Monthly Archives: October 2011

The new fighting season

Even as everyone is letting down their guard with the apparent end of the annual “fighting season” over, the Taliban reasserted itself with one of the largest attacks in years happened in Kabul:  Kabul attack kills 13 Americans.  The common perspective is that the war is about won and the recent attacks are the last gasp of a desperate foe.

Regardless of your personal position on Afghanistan, anyone would hope that the U.S. government’s plans for the country would compliment the stated desire to build-up Afghan National Security Forces, the rule of law, and governmental legitimacy. 

My belief that current drawdown plans do not support the stated positions on Afghanistan are expressed in Negotiating with the Taliban (Armed Forces Journal, October 2011).  A few excerpts will best articulate the conflicts between what we say and what we do:

There has long been a central tension in the Obama administration’s Afghanistan policy: The “necessary war” had an arbitrary withdrawal timeline. This tension has led to strategic ambiguity: The president rejected a troop increase of 80,000 troops, which would have been used for a strategy focused on success, and simultaneously rejected a strategy of only using targeted counterterrorism strikes, a policy of withdrawal. By attempting to politically reconcile both approaches, which are militarily complementary and not necessarily in tension, he signaled a willingness to do more but not enough to prevail. In other words, he sent more troops to war but not to victory.

The latter [June 22, 2011 President Obama] speech was taken as evidence that the president saw the killing of Osama bin Laden as a reason to leave Afghanistan more quickly, not an opportunity to double down and prevail. More evidence, in Afghan eyes, is the effort to hand over the security mission to local forces. Increasingly, the Taliban think they are winning.

[I]f the U.S. and Afghan governments offer political compromises such as power sharing, new elections or reconciliation opportunities, the Taliban will be inclined to agree, if only to accelerate their long-term return to power. Reintegration efforts that allow Taliban fighters to renounce violence in exchange for money and jobs are an excellent way for the Islamist movement to rest its military force until U.S. troop numbers shrink to the point that the Taliban can confront the Afghan government more openly.

The Taliban also have no incentive to provide the U.S. a face-saving withdrawal and every incentive to humiliate the U.S., if only to diminish the likelihood the U.S. will ever intervene in Afghan affairs again.

The Armed Forces Journal article is a stern warning of what is to come.  Nothing could be more direct than the concluding thought:

As the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, the Taliban will reassert themselves slowly but persistently, until we wake up one morning and realize the country’s been lost.

Afghan Automobile Association

RTE Red is BLACK from RTE Maroon to RTE Green until further notice.

With instructions like these, no wonder we keep the insurgents confused.  It also has the added benefit of keeping the officers busy. . .

Shakespeare On Demand In Afghanistan

Last night unequivocally qualifies as my most memorable evening in Afghanistan.  Granted, there isn’t much competition, but I would have made time for Shakespeare On Demand anywhere.

A few weeks ago, I was eating lunch at the ISAF DFAC and met Ty Lemerande, the brother of a long time shipmate (and good friend–not always the same thing), Toby Lemerande.  Ty is a reservist serving in Afghanistan and brought his love for Shakespeare to Kabul.  He extended an invitation to his “one-man showcase,” known as Shakespearean Jukebox or, to the younger crowd, Shakespeare On Demand, which turned into an incredible evening of entertainment and education.  The show was absolutely fantastic and unforgettable.

Even better, you can see Shakespeare On Demand.  Ty and his wife, Amy, created Knighthorse Theatre Company in 2003 to make Shakespeare alive and relevant for today’s generations.  Travelling around the country, they are fulfilling their dream of teaching and performing what they love.  Even if you hate theater, you will love this!

Toby — you no longer have to explain where all the talent went.

Partnership: Priceless or Worthless

Could someone please remove the knife from America’s back? 

If your enthusiasm for U.S. participation in Afghanistan has cooled, don’t read this unless sedated:  Karzai: Afghanistan with Pakistan in US-Pak war.

Ten years, 1,692 lives and counting, and hundres of billions of dollars and we still do not have a partner in the region.  Somethings cannot be bought at any price. 

Next time the Afghans ask for something, we know who to direct them to.

Firewood grows on trees

From the “American’s provide the best entertainment” stack, comes this latest story from Afghanistan.  Inside an email chain researching the Afghan National Army’s supply system:

Here is something interesting.  So today I tried to fly two boxes of firewood out to a [location] for an ANA company that is displaced.  I was told not to do that because the ANA and AUP have a contract / agreement to obtain firewood on the economy locally.  Someone has to answer this riddle. . . we’ll find it.

The author of the email probably didn’t think supplying firewood by helicopter was “interesting.”  Admittedly, it is much more difficult to believe that the ANA could provide themselves firewood by any means than to believe that the Americans would more than double the embodied energy in firewood by their choice of delivery method.

This is reminiscent of some other, equally inconceivable, ideas:

But I make a profit of three and a quarter cents an egg by selling them for four and a quarter cents an egg to the people in Malta I buy them from for seven cents an egg.  Of course, I don’t make the profit.  The syndicate makes the profit.  And everybody has a share.

This, of course, is from Joseph Heller’s, “Catch-22.”  Milo Minderbinder is starting to look pretty sane and Yossarian is indeed crazy.

