Archive for the 'Center For a New American Security' Category

Exit From Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

So this is the way it comes to an end?

Throughout the summer and autumn, as talks on a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq foundered, President Barack Obama and his point man on Iraq, Vice President Joe Biden, remained aloof from the process, not even phoning top Iraqi officials to help reach a deal, according to logs released by the U.S. Embassy here.

The omission is an unusual one, given the high priority that U.S. officials had given to achieving an agreement for some sort of residual U.S. presence in Iraq after the Dec. 31 pullout deadline set in a 2008 pact between the two countries. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other senior Pentagon officials spoke often about the need for an agreement in a pivotal country in a volatile region and insisted talks were continuing up until Friday, when Obama announced that all U.S. troops would be coming home before the end of December.

A listing of direct conversations provided by the embassy — drawn, the embassy said, from the White House website — indicates that Obama had no direct contact with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki between Feb. 13, when he telephoned the prime minister, until Friday, when he called al-Maliki to tell him U.S. troops would be withdrawn by Dec. 31.

Also absent for nearly the entire year was Biden. According to the official listing, Biden telephoned al-Maliki on Dec. 21, the day al-Maliki formed a new government, and visited here Jan. 18, but had no direct contact after that date, according to the official listing.

U.S. Embassy officials, asked in July whether Biden was coming to help secure the deal, which military officers said needed to be concluded by July 31 for planning purposes, said the vice president was too busy trying to end the donnybrook in Congress over raising the national debt ceiling to visit Iraq.

On Tuesday, a White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, denied that Obama and Biden had not talked to al-Maliki during the negotiations. But he did not respond to a request for the dates of conversations between the president and al-Maliki.

So I decided to hop on over to Abu Muqawama’s place at CNAS (for the first time in about a year) and see if he had anything to say about Iraq.  He had this to say.  “Having pretty carefully considered the arguments for and against leaving troops in Iraq beyond this year, I ultimately found Doug Ollivant’s argument to be the most persuasive. So I support the president’s decision to end U.S. military involvement in the war in Iraq.”  Douglas Ollivant had this to say.

Let me be clear. The United States should have no — zero — troops in Iraq on Jan. 1, 2012, when the Status of Forces Agreement signed between the two countries requires a complete withdrawal (this number excepts, of course, a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy’s Office of Military Cooperation — a presence that exists in almost every embassy worldwide). This is not about delivering on an Obama campaign promise or saving money. This is about doing the right thing for both the United States and Iraq. Although the White House’s proposal to keep approximately 3,000 troops in Iraq is better than the rumored 17,000 desired by the commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd Austin, maintaining any American presence is simply the wrong decision for both parties.

Despite having both a political problem and a terrorism problem, Iraq is now a reasonably stable country that must have the opportunity to chart its own course.

Now that Ollivant has been “clear,” let me also be clear.  Maliki’s puppet-masters are the Mullah’s in Iran.  Regardless of what one thinks of OIF1, OIF2 and OIF3 were necessary.  And a certain Marine and I had a conversation the other day about the 100+ foreign fighters flowing across the Syrian border per month and Iraq as a terrorist haven in 2007 during the height of the surge (when he deployed to Fallujah).  He also remarked to me about the poverty he witnessed, and the wealth that it takes to arm a society.

“As little money as I make, I am rich compared to most Iraqis,” he said.  “Yet they had AKs, handguns, explosive ordnance, and RPGs.  The RPG is an EFP device.  Do you know how much it costs to make and deploy one of those?  The weapons came in from Iran.  Typical Iraqis could not possibly have had the size caches we seized of those weapons after combat ops.  Thousands upon thousands – just in our AO.  You just can’t imagine the scope.  The money doesn’t exist.  These people don’t have it, and neither did the foreign fighters we killed, although the foreign fighters had better equipment than we did.”

He continued, “So do you think we finished the job?”  “No,” I said.  “We are leaving Iran empowered.  We could have enjoined the covert war they declared against the U.S., but we refused to do it.”  “I agree,” he replied, somewhat wistfully.  And we continued to discuss the possibilities that even a small force in Iraq could accomplish with the will to do it at the senior administration level.

