My gut feeling is that U.S. officials are beginning to give up on getting serious anti-Taliban help from the government of Pakistan. My guess is that there won't be any official change stated, but more actions that Pakistani officials haven't been consulted about. Also, if the ISI really is interfering with peace talks with the Taliban, I'd expect to see a rollup of ISI agents in Afghanistan. This would be done quietly, if possible, so the public signs would be reactions such as the kidnapping of Indian officials in Afghanistan, or bombing the Indian embassy again.
Shorting Pakistan is kind of a no-brainer: In the long one, which is the better ally to have, India or Pakistan?
For an informed take on Bob Woodward's new book, I thought it would be interesting to hear from my CNAS colleague retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, back when it was thought of as the good war. I think he is right: Woodward has made Gen. David Petraeus the unlikely villain of the book, and Vice President Joe Biden the equally unlikely hero.
By Lt. Gen. David Barno (U.S. Army, ret.)
Best Defense book reviewer
After powering through Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars on my Kindle this past week, I came away profoundly uneasy. It was a compelling and immensely readable account, but much of its message was troubling.
Not because of the book's unbroken account of fractious infighting, over-sized battling personalities or the lengthy debate among Obama's national security team. I actually see this high level blood-letting generally as a pretty good sign. Vociferous arguments among smart, tough players at this level are required to shine light back into every corner of the competing arguments. And there are few issues more worthy of fulsome discussion than an ongoing war, especially one going badly.
My unease came from the gathering realization as the pages turned that the president was heading toward making his final decision -- one upon which untold lives and tens, maybe hundreds of billions of dollars would rest -- without getting his chance to dispassionately and fully evaluate the fullest range of possible choices.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
The suave looking war dog in this photo is wearing doggles -- not goggles, doggles -- and yes, these are real. Military dogs wear doggles specifically designed to protect the eyes of working dogs from dust and debris. Soldiers rely on the heightened senses of these dogs which far surpass those of a human, and so the dogs' handlers take the precautionary measures necessary to protect them, keeping a careful watch on their vitals and the care they receive in the field.
This German Shepherd is wearing his doggles while Chinook helicopters take off during an air assault operation by U.S. soldiers in Parwan province, Afghanistan on May 11.
U.S. Army/Sgt. Jason Brace/flickr
Here is a great exchange between an American officer and an Afghan elder recorded by the estimable David Wood:
. . . Instead of answering directly, the old man burst into a tirade. "We are in the middle!" he cried. "We can't say anything to you, and we can't say anything to them." What he meant: Americans push education for girls. The Taliban forbid it.
Biggs handed him a stack of cards, each bearing the location and phone numbers for the local police. "If you have trouble, call these numbers," he said.
Nabib reacted with alarm. "But what if they ask about these?"
"Hide them," said Biggs.
"But they search everyplace -- more than you," said Nabib.
Aha, said Biggs. "So there are Taliban in the village!"
"Being really honest, yes, definitely they come sometimes. But we can't tell you where they are," the old man said. "After sunset they come. We don't come out of our compounds. We are living in fear."
"We have no power to face them or you," he complained. "We are just like a soccer ball being kicked by both sides."
"We are not here to kill insurgents or anyone," said Biggs. "We are not here for you to join our team, but just to deliver government and security to your village."
The old man snorted. "They are also telling us this same speech, that they are here to protect us," he muttered.
No one-trick pony, Friend Wood also recently did a good piece on the relationship between the U.S. military and the society it protects. He began, "The U.S. Army now begins its 10th continuous year in combat, the first time in its history the United States has excused the vast majority of its citizens from service and engaged in a major, decade-long conflict instead with an Army manned entirely by professional warriors."
He concludes with this quote from a soldier in Afghanistan: "The Army has become home for a lot of restless souls who can never really go back."
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
By Capt. Paul Lushekno, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
It is quite obvious what we need to do in order to stabilize Afghanistan: provide security first and foremost. While the regional intransigence of Iran and Pakistan does present a challenge, the goal should be ANSF (ANA + ANP) with whatever other novel approaches we can feasibly pursue -- i.e., local defense forces replicating the Sunni Awakening, branding Haqqani a terrorist group, "engagement brigades" as LTC Shannon Beebe and the political scientist Mary Kaldor have argued for in their new book -- The Ultimate Weapon is No Weapon.
