What To Do? Part One

The sun is setting over the Hindu Kush and tonight we finally end Ramadan and start the four day “Big” Eid holidays. The kids behind the Taj didn’t have any fire crackers so they dug up their Dad’s AK and shot off a magazine. By the time the guards and I got there in response their father was tanning the boys hides with vigor. Ammo is expensive here and the boys had just cranked off about 20 bucks worth; scaring the hell out of me and pissing their old man off to no end.  It is dark now and the local people are throwing firecrackers or cranking off automatic weapons at a sustained pace. Eid sucks for us because if there was a good time to attack a safe house full of internationals now would be that time. But at least Ramadan is over and the boys will step up their day game while stopping all the pissing and moaning about how thirsty they are or how they have no energy blah blah blah. It was refraining from smoking cigarettes that was really kicking their asses but they sucked it up well.

Afghanistan is getting considerable attention in the press lately.   Should we stay or go? Is this another Vietnam? Do we need more troops?  I found this quote today here from the President which clears things up (I guess.)

Each historical moment is different, Mr Obama said in an interview published yesterday. You never step into the same river twice, and so Afghanistan is not Vietnam.

I grew up on the Severn River in Maryland and went to the exact same spot on the river almost daily because my buddy Chris McConnel had a dock and a ski boat there.  Who knew you were not supposed to go into the same river twice back then? Better yet what the hell is the President talking about?

September 9th was Masood Day and here is a shot of one of parades in downtown Kabul
September 9th was Masood Day and here is a shot of one of parades in downtown Kabul

President Obama is on record as saying that Afghanistan is critical in order to prevent the return of the Taliban who will provide haven, support and bases to al Qaeda.   The problem is that al Qaeda has all the support and bases it needs in Pakistan. I am on record as saying that Afghanistan would never allow al Qaeda back inside its borders no matter who was ruling and the truth is al Qaeda has spent eight years reconstituting in the Northwest Frontier and doesn’t need Afghanistan – they are fine where they are. In fact the ties with their hosts are stronger and their overall security much better than it was when they operated out of Eastern Afghanistan.

When the President throws down a marker that big it makes it very hard to set conditions under which   we can leave.   The Taliban are not going anywhere – they live here.   Al Qaeda isn’t going anywhere either – they could not be more firmly entrenched in any other place on   the globe.

ANP checkpoint in Jalalabad which is similar to those found all over Afghanistan. This was on election day and the police were being attentive. During Ramadan they seldon stop anyone and they never fool with traffic at night. Think some real mentorship could make these guys more effective? You have to get off the FOB and live with these cats to do that and we are not anywhere close to doing that.
ANP checkpoint in Jalalabad which is similar to those found all over Afghanistan. This was on election day and the police were being attentive. During Ramadan they seldon stop anyone and they never fool with traffic at night. Think some real mentorship could make these guys more effective? You have to get off the FOB and live with these cats to do that and we are not anywhere close to doing that.

We had a chance to finish Bin Laden and blew it at Tora Bora. In hindsight it would seem we should have thrown everything we had into the fight to finish him off but we didn’t. The first hand account provided by Dalton Fury indicates that Colonels back in Bagram Airbase put the breaks on the American Special Forces troops who could have flooded the mountain in an all out effort to Kill Bin Laden. According to this account the Colonel in charge was a Mogadishu vet and did not want to see his men chewed up because they lacked proper fire support. I would like to think that were I in that Colonels place I would have fragged as many birds as I could, rounded up as many troops as I could and flew into Tora Bora to make an all out assault on Bin Laden. Nothing was more important than killing that shitbird and if it cost a lot of American lives so be it. As long as I was there sharing the risk and hardships that is – you can’t be frantically flinging troops into a meat grinder while in remaining in the rear – that is a huge Bushido Code violation.

But I wasn’t there and have the clarity of 8 years hindsight so perhaps my criticism of this lapse are unfounded but that action meant the mission failed and it was the most important mission of my generation. I know two things; good losers lose and the day Bin Laden got away was the day we lost the war in Afghanistan.

Western Armies are not good at counterinsurgency warfare. They do not have the people or formations who can embed in the local community. Western Armies can no longer deploy formations overseas for years at a time. They are not willing to use the tactics required to win which involve not only high risk but lots of killing.   Sri Lanka just won an unbelievably long and bitter counterinsurgency. Do you think if the Taliban leadership surrounded themselves with tens of thousands of non combatants we would kill all of of them to get that leadership? That is what Sri Lanka did .   There are some who believe the military is under performing on purpose.   Stephen Henthorne who is a Senior Adviser on the Joint Interagency – Multinational Stability Operations ISAF staff recently sent a memo to the National Security Adviser General Jones where he all but accused the Army of insubordination; check this out:

“Please trust me when I tell you that General McChrystal’s two man Civil-Military Campaign Planning team in the Pentagon, if they are in fact working for General McChrystal, will never be able to give the President an effective Civil-Military Campaign Plan for Afghanistan. There is a growing belief, that a Civil-Military Plan for Afghanistan is being designed to fail. This seems to be so much the case that the War Fighter Insurgency, that has been written about since 2004, might well be more accurately termed today a War Fighter Mutiny.

