Archive for the 'NATO' Category



Can NATO be Rehabilitated?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

In Command Structure Changes for Afghanistan, using a Voice of America report, we discussed the talks going on within the Pentagon and even openly by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates indicating that there may be command structure changes coming for Operation Enduring Freedom.  These hints come right after the announcement that General Petraeus will take over CENTCOM in the coming months, and the intention seems to be fairly clear that the U.S. wants a more independent role in the Afghanistan campaign.

Rumsfeld left us with [at least] three artifacts of his command over OEF.  First, a small footprint model for COIN.  Second, a rapid drawdown of forces, and third, turnover of the campaign to NATO.  All three decisions have proven to be wrong with consequences bordering on disastrous.  Gates is attempting to reverse the final remaining impediment to success of the effort in Afghanistan – NATO.

Another alternative is discussed by Kip at Abu Muqawama, NATO’s Counterinsurgency Doctrine could stand some overhaul.

Doctrine, as Colin Gray once wrote, is the skeleton upon which the sinew and flesh of armies are built. Perhaps then, with no NATO doctrine for the conduct of a war among the people, it should be no surprise that the NATO-led ISAF in Afghanistan has often appeared spineless.

NATO has recognized this problem and has commissioned the Dutch who have been operating in Uruzgan province alongside the Australians to write NATO’s counterinsurgency doctrine.

This past month, a smattering of counterinsurgency thinkers to include the Counterinsurgency Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth met with the doctrine’s lead writers to provide inputs. That said, the “A-team” for developing US counterinsurgency doctrine has not been called out to facilitate and assist. Kip hopes this is not indicative of the amount of emphasis that NATO is placing on the doctrine itself.

Kip goes on to describe several changes that need to occur to the COIN doctrine in OEF, all of which are good.  Kip is wasting time and brain power on a hopeless cause.  If the Dutch are in charge it doesn’t bode well since they have no counterinsurgency experience.  They also recently deployed troops to the campaign who were surprised that the Taliban were engaged in armed resistance to NATO forces.  The British want to pull back on the violence, reminiscent of their irrelevant recollections of Northern Ireland.

Quite simply, the U.S. doesn’t have the time to teach counterinsurgency to nations which have never engaged in such.  But the problem runs deeper than COIN.  The various international armies represented in Afghanistan have different perceptions at home along with varying levels of support for their engagement.  This fact causes the retreat to FOBs in spite of and regardless of COIN doctrine.  This, combined with troublesome and arrogant resistance among senior leadership in Afghanistan causes bureaucratic red tape to continue to undermine the efforts.

Gates knows that the promotion of Petraeus to command CENTCOM might be an irrelevant move unless U.S. forces are free to conduct counterinsurgency as they need to.  Further attempts to rehabilitate NATO will only waste more time – time that is not available in the campaign.  Rather than rehabilitate something that is incorrigible by nature, Gates is trying to recast the problem as counterinsurgency rather than NATO intransigence.

NATO Intransigence in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

About a week ago we got the message that everything is going just swimmingly in Afghanistan.

Insurgent attacks have tumbled in eastern Afghanistan, notably along the border with Pakistan, in recent months compared to the same period in 2007, a US general said Sunday.

The fall was due to “aggressive operations” by Afghan security forces and their Western allies, as well as improvements in local governance, Brigadier General Joseph Votel told reporters.

The number of attacks so far in February was about 35 percent below that for the same month last year, said Votel, deputy commander of the US-led coalition force that works with a separate NATO-headed deployment.

“Our border attacks and incidents along the border … continues to go downwards. We are probably 40 to 50 percent below what we were a year ago,” he said.

“We attribute this to aggressive operations there that we have been conducting with the police, with the army, assisted by the coalition forces … and the growth of the government in the districts and in the provinces” …

Votel played down talk of an insurgent “spring offensive.”

“I think there is going be an offensive in the spring, the offensive is going to be us, the ANSF (the Afghan National Security Forces),” he said. “The government security forces will lead the operations and we will support.”

Today, reminiscent of our article The Marines, Afghanistan and Strategic Malaise, General McNeill painted a picture of NATO cowardice and intransigence.

Nato’s commander in Afghanistan voiced his “frustration” with the restrictions imposed on the Alliance’s forces yesterday and said these “national caveats” were hindering the fight against the Taliban …

Germany, for example, insists on keeping its 3,200 troops in the relative safety of northern Afghanistan where reconstruction – not combat  is their primary task.

Gen McNeill, an American veteran of the Vietnam war, said these restrictions were “frustrating in how they impinge upon my ability to properly plan, resource and prosecute effective military operations”.