Look, I understand the harsh realities of terrain, tribalism, and regional meddling. But none of those disqualify the COIN approach. It protects the population through focus on the insurgents and vulnerabilities (crime, drug trafficking, illegal timber smuggling). This builds trust and co-opts some moderating strains of the Taliban and other insurgents. Although we will provide the tools to facilitate a stable state, the Afghans will ultimately decide the composition of their government. And rightly so, this is an internal discussion that transcends states -- just look at Iraq. By providing security we not only provide Afghans space but stem vulnerabilities that could spill over Afghanistan's borders to affect global security, our security. The AQ thing, at least in Afghanistan and the FATA, is really under control. What we should be doing now is searching for the next place AQ could set up shop.
I wrote a piece for the Small Wars Journal titled "Partnership 'Till it Hurts: The use of Fusion Cells to Establish Unity of Force Between SOF (Yin) and Conventional Forces (Yang)." Based on the success of fusion cells in Iraq, our military cross-pollinated the idea in Afghanistan. In fact, I deployed with a JSOTF on the cusp of this decision and was excited to help the transition. Fusion cells can greatly aid our COIN in Afghanistan; however, in my opinion, they are not currently utilized to their full potential -- I just redeployed from Afghanistan and witnessed this again. Case in point, BDE commanders don't focus on fusion cells and invest the appropriate resources and personnel. While a learning curve exists, no doubt, my fear is that this will promote further dithering.
While fusion cells were ostensibly developed to better coordinate SOF and conventional forces as the "wall of secrecy" faded, they need to do much more. As MG Flynn wrote, they need to not only orchestrate SOF and conventional operations to reduce collateral damage but incorporate foreign service officers (i.e., the State Department), involve humanitarian organizations (including USAID, AUSAID, etc), and embed Afghan intelligence services. They need to be an ad hoc framework for what Beebe and Kaldor call "engagement brigades" that "contain a mix of capabilities ranging from the use of force, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, support for reconciliation in violent situations through response to natural and manmade disasters including terrorist attacks or the capacity to deal with breakdowns in law and order and to stop looting, rioting or criminal gang warfare."
Army Capt. Paul Lushenko is a 2005 graduate of West Point. He served as an intelligence officer with a Joint Special Operations Task Force from 2007-2010 and deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently is studying at the Australian National University, pursuing a dual master's degree in international relations and diplomacy. The views expressed in these comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. government, Terry Francona or Theo Epstein.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
I heard through the Army grapevine that Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser chose to retire because the company, battalion and brigade commanders were given GOMRs (General Officer Memoranda of Reprimand) in the Wanat matter, but he wasn't, and he considered that unfair. (He had been the overall commander of U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan, which is where Wanat is.) So I sent him a note to ask him if that was accurate.
Yes, he responded, "That's correct."
ARNAUD ROINE/AFP/Getty Images
The Washington Post has a good summary of the revelations in Bob Woodward's new book, Obama's Wars, as does FP's own Blake Hounshell. Most interesting to readers of this blog are those about Afghanistan (CIA runs a 3,000-man Afghan paramilitary organization that operates both in Afghanistan and Pakistan) and friction between the military and the White House (Petraeus telling aides that the administration is "fucking with the wrong guy"; Gates getting upset over a White House aide dissing a general; JCS chairman Mullen at odds with his vice chairman, Cartwright).
"Charlie" Simpson, a counterinsurgency expert who worked in southern Afghanistan last year with the soldiers' parent unit, the 5th Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, reports that she has "little doubt" that,
the permissive, savage command climate emanated from the top. There were multiple opportunities (and calls) to relieve the brigade commander following a disastrous performance in Arghandab; instead the RC South commander reassigned the battalions and developed a new mission for the brigade.
It is interesting that the critical Army Times article Charlie links to was published before the alleged string of murders began. Army Times also reported a lot of substance abuse in the unit. It makes me wonder if innocent lives could have been saved if the chain of command was more on the ball.
Oh man. Take a minute to read this widow's account of watching her Marine sergeant husband fall apart after he came home from Afghanistan. Two quotations that really struck me:
"I knew that we had run out of time."
And, as he contemplated suicide:
"There is no way I can stop you from doing this, is there?" she said she asked her husband.
If you know someone who seems suicidal, here is a phone number:
(HT to BD)
So alleges the prosecutor down in Norfolk. My real problem is with the American officials who thought it was a good idea to put on the battlefield thousands of armed civilians not subject to military discipline or the UCMJ. I think this will be one of the major errors future historians hang around the necks of top Bush Administration officials and their senior military counterparts.
The Blackwater guys are on trial for the killing of two Afghans in Kabul in 2009. Their attorneys claim the shootings were in self-defense against a reckless driver.
One of the most important lessons of Iraq is that nothing improves the quality of local forces like actually having U.S. soldiers work, eat and sleep in the same place as them. Not coincidentally, it also improves the Americans' understanding of the situation.
