December 07, 2009
Money, meet mouth
Yes, that's me... having a thoughtful discussion about Afghanistan with Robert Wright on bloggingheads.tv. A smart guy, that one.
[Undersecretary of defense for policy Michele Flournoy] said that the administration is in ongoing dialogue with Canada and the Netherlands, two allied countries scheduled to remove their troops from Afghanistan in 2010, about possible continued contributions to the war effort. “All options are still on the table in discussion,” Flournoy said.
More essential stuff
The always essential Nir Rosen, on patrol with the Helmand ANP. He ruminates about the biggest difference between Iraq COIN and Afghan COIN:
More fundamentally, COIN helped to control violence in Iraq because sectarian bloodshed—which changed the conflict from an anti-occupation struggle to a civil war, displaced millions, and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands—was already exhausting itself when the Surge started in 2007... In comparison with al Qaeda in Iraq and Shia gangs, the Americans looked good. They could step into the void without escalating the conflict...
In Afghanistan, there is no comparable exhaustion of the population, more than two-thirds of which lives in hard-to-reach rural areas. In addition, population protection—the core of COIN—is more complicated in Afghanistan. The Taliban only attack Afghan civilians who collaborate with the Americans and their puppet government or who are suspected of violating the extremely harsh interpretation of Islamic law that many Afghans accept. And unlike in Iraq, where innocent civilians were targeted only by predatory militias, civilians in Afghanistan are as likely to be targeted by their “own” government as by paramilitary groups. Afghanistan has not fallen into civil war—although tension between Pashtuns and Tajiks is increasing—so the United States cannot be its savior. You can’t build walls around thousands of remote Afghan villages; you can’t punish the entire Pashtun population, the largest group in the country, the way the minority Sunnis of Iraq were punished.
Rosen's observations of his time with the ANP are cutting. Every mentor will empathize with the frustrated American PMT he rides along with:
The sun rose golden over the shrubs as we made our way back to the checkpoint. The police had mentioned seeing a Taliban car. “What was that about a Taliban car?” Sergeant Ryan Killacky, of Prowler, asked. “The ANP think everything is Taliban,” Westby replied, “I don’t think they f---in’ know.”
Some Canadian mentors are telling a similar story in their province. In Kabul, meanwhile, the London Times contrasts a successful Afghan army HA (humanitarian aid) drop with the ANP's problems in that neck of the woods. Short version: improving quality and growing quantity at the same time in a warzone is hard, and a lot of the problems that bedevilled mentoring from prior to this year are only now being fully acknowledged.
Lest anyone think the above puts the ANA on a pedestal, this clip of British mentors with their ANA in Helmand might also look familiar to other Afghan vets.
Done its dash?
There has been a very interesting ongoing dialog between influential counter-terrorism researcher Leah Farrall and Al-Qaeda fellow traveller Abu Walid al-Masri recently.
In the process, we have discovered we agree on some things: most notably that al-Qa'ida has done its dash in the Islamic world. Abu Walid believes al-Qa'ida's actions have caused more harm than good. The terrorism war, he tells me, has proven "to be far from the mood of the Muslim people and the result has been popular hatred towards it".
Today's essential Afghan reading
"Old Blue", writing from Kabul:
Many leaders that I’ve met in my travels say, “Oh, yeah! I took the COIN course. Good stuff!” So I suggest that we look at their ASCOPE and see how they’re doing on it, where they are having problems identifying key players, etc.
“Oh. Well, we don’t have time for that.”
Really? No time for the steppingstone behavior to not only learning about the operational environment… but to actually passing it on to your successor? No time for that. Great. So, the thing that units have been complaining about for years… that they come in with no real understanding of the people and key systems in place in the local communities… will simply continue. Some of the other instructors say that they have run into units who are actually documenting their environments, but I personally have not...
"Old Blue" was previously a police mentor in the Tagab, recently cited by Col. Haynes in that paper I liked as the most prominent ANSF-led security success story in the east. Now he's back at the Afghan COIN Academy as an instructor. The corporate knowledge is building, slowly, but surely. His blog, formerly known as "Bill and Bob's Afghan Adventure," now called "Afghan Quest," is worth the time.
UPDATE: I would be remiss, in a post about the Tagab, not to mention that Josh Foust had a considerably more pessimistic view than Col. Haynes about the ANA efforts in that area in 2008 (see also here and here).
"endearingly macho" -- Mark Steyn
"wonderfully detailed analysis" -- John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"unusually candid" -- Tom Ricks, Foreignpolicy.com
Bill & Bob
Ghosts of Alex