Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Reminder About The "You Served" Show

Just a reminder that tonight at 7:00 EST, the "You Served" Program on Blog Talk Radio will air. The show tonight will include a panel including Troy from Bouhammer's Blog, Susan Katz-Keating, 1LT Amy Bonnano, ARSIC-S PAO (Public Affairs Officer) and who also maintains the official ARSIC-S blog, and myself. We will be discussing the power of milblogs, such as was demonstrated in the recent Meo episode, as well as other issues.

I hope you get a chance to listen, and if you don't, there's a downloadable podcast. Isn't that convenient? (Sorry, Church-Lady moment.)
Read full post with comments

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When Kittens Roar

When kittens roar, all tremble and shake at the sound; a terrible noise that is difficult to explain, yet I shall endeavor to portray the fullness of this terrible harbinger of doom.


All of you are aware, I'm sure, by now, of the Nick "The Wonder Kitten" Meo, a British journalist whose very name evokes the terrible cry of the Thunder Kitten, and his Afghan antics. If not, there are tons of info out there. Here is his original piece; a self-serving piece of drivel where he feigns his own death though a real soldier was actually killed in the service of this nation. There came a call for attention from the hinterlands of Afghanistan, and this call was answered by milbloggers like Black Five, Bouhammer, Susan Katz-Keating, and even my little ole self.

More has been written by each writer regarding what Susan Katz-Keating has dubbed L'Affaire Meo. What I linked to was generally the first in a line of posts regarding the issue.

Here's the upside; Meo has not posted a story from Afghanistan since his weak attempt at analysis (including a vivid word-picture of the aftermath of a bombing that he never saw,) and a pithy piece about British school children visiting the Somme Battlefield. He has been "on break" in Europe until last week. I wrote his superior at The Telegraph encouraging them not to allow Meo to report from Afghanistan in the future. There was, in the meantime, something else going on; but I scarcely knew anything about it.

Now the news has broken that Meo and his illustrious employer have tried to have NATO's ISAF intervene on his behalf to muzzle members of ARSIC-S (Afghan Regional Security Integration Command - South) and American milbloggers. The particulars of this particular cry for intervention have been given a pretty thorough going-over at Susan Katz-Keating's blog, as I'm sure it will be elsewhere. Look for Bouhammer to say something today about it.

ISAF, of course, could not help Meo or The Telegraph. They lack jurisdiction. The U.S. Army, moreover, has no desire to reign in milbloggers on this issue. The rise of milblogging has given the Army some concern on occasion over the course of the past few years. This is not one of those occasions. While there are those who see the value of blogging, there are a mixed bag of opinions in the military about the concerns surrounding milblogs written by soldiers downrange. However, in this instance those concerns are nowhere to be found.

For the Army, this is a win-win situation. Meo begged to be pointed out as the fraud that he was, and yet any cap-down by the Army would have been seen as, at best, an attempt at censorship. It would probably have never made publication, like so many of the positive stories written and constantly published in such local publications as ISAF's website, their official publication, CSTC-A's website, or TF Phoenix's website, all of these sites come complete with recent press releases that will never make the MSM.


Because they are written by Public Affairs people, and they very often do not bleed. "If it bleeds, it leads" is the mantra of the MSM. There is no interest, they say, in stories of small successes in tiny villages in Afghanistan. It's boring. It does not evoke strong emotions (other than, potentially, pride in what the young men and women of America and our NATO allies... and even >gasp< young Afghan patriots.) No, that would not do at all.

No, those snippets that are gleaned are when ISAF, CSTC-A, or TF Phoenix do release the details of a servicemember's death, or a statement regarding the latest alleged wedding bombing by a NATO member.

Any rebuttal of Meo's lying, slanderous depiction of the events and the men involved that dark night in Helmand Province would have been lost forever in the archives, along with the never-published stories of school openings, medical services rendered, successful graduation of police trainees, and Afghan soldiers doing good for their country. The Army has tremendous power, but in the uneasy realm of media relations, there is not much that they alone could accomplish.

Enter milbloggers. Dubbed the "Pitchfork Brigade" by one of the participants, a crew of bloggers each did what they thought was right without any organization whatsoever. While after a bit we wound up exchanging emails with each other over the whole affair, there was no leader, no organizing force. We all simply cried foul at the same time and also provided the email addresses of Meo and his handlers in England. From there, the same force that gives the Army pause in other thinking about milblogs came to the fore.

Milblog readers.

People who are interested in hearing things from a soldier's point of view, who want to read about one man's experience in the suck, who want to get the other side of the story and who know that the MSM is doing a terrible job of portraying the reality of this war come to read milbloggers. Mine was the "in the suck" type of blog, but it has become something different. I had a hard time with that, but a very recent post at Bouhammer says pretty much the same thing that has kept me going. It's really the reader.

There are so many people who still read what is written here who helped to sustain me while I was downrange. Many of those same people are the ones who really poked Meo in the eye and left his bottom stinging from the lashes of discipline. It reminds me of the lion in "Madagascar" who runs into the little old lady in the subway. She apprises him with a careful look, makes her determination of his character, and wallops him upside the head.

"Bad kitty!"

Yes, Nick Whose Name Evokes The Cry Of A Domestic Feline, your character was judged and found to be wanting. People used the email addresses provided and guess what? They didn't say things you wanted to hear. No, the word Pulitzer wasn't bandied about; it was another P-word that is synonymous with domestic feline.

Now, apparently some readers wished ill on Mr. Meow... errr... Meo. This apparently frightened our intrepid journalistic hero and raised in him a (self)righteous anger, which he expressed to our good friends and colleagues at NATO.

In other words, it hurt. It had an effect. Mr. Meo has yet to make an appearance, from what I can tell, back in Afghanistan. Good. I hope that he never again has the opportunity to make spurious claims of having any kind of sensing on what the reality is there. He clearly did not even when he was on the ground. He was a tourist, not a professional. People like Nick Meo are more damaging to our perseverance and sense of determination to get a tough, dirty, dangerous job done than can really be assessed.

Google his name and you will see what ignominy has been attached to it. He deserves it, having brought it upon himself, and it's an example of what little people can do when they get a burr under their saddle all at once; a good pitchforking at the hands of the peasants can make an impression.

A panel of distinguished milbloggers will discuss this and other topics tomorrow night on the You Served program on Blog Talk Radio tomorrow at 7:00 pm Eastern. Oh... I'll be on there, too.
Read full post with comments

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Internal Conversation

What follows is an expanded version of a response to a question that was raised in an NCO forum on Army Knowledge Online, an officially-sponsored channel of communication within the Army. The internal conversation with ourselves on this issue has reached the NCO ranks, as well it should.

The discussion of our ability to readjust to a conventional conflict is a background conversation that the Army is having with itself. Part of the discussion has been the Gentile V. Nagl debate concerning this issue.

While the Army has been involved in a LIC (Low Intensity Conflict) for the past few years in both Afghanistan and Iraq, we have struggled with it. COIN operations are complex and the difference between very effective and ineffective COIN operations are hard to define subjectively. Has the Army truly reconfigured itself as a COIN-centered LIC force, or has it been doing the mission that it has been given while still keeping in its heart of hearts a yearning for the HIC (High Intensity Conflict?)

We still have the conventional capability. We have not rid ourselves of the systems that are used in conventional conflict. We still have the armored force. We still have the artillery. We still have the deep interdiction capable helicopters. If the question is do we have the capability to use those systems, isn't the question really, "At what level do the skills become non-transferable?"

Is it at the soldier level? Soldier-level skills are easily trainable. Most of the soldiers use the same skills to operate their systems in LIC as they do in HIC. Some MOS's (Military Occupational Specialties; jobs titles) use their soldier skills more heavily in LIC than was ever projected for HIC. It could be argued that among the soldiers of the Transportation Corps, for instance, the LIC has increased their soldier skill abilities, making them more likely to be successful in HIC, where enemy SOF (Special Operations Forces) forces are likely to target logistics capabilities, than prior to the LIC in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army has learned not to just throw a logistics soldier through BCT and then have them only drive the truck and pay minimal lip-service to soldier skills.

While Artillery and Armor branch soldiers often do not use their primary specialties while deployed, how long does it take to come back up to speed on their primary platforms? It could be argued that the breakdown in skills comes at a leadership level, where unfamiliarity with tactics and the challenges of coordination of efforts in HIC would cause inefficiency that would decrease effectiveness. The soldier and smaller units will apply their soldier skills and skills with their platforms in whatever environment they are tasked to perform them. TTP's generated over the last several HIC's are still retained at the institutional level. In fact, junior leaders are more challenged to perform the actions of maneuver and tactical operations independently now than in most HIC scenarios. So where is the lack of knowledge?

First, let's figure out where the skills begin to break down and seek to determine a program to address the atrophy where the potential for it occurs, instead of assuming that it is an enterprise-wide issue.

Another question; is the Army really and truly such a skilled practitioner of the type of warfare in which we are currently engaged, or are we basically muddling through this type of conflict with our eye constantly on the next war that is more institutionally enjoyable; the next HIC? Are we not engaged in a conversation that becomes an excuse for not focusing on the distasteful and more difficult challenge of becoming expert practitioners of the doctrine of the war in which we are engaged?

Is COIN trained at the lowest level of professional development? The answer is no. Galula is not even required reading at advanced officer courses. It is certainly not being trained at the junior NCO courses, even though junior NCO's are tasked with executing the doctrine without ever having been trained in it other than with TTP's. There is very little understanding of COIN at the junior leader level. The "strategic Corporal" is untrained in the doctrine. During the '80's and '90's, nearly everyone was an expert proponent of AirLand Doctrine. The Operations manual was introduced at the lower levels of professional education.