This was brought home to me by a series of "Company Command" comments that Army magazine carried in its August issue from members of the 25th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade. Here, for example, is Josh Sherer, who as he notes was skeptical of the move:
We established a joint TOC [tactical operations center] with the ANA [Afghan National Army]. Suddenly, we were both watching the same RAID [Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection] camera feed, hearing each other's intel reports over the radio. Wow, what a difference that made....
I'm not going to lie; I resisted this idea of a joint TOC initially. I had serious concerns about the Afghans seeing all of our capabilities and SIPR [Secure Internet Protocol Router] computers. The complete trust just wasn't there. But now, joint TOCs partnered with ANA -- what a difference that made. I could just go up to the Afghan S-3 and say, "What do you want to plan this week? I'm doing these things with my platoon leaders. What do you want to plan for your patrols?...."
That's definitely the way forward. They get so much better tactically -- just basic soldier skills -- by having our guys right next to theirs. Putting their mortar beside our mortar: They're learning from our mortar men, taking care of barrels and personal weapons, drinking chai together. The gains we could not make during our first eight months of random partnering once a month we made in two or three weeks because we were living together. Although I wasn't a fan at first, now I preach it.
John Moore/Getty Images
Here's a guest post by Joe Quinn, who lost his brother and best friend in the 9/11 attacks, served a couple of tours in Iraq, and is now in Afghanistan.
By Joe Quinn
Best Defense guest columnist
Al Qaeda murdered my brother Jimmy nine years ago. Mohamed Atta and four other terrorists hijacked and crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the 93rd through 99th floors of the north tower of the World Trade Center. My brother Jimmy worked on the 101st floor. Not a single remnant of my brother would be recovered.
My life came crashing down simultaneously with those towers. Images of my brother's demise relentlessly flickered in my head. Anger swelled inside of me, not because my brother died, but because of the thought that he was scared before he perished. I wanted revenge.
Due to my emotions (and engineering classes), I barely graduated West Point in the spring of 2002. After being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, I had one goal: to go to Afghanistan.
In 2003, I requested to be sent to Afghanistan. The Army sent me to Iraq. In 2007, I requested to be sent to Afghanistan again. The Army sent me to Iraq again. After President Obama announced the Afghan "Surge" in December, I knew this was my opportunity. Nine years after my brother's death, I have finally accomplished my goal, as I am currently contributing to the fight here in Afghanistan.
I have recounted the last nine years of my life because my journey through these wars has been similar to yours. You were devastated by the events of 9/11. You wanted revenge, or at least some sort of justice, where you supported the invasion of Afghanistan. You were sidetracked by the Iraq War in 2003 and then again by the Iraq "Surge" in 2007. Nine years after 9/11, you are tired of war, but finally find your blood and treasure in Afghanistan.
My greatest fear is that we will lose the Afghan war because of the Iraq war. The American people are tired of war mostly due to the painful doldrums brought on by the Iraq campaign. Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) also siphoned resources and attention away from Afghanistan, allowing an insurgency to rise and for the U.S. to never fully realize a plan for winning. What is winning? Winning is achieving irreversible momentum towards a stable Afghanistan, free from Taliban control, which will never serve as a base for terrorism.
After nine years of neglecting the Afghan war, we finally have a plan for winning, with the right resources, the right leadership and the right programs. At the end of August, the last of the 30,000 additional U.S. troops are finally in place. Undoubtedly, these additional troops will clear and hold large swaths of Taliban strongholds.
In General Petraeus, we also have the right leadership to orchestrate the Afghan war. Saying that General Petraeus will not make a difference in Afghanistan is like saying Michael Jordan would not make a difference in Chicago after coming out of retirement in 1994. Eventually the team will improve.
The right programs in Afghanistan have only just begun. General Petraeus made an immediate impact by partnering with President Karzai to begin the Afghan Local Police (ALP) program that will leverage local Afghans to provide village-level security. The Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) is another concept that has just been ratified, where the effects of the program will only truly be felt in the months ahead. The right resources, leadership and programs in Afghanistan have just begun. Winning the Afghan war has just begun.
So after nine years, why are we still in Afghanistan? For me it's still simple. The men that killed my brother on 9/11 were five of 20,000 terrorists trained by Al Qaeda in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan will only embolden Al Qaeda even more to perpetrate terrorist attacks like on 9/11. It's easy to forget the connection between Afghanistan and 9/11 after all this time. For me, it's impossible to forget. Perhaps remembering is the luxury of my family's tragedy.
