Archive for the ‘counterinsurgency’ Category

Pretty amazing revelation that when the White House started discussing McChrystal’s proposal, that there seemed to be no awareness of the details of the March strategy by Obama or that it expressed a goal of defeating the Taliban:

In June, McChrystal noted, he had arrived in Afghanistan and set about fulfilling his assignment. His lean face, hovering on the screen at the end of the table, was replaced by a mission statement on a PowerPoint slide: “Defeat the Taliban. Secure the Population.”

“Is that really what you think your mission is?” one of the participants asked.

In the first place, it was impossible — the Taliban were part of the fabric of the Pashtun belt of southern Afghanistan, culturally if not ideologically supported by a major part of the population. “We don’t need to do that,” Gates said, according to one participant. “That’s an open-ended, forever commitment.”

But that was precisely his mission, McChrystal responded, enshrined in the Strategic Implementation Plan — the execution orders for the March strategy, written by the NSC staff. . . .

“It was clear that Stan took a very literal interpretation of the intent” of the NSC document, said [Former USMC General and NSA advisor] Jones, who had signed the orders himself. “I’m not sure that in his position I wouldn’t have done the same thing, as a military commander.”

My God. If generals have to “read the boss’s mind” in Afghanistan when his orders go through many layers of review and calibration, we are totally screwed. I mean this is as bad as the kind of stuff you see at a Kinko’s or a law firm. Oh, when I said send so and so that letter I really mean to check with me before you sent it, because I was having a conference call before that. Didn’t you check with my calendar? Uh, no, I was doing what you said.

Generals at the top echelons, like Jones, are pretty unimpressive and highly political creatures. For most of them, honor goes out the window after they pin on a star. The Van Ripers of the world are rare. More often you get the half-nonsensical and half-destructive Joneses and Wesley Clarks.

Obama is a huge moron in plain English. Either that or he’s totally callous. Or both, which is most likely.

It should have been obvious in March when he said what to do in Afghanistan was to continue to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda and build up Afghan forces that he was, in effect, calling for a surge. Why? He was calling for recommitment of resources, we just had a surge that was perceived as successful in Iraq, and one of the aspects of the COIN Manual that Petraeus and company produced is the importance of security and training, both of which take lots of troops.

Obama’s half-serious campaign stance of “the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan” is catching up with him. It would all be kind of funny if his zombie-like pursuit of this war would not needlessly cost a few hundred, possibly several thousand, bright young American lives.

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Apparently, it takes six months to decide to half-ass McChrystal’s plan and cut 6,000 troops?

Obama admires Abraham Lincoln and his decision to can various generals–including McClellan–for not being aggressive enough to win the Civil War.  But Obama, unlike Lincoln, is unpatriotic and a pacifist, dithers about whether victory is worth it, and changes his mind on core objectives–in effect, giving his generals a moving target. 

Plus Obama’s adding language to the plan about “off ramps” and what not.  So basically we’ll add 35,000 troops, a bit less than double what we have.  They’ll accomplish a little more, but nothing game changing.  Then we’ll find a reason to leave next June and will do so.  A few hundred more young Americans will die than would have otherwise, and this outcome all so Obama doesn’t look too weak in calling it quits sooner on this misguided nation-building effort.  This is hardly Lincolnesque . . .  more like Hamlet!

I think a deliberate withdrawal or even a limited war is not dishonorable, incidentally.  There are times to have flexible definitions of victory.  Think of something like the Korean War which ended in an armistice or the conventional victory of expelling Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. But if you think it’s truly a “war of necessity,” and you think the way to win is to build a functioning Afghan state (as Obama said in March), do it right or change that strategy.  Obama is keeping the strategy but under-resourcing it.   Further, with his “exit ramp” talk, Obama is basically admitting he’s looking for reason to call it quits.  It’s a far cry from the Gettysburg Address.  It’s more like a blueprint for our enemies and less committed allies to engineer an American exit.

I actually think Joe Biden’s proposal for a scaled down war using counter-terror operatives is the most sensible and conforms our operation to what the U.S. national interest is in the neighborhood.

Let me speak plainly.  I don’t think these illiterate savages deserve democracy or any U.S. efforts to help them.  I don’t think it’s in our interest, and the trade off is woefully imbalanced.  Afghans and Pakistanis and everyone else in the world just need to learn that if they help our enemies they’ll be punished en masse. For some reason, though, I don’t think Obama can make that kind of warning convincingly.  Sadly, neither could the liberal Republican, George W. Bush.  

