Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Announcement

I'm currently in Kuwait, trying to find my way to Bagram. I'm going back to Afghanistan for a year. Hopefully I can help make a difference in my small way.

Also, this blog is moving to

If you have me on your links; first of all, thanks. Secondly, please update your links. I hope that those who have been reading continue to enjoy.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Still Holding

I'd like to thank "Onparkstreet" for a question to answer in comments on the previous post. Unfortunately, I don't have the time right at the moment. Lots to see and do in the short term here, and the Genies of Bureaucracy are still in their bottle. This is a hell of a story... boring as hell, but still amazing. Perhaps someday I'll tell it.

And bore anyone who reads it to tears.

In the meantime, things are on the verge of exciting... and poised there seemingly eternally.

I will get to the very pertinent question as soon as I can.
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Friday, June 26, 2009


I've said this before, and in the Obama Administration's new AfPak Strategy it was mentioned but got little attention. Now it is being echoed more and more; let's encourage our allies who have military caveats make other, perhaps more useful contributions.

PJ Tobia, an independent journalist in Kabul, has this to say about the Germans and their conundrum at home. The Germans want to be good allies, but they learned some serious lessons from the 1930's and '40's. Germany has a very different national spirit these days. Anyone I know who has worked with German troops in Germany says that the German troops are very impressive. They produce one of the best main battle tanks in the world, the Leopard II. They are smart, organized, well-trained soldiers.

They are horribly hamstrung in Afghanistan.

In January of 2008, at the German FOB in Konduz, SFC O was in the German TOC while they watched a group of insurgents set up rockets to fire at the FOB. The Germans could see them clearly on their sensors. The Germans possessed 120mm mortars which they could have easily used to put a stop to the insurgent's activities. Instead, the Germans were calling in to their higher headquarters for permission to place magazines in their small arms. Not to load the weapons... merely to place magazines in them.

O nearly went ballistic. He asked them why they didn't just mortar the rocketeers and get it over with. The Germans demurred. They were not permitted by their national caveats to engage, even when they saw the threat clearly and they were about to get rocketed. The Germans endured a brief rocketing (which never seem very brief when you are on the receiving end.)

The Germans have since changed some of their caveats to permit some more active roles. They are not, however, as able to take action as Americans, Brits, Canadians, or Dutch troops. What SFC O witnessed was merely an example, a single snapshot, of the type of incidents that occur when heavily caveated troops are put into situations that they cannot properly respond to.

The Germans are masterful organizers. The Germans, only sixty years ago, were rebuilding a country from the ground up. Afghanistan needs people who can mentor would-be administrators who are trying to work in a system that has no institutional memory of efficient governmental behaviors. As Tobia points out, it would not be perfectly safe, but it would be a very necessary contribution. The Japanese took a similar path, focusing their efforts on disarming local militias. The Japanese made massive contributions with this work... and it wasn't combat-related. The Germans, whose population does not support military involvement outside of Germany, could make similar contributions with governance.

Germany's initial role was in the development of the Afghan National Police. The Germans provided training, but could not perform the operational mentoring that is needed to really make lasting progress. German civilian experts could make huge, lasting contributions in non-military mentoring to help Afghan government officials to provide ethical, efficient government to more Afghans.

Calls for change like this are very slow-moving. We don't have time to screw around and cause a great NATO ally like Germany to become disillusioned when they could make such contributions that are so desperately needed. Let's work to get some of our allies more involved in ways that make more of an impact rather than mostly symbolic military contributions which can be less than effective.
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Connect The Dots

(Please excuse my lateness in weighing in on this... and in fact for not posting much lately. Lots to see and do lately, changes coming about, and I hope you keep checking back, as I will be able to discuss those changes openly soon, and they will have a significant impact on this blog.)

Michael Cohen is proving that he is still the guy who just can't connect the dots. His interest regarding COIN doctrine is bordering on a fetish, and his desperation to discredit the doctrine is palpable. As I've said, this is self-defeating. Cohen's primary advocacy dovetails very nicely with the capabilities that need to be developed in order to successfully shepherd Afghanistan and Pakistan through this very troubling and dangerous period of history in Central Asia. It boggles my mind that this man is so frightened that he literally loses his ability to reason, grasping at straws ranging from COL Gian Gentile's writings to Celeste Ward's article in the Washington Post cautioning an overcommitment to COIN.

