By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Handler Staff Sgt. Jonathan Cooper of the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Group takes a break with his dog dog, Astra, after a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) patrol at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan on April 29, 2013. Over the past four months, the MWD team has swept more than 15,000 vehicles, mitigating all VBIED threats to the installation.
In other news, props to Handler Sgt. Phillip Mendoza and MWD Benga for taking first place in 2013 USAF Academy Iron Dog Competition in Colorado Springs last week.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis
By Nick Francona
Best Defense guest columnist
After reading Rajiv Chandrasekaran's article about the Sept 14, 2012, attack on Camp Bastion/Leatherneck, I wanted to respond to comments made by Maj. Gen. Gurganus.
There is an apparent attitude that this attack occurred because of a failure of British and Tongan troops to secure their side of the perimeter near the Bastion airfield. It may well be true that Tongan troops would sleep on post, however, this does not excuse Marine commanders from inspecting and enforcing rigid standards. Force protection is the responsibility of the commander and because Maj. Gen. Gurganus had hundreds of troops stationed on the Bastion side of the base, he is responsible for overseeing a solid plan to protect his Marines and his aircraft. It is unacceptable and beneath a Marine general to chalk this up to a Tongan failure.
I have spent time at Leatherneck and Bastion as a transient, on the way in and out of parts of rural Helmand. It was obvious to even a casual observer that many of the posts were unmanned and were comically left with a "green Ivan" silhouette target as a half-hearted attempt at deterrence. The fact that there was dead-space around the largest U.S. military installation in the province is a fundamental failure and simply unacceptable. Additionally, it was widely known that there were issues with undocumented TCNs (third-country nationals) on the base that represented a major counterintelligence challenge. It was naive to think that the enemy would be unaware of the existence of unmanned towers.
From the article:
"You can't defend everywhere every day," Gurganus said in response to a question about the attack. "You base your security on the threat you've got." He said the Taliban caught "a lucky break."
"When you're fighting a war, the enemy gets a vote," he said.
While it is indeed impossible to mitigate all risks, even on large bases, I vehemently disagree with Maj. Gen. Gurganus' assertion that you can't defend everywhere every day in this context. It is indeed understandable to have VBIED and suicide bomber incidents at entry control points (ECPs) of bases, but it is another story entirely to have a dismounted assault penetrate your perimeter and stroll onto your airfield. His claim that you base your security on the threat you've got is the root cause for the environment of complacency that enabled this tragic event to occur. His statement about the enemy getting a vote is absurd in this context. Indeed the enemy does get a vote, but so do you, especially when it comes to defending nearly all Marine aviation assets in the region and a large concentration of personnel. Precisely because the enemy gets a vote, he has an obligation to anticipate and counter the enemy, and act like it is a war zone and actively defend his men and assets. The enemy's "vote" is not akin to a hall pass to stroll onto the base.
The most offensive of his statements is coining the attack a lucky break. The attack only occurred because of an egregious failure in basic infantry practices. The enemy may have been lucky to exploit these failures, but neglect was the precondition that set the stages for this attack. Intelligence analysts should not have to issue a warning of an impending frontal assault on a major military base for the base to be prepared.
There is an appalling lack of accountability and introspection that is evident in Maj. Gen. Gurganus' comments about this incident. It is painfully obvious that this attack would not have been successful, or likely even attempted, if not for multiple security failures at Leatherneck/Bastion. This single episode highlights a much larger problem of accountability in the Marine Corps. It is nearly impossible to get fired for incompetence.
We need to stop treating the Marine Corps like a teachers union and demand excellence and accountability from our officer corps.
Was it Normandy? Blenheim? Waterloo? Goose Green? No to all.
Perhaps Naseby or Culloden? No again. El Alamein? Nope.
It was, indeed, Imphal and Kohima, the turning point in the fighting in South Asia during World War II. Now, I'm a Burma theater fan as much as the next guy. But this still surprised me. I wonder why they picked that. It wasn't just because President Obama's grandfather served there. Perhaps it was the ever-growing reputation of General Slim?
(HT to PL who had to read the original article upside down)
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
I came across a series of photos of Wilbur, a U.S. Marine Special Operations dog, taken over the last few weeks in Afghanistan by Marine Corps photographer Sgt. Pete Thibodeau. The collection of images follows Wilbur through Helmand Province -- working security, encountering livestock, playing fetch in front of an idle Humvee, and watching a group of children, his ears pricked in earnest attention.
Today's post title (and the use of the word "adventures") isn't intended to be flippant -- Wilbur is a Special Ops dog, which means his job is especially taxing and dangerous. But Thibodeau's photos show the non-violent side of combat-zone living from Wilbur's point of view with its own kind of wonder and whimsy -- a view worth seeing.
More photos of Wilbur are after the fold but first a couple of War-Dog Announcements:
60 Minutes will be airing a segment on MWDs this Sunday, April 21, called "Sniffing Out Bombs." The show sent a correspondent out to Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, home to the nation's premier pre-deployment course run by the USMC and Gunnery Sgt. Kristopher Reed Knight and his crew of experienced handlers. (I spent two weeks there last year.) Longtime readers of this column are likely to see the faces of those written about here on the CBS news show this week.
For DC locals (and supporters near and far): The Third Annual Annapolis 5K Run & Dog Walk is raising funds for America's VetDogs -- an organization that "provides service and assistance dogs, free of charge, to disabled veterans." The run will kick off at 9 am this Sunday at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, Maryland. Looks like early registration has closed but walk-ups are welcome, as are dogs -- leashed, of course.
U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released
Maj. Charles Wagenblast, a military intelligence reservist, brought home this story from Afghanistan about an Afghan colonel:
One of the colonels that we both knew had been accused of raping a chai boy, badly. They all have chai boys, it's not some perverted thing, it's just what they do. Women are for juma. The only time you interact with your wife is on Friday, the rest of the time it's chai boys. He had been raping this chai boy, which is normal, but he had hurt him really bad. That caused the medical people to get involved and other forces. So he's there in front of the judge, who is an imam. It's religion mixed with law, the whole code of law would fit in a pamphlet and then there's the Koran there on top of it. Anyway, his defense was, "Honestly, who hasn't raped a chai boy? Ha ha ha." And the judge goes, "You're right. Case dismissed."
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released/DVIDS
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
When a series of 12 bombings rocked Mumbai in March 1993 -- blasts that killed over 250 people and left more than 700 others injured -- one member of India's Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad (BDDS) was heralded as savior, a golden lab called Zanjeer. And now, two decades later, Zanjeer's photo and his story are making the Internet rounds once again, this time in memorandum.
Zanjeer's first find during those fateful days came on March 15, when he gave his signature three-bark alert on a bomb-laden scooter parked on Dhanji Street, a mere "stone's throw away" from BDDS headquarters. In the days that followed he reportedly saved thousands more lives by finding explosives in "unclaimed suitcases" discovered at the Siddhivinayak temple and then again a few days later at the Zaveri Bazaar. All in all, Zanjeer helped members of the BDDS find, as reported by Reuters, "more than 3,329 kgs of the explosive RDX, 600 detonators, 249 hand grenades and 6406 rounds of live ammunition."
Zanjeer, named after a 1973 Hindi action film about a lone honest cop who perseveres in a world overrun by corruption, was trained in Pune and joined the officers of India's BDDS in 1992 at just one years old. The much beloved and lauded dog went on to have an illustrious and astoundingly productive eight-year career, during which he was credited with uncovering: "11 military bombs, 57 country-made bombs, 175 petrol bombs, and 600 detonators." These finds coming after the March bombings in 1993.
When Zanjeer died of bone cancer (other reports say lung failure) in November of 2000, his fellow officers gave him full honors during a ceremony and memorial service -- as seen in this photo as a senior official places flowers over Zanjeer's body. And while the world is remembering this dog 20 years later, citizens of Mumbai are said to have commemorated the anniversary of Zanjeer's death yearly.
According to Zanjeer's obituary, "The cops grew so dependent on Zanjeer that there were occasions when they would bring only Zanjeer and no equipment." The chief of BDDS during Zanjeer's tenure, Nandkumar Choughule, said that the dog was "god sent" and that when men were not able to track down the explosives, it was Zanjeer who found them.
Ricks: Michèle, you looked like you were about to say something.