Gen McNeill, 61, added: “It’s hard to mass [troops] when you sometimes have to ask all the way back to governments ‘may I use your force in this location in this manner’?”

As for deploying rapidly, Gen McNeill said: “If we can move faster than our adversary we have an edge over him. If I have to take the time to see who can make this move and who cannot if I request them, it’s hard to avail myself of speed. Therein lies the issue.”

He added: “It requires me to expend energies that without an imposition of such restrictions and constraints, I’d be able to put that energy into things that are far more important.”

Preposterous.  Apparently everything is not going just swimmingly in Afghanistan.  The ghost of General George S. Patton gives NATO a well deserved kick in the ass for their cowardice, along with the U.S. for our stupidity in having the hapless and pitiful NATO involved to begin with.  It’s way past time to remove the adolescents and put the adults in charge.

Pashtun Rejection of the Global War on Terror

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Pakistan President Musharraf is considering stepping down (h/t Jules Crittenden).  Musharraf is important, but there is a more important undercurrent within Pakistani politics at the moment.  M K Bhadrakumar with Asia Times gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of the Pakistani mind.

A far more worrisome development for Washington should be the capture of power in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) by the Awami National Party (ANP). Foreign observers are yet to size up the profound implications of an ANP government, which espouses Pashtun nationalism, in the sensitive province bordering Afghanistan. The ANP’s electoral success over the Islamic parties is being commonly seen as signifying a rout of the forces of extremism and as the victory of the secularist platform. While this is manifestly so, what cannot be overlooked at the same time is that the ANP also has a long tradition of left-wing politics and consistent opposition to US “imperialism”.

I deny that it is manifestly so that the defeat of the Islamic parties should be seen as a defeat for extremism.  I argue (relying heavily on Nicholas Schmidle) that the Pakistani voters rejected the clerics failures to deliver on promises of prosperity, but that rejection of the clerics is not at all the same thing as rejection of the Taliban or other extremists in Pakistan.  Continuing:

Significantly, in the present party line-up, ANP expresses its closest affinity with PML-N – and not PPP to which it ought to be ideologically closer. Without doubt, ANP has opposed the US’s support of Israel, the US invasion of Iraq and the Bush administration’s intimidation of Iran. It has vehemently criticized Washington’s policies allegedly aimed at establishing US hegemony. It has condemned the US forces’ operations in the Pashtun regions in southern Afghanistan during the “war on terror”. On Wednesday, the ANP leadership reiterated its demand for “peaceful means to end militancy in the [NWFP] province and the adjacent tribal areas”.

In practical terms, an ANP government in power in Peshawar will find it impossible to lend support to the sort of military operations that the US would expect the Pakistani military to undertake in the border regions with Afghanistan for ending “militant activities”. Interestingly, ANP makes a clear careful distinction between “militancy” and “terrorism”.

To be sure, the ANP will point out that the US is pursuing its own national interests in Afghanistan and is expecting Pakistan to kill the Pashtun militants so as to save American lives. The ANP will also demand that Pashtun alienation in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas must be addressed through dialogue and political accommodation as well as through a long-term policy of economic development of the region.

The noisy election has been largely portrayed as a referendum on Musharraf’s controversial rule, whereas the specter that is haunting Washington is the widespread opposition to the “war on terror” in Pakistan. This opposition cuts across provinces, ethnic and religious groups or social classes in both rural and urban areas. The US’s perceived hostility toward the Muslim people is at the root of this anti-Americanism, and it will not easily fade away.

Bhadrakumar gives us reason to believe that the party that has been placed in power cannot accommodate the U.S. war on terror.  This is significant, and points to even deeper undercurrents within Pakistani politics, this undercurrent being tantamount to a Pashtun rejection of the war on terror.  It is good that the Pentagon is looking for other ways to supply NATO forces in land-locked Afghanistan if Pakistan becomes even more inhospitable to U.S. forces.

There are indications that planned “aggressive” evolutions against enemy targets in Pakistan may now have to be put on hold (or cancelled outright).

American officials reached a quiet understanding with Pakistan’s leader last month to intensify secret strikes against suspected terrorists by pilotless aircraft launched in Pakistan, senior officials in both governments say. But the prospect of changes in Pakistan’s government has the Bush administration worried that the new operations could be curtailed.

Among other things, the new arrangements allowed an increase in the number and scope of patrols and strikes by armed Predator surveillance aircraft launched from a secret base in Pakistan — a far more aggressive strategy to attack Al Qaeda and the Taliban than had existed before.

But since opposition parties emerged victorious from the parliamentary election early this week, American officials are worried that the new, more permissive arrangement could be choked off in its infancy.

