Military News Highlights: January 11, 2011

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Is the tide turning in southern Afghanistan ?

Back in the fall of 2006, the Kagans, Frederick and Kimberly, from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), peddled the “surge” on a set of Power Point slides via General (Ret.) Jack Keane.  First to the Office of the Vice President, then to the President, then to the Pentagon, and then to CENTCOM, and finally to Congress – standard operating procedure back then.  The result?  The “surge” into Iraq and the “reversal of a failed war strategy” according to Fred and Kim.  FYI – In regards to Fred’s credibility you can make your own decision, but we are providing this 2007 Daily Kos story for your reference. 

Nevertheless, Fred and Kim are back at it with support from AEI and the Institute for the Study of War (whatever that means) and have issued a new report stating “the obvious:”  that recent US surge in southern Afghanistan has “turned the war around” and other sensational successes.  These include that: the Taliban has effectively lost all its main safe havens in the region (southern Afghanistan); disruption of acquiring, transporting, and using IED’s; aggressive targeting of narcotics facilitators and financiers (to great effect); that Herat and Kabul are reasonably secured; US/NATO is maintaining tenuous security in the Jalalabad Bowl; that any reports that state that the north is slipping into Taliban control are simply overblown; any gains made so far will be lost if the U.S. were to withdraw prematurely; and finally that reconciliation with the Taliban risks igniting an “ethnic war” that will embroil the region circa the 1990’s.  

To add credibility to the report, both Fred and Kim are eager to let everybody know that they spent over 120 days in Afghanistan studying the situation – knee deep in the trenches, kind of SLA Marshall I guess.

The report and promoting of its findings (via General Keane again) is timed, just like the 2006 report/slides, to “put some calcium” into the administration and prevent (or slow down) the scheduled troop withdrawal to begin this upcoming July. 

It’s a slick operation – and unfortunately, it will probably work.

Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2011

Because what happens in Pakistan is critical to any US/NATO success in Afghanistan, reports of increased drone strikes always draws some attention.  However, aside from the occasional antiseptic (and seemingly trivial) AP or Reuters news flash detailing the number of suspected insurgents or AQ operatives killed, one never really gets a full sense of the scope and impact that these drone strikes are having on the threat that operates with impunity in Pakistani safe havens.  Interesting to note in this Long Wars Journal report that charts the data from drone strikes since 2004, specifically that the Hekmatyer group, one of four major threats that emanates from our ally-buddy Pakistan has only been targeted two times.  Yep, twice out of the 219 drone strikes.  Why is that?  Who in the ISI or Pakistani government is Hekmatyer in bed with? 

Hekmatyer is sure one lucky fella.

Afghanistan watchdog resigns

Inadvertently hidden in the tragic Arizona news from this past weekend was the announcement this past Monday that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) had resigned from his position.  Major General (Ret.) Arnold Fields, appointed by President Bush in 2008, apparently was neither inspecting reconstruction contracts awarded in Afghanistan or doing anything in response (or special) with the flagrant and rampart corruption associated with the awards of these contracts.  Members of Congress criticized General Fields for failing to investigate over $55 billion in grants and contracts awarded by the US for the purpose of community development in Afghanistan – good on them.

But, I thought development and government credibility/legitimacy were building blocks in the US/NATO COIN strategy (and narrative).  And I also heard General Happy Talk Petreaus recently discuss how swimmingly well things were in fortress Kabul. 

So if reconstruction contracts and grants haven’t been properly screened for corruption and graft in the past, who is to say that any future development and reconstruction in Afghanistan will be legitimate in future?

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“Young Officer”

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 A young officer I once served with recently changed command and is now attending the Army’s Intermediate Level Education course for field grade officers; when he graduates he’ll report to a new unit and redeploy. His tedious ride from the east coast to Kansas coincided with the sacking of McChrystal. Remember him? After the storm broke and his pension was paid, follow up analysis of the “crisis” revealed that the majority of attributable quotes and “off-the-record” background was provided by a score of “young officers” and not necessarily the General himself. Nevertheless, the collateral effect of their untimely and heartfelt Parisian disclosures to the Rolling Stone embedded reporter resulted in an Inspector General investigation of these young officers’ actions and statements. Imagine that, an investigation. Really? For what purpose? And as we’ve all learned by now, after the Wanat reversal, even if they’re found culpable of some level of insubordination or violation of policy, they won’t be held accountable they’ll simply be “Wanated,” yep, as in “to be Wanated,” the non-accountability finesse of a failed leader by his self-protective superiors.

