Tag Archives: Lessons Learned

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.

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.

Afghanistan and Iran sign defense agreement

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has chosen Pakistan over the U.S.

Now he has chosen Iran over the U.S. 

According to news reports, Iran and Afghanistan signed an agreement to “promote peace, stability, and security in Afghanistan as well as the entire region.”  Additionally, “The MOU calls for promotion of training programs in the fields of logistics, techniques and engineering.”

Apparently, NTM-A could have saved a bunch of money by just outsourcing their mission to the Iranians years ago.

The Xinhua News Agency continues, “Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi said Tuesday his country is ready to offer assistance to Afghanistan in its efforts to establish a more sophisticated military force.”

Can’t wait to see how that works out for them.

Not only are we building our ability to strike Iran from Afghanistan, we are training up the opposing force:  “Vahidi said the commission should assume an effective role in expanding mutual defense ties and reinforce the capabilities of Afghan defense forces, according to the report.”

All the news isn’t bleak as the reports end with something mutually agreeable:  “. . . the Islamic republic is against any treaty that would enable the U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan.”

Democracy is Impossible

Walter E. Williams addressed the potential of Libya and other Middle Eastern countries turning into democracies in his recent article Democracy is Impossible.  He points out that for most of human existence personal liberty, private property rights, and rule of law were never even considered  until Western Civilization cultivated the ideas.

For all those that favor nation-building in the Middle East, Dr. Williams argues it is futile:

The key point to recognize is that Western transition from barbarism to civility didn’t take place overnight; it took centuries. More importantly, for the most part Western civility and its institutions were not transplanted; they emerged from within Western civilization. Where they were successfully transplanted, it was done through Western colonialism, such as in the cases of the U.S., Canada and Australia.

Countries feeding at the trough of international generousity are even less likely to create governments respectful of liberty.  Since foreign investment enables the establishment to secure their own power, securing the liberties of the governed would only be counter-productive to their own interests. 

James 3:11,Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?”

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.

Battlefield lessons of the third kind

War is hell.”     –General William Tecumseh Sherman

Ain’t it?”            –Disrepectful, junior military officer

In modern warfare, lesser officers increasingly fail to pay proper homage to the senior officers burdened by the heavy responsibility of command.  Such insubordination undermines authority, creates dissent, compromises unit integrity and combat effectiveness, and ultimately costs lives.

Take the recently circulated email immediately below; a picture of the rampant insolence destroying our military today and undermining the mission in Afghanistan:

No matter how hard you try, some people are going to be inconsiderate, rude, and impolite.  And when they are, today’s leader must take swift and decisive action to correct the situation and save lives. 

The necessary training was delivered with this overdue and stinging rebuke:

Imagine the danger that the first email exposed our troops to during the two hours in which there was no return of fire.  As crazy as this sounds, this is only symptomatic of the problems created by the restrictive Escalation of Force procedures imposed by slow internet access that limit our troops on the field of battle.

“Thank you, sir.  May I have another?”

The Ballad of Bin Laden

Mixing religion, politics, and engineers in one motion, below is some Afghanistan-related engineer humor for which I make no excuse if you find it less than funny:

Which way do you face, with your mug in a book?
Where do you look, when you sit in a nook?
Is it easier or harder to adjust the seat,
or turn the foundation, when you pour concrete?
Or do you not care and just say, “oh, hecka,”
when you consider direction and ponder of Mecca?

-MHW

When muslims do their business, they cannot face or have their back to Mecca.  So the facilities built in Afghanistan must have the toilets oriented such that they can be used without violating this tenent.  The Afghans will absolutely not use the facility if this is not correct.

NTM-A or IJC did install an LSS (Life Support System–toilets and showers prefabricated in a connex) near Kabul International Airport with the toilets oriented improperly (which could have been fairly easily fixed by just rotating the connex’s 90 degrees) and remain untouched to date.

The below drawing submission reflects an engineered evaluation of the direction to Mecca from the jobsite and the recommended solution.

The challenging decisions engineers must make. . .

I wonder if the up-armored Humvee ‘porta-potties’ were oriented properly. . .