In case you didn't see this last week, from "LeftmylegsinAfghanistan":
I'm an infantry PL that lost both legs above the knees and both testicles while chasing ghosts in the Arghandab.
I've spent just about three years undergoing rehab and training with prosthetics and I will be the first to applaud the level of care that I've received from the Army and from Walter Reed, but I will also be the first to tell you that WR's great care comes to an abrupt halt with regard to genital wounds and reproductive issues. While my limbs have received a tremendous level of attention, my infertility has never once been addressed. Early in my recovery a urologist prescribed me a testosterone replacement medication, but no one even brought up the fact that the urologist was woefully ill-equipped to deal with what is mostly an endocrinologist's issue.
In my experience, no one in the military's medical system wants to address this issue. Some of our guys have testicles, or pieces of their testicles, that make it back to the CSH at Bagram or KAF, but there is no procedure for harvesting and freezing sperm or tissue that could be used for fertility treatments in the future. There are methods for this (utilized most commonly prior to chemotherapy treatments), but as the article mentioned, the military medical system will not even cover IVF for couples that cannot conceive as a result of a service member's combat injuries.
There is no effort to improve this situation. I applaud David Wood for bringing this issue to the surface, but I'm afraid that the attention this generates, as almost always, will be brief.
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
Here is an excerpt from the testimony yesterday of Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to the Senate Armed Services Committee:
This last year we had about 2,200 night operations. Of those 2,200 or so night operations, in 90 percent of them we didn't fire a shot. On more than 50 percent of them, we got the targeted individual, and in 30 percent more we got the next associate of that individual as well. So 83 percent, roughly, of the night operations we got either the primary target or an associate.
In all of those night operations, even with 10 percent where we fired a shot, there was less than 1.5 percent civilian casualties. Now, I don't diminish any civilian casualties by reducing it to a percentage point. Every one of those is tragic. But after 9,200 night operations, 27 -- 27 -- people were killed or wounded in night operations. That would argue for the power of night operations preserving life and reducing civilian casualties in all other kinds of operation than necessarily being a risk of creating additional civilian casualties. That's in my mind, sir, as we go through the process of negotiating an outcome for the Afghanization, if you will, of night operations.
David Wood talks to Marines whose genitals have been severed or mangled by bombs. Impossible to read without wincing. As a former reporter, I am impressed by Wood's ability to get people to talk-and to relate their stories clearly and candidly.
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
Scroll down on the page to this discussion of the CONOP process in Afghanistan.
I wouldn't normally go all Assange-ish and post such a highly classified video, but there is a higher good here -- we all can learn from studying this discussion.
By Joseph Trevithick
Best Defense special program for untangling Afghan War command arrangements
For those of us outside the U.S. government and the U.S. military who try to keep tabs on just who is who and what is what in Afghanistan it can sometimes be a tough slog. For the casual observer, who is rarely versed in the unique lexicon and standard operating procedures of the organizations involved, it can be impenetrable. The most comprehensive organization charts show a maze of lines, dotted or not, in various colors, leading to symbols and acronyms that make it like reading a foreign language. It is worthwhile trying to get to the bottom of all of it, because the setup in Afghanistan is important both in understanding the history of U.S. military expeditions and the future of such endeavors.
U.S. command relationships in Afghanistan have to be understood first in the context of broader U.S. history. When it gets down to it, the majority of U.S. military history is still dominated by action in our hemisphere, and within that space much of the attention has been in our immediate quadrant of the globe. Only in the last century or so has the United States really looked at its interests globally and looked to its military to be more prepared for involvement far from home. Though foreign military expeditions are a core component of the history of the U.S. military, starting with the Barbary Wars in the early 1800s, up until relatively recently they were decidedly limited affairs. They were the sort of conflicts that gave rise to the U.S. Marine Corps "Small Wars Manual." To emphasize the point, while Europe geared up for a war that would change a generation, the U.S. was busy essentially looking to settle an outstanding border dispute along the Rio Grande.
When called upon to serve overseas the U.S. military has never hesitated, but it has generally had to rely on being able to put a command structure in place at a moment's notice to manage those forces. It is not to say that the resulting entities have not been functional or impressive, and in many cases they have been both. Things began to get more permanent with the establishment of the precursors to the current Unified Command Plan following the Second World War started to change all of this. The onset of the Cold War meant that the U.S. and its military were suddenly on watch all over the world against the threat of Communist aggression.
The new structures still largely divided the world into "East of the U.S." and "West of the U.S." For instance, responsibility for the Middle East was placed with commanders in Europe until the creation of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in 1983. U.S. European Command held on to responsibilities for Africa for almost a full decade into the Twenty-First Century. U.S. Pacific Command continues to have responsibility over a huge chunk of the globe. As convoluted as these regional responsibilities might be to the uninitiated, it is worth noting that no other country has really attempted to establish such a global command structure like the Unified Command Plan. The Russians only recently announced their intention to try.
Now that we are in the era of the Global War on Terrorism and Overseas Contingency Operations, an era of persistent conflict, the existing command structures have been placed under inordinate strain. Until January of this year, the U.S. posture was intended to allow the fighting of two major theater wars. It appears clear from how things have evolved in the last decade that the structures were not necessarily intended to allow effective command and control over two major conflicts in the same theater. It may well be proven as more information becomes available, that whatever one thinks about the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, the subsequent neglect of Afghanistan may simply have been the result of a command structure incapable of effectively exercising authority in both places at once.
This in a long, round-about way brings us to the case of Afghanistan, which as noted is hard to understand entirely independent of that in Iraq. Definitions are also required as a sort of micro-glossary to help in understanding the various command titles. The three most important words to know are "combined," "joint," and "interagency," though the last one is rarely used in command structure titles. Combined refers to U.S. forces paired with those of another country. Joint refers to U.S. forces from multiple services brought together. Interagency refers to elements of the Department of Defense, to include the services, paired with elements from other agencies like the Department of Homeland Security or Department of Justice. A task force is just a grouping of elements not organic to each other, and a Combined Joint Interagency Task Force (CJIATF; this is the standard order for the order of these terms too) would be one that brings together all of the elements described.
Following the attacks on September 11th, 2001 and the decision to proceed with Operation Enduring Freedom (known as Operation Infinite Justice until September 25th), CENTCOM, the "combatant command" for the part of the world Afghanistan was in, designated its Army, Navy, Air Force, and Special Operations components as Combined Force Component Commands for upcoming operations in Afghanistan (Land, Maritime, Air, and Special Operations respectively; abbreviated CFLCC, CFMCC, CFACC, and CFSOCC). This was per the standard procedure for a conflict situation at the time and put assigned regional service commanders at the head of their respective elements for the coming fight. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit was placed under the operational control of Marine Corps Forces Central Command, which then reported initially to the CFMCC. The Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) deployed the covert Task Force 11 (really a JIATF), with the mission to hunt for "high value targets, independent of the CFSOCC. The CIA also deployed a team to hunt for high value targets, codenamed "Jawbreaker," which did not fall under the military command structure. Further confusing things is that foreign powers participating in a U.S.-led mission are generally referred to as a "coalition." Even in official publications, the CFLCC was defined as "Coalition Forces Land Component Command," though at least by 2003 it was clear that the first letter should have stood for "Combined."