Flournoy: I think that this discussion is about the alignment of objectives. Are they consistently aligned with our interests? And is the level of cost bearable and appropriate, given the nature of our interests?
I saw that sort of insight applied to subsequent cases. I think the experience of Iraq -- the inherited operations of both Iraq and Afghanistan -- caused us to have a very fundamental strategic discussion about Libya, for example, and why we weren't going to put boots on the ground, invade the country, own it, et cetera. People have said, you know-- it's the caricature of leading from behind, and that this is some terrible mistake for the U.S.
What it was, was really circumscribing our involvement to match what were very limited interests, to say we are going to play a leadership role that enables others who have more vital interests to come in and be effective. But we are not going to be out in front; we are not going to own this problem; we are not going to rebuild Libya.
I think that the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan -- working through how do you get operations back onto a track where your interests and your actions are aligned -- also informed things like Libya, like Syria, and so forth. You can argue whether or not that we made the calculation right, whether we got it right or not. But I'm just saying that the conversation -- the fundamentals conversation -- did happen in subsequent cases because of, I think, the experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ricks: Would you say that President Obama -- to put you on spot -- is good at having that sort of conversation?
Flournoy: In my experience he is. If the staff doesn't -- if the process doesn't serve it up to him -- he's usually pretty good at saying you're not asking the right question, the right question is "x."
Brimley: I mean just as a two-finger on that. That was my first month at the White House when that happened. And it was an amazing process to watch almost from start to finish as a case study in how a president considers the use of force.
Ricks: You're talking about Libya?
Brimley: Yes. When you read the history it seemed to me that with the decision to invade Iraq, there might not have been a formal National Security Council meeting where the benefits were voiced in open session in a proper process. But [on Libya] the president held at least three or four full National Security Council meetings and dozens of deputies and principals meetings to weigh that issue.
Ricks: And was the question why front and center?
Brimley: Yes, very much so.
Point No. 2: When you look at the mechanics of what we did in Libya, we provided a set of capabilities that were unique. We had unique comparative advantage: air- to-air refueling, ISR architecture, command-and-control architecture.
Alford: Geography mattered on that too.
Brimley: Geography, yes absolutely. The fact that we had a presence in the Mediterranean already was very helpful.
Alford: And you have an ocean.
Brimley: Right. We provided this set of unique capabilities that were enabling for other partners, to include partners from the Gulf to act in ways that they hadn't before. Every situation is different.
But I think that process, at least for someone like me relatively young, as a case study in how we think about how we think about use-of-force decision-making and the way we provide unique capabilities in the future is hugely informative.
The second thing I'd say on Libyais that as a young person, my limited experience dealing with these issues has been informed almost entirely by Iraq and Afghanistan. So when we were debating Libya, people in my generation were very sort of hesitant to really almost do anything. Almost a hard-core realist approach of "it's not really core to our national interests; we shouldn't get involved." But the people, I think, who had came of age in the Clinton administration who dealt with limited uses of force -- no-fly zones -- were much more willing to entertain creative solutions. So people in my generation, I think, going forward will tend to be an all-in or all-out.
Ricks: There's an article to be done there on the generational qualities in foreign policymakers.
Brimley: I think the people within the Clinton administration having dealt with a couple of these use-of-force decisions in the ‘90s were much more creative in how they thought about ways in which we could use force but not go all in.
Alford: A great example, real quick. I was a second lieutenant in Panama when we took out Noriega. And by December 26th the Panamanian people were on our side, but that could have easily been a counterinsurgency fight, but the Panamanian people were very Americanized. We invaded that country, took out its leader, and rebuilt it. And it happened like that because the Panamanian people said yes. By February I was home, drinking beer.
(More to come about, especially about the relationship between golf and force structure)
Glasser: Afghanistan is a very interesting question. Aside from the very early days of pushing the Taliban out, which obviously was a military operation, or the battle of Tora Bora or Shah-i-Kot, since then there have been military operations certainly, but how would we characterize in terms of as a war and then also what do we think of how the U.S. military presence there will be remembered as? Is it going be "we lost this war," or is it that it was a violent political conflict that lasted for more than a decade and was unresolved?
Ricks: I'd like to start by asking the historian and the Marine.
Crist: I agree with General Dubik. We backed into this. That is the fundamental problem, is the long-term strategy for a host of different reasons. I think we'll be remembered as in some cases of duplicating a lot of the problems we've made in our earlier wars, and then when we were faced with a crisis our natural inclination, particularly in the U.S. military, is to fall back on doctrine. We have a counterinsurgency doctrine -- if it worked in Iraq then it's going to work in Afghanistan. And so you just sort of take that and transplant it as if it's sort of a manual on how you're going to do that. And the problem with all these wars is that they are all dependent on the dynamics, and they're completely different. And so our response is a huge surge. Maybe it was the right or wrong answer. I tend to think that it really ultimately didn't solve much in Afghanistan, nothing like it did in Iraq, because the conditions were different.
Alford: First off, I think that we can look back in the future and say we succeeded. Not win but. . . . . Because I do believe that we've spent enough time there, and the transition we are getting ready to make is viable, I believe, from a partnered operational design to an advisory piece and really get out of the way and let them do it. I believe that their army -- in particular their army -- will be able to keep it stable enough for this new government to muddle its way through over the next few years. I think this third election -- a lot of people say the second election in a new democracy is the most important -- it's the third election here. And if it goes and people look at it as somewhat legitimate, then they have a real chance, because the Taliban are not going to come together as an army and take Kabul.
Chandrasekaran: I think this in my view is going to likely wind up as some form of barely satisfactory arrangement of sort of mildly unsatisfactory stalemate that will not be seen as having been anywhere near worth the cost in dollars, and in lives, and in limbs.
Look, I spent a lot of time in places where we surged troops over the last several years. There is discrete impact. I've seen districts where security has improved. It's incontrovertible. When you send in additional numbers of U.S. troops, good things generally follow -- but for a discrete period of time. We didn't achieve the sort of aggregate impact that we saw in Iraq. And we all know the reasons why. Ultimately, I step back and say it was not a wise expenditure of resources.
Stepping back even further, we fundamentally failed to grasp the politics of that country [Afghanistan]. Our solutions were simply not tailored to the environment. And ultimately I think in many parts of the country -- it's already happening -- things will essentially revert back to their natural order. And a natural order that may well in many parts of the country be simply good enough for us. But could we have gotten to that natural order without having spent as many hundreds of billions of dollars and as many years as it has taken us to get there?
Alford: If we had had the courage to make the shift four or five years ago? Absolutely. We took some of the most decentralized people in the entire world and imposed one of the most centralized constitutions on them. It's ludicrous that President Karzai appoints a district governor and a district police chief. I'm telling you, the people where I come from -- Rome, Georgia -- would rise up if the president appointed the county commissioner. It's crazy.
Chandrasekaran: Look, look, people criticize the United States for going around the world and imposing democracy, and I think to myself, well only if we shared with people the sort of democracy that made our country great. The Afghan Constitution on paper centralizes power like no other state -- I suppose like North Korea. I mean, it's crazy.
(More to come-first, about Syria and Libya)
Ricks: Rajiv, you have been unnaturally patient. [Gestures dramatically with open right hand] This is a man who, in Baghdad, was famous for shouting at people, "Right now, right now, right now!" He was a great bureau chief.
Chandrasekaran: I'm just taking all this in. It's fascinating. I find myself agreeing with an awful lot of what's being said around the table.
Just sort of building on a lot of this, I feel like the military does a great job of looking at troop-to-task calculations. We don't we do that on the diplomatic side of things? There was this assumption building on, all right, September 12: Was the Taliban really our enemy? We then -- fast-forward a couple months -- think that we can have a reasonably strong central government, civilian government, in a country with zero institutions, with no human capacity. There just, from the very beginning, weren't the necessary questions asked about what this would take, not from a military point of view, but from a whole-of-government point of view.
All these assumptions get baked in that wind up being completely contradictory and counterproductive to any efforts to build a stable government, and at no point do we step up and say, "Wait. This doesn't make sense." Part of it's a bandwidth issue. Part of it is, I think, civilian sides of our government aren't doing the necessary sorts of calculations about: Is this in our best interests? Is this doable? What would it take to do it? And then, even further, getting right back to the beginning, the question of space; one associated issue with this -- and I don't mean to blame the victim here -- we don't do a good enough job of saying no to the partners we're trying to help. Not just internationally, but the Afghans themselves. You know, when the Afghans say, "We want to centralize power in Kabul because, you know, Ashraf Ghani says it's going to help fight corruption," we don't push back meaningfully and say, "Yes, but it's completely unrealistic given the capacity of your government." When [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai says, "We want you ISAF forces to go push into these districts because we've got bad guys there," we don't do a good enough job of saying, "Wait a second; it doesn't make sense to do that."
