Category Archives: History

Did the USSR win their war in Afghanistan?

As documented in Lester Grau’s paper, Breaking Contact Without Leaving Chaos:  The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Soviet Union exodus from Afghanistan was orderly, on their own terms, and left institutions that were expected to endure (which they did for several years with Soviet financial support).

A recent Pravda op-ed goes so far as to state that the USSR may have even won their war in the article Did the USSR win the war in Afghanistan?

When the funding dried-up with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992, it didn’t take long for the stability to leave and the Afghanistan was soon engulfed in a civil war.  So much for the lasting institutions created by the USSR.

But the Pravda article uses the U.S. war in Vietnam as it’s benchmark.  But even that comparison may be premature–judging by the tourist trade in Vietnam, we clearly must have won that war. 

The Soviet war in Afghanistan by the same measure?  Not so much.

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Afghan past created on Hollywood set

Just as some nuts are inclined to believe that a missile took down the Pentagon and President Bush orchestrated 9/11 (yet was the dumbest president in history), Foreign Policy filed the photo essay Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan. . . which is bound to create some doubters.

Industry, education, medicine, textiles, public transportation, music.  It seems like an impossible past for the city of Kabul.  The older Afghans assure us that this is the way in was (at least in Kabul) and books and movies like The Kite Runner attest to the same.

It’s a good story that gives hope that Afghanistan can climb its way out of the middle ages again–even if it requires a moon shot.

Lessons Ignored, Part II: Who needs doctrine?

Maybe I’ve overreached concerning the importance of doctrine.  Apparently the success of the United States’ military is not because of a well understood core of doctrine but because of our disregard for it:

One of the serious problems in planning the fight against American doctrine, is that the Americans do not read their manuals, nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine.

–From a Soviet Junior Officer’s Notebook

NTM-A is following this doctrinal anarchy to the letter.  Some years ago, doctrine was written for the ANSF.  Since that time, hoards of Americans, Europeans, and other supporters have flooded the country (6-12 months at a time) and not only disregarded that doctrine but layered their own view of how an Army (or Police) ought to run.  Given the disdain the average soldier has for doctrine, their view of how things run is unlikely to be anything similar to anyone else, even if from the same background!

So instead of following any doctrine (good, bad, or indifferent), we train them from the beginning to disregard it and “fight on the fly.”  This probably works satisfactorily for the Taliban, Mujahideen, Hakkani Network, and warlords. 

Given the precedent  for new militaries, the entire U.S. effort will collapse under its own weight without a well established and understood doctrine forming the principles and common language from which all forces can operate (see FM 3.0, Appendix D).

History of the World, Part III

Officially, the U.S. is not nation-building in Afghanistan.  But that doesn’t mean that isn’t what’s happening.  Past ISAF Commanders state and CNN acknowledges as much in a recent blog by Fareed Zakaria introducing the book Can Intervention Work by Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus (W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., August 2011).

Nation-building aside, the book’s short excerpt on the CNN blog paints a fascinating history of our intervention in Afghanistan:

Each new general in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2011 suggested that the situation he had inherited was dismal; implied that this was because his predecessor had the wrong resources or strategy; and asserted that he now had the resources, strategy, and leadership to deliver a decisive year.

In attempting to demonstrate how disjointed, dysfunctional, and, ultimately, self-contradictory our efforts are, Can Intervention Work documents each ISAF leader’s assessment of the situation inherited and the resultant predictions summarized below:

2002, General Karl Eikenberry (future Ambassador):  “The mandate was clear and it was a central task, but it is also fair to say that up until that time there had been few resources committed.”

2003, General Dan McNeill

  • Inheritance:  “We had nothing in any book.”
  • Outlook:  “Most parts of the country will soon begin to realize some reasonable degree of security and stability” and “Without question [2004 would be a] decisive year.”

2004, General David Barno:

  • Inheritance:  “There was no major planning initiated to create long-term political, social and economic stability in Afghanistan.”
  • Outlook:  “What we’re doing is moving to a more classic counterinsurgency strategy here in Afghanistan. That’s a fairly significant change in terms of our tactical approach out there on the ground.”  General John Abizaid, GEN Barno’s commander, thought 2005 would be a “decisive year.”