But I digress, so back to my “young officer” driving to the brain-shed at Leavenworth for the consumption of more COIN kool-aid. As we commiserated over the amount of Galula theory he would have to suck down, I asked him to imagine for a moment being on the McCrystal staff still in Kabul tasked with General Petraeus’ transition and the integration of his new brain-trust of soon-to-arrive COIN-dinistas. For those who’ve never experienced the ins and outs of transitioning a four star commander while politely showing the door to the outgoing commander and his immediate staff, suffice to say, it’s a painful exercise. We’ll probably never know the behind-the-scene dynamics of the arrival of King David until Bob Woodward or Tom Ricks writes another breathtaking insider account of the administration or the war. However, we can safely assume that a new master of strategic communications is firmly in place in Kabul and a new brain-trust is arriving to assist the effort. If you want more proof, check out what was reported earlier this week by the New York Times coupled—not coincidentally—with the announcement of General Petraeus’ pending media blitz in the coming weeks. Here it is: “Meanwhile, a rising generation of young officers, who have become experts over the past nine years in the art of counterinsurgency, have begun quietly telling administration officials they need time to get their work done. “Their argument,” said one senior administration official, who would not speak for attribution about the internal policy discussions, “is that 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 and think about what our long-term presence in Afghanistan should look like.”

So let me get this straight—the administration is soliciting advice from “young officers” on whether to continue the effort in Afghanistan after next summer when the US is going to begin withdrawal? And they are “experts” as well? For sure we’ve been down this road before, in 2006 when General (Retired) Jack Keane, the American Enterprise Institute and a couple of Army majors and captains from the Army’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (who subsequently retired) with recent expertise in Anbar province/Iraq drew up a Power Point plan for the “surge,” which was then sold by Keane to John Hannah in Cheney’s office, and well, the rest is history.

Maybe that example is too remote (or simply a footnote to hubris) to apply to this master stroke of strategic messaging wrapped in a soft pitch to the public that “young officers…want more time.” My money is on Petraeus as point man preaching next summer on why the 2011 withdrawal timeline needs to be extended in part because the administration and the public should listen to the “troops”—i.e., these “young officers”—for a change. It’s brilliant.

No doubt the new “experts” are a group of planners from the services “Jedi-knight” programs to plan contingencies and back up plans when the current COIN mantra begins to die down. They are probably joined by other “young officer” staffers assigned to the Joint Staff or the National Security Council who’ve somehow wedged themselves into preparing slides, position papers or might even have a seat at the table at very low-level planning meetings. Regardless, I would also bet they’re Petraeus acolytes or COIN enthusiasts from a different father committed to re-validating their previous deployment successes by pushing the COIN theory as the remedy to whatever threatens US interests. In any case, the word is you best be a Petraeus COIN follower or you’ll be placed in the slow lane. After all, Petraeus was flown back to Washington in 2008 to supervise the Army’s Brigadier General promotion board…

Bottomline, the simple statement that a rising generation of young officers are calling for more time to complete the mission will deeply influence the now-rigged debate. For starters, it will serve as a green light on the battlefield for other young officers to inform VIP’s, respond to the media and brief their troops that “they need more time to get the job done”. Unfortunately, it will also serve as a blanket statement that the entire Army stands behind this call.

What is truly shameful here is the total disregard for those officers and leaders who know the gig is up but aren’t allowed to report the truth—veiled censorship by a master of strategic communications suspending us all in disbelief for at least the time being.

I was tempted to call my “young officer” when I figured out what was going on and wish him luck because he’s the type who’ll tell his superiors that no amount of time, resources or troops will change the dynamics on the ground in Afghanistan. But he beat me to the punch and sent me a short note expressing his hope that the Chief of Staff will visit the brain shed soon so he can tell him directly that a small cadre of the “rising generation of young officers” doesn’t speak for the rest of the Army. Let’s all hope my guy gets to talk.

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