Soldiers love the kinetic fight, tactical maneuver, and strategy. COIN does not offer so much of these things that kinetically-inclined warriors love. I do not see the commitment to the doctrine of the current war that was present in the AirLand proponency. Are we talking ourselves out of becoming expert practitioners of the doctrine of the current war in favor of a fantasy of future conflict?

Our problems adapting to COIN in the current environment have, in part, come from a lack of institutional knowledge of how to conduct effective COIN operations. It took numerous years to even publish doctrine on the matter. This doctrine, only two years old, is now under attack as actually being bad for the Army. It could be argued that we have not, as an institution, mastered its practice before seeking to move away from it to the better-loved more purely kinetic fight of classical HIC warfare. Why is the question not, "Are we truly masters of the domain in which we currently operate?" I think that the answer, if we look honestly at ourselves and our Army, would be, "No." If that is the case, again the question arises, "Why are we looking so intently at the future when we are not even masters of the present?"

Is it too much for us to transition between LIC and HIC? It could be argued that the failure to adapt quickly to LIC/COIN has cost more in the past 50 years in terms of lives and treasure than the failure to readjust to HIC when the circumstances have required it. It could be further argued that the failure to plan for the likelihood or eventuality of LIC and the lack of any coherent doctrine (to the point that it took years to actually publish doctrine for COIN)has incurred such costs rather than the inability to project for HIC. This Army is undefeated in HIC. The same cannot be said for LIC/COIN.

At least we already have the most effective, proven HIC doctrine ever devised already in the bag. That's more than could be said for our COIN doctrine as of a scant two and a half years ago.

Let's break this down for simplicity. I have talked about the culture in the Army before. Our culture has heavily stressed the warrior ethos. We even create additional tags to go on the soldier's dog tag chains with the warrior ethos printed on it, as a talisman of our culture. Elitism is bred in. Everyone wants to be elite. Pride is part of professionalism. Physical prowess and tactical proficiency are key to the pride. Excellent players of strategy and tactical games have succeeded.

We even produced our own video game, "America's Army." It is a tactical shoot 'em up. Warriors tend to enjoy first-person shooters or classic games such as the "Close Combat" series of games. Hey, I've never in my life played "Dungeons and Dragons," either. I'm really good at "Steel Beasts," and I've kicked a lot of ass on "M1 Tank Platoon II."

COIN is much more like "Dungeons and Dragons" or "World of Warcraft." There is the first-person shooter aspect to COIN, but Verne Troyer's Mage character is likely to be more successful at engaging the local village leadership than any "Tom Clancy's End War" shooter.

"Launch kinetic strike!" is more our style than any circle-talking, wand-waving gnome in a pointy hat type stuff. It's also something we cannot do so much. Kinetic strikes are what got the Soviets to be so universally hated in Afghanistan.

That and godless communism, of course.

Getting an avid player of "Medal of Honor" to play "Dungeons and Dragons" is not easy, and the participant's enthusiasm level is likely to be low. Instead of knowing that he can lob a grenade or launch a missile into a particular target and achieve the desired result, he may have to cast a "Good Governance" spell combined with an "Information Operation" incantation backed with his multiplier card to move to the next level. Is it any wonder that our level of execution with COIN has been spotty?

That may sound insultingly simplistic, but I'm telling you that there is something there. See how close what I just said is to this:

It is as if our COIN doctrine, with all of its seductive simplicity, operates like a secret recipe: “do this, and then this, and at the right moment add this and ... you win,” as scholar Michael Vlahos shrewdly noted in a recent issue of Military Review. ~ COL Gian Gentile, Armed Forces Journal

None of this is easy, and some of it is actually distasteful. Add to it the aspect of doing things are not, strictly speaking, the Army's business, and you have spotty execution mixed with a complete mismatch of capabilities. Until we begin to address some of the non-militarily addressable issues with other, civilian-oriented, capabilities (most of which we have not even developed,) we are going to struggle.

Iraq came with a damaged existing infrastructure, an artificially-induced governance vacuum, and an existing economic basis. Afghanistan has the power vacuum, and none of the rest of it. Until we effectively address the other issues, some of which require a non-military response, we will struggle with containing the insurgency there. Add to that the spotty execution of effective COIN operations, and you have quite the struggle ahead.

I'm still giggling to myself over the image of Verne Troyer doing a key leader engagement; discussing village development with a Malik while dressed as a Mage in body armor.

Perhaps instead of, "Garry Owen!" it needs to be "Leeeeeroyyyyyyy Jenk-kinssss!"

COIN practitioners at work. This one's for you, O:

That reminds that I have to get the video up of our drive through the fields of Taliban Eggs. See? This stuff really is more like "World of Warcraft."

"At least I have chicken." ~ Leroy Jenkins

Read full post with comments

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Honor Survives All

Remembering back to the Meo episode and the subsequent horrible whining sound that followed from the Telegraph, much of the dust-up concerned Meo's treatment of CPL Nick Dimond, a New Hampshire National Guardsman, retired Police officer, husband, father, teammate, and friend. Nothing that Meo can ever do will make up for what he said and did concerning the loss of this fine soldier.

Honor survives all.

Yesterday, the former FOB Falcon in Lashkar Gah was rededicated as FOB Dimond in honor of CPL Scott Dimond. This action demonstrates the respect and regard with which CPL Dimond is held. His name will be forever linked with the memories of many soldiers who will occupy this FOB, who will visit it, resupply it, who will see it on a map; and while they may not know the whole story of how FOB Dimond came to earn its name, CPL Dimond's name will be uttered hundreds of thousands of times over the course of time. His name will be linked forever to the history of this war, and whenever anyone wonders how FOB Dimond came to carry his name, the story of his service, his sacrifice, and the honor with which he was performing his mission will be found.
Read full post with comments

Gentile Vs. Nagl: The Army In Microcosm

When I first arrived home from Afghanistan, many of my observations about the conduct of operations in Afghanistan were not entirely rosy. I was encouraged to write about them, perhaps in an Op-Ed piece, by a journalist friend. She stated that these observations needed to be heard, to contribute to the larger discussion. I felt it imprudent, though.

I am not a recognized expert, theorist, or even a man of significant rank. I am merely a moderately articulate NCO; a pawn in the larger game; of relatively light experience compared to those who have served multiple tours. I have no experience in Iraq, and am only an observer of those events. I was a participant in what was at the time the most violent year in Afghanistan, and I was present through the first quarter of what has now become the most violent year there. I do not possess any significant education upon which to build a pulpit. The most significant unit I have ever led in combat was not even my own command. I advised a company-sized element of Afghans as part of a larger operation.

Speaking out on much greater issues in a huge public forum would have been imprudent indeed, not to mention potentially insubordinate. Yes, many of my observations were not complimentary; some would be regarded as harsh. It is not unusual for men who operate at my level to be disillusioned with numerous aspects of the organizations which I functioned in during my tenure as a combat advisor. If you read Afghanistan Shrugged, you will see that many of those problems have still not been ironed out.

Now there is an existing debate which stirs in me the courage of my convictions. Over at SWJ they are tracking the debate between two accomplished men, COL Gian Gentile, veteran of two tours in Iraq as an S-3 and squadron (battalion level) commander, and Dr. John Nagl, retired Lieutenant Colonel, co-author of FM-3-24, author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Viet Nam, and widely recognized counterinsurgency theorist/proponent.

Both are accomplished officers and both are, no doubt, most sincerely interested in what is best for the nation and the service's ability to do the job for this nation. It is an honest debate, and other than a few sharp words, a gentlemanly debate. It is also a microcosm of two schools of thought within the Army itself. These two men are on the same team. So am I.

Robert Haddick at SWJ writes that Nagl and Gentile are both right. There is a hole in the basic premise of COL Gentile's argument, however, that makes it untenable in its present state. While correct in his assertion that the Army's job is win its nation's wars; all of its nation's wars, his assumption that we have in fact become a culture of counterinsurgents is incorrect. This is my personal observation as a graduate of the Combat Advisor Training Course at Ft Riley, as a veteran combat advisor, and having functioned in, around, under, and beside various units in the hinterlands of Afghanistan. So I must respectfully disagree.

We, as an organization, have not "gotten it." Our practical application of COIN principles, strategies, and tactics is hit-and-miss at best. While you see successful COIN operations in one area, in another they are lacking to abysmal. The application of the current doctrine for the war in which we are actively engaged is so spotty that within the same area you will have units who are attempting to accomplish appropriate goals while other units within the same battlespace are seemingly doing all they can to disable those same efforts.

As Dr. Nagl points out, there is no consistent education in COIN doctrine. The level of expertise of any leader in basic COIN principles is left entirely to the individual in most cases. Before arriving at Ft Riley, a package of books arrived in the mail. Among them was David Galula's book, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. It was an eye-opener. A thin book, it is a primer on counterinsurgency. Abu Mukawama has this to say about it:

This slim volume has probably had more effect on the way in which Abu Muqawama views counterinsurgency warfare than any other book or article. FM 3-24 is great doctrine, but Galula gives his reader a feel for counterinsurgency warfare in a way the field manual does not. It is also very short, and to-the-point. Which is why, over the past few years, Abu Muqawama has taken to mailing photocopies of this book to friends in the field. One friend, an infantry company commander outside of Baghdad, read the book a little over a year ago while deployed to Iraq and had this to say:

Just finished reading Galula's book. What a great read! It's so common sense, so right, so easy to understand, it begs the questions: Why haven't I heard of it before, and Why aren't they teaching this stuff at the Advanced Course?

He's referring to the Advanced Officer's Courses. My question is, why isn't this being taught at the NCO academies? Why isn't it being taught at the soldier level?

