Archive for the 'General McKiernan' Category

Does the U.S. Have A Moral Duty to Fix Afghanistan (or anywhere else)?

BY Glen Tschirgi
12 years, 2 months ago

In an article for National Review Online, Patrick Brennan illuminates the thinking of General David McKiernan, commander of ISAF in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009.

To the extent that Brennan accurately reflects McKiernan’s thinking and, more importantly, that McKiernan is at all representative of widely-held views in the U.S. military,  it goes a long way to explaining the seeming paralysis of U.S. force projection in Afghanistan and globally.

Fundamentally, Gen. McKiernan is a true believer in what seems to be called the Pottery Barn Rule of U.S. power projection:

In my conversation with him in his Boston office, General McKiernan demonstrates a vast knowledge of the problems of Afghanistan, as well as a keen concern for the fate of the country and NATO’s mission there. “In my experience with many different operations in the military over the years, when you intervene on the ground in a country, ‘breaking the china’ in that country and changing the regional status quo, you then own the problem,” he says. The U.S. is therefore obligated, at the very least, to live up to the commitments it has made to Afghanistan’s civil and military leaders, including fulfilling the new strategic partnership by allocating sufficient funds, which will become a year-to-year concern. A military intervention such as the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 inevitably means the obliteration of a country’s existing political order, as chaotic or oppressive as that might be. Without a continuing commitment to restore some semblance of order and stability to Afghanistan, McKiernan argues, we will fail in our moral duty and abandon our strategic interests.

At the conclusion of the article, Brennan sums up Gen. McKiernan’s thinking:

The U.S. was right to invade Afghanistan in order to exact revenge against al-Qaeda and eliminate the region’s terrorist havens. But McKiernan has seen the catastrophic side effects of that invasion, and they represent something of a geopolitical sin. With a more targeted, locally nuanced, and efficient strategy as penance, the United States can help the Afghan government construct and enforce some degree of order, General McKiernan believes. If we do not do so, we abandon our moral commitment to repair Afghanistan, and we will leave a gapingly insecure region that would remain fertile ground for international terrorism.

Pardon the gag reflex.  There is much else in the article that is deserving of comment and it is worth reading.  For example, Gen. McKiernan seems to recognize that Afghanistan is not a nation state in any true sense of the word but is, instead, a collection of different tribes, ethnicities and sects.   His takeaway from this fact, however, is to double down on the formation and training of a national army and police force that can someday, somehow hold the centrifugal differences of the country together.   As illogical as this seems, it is necessitated by the “you break it, you own it” philosophy embraced by McKiernan and others.

So this seems to me to be the fundamental debate for American foreign policy, not only for Afghanistan but for the next ten to twenty years as we face no lack of failing or failed states that become incubators for Militant Islam: what, if any, obligation does the U.S. have to another country or people when the U.S. uses military force in exercise of its national interests?

First let’s clarify some of General McKiernan’s muddled thinking.

According to his moral universe, when a nation “breaks the china” by intervening with force of arms to somehow change the status quo of another nation or region then the intervenor “own[s] the problem” and incurs a “moral duty” to “restore some semblance of order and stability…”   In the case of Afghanistan, this is nonsense.   The status quo of Afghanistan’s “political order” in September 2001 was, as the General himself describes, “chaotic” and “oppressive.”  By his own theory, then, the U.S. need only ensure that Afghanistan ends up no more chaotic or oppressive than it was pre-invasion.  The 2001 invasion alone made a vast improvement upon the existing political order by eliminating a pariah regime that gladly hosted international terrorists and imposed a cruel authoritarianism on its population.   If the U.S. had walked out of Afghanistan in January 2002, the situation in Afghanistan would have been vastly improved with the Northern Alliance in control of most of the country.

In fact, it is arguable that the U.S. only started to destroy the status quo of Afghanistan when it began meddling in its internal, political affairs with arrogant notions of 21st Century democracy and centralized government.  The problem, then, is not that the U.S. created a mess in Afghanistan by toppling the Taliban in October 2001, but that the U.S. stayed after toppling the Taliban in order to somehow save the Afghans from their own backward and stunted culture.   This was the “geopolitical sin” if Gen. McKiernan must find one.

