According to an article published by the Christian Science Monitor, the Pentagon had red flags about the command climate in ‘kill team’ Stryker brigade.
- As the 5th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, which Colonel Tunnell commanded for three years, was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in June 2009, senior Army officials questioned Tunnell’s leadership focus with growing concern, and discussed the possibility of removing him from command. Now, Tunnell’s tenure is raising fresh questions in the halls of the Pentagon. Five soldiers in Tunnell’s brigade stand accused of war crimes, including creating a self-described “kill team” that allegedly targeted unarmed Afghan men and cut off their fingers as war trophies. The narrative of Tunnell’s leadership is particularly significant to the Pentagon now, however, as it endeavors to instill in troops a new ethic of fighting in its current wars – using the least force necessary rather than the maximum force permissible. Some sources suggest that Tunnell set a tone that was not only out of line with Pentagon doctrine, but was inflammatory and potentially dangerous.
- “When you feel violent intent coming down from the command and into the culture of the brigade, that’s when you end up with things like the rogue platoon,” says a senior US military official who worked with the brigade in early 2009 at the National Training Center before it deployed to Afghanistan. “He established a culture that allowed that kind of mindset to percolate. And there are second- and third-order effects that come with that. Clearly, the guys who were pulling the trigger are the proximate cause of the crime, but the culture itself is the enabler.” Others argue that Tunnell’s aggressive posture was fair enough, and even necessary, for infantry troops who must prepare to kill, and also to be killed, on behalf of their country. They point out that the brigade was, after all, equipped with Stryker vehicles designed for soldiers working in some of the most violent regions of any conflict. And Kandahar Province – the cradle of the Taliban – was precisely where the 5/2 brigade was headed for a year-long tour.
- Other officers within the battalion shared their concerns, says the senior official. “I had two staff officers [in Tunnell's brigade] separately tell me that they were afraid that the brigade was going to end up on CNN for ‘all the wrong reasons,’ ” he says. In response, trainers tried to help officers in the brigade take steps to “lead from the middle to ensure that didn’t happen,” says the senior official, who adds that some other military officials raised the possibility of removing Tunnell from command in discussions that included a two-star general.
If it is true, that senior leaders and general officers considered relieving or replacing Colonel Tunnel prior to the Brigade’s combat deployment, but chose not to, then their lack of moral courage is worse than anything the colonel may eventually be found culpable of “enabling”. Then again, the time for “relief” is over, but if anyone really believes that any Brigade senior leader will eventually be held accountable for the heinous crimes that occurred during their watch, you only need review the Army’s track record in this regard to see to see other examples of failed leadership and lack of accountability – i.e. Abu Graib, where only enlisted soldiers were charged with crimes; and Wanat, where commanders where ultimately absolved of failed leadership; it seems that the list will keep on growing.
In yet another article from Foreign Policy, it appears that there are some divergent views on the status of the Afghan War as articulated in an article entitled Petraeus Versus Obama.
- Today there are two wars taking place in Afghanistan. The first is the war confidently described by the U.S. military: a conflict that according to leading military commanders and even the secretary of defense is “headed in the right direction” and has a “good chance at success.” But virtually every day there are press reports that speak of another war. It is one defined by rising civilian and military death tolls in a growing number of once-safe regions — particularly in the north of the country — now marred by violence and insecurity; government corruption and incompetence that remains as bad as ever; and an increasing sense of fatalism among the Afghan people. The problem is that the latter conflict actually seems to be taking place — while the former seems to be a figment of the military leadership’s imagination.
- This growing divide is increasingly bringing into question the very credibility of U.S. military statements about military progress in Afghanistan. And the Obama administration faces the possibility that its planned July 2011 deadline for the commencement of troop withdrawals may be undermined by the very individuals that are tasked with carrying out the war effort.
- From a security standpoint the situation in Afghanistan is worse than at any point in the past nine years. Already 406 U.S. troops have been killed this year — if the trend continues, the highest annual death toll since the conflict began. A recent report by the Afghan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), paints a very different picture than the one described by U.S. officials. The authors conclude that the insurgency is in its ascendancy and describe it as “increasingly mature, complex and effective.” The White House got into the pessimism game with an assessment that said “progress across the country was uneven,” Afghan governance remained “unsatisfactory,” and “district-by-district data show that only minor positive change had occurred with respect to security.” What seems most backwards about the military’s congenital optimism is that even by the key metrics of their own counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy there has been almost no change for the better in Afghanistan.
- Governance in Afghanistan remains as hopeless as ever. September’s parliamentary elections now appear to have been so fraud-ridden that the entire vote is in question. U.S. efforts to curb incessant government corruption have not led to any real crackdown on graft; instead it has heightened tensions with the Karzai government, and reports that Afghan government officials receive bags of cash from the Iranian government have been met with official shrugs in Kabul.
- While the Pentagon talks optimistically of progress being made in training the Afghan Army, the force is still years away from being able to operate effectively on its own. Attrition rates remain high, drug use is rampant, and soldiers lack competence in basic military skills. During recent offensives in the town of Marjah in Helmand province and ongoing efforts in Kandahar, the Pentagon claimed that the efforts were Afghan-led. So long as Taliban insurgents can melt over the border into Pakistan and so long as the Afghan government is incapable of taking control of areas that have been cleared — either administratively or militarily — these gains are likely to be ephemeral.
