The coverage of the impending arrival of General Petraeus to take charge of the Afghan Campaign has been intense. Pundits both big and small have been offering anaysis almost non-stop – I’m getting Petraeus fatigue reading all this junk. But for those of you who haven’t reached that point yet here is my contribution on The Aloyna Show:
Apparently this move was greeted by the White House press corps as pure genius on the part of the President and on that I am not too sure. Granted this is an inspired choice and a much better one than I feared would be made. I still think General Mattis was the best choice for the job because there needs to be serious reform to how the ground troops are deployed, missioned, and supported with both air and surface delivered fires. It will be difficult for Gen Petraeus to introduce changes in the ROE because McChrystal worked for him and the current operational constraints iritating the troops had to have been approved by Central Command.
Changing up the ground game is an urgent requirement but it won’t fix the inherent problem with our efforts in Afghanistan nor has President Obama created conditions he needs to get anything resembling an adequate outcome. The Rolling Stone article showcased a dysfunctional senior team which is not exactly news to anyone paying attention for the last 18 months. The President had the opportunity to clean house by bringing in a new ambassador, relieving Holbrooke of his Czar duties, because the position is confusing and Holbrooke annoying, and then focus the new team on defining an acceptable end-state and getting the hell out of here.
The President made a choice which probably seemed to be wise under Chicago rules but was not too damn bright when viewed through the lens of Grand Strategy. Petraeus made President Obama, his V.P. Joe Bidden and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton look bad. Really bad. When he appeared before the Senate before the Iraq surge those three senators made asses of themselves. Now they give Petraeus a slight demotion (I guess because he still reports to CENTCOM) and an impossible task as a little payback for past slights and whatever hand Petraeus had in engineering the relief of McChrystal’s predecessor Gen McKiernan. They sent Petraeus here to fail because even our President and the group of home town dim wits he surrounds himself with know that the military cannot win this thing alone.
Time for a little H.L. Menken; to wit:
“The older I grow the less I esteem mere ideas. In politics, particularly, they are transient and unimportant. …. There are only men who have character and men who lack it.”
Character – that is all that really matters now…does Gen Petraeus have character? Pulling this goat rope together requires a dynamic leader who motivates the troops, both Afghan and ISAF, for the trials ahead. I know Gen Mattis could do that because he’s done it, but Gen Petraeus? We shall soon see. I am not encouraged by this exchange in the oval office (hat tip to Herschel Smith at The Captains Journal:)
Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?
Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame, Petraeus replied.
Good. No problem, the president said. If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?
Yes, sir, in agreement, Petraeus said.
Yes, sir, Mullen said.
The president was crisp but informal. Bob, you have any problems? he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.
The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now, he said. No one said anything.
Tell me now, Obama repeated.
Fully support, sir, Mullen said.
Ditto, Petraeus said.
The Afghan Security Forces will not be ready in 18 months and everybody knows that. But that was then and this is now. Gen Petraeus brings with him great stature. If he asks for more troops it is hard to see how he could be turned down? If he reports that he will need more time what can Obama do but give him more time? One of the most salient facts concerning the Iraq surge which has disappeared down the memory hole is that President Bush pushed that plan on the Pentagon – President Obama doesn’t have a plan to push which means the Pentagon will be dictating to him and not the other way around
The military focus remains on Kandahar which has been a disaster to date. We said we were coming and have been shaping the battle field with SF hits designed to take out Taliban leaders. They have had some success but it is not working out like we hoped. The purpose of removing battle leaders in violent night raids is to sow discontent between the troops in the field and their pay masters back in Quetta. That did not seem to work out in Marjah and in Kandahar it is the bad guys who are running up the numbers from their own JPEL list. This from Thomas Ruttig in Foreign Policy:
“Kandahar’s deputy mayor Azizullah Yarmal, Abdul Majid Babai the head of the province’s culture and information department, Abdul Jabbar the district governor of Arghandab and Haji Abdul Hai an Abdul Rahman Tokhi the tribal elders — all killed in the past few months. Not to talk about Matiullah Qate the provincial police chief killed by the thugs of a guy who calls himself the Nancy Pelosi of Kandahar’ and the uncounted other Afghans.”
Attempting to Decapitate the southern Taliban just is not working. If somebody removed all the CEO’s from fortune 500 companies would that automatically mean the companies would fail? If we lost all 100 of our current senators would our political system be worse or better off? The enemy always has a vote in war and their vote regarding Kandahar was for us to bring it on. Our response? Wait a minute ….we need a do over.
