« Ask an Infantryman: "Depressed Jody" | Main | DHS report on crazy vets vindicated by Holocaust Nuttah »

A review of the CNAS report-Triage

Posted By Uncle Jimbo • [June 10, 2009]

Fighting an insurgency is one of the toughest tasks there is. Doing so as an occupying power is tougher yet. My first SF mission was 20 years ago in the Philippines and a Maoist insurgency called the New People's Army assassinated COL Nick Rowe, a Special Forces icon, while we were there. I had a chance to ask some questions of the current head of Philippine Special Ops Command last year and he said that same group is still their greatest problem. A long war indeed.

The Center for a New American Security has released a report on US efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan called "Triage: The next twelve months in Afghanistan & Pakistan". The report represents a look at what the concept of Smart Power means when applied to this situation. There is plenty in the report to agree with, but it also showed why CNAS is thought of as the Obama administration's go-to think tank. 

Michèle Flournoy is the Co-Founder of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She served as President of CNAS until February 9, 2009, when she was confirmed as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy under Secretary Gates in the Obama administration.

The  authors are Andrew M. Exum, Nathaniel C. Fick, Ahmed A. Humayun, David J. Kilcullen.They begin with some policy recommendations.

In Afghanistan:

Adopt a truly population-centric counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes protecting the population rather than controlling physical terrain or killing the Taliban and al Qaeda.

They present this as an either-or and that is fundamentally flawed. Any wise policy should be a combination of both balanced due to the particularities of each area. In addition physical terrain control is a major part of how you protect a population. You can't control all of it, but there are always key pieces that must be dominated to even consider safeguarding a populace.

Use the “civilian surge” to improve governance and decrease corruption in Afghanistan. Place civilian expertise and advisers in the Afghan ministries and—to a lesser degree—the provincial reconstruction teams, rather than in the embassies.

I wholeheartedly agree with this, but I doubt the ability to implement it. The risk-averse mentality of the State Department and most other civilian agencies is the main reason the military has taken the lead in virtually all elements of our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The military does not want to do this and we heard this directly at a journalism seminar from LTC Brian Mennes CDR, 1st Ranger Battalion who stated that he was forced to do many of the tasks that should fall under these agencies because they would not leave the embassies. I also asked the State Department official directly responsible for these efforts Amb. John Herbst if they were willing to get some foreign service officers killed, because if not they were not going to be effective. His stammered answer was not really, but we are working on it. They are attempting to recruit several hundred more civilian experts but not having much luck. That has been the problem with our efforts in far too many conflict zones and is unlikely to change significantly. Many of the people they have been able to recruit for these positions are military reservists who have the civilian specialties necessary.

In Pakistan:

Strictly curtail the counterproductive drone strikes on non-al Qaeda targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). The expansion of the approved target list for U.S. drone attacks to include non-al Qaeda individuals should be reversed.

I would challenge the assertion that the drone attacks have been counterproductive. We have killed scores of senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders and that is quite productive. The question is whether they create more ill will among the populace than their value in eliminating terror leaders and greatly hampering their ability to plan. It is a question worth considering, but to present it as a decided issue is not helpful. The enemy attempts to influence the information war by misrepresenting civilian casualties in these strike and we have been deficient in countering those claims.To say we should categorically restrict a very effective tool is not good advice and speaks again to the smart/soft power mentality espoused in this report.

Strengthen the Pakistani police, with an emphasis on areas—such as Punjab and Sindh—where the Taliban has not yet exerted control.

Absolutely.

They open their situational assessment with a stunningly dense statement from a group of folks who ought to have more common sense than this.

In counterinsurgency campaigns, if you are not winning, then you are losing.

I don't know how this bit of tripe made it past any marginally competent editor. I will go out on a limb and state that in a football game, if you are not winning (or tied) you are losing.Let's move on.

A swift victory over the Taliban regime in 2001—facilitated by Special Operations Forces and airpower acting in partnership with local Afghan allies—was quickly followed by an  insurgency of increasing intensity. After late 2002, the vast majority of U.S. assets and attention were focused on Iraq, while Afghanistan was relegated to an “economy of force” mission.3 Safe havens in the neighboring tribal areas—the likes of which facilitated the September 11th attacks—are expanding, not contracting.