And now I find that the President is busy printing and spending trillions upon trillions of dollars and throwing it away on worthless projects, while the Vice President is busy attempting to raise the debt ceiling so that our children and children’s children can be impoverished and bankrupt, while we ignored Iraq and Iran, refusing even to invite the PM for a visit so that we could strong arm him and negotiate a new SOFA.

Children.  Children in the White House, being led by a senior child, surrounded by children for policy advisers, being advised by children at think tanks who have absolutely no idea whatsoever of the ramifications of their counsel forward in time ( and who quote even more childish and un-serious think tanks for their sources).

Please, dear God, please, send someone serious to help these people.  Gravitas, please?

The Long War?

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

Nathaniel Fick and John Nagl have written a piece at The New York Times informing us how swimmingly things are going in Afghanistan.

It is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasing evidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think. 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.

The shift is most obvious on the ground. The additional 30,000 troops promised by President Obama in his speech at West Point 14 months ago are finally in place and changing the trajectory of the fight.

One of us, Nathaniel, recently flew into Camp Leatherneck in a C-130 transport plane, which had to steer clear of fighter bombers stacked for tens of thousands of feet above the Sangin District of Helmand Province, in southwestern Afghanistan. Singly and in pairs, the jets swooped low to drop their bombs in support of Marine units advancing north through the Helmand River Valley.

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.

A significant shift of high-tech intelligence resources from Iraq to Afghanistan, initiated by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander, is also having benefits. The coalition led by the United States and NATO has been able to capture or kill far more Taliban leaders in nighttime raids than was possible in the past.

The United States certainly can’t kill its way to victory, as it learned in Vietnam and Iraq, but it can put enough pressure on many Taliban fighters to encourage them to switch their allegiance, depriving the enemy of support and giving the coalition more sources of useful intelligence.

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.”

Analysis & Commentary

Fick and Nagl continue with some challenges to the campaign, such as corruption in the Afghan government, along with supposed solutions, such as a task force to investigate and expose corruption.  Meanwhile, back here in reality-land, there are a number of salient things about the campaign that should be pointed out.

First, it’s a patently absurd proposition that we can’t “kill our way to victory.”  Of course we can.  The difficulty is in separating the insurgency from the population, which requires various and sundry methods and tactics, but if we kill all of the insurgents, then the insurgents are all dead, and thus there is no longer an insurgency.  Granted, the motivating forces behind an insurgency may not have been completely eradicated, but I’m not certain that the American public wants Afghanistan to resolve into a situation that will never need revisiting in the future.  Creating a stable nation-state in the pattern of Western democracy shouldn’t be on the list of things to do in Afghanistan.  The public won’t support it, and it isn’t possible.

Second, as far as capturing and killing Taliban leaders, I have opposed and continue to oppose the high value target program.  Not that I am offended by killing Taliban leaders, but the program is ineffective.  Furthermore, as we have discussed extensively, prisons do not work in counterinsurgency.  At least in Afghanistan, they are counterproductive.  I take the metric of capturing and imprisoning mid-level Taliban leaders to be an indication of how badly the campaign is going.  Release of commanders within months or even weeks of capture only informs the locals that the coalition isn’t serious about the campaign, and gives more fighters incentive to pursue promotion through the ranks.  There isn’t a cost associated with being a Taliban fighter.

Third, Taliban are indeed being driven away from their sanctuaries, at least some of them (and the Marines have had more success than anyone to date, including the British in Helmand).  Joshua Foust weighs in that we have concentrated troops in the “worthless backwaters of Helmand” rather than focus on the AfPak border, and thus we aren’t really sealing any portion of the border.  My take is different.  In Iraq we played “whack-a-mole” counterinsurgency until we brought enough troops to bear to create saturation.  There isn’t any area that the insurgents consider off limits, and their governance appears to be far superior to that of the Afghan government.  Focusing on the backwaters of Helmand – which was an R&R and recruiting area for insurgents – might very well have been “focusing on the backwaters of Kunar and Nuristan” if we had left insurgents in Helmand alone to start the drive up Highway 1 towards Kabul to overtake the government.  We don’t have enough troops and never have.

