschel has repeatedly noted, the Taliban cannot be beaten with the whack-a-mole strategy.  We have too few troops spread out across too much territory.  This Administration has been trying to find the exit ramp out of Afghanistan since day one.

If the NYT stories are any indication, the message from Obama on Afghanistan in 2011 and beyond is more smoke and mirrors.  Or is that ‘hope and change’ ?


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