So, for the second time in three years, Gen. David Petraeus is bailing out a president.
Afghanistan 2010 may be an even tougher nut than Iraq 2007. Sure, Iraq looked like a mess back then, but the Americans hadn't tried a lot of good ideas. In Afghanistan they have been trying them out and not finding them working very well. Counterinsurgency was a novel idea in Baghdad back then. It is not anything new in Kabul right now. Our biggest problem in Afghanistan is the government we are supporting there, and it isn't clear to me what Petraeus can do about that.
Putting Petraeus in command in Afghanistan is only the first step. Now, what to do about Ambassador Eikenberry and special envoy Holbrooke?
My second big concern is what happens to Iraq now. As readers of this blog know, I am very worried about trends there. If Iraq begins to fall apart, and Petraeus is busy in Kabul, who is going to step on? At the very least, they should consider extending General Odierno's time there.
I thought Obama's talk was rhetorically perfect, hitting all the right notes in explaining why McChrystal had to go, while paying tribute to McChrystal's service. The only big question he left hanging in just what happens to Central Command. Will Petraeus try to have both commands? Will someone else take over? With Pakistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern issues bubbling out there, this is a question that needs to be addressed ASAP.
For more on this, see my piece in the NY Times: "Lose a General, Win a War"
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
I've noticed an interesting pattern in my e-mails over the last 24 hours regarding the question of whether McChrystal should be fired. That is, the more someone knows about the military, the more likely they are to call for his removal. Political types, by contrast, don't see what the big deal is.
I have been particularly struck by a couple of hard-right types I know who are retired senior officers. For them, this is a matter of good order and discipline. If you allow a general to bitch-slap an uncertain president, how do you keep the troops in line?
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Last week David Cameron made a surprise visit to Afghanistan -- his first venture outside of Europe since becoming prime minister. Cameron met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul (pledging an addition £67m would go toward countering insurgents' bombs), before traveling to Helmand to visit with British troops stationed at Camp Bastion where he spent the night. While there Cameron made sure to stop and say hello to Espen, a bomb-sniffing dog, and his handler, Sgt. Tom Moir (both above).
By Matthew Irvine
Best Defense deputy bureau chief, Special Operations affairs
Following General McChrystal's revised close air support rules in 2009, units such as Lt. Col. Brenda Cartier's 4th Special Operations Squadron have become a preferred mode of air support in the theater. Cartier led the squadron in Afghanistan this year and just returned from the combat deployment.
Colonel Cartier's squadron, consisting of AC-130 gunships, MC-130 Talons, attack helicopters, and Special Tactics Squadron air controllers, provided a combination of precision strikes and situational awareness to the personnel on the ground not otherwise available from high speed, high intensity platforms like the F-16 or B-1. According to Cartier, in Afghanistan, "I'm allocating assets to a counter-terrorism and a counterinsurgency commander... . I have a small supply of air power and a lot of mouths to feed."
In order to adapt to McChrystal's regulations and the counterinsurgency operating environment, Cartier says "we throttled back on the direct action piece. How do you do that with a gunship? The answer is, literally, very carefully."
Good relationships between air and ground commanders are key to AFSOC's effectiveness in Afghanistan. Conducting joint training exercises and working with deployed units over long periods of time allow the parties to be mutually supportive. The 4th Squadron's Ghostriders equipment is suited to remain within the battle space for extended periods of time.
Like drones, the AC-130s and MC-130s can remain above the battlefield for hours, circling at relatively low speeds. With sophisticated sensors and communications equipment, the air fleet can help maintain a complete bird's-eye view of the operating environment. The extended presence allows the air and ground force to synchronize their operations. With AFSOC contributing, says Cartier, we need to get away from the fight over whether "it's an air campaign, a sea campaign, or ground campaign -- it's an Afghan campaign."
The Air Force's Special Operations capability is often overlooked when not actively engaged and has faced a history of cuts during peacetime. AFSOC and Colonel Cartier's combat experience since 2001 demonstrates the utility and value of these forces and should remind us that the best air power is more than just the fastest fighters and bombers.
U.S. Air Force
The New York Times's breathless coverage of minerals in Afghanistan was greeted with chuckles not only by FP's Blake Hounshell but by old Afghan hands. Here John Stuart Blackton, who has shaken more Helmand River sand out of his shorts than most Americans in Afghanistan have walked on, provides some background. By the way, before running USAID in Afghanistan, John attended Stephens College of Delhi-as did Pakistan's Gen. Zia.