See the link for more on the “War Fighter Mutiny” but I do not think it is a mutiny at all.   The military has pulled its weight the best it can but that is clearly not good enough.

The price for failing to mentor - secure zones in key cities like Kabul can only be secure if we make them secure. The Afghan Security Forces are clearly not up to the task. This is a Reuters phot from yesterdays attack on an Italian convoy travelinig down the main road to the Kabul International Airport
The price for failing to mentor – secure zones in key cities like Kabul can only be secure if we make them secure. The Afghan Security Forces are clearly not up to the task. This is a Reuters phot from yesterdays attack on an Italian convoy travelinig down the main road to the Kabul International Airport

The military is not conducting a “warfighters mutiny”  it is performing as best it can but our military was designed in the past with the technology of the past to face problems from the past.   It is good at fighting peer level threats. It is not good at fighting counterinsurgencies. While our senior military leaders were spending years in school on topics such a ethics in combat and the law of land warfare the Afghans who we are now mentoring were killing people, lots of them.   Look at this report from last week:

Large numbers of members of the Mangal and Moqdil tribes have clashed over timber rights. Reports of  25-60 fatalities have been received. The Governor of Khost has gone to the area to try to stop the fighting and disarm the tribes.

This is how scores are settled here – toe to toe with automatic weapons. This is why when ISAF tried to apologize for whacking all the civilians who were demanding their cut of fuel from the Taliban up in Kunduz the local people asked them to start killing more so that the Taliban would head back south.   We need a surge of Tony Soprano’s to work with the Afghans because mafia guys have more experience solving Afghan style problems.

There are those who dismiss the effectiveness of solving problems by killing people but it is one method that has proven effective over the years…just ask the Carthaginians or the Aztecs or the poor Beothuk Indians who once occupied Newfoundland. People of the west no longer consider such tactics appropriate and I concur as I know there are other ways to get what needs to be done done. My point is that our diplomats and officer corps are in no way prepared to deal with people who resort to indiscriminate killing as easily and naturally as a fish learns to swim.

EID is here and all the Afghan boys get a new set of clothes and a plastic weapon. These boy are just outside the main ISAF enterance and are a new crew - the old kids one always saw out there either perished or are recovering from the VBIED which detonated in this street last month.
EID is here and all the Afghan boys get a new set of clothes and a plastic weapon. These boy are just outside the main ISAF enterance and are a new crew – the old kids one always saw out there either perished or are recovering from the VBIED which detonated in this street last month.

Our collective military systems place a premium on education, obtaining advanced degrees, being polished, poised and articulate in all situations, being fit, wise and just but most important is being a consensus building team player with zero….and I mean zero defects in character and military reputation.   In America this system produces senior officers and enlisted men and woman who are most impressive. Our professional military education system produces great results if you are solving hugely complex symmetrical problems. It does not produce competent warfighters. Martin van Creveld wrote a book on this topic back in 1990   called The Training Of Officers; From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance where he was emphatic that we were warehousing officers in our schools letting them do nothing productive in the military context.

I actually met van Creveld when he came and hung out in Quantico back in 92.   After seeing him pop up at several of our field problems with his son in tow I asked him if he now thought better of his thesis now that he had spent time with the warrior monks of IOC. He looked at me squinting saying “I have never more certain of anything else in my life Captain Lynch.”

If the military is housing its officers in do nothing schools than they won’t know how to do something when they have to leave the US and perform modern problem solving on modern problems. It appears Gen McChrystal has recognized this to be a problem and is attacking it head on. Check out this quote from a piece which just came across the wire:

The key weakness of ISAF, he says, is that it is not aggressively defending the Afghan population. “Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect. . . . The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves.”


General McChrystal’s report covers the widespread corruption which characterizes the Afghan government. He takes head on the problem of the Quetta Shura, revitalized Al Qaeda, and the pointlessness of staying on FOB’s.   Man that is good stuff but how did it end up in the Washington Post before the Commander in Chief saw it?   Most of the long term observers in Afghanistan would agree with the report.   None of us expect the report to change how ISAF operates or change the trajectory of the Afghan Campaign. We lost the day Bin Laden walked away and we have been inflicting the death of a thousand cuts upon ourselves since 2001.   Part two of this post will address a way forward. But here is the thing – you cannot think “outside the box” when your first priority is to put all your troops inside boxes for their own protection. There are no school book solutions for Afghanistan there can only be short term stabilization and long term (modest) outside the box innovative solutions. Most of the problems currently plaguing Afghanistan can only be solved by Afghans.