2005, General Eikenberry (2nd tour):

  • Inheritance:  “The institutions of the Afghan state remain relatively weak.”
  • Outlook:  “Our longer-term goal of strengthening good governance, the rule of law, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, and economic development.”   Per Can intervention Work?, the General was confident that 2006 would be a turning point.

2006, General Sir David Richards (UK):

  • Inheritance:  “Close to anarchy.”
  • Outlook:  His “new strategy” was “establishing bases rather than chasing militants” and predicted 2007 would be the decisive year for the Taliban.

2007, General McNeill (2nd Tour):

  • Inheritance:  A position defined by “shadows cast by former power brokers or warlords . . . lack of effective governance . . . a lack of unified effort amongst the international community and lack of effective police.”  “We’re not trained, we’re not equipped, we don’t have the requisite number of helicopters, and we’re not manned to do [counter-narcotics].”
  • Outlook:  “. . . a shift to a more ‘kinetic strategy’ including aerial bombardment. ” Norwegian Foreign minister Espen Barth Eide predicted that 2007 would be “a decisive year.”

2008, General David McKiernan:

  • Inheritance:  A position in which “we are seeing an increase in violence . . . there are unacceptable levels of corruption,” and the Afghan government “is ineffective in many areas of Afghanistan.” 
  • Outlook:  More counter-insurgency–“The fact is that we are at war in Afghanistan. It’s not peace-keeping. It’s not stability operations. It’s not humanitarian assistance. It’s war.”  General Champoux (CAN) predicted 2008 would “be a decisive year.”

2009: General Stanley McChristal (following the firing of General McKiernan and more political intervention)

  • Inheritance:  A “resilient and growing insurgency . . . weakness of Afghan government institutions.”
  • Outlook:  “The new strategy will improve effectiveness through better application of existing assets, but it also requires additional resources.”  The Canadian ambassador, Ron Hoffman, predicted that 2009 would be “a decisive year.”  General David Petraeus, CENTCOM Commander, stated, “For the first time we will then have the tools and what’s required in place to carry out the kind of campaign that [is] necessary here with our Afghan partners.”
  • Assessment: McChristal stated, “The Taliban . . . no longer has the initiative. . . . We are knee-deep in the decisive year” (then he was fired for various reasons not directly related to the mission).

2010, General David Petraeus:

  • Inheritance:  a position characterized by insurgent attacks on coalition forces spiking to record levels, violence metastasizing to previously stable areas, and the country’s president undercutting anti-corruption units backed by Washington.
  • Outlook:  A new strategy, back to a more kinetic approached combined with counterinsurgency.  UK foreign secretary, David Miliband, predicted that 2010 would be “a decisive year.”
  • Assessment:  Hired as CIA Director.

2011, General John R. Allen

  • Outlook:  “I really think that for all the sacrifices [of the troops], the reality is that it is paying off and that we’re moving in the right direction. . .  We’re winning this very tough conflict here in Afghanistan,” SECDEF Leon Panetta in USA Today.
  • Assessment:  TBD. . . want to venture a guess?

Mel Brooks would be proud;  History repeats itself. . . but I repeat myself.

Laying the Groundwork for Civil War

Dec. 5, 2011 Cover Page

Wow.  

Rarely am I so dumbfounded that I cannot conjure up some cynicism to summarize another’s viewpoint on Afghanistan.   

No amount of commentary could replace reading the entire article Laying the Groundwork for Civil War written by Christoph Reuter for Der Spiegel.

Being hardheaded, I will provide a glimpse with a few interesting quotes.  Make no mistake. . . these snippets  are no substitute for reading the entire article.

At the grand council, or loya jirga, held in mid-November, the delegates argued less passionately over a strategic agreement with the United States than over who was to be appointed to the 39th of 40 committees — until they decided to simply skip the number. “In Afghanistan, the number 39 has a very strange meaning which it is not fair for me to tell you,” said jirga spokeswoman Safia Sediqi.