By John Stuart Blackton
Best Defense Afghan natural resources editor
The " discovery" of Afghanistan's minerals will sound pretty silly to old timers. When I was living in Kabul in the early 1970's the USG, the Russians, the World Bank, the UN and others were all highly focused on the wide range of Afghan mineral deposts. The Russian geological service was all over the North in the 60's and 70's.
Cheap ways of moving the ore to ocean ports has always been the limiting factor. The Russians were looking at a northern rail corridor.
Take a look at this little bibliography of Afghan mineral assessments. This one is mostly Russian, but pre-dates the DoD/USG "discovery" period by 30 years. In my day we did a joint USG/Iranian study of a potential rail line from Afghanistan to several of the Iranian rail hubs. This was predicated on mineral exploitation in a way that would thwart the Russian's northern rail corridor plans.
In the early 70's the USG had an old FDR New-Deal planner/economist/brains-truster - Bob Nathan - working with the Afghan Ministry of Plan to work out a fifty year mineral exploitation program. When the Russians took over they picked up Bob's plans and extended them. So this is anything but a "new discovery".
Low cost, long haul transport infrastructure remains the constraint. The Louis Berger "four inches of asphalt on the old Ring Road" doesn't do it.
CanadaGood / Flickr.com
Here is a note from a Marine captain in Afghanistan, about a sergeant in Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines. Worth reading:
"I'd like to highlight one squad leader, who, along with his peers, has played a vital role in changing Fightin' Fox's area of operations (AO) over the past six months. Sergeant Lattimer, the incredibly courageous leader of ‘Fox 1 Bravo,' is on his 4th deployment; this is his third combat deployment. Sergeant Lattimer was repeatedly recognized during the pre-deployment training period for his outstanding leadership.
Here in Afghanistan his performance has been special. When the company fought on a near-daily basis in November and December, Sergeant Lattimer all but forced his platoon commander and company commander to give him the hardest and most dangerous missions. For nearly six straight weeks, Sergeant Lattimer led his squad from temporary patrol base to multi-day ambush position to the next temporary patrol base to the next ambush position. Each time that he moved his squad, he led his men further into what the enemy once considered his safe haven. Sergeant Lattimer embraced ‘Spartan' living conditions and then some, while very rarely ever going back to one of our ‘permanent' patrol bases where, at a minimum, a Marine, Sailor, and/or ANA soldier would at least have a cot (maybe), an occasional hot meal, and a steady supply of water. Sergeant Lattimer sacrificed these ‘creature comforts' so that Fox 1 Bravo could be on the hunt every hour of every day. And hunt they certainly did... from eliminating enemy fighters, to forcing other enemy fighters to quit, to tearing tens of IED's out of the ground, Sergeant Lattimer made very clear to the enemy that he wasn't welcome in the company's AO.
Fast forward 4+ months. Last week, First Sergeant Adams and I were fortunate enough to join Sergeant Lattimer's squad as he executed a late night contact patrol to one of his elder's houses. Earlier in the day and on previous occasions, this particular elder, when asked by Sergeant Lattimer how he could help, responded that his daughter and wife were sick and that he didn't have the money to bring them to a good medical clinic or hospital. With the same amount of passion that he approached hunting the enemy in direct fire engagements in November and December, Sergeant Lattimer requested a Medical Officer and Female Engagement Team (FET) to help his elder. Sergeant Lattimer's request was granted. He then informed his elder that he'd come by later in the evening with a doctor and FET. I proceeded to participate on a patrol led by one of America and the Marine Corps' "strategic" sergeants. After ensuring that security was in place outside his elder's house, Sergeant Lattimer joined the doctor and FET in caring for his elder and his family for more than 90 minutes. Needless to say, the elder was extremely grateful. In the days following this patrol, the elder voluntarily shared invaluable information about an IED cell in the area; the leader is now in jail. Our great nation is blessed to have men like Sergeant Lattimer defending it."
Tom again: As long as we are on the subject, here is Abu Mook's very good state of the COIN address.
U.S. Marine Corps / http://bit.ly/aVdVpo
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
This week's photo features Sgt. Rick Atkinson tousling with a puppy taken in by the soldiers of Forward Operating Base Zerok in Afghanistan taken last October.
I was in touch with the photographer who shot the image, Chris Hondros, and he remembers this puppy and her caretakers well. She was a stray the soldiers picked up while on patrol and hosted in the COP. They said she was near death when they found her, bony and emaciated.
The affection on display in this photo is plain to see. When I asked how this pup faired in her new home, Hondros said:
Very well, of course. The soldiers totally spoiled her, far in excess of what that puppy could expect from native Afghans, who tend to disdain dogs. Say what you want about the war in Afghanistan from the human perspective, but I can assure you that the Afghanistan dog community is totally pro-American. Maybe they're having a peace jirga themselves, at some kennel in Kandahar.