Longtime readers know that I think the U.S. military ought to fire generals more often than it does. I think we should reward success and punish failure. I don't think we should be "fair" to generals when the lives of our soldiers and the nation's interests are at stake. I think we should move out people when we think we have someone better ready to move in. I think we should even fire generals for simply having too long a run of "bad luck."
Now, in Afghanistan, we've had a painful run. First, Marines pissing on the bodies of enemy dead -- and being stupid enough to video the action. Then U.S. soldiers putting Korans in the burn pit. And then a soldier running amok and shooting Afghan civilians.
So why am I not calling on General Allen to get the big heave-ho? Basically, I don't see a pattern of poor leadership on his part contributing to the three events. With Abu Ghraib in Iraq, by contrast, there was clearly a pattern of poor leadership by General Sanchez that helped create the conditions at Abu Ghraib. But I don't see that here. And while he has had some bad luck, it has not been long enough by itself to justify jettisoning him.
In addition, he might be just about the best guy to deal with these problems. From what I saw in Iraq, I suspect he may be the most culturally sensitive combat general we have. So, if he retains the confidence of his superiors, both military and civilian, I think he should remain.
I don't know. I have a hard time understanding this war. I know why we went in, and I thought it was the right thing to do, and still do. But since about 2002, this war has seemed adrift, and since 2005, since the government of Pakistan went into opposition, it has been getting messier and messier.
Best Defense frequent commenter
I'd like to analyze the riots currently going on in Afghanistan by breaking down who did what and why.
1. Some ISAF guys (presumably detainee handler MPs) attempted to dispose via burning some Qurans that had been written in by detainees in an attempt to pass each other notes. Being idiots, they didn't inquire about proper Quran disposal procedures. Being REAL idiots, they didn't burn them thoroughly but just sort of scorched some of them.
2. Some Afghan garbage haulers working on the FOB found the half-burned Qurans. Being Muslim, they got riled up and snuck them off-base. (I presume the scorched Qurans seen in some photographs of demonstrations comes from Bagram and was not purposely burned by Afghans for propaganda purposes.)
3. The gate guards let them through without a proper search. You have to presume that all kinds of other paperwork is walking through the gate (and not being publicized).
4. Presumably, the trash haulers brought this material to someone who made the call to publicize it. Either local political or religious authorities, or the Taliban. After some kind of analysis, these guys decided to exploit the scorched Qurans in their hands as a PSYOP.
5. At this point, if the U.S. had a functional and integrated SIGINT, HUMINT and Counterintelligence providing coverage in the vicinity of Bagram, they would have been inside the enemy's OODA loop and known what was going on. They apparently don't have such an operation and were caught by surprise. It's completely understandable -- Bagram is only ISAF's biggest base. Apparently, the talent and resources are pooled to support the pipe hitters who are snatching and killing Talib leadership, and there's not enough left to let anyone know what's going on outside the front gate. The fact that HUMINTers have been FOB-bound for at least the last half-decade due to retarded safety considerations which became a self-fulfilling prophecy doesn't help much.
Had military leaders known what was going on, they would have theoretically been able to stop it by showing up to the key players' houses and making them offers they could not refuse, e.g., "take this money, give me the burned Qurans and forget this ever happened, or we'll kill you and your whole family," and/or come up with a PR plan to discredit these guys and make them look like liars (Hey, it's a war -- bad things happen.) Or they could have used a brute force approach and bribed the tribal leaders of the Afghans living around U.S. bases to have them keep their guys from protesting. In practice American PSYOPs mostly consist of printing up hackneyed agitprop and posting it on walls/dropping it from aircraft/reading it through loudspeakers at the local populace.
6. Upon having this information publicized and being invited by their local Taliban representatives to engage in rioting, thousands of Afghans did so. They did this even though every ISAF base has a well-defended perimeter and crowds, no matter how fervent, are notoriously bad at stopping 7.62 and even 5.56.
As a guy who's once faced down an angry Afghan mob (small, about 120 guys,) I'd like to point out that contrary to common wisdom, they are not, in fact, irrational rage-monkeys. Afghans do not survive in a harsh, Malthusian environment by being bad at cost-benefit analysis. They knew that ISAF soldiers, driven by their fear of their commanders' response, would try to avoid lighting them up. And they were right. The fact that some of the posters were in English during this first wave of protests makes me think that this was a fairly carefully planned Taliban PSYOP aimed at the American media. But from the standpoint of the average rioter, outrage and rioting are fun and potentially profitable -- there's good loot to be had from overrunning a U.S. base.
7. The ISAF commander, General Allen, apologized profusely to "to the president of Afghanistan, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan" and assured everyone that measures were being taken to ensure this would never happen again, ever. I personally suspect that GEN Allen, deep down inside, has not drank the COIN Kool-Aid and does not really care about the noble people of Afghanistan. Contrary to the tone of this message, he is not wrought with remorse and contrition and would, if he could, empirically prove the above thesis about how bad crowds are at stopping 7.62 and 5.56. At the very least, given free rein, he would follow the classic PR algorithm when confronted with embarrassing facts -- lie, deny and make counteraccusations. But GEN Allen has learned the lesson presented by GEN McChrystal -- give the U.S. media something juicy to dig into, and they'll tell the president to fire you -- and he will. Therefore, some public belly-crawling was in order, despite its predictable effects on the Afghan people's behavior.
8. Emboldened by the commander of ISAF setting the tone for subsequent crowd control and public relations efforts, more Afghans joined the riots. A few of them finally got themselves shot by U.S. troops forced to decide whether to get overrun and lynched or risk their careers. Of course, had we firmly established right off the bat that as long as there's a war on, any demonstrations in the vicinity of U.S. bases will get brutally crushed, none of this would have happened.
9. Also, some insurgent infiltrators of the GIROA and ANSF capped a few Americans. Nothing new there, it's been going on for a while, and presumably without the Quran burning controversy these infiltrators would have done the exact same thing eventually, but it's being used synergetically for maximum PSYOP impact. Not being constantly distracted by red-faced sergeant majors, reflective belts and hourly powerpoints, even the Taliban can figure this stuff out. Effective PSYOPs -- so simple, even a caveman could do it!
The problem of unreliable Afghan troops is inherent in the relationship between ANSF and ISAF, where the latter "advise" the former instead of being integrated into a mixed colonialist structure. But such structure is politically impossible. Any senior officers publically advocating one will be set upon by the American media and academia, which will say mean things about them, compare them to King Leopold and other bad colonialist oppressors of the past, and get them fired by their civilian leadership. Therefore the sham of "independent" Afghan security forces continues. These forces vet their personnel about as well as they do everything else, with the result that they are full of guys with either mixed or treasonous loyalties. The advisors embedded in these security forces have no command authority or any real leverage over their advisees, and are reduced to publically praising the whole arrangement while waiting out their tour and praying they don't get capped in the back of the head.