The book was my first exposure to counterinsurgency theory, and I became a believer. I thought that I was among the very few who had not been exposed to this theory, attributing the failure to the fact that, as a National Guardsman, we were once again missing the point. I was to find out that much of the Army is missing the point. FM 3-24 was published just prior to my heading off to Ft Riley, again surprising me. "What?" I thought, "How can we be five years into a war and just now be publishing doctrine on how to fight it?"

How indeed.

COL Gentile, in his essay, Let's Build an Army to Win All Wars asserts that the Army did in fact smoothly shift gears from conventional operations to counterinsurgency operations after defeating Iraq's military in the first three weeks of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I find this assertion to be lacking in substance. Now, while recognizing that I was not there, what I saw was a tremendous conventional thrust which decapitated a nation, immediately followed by a complete breakdown in law and order. The Iraqi Army, Police, and all governmental officials were summarily fired and a vacuum ensued.

This was not a smooth transition from conventional to stability operations. There was no transition other than the transition to generalized lawlessness. I remember watching the statue of Saddam fall, immediately (and I mean immediately) followed by looting on a grand scale.

This was unplanned for. There is no other explanation for the mayhem. The Army can execute any kind of operation that it plans for. This was not planned. The generals and our nation's civilian military leadership honestly thought that we would decapitate a country and a new, smiling, friendly head would immediately sprout in its place. Obviously, this did not occur.

Nature and politics abhor a vacuum, and by sheer suction a hydra of forces large and small emerged to fill the vacuum. None of these forces were friendly towards Americans and were just as brutal to their civilian opposition. What began as a general sense relief on the part of the people degenerated into angry terror. We had plunged them from rigid dictatorship to unpredictable, violent chaos.

No, Sir. I don't see the smooth transition. I don't see unity of effort. I don't see properly planned stability operations, and I don't see well thought-out and executed COIN operations in the following three years; except in local cases. Again, the hit-or-miss approach to this war.

My experience in Afghanistan would demonstrate the same hit-or-miss application of the only doctrine that has a chance of success in this war; AirLand is certainly not the doctrine that will win this one. Which brings me into agreement with Dr. Nagl on his first paragraph:

A stunning if predictable development in the military community over the past 2 years has been the backlash against the promulgation of counterinsurgency learning in the midst of the ongoing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. ~Dr. John Nagl

I do disagree with him on one point; it's not a backlash, it's resistance. A backlash would come from people who studied, became expert practitioners, and then revolted against the doctrine due to some negative experience. This is resistance to learn, practice, or even submit to the doctrine.

These two well-educated men are indeed engaged in a debate over how our Army should proceed in the coming years. While Dr. Nagl proposes the establishment of an "Advisor Corps" as a solution and points out his opposition, COL Gentile offers no solution to the problem he perceives and stridently decries Dr. Nagl with phrases like "deeply troubling," "crusader," "cocksure," "fabricates," and "breathtaking statement." These are not reasonable, analytical words to my ears. They are strident, oppositional, and emotional.

What emotion would drive such an instinctive opposition to a doctrine which, given the failure of AirLand Doctrine to effectively suppress insurgency, offers the best chance of success in an insurgent environment?


The kinetic warriors of the Army, COL Gentile being the spokesman, reject the war that they don't want. It's not a war of maneuver and tank-on-tank. It's not a war of clearly defined objectives, massed artillery in support of brigade maneuver, assaulting through the objective and planting the flag of victory. The elite warriors, the killers, don't want nation-building; and they've been dragged, sulking, into it.

The authors of the Army’s 1986 AirLand Battle doctrine premised their manual on fighting as the essence of war. Fighting gave the 1986 manual a coherence that reflected the true nature of war. The Army’s new COIN manual’s tragic flaw is that the essence of war fighting is missing from its pages. ~COL Gian Gentile, Eating soup with a spoon

This is a war where the enemy nearly always gets to pick the fight. It's a war of IED's and civic leader engagement. It's a war of Information Operations. The enemy doesn't wear uniforms. It's not a chess game; it's a multiplayer Rubik's Cube.

But today, with the new doctrine, that singular focus is gone and replaced by a fuzzy notion of combining different types of operations. If a rifle company commander sits down and reads the Army’s high-profile doctrinal manuals, he learns to be an occupier, a policeman, and an administrator—but not a fighter. In the Army’s current operational field manual, there are no maps, no arrows, and no symbols representing friend and foe, only a loose collection of blocks, squares, and figures representing fuzzy conceptual notions of different types of operations and suggestions of how to combine them. This observation may seem simplistic and trivial to some, but it does point to the larger problem of the Army’s shift away from fighting as its organizing principle. The key assumption that underpins the Petraeus Doctrine is that the threat most likely to face American ground forces will be little more robust and capable than a lightly armed insurgent on the model seen in Iraq. ~COL Gian Gentile

It's not sexy. It's tiring, frustrating, ponderously slow, impossible to accurately judge the progress of, and fought at impossibly small local levels. It has nothing to do with any Audie Murphy, John Wayne, or even Stephen Spielberg war movies other than the wearing of helmets, carrying of weapons, and violent, bloody death.

It is fighting without, sometimes, fighting. I'm not saying anything he doesn't know. He just doesn't like it.

The eminent scholar and strategic thinker Eliot Cohen noted that counterinsurgency war is still war, and war in its essence is fighting. ~COL Gian Gentile, Eating soup with a spoon

Pride. Warrior pride and the dilution of the warrior way of fighting. Now, add to this a bit of insult:

They tell us that we failed in Iraq from 2003 until 2007 (but were rescued by the surge in 2007) because we did not learn the lessons of the past that provide clear templates for victory in counterinsurgencies and irregular war. In a recent interview on National Public Radio, General Caldwell told the story of the Army conducting military occupations over many years and failing to learn and retain lessons each time. His implicit point was that if the Army had paid attention to these lessons learned and formalized them into doctrine, the first 3 years of the war in Iraq might have turned out differently. ~COL Gian Gentile

"They tell us that we failed." No wonder that he's not happy.

There is another quote from his writings; a piece in World Affairs Journal:

The counterargument—that American forces had settled so comfortably on forward operating bases that they all but quit the country around them—is flatly and directly contradicted by the operational record. My squadron, 8-10 Cavalry, Fourth Infantry Division, conducted close to 3,500 combat patrols and operations during our year in west Baghdad. ~COL Gian Gentile

This again looks like a man who is saying, "Hey, I was doing it right, too!" There are officers whose efforts are particularly lauded; COL McMaster and COL MacFarland are examples. They are credited with amazing successes pre-surge and peri-surge. COL Gentile and his unit were not so recognized; and by that omission lumped into the "failure" group. That never sits well with a commander who is rightly proud of his troops. He as a commander knows that his troops were not failures.

I read COL Gentile's "Eating soup with a spoon" in Armed Forces Journal while I was in Afghanistan. With no idea of who he was, I found it to be an oddity to the extent that it still resides on my desktop where it was saved. To read that and to read the articles that have come after it are to witness a significant ratcheting-up of the rhetoric from then to now. COL Gentile has gone from objecting to the lack of fighting being stressed in FM 3-24 to the entire thing now being a threat to the future of the Army's ability to serve the nation. He has become downright belligerent in his language towards Dr. Nagl.

To me, tactical success could guarantee a lot. The high points for my squadron in 2006 were when we achieved tactical success by conducting a small ambush team operation that resulted in killing either Shiite militia or Sunni insurgents who demonstrated hostile acts or intent. Those times were few, but they meant a lot and they guaranteed, at least for a time, the regaining of the initiative and increased morale among my soldiers. There are other forms of tactical success: raids that captured Sunni insurgents or Shiite militia; cordon-and-search operations that seized large caches of weapons; even operations that removed garbage from the streets could be all seen as tactical successes in COIN. But if the fundamental element of war is fighting, then the tactical success that means the most to the combat soldier is when he can engage and potentially kill the enemy. And the COIN manual’s paragraph that defines the meaning of the term “tactical success” as part of the paradox implies that “tactical success” revolves around “military actions” that involve fighting the enemy. ~COL Gian Gentile, "Eating soup with a spoon"

A couple of months after reading this, I was to be reminded of it again in my conversations with SSG Smokey Jackalacker, who was insistent that he came to Afghanistan to kill bad guys and that he was already tired of hearing of COIN. COIN interfered with his whole vision of war. It just wasn't kinetic enough. He talked of assaulting through the objective, killing the enemy and double-tapping anyone he saw there. I can empathize.

He goes on:

The natural instinct for a combat soldier when attacked is to protect himself and his buddies. Yet the paradox that “the more you protect yourself, the less secure you are” becomes counterintuitive to the soldier. It does not make sense because he experiences the essence of war fighting almost every day. So the paradox creates cognitive dissonance in the mind of a combat soldier in Iraq because it essentially tells him to do something that is unnatural to him and his environment — to not fight.

I am not arguing that a counterinsurgent force should hunker down on large bases and focus solely on force protection. But the “surge” plan for securing Baghdad tries to replicate as a tactical method what the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment under Col. H.R. McMaster did successfully in Tal Afar, Iraq, in 2005 without the requisite number of combat soldiers to do it. And in trying to replicate Tal Afar in Baghdad, without adequate forces, we have produced supreme tactical vulnerability to the combat soldiers in these combat outposts. In these outposts, they now experience viscerally the opposite of the paradox that “the more you protect yourself, the less secure you are.” They see things now as “the more I protect myself in these combat outposts, in terms of tactical security, the more secure in them I actually become.” ~ COL Gian Gentile, "Eating soup with a spoon"

Nothing in the doctrine advocates not protecting yourself tactically. What it does advocate is getting close to the people in order to provide security for them locally. This does appear to put troops closer to being in harm's way, but what it really does mean is not staying in the large, centralized FOB's. Force protection measures at the COP's (Combat Outposts) are certainly not meant to be ignored. Here COL Gentile begins to touch on security for the people (which he argues in later are not the center of gravity in counterinsurgency warfare, arguing instead the the enemy is truly the center of gravity.)

The thing is that providing for the security of the population is not the end state; it is the beginning state for a successful counterinsurgency. It is where all the other stuff begins; the infrastructure, the economic development, the good governance, even effective information operations. All of that flows from providing local security, and in turn local security becomes better because of all of those things.

He goes on to discuss non-kinetic operations:

When I was in Tikrit as a Brigade Combat Team Executive Officer in mid-2003, my unit was already executing counterinsurgency operations, rebuilding the area’s economic infrastructure, restoring essential services, and establishing governance projects. ~COL Gian Gentile, "A (Slightly) Better War: A Narrative and Its Defects"

Okay, now we've gotten to where COL Gentile has a point that I don't feel that he states clearly, but that I've been touching on for awhile; the Army is not suited for all of the aspects of counterinsurgency. The Colonel is correct in respect to what the Army is good at; killing people and breaking things. What is the Army not well-suited to?

Nation-building. At least, not all aspects of nation-building.

The Army is well-equipped, but not well-organized for advising and mentoring a variety of indigenous personnel. The Army and Police come to mind. Dr. Nagl attempts to offer a solution for that failure in organization. His idea of an Advisor Corps is not well-received within the Army (my perception.) I don't really see his Combat Advisor Tab ever coming to fruition, either. The lack of support that the combat advisor mission receives is a story all its own. It is a mission that many avoid. There is no professional benefit, and until recently it was actually a career-slower if not a career-killer. That's what really demonstrates the importance of the mission to Big Army.

Say it's a priority, but then make it so that it's unappealing. On top of that, provide no clear guidance to commanders on the ground what the mission really is or how to deal with Combat Advisors who are working in their battlespace. Provide no support. It's a backwater, under-resourced mission. If you are an advisor, you will likely be on your own a lot. You will be an unwanted guest on a FOB, constantly questioned as to why you are doing certain things with your people, and sometimes even told that you cannot move because you don't have enough assets.

Local commanders will see you and the indigenous forces which you advise as their assets. If you are not doing what they want for you to do, they will exert great pressure upon you to do so. You will not be answerable to your owning command, you will be answerable to the local battlespace commander, to whom you will also report, and who will pay more attention to your reports than the advisor command. This can be beneficial when you have a battlespace commander who "gets it." It is the worst imaginable case if he doesn't.

Dr. Nagl's recommendations will not be adopted by the Army. However, Big Army has no better plan. Things will continue to go as they have; there hasn't been enough pain to make it otherwise. That's part of why I say that Big Army isn't under the thrall of counterinsurgency doctrine, as COL Gentile fears. He describes it as "Svengali-like." Trust me, having been there at the ground floor, it's not. Having worked with line units, some of whom were totally lousy at working with indigenous forces, it isn't. Much more of the Army is in his camp than in Dr. Nagl's.

The point is that the Army should be good at those aspects of counterinsurgency that it is well-suited to. It's hit-or-miss with those aspects, with no consistency of the quality of the effort. However, as far as the aspects of nation-building that the Army is not suited to, something needs to be done. There are NGO's out there that can do a lot of good things. True economic development is not the realm of the Army. Not the United States Army, anyway. The People's Army is a very enterprising Army; it owns a lot of businesses (NORINCO, which makes weapons that are sold in the United States, is owned by the People's Army.)

The NGO's usually provide human services of various types. Most of them are not economically oriented, unless they are trying to assist farmers. Where is the great industrial might of the United States? Well, they aren't allowed to play. Witness Free Range International's post. The whole story isn't about economic development, but when he says that the State Department says that Americans aren't supposed to travel in Afghanistan, and that they won't help you if you get into trouble, that's a pretty good indication of why there isn't a lot of economic development being done in Afghanistan.

It's left up to the Army. No wonder we're struggling. That and the corruption that Tim describes in his post. It's crippling.

To Sum It Up

Dr. Nagl wins this round. He is correct that this is the war that we are fighting, and that COIN is the doctrine that will bring success. He's also accurate in his assertion that the Army is not doing a very good job of evangelizing the doctrine.

COL Gentile's has a great point in that nation-building in all its manifestations are not best left to the Army alone. He also loses his point in opposing COIN doctrine due to its treatment of kinetics. In his writings he frequently mentions fighting or the lack of emphasis on fighting. Those days are not likely gone forever, but that is not the present. We are not doing a good enough job of living in the present. When we truly are expert counterinsurgents, then we can probably spend more time thinking about how we need to be prepared for the future.

In the meantime, don't sell the tanks or the howitzers. What I'd like to see is COL Gentile offering a solution that allows us to pursue this war to a successful completion while maintaining the core competencies of AirLand Doctrine. Dr. Nagl offered a plan, but it has died for lack of enthusiasm. Lamenting the problem while offering no viable solution other than decrying COIN doctrine as a danger to our national interests is no help.
Read full post with comments

Monday, November 17, 2008

Peter Marton's Question About Afghans: Part 2

A post or so ago I referenced Peter Marton's post about Wech Baghtu and addressed one issue on that post that I found significant. It wound up being a lengthy post, mostly about terps (interpreters,) who I have nothing but respect for.

That article concerned an assertion by an alleged airstrike victim who claimed to have had his phone, papers and four dollars in Afghanis stolen from him by an interpreter. I don't buy it, and I explained my experiences with terps to illustrate my skepticism.

Marton ends his post with a deep question. At least I think it's deep. It's not a cornerstone type of question; it's a keystone type of question.

Meanwhile put prejudices aside, because having prejudices apparently doesn't come with better control exercised - so having prejudices is not good. Not even in a narrow, instrumental sense.
* Of course the ANA should not at all be judged based on single incidents, I'm not trying to create an overall bad image of them. Based on what I know, while ANA soldiers may commit bad things just like anyone else, they are doing quite well considering the pay, the training and the equipment they get (which is still better than that what the police gets). Also, based on sources I had access to, American soldiers and other soldiers who have been to combat with ANA units, tend to appreciate them more than others. But I still have heard complaints from trainers and soldiers and the like from some sources. Anyway, now that brought this subject up, I wonder what you people think of the relationship between Afghan and foreign soldiers, and how it varies from place to place or depending on other factors. Let me know. ~ Peter Marton

What follows is this soldier's impressions about relationships with Afghans. There are thousands of other Combat Advisors out there who have had experiences with Afghan soldiers. If you are a Combat Advisor veteran, consider this an open invitation to express your own thoughts about it on this blog. Email them to and I'll post your thoughts.

My earliest experiences with Afghans were with ANA soldiers. While we saw ANP soldiers on the streets of Kabul and Jalalabad in our early jaunts about the land outside the wire, there was nothing to judge them by but the relative professionalism of the ANA. The ANP didn't come out too well in my mind in these early evaluations. Of course, at that point I was still congratulating myself on my luck in being able to work with the ANA.

When O, Maniac and I were initially detached from the team, it took several weeks to get downrange and actually get to know some Afghans. Initially, we met Provincial Headquarters types. They were cordial. LTC SFowski had been working with them for months, and he and his team had developed relationships. It was a little awkward for us, but that was because of us. The Afghans were very friendly and outgoing.

Within a short time we would move downrange and a few days later we met the ones who were to be our charges under the initial plan.

They were a mystery; they came from Tag Ab, way down in a valley that we had not ventured into. The Tab Ab Valley had a mythic reputation. The Special Forces had only recently been involved in a massive TIC (Troops In Contact... a fight) in the valley. We met the district ANP leadership and some of their soldiers who accompanied them for security.

There was no requirement for hospitality from these Afghans; they had come to our firebase to meet with us. This put the onus for hospitality on us. The ANP soldiers viewed us with suspicion as their officers were greeted and invited into a small concrete building that the Special Forces had gotten built not far from the front gate on the firebase. We met for several days with these officers, and we were not impressed.

The district Police Chief, who did not reside in the valley and had a reputation for being absent from his post, was not exactly a ball of fire. Some of his staff seemed potentially trainable, but others seemed intransigent. These ANP had been pinned down inside their district station for a full day only a month or so earlier. We got the impression that they were taking their lives in their hands simply by driving from Tag Ab to Nijrab for the meetings.

We showed them a map of the valley, gave them magic markers, and asked for some information. "Mark in green," we said, "where the ANP are in control. Mark in orange where it is not safe, but the Taliban are not in control. Mark in red where the Taliban are in control."

Nods. They set to work busily, fingers pointing, discussion flowing, markers making that scratchy noise they make on paper. In a few minutes they were done, and presented us with their work.

There was a small green area around the District Center. Orange blobs extended to less than a kilometer from the green dot. The rest of the valley was a mass of red dots.

"Hmmm... we've got work to do."

O briefed them on the idea of community policing; 24/7 coverage, shifts, active patrolling. One ANP officer, eyes wide, stated that they couldn't patrol like that. They didn't have machine guns, he claimed, and the Taliban did.

"Kill them and take their machine guns," O stated flatly, "then you will have machine guns." Eyes became wider, and excuses flowed like water.

Like I said, we were not impressed.

A few weeks later we trained ANAP (Afghan National Auxiliary Police, a now-defunct program) at the nearby "highway building." Among our trainees we had smart guys, enthusiastic guys, John Wayne types (which doesn't really work for Afghans, so they were more like Jan Mohammad Wayne types,) shy young men, curious types, a born leader or two, and one who was clearly a full bubble out of plumb. I think that he was developmentally disabled.