There was a time when the boys of Kabul would wave, smile and ask for sanjook (chewing gum) but not now. These kids are the future and we should be paying much more attention to managing their perceptions then trying to get the adults to play by our rules.
There was a time when the boys of Kabul would wave, smile and ask for sanjook (chewing gum) but not now. These kids are the future and we should be paying much more attention to managing their perceptions then trying to get the adults to play by our rules.

15 Replies to “What To Do? Part One”

  1. Great post.

    There is one lesson from Northern Ireland that we should learn then that is that we need to watch the local authorities (police, civil administration even home grown spooks) like hawks.

    Only then can you prevent abuses, corruption and even report and stop collusion between local authorities and the more unsavory, corrupt or dangerously idealistic elements of your own force.

    Theres a reason why the British Army patrolled with RUC/PSNI Officers and manned Police stations in Northern Ireland and while it was partly to protect the Coppers, it wasn’t because the British were in cahoots with the then majority Protestant organisation. They were there specifically to keep an eye on them, make sure they didn’t get up to any funny business or collude with Loyalist Paramilitaries.

    There were bad apples, of course they were, the FRU was one but if the main force of Operation Banner (the 38 year lond mission in Northern Ireland) were allowed to keep closer tabs on the RUC and so on the illeigal operation would have been stopped earlier and fewer innocent people killed.

    Its the same here as you quite rightly point out. The best way to win the trust of the Afghan people is to get out there and mentor the ANP, Afghan Army and Afghan Security Services to death. Cut out the powerpoint crap and stick to the buggers like glue, follow them everywhere, jointly man their police stations and barracks, etc.

    None of this is being done or is being done with a bare minimum of resources and it stinks. We don’t need 4 man advisor teams or whatever the hell are there you need to get everyone involved on a rotating basis.

  2. Me thinks Obama is starting to sound like Rumsfeld did during those infamous press conferences. He’s choosing not to make a decision, while couching it in the unfortunate din of metaphor. Next he’ll be rewriting Rimbaud.
    “We need a surge of Tony Soprano’s to work with the Afghans because mafia guys have more experience solving Afghan style problems.”

    I really like and appreciate your forthright manner. I look forward to reading part 2.

  3. Tim,

    Two points —

    1) McChrystal says FOBs are not working. Amen, but guess what’s going up faster in Afghanistan? Nothing, these things are popping up everywhere and they simply do two things — separate the friendlies from the people we are supposedly here protecting. More importantly, they make big profits for large and small military defense companies. If nothing drives politics and military decision making it is money $$… No more explanation needed.

    2) You’re absolutely spot on that we suck at counter-insurgency. We called Iraq a success but if you read the papers (not the MSM) you will see sectarian violence is once again rearing its ugly head and before to long we will see Shia’s, Sunni’s, and Kurd’s going at it full tilt. As you know military and political careers are made over long periods of conflict not to mention Point #1 above…$$$$$ so along goes the train affectionally called the Afghanistan Civ-Mil Campaign Plan…

    At the end of the day there are a lot people deployed to Afghanistan but very few are outside doing anything. I would venture to say the scale of people actually doing “COIN” every single day compared to those who sit on FOBs throughout the country is probably somewhere around 100 to 1 or greater.

    In closing there is no chance of ‘getting rid’ of the Taliban and even identifying the irreconcilables will be a joke. At the end of the day we are mired in a country of corruption and I see no real long term success coming from our military involvement here. The Taliban will remain here long after we leave and the Karazai family will do nothing but successfully pad their Dubai bank accounts, continue to allow the country to mire in its corruption, and once Kandahar and Kabul fall again they will quickly jet out of the country to Europe living off the fortunes they will have amassed in the time since.

    Expending resources on building and maintaining FOBs is ridiculous but I have mentioned before that this form of warfare is not new. We’ve lived with it for the past decade starting in the Balkans, and so here we go again as more plywood and HESCO barrier mini-cities are built away from the very population we claim to serve and protect…

    Looking forward to Part 2…

  4. Great site. Great post. Can’t wait for Part 2.

    A few disagreements:

    1. Killing Bin Laden at Tora Bora would not have won the war. Our failure to deny AQ and Mullah Omar sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal areas was the critical failure. As soon as it was clear that the enemy was seeking refuge in Pakistan, the U.S. should have given the same ultimatum to the Pak government that we did immediately after 9/11: you will either help us eradicate AQ and its allies or you will be targeted as well. This, however, touches on your excellent point that the U.S. is reluctant to fight wars that may entail significant casualties.