This popular view of collective responsibility was what was most appealing about the Bush doctrine, i.e., you’re with us or you’re against us. But in eight years it’s morphed into “help our enemies and we’ll spend many years and many billions of dollars and many young American lives to drag you into the 21st Century.” 

Where’s General Pershing when you need him?!?

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I am not terribly annoyed that Obama would give military policy a deliberate review. War is serious stuff, and too often bad ideas carried forward through inertia. It’s appropriate he changes policy in certain particulars. In fact, my own preference is for something like Biden’s plan or even more radically off-shoring the whole thing, treating Afghanistan not so differently from Pakistan with the occasional Predator or SF raid and a threat of massive conventional retaliation without mercy for whatever government inhabits the rubble that might harbo terrorists. Nation-building is for the birds, and if the “success” we’ve had in Iraq is the end-game, I’d say it’s not worth the trouble.

But Obama is revisiting his policy on the basis of an entirely predictable statement by his hand-picked commander that more resources were needed to fight the traditional counterinsurgency Obama chose to fight. Was Obama not paying attention in super-recent-history class regarding the Iraq Surge, which has become the U.S. military’ model for such operations? He’s obviously backing away because he lacks the guts to follow through on this or much of anything that might require him to act like the leader of a nation at war.

The stuff about the “Real War is in Afghanistan” we heard from so many for the last six years turns out to be a thinly held debater’s point; and this was fairly obvious, because Obama and the Left in general lack the visceral faith in their country and hatred of the enemy needed to win any war. And this demerit applies even if this strategy were a good one, which in fact it is not. It was also obviously not a good strategy earlier this year and during the campaign when it was embraced by the Democratic Party. It was the Iraq “surge” strategy translated into Pashto.

The reason I’m extremely pissed off the more I think about this is that our troops are not in the locker room suited up for the big game. They’re in the field, executing Obama’s strategy as we speak. Some young American will die there this week and the next and the next in order to “build up Afghanistan” and its army and its government. I don’t mean to be maudlin. These are professional soldiers and volunteers. If it’s worth it to defend the country, then their sacrifices are a cause for honor and remembrance, not weak-kneed irresolution. They’re certainly mostly killing bad people that deserve little sympathy. The question is whether a defensive strategy off-shored and focused on surgical strikes is superior. In either case, it is utterly unconscionable to commit to a war, announce a new strategy with much fanfare, and then deny the troops the resources to win only two or three months thereafter.

Obama is dithering as if the world were on hold while he takes his time. This is not a faculty meeting. The issue can’t be tabled. It’s a real war, with real blood and death, and Obama’s increasing the mission requirements while cutting troops and the Pentagon budget. A foreign conqueror could do little worse.

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As usual, the folks at DNI are making sense on the Afghanistan Campaign and the General McCrystal Report

Politically, the report is bold, in that it acknowledges the enemy has the initiative and we have been fighting the war – for eight years – in counterproductive ways. But intellectually, both as analysis and as prescription, it is five pounds of substance in a 50 pound bag.

The report’s message can be summarized in one sentence: we need to start doing classic counterinsurgency, and to do so, we need more “resources,” i.e. troops. In a narrow, technical sense, that statement is valid. Classic counterinsurgency doctrine says we need hundreds of thousands more troops in Afghanistan.

Past that syllogism, the report’s validity becomes questionable. Defects begin with the study’s failure to address Fourth Generation war’s first and most important question: Is there a state in Afghanistan? At times, the report appears to assume a state; elsewhere, it speaks of the Afghan state’s weaknesses. It never addresses the main fact, namely that at present there is no state, and under the current Afghan government there is no prospect of creating one.

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The US Marines are undetaking a huge offensive in Afghanistan. It appears to be a regimental size operation.  I wish them well.  But isn’t this an anachronism, not so different from the Dewey Canyon and Junction City “sweep and clear” operations so favored by General Westmoreland in Vietnam?

Until now, it appears that Generals Petraeus and Matthis successfully disseminated the ethos that the more useful undertakings of counterinsurgency are the not-terribly-glamorous “small unit actions,” providing security to locals, and the work of advisory teams.  A regiment or more can easily sweep through a valley, secure some arms caches, and disrupt the enemy . . .  no doubt.  But it must stay, focusing less on killing the enemy and more on protecting the populace and spreading the government’s message ultimately to succeed.  And this technique must be done everywhere, or we’ll end up playing whack-a-mole as our forces did in Iraq from 2005-2007, when each new big sweep sucked up forces from quiet sectors in turn creating problems in those areas left under-policed.  To break it down as simply as possible:  counterinsurgency warfare is a big popularity contest.