In fact, we are abandoning the Pech Valley, and I have previously observed that:

When you hear the reflexive, tired, worn out mantra that we are having difficulty defeating the Taliban and those forces aligned with AQ because Pakistan simply won’t go into their safe havens and root them out, this is a nothing but a magic trick, a sleight of hand, a smoke screen, a ruse.  The issue is fake.  It’s a well-designed farce.

Oh, to be sure, the U.S. would indeed like for the Pakistanis to go kill all of the Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban and AQ affiliated groups so that we don’t have to deal with them in Afghanistan.  But we have the ideal chance to address the problem head on in the Pech Valley and other areas near the AfPak border – that Durand line that exists only as a figment of our imaginations.  Essentially, much of the Hindu Kush is available for us to do the same thing we want Pakistan to do, and in fact, if we began actually doing this, Pakistan might be persuaded to allow readier access to Pakistani soil (once they see we are serious about the campaign).

We argued endlessly in Iraq that the Syrian and Iranian borders must be secured in order to win the campaign.  In fact we did effectively seal the Syrian border, and our lack of focus on Iran only portends problems for Iraq today.  The things we learned in Iraq have not been transferred to Afghanistan, and rather than press for troop saturation, Fick and Nagl are arguing for troop reductions.

In Fallujah (the “City of Mosques”) in 2007, every Mosque preached anti-American sermons in the month of April.  While I cannot discuss the tactics used to persuade the city to support the Marines, within three months the sermons – all of them – had changed to a pro-American stance.  In Afghanistan, the Imams tell us the state of the campaign.

For the U.S. government, and for the 100,000 American troops fighting in Afghanistan, the messages delivered last Friday could hardly have been worse.

Under the weathered blue dome of Kabul’s largest mosque, a distinguished preacher, Enayatullah Balegh, pledged support for “any plan that can defeat” foreign military forces in Afghanistan, denouncing what he called “the political power of these children of Jews.”

Across town, a firebrand imam named Habibullah was even more blunt.

“Let these jackals leave this country,” the preacher, who uses only one name, declared of foreign troops. “Let these brothers of monkeys, gorillas and pigs leave this country. The people of Afghanistan should determine their own fate.”

Every Friday, Afghan clerics wade into the politics of their war-torn country, delivering half-hour sermons that blend Islamic teaching with often-harsh criticism of the U.S. presence. In a country where many lack newspapers, television or Internet access, the mosque lectures represent a powerful forum for influencing opinion.

Finally, the endless chorus of positive voices concerning the development of ANA troopers is tiresome and silly given the history of the ANA we have discussed before.  But let’s focus on only one example to make our point.  If you saw HBO’s “The Battle for Marjah,” produced by Ben Anderson (and if you didn’t see it, you must), you noted that one Marine took out a Taliban fighter with a head shot at 500+ meters.  Not a Marine Scout Sniper, and not with a Sasser .50 sniper rifle.  A Marine infantryman, MOS 0311, with a 5.56 shot with an M4.  How many ANA troopers can pull this off?  If the answer is none (and that is the correct answer), what would have happened to the ANA in Southern Helmand if the Marines didn’t lead the assault?  And what will happen when there are no Marines?

Again, Fick and Nagl have given us a nice report from Afghanistan.  Back in the reality-land, there are many weighty things that cause us to ponder the fact that it might not be so rosy a picture as they have painted.

Afghanistan: Responsible Transition

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 5 months ago

LTG David W. Barno and Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security have authored a study entitled Responsible Transition: Securing U.S. Interests in Afghanistan Beyond 2011.  For my brief analysis to make any sense at all, the reader must refer to the original document.  I will not duplicate sections of the study, and I will not rehearse the arguments made by Barno and Exum.  My criticism of their study assumes a working knowledge of their efforts.