In war-dog news this week, a group in Los Angeles hosted a Pack-for-Paws party inviting folks to come in and build specially tailored care packages to send over to war dogs and their handlers in Afghanistan -- a wonderful event and hopefully one that inspire others like it...
Do you have a story about a dog you knew in a combat zone? Please send it in, along with a photo if you have one.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
The majority of people in the U.S. armed forces joined since 9/11, and so only have known a military operating with nearly unconstrained resources. But the decade-long tidal wave of defense spending is ending, as General Barno discusses below. That's not all bad -- in hard choices lie the beginnings of strategy.
By Lt. Gen. David Barno, U.S. Army (ret.)
Best Defense chief Army correspondent
The Nixon Center sponsored its annual National Policy Conference recently at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington. The agenda featured a star-studded cast of former senior government officials and current practitioners, and was opened by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger with a sobering message, that our purpose must be to rediscover "realism in foreign policy. ... Any nation must accept its own limitations -- the whole world is not waiting for American leadership. ... We must understand what we can do and what we cannot -- and should not -- do."
The opening panel was chaired by retired USAF General Chuck Boyd, the panel included Joe Klein of Time magazine, Paul Pillar of Georgetown University, Ken Pollack of Brookings and John Nagl of CNAS. Each of these luminaries brought a very different perspective to our two ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan -- as well as the war "formerly known as GWOT." Nagl and Pollack amply described the current challenges and prospects of U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, while Joe Klein outlined the massive transformation of the U.S. military into a well-oiled counter-insurgency machine -- and noted where the machine may not be working today in parts of Afghanistan. We'll get to Pillar later.
Only in the Q and A did the 800 lb elephant lope into the room: With the U.S. facing a staggering national debt, record-setting deficits, a slow economic recovery and a future with ever-larger entitlement program costs, what can the U.S. afford to be doing in overseas military efforts? Is that picture today now different than in the past? And where does Afghanistan in particular fit into that calculus today?
While much of the discussion predictably got wrapped around the "new American way of War -- COIN," far less commentary was devoted to the strategic picture. Only Paul Pillar truly got at the larger issue of how our growing commitment in Afghanistan fits inside of a changed global strategic context for the United States.
Some of his tough questions:
- Why are we actually in Afghanistan?
- Is the availability of "sanctuary" (in a world of myriad sanctuaries) really important?
The AP reports that U.S. soldiers are finding that their rifles have shorter ranges than the older firearms used by the Taliban. This stunned me because (as the AP's Slobodan Lekic points out) the British in 1842 had the same experience.
While we're on the subject, there are, as of about a week ago, more U.S. troops in Afghanistan (94,000) than in Iraq (92,000).
And Joel Wing has a good summary of the numbers of neighborhood watch/Sons of Iraq/Sahwa/Awakening guys/former insurgents integrated into the government of Iraq.
Travels with Shiloh, a good blog new to me, covers a recent conference on counterinsurgency at Fort Leavenworth and comes away with the interesting conclusion that the U.S. military is not gonna get out of Afghanistan anytime soon:
While, current U.S. policy states that we'll begin withdrawing our forces in 2011 there was a universal recognition that any real effort to apply COIN in Afghanistan would take a very long time. While the subject wasn't addressed (except for one question at the final Q&A roundtable) my impression was that all of the speakers (British, Canadian and U.S.) were operating under the assumption that forces would be in place well beyond 2011. I heard no discussion about how to conduct any sort of hand off to the Afghans within 18 months, alterations to COIN theory or doctrine or trains of thought about alternate ways militaries could support/conduct COIN without significant numbers of forces on the ground. I would interpret that to mean that the military has been given the word (explicitly or implicitly) that that 2011 deadline is NOT set in stone. I would, in fact, go further and predict that barring some unforeseen change in the operating environment we will almost definitely have a significant presence in Afghanistan for some time.
I agree with this, and feel worse about it than I do about Iraq. I never thought invading Iraq was a good idea, but I thought (and still think) that invading Afghanistan was a correct response to 9/11.
He also offers this worrisome report:
We most definitely do NOT own the night. Just because we have night vision goggles doesn't mean that much. We're not generally active at night and initiative goes to those who move at night.
Part II of his report, about the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, is here.
(HT to CC)
Speaking of Afghanistan, I was sorry to see that the bombing near SW Kabul's Darulaman Palace the other day killed one Canadian colonel, one U.S. Army colonel and two U.S. lieutenant colonels. A Canadian general survived the attack.