10. The president apologized to Afghans via a note sent to Hamid Karzai. Possible reasons for this action: 1) The president's well-documented penchant for apologizing to the world for American actions. 2) Having been elected by the American media, the president is afraid that he might get unelected by it, and is propitiating its representatives by doing what they expect. 3) The president (or his advisors) plan to use the predictable result of demonstrating to the Afghan people that our weakness runs all the way to the top to incite them to keep rioting and attacking U.S. bases. This will be used to demonstrate to the U.S. press and think tanks that the war has failed and the only thing left to do is to pull out. Beginning a pullout of all or most conventional U.S. forces from Afghanistan around the spring or summer would give the president a popularity boost, assuming the Taliban could be bribed or induced to hold off on any mass offensives until after the election. While seemingly farfetched, this scenario would be well within the time-honored American political tradition where the Progressives and the guys killing American troops make an informal and unspoken alliance for mutual benefit (see: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq.) I wouldn't put something that wicked past our leadership, but it does seem a bit too complicated and well-planned.
11. Most likely outcome -- a negative feedback loop, where an intensification of mob violence causes the sense of self-preservation of U.S. troops on the ground to override their fear of a career-ending incident and they start lighting the Afghan mobs up. The Afghans' sense of self-preservation will in turn prevail over the great fun and potential for loot that are to be had in rioting, and they will calm down. A return to the status quo for the time being.
To "_B" is to do.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
A friend writes from Kabul:
This weekend I was beside myself after we had two field grade officers shot in the back of the head in the Ministry of the Interior. We unassed ourselves from Afghan government buildings and we still seem to continue down a path that could be fraught with disaster. The risk is so high that we may discover it through hard lessons -- a.k.a. lives of senior officers and NCOs who would run the Army if they are not killed by the people they are advising.
In Iraq, al Qaeda actually brought the Iraqis (Sunnis and Shii'a) together (among other factors) for the common settlement towards peace and removal of U.S. forces. Sunni tribal leaders were tired of the violence in their lands by no Iraqis, and the political settlement was worth the Shii'a and Al Sadr to calm their attacks. It was this violence that led us to this point and withdrawal in Iraq. Now, whether that fragility holds together is a separate argument. In Afghanistan, neither al Qaeda nor Taliban will bring the Afghans together. What happens in a valley in Konar, on the border in Paktika, in the fields of Kandahar, or in Konduz is of complete irrelevance to each other. Afghanistan is so disparate by valley and region that one area does not affect another. Nothing will pull them together nationally.
When the report on what Afghans think of us and what we think of them came out recently, people should take a close look at what a young Private or Sergeant or Lieutenant say about this. This is the strategic corporal and is the real indicator.
No one wants to talk about the big elephant in the room: How many infiltrators or complicit Taliban really are in the ANSF? Is it really worth the risk to put leaders our there like this?
As the administration shifts strategy in Afghanistan through budget cutbacks and downsizing forces both U.S. and NATO, the only logical target to rid Afghanistan of U.S. presence is the adviser. We publicly announce our plan and put time-frames on it, so if we assume that the ANSF will survive and fight on its own in the name of Kabul, we are taking a big risk. Why? Because the Taliban would have to accept advisers in the Govt. of Afghan and its military and police force structure. To the Taliban, that is unacceptable. The Soviets did this and those advisers did not last after the Soviet war machine left in 1989. Why would it work now?
Every night as we prepped for mobilization and deployment I read from Night Draws Near to my CO CDRs, 1SGs, and Staff. I have the dog-eared copy in my lap as I type right now.
His moving account was in no small part responsible for making it clear to my soldiers that the Iraqis are people too, just like you and I. Caught in the middle of something they really wanted no part of.
Nearly three million truck miles in Iraq over nine months with only 9 rounds fired in 5 escalation of force incidents ... but no one was ever hurt, coalition or Iraqi. 60 IEDs for our predecessors became 2 IEDs for us. No one was hurt on our watch....thanks in part to Anthony. RIP."
Hunter also gets off a good line in the discussion of Lt. Col. Danny Davis: "If you are going to bring the pain, you best have your ducks in a row."
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
I've had this gut feeling for a few years now that in the long term, Iraq is going to be messier than Afghanistan.
An e-conversation last weekend clarified the feeling for me, like hot ghee: In Afghanistan we haven't fundamentally changed the situation. (Kabul has long been at odds with the provinces, Pashtuns have long thought they should run the country, Pakistan still thinks it has to have control over who controls Afghanistan.) But in Iraq, we changed the game. We established the first Shiite-dominated Arab state in many centuries. That is true whether or not it becomes an ally of Iran (which I think it will, but who knows?). So I think it will take much longer for the dust to settle in Iraq.
Speaking of Iraq, Michael Knights had a good piece that I think runs counter to the Joel Wing view. Knights reviews the data and concludes that, "it is not a stretch to say that the incidence of Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has doubled since November 2011." Al Qaeda is reviving and the insurgency is re-coalescing, he adds.
In a similar piece, Lt. Col. Joel Rayburn, one of the smarter people I ran into in Tell Afar, where I ran into a lot of smart people, writes about Iraq that, "the nation's politics lie in disarray, with no clear route back to stability." In addition, he observes, "the sectarian lines that divided Iraq's communities in the civil war of 2005-08 are hardening once more." He thinks the country is heading toward soft partition.
"Historians will puzzle over how a nine-year American military campaign resulted not in democracy, but in an Iraq led by a would-be strongman, riven by sectarianism and separatism, and increasingly aligned with America's regional adversaries," Rayburn glumly predicts.
(HT to JR)
By Ethan B. Kapstein
Best Defense directorate of military-economic affairs
Will Afghanistan collapse after the departure of American troops in 2013? That grim outcome appears all too likely. But the reason why Afghanistan may be heading toward anarchy is not simply due to the Afghan National Army's lack of military preparedness to fight an insurgency without foreign support. Rather, some of the most challenging problems that the government must face once the U.S. leaves will be economic.
Today, the United States and its allies provide the government of Afghanistan with the vast majority of its operating budget. American taxpayers have not only built up schools, hospitals, government ministries, and the Afghan National Army and police force; they have also paid the salaries of those who man these institutions. Further, U.S. military and foreign assistance operations in Afghanistan support many thousands of soldiers, foreign aid workers, and contractors, who pump millions of dollars into the local economy.
What will happen when the last Americans depart? If history is any guide, "foreign assistance follows the flag," meaning that aid spending will flee in the absence of a strong military presence. First, Americans will inevitably lose interest in Afghanistan and redirect spending to the next crisis zone; today, for example, the calamity in Syria is dominating the airwaves. Second, without American troops around to provide a modicum of security, foreign aid workers will have no choice but to leave the country; they won't be able to work in safety (and it shouldn't be forgotten that several hundred aid workers have already been killed during the war). As a result of the American withdrawal, both the motivation for aid spending and any possibility of monitoring aid effectiveness will quickly disappear.
An abject lesson in how economics can shape a war zone is provided by Vietnam. During the early 1970s, there were some glimmers of hope in South Vietnam following the North's severe military defeat during the 1968 Tet offensive. The United States, however, had already grown tired of the war, and the Nixon administration embarked upon a path of Vietnamization. As America's military and economic commitment to Vietnam declined, the weak Saigon government had no choice but to raise taxes and impose austerity measures. These policies fueled popular opinion against the regime, helping smooth the way for the North's successful invasion in 1975.
