The Best Defense

A terrific look at the Afghan army: Embedding with Col. Daowood’s unit

My friend Bob Killebrew told me weeks ago to read the cover story about the Afghan army that ran Jan. 20 in the New York Times magazine. It is by one Luke Mogelson. I have no idea who he is, but he is impressive.

I finally got a chance to read the thing yesterday. It is really good, one of the best articles I have read about the Afghan war in a long time. Mogelson's bottom line :

The more time I spent with him, the clearer it became that Daowood [an Afghan army battalion commander] was practicing his own version of counterinsurgency, one that involved endearing himself to locals by characterizing as common enemies not only the Taliban but also the Americans and the Afghan government.

Mogelson also has some illuminating observations about the Afghan army soldiers. Sure, he says, they don't dress or march like crack troops. "But," he continues,

...they will also accept a much higher level of risk than any coalition force ever has. Their ranks are filled with tough and brave men who run toward the fight without body armor or helmets or armored vehicles and sleep on the frozen ground without sleeping bags and dig up IED's with a pickax and often go hungry and seldom complain.

Even if you are bored with the Afghan war -- read this one.

Jose CABEZAS/AFP/GettyImages

The Best Defense

A few more questions about COIN (IX): Future force structure isn’t an either/or

By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen's Royal Hussars

Best Defense guest columnist

Question Set Nine --

a. Will we really have to do this again?

It is difficult to say. While the future might be light infantry, so long as Iran, North Korea, Egypt, and Pakistan maintain large armored forces I think that it is as well that we keep them too, lest we find ourselves on the wrong end of the asymmetric warfare stick. While there does not appear to be any appetite for lengthy large scale entanglements in the third world, events have a habit of changing things dramatically. It is as well to be prepared for them.

b. So do we need a balanced force well-practiced in transitioning from one to the other?

Probably. The consequence of getting a high-intensity fight wrong is likely to be catastrophic, whereas we got COIN wrong for the best part of 12 years without much in the way of strategic consequence. (The consequences for those who fought were of course rather more severe.) The first step is getting out of this binary mindset that it must be one or the other. The philosophy is that we spend 90 percent of our money on house insurance (in the form of one distinct capability) but next to nothing on car insurance (other capabilities).