August 13, 2010

Not quite Ap Bac, but still bad

An Afghan battalion was ambushed with heavy casualties this week. See the BBC here, and the NY Times.

Bernard Finel is asking why Gen. Petraeus would "sign off" on an ANA operation right now, and hints they were set up for failure in order to make the case for a further extension of the war.

Doubt there's a connection, frankly. First off, one needs to be clear that the ANA doesn't wait for ISAF permission to do stuff they want to do. At the best you can hope for fairly loose coordination. But they don't have to get our "signoff" for anything and likely didn't in this case.

More to the point, the timing tells you the reason. In Ramadan, especially a summer Ramadan, Afghan units, unable to eat or drink during the day rapidly degrade in combat effectiveness... by the second half of the month they can't do much at all. Then comes the big feast of Eid at the end (Sept. 10 this year) which renders them combat-ineffective for all purposes for roughly another week, due to holiday leave of key personnel, and post-party exhaustion for the rest.

And of course right after that ends, this year we have the parliamentary elections (Sept. 18). So this was almost certainly a last attempt on the ANA's part to "shape" the terrain for those elections by disrupting insurgent activities.

It goes without saying that a disrupt op a month before the time you're hoping the bad guys stay disrupted, in a remote unpopulated valley, is wildly unlikely to have any effects against the kind of anti-election actions the insurgents might have realistically been planning. But the thinking will have been it's better this than nothing, in the same way that Western soldiers tend to feel the pressure to get in "one more op" just before being rotated out.

Of course, it wasn't better than nothing and now a whack of ANA are dead.

I wouldn't put too much credit into the claim by an anonymous official that operational security was violated. Afghans always claim that when things don't go well (as do we). And as we know, there hasn't been an operation launched, Western or Afghan, in the last four years where the insurgents didn't know we were coming. COIN warfare basically demands it. All you can really do is vary the manner of your approach, which is what they were probably trying to do with the helicopters.

The interesting question will be where the Western advisor/mentors were, a handful of which should have been with each Afghan company, including the one that was cut up. If they weren't there, it would mean they were denied permission to go along, probably for safety reasons or national caveats. Given that there are no Afghans currently trained to call in artillery or air support, or casevac for that matter, that basically would leave the Afghans with nothing but small arms and the ammo on their back, nothing more really than what the insurgents themselves would have had, when they were hit.

Updates: The unit affected, 1/201 Bde of 201 Corps, was the senior brigade in the regular Afghan army, with one battalion headquartered at the Presidential Palace, according to Wikipedia. It was French-mentored at one time, although I suspect that's not the case at the moment. Presumably they had a CM1 designation, ie, "capable of independent operations."

Posted by BruceR at 01:59 PM