In preparing for its eventual departure from Afghanistan, there is much the United States could have done on the economic front but has tragically failed to implement. Incredibly, after more than ten years of war, the U.S. has no free trade agreement with Kabul, inadvertently promoting cross-border flows with Iran and Pakistan instead. Worse, these flows consist largely of needed imports, since the U.S. has promoted a strong Afghan currency that makes it near impossible to produce goods competitively within the country. The lack of an export-oriented industry, in turn, means that Afghanistan lacks a strong and forward-looking entrepreneurial class that could have served as a foundation for an anti-Taliban society; this is an even greater shame when one recognizes the tremendous craftsmanship that Afghan society is capable of in such sectors as woodworking and glassmaking.
The U.S. has also failed after more than a decade's presence to help Afghanistan create a credible statistics agency or a system of "national accounts" that would track how the government's money is being spent. This lack of transparency, in turn, enables corrupt practices to flourish. A cynic might think that America's failure to develop more robust Afghan economic data has been one of commission rather than omission.
When the history of America's involvement in Afghanistan is written, there will be much ink spilled over military strategy and tactics. Analysts will debate whether the U.S. should have been more aggressive in Pakistan or risked higher numbers of civilian casualties when taking the fight to the Taliban. Less attention, sadly, will be paid to the economic policies made in Washington and Kabul that were also instrumental in bringing about the demise of the Afghan regime.
Ethan B. Kapstein teaches global strategy at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and is a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. A retired naval officer, he has served as an academic advisor to the Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team in Kabul. The opinions expressed in this piece are strictly his own and do not reflect the views of any organization with which he is or has been associated.
Click here for PDF of a new Army book on small unit actions in Afghanistan. I haven't read it yet. It looks basically to be about fighting in two places -- Kunar/Nuristan and in Kandahar province. Grasshopper can learn much from such things.
And while we are giving away links for free books, here is one for Maj. Michael Burgyone's new study of how COIN principles work against criminal networks in Mexico. (I haven't read this one, either, but it probably is good, because Burgyone was a co-author of one of the best books on the Iraq war.)
Scott Olson/Getty Images
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
On January 12, a bronze plaque was unveiled in front of the kennels at Fort Belvoir bearing the facility's new name: "Sgt. Zainah "Caye" Creamer Military Working Dog Kennels." It was a year ago to the day that Sgt. Creamer succumbed to wounds she sustained in Afghanistan after her unit was attacked by an insurgent's IED. She was the first "female working dog handler to be killed in action during the Iraq or Afghanistan wars."
Sgt. Creamer and her detection dog Jofa had deployed to Afghanistan in October 2010. Their job was to search for weapons, working ahead of their unit to sweep for explosives. Jofa, who was across the road from his handler when the explosion occurred and survived the attack unscathed.
The Belvoir Eagle covered the memorial service held in at Fort Belvoir in Virginia and reports that during the ceremony her fellow handlers remembered Sgt. Creamer with fondness and respect as a "leader" who had the "ability to light up a room no matter what the situation."
It was a spirited disposition that, at 28 years of age, she seems to have maintained with ease. Her headquarters battalion commander, Lt. Col. Dwayne Bowyer, remembers that Sgt. Creamer was:
...Determined, focused and happy the day she departed with her unit. ‘Silently, we all knew that we were sending them into harm's way but we never imagined that Sgt. Creamer would make the ultimate sacrifice doing what she loved.'"
Reportedly after Sgt. Creamer's death, Jofa's loss was visible. But, a year later he is still working and, according to Lt. Col. Bowyer, the dog is doing "great" with his new handler.
In other war-dog news: The United States Postal Service has finally issued a set of working-dog stamps. Among the four canines featured are a guide dog, a therapy dog, and a search and rescue dog, and what reports are calling a "tracker dog." The yellow lab featured on the bottom left of the four-square sheet is clearly a MWD. I would hazard a guess and say a bomb detection dog, made obvious by the fatigue-clad handler's leg visible against the desert-y background. I'll save the nitpicking and compliment the original paintings, which are the work of John M. Thomas and they're lovely. It's enough to make you want to put pen to paper for some good old-fashioned letter writing.
"As the author scans these responses, he's struck by how truly their tones of anger, frustration, and, especially, disgust echo the same tones of anger, frustration, and disgust he heard so often and so eloquently expressed by his students at FOB Fenty. Outrage and just plain-old RAGE toward Afghans, toward the war in Afghanistan, and toward those running the war in Afghanistan often erupted into our classroom discussions. (Most of the time, however, we laughed our relatively clean butts off. The gift of laughter is something that those students at Fenty gave in abundance to each other and to the classroom. Laughter, it often seemed to me, was the only possible human response to what the students described of war's innumerable inhuman absurdities.) As one responder notes, such discussions were nothing but "navel-staring." Where else does one begin a discussion about the treatment of shit, if not by re-examining the essential nature of one's own core values? Navel staring and even sphincter sniffing-indeed!
"Cleanliness," as another responder rightly notes, is a core military value. And shit really is the great leveller. It demands self examination. But after all, our own shit smells like roses, doesn't it? Or, as one student put it, "this type of war is anything but clean."
Behind my student's outrage was his legitimate perception of an injustice. He smelled a turd in the milk. And it was my duty as a professor to encourage him roll up his sleeves and fish around for that turd. As many responders have noted here, there IS something fundamentally unjust about U.S. soldiers being forced to use toilettes made filthy and unsanitary by their ANA counterparts and vice versa. Like many responders here, some of my students suggested that that student's outraged sense of justice points to and emerges from the underlying injustice of the war in Afghanistan. (Or, as they put it, "What the hell are we really doing here?") Others suggested, like a few responders here, that that injustice stemmed from unintelligent, lazy, or incompetent military leadership. ("Give the ANA separate latrines," as one responder put it. Separate but equal?) Still others suggested that that injustice is rooted in the purportedly barbaric cultural habits of Afghans.
(To the responder who distrusts historical canine analogies, the Alexander "meme" was brought forward spontaneously in response to the student's outrage, as what we might call a "teaching moment," because that class happened to be Greek mythology, and I happened to have prepared a lecture on the history of Alexander's invasion of Bactra. You make an excellent point, though, and it would make more sense, especially right now, to give a detailed lecture about the final days of Mohammed Najib's rule, such as Peter Tomsen performs in The Wars in Afghanistan.)
That the situation U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan face right now is fundamentally unjust cannot be denied. As recent events in Afghanistan demonstrate, U.S. soldiers are increasingly likely to be shot by ANA even within the supposed safety of the FOB. Fobbits must watch their backs in Afghanistan today.
All of my students were suffering in one way or another from multiple-deployment fatigue. And all expressed (or vented) serious doubts about the value of our mission in Afghanistan. Morale there, as compared to that of AFRICOM where my students held their head very high, is low.
My intention in posting the essay was to draw attention from an increasingly indifferent civilian U.S. population to the tragic predicament in which our servicemen and women find themselves in the war in Afghanistan.
The trickiness of their predicament was mirrored by what I was also hearing from my Afghan tent mates at Fenty, which were exactly the same tones of anger, frustration, and disgust-only, they aimed their outrage and RAGE at U.S. soldiers. Quartered in a "transient" tent that was supposed to be exclusively designated for local-national Afghan interpreters, Pashtun, Nuristanis, and Pashais, I was the only non-Afghan living in this tent. And I admit that I was not especially comfortable in that tent, chiefly because a few of them told me they didn't want me there. They didn't want any of us there, as one fellow put it. So, I asked him what would happen to Afghanistan if we were to go home immediately, as he claimed he wanted. What about Pakistan? What about the Taliban? What about the Uzbeks? And Tajiks? He responded by saying, "Afghans are not afraid to die." When I heard that, I didn't know whether to shit or go blind.
