Tag Archives: Generals

Latest intel: Insider attacks a threat to ISAF

Note to ISAF Commander:  Read the news (or fire your intelligence staff). 

After more than a year on the job and countless “insider” or green-on-blue attacks before and during his tenure, GEN Allen has realized that Afghans within the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) may be a significant threat.  In the CBS News interview Insider attacks kill U.S troops in Afghanistan, he states, “Here, I think the signature attack that we’re beginning to see the– is going to be the insider attack.”

Excuse me?  Excusez-moi (for those reading in Gulfe Juan)?  “. . . Beginning to see. . . ?”  Our military have been getting killed by uniformed Afghans for years!  I’m dumbfounded by the ignorance of recent events, the General’s epiphany, and desperately wrestling with some respectful way to call our military leaders idiots at best and political stooges at worst.  

Over a year ago, everyone in ISAF (well, at least NTM-A) was being trained how to draw a holstered weapon while seated at a conference room table, required to have at least one ‘look-out’ with a round chambered when meeting with Afghan counterparts, and be ready at any time for an insider attack.  What was that all about if the recent observation is something new?

Most generals state at the beginning of their tours that everything was messed-up by their predecessor while stating that they have the solution by which, at the end of their tour, they are able to declare victory.  I’m thankful that GEN Allen seems to have flipped this history on its head but wonder what he has been doing for 14+ months.

Let’s finally declare that the emperor has no clothes–that would hardly be a new trend.

Cod’s on the menu (finally)

Nine months ago, it resulted in a two-star getting fired.  After the media learned we’re spending nearly $100 million on an Afghan National Army Headquarters in Kabul, it’s a battle cry: 

“Cod’s on the menu.”

It was a good idea then and it is a good idea now–you just can’t keep a good idea down.

Perhaps it was just MGen Fuller’s politically incorrect way of saying “Afghan Good Enough” (we are indeed a more sensitive military now).  While still yet unable to employ the impactful brevity of a two-star, COL Andrew Backus, Director of Engineering for NTM-A, was able to construct the right combination of words to sell the concept to the Washingon Post:

“What we’re going to do is finish the project with strict change control and turn it over to the Afghans. And if they want to change it, then they can change it.”

While it may not change the “19 true things generals can’t say in public about the Afghan war,” it does provide hope that a good idea has a chance in Afghanistan–even if the Afghans don’t like it.

Breaking news: Afghan plan incoherent!

Our entire policy in Afghanistan has been inconsistent since the first troops were relieved.  Each replacement unit has attempted to recreate established plans and objectives to satisfy what they thought was the “right” way.  For starters, sample here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, herehereherehere, and here.  

“The last guy’s great idea wasn’t as good as my new great idea.”  That’s been the only consistent policy every year for the past 11 years.  As other’s have said, “We haven’t been in Afghanistan for 11 years, we’ve just completed 11 one-year deployments.”

So, over the coming years, expect to see a plethora of news articles, like the Wall Street Journal’s “Parting Gift for Afghans: A Military McMansion,” exposing waste in the wasteland of Afghanistan (check-out Firewood grows on trees if you think the “Afghan-right” solution is a panacea).

Whenever the killing of terrorists in Afghanistan was abandoned as the primary (and only objective), the waste began.  Make no mistake, any so-called “investment” in Afghanistan is a waste.  Building any modern security force, government, or infrastructure is doomed to failure for all of the reasons stated in the WSJ article–and then some.

But the ignorance of those commenting on the article is disarming.  While the overall total spent on the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is significantly higher, thinking the +/-$12 Billion spent on facilities would somehow alleviate our domestic spending problem is insane. 

REALITY  CHECK:  If we never spent a dime on infrastructure for the ANSF, it would pay-off 25.9 HOURS’ worth of the 2012 year-to-date U.S. budget deficit ($845 Billion as reported by The Hill)!

While we should leave Afghanistan lock, stock, and barrel (except for perhaps some special forces), leaving is hardly a panacea for our spending problem and it will hardly be a cure for the politically-driven agenda that has become the United States’ Afghanistan policy.

