Politics and Strategy
Tom Friedman has a good idea

Blogger's Roundtable with Brigadier General Ed Cardon

We were honored to have the occasion to speak with a general officer I've had the opportunity to see in action in the field, BG Ed Cardon.  Currently the deputy commander of the Command and General Staff College, he was previously the DCG/S for the 3rd Infantry Division during its last deployment to Iraq.  In that role, he was a key part of the Surge that brought a new peace to the southern Baghdad belts and tamed the Triangle of Death.

The topic of the conversation was interagency counterinsurgency.  As you will remember from our conversation with COL Daniel Roper, the Afghan security forces will have to be smaller than COIN doctrine normally suggests, as the recommended levels would cost about three times the GDP of the nation.  COL Roper agreed that a successful strategy in Afghanistan would require the Afghans to succeed at 'good governance' operations, which will require a lot of help from the interagency, and the allies.  General Cardon's call directly addresses the interagency's capacity to provide that support to the Afghan government.

This will be a long entry, but I hope you will forgive me, because the general's words deserve to be read at length.

Grim: When we were in Iraq together -- you're right, I saw in the note that they sent out, and you are quite right that they were staffing these things with military officers; there were calls for volunteers to staff PRTs and EPRTs.

I've been back to Iraq -- the second part of 2008 and the first half of this year, and at this point, the EPRTs are fairly well- developed and it's been just a tremendous benefit to the mission. But planning for the reduction in forces in Iraq, the PRTs and EPRTs are standing down faster than the military forces because State's having problems sustaining the deployment arrangements.

It seems to me, when we're looking at Afghanistan -- and we talk a lot, and there's been a lot of talk in the press about the president, 'will he back the call for extra troops,' and whatnot, but just as important is the deployabilities of these interagency resources. I wondering if you can give us a sense of whether or not -- the interagency, you're going to be able to step up and fill the space that we would be using these extra troops to create?

GEN. CARDON: You know, that's a great question, Grim. (I want to just say it ?) a couple different ways:

First, I'm pretty open that one of the big problems that the departments and agencies of the U.S. government has, they don't have a "float" like there is the military. And what I mean by that is we actually have accounts that allow for officers and non-commissioned officers to go to school. And our strength is -- has that factored in.

So, at any one time -- for example, right now we have about 1,500 majors at the Command and General Staff College, they're out of the force for a year, but yet our major population is big enough, it accounts for that.

That doesn't exist for the agencies and departments. And that is a serious problem because it's hard for them to get trained and educated. I think that's the first problem.

The second problem is, the numbers didn't -- with the exception of the growth that we're, that S/CRS is working on now in State -- that there were no 400 extra slots that existed in State for them to fill the mission in Iraq, or whatever the numbers are. I made that number up. They do not -- they are not authorized, they do not (have) authorizations for these contingency operations. Let's take Craig Riley (sp), who was our, who was our -- (inaudible) -- in the Third Infantry Division, as an example.

He was the economic adviser in Hong Kong. That slot was empty for the year while he was gone. And so every one of those -- if you want to get, you know, experienced officers out of any of the department and agencies, the slots they come from are left empty. And that's something that has to be addressed.

And then the final piece is, you know, I asked -- and I'll go back to Craig because it's a function of, you know, sometimes your personal experience, I asked him what training he got before he came. None. You know, he (just) showed up.

And so what we're trying to do is -- I'll use it in a little initiative, you know, that hopefully will grow into a larger initiative here, (pilot ?) initiative, is we are providing majors to departments and agencies; in exchange, they give us a Foreign Service officer to go to school with our majors for a year.

There's three benefits to that:

Certainly benefit to the education environment inside the classroom. They get the experience of a Foreign Service officer, or other officers from the, I think, roughly 12 departments and agencies we have this year.

Second, they get to understand -- they understand how the military thinks and operates.

And third, now they're part of a larger military network. So when the AID rep went back to Afghanistan, what he was amazed at -- he wrote us an e-mail back saying, "I'm amazed. I know people in every brigade in Afghanistan." Think how powerful that was for AID.

So I hope that answers your question.

Q Partially, sir.

I very much appreciate your thoughts on the way forward. But do you think that the agencies, at this time, are going to be able to support what the president will need to achieve the good governance effects of the counterinsurgency strategy?

GEN. CARDON: I think they're working on it. I mean, the way that they are -- you know, and I have to caveat everything, but I've not been to Afghanistan, so I'm very leery to discuss exactly how that works over there. I'm much more familiar with Iraq, as many of you know.

But the problem is the same: How do you get more people faster? And they're hard -- people are hard to generate. And so, as you saw, State -- either they come to the Department of Defense or they contract it. And that's what's been done. So, you know, depending on how many resources we put against it, that's the way they go about it.

So the good news is, this isn't the first time we've done this now, so State has a lot more expertise at doing this. And Ambassador Herbst told us just the other day that they got the first 250 people for S/CRS. So I suspect that's taken a little bit of the pressure off. But I can't speak if all 250 went to Afghanistan.

Q Thank you, sir.

The other part of the equation, beyond support from the interagency, was support from the allies.  General Cardon addressed that as well:

GEN. CARDON: First, I think Allies are incredibly important to this future security environment. I'm going to digress a minute, Grim, if I could. I'll just talk about the Allies that are attending the Command and General Staff College. We've got about 111 of them right now. But there's four sitting heads of state that are graduates of the Command and General Staff College, and they give you incredible access, insights and, you know, in many cases, they give us -- (inaudible) --

We have a lot of problems with Allies in the way that we -- well, advantages to operating with Allies and there's disadvantages. And somebody -- I think somebody once said, the only thing worse than fighting with allies is fighting without them.

So the problem is, with all these caveats -- and, by the way, the U.S. has caveats as well, I think we're working through those over time -- but going now directly to Afghanistan, and I just want to caveat again, I've not been there so I'm not -- but I did have, I did work in NATO for a couple years, and I worked with the Allies a lot in Bosnia, and I had a Georgian brigade with us in our last tour, as you know. So I find the troops themselves to be very dedicated and, in most cases, trained for their mission.

The political (instrument ?) that they operate under are significant. And we, as military, don't often understand those very well. And once we do understand them, then we can better use them.

Now, this idea of the costs in Afghanistan, I think that's part of the raging debate going on today in Washington, you know, as I look at the "Early Bird." You know, what is a sustainable strategy for Afghanistan? I think that's -- that is the fundamental question. Because we could do a lot of things, but at the end of the day, what will it look like 10 years from now?

And if we have to keep pouring billions and billions of dollars in both, you know, treasure and human life into it, you know, is that going to contribute to a stable Afghanistan that can survive on its own in the future? That's a good question that I think will be played out over the pages of the newspapers and blogs, like yourselves, over the next several weeks.

The rest of the interview is worth reading, but I wanted to highlight these parts especially.  The troops are only the first part of the suggested strategy, without which there is a possibility of 'mission failure.'  The extra troops buy space for the Afghans to fill.  They'll need our help, and especially the interagency and the allied governments.  This part of the conversation is just as crucial, though it garners less attention than the 'will he/won't he' question of the extra troops. 

In our planning for the military we need in the future, we need to remember to plan for the allies we need -- allies in other agencies, and in other nations.  Expeditionary units from USAID, the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture, experienced foreign service officers, and others, all are needed for missions like Iraq and Afghanistan.  So is the "float" to provide their members with the training that such units will require.