Tag Archives: ISAF

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.

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Captions speak louder than words

On a nearby desk the magazine PRISM, a publication of the Center for Complex Operations at the National Defense University, captured my attention for its numerous Afghanistan-related stories.  One article from the December 2011 edition, “War Comes to Bala Morghab: A Tragedy of Policy and Action in Three Acts,” depicted ISAF as Keystone Cops when trying to influence Bala Morghab District in 2008-2009.  The problem?  ISAF completely ignored the ‘shaping’ aspect of the COIN strategy.  Ultimately, they may have won a battle but lost a war.

In a second story, the magazine ‘shapes’ reader optimism via the finest of details.  Representative of our struggles in Afghanistan is the caption–yes, the caption–to the feature “Negotiating Afghanistan” (likely a fascinating story but as yet unread).  Below is the photo with caption as depicted in the print version of the magazine:

Nothing could more succinctly illustrate the beast created in Afghanistan.  “Don’t let them fail” has been the battle cry; whether in training, equipping, personnel accountability, logistics, or operations, we have created a painful dependency.

For our best and brightest military thinkers, overlooking the details isn’t nearly as painful as it is revealing.

Can’t teach Afghans to fish without a fishery

There you go again.” –Ronald Reagan

Volumes will be written in the coming years documenting the waste in Afghanistan.  The examples continue in the Wall Street Journal report, At U.S. Base, Afghan Endgame Begins

On a recent trip outside the wire, I saw fish hanging in a Kabul shopkeeper’s window and wondered where the fish could have come from.  In a previous post, I wrongly assumed that there was no place to fish.  I simply underestimated our desire to teach them to fish!

The [172nd Infantry] brigade command has axed those [projects] deemed too complicated and time-consuming, such as building a fish hatchery.  Instead, it is trying to get some roads paved.

A fish hatchery?  In a desert?  How long did it take the brigade to determine a fishery was too complicated and time-consuming?  Maybe saner minds will prevail over slaughterhouses, media centers, and countless other good ideas.

When you are hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, it feels so good when you stop. 

The fate of U.S.-provided power generators at FOB Sharana encapsulates U.S. concerns about whether Afghan forces will be able to hold their ground after the foreigners leave.

The generators often break because the Afghan operators haven’t learned to turn them on properly and keep overloading them, said engineers of the 172nd brigade. The engineers figured they have replaced at least 25 generators given to the Afghan forces since July, at a cost of $400,000 each.

“We’ve taught them the steps to turn it on, but it hasn’t stuck, and the generators, air conditioners, all of that will break,” said Capt. Mike Merseburg.

“The answer for them has always been,’Well, give me a new one,'” said another engineer, Capt. Adrian Sanchez. “But what’s the point if they can’t sustain it?”

Not sure what is worse, replacing generator after generator and expecting the Afghans to start taking care of them or supplying firewood by helicopter.  Maybe we aren’t so interested in teaching them to fish–but we should at least try to stop hitting ourselves with the hammer.

Build a man a fire and he’ll be warm for the night.  Set a man on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”  –Terry Prachett

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.

The Fog of War, Part II

Apparently, the slide below is not a joke about Afghanistan. 

According to the UK Daily Mail and the New York Times, when General Stanley McChrystal, the former ISAF commander, saw the slide he stated, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.” 

When I first saw it, I thought it was the organizational chart for ISAF.

With news reports indicating the U.S. is financially committing to Afghanistan until at least 2024, we’ll have time not only to figure it out but to fully implement it.

The emperor has no clothes

. . . but does where a Karakul hat. 

Peter Fuller Fired:  Senior U.S. Officer in Afghanistan Relieved of Duty

According to the HuffPo, “[GEN] Allen said the ‘unfortunate comments’ don’t represent the solid U.S. relationship with the Afghan government.  ‘The Afghan people are an honorable people, and comments such as these will not keep us from accomplishing our most critical and shared mission – bringing about a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan,’ Allen said.”

According to FoxNews.com and many other sites, “Fuller called Karzai’s statements ‘erratic.'”  A Google search of “Karzai” reveals on the first page these two headlines:

  • “Hamid Karzai: Afghanistan would back Pakistan in U.S. War”
  • “Karzai accuses Pakistan of supporting Terrorists.” 

Perhaps not clinically sufficient to call the man crazy, but sufficient enough to characterize him as ‘erratic.’

Note to troops:  Honesty will get you nowhere (except, maybe, sent home–hopefully with some clothes).