What of General McKiernan’s larger premise, that the U.S. cannot intervene militarily without incurring a “moral commitment to repair” that nation?

This is a fundamentally flawed and mistaken view of U.S. power projection.  Originally espoused by General Colin Powell in 2002, Powell claims to have advised President Bush that any invasion of Iraq would be akin to breaking a dish and thereby taking ownership.  The so-called Pottery Barn school of  thought to which McKiernan subscribes assumes the existence of an unbroken Dish prior to U.S. involvement.  This is simply a fiction and a dangerous one at that.

Iraq was already in pieces under Saddam Hussein when the U.S. invaded in March 2003.   Once the Dictator and his police state were dismembered, the “dish” was already in infinitely better shape than its pre-invasion condition.   The U.S. would have been perfectly justified from a moral point of view in packing up and heading home at that point.   So, too, with Afghanistan: the “dish” was in far better shape after the removal of Al Qaeda bases and the Taliban than it was pre-invasion.

The Pottery Barn doctrine simply does not pertain to the exercise of U.S. military intervention at any point in U.S. history.   I cannot think of a single instance where the metaphorical dish was not already broken when the U.S. intervened.  If someone wants to argue about Nazi intervention in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria and France, that is a different matter.   The U.S. is not an imperial power that topples healthy, functioning nation states and the application of the Pottery Barn doctrine to the U.S. may say far more about how people like Colin Powell and David McKiernan view U.S. power projection than it does about the actual world as we have it now.

American leadership needs to forcefully and decisively reject this wrong-headed notion of moral commitments to fix other nations.  It is not and has never been about moral commitments.  It is ever, only about the U.S. national interest.  That is the only way to rationally debate both the decision to intervene militarily and the decision, once intervention occurs, of how and when to leave.  This is not to say that our national interest does not align with notions of morality.  Very often it does and morality certainly forms a part of defining what the “national interest” is in the first place.   But evaluating policies, tactics and strategy from a moral viewpoint rather than the national interest leads to all kinds of fuzzy thinking and misguided efforts.   Afghanistan is, perhaps, the textbook example of these hazards.

To give but a few examples:  what is the U.S. national interest in pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into road, school, hospital and other construction in Afghanistan?  It certainly is a nice thing to do, a moral thing to do.  But how, precisely, does this make America more secure?  In a predominating culture that is so alien (indeed hostile one could say) to American values, the idea of changing that culture with billions in aid money can only be driven by a moralistic– an almost missionary– zeal that simply has no place in American foreign policy.   The national interest is solely concerned with ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a threat to American security again.   That was the only reason we invaded in 2001 (contrary to Gen. McKiernan’s idea of “revenge”).  There are many ways that this fundamental, U.S. interest could be achieved without any resort whatsoever to changing Afghan culture.

To look at another example briefly, consider Syria.

From the moralistic, Pottery Barn approach, intervening in Syria is a case of balancing the suffering of the Syrian people under the Dictator Assad with the unavoidable suffering of the people after a military intervention (whether that is invasion, air strikes, covert support for rebels, etc…).   This is why the Obama Administration and much of U.S. punditry is tied up in knots over Syria: there is no, clear way to evaluate human suffering in this manner.   (Anyone who doubts this need only look at Libya where, again, the scales of suffering seemed to tilt in favor of ousting Qaddafi only to find, now, that the increasing lawlessness and rise of Militant Islamists is beginning to make Qaddafi look rather tame by comparison).

Instead of playing these sorts of moral games, U.S. leadership should be looking at Syria from our own interests.   This clarifies things immediately.   Syria under Assad is an enemy of the U.S. and moves in lockstep with arch-enemy Iran.   This is a very, very broken dish (to use their parlance).  Toppling Assad by itself does not worsen the dish and is certainly in the U.S. national interest as it enhances our security immensely.