Ricks: General Jabouri, listening to this, as someone who has dealt with the Americans, what do you think of Rajiv's analysis? Are the Americans able to say no? Do they make intelligent decisions, from your perspective as an Iraqi general and a mayor of a city?
Jabouri: I think the Americans, in the beginning, always take the ally from who said, "OK, do everything they want." And they're strong. Like Chalabi, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, someone, they always say to them, "OK, I'm from this hand to this hand [extends hands, palms up]." But after that discover they chose the wrong man. The ally is not the man who says it is always OK to do things.
Ricks: So again, a lack of sufficient thought, of understanding, going into the situation.
Jabouri: I think also they depended totally on the people outside Iraq, not from inside Iraq. The do not make a balance between that, but now we see the result in Iraq, with what happened.
Ricks: Ms. Flournoy?
Flournoy: I think this point about really being thoughtful about your political objectives and what's the goals and the strategy to achieve them and not being all things to all people is really important. And I think it is something that we really struggle with. When you ask why, I do think it does also speak to the imbalance in our own investment as a government. I mean, we have this tremendously -- well, at least historically -- well-resourced military, well trained, well cultivated. Obviously when you put thousands of Americans in harm's way, a lot of attention is going to rightfully be focused in that direction to make sure we know what we're doing and are managing that well.
But again, if you think what drives the success or failure of these operations, it is your political objectives and your political strategy and how well you frame those question. I would argue we don't grow on the civilian side grand strategists, we don't grow political strategists. You occasionally find them, and I can list a few I admire and respect. But I remember one of the most difficult moments of the Iraqi government formation, sitting in the embassy in Baghdad saying, "Well, what're we going to do? What's our strategy to help them cohere?" Not that the U.S. was going to dictate the outcome, but how are we going to help get over this hump and move forward? Having the senior political officer at the time tell me, "Well, that's not my job. My job, as the political officer, is to observe and report." And I said, "I'm sorry. We invaded a country. We are occupying this country. Your job is thinking about the political strategy that's going to help put it back together again on sustainable terms." But that's not what we train people to do; it's not what we resource them to do. And I do think it's connected to this fundamental imbalance of resources and that we didn't put enough time, attention, thought, focus, resources into the whole civilian side of what we were doing.
Dubik: In conflicts that are essentially not winnable, militarily. The military operations are necessary, but they're not sufficient. They're not even decisive.
Ricks: Emile Simpson makes this very good point in his new book, War From the Ground Up, as a young British officer who fought in Afghanistan that you've got to turn Clausewitz on his head and look as this as violent politics, not as warfare that leads to a political outcome. A lot of it is political operations coming out of the barrel of a gun.
By "An SF Vet"
Best Defense guest contributor
When SF moved there they fell in on a ton of unvetted ALP that the regular Army had "trained." Why was the regular Army standing up ALP, when they have no real understanding about how to properly vet and conduct unconventional warfare? Great question. Probably because a sorry officer made the poor decision to allow this to happen.
So the ODA fell in on hundreds of these poorly-trained, unvetted Afghans. So, they did what they were told, set up a base out there, and began vetting these guys with the last month they had in country. Fast forward to another sorry officer that told the team to "Hurry up and vet these guys" so he could tell higher how great of a job they were doing. When they said they had only vetted, like, 40 percent, they were told that wasn't good enough, and the officer then padded the stats because in his exact words, "I can't tell a general we only vetted 40 percent."
I can't speak to everything that happened this past year, but this is the sort of thing that causes green on blue. The conventional Army has no business setting up ALP, but since that is the hot ticket these days, people only want to mass-produce them. The current team on the ground has done a lot of good things there, but it is hard (and dangerous) when you have leaders that allow this to happen.
Morals of the story:
1) Start giving higher the real story (I am talking to you, shitty, self-serving, careerist field grades).
2) The war isn't over yet for the guys on the ground, so support them and give them what they require to be successful.
3) Stop allowing conventional Army to do unconventional tasks.
Flournoy: Two things, and especially because I think in Iraq, because the fundamental premise for the war was shown to be false, that should have triggered exactly the kind of discussion that: "Uh-oh, here we are. We've discovered there are no WMD, so what are we trying to do here, and what is our strategy and what are the risks and what are the tradeoffs and how much in resources are we willing to put in?" And then, the perverse effect is that it also affected Afghanistan because once the focus was on Iraq, Afghanistan really did become an economy-of-force effort for the first many years, which also takes the oxygen out of the fundamental strategic discussion.
Fastabend: I discovered this dilemma in Iraq. I wasn't in charge of strategy; I was in charge of operations. From the strategy guys, I would get the strategic conditions I was supposed to achieve: "Secure the borders of Iraq; end the violence. Our job is done. Make it happen." And no choices had been made, no options, nothing really was useful with respect to strategy.
Ricks: Shawn and Michèle, you both effectively held strategic positions. In fact, Shawn had the title, director of strategy for the American Empire.
Glasser: That's a capital "E"?
Ricks: Again and again we're coming back to original sin, fruit of the poisoned tree, and strategic confusion at the outset, where the system did not work, where the differences were not examined, and where assumptions were not examined either.
Brimley: Right, so I think we have a profound inability to make hard, clear strategic choices, but then I think that forces us to react, right? It forces us into a reactive posture. And for years I've heard the phrase, "Oh, Shawn, you know the enemy has a vote. The enemy has a vote." But we have a veto, right? And as we think about the years ahead, as we think about a constrained fiscal environment, we're going to have to make hard choices. And the enemy is going to try to lure us to do things that are not in our comparative advantage, so we're going to have to face up to the notion that we can veto that. We have a choice, and that's in how we prosecute these things. Those choices carry inherent levels of risk, but we should embrace that, not run from it.
Ricks: Michèle, why doesn't the system make hard choices?
Flournoy: Well, I can speak to what I experienced in the Obama administration. A lot of what we're talking about here happened in a much earlier period. I'm just guessing, I'm speculating, that part of why this initial fundamental strategic rethink didn't happen in Iraq is that, in the middle of [the war], you've gone in and you've broken the china, and now you have to say, "Whoops. The fundamental premise was wrong. Now what are we going to do?"
That's a very politically fraught thing for an administration to do when it's got tens of thousands of Americans in harm's way on the ground for a mission that was very controversial from the beginning. I think it would have been an extraordinary act of leadership for, whether it was the president or the national security advisor, you know, the team, to sort of say, "Hey, wait a minute. This is not what we thought it was. What are our interests? How do we clearly define a new set of objectives and make some choices about how we're going to prosecute this?"
Ricks: That explains Iraq, but does it explain Afghanistan?
Flournoy: In Afghanistan -- again, I wasn't there in the early days-- I think that we were very good at getting in, very poor at seeing the way out. And I think part of the reason why we migrated from the focus on al Qaeda to "What are we going to do about Afghanistan writ large?" is getting caught in the sense of: What is a sustainable outcome? If you take too narrow an approach, it's like taking your hand out of the water. Once you leave, you're right back in the exact same situation where you have a government that's providing safe haven and you're facing a threat again. And yet we never really resourced, fully resourced, a counterinsurgency strategy until very late in the game when Obama did the review. But that was like coming in the middle -- the symphony had been playing for a number of years. You're inheriting something and now trying to say, "Well, now, given the interests at stake, clearly define who is the enemy, who is not. What's the limited outcome we're going to try to achieve, and how do we go after that?" But it's a lot harder to do coming into the middle of an operation with a lot of history than it is to do it right from the beginning. And I think that we probably would have defined it differently had we had that opportunity to shape it from the beginning, but given where we were and what we inherited, I think, you know, we did the best we could.
Ricks: Jim, it seems to me that what this conversation is saying is that there's something profoundly wrong at the civil-military interface, and your initial question speaks to this.