Kandahar is a must win situation of our own making and moving Walid Wali Karzai out of the way so that the new Governor, Tooryali Wesa (a Canadian citizen) can function with the required authority is a critical task which has fallen on Petraeus. Marja, although called a “bleeding ulcer” in the Rolling Stone piece is not over and could end up an overall success. C.J. Chivers from the New York Times has been filing a steady stream of excellent reports and assessments from his embed with the Marines. His latest on Marja is a fair description of what is going right for the Marines as well as the cost. The current rules of engagement are restricting the Marines use of fire and thus their ability to maneuver in contact. The price for that is lost momentum which translate into slower operations. Which means Marja is costing more time than we anticipated which happens in War and is not necessarily an indicator of failure.
Both Marja and Kandahar are shooting wars. Groups of fighters who attack our forces in those areas need to be crushed decisively each and every-time they encounter us which we can do now and have done before. I have been very critical of the military over the needless deaths caused by dysfunctional procedures to “protect” convoys which have killed over 600 Afghans while not stopping one VBIED attack. I have heaped scorn upon the military and intelligence systems which allow the senseless bombing of wedding parties and I think the current application of Special Forces attempting to kill or capture high value targets is stupid. But when our troops are in contact their priority is to maintain contact until their tormentors are destroyed. If the bad guys go to ground in a local compound too bad so sad for the people caught in the middle which is exactly our response to non combatants who happen to be danger close during a Drone strike. There is a word for situations like that “war.” If local Afghans don’t like it when the effects of war are visited upon them they should make a greater effort to keep the villains away. That may not be fair but there isn’t a damn thing fair happening in the life cycle of your average tenet farmer in Afghanistan. And look at what popped up on the wire just now? Petraeus to modify rules of engagement – well there you go.
The Taliban ROE is unchanged despite proclamations to the contrary. Yesterday ISAF found 10 beheaded bodies of local men in the south. They don’t seem too concerned about generating scores of anti Taliban fighters as they knock off more and more of the tribal leadership. A famous military quote, attributed to both Andrew and General Stonewall Jackson is to “never take counsel in your fears” which is a bit of wisdom the Taliban have taken to heart in their combat operations and one which we ignore at our own peril.
So now Petraeus comes east to take over the war while fine tuning the “Clear Hold, Build” tactical approach. Let us hope he has some success but the fact is unless he changes his entire ground scheme his efforts will produce marginal results. It is time to let the Big Dog have his say and so I leave you with a down and dirty assessment from my father MajGen J.D. Lynch USMC (Ret.)
The clear phase is a military responsibility. There is an impressive number of military personnel in Afghanistan today. I have not seen a breakdown of the ratio of infantry to support troops but suspect that the infantry number is, on a relative scale, low. There are two basic ways for the infantry units to operate in Afghanistan. One is to live and work with and among the people. The other is to live on and operate from, Forward Operating Bases (FOB’s). The former is the course of action more likely to bring positive results. The latter, appears designed with force protection as the dominant factor. I have often wondered if, somewhere, there is an analysis of the infantry strength living among the people and the infantry strength operating from FOB’s.
Despite probable inefficiencies in the use of available infantry units to clear areas as they operate from FOBs , the fact remains that the clear portion of the strategy could be executed with some degree of success.
The hold phase is where the strategy’s serious problems start. There are not enough infantry to clear an area, then hold it for reconstruction projects. Resultantly, the Afghan National Police (ANP) are the logical force to hold a cleared area. Despite the millions of dollars expended to train ANP, there appears to be a shortage. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the bulk of the population, with ample reason, considers the ANP to be a corrupt, untrustworthy, and illegitimate organization. This problem is compounded by the fact that the bulk of the population also holds the same view of the Karzai government. They consider the central government to be a corrupt, irrelevant entity. The result is that large segments of the population want nothing to do with the ANP or other representatives of the Karzai government intruding on their lives.
The build phase is now largely a figment of the imagination. Neither the major companies operating from FOB’s nor the more agile, smaller companies who live and operate with the Afghan population can operate in the absence of a hold force.
In the final analysis, the three prong national strategy has two broken or missing prongs. It is a charade summing to the point that the problem and its cures are essentially in the political, vice military, realm. It becomes an even greater charade when the world, including our enemies, knows that the U.S. will start withdrawing forces from Afghanistan in July of 2011. The most disgusting reality of all is that the charade and its continuance mean that the lives of American military patriots are being squandered, ruined and/or wasted for no valid reason.