The Afghan government troops do go into combat, but only when the soldiers haven’t just gone AWOL for weeks, or when their officers haven’t been selling gasoline on the black market. On several occasions, the Bundeswehr soldiers in Kunduz have used cameras and night-vision devices to observe their Afghan allies siphoning off gasoline from their own vehicles at night. General Fazil, who was the commander of an army unit in Kunduz until last year, was notorious for stealing and selling tens of thousands of liters of the army’s diesel fuel every month. His nickname among the Germans was “Diesel Fazil.” He had even got the gasoline-stealing expeditions organized for a period when he was attending training for senior staff in Germany.

“The [Americans] are all assholes. Assholes!” It isn’t that they are bad people, Nadir says, toning his rhetoric down a notch, but because they have spent billions to train an army of corrupt opportunists whose loyalty, if they have any at all, is reserved for their own ethnic group. “Without the Americans,” Nadir predicts, “our army will break up into Pashtun, Tajik and Hazara units.”

. . . the Taliban, who, according to NATO, must be defeated if stability is to be restored . . .

The Americans are not repeating the mistakes of the Russians, as they are often accused of doing, but are in fact making their own. Just as they armed warlords and war criminals in the 1980s to fight the Soviet occupation and again in 2002, merely because they were the enemies of their enemies, they are now turning gangsters into allies.

“What we are now seeing,” explains Ruttig, “is an uncontrolled proliferation of competing militias, as well as oversized armed forces whose loyalties tend to lie with their former commanders rather than the Kabul government — and with nothing that could hold them together, especially not after a withdrawal of the Western troops. This is a recipe for civil war.”

So much for the guarded optimism:  Laying the Groundwork for Civil War.

Democracy is Impossible

Walter E. Williams addressed the potential of Libya and other Middle Eastern countries turning into democracies in his recent article Democracy is Impossible.  He points out that for most of human existence personal liberty, private property rights, and rule of law were never even considered  until Western Civilization cultivated the ideas.

For all those that favor nation-building in the Middle East, Dr. Williams argues it is futile:

The key point to recognize is that Western transition from barbarism to civility didn’t take place overnight; it took centuries. More importantly, for the most part Western civility and its institutions were not transplanted; they emerged from within Western civilization. Where they were successfully transplanted, it was done through Western colonialism, such as in the cases of the U.S., Canada and Australia.

Countries feeding at the trough of international generousity are even less likely to create governments respectful of liberty.  Since foreign investment enables the establishment to secure their own power, securing the liberties of the governed would only be counter-productive to their own interests. 

James 3:11,Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?”

Professionals talk logistics

Having ordered an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in December 2009, President Obama has now ordered the “Surge Recovery,”  the first 10,000 troops home by the end of December and another 20,000 home by the end of September 2012. 

This follows the plan to end the combat mission by 2014 while shifting to an advisor-only mission.  Recently though, there has been talk of even moving-up the mission-shift to 2012.

Amateurs talk tactics; Professionals talk logistics.  –GEN Omar Bradley

And there is the recent discovery by the media that we need to get logistics right for the Afghan Army (and Afghan National Security Forces at large):  Afghan Army’s next hurdle: logistics.  This is no surprise to anyone familiar with the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, FM 3-24.  A significant lesson learned in Vietnam was that logistics are should be among the first things established in a COIN environment. 

Disregarding the FM 3-24, our military leaders consciously decided to field Afghan combat units first choosing to delay the logistics support elements.  A post on the NTM-A website from November, 2010 states, “For the past year, the focus was on increasing the number of ANA infantry-centric soldiers. Having exceeded this year’s goal, the mission now includes fielding the enablers and professionalizing the force.”  

I think that in the 2007-2008 period, the U.S. political pressure was mounting that there “weren’t enough Afghans dying for their country” or something to that effect.  The “United States Plan for Sustaining the Afghanistan National Security Forces” report to Congress for FY2008 states on page 88:

The ANA is continuing to grow at an accelerated rate, focusing on infantry-centric forces to provide immediate security-capable boots-on-the-ground, while consciously delaying development of many of the combat support and combat service support enabler units until a later date.

So, the logistics are just getting up and running and we are leaving–sounds about right.  No need to look for intelligent life here.