I've been reading an unusually candid report on the Afghan
war a Canadian military intelligence officer delivered earlier this month in
Ottawa. Capt. G.B. Rolston, who served in Kandahar from September 2008 to April
of this year, offers several striking observations about the state of the war
that go a long way toward explaining why the current approach has been so
unproductive. They also speak to the crucial question of why Gen. McChrystal's
proposals are about much more than just adding more troops and in fact amount
to a call for radical change in the conduct of the war.
- Welcome to an Afghan army brigade headquarters: "The table
is [the brigade commander's] CP. His cellphone is their primary comms link. The
G2 is off somewhere playing chess with a source, the G3 is driving around the
city by himself looking for troops to jack up and the G4 is taking a nap. Most
of the rest of the headquarters are off playing cards or chess or watching
Bollywood videos on a cellphone."
- The Afghan treatment of detainees is so lax as to verge on
bizarre. "The Afghans are, I am happy to report, exceedingly hospitable to
detainees. You can see [in an accompanying photo] these men are neither
restrained nor blindfolded. This picture was taken shortly after I suggested to
the Canadian operations mentor, seated, that he remove the magazines from their
- Detainee operations around Kandahar actually probably help
the Taliban more than they do Afghan government forces. "[I]t's fair to say
that every high level insurgent in the province has been through the mill at
least once. More problematic to me was the disposition of detainees while in
custody, either left to sit around in the intelligence office, or sometimes
next to the brigade commander as shown here for extended periods. It's fair to
say that any bona fide insurgent in ANA custody probably learned more from the
experience than the other way around."
- Afghan National Army military intelligence officers
brought an interesting perspective to signals interception: "rather than
passively listening [to enemy radio traffic], the ANA had a tendency to get
into arguments with insurgents."
- In one remote village, strong Afghan commanders worked
hard to deny the area to the Taliban, and also gained a remarkable amount of
intelligence. But then the outpost "was closed just after the end of our tour
due to its sustainment difficulties, in all likelihood dooming many of the
locals who had collaborated with us there." This is the opposite of protecting
the population -- it is endangering them.
- He also takes a small whack at the Americans, saying that
the safest police stations in southern Afghanistan were those where Canadian
mentors lived and slept. "The American PMT approach, which involved teams
driving out in the morning to visit, regrettably was far less effective in this
- After years of training and advising, "we were still very
much at year zero." (Are you listening, Senator Levin?) The Afghan forces he
knew couldn't control a district, he said. "And that's a big problem, because
the whole definition of victory in a counter-insurgency, as defined in FM 3-24
and elsewhere, is getting the battle to the point where indigenous forces can
take over, and you can leave. ... All [the enemy] has to do is deny you
that indigenous force development, by making things so kinetic that you can't
focus on mentoring."
- Under the way we currently operate, he says, most allied
units think that dealing with Afghans is someone else's job. "Mentors in effect
become the excuse for Western soldiers to avoid contact with Afghan
- That last issue, the failure of mentoring, leads to his
strong endorsement of Gen. McChrystal's recommendations for a radical new
approach to the war. The most significant aspect of the general's plan, he
says, is to have Americans and other foreign troops co-located with Afghan
forces, living, eating and sleeping alongside them. He advocates giving up
mentoring and going instead to this flat-out partnering.
His conclusion: "The key, the absolute key aspect in McChrystal's words is co-location."
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