To begin with, Afghanistan is a thorny problem, and has been for a very long time.  No one should argue that the difficulties posed by Afghanistan are obviously posed or easily solvable.  But arguing that Afghanistan presents a “wicked problem” where the boundary conditions constantly change seems a bit apologetic up front for what they assume will be a tepid reaction to their recommendations.  No one embroiled in problems in industry, economics or family life gets the grace extended to argue that this one problem, out of all other problems on the globe, presents itself as the wicked problem.

Barno and Exum generally argue for a reduced footprint in Afghanistan beginning in 2011 – comporting with Obama’s wishes – to be supplanted by more robust engagement of the Afghan National Security Forces.  There seems to be a general knowledge with the authors that there are discipline problems with the ANA and ANP, but the extent of these problems do not seem to dissuade Barno and Exum from recommending reliance on them for the security in Afghanistan and the defeat of the indigenous Taliban (or at least, militarily holding them at bay).

I am not nearly as optimistic in the discipline and capabilities of the ANSF as Barno and Exum.  As we have discussed before, the ANA has been observed sitting in heated trucks while the Marines engaged in combat, has refused to go on night patrols, has routinely been observed firing off their weapons into the air while high on opium and hash, has colluded with the insurgents to kill U.S. troops, has been observed running from engagements, and so on the awful list goes.  Even a recent ANA showcase engagement about four months ago turned to a debacle until U.S. support arrived.

There are deeper problems associated with the ANSF, touching on societal, religious, familial, cultural, institutional and world view.  Even after years now of attempting to stand up the Iraqi Security Forces, one recent engagement by the ISF, called the Battle of Palm Grove, was a tactical nightmare.  Arabic and Middle Eastern armies lost wars for a whole host  of reasons, not the least of which is the lack of anything like a Non-Commissioned Officer Corps.  Barno and Exum suggest that the end state will be about 20,000 – 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the ANSF providing the primary combat against the Afghan Taliban.  I think that this is wishful thinking rather than good analysis.

Next, Barno and Exum rely primarily on Special Operators Forces to be the main stay of our presence in Afghanistan in 2014 and beyond.  For a whole host of reasons I think that this is a mistaken goal.  Regular readers know about my objections to the high value target campaign as being generally ineffective.  More of the same from 25,000 SOF troopers won’t stop the insurgency in 2014 any more than it did the job before now.  Furthermore, this reflexive reliance on SOF and SOCOM is interesting and colloquial, but completely impractical.

First of all, it’s simply infeasible to tie up all of our SOF and SF in Afghanistan beginning in 2014.  There aren’t enough of them to go around, and there will be engagements in Africa, South America and other places that require SOF.  Throwing SOF and SOCOM at problems typifies modern DoD thinking, but it’s just impractical.  Second, 25,000 SOF operators will suffer the same fate in 2014 that they would if this is all that existed in Afghanistan in 2011.  The Taliban would kill off the ANSF within six months and recovering and saving the SOF operators remaining in Afghanistan would become itself a SOF effort.  Third, logistics would be non-existent.  Barno and Exum seem to believe that air support, base security, FOB force protection, fuel, food, ammunition, and all other forms of support could materialize out of thin air, when in fact that is provided by tens of thousands of U.S. troops plus tens of thousands more of military and security contractors.  It is simply inconceivable that 25,000 SOF operators can simply exist in Afghanistan.  It doesn’t work this way.  It won’t even work to have 10,000 SOF operators and 15,000 support troops (totaling their end result of 25,000).  This isn’t a large enough support to infantry ratio.

To nitpick, I think that the categories that they create for the enemy are generally not useful.  I recognize the distinction between the Quetta Shura, the Haqani network, the Tehrik-i-Taliban, the LeT, and so forth.  But I think that among Afghanistan analysts there is a general lack of coming to terms with the degree to which these elements swim in the same waters.  A decade or more of exposure to radical Arabic Wahhabist ideology has given all of these elements a transnational focus and globalist import that may not have existed before.  Thus, while there is certainly internecine fighting within the ranks, and while neat categories may have been able to be drawn five or six years ago, I no longer believe in these neat categories.  I believe that this is simplistic thinking.