Neither COL Gentile nor, from what I can gather, Ms. Ward really seem to agree with Mr. Cohen... he just gloms on to any argument that he finds remotely supportive. Desperation and fear are the mother of many inventions, most of them decidedly unhelpful, but the cowardly logic of Michael Cohen is reaching the point of ridiculousness. It seems to have become something of a mission for him to discredit the doctrine and its practitioners, which is peculiar given Mr. Cohen's self-admitted lack of any specific military knowledge. The natural question that one would have is, "What value is Mr. Cohen's opinion on the subject of military doctrine?"

The answer would be, "Absolutely none. Mr. Cohen has nothing of value to offer on the topic of military doctrine."

Why, then, would a man with absolutely nothing to offer... and knows it... on a subject such as warfighting doctrine suddenly be chiming in with vigor against the only doctrine that has even been remotely credited with any success in the insurgencies that we find ourselves embroiled in currently?

He's secretly a North Korean operative that has undergone plastic surgery and was implanted in a think tank in order to derail the United States by offering the worst possible advice imaginable.

I'm just kidding. But, on this issue Mr. Cohen is just about as helpful as a surgically altered North Korean in a Washington think tank. He is motivated not by any desire to see the current foreign policy objectives of the United States achieved, but in fact by a desire to see them fail. To that end, he advocates stridently against the propagation of COIN doctrine, even though he has absolutely no value as a military commenter. Why would he be afraid of success in Afghanistan?

Many seem to view COIN as the future of war and based on the "success" of COIN in Iraq, they seem to believe that the United States is uniquely positioned to do it . The question for many COIN-danistas seems to be not whether and when we should do counter-insurgency, but how the US can do it more effectively...

...The military needs to be making clear to the civilian leadership precisely how difficult counter-insurgency can be and why they should think twice about trying to implement such an approach....

...As I've written here many times the clearest and most unambiguous lesson that we should draw from the war in Iraq is that we should never get involved in such a war again - and that any benefit we accrue from invasion, occupation and nation-building will almost never be worth the cost.

*NOTE TO COHEN: It's COINdinista... just like Sandinista, but with "COIN" instead of "Sand." Let's get our terminology right, okay?*

So let me get this right... COIN seems to be successful in Iraq (although Cohen will also, when convenient, side with those who say that it wasn't in any way responsible for any success in Iraq,) Cohen is and always has been opposed to the war in Iraq or any similar action in the future... and so he feels that he should interfere with the military so that no counterinsurgency will ever be attempted again.

Of course, that was a few days ago. Here's what he said last night:

While there are signs of political reconciliation occurring on the local level and across the country there is a real question as to whether Iraq will turn into a stable country or will it turn in a violent and more deadly direction. While those of us who vehemently opposed this war would like nothing more to be proven wrong - and see a prosperous and stable Iraq rise from the ashes - that possibility is seeming more and more uncertain these days.

No, Sir; I don't believe that he would like to be proven wrong. I've shown Michael Cohen he was wrong before. He doesn't like it. I'll probably get another whiny personal email from him for posting this. No, I don't think that he does want to be proven wrong... because here's the very next paragraph he wrote...

So, the next time you hear a commentator talk about the success of the surge or the effectiveness of counter-insurgency tactics or what worked in Iraq can work in Afghanistan or that "the security situation is manageable" in Iraq be very dubious. What we are seeing today in Iraq is pretty compelling evidence that the institutionalized political reconciliation, which was supposed to accompany the US surge in 2007, is not occurring at a pace that inspires confidence.

As another matter of humor, Cohen quoted Juan Cole in that post. Talk about dubious. Oh, Cole is on target sometimes, I'm sure... but how can you tell? When an "academic" is as politically driven as Cole, it's hit or miss. He wouldn't admit that he was wrong if God were to explain it to him personally.

Here's the biggest problem that I've got with Cohen, and Cole, for that matter; they claim to analyze, but their analysis is politically motivated. It has nothing to do with getting the analysis right. Sometimes they are close, sometimes on, sometimes waaaaay off. There is no consistency, because the answer drives the question. That is not intellectually honest nor is it in the best interests of the country. Cohen, and his ilk, want what they want... and they are willing to say anything to get it. It's the old, "The end justifies the means," argument in action.
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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sonic Must Die: Death To The Hedgehog!

