It looks like the new boss has convinced President Karzai to reverse his position on using tribal militias. The new name for these soon to be created Arbaki is Local Police Forces (LPF.) This is a plan which has been tried before with minimal success. In Kandahar the Local Defense Initiative (LDI) forces (the name for Arbaki from the past program) became active and were quickly targeted and decimated by the Taliban. In Kunduz and Takar they partnered with other armed opposition groups (AOG) to exploit the population and government supplies and in Parwan Province they flat out became the AOG. I’m not sure what is being modified to make this cunning plan more effective than the last time around but I do know this much – the plan is going to fail.
Alex Strick van Linschoten has coined the term “hope tactics” to describe the thinking behind arming various local cats and dogs and that sounds like a pretty good description to me. There is only one way to do this sort of thing and that is to supervise the security forces you are creating. Without supervision and training all you can do is hope the units you create end up becoming effective and hope isn’t a plan. Hope is where Bill Clinton said he was from, gabbing meaningless platitudes about “hope” is how we ended up with a President who is completely clueless. I’m sick of hope and also sick of seeing the same narrow list of options being tried over and over again adding yet another chapter to our legacy of failure in Afghanistan.
Last night Captain America (regional manager for Team Canada – 2 years on the ground with the US Army as a CA officer and four more as a contractor) rucked up to the Taj for our Thursday happy hour and we talked for a long time with the Skipper about why we are always fighting to maintain program funding, keep our safe-houses, keep our mobility and freedom to maneuver despite consistently exceeding program goals. No reason to hash over the details of our incredibly interesting conversation but there was a portion worthy of mention. CPT A asked if we could do vertical structures, I said we could, to which he said, “you know if we could just knock out 250 schools we’re done”. CPT A is taking his cash for work money and refurbishing district irrigation systems. He does about three districts at a time, employs around 5,000 laborers and is building proper intakes and installing concrete in main canals and karez systems so that they last. The roads into the Nangarhar districts are done, once we finish all the irrigation systems if we knock out 250 schools we can say “dudes we did what we said we were going to do and we’re taking off….good luck.”
CPT A was understating what needs to be done but not by much. He wrote the Provincial reconstruction plan back when he was in Jalalabad with the Army and knows more about it than anyone else on planet earth. But the chances that we would recognize a successful template and slim down our efforts to switch up on the hold and build game are zero. The reason it is zero is that doing reconstruction is irrelevant for the thousands of military staff, civilian governmental agency personnel, and their contractors who have deployed to Afghanistan. All of them have high level security clearances, they spend their days in inter-agency working groups designed to trim the bureaucratic red tape for efficiency and speed while reducing “stove pipes.” These people are all highly paid professional decision makers but they spend their time flying between FOB’s to brief each other and to participate in “fusion cells” designed to provide the battle commanders with useful information. The goal of our efforts has turned inward so that participating in the closed loop is now the job for most of the mid to senior ranked civilians and military personnel.
An incident like the attack on the DAI office in Kunduz last month gives this Classified Class weeks of work. Guys like the Skipper or CPT America, guys who get the job done day after day without any problems or hiccups – the Classified Class doesn’t even know they exist. There is no reason to track people doing their jobs as promised and without fanfare because they are not going to pop up on the classified nets. A gigantic Poppy Palace full of western aid workers getting attacked – that generates all kinds of classified message traffic and will require lots of flying around to other FOB’s to brief and participate in more emergency inter agency meetings and catch up with good friends. Want the truth? The Classified Class is spending millions of OPM to accomplish not one damn thing other than to feel good about how they spent their year in Afghanistan.
We also have no resilience in our reconstruction fight if we continue doing it the same old way. Kunduz is a perfect example; the contractor was in a large, well fortified compound with a professional international security company providing armed expat and local security experts. They faced a serious ground attack but the fortifications and armed guard force did its job killing the attackers before they could injure any of the clients. But now the contractor is gone, the programs they were working on abandoned which means the security plan was designed to survive one attack and one attack only. How can one expect to get the build portion of the current clear hold and build program completed if the people doing the build leave after one attack?
As our Thursday evening happy hour drew to a close the one thing we all agreed on was that our ability to operate in the manner we do is based on the years we have spent in N2KL because most people in most places know who we are, what we do, and know that we get the job done (reconstruction for Cpt A and I, EOD removal for The Skipper.) Reconstruction is not hard, establishing credibility is and that takes time in countries like Afghanistan. It also takes people who can operate on their own on the economy and not just survive but continue to function if attacked. That kind of thinking is not found inside the closed loop of the classified crowd. They do not know what they do not know. They can’t leave the FOB’s so they don’t have an accurate read on anything except what comes through the classified loop. Anyone who has dealt with that sort of information understands how limited it is.
Which bring us back to the Local Security Forces. This “inspired” idea of using locals to provide security will fail because nobody responsible for it will get off the FOB to provide daily detailed supervision. I can’t stress enough the importance of daily, full time, supervision. The Skipper’s EOD program works because he provides daily, detailed supervision, while EOD programs elsewhere in the country languish. CPT America is re-building the entire Provincial irrigation system because he provides daily, detailed supervision, while the same projects elsewhere in the country barely break ground. If we can’t get the various government agencies to operate off of the FOB then there is only one viable option. Armed, outside the wire, experienced, contractors.