Here is John "NightWatch" McCreary's emphatic conclusion about the significance of an Iraqi security official's charge that Arab states are behind the recent bombings in Basra:
US forces have no relevance to this fight, would make themselves a Christian target in an Islamic civil war and need to leave before it gets worse. Any time the Muslims fight among themselves, it strengthens the security of Israel and limits Iranian meddling in Afghanistan. There is no need for American children-soldiers to die to stop an Islamic civil war. Once democracy was instituted in Iraq, this outcome was inevitable.
Not so fast! The AP reports that some American officials are contemplating whether to slow the pace of troops withdrawals from Iraq. Of the Iraqi elections and political situation, U.S. ambassador Chris Hill tells the AP, "This is really not bad." When ambassadors start talking like that it is time to make sure your exit visa is valid.
It is axiomatic that good strategy can tell you what are good tactics, but that good tactics can't compensate for a bad strategy, or compensate for the absence of one.
That is Andrew "Abu Muqawama" Exum's point of departure in his new essay on the need for a political strategy in Afghanistan. Interestingly, for a COIN-carrying down-home CNASty, Exum begins with a hard pop at the Army's counterinsurgency manual, calling it politically naïve:
When United States wages counterinsurgency campaigns, it almost always does so as a third party acting on behalf of a host nation. And implicit in the manual's assumptions is the idea that U.S. interests will be aligned with those of the host nation.
They almost never are, though.
This is, as he notes, a major problem for the United States' effort in Afghanistan.
A second big obstacle, Ex notes, is that the Americans don't have their shit together:
The NATO commander, the U.S. ambassador, the NATO senior civilian representative, the U.N. senior civilian representative and President Obama's senior representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan all command the attention of Afghan decision-makers. And while relations between the men are reportedly professional, tensions between their organizations have at times proven poisonous. This is not a recipe for success.
Exum is being polite here: Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal are at odds, and one of them should go. I fault the Obama Administration for not doing something to sort this out. Exum also basically says Holbrooke should butt out: "Trying to forge a working relationship with President Karzai from Washington, as Amb. Richard Holbrooke has attempted to do, is difficult if not impossible." (Tom: I am guessing that Holbrooke will move on by Labor Day.)
Exum also cites a quote from an Afghan student who would make Bernard Fall smile:
If there is a good district chief in an area, there won't be any bomb blasts or suicide bombings... If you get the right people in place, there won't be any need for military operations.
That's one of the best expressions I've ever seen of the thought that politics is always primary in counterinsurgency campaigns -- and indeed is the way to end them.
Meantime, David Brooks codifies the American COIN narrative in a column today about how the Army changed from 2004 to 2007. I think his account is largely correct (if you see errors, please do let me know), but I can see how it seeing it all smoothly summarized in a few hundred words might strike some as a bit too facile. And having it appear in the New York Times all but carves the thing in stone for a big chunk of America's elites.
That said, I don't have a problem with producing a "narrative." That is basically how human beings understand events: This happened, then that happened, etc. People who complain about "the narrative" are being imprecise. What they are upset by is "the dominant narrative," with which they disagree and wish to impose their own "counter-narrative."
The U.S. Army/flickr
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
No one should be surprised to see more bomb-sniffing dogs on the streets of Manhattan this week after the botched Time Square bombing attempt. In the last few months there have a been a number of bomb-related incidents worldwide that have put these dogs on high alert.
Above, a NYC police officer and his dog, Buster, survey the subway station on the corner of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue in Times Square on May 3.
Top photo Yana Paskova/Getty Images
The other day I was looking back at Bernard Fall's terrific speech on counterinsurgency to the Naval War College, delivered I think in 1964, and the following quote struck me. This comes right after a section in which he has asserted that tracking which side is collecting more taxes, the government or the insurgents, is a good way to understand which is winning. The italics are his.
I have emphasized that the straight military aspects, or the conventional military aspects of insurgency, are not the most important. Tax collections have nothing to do with helicopters... I would like to put it in an even simpler way: When a country is being subverted, it is not being outfought; it is being outadministered... [W]e can win the war and lose the country.
In 100 words or less: How would you apply that thought to Afghanistan today?
Longtime readers will remember Adam Silverman, who advised the Army in Iraq and has contributed to Best Defense in the past. He was provoked to check in again by the recent discussion here of the institutional Army's attitude toward counterinsurgency.
It is good to have you back, Adam.
By Adam Silverman
Occasional Best Defense contributor
The impression I've developed is that those who are good at COIN, like your correspondent "Hunter" or LTC Nagl or the 2BCT/1AD commander and staff, as well as our battalion commanders and staffs that I worked with, are good at this because they made sure to make themselves that way -- and the guys I worked with were an armor brigade!
