Bagram Security
Submarine Collisions

"Ren-Faire" Number Two: Afghanistan: The Ground War

Note:  Think of these as day notes.  Not trying for grammar, spelling, or more.  More a quick note/write-up for me and to share. 

Two person panel:  Lt. Col. Brian Mennes, U.S. Army, commander, 1st Ranger Battalion; and, Seth Jones, political scientist and Afghanistan specialist RAND Corporation. 

Mennes talked about what his men, his people had done.  How they did it.  The problem he saw which was lack of strategic vision.  No idea beyond the immediate.  Taliban is here.  Go take them out.  No plan beyond that.  Lack of leadership -- NATO/allies doing leadership in essentially three month rotations, example of security chief who comes in for just three months.  Three months barely time to learn where to go to bathroom, much less undestand situation and lead.  No company could run like that, staff is crucial and pickup staff as extant not good for long term.  Points out as what we see as criminals, Afghans see as leaders -- are the ones who understand business, accounting, etc.  Points out problem with poppy eradication, having those people "humping my leg" and the only people hurt by such efforts are the local farmers -- which has a tendency to get our troops hurt or killed as they then turn against same.  Counterproductive.

Who has a vision/the vision for Afghanistan?  Only metric he followed/collected was who did he hurt, i.e. collateral damage -- zero tolerance for same, counterproductive to COIN effort.  No coherent strategy in place, no one is asking "Why?" which is central question.  If you use violence, be prepared to follow-up beyond that.  Hasn't seen a "New Deal" architect for Afghanistan yet.  What worked for him and provided some continuance was "How can my Rangers serve the people of Afghanistan"  Slightly out of order, but..

Jones covered three points:  Insurgency and Security in General; Causes; and How to Move Forward.  Politics in Afghanistan is VERY local, and it is not a Taliban insurgency.  Taliban is but one part, and not even largest.  More than a dozen groups are involved in insurgency, along with tribes, subtribes, etc.; criminals (drug, timber, gem, etc.); and even government officials, both foreign and Afghanistan.  "Peeling onion" lot more complicated than reported/recognized by most/many.  Powerful central state never has really been there, discussion of Zahir Shah period -- period of national government with some legitimacy, but not in real control of entire country but provided needed "over" function.  Intro of rule of law??? 

Corruption is really hurting central government, needs to be dealt with.  Spend more time on local level.  Note that insurgency is regional, as in multinational.  Discussion of Bonn agreement and how it has led to current lack of leadership/strategic planning.  Feith book, and admission that U.S. did not want to engage in nation building.  Lack of leadership and clear chain of command, along with lack of real vision, limiting what can be done. 

Well into questions and discussion now, sorry didn't note before.  "What is purpose of stabilization"  yes, we went in and took area, what now?  Make things better than they were going in, but sustainable. 

Need to engage right local centers of gravity.  COIN warriors as good city managers/beat cops rather than warriors.  Figure out what is needed, how to do it, who can do it, and helping make it happen. 

Discussion of specific issues and factors, including Pakistan, corruption, etc.  Point made by Mennes that we are making corruption by lack of adequate pay.  Takes $150 a month for man to support family, if we pay $120 a month, they have to get the extra somewhere.  Pay living wage, what is needed, help cut down on petty corruption.  Discussion of higher-level corruption and complexity of same/complexity of dealing with it.  functional corruption as counterpoint.  Discussion of better anti-drug plan, go with Turkish model.  Buy it, make needed drugs, destroy rest (work to introduce other crops?).  Note on farmers being indentured farmers, and how that is a factor not recognized by many.  Complicates things. 

Need to learn values of respect and subordination (Mennes).  Discussion of men of honor, and how such people do better with locals.  "Think like an Afghan" That means learning history, culture and such, not necessarily cultural values in a PC sense (my interpretation on latter). 

No strategy?  Mennes addressing.  There was/is some idea of strategy, security goal -- singularly focused.  Beyond that is limited, and lack of clear chain of leadership has not helped.  Need to look at what is needed to address problems, and bolster security goal.  Longer range planning needed and longer term on staffs.  15 months sucks for families, but is essential to COIN. 

Destroy Afghanistan as a base for international terrorism was initial goal, and done; some effort to go to nation building but...  Again, touching on need for local interaction as that is the stronger/most important government. 

Good discussion on airpower, COIN risk to troops, and Pash code.  How you respond makes a huge difference.  Good talk on village rumor mill, and how to dig yourself a hole even without trying.  If you drop a bomb, take ownership (credit and blame).  Discussion of how a bombing, necessary, resulted in death of three children.  Mennes went and took responsibility, mourned with them, bought goats to feed the mourners, followed code -- which meant they had to accept his apology, kept them from becoming enemies.  Short version -- use air power carefully and sparingly. 

Note to all:  Time for discussion in comments is limited.  Focus will be on panels, will discuss when and if I/we can. 

Discussion on education, changes in such, and what is needed.  Question on Holbrook, discussion on same and on Indian govt. engagement in Afghanistan via soft power.  Roads, buildings, related infrastructure.  Contrast with Pakistani hard power involvement.  Afghanistan is a proxy war.  Can lead to de-escalation of Kashmir and such.  Hmmmm. 

Short term success in clearance, long-term problem in planning for securing long-term.  If you don't secure long-term, what message do you send to the locals.  (again, local is key).  You have to hold, you have to think-through.  Challenge in a range of districts.