In the end, I do not want revenge anymore. The truth is that the perpetrators that murdered my brother died that same day. I now have a new goal: to leave Afghanistan. To leave Afghanistan as a stable country, free from Taliban control, which will never serve as a base for terrorism.Joe Quinn currently works in Afghanistan as a Counterinsurgency Advisor for the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF's) Counterinsurgency Assistance and Advisory Team (CAAT). He graduated in May from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
My e-mail lately brings notice of two organizations doing good things:
First is the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, which rolls out this morning. This one involves a bunch of bigwigs, like the defense secretary, the Army secretary and the VA secretary, but what caught my attention was the participation of the Rev. Robert Certain, who before becoming a minister was a PoW in Hanoi.
By the way, here is the recent Defense Health Board report on the issue.
Second is Spirit of America. A friend of a friend writes that it is
a 501c3 nonprofit that helps our troops help the people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. Since 2003 we've responded to needs identified by U.S. Soldiers and Marines for things that will help the local people -- sewing machines, school supplies, solar water pumps, solar radios, sandals, blankets, mosquito nets, playground equipment, saffron bulbs... any kind of humanitarian or economic development assistance that is needed. This support improves relations and increases trust and cooperation. it is especially helpful in counterinsurgency operations now in Afghanistan. Ultimately, SoA support helps our troops be safer and more successful in their mission.
Spirit of America's support is fast, flexible and decentralized. We fill gaps in military and US government assistance programs. In Afghanistan, it can be difficult to get aid to the remote villages -- far from Kabul -- where much of the war is being fought and where little things can make a big difference. That's where SoA is most active. You can think of this as grass roots public diplomacy. We help the troops be effective unofficial ambassadors... ambassadors of the goodwill of the American people. Most NGOs keep their distance from the military. Spirit of America takes a different approach that offers a new model for military-NGO collaboration.
Everything we do is supported by private-sector donations. We provide Americans with a meaningful way to help and to connect with the service of our troops. People can choose where their money goes and 100% goes to provide what those on the front lines say is needed.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
At one point in the spring of 1951 Rhee was demanding that the U.S. give him enough weaponry and other gear to equip 10 divisions -- which, by coincidence, was approximately the amount of equipment that the U.S. calculated South Korean troops had abandoned in running away from North Korean and Chinese forces. At the same time Lt. Gen. James A. Van Fleet, then the senior U.S. commander on the ground in Korea, wrote this (quoted in Clay Blair's terrific The Forgotten War) about local security forces in that war:
The primary problem in the Republic of Korea is to secure competent leadership in their army. They do not have it, from the Minister of Defense on down, as is clearly evidenced by repeated battle failures of major units. This is the chief and basic responsibility of the President of the Republic in the military field. Until we get competent leadership, there is little reason to expect any better performance of ROK troops, or any higher degree of confidence than presently exists....
Until competent leadership is secured and demonstrates its worth, there should be no further talk of the U.S. furnishing arms and equipment for additional forces.
A few months later, in an internal cable, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea accused President Rhee of trying to "blindly.... sabotage" armistice talks.
wikipedia; JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Tom: I'm no fan of PowerPoint, which I think undermines clear thinking. But in this case I think the colonel's gripe really was with mindless military bureaucracy. But let him speak for himself:
By Col. Lawrence Sellin (U.S. Army Reserve)
Best Defense guest columnist
I was assigned to the ISAF Joint Command (IJC) in Kabul for the last two months. Since arriving in Afghanistan my job had changed twice and in both cases I had no clear duties. Twice I asked my superiors for a more substantive assignment. Once I provided a high-level overview of proven management methodologies that I offered to the command as a means to address the quite apparent organizational issues at IJC. Nothing happened.
That frustrating situation was one of the triggers for writing my now infamous article "ISAF Joint Command -- Power Points 'R' Us."
The second trigger was more serious. Last autumn the US government announced that after 8 years and $27 billion, the Afghan Army training program was being declared a failure. Despite the fact that symptoms of failure were already appearing in the press years earlier, apparently no one in the chain of command spoke up. I wondered how much American, coalition and Afghan blood was shed while the program was heading toward failure. I wonder how much blood will be shed before the Afghan Army is ready.
With that in mind and after two months of observing the IJC function and speaking with people from all the sections, I decided to write a tongue-in-cheek description, an obviously over-the-top and sarcastic article hopefully containing threads of constructive criticism woven into the text. I largely succeeded in those aims with the very slight exception of how my superiors might react.
One of the main themes of the article involved the use of PowerPoint. I don't hate PowerPoint. In fact, I use it often. I do object to its use as a crutch or a replacement for serious thinking. Also, the overuse of PowerPoint can give the illusion of progress, when it is really only motion in the form of busy work. It can confuse the volume of information with the quality of information.