I was at my BCT's CTC rotation, we attached with them for the training so that my team could both learn to work with a BCT staff as an HTT (and we were fortunate that the BCT CDR and his Corps' DCG were both impressed enough to personally request us from HTS so we deployed with them instead of who we were originally slotted to deploy with) and to work as an HTT, they did very good, and there was an emphasis on COIN, but I've only ever been to one CTC rotation at one location (JMRC in Germany), so I can't really say if it applies to NTC or JRTC in the US.
I think the real issue here is that the field manual is issued, the COIN Center at FT Leavenworth holds its workshops and does its stuff, but until professorships at the service academies, war colleges, and defense university campuses are systematically created to address the specific topics that you are inquiring about, then the institutionalization and the learning is most likely to be on the informal rather than formal side. If COIN, or perhaps the larger and more inclusive areas of irregular and asymmetrical warfare, are as important as the last several years lead many to believe, then one would expect to see specific lines created on the teaching side, as well as the operational side, with those folks who are knowledgeable moving from practitioner to professor and perhaps back again. As someone who peruses the ‘professor' postings at USAJobs to see what is out there I can tell you that no such positions have been advertised! Moreover, keyword searches using COIN, counterinsurgency, irregular warfare, and asymmetrical warfare produce at most one or two lines academic or otherwise -- across the entire federal listing of positions civilian and military!
As to whose fault it is, that's harder to assess. If TRADOC has complete control of Army training, then one could argue that the failure to institutionalize this lies there. I would argue, though, that the truth is closer to this being a business as usual concept regarding something perceived as a fad: General Petraeus and COIN are the flavor of the month now, but once Iraq winds down for us and explodes for the Iraqis after our drawdown and Afghanistan drags on and gets more of a mess, will it still be an appetizing taste? Past history shows that it won't be. That leaves the real question as: how much can GEN Petraeus' influence change the dynamic?Adam L. Silverman, PhD served as the Socio-cultural advisor for the 2BCT/1AD and Field Social Scientist and Team Lead for HTT 1Z6 from October 2007 through October 2008. His views are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the 2BCT/1AD and/or the US Army.
ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images
That task is more difficult because the 1/12 battalion hasn't exactly had a terrific rotation in Afghanistan. "We've been asked to do a lot of different things," says Major Korey Brown, the battalion's executive officer. "They detached us from our brigade, which is headquartered in eastern Afghanistan, and sent us out here to Zhari district to be storm troopers -- that's what General Vance called us -- and that's what we were trained for, that's what we like to do.To find, fix and finish the enemy." But the mission changed with the arrival of General Stanley McChrystal, as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in the summer of 2009. "It's not about how you engage the enemy so much now. It's how you engage your district governor," says Brown. "That's a huge change for guys like us -- call us knuckle draggers or whatever, but we weren't trained to do COIN."
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
Col. Gian Gentile, a West Point history professor and a leading critic of the Army's emphasis on counterinsurgency, says that the Army's tank and other armored vehicle branch is increasingly incompetent. He mentions that he has heard that there are staff sergeants in the armor branch "who have never qualified on a M1 Tank."
I disagree with Gentile a lot, but always find him provocative, and generally worth reading if a bit touchy. I've never understood why he thinks he is an expert on the Iraq war in 2006 because he was there, but thinks he somehow knows the war in 2007-08, which he didn't see. At any rate, one thing I would add to his article is that armor has a clear morale value for troops in a counterinsurgency campaign -- when they are in a bad fix, there is nothing like hearing an M1 clanking around the corner to help out. Also, I also remember reading that in the summer of 2006, Hezbollah light infantry without armor or aviation support stopped an Israeli tank column. So the question may be a bit more complex than Col. Gentile's take.
Starbuck has a stronger response to Gentile's commentary, suggesting how it might get on the nerves of American soldiers who have been fighting recently in Afghanistan:
Listen up, everyone: we are no longer a fighting Army. To all you veterans of COP Keating and Wanat -- you must have been doing nothing else but touchy-feely tea parties and absolutely no combat whatsoever.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Michael Yon, the innovative war blogger, continues to do great night photography of the war in Afghanistan of a kind I am not seeing elsewhere. It really is lovely work. He lives on donations. Throw the guy a dime, OK?
And here's another one:
(Copyright) Michael Yon
A British helicopter pilot aptly named Fortune took a shot between the eyes in Afghanistan but still managed to fly for another eight minutes and then land his Chinook.
