Tag Archives: ANSF

Bureaucracy successfully implemented in Afghanistan

As inconceivable as it may be, Afghans could teach our politicians (and military) a thing or two about bureaucracy.  Imagine requiring the Secretary of Defense’s signature to purchase this truckload of supplies. 

The $2,000 of building materials required 26 signatures and was ultimately bottom-lined by the Afghan Minister of Defense.  A similar amount of supplies purchased by the U.S. government is regarded as a micro-purchase and could be signed-off by an E-5 with a government-issued credit card!

NTM-A and IJC may struggle getting the ANSF to build terrain models and use Port-o-lets and HMMWV‘s properly, but there is no problem developing multi-layered hierarchies and worthless flow-charts that inhibit real work while promoting ample opportunities for corruption.

Building an “Afghan Right” ANSF

A Washigton Post article from several months ago highlights some of the lessons learned in building infrastructure for the Afghan National Security Forces: In helping Afghanistan build up its security forces, U.S. is trimming the frills.  Then NTM-A Commanding General, LTG Caldwell, saw construction that made him cringe — but this construction was likely started 2 or 3 years ago before any lessons learned could be applied.

That raises an interesting dichotomy:  We can’t trust the ANSF with pedestal porcelain sinks and air conditioning but we can trust them with helicopters, a pilot school, up-armored humvees, a mobile strike force, and computers.  Maybe working more on the basics such as reading, weapons safety, and training them to drive would reduce the demand for flight medicsvehicle recovery techniques, and doctors.

Next time we rebuild a country, many more lessons will be available but we’ll probably reinvent the wheel anyway.

Professionals talk logistics, Part II

In what has become a recurring theme, fielding the logistics and support units (the ones that take the longest to train) after the combat troops goes against lessons learned from Vietnam and beyond.  So it doesn’t take a genius to predict that building these vital enablers for the Afghan National Army will be a challenge.

NTM-A dubbed 2011 “The Year of the Enabler”  which is reflected in the “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan April 2011.” Page 14 of the report states that the priorities for 2011 include, “the development of key enablers, such as intelligence, logistics, fire support,
airlift, and engineer units.”

When the combat troops are fielded before the support, it would only be natural that they become reliant on ad hoc methods of self-support and will inherently not trust other sources.  Page 27 of the same report states,

The ANA logistics system remains heavily reliant on coalition support. Because of this, ANA logistics capability is a major focus for 2011.  NTM-A/CSTC-A and MoD are working on a logistics strategy that addresses structure, policy, training, acquisition/procurement, supply, maintenance, distribution, and logistics automation.

With the coalition providing nearly all support, there is minimal motivation to exercise and use a new system that will undoubtedly trip and stumble during the early stages of development.

Still “working on a logistics strategy?”  Combine that with “. . . MoD continu[ing] to implement new policies and processes in personnel and logistics systems” (p. 21), establishing a self-sufficient Afghan National Army will be elusive.

The truth hurts . . .

. . . and can be very painful. 

MG Fuller, NTM-A Deputy Commander for Programs, was in Washington, D.C. for the bi-annual Program Management Review (PMR) where NTM-A provides the Office of the Secretary of Defense an update on programmatic issues related to the billions of dollars dedicated to building the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). 

The Politico’s article, “U.S. general: Afghan leaders ‘isolated from reality’“, has really stirred the hornet’s nest.  The article captures MG Fuller expressing what most everybody has been thinking if not saying  (at least the non-pollyannas in Afghanistan).  But nobody expects a General to speak so candidly–especially when it makes so many look so clueless.

Of course, depending on who you talk to, the entire military establishment is detached from reality:  Security has not improved!

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.

Kabul Attacks

From the media attention, you would have thought Kabul was about to fall on September 13th.  Things were interesting for a few hours–then it rained.  I guess the Taliban lost interest in fighting after that.