There is, of course, the question of what sort of government will replace Assad.   Here again the moralists and national interest part ways.   The moralists would say that the U.S. would “own” all of Syria’s problems if it intervened which means, presumably, another 10 or 20 year program of building schools, hospitals roads and civic institutions.   The national interest, at a bare minimum, however, doesn’t really care so much what comes after Assad so long as it is not worse than Assad.  We do not care, for example, if Syria falls into civil war so long as Syria cannot be the cat’s paw for Iran.   It is certainly in the national interest to back rebels that are sympathetic to U.S. values and goals, but if they are at least hostile to Iran and global jihad, that is enough.

In essence then, to the extent that U.S. policies and strategies are guided by the approach espoused by General McKiernan, we will find ourselves a vulnerable paralytic Power unable to intervene in the world where critical U.S. interests are at stake because to do so would automatically obligate us to an endless commitment of fixing the “broken dish.”   In such a world, we leave it to hostile powers all around us to shape things to their liking, one that will be little to our own.

Why are we in the Helmand Province?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 10 months ago

In Helmand is a Sideshow – Or Not I addressed the charge that had been leveled in a WSJ article that Helmand was a sideshow to the real fight.  Summarizing, the author said:

American forces have been waging a major offensive in the neighboring southern province of Helmand, the center of Afghanistan’s drug trade. Some U.S. military officials believe the Taliban have taken advantage of the American preoccupation with Helmand to infiltrate Kandahar and set up shadow local governments and courts throughout the city.

“Helmand is a sideshow,” said the senior military official briefed on the analysis. “Kandahar is the capital of the south [and] that’s why they want it.”

I responded:

The Helmand Province is the home of the indigenous insurgency, the Afghanistan Taliban, and its capital is Lashkar Gah.  Without hitting the Taliban’s recruiting grounds, fund raising and revenue development, training grounds, and logistical supply lines, the campaign cannot be won.  Focusing on the population centers is a loser strategy, doomed to sure failure.  Controlling the cities as some sort of prison while the roads are all controlled by Taliban is just what the Russians did, only to withdraw in ignominy.  The Marines are in Helmand because just like Anbar, Iraq at the time, it is the worst place on earth.

But the narrative won’t go away, and even seems to be gaining momentum.  Joe Klein weighs in with the next installment.

The U.S. military does not move in mysterious ways. It plods, it plans, it plots out every logistical detail before launching an initiative. Things take time. For example: not all of the 21,000 additional forces that President Obama authorized for Afghanistan last winter have even arrived in the country yet. For another example: the battle plan those troops were asked to execute was devised primarily by General David McKiernan, who was replaced about the time the troops started arriving. McKiernan’s plan reflected his experience in conventional warfare: he chose to deploy the troops where the bad guys were — largely in Helmand province on the Pakistani border, home of nearly 60% of the world’s opium crop, a place that was firmly in Taliban control. But pursuing conventional warfare in Afghanistan is about as effective as using a football in a tennis match. The Army’s new counterinsurgency doctrine says you go where the people are concentrated and protect them, then gradually move into the sectors the bad guys control. That is not what we’re doing in Afghanistan. In addition to all the other problems we’re facing — the corruption of the Karzai government, the election chaos, the porous Pakistani border — it has become apparent that we’re pursuing the wrong military strategy in this frustrating war.

Note how the narrative has graduated to the strategy being implemented was McKiernan’s, not McChrystal’s, and McChrystal had no choice in the matter due to logistical inertia.  Continuing with the “McChrystal is powerless to change things” meme:

Upon his arrival in Afghanistan as McKiernan’s replacement last June, General Stanley McChrystal was pretty much presented with a fait accompli: the troops were arriving in Helmand. “The ship was moving in that direction,” a military expert told me, “and it would have been difficult to turn it around.” Indeed, it would have taken months of planning to change course. The additional troops were needed immediately to blunt the momentum of the Taliban and also to provide security for the Afghan elections. The trouble was, the troops would have been better deployed in Helmand’s neighbor to the east — Kandahar province, especially in Kandahar city and its suburbs. “Kandahar is the center of gravity in this insurgency,” says John Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who helped write the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine. “It is as important now as Fallujah was in Iraq in 2004.”