    2. It is an exaggeration to say that the U.S. military is not good at fighting counterinsurgencies, at least in 2007 and 2008. Iraq is a perfect example of COIN done superbly. The Marines were doing this well by 2006 and Petraeus had Mosul completely pacified using COIN in 2003 until he was moved back to the U.S. and another commander (and Brennan) brought in who screwed up all the good work that Petraeus had done there. Your example of present-day Iraq is misplaced. There is no denying that the strategy employed by Petraeus and Odierno in 2007-2008 won that war and beat the insurgency, humiliating Al Qaeda. What is happening there today, however, is a cautionary tale in negotiating a terrible Status of Forces Agreement which resulted in U.S. forces being relegated to the FOB’s just as they were from 2003 through 2006. Essentially, we beat the enemy in Iraq using COIN and then promptly traded away the victory by giving the Iraqis way too much control over our forces and too much responsibility for security before the time was right.

  5. One point. You say “President Obama is on record as saying that Afghanistan is critical in order to prevent the return of the Taliban who will provide haven, support and bases to Al Qadea. I believe he said “in order to prevent the return of Al Qaeda…”, not taliban.

    I believe there is no winnable strategy nor any reason to stay there. It is lose-lose and departure will result in a lot of “timber” battles as various groups try to consolidate power. Not our battle.

    Again, excellent and insightful article.

  6. Bilbo,

    Bang on about sectarian conflict returning to Iraq. I read about the Iraqi government wanting to remove the peace walls (i.e. blast barriers) seperting Shia and Sunni neighborhoods with increasing alarm and dismay.

    Another Ulster fact, the peace walls in Belfast and Derry are still there after 35 years and a highly successful peace process and functioning coalition government. They are still there because nobody, not the police, the British government, or the Northern Ireland Executive can definitively say that sectarian violence won’t break out again if they removed the walls.

    Nobody in Iraq has even made that assessment in Iraq, let alone figure out an answer and blood will flow as a result. Mark my words.

  7. TS Alfabet…you are right, the vote and return of power to the soveriegn should be the last thing we do as we roll the guidons and leave Iraq. However, the single (most important) flaw (from a political standpoint) is that we rushed (both IZ and AF) the ‘popular vote’ as if this was some barometer of democracy at work. All we successfully did in IZ was give the down-trodden Shia’s the keys to the palace and since they are the majority who spent the last several decades under an oppressive Sunni Baathist the payback was extreme. Everybody always goes back to AQ but they were simply one violent actor in a series of groups doing the killing in IZ during the Patraues ‘success’ in Mosul and later IZ writ large. The Shia militias, Kurdish Peshmerge, and the Sunni-affiliates of AQ were (and to some extent still are) violent groups within IZ facilitating the agenda of those they represent. The single flaw in our metric of success for COIN in IZ was the temporary easing of hostilities, however, nothing was ‘fixed’ as it relates to centuries old ethnic hatred. This would require an occupation of decades by US and coalition forces and that will NEVER happen in modern day America under our current political system. Anyway, I stand by my assessment that the Taliban ideology (hence it is an idea not a finite group of actors) will remain for a very long time. Our military presence in AFG will do little to change that dynamic. I would go a step further and say our current policy of living in FOBs and allowing the Talibam freedom of maneuver among the very population we claim to serve is counter-productive. The Taliban provide security where there is none or worse a corrupt Afghan security apparatus who exploit their own. Mullah Omar’s rise to power came from his strict adherence to Islam and his stand against those warlords who were exploiting the very people they claimed to represent. The strategy is written well but I think the execution will fall short. It will take a major event to change the paradigm of the US military — force protection is paramount over anything else, plus the topics already discussed on this blog (lack of unity of command among the coalition, US military C2 that makes swift and effective action impossible, concern for the US casualty rate, and ROE that limits are forces from hammering the bad guys where necessary)…

    In America, Iraq is politically over…no matter how much the violence will increase there isn’t a politician in the running who will suggest a return to that place. I think we should stick to what we do best — high intensity, full contact combat (i.e. early stages of OEF and OIF) we have failed in the past quarter century at the long dwell occupation operations stuff. Bosnia is no closer to being fixed as is Kosovo or Haiti. I am about reinforcing success and sticking to what we do best. This COIN ideology phase will pass in the coming years as we drawdown forces in IZ and eventually AFG. The military industrial machine will continue to press for missile defense, strategic global force projection, and high-tech fighters, subs, and collection systems. We could save billions if we simply reached out to Mullah Omar and signed a deal that he not allow AQ to ever reside on Afghan soil, and should they (AQ) ever execute an attack against us from AFG we will once again bomb them back to the stone age. We are very good at that and I remain convinced we can do that effectively and efficiently…containment by superior technology and overwhelming firepower. The same with Pakistan, the next time a bomb goes off in western Europe or in the US and its traced back to the FATA. We are game on and let there be no doubt in the Pakistani government that they had better keep their ‘guests’ in check or we will rain down a firestorm on their ass. We can continue to do all the business ventures we want with Afghanistan once the Taliban stabilize the country and agree to play nicely. Same with Pakistan but again we reserve the right to defend ourselves and our allies at any time. I estimate we would save billions, if not trillions in taxpayer dollars.


