June 05, 2009

Wanker watch: Paul Koring

Exhibit A:

"But Afghan civilian deaths, mainly caused by allied warplanes dropping bombs at the behest of beleaguered ground troops, also reached record levels and fomented bitter resentment among ordinary Afghans against foreign troops."

As has already been pointed out in the Globe's letters pages and elsewhere, this isn't close to a true statement (ie, 20% does not equal "mainly"). The impression from his frequent missteps such as this is that Koring has a clear bias against the Afghan mission, and possibly the Canadian military generally, which he seems to regard as primarily a waste of public funds that might be better used on hair products for elderly men, or something.

For the record: I was in Kandahar Province 7.5 months. While I was there I heard of exactly one incident in the province of the death of a group of civilians by aerial attack. It was reported on at the time (Credit to the press where it's due: I have yet to hear of an incident involving the death of a civilian due to some Westerner's action that was not). The incident did not involve Canadian forces, but because it happened in our province it did make our jobs more difficult.

In the same period I knew of well over 100 violent deaths of Afghan civilians in Kandahar Province due to insurgents, singly and in groups. Those deaths came in assassinations, kidnappings, ambushes and IED strikes. Most of those were not reported in the Western media.

Posted by BruceR at 01:33 PM

Today's essential Afghan reading

Free Range International on what we're doing wrong:

"One aspect of the current thinking on Afghanistan which seems to me to be missing is the fact that current financial expenditures cannot be sustained indefinitely. We are pouring more soldiers into the country but only a very few will have any impact on our ability to bring security and reconstruction to the people. We have too large of a tail to tooth ratio; when you send troops in country you have to feed and house them and right now every gram of food consumed by our respective militaries is flown into the country from a far. We are trying to tell the Afghans to stop growing poppy and instead grow fruits and vegetables for export but we wonít even buy the stuff they grow to feed our troops. This ungodly expensive logistical tail Ė which is tenuous at best as it most of it runs through Pakistan - can be trimmed fast by moving the combat troops off post and allowing them to be housed and fed on the local economy. While at it a good idea would be to send most of the 40 something additional members of the ISAF collation home. They canít fight, they cannot support themselves, they stay mostly behind the wire, and they are not the right kind of troops to have roaming around the country side in a counter insurgency."

Herschel Smith on what we're doing wrong:

"But the gargantuan bases are an obstacle to success in Afghanistan. Empty them. Send the Army on dismounted patrols, open vehicle patrol bases, smaller FOBs, and combat outposts. Get amongst the people. Only then will they sense that you are committed and give you intelligence - leading ultimately to killing Taliban, which will then further contribute to their security, and so on the process goes."

David Bercuson on what we're doing wrong:

"Repeating the same old thing - the same patrols, the same tactics, operating from the same bases, using the same size units, deployed in the same way - means failure."

True dat, all of it.

My take: the best rural deployment concept I saw (and I had the opportunity to get my colleagues' direct observations on a few besides our own) was a combat team of Westerners, with armoured protection, engineers, etc., (and with integral indirect fire support and close air/UAV/casevac overwatch based in KAF, Bagram, etc.,) all-in-all significantly less than 300 personnel, paired with a colocated ANA Kandak (battalion: about 300 effectives), centred on a company FOB (300 beds of all kinds max) but with significantly over half of the total Western+ANA personnel living outside, occupying a cloud of smaller mentored-ANA outposts on commanding ground within that base's artillery range (so a 20 km radius, plus or minus).

The company/kandak FOB provides the command and control, the quick reaction force, the aid station, etc. The smaller outposts (c.50 men, mostly ANA, each), plus any local mentored ANP outposts do most of the interaction with the locals, including, eventually, the enemy.

The way we do it now could certainly leave a lot to improve upon (and some of the ideas floated in the excerpts above could point to new ways forward there) but I just don't see how you're even in this COIN game at all in Afghanistan unless you're starting with that as your theoretical baseline for any deployment in a hostile region.

Posted by BruceR at 11:37 AM