September 24, 2012

Lang on green-on-blue: not following

I quoted Pat Lang approvingly two posts below, but I don't follow him here:

General Allen can argue what he likes but the Taliban have found the key to a stratagem that will give the "coup de grace" to the Afghanistan COIN project.

I think Allen's point, that most of these attacks are from frustrated Afghan soldiers, not insurgents, really isn't arguable on any of the facts I've seen. My quibble is with Lang's causational fallacy. To say that an increasing number of Afghans, including soldiers, are buying into the insurgents' world view to the point of being willing to kill and die for it, even granting that view is being transmitted in as well propagated an information operation as they can make it, does not mean most of these green-on-blue events were in any way coordinated by them. In 90% of the cases it appears to be pure cultural, societal and religious friction in an incredibly heavily armed, exceedingly high stress environment. That alone can mark the failure of a mission without the Taliban being mostly fascinated bystanders, and calling it their "strategem" seems obfuscatory on Lang's part.

Posted by BruceR at 10:44 PM

Further thoughts: Afghanistan, Mali

A Canadian army major of significant Kandahar-area experience writes thoughtfully, in reference to my post below:

I've generally thought that the overarching problem was we identified the wrong enemy. The enemy was (and perhaps still is) AQ, which is made up of Arabs following the teachings of fringe elements of the Muslim Brotherhoods. But we went after the Taliban. And HiG. And Haqqani. None of them were interested in exporting violence, and I don't actually think they were all that close to AQ either. And then we compounded the error by lacking unity of purpose and command, but that's a political and strategic problem that comes with coalitions. Heck, even the US couldn't agree on a common purpose between Enduring Freedom and ISAF. Actually, we probably exasperated the situation by helping the ISI further strengthen its influence in Pak, with long term consequences to be determined over the coming decades.

As far as training the ANSF, I really think we need to be more honest with ourselves.

I had thought that the platitudes we say about ourselves (multicultural, soft approach, peacekeeping legacy etc) would make us better at the job than some other forces. But let's face it, in the Canadian Forces, the reg force has cultural contempt for the reserves and is generally pretty open about it, and as a result neither the regs nor the reserves trust each other. How did we ever expect to rise above that to be able to treat the ANSF appropriately to build trust? If we giggle at how they dress, we probably aren't emotionally mature enough to interfere with their institutions.

Maybe the Americans are right to doctrinally confine the indigenous training task to their SF, who are carefully selected and trained. But in Afg, when the SF weren't launching sexy direct action raids they were talking about arming the tribes, seemingly oblivious to the consequences of arming and empowering randomly selected elements of a population that had a history of blood feuds and vendettas, and no tradition of supporting a central government.

Moreover, they're trained to raise guerrillas to overthrow a government, and not to train a conventional force to protect the government. Maybe that's changing, as for example the US SF and CSOR work in Mali to train that army, though I'd say that experiment worked out sufficiently badly that it could be an example of how not to do business.

I have a theory (one that is not fully explored and just keeps dancing around the edges of my mind) that socially we are too narrow-minded to be able to mass-produce effective trainers for foreign armies, institutionally western armies are too conventional to allow the truly eccentric individuals who can move between cultures (Burton, Wingate, Lawrence, Fertig...) to get to positions of influence.

Maybe the Powell doctrine deserves a second look...

I agree, Mali's collapse this year, almost exactly a year after they welcomed Western special forces training teams, is another example that probably should be read along with Afghanistan about the troubles of using Western trainers for indigenous forces. Again you had the bordering Iran-style ally with its own agenda (Algeria), involving pushing/cajoling potential rebels out of their country over the border, and a West so focussed on the Al Qaeda affiliate threat that they completely ignored the much more capable and popular Muslim nationalist group that routed the deeply unpopular government's forces, at least somewhat co-opted by Western power support. And no one can help but notice the parallels now between the Afghan Taliban and the Malian MOJWA extremists who have emerged this last summer powerful out of the ensuing chaos and destroyed the idolatrous ruins (and major tourist attraction) of Timbuktu, Bamiyan-style.

A lot of people who thought they had drawn the correct lessons from Afghanistan were involved in the Mali adventure, and Afghan history has, indeed, repeated itself there as tragic farce. This should tell us something.

Posted by BruceR at 09:47 PM

September 17, 2012

Afghanistan: yeah, it's pretty much over

US suspends joint operations with Afghan army in wake of recent green-on-blues.

Militarily significant? Not as much as you'd think. But yeah... the mutual hatred and misunderstanding is clearly now at such intolerable levels it's difficult to see any way back even to where we were 3 years ago. As a veteran of this particular fight, I'm not surprised any more, but still disappointed. I wish the outcome could have been different, but not with the inputs going in. I hate to say it, but in retrospect the 2009 US surge into Afghanistan was pretty much a failure. What was needed then was a different vision, involving a radical drawdown of the Western presence and retrenching to what was achievable, if there was even any chance of salvaging anything long term by that point. My personal hopes that we had held the line in a dysfunctional environment until the US could get there in mid 2009 were basically shattered on the realization that that surge--with all of its trying to apply the Iraq surge template to a very different country--just made everything all the more dysfunctional still.

I will say one thing though, about the anonymous spox comment that "we can't trust these people." We never trusted them. Ever. Not as far as we could throw them. And they never trusted us in return. Maybe because that's because we grew the Afghan army too fast. Maybe that's because we had insufficient people we could mentor the right way, with all the cultural immersion and risk and unorthodoxy that entailed. Maybe that's because ultimately their war aims and ours were completely divergent, something we could never ever paper over. Maybe all of the above. But the trust was always something you could measure in a teaspoon. Hospitality? sure (at least by them); politeness? no doubt. But tangible, operationally-significant trust between fellow soldiers? Yeah, not so much.

See also Pat Lang.

UPDATE: In retrospect, the suspension of Afghan Local Police training was indicative.

Posted by BruceR at 10:28 PM

September 13, 2012

On the embassy attacks

I'm not conceding that the Obama administration has been apologizing for America (it hasn't, that's another Romneylie). I'm just saying, given what is now known about the current hothead instigator sheltering behind rights he doesn't deserve, that the world as a whole probably deserves an apology from somebody about now.

Posted by BruceR at 11:26 AM