There was an article floating around the news on Afghanistan last week that got my immediate attention. The article had a one day life cycle and have not seen any follow ups about it, which, given the content, is surprising. I am not referring to the change in night raid policy which I couldn’t care less about. The less of them the better as far as I’m concerned because I don’t think they accomplish much. The current argument for them is that the tactical situation on the ground would be much worse without them. I’m not seeing how it could get much worse. The big news (for me) was an article running titled Details Emerge on Coming U.S. Offensive in Eastern Afghanistan. One can only hope it was another April Fools prank because I cannot believe we would do something so utterly pointless. Here are the alleged objectives:
A senior U.S. government official in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new troops will have three primary missions. First, they will work to expand the so-called security bubble surrounding the Afghan capital, which has been battered by a spate of insurgent attacks in recent months. Second, they will try to better connect Kabul with the key southern city of Kandahar, a hotbed of resistance that NATO forces largely reclaimed last year.
The third mission will be the most important, the most complicated, and potentially the most dangerous. The troops, the senior government official said, will move toward the Afghan-Pakistani border as part of a broad push to reduce the numbers of antigovernment fighters, weaponry, and bomb-making material flowing in from Pakistan, where militants operate freely from large safe havens.
Extend the “security bubble” from Kabul to Ghazni, clear route one from Kabul to Kandahar and then turn east and clear all the Taliban from the border provinces of Paktya and Khost with 5000 extra paratroopers? That’s not going to happen. That plan is not only DOA; its crazy.
Late in the Soviet Afghan War the Soviets tried the same kind of Op for probably the same reasons only they had 28,000 men trying to clear a tiny piece of road running from Gardez to Khost. The Soviet Offensive was called Operation Magistral and if you’re a gamer and have played The Battle For Hill 3234 you were playing a game based on a battle from Operation Magistral. It took two months for Soviets and their Afghan partners to get to Khost and the offensive was conducted in November through January – the non fighting season when the weather is cold, the snow deep and most of the Muj fighters still sitting out the winter in Pakistan.
Number comparisons between Soviet forces back in 1987 and American forces now are irrelevant. The Soviets had to dig out the thick belt of heavy weapons the Muj used to fortify the Satukandav Pass (30 km east of Gardez) using infantry fire and maneuver. Americans have drone pilots back in Nevada who could sort that out. Any Taliban fortifications uncovered by our side would get plastered by rockets and 2000lb JDAMS. That’s why the villains now use IED’s and, when they do fight, they do so in areas of heavy civilian populations so they can drop their weapons blend back into the normal pattern of life when hard pressed. The area between Highway 1 and the Pakistan border is huge and has heavily populated flat lands with lots of mountains in between. It is not the Helmand Province where the Marines were able (with twice the manpower) to dominate the lower Helmand basin in large part because terrain, vegetation, and population density favored their direct fire weapon systems. That still took years and I don’t want to get into what that effort cost in casualties because it is too damn depressing.
The reason I bring up Operation Magistral is not to point our the Soviets had 28,000 men and still got their asses kicked – they didn’t. The Paratroopers from the 82nd who are scheduled to conduct this offensive (if it happens as outlined in the article) won’t get their asses kicked either. But they’re going to take some casualties and they are going to inflict much more than they take and my question is to what end?
Brother _B_ and I were chatting on skype earlier trying to figure out why (if this story is even true) ISAF would launch an “offensive” in a heavily such a heavily populated area . _B_ figures its to demonstrate the “capabilities of the Afghan Army we have been mentoring while creating space to withdraw”. I agree – that is the classic reason to do this kind of operation but it showcases the Pentegon’s steadfast refusal to deal with reality. The whole American COIN concept is predicated on having a legitimate host nation partner and the ability to build host nation security forces. We do not have a legitimate host nation government to partner with and have failed to build capacity in the Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) above the battalion level while doing a decent job below the battalion level. Those of us who have been paying attention know that the USG knew this as early as 2004 yet what have they done to adjust course? We know how it is going to end – we’re going to lose soldiers while killing scores of Talib fighters and dozens of innocent civilians. The second we pull out, the turf will go right back into the hands of the local Taliban and/or the local Warlord. That is exactly what happened when the Soviets pulled out of the same area after inflicting a good thumping on the Muj back in 87. This planned offensive may well be the craziest idea floated by the military since Operation Eagle Claw.
Crazy seems to be a theme because guess what those crazy Afghans have done now? They are threatening Hillary Clintons legacy! This is from the linked article;
Clinton embraced the cause long before the first U.S. troops landed in the country, and as secretary of State she has brought Afghan women worldwide attention, political power and unbending promises of American support.
“We will not abandon you,” she pledged.
First, yes you will abandon them , you already have in most of the country. Second, what the hell does Hillary Clinton’s “commitment to women” have to do with the foreign policy of the United States of America? I’m all for helping Afghan woman and have done my share of projects in support of the effort but I was working for an NGO and NGO’s are the only appropriate vehicle for that kind of change because they work with the Afghan people and are not dictating to them from on high. Is anybody else in the Obama administration talking like this or are they talking about how great ANSF is in preparation for leaving? Why is the office of the Secretary of State now a platform where liberal ruling classes elites can indulge in pet projects supporting a personal legacy? Billions of our dollars and the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens hang in the balance and now the issue is Hillary Clinton’s legacy? The State Department had a lot to do with starting and shaping this conflict (if you break it you own it) while also single handedly creating the current dysfunctional central government by foisting their favored candidate and the SNTV voting system on the Afghan people. Nobody seems to remember that and all the problems they created are being swept under the rug instead of being mined for lessons on how to not make the same mistakes in the future. Hillary Clintons legacy….I’ve got her legacy right here;
Now that I got off my chest let me throw in some more pictures and get back on track.
Shortly after the first set of pictures above were taken ISAF decided that we were going to do COIN now and emphasize protecting the people. Every year since then the Taliban and other insurgent groups have grown stronger while not much has changed for the average Afghan. Yet ISAF and the American embassy have never stopped putting up more walls, more wire, and adding more movement restrictions which isolate diplomatic and aid staff even more than before (if such a thing is possible). Security for me but not for thee is what I had to say about this back in 2010, and not much has changed since. Admitting this seems to be problematic even for the practical people of Australia. From the linked article:
Australian officials have rejected a report commissioned by the government agency AusAID that is critical of the security assessment in Afghanistan, insisting it be rewritten to match upbeat claims of dramatic progress.
What can you say about that nonsense? What I’d like to say to any Australian government repersentitives reading this post is that The Bot and I can do a 3 year Provincial security assessment, in any province mind you, for 2.5 million (Australian dollars please – they’re worth more than American dollars) and we’ll have teams on the ground in every district bringing in the ground truth within 96 hours of signing the contract. But we don’t do re-writes; that may seem a disadvantage, based on the article above, but look at this way: save a million here and million there and before you know it you have a budget surplus and are then politically strong enough to take the truth straight. And that’s how you should want your security assessments….right?
I don’t think there will be an offensive by ISAF in eastern Afghanistan – the conventional military has done all they can do and they know it. It is time for the infantry battalions to go home and leave it to the trainers, SF teams and other enablers ANSF needs to accomplish whatever their chain of command tells them needs to be done.