Dubik: The sense that I'm getting is we spend too much time worried about control and autonomy and less time talking about shared responsibility in strategic and operational decisions. The civil-military discourse is defined by civilian control of the military -- absolutely essential to it -- but all relationships are more complex than one formula can ever describe. So, while control and autonomy are part of the relationship, the shared responsibility is a huge part that doesn't seem to get as much play in the professional military education or in the development processes that are used for producing civilian strategists and leaders.
Ricks: This is an unfair question, but let me ask it anyway. If you could rewind us to Sept. 11, 2001, how should civil-military discourse have been conducted at that point?
Dubik: Well it certainly should have been centered around the fundamental questions, not of how, but of why and what.
But I'd like to kind of challenge the discussion a little bit, in the sense that we didn't have these analyses. When I went back and reviewed your books [gestures at Ricks], Woodward's books, Michael Gordon's book, your book [gestures at Chandrasekaran], I see a very similar pattern with respect to Iraq for sure. There are at least eight or nine major strategic reviews that clearly identified that what we were doing was not working. Yet we didn't make really a big shift until 2007. My bet is you could go through and find papers about Afghanistan that say the same thing, that until you [gestures to Flournoy] did the review in 2009, that there were plenty of evidence that what we were doing wasn't working, but we had no shift. Back to your original question. The first question was more about how and not enough about why and what, and then we couldn't adapt. It wasn't just in Afghanistan that we were treating it as an economy of force -- we were -- but it was an economy of thought. There wasn't the attention.
Flournoy: Because there's no bandwidth.
Brimley: There's only so much bandwidth for policymakers, and what you see early in Afghanistan is all the planning power on the military and civilian side gets sucked into the Iraq problem. And it is sort of on autopilot: Things are going well; there's not a lot of thought that needs to be given to it.
Ricks: Bandwidth? When I go back and read the papers of George Marshall and other senior leaders in 1939, 1940, '41, they're dealing with much bigger problems, global issues, and they are making really hard choices, such as: Let the Philippines go, keep the sea lines of communication open to Australia--but win in Europe first. These are basic, fundamental things.
So I would argue with the bandwidth thing. What's clogging them up nowadays?
Crist: The initial question I raised was: Do commanders have to think? And I think it gets to what General Dubik said about getting focused on shooting the close-in target.
We don't think about the long-term ramifications of the actions and the strategy. In my view, the great failing of Tommy Franks, he never asked about that the assumptions were coming down about what this campaign would look like -- assumptions being facts in the campaign design. Those assumptions were never challenged. In many ways, as I describe in my book, there was no red team to look at, "OK, how is this going to impact Iran? Does it open opportunities for them, or does it have a deterrent effect?" And so I think that, having sat down with a number of top commanders and staff, that piece of it isn't done. It's almost discouraged because "that's the policymakers' realm, it's not ours."
Dubik: Well that's the civil-military issue. It's control and autonomy. So, at least on the military side, the bulk of the training is deductive training. You are given a mission, you are given an end state, you are tossed over the transom the strategy, and just. . . .
Ricks: When you're talking about shared responsibilities, it seems to me you're talking about trust. Trust is the essence of that shared responsibility -- the sense of a common future, that we trust each other, we'll be working on this. It seems to me you're saying there's a fundamental lack of trust in our civil-military system.
Mudd: Hold on. One interjection that relates to bandwidth is the difference between choices and questions. I think [back in 2001] we blew over the questions. You said it's not "how," which is what we did on Sept. 12; it's why and what. On Sept. 12, 2001, can you imagine asking the question: Is the Taliban really a threat? Today, 12 years later, I'd say, "Well clearly it's not a threat! In fact, they're going to be in the government!" But we blew through the question, which led to space, because you have to have space because the Taliban's a problem -- in retrospect, they weren't. So we made a choice, but we didn't know we had a choice.
I'll close by saying there's a bandwidth issue; part of this is the speed of decision-making in Washington. Can you imagine at the Washington Post, sitting back on Sept. 12 and saying, "Wait a minute; you sure the Taliban's a threat?" You would have been crushed. That, clearly, would have been a good question.
Ricks: I want to go to two things here. Dave Fastabend, you talk about the inability to make hard choices. How do we get the system to surface and make hard choices?
Fastabend: I think we need to relook at what we teach about strategy and train people about how these decisions are made. I think we should teach strategy much like the Harvard Business School teaches strategic decision-making in business, on a case-study basis. There's lots of good history out there where they could teach people what were, in essence, the choices people had in various situations. You [Ricks] very articulately described the ones Marshall had. Talk about what the options were, how they made the trades and came to it. But don't take people through these ridiculous exercises about define the ends you want and go see if someone can make a path to it.
(and more yet to come)
Crist: I agree on the notion of the tendency of the U.S. military. In Vietnam, they used to call it the "Little Brown Man Syndrome," which is: The Americans come in and show you how to really fight your war. But I think with Afghanistan the fundamental problem is a lack of a long-term strategy. What do we want Afghanistan to do? And I see we sort of evolved into it without a lot of thinking.
The initial force went in; we got enamored with the idea of SOF [special operations forces], light footprint, using the Northern Alliance -- in fact we probably should have had more conventional forces. We missed a lot of opportunities as these guys skirted across Pakistan, and we, frankly, allowed them to do it because the Afghans wouldn't go after them. If they wanted to sit up in the hills, the Northern Alliance was more than happy to let them sit in the mountains, and we didn't have that capability.
Then the problem is, as we slowly evolve with, frankly, not a lot of thought -- if you look at the force incrementally increasing, it's not a well-articulated strategy. Then it comes to the point where, well, we have the force, we need to start doing this ourselves, and we sort of fall back on our natural patterns and tendencies and things that are comfortable with an effective military that likes to solve problems. So I lay it on the long-term strategy that went in in 2001.
Jabouri: Let me say something from my experience: I think American forces focus just on the enemy, on al Qaeda, and they forget about the people.
I think if you want to win the war against al Qaeda, you should protect the people first. The American forces always, in the beginning, in Iraq, they put their eyes on al Qaeda, and they don't care about the people. I think the security forces can't create the security without the long-term forces. If you now go to Kurdistan in Iraq, if you see the images, Kurdistan has very good security, but they do not have many checkpoints or forces. The people have, and the government has the security forces to keep the security. They are the people in other parts of Iraq, the people not interested in the security forces of Iraq because they do not have to create the security.
Ricks: This seems to go to Phil Mudd's question of space versus targeting, but it seems to me also to Colonel Alford's comments because one of the answers to reconciling space and targeting is to have local forces occupy the space, not American forces that alienate locals.
Dubik: But a strategy, correctly or not, a strategy that emphasizes local forces, building local conditions, is de facto a long-term strategy. It gets right back to the question of -- we backed into both these wars.
Ricks: Not unlike in Vietnam, where we put in ground troops originally to protect the air bases.
Dubik: And it sucked us in. We just backed ourselves into the problem we faced, and had we thought that the solution was going to be a 10- or 15-year solution, we certainly would not have committed. We would have changed many of the decisions that we made, but we didn't adopt the indigenous force because we thought we could solve it and leave.
Fastabend: I think the reason we do that consistently is, as I hinted at in my question (I really liked your question; I'll explain to you why), is because we think strategy and we keep strategy, and our theory of strategy is the linkage of ends, ways, and means, which is how I got here, which is how I'll do my job tomorrow.
It is pablum; it is a way to avoid making a real choice, so no one in or out of the government ever said to themselves, "Let's decide what we're going to do. Are we going to target individuals regardless of space, or are we going to go in there and have space?" No, what we said is, "We need a stable government in Iraq, so therefore, you need a stable government in Iraq." Deductive logic tells you that you need to control everywhere in Iraq. And then you have to worry about the security forces; you've got to make sure they've got border patrols. And we never went back to the fundamental choice about what do we really need to do. We hide choices. We never talk about choices because choices are hard and choices mean making a decision. Choices mean taking responsibility for who makes the choice and which choice they take -- and that, in my view, is the biggest flaw we have institutionally in this country, is we've got very shallow theory and doctrine about what strategy really is.
Ricks: This is a great comment.
(Much more to come)
Ricks: What I hear from around this table is a remarkable, surprising consensus to me. I'm not hearing any tactical problems, any issues about training, about the quality of our forces.