Multiple explosions rock Afghan Capital

Taliban attack US Embassy, other Kabul buildings

Taliban target key sites in Kabul

3 police, 1 civilian killed in Taliban attacks in Kabul

Insurgents Attack U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan

Clinton Decries ‘Cowardly Attack’ on Kabul Embassy

Insurgents attack U.S. Embassy in Kabul

Kabul Standoff continues into night

Taliban attack in central Kabul ends

Regarding the rain, it was probably the hardest rain in the last six months.  It has maybe rained on only four or five days during that timespan as well.  I’m sure the Taliban weren’t prepared for that.

Reducing waste in wartime

The Commission on Wartime Contracting has published “Transforming Wartime Contracting:  Controling Costs, Reducing Risks” in which the bi-partisan legislative panel reports that there is waste during wartime. 

This profundity is all over the news and therefore gets attention of the stars at ISAF and, in particular, NTM-A, the organization responsible for building the ANSF.  Here is a sampling of the scandal from  CNN, Fox News, and Washington Post, if you are curious.

Given that the U.S. Congress can’t seem to find waste within its own ranks, you know the waste here in Afghanistan must be bad.

Are the Afghans Ready?

For all the victories we make with the Afghans, it seems like there are equally negative stories to offset them.  The first two paragraphs are not encouraging:  Afghans show little progress

We committed to creating an ANSF that was capable of keeping Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorists.  How much more time, money, and lives are required to reach that goal?  Is it even attainable?  And now that we have been set on a timeline by the President, does it even matter?

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em

Ecclesiastes 1:9, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Nothing should be a surprise by now.  The Afghan National Police (ANP) (the other half of the Afghan National Security Forces) has appointed the warlord Mattiullah Khan as the Provincial Chief of Police for Uruzgan Province, just North of Kandahar, in the central part of the country. 

On my “Support your local warlord” post, I discussed Khan’s influence throughout the North Kandahar and Uruzgan Provinces.  As the articles above address, there is some fear of reigniting rivalries and targeting neutral tribes which could create security issues as the U.S. (and NATO) begin to draw down.

Most of our problems in Afghanistan stem from a lack of decentralized authority.  Quite literally, if a one-star general in Herat wants to replace a door-knob, he has to get about 13 signatures and approval from the Minister of Defense.  Larger purchases require President of Afghanistan approval. 

This may sound crazy but this reflects the tribal culture of Afghanistan–the Tribal Elder(s) make all the decisions.  This is how Afghanistan has operated for thousands of years and continues to operate despite our best efforts to westernize it. 

Proverbs 29:1, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”

If we really want to succeed, our best route is to embrace the tribal culture.  Creating a unipolar government will make that government either powerless (due to tribal tendancies) or a constant target for overthrow.  There is disagreement by the experts whether a multipolar society can be stable.  But we aren’t willing to spend the time (generations) and money (trillions) to convert the prevalent attitudes. 

By embracing the natural multipolar culture, we don’t look like occupiers, establish truly recognized leadership throughout the country, develop relationships with more than one organization and thereby reduce the risk associated with our alignment with the often questioned validity of any one organization.

An excellent read is “One Tribe at a Time” by MAJ Jim Gant.  This is the view from a guy on the ground, working with tribal leaders who understands the personal and embedded motivations of the Afghans (as opposed to a chump that sits in air conditioned office spending billions of taxpayer dollars pontificating on the trade-offs of various forms of nation-state governance).

Proverbs 6:23, “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:”

Mystery Meat

Proverbs 12:10, “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”

One of the Germans contributions to the build-up of the Afghan Natioinal Security Forces (ANSF) is to train bomb-sniffing dogs, an invaluable asset as you can imagine.  The dogs are being trained in a northern area of Afghanistan known as Mazar-e-Sharif.  One dog was ready for deployment and was shipped to Kandahar.  The Germans thought it too dangerous in Kandahar to send a dog-handler, so they shipped the $12,000+ dog alone.

The dog arrived the same day without a scratch and ready for work.  In spite of the ample workload, the Afghans did not know how to employ the dog.  After a little deliberation, they decided grilling would be best way.  At over $100/pound, I hope the fries and drinks were free.