Joshua Foust has a critique of this study that deserves attention.  I concur with a lot of what Josh has to say, as always.  I demur on some of his points.  Concerning logistics:

I find it ridiculous that Exum and Barno think the U.S. can, conceivably, reduce or cancel Pakistan’s aid. It’s not just a question of Pakistan’s cooperation on logistics and counterterror measures—when the Pakistani government was mildly annoyed at a single incursion into Pakistani territory by a single U.S. helicopter earlier this year, it shut down the Khyber Pass and hundreds of supply trucks got destroyed. This is the policy equivalent of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face—no matter how much promise it holds, the Northern Distribution Network simply cannot handle the slack needed to eventually pressure Pakistan in this way. We are severely constrained by Pakistan’s position, and we cannot change that in the near term.

On that issue I have gone even further than Barno and Exum.  I have recommended complete disengagement from logistics through Pakistan and even forceful engagement of enemy elements currently provided sanctuary within Pakistan.  As to whether the Northern supply route can accommodate our needs, suffice it to say that this is a well worn theme here.  Let’s not refer to Russia.  Let’s refer back to the passage through the Black Sea to Azerbaijan and Georgia, across the Caspian to Turkmenistan as I have suggested (or Uzbekistan) and then into Afghanistan via the Northern route.  It isn’t a pipe dream.  It happened with some of the logistics from Iraq to Afghanistan.  This route could have been more well-developed than it is, and U.S. engagement of the Caucasus could have been a good defeater argument for the coming Russian aggression against Georgia in an attempt to relieve isolated Russian bases in Armenia.  The lack of a completed, fully functioning Northern supply route at this point is not only a tactical and strategic failure of the Obama administration, it is a complete policy failure.  It is a failure of vision.

With Foust, I agree that the notion of tribe is too easy to apply to Afghanistan, and I don’t believe that the Taliban is a Pashtun insurgency.  If tribe was so important, why was Baitullah Mehsud able to knock off so many hundreds of tribal elders in his solidification of the power of the TTP?  Government means something in Afghanistan, although I don’t know exactly what at this point.

Unlike Foust, I believe that we can more succinctly describe “victory” in Afghanistan.  It may not be Shangri-La, and woman’s rights may not be fully actualized.  Crime will still exist (the U.S. still has the Crips and Bloods), and there will still be corruption within the government (witness the disenfranchisement of military votes in the most recent U.S. Presidential election).  But al Qaeda, their enablers, and all other globalist elements within the AfPak region will have been killed or marginalized and put on the run.

Sadly, Barno’s and Exum’s recommendations do not get us there.

CNAS Report: America’s Extended Hand

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

The Center for a New American Security has issued a report (h/t Blackfive) entitled America’s Extended Hand: Assessing the Obama Administration’s Global Engagement Strategy.  More on that shortly.

Recall the ineptitude, blunders and poor judgment we have discussed recently regarding the Obama administration and its foreign policy.  The administration has chosen to work with criminal and gangster Ahmed Wali Karzai in Kandahar in the belief that they can change him.  In Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy Part II we discussed how Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and even the UAE are so certain that our “diplomatic” efforts with Iran will fail to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons that they have all begun pursuing nuclear power programs in earnest (as predecessors to a nuclear weapons program).  Iran is increasingly aggressive in the region.  An Iranian aircraft buzzed the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower as reported by the Navy Times, and I reported that “During the 2008 deployment of the 26th MEU, an Iranian helicopter all but landed on the deck of the USS Iwo Jima.  The Marines could almost touch it from a standing position on the deck, but no actions were taken.  The Navy refused to allow the Marines to fire on the aircraft.”

In spite of recommendations to seriously engage the Caucasus region, we have snubbed our allies in Georgia (in spite of their having sent the Georgian 31st Infantry Battalion to assist us in Afghanistan)  and most recently it appears that we are losing Azerbaijan.  “Azerbaijan’s long-standing alignment with the United States is rapidly unraveling in the wake of Washington’s recent policy initiatives. As perceived from Baku, those US initiatives fly in the face of Azerbaijan’s staunch support over the years to US strategic interests and policies in the South Caucasus-Caspian region.”  Read the entire sad and depressing Jamestown report.

