Tag Archives: Lessons Learned

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.

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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.

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.

Questioning the reliability of Afghans

President Obama issued an apology and is amazed that the violence in Afghanistan against U.S. and the coalition didn’t suddenly stop (By the way, why are we apologizing for destroying something the enemy is using to pass inflammatory, if not coordinating, information against us?). 

The GIRoA Ministry of Interior is conducting an investigation into the most recent killings perpetrated by ANSF personnel against coalition forces.  No doubt that’ll shed light on the situation.

ISAF leadership repeatedly asserts that infiltration and/or impersonations of Afghan Security Forces is not a problem even while “Green on Blue” violence increases. 

Now Fox News has stumbled onto something “new:” New violence stokes questions about reliability of Afghan partners in war.  For NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A), it is no big stretch to say that ANSF forces are the number one cause of death yet only now we are beginning to wonder if the Afghans are reliable.

Last year, an Afghan airman opened up an killed nine–and the Afghan Air Force is supposed to be among the most affluent groups in the ANSF.  Recently, the French suffered several dead due to the Afghans security forces. Short of an exhaustive search, it is safe to say these are fairly regular events.  Unfortunately, they have been treated as isolated and unrelated events and regarded as irregular which, coincidently, helps to preserve the illusion of progress.

Can there be any conclusion other than to question the reliability of the forces we’ve poured billions into over the last decade?  Maybe the solution is just to spill more blood and treasure.

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?

Renewable Energy ≠ Afghan Right

With the reconstruction of Afghanistan in progress, there are countless Good Idea Fairies circulating renewable energy as the solution to peace and harmony for Afghanistan and the Middle East at large.

Unlike the satellites that support the video phones NTM-A is buying, at least Afghans can feel the wind and see the sun, so solar and wind power would seem logical possibilities to the enthusiastic do-gooder.  Enter the solution:  a combination windmill and solar panel built within the past year.

Set against the idyllic Little Ghar, the energy farm looks like a picture of environmentally responsible modernity.  Closer inspection reveals that the solar panel is caked with dust preventing even a small amount of electrical generation.  What you cannot see is that, in spite of the breezy day, the windmill was frozen.

But someone was able to get a generator installed and running!  Afghans practice the time-honored method of break-down maintenance.  With U.S. funding, that usually means repair-by-replacement.  The one renewable energy solution the Afghans implemented themselves–other than the U.S. dollar–was working quite effectively (a formerly common American fixture–the clothes line).  In a dusty environment with equipment that requires regular attention, renewable energy is not a great solution for the technologically dearth Afghanistan.  Ultimately, Afghans resort to what they know and trust–clothes lines and generators.

Assuming a 30kw generator, the nearly $1,000,000 ‘renewable energy farm’ could have purchased enough fuel to power the generator at full load for 4 years. . . and pay for the generator!

The reality is that,  if/when Afghanistan becomes self-sufficient, their growing affluence will be able to afford and sustain advanced technologies that are better for the environment.  While academics may discount Kuznets curves (because of the belief that ‘dirty’ industries are just exported by richer countries to the poorer), as society at-large has progressed it has moved to cleaner forms of energy; free markets incentivize the reduction of waste in delivering any product, including power (at least in free-market societies), as it makes that product more affordable and attractive over a dirty, wasteful option. 

On the bright side, renewable energy does make us feel good about ourselves while enhancing a great corporate welfare program.

It ain’t easy being green.

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).