There’s some big problems that this latest sweep-and-clear will not solve.  First, it’s not so clear what the Afghan government stands for.  Second, the population’s fortunes have become intertwined with the drug trade.  What these farmers could do that is equally lucrative is not so clear.  And no American-supported regime could easily look the other way on this issue.  And finally, there’s not enough troops.  There were not enough yesterday, and there won’t be enough tomorrow or the next day.  There won’t be even if they are tripled.

Right now we have 48,000 troops in Afghanistan.  It’s a huge, mountainous country that requires tons and tons of troops (ours and Afghani) to control while protecting the populace.  The Soviets had some 150,000 at their height of Afghan operations.  We had 160,000 in Iraq until recently.  The French had 400,000 or more in Algeria.  We had over 1,000,000 in the height of US involvement in Vietnam (where the counterinsurgency piece finally began to take effect under Abrams).

It takes a lot of troops to do all the things that need to be done in a counterinsurgency, the chief of which is to protect the populace and impress them that the government is worth supporting.  Rumsfeld never understood this, and that’s why our forces were so thinly spread in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He diagnosed the Soviet error in Afghanistan as “too many troops,” somehow missing their godless ideology and penchant for indiscriminate attacks on Afghan villages in his analysis.  So he figured, fewer troops, less frictions, and happier people.  It turned out to be totally wrong.

On top of all these tactical considerations, we should also ask:  What’s the big picture strategic reason we are even in Afghanistan?  If terrorists coalesce, could we not bomb them?  Are we just there out of inertia, some blood-lust for Osama bin Laden?  The latter does not appear terribly capable of doing anything to us any more.  It’s not so clear anything like what prevailed in the 90s could easily reemerge in Afghanistan, threatening America with another 9/11.  The Taliban’s goals are local and prosaic:  imposing Islam, oppressing people, and looking inward.  Al Qaeda is on the run and hiding.  They are impotent, and it seems we should aim instead to disentangle ourselves from this stone age ruin, free up our forces, and seek instead to engage al Qaeda there (and anywhere else they might appear) from arms length, with small special forces units, air power, and a goal of destruction-on-sight rather than the more elusive and overly ambitious goal of  “draining the swamp” by turning Afghanistan into a peaceful, democratic regime.

Indeed, a smaller footprint may aid us in keeping the support of Pakistan’s more moderate (i.e., not inclined to nuke us) elements.  As it stands, we piss a lot of nationalist Afghani and Pakistani people off by being in the neighborhood and killing so many civilians–this too an artifact of insufficient troops, excessive concern for force protection, and a related reliance on technology and air power in what should be a more granular and surgical exercise in counterinsurgency.

The whole idea that we must invade, occupy, democratize, and police Muslim lands because of terrorist attacks that met us because of our rickety border-protection strikes me as akin to the 1960s view that crime could only be fought with extensive anti-poverty efforts in the inner city.  In reality, cops, jails, and gated communities in the suburbs did most of the trick.   The most cost-effective means of addressing certain persistent problems is not to attack “root causes”–a technique which is both expensive and not terribly effective– but instead to address symptoms as they appear.  We now know that jails, cops, long sentences, and the like did a lot more to combat crime than “urban renewal” ever did.  In the case of terrorists, it may mean letting these countries fester, monitoring them as much as possible with our intelligence sources, keeping our borders secure, and bombing training camps and nation-state sponsors of terrorism vigorously as they reveal themselves.   This approach certainly beats the Bush-Obama policy of decades-long occupations of the world’s hell holes with very little to show for it.

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Interesting article about Marine operations in Afghanistan.  Veterans of the successful (for now) Sunni Awakening strategy are trying to recreate those results in Southern Afghanistan.  As in Iraq until very recently, locals fear to work with the US and Afghan troops because they are  “here today, gone tomorrow” leaving peasants to the tender mercies of the Taliban.