Kandahar is the capital city of Afghanistan’s Pashtun majority, home of both the Karzai family and Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban. It is where the Taliban began. It has been run, in a staggeringly corrupt manner, by Hamid Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai — who, according to U.S. investigators, has extensive links to the opium trade. As the Karzai government has grown more unpopular, the situation in Kandahar has deteriorated. The Taliban own the night, slipping death threats under the doors of those who would cooperate with the government. In Iraq the military’s counterinsurgency strategy turned around a similarly bleak urban situation — notably in Baghdad, where U.S. troops helped the Iraqis regain control of neighborhoods by setting up and staffing joint security stations. But the troops who should be securing Kandahar are fighting an elusive enemy in Helmand.

Following Clausewitz into a single center of gravity for a campaign is the reason behind Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN, and I still continue to believe that nothing so easy and clear will present itself as a single focal point for our efforts.  But the statement concerning Fallujah in 2004 is odd.

Kandahar doesn’t seem anything like Fallujah in 2004.  The security situation in Kandahar may be degrading, but in Fallujah it was so bad that at the beginning of al Fajr the city was free of noncombatants and only fighters were left behind, many or most of whom were high on epinephrine and morphine.  The campaign in Anbar saw more than 1000 U.S. Marines perish, way more than have died in Operation Enduring Freedom between all branches of the service.  Fallujah saw continued operations into 2007 with Operation Alljah, but during the fight for Anbar Marines were also deployed to Haditha, al Qaim, Hit, the Syrian border and other rural areas.

The argument to control the streets of Kandahar makes sense if that argument doesn’t also hinge upon removing the Marines from Helmand where the fighters recruit, train, raise their support, and get ingress to and egress from Afghanistan.  In Now Zad Taliban fighters have been so unmolested that they have used that area for R&R.  The city of Now Zad – with an erstwhile population of 30,000+ civilians – is deserted with only insurgents remaining to terrorize the area so that inhabitants don’t return.  The Marines are so under-resourced that they can only fight the Taliban to a standstill.  It is so dangerous in Now Zad that the Marines deployed there are the only ones to bring two trauma doctors with them.

It is a strange argument indeed that sends Marines to Kandahar while the insurgents in Now Zad have separated themselves off from civilians and invited a fight.  So send more Marines to Kandahar to control the streets.  The Taliban bullying will stop once a Regimental Combat Team arrives.  This should not be too difficult to pull off.  As I have said before, there are so many Marines at Camp Lejeune that some units are not even in the same barracks, and more barracks are being built.  Not since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom has the Corps been so large with so many Marines garrisoned in the states.  Furthermore, if they aren’t in the states they are on board amphibious assault docks doing nothing.  Entire Battalions of Marine infantry – doing nothing for nine months.

But if the resources to control Kandahar are there, the argument to remove them from Helmand is not.  Whether the sources for the WSJ and Joe Klein’s article are wishing for the narrative to gain traction or there is in reality a sense that Helmand is a sideshow is irrelevant.  The strategists need to sense the reality that Helmand is not a sideshow, and that it is a very real line of effort in the campaign.  Without hitting the insurgents where they live we will follow the Russians out of Afghanistan.

More on General David McKiernan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 2 months ago

There continues to be robust conversation in e-mail, comments, articles and discussion threads over the replacement of General David McKiernan with General Stanley McChrystal.  Look.  Let’s cover a couple of details about this that we may have missed the first time around.  Every report about General McChrystal is positive, and if Petraeus had wanted him because of familiarity, then so be it.  It’s his call.  My concern is that it portends a larger sea change in Afghanistan, one that relies not on boots on the ground, but a much smaller footprint relying on a high value target scheme.  The small footprint is one thing that got us here to begin with.  But there is a narrative developing concerning this move that really seems to miss the point.  An example of it comes from Michael Goldfarb.