A second theme was the way in which organizations function and why they don't e.g. stovepipes, ad hoc or absent processes, run-away egos or adding bodies as a solution to every problem.
My favorite IJC "idea" was a senior officer's recommendation to install steel girders in the Joint Operations Center (JOC) so he could build a booth 10 feet off the floor where he could oversee operations on the JOC floor. Of course, the JOC floor is already supervised by the JOC director. So, there is nothing to oversee. It sounded more like he was building a throne room.
In any case, after the article was published and after a helpful colleague slipped a yellow-highlighted copy under his door, my major general supervisor politely and professionally asked me to leave Afghanistan. Another major general, who I had never met, but who had a previous unpleasant experience with an article-writer, ordered me behind closed doors so he could call me names. A case of projected anger, I suppose.
Seriously though, I think it is time for the American people to hold the senior military leaderships' (colonels and up) feet to the fire. When they make their reports to Congress, one can be sure that it is the best possible scenario that they can justify without lying. The phrase "progress is being made" should not be accepted as an answer. It is like saying "the check is in the mail."
Everyone should remember that these are military careerists. War provides the opportunity for testing their skills, getting medals and promotions. A compromise peace without their definition of "victory" might be considered a failure. They all want to march down Pennsylvania Avenue like General Norman Schwarzkopf. Likewise, the contractors want to continue making their huge profits. It is the common soldiers, however, who are providing the sweat and shedding the blood.
We must stop treating the Afghans like children. They are not. It is their country and for better or worse, they should start taking responsibility for it. There is little reason not to begin turning over responsibility now. Regional Command West is possible because it is the most peaceful part of the country. That could be followed by Regional Command North. Between now and next July, the coalition can concentrate on Regional Commands East, South and Southwest.
After that no more blank checks. In my opinion, time's up.Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D., is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and a veteran of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Until recently he was serving his second deployment to Afghanistan. The views expressed are his own and definitely do not reflect those of the U.S. Army or U.S. government. He was not compensated for this article.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
A huge leak of U.S. reports and this is all they get? I know of more stuff leaked at one good dinner on background. I mean, when Mother Jones yawns, that's an indication that you might not have the Pentagon Papers on your hands. If anything, the thousands of documents remind me of what it is like to be a reporter: Lots of different people telling you different things. It takes awhile to learn how to distinguish the junk from the gold.
You know how Robert DeNiro used to shout once in every film, "You got nothin' on me, nothin'"? (I think it was in his contract.) This data dump reminded me of that.
Here's Abu Mook's very good summary, cited by MoJo.
I do not agree with this, but Professor Blackton sure is raising questions worth addressing.
By John Stuart Blackton
Best Defense Helmand River Valley bureau chief
Kai Bird's essay in Politico on the similarities between our engagements in Afghanistan and Vietnam is worth pondering. Bird doesn't know either country up close, nor does he know a lot about warfare, but he is a sharp long-term observer of Washington.
I spent four years in the Indochina War and even more in Afghanistan over several decades. While the two countries have nothing in common and the two societies have even less, America's manner of engaging the two places has all sorts of commonalities. We are the constant in the two equations.
Looked at from the American perspective, I see some merit in Bird's analogy. He doesn't get everything right, but he asks many of the right questions.
I have noticed the Ruff Puffs and the CAPs coming back into the argument on your blog as P4 tries out a variant of village militias in Afghanistan. What some of your Vietnam vet posters may be missing about the Ruff Puffs and the CAPs is that they were, no doubt, modestly successful tactical responses, but they were not decisive. We lost.
I was among the legions who worked on the current counterinsurgency manual and one of the things that the old guys (like me) found ourselves reminding the younger folks was that almost all these historical experiments in COIN that we were mining were ultimately failures. Not tactical failures, but failures at the strategic level--which is the only level that counts in the long run. The Algerians won. The North Vietnamese won.
Eating soup with a knife doesn't change the underlying realities of a political situation which the Americans have failed to read correctly. If counterinsurgency were a video-game, fought village by village with a running tally of points for wins and losses at the local level, COIN doctrine would be much more helpful. But long wars are more than the sum of tactical events. Bird's essay underscores the weaknesses in America's application of top-level political and strategic thinking to the problem.
We left Vietnam covered with stickers that urged the Vietnamese to "see it through with Nguyen Van Thieu." This time we may be asking the Afghans to "See it through with Hamid who?"Professor John Stuart Blackton
Managing Director, Strategic Advisory Services
Here is another comment from a relative of a soldier who was killed at Wanat that answers the question of what some of them want from the Army:
My name is Jessica Davis. I am the sister of Jason Dane Hovater who was killed during The Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan on July 13, 2008.
