The Momentum Is Not With Us

The 300 Marines of Task Force Southwest (TF Southwest) are on their way back to the Helmand province of Afghanistan to help stabilize the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in that part of the country. Based on the mornings news from the front it would appear they will be too little, to late.

Last night the Taliban staged an attack on the biggest base in the North of the country, Mazar-i Sharif, killing 140 young recruits who were in the base mosque for Friday prayers. How is it that an army, mentored by international military units for the past 15 years, cannot protect its young recruits from being slaughtered on its largest base? This is the biggest question of the day and one we can anticipate will never asked by our corporate media or explained by the senior American generals in Kabul.

But it’s worse than that because Mazar is not in Pashtun lands and the Tajiks and Uzbeks who comprise a majority of the population up north fought the Taliban back in the 90’s as part of the Northern Alliance. The Taliban is a mainly Pashtun movement and seeing the franchise branch out into the Tajik and Uzbek communities is a sign that the momentum is not going our way. There have been individual northern tribal fighters in the Taliban before but if the non-Pashtun tribes are now majority anti government it would seem that the game clock is rapidly running out.

Standing in front of the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i Sharif back when it was safe to travel the north.

Into the fray the Marines now enter without supporting arms or other combat enablers. They are not going to fight; their mission is to advise and assist which identical to the German army mission that is on the very base in Mazar that was attacked last night. The Germans suffered no casualties because the international advise and assist teams are housed on secure FOBs inside the Afghan FOBs where un-vetted Afghan troops are not allowed to enter.

And therein lies the problem. Mentoring of foreign armed forces is best done with teams who both train and fight with them. Advising officers after mounting (literally) a combat patrol to take you from your office to their office is ridiculous. You cannot put lip stick on that pig. Can it work? Hard to see how at this point.

Which brings up the question of what could the commanding general, Army LtGen John Nicholson,  (no relation to Marine Corps LtGen Larry Nicholson who has been featured in this blog several times) be thinking when he asked for a few thousand more troops to help train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)? That question was answered for me by BGen Roger Turner, the Commanding General of TF Southwest. He said the Afghan security forces in general and the Afghan army specifically have improved to the point where with  a little extra mentoring and support they can turn to corner and become self sufficient.

Marines from TF Southwest heading into the Helmand. BGen Roger Turner is on right. (Photo by Cameron Glendenning)

General Turner, who I have known for a long time, is nobodies fool. He is a bright, tough and more importantly, intuitive combat leader. General Nicholson has been at his job for over a year and also has a stellar reputation. Both of these men have been handed tasks that, in my humble opinion, cannot be achieved. But I don’t know what they know and will give them the benefit of the doubt.

Mainstream press coverage of this deployment has been uniformly uninformed, as has has the normally more accurate alternative media. This story posted on Brietbart yesterday is a good example. Read it and think about what you know on the topic when you’re finished. Then scroll through any of the last 10 posts on this blog and you’ll see what I mean. Apples versus oranges.

There is no indication that the momentum in this conflict is shifting towards our side. It clearly belongs to the various groupings of Taliban, ISIS and the other armed opposition groups and drug running syndicates that flourish countrywide. And then there is the annoying fact that the picture being painted by the Resolute Support mission staff differs (dramatically) from reality. This backgrounder PDF released by NATO states the following about ANSF attrition:

Reducing attrition is essential for the long-term viability of the ANSF, especially with respect to retaining quality personnel. If total strength objectives are increased in the future, attrition must be reduced even further. Average monthly attrition rates are 2.6% in the ANA and 1.29% in the ANP. The ANSF’s goal is to reach an attrition rate of less than 1.4%. On average, the ANSF consistently gets 6,000-9,000 recruits every month

Those rates of attrition are (to be charitable) suspect. This week Steve Inskeep of NPR had an interview with the author of a new book,  Our Latest Longest War, LtCol Arron O’Connell, USMC.  This book may well be the best yet from the military perspective on the Afghan conflict and I cannot recommend it more highly. Here is a portion of the interview:

O’CONNELL: I believe we’ve been trying to help them out of the tragic story of Afghanistan for 15 years. Americans are big-hearted people. The United States is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. But there is still space to reason what the appropriate amount of blood and treasure is to spend on a mission that seems to be in stalemate at best, backsliding at worst.

I think we have pretty good evidence now, both from Iraq and Afghanistan, that the massive assembly-line attempt to produce capable, professional national security forces has not worked well, and it’s been at tremendous cost. And for all those who say we should just keep doing what we’re doing in Afghanistan, let me explain why that’s not sustainable. Every year, between a quarter and a third of the Afghan army and the police desert. Now, these are people that we have armed and trained. We’ve given weapons to them. We’ve given them basic military training. And every year, a third of them disappear.

INSKEEP: With the guns.

O’CONNELL: With the guns. That’s not sustainable for us economically, and it’s certainly not sustainable for the Afghan people to just fill the hills with armed militias.

That sounds a little higher than 2.6% per month but 2.6 x 12 = 31 so the NATO brief is about right but looks better than the stats provided in the interview above.  And this is why I feel it imperative to go back and cover this deployment. There is too much blood and treasure riding on this mission to condemn it to the mediocre coverage of the main stream media.