Instead, again and again what I'm hearing is problems at the strategic level, especially problems of the strategic process. To sum up the questions, they are asking: Do our military and civilian leaders know what they are doing? And that goes to the process issues and to general strategic thinking. That's one bundle of questions. The second emphasis I'm hearing, and this also kind of surprised me, is, should we have, from the get-go, focused on indigenous forces rather than injecting large conventional forces? That is, in Iraq and Afghanistan, have we tried to do El Salvador, but wound up instead doing Vietnam in both, to a degree?
Mudd: Just one quick comment on that as a non-military person: It seems to me there's an interesting contrast here between target and space. That is: Do we hold space and do we help other people help us hold space, or do we simply focus on a target that's not very space-specific? And I think at some point fairly early on we transitioned there [from target to space], which is why I asked my initial question. A lot of the comments I hear are about the problem of holding space, and should we have had someone else do it for us? And I wonder why we ever got into that game.
Ricks: Into which game?
Mudd: Into the game of holding space as opposed to eliminating a target that doesn't really itself hold space.
Alford: It's our natural tendency as an army to do that. To answer another question, it's also our natural tendency as an army to build an army that looks like us, which is the exact opposite of what we should do. They're not used to our culture. One quick example, if I could: the Afghan border police. The border police, we tried to turn them into, essentially, like our border police and customs agents. Right across the border, the Pakistani Army uses frontier guardsmen. Why do they do that? They use their culture -- a man with a gun that fights in the mountains is a warrior. He's respected by his people. He's manly. All those things matter, and it draws men to that organization. We always talk about how our borders on [the Afghan] side are so porous; it's because we don't have a manly force that wants to go up into the mountains and kill bad guys, because we didn't use their culture.
Ricks: So we're already breaking new ground here. We're holding up the Pakistanis as a model!
Alford: On that piece. It's a cultural thing.
Dubik: I agree with the second comment. On the first point, in terms of why we held space, I think it's how we defined the problem. We defined the problem not as al Qaeda -- it was "al Qaeda and those who give them sanctuary." And so we couldn't conceive of a way to get at al Qaeda without taking the Taliban down, and because of the problem definition, we inherited a country.
Ricks: So what you're saying is actually that these two problems I laid out come together in the initial strategic decision framing of the problem.
Fastabend: I don't think there was such framing.
Ricks: The initial lack of framing...
Fastabend: Getting back to Ms. Cash, we didn't really decide what the questions were. We thought we knew the question. You know, we thought we had in each case [of Afghanistan and Iraq] governments to support that would hold space, and that was a secondary thing that came on us when we got there: that actually the sovereign government wasn't so sovereign.
Ricks: I just want to throw in the question that [British] Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb sent. He couldn't be here today. General Lamb said, "My question is, given the direction I had -‘remove the Taliban, mortally wound al Qaeda, and bring its leadership to account' -- who came up with the neat idea of rebuilding Afghanistan?"
Mudd: It's interesting. If you define threat as capability and intent to strike us, then I think there's confusion early on with the Taliban, because I would say they had neither the capability nor intent to strike us, but they provide safe haven. If you look at areas where we have entities that have those twin capabilities or those twin strengths -- Yemen and Somalia come to mind, maybe northern Mali -- we're able to eliminate threat without dealing with geography. So there are examples where you can say, "Well, we faced a fundamental -- I mean, not as big a problem as Afghanistan." But you look at how threat has changed in just the past two years, and I don't think anyone would say that the threat, in terms of capability and intent, of Shabab or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is anywhere near where it was a few years ago. That's because we focused on target, not geography.
Glasser: Just to go back to this question, was the original sin, if you will, focusing on U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan, versus working from the beginning to create or shore up local forces? I want to probe into that a little bit. How much did people at the time understand that as a challenge? I remember being in Kabul for the graduation of the first U.S.-trained contingent of Afghan army forces, and they were Afghan army forces. These guys worked for warlords that had come together, Northern Alliance warlords who made up the fabric of the Defense Ministry. They had nothing to do with an Afghan force, and that's why we're still training them now.
Ricks: But Colonel Alford's point is that, those are the guys you want to work with, though. But don't work with them on your terms; work with them on their terms.
Glasser: But that's what we did. That's what we do. We worked with the warlords in Afghanistan. That's who our partners were in toppling the Taliban.
Alford: But we never turned it over to them, though. In '04, I was [in Afghanistan] as a battalion commander. We never would let them fight unless we always led the way. It's part of our culture, too, as soldiers and Marines. You send an infantry battalion into a fight, they're going to fight. It takes a lot to step back and let the Afghans do it, and do it their way. Provide them the medevacs and fire support -- that's the advisory role for those missions we're going to switch to this spring, and I'm all for it. We should have done this four years ago, but now we also need to see if this is going to work over the next almost two years. We need to be ruthless with young lieutenant colonels and colonels who want to get out there and fight, or generals who do, to support the Afghans and then see how they do against the Taliban. I'll tell you how they're gonna do: They're gonna whoop 'em. The Taliban does not have the capability to beat the Afghan army if we get out of their way.
By "Pierre Tea"
Best Defense guest columnist
Two months from now, in May 2013, the debate on COIN, as applied to Iraq and Afghanistan, will become academic, historical, and ripe for serious post-application analysis beyond the walls of the Pentagon.
The COINs will have all been spent, the PRTs' tents folded, and whatever hearts and minds purchased, leased, or lost can be counted, weighed against our costs, and their results. To quote Omar Khayyam, "The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on."
No credible analysis could avoid the obvious: that "something" had to be done about Saddam Hussein who ruthlessly threatened his neighbors (our allies) and his own populations, and about Osama bin Laden and his list of supporters, who directly attacked the United States. How did the "something" done work out?
As a first-hand civilian witness to the application and aftermath of "money as a weapon" surged by the billions into active and highly-fragmented war zones, I look forward to post-application debates on the key questions of COIN and PRTs: Did they help, hurt, or just fuel the multi-year conflicts to which they were continuously re-applied?
The U.S. dream of a peaceful and democratic Iraq and Afghanistan, however, has not been realized, and instability in adjacent Syria and Pakistan threatens to unravel anything enduring that we may have, through COIN, hoped to purchase from these two countries without any agreement with the Old Man in the Mountain (Iran), whose negative influence remains substantial, and undermines an accurate audit of what actual hearts and minds were purchased, for how long, and to what end.
My suspicion is that once all the COINs are spent, serious post-engagement analysis will end and the domestic shroud of myths needed to justify the honored dead and injured's contributions will drop in place, with little institutional learning, and even less than myths to show for it.
Leave it to Hollywood to mythologize the region, its history, and the heroism of individuals and incremental missions accomplished and we guarantee that history will repeat itself.
"Pierre Tea" probably has shaken more Afghan sand out of his shorts than you've walked on. This post doesn't necessarily reflect the official views of anyone but it sure does reflect the unofficial views of some.
I've been reading a book by an economic historian that made me think of the anti-corruption campaign in Afghanistan in a different way.
The book is Douglas Allen's The Institutional Revolution. I picked it up because I was so taken by his discussion in an academic article about the organization of command and control in the Royal Navy during the age of fighting sail.
In this book, Allen, looking at the roots of the industrial revolution, argues that the more a society is subject to the whims of nature (drought, flood, wind, and such), the more likely it will appear to modern man to be corrupt. The last sentence in the book is, "What on the surface seem to be archaic, inefficient institutions created by people who just did not know any better, turn out to be ingenious solutions to the measurement problems of the day."
What we call "corruption" is basically the way the world worked before 1860, and much of the world still does today. Indeed, he argues that the British empire was built on a complex web of bribes, kickbacks, and what economists call "hostage capital."
"Institutions are chosen and designed to maximize the wealth of those involved, taking into account the subsequent transaction costs," Allen writes. "The institutions that survive are the ones that maximize net wealth over the long haul."
I think Allen focuses a bit too much on standardization and measurement as driving forces in the changes in 19th century institutions, such as public policing. For example, my experience of theft in small towns is that people often know who does it, and handle it quietly and privately, while in big cities, they have no idea who the criminals are. Hence the need for public police forces in 19th century England as there was a massive movement of people from the countryside to the cities.
Allen also changed the way I understand aristocracy. He argues, persuasively, that the role of aristocracy was to provide loyal, competent, honest service to the crown. Thus their wealth had to be in land that could be confiscated. An aristo who invested in industry was no longer hostage to the crown, and so could no longer be trusted entirely. Hence the creation of strong disincentives to pursuing other forms of wealth, one reason that the ruling class in England tended to sit out the Industrial Revolution.