    6.) Despite all of the media attention to the contrary, the facts are quite clear that the Department of Defense lacks the institutionalized solutions to support civilian led operations and meet future civil-military teaming requirements at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. We truly have not created a real, lasting, or stable, Peace in Iraq, or Afghanistan, because we are not conducting the in-depth joint training necessary to accomplish that desired end state.

    (7.) As a result we can’t truly stabilize Iraq, Afghanistan, nor can we train their soldiers or police to do it either. This lack of training is due to a War Fighter Insurgency within the U.S. Army, which still espouses, although in seemingly subtle ways, kinetic operations as their preferred method of operation; ways that, combined with the fact that truly no one in DOD is paying any attention to a very transparent problem, have re-enforced a U.S. Army kinetics first, last, and always, approach to operations.

    (8.) As we are all aware U.S. Army doctrine visualizes three major areas that comprise Full Spectrum (Stability) Operations, each of equal importance: Offense, Defense, and Stability. The requirement for the Army to conduct full-spectrum operations is derived from: The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), National Security Program Directive (NSPD) #44, DoD Directive 3000.05 (Stability Operations), and Army Campaign Plan.

    (9.) The War Fighter Insurgency, originally created in 2003, and allowed to continue to function through the administrations of two Secretaries of Defense, is an insurgency against the expressed mandate of the three DOD Directives listed in paragraph (7.) above, as well as the U.S. Army’s own Campaign Plan, and other documents, designed to enhance the Army’s ability to conduct stability operations.

    (10.) This insurgency is conducted with malice a forethought, in secret where possible, and with the intent to maintain the U.S. Army’s kinetic mission as paramount. Why? The U.S. Army General Staff understands kinetics. It does not understand non-kinetics, and lack of understanding breeds fear, and fear breeds avoidance. In short the U.S. Army was painfully unprepared in 2001, and this War Fighter Insurgency was born the day that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld made his famous statement that U.S. Troops would no longer do nation building. That continues to be the U.S. Army’s Raison d’être today for their resistance to seriously training for, or conducting, viable stability operations.

    (11.) It is literally impossible for the U.S. Army, the main provider of manpower and expertise to support U.S. national interests, to successfully transition to Phase 4 & 5 Operations [post combat stability operations], because the U.S. Army is not properly trained, and therefore the operations can not be properly planned, or executed, to make that vital transition. Quite simply, we may see what needs to be done, but we can’t do what needs to be done, because there is now a six year training void in how to effectively use our non-kinetic enablers; mainly Civil-Affairs. The War Fighter Insurgency is continuing to prevent that from happening.