This is where the talking points mentality rears it's head. That paragraph reads like a Democrat campaign speech, Bush took his eye off the ball and let Afghanistan fester because of an obsession about Saddam Hussein. The problem is this is not an accurate description, as the insurgency did not follow quickly after the initial toppling of the Taliban. It actually leaves out a huge contributing factor to the deteriorating conditions there, Pakistan's agreement ceding control of the tribal areas and allowing them to become safe havens. From CFR.

In 2004, the Pakistani government reached a deal with Pakistani Taliban led by Nek Mohammed in South Waziristan whereby the militants agreed to live peacefully and not use Pakistani soil against any other country. Hailed as a breakthrough, by late 2007 the deal was regarded as a failure.

It was a complete failure and a major reason why the Taliban and al Qaeda were able to regroup, recruit and retrain. Then they simply went back over the border and started back to their old game in Afghanistan. To ignore that is to falsely blame a lack of focus on Afghanistan i.e. invading Iraq for the deterioration of conditions. A fair analysis would include this Pakistani decision which the US opposed. More Triage.

While much of the U.S. military establishment is prejudiced in favor of enemy-centric operations, political wars such as the one being waged in Afghanistan demand a focus on the population. Because populations in civil wars tend to side with whichever group exerts control, the population in Afghanistan can be expected to react positively to a persistent presence by security forces. Forces able to create conditions under which the people feel secure will reap the rewards of the population’s participation in security operations and the political process. Only by securing large swathes of the Afghan population,thereby denying their passive or active support to the Taliban, can the coalition create conditions conducive to the kind of negotiations necessary create stability in Afghanistan.

I don't know how they determined the prejudices of much of the military establishment, but it does seem like an anecdotally, accurate idea. The question is whether that stops them from adapting to use different strategies and tactics. We moved quite well to a combination of kinetic and population-securing efforts in Iraq and that would be the proper move in Afghanistan as well. You cannot say it is a choice between one or the other. Limiting civilian casualties is a vital piece of the puzzle, but they seem to ignore the fact that killing bad guys helps in that. 

At this time, it is the Taliban, unpopular as it may be, that exerts greater control over larger numbers of the population. As a result, it is the Taliban—and not the government in Kabul—which enjoys the greater degree of the public’s collaboration and cooperation. The United States and its allies must demonstrate to Afghans that a persistent U.S. and allied presence means decreased Afghan civilian casualties; the coalition will then reap the rewards of the cooperation and collaboration of the Afghan people against the insurgents.

The statement that the Taliban exerts control over larger numbers of the population is hard to swallow. They control zero major cities and their influence is highest in the sparsely populated areas along the border with Pakistan. They have infiltrated some of the poppy growing areas but it defies bleief that they exert more control than the government and coalition forces.

Open source reports from Pakistan suggest that drone strikes there since early 2006 have killed
around 14 terrorist leaders and more than 700 Pakistani civilians, or just over 50 civilians for
every militant killed—a hit rate of less than 2 percent.45 U.S. officials vehemently dispute these
figures, and it is likely that more militants, and fewer civilians, have been killed than is reported by
the press in Pakistan. Nevertheless, every one of these dead non-combatants represents an alienated family, a new revenge feud, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.

I mentioned before that the enemy has learned to use the media to spread misinformation about civilian casualties. There is no question that dead civilians are a contributing factor to enemy recruiting, but the numbers cited are fantasy and steal credibility from this report by their inclusion. Additionally saying the militant movement has grown exponentially is ridiculous. Words have meanings and the growth has been linear and not all that steep a line at that.

As of mid-2009, the situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is dire and getting worse. In both
countries, strategies must be adopted which recognize the state of the insurgency today. That means adopting a form of triage—utilizing an ink blot approach at the strategic and operational levels—which prioritizes the security of the population over other considerations while setting the stage for strengthening the institutions of the Afghan and Pakistani states.

Agreed and the first time they acknowledge that population security and "other considerations" are not mutually exclusive.

All in all the report is worth reading and is certainly getting considerable thought with the national security team. I didn't see much in the way of original thinking, more of a rationalization for the shift from kinetic to COIN or even to soft power. That should certainly be a goal, but I question the idea that you can make this shift without first inflicting some serious kinetic damage to the enemy.


 PermalinkComments (5)TrackBack (0) Subscribe to BlackFive   

Comments

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341bfadb53ef01156ffcb681970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A review of the CNAS report-Triage: