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Last night President Trump gave a solid speech about why he is committing American power and prestige to continue fighting in Afghanistan. It was a good speech that outlined some reasonable goals and contained the kind of one liners guys (and gals) like me appreciate. “We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists”. That sounds great until you think about who, exactly, are these terrorist we’re going to be smoke checking. Depending on how you look at it the “terrorists” could be every non Hazara Afghan residing beyond the confines of Kabul.
One of the other components of the speech was the refusal to give out specific numbers regarding the increase in American forces in Afghanistan as well as what these forces are expected to do. The most common number in the press, based on pre-speech background briefings, was an increase of 4,000 troops. Some of these troops are supposed to be supplied by our NATO allies but that’s not going to happen. There are only a few of those allies who have troops that can fight and they have no reason to go back for Operation Groundhog Day.
What will these troops be doing on the ground? It sounds like they are going to fight but who will would be doing the fighting, where are they going to fight, how long will they be fighting? We really can’t do that much fighting because we have a center of gravity that the Taliban understands well. We cannot afford to take casualties. The American people are not behind this effort and they are not going to tolerate a steady flow of body bags into Dover.
The stated goal of our continued effort in Afghanistan is to prevent the repeat of a 9/11 type of attack on the American homeland. 9/11 was planned and coordinated in Afghanistan by al Qaeda and some of them, as well as an ISIS franchise, remain in the country. But it is impossible to believe that, even if the Taliban took control of the entire country, one of those organizations would be allowed to plan and launch attacks on America. We are to continue fighting villains until we have “exposed the false allure of their ideology”. That too is not going to happen; their ideology is based on the Koran; there are no countervailing Koranic interpretations evident in Islam today that would push back against the Jihadi narrative.
Talking about changing our approach to Pakistan, increasing cooperation with India and holding the Afghan government accountable sounds like a reasonable course of action unless you know something about Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. How do you make the Kabul government “more accountable”? How can you get the Pakistani’s to stop funding cross boarder mayhem while at the same time inviting India to assume a much bigger role in Afghanistan? Pakistan will once again be critical to the logistical effort required for putting even more boots on the ground and thus holds the trump card in any dispute with us concerning what they are or are not doing in Afghanistan.
The strength of the Prince Plan was embedding trainers/mentors with the Afghan Security Forces at the battalion level and leaving the same team in place for years on end. That would have allowed the mentors to gain front specific knowledge regarding the tactics and personalities at the granular level and that in addition to their access to combat enablers (Tac Air and Artillery) could have been decisive.
Extended time on the ground in the same place also renders the number one Taliban weapon (IED’s) ineffective. Fighting on the same turf for years at a time provides the knowledge required to avoid IED’s as well as complex ambushes. Increased dwell time = increased tactical proficiency = decrease in combat casualties from IED’s. Increased dwell time is no longer in the cards meaning units who venture outside the wire during their 6 to 9 month rotations will take casualties they could have avoided had they been on the ground longer.
The Trump plan is not going to result in enablers at the battalion level; it will augment the Corps level training missions while (apparently) allowing those forces to sortie out of their FOB’s and take on Taliban formations when they deem the conditions favorable to do so. Job number one for all deployed forces in going to be avoiding casualties; focusing on the enemy and exploiting his weaknesses will be a secondary consideration which means “favorable conditions” will not necessarily translate into decisive defeats of various Taliban formations.
The Trump plan is placing the responsibility for our continued efforts in Afghanistan squarely on the shoulders of the Pentagon. But the Pentagon has major problems that are starting to manifest themselves. The latest evidence of this was the USS John S, McCain which collided, in broad day light, with an oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca.
Having transited the strait a couple of times aboard Naval shipping this accident is impossible for me to comprehend. The Strait has always had a huge pirate problem and when in the strait the normal navy watch crew (aboard gator freighters) is augmented by armed Marines. The McCain had no armed Marines but should have had an enhanced watch section with the crew on hair trigger alert to go to general quarters. That has been the standard operating procedure for over 50 years. We are hearing (just like the last ship collision) that maybe this was an intentional attack. That should have been expected and avoided and is probably not going to prove to be true. What is happening to the Navy is, I fear, the chickens coming home to roost.
The extract below from an excellent article in City Journal by Bob McManus sums up the current problem:
“….eight years under the leadership of a Navy secretary, Ray Mabus, whose social-justice priorities almost always took precedence over tradition, morale, training, and operational readiness. Under Mabus, according to the Navy Times, the service prioritized shipbuilding—not a bad thing, necessarily, but it came at a cost. The secretary “made a policy of directing money away from operations and maintenance”—that is, away from training of the sort that clearly could have prevented at least the Fitzgerald tragedy. (What happened on the McCain remains to be seen.) “At the same time,” the editorially independent publication reports, “Mabus pushed hard for major cultural shifts inside the fleet, including the inclusion of women in combat roles in the Navy and Marine Corps, unisex uniforms, gender-neutral ratings titles and opening the services to transgender service members.”
Pushed to the point of obsession, the Navy Times might have added. As a result, the Marine Corps ended the Obama years in a state of near-mutiny over the administration’s insistence on shoehorning women into front-line combat roles despite convincing evidence that they aren’t up to the task. Meantime, the Navy has developed a serious pregnant-sailor problem“.
The American military is no longer able to shoulder the burden of putting Afghanistan back together again. Our diplomatic service lacks the leverage to force change in countries who are not aligned with our goals. The Taliban have no reason to end its armed opposition to a central government that is weak, corrupt, and entirely dependent on foreign aid dollars. There is little hope on the horizon for the people of Afghanistan.