One responder rightly notes that to get compliance at the macro-level you need to gain it at the micro-level, first. I can only wonder how you gain compliance at any level from a people who are not afraid to die?
And if compliance be impossible in Afghanistan, then I very well may have been sent, as another responder put it, on a "fool's errand." I most certainly did feel like a fool much of my time in Afghanistan, but not when I was in the presence of those students. Despite the impossibility of the many tricky situations they confront daily on behalf of a nation that has largely forgotten this war; despite the frustration, the disgust, the outrage and the rage, despite shit in their showers and in their sinks, despite their deployment fatigue, they demonstrated daily the mental resiliency that General Petraeus believes is essential to becoming a competent war fighter. "We cannot," Petraeus argues, "be competent warfighters unless we are as intelligent and mentally tough as we are aggressive and physically rugged." Fool's errand or not, my students did, on the whole, demonstrate that their core values are strong and resilient enough to "take their shit."
But perhaps the really difficult part for many of my students will be leaving the shit of Afghanistan behind when the time comes to make the long odyssey back home to a nation of civilians who largely do not understand the nearly imponderable nature of the task our servicemen and women were asked to perform in Afghanistan."
By Doyle Quiggle
Best Defense department of classical studies
A few minutes before the beginning of a Greek mythology class at FOB Fenty, Jalalabad, for which I'd prepared to lecture on Alexander the Great's swift invasion but treacherous occupation of Afghanistan, my best student stomped into the classroom, slammed his M4 down on the table, and announced, "I can't take their shit anymore!"
After his classmates and I had calmed him down, he explained that the walls, stall door, and floor of the toilet he'd just used were smeared with feces. They were always smeared with feces, he complained. He was furious about being forced daily to use facilities that were, as he put it, "Inhumanely, barbarically unhygienic and filthy." He and his unit shared their toilet with the ANA, as they had been ordered to do by their commanding officers-"hearts and minds." And it was the custom of the ANA to wipe themselves with their hands, smear their excrement on the walls of the toilette, and rinse their hands in the sink, which left the sinks reeking, a reek made especially acrid and pungent by the Afghans' high intake of goat meat and goat milk. While brushing his teeth, my student often had to struggle to keep down his gorge.
The outraged student, who, despite TSIRT, knew dangerously little about the cultural habits of any of the many Afghan tribes, had begun to take the ANA's toilette habits personally. I wanted to get my student to explore the source of his outrage. But I did not want to relativize or dismiss his outrage because I have learned that outrage always points toward a perception of injustice. It, therefore, also implies a healthy and intact sense of justice, which is something I encourage in students. So, I suggested to him that he was being faced (in the toilet customs of the ANA) with what Alexander's Macedonian Greeks would have called "borborygmus," a word that Plato and Aristophanes and Homer used to describe the filthy, excremental sewage of the underworld of Hades. For was he not in a kind of underworld (Hades or hell) on deployment in an Afghanistan he barely understood? Borborygmus not only means "shit." It also connotes "shit fearing." Borborophoba was known as the Goddess of the realm of death. She had the power to keep shit from flowing, but she also possessed the power to make it flow in the face of mortal fear and threat of death. Every combat soldier has been struck by her bowel- and bladder-releasing powers at least once in his life.
We then recalled what we'd read of David Grossman in On Killing, "the physiology of the fight: the body's role in combat and the skill to kill," where he explains in the modern language of physiology what the Greeks described in the metaphorical language of myth:
"Homeostasis is the balance struck between SNS and PNS during normal routine behavior, and can be thrown completely out of synchronicity when confrontation occurs, with PNS systems largely shutting down. One result of this can be the body ‘blowing the ballast', that is the dumping of unnecessary bodily substances which are of no benefit in combat - urine and feces, a rather unseemly but wholly natural bodily response to confrontation. This loosening of muscles which would be potentially drawing energy without contributing to the immediate task of survival is associated with the recession of PNS systems as the SNS is in the ascendancy."
Now, the smeared feces that my student had been dealing with daily in his ANA-USA shared toilet was not the result of a loss of homeostasis due to threat, but it did point to the realm of Borborophoba, and it pointed most directly to the underlying cultural void between soldiers like my student and the Afghan Army. As every anthropologist or mythographer knows, shit is the great leveler. It marks a psychic and cultural border. How a culture treats excrement, waste (all of that which it discards) speaks volumes about that culture. And when we are confronted with another culture's treatment of excrement, we are often pushed to the threshold and outer border of our own most deeply held, highly cherished values.
On the day of my student's enraged expression of borborophoba, I asked him and his classmates to link his I-can't-take-their-shit-anymore outrage to that of Alexander and his men when they arrived in Bactra where they discovered dogs roaming the otherwise highly civilized city, dogs feeding upon human bodies. According to the religious practices of the Bactrians, they threw not only their dead to the dogs but also their sick, lame, and invalid elderly-anyone considered social excrement or waste. Alexander and his men observed that the normal, healthy citizens of Bactria went about their daily business even as dogs devoured human bodies in the streets. An upstanding Bactrian merchant might walk past a pack of dogs feasting on a corpse as nonchalantly as a Greek merchant would walk past a fish stand.
Although Alexander and his men had been exceptionally tolerant of the strange cultural and religious practices of the many tribes they'd conquered since defeating Darius at the Battle of Granicus, the use of devouring dogs was one cultural bridge too far for the Macedonian Greeks. They simply could not imagine disposing of the dead in any form other than a tomb or a funeral pyre. Their invention of a Goddess like Borborophoba itself speaks to how ornately and vividly they'd imagined the world after life. Alexander and his men could not imagine anything more barbaric than encouraging dogs to devour the dead. Contrariwise, the Bactrians could not imagine anyone being barbaric enough not to do so with their dead.
The devouring dogs brought Alexander to a classic cultural impasse. And here Alexander drew a strict line. He would no longer tolerate what he viewed as a barbaric practice. He'd arrived at an I-can't-take-their-shit-anymore point of outrage, and he banned the use of devouring dogs from Bactria. At this historic moment, Alexander's real epic struggle began, the struggle to civilize Afghanistan. And by civilize we mean simply that he enacted policies that sought to force Afghanistan's tribes out of the bronze age and into the iron age.
We spent the rest of the class drawing analogies from Alexander's occupation of Bactra to the current ISAF mission in Afghanistan. That discussion involved our detailing as many incompatible differences between the primary cultural habits of US soldiers and those of the ANA, as well as the cultural habits of Afghans that US soldiers had observed on off-base patrols. We discussed everything from the treatment of excrement to the treatment of women. Many of my female soldier-students could not see any difference between the two as far as Afghan men were concerned. In order for our anthropological discussion to make any difference whatsoever to my students, we had to "keep it real," as they would say. To bite into the marrow, our discussion had to begin with harsh differences, like the handling of shit in latrines, that had evoked an acute emotional response from the soldiers. Only thereafter could we move on to the academic observations made of Afghanis by such notable authors as Thomas Barfield or Maratine van Bijlert or Antonio Giustozzi.
