August 31, 2009

Making the country safe again for crappy orange goblin decorations

Agreed: time to go.

Posted by BruceR at 03:18 PM

Today's essential Afghan reading, part 2

Busy day. From the Washington Post, a story from the Human Terrain types in Maiwand District of Kandahar Province, focussing on anthropologist Karl "Oil Spot Spock" Slaikeu.

You've got to admire a fellow like Slaikeu, who in fine publish-or-perish style authored his first journal article, with the somewhat immodest title "Winning the War in Afghanistan," in draft form on April 20, having arrived in country for the first time in February/March. I was still trying to figure out my morning coffee routine at the same point in my tour, and certainly hadn't figured out how to win the war by then. And I'm a little skeptical that his inkspot approach would ever manage to take off in Maiwand District, which is about as far from the country's population centres as you can go and still get there on the highway. Saying to avoid road travel outside the inkspot is fine, so long as you don't mind the 60-km of IED-interdictable road between you and anything else in any direction. But hey, if it works I'd be the last to complain, and to be fair I'm not a "conflict resolution specialist" in my day job, either.

UPDATE: A friend asked me last night if this post was meant to be so sarcastic. Evidently an insufficient application of emoticon smileys on my part.

Posted by BruceR at 03:03 PM

Today's essential Afghan reading

FRI says everything that needs to be said about current deficiencies in the tactical approach. They brought the Afghans *tea*? Good lord.

"K" from the Konar ETT says farewell. I was struck throughout his reporting how interchangeable "his" Afghans and "my" Afghans seemed to be, offering reassurance that the challenges we experienced as military mentors were not confined to Regional Command South.

I agree the COMISAF COIN guidance says all the right words. Putting them into practice will be the challenge, of course.

More from Matthew Fisher, with my successors in the Canadian OMLT. My tremendous respect for Col. Burt, quoted, is tempered only slightly by one small historical nitpick: that being if we're talking the Arab Revolt now, would not the true "OMLT-eers" have been von Sanders or von Falkenhayn, rather than Lawrence?

Hey, Seven Pillars of Wisdom is one of my favourite books of all time, one that every OMLT/ETT staffer should absolutely take a crack at, and T.E. Lawrence is a superb role model for any soldier in issues like cultural accommodation, working around problems diplomatically (with Brits and Arabs both), and undaunted zest for his mission, but there's very little in Lawrence's military mentoring approach specifically that seems directly cross-applicable. We are, after all, the ones in Afghanistan losing lives keeping lines of transportation open, and the insurgents (thankfully, without a Lawrence figure that I'm aware of) who are blowing them up. No, Lawrence is rightfully IN, rather than CO-IN (even more reason why he should be studied, of course).

UPDATE: Okay, smartass, one would ask at this point, what did YOU learn from the Germans advising the Turks? It's true they're relatively inaccessible, at least compared to Lawrence (although von Sanders did write a memoir of his own). And the Turks did lose, so we're really talking cautionary examples for a lot of it. But I'd say the experience of von Sanders at Gallipoli, if nothing else shows that if you manage somehow to make a successful army (or even part of an army) in a failing state, don't be surprised if that army then starts to influence the state itself in all kinds of interesting and unpredictable ways. A study of Von Falkenhayn, specifically his efforts to ameliorate depredations on Palestinian Jews by the Turkish army, could provide an interesting perspective on how to operate within one's own value system as a mentor, as well.

Posted by BruceR at 10:31 AM