September 27, 2011

Today's essential host nation forces partnership reading

Tom Ricks points to an unusually candid interview with an American police mentor from Iraq, from around the same time when I was in Afghanistan. I could draw a lot of experience parallels here, but the comments on Ricks' blog are telling enough. The one observation I would add is the insidiousness of force protection rules for mentors, whether you hide behind them like this guy apparently did, or not. He couldn't go to see the Iraqis he was partnered with, because of the IED-laden road, or live with them due to the lack of medevac. Check. And the Iraqis were wildly underwhelmed with him, not just because he had no money to spend on them, and didn't speak their language, but because that meant he was left demanding that they come to him, down that same dangerous road, to hear his thoughts on stuff. Yeah, Afghans wouldn't come much in that situation, either.

But even if they had come one day, I know without asking that FOB security rules would also likely have prevented them from sitting down with the U.S. officer's fancy home theatre setup he'd made for himself and enjoy a football game with his Afghan colleagues, too. For the Afghan, it would have been chai in the visitor's tent and then back on the road to get blown up again. So often what we write off as "Oriental" laziness and turpitude in these situations is actually quite logical behaviour, when you get into their shoes for a sec.

It's all distancing behaviour, and distancing due to forcepro concerns, more than anything else, has doomed the vast majority of military advising/mentoring efforts in these theatres in the last decade.

UPDATE: See also FRI's Tim Lynch, who has begun blogging again: The ability of modern western armies to train and mentor Afghan security forces is almost zero. The western militaries insist that their troops have a certain amount of protection and access to unlimited quantities of high quality western food flown into the country at God only knows what cost. In order to achieve this base line goal the western military has based itself on FOBís and are physically separated from the forces they are "mentoring" which adds to the psychological separation that all westerners have to deal with when they choose to reside in countries like Afghanistan. Yup. Lynch then goes on to talk about the Marines in Afghanistan, who seem to have been a little exceptional in this regard. Not that there weren't other exceptional mentor/advisory teams over the years (some previous colleagues included), but it's fair to say the institutionalization of successful force partnering methods has not lived up to the expectations set out by McChrystal in his 2009 review, among others, if Lynch is still writing despatches from Afghanistan like this one.

UPDATE #2: It's telling that in Lynch's account of the Kabul attack, Western special forces did all the fighting, isn't it? In the centre of Kabul, yet. Afghan security forces don't have "security responsibility" for anything, so far, it seems, despite numerous press releases to the contrary.

Posted by BruceR at 04:25 PM