March 02, 2012
He's on a roll
Turn turn turn
Josh Foust talks about turning points here. I was in the States last week, casting about for a paper during a dull moment, and I have to admit this article made me laugh out loud. It could, have course, been written word for word in early 2009. Or 2008. Probably 2007. Canadian Zhari District veterans (spelled Zharai now, apparently), I hope you all enjoy, "Stability takes root in Kandahar province."
For those who don't get the joke, look. It was February when this was written. It's always quiet in Zhari in February. Violence always goes down in the winter. "Stability takes root" in February, and gets blown away by June. Year after year. Freelancer Carmen Gentile has no idea what went before, and will not be around when he's proven horribly wrong in a few months.
I love the "new strategy" that finally won "Zharai," by the way: "U.S. military leaders in the Zharai district responded with a new strategy. They ended the foot patrols on the roads and narrow paths where vast farmlands are flanked by steep, jagged mountains. They established small "strong points," heavily fortified guard posts made of earth and sandbags. They called in airstrikes and helicopter gun runs on Taliban positions."
Less foot patrolling, check. Strong points, check. Air support, check. Amazing we never thought of any of that.
"Today, the villagers in the region are able to go about their lives without fear of the Taliban."
No fear? Oh, good.
"Fears remain that any appointed leader would be murdered by Taliban fighters based a few miles to the west who regularly engage U.S. and Afghan forces on patrols."
Well, so much for that no-fear thing...
"With its fortified positions and razor wire lining the road, the area little resembles its previous incarnation, and it's more secure."
So there's a strongpoint in Nalgham again, apparently. That's good. But there's been one there before. On alternate rotations in Zhari, units raze their strongpoints and concentrate their forces at larger bases to buy some freedom of action. On the next roto, they put the strongpoints back. This has been going on for about six years: and regardless of which approach was in effect at the moment, every February's been quiet, and every August has sucked rocks.
I really can't blame the journalist for not knowing this, though. Most Americans in Zhari are continually surprised there was anything there before them at all. I count among peers both the first American commander of Zhari's Strong Point Lakokhel when it was created in late 2009, and the last Canadian commander of Strong Point Lakokhel when it was razed three months previously (obviously fairly effectively), before being rebuilt by the U.S. arrivals in exactly the same location. Neither knew of the existence of the other prior to me telling them: pity, we could have told the U.S. guys where the sniping was coming from, the good places to buy bread, etc. What always amazed me was the Afghan soldiers who were pulled out and then put back in alongside the Western troops never let the Americans in on the joke.
Cordesman on Afg: sometimes you're just screwed
Analysis on the current situation worth reading, here. A couple points I pulled out:
On the Obama strategy: "A strategy that called for a combination of 'clear, hold, and build' and 'integrated civil-military operations,' was also described as one that did not involve 'nation building.' This was a sop to the Republican side of Congress, just as deadlines were a sop to Democrats. It was also dishonest and absurd."
On the current 2014 pullout "plan": "These budget requests were made without any meaningful transition plan or clear picture of what would happen as the United States and its allies cut outside spending that the World Bank estimated was equal to the entire domestic GDP of Afghanistan and that funded most of the Afghan government budget and virtually all of the Afghan security forces. Aside from conceptual papers and back of the envelope calculations, the United States had no real funding strategy and no clear picture of how Afghanistan could make it through the coming massive cuts in spending and hold together in the face of the resulting economic shock."
On ANSF training: "The NATO Training Mission for Afghanistan (NTM-A) has ceased any meaningful public reporting on what is happening."
On the capability of the Afghan government: "The Afghan government does not even possess the ability to calculate its own needs after 2014—it simply copied the World Bank estimate in its request for aid at the Bonn conference."
On the UN's limited role: "The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)—which reports on drugs, human rights, and casualties—has never shown any serious ability to coordinate the international aid effort, develop effective plans and requirements, or do any more to ensure that aid money is spent honestly and has real measures of effectiveness than the United States and its allies."
On insurgent strategy: "There is a bitter covert debate within the U.S. intelligence community over whether the Taliban are 'tired,' lacking in effective leadership, divided and seeking peace, or have simply shifted away from clashes with ISAF forces to efforts to control the Afghan population and ride out U.S. and ISAF withdrawal."
On the likely consequences of the 2014 pullout: "Given the time it takes to act in Afghanistan, and the steadily declining support for the war in the United States and allied countries, credible plans [for financial drawdown] were needed last fall... Moreover, the only near-term source of [alternate] major income becomes narcotics, and the combination of sudden funding cuts and lack of security is an invitation to capital flight and brain drains for those who can leave, while forcing power brokers into even more competition and efforts to grab what they can if they stay."
The West is war-tired. The insurgents see the light at the end of the tunnel, meaning stats on dropping violence now will always be suspect. And after all the money goes away, Karzai and the rest of the kleptocrats will light out for Dubai, leaving the dispossessed to fight over the bones of a country: Iraq's ability to bribe itself some internal peace with oil money cannot be repeated. This was the entirely foreseeable outcome four years ago, and not a thing of importance has changed.
"endearingly macho" -- Mark Steyn
"wonderfully detailed analysis" -- John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"unusually candid" -- Tom Ricks, Foreignpolicy.com
Bill & Bob
Ghosts of Alex