As the Third Marines would say, Fortes fortuna juvat.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
This story that came out in the Times of London a couple of
weeks ago is truly a war-dog wonder: parachuting dogs being sent on secret
missions in Afghanistan. (The photograph is pretty unbelievable, too.)
These daredevil dogs (and their handlers) are part of Austrian special forces that are "[joining] Nato's Operation Cold Response, one of Europe's biggest military exercises, in Narvik, Norway. ... Commandos from 14 countries, including British special forces and Royal Marines, took part in the Nato exercise. The use of dogs in High Altitude High Opening missions was pioneered by America's Delta Force, which trained the animals to breathe through oxygen masks during the jump."
Dropping from 10,000 feet in the air these dogs "glide in" to land "unnoticed" and they "often carry cameras and are trained to attack anyone carrying a weapon."
I'd be curious to speak to a veterinarian about this but the dog handler interviewed for this piece claims that:
Dogs don't perceive height difference. ... They're more likely to be bothered by the roar of the engines, but once we're on the way down, that doesn't matter and they just enjoy the view. ... "It's something [this dog] does a lot. He has a much cooler head than most recruits."
After a little digging, I found this is hardly the first time the military -- in the United States or elsewhere -- has attempted to get its war dogs airborne.
By Daniel SaracenoDeputy chief,
Best Defense intelligence bureau
When intelligence bigwigs get together to publicly discuss the espionage racket, it often is what is not said that is significant.
Some of the intel community's leading lights graced a conference hosted Tuesday by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. Throughout many hours of discussion of intelligence reform and organization, the speakers -- including former Director of Central Intelligence General Michael Hayden, former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Steve Cambone and current Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair -- never mentioned Major General Michael T. Flynn's controversial report that called for overhauling the U.S. intelligence community function in counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan, where we are fighting a war.
Rather, the discussions focused almost exclusively on how to revamp the way in which current intelligence can be shared between the seventeen member agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community. A worthy discussion to have indeed, but it focused on the mice, not the elephant in the room. Flynn talked about what the product should be; they talked about how to move it aorund.
Another missing piece of the puzzle was military intelligence -- which comprises 90 percent of the U.S. government intelligence establishment.
The absence of either topic raises the question of whether the intelligence community is serious about reforms that might provide better products for the people for whom it supposedly works.
The other night CNAS threw a dinner for Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the U.S. Army. I went but didn't expect much because in my experience Casey has been pretty cautious, even dull, in his public comments. But I guess as he sees the end of his term approaching he is loosening up a bit, because I found the conversation surprisingly forthright. More enlightening than yesterday's interview with Gen. Petraeus, I'd say.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
I noticed the other day that Gen. David Petraeus has been speaking all over the place and I figured if the Provo, Utah, newspaper could get an interview, so might I. So I did. This is what he had to say. His responses are given here in full and unedited.
If I were writing this as a news story, I'd probably hype the "review of concept" meeting he mentions on Afghanistan. But it isn't.
Best Defense: What do you think Americans aren't noticing about your Area of Responsibility right now that you think they should?
General Petraeus: Americans are, I think, up to speed on the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq and, to a lesser degree perhaps, with respect to Iran. Areas that I think have been less noticed include: Pakistani operations to combat the Pakistani Taliban (though, to be fair, they have received more attention recently); efforts by the United States and countries in the region to help Yemen deal with AQAP and a variety of political, economic, and social challenges; efforts to establish the Regional Security Architecture in the CENTCOM AOR; initiatives by U.S. forces, together with NATO, EU, and other partners to combat piracy; and the regional effort to counter Al Qaeda and other trans-national extremists.
BD: Why is the U.S. Navy leaving most of the heavy lifting with the Somali pirates to other NATO navies? Are you comfortable with that, or would you like to see the 5th Fleet doing more?
GP: See answer above, please. Actually, the 5th Fleet, together with a number of maritime coalition partners, is doing a great deal to combat piracy in coordination with NATO and EU elements, as well as with ships from other countries not part of a formal unit. Clearly, we need to publicize more of what is being done.
BD: In Afghanistan, is it time for something like a "night of the long knives" where we simply give President Karzai a list of his officials with whom we no longer will deal or fund in any form?
GP: I'll avoid that minefield; however, I would observe that situations in places like Afghanistan and Iraq are seldom as straight forward or as black and white as they sometimes appear to be in news stories. Rather, they tend to be very complex and in varying shades of gray...
BD: Or are we unable to deliver that sort of ultimatum until we have the U.S. military, State and CIA on the same page about Afghan officials?