Just today it was reported that:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, said Wednesday that if Israel attacked Iran it would be destroyed within a week.

Speaking at a political conference of ultra-conservatives in Iran’s north, Mashaei said, “If the Zionist regime attacks Iran, the Zionists will have no longer than a week to live.”

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted him as saying that the Islamic Republic would destroy Israel “in less than 10 days”.

On his visit to Saudi Arabia he then claimed that “the annihilation of Israel should be a global goal.”  The additional instances are too difficult and time consuming to catalog – from our “ally” Russia attempting to undermine our presence at the Manas air base (ending this fiasco cost us a fortune) to Obama’s ghastly and dreadful West Point speech on Afghanistan, to the refusal to fund the reliable replacement warhead program, to the decision to grant Russian inspectors full access to our nuclear weapons sites, to the idea that we can find moderate elements of Hezbollah.  Exhaustion prevents me from completing the matrix of all of the gaffes, blunders, screw-ups, ill-conceived notions, and failed policies.

Now to the CNAS report.  The money quotes are given below.

We conclude that, in many ways, the Obama administration has achieved its initial objective of “re-starting” America’s relationship with the world. The administration clearly understands the importance of dialogue and of listening to foreign publics, and it is attempting to incor­porate a sensitivity to public opinion into its foreign policy decision making and translate public support into political leverage …

America’s global standing was in tatters due to an unpopular war in Iraq, a perception of unbridled American unilateralism and charges that the United States hypocritically advanced democ­racy abroad while compromising democratic values at home.

The folks at CNAS aren’t stupid; they just comprehend the world differently than do I.  But this comprehension is so ideologically skewed and out of touch with reality it makes their work literally unusable.  Time will be brutal to “scholarship” such as this.  When Iran goes nuclear, reports like this will be trumpeted to show how naive this kind of research is.  When Israel has to go it alone and war comes to the Middle East, my (and Michael Ledeen’s) advocacy for regime change (and my advocacy for fomenting an internal insurgency) will look like a cake walk compared to the mess we are left with, and much less violent and convulsive.  When Russia invades Georgia again on their way to relieve their bases in Armenia, we will look stupid and weak in our alliance with the mobster Putin (and even more ignorant if we award the tanker contract to EADS, a company in which Vladimir Putin owns a significant part).

With scholarship like this, CNAS is simply irrelevant.  They will have neither a positive nor a negative impact on policy.  The studies they are producing lack seriousness and gravitas.

Counterinsurgency Versus Counterterrorism

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 8 months ago

John Nagl recently testified on Capital Hill.  Here are a few of the highlights.

At the hearing, when Kerry asked John Nagl to explain the difference between a counterinsurgency campaign and a counter-terror campaign, Nagl said that the “latter is component of former. Counter-terrorism ‘focuses on the enemy,’ while a counterinsurgency focuses on people who, in turn, provide intelligence about where the enemy is hiding and fighting from. The reason that a counterinsurgency campaign is so much more comprehensive than a counter-terror campaign is that it involves a civilian component to stabilize the government, institutions, and necessities of the populace.”

According to Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, most Afghanis want a more involved approach. “When you speak to Afghans on the ground, their fear is not more engagement,” he said, “their fear is less engagement . . . fear of abandonment.” The problem is that although Afghans support the U.S. troop presence far more than they support the Taliban, the Taliban simply gives the people more services than their own government does. “It’s a commonly accepted principle of counterinsurgency theory that if you’re losing, you are not being outfought, you are being out-governed,” Nagl said.

Nagl thinks that effectively completing this counterinsurgency strategy would take five years and “we should expect to spend over those five years what we spent in last eight years.” But Kerry believes that more troops have not improved the situation and that the current light-footprint has been relatively successful: “The goal of the president is to prevent al Qaeda from attacking from Afghanistan and from destabilizing Pakistan. We are doing better in Pakistan and there is no al Qaeda in Afghanistan,” he said. “Does that tell us something about lighter footprint success?” When Nagl explained that you can conduct counter-terror, but not counterinsurgency, with a light footprint, Kerry responded, “exactly the point I’m trying to get at . . . you can do counter-terror with a light footprint.”

As for Kerry’s notion of doing counterterrorism with a light footprint, let me be clear.  No we can’t.  Or to be more clear in case you missed it, NO WE CAN’T.  Or one more time a little differently …

NO … WE … CAN’T!

Joe Biden is apparently trafficking in the same rubbish as Kerry.  Who knows.  Maybe Obama is listening to this rubbish because it feels good to think about winning with a small commitment – like a little whiskey and a good after-dinner cigar.  Uncle Jimbo lampoons Biden’s position.

We have been laughing on our back channel about the Biden plan to have our secret squirrels locate al Qaeda and then let our magic ninjas swoop in and take them out. The idea is ludicrous for many reasons, but mostly because we don’t have the will to do the dirty trickery necessary to pull it off.

Ever since we eviscerated the CIA in the Carter era and destroyed any ability to do human intelligence we have relied on electronic intercepts and satellite imagery for our weak and generally wrong “intelligence”. While those tools can be useful, absent a humint capability, they are woefully inadequate. So the idea that we could rely on them is a joke I ‘m surprised they have the stones to make. Targeted strikes by UAVs in Pakistan have been successful, but expanding that into a theater-wide, pipehitter free fire zone is not gonna happen.

If I thought for a minute that they were serious about actually resourcing this and providing the networks of spies, warlords, assassins, and shady characters with satchels of cash it would take to make it work, I might could get behind it. But does anyone see the Obama administration, which right now is thinking about prosecuting the CIA for being mean to terrorists, doing any of that? All right, get up off the floor.

True, Carter (and Clinton who UJ doesn’t mention) destroyed the CIA humint capabilities, and the Obama administration has continued the war with the CIA.  But just to be clear, it isn’t all about surreptitious cloak and dagger raids by SOF any more than it’s about satchels of cash.  I have been clear about my disdain for the use of SOF to perform ONLY raids while infantry performs ONLY policing and foot patrols.  This division has hurt the readiness and capabilities of the U.S. Army.  The Marines have no such division of labor.  But aside from this objection, the idea that we can garrison small units of SOF in Afghanistan while the ANSF protects the countryside and ensures logistics is worse than mythical.  It’s dangerous and likely to be deadly for our SOF troopers.

Within a few months of withdrawal of forces, the Taliban (who are now said to have a permanent presence in 80% of Afghanistan) will have beheaded the Afghans who cooperated with the U.S.  The line of logistics will have been completely shut down, and there will be no CAS because there will be no airfields.  The idea that we can do this from offshore is preposterous.  It will require SOF operations in order to extricate the SOF from Afghanistan once the Taliban have killed the ANP and routed the ANA.

Kerry is living in a dreamland, a mythical world where the right words read from a teleprompter makes everything alright.  But this world doesn’t obtain.  We must re-enter the real world, and in the real world we need more troops in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: The WTF? War

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 10 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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Where is the insurgency in Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 11 months ago

Joshua Foust observes that General McChrystal’s strategy will rely on security for population centers.  Then Josh asks a salient question follow on by his take on where the insurgency lies.

Quick review: where is the insurgency most strongly concentrated?

a) Kabul
b) Jalalabad
c) Kandahar
d) Herat
e) Mazar-i Shaif

The correct answer is NONE OF THE ABOVE. The Taliban are not strongest in the cities, but outside of them: you’ll find the insurgency grinding in the hills above Lashkar Gah, the countryside to the west and north of Kandahar, the plains of Zabul, the Khost bowl, the mountains of Paktya and Paktika, and the narrow valleys from Kapisa to Kunar and Nuristan. None of them are urban, or even sort of urban.

Unfortunately, this has CNAS written all over it. It would be surprising if some of their people weren’t involved in the new review in some way—I really hope they’ve learned by now that Afghanistan is not urban, that the insurgency—and the people—are scattered into small rural communities throughout the country. Securing the cities has never been the Coalition’s weakness.