    H/T: Grim

  9. Boy, there is a lot of stuff floating around about Afghanistan. From Biden’s secret Ninja plan, to training thousands of afghans for police and military to McChrystal possibly resigning.. Jeeze, what else? lol Anyhoo, I was wondering what your take was on this article Tim. Because whatever plan Obama and company come up with, all roads lead to training. Is it as dismal as the author points out, or is this a BS article? Cheers.
    Meet the Afghan Army
    Is It a Figment of Washington’s Imagination?
    By Ann Jones
    The big Afghanistan debate in Washington is not over whether more troops are needed, but just who they should be: Americans or Afghans — Us or Them. Having just spent time in Afghanistan seeing how things stand, I wouldn’t bet on Them.
    Frankly, I wouldn’t bet on Us either. In eight years, American troops have worn out their welcome. Their very presence now incites opposition, but that’s another story. It’s Them — the Afghans — I want to talk about.
    Afghans are Afghans. They have their own history, their own culture, their own habitual ways of thinking and behaving, all complicated by a modern experience of decades of war, displacement, abject poverty, and incessant meddling by foreign governments near and far — of which the United States has been the most powerful and persistent. Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point.
    In the heat of this summer, I went out to the training fields near Kabul where Afghan army recruits are put through their paces, and it was quickly evident just what’s getting lost in translation. Our trainers, soldiers from the Illinois National Guard, were masterful. Professional and highly skilled, they were dedicated to carrying out their mission — and doing the job well. They were also big, strong, camouflaged, combat-booted, supersized American men, their bodies swollen by flak jackets and lashed with knives, handguns, and god only knows what else. Any American could be proud of their commitment to tough duty.
    The Afghans were puny by comparison: Hundreds of little Davids to the overstuffed American Goliaths training them. Keep in mind: Afghan recruits come from a world of desperate poverty. They are almost uniformly malnourished and underweight. Many are no bigger than I am (5’4″ and thin) — and some probably not much stronger. Like me, many sag under the weight of a standard-issue flack jacket.
    Their American trainers spoke of “upper body strength deficiency” and prescribed pushups because their trainees buckle under the backpacks filled with 50 pounds of equipment and ammo they are expected to carry. All this material must seem absurd to men whose fathers and brothers, wearing only the old cotton shirts and baggy pants of everyday life and carrying battered Russian Kalashnikov rifles, defeated the Red Army two decades ago. American trainers marvel that, freed from heavy equipment and uniforms, Afghan soldiers can run through the mountains all day — as the Taliban guerrillas in fact do with great effect — but the U.S. military is determined to train them for another style of war.
    Still, the new recruits turn out for training in the blistering heat in this stony desert landscape wearing, beneath their heavy uniforms, the smart red, green, and black warm-up outfits intended to encourage them to engage in off-duty exercise. American trainers recognize that recruits regularly wear all their gear at once for fear somebody will steal anything left behind in the barracks, but they take this overdressing as a sign of how much Afghans love the military. My own reading, based on my observations of Afghan life during the years I’ve spent in that country, is this: It’s a sign of how little they trust one another, or the Americans who gave them the snazzy suits. I think it also indicates the obvious: that these impoverished men in a country without work have joined the Afghan National Army for what they can get out of it (and keep or sell) — and that doesn’t include democracy or glory.
    In the current policy debate about the Afghan War in Washington, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin wants the Afghans to defend their country. Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the committee, agrees but says they need even more help from even more Americans. The common ground — the sacred territory President Obama gropes for — is that, whatever else happens, the U.S. must speed up the training of “the Afghan security forces.”
    American military planners and policymakers already proceed as if, with sufficient training, Afghans can be transformed into scale-model, wind-up American Marines. That is not going to happen. Not now. Not ever. No matter how many of our leaders concur that it must happen — and ever faster.
    “Basic Warrior Training”
    So who are these security forces? They include the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP). International forces and private contractors have been training Afghan recruits for both of them since 2001. In fact, the determination of Western military planners to create a national army and police force has been so great that some seem to have suppressed for years the reports of Canadian soldiers who witnessed members of the Afghan security forces engaging in a fairly common pastime, sodomizing young boys.
    Current training and mentoring is provided by the U.S., Great Britain, France, Canada, Romania, Poland, Mongolia, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as by the private for-profit contractors MPRI, KBR (formerly a division of Halliburton), Pulau, Paravant, and RONCO.
    Almost eight years and counting since the “mentoring” process began, officers at the Kabul Military Training Center report that the army now numbers between 88,000 and 92,000 soldiers, depending on who you talk to; and the basic training course financed and led by Americans, called “Basic Warrior Training,” is turning out 28,800 new soldiers every year, according to a Kabul Military Training Center “fact sheet.” The current projected “end strength” for the ANA, to be reached in December 2011, is 134,000 men; but Afghan officers told me they’re planning for a force of 200,000, while the Western press often cites 240,000 as the final figure.
    The number 400,000 is often mentioned as the supposed end-strength quota for the combined security forces — an army of 240,000 soldiers and a police force with 160,000 men. Yet Afghan National Police officials also speak of a far more inflated figure, 250,000, and they claim that 149,000 men have already been trained. Police training has always proven problematic, however, in part because, from the start, the European allies fundamentally disagreed with the Bush administration about what the role of the Afghan police should be. Germany initiated the training of what it saw as an unarmed force that would direct traffic, deter crime, and keep civic order for the benefit of the civilian population. The U.S. took over in 2003, handed the task off to a private for-profit military contractor, DynCorp, and proceeded to produce a heavily armed, undisciplined, and thoroughly venal paramilitary force despised by Kabulis and feared by Afghan civilians in the countryside.
    Contradicting that widespread public view, an Afghan commanding officer of the ANP assured me that today the police are trained as police, not as a paramilitary auxiliary of the ANA. “But policing is different in Afghanistan,” he said, because the police operate in active war zones.

