June 30, 2010

Today's essential Afghan reading: the SIGAR report

The SIGAR report on the problems with the ANSF Capability Milestone (CM) system is out, and worth a read. The clear implication is that prior to the arrival of Gen McChrystal and his team, ANSF mentoring had really been spinning its wheels.

The fact that this report was coming has been known by ISAF for some time: so long that the current official response that it's now so out-of-date as to be unnecessary seems a little disingenuous. Indeed, the prospect of the report itself would seem the most likely impetus for those changes they now say invalidate it. From the press release linked above:

"SIGAR auditors briefed International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commanders on March 12, 2010 on the initial findings as the audit work progressed. On April 23, 2010 ISAF Joint Command (IJC) scrapped the CM rating system and replaced it with an entirely new system for assessing ANSF capabilities. The new system is called Command Unit Assessment Tools (CUAT)."

Everyone should read the response by Lt. Gen. Caldwell, commander of the NATO training mission appended to the PDF of the report. He feels the report, because it's based on the situation up to late last year, does not reflect the tremendous progress since he came into the position in November. I'm sure there's a lot of truth to that. But it is also tantamount to conceding ISAF is still effectively in the middle of Year One as far as ANSF capacity building is going, and that much of what happened in 2009 and before was wasted effort. This has obvious implications on how much longer is required before transfer of lead security responsibility over parts of the country is possible.

(The sad story on page 13, about how a ANP unit rated CM1 (and therefore capable of running the district on its own, without mentors) in Baghlan province "had withered away to the point that it barely functions" and the district was now "overrun with insurgents", is a good example of the potential problems of the previous system.)

In their official responses, both ISAF and DOD, and Gen. Petraeus before Congress yesterday, refer back to the April DOD Progress report, which states (p. 111):

"It is also important to note that the current CM ratings look only at the manning, training and equipping of a unit, so a combat unit can be operationally effective without necessarily being rated at CM1."

This is significant: up until the month the SIGAR report's conclusions were known, the DOD position was that the CM system was actually understating ANSF capability. Now that the SIGAR report has come out, along with other evidence that ANSF capability has been, if anything, historically overstated, they're saying that in fact, they weren't even measuring capability at all. By dropping off the last part of the quote.

I'll only say that that statement and the one from the previous DOD progress report from October 2009, that the CM ratings "simply depict the manning, training and equipment" description of CM would have seemed inconsistent with the (unclas) CM brigade intelligence evaluation checklist I was given by the local VTT and was expected to be operating under in early 2009.* I was asked to evaluate as an S2 mentor whether the brigade S2 cell could:

*Develop humint sources and fuse humint into operations
*Provide situational understanding of the enemy to higher, lower, own HQs
*Provide reasonably accurate understanding of enemy capabilities
*Track historical and background information on threats within their sector
*Determine threat patterns and trends
*Employ and manage the brigade recce company effectively
*Provide intelligence to enable ops through IPB
*Develop enemy COAs as part of planning
*Conduct intelligence gathering from detainees

Now obviously, none of these are purely "manning, training and equipment" questions. I understand the argument that saying they had the "manning, training and equipment" to potentially do these things is not quite the same as saying they are operationally effective at them. Lots of people and teams have the appropriate training and are still not effective at their jobs, for all kinds of reasons.

But I would then have to ask why at the time both VTT (Validation Training Teams; the US units that gave the ratings) commanders I worked with would not give ratings unless they had actually seen the evaluated unit on combat operations, taking considerable personal risk upon themselves to do so, when a pure "manning, training and equipment" assessment could presumably have been done as effectively by reviewing the unit's documentation and hard deliverables in a garrison setting. ("Did the S2 have his trade course? Did they have maps they could read? Was the second sergeant used for more than making tea?" None of these questions would have required observing the command team in combat conditions.)

The reason a pure "establishment measurement" system was not appropriate for units already in combat should be clear: combat tends to have an attritional effect on all three of these metrics. If the CM system had been purely an on-paper evaluation, and a truthful one, the units incurring heavy fighting should have seen their evaluation scores go DOWN, not up. And given the importance of a high CM rating to the Afghan defence ministry, this in turn would have led to Afghan units avoiding potential combat situations even more than they did, to keep from hurting their "scores."**

As ISAF mentors to a brigade that was losing men to the enemy weekly, focussing purely on measuring and enhancing those sorts "manning, training and equipment" progress-on-paper measures would not have seemed consistent with our professional responsibilities, either. We needed a system in place that measured whether they could and would FIGHT, and whether our efforts were having an effect on bettering that. This apparent ambiguity (to be charitable) over what CM ratings really represented could not have served us well in this regard.

Indeed, saying now that a system that was described (in its title!) as a "Capability Milestone" system should not have been expected to infer anything about "capability" at all seems at best misleading on the part of its inventors and supporters. We should all be happy to be rid of it. And the only criticism that the leaders of the ANSF capacity building effort should feel reflects negatively in any way on their current efforts is how long it has taken to do just that.

*If a unit could do the things on the list, it (or at least, its intelligence office) was CM1. All the other command functions had similar lists. The SIGAR report notes the definition of CM1 has varied through the literature, but the one we were using was not significantly different from the one in the DOD progress report (p. 111): "The unit... is capable of conducting primary operational missions." Note, NOT, "The unit has the manning, equipment and training to potentially conduct..." CAPABLE of conducting.

**Notably the new CUAT system, unlike its predecessor, is classified, so there is little in the public domain about how it works or how much it differs. One of the problems with the CM system that SIGAR does not dwell on is that, because it was effectively a "report card" that was supposed to be shared with the ANSF commanders to let them know where they stood, it couldn't be classified (because it was forbidden at the time to share any ISAF classified info with any ANSF agency). It also meant that it had to be scrubbed of any accurate assessments of the integrity or competence of individual Afghan commanders, so very little of that sort of assessment could ever officially be collected in mentor reporting.

Posted by BruceR at 08:15 AM

OK, this was cool: Orbital at Glastonbury

Don't know Who this "Matt Smith" fellow thinks he is, but Orbital seems to like having him around... great modernization of a geek classic.

UPDATE: BBC's lawyers have taken this down, so in its place, I offer Kirk and Spock arguing about a bike.

Posted by BruceR at 12:00 AM