In other words, the professor treated his own students as if they were an alien culture, working from within their value system and emotional matrix, oscillating between their perceptions of an alien culture (Afghans) and that culture's perceptions of them. I'd assiduously gathered the latter perceptions from many chai-tea conservations with my tent mates, who were Afghan interpreters, Pashtun, Nuristanis, and Pashais.
My pedagogical aim for my students was to encourage cultural intelligence toward Afghans without encouraging any kind of soft-minded, limp-wristed relativism of values (cultural relativity) in which their own commitment to classical military core values such as loyalty, courage, selfless service, integrity, moderation, and justice might be diluted or weakened. On the contrary, my goal was to help them strengthen their commitment to those core values by showing them that they can withstand the outside challenge of culture to which they are wholly alien; they can, so to speak, "take their shit."
Doyle Quiggle taught oratory, rhetoric, and the classics to U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in two different war zones, at Camp Lemonnier (Djibouti, Africa) and at Forward Operating Base Fenty (Jalalabad, Afghanistan). The honor of contributing to the education of war fighters on the battlefield was granted to Quiggle by the U.S. Army through a contract with the University of Maryland, University College. Quiggle received his PhD from Washington University.
A Marine friend writes:
I recall being taught something along the lines of "When it comes to talking to the media, remember: the reporter is going to tell or write a story regardless of what you do or don't say. It's on you to ensure that he or she understands the context of what is being observed."
This lesson was also running through my mind at the end of a patrol one day in Garmsir. On this particular day, I went out with a squad from our 3rd Platoon on a security patrol around a place called the Lakari Bazaar. This bazaar, at the beginning of our deployment, was owned by the Taliban and littered with IEDs. At this stage in the deployment, the ANA, the Afghan people, and the Marines that I had the privilege to serve had joined forces to eliminate the Taliban in the area. The Taliban mayor of the bazaar was turned over to us. More than 40 IEDs located in the bazaar were pointed out to us. And, nearly every enemy that attempted to go back active or to infiltrate back into the area chose not to do so because the people, or the children, would almost immediately pass the information to the ANA and/or Marines. Our new patrol base, much like Fort Page in "Bing" West's The Village, was right next to the main village and bazaar. This made sharing information easy.
As I walked back into friendly lines on this day, I noticed what appeared to be two American women sitting down next to our terrain model. One reminded me of my mother, and the other, to a degree, of my older sister. Curious as to what they were doing in our area, I walked up to them and introduced myself, "Hi, I'm ____, is there anything I can help you with?" As best I recall, the exchange proceeded, "Are you the commander here?" I responded, "I guess you could say that. The Marines and ANA run the show, but ultimately, yes, I'm responsible for everything in the AO." The woman responds, "Are you ____?" I respond, "Yes, Ma'am, I am." She then says, "Oh, good, I've been looking for your unit for about a week. I'm Elisabeth Bumiller from the New York Times, and this is Lynsey, she works with me. We're here to cover the FET. I've been told your Company employs FET teams all the time. We'd like to see and write about what the FETs do."
Decision point - hmmmn, what next? I've been told nothing about the New York Times coming to our AO (I had been away from our company CP for a few days and we were all very busy). I have no clue who Elisabeth Bumiller is, or Lynsey, the woman with the camera. And of all topics, FET? I'm thinking to myself, "FET, Marines, grunts, Afghanistan, New York Times???" This one's going to be interesting...!
Sparing too many details, after the patrol de-brief, I sat down with Elisabeth and Lynsey for a little while, did my best to understand their mission, experience in Afghanistan or Iraq, what accommodations they needed, etc. I was surprised to hear Elisabeth say that she had never been to Iraq or Afghanistan, yet she wanted to patrol at least once a day with an infantry unit and FET. Lynsey, on the other hand, was an OEF veteran; she had previously done an embed tour in the Korengal Valley.
After learning of their desires, I thought it best that they spend the next few days with two of our partnered rifle squads. Both squads were led by multi-tour, tough as nails, highly respected, big, and previously wounded Sergeants. One of the squad leaders had lost both of his parents just before the deployment (one in the tsunami that hit American Samoa). He was given the option to go home to help his family (this was his fourth deployment in 5 years); he refused. I spoke with the squad leaders and platoon commanders. As best I recall, the conversation went something like this, "Gentlemen, Elisabeth and Lynsey will be staying here for a few days. They want to see how you guys have incorporated FET into your patrols. They also just want to see what you and your Marines do every day. How you interact with the people. How you partner with the Afghans. It's on you to determine the patrol routes in your assigned AOs. You know our mission and your tasks. Just be yourselves and take care of them. They're here to tell America about what you do every day. Any questions?" There were none.
Elisabeth and Lynsey then spent a few days with these squads. Once back from spending time with one of the squad leaders, and at our company headquarters, I asked Elisabeth how she liked her time with the Sergeants. I recall her being amazed. She couldn't believe how young, yet old, mature, and determined the Marines were. She was particularly impressed with the one squad leader who had decided to deploy again despite all of the losses to his family. Specific to FET, she was also surprised to see how well the female Marines were received in the villages.
Once at our company position, Elisabeth and Lynsey went on patrol with different units and interviewed numerous Marines and Sailors. My rules to the unit were simple: "Be respectful, be honest, and take care of them." All I asked of Elisabeth and Lynsey was that they not photograph, videotape, or write about a few very specific things that I pointed out to them. They understood why for operational security reasons and agreed immediately.
As the days progressed, they patrolled with most of the company's squads, both of the FET teams, observed a weapons cache discovery (based on a local information tip), and watched a Taliban reconciliation from start-to-finish. As they were about to fly out of Mian Poshteh, Elisabeth still wasn't 100 percent sure of what her stories were going to be about. She said one would most likely cover FET teams and another possibly about the reconciliation. She asked if it was okay to e-mail if she had any last minute questions and then thanked us for taking care of her and Lynsey. A few weeks later, she e-mailed to double check one detail that she planned on writing about. A few days later, I read her first article about the reconciliatioAlex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Pressn in the NY Times. Shortly thereafter, I read the other. I thought both articles were honest, balanced, and accurate. I also thought they explained to America what we had experienced during our deployment. If we hadn't embraced Elisabeth and Lynsey's mission, I have sometimes wondered what the stories would have described..."
Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press
My old friend Marine Col. (ret.) Gary Anderson writes from somewhere overseas that, "No poor dumb son of a bitch ever won a counterinsurgency by sitting on his FOB. He won it by making the other poor dumb son of a bitch sit on his FOB."
Meanwhile, here is a guest column on COIN issues:
By "Ford Prefect"
Best Defense asylum for COIN bitter-enders
I know and respect Col. Gian Gentile from our years teaching at USMA and afterwards. I think he's off on this -- just like the uber-COIN pundits of the 2004-2007 era were as well. There were a few people (John Nagl and some others come to mind) that were thinking about COIN in the decade prior to 9/11 -- they were very few, and very far between. Others piled on the COIN train as it left the station, and tend to be the first to jump off as soon as it stops. Just an observation.