GEN McChrystal has taken command in Afghanistan, and one of the first things he began to do is look at the way that troops are currently disposed and the planned dispositions of incoming "surge" troops around the country. Under the former commander, existing FOBs were being expanded to make room for the influx of new troops. This often had unintended but not completely unforeseen consequences. This was a continuation of the Big Box FOB behavior which has proven unsuccessful in the past. When you look at it, it looked almost like the French "Hedgehog" strategy which led to Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam. While the Taliban are incapable of the type of offensive tactics used to reduce the French hedgehog at Dien Bien Phu to the point of surrender, the hedgehog strategy was another failed counterinsurgency behavior. It would prove no less so in Afghanistan.

As the truism states, "The proof is in the pudding."

Amid a nearly slanderous outcry from opponents of his appointment, some of which makes him sound like a former concentration camp commandant, GEN McChrystal headed back downrange and assumed his new command. He stated that his objective was population-centric, or pop-centric counterinsurgency.

McChrystal cited additional NATO troops who will deploy this year to key regions of Afghanistan, providing the manpower required to conduct “population-centric counterinsurgency operations.” These forces will partner closely with the increasingly capable Afghan security forces. (via Defenselink)

One of the first things he began to talk about appears to be a move away from the hedgehogs to a more distributed and comprehensive, yet focused, approach to the counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan. This from the Washington Post:

"We are going to look at those parts of the country that are most important -- and those typically, in an insurgency, are the population centers," McChrystal said in an interview shortly after pinning on his fourth star.

Many people will assume that McChrystal seems intent on focusing on the cities, but that's not evident. As GEN Petraeus noted in his recent remarks at CNAS,

"Two-thirds of all the attacks in Afghanistan are concentrated in about 10 percent of the country's districts, areas where more than 20,000 new U.S. soldiers and Marines are flowing in to pursue insurgents and provide greater security for Afghans."

It has been pointed out before that in order to provide the accepted optimal level of counterinsurgents to population, hundreds of thousands more troops would be needed in Afghanistan. What this fails to consider is that large portions of the country are not under significant pressure from the Taliban. This doesn't mean that there should be no efforts in those areas to improve governance and work with the ANP, but the same ratio of troops/population would not necessarily be needed in those areas. Improvements in governance, the professionalism of the ANP and economic development and construction would go far in such areas to separate the Taliban, or criminal elements who borrow the name of the Taliban for credibility or fear's sake, from the population. GEN McChrystal's commitment to nationwide mentoring and development of the ANP remains to be seen.

However, by separating the insurgents from the population in the most violence-prone areas, progress will begin to be seen. With McChrystal reevaluating the planned dispositions of troops, it appears that troops will be expected to remain closer to the populace. GEN Petraeus, quoted in News said,

"A comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy is what is required to keep Afghanistan from becoming once again a sanctuary for transnational extremism, as it was prior to 9/11."

Petraeus said the principles underlying the counterinsurgency in Iraq – having troops protect and live among the civilian population, for instance -- can apply to Afghanistan.

GEN McChrystal also notes the effects of an effort that is too diluted.

"We've got to ruthlessly prioritize, because we don't have enough forces to do everything, everywhere," McChrystal said. He added that he would be especially reluctant to commit his forces to rugged areas where it would be difficult to extend the reach of the Afghan government or spur economic development. "If you are not prepared to come in with a reasonable level of governance and a reasonable level of development, then just going in to hold [the ground] doesn't have a strong rationale."(via Washington Post)

Clear, hold, and build. This is a strategy that both GEN Petraeus and GEN McChrystal have been talking about. The insurgents will respond by going elsewhere, of course. It's what insurgents do. In the meantime, establishing the local security apparatus and providing governmental and developmental improvements will help to prevent re-infiltration as the military effort eventually responds to the migration of the insurgency. However, the migratory opportunities for the insurgents are not unlimited. Migrating into a Hazara-dominated area, for instance, would be suicidal for Taliban unless done in significant strength. The Taliban insurgency would not do well attempting to migrate into the Panjshir Valley, either. The disposition of troops will eventually need to change, but in the meantime, having a General with the juice to say how things are to be done speaking of pushing out of the Big Box Hedgehogs is very significant.

GEN McChrystal also notes that some areas may not be worth messing around with right now. The Korengal, for instance, is an area that has produced more American casualties than any other similarly-sized area in Afghanistan. GEN McChrystal is reevaluating the current operations in the Korengal. It has been stated before on this blog that what is being done in the Korengal is more a counter-guerrilla campaign than a counterinsurgency. The Korengal does not appear to be amenable to counterinsurgent influence. If there is no hope of establishing Afghan governmental control over that valley, then what value is there to tying up resources and losing lives in a valiant but currently futile effort. Is the purpose merely containment?

