Ricks: What I
hear from around
this table is a remarkable, surprising consensus to me. I'm not hearing any
tactical problems, any issues about training, about the quality of our forces.
Instead, again and again what I'm hearing is problems at the
strategic level, especially problems of the strategic process. To sum up the
questions, they are asking: Do our military and civilian leaders know what they
are doing? And that goes to the process issues and to general strategic
thinking. That's one bundle of questions. The second emphasis I'm hearing, and
this also kind of surprised me, is, should we have, from the get-go, focused on
indigenous forces rather than injecting large conventional forces? That is, in
Iraq and Afghanistan, have we tried to do El Salvador, but wound up instead doing
Vietnam in both, to a degree?
Mudd: Just one
quick comment on that as a non-military person: It seems to me there's an
interesting contrast here between target and space. That is: Do we hold space
and do we help other people help us hold space, or do we simply focus on a
target that's not very space-specific? And I think at some point fairly early
on we transitioned there [from target to space], which is why I asked my
initial question. A lot of the comments I hear are about the problem of holding
space, and should we have had someone else do it for us? And I wonder why we
ever got into that game.
Ricks: Into which
Mudd: Into the
game of holding space as opposed to
eliminating a target that doesn't
really itself hold space.
Alford: It's our
natural tendency as an army to do that. To answer another question, it's also
our natural tendency as an army to build an army that looks like us, which is
the exact opposite of what we should do. They're not used to our culture. One
quick example, if I could: the Afghan border police. The border police, we
tried to turn them into, essentially, like our border police and customs
agents. Right across the border, the Pakistani Army uses frontier guardsmen.
Why do they do that? They use their culture -- a man with a gun that fights in
the mountains is a warrior. He's respected by his people. He's manly. All those
things matter, and it draws men to that organization. We always talk about how
our borders on [the Afghan] side are so porous; it's because we don't have a
manly force that wants to go up into the mountains and kill bad guys, because
we didn't use their culture.
Ricks: So we're
already breaking new ground here. We're holding up the Pakistanis as a model!
Alford: On that piece. It's a cultural thing.
Dubik: I agree
with the second comment. On the first point, in terms of why we held space, I
think it's how we defined the problem. We defined the problem not as al Qaeda
-- it was "al Qaeda and those who give them sanctuary." And so we couldn't conceive
of a way to get at al Qaeda without taking the Taliban down, and because of the
problem definition, we inherited a country.
Ricks: So what
you're saying is actually that these two problems I laid out come together in
the initial strategic decision framing of the problem.
don't think there was such framing.
initial lack of framing...
Getting back to Ms. Cash, we didn't really decide what the questions were. We thought we knew
the question. You know, we thought we had in each case [of Afghanistan and
Iraq] governments to support that would hold space, and that was a secondary
thing that came on us when we got there: that actually the sovereign government
wasn't so sovereign.
Ricks: I just
want to throw in the question that [British] Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb sent. He
couldn't be here today. General Lamb said, "My question is, given the
direction I had -‘remove the Taliban, mortally wound al Qaeda, and bring its
leadership to account' -- who came up with the neat idea of rebuilding
interesting. If you define threat as capability and intent to strike us, then I
think there's confusion early on with the Taliban, because I would say they had
neither the capability nor intent to strike us, but they provide safe haven. If
you look at areas where we have entities that have those twin capabilities or
those twin strengths -- Yemen and Somalia come to mind, maybe northern Mali --
we're able to eliminate threat without dealing with geography. So there are
examples where you can say, "Well, we faced a fundamental -- I mean, not
as big a problem as Afghanistan." But you look at how threat has changed
in just the past two years, and I don't think anyone would say that the threat,
in terms of capability and intent, of Shabab or al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula, is anywhere near where it was a few years ago. That's because we
focused on target, not geography.
Glasser: Just to
go back to this question, was the original sin, if you will, focusing on U.S.
and NATO presence in Afghanistan, versus working from the beginning to create
or shore up local forces? I want to probe into that a little bit. How much did
people at the time understand that as a challenge? I remember being in Kabul
for the graduation of the first U.S.-trained contingent of Afghan army forces,
and they were Afghan army forces. These guys worked for warlords that had come
together, Northern Alliance warlords who made up the fabric of the Defense
Ministry. They had nothing to do with an Afghan force, and that's why we're
still training them now.
Colonel Alford's point is that, those are the guys you want to work with,
though. But don't work with them on your terms; work with them on their terms.
that's what we did. That's what we do. We worked with the warlords in
Afghanistan. That's who our partners were in toppling the Taliban.
Alford: But we
never turned it over to them, though. In '04, I was [in Afghanistan] as a
battalion commander. We never would let them fight unless we always led the
way. It's part of our culture, too, as soldiers and Marines. You send an
infantry battalion into a fight, they're going to fight. It takes a lot to step
back and let the Afghans do it, and do it their way. Provide them the medevacs and
fire support -- that's the advisory role for those missions we're going to
switch to this spring, and I'm all for it. We should have done this four years
ago, but now we also need to see if this is going to work over the next almost
two years. We need to be ruthless with young lieutenant colonels and colonels
who want to get out there and fight, or generals who do, to support the Afghans
and then see how they do against the Taliban. I'll tell you how they're gonna
do: They're gonna whoop 'em. The Taliban does not have the capability to beat
the Afghan army if we get out of their way.