COIN should not be an organizational "design tool" to build the U.S. armed forces around. It is a method of conflict -- with its own doctrine, tactics and strategy -- that is applied when it is needed. Conventional, armored ground warfare is much the same. As is sub-surface, surface, cyber, and so on. The key point is to maintain a cadre of competent NCOs and Officers capable of doing those missions when needed. How many Coast Guardsmen are competent in ASW? My bet is less than 10. But if the Coasties ever get the mission, those 10 guys/gals will be worth their weight in gold.
is not "dead" -- it isn't something that can die. It will exist
as long as you send your armed forces to deal with populations outside of
fighting their organized armies. COIN isn't counter-terrorism; the former
is a military mission, the latter at its core a law enforcement mission.
CT will continue on as long as terrorism is a tool of a weak adversary; the
same with COIN.
The real question, I think, is how to we keep enough folks around to serve as a cadre for those 'esoteric' missions (like COIN, but also including tactical nuclear warfare, amphibious operations, mass airborne operations and so on) while doing what the Nation expects the armed forces to do -- provide the 'common defense' of the Republic. Smart reorganization, with a clear understanding of possible future missions, is the key, not dancing on the grave of COIN.
"Ford Prefect" is hitchhiking around Afghanistan. Or sitting in the cubicle to your right. Feeling lucky, punk? Well do ya?
I would like to add some other jackassery I saw while I was there. While at the DFAC, I saw a group of Army Rangers in PT gear walk in with their M9 pistols with inserted magazines in hand. They did not have holsters. They proceeded to flag each other and everyone else while they got ketchup and drinks. One of them placed the pistol between his legs while he opened the cooler.
I spoke to them (where I discovered they were Rangers) and asked why they didn't have holsters. They had their hands full eating and the pistols were on the table pointing at each other. An Afghan DFAC employee was standing just behind one of the soldiers.
I was told that they were rotating through Bagram and their individual weapons had already been turned in. They were given pistols so they could comply with the order of always being armed. I mentioned how unsafe their weapons handling was and was told not to worry since they weren't given any ammunition."
Check out I love Bagram for a responsible opposing viewpoint: "2569. When the 11Bravo's come to BAF and they bitch at us or call us pogs. And ask how do we live with ourselfs. I reply 1 hot shower a day."
By Mark Hammel
Best Defense guest columnist
As in all human endeavors, knowledge is power. Therefore, in treating an
individual unfortunate enough to be suffering from Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder (PTSD), I begin by explaining that PTSD is neither an illness nor a
weakness, but rather, an injury. As with all injuries, it is due to exposure to
a force that undermines the integrity of a biologically adaptive system of the
body. In the case of an injury to the musculoskeletal system, the force is
typically of a kinetic nature, such as with a badly sprained ankle. In the case
of PTSD, the force is initiated by the perception of mortal danger giving rise
to a wave of neurological activity so great that the stress response system of
the brain is damaged. Think of this as a power surge.
The stress response system is one and the same as the system that responds to the perception of danger with the fight-freeze-or-flight response. I've found it useful over the years to refer to this system as the danger-monitoring-and-response system of the brain. It is the malfunctioning of this injured system that gives rise to the symptoms that we have come to know in the aggregate as PTSD.
Under normal conditions, our five senses work tirelessly in the background, monitoring the environment for any change in ambient conditions that might represent danger, such as a novel sound or smell, or perhaps movement on the periphery of our visual field. When such a change occurs the system initiates an immediate IFF, consulting its own knowledge base of previous experience, i.e. memory, and at the same time readies itself to unleash the fight-freeze-or-flight response should our memory turn up a match for something that could do us harm.
When the system is impaired, as in the case of PTSD, it enters a sort of safe mode, where the danger-monitoring-and-response function supersedes all other normal functioning. The victim becomes preoccupied with danger, accompanied by an impaired ability to muster the attention and motivation to engage in the myriad of biopsychosocially adaptive activities that uninjured humans accomplish with relative ease.
I hope this explanation makes it easier to grasp the source of two major groups of PTSD symptoms: hyperarousal (e.g. hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, sleep disturbance, etc.), and avoidance and numbing.
A third group, reexperiencing symptoms, among them so-called flashbacks, is perhaps less easy to grasp, but surely the most salient to victim and clinicians. Normally, when we experience something it brings about a change in the brain that results in the formation of a memory. When we recall it, it is clearly in the realm of having occurred in the past, the there-and-then. In the case of a traumatic experience, the transformation into a memory is incomplete. It exists in a kind of limbo where it is maddeningly reexperienced as occurring in the here-and-now.
As a follow-up item to yesterday's post about the blown-up captain getting a ticket in Bagram for not wearing a reflector belt, a congressional staffer passes along this photo he took at the big base at Kandahar air field in 2009.
Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22 that it is the nature of military organizations that staffs established to support line units eventually begin thinking that the line units work for them -- and treating line soldiers like it.
"When you do 'Henry V' for a roomful of men in uniform with guns on their hips and M-9s under their chairs, it takes on a whole different meaning.''
-- Tyrus Lemerande, a Navy reservist, quoted in the Boston Globe after entertaining troops with a one-man show featuring selections from Shakespeare.
I think that as the United States leaves Iraq and shuffles toward the exit in Afghanistan, we need to think about how to answer that question when veterans of our wars there pose it.
This is a difficult one for me, because I think the war in Afghanistan was the correct response to the 9/11 attacks, but was mishandled for years after that, and I think the war in Iraq was an unnecessary and very expensive distraction from that response. Also, we may well see further violence in both countries that will raise questions about exactly what we achieved.
Also, today's vets tend to have good BS detectors. Recently I walked past a small monument to graduates of a high school who were lost in the Spanish-American War. It stated that they died "for humanity." I don't think so.
I think my response would be along these lines -- but I'd welcome your thoughts. "When your country called, you answered. You did your duty on a mission your country gave to you. In our system, thankfully, the military does not get to pick and choose what missions it will undertake -- that is decided by the officials elected by the people. Those officials are not always right, but they are the leaders we chose to make that decision. No matter what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan, you have the thanks of a grateful nation for answering the call."
Is that enough? I don't know. If someone said that to me, I suspect I would think, Yeah, well where was everyone else? Why did my friends die and yours didn't?
I don't know. Help me out here.
The U.S. Army/Flickr
The new issue of Vanity Fair has a good overview piece by Mark "Black Hawk Down" Bowden about the Wanat battle and its effect on those who fought it, oversaw it and questioned it. Here's a link to the article.
Meanwhile, Rand Corporation surfaces with a report on what Wanat might tell us about small unit operations in Afghanistan. I gave it a skim and can't tell what, if anything, to make of it. I don't want to keep on beating up on poor Rand, but I find their reports tend to be mushy. I read so much stuff that I want people to get to their essential points clearly, quickly and emphatically -- as Col. Creighton Abrams did in an Army War College paper that I was reading yesterday in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. More on that later.
U.S. Department of Defense
Ok, we had some fun yesterday with the defenestration of General Fuller, but this note arrives this morning and it is sobering:
Fuller told the truth on this one and was mangled as a result. It's no secret that the Afghans want to drain every last dime out of the US and the ISAF nations.
