22 April 2009

Afghan Surprise

A recent article from Politico had some interesting surprises in the new proposed Afghanistan policy. Some of the highlights include the following:

The Pentagon’s senior military leaders are worried that the security situation in Afghanistan is stalemated or deteriorating, and now are preparing a far-reaching plan that would prepare the U.S. military for a war that could last three to five more years, officials said.

This is one of those comments that I'll believe when I see, obviously, but it looks as if "The Long War" might not be that much longer. I had made some off-the-cuff remarks about not seeing Afghanistan going on much longer beyond the proposed troop surge, and I might have been more right than I knew. The question, of course, is what is NATO planning on doing in these three to five years?

A few sources (primarily John Boyd acolyte Bill Lind, who expresses some doubt over the validity of the information, so take that as you will) had claimed that there were two lines of thought dominating Obama's advisers. The first camp consisted of Secretary of State Clinton and General Petraeus, who advocated a much longer nation-building campaign. While admirable, John Nagl is quick to point out that nation-building efforts in Afghanistan would take an immense amount of money and time. The institutions for creating democracy in Afghanistan simply aren't there--illiteracy is high, and there is little one can do to improve economic development.

The second camp, advocated by Vice President Joe Biden, had advocated a more limited campaign, aimed at al Qaeda, and focused on stability. It looks as if the Obama camp, contrary to initial indications, is siding with VP Biden on this issue.

The United States invaded Afghanistan to root out al Qaeda, who was responsible for the September 11th attacks. While nation-building and establishing schools for women is certainly admirable, it is virtually impossible in Afghanistan. Even more difficult when one considers that President Karzai's latest law allows men to refuse to feed their spouses if their wives refuse to give them sex.

What is interesting in terms of counter-insurgency strategy is this tidbit right here.

The effort, which is being coordinated by the Joint Staff and is still in its early stages, is designed to create an experienced cadre of officers and senior enlisted soldiers, who would rotate between assignments in Afghanistan and at their home stations until the end of hostilities.

By doing so, the Pentagon hopes to end a problem that has plagued the effort in Afghanistan—the lack of familiarity with local conditions by U.S. forces who rotate in and then depart after a year, just when they are beginning to understand the area or the mission where they are assigned.

“These would be small groups who would deploy together for shorter periods, going back and forth to the same place and the same mission again and again, so they would know the culture and the terrain,” said a senior Pentagon official briefed on the plan, who said the teams could be asked to conduct training or other specialized counterinsurgency missions.

Until now, officers involved say, the Afghanistan war has been a secondary concern for the Pentagon, which has tended to view it as a short-term mission that took a back seat to the war in Iraq. “This is about finding an alternative scheme that allows us to provide continuity in Afghanistan without burning people out,” said the senior military official.

If you thought Iraq was complicated, Afghanistan's tribal communities are even more so. Afghanistan doesn't even have the luxury of a common language. In Iraq, Arabic is a common tongue--even the Kurds speak Arabic, for the most part. Not so much in Afghanistan, where tribal villagers have minimal contact with one another. In one of those great counterinsurgency paradoxes, techniques that work in one province might not work in another province. It is good to see that the military is building a corps of experts in Afghanistan--shorter (albeit more frequent) deployments might also be welcome, as well.

The idea of using shorter tours and returning to the same places repeatedly has been used for years by Marines and Special Forces units operated in Iraq. But the Joint Staff plan would clash with longstanding practices in the Army and other services, disrupting promotion schedules and normal deployment practices.

In the Army, for example, most officers do a tour in a combat unit, and then are reassigned to a new unit in an entirely different job. The Joint staff plan would change those practices, at least for the officers and enlisted soldiers chosen as members of these new teams.

One of the issues still to be resolved is how to restructure promotion system so that top-flight officers would not worry their careers could suffer if they spend multiple years in the same assignment, officials said.

Reminds me of Ken White, who responded to an article on Small Wars Journal with:

...Another example of the facts -- let me say again; facts -- that our training AND our personnel policies are still based on World War II models. Both systems require radical revision.

1 comment:

El Goyito said...

Yet another suggestion...
(1) pull 90% of U.S. forces out of Afghanistan.
(2) leave behind a training force which would continue to train the Afghan army.
(3) let the Taliban re-coalesce and reaffirm itself.
(4) re-enter Afghanistan with the lean and hungry (rested & retooled) U.S. forces to basically repeat the 2001-02 combat operations.
(5) repeat the cycle as many times as necessary or until the Afghan army gets its act together.

Otherwise Afghanistan becomes our 52nd state (Iraq being our 51st) and we'll be there mid-century or longer.