Overall, a really interesting book, full of thought-provoking facts and assertions.
My friend Bob Killebrew told me weeks ago to read the cover story about the Afghan army that ran Jan. 20 in the New York Times magazine. It is by one Luke Mogelson. I have no idea who he is, but he is impressive.
I finally got a chance to read the thing yesterday. It is really good, one of the best articles I have read about the Afghan war in a long time. Mogelson's bottom line :
The more time I spent with him, the clearer it became that Daowood [an Afghan army battalion commander] was practicing his own version of counterinsurgency, one that involved endearing himself to locals by characterizing as common enemies not only the Taliban but also the Americans and the Afghan government.
Mogelson also has some illuminating observations about the Afghan army soldiers. Sure, he says, they don't dress or march like crack troops. "But," he continues,
...they will also accept a much higher level of risk than any coalition force ever has. Their ranks are filled with tough and brave men who run toward the fight without body armor or helmets or armored vehicles and sleep on the frozen ground without sleeping bags and dig up IED's with a pickax and often go hungry and seldom complain.
Even if you are bored with the Afghan war -- read this one.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Tacked up against a chain-link wall inside FOB Barioli in Helmand Province Afghanistan, is a large plywood sign. Its white paint is buckled and peeling, but you can't miss the message: "We Find What You Fear." Above that large lettering is a monstrous black paw, spray-painted across its middle in scarlet red: "K-9."
FOB Barioli is just one of the many intense backdrops of Glory Hounds, a new feature documentary that follows four U.S. Military Working Dog teams during their combat tours in Afghanistan. Glory Hounds, which premieres tonight at 8pm EST on Animal Planet, offers an in-depth and poignant look at a dog's role in modern war.
The film revolves around the mostly discreet and separate narratives of each handler and his dog -- Lance Corporal Kent Ferrell and Zora, Corporal Drew Nyman and Emily, Staff Sergeant Len Anderson and Azza, and Lance Corporal Durward Shaw and Falko. After introducing each dog team, the film bounces back and forth between their in-country experiences. The majority of these narratives unravel through the action of the moment -- out on patrols, during traffic searches, and while they kick back on base. (Full disclosure, I've written about some of the handlers and dogs featured in this film in my forthcoming book.)
Very little time is wasted in Glory Hounds setting up the premise of military dogs, their history in combat, or their introductory training. Instead John Dorsey and Andrew Stephan, the documentary's creators and directors, wisely focused their film, and subsequently their cameras, on the relationship between the handler and his dog and the dangerous job they do together.
Dorsey and Stephan kept the filmmaking formula pretty simple. As Dorsey explained during an interview earlier this week, "We [and our crew] just tried our best to have our cameras pointed in the right direction when these guys do the heroic stuff they do every day. We tried our best to do justice to the guys that were cool enough to let us ride shotgun."
Glory Hounds's crew worked out of Afghanistan for roughly 10 weeks time during the summer of 2012, embedding with these four dog teams and their units, following them from Camp Leatherneck to Kandahar Air Field to smaller outposts like Barioli. This transpired during the height of the fighting season, when these areas are at their most dangerous and the summer heat is at its hottest.
Through a mix of footage taken from helmet-mounted cameras worn by the handlers and from their embedded crew members (one soundman and one cameraman went out with every patrol), Glory Hounds reveals many rarely, if ever, captured moments of dog teams hunting IEDs outside the wire. The result is a riveting mix of high-pressure scenes -- from heavy firefights to finding a locked box possibly full of explosives, possibly triggered to blow. And Glory Hounds doesn't shy away from the gruesome realities of war -- the IED explosions or the resulting injuries -- leaving them on (almost) full display. And in that way, the two-hour film leans more Restrepo-esque than viewers might expect from an Animal Planet feature. Kudos to Dorsey and Stephan, Animal Planet, and the military for not scrubbing out the grit. The film is still plenty heartwarming; its more intense war scenes are rounded out by the quieter, softer moments captured in the film, but steers clear from being too cloying. The audience watches these young men call home to speak to their families or putting together a makeshift cake from MRE packs for a fellow handler's 21st birthday.
By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen's Royal Hussars
Best Defense guest columnist
Question Set Three -- If we aren't fighting a series of counterinsurgency campaigns, then what are we doing? There are (at least) two possible answers to this question, both of which raise further questions.
The first is that we are fighting a series of punitive campaigns, designed to show to the world the effect of our wrath and the results of crossing us. In which case, why are we concerned with cultural sensitivities and the like -- given that it is presumably their culture (or some part of it) that has led them to displease us in the first place? This may be simplistic (it is) but it is still a question that requires an answer.
The second possible answer is that we are fighting old-fashioned wars of imperial aggression, designed to alter the behavior of other countries so that they better fit into the global system at the head of which sits us; in short, we are compelling our opponent to do our will. This raises a further intriguing question -- if this is the case, why do we look to historical case studies of decolonization for guidance, rather than case studies of colonization? Is it simply so we can feel better about ourselves? There is a third option: We are compelled to invade a country to change its government because it is sheltering terrorist networks that are attacking us. What then?
Or another option, we are compelled to invade a country because of its foreign or nuclear policy that is hostile to our interests but have no interest in reshaping the society and culture in our image at all. What then?
No Pakistani distributor has bought the rights. I imagine that the Taliban and al Qaeda might violently object.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Working at a clip on the snowy ground at Bragram Air Field is Drake, a mine detection dog, and his U.S. Army handler Sgt. Garret Grenier. This dog team (only doing training exercises in this photo taken on Jan. 8th) is part of the 49th Engineer Detachment and their job is to find buried explosives, specifically land mines.
U.S. Army Capt. Jeffrey Vlietstra, the officer-in-charge of the 49th Engineer Detachment, says that the original mission of these dogs that arrived in Afghanistan in 2004 was to find the mines on Bagram Air Field but that "eventually the program expanded and they started working in Kandahar" searching for IEDs.
"Our dog teams are the tip of the spear," Vlietstra explains. "Our engineers clear the way ahead of the maneuver force and our dog teams clear the routes to ensure their safety."
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Atria Books in August 2013.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Bonebrake
Here is the "lede," or first sentence, of an article from the Pakistani newspaper Dawn:
The father of a Pakistani officer investigating a corruption case against the prime minister has questioned whether his son's death was an act of suicide.
By Gary Anderson
Best Defense office of foreign ethics
In 2004-5, I did a study on the future of the Taliban for Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, who was then the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan. After the 2001 U.S.-led intervention, the Taliban had appeared on the run, but three years later, they were making a comeback. What I found in the study was that the Karzai government was the chief enabler of the resurgent Taliban movement. Afghan governmental corruption and incompetence was making the Taliban look good in comparison, despite years of misrule when that organization was in power. As a commander, and later as the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Eikenberry angered Afghan President Karzai by urging reform, and ultimately failed in his attempts to get Karzai to clean up his government in a meaningful way. Today, the Taliban are back in spades. This has damaged every aspect of the U.S. war effort because it affects security, governance, rule of law, and development. These are the pillars of coalition strategy in that unhappy country.
Corruption is exacerbated by the highly centralized Afghan form of government. All provincial (state) and district (county) officials are appointed by the central government in Kabul. On paper, there is nothing wrong with centralization. Many highly-developed democracies such as Japan have basically the same system. It even semi-works in Iraq. Those countries have good transportation and reliable communication systems. This allows the central government to control things that go on in governance in the provinces. None of that is true in Afghanistan. Consequently, it is nearly impossible for the Kabul government to closely monitor the performance of governance and development in the provinces, much less remove incompetent or corrupt officials.
The most pernicious corruption in our province was caused by the provincial commander of the Afghanistan National Police, the provincial prosecutor, and the director of public health. The head cop was a competent administrator, and kept the provincial capital relatively secure; however, he did so by hoarding personnel and resources badly needed by the outlying districts that he was supposed to be supervising. Outside the provincial capital, he was making a handy side-living running a protection racket for drug dealers and smugglers. Some of his handpicked appointees in my district were running extortion and burglary rings.
