Tag Archives: Lessons Learned

Afghan right ceiling fans

There is a simplicity about Afghanistan that is sublime.  Ask for a ceiling fan and you get a ceiling fan:

The advanced safety features will keep the Afghans (and manatees) from hurting themselves when they try to turn it on an off.  I see an update to the MIL-SPEC coming.  Until then, there are will always be plenty of “Redneck Right” solutions.

One last problem the Rednecks can’t provide a solution for;  Someone needs to request doors f0r the shower stalls so the men can have privacy with each other.

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Ranger graveyards swelling in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is taking it to the Rangers.  Not the U.S. Army Rangers or the Texas Rangers but the Ford Ranger.  Unfortunately, many of them are ending up in vehicle graveyards.  Maybe this is a method for improving the mineral wealth of Afghanistan:
Any redneck would be proud of this boneyard.  If your Ford ever needs a part, you’ll probably be able to find it in Afghanistan.

If you ever wondered how Ford Motor Company survived without the bail-outs given to GM and Chrysler, it may have had something to do with the sky-rocketing demand.  At $50,000 for a crewcab and $30,000 for a 2-door, it doesn’t take much uptick in business to keep the balance sheet in the black–even if the product was built in Thailand.

According to BG Tim Ray, the Afghans have suitable “stick and rudder” skills.  Unfortunately, their ‘wheel and brake’ skills aren’t quite as advanced.

Bubba could retrofit this for his parts hauler. . . too late

Not to be left out, the Afghans haven’t had much success driving International Harvesters either.  But there aren’t quite as many to wreck, so their numbers are a little lower. 

Of course, every boneyard must be colocated with a bar–it keeps supply AND demand booming.

Honky-tonk on a box:  Just add neon

Southern Afghanistan Economics:  Combine a drinking establishment with a boneyard and Class IV yard and you have a recession-proof business.

How do you say “Bubba” in Dari?

The Fog of Peace

The quickest way to end a war is to lose it.”  –George Orwell

It should come as no surprise that this blog is not especially optimistic about the sustainability of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.  A new blog at www.foreignpolicy.com doesn’t shake that pessimism.

Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason hit the nail on the head with their article “The Fog of Peace.”  Discrediting any optimism embedded in the United State’s peace talks with the Taliban, they list three reasons why the optimism is not just unfounded but delusional.

1.  There is no “Taliban” in the sense the proponents of talks envision it.

Just as the Knights of Malta did not agree on policy matters with the Knights Templar [in the First Crusade], and carried out radically different strategies in the Holy Land, so the various groups of the jihad often fundamentally disagree with one another on how to achieve their common goal of establishing religious rule over disputed territory.

2.  The enemy is interested in pre-withdrawal concessions, not a settlement, in an alien culture in which seeking negotiations to end a war is surrender.

The motives of any such representatives simply do not now and will never coincide with our own. The Quetta Shura has no genuine interest whatsoever in any “peace talks” or negotiations except to gain concessions such as the release of their comrades in Guantanamo Bay.

3.  No understanding with senior clerics in the Taliban movement has ever outlived the airplane flight back to New York.

 The Taliban of 1996-2001, which was infinitely more centralized and controllable than it is today, never kept a single such agreement for more than a week.

 Johnson and Mason strike a serious blow with a startling comparison of Afghanistan to Vietnam.  Noting that the Afghan National Army has maybe 100,000 under arms in a country 4 times the size of Vietnam, the South Vietnamese had 1,000,000 under arms with a modern air force and yet collapsed after just 3 weeks of fighting.

Afghanistan is like a boat; It’s just a hole the U.S. government is pouring money into.

New weapons clearing procedure

You think seeing U.S. Marines urinate on Taliban corpses was disturbing?  Check-out the U.S. Army’s new (unofficial) weapons clearing procedure:

From “The Big Picture” at http://www.boston.com (December, 2009)

Wait until the Marines find out about this. 

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!

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.