Well, it does have CNAS written all over it, but Josh hasn’t driven to the most ironic thing about the involvement of CNAS with the Obama administration and the Afghanistan strategy.  Before attachment to the administration, Dr. John Nagl had advocated the deployment of 600,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  Since it has become apparent that the administration will not deploy more than about 68,000 troops, CNAS is assisting in the development of strategy that has as its basis far less troops than Nagl had advocated as necessary to do the job.  This strategy is unwise to Foust simply because of the insufficiency of troop levels, but promulgated under the notion of “population-centric” counterinsurgency.

In other words, it was one thing to advocate the troop levels necessary for the campaign before the formalities and political pressures of the President and Congress set in.  It’s quite another to face the political realities of the administration.  It’s even another to participate in strategy development with too few troops to accomplish the mission (or so Nagl’s claim would have been half a year ago when he advocated just a little less than ten times the current level).

For the record, The Captain’s Journal doesn’t believe that it will require 600,000 troops.  But it will certainly require more than 68,000 to do the job right.

CNAS Releases Afghanistan Study

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 11 months ago

The Center for a New American Security, which is advising the Obama administration, has released Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Permit us a few observations?  On page 4 we read that they advocate that we:

Adopt a truly population-centric counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes protecting the population rather than controlling physical terrain or killing the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Notice how killing Taliban and al Qaeda has been set in juxtaposition over against protecting the population, as if the two are mutually exclusive.  We have dealt with this before in Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN, where we argued that the Clausewitzian concept of a single center of gravity should be jettisoned in favor of multiple lines of operation and lines of effort.  As far as protecting the population and killing the enemy, it isn’t EITHER-OR, it’s BOTH-AND.   But we have to get off of the huge FOBs in order to do it.  Dealing with this in a little more visceral way, let’s allow Greyhawk to respond as he did in a comment at Abu Muqawama.

I may be wrong – but there seems to be some fundamental misunderstanding of COIN in general and “protecting the population” at play here.

The idea that those are somehow efforts that don’t involve killing bad guys and blowing things up is wrong. I know this is obvious to 90% of the people who comment here, but there’s also a growing number of people seeking understanding of this newfangled “COIN” business who may be under the impression that it’s some sort of bloodless warfare – and some may scan these comments for illumination. If you aren’t among that number skip this rest of this.

In Iraq for the early days of the surge we did not pull away from contact for fear of hurting someone – in fact we did the opposite. We plopped ourselves down in various neighborhoods (very much to protect the populations therein) knowing full well a bit of the old ultra violence would ensue. Check the death tolls* – civilian or military – for late winter to early summer ’07 to see the result.

We killed bad guys (“irreconcilables”) in droves. If they didn’t come to us, we air assaulted (sorry – delivered troops via helicopter) to them. And if CAS (sorry – close air support, aka death from above via fixed or rotary wing aircraft…) was needed for TIC (sorry – troops in contact, meaning exchanging gunfire with the enemy), CAS was delivered. (Do not, however, take this to mean wanton, indiscriminate slaughter.)

COIN is not a fluffy bunny warfare world where no one gets hurt and we all ride unicorns over rainbows. It is very much killing the enemy. Protecting the population requires it.

To be completely fair, they do tip the hat to “lines of operation” on page 15, but this still doesn’t undo the basic presupposition where one aspect of counterinsurgency is set over against another.  But it gets a little better.  On page 19 and following, CNAS may even be taking a page from us when they take direct aim at the HVT concept.  If they are advocating a stand-down from the high value target campaign, they we heartily agree.  We have gone further in advocating the re-attachment of SOF to infantry, and getting infantry all places, everywhere, all of the time.

But of course, this requires troops.  What is strangely missing in this report is advocacy for large troop additions.  It isn’t mere coincidence that John Nagl, who once advocated 600,000 troops for Afghanistan, now heads up CNAS which is advising the Obama administration.  It has become apparent that this administration will not contribute more than around 68,000 troops to Afghanistan.

The report may not be the triage it was meant to be.  Instead, it may be well intentioned [politically affected?] analysis that sends too few men on an impossible mission.

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