October 26, 2009

Ann Marlowe vs Bob Wright

Josh Foust has repeatedly criticized American writer Ann Marlowe for being in the tank with the military as regards Khost Province. I don't find her writing very compelling - although the approach her favourite soldier, Lieut. Col. Scott Custer, reportedly used in Khost in 2007-08 with the local U.S. maneuver force divided into platoon-sized teams living at district centres with the ANP rather than brigaded (and thus shut up) in a FOB, does seem worthy of further study and possible broader application as a COIN option for the Afghan countryside.

That said, I found her Bloggingheads appearance with Robert Wright deeply uncomfortable "turnaway TV", like watching the David Brent character an episode of the UK series of The Office. She may have a lot of time in country, but she simply doesn't seem very smart: Wright demolished pretty much every non-experiential point she made pretty easily (often with only a studious silence). Against Wright, who is if nothing else a reflective chap, she came across as entirely unable to contextualize all that she's seen and heard, or accept limitations on her own judgment; it makes the ensuing debate the intellectual equivalent of watching a grown man beat a puppy...

And if I were Cdr. Erika Sauer, the PRT commander and naval oceanographer who had the bad luck to come after the commander Marlowe liked, who she blames quite explicitly (without naming her) for security degrading in Khost over the last year, I'd be understandably annoyed. Sure, there's an honest question about whether a woman oceanographer is the best person to be running a PRT, but you have to offer more in the way of a causal chain if you're going to attribute a decline in security to one person's arrival in country. Saying only that "everybody, Afghans and Americans all disliked her" as your only point of explanation, as Marlowe does, is schoolyardish and inane.

UPDATE: Compare and contrast Marlowe's assertions that "roads are magical" (debatable) and PRTs are a huge Afghan success story with another undoubtedly smart (if occasionally a little wild-eyed) man, Michael Semple, concluding at the end of this interesting taped seminar that "Of many aspects of the intervention in Afghanistan that are waiting to be savaged and consigned to the dustbin of history, PRTs are pretty high up the list... inshallah, they will be barely a footnote in the history of Afghanistan when the next round of history is written. And if you're thinking of, if you're looking for a thesis or PhD topic, for god's sake don't write on PRTs: they're finished."

UPDATE #2: This Blogging Heads episode, by contrast, is actually worth watching.

Posted by BruceR at 05:43 PM

Today's essential Afghan reading

Paul McGeough on the chances of McChrystal succeeding:

"The Afghanistan insurgency's greatest strength is the combined, and for a long time, quite deliberate weakness of the Coalition and its treacherous allies in the Kabul government. The McChrystal blueprint might have worked in Year Two or even in Year Five of the conflict and I stress 'might have' but at this stage it's too little and it's too late."

McGeough offers snippets from Eastern Afghanistan that could have been Kandahar Province:

"Late last year when I embedded at Forward Operating Base Tilman, on the Pakistan border, U.S. Captain Dave Connor impressed me greatly with his soldiering skills, but in almost two weeks his men got beyond the wire just three times every time hunkering in the MRAPs. On a single patrol he had three IEDs in the space of just a few hundred metres; he had a barrage of rockets into the base. And when he did venture out on a foot patrol, Taliban fighters were on the near ridgelines as his men were the first foreigners to visit some of the villages in two years."

Also this:

"On the contrary, McChrystal points out, a coalition fixation with violence has masked the insurgency's infiltration into the daily life of ordinary Afghans setting up local shadow governments, arranging courts and levying taxes. They appoint their own officials and manipulate local grievances. Locals who stand in their way are gunned down or beheaded that doesn't happen too often because, unlike Coalition or Kabul threats, a Taliban threat is taken seriously."

Also today from Tom Ricks, a classic bit of military understatement: "Those who did not see the Afghans as humans were generally a hindrance..."

The source document, an after-action summary from 101st Division in Eastern Afghanistan, adds, "We own the night in Iraq, we sometimes are able to borrow the night in Afghanistan." True, dat. Western abilities to control the countryside at night are perpetually overrated.

Posted by BruceR at 09:02 AM