Earlier today, Defense Secretary Bob Gates unexpectedly announced that he had asked for the resignation of General David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan. For most Afghan policy insiders, this came as cause for quiet relief. By all accounts, McKiernan is an honorable soldier who, to his everlasting credit, campaigned vigorously for the additional U.S. troops that are needed to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and that President Obama has begun to provide. But McKiernan also left a great deal to be desired. He was, in fact, an uncreative and conventional thinker who was failing palpably at figuring out how to adapt the principles of counterinsurgency into the specific operational context of Afghanistan — the kind of military art that made the surge a success. Indeed, many visitors to McKiernan’s Kabul headquarters walked away with the nagging feeling that he didn’t really have a plan to defeat the insurgency at all — just a vague commitment to keep on slogging, ideally with more resources.

The departure of McKiernan thus opens the door to a host of long-delayed reforms, including an expansion of the Afghan National Security Forces, a reform of the command structure, and the development of a joint civil-military campaign plan. Let’s hope that Generals McChrystal and Rodriguez prove up to the task.

Oh horseshit!  The Afghan forces are expanding as fast as they can possibly go, growing beyond what some analysts believe can be sustained by the Afghanistan economy or culture when the U.S. pulls out.  Additionally, the Afghan National Army is shot through with drug abuse, as is the Afghan police shot through with both drug abuse and corruption.  Required  viewing for all those who believe that rapid turnover to the Afghan Army is in the cards or can be a major part of the strategy at the present: Afghanistan’s Failing Army.  View it and then tell me about needed reforms concerning expansion of the Afghan National Army.

We’ve had MiTT teams for months and even years, the State Department has been begged to engage the campaign, and the U.S. Marines are in Now Zad while elements of the U.S. Army are in the Korangal Valley, both engaged in fierce fights with hard core Taliban.  We have Green Berets training the Afghan National Army recruits, and female Marines embedded with infantry to ensure cultural sensitivities aren’t violated when talking to the women of households (which under other circumstances is a violation of protocol since females aren’t allowed in infantry in the Corps).

What was McKiernan supposed to do with an under-resourced campaign and a drug-addicted medieval society?  Does General McChrystal have a magic wand that General McKiernan doesn’t?

There may be elements of truth to the reports, such as McKiernan was too comfortable with incompetent NATO allies, but since I have no direct knowledge of this I will leave it to those who do.  But when leveling accusations and charges, insults and charges of long-delayed reforms, we should be direct, honest, comprehensive, and our prose should be based on evidence.

I have evidence as to the incompetence of General Rodriguez, at least in terms of his judgment.  Most of the narrative coming out now is based on emotion rather than evidence.  To my knowledge there are no long-delayed reforms in the campaign except [a] too many troops stationed on large bases, and [b] NATO red tape.  These problems are fixable regardless of the chain of command, and the problem of troops on large FOBs is being fixed as we write.

The more likely scenario? “General McKiernan asked for 30,000 more troops in 2008 when he took over from the NATO mission which had essentially failed. Bush gave him 6,000 of those troops. Obama has given him, will have given him 21,000 by the end of this year and they’re considering another 10,000 next year. And it’s a fine old military tradition that you sack the guy who asked for reasonable resources and then give those resources to his successor who is then successful” (h/t Richard at Defence of the Realm).

Prior: General McKiernan Out in Afghanistan

General McKiernan Out in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 2 months ago

General McKiernan is out as the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today asked for the resignation of the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, saying the U.S. military “must do better” in executing the administration’s new strategy there.

Gates recommended that President Obama nominate veteran Special Operations commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal to replace McKiernan, who would depart as soon as a successor is confirmed. Gates also recommended that Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the former head of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan who is currently serving as Gates’s military assistant, be nominated to serve in a new position as McChrystal’s deputy.