    Washington sends mixed messages on this subject. It farms out responsibility for the ANP to a private contractor that hires as mentors retired American law enforcement officers — a Kentucky state trooper, a Texas county lawman, a North Carolina cop, and so on. Yet Washington policymakers continue to couple the police with the army as “the Afghan security forces” — the most basic police rank is “soldier” — in a merger that must influence what DynCorp puts in its training syllabus. At the Afghan National Police training camp outside Kabul, I watched a squad of trainees learn (reluctantly) how to respond to a full-scale ambush. Though they were armed only with red rubber Kalashnikovs, the exercise looked to me much like the military maneuvers I’d witnessed at the army training camp.
    Like army training, police training, too, was accelerated months ago to insure “security” during the run-up to the presidential election. With that goal in mind, DynCorp mentors shrunk the basic police training course from eight weeks to three, after which the police were dispatched to villages all across the country, including areas controlled by the Taliban. After the election, the surviving short-course police “soldiers” were to be brought back to Kabul for the rest of the basic training program. There’s no word yet on how many returned.
    You have to wonder about the wisdom of rushing out this half-baked product. How would you feel if the police in your community were turned loose, heavily armed, after three weeks of training? And how would you feel if you were given a three-week training course with a rubber gun and then dispatched, with a real one, to defend your country?
    Training security forces is not cheap. So far, the estimated cost of training and mentoring the police since 2001 is at least $10 billion. Any reliable figure on the cost of training and mentoring the Afghan army since 2001 is as invisible as the army itself. But the U.S. currently spends some $4 billion a month on military operations in Afghanistan.
    The Invisible Men
    What is there to show for all this remarkably expensive training? Although in Washington they may talk about the 90,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army, no one has reported actually seeing such an army anywhere in Afghanistan. When 4,000 U.S. Marines were sent into Helmand Province in July to take on the Taliban in what is considered one of its strongholds, accompanying them were only about 600 Afghan security forces, some of whom were police. Why, you might ask, didn’t the ANA, 90,000 strong after eight years of training and mentoring, handle Helmand on its own? No explanation has been offered. American and NATO officers often complain that Afghan army units are simply not ready to “operate independently,” but no one ever speaks to the simple question: Where are they?
    My educated guess is that such an army simply does not exist. It may well be true that Afghan men have gone through some version of “Basic Warrior Training” 90,000 times or more. When I was teaching in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006, I knew men who repeatedly went through ANA training to get the promised Kalashnikov and the pay. Then they went home for a while and often returned some weeks later to enlist again under a different name.
    In a country where 40% of men are unemployed, joining the ANA for 10 weeks is the best game in town. It relieves the poverty of many families every time the man of the family goes back to basic training, but it’s a needlessly complicated way to unintentionally deliver such minimal humanitarian aid. Some of these circulating soldiers are aging former mujahidin — the Islamist fundamentalists the U.S. once paid to fight the Soviets — and many are undoubtedly Taliban.
    American trainers have taken careful note of the fact that, when ANA soldiers were given leave after basic training to return home with their pay, they generally didn’t come back. To foil paycheck scams and decrease soaring rates of desertion, they recently devised a money-transfer system that allows the soldiers to send pay home without ever leaving their base. That sounds like a good idea, but like many expensive American solutions to Afghan problems, it misses the point. It’s not just the money the soldier wants to transfer home, it’s himself as well.
    Earlier this year, the U.S. training program became slightly more compelling with the introduction of a U.S.-made weapon, the M-16 rifle, which was phased in over four months as a replacement for the venerable Kalashnikov. Even U.S. trainers admit that, in Afghanistan, the Kalashnikov is actually the superior weapon. Light and accurate, it requires no cleaning even in the dust of the high desert, and every man and boy already knows it well. The strange and sensitive M-16, on the other hand, may be more accurate at slightly greater distances, but only if a soldier can keep it clean, while managing to adjust and readjust its notoriously sensitive sights. The struggling soldiers of the ANA may not ace that test, but now that the U.S. military has generously passed on its old M-16s to Afghans, it can buy new ones at taxpayer expense, a prospect certain to gladden the heart of any arms manufacturer. (Incidentally, thanks must go to the Illinois National Guard for risking their lives to make possible such handsome corporate profits.)
    As for the police, U.S.-funded training offers a similar revolving door. In Afghanistan, however, it is far more dangerous to be a policeman than a soldier. While soldiers on patrol can slip away, policemen stuck at their posts are killed almost every day. Assigned in small numbers to staff small-town police stations or highway checkpoints, they are sitting ducks for Taliban fighters. As representatives of the now thoroughly discredited government of President Hamid Karzai, the hapless police make handy symbolic targets. British commanders in Helmand province estimated that 60% of Afghan police are on drugs — and little wonder why.
    In the Pashtun provinces of southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban is strong, recruiting men for the Afghan National Police is a “problem,” as an ANP commander told me. Consequently, non-Pashtun police trainees of Hazara, Tajik, Uzbek, or other ethnic backgrounds are dispatched to maintain order in Pashtun territory. They might as well paint targets on their foreheads. The police who accompanied the U.S. Marines into Helmand Province reportedly refused to leave their heavily armed mentors to take up suicidal posts in provincial villages. Some police and army soldiers, when asked by reporters, claimed to be “visiting” Helmand province only for “vacation.”