The prosecutor was making his money by encouraging defense lawyers from all over Afghanistan to send their wealthy clients to our province where he could guarantee light sentences or mere fines for serious offenses. The director of public health for the province, one Dr. Tariq, is a real piece of work. Over three years, he managed to misspend or divert $9 million dollars of World Bank funding, the vast majority of which was U.S.-provided.
While working at the district level, I had success in purging the worst of the bad cops in mid-level leadership positions by threatening to invite Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post to report on police corruption. This did cause the chief to replace to purge eight of them. It was a small start, but a start.
Once I got to the provincial capital as the governance advisor for the entire province, we caught a few breaks; they were caused, not by blatant corruption, but by gender issues. What finally did in the police chief was his reported rape of three female officers who had the gall to file complaints. Although they were eventually forced to retract their charges, a national uproar ensued, and the Afghan national government was embarrassed enough to reassign the top cop. However, to the best of my knowledge, he has not been held accountable for the rest of the corruption he fostered.
The prosecutor became a target because there was national level focus on the fact that many of his client protection scams were related to so-called "honor killings." In these crimes, husbands or other relatives kill a woman or girl for embarrassing the family by such heinous crimes as demanding a divorce or working outside of the house. The scrutiny was encouraged by us, and allowed our local national security directorate commander to organize a sting operation that finally jailed him. However, before he could go to trial, the former prosecutor used his connections to get permission to travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual Haj religious pilgrimage. To the best of my knowledge, he is still on the loose.
Despite our compiling a package on Dr. Tariq and sending it to Kabul, he is still on the job. One of the most appalling charges is that at least 11 women died in childbirth for lack of midwives that World Bank funding had provided for the hiring of such medical personnel in the last year alone.
Almost everyone in the province knew that all three of these characters were bad actors, but no one could do anything about it because they were hired and paid by Kabul. It took outside action by foreigners and the public glare of the media to do what little that we could. Until the Afghan government allows some form of local public review of provincial and district officials, the government of Afghanistan will be its own worst enemy.
Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel, was a district governance advisor in Afghanistan's Badghis Province. With transition of the district to Afghan security control, he became the provincial governance and rule of law advisor.
The last two chapters of Emile Simpson's War From the Ground Up offer some of the best things I have read on strategic narrative. They also may be the most significant part of the book, because I think he breaks some new trail here.
His point of departure, as you might have noticed in his piece for Best Defense on Friday, is that narrative is a key element of strategy. "Strategy does not merely need to orchestrate tactical actions (the use of force), but also construct the interpretive structure which gives them meaning and links them to the end of policy." (P. 28) That is, it offers a framework into which participants and observers can fit the facts before them. "Strategic narrative expresses strategy as a story, to explain one's actions." (P. 233)
This aspect of strategy is both more important and more difficult now than in the past, he argues, because of the global information revolution, which means more audiences must be involved in one's strategic deliberations. When military action not only serves political ends (as in classic war) but must be judged in political terms to determine who is prevailing (as in our current wars), he argues, constructing a persuasive narrative becomes key to success.
You run into trouble when your "strategic narrative does not correspond to the reality on the ground," he warns. (P. 125) That phrase evoked for me the Bush administration's rhetoric about Iraq in 2003-05 -- first insisting that there was no insurgency, then claiming it was "a few dead enders" and that steady progress was being made.
It also made me think about the fundamental contradiction of the Bush administration embracing torture as part of an effort to defend rights and freedoms it held to be universal. As Simpson warns, "The moral high ground, once evacuated, is very hard to regain." (P. 209) That admonition should be remembered by anyone devising a strategy in the 21st century.
So, he advises, "The key in counterinsurgency is to match actions and words so as to influence target audiences to subscribe to a given narrative." (P. 154)
Strategic narrative must not only be rational but also have an emotional component, he says. "War is as much a test of emotional resistance as a rational execution of policy." (P. 193) Nor does the need for it go away. "The requirement is to maintain the narrative -- perpetually to win the argument -- is enduring, not finite." (P. 210)
Helpfully, he cites the Gettysburg Address as an example of the presentation of a strategic narrative. I think he is correct in that insight. He also invokes Kennedy's inaugural address. I think he is correct that it indeed was a presentation of a narrative -- but I think that JFK's "bear any burden" narrative was incorrect, and would be proven so a few years later in the jungles and villages of Vietnam.
Lt. Matthew Cancian, the Dave Goldich of active-duty Marines, has a good piece in the January issue of Marine Corps Gazette criticizing commanders who pretend to be carrying out a counterinsurgency campaign without really doing it:
We go through the motions of counterinsurgency without focusing on what really matters. This leads to a focus on process metrics instead of outcome....We patrol in order to be able to report hours spent patrolling.
Tom again: Anytime you see someone focusing on their inputs (time and other resources expended) rather than their results, you should be suspicious. This is true in civilian life as well as in the military, I think.
By Emile Simpson
Best Defense guest columnist
Afghanistan 2013: time to evolve the strategic narrative
(By ‘strategic narrative' I mean the explanation of actions: the lens that we propose to people through which to view the conflict.)
a. We need to adjust the strategic narrative in relation to the 2014 transition deadline.
i. Since 2009, the coalition strategic narrative has successfully toned down expectations of the more idealistic aspects of the campaign, which means that audiences now gauge coalition ‘success' primarily in terms of the stability of the Afghan state, the credibility of Afghan security forces, and coalition casualty figures. The last one will fade as we pull back, placing increasing emphasis on the first two.
ii. Our current strategic narrative still presents the conflict effectively as a zero sum game: the Taliban will either come back or they won't. This is closely associated with the proposition, that we mistakenly encourage, that what we are engaged in is a ‘war,' in which one's aim is defined against an enemy. By conditioning audiences to expect success or failure to present itself in a binary manner, we hamper ourselves: first, the conflict is not likely to produce a binary outcome, which will make our job in terms of explaining the conflict over the next few years very hard, and we will lose credibility by our failure to match what is actually happening to what we said would happen.
iii. Why is the conflict not likely to produce a binary outcome? The ‘Taliban' is a franchise movement; most of its field commanders fight for their own self-interest, hence why many simultaneously have connections into the Afghan Government. The dynamics of the conflict are thus kaleidoscopic, with actors competing vis-à-vis one another, not polarised. The bulk of the coalition leaving will accelerate the kaleidoscopic dynamic, as we are the main object against which the Taliban ‘franchise' can define itself to maintain its cohesion (i.e. less cohesion means more self-interested dynamics). The Soviet experience of transition in 1988-90 supports this analysis.
The likelihood is the Afghan Government will maintain the cities and the roads only (they don't have the logistical capability or political will to hold more), but neither do the insurgents have the combat power, logistics, or command structure to mass, take over a whole city, and hold it. This will create (and is already creating) a ‘core' area held by the Afghan Government and a ‘peripheral' zone beyond. What will result is a patchwork of allegiances, with some villages, and even broad remote areas, controlled by power brokers linked to the insurgency, others to the Afghan Government, or more likely, linked to both. By maintaining a narrative that emphasises a binary outcome, we will be perceived as having failed, when in reality the Afghan Government controls the key areas, and over time, will make pragmatic arrangements with those who control the periphery to maintain relative stability in Afghanistan.
b. We should not invest any coalition credibility in holding the peripheral areas: Over the next three years, the Taliban flag may go up in some towns and villages. In our current narrative, that will be seen as a major victory for them. In reality, to control dusty villages on the periphery, and even remote district centres, means little. We need to adjust our narrative so people expect that, and when it happens, people believe us when, legitimately, we point out that this is insignificant. By so adjusting the narrative, we take pressure off the Afghans to hold the peripheral areas, which they do not want to, only being there because they perceive it as a condition for us giving them support. We also take the initiative away from insurgents by recognising that this is a war for political more than physical space: insurgents are attention seekers -- they want us to react to a provocative flag raising because by reacting we show the world that they matter -- should they raise a flag in a forlorn district centre and we appear neither to look nor care, they have a serious problem.
c. The narrative needs to allow for maintaining some (but significantly less than today) coalition combat power in Afghanistan beyond 2014: This is the insurance policy that ensures the Afghan Government does not lose the cities and roads. The model should be in extremis back up to the Afghan security forces (airpower based, with boots on the ground as a last resort). This is critical, as the perception (amongst the insurgency, the Afghan people, the Afghan Government itself, and international audiences) that the Afghan security forces will hold the core areas will create space for de facto political settlements on the ground.
d. ‘Moshtarak' is over -- the narrative now needs to emphasise Afghan sovereignty: Ultimately there will remain a real possibility of the Afghan state, which is incompetent and corrupt, collapsing in on itself with little action from the insurgency until it genuinely sees itself, and is seen by insurgents and Afghans, as sovereign. In 2009 ‘moshtarak' -- side by side -- was the visual metaphor chosen to characterise the strategic narrative; that made sense at the time. However, side by side means shared responsibility, and that is incompatible with genuine sovereignty. Time now for coalition press conferences to get very dull, as most answers should amount to: "ask the Afghan Government, they are in charge." The litmus test of Afghan sovereignty will be when people stop asking the coalition their questions.