We also met a corrupt ANP officer. His fate was to be tied to our presence, and the men that we were training. That's another story. While we were training the ANP, they complained that they were not getting meat in their meals. This officer had been given money to buy meat for the soldiers. LTC SFowski had to make clear to him that bad things would happen if he didn't provide the meat that was paid for.

Shortly thereafter there was planning, training for, and then the execution of Operation Nauroz Jhala (New Year's Hail.) By the end of this operation, I would say that my opinion of Afghans had matured. I found that I respected many of them. I found that many of them were like my own soldiers at home. I found that cared about them.

You see, lumping the Afghans together as a bunch is just as deceiving as lumping any other bunch together. They are individuals. The only thing that you can really point to as a group are their traditions, their religion, and their customs. Other than that, I found them to be a group of men, just like any other group of men. There are the proud, the brave, the strong, the cowardly, the weak, the smart, the stupid, the moral, the immoral, the Godly and the ungodly.

Their culture breeds certain things into them that we may not like, some things that we are uncomfortable with, and some things that make them among the most hospitable people in the world. Some will focus too much on the aspects of their culture that cannot be changed right now or are a waste of effort to focus on in combat.

Yes, they have an archaic culture. Yes, they have a culture whose treatment of women is driven by a deeply ingrained male inferiority complex (which I think is partially a result of their history of being conquered and pillaged.) Yes, those things need to change. Focusing on those issues right now is like deciding to change your underwear in the middle of a firefight. It'll make your butt feel better, but it doesn't help win the fight and you may not complete the task if you get whacked in mid-change.

It is not a high-payoff task; and it's actually counterproductive.

You have to focus on the things that really matter; like ethics, good governance, leadership and training.

If you can get past the cultural issues and see the basic stuff inside the man, then you will see many of the same attributes that men anywhere have. Afghans have some childlike aspects to them, as they have not had the same social experiences that we have, so all of the simple social practices that you may have had in high school, they have not perfected.

There were incidents. During the operation, ANP of my company were accused several times of stealing. I believe that they did steal a couple of cell phones, but I couldn't convince the Colonel to search the men who had searched the particular khalats where the accusations were made. There were also patently false accusations. One was alleged to have happened on a day when my ANP were not in that area.

The problem is that the local people were only too willing to believe that the ANP had stolen, and in the Tag Ab Valley, word of mouth spread incredibly quickly. One or two bad apples can paint the whole bunch with the same brush. Not much different from here, huh?

I met some very noble Afghans. I met charismatic leaders. I met kids who were like American kids in many ways. The younger the Afghan, the more like us they are. The concerns of the Afghans are very similar to our concerns, but they live in a backward, harsh country. Their lives are simpler in many respects, but the simple tasks that they have to accomplish take considerable effort to complete.

I'm not entirely sure what separates a pro-government Afghan from an anti-government Afghan. The Taliban youth that I met were not externally different from the young men that I trained. The difference probably boiled down to associations; family and the circles that they traveled in. At one point I met an entire family; three generations of bad guys. One of them was a personal bodyguard of Mullah Mahmoud. Opium-growing, explosive-hiding, hashish-smoking bad guys who were no doubt involved with the same people who blew four of my ANP charges into the next world, leaving behind remains that literally had to be sorted.

They looked like farmers. Middle class Afghans.

Which brings me to the ultimate "how did I feel about the Afghans?" When those four men were brought in and O and I were sorting body parts, I was heartbroken. They were soldiers, just like any other soldiers I'd known; because they were mine. I took pride in their successes and said, "D'oh!" when they stepped on it. We shared missions, meals, and laughs. I had trained them in what short time we had to train and watched them progress and then regress in tactical situations.

Overall, they grew. It was only a little, but it was also a lot.

I met heroes. Some of them were Afghans.

At the core of questions of this type about Afghans is the unspoken question, "Are they worth it?" Perhaps when we look at our "impressions" of Afghans, we should recognize that the basic question concerns whether a nation of individuals is deserving of our efforts in the service of our own national security.
Read full post with comments

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Welcome Mat, A Little Housekeeping

I will continue my response to Peter Marton's invitation to discussion about the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces,) but first I'd like to do a couple of things.

Welcome to the Blogosphere!

Welcome to a couple of new bloggers recently BOG (Boots On Ground) in The Suck.

Longwarrior started blogging while in the Combat Advisor Course at Ft Riley. He's apparently going to mentor the ANA... of course, I am witness to the fact that such assignments may be subject to change without notice. Hopefully they've ironed that little glitch out of the system. It's a disconcerting thing, but certainly not a killer.

I'm still drawing breath, anyway.

Afghanistan Shrugged
, a nod to the novel by Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, is a well-written blog by an ETT team chief already downrange with the ANA at FOB Bermel, a scant 4K from the Pak border. His inaugural blog was on 11 October, but he's already qualled for his combat badge several times over, and he still seems to be in good spirits.

New blood is important to the blogosphere. I remember when I was still just a beginner as a blogger; a predecessor in the blogosphere, apparently suffering from PTSD, fired off a polemic about new bloggers. It was quite the rant, and almost made me feel guilty for being me. I managed to shrug it off, and the support from folks in the States made me feel like what I was doing was worthwhile.

I'm still doing it. Like Bouhammer, I'm going to do until either; a) I lose relevance, b) I am really tired of it, or c) I lose the ability to type.

These new guys are so important to keeping the stream of relevant information and experiences flowing. Please make them feel welcome by stopping by and sending them a note welcoming them to the medium. I know that there are some really wonderful people out there who will show them the same support as I received.

While I'm at it, thank you all; and you know who you are (I hope;) for your support while I was downrange. Now it's time to put some push behind these guys. It made a difference to me, and I know it will make a difference to them. If they get a tenth of the support I received, it will let them know how important what they are doing is and that they have not been forgotten in their time travels back to 1387.

There's another one out there pondering on whether to start one or not. I'm hoping he adds another voice to the chorus.

Gentlemen, welcome to the blogosphere.

[Editorial note: For a long time, I've never felt compelled to add a blogroll; I was the one who needed linking to, after all. I'm the little guy. Well, now there are ones who are littler than me (for the time being,) and so I finally can steer traffic to someone else and feel like I may actually add to their readership. As long as I was doing that, I just added a few of my favorites as well. Don't be insulted if your favorite is not on there yet... I'm still a nube to this, after all, and I'm still working on it. It doesn't mean I don't read them.]

Speaking of not being able to type...

Project Valour IT is a project to provide voice-enabled laptops to wounded warriors, an amazingly effective way to assist in their recovery and keep them connected. While people like Dana White have been raising money for Fisher House (she met her goal, THANK YOU!!!) so that their immediate family can be near them while they recover, Project Valour IT has been helping them stay connected to the larger world as well. Unfortunately, there is a great demand for their services; and they are now out of money.

Yup, it's another opportunity to put your money where your yellow ribbon is.

Now, I'm not the wizard behind all of this, but there are those who are smarter about it than I am.

Anyway, they've divided into teams by service. Guess whose team I'm on? Here's a hint and a link to make a donation:

Soldiers Angels and people like Dana White (Fisher House) are the undecorated heroes of this war. They sacrifice time and treasure so that wounded warriors are taken care of and soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines downrange can feel the love. There are civilian medals that I hope that someone (with some rank) will someday fill out a few 638's and recognize these folks for their unselfish acts of wondrous kindness and patriotism. (Hint, hint, you O-6 and above's out there.)

And finally...

O adds a poke-in-the-eye to Meo.

Nick Meo is on vacation this week, due "back in the office" this coming week. While there is speculation on what that means (pray it's not Afghanistan,) we are going to put one more finger in his eye. Without further ado, here's what O has to say:

Dear Gentlemen,
I would like to present my opinion on your recent article concerning your mishap while embedded with a PMT team while in Afghanistan.

Initially I would like to extend you the promise of a tomorrow. That meaning a soldier died in the performance of his duties AND the protection of a non-combatant reporter. I speak first hand of taking reporters into dangerous places not far from where Mr. Nick Meo was. War is dangerous and people die.

My fellow soldiers kept you alive! Your comments about the post it note are outrageous lies. Your failure to respect the life of a fallen soldier is utterly ridiculous. In retrospect those surviving soldiers could have left you behind, not taken care of you, etc.

You opted to take space on a helicopter in a region where weight savings and altitude for empty flight risk the lives of the crew. I truly feel you are a coward and not worthy of reporting anything. If your employer feels the need to retain you as an employee I sure hope I never hear of you in Afghanistan again.

I'll ask one question in closing. I doubt I'll get a response. Would you have filmed the death and immediate reactions of fellow British soldiers. I have worked side by side with French, German. Norwegian and British soldiers in Afghanistan. Never would we disrespect a fallen comrade.

No thanks


I've got to put out another call for everyone who will take a moment to send one more email to The Telegraph, encouraging them to keep Meo in the UK, not spewing drivel all over Afghanistan. Zabiullah Mujahid does plenty of that, thank you.

