More after the jump
The main point of MAJ Davis' essay amounts to the "counter-terrorism strike theory" of containing threats emanating from this region. MAJ Davis declares al Qaeda to be in such a weakened state as to be incapable of causing any real harm to the United States interests or security and declares the Taliban to be absolutely harmless to American security. Davis invokes the specter of the indomitable Afghan who will draw together against any outsider and who will then set upon each other following such victory to squabble over the scarce resource spoils of Afghanistan. While ominous sounding, and backed by holding the defeated Soviet "counterinsurgency" up as an example, the analysis and recommendations are so disastrously flawed as to be irrelevant. This again begs the question of what is going on among the editorial staff at Armed Forces Journal. Of course, in the wake of the Obama administration's announcement of their policy for Afghanistan, it is irrelevant. One must wonder, though, if our Officer Corps is setting up the "I told you so." If this what is occurring, what is the commitment level of our officers in general to succeeding in this endeavor? If we are attempting a task with leadership who question the validity of the mission, what effect on that mission does this lack of commitment have?
Compelling evidence suggests that our previous troop increases have served only to increase the number of casualties we’ve suffered while witnessing a concurrent rise in enemy capability. MacGregor posits that military action ought to be avoided unless the probability of success outweighs the cost to achieve it, and even then only if our vital national interests have been sufficiently threatened. The main tenets of this concept, if applied properly, can provide a blueprint for an effective resolution to this complex and volatile war.
This evidence compels only when viewed through the particular lenses MAJ Davis has chosen to wear. When viewed through different lenses, it could compel one to agree with those many who have been on the ground in Afghanistan and decried the continual withdrawal into large, well-protected FOBs, and the resulting lack of security. Many who have served in Afghanistan and who "buy in" to the tenets of counterinsurgency have pointed out for several years that such "safety" is illusory. There is compelling evidence that as American forces withdrew into the large FOBs in Iraq, their casualties rose as they ceded the areas outside the Hescos to insurgent control. This tacit concession of the area "outside the wire" allowed insurgents to operate freely, to influence the population and to plant the most casualty-producing weapons at their disposal; the IED. We have done exactly the same thing in Afghanistan. Following Petraeus' pushing out from the FOBs, casualties spiked as the insurgents resisted losing their gains and then dropped sharply. By early summer of 2008, Afghanistan outstripped Iraq in American casualties. That is compelling evidence, too.
One other point about the paragraph cited above is that the Soviets did not perform counterinsurgency. Not in the least. The stories of Soviets who actually performed COIN are rare as hen's teeth. What the Soviets conducted was a brutal counter-guerrilla campaign. They did not appeal to any nascent government support. They did not try to win hearts and minds. They tried to stop hearts and destroy minds that they even thought supported the Mujaheddin. The Soviets razed and gassed villages wholesale. Destroyed villages still litter the countryside, mute evidence of the excesses of Soviet arms. There are no such villages slowly eroding in the Afghan sun evidencing such American displays of wanton destruction. Comparing the American experience in Afghanistan to the Soviet experience is a complete farce, and any officer who stretches that far shows no real understanding of a very simple difference.
MAJ Davis then publishes a time line which, while largely accurate in regards to timing events, slants the actual events. Again he refers to Soviet "counterinsurgency" and he also dismissively refers to a "small scale civil war" between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Again MAJ Davis demonstrates either willful slanting of events or an ignorance of events that disqualifies him from offering any advice for the conduct of operations in Afghanistan. The international recruiting and support for the Taliban by Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) and al Qaeda was documented in the summer of 2001 (prior to 9/11) by a journalist/researcher who actually interviewed POWs held by the Northern Alliance recruited by, paid by, and armed by both of those groups in the 1990's. This included Arab prisoners who were part of an "Arab Brigade" funded by al Qaeda.
MAJ Davis argues for disengagement in Afghanistan by maneuver forces and a fallback position of providing aid, support, air power and advisers to the Afghans, who he predicts would then fail to hold their territory. He finds the failure of Afghanistan to be acceptable, echoing Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap.
If we redeploy the bulk of our military forces — even if we provide advisers, logistic, intelligence, air and other support — it is possible that the Afghan government might eventually prove unable to stand on its own and could collapse. Zeihan went so far as to suggest this is inevitable because, as he put it, “geographically speaking, Afghanistan is ungovernable. It is a recipe for a failed state.”
But the hard question must be asked: Would the collapse of the current government after the withdrawal of our main combat troops, however undesirable, be better or worse than increasing the number of American combat forces in Afghanistan and possibly keeping the government afloat — but at the cost of a continually strengthening Taliban and increasing the number of dead American soldiers and Afghan civilians?
Geographically speaking, then, West Virginia and about half of Colorado are ungovernable, too. We should withdraw any United States support for the governments of both of those states and hope that nothing bad happens. If it does, though, there is no real security threat to the rest of the country then. Perhaps Idaho should be lumped into this as well. This all amounts to, "It's too hard! Why do we have to do this? Can't we just quit and go home?"
Forget the essay. It's just ridiculous pseudo-reasoning to support another, deeper goal. It's the song of an overwhelmed warrior who can no longer see past his own desire to go home and stay there, who has lost his will. There is a deeper problem.
I've got a really hard question for the editors of AFJ, which is; why in the past six months have they not published a significant article which advocates anything remotely resembling the plan for Afghanistan that was adopted by the Obama administration? Say what you want about the administration; they have tied into the smartest people on these issues, like David Kilcullen, that can be found; warriors who actually have the mental bandwidth to see the hard job clearly and come up with an actual plan. The major essays that AFJ has published are geared towards the abandonment of either the mission or the doctrine/lessons that have been learned in the past eight years. MAJ Davis, and the other contributors that AFJ has selected for publication are irrelevant to actually solving the problems that face our military, instead advocating abandonment of missions with which they have been tasked and a resolute clinging to doctrines that they feel are threatened by the requirements of the current conflict. In other words, the publication which is geared towards informing discussion among the flag officers of this country is not being helpful at all, but instead ridiculously archaic and obtuse.
While men like Kilcullen can put together a plan, we depend on these other officers to execute it, and you can tell from their rhetoric that they just don't want to do it. Read what they write, and it becomes clear.
Why would our nation's "premier publication for flag officers" continually counsel cutting and running? Is this the state, overall, of our Officer Corps? Are these gentlemen so baffled as to how to accomplish the mission that they shout what amounts to defeatism in the name of security from their main mouthpiece? It's actually quite disturbing, but it points out a significant problem with our refusal to embrace the mission with the vigor that a military mission requires. This is the root of the "two Armies... the one that is downrange fighting and the one that is in garrison in the United States." It also is a strong indicator why we do not train COIN in NCOES.
The nation is not asking us to consider showing up for work while explaining why it's not such a hot idea, gentlemen. It's telling us that it needs a job to be done. When I see this publication looking for a pathway to success and not a path to retreat, I will start to feel as if we are on the right track.