If you have the means and are interested in the truth regarding the situation in Afghanistan then please take the time to visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page and donate. We all deserve the truth about what is being done in our name and the only way to get it is to send someone over there who understands what he’s seeing and has the depth of knowledge to give context and background to his reporting.

After making a generous donation it would be appropriate to say a quiet prayer for the men and woman of TF Southwest. Their going need all the good karma in the world to pull this off. My money is still on them.

5 Replies to “The Momentum Is Not With Us”

  1. >There have been individual northern tribal fighters in the Taliban before but if the non-Pashtun tribes are now majority anti government it would seem that the game clock is rapidly running out.

    This has been coming for a long time:
    http://gandhara.rferl.org/a/afghan-taliban-detail-fight-against-uzbek-is-fighters/27397739.html

    http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/04/20134910314648770.html

    Tajiks, by the way, are doing the same math. And up in Tajikistan:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulmurod_Khalimov

    The point is that with the inevitable collapse of the Kabul regime, it’s either going to be the Talibs or IS taking over. If you’re an Uzbek/Tajik, you want to have favors to call in when that happens.

    >He said the Afghan security forces in general and the Afghan army specifically have improved to the point that with a little extra mentoring and support they can turn to corner and become self sufficient.

    I’ve never heard that line of bullshit before, ever. Especially not from every single officer tasked with training the Iraqis or Afghans ever.

    When you have guys who’ve been selected for 20 years to only say “yes” and never say “no,” what other answer can you expect? It’s like the USSR: everyone is absolutely sure that Communism is right around the corner…with a little extra mentoring and support.

    >That sounds a little higher than 2.6% per month no?

    That sounds like 2.6% a month times 12 months.

    If I were in the Afghan Army, I’d desert, too.

    1. One of my other buddies pointed out my amazing math skills deserted me on that one B and I already corrected the post. And were I an Afghan I too would not be in the ANSF which is why I’m so interested in how exactly this is going to work. And this will shock you – RS (which replaced ISAF) is making it almost impossible to get an embed. If you’re not in the 5 star correspondents club it is not only nearly impossible to get them to answer an email and what they are asking you to do (by checking in with the MOI in Kabul) is almost suicidal. I can navigate Kabul without drama but I have no idea how any other journalist can do the same. Know why? I think it was because they have done with media what they did with security companies which is to force them to become Afghan only operations.

      1. Yeah, I think I know exactly why they are making it impossible for a non-lackey correspondent to embed.

        It has something to do with your other question: how exactly this is going to work.

        Answer: it’s NOT going to work. They all know it’s not going to work.

        And therefore, they need to eat this shit sandwich without getting any spillage on the place where they want to pin their stars.

        And therefore, they need correspondents who don’t make them look like they are incompetent or liars (which, of course, they must be, because giving an honest, on-the-record assessment of this mission and its prospects to the public or a superior would be lethal to one’s career.)

        The worst thing that could happen is some guy like you shows up and does to them what Yon did to Menard, even accidentally-especially accidentally, because then it can’t be dismissed as a personal axe to grind.

        Forgive my cynicism.

        1. Good points B but I thought knowing the general officers in charge of the lash up would get me access and, as far as I know, I’m still tracking for the embed. Maybe with Mattis in Kabul the chances of “more of the same; results be damned” will end but I doubt it because the military really doesn’t have another playbook to use. They failed in Afghanistan and although there a dozens of books explaining in great detail why they failed there have been no books (except for Jim Gant’s papers on The Tribes) describing any way forward. As we both know the only way to get credibility with the Afghan people is to live with them, share the risks, and stay there for years on end so that the people recognize you as friend not foe. We did it, Jim Gant did it, there was a handful of Kabul based Brits who also put the time in and could take anyone anywhere in Kabul. But the military – who knew that rotating in and out a couple times a year was less than optimal can do nothing else. Obviously the imperative that the mission has priority in now meaningless.

          1. There’s no way forward because the problem is political, not military.

            The way to take a place over and make it run the way you want it to run, is to run it.

            That’s called colonialism, and destroying colonialism is something the US has been obsessed with since, I don’t know, 1900? They were giving the Brits a rasher of shit about it all the way up to WW1. The Brits took it because, like idiots, they were focused on destroying the Germans.

            In WW2, the US completely coopted British and French sovereignty-who pays the bill calls the tunes-and made ending colonialism an explicit part of the UN charter they wrote halfway through the war. And when they won the war, they gave half the globe to their commie buddies to enslave, and destroyed colonialism in the other half. Belgian, French, British colonialism were reviled and destroyed. Which ended responsible government in a huge chunk of the world and created lots of jobs in USAID, the CIA, NGOs, etc.

            Having done all that, the US can’t very well ideologically make a u-turn and say “the only way this thing will work is if we run it.” And they can’t say “you guys figure your countries out, we’ll be available by email if you want to buy or sell something.” The US can’t rule Afghanistan and it can’t let the only people who can rule it (the Talibs) take over. Same goes for Iraq, etc.

            So it’s endless, unwinnable war, with periodic pronouncements about how good it’s going, now that we painted the reflective belts a new color.

            The only guys at the top level of the military who stick around for 20-25 years to play this game do it because they like it. Why else?

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