Here is the email address for the editors of The Telegraph. Help defeat the insidious spread of Meoism; please send them an email and encourage them to keep Meo contained in the UK.
Read full post with comments

Friday, November 14, 2008

An Answer To An Open Question

This from Peter Marton at [My] State Failure Blog:

Alex Strick van Linschoten reports of witness accounts of an apparently reckless case of bombing that killed people at a wedding party in Kandahar province. Regarding the concerns about civilian casualties caused by the inevitably awkward use of air power in Afghanistan, the incident is telling as any other similar incident of this kind is from the past. I'd note here something else, that shouldn't be overlooked, either - quote from Alex coming up:
"Rahmatullah, another man present in Wech Baghtu (the village that was bombed), claimed that the translators had robbed them after tying them up. "They took 200 Afghani [about $4] and my mobile phone and all the papers from my pockets," he said."
This is important for the attention of soldiers operating on patrols in Afghanistan. Are you making sure this kind of thing doesn't happen? Are you sure the Afghans at your side, taking indirect and direct fire in engagements together with you, bearing pain together with you, are necessarily "good guys" overall? ~ Peter Marton, [My] State Failure Blog

Just to set the stage, the larger article is about another supposed wedding bombing by ISAF. How many weddings is that this year? It’s been a minimum of three claimed bombed weddings this year. It seems like if you have an airstrike in Afghanistan, someone will claim that you bombed a wedding. Pictures of hospitalized victims add to credibility, but they could also have been civilians nearby when insurgents drew fire in their direction, as they often do.

I don’t know. I wasn’t there. This post isn’t about the aerial suppression of nuptial celebrations in Afghanistan. It’s about my experience with Afghan soldiers and interpreters. I’m not contending with Mr. Marton; not in the least. He raised an interesting issue and actually asked for some thoughts on it.

* Of course the ANA should not at all be judged based on single incidents, I'm not trying to create an overall bad image of them. Based on what I know, while ANA soldiers may commit bad things just like anyone else, they are doing quite well considering the pay, the training and the equipment they get (which is still better than that what the police gets). Also, based on sources I had access to, American soldiers and other soldiers who have been to combat with ANA units, tend to appreciate them more than others. But I still have heard complaints from trainers and soldiers and the like from some sources. Anyway, now that brought this subject up, I wonder what you people think of the relationship between Afghan and foreign soldiers, and how it varies from place to place or depending on other factors. Let me know. ~ Peter Marton, [My] State Failure Blog

Okay, Peter; I’m letting you know.

First, there is something that I want to correct in the story I linked to. The ANA and the ANP are paid exactly the same (much to the consternation of the ANA.) ANP pay reform is one of the things that happened while I was in country. It was accompanied by rank reform, as the ANP had been very top-heavy rank-wise. The same thing had been done to the ANA previously. Some of the officers were retired, some were re-frocked at lower (more appropriate) officer ranks, and some were recommended for positions as NCO’s (the ANP were just as clueless as to what to do with an NCO Corps as the ANA were initially. They probably still are.)

Interpreters do not work for the ANA. Actually, they are civilian contractors provided by a single company who has won a contract to provide interpreters that the Army and Marine mentors use. There are good terps, there are very good terps, and there are marginal terps, who usually don’t last very long. Most terps who have more than six months of experience are either good or very good.

Some are exquisite.

Sam the Combat Terp was exquisite. His English was good, but there were other terps whose English was more precise. It wasn’t just his language skills that made him exquisite. Sam is a patriot. Many of them are. I can’t imagine Sam stealing. I just can’t. Sam hated corruption. He hated hashish and tarak. He loathed lazy soldiers and especially lazy officers. Sam would chew more Afghan ass than a dozen Americans ever could. I believe that Sam saved my life.

Many of us have had varying experience with terps. O had one down in the southern part of the Tagab Valley during Operation Nauroz Jhala that we had borrowed from our good friends at TF Gladius. Zamid was a tall, slender, soft-spoken and deferential young man from Gladius’ interpreter pool. He had never seen combat before. In Zamid’s first contact with the enemy, as O was shouting directions to his ANP charges he suddenly realized that his directions were not being echoed in Dari or Pashto. He shouted for Zamid and looked around for him.

Zamid was doing his gangly best to shelter under a rock in a roadside ditch. "Get up, Zamid! You've got to tell them what I'm saying!" O shouted.

"Noooo, sir, they are shooting at me!" wailed Zamid.

O unceremoniously snatched him up by the collar and marionette-walked the taller Zamid with him, hollering to him that he would relay his instructions to the ANP and he would be going wherever O went. O and his terp-marionette got the ANP sorted out and the ANP fire drove off the ambushers.

O had a very serious chat with Zamid indeed. O came to view young Zamid with a certain amount of paternal affection by the end of the operation, but there were times that he promised Zamid that he would kill him before the Taliban could if he didn’t get up and do his job.

Sam, on the other hand, is the epitome of a fighting terp. Soft-spoken and deferential with Americans, he is ferocious with Afghans when he needs to be. Sam’s father, a Major in the ANA, was downrange a lot. Sam is the eldest son. Terps get death threats sometimes, and Sam and his family got their share. He moved his entire family twice while I was there, on his days off.
Sam carried his pride and joy, a Russian AK-47 (an honest-to-God AK-47, not an AKM) date-stamped 1951, that we had borrowed from another element. Sam knew how to use it, and how not to use it. He was the image of an Afghan Clint Eastwood with his AK.

Sometimes you can say a lot and your terp will say one sentence to your Afghan counterpart. That is very likely your own fault, as you have tried to forcibly insert ten pounds of manure into a five pound bag. I could tell an Afghan officer that he needed to straighten something up and Sam would just lay into him. Sam knew the procedures well enough that he would often correct a soldier before I could get my mouth open.

I’ll never forget the second day of the operation, when Sam called out a question in Pashto to two local men who simply ignored him. Sam hopped with both feet from the elevated dike-wall we were walking on… directly onto the largest hashish plant next to the wall. It was at least a seven foot plant, with a stem base as big as your wrist. The smell of mating skunks filled the air as Sam tore into the trunk with a large knife.

That got their attention. When they moaned about their hashish, Sam told them, “You shouldn’t be growing that. It’s illegal; you know that. I didn’t notice it was there until you wouldn’t answer me. Then I saw it and I have to destroy it because it’s not legal to have this.” Point taken, Sam.

Sam wasn’t just my terp; he was the team terp, but he was my terp for Operation Nauroz Jhala, when each of us had a small team of Americans, an 80-100 ANP “company,” and one up-armor apiece. I felt so lucky to have had him. While O was perfecting his puppetry skills with Zamid, my terp was the least of my worries.

Then there was a glitch. After about three weeks Sam asked to go to a family member’s wedding. One of his buddies, Harif, also from the terp pool, volunteered to stand in for him. I was concerned that he wouldn’t be good. He was so quiet.

Harif, SGT Surferdude and I wound up seven miles from the nearest Americans (all five of them) with 40 ANP in the middle of the night up a valley that no Americans had been up before. Harif was a relatively unknown quantity at that point. I was to find out that he is an amazing young man; bright, energetic, patriotic. He was scared to death, he told me later, but he went. That guy is a terp.

Sam had been in over 50 ambushes before we got him. Several months after Operation Nauroz Jhala he was on another combat operation when someone hopped in the humvee in a panic and took off after being spooked by a spent bullet, leaving Sam outside the vehicle. There are still copies floating around of the audio which was recorded on the flight recorder of an Apache that was in support that day. Recovered from the Gunmetal archives was this gem:

"(Censored)6, this is (censored)22, be advised that your terp is on your trunk, over."

The humvee ground to a halt and there was Sam in the swirling dust, an antenna in each hand, perched with his feet on the spare, thoroughly disgusted. Most men would have killed someone. Sam, on the other hand, didn't like to talk about it.

That guy is a terp.

Men like Sam and Harif are the very hope of Afghanistan. If you go over to Bouhammer, you will find a story of how one of his terps was killed in action this year. Read that story and see if you don’t hear the same admiration in his post.

I could write a book about the terps. They are patriots, and each has a vision of what Afghanistan can be. It’s not the same as my vision, because it is an Afghan vision, seen through Afghan eyes. Their vision is much more realistic than mine, I’m sure. I can’t even imagine any of our terps shaking anyone down. Nor can I imagine any of our officers or NCO’s abiding with that.

On the other hand, there are the IO campaigns.

So now terps are targets of IO? Not just now; it's not like it just happened out of nowhere. Terps are and have been a huge thorn in the side of the anti-government forces in Afghanistan all along. Our interpreters were threatened via text messages on their phones. Their families were threatened. They often wore shemaghs over their faces in certain areas to prevent being identified. They live dangerous lives simply due to their work. Sam was specifically targeted by the anti-government forces in our area and in Kabul. We had to put controls on his movement after a while, not letting him travel alone.

So Rahmatullah says that the terp took his stuff while he was tied up by the Americans. Well, we never tied anyone up. Handcuffed once or twice, but never tied up. I even had to work to get on the ANP to handcuff the guy who had an anti-tank mine and a bunch of RPG warheads buried feet from his house. I had to explain to them (through Sam) that this grinning fool wanted to kill them with that mine. I'm not sure that they really grasped that until about three weeks later when four of them were killed in that same sub-valley, the Afghania Valley, in an IED attack. I think that they got it after that. No, we never tied anyone up. I never heard of anyone being tied up, either. Our terps never searched anyone, either. Not once.

I wonder how that happened then. Well, no matter. Rahmatullah's story was repeated, which is the whole idea. It's on the web. That's even better than having the people in the next village over hating terps because a terp stole Rahmatullah's phone and four bucks.

I do have to wonder about the veracity of Rahmatullah's story, given my personal experiences with interpreters. I wasn't there, so I can't say. Of course, his story contravenes everything I've seen from terps, but what do I know?

Well, that was long; and I've only covered the terp issue. It seems that there was a lot to say about terps. Perhaps the relationship with Afghan forces will have to be followed up on in another post.
Read full post with comments

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Information Operations: Pop Culture Pops Soldiers In The Eye

Ariana Huffington asked Scott Kesterson to gather the impressions of soldiers for The Huffington Post. He did it. Personally, I wish that he hadn't. If he had politely declined, I would have been spared discovering how what appears to be more than half of my country feels about soldiers and our political thought.