There are a fraction of the numbers of troops in Afghanistan as there are in Iraq, and the war presents many of the same strategic and operational challenges.  Even with the surge and the intelligent leadership of General Petraeus, at most the conditions of some kind of stability and success have been created in Iraq.  America has little power or ability to shape the Iraqi political settlement, which our leaders have always acknowledged requires reconciliation that can only come from the Iraqis themselves.  Without more troops–which are unavailable and will be for the foreseeable future–there is little hope even for this level of “success” to transpire in Afghanistan.  The country is nearly as large, requires more troops to patrol due its spread-out rural population, and yet there are only 23,000 US troops there, a fraction of the 130,000 plus in Iraq.  Even if the overall “hearts and minds” strategy focused on security succeeds, it is at best an intermediate goal.  As in Iraq, nothing stable will come of it that will not require a continued US presence,  because the end-state will be a power-brokered democracy.  Yet that presence is entirely unrealistic considering our modest-sized “peace dividend” military.  The Afghan people are entirely sensible to be wary of US offers of support and protection.  The Marines themselves surely know that politicians will break faith with these forlorn people far more readily than local commanders would.

We truly have a situation of lions led by donkeys.

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Andrew Bacevich–West Pointer,  conservative, father of KIA 1st Lt. Bacevich–criticizes the war in a way that should be persuasive to conservatives, including conservatives like me who initially supported the war for punitive reasons. Namely, it’s now clearly a waste of resources and a strategic error to continue on this course. It’s important not to continue this path, even though leaving Iraq would violate a normally good means to discover good policy: staying would enrage liberals.

Just because many anti-American liberals oppose something, doesn’t make it right. This war, like others, might be wrong for reasons pacifists and unpatriotic globalists don’t appreciate. As Bacevich observes, the war is a strategic failure and will continue to murmur along without any real progress indefinitely:

The costs to the United States of sustaining this dependency are difficult to calculate with precision, but figures such as $3 billion per week and 30 to 40 American lives per month provide a good approximation.

What can we expect to gain in return for this investment? The Bush administration was counting on the Iraq War to demonstrate the viability of its Freedom Agenda and to affirm the efficacy of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war.

Measured in those terms, the war has long since failed. Rather than showcasing our ability to transform the Greater Middle East, Operation Iraqi Freedom has demonstrated just the opposite. Using military power as an instrument for imprinting liberal values in this part of the world has produced a failed state while fostering widespread antipathy toward the United States.

Rather than demonstrating our ability to eliminate emerging threats swiftly, decisively, and economically—Saddam Hussein’s removal providing an object lesson to other tyrants tempted to contest our presence in the Middle East—the Iraq War has revealed the limits of U.S. power and called into question American competence. The Bush Doctrine hasn’t worked. Saddam is long gone, but we’re stuck. Rather than delivering decisive victory, preventive war has landed us in a quagmire.

I would add that the absolute worst reason to stay in this war is for some emotional notion of national honor and commitment to the troops, impulses that undergird the very unstrategic thinking John McCain and numerous buck sergeants. We don’t go to war to do the conquered a favor. We don’t stay to avenge deaths like some armed camp of Zulus. A nation goes sends its army to war to accomplish foreign policy goals. This same nation can and should withdraw these troops when it’s in our interests to do so, when those goals are out of reach, no longer important, or too costly. It’s not like Iraq is sacred American soil; this is a foreign land, half way around the world, in a very bad neighborhood, populated mostly by uncivilized people whom we do not understand and who do not understand or appreciate our soldiers’ sacrifices.

Sure, we can pig-headedly spend $20 or $30 trillion over another decade, but even if everything turns out for the best, it will be a strategic benefit worth some fraction of that. And then what? We’ll still have al Qaeda to worry about. We’ll still have North Korea. Our borders will be too porous. Our ranks of third world immigrants will remain too numerous. The Middle East will still have large numbers of pissed off young men who are given sanction to vent their anger by their religion.  The deterrent value of staying or leaving is a wash. Iran knows we won’t easily commit to a similar adventure on its territory. Russia and China will still be ascendant in their spheres of influence. Oil will still be scarce and in the hands of unstable autocrats and their resentful subjects.

Vast swaths of people all around the world will not appreciate Iraq as a model, it ends up as stable as Pakistan or Indonesia when all is said and done. Instead of seeing idealistic U.S. sacrifices for democracy, most Arabs and Muslims will perceive a marginally successful bid for power and domination of Iraq’s oil wealth. Most of the worlds peoples will continue to be more passionate about religion, nationalism, ideology, wealth, prosperity, and tribalism than democracy and the rule of law. Not only that, they’ll treat these tangible goods as more desirable than democracy–whether originating from bloody revolutions at home, or imposed from without by an idealistic and ideological United States.

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