The State of Play
The best way to view the current state of play in Afghanistan is to start at the top of food chain and work down to what is important. The presidential election remains undecided and now Abdullah Abdullah has pulled out of the run-off election. Our Secretary of State says that means nothing. I agree but for different reasons; in the end it does not matter who is leading the country – the Afghan government will not be a proper COIN partner and will continue to be part of the problem regardless of how these elections turn out. Conducting a runoff will only give the bad guys more opportunity for mischief while accomplishing nothing.
Another big story from up the food chain concerned former Marine Captain Matthew Hoh who resigned from the State Department because he no longer knew why we are fighting in Afghanistan. As a fellow Devil Dog he will be spared my harsh opinion because that is the way us Marines roll – you want to hear us taking the piss out of fellow Marines you need to be wearing the Eagle Globe and Anchor. The only thing relevant about young Mathew is the level of play he is getting in the drive-by media.
This story is a brush back pitch to President Obama from his friends in the press announcing that the honeymoon is over. When the story broke Michael Yon and I chatted about it on the net and the first thing I asked him was how many Afghan villages had he been in which would not be thrilled to see a platoon of American (or ISAF but to the Afghans we are all Americans) infantry move in to stay for a long time? Like me the his answer was very few. Michael had been over much of this country often riding along with the Bot or I. I have been in a lot more places than Michael and can name only a few that would not immediately welcome the semi-permanent deployment of American troops. On his most important point Hoh is wrong as wrong can be.
Young mister Hoh stuck to his guns when offered a seat at the big table by the ambassador which showed commendable conviction and character. But the reason the military fights here is because it has been told to fight here. Once that decision is made the men (and often women) at the pointed end of the spear fight for each other. That is the nature of professional militaries. If our host nation government isn’t a reliable partner – that is on the State Department weenies. The Afghan government is not going to change – it is what it is.
The overall security situation is what it is too which not good in many places. The disturbing attack on a Kabul Guesthouse – which was UN MOSS (minimum operational safety standard) compliant and had some UN workers in residence again shows the bad guys can penetrate the tight security in capitol. It is a good thing the bad guys did not hit a real UN Guesthouse. Weapons are not allowed in UN billets but they are in all the others which turned out to be a good thing or there may have been many more internationals killed. In the big scheme of things this attack too is not enough to change the overall security picture but it could well be part of a disturbing trend identical to what we saw in Iraq in the fall of 2003. If the Taliban followed up with multiple attacks directed at internationals it would force all of us to operate like we did in Iraq back in 2005 and 2006. That would virtually halt all reconstruction activities until a massive security effort could be designed and staffed. That is not going to happen; all the sides in this conflict and all the surrounding countries are making too much money on the massive effort being expended in support of the Afghan endeavor. I do not believe the Taliban would interdict the gravy train even if they could – and they can’t.
If the Taliban had to strength and ability to really go after internationals they probably would but they don’t. But they can penetrate the Afghan security blanket which covers the capitol and cause all sorts of problems. The only way to prevent that and really the only way to have any real impact at all is to focus our efforts on the Afghan security forces. Our current mentoring efforts are not effective. We do not “embed” with the Afghans really. They are no Afghan liaison officers in any of the tactical operations centers resident in every battalion and brigade headquarters. An Afghan brigade HQ is a map table and a few radios – ours have dozens of people all with computer work stations and large video screens streaming in multiple feeds. We have hundreds of EuPol police officers here doing God knows what. They are not out with the Afghan police and seem to hang out in large purpose built building sending each other emails or surfing the internet. Kabul will be safe on the day you see EuPol officers or ISAF military out manning the checkpoints with the Afghans and not one day before that. Until then we will continue to see effective car bombing and armed raids. Check that – I doubt we will see more armed raids because in most of the Guesthouses I know in Kabul there are so many armed internationals that the bad guys would shredded by the time they made it past the gates.
If we want to rapidly build the Afghan Security Forces the only way to do it is to live and work with them 24/7. We need to adopt them, feed them, pay them, and watch after them. What can a US officer really do when the Colonel he is mentoring cannot feed his own troops because the money to buy that chow is siphoned off by officers above him? If they make a stink about it the Afghan Colonel is sure to be relieved and thrown out on the streets. The current mentors have guys fighting daily while dealing with problems they would never encounter in the American system. They do the best they can to support the unit they are assigned to mentor, but they are not really embedded. They live of separate compounds inside the Afghan compounds completely separate from their charges. Mentoring means leading by example while living and fighting with your host country troops. It does not mean setting up a parallel TOC, camp, cook house, offices, and coffee shop where the Afghans are not welcomed or allowed.
The military is bitching about the fact that the Afghan government is not a reliable partner and a big part of the insecurity problem. This is true but the military can’t change that. They can make the Afghan military part of the solution but not by treating them the way they treat them now. We need to get the troops off the FOB’s and out with their counterparts in the villages. We also need to pull out of areas where the local people do not want our help – which is not that many areas in the country as a whole.
Every officer in all the NATO forces is taught the Principles of Warfare which are pasted in below:
- Objective: Direct every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive and attainable objective. “The ultimate military purpose of war is the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces and will to fight.”
- Offensive: Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. Even in defense, a military organization is expected to maintain a level of aggressiveness by patrolling and launching limited counter-offensives.
- Mass: Mass the effects of overwhelming combat power at the decisive place and time.
- Economy of Force: Employ all combat power available in the most effective way possible; allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts.
- Maneuver: Place the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of combat power.
- Unity of Command: For every objective, seek unity of command and unity of effort.
- Security: Never permit the enemy to acquire unexpected advantage.
- Surprise: Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he is unprepared.
- Simplicity: Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and concise orders to ensure thorough understanding.
Not one of these rules are being followed in Afghanistan. Not one. The most important principal above is unity of command but we don’t come close. Gen McChrystal cannot tell his NATO subordinates to do a damn thing they don’t want to do- they will just call home to their respective capitols and tell the politicians to tell them not to do what they were just told to do but do not want to do. We have no mass and therefore cannot really do economy of force operations. Simplicity is a concept all but forgotten by the modern military and nobody can tell you in clear concise terms what the objective or our current efforts are.
The Kabul government will never be a reliable partner but the Afghan Army could develop into an effective force which, inshallah, could help drive Afghanistan into the functioning core of nation states (that should be our objective by the way.) General McChrystal should focus on that goal and continue with his efforts to send the REMF’s home, get off the FOB’s and get more troops into areas where they can protect the population.