GP: I'll go around this minefield, too. However, I will note that, as I know you recognize, unity of effort is an important component of any comprehensive, civil-military counterinsurgency campaign. And it is, needless to say, an objective sought by all the military, diplomatic, and intelligence community leaders in Afghanistan. To further achievement of that objective, Ambassador Holbrooke and I will fly together to the region in the weeks ahead to conduct a civil-military "review of concept" drill with Ambassador Eikenberry, General McChrystal and a variety of other interagency, international, and host nation partners.
BD: Who do you predict will become prime minister of Iraq?
GP: I wouldn't hazard a guess; however, I do share the hopes of the Iraqi people that their new government will be representative of, and responsive to, all the ethno-sectarian elements of the Iraqi population and also that their new government will keep the best interests of Iraq and the Iraqis foremost in all that the new government's leaders seek to do.
BD: On Iraq: My sense of what Americans are thinking about it, from my own recent speaking tour around the country, is that they regret we invaded it, are sorry they ever heard of it, but blame President Bush for the mess, and so are giving President Obama a lot of leeway to handle it as he goes forward. What is your sense?
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canines correspondent
Sometimes all you need is a picture.
U.S. Marines give some cereal to a stray puppy in northern Marjah, Helmand province on March 24.
In breaking war-dog news, here's a great little piece about Chocolat, the Belgian shepherd who uncovered a Taliban cache of explosives, "enough for ten bombs during the recent Operation Moshtarak in Afghanistan" while patrolling a bazaar.
Got a story about a dog you knew in a combat zone? Please send it in, along with a photo if you have one.
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
My CNAS colleague Catherine Cloud hustled down to Quantico the other day to see what the Marines were thinking. Here is her report.
By Catherine Cloud
Best Defense military stalemates correspondent
In Afghanistan we are in a war we cannot win, but also one that we cannot lose, Amb. Peter Galbraith said in a talk at the Marine Corps University on Thursday.
We can't win, he said, because we have no credible local partner. Galbraith, who recently served as the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to Afghanistan, argued that General McChrystal was tasked with coming up with the best possible strategy to win a war in Afghanistan, not to determine whether or not that best strategy would actually work. The kind of counterinsurgency campaign McChrystal recommended requires an Afghan national army to provide security, a police force to provide order, and a government to provide services and win the loyalty of the people. Of these, we are closest to having a passable Afghan Army. The Afghan police force is far from competent, and -- most importantly -- the Afghan government is widely viewed as illegitimate. Karzai's eight years in office have been marked by inefficiency and corruption. Galbraith believes the next five won't be any better.
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Not gonna happen, responds Thomas Ruttig, who was the UN's man in Afghanistan during the last years of Taliban rule, In the new issue of West Point's CTC Sentinel, he argues that the recent arrests of Taliban leaders in Pakistan actually were a way of shutting down talks:
For Afghanistan, however, the arrests have at least temporarily closed the window of opportunity for direct talks with the Afghan Taliban leadership. As a result, the fighting in Afghanistan will continue and President Karzai's peace jirga announced for mid-spring may run aground before it even begins.
Those Taliban still on the prowl, he notes, are younger and more radical than the old guys recently rounded up. I heard the Ex Man say something similar to a bunch of congressmen last night.
I am very impressed with the Sentinel, which does a solid job of exploring the nooks and crannies of terrorism every month. It is much more interesting than most government-sponsored publications. If I ever get my wish to shut down West Point as an undergraduate institution and replace it with a Sandhurst-like post-graduate structure, I hope they keep publishing the Sentinel.
(HT to Attackerman for the Grenier article)
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
This week's war dog tale comes from a soldier who served in Afghanistan.
By Capt. Michael Cummings, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest canine contributor
Dogs are as integral to war as bullets, people or tragedy. When I deployed to Afghanistan, regulation forbid keeping dogs as company mascots. But I didn't step foot on a FOB that didn't have at least one dog. Or a resident feral cat. Or pet monkey purchased off base. Or captured python.
We named the above puppy K2. He wasn't my favorite war dog, but the most picturesque. K2 was our second attempt at raising a puppy on our FOB. The first puppy, with the Star Trek-inspired name "Khan," had an unfortunate run-in with anti-freeze in the motor pool.
K2 was the youngest of the three dogs at Camp Joyce. The alpha dog was a bitch nicknamed Mama. She looked like a wolf, with gray fur and menacing eyes. Mama single-handedly kept our FOB clear of other animals, ferociously defending the FOB from any wild Afghan dogs who tried to scavenge our trash pit. Once, she led her pack to run off a herd of lost cattle that made its way to our side of the base. Mama stood her ground and drove them right out the front gate, deftly snapping at their heels. Mama was flanked by a black and white dog about half her size who never even got a name. He was just that dog with one eye. (We never figured out how he lost it.)