I realize that we cannot change the past, but I am writing today because we can change the future. I would like for it to be understood that I am not bitter about what happened; I am concerned.
Because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I personally do not hold the officers that General Natonski found derelict in duty, responsible for my brother's death; I do not believe that it is my place to. However, I do feel it is the responsibility of the United States Army to show accountability when obvious mistakes are made and to ensure that commanding officers perform with their best judgment during one of the most unpredictable times, which is war.
General Campbell explained during his briefing that one of the reasons why he changed the decision to reprimand the accused officers was so that future commanding officers would not hesitate during the heat of battle; for being afraid of the repercussions that would follow for their decisions. I believe that future commanding officers should make thoughtful decisions in planning before an attack and in the heat of a battle.
The Los Angeles Times has an editorial today that parses Petraeus's new emphasis on arming locals in Afghanistan. It concludes that, "The question is how to make sure they remain on the side of the central government."
Actually, that gets the issue exactly backwards -- and shows how little the editorialist understands the war. The question Petraeus is actually posing to Karzai is how the central government is going to win over armed villagers. That is why this move is important -- it empowers locals and so gives Petraeus a lever to start challenging the ways of those around Karzai.
News flash for the LA Times: Our biggest problem in Afghanistan isn't the Taliban, it is the corrupt and abusive ways of the Karzai government. The Taliban is a byproduct of that behavior. (And yeah, our second biggest problem is the Pakistani government.)
Stars & Stripes reports that the photo of the baboon firing what looks like sort of like a SAW actually omits that the beast was on a leash and the "weapon" is a toy.
I don't think monkeys would like living in Afghanistan anyway, except maybe around Jalalabad.
UPDATE: FP's editors point out that their own Brian Fung actually was all over this first.
These people are serious. They are feeling let down by the Army. Here is a note from another bereaved parent:
I'm the Father of Pruitt Rainey. I gave my testimony and my son's last e-mails to me to Gen Natonski in Norfolk VA at the Naval base. They tell it all. What was going on and what was predicted at Wanat. I sat at Ft McPherson and listened and recorded what both Generals had to say. General Campbell and the DOD and especially Gen Petraeus really let my son down. The briefing was supposed to hopefully bring us some closure. It was supposed to be about Integrity. It was supposed to be about the Honor of our sons. It was supposed to be about the last respects we all pay to the ultimate sacrifice our sons gave to our country.
It turned out to be a complete whitewash and a smokescreen for the Army. I am ashamed my son was even in the Army. I feel so disrespected.
I watched General Campbell smile and even laugh during his briefing especially when we were asking him questions. One question I asked him was, Did he speak with any other person or soldier that was at Wanat? He answered, "I read some of their statements." I asked him a second time: Did you speak with any of the other 48 witnesses that were at Wanat? He again smirked and said, "I read some of their statements."
I came out of my chair and lost it. I held up a picture, 8x10. I demanded he look at my son's picture and tell him you made the correct decision today. He walked up to me, looked, smirked, not one word, and walked away smiling again. What else can I say...
Secretary Gates and our President need to step up and do the right thing. Honor our sons, Honor all the sacrifices these soldiers gave to the Freedom we have."
Here is another comment from a parent of a soldier lost at Wanat. I do not regard this as bellyaching. These people deserve, at the very least, straight answers. Instead I think their grief is intensified by what they regard as a Pentagon runaround.
This note is from retired Army Col. David Brostrom:
My wife and I entered the briefing without any preconcieved notions of who was to blame for the Wanat debacle. Despite all of the media attention and armchair quarterbacking we knew that our accusations of negligence could be proven false -- in fact,some were. That is why the family members requested an independent investigation to determine without prejudice and influence from Army culture the lessons learned and leadership accountability. General Petraeus's independent investigation into the Battle of Wanat was very detailed and unbiased. In the end it found three officers guilty of dereliction of duty with numerous other findings to improve combat operations in Afghanistan.
The UCMJ process required the Service who the accused individuals serve under to carry out the recommendations of the independent investigation. General Campbell admitted he conducted in his terms a overarching reinvestigation that questioned every facet of the CENTCOM's findings and recommendations. General Campbell by the UCMJ was the Judge, Jury, Prosecution and Defense. However, General Campbell limited his questioning to only the three officers accused of dereliction of duty and the evidence they presented in their behalf. This evidence included letters from Army General Officers who had served in Afghanistan and who knew the three accused officers. General Campbell did not talk to any of the surviving enlisted or NCO's who fought in the battle. At the end of the day General Campbell, who has not seen combat since Vietnam, lost sight of the real issue -- the soldiers who fought and died at Wanat.