- If the military’s public performance is any indication, it seems likely that Obama’s generals will regale him with signs of halting progress divorced from Afghanistan’s bleak reality. The simple fact is that ever since the president announced a July 2011 deadline for commencing withdrawals the military has chafed against what its views as an arbitrary deadline for pulling the plug on the operation. Rather than following Obama’s admonition to not send troops into areas that could not be realistically handed over to the Afghan security forces by 2011, NATO and U.S. forces have engaged in a “clear, hold, and build strategy” in places where there is limited chance of turnover any time soon. It’s hard to square that approach with a White House that seems desperate to embrace political reality and find the Afghan exit ramp. But by spinning an optimistic tale of progress — and pushing stories to journalists that suggest success is just around the corner — the military could see only a nominal decrease of troops in July 2011. At the very least, it will put more public pressure on the White House to stay the course and fudge the troop withdrawal deadline. To be fair, military leaders appear to believe they are doing what it is necessary for the United States to “win” in Afghanistan. But that doesn’t mean anyone — least of all the White House or the American people — should confuse the military’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan with the truth.
This cogent portrayal of the situation in Afghanistan confirms SFTT’s recent reporting that ISAF/NATO commander’s strategic communications efforts revolve around spinning success out of continued failure. At some point the debate will fracture around this premise that there is in fact a behind-the-scenes sophisticated campaign to sustain the current operational footprint in Afghanistan beyond that ordered by the President in December 2009. Given the likelihood that Congressional majorities may change in tomorrow’s election, the political price will only grow that much steeper. At the other end of the debate are the thousands of deployed troopers that have no choice but to remain tactically engaged in a no-win situation. However, now it has become increasingly obvious that these troopers are not only under-resourced and ill-equipped, but are also being mislead.
In a recent article from Foreign Policy entitled An Unnecessary War – - Afthanistan used to be the central front in the war against terrorism. Now it’s a distraction from it, the author argues that policy makers may be taking their eyes off the “bigger” picture and one that is more critical to US security.
- First as candidate and later as president, Barack Obama famously described Afghanistan as “a war of necessity:” a war the United States could not afford to lose. Obama restated the case in the speech he gave last December announcing his decision to add 30,000 troops to the battle, asserting that Afghanistan and Pakistan constituted “the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda,” and adding that the threat would “only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity.” The only way to counteract this threat, Obama insisted, was to bolster American military capacity, and to adopt a counterinsurgency strategy to “increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.” Most of the debate around Obama’s war plans has centered on that counterinsurgency strategy: Is President Hamid Karzai too corrupt and erratic, are the Afghan people too hostile to foreign forces, is institution-building too intrinsically difficult, and are Afghan security forces too inept to justify the massive and belated effort to build Afghan stability and capacity? But this is actually the secondary issue. The central question is: Is it necessary? Would withdrawal in fact gravely jeopardize American national security?
- Marc Sageman, a CIA veteran now with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, has asserted in congressional testimony that more than three-quarters of the terrorist plots against the West executed or foiled over the last five years have been carried out by “homegrown terrorists” with no organizational connection to al Qaeda — a phenomenon he calls “leaderless jihad.” Focusing vast resources on any piece of geographical space is thus a strategic mistake. On the other hand, the terrorism expert Peter Bergen argues that “the numbers are a red herring.” Osama bin Laden only had 200 loyalists at the time of 9/11, after all, and still managed to do a great deal of damage. What’s more, he adds, since al Qaeda “has infected other groups they’re embedded with,” including the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani body which carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, counting al Qaeda alone is misleading. And the lack of recent spectacular attacks hardly proves that al Qaeda central is history.
- But all costs are relative. And against the uncertain benefits of maintaining a very large military presence in Afghanistan over the next three to four years are the very large costs of staying in such large numbers. The $100 billion a year or so in resources may be the least of it. The war is a terrible drain on Washington’s attention, and on U.S. soft power and prestige. “It’s hard to be taken seriously in Asia when we are still bogged down in Afghanistan,” as Cronin says. There are very few true wars of necessity. The Civil War was one; World War II was another. When Mullah Omar refused to give up Osama bin Laden, a war in Afghanistan became necessary. But then the war changed character, and the nature of the adversary changed as well. A war against Islamic terrorism, in some form, remains necessary. But the war in Afghanistan does not.
- The threat that emanates from Afghanistan is marginal and requires a reallocation of resources and a change in strategy and policy, given the fact that recently failed operations were either born or bred in Pakistan’s tribal regions,Yemen, and western European capitols or attempted by “home-grown” operatives and confederates.
- If it is true that AQ has metastesized into a “headless” jihad with limited global reach, then it would make more strategic and operational sense to concentrate US/NATO efforts where the threat roosts with a robust counter-terrorism strategy.
- Afghanistan is proving history correct that to continue to engage in an economy-of-force COIN effort with limited resources only creates a never ending supply of new insurgents (and jihadists).