In the weeks before Monday’s election, a series of meetings among President Bush’s national security advisers resulted in a significant relaxation of the rules under which American forces could aim attacks at suspected Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the tribal areas near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

The change, described by senior American and Pakistani officials who would not speak for attribution because of the classified nature of the program, allows American military commanders greater leeway to choose from what one official who took part in the debate called “a Chinese menu” of strike options.

Instead of having to confirm the identity of a suspected militant leader before attacking, this shift allowed American operators to strike convoys of vehicles that bear the characteristics of Qaeda or Taliban leaders on the run, for instance, so long as the risk of civilian casualties is judged to be low.

The new, looser rules of engagement may have their biggest impact at a secret Central Intelligence Agency base in Pakistan whose existence was described by American and Pakistani officials who had previously kept it secret to avoid embarrassing President Pervez Musharraf politically. Mr. Musharraf, whose party lost in this week’s election by margins that surprised American officials, has been accused by political rivals of being too close to the United States.

Meanwhile, more forces are being deployed to Afghanistan to “train” Afghani troops, and we cannot but conclude that the conventional operations which too soon stood down to “peace-keeping operations” (rather than COIN operations), are now turning into a complete turnover to the Afghan forces.  Part of the problem is the fact that NATO, which has absolutely no strategic plan for Afghanistan, is at the helm of the campaign thanks to the efforts of Donald Rumsfeld.  But while training indigenous troops to bear the load in Afghanistan is a positive step forward, the Taliban are enemies of state in Afghanistan only so long as they don’t hold power.

The Taliban are now and always will be enemies of America, and the human terrain in both Pakistan and Afghanistan is becoming complicated to say the least.  Time is of the essence, and the well-worn dictum that counterinsurgency takes ten years (based on David Galula’s experience, fighting different people under different circumstances who held different beliefs) will only serve as soothing and narcotic words to an addicted military brass as the campaign “goes South.”  The campaign, that is, that is both Pakistan and Afghanistan at the same time.

World in Disarray – Lack of Strategies

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

In The Afghanistan Narrative we covered the disparate views of the Afghanistan campaign among the top military leaders in the U.S.  Contrary to reports of a split Taliban and dual insurgency front in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Major General David Rodriguez believes that the Taliban will focus only on Pakistan.  NATO leadership says that the insurgency is not growing and not expanding.  Admiral Mullen, on the other hand, says that we are facing a classic growing insurgency.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates agrees with NATO.  General Dan McNeill, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, weighed in defending Gates’ position.  Then about the same time McNeill was speaking, the Afghan Defense Minister weighed in saying that the Taliban threat was worse than expected.

Afghanistan needs more foreign troops as the threat from the Taliban is greater than anticipated, Afghanistan’s defense minister said on Wednesday.

Abdul Rahim Wardak’s comments came as Britain and the United States urged other NATO members to share more of the burden of the fight in Afghanistan, particularly in the south, where the Islamist Taliban insurgency is strongest.

“For the transitional period there is a requirement for more troops. That is why the U.S. committed about 2,200 marines recently,” Wardak told a news conference after meeting Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo.

Wardak added: “The cause was that the threat is much higher than anticipated in 2001″.

These issues should figure prominently in the upcoming Munich Security Conference on February 8, 2008.

The debate in NATO about troop commitments to Afghanistan is expected to figure prominently in the annual Munich Security Conference that opens in the Bavarian capital on Friday, Feb. 8.

The demand by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates for more troops has placed Washington’s European partners in the alliance on the defensive, conference organizer Horst Teltschik said Sunday.

Some 350 high-caliber politicians and military leaders are due to take part in the three-day gathering, which will be opened with a speech by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Gates, US Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov will be there along with the presidents of Georgia, Macedonia and Moldova.

More than 40 foreign and defense ministers have pledged to attend the conference, the slogan of which is “a world in disarray — shifting powers — lack of strategies.”

The conference is aptly named.

Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

In Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection, we discussed the Afghan and NATO battle to retake Musa Qala, and expanded into the small footprint characteristic of the counterinsurgency campaign, along with an Australian officer’s call for more forces.  The battle is being hailed as a victory, with “hundred’s of Taliban dead while two British soldiers and one U.S. soldier lost were killed.  Actually, with seven U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division wounded, this constitutes a casualty ratio of 10:1 or slightly greater, which is routine in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  To be precise, hundreds of Taliban were said to be killed or captured, but many are still reported to have fled prior to the battle.