"The question in the Korengal is: How many of those fighters, if left alone, would ever come out of there to fight?" McChrystal said. "I can't answer it. But I do sense that you create a lot of opposition through operations" by the military. "So you have got to decide where you are going to operate."(Washington Post)

GEN McChrystal appears to be willing to challenge assumptions and question accepted patterns of behavior. Moving out of the hedgehogs and out into the villages and valleys to be close to the population would produce significantly different results than have been seen to this point. Logistics are going to become complicated, and Green Beans Coffee is going to lose some business... but that's the price of counterinsurgency. Perhaps Pizza Hut will form a partnership with Jingle Air to deliver pizzas to the smaller outposts by helicopter.
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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why Do We Need Metrics?

The Center for A New American Security (CNAS) released a new document at the end of last week, and hopefully it will spark a discussion about measuring success or failure in Afghanistan. Even more hopefully, it will spark action following the discussion.

The discussion will hopefully refine the recommendations of some of the premier counterinsurgency theorists in the world today into actionable metrics for COIN, a subject that has been a sticking point in our execution of COIN, and potentially a shortcoming of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency. Military officers, like business leaders, are rated on their success or failure in any environment based upon measurements. The question has been, "What can we measure that will tell us if we are doing the right things?"

In business, successful behaviors are relatively easy to measure. How much money did the business unit make? How much of that money was spent on making/delivering the product or service? How much money was left for profit afterwards? There are a lot of measurable factors that go into those main factors, but in the end there are lots of pertinent things to measure success or failure of any business unit, making managers easy to reward or disincent. In counterinsurgency the military officer is confronted by a seemingly nebulous environment, and he/she will often fall back on traditional military measurables, which have been demonstrated not to correlate to success in counterinsurgency. Worse, in their search for quantifiable meaning, officers will be forced to come up with equally or more meaningless measurables that can trick them into continuing unsuccessful behaviors.

The funny thing is that, while they are untrained doctrinally, the average Joe on the ground often sees the futility of the measurables that the officers above him are depending on. The guy on the ground may not understand what the hell "hearts and minds" is supposed to be all about, but he recognizes wasted action when he sees it. He may not have a better answer... sometimes he does... but he does know when his time is being wasted on unproductive behaviors or that potentially positive behaviors are being quashed in favor of an unproductive metric. All we have to do is look at the words of junior leaders who are in the suck or who have returned from it. These words help to diagnose our unproductive behaviors and our failure to train our junior leaders in the doctrine that they are expected to execute. They also diagnose our failure to choose objective measurables that mean anything.

Leaders, whether military or civilian, will strive to affect the measurable factors that they are measured against. Military officers begin their rating process by completing an "OER Support Form," or Officer Evaluation Report Support Form, in which they tell their boss what they are going to achieve during the rated period. The results of the OER affect their promotions... they mean money and career progression. Basically, they tell their boss what they will do and how they will measure their success or failure. They will choose metrics that are, first of all, measurable... usually easily measurable... and secondly, achievable. No one will set themselves up for failure. While we all agree that we are engaged in a fight against insurgents, we do not all agree on how to measure success or failure in such an environment.

We haven't all bought off on the appropriateness of the doctrine to actually fight against the insurgents, hence the COINdinista vs COINtra struggle.

This blog has pointed numerous times to the necessity to hold commanders accountable for their effects on success or failure during the time they spend in theater. In all previous conflicts, officers who were unable or unwilling to achieve the necessary results on the battlefield were relieved and replaced. Careers were stymied and ended. Until very recently, with the relief of GEN McKiernan, no such message was being sent in the current conflict. Very few officers have been relieved, and most maneuver unit commanders have declared excellent performance regardless of the security situation in their particular areas of responsibility. Since they set the measurables, which their higher commander have agreed to, they can point to these measurables and declare that they had positive effects on those metrics. Based on these, the declarations of success are warranted... but do they mean anything? Only one commander has been held accountable for the loss of "ground" in Afghanistan; and I posit that he was relieved in such a manner as much as a statement as for any lack of success that was worse than his predecessors... as well as to make room for a commander that GEN Petraeus believes will be more successful.

Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal gave a hint during his confirmation hearings that the measurables are going to change. He said that we will not measure success by body counts, which we have been sliding towards, but by the percentage of the population shielded from violence. This is difficult to measure in its own right, and there are many things that will go into it. While, in a population-centric counterinsurgency, securing the population is job one, how do you measure something that hasn't happened? How do you measure the activities... and thereby incent their application... that contribute to providing security? Since COIN is really a political struggle where perceptions are important, how do you measure those?

This has been a key piece missing from the puzzle. It has resulted in rewarding failure. It has resulted in the continuation of failed behaviors such as staying rooted on what Tim Lynch has labeled "Big Box FOBs." This is a behavior which will never, as LTG McChrystal states is important, secure the population and prevent their being victimized and intimidated. You have to be there. Going home to the Big Box at the end of the day, only showing up to the village every once in awhile and demanding that they tell you where the Taliban are just doesn't prevent intimidation.

Commanders will do what they are incented to do. When they set the metrics, based on what they feel that they can do, and based on concepts that have nothing to do with preventing intimidation of the population, they will. They will choose metrics like force protection or tons of Humanitarian Assistance distributed, or missions run vs number of casualties or, as has been a trend lately, on enemy body counts. The population will still be subject to the predations of the Taliban or Taliban-like or affiliated groups; and we still lose ground. The point is that commanders need to be given metrics that work to measure positive counterinsurgent indicators. They will measure something. We need to ensure that the metrics that they use mean something to the counterinsurgency.

That's why metrics... good, meaningful metrics... are so important.
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Saturday, June 6, 2009

D-Day; The Benchmark

Those of us who have been to combat all have our D-Day. For most of us, it wasn't called that. Sometimes it was; many invasions and operations have had their start day, also called, "D-Day," but there is one day that forever bears that name. It is the symbol, ever since June 6th, 1944, of D-Days. Ever since that D-Day, it has affected all of us who have had our own D-Day. For me, that effect began as a child.

In movies, books, and in my imagination, I tried to understand what the thousands of men who participated in that operation went through. It set a standard in my own mind for what a Soldier must be willing to do, to endure, to brave. It inspired, shocked and loomed over me. I was in awe of those who rode the C-47's, gliders, and landing craft. The exploits of the Rangers at Point du Hoc humbled me. The catastrophe at St Mere Eglise shocked me. The carnage of Omaha Beach overwhelmed me.

The bravery of those who jumped, crashed or made the landing stunned me. How could I ever live up to that? How did they? What, I wondered in my young mind, separated the living from the dead? Was it skill? Was it determination? Was it blind, dumb luck? I wanted to live. I pictured myself as the tough survivor. I found no empathy for the dead in my young mind. No, that wouldn't be me.

D-Day was the calliope of war going full tilt all at once. Hundreds of thousands of individual stories, thousands of ships, aircraft, landing craft, and the terrible crescendo of all that noise. To my mind it was an overwhelming scenario, and the humanity of it overwhelmed my mind. So many men, each with a life and a history of their own. So many experiences being had in such a small area. So many individual acts of bravery and valor; many of which eventually came to light and so many of which will never be known. So many lives and their stories ended.

It was so much to ponder. Too much. I can never get it right.

For myself and my generation, and for generations that follow, it sets the benchmark. Cries of "Currahee!" still inspire feats of amazing courage, and raise the wounded from comas. Young Soldiers, particularly in the Airborne, are still bred with stories of their regiment's legacy from that day, the night that preceded it and the months that followed it. That legacy sets a benchmark that generations of young men attempt to measure themselves against. I was one of them. There is no reaching that standard; only striving to come as close as one can, to do one's job under such horror, to not let one's compatriots down. To move one's feet though hell and horror await.

My D-Day was anticlimactic in comparison. My baptism of fire was practically gentle in contrast to the roar and confusion and mass fear that reigned on June 6, 1944. Nothing that I have tasted, though it may be in some small way similar, truly compares. I remain humbled. It will forever remain unknown to me what I would have done when the ramp door dropped, or when the green light lit. They knew. They felt. They did. For so many, it was the last thing that they ever knew, felt, or did. Each risked that, knowingly, and did anyway... and became legend; the greatest generation.

I stand in amazement. I am struck by their courage, I am overwhelmed by their experience. I am grateful for their actions. I am humbled by their sacrifice. I am astounded by their grace. I am led by their example.

I am free by their choice.
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