The leadership shift comes as the Obama administration has voiced increasingly urgent concern about the surge in violence in Afghanistan as well as unrest in neighboring Pakistan.

“We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership is also needed,” Gates said at a hastily convened Pentagon news conference.

“I think these two officers will bring . . . a focus which we really need in 2009. And I just didn’t think we could wait until 2010,” Gates said.

Gates praised McChrystal and Rodriguez for their “a unique skill set in counterinsurgency” as well as “fresh thinking.”

We learn just a bit more about why this decision has been made through undisclosed sources.

The officials say McKiernan, who’s been top U.S. commander in Afghanistan for about a year was too much “old army.” McChrystal, on the other hand, was one of the top Special Operations Forces commanders who led the operation that killed al Qaeda’s top leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Gates and CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus reportedly decided McChrystal was the most logical and best choice to lead the new counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics campaign in Afghanistan.

At The Captain’s Journal we simply cannot forget the awful judgment by General Rodriguez – probably parroting Army intelligence – that the Taliban were distracted and there wouldn’t be a spring offensive in 2008.  As for General McChrystal, his participation in the Zarqawi operation means that he knows how to accomplish high value target kills, a strategy that has failed us thus far in Afghanistan as a replacement for boots on the ground.  Thus far we aren’t impressed.

There is further trouble, and it is the phrase “counter-narcotics.”  The U.S. Marines in Helmand (24th MEU) specifically ignored the poppy, as their strategy was to kill the Taliban (some 400 of them) and provide for security for the population (begun before end of the campaign in Garmser, turned over to the British).  We have spoken against the poppy eradication efforts, as it will do little to accomplish the mission, but will infuriate the local farmers who are attempting to support their families and thus add to the insurgency.

As we have discussed, the Taliban raise revenue by any number of means, including kidnapping, taxes on small businesses, extortion, emerald mines, timber harvesting, and so forth.  A recent effort to replace poppy with pomegranates saw the Taliban at the town meetings, ready to tax pomegranates instead of poppy.  The problem is the Taliban, not the poppy.

It also doesn’t ring true to us that McKiernan is “old school.”  McKiernan showed great support and ownership of the U.S. Marine Corps operations in Garmser, from both the harder side to the softer side.  But this change does strike us as a strategic statement in Afghanistan.

McKiernan wanted a heavier footprint, just as did Mr. Obama during his campaign for Presidency.  He continually requested more troops.  John Nagl, who is now head of the Center for a New American Security (which, ironically, is currently advising the Obama administration), has stated that up to 600,000 troops would be required in Afghanistan, and advocated such a commitment.

The Captain’s Journal has advocated a larger commitment, but had never believed that it would require 600,000 troops, just more of the style of counterinsurgency conducted by the Marines in Helmand (minimal ratio of support to infantry troops, deployment to areas where the Taliban are the strongest, kinetics followed on by remaining in the AO to provide security for the population, etc.).  Yet reality seems to have sunken deep into the administration.  We don’t have 600,000 troops to commit.

In sparsely covered news, there also seems to be a deep reluctance to deploy more than about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan.  So another strategy must be employed.  It’s difficult to tell with certainty what this strategy entails, since this administration isn’t telling us and has declared the metrics for the Afghanistan campaign to be classified.  But a relatively good guess might be that heavier reliance will be made on special operations forces attacks on high value targets, which would be more of the same strategy that had failed us so far in Afghanistan.

Finally, there is a debate among counterinsurgency experts as to where to deploy what additional resources the administration is willing to commit – urban population centers or rural terrain where the Taliban function, get their resources, and enforce their government.  The former seems to have won.  The troops are going to the population centers, a mistake that the Russians made during their campaign.  The Russians were prisoners of their own armor and city boundaries until their logistical difficulties and constant drain of casualties took enough of a toll for them to withdraw in defeat.

