Daily Archives: August 14, 2010

Afghan roundup

Item 1:  I wrote a short while ago about the release of a ‘new’ set of tactical guidance from Gen. Petraeus for forces in Afghanistan.  I have to admit, I’m surprised it continues to get mention in stories since it really doesn’t reflect any sort of real change over the old McChrystal guidelines.  Still, I guess we need to set up a narrative in case Petraeus does pull this out and this will allow all the know-nothings to start with “It all began with Gen. Petraeus reevaluating the existing rules of engagement, finding them unsatisfactory and issuing his new and improved ones.  That was the day the war was won.”

item 2:  Also not a surprise.  U.S. Military Seeks Slower Pace to Wrap Up Afghan Role.  Can I pat myself on the back for calling this months ago?

I know there’s a lot of opposition forming about Afghanistan and the idea of COIN and I’ve had my own doubts but fundamentally I have to agree with this statement:

…while we’ve been in Afghanistan for nine years, only in the past 12 months or so have we started doing this right, and we need to give it some time…

So, while Sven puts the life of COIN at a very short 2005-2010, one of the central tenets of COIN doctrine is that these conflicts are characteristically long and complex.  Therefore, how can one declare the concept dead when it hasn’t been really implemented?  It may be abandoned for any number of reasons (unpopularity of the war with the public, inability of the military to adjust, etc.) but that doesn’t negate the theory of COIN.  While FM 3-24 was published in 2006 let’s not kid ourselves that we really began to get serious about applying it until recently and, quite frankly, we’ve still got a long way to go.

That being said, Sven’s post about COIN is really good.  Iraq as a COIN model suffers from a number of flaws and the doctrine benefited from “coincidental application” in Iraq at the same time other aspects of the conflict were resolving themselves.  I suspect (and fear) he is right when he says:

The proper time for the new COIN theory’s application in Iraq was probably 2003 and for its application in Afghanistan was probably 2002-2004*. The populations were probably ready to cooperate as envisaged by the COIN theory at that time.

I could feel the opportunity slipping through our grasp in 2003-2004 when I was there.  The atmosphere of inertia was palpable.

Item 3:  Spencer Ackerman is in Bagram now and has an interesting post which reinforces the idea that we ain’t going anywhere soon.

Anyone who thinks the United States is really going to withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011 needs to come to this giant air base an hour away from Kabul. There’s construction everywhere.

When I was there (hmmm….I’m beginning to fear I’m turning into one of those guys who just tells war stories all day…but I swear I have a point) we were increasing our forces from (about) 8,000 personnel on base to 12,000.  There was a great deal of construction but, (as I understood our agreement with the Afghans) there were to be no ‘permanent structures’ built which would give the impression we were a permanent force.  Therefore, there were a lot of B-huts and tents going up.  With a population estimated by Spencer at 30,000 today I’m not surprised there’s a lot more construction going on.  I can’t even begin to imagine where all those people would go.  It’s the type of construction that’s going on that may be more important than the amount of it.

Also from Spencer:

Troops here told me of shepherd boys scowling their way around Bagram’s outskirts, slingshotting off the occasional rock in hopes of braining an American. Again, something else I wouldn’t have believed two years ago.

When I was there, local opinion was overwhelmingly favorable but there were rare occurrences of slingshots at tower guards and the occasional stink-eye when you drove/walked past.
As a counterpoint, a reader submitted a different view to Andrew Sullivan.
Bagram really isn’t that big.  Seriously.  I live there, and I’ve been there for more than a year.  It’s crowded, surely, but it is not a “massive” base.  The crowding, IMO, is more a result of shitty planning on the part of base operations than because it has such a massive number of forces in it…
I miss my little rustic Bagram (uh…not enough to go back before you ask) and thought it was getting too cramped when I left.  Which leads me to…
Item 4:  Work in Bagram in ’03 made you think about time management and efficiency in new ways.  Phone lines were scarce and people weren’t tied to their email so if you wanted to talk to someone you frequently had to walk to their location.  Depending on where you were and where they were, that could mean quite a hike and so (assuming you aren’t some sort of health nut walker) you learn to try to group together your meetings to become more efficient and come up with a ‘plan b’ for the inevitable (and frequent) times that you walk ten minutes down the road only to be told “Oh, you just missed him.  He should be back in half an hour.”  What do you do then?  Hang around like a dork or walk ten minutes back, wait ten minutes and then come back again?  You can really learn a lot about time management and patience by living that sort of regime for ten months.  ‘Afghan time’ really begins to make sense at that point.