While it is a positive sign to win back Musa Qala, the operation required heavy air power, and the city was deserted of families after the battle.  The battle for Musa Qala is a poster child for the Afghanistan campaign, with the British having entered into a gentleman’s agreement with tribal leaders to prevent the return of the Taliban (in agreement for British force departing the area), when the tribal leaders clearly lacking the means to enforce their end of the agreement.  Adequate troops didn’t exist to perform reconstruction or constabulary operations for Musa Qala, and the question remains how either Afghanistan or NATO will now have the forces necessary to maintain order in Musa Qala when they did not before.

A telling indication of the U.S. expectations was given to us in preparation for a summit of NATO leaders concerning the Afghanistan campaign.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates sharply criticized NATO countries Tuesday for failing to supply urgently needed trainers, helicopters and infantry for Afghanistan as violence escalates there, vowing not to let the alliance “off the hook.”

Gates called for overhauling the alliance’s Afghan strategy over the next three to five years, shifting NATO’s focus from primarily one of rebuilding to one of waging “a classic counterinsurgency” against a resurgent Taliban and growing influx of al-Qaida fighters.

“I am not ready to let NATO off the hook in Afghanistan at this point,” Gates told the House Armed Services Committee. Ticking off a list of vital requirements — about 3,500 more military trainers, 20 helicopters, and three infantry battalions — Gates voiced “frustration” at “our allies not being able to step up to the plate.”

The defense secretary’s blunt public scolding of NATO, together with equally forceful testimony Tuesday by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put on display the growing transatlantic rift over the future of the mission in Afghanistan. The Bush administration over the last year has increasingly bristled at what it sees as NATO’s overly passive response to the Taliban, but European leaders have repeatedly rebuffed entreaties by Gates and President Bush to do more.

In recent months, officials said, Bush and his advisers have grown more concerned about the situation in Afghanistan, where, in contrast to Iraq, violence is on the rise and the U.S.-led coalition is struggling to adjust to changing conditions on the ground. As the White House reviews its Afghanistan policy, officials have concluded that wide-ranging strategic goals set for 2007 have not been met despite tactical combat successes.

Gates has made a stark admission; the campaign in Afghanistan has gone from one of rebuilding to one of classical counterinsurgency.  More involvement is necessary by NATO forces.  But Australia is prepared to talk tough as well.

Australia’s new Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon will deliver a blunt message to NATO countries meeting in Scotland on Friday, telling them that there will be no more Australian troops sent to Afghanistan until European countries increase their commitment.

Before the conference of defence ministers kicks off in Edinburgh this weekend, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been outlining his country’s future strategy in Afghanistan.

NATO is not winning, but they are not losing either.

Australian aid workers have told ABC Radio’s AM program that it is better to have the 40,000 allied troops in Afghanistan, but they are not enough to be the solution.

When Mr Fitzgibbon is in Edinburgh, his simple message will be that the new Labor Government could send more troops, but only if countries like Spain and Germany also send more troops to the south.

Also in preparation for the upcoming meeting, Mr Brown gave a speech in the British House of Commons.

“Let me make it clear at the outset, that as part of a coalition, we are winning the battle against the Taliban insurgency,” Mr Brown said.

“We are isolating and eliminating the leadership of the Taliban. We are not negotiating with them.”

But indeed Britain does support negotiations with the Taliban and sees a role for them to play in the new Afghanistan.  “Britain will support deals with Taliban insurgents to give them places in Afghanistan’s new government and military, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced yesterday, distancing himself from the Canadian and U.S. strategy of refusing to sit down with the Taliban.  In a speech to the House of Commons announcing a new Afghanistan strategy, Mr. Brown said that Britain will join Afghan President Hamid Karzai in making money and job offers to “former insurgents.”

Brown is referring to an effort underway by Hamid Karzai to obtain the loyalties of the lieutenants of Mullah Omar and thus split the organization.  The price for this loyalty is a place at the table in the new Afghanistan.  The U.S. brought the Anbaris into a peaceful solution to the insurgency from a position of strength rather than weakness, and the indigenous Anbaris were not, for the most part, fighting from a perspective of religious jihad.  This fact and the stark difference it presents against the backdrop of the Taliban seems to be lost on NATO and the Brits.  This circus-like atmosphere is made worse given the solution proferred by the NATO secretary general: increased involvement by Japan in the Afghanistan campaign!

Force projection is needed in Afghanistan, and this force projection will involve kinetic operations to capture and kill Taliban.  Co-opting them into a new Afghanistan defeats the original purpose of the war, and deprecates the sacrifices of the men who have died in Afghanistan to make the U.S. safe.  NATO will not be able to do the bidding of the U.S.  This is our task, and the message over the last year of the campaign is that it will be done by us and not someone else.


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