We have been advocates for the deployment of special operations forces (and specialized billets) as part of and attached to infantry units.  Directing SOF to conduct raids against targets they won’t engage the next morning to examine and answer for the destruction is separating them from the counterinsurgency they need to support.  Disengaging SOF from the population is a profound mistake, almost as bad as disengaging infantry from performing these direct action kinetics.  Large forward operating bases to house large forces of support units were a strategic mistake in Iraq, and will be in Afghanistan.

The Captain’s Journal is less than sanguine about these changes.  Only time will tell if they succeed or fail.

Special Operations Forces Navel Gazing

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 7 months ago

In what might be the clearest tale to date about SOF narcissism over the Afghanistan high value target campaign, we see that the gaming goes nearly to the top in a recent report at the Army Times (hotel tango SWJ Blog).

Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to deploy three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan by the summer has superseded a contentious debate that pitted the Bush administration’s “war czar” against the special operations hierarchy over a proposed near-term “surge” of spec ops forces to Afghanistan, a Pentagon military official said.

The National Security Council’s surge proposal, which grew out of its Afghan strategy review, recommended an increase of “about another battalion’s worth” of troops to the Combined and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, or CJSOTF-A, said a field-grade Special Forces officer, who added that this would enlarge the task force by about a third.

Several sources said that the “SOF surge” proposal originated with Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, the so-called “war czar” whose official title is assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation. The rationale behind deploying more special ops forces to Afghanistan was that any decision to deploy more conventional brigades to Afghanistan would take at least several months to implement, whereas special ops units could be sent much more quickly, the Special Forces officer said.

Not likely.  Afghanistan has been a SOF campaign from the beginning, and the lack of force projection and confused mission have led us to where we are.  It’s hard to believe that the power structure suddenly decided on a SOF surge, since SOF surging is what has been happening for seven years.  Furthermore, there is always CENTCOM ready reserve which is usually comprised of a MEU.  But continuing:

… the proposal sparked a fierce high-level debate, with special operations officers charging that Lute and his colleagues were trying to micromanage the movement of individual Special Forces A-teams from inside the Beltway, and countercharges that Special Forces has strayed from its traditional mission of raising and training indigenous forces and become too focused on direct-action missions to kill or capture enemies.

Most major special operations commands were opposed to the proposal, special operations sources said. The sources identified U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities, headed by Michael Vickers, as all resisting the initiative.

Special operations sources said that those opposing the “SOF surge” were generally against the idea on two grounds: that the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, has not requested them, and that the CJSOTF-A does not have enough “enablers” — such as helicopters and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets — to support the forces it has in-country now, let alone another battalion’s worth.

Strayed indeed.  Kinetic operations against high value targets – for whatever worth this has been – don’t require SOF.  It might be that there is something deeper here.   Lt. Gen. Lute certainly must know that Afghanistan cannot continue to be a SOF campaign against HVTs, and the SOF command must certainly know that the beast of Operation Enduring Freedom has grown far beyond what they are able to bear.  If it’s a question of who will break first and say these things, then such gamesmanship over serious military operations is loathsome and detestable.  But it gets even better (or worse).

The short supply of helicopters in Afghanistan has been a constant problem for conventional forces and CJSOTF-A, the “white,” or unclassified, task force in-country. Unlike the secretive, “black,” Joint Special Operations Command task force, which is directly supported by elements of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, “white” Special Forces groups do not have their own dedicated aviation units and have to compete for helicopter support with the rest of the U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. CJSOTF-A is commanded by a colonel, whereas the other organizations are all commanded by flag officers.

The Pentagon military official said that the planned deployment of an additional 20,000 conventional U.S. troops, including three brigade combat teams, to Afghanistan would also include a lot of “enablers” that the special operations forces could use.

The Pentagon plan includes more helicopters being sent to Afghanistan, as well as the possibility of a one-star special operations flag officer to command “white” SOF forces in country, which would obviate the need to have “O-6s arm wrestling with O-7s and O-9s,” he said.