The major problem with the Afghan National Security Forces -- other than the rampant corruption, attrition and neptotism -- is the utter lack of institutional control in almost all of their organizations. This is an inward-looking problem, however. The major outward-looking problem associated with the ANSF is that we have built multiple organizations that have no chance at long-term success because they cost too much to sustain. Once the money dries up, the ANSF is toast and everyone who worked in Kabul or with the Afghans at the Corps level or above knows this.
Fuller was relieved not because he told the truth - the Generals are not idiots who don't understand what the situation with the ANSF is and will be. He was fired because he took his frustrations out in public and embarrassed the Afghan Government, the US government and military and the ISAF leadership.
Congress knows everything that is going on with the ANSF. A DoD special Inspector General makes quarterly visits to Kabul and releases quarterly reports that are available on-line. If they wanted to end this kabuki dance, they could slash funding and tell the Afghans to deal with the consequences. Instead, we continue to pump money into the system. There are systemic problems with the ANSF that have no solutions - unless you really want to station 50,000 US Troops there for the next 30 years.
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
As a public service, Best Defense is offering this primer for generals on their way to Afghanistan.
Here is a list of 19 things that many insiders and veterans of Afghanistan agree to be true about the war there, but that generals can't say in public. So, general, read this now and believe it later-but keep your lip zipped. Maybe even keep a printout in your wallet and review before interviews.
My list of things to remember I can't say
- Pakistan is now an enemy of the United States.
- We don't know why we are here, what we are fighting for, or how to know if we are winning.
- The strategy is to fight, talk, and build. But we're withdrawing the fighters, the Taliban won't talk, and the builders are corrupt.
- Karzai's family is especially corrupt.
- We want President Karzai gone but we don't have a Pushtun successor handy.
- But the problem isn't corruption, it is which corrupt people are getting the dollars. We have to help corruption be more fair.
- Another thing we'll never stop here is the drug traffic, so the counternarcotics mission is probably a waste of time and resources that just alienates a swath of Afghans.
- Making this a NATO mission hurt, not helped. Most NATO countries are just going through the motions in Afghanistan as the price necessary to keep the US in Europe
- Yes, the exit deadline is killing us.
- Even if you got a deal with the Taliban, it wouldn't end the fighting.
- The Taliban may be willing to fight forever. We are not.
- Yes, we are funding the Taliban, but hey, there's no way to stop it, because the truck companies bringing goods from Pakistan and up the highway across Afghanistan have to pay off the Taliban. So yeah, your tax dollars are helping Mullah Omar and his buddies. Welcome to the neighborhood.
- Even non-Taliban Afghans don't much like us.
- Afghans didn't get the memo about all our successes, so they are positioning themselves for the post-American civil war .
- And they're not the only ones getting ready. The future of Afghanistan is probably evolving up north now as the Indians, Russians and Pakistanis jockey with old Northern Alliance types. Interestingly, we're paying more and getting less than any other player.
- Speaking of positioning for the post-American civil war, why would the Pakistanis sell out their best proxy shock troops now?
- The ANA and ANP could break the day after we leave the country.
- We are ignoring the advisory effort and fighting the "big war" with American troops, just as we did in Vietnam. And the U.S. military won't act any differently until and work with the Afghan forces seriously until when American politicians significantly draw down U.S. forces in country-when it may be too damn late.
- The situation American faces in Afghanistan is similar to the one it faced in Vietnam during the Nixon presidency: A desire a leave and turn over the war to our local allies, combined with the realization that our allies may still lose, and the loss will be viewed as a U.S. defeat anyway.
Thanks to several people who contributed to this, from California to Kunar and back to DC, and whose names must not be mentioned! You know who you are. The rest of you, look at the guy sitting to your right.
By "An American Official"
Best Defense guest whistleblower
Regional Command-East has forgone efforts aimed at transition in favor of continuing kinetic warfare. In an order issued in late September, provincial reconstruction teams throughout the easternmost provinces of Afghanistan are facing dramatic cuts, upwards of 60 percent for some, by the end of the year. The effort is an attempt to meet President Barrack Obama's goal of cutting deployed military forces by perhaps 23,000.
While RC-E is making cuts across the board, other commands are trying to avoid fragmenting PRTs, which serve as the driving force behind transition. PRTs are comprised of military, Department of State, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and USAID experts who are highly specialized in combating sources of instability through empowering and mentoring civic leaders, constructing development projects, and educating public. They serve as a positive U.S. presence in a nation devastated by decades of war and strife.
As the U.S. tries to move toward a feasible "exit strategy," many PRTs are laying the foundations for U.S. consulates to house DoS, USAID, and USDA representatives for years to come. However, with cuts favoring the traditional warfighter in the East, PRTs will be forced to "do less with less," while still struggling to bring transition to war-torn areas of Afghanistan.
For the last five years, PRTs have suffered reduced freedom of movement and the ability to show US presence in a positive way. As a stepchild, PRTs now fall under the battle space owners, who could care less about the PRT mission as long as "bad guys" are still alive.
In Iraq, the success of PRTs was largely due to structuring them under the U.S. ambassador. However, in Afghanistan, PRTs are a "two-headed monster" with the civilian components reporting to the embassy and U.S. forces reporting to the brigade task force. "Infantry runs the Army," marginalizing the impact of PRTs and making them subordinate to a kinetic force.
Adam Ashton of the Tacoma News Tribune has a good if dismaying piece on the Army platoon from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, that went rogue in Afghanistan. One of the most striking sentences: "Twitty found that the soldiers in that platoon came under fire five times in their year overseas. The Army now considers three of those engagements to be murders orchestrated by members of the platoon."
There's so much more that it makes you wonder just where the hell the chain of command was:
*A private destroyed a housing unit on his base when he accidentally discharged a round from a grenade launcher. His squad leader had not done the correct checks to make sure all of the weapons were turned in. The private was Pfc. Andrew Holmes, one of the five "kill team" codefendants who recently pleaded guilty to killing a noncombatant.
*The entire platoon of nearly 30 soldiers fell asleep in Stryker vehicles outside of a base after a patrol without posting a night watch. A senior noncommissioned officer caught them when he watched them through an aerial drone.
*Leaders at multiple levels above 3rd Platoon failed to conduct routine urinalysis tests and other inspections that could have identified misconduct earlier.
*Soldiers wrote graffiti at least once, scrawling the word "crusader" on a road crossing.
*At least one soldier shot dogs and chickens during patrols.
*Another soldier kept fingers from corpses in his housing unit and had access to weapons he should have turned in to his leadership. He was alleged "kill team" ringleader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs.
*Soldiers used their first names when they addressed their leaders and showed poor uniform care, even in the context of relaxed war-zone standards.
*At least 15 soldiers reported smoking hashish.
Tom again: Part of the answer is that the platoon's 1st sergeant had TBI and back injuries and didn't go outside the wire. The platoon leader was a pliable newbie. That still doesn't answer why the troop and battalion commanders weren't on top of this, perhaps breaking up the platoon. The brigade commander, Col. Harry Tunnell, has been cleared. But he was so at odds with his own chain of command that I have to wonder if he contributed to the atmosphere of indiscipline. I think an officer in that situation should be removed without detriment to his career. If General Odierno had done that with Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman back in 2003, Sassaman might well be a general today.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.