November 16, 2010

Hey, wait a minute: CFR report on ANSF

From the CFR's latest blue-ribbon panel report on how to fix Af-Pak:

The ANSF are a central pillar in the Obama administration’s exit strategy for Afghanistan. Over time, they—along with local community defense units—must assume a greater security responsibility in order for U.S. and other coalition forces to withdraw. But NATO need not build an Afghan army in its image. The primary mission of the ANSF should be to support NATO-led operations, to maintain security after insurgents have been cleared, and ultimately to provide security to the population. Such missions may be challenging, but they do not require the creation of a military capable of full-spectrum operations. As it builds the Afghan army, NATO should therefore continue to devote its main resources to building light infantry forces. It is not clear, for instance, that current plans to fund fixed-wing aircraft and training for the Afghan National Army Air Corps are critical to the most urgent missions at hand. Bearing more limited expectations in mind, the goal of rapid ANSF expansion to bolster population security becomes more conceivable, if still extremely difficult.

I think creating an Afghan military with a primary role of "supporting NATO-led operations", as opposed to NATO supporting theirs, is short-sighted, as said here frequently before. One note on the air corps, though. I've been as skeptical as the next guy about Afghans flying helicopters*, but it might be worth recalling in this instance that a primary impetus for the ANAAC's development was a general unwillingness to let Afghan soldiers onto or use ISAF helicopters except in very unusual circumstances... making it effectively impossible to support any kind of isolated post manned predominantly by ANA. As Canadians well know a lack of helicopter support means you go by road, and IEDs take their toll. I'd hope things have been fixed, but if Afghans can't have their own helicopters or be allowed to borrow ours, their use on the kinds of terrain "light infantry" forces are normally best at will be very limited. It would have been nice for the CFR panel to indicate they'd thought through those sorts of force integration issues, or at least shown a greater familiarity with Afghan terrain.

The real reason to limit one's growth goals for the ANSF, as the CFR report rightly points out, is that currently ISAF is looking at spending something like $20,000 US a year per Afghan soldier or policeman, or $6 billion a year indefinitely. Compared to the rest of Afghan spending, it's a bargain, but for a country with $2.5 billion in government revenues and $2 billion in total exports, it's clearly unsustainable as it is, without throwing on any kind of military capacity that doesn't have a clear need in the current fight.

So, while ANAAC transport aircraft and helicopters might make a ton of sense, ANAAC air superiority fighters (if those were ever contemplated) might not. Similarly, saying a force should be "light infantry" should not exclude training in things like intelligence, reconnaissance, direct support artillery, or logistics, if they're ever going to be anything more than our door-kickers.

*I remember an extended conversation while waiting for an appointment at KAF with one of the first US mentors for the Afghan Mi-17 helo detachment that was just standing up at the airfield. It was surreally optimistic... kind of like I was my first day on the job, too.

Posted by BruceR at 01:03 AM

Today's essential Afghan reading


In an operation called Dragon Strike launched more than two months ago, the U.S. military has been hunting the Taliban in the fields and vineyards outside Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban.

The operation, now winding down, has included artillery barrages, strafing runs and helicopter assaults in the dead of night.

"The last couple of months after we started our clearance ops, it's completely emptied out. And we haven't seen any activity," says Capt. Brant Auge, a company commander with the 101st Airborne Division operating just west of the city of Kandahar.

But there have been unintended consequences. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of refugees are fleeing into the city. Taliban fighters are streaming there, too, and now are stepping up a terrorism campaign...

More on Zhari, a Vietnamese officer's view, and the disconnect between night raids and pullout dates, after the jump...

More on Zhari from Global Post:

The U.S. military has destroyed hundreds of Afghan civilian homes, farm houses, walls, trees and plowed through fields and buildings using explosives and bulldozers in war-torn Zhari district, a practice that has begun to anger Afghan villagers...

One structure the Americans aren't paying for is grape huts. [Maj. Todd] Clark said they're pairing up Afghan farmers with a USAID contractor, called AVIPA, whose engineers have come up with a new design for grape huts, and will rebuild them for free.

"It has wider gaps in it, it’s faster to build, a bit less expensive, and it’s not so much of a fort that it can be used against us," Clark said.

Interesting about trying to change native behaviour with the grape huts. Canadian demolitions and damage claims in Zhari were not zero, but there's no question they've gone up after American assumption of control for that district.

Elsewhere, Tom Ricks with a perceptive comment:

By the way, for those compiling information on how to revise the COIN manual: My friend Quang X. Pham points out in the epilogue to the paperback edition of his fine memoir (268) that of his one of the major omissions in the Army/Marine counterinsurgency manual is that there is almost no discussion of mistakes the Americans committed in dealing with their South Vietnamese allies. He thinks the Americans tried to do too much, and so undercut the initiative of South Vietnamese commanders. (It looks like old Karzai agrees with Quang, too.)

As Andrew Exum has pointed out, the whole issue of the U.S. relationship with the host country is fraught, especially because the desired outcome is different from the colonial goals of the countries on whose COIN experience the U.S. military has drawn most from, Britain and France of the 1950s and 1960s. The British and French were fighting to stay. We are fighting to leave, albeit leaving behind a friendly government, which I am not sure is possible, especially in the Mideast, if that government is to last.

The whole point of this sort of fight, as has been said here before, is to use Western troops in a way to close the delta between a host nation security force's capability and the requirement for it. Attriting the threat is one way, but it's strictly a means to an end. Ricks' friend is absolutely right that training local forces to be adjuncts to our own kinetic efforts is almost certain to ultimately be self-defeating.

Which brings us back to the current headline war between the Afghan President and the ISAF commander, and the latest developments on transferring of security responsibility in stages, with the revised "end date" of 2014. (Also here.)

In late 2008, this was called TLSR, "transfer of lead security responsibility," and the official deadline for TLSR nation-wide was 2011 (which was part of the reason for Canada setting that deadline for its own withdrawal of combat troops). Lisbon will apparently see the concession that that goal has now shifted three full years to the right, with Afghan districts and provinces progressively being handed over to an ANA lead, with Western battlegroups pulling out of those areas. That was the endgame plan years ago, just as it is today.

The one item that might be worth noting is that, although they're being blended together by Yglesias, the current Karzai concerns about night raids by SOF personnel is really almost a separate issue that security responsibility transfer doesn't actually promise to address. Main force "landowner" ISAF units have often had very little influence themselves over special forces activities in their areas of operation... there's no reason to believe Afghan units taking over local control would have any more influence against the high-value targeteering effort in their areas.

Posted by BruceR at 12:45 AM