More politics, and make sure to take notice of what SOF command sees as the mission for these additional “enablers.”  They would go to SOF (‘a lot of “enablers” that the special operations forces could use’).  Finally:

A field-grade officer in Washington who has been tracking the debate said that the “white” SOF leaders’ argument that their forces need more ISR assets and helicopters is a reflection of how Special Forces has veered from its traditional mission of “foreign internal defense” — training host nation forces to conduct counterinsurgency — in favor of the more glamorous direct-action missions.

The officer said Lute believes that special operations forces, particularly Special Forces, “are the right force” to send to Afghanistan because of their skills at teaching foreign internal defense.

This might explain the special operations hierarchy’s opposition to Lute’s surge proposal, the field grade-officer in Washington said. “This is an implicit criticism of what SOF has done for the last five years,” he said. “They haven’t been training indigenous forces. That may be what SOCOM is objecting to, is it’s implicitly a critique of SOF’s over-fascination with direct action.”

It has come full circle, from Lute’s belief that training some Afghan soldiers can solve the problem – or so says the source – to the potential that this proposition is a critique of the evolved SOF mission and a charade, to the campaign that has grown beyond anything that the SOF can possibly handle alone.

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know our position, and we believe that this political maneuvering is disgusting and despicable.  The SOF navel-gazing is embarrassing, and it’s time for both the SOF and the American public to graduate beyond the Rambo understanding of irregular warfare where a SOF operator or two is turned loose in the jungles or deserts and the whole world changes in a day or two because of the thousands of rounds discharged from his weapon.

Really.  This is the stuff of children, adolescents and un-reformable movie-goers.  Can’t we be more serious about our military strategy than this?  Afghanistan will require political and financial investment, force projection (Army and Marines), and – yes – SOF too.  SOF performs an invaluable role in small footprint international force projection, with their special skills in language training and similar “enablers” for their mission.  But the daydream of creating a few extra SOF operators to do the dirty work and returning the Army and Marines stateside is just that.  A daydream.  A small footprint for seven years is why OEF looks the way it does.  We need more serious reflection than that to build the strategies for the future.


Concerning Turning Over Afghanistan to Special Operations Forces

60 Minutes and the Special Forces Hunt for Bin Laden

The Cult of Special Forces

Another Disappointing RAND Counterinsurgency Study

Please take time to answer the poll question:

Finalized Command Structure Changes for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 9 months ago

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know that we’ve been critical of NATO. As far back as five months ago we were discussing and advocating a reorganization of NATO to report to U.S. CENTCOM, or at a minimum, removing U.S. troops from NATO command in Afghanistan. We also pointed out the red tape and utter confusion in NATO in everything from strategy to radio frequencies. As characterized by one Marine officer prior to operations in the Helmand Province, they had to “wait for the Elephants to stop dancing.”

Four months ago The Captain’s Journal continued to advocate realignment of forces, saying that “promotion of General Petraeus to Commander of CENTCOM without a realignment of U.S. troops to his direct command (they currently report to NATO command) removes the possibility for any strategic changes needed to make the campaign successful.”

One week ago we discussed the potential realignment in the works for the campaign, but continued to advocate more U.S. troops since many NATO troops are bound by overly restrictive rules of engagement. Now we learn that the realignment we have recommended is underway.

The BBC has learnt that a new-look command structure will drive the continuing fight against the Taleban in Afghanistan. will (sic) now be led by a change in the existing command structure.

US General David McKiernan will now command both the US and Nato forces who are currently based in Afghanistan.

General McKiernan told the BBC’s John Simpson that the move would create “a greater unity” among the forces. But the British Army has criticised the move, arguing that any big decisions will now be taken primarily by the US.

As we recently said, “Petraeus must have access to resources that will operate with regard to unity of command, unity of strategy and unity of mission. Time is short in the campaign, Pakistan’s intentions cannot be trusted, and the security situation is degrading.”

We’re thrilled that what we have advocated has come to pass.  Does CENTCOM read this blog?  As for the overall command structure change, regular readers of The Captain’s Journal heard it advocated here first, heard it announced here first, and studied the reasons for our advocacy.

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