This blog has maintained a largely apolitical stance. I do not address those issues, preferring to simply address the issues that I have something unique to add to. Political campaigns have even sought my approval, but I have maintained my stance as best I can. I encourage everyone to vote. If you did not vote when you could have, shame on you. If you give up on the process, you deserve what you get.

That being said, there is a disturbing trend out there that I have addressed before, as when in February of this year Lizette Alvarez of The New York Times posted her second in a series of articles that painted returning veterans as dangerous victims of war, something that is akin to the feeling of having my teeth etched with a razor blade.

Many soldiers have expressed that we do not like being portrayed as victims. It suits a particular agenda to paint us as such. It makes for gripping theater, to be sure. There's more to it than that, though. This nation has been trying to "support the troops" consciously; to avoid making the same horrible mistake that was made with the treatment of Viet Nam veterans. While to some supporting the troops means bringing us home as quickly as possible whether the job is done or not, there are those for whom discrediting the troops while appearing to support us is really what's on the agenda. Why would someone do that? I think that the answer to that is complex, because I'm not sure that the motivation is the same for everyone.

For the commenters on The Huffington Post, the answer seems to be that soldiers have become a voice of dissension in the current political climate. They must be crazy, right? The explanations they come up with range from latent Nazism to the effects of military training brainwashing our minds, removing the capacity for independent thought. The vigor with which the the soldiers are attacked for their opinions was stunning.

Why the consistent art (films) portraying warriors as aberrant beings? Why are people sinking millions of dollars into cinematic depictions of soldiers as less than stellar persons?

Hey, I'm open to suggestions. How about some comments on this? What are your ideas as to what their motivations are? Another query; can anyone cite a movie that portrays veterans of the GWOT in a positive light?

What was Lizette Alvarez's motivation in portraying, in a calculated series of articles, returning veterans as dangerous victims; a bunch of abused children who are actually hazardous to your health to be in proximity to? Her depiction was shown to be false; it turns out that you are actually less likely to be murdered by a war veteran than by a non-veteran. Still, her articles would leave you looking at your own veteran relative out of the corner of your eye, wondering what the telltale sign may be that he was going to snap and viciously attack you with murderous intent.

Some muggings are less stylish. Nick Meo's character assassination of Easyrider was clumsy and full of easily disproven lies. The thing is that it's not an isolated event. Meo's screed was a symptom of a larger illness. Hey, I can recognize Information Operations when I see them. Not all propaganda is government-issue.

I'm not the only one who sees this; evidence this well-written article by Andrew Klavan which appears in City Journal. Klavan, author of several novels (at least one of which has been made into a movie,) sees things from the viewpoint of someone who has been exposed to Hollywood close-up. His point remains that even the movies of today portray soldiers in general and combat veterans in particular as either pawns victimized by a heinous conspiratorial government or as sociopathic rapist-killers (as in DePalma's recent effort.)

Klavan did a short embed in one of my old stomping grounds; FOB Kalagush in Nuristan. He does a good job of depicting the challenges of the PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) in Nuristan, and how spooky Nuristan can be to operate in. This article highlights many things that I would like to address as far as helping to make progress in Afghanistan, but one thing that stands out is his refusal to take the low road dramatically.

Take the time to read his article. It's a good snapshot of a little-known area and the struggle to make incremental progress there. If he hasn't been replaced, I knew the Police Chief who is making the mumbled promises to investigate those who ambushed the PRT. The fact is that he hasn't had mentorship since my team left there. There hasn't been the manpower to provide it to him. Any progress that we ever made with his district has long since evaporated. With a hostile police chief just up the road in a neighboring district facilitating the anti-government forces, our guy is out in the breeze.

Tomorrow morning we will wake up to Veteran's Day. I can tell you that reading the comments on HuffPo has taken any muted sense of pride in my veteran status and turned it into a smoldering sense of discontentment with my fellow citizens. The heinous remarks about the men in that little FOB near the Pakistan border, the fact that a political difference can bring out those prejudices, means that the contempt that we are held in is barely concealed.

This is a trend. It's disturbing to see it happening; it's sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle. It is becoming acceptable to portray us as an underclass, to hold us in contempt either as idiot victims or as sociopaths. Where is the backlash?

When IO goes uncontested, many will accept it as fact.

There will be a special Veterans Day Show on Blog Talk Radio's You Served radio show Tuesday, November 11th from 9-11pm. Guests will include two Medal of Honor recipients and the last surviving officer from WW-II's Marine Combat Team 28. It promises to be a very special show, with veterans of WW-II, Viet Nam, Desert Storm, and the GWOT. You can find it at Blog Talk Radio or download it later from the same site as a podcast. Go see my friend Bouhammer for more details on the guests.
Read full post with comments

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Here's An Embed Who Got It - Steve Featherstone

Steven Featherstone’s article, “Human quicksand for the U.S. Army, a crash course in cultural studies,” in the September, 2008 issue of Harpers Magazine is a much more insightful piece of analysis than anything I’ve seen lately from journalists. Mr. Featherstone embedded with an HTT (Human Terrain Team) in Khost Province, Afghanistan in July, 2007 and came away with a valuable critique of our basic way of functioning in such an environment as Afghanistan.

Mr. Featherstone begins with a quip about what it’s like sitting around an airbase in Kuwait, waiting to fly into country. His depiction of the mental amusement that teams engage in when stuck in a holding pattern is a peek into the world of military teams in travel. You will find discussions and amusements like this in nearly any team (unless it is dysfunctional) in the Army as they transit into a combat zone.

He then launches into an examination of the foreign policy of President Bush and Condoleeza Rice to set the stage for why the U.S. Army is caught in the role of nation-builder.

This militarization of American foreign policy has not been some ad hoc response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. It began long before, and indeed it represents a fundamental realignment in how America deals with the rest of the world. The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reveal how unprepared the military has been for its expanded mission, but the State Department has not reasserted itself in response: under Condoleeza Rice, the department has instead reoriented itself toward “transformational diplomacy,” a term she coined in a 2006 speech that outlined her vision of a department “that not only reports about the world as it is but seeks to change the world itself.” ~ Steve Featherstone

The HTT that originally deployed to Khost Province in February, 2007, briefed in Featherstone and the team he was with at FOB Salerno on the morning after Featherstone arrived there. Their in-brief included a detail that is quite significant; that team had originally been given a spce in the S-2 (Intelligence) section. This indicates how difficult it is to incorporate some key additions to counterinsurgency. I’m sure that no one really got buy-in from the brigade commander on whose staff this team found themselves. He put them where, at first blush, they seemed to fit. Wasn’t their job to feed him information on the “human terrain?”

Not really. It’s okay; he figured it out.

That June, the brigade conducted its first major combat maneuver, Operation Maiwand, in neighboring Ghazni province. The HTT went into the field for a month. Because they weren’t tied down by the exacting demands of combat, the team traveled in relative freedom to dozens of villages, holding impromptu shuras, or town meetings, with hundreds of Afghans in an effort to understand how the Taliban influenced the local population. What they discovered would be familiar to anyone who cares to read past the headlines. Taliban support stems from two endemic facts of Afghan life: extreme poverty and lack of security. The United States doesn’t have enough troops in Afghanistan to accomplish much beyond chasing Taliban and Al Qaeda militants from one hiding place to another, to say nothing of securing the country so that a functioning economy can take root.

One Afghan villager Rick spoke to put it more succinctly when asked why his village supported the Taliban. “‘How often do you come here?’” Rick said, paraphrasing the man. “‘Maybe once a year, twice a year? They’re here every other night. Who do I support? Who do I have to support?’” ~ Steve Featherstone

The quote above from the article is so much more important for the understanding of the mission in Afghanistan than most things found in popular journalism today. It is glossed over and forgotten in an article that now lies dormant in Harpers Magazine’s archive. It is not attracting attention, nor is it finding itself into the discussions of what is being cast more and more as a deep mystery that the western mind is incapable of cracking the code to.

Steve Featherstone has found the nut. He has found and articulated the basic block upon which a coherent strategy must be based. There is no doubt in my mind that GEN Petraeus has this figured out, as well as many high-ranking officers in the chain of command that reaches into Afghanistan. Mr. Featherstone has also pointed out the part that sets us up more for failure as much as any other factor; one horse is rigged to a two-horse cart. Great draft horse that it may be, the U.S. Army is not, should not, and may never be capable of comprehensive nation-building.

Mr. Featherstone then goes on to explain the basics of subornation in such an environment;

The team found no evidence of a blanket philosophy, either religious or cultural, that made Afghans sympathetic toward the Taliban. The Taliban bought their support from vulnerable populations, and the exchange took many forms. Young Afghan men earning $250 a year often had to go abroad to earn enough money—up to $10,000—to buy a wife; or they could take bribes from the Taliban to plant bombs. Poor families sent their sons to be educated in Taliban madrasas in Pakistan, and in return received a motorcycle or a cell phone. Orphaned boys were perhaps the cheapest Taliban recruits. An incensed Afghan official in one village presented Tracy with a boy who had wandered into the district governor’s compound a month earlier. The boy wore an explosive vest that the Taliban had told him would burst with flowers and candy, but he didn’t know how to make the vest work. ~ Steve Featherstone

Whoa. There is nothing there detailing generations of tribal rivalries, centuries of mountain redoubt militancy, or indefatigable Pashtun military supremacy. Oddly enough, with a little imagination (very little,) you could change a few words and illustrate the story of how a baby boy born into a poor neighborhood winds up as a lookout or a soldier for crack dealers. It’s not so difficult to understand people; but the first task is to see them as people, not as storybook characters in a Kipling tale.