U.S. Army Photo
Marine Gen. James Mattis is going to take over the Central Command post from Petraeus, Defense Secretary Gates just announced.
This is the best news I have heard in a long time. Just when I think Gates has lost his touch, he revives my faith by doing something like this. Readers of this blog will know that I think Mattis is terrific.
Kris Connor/Getty Images
Here is a note from my CNAS colleague Ethan Kapstein, who has been hanging out in Kabul lately:
The firing of General Stanley McChrystal following his remarks to a Rolling Stone reporter risk overwhelming the real progress that is now being made in Afghanistan. In particular, Afghanistan is enjoying strong economic growth in several parts of the country.
What explains these regional booms? The answer is clear: It's security.
For that reason, a premature withdrawal of American forces -- now slated by the Obama Administration to begin in July 2011 -- could undermine all that is being achieved. The data show that when Afghans feel secure, they invest in their economy. The United States and its coalition partners should not depart before they are confident that this economic momentum can be maintained, since it is growth which provides the surest foundations for a more peaceful future.
It's not really surprising that Afghanistan is ready for an economic take-off; after so many decades of conflict, there's pent-up demand for almost every good and service imaginable. As a result, many different sectors of the economy are booming, including construction, finance, and transportation.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Several relatives of soldiers killed at the battle of Wanat on July 13, 2008, have contacted me to express their unhappiness about the Army's recent decision to rescind letters of reprimand to officer who oversaw that fight. Here is the first comment, from Carlene Cross, mother of Cpl. Jason Bolgar:
On June 23, 2010, at Fort McPherson, Georgia, Marine Corps General Richard Natonski delivered to the families the extensively researched, detailed findings of his investigation into Wanat. Natonski and his large staff had spent months of painstaking work. They had left no stone unturned. His findings: dereliction of duty by the three Army officers under investigation.
I was proud of this country. Accountability for happened at Wanat was being presented before our eyes. My desire that no brave soldier would ever be sent on another suicide mission, like my son died in, was becoming a reality.
Then, Army General Charles Campbell took the floor and informed us he was going to reverse the findings of Natonski's Senate-mandated independent investigation. In the next two hours Campbell violated everything that the Army taught my son to stand for: honor, truthfulness, and bravery. With an anemic Power Point presentation, he listed the reasons he decided to overturn the findings. They consisted of insulting arguments like: The men really did have enough water.
Scores of men who were at Wanat have testified that they were down to one bottle of water. When they did get resupplied at the end, the water was so laced with iodine it was almost impossible to drink in the 100 degree weather. Yet because the commanders, trying to save their own skin, told Campbell that the troops had enough water, he took their word for it. In his sham investigation Campbell apparently interviewed only the three commanders being charged. That's not an investigation, it's a whitewash.
There was no evidence presented to the families that a true, unbiased Army investigation ever took place. To me, it stunk so strongly of a cover-up, you couldn't sit there without getting nauseous. Even more tragic in my mind is the certainty that without accountability this will happen again.
I wish General Campbell had one ounce of the honor, truthfulness and bravery our sons exhibited during the battle at Wanat. Instead, I believe he chose to bury the Army's dirty work as a parting gift to upper command before his retirement."
Courtesy of Carlene Cross
Most of yesterday's confirmation hearing for General Petraeus was about Republicans picking at the scab on the Afghan war, the Obama deadline for beginning a pullout just over a year from now, and the question it implies: Just how can you win a war when you are telling the enemy you're leaving in a year? Democrats responded by trying to slap a band-aid over the problem.
Sen. McCain zeroed in first:
SEN. MCCAIN: General, at any time during the deliberations that the military shared with the president when he went through the decision-making process, was there a recommendation from you or anyone in the military that we set a date of July 2011?
GEN. PETRAEUS: There was not.
SEN. MCCAIN: There was not by any military person that you know of?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Not that I'm aware of.
Others piled on:
SEN. LEMIEUX: General, you said a moment ago when answering a question from Senator McCain that you were not consulted on the development of a drawdown date.
GEN. PETRAEUS: I was consulted. I think -- let's be very precise if I could. I think it was -- did I -- did we propose it or recommend, or something like that. I mean, we -- there's no question that in the final session, that this was discussed.
SEN. LEMIEUX: But it was not something that you proposed?
GEN. PETRAEUS: -- and agreed it.
SEN. LEMIEUX: Not something you proposed.
GEN. PETRAEUS: That is correct.
SEN. LEMIEUX: And not something, as far as you are aware, that was proposed by any of the other leadership of the military.
GEN. PETRAEUS: Not that I'm aware of.
Here is the problem I have with the Republican approach. Yes, they are right that it is not good to have a war policy the military doesn't like. And I think there is a good argument to be made against the Obama deadline.