Emile Simpson served in the British Army as an infantry officer in the Gurkhas from 2006 to 2012. He deployed to southern Afghanistan three times and is the author of War From the Ground Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics (Columbia, 2012).
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
By Chris Taylor
Best Defense guest columnist
After eleven years of combat that ultimately will culminate with a troop withdrawal in 2014, Afghanistan is neither settled nor solved. Long-term success in the region demands more nuanced approaches and gives cause to reimagine not a legacy, but a new engagement with smart investment in other levers of influence.
Eminent Harvard professor Joe Nye, who coined the phrase "soft power," recently said, "soft power is the ability to get outcomes through attraction rather than through force or payment, and education has always been an important resource to achieve that."
Education has already proven to be a powerful attraction in Kabul. Enrollment at the American University of Afghanistan rose from 56 students in 2006 to 1,800 in 2012, and continues to grow. Founded in 2004 by Afghan business and civic leaders, and modeled after the successful American Universities of Beirut and Cairo, the AUAF is a non-sectarian, co-educational institution with undergraduate, graduate, and professional development curricula.
In May 2011, the AUAF graduated its first class of 32; nine women and 23 men with two Fulbright Scholarships awarded. In 2012, 52 graduated with six more Fulbright Scholars named.
The university attracts Pashtuns, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Nuristanis, Turkmen, Aimaks, and many others. In doing so, it creates an intercultural environment where young Afghan minds interact, leveraging many tribal narratives into one sense of Afghan unity and progress.
But by far, the fastest growing demographic at AUAF is women. With an average enrollment of 25 percent in undergraduate and professional development curricula (11 percent in the newly minted MBA curriculum), Afghan women are defying archaic norms and risking their lives to educate themselves so they can lead in their communities, in business, and in the national government. These are the same women who have been disfigured by acid attacks and mutilation, raped by relatives, married against their will, and received death threats from the Taliban -- yet they still come to the AUAF because they believe they can change their future, and that of their nation.
AUAF graduate Wasima Muhammadi said, "I want to be a deputy in the Ministry of Finance, because currently I do not see enough women participation in the government. I think that a mixture of both male and female leaders in this country would have a positive impact on the progress of Afghanistan."
In a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, General John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, testified that, "Throughout history, insurgencies have seldom been defeated by foreign forces, instead, they have been ultimately beaten by indigenous forces."
The case, then, is made: an educated citizenry can redefine its country's narrative, drive change from within, and break free from tyranny.
While education is a strong soft power tool, it affects national security, too. Afghanistan's low literacy rate poses significant challenges to strategic training programs for its army, police forces, and government agencies, potentially impairing its ability to fully take responsibility for its own security in 2014.
Initially funded by a grant from USAID with support from first lady Laura Bush, AUAF has grown substantially beyond that support. The university has an aggressive campaign to raise $80 million over five years -- a fraction of the $108 billion budgeted for operations in Afghanistan in 2012.
It seems education is quite the deal these days.
Contractors have made substantial profits in Afghanistan. The Federal Procurement Data System lists over $50 billion in contracts for companies who have supported combat and stabilization operations. Imputing an estimated profit of 10 percent leaves $5 billion -- a small amount of which CEOs should invest in the education of some of the tens of thousands of Afghans they employ. As the CEO of my former company, I instituted an AUAF scholarship program for top performing Afghan employees, or children of Afghan employees killed while serving the company and the military. Today, six bright students, three of whom are women, are studying accounting and finance, public administration, and information technology on these funds.
The wealthy Afghan diaspora should be first in line to support the AUAF's mission. Many have benefited from Western education, and sharing their experiences and financial assistance would give others still trapped by war and extremism a view to a better future.
As the United States now weighs its strategic options, investing in the American University of Afghanistan makes sense. The extremist narrative lures disenchanted youth every day, but that's because there is not a stronger, positive message for them to embrace. Without funding for education, young Afghans will flee the country in search of other opportunities; most never to return -- or worse, stay home and simply endure whatever may come. That need not be so.
A commitment to the American University of Afghanistan brings with it a new generation of Afghan leaders who will catapult forward fresh ideas that counter extremism, reject corruption, and embrace equality for women, all while creating necessary long-term regional relationships and giving voice to young Afghans who are the future of their country and dedicated to a moderate and free society.
We should make that commitment today.
Chris Taylor is a member of the Board of Trustees at the American University of Afghanistan and the Chairman and CEO of Novitas Group. He is a former enlisted infantryman and Force Recon Marine. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Atlantic Council, he holds an MBA from the College of William & Mary and an MPA in political economy and international security from the Harvard Kennedy School, where he co-authored, "Transforming the National Security Culture" for the Defense Leadership Project at Harvard's Center for Public Leadership.
American University of Afghanistan
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
This time last year, Sgt. Alyssa Jackson, Capt. Katie Barry, and Sgt. William Vidal, who made up the entire veterinary team at Bagram AFB, were celebrating the holiday season in Afghanistan. (They are the exceptional team-of-three who organized the war-dog run in Bagram earlier this year.) And while the three have since left their post in Afghanistan and are now serving on other Air Force bases around the world, they have fond memories of their last Christmas spent with the MWDs and their handlers stationed at Bagram.
Jackson said the dogs especially were remembered during the holiday season. "Many people would send us care packages for the dogs. The packages would have kongs, treats, and all kinds of toys," he said. "It was great that our Military Working Dogs are not forgotten during the holidays."
Above, MWD Paty sports reindeer antlers in the small veterinary office on base. Barry writes that when this photo was taken Paty was suffering from "pretty severe PTSD so she was on her way home. She's been dispo'd and I think her handler adopted her."
This photo at left comes straight from Zombalay, Afghanistan, taken just a few days ago. Handler SSG Donald Miller posed for this postcard with his Patrol Explosive Detector Dog, Ody. The pair has been in country since September.
A friend comments on some of the differences between Afghan tribes and those in Iraq:
- Obviously Hierarchical
- Easily Mappable
- Objective Hierarchy
- Not Obviously Hierarchical
- Not Easily Mappable
- Not Necessarily Ordered
- Subjective Hierarchy
Tom again: His interpretation of what this means is that Petraeus got it wrong when he tried to apply Iraq to Afghanistan -- and that al Qaeda got it wrong when it tried to apply Afghanistan to Iraq:
One of the reasons that bin Laden and the other Arab Afghans were able to work their way into the local Pashtu networks is because there the hierarchical power is not transmitted by descent type of kinship arrangements. When these guys tried to export the model to Iraq, specifically in Anbar, but also in Sunni enclaves that were more tribal in other places, all they did was piss off the actual guys with authority -- the sheikhs. And because so much of tribal/familial and religious leadership is combined in Iraq, they managed to piss off two institutions at once: the tribal and the religious leadership at the same time. And there are almost no purely Sunni or Shi'a tribes in Iraq. So the anti-Shi'a message, combined with not understanding the societal dynamics, cost them. It wasn't the only reason that the tribal guys wanted to come in from the cold, but it was a contributing factor.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on March 16, 2010.
I am not advocating that we adopt an imperial stance, or even that everything the British did was right or even moral. But I do think we can learn from them, which is why I am dwelling this week on Roe's fine book on the British experience in Waziristan.
For example, in 1947, the new Pakistani government invited the former British governor of the North-West Frontier, Sir George Cunningham, to come out of retirement and administer the province, because he was seen as an honest broker. That might be the end-game we should aim for in Iraq, where the American officials eventually subordinate themselves to the Baghdad government and even are seconded to work for it.
That's my lesson, not Roe's. Here are some of his. You'll find more on almost every page:
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.