Steve Featherstone captured that in a mainstream media publication. He analyzed the connection from the Presidential level all the way down to a kid with a suicide vest in Afghanistan, and managed to do it without calling forth Kiplingesque images of all-powerful Pashtun tribesmen slaughtering all who ventured forth.

He also managed to put his finger on the thorn in the side of the Army; my Army; kinetic vs non-kinetic operations in the warrior culture.

Before “culture” the military watchword was “transformation,” a term that was used to signify a leaner and more lethal fighting force—exactly the sort of force that is presently bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, Major General (retired) Robert Scales submitted a report on the Iraq War to the House Armed Services Committee titled “Army Transformation: Implications for the Future,” in which he argued that the U.S. military had ignored the war’s “‘cultural’ phase” that began in the spring of 2003. The signal to shift from combat to stability operations wasn’t subtle—Baghdad was being ransacked—but American soldiers and diplomats stood by while looters carted off Iraq’s cultural treasures, an event that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defined as an “untidy” exercise in free will. Recent changes in the military’s top leadership also reflect a belated awareness that we are not fighting Desert Storm II.

Robert Gates, who replaced Rumsfeld as defense secretary in December 2006, acknowledged that after the Vietnam War, “the Army relegated unconventional war to the margins of training, doctrine, and budget priorities,” leaving it “unprepared to deal with the operations that followed” in Afghanistan and Iraq. General David Petraeus was appointed the top commander in Iraq in 2007 based on the perceived success he had achieved with the 101st Airborne in stabilizing Mosul. In a Military Review article he wrote about that experience, Petraeus asserts that “knowledge of the cultural ‘terrain’ can be as important as, and sometimes even more important than, knowledge of the geographic terrain… people are, in many respects, the decisive terrain.” ~ Steve Featherstone

Okay. That makes sense, but it does sound a bit weird. Featherstone follows it up;

All of this attention the military is lavishing on culture, however, threatens to suck Petraeus’s assertion dry of meaning—or, worse, to misapprehend culture as a thing that might be recognized by the latest targeting systems. People are not terrain; they do not behave like landscapes; culture is not a stable environmental feature like a mountain or a river. A closer analogy might be quicksand. It looks solid but it is not. This understanding is proving to be a real challenge for an army that has shown great difficulty in dealing with anything it can’t drive over, blow up, or fit onto a PowerPoint slide in time for the battle-update briefing.

“We’re good at killing people and breaking things,” Fondacaro said when he and I first spoke about the concept of HTT. “That’s what we do best, and that’s what our military decision-making process focuses on.”

The excruciating literalness of the Human Terrain Team’s name is a product of the excruciating rigidity of the system it is designed to change. ~Steve Featherstone

There are a lot of good people out there (in A’stan and Iraq and either returned or on deck waiting to go) who are serious about building a couple of functioning nations. It is their cause, and it makes every bit the impact of the guy who walks the Korengal with an M-4 and the spirit of a tiger. Some may say more. It is not up to me to ascribe who makes more of an impact. What I can tell you is that Steve Featherstone’s article comes so much closer than PBS’s Frontline in actually depicting the challenges of what we are up against in Afghanistan.

There is more;

…But commanders didn’t need yet another piece of hardware, and they felt they were already drowning in information. What they needed, Fondacaro told me, were “expert culturally focused people who understand the operational relevance of cultural knowledge.” ~ Steve Featherstone

Drowning in information. I can tell you that is true. There is so much intel gathered that it is hard to glean that which is pertinent from that which is a distraction. The data stream is wide and deep. Featherstone details the impact that this can have on a commander’s decision-making process and how a different, people-centric view alters that process.

In his first tour of duty in Afghanistan, in 2002, Schweitzer said he had been “focused singularly and myopically on the enemy.” Pashtunwali, or anything else related to Afghan culture, didn’t figure in his battle plan. Even if an HTT had been available five years ago, he wouldn’t have known what to do with it. “I would’ve used it to have a better understanding of the population so I could eliminate them,” he said. “You can do that with the HTT, but that doesn’t win the fight. What wins the fight is not having to shoot folks, is not having to create any kinetic operation, but to win the people through non-kinetic, non-lethal effects. It’s a balance.”

Schweitzer was unequivocal in his support for the HTT. He was conscious of how that might sound to his peers—“whacked,” was how he put it. But he assured me his enthusiasm was grounded in facts. Since February, his brigade had reduced kinetic operations by 60 percent in favor of “non-lethal forms and sets of maneuver,” which had reduced both American and Afghan casualties. ~ Steve Featherstone

“Whacked,” he says. Here is a guy who “gets it” who knows that his peers would see him as “whacked.” That says a lot.

Featherstone goes on to write about a MEDCAP (now called a “Medical Engagement,” in a small unfriendly village in the province. There is no shooting, there are no casualties. This is where the day-to-day work is often done. This is warfighting, too. Unfortunately, it is rare for such visits because of the strength of the forces on the ground. When civilians hear the call for more forces, this is the part that they don’t think of, but it’s this type of operation that has tremendous capability to make an impact on Afghan citizens and it’s not sexy. It doesn’t bleed; so it goes into the archive of the magazine with no fanfare and no snappy production values like the Frontline piece.

Featherstone does a fabulous job not only of getting out there as an embed, but also at actually digesting the information provided to him and presenting it coherently. This is the type of journalist who I wouldn’t mind having to “babysit” while he rides in the back seat of my humvee rolling through the Afghan villages. He would listen and observe and actually have a chance of understanding, rather than focusing on how goofy an ANP may look with sandals or gym shoes on with his ANP gray uniform.

Some of those who ride with Featherstone on that MEDCAP aren’t all the way there, but they are trying. The doctor isn’t all that interested in the Ensign’s picture of his son while he tried to explain the village’s situation, but it did no harm. The same man then goes on to attempt to distribute televisions in a village beset by Taliban who are persecuting villagers for watching television.

These are the small struggles of this war. Featherstone has portrayed the bulk of this war so much more accurately than an entire staff at Frontline, and he does it without being condescending or pointing fingers. He conveyed the situation and an American officer doing his best to make a difference without the benefit of a military establishment that is geared to train him to do so. He is thrown out there to either “get it” or not.

Many do. Many don’t. All are under-resourced, operating in small teams out in the middle of nowhere with little to offer. Televisions are nice, but I can tell you that the doctor was more concerned with security for his clinic and where his medicines would come from next than he was in watching TV. Still, the Ensign is not allowed to bring the doctor medicine. That is supposed to come through his government’s channels; it often doesn’t make it to his level. This is where the war is being lost.

As an aside, I can tell you that the doctor’s thanks, detailing all that the Americans were sacrificing, was heard pretty frequently in Afghanistan. Many Afghans thanked me with the same litany of what I was sacrificing for them; they believed it was for them. It was, in part, but there is so much more to it than that.

Featherstone shows the combination of kinetic and non-kinetic only a few words later;

No amount of cultural analysis was going to help the doctor. Fondacaro agreed. Security was a fundamental need, he said, like food and shelter. Without it, people like the doctor had been forced to make compromises, and all of our American platitudes and encouragement “didn’t mean shit.” Fondacaro leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. But we could look at the doctor’s predicament as an opportunity, he said. Everybody in the village knew the guy was getting night letters. If we “nailed” the Taliban one night, that would send a clear message.

“Who’s the audience? The people. If I demonstrate success in protecting this guy’s life against a known threat, and I win . . . ” Fondacaro paused and looked over his shoulder at the empty room. “Audience, what do you think? Everybody’s holding up nines: 9.5, 9.8. It’s simply a decision that’s got to be made.” ~ Steve Featherstone

Featherstone’s article could have been written in the Tag Ab Valley or in Nurguram. Everywhere I went, I saw the same little dramas. That’s what tells me that what he captured was a more accurate “Presidential briefing” than anything done on Frontline or in any other analysis by a journalist.

I’ve pointed out a number of times before that it seems odd to me that the Armed Forces are tasked with attempting to rebuild a society, to include its economy, when that is not what we are good at (read nearly incapable of.) Is America incapable?


America is more than capable. America wants the Army to do it. America doesn’t care enough to think outside the military box and send in those who can do those things. We have them in great numbers, but many of them do not work for the government. I wrote about American businessmen once and told them to take the little flag off of their desks. Perhaps I was too hard on them. The State Department could recruit them, but the businessmen who consider themselves to be patriots could also push from their side; but they are not heeding the call.
Perhaps that is because they don’t hear a call.

Perhaps no one is calling.

Featherstone points up the lack of other hands involved in his closing paragraphs. As opposed to Meo’s drama-filled last paragraphs in his recent ‘analysis,’ Featherstone brings it into focus with no hellishly dramatic cry.

Many have criticized the HTT’s and those who engendered them. To me, the failure in training our Army for the realities of counterinsurgency at ground level are a problem that I, as a soldier, would like to see addressed. The “Strategic Corporal” and the “Strategic Captain” must be trained to be strategic, not just people trained to break things and kill people sent to build, break, and when necessary kill, but to kill appropriately. That is so much harder to do than it sounds.

GEN Petraeus “gets it.” The generals who report to him will either get it or they will wind up doing other things, I’m sure. The question is; do the guys going into the villages get it? Are we training them to get it, or they left up to their own devices? Are we incapable, as an institution, of providing that level of training?

Are we really trying?

These are the issues raised by Featherstone’s reporting. They are incredibly germane. It’s amazing that anything so germane was actually published in a mainstream publication. What isn’t surprising is what little note America took of it. The real truth was right under its nose, but America doesn’t know what to look for and instead lauds Frontline for a dramatic piece of fluff that fails to portray the reality of Afghanistan.

Good job, Steve. I’d have you embed with my team any time.
Read full post with comments