That said, just because the military is strongly against an approach doesn't mean the approach is wrong. For example, in World War II, the U.S. military, from Marshall on down, vigorously opposed Operation Torch, the U.S.-led invasion of North Africa. They suspected FDR backed it for base political reasons. Yet in retrospect, the move made good military sense. The U.S. military had a lot to learn and needed to do a couple of these major movements -- Africa and Sicily -- before crossing the Channel. Had they tried to send a force across the Channel in 1942, or even in 1943, I think the landings might have been disastrous and demoralizing. And so the war might have gone on a year or two longer.
Likewise, in military terms, MacArthur might have been right during the Korean War in recommending blockading Chinese ports and bombing Chinese cities. Yet President Truman correctly concluded that the American people had no interest in going to war with China, and that MacArthur was way out of touch with the American people. (Not for the first time, by the way: In 1936, MacArthur and Eisenhower had a huge argument over whether, as MacArthur believed, Landon would crush FDR in that year's presidential election.)
So, while the Afghan deadline makes no sense militarily, it might make sense politically, both for domestic political reasons and in prodding the Afghan government. If you believe, as I do, that the Afghan government is our biggest problem in the war (followed closely by the Pakistani government), then what happens to the Taliban is a secondary issue, and the primary question has to be: How do we get a government in Afghanistan that is not counterproductive and can field reasonably good security forces?
Petraeus's high school nickname was "Peaches," by the way.
mccun934 / Flickr.com
A friend of mine on his 6th combat tour in recent years writes:
It is violent. More violence than I have seen -- even beyond the 2006-2007 violence in Iraq. It is huge IEDs, serious, complex attacks with weapon systems, etc. We have one INF CO with 10 KIAs and we are into this tour just 3 weeks.
I read and see news about reconciliation, etc but at the tactical level that is not the case. There is no question that the TB has embedded itself in the countryside and shadow governance is at its best.
My take on this is that the TB see their position as one of strength and are reinforcing that strength in certain areas. Why? In my opinion, it is a race for strength to come to the negotiations table. It is Negotiations 101 in college.
We must get away from the verbiage of central governance and openly accept that Afghanistan is quintessentially a decentralized society that is further fractured by decades of conflict, complex tribal relationships and geographic terrain that prevents strong central governance -- particularly when there was never strong central governance in the past. Under the TB, past dynasties, and the Russians, there was never strong governance. Tribal justice reigned and the people were content.
By Rebecca Frankel
Chief Canine Correspondent
On a late September afternoon in 2008, a convoy of allied forces -- U.S., Australian, and members of the Afghan National Army -- patrolling the remote valley in the Oruzgan, Afghanistan was ambushed by the Taliban. It was a carefully planned attack by "a numerically superior, well-sited and prepared insurgent force." When the battle was over many were wounded and one member of the Australian unit was missing -- Sabi, the Special Forces explosives detection dog.
From what I can gather from reports of that fateful day it seems that Sabi, a charming four year-old black Labrador retriever, broke away from her handler, one of the soldiers wounded during the attack, jumping from their vehicle as it evacuated the area.
She was declared Missing in Action later that month. The special operations task group made repeated attempts to track her down -- if not to find Sabi, to learn of her fate -- but there was nothing. That is until nearly 14 months later when a U.S. soldier noticed a dog in Oruzgan that was clearly not an "ordinary canine." The soldier, who is only ever referred to as "John," aware that Australian forces had lost Sabi, investigated by giving the dog some commands. The dog responded and just like that Sabi was on her way back home to base in Tarin Kowt.
Sen. Webb issued this statement yesterday afternoon about the different takes of the Army and Central Command on the battle of Wanat:
On July 9, 2009 I asked that the Department of Defense conduct an independent 're-investigation' of the actions taken at Wanat at each level of command, rather than having the Army conduct an internal investigation. The Department of Defense concurred with this request.
CENTCOM conducted an intensive, three-month independent investigation which concluded that the company, battalion and brigade commanders were ‘derelict in the performance of their duties through neglect or culpable inefficiency.' General Petraeus approved this reinvestigation on January 21, 2010, and on June 23, the DOD Inspector General concurred with the findings as well. As a result of these findings, the Army issued letters of reprimand to all three officers.
However, the Army also conducted its own review of the independent investigation, resulting in the annulment of all three letters of reprimand.
I find it deeply troubling that the Army has exonerated these officers and in the process rejected the findings of the independent review. This development raises concerns regarding the principle of command accountability in the Army."
Some time later, this statement arrived from the Army, and Webb's ire became more understandable.
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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.