Archive for the 'WTF?' Category



Afghanistan: The WTF? War

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

Jules Crittenden has an important report concerning the view of Operating Enduring Freedom from inside the administration.

During the briefing, (Brig. Gen. Lawrence) Nicholson had told Jones that he was “a little light,” more than hinting that he could use more forces, probably thousands more. “We don’t have enough force to go everywhere,” Nicholson said.

But Jones recalled how Obama had initially decided to deploy additional forces this year. “At a table much like this,” Jones said, referring to the polished wood table in the White House Situation Room, “the president’s principals met and agreed to recommend 17,000 more troops for Afghanistan.” The principals — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Gates; Mullen; and the director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair — made this recommendation in February during the first full month of the Obama administration. The president approved the deployments, which included Nicholson’s Marines.

Soon after that, Jones said, the principals told the president, “oops,” we need an additional 4,000 to help train the Afghan army.

“They then said, ‘If you do all that, we think we can turn this around,’ ” Jones said, reminding the Marines here that the president had quickly approved and publicly announced the additional 4,000.

Now suppose you’re the president, Jones told them, and the requests come into the White House for yet more force. How do you think Obama might look at this? Jones asked, casting his eyes around the colonels. How do you think he might feel?

Jones let the question hang in the air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted room. Nicholson and the colonels said nothing.

Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF — which in the military and elsewhere means “What the [expletive]?”

Nicholson and his colonels — all or nearly all veterans of Iraq — seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.

Jules goes on to cite some “folksy” counterinsurgency quotes, something with which we have also dealt concerning Operation Khanjar.  He also mentions that Woodward buried and obfuscated his lede.  True words – let’s unpack them a bit.

We learn several things from this article.  First we learn the limitations of Woodward’s reporting, or the editing at the Washington Post, or both.  This report is monumental.  Obama ran against the campaign in Iraq, unequivocally stating that the troops needed to be in Afghanistan.  This was stated too many times to count, in too many different venues and publications to recite.  It’s now clear that he will allow somewhat less than 70,000 U.S. troops to deploy to Afghanistan at any one time, regardless of what might have been advocated half a year earlier.

In a separate but roughly parallel evolution, Dr. John Nagl was advocating 600,000 troops for Afghanistan based on the model in FM 3-24.  The Center for a New American Security saw the advent of Dr. Nagl as its President, along with Andrew Exum as a fellow.  CNAS now advises the Obama administration, and will likely never again advocate 600,000 troops for Afghanistan.  They are assisting the administration in the development of a strategy that doesn’t rely on the force size advocated in FM 3-24, regardless of what might have been advocated half a year ago.

There is his story.  Woodward has written books on less than this, but the main story gets buried in the balance of the report.

Next, we learn that National Security Advisor James Jones isn’t qualified for the job.  It’s his job – while all of the other principals are outlining a strategy and force projection that they believe will be endorsed by the President – to be whispering in the ear of the President: “Listen to them, but only so far.  Iraq has taught us that this is harder than we think it will be on our first or even second or third take.  If they’re telling you that the Afghan National Army can substitute for our own troops, they aren’t accounting for the drug addiction, incompetence and treachery of the Afghan Army.  This will be long term, protracted, part of the long war.  Iraq was long and hard, and Petraeus rightly said that Afghanistan would be the longest engagement in the long war.  Fully expect for them to come back asking for more troops, because they will need them.  You are a wartime President, sir.”

But he didn’t whisper these things in the ear of the President.  Instead, he sat at a table with Marine Colonels who didn’t give input to the strategy and told them that to Obama, Afghanistan is a WTF? war.  Learning and evolution by the administration or troops in the field are not options.  You get no more forces.  It’s time to put a serious man in the office of National Security Advisor.  Jones isn’t it.

Finally, most of America doesn’t listen or know what is going on in either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom, and certainly they wouldn’t be able to describe the differences between the U.S. and the ISAF.  All they see are the reports on Television, and even the military families don’t know the real status of things in Afghanistan, most of them.  But CNAS has no excuse.  They know.

Like us, they know that the Afghan National Army is shot through with drug use, even during combat operations and patrols.  For a pictorial depiction of what Exum himself called depressing, see this video of the incompetence and drug use.  Like us, they also know that Afghanistan may not be able financially to support an Army as large as the one envisioned as the replacement for U.S. forces.  Then there is the treachery, such as at the Battle of Bari Alai where it is believed that Afghan troops colluded with the Taliban to kill U.S. troops.  CNAS knows that the Afghan National Army is no replacement for U.S. troops, and that the campaign in Afghanistan is under-resourced.  Jim Jones knows it too, as the Colonels have told him so, even if he chose not to hear it.

So we now know that the current administration sees Operation Enduring Freedom as the WTF? war.  We know that the National Security Advisor doesn’t have the fortitude to whisper the hard things in the ear of the President.  We know that the President doesn’t really want to deploy more troops to Afghanistan, and we also know that the Colonels want more troops to cover their area of operations.

This sets the stage for the coming phase of the campaign.  We have seen this before in Iraq: hasty turnover to the ISF and more difficult counterinsurgency than had previously been planned.  The dissimilarity is a President who was willing to send the necessary forces to get the job done.

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