The dangerous combination of online research, gratuitous assumption, and military math yields the following:

  1. Helicopters typically fly in pairs.  Assuming each carries a cord of firewood with an average of 20,000,000 Btu’s yields a delivery of 40 million Btu’s per trip.
  2. Assuming a round trip is 100 miles and each helicopter burns 1.5 gallons of JP8 fuel per mile, 300 gallons is required per trip.
  3. JP8 delivers 141,500 Btu’s/gallon.  At 300 gallons per delivery, 42.5 million Btu’s are consumed.

Result:  The U.S. is burns a cord of wood to deliver a cord of wood–that’s why we call helicopters “choppers” (Thank you, EP).

The Hill reported that the U.S. was paying $400 per gallon of fuel in Afghanistan.  This makes the delivery fee for the two cords $120,000.  That’s how you spend over $5 Billion per month. . . since you had to ‘axe.’

Lessons Ignored

The Counterinsurgency Field Manual, written by Generals Petraeus and Amos, contains lessons learned from past counterinsurgencies.  One such lesson is cited below in its entirety:

Building a Military: Sustainment Failure

By 1969, pressure was on for U.S. forces in Vietnam to turn the war over to the host nation in a process now known as Vietnamization.  While assisting South Vietnamese military forces, the United States armed and equipped them with modern small arms, communications, and transportation equipment—all items produced by and sustained from the U.S. industrial base.  This modern equipment required an equally sophisticated maintenance and supply system to sustain it.  Sustaining this equipment challenged the South Vietnamese economically and culturally, despite the training of several thousand South Vietnamese in American supply and maintenance practices.  In short, the American way of war was not indigenously sustainable and was incompatible with the Vietnamese material culture and economic capabilities.  South Vietnam’s predominately agrarian-based economy could not sustain the high-technology equipment and computer based systems established by U.S. forces and contractors.  Consequently, the South military transformation was artificial and superficial.  Many South Vietnamese involved in running the sustainment systems had little faith in them.  Such attitudes encouraged poor administration and rampant corruption.  After U.S. forces left and most U.S. support ended, the logistic shortcomings of the supposedly modern South Vietnamese military contributed to its rapid disintegration when the North Vietnamese advanced in 1975.

From:  U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual, 3-24, p. 8-10 (176/282), Univ. Chicago (2007). 

Courtesy of RJR.

The once and future Afghan Air Force, Part II

A new apron has been completed at Shindand Air Base, the training hub for the Afghan Air Force (AAF).   Other than providing another great photo of the Soviet-built AAF aircraft graveyard, the article adds some confusion to the Shindand picture. 

The Soviet lawn-darts at Shindand: The "Crown Jewel" of the Soviet-built AAF.

Shindand Air Base is divided into east and west sides, the west side being the AAF side and the East side being the Coalition (predominantly US) side of the base. 

Clarity through the haze at Shindand Air Base

According the the NTM-A blog’s post, “New rotary wing apron helps make Shindand the “crown jewel” of the Afghan Air Force,” “The apron, approximately 112,000 [square] meters in size, has the ability to park 18 UH-60 Blackhawks, 14 CH-47 Chinooks and 10 AH-64 Apache helicopters. The apron will be used as a staging and servicing area for units belonging to Task Force Spearhead which also operates out of Shindand.”

The AAF doesn’t have any Blackhawks, Chinooks, or Apaches and Task Force Spearhead a unit of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade of the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division.  In addition to being on the coalition side of the airfield, the apron is also inaccessible to the newly arrived (fixed-wing) aircraft.  So it is tough to see how this will be of any immediate benefit to the AAF.  

Bottom line:  The new apron may be the crown jewel of U.S. aviation at Shindand, but until the AAF can park their lawn darts on it, it won’t be much use to them.

Canadian R&R

Of all the General Officers in country, I believe the present NTM-A, Deputy Commander-Army, MGen Michael Day (CAN), understands the entire picture best and is working toward the right solution for Afghanistan.  He is presently on R&R in Canada and granting interviews.  The most recent one was captured by the Globe and Mail:  Afghan troops ‘applying the lessons learned’.

Unlike GOs past and present, he is not trying to build an Afghan National Army into his personal view of what a western army should look like but what is the best, sustainable solution for the Afghans.  Interestingly enough, MGen Day is also more concerned about the billions of U.S. dollars we are spending than most of the Americans here!  A breath of fresh air from one neighbor from the north.

The once and future Afghan Air Force

NTM-A is not only building an Army and Police force for Afghanistan but also an Afghan Air Force (AAF).  Currently, the majority of students are sent to the U.S. for training as there is no indigenous training capability in Afghanistan. 

Last month, a milestone was reached:  the first 3 Cessna 182’s arrived at the AAF’s training wing at Shindand.  Ultimately, the AAF is to grow to 140 aircraft comprised of Mi-17s, Mi-35s, and C-27s (2 helicopter airframes and a “baby” C-130).  This, however, will not be the first air force in Afghanistan’s history.

The remnants of the Soviet-built AAF litter the Shindand Air Base

 The Soviets also attempted to create  an Air Force when they were here between 1979 and 1989.  I’m just hoping the U.S.-built AAF doesn’t end up like the Soviet-built AAF.

These hulks are a reminder to Afghan Air Force trainees at Shindand Air Base that any landing you can walk away from is “Afghan Good Enough”