Well, at least we’ll get an “A” for effort.  That and another $16 Trillion will pay-off our spending problem.

Truth, lies and Afghanistan

Armed Forces Journal publishes another reality-check for the war (or whatever we are doing) in Afghanistan.  LTC Daniel L. Davis writes the latest feature, “Truth, lies and Afghanistan: How military leaders have let us down.”

There are plenty of good news stories in Afghanistan but even the PAO’s best efforts can’t keep up with the bad-news stories.  LTC Davis sobers up the most optimistic American by reviewing conditions on the ground 10 years after our war in Afghanistan started.  First hand accounts demonstrate that the Afghans are far from taking over security in any meaningful way but one wouldn’t know any better from the open-source reporting.

Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies is quoted by Davis with the following: 

Since June 2010, the unclassified reporting the U.S. does provide has steadily shrunk in content, effectively ‘spinning’ the road to victory by eliminating content that illustrates the full-scale of the challenges ahead. They also, however, were driven by political decisions to ignore or understate Taliban and insurgent gains from 2002 to 2009, to ignore the problems caused by weak and corrupt Afghan governance, to understate the risks posed by sanctuaries in Pakistan, and to ‘spin’ the value of tactical ISAF victories while ignoring the steady growth of Taliban influence and control.

Politics theoretically stop at the water’s edge.  Clearly politics is driving how and why we continue in Afghanistan.  Certainly there are other factors at play such as our ability to keep Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan long after we “leave.”  But, as asked by Davis, at what price?  Is the full price even recognized?  Put yourself in the shoes of this officer’s shoes:  “How do I look [my soldier’s] wife in the eye when I get back and tell her that her husband died for something meaningful? How do I do that?”

The Afghans recognize the price that will be paid and are taking action.  From one advisor, “Already all across this region [many elements of] the security forces have made deals with the Taliban.  [The ANSF] won’t shoot at the Taliban, and the Taliban won’t shoot them.”  For those that can’t flee the country, survival takes on many different forms.  Is anyone surprised by the self-preservation? 

Davis completes his essay with the following:

When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid — graphically, if necessary — in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be.  U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.

Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose.  That is the very essence of civilian control of the military.  The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years.  Simply telling the truth would be a good start.

Generals will be quick to point out, “Hope is not a plan.”  If so, why is it the only logical thing that explains the current conditions?

In a sense, it’s what we do

ISAF has huge challenge building the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) while fighting a war, a COIN operation, navigating corruption, and a drug trade.  Complicating matters is that this is being done with a coalition of about 40 countries.  To quote an NTM-A alum:

An American Air Force Officer designs an Army unit that is trained by a British Armor Officer, validated with Canadian and Jordanian Officers, and later mentored in the field by Turkish Officers.

It could also be added that each of the people listed above change-out every six months so forget anyone knowing what the previous people were thinking!

This EDS commercial pretty much summarizes the task IJC and NTM-A have undertaken:

There are a few improvements that will make this commercial a truly authentic metaphor for NTM-A:

  1. The pilot continuously asks the workers to leave.
  2. The airline keeps requesting a different fleet of planes.
  3. The passengers extort money from the workers.
  4. The flight attendants steal tools and materials.
  5. The workers change-out every few weeks.
  6. The workers union requires the workers to come from different countries.
  7.  The designer changes the style aircraft every year in the following order:  Jet, Turboprop, Helicopter, Glider.
  8. The flight school insists on changing the aircraft from a Cessna 182T to an Airbus 380.
  9. The investors dump bags of money out the back of the plane.
  10. The only fuel available is nitrous oxide and a chase plane is constantly telling them to buy ethanol.
  11. The plane is taking anti-aircraft fire.
  12. Air Traffic Control redirects the plane every few hours to a different destination.
  13. No one knows what the final airplane will look like until 2014.
  14. The plane will be complete in 2014 whether or not it lands.
  15. In the final scene, the place crashes.

 In a sense, that’s EXACTLY what we do.

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.

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.