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Helping the troops by screwing them

The Second Afghan War

General_Stanley_A_McChrystal_01 There are signs that our military leaders have learned lessons from both our 7 years of operations in Afghanistan and our successes in Iraq. They have begun a major shift in strategy and tactics to reflect that. We have discussed some aspects of it here including the decision announced to limit bombing of residential dwellings even if we are receiving fire from them. While this decision may seem counter-intuitive at first. when examined in the framework of a larger shift toward safeguarding populations v. killing bad guys it becomes very understandable.

This same change in Iraq, to take territory and then stay there alongside the populace, was instrumental in shifting public opinion in Iraq. In conjunction with increased security from local forces it led to our ability to let the Iraqis take care of themselves. A similar strategy is now being employed in Afghanistan, but faces many more challenges. The Afghan security forces are near useless as currently constituted. Tribal issues make it almost impossible for any national forces to be used in an area where they are not native. Our training efforts have focused on attempting to put together Afghan police and military units but the problem is that other than perhaps Hamid Karzai there are no Afghans. There are a patchwork of tribes and villages and cliques that speak different languages, hold centuries long beefs and don't see themselves as part of this larger, artificial thing we call Afghanistan.

When the Anbar Awakening happened in response to al Qaeda brutality, local sheiks said "enough" to the outsiders who were wreaking so much havoc in their areas. They formed their own security forces to combat them and safeguard their people. US forces midwived these actions and supported the efforts of what became the "Sons of Iraq". local folks protecting their neighborhoods and villages. To do the same in Afghanistan is a much more challenging puzzle as the same model must be adapted and constructed dozens of times for different tribes and we must be willing to stay and share the danger as they stand up against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Instead of kicking on doors and confiscating weapons, we have to prepare to arm villagers and stand with them when the militants come to pressure them.Complicating things further is the sheer number of separate places we must do this in some of the most hellacious terrain on the planet.

Our ability to place troops on the ground and support them in the case of concerted attacks against them is limited. We must be very judicious in how we expand our footprint and attempt to deny the enemy the ability to mass forces to attack these new outposts. This will be slow and difficult and requires a long war mentality. Alliances with tribal leaders must be formed and fostered, and then we must empower them to secure their own people. We must help them increase quality of life, hovel by hovel. They must begin to see that working with us causes less killing and strife and then they can be expected to work with us.

Call it oil spots or whatever you want, but we have to strategically spread security and prosperity out in a de-centralized fashion. The national government and security forces have almost zero credibility and it will take much greater efforts to change that. Commanders at the local level have the ability and expertise now to build personal relationships and to show concrete results. They are the building blocks for this strategy, they and the strategic corporals can show both physical, moral and ethical courage that can win the tribal leaders over. We don't want them on our side as much as we need to convince them we are on their side. This will take concepts like returning the same units to the same locations in rotation, leaving cadres of officers and NCOs in the same AOs for extended periods to build a continuity that lasts beyond one unit's deployment. And most of all it takes a commitment from our government to support these efforts over a time fram longer than the next election cycle. That is one of the biggest dangers to this new strategy.