K2 lacked Mama's abilities though. When he tried to chase cows away, they would just charge him and he would turn tail. I'll be honest, K2 was a weenie. We didn't like him because he was useful, we liked him because he was a puppy.
What sticks with me most about war dogs was the lengths officers, NCOs and soldiers would go to keep them out of harm's way. I've seen Sergeants Major and Lieutenant Colonels risk their careers over their favorite dogs. About a week before we were supposed to leave country, word came down to get rid of all the animals on every FOB. They weren't authorized, we were told, so they had to go before the new unit came in. The day our full-bird colonel and his replacement came on a battlefield tour, suddenly all the dogs were gone. I assumed they had been taken to the trash pit and executed, the fate of many dogs downrange. But as soon as the chopper took off, bounding around a corner were the mini-pack: Mama, K2 and the dog with no name.
Michael Cummings is a U.S. Army Captain currently attending training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd ABCT in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VIII. He blogs at www.onviolence.com with his brother.
Capt. Michael Cummings
By Matthew Irvine
Best Defense chief congressional correspondent
Gen. David Petraeus, appearing before the Senate Armed Services committee on Tuesday, offered up several of his greatest hits. Most notably, he introduced a new Afghan-centric remix of his 2007 classic, telling the panel that, "The going is likely to get harder before it gets easy... the enemy will fight back." Several senators sang back-up.
Discussion of Iraq focused on the aftermath of recent national elections and the status of U.S. forces in the country. Asked by Sen. Jack Reed (D., RI) if he expects the new governing coalition to take many months to form, the CENTCOM chief responded, "Yes, we do." (Frankly, BG and L'il Wayne did that tune first, and better.)
During Sen. Lieberman's (I-Ct.) questioning, Petraeus detailed the possible addition of a seventh brigade headquarters in the northern city of Kirkuk beyond the August deadline while reaffirming the target force level of 50,000 troops by the end of summer.
Identifying Pakistan's western Federally Administered Tribal Area as "al-Qaeda's principal sanctuary," Petraeus promised a long-term American commitment to Pakistani counterinsurgency efforts against the Taliban. "We are going to be a steadfast partner. We are not going to do to Pakistan what we've done before, such as Charlie Wilson's War."
For an encore, Petraeus discussed his latest side project, Yemen, which he has been working on with his label-mates, the Special Operations Command ... Seeing Yemen as an emerging terrorist operations hub, CENTCOM has been expanding aid to Sana'a. The likely name of the new album will be "preventive counterinsurgency operations." Expect heavy support from Petraeus's label, which he said will "double U.S. security assistance to the country in the coming year."
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
I am not advocating that we adopt an imperial stance, or even that everything the British did was right or even moral. But I do think we can learn from them, which is why I am dwelling this week on Roe's fine book on the British experience in Waziristan.
For example, in 1947, the new Pakistani government invited the former British governor of the North-West Frontier, Sir George Cunningham, to come out of retirement and administer the province, because he was seen as an honest broker. That might be the end-game we should aim for in Iraq, where the American officials eventually subordinate themselves to the Baghdad government and even are seconded to work for it.
That's my lesson, not Roe's. Here are some of his. You'll find more on almost every page:
Best Defense chief canine correspondent
I came across this photograph of bomb-sniffing war dog named Treo and
his handler, Sergeant Dave Heyhoe, around the time we first started
this series a few weeks ago.
But the 8-year-old Treo made headlines when he was recently awarded the animals' Victoria Cross from the British military, presented by Princess Alexandra at the Imperial War Museum in London.
"The bronze medallion, bearing the words 'For Gallantry' and 'We Also Serve' within a laurel wreath, is named after Maria Dickin, founder of the PDSA.
Dickin introduced the honour to acknowledge 'outstanding acts of bravery displayed by animals serving with the armed forces or civil defence units in any theatre of war, worldwide.'"
The above photograph
was taken in 2008, shortly after Treo began his tour in Afghanistan
while he and Heyhoe were fighting the Taliban with a U.S. led task
force in the village of Segera, Kandahar Province. Treo, now retired,
appears to have displayed this kind of award-winning heroism on
numerous occasions during his career as an "an arms and explosives
But this award was given for one very specific act of heroism during Treo's time in Afghanistan when this war dog uncovered an IED that could have otherwise taken out an entire platoon.
The pair has been together for the past five years, a relationship that is sure to continue for the long haul, according to Heyhoe.
"Everyone will say that he is just a military working dog -- yes, he is, but he is also a very good friend of mine. We look after each other."
Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.