    Training Day
    In many districts, the police recently supplemented their low pay and demonstrated allegiance to local warlords by stuffing ballot boxes for President Karzai in the presidential election. Consider that but one more indication — like the defection of those great Islamist fundamentalist mujahidin allies the U.S. sponsored in the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s who are now fighting with the Taliban — that no amount of American training, mentoring, or cash will determine who or what Afghans will fight for, if indeed they fight at all.
    Afghans are world famous fighters, in part because they have a knack for gravitating to the winning side, and they’re ready to change sides with alacrity until they get it right. Recognizing that Afghans back a winner, U.S. military strategists are now banking on a counterinsurgency strategy that seeks to “clear, hold, and build” — that is, to stick around long enough to win the Afghans over. But it’s way too late for that to work. These days, U.S. troops sticking around look ever more like a foreign occupying army and, to the Taliban, like targets.
    Recently Karen DeYoung noted in the Washington Post that the Taliban now regularly use very sophisticated military techniques — “as if the insurgents had attended something akin to the U.S. Army’s Ranger school, which teaches soldiers how to fight in small groups in austere environments.” Of course, some of them have attended training sessions which teach them to fight in “austere environments,” probably time and time again. If you were a Talib, wouldn’t you scout the training being offered to Afghans on the other side? And wouldn’t you do it more than once if you could get well paid every time?
    Such training is bound to come in handy — as it may have for the Talib policeman who, just last week, bumped off eight other comrades at his police post in Kunduz Province in northern Afghanistan and turned it over to the Taliban. On the other hand, such training can be deadly to American trainers. Take the case of the American trainer who was shot and wounded that same week by one of his trainees. Reportedly, a dispute arose because the trainer was drinking water “in front of locals,” while the trainees were fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramazan.
    There is, by the way, plenty of evidence that Taliban fighters get along just fine, fighting fiercely and well without the training lavished on the ANA and the ANP. Why is it that Afghan Taliban fighters seem so bold and effective, while the Afghan National Police are so dismally corrupt and the Afghan National Army a washout?
    When I visited bases and training grounds in July, I heard some American trainers describe their Afghan trainees in the same racist terms once applied to African slaves in the U.S.: lazy, irresponsible, stupid, childish, and so on. That’s how Afghan resistance, avoidance, and sabotage look to American eyes. The Taliban fight for something they believe — that their country should be freed from foreign occupation. “Our” Afghans try to get by.
    Yet one amazing thing happens to ANA trainees who stick it out for the whole 10 weeks of basic training. Their slight bodies begin to fill out a little. They gain more energy and better spirits — all because for the first time in their lives they have enough nutritious food to eat.
    Better nutrition notwithstanding — Senator Levin, Senator McCain — “our” Afghans are never going to fight for an American cause, with or without American troops, the way we imagine they should. They’re never going to fight with the energy of the Taliban for a national government that we installed against Afghan wishes, then more recently set up to steal another election, and now seem about to ratify in office, despite incontrovertible evidence of flagrant fraud. Why should they? Even if the U.S. could win their minds, their hearts are not in it.
    One small warning: Don’t take the insecurity of the Afghan security forces as an argument for sending yet more American troops to Afghanistan. Aggressive Americans (now numbering 68,000) are likely to be even less successful than reluctant Afghan forces. Afghans want peace, but the kharaji (foreign) troops (100,000, if you include U.S. allies in NATO) bring death and destruction wherever they go. Think instead about what you might have won — and could still win — had you spent all those military billions on food. Or maybe agriculture. Or health care. Or a civilian job corps. Is it too late for that now?
    Ann Jones is the author of Kabul in Winter (Metropolitan, 2006) and writes often about Afghanistan for TomDispatch and the Nation. War Is Not Over When It’s Over, her new book about the impact of war on women, will be published next year.

  10. I think you wrote this post with allot of rush, hence ignored all the fact about the people of Afghanistan.
    Your mention the war in Sri Lanka and how the government won it by killing scores of civilian people. My good friend, when Russian invaded Afghanistan, in Herat, they killed 24000 people in just a couple of days.
    I suggest you have a look at the events that took place after that. The war intensified and people got angrier, they all went to seek revenge, not scared.
    If people kill each other for Timber, imagine what they would do to anyone, when they kill their loved ones. This generation of Afghans born and grew up in war, you want war believe you me they will give you one.
    In the beginning Americans targeted any gathering took place in the south, bombed in killing everyone and blamed Taliban presence, South was once a peaceful place, you and I could go there and mangle with locals, but try and go there now …
    Afghanistan doesn’t need more troops, McCristal has some right policies, investment in the Afghan government and forces is a must do thing to win this war, Killing one civilian will create tens of them.
    The mistake NATO/Americans made in Afghanistan was NOT trying to understand these people, and that is exactly what you are suggesting to repeat.

  11. The actual saying is “you can never cross the same river twice”. Ponder that and you’ll find the truth in it.

    The President’s version still has meaning but most of that is lost.

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