The "surge" of troops into Afghanistan is something that most of us who have been there have been recommending for years... as long as the added troops do helpful things. It does matter what they do, not just that they are there. It's important that we change not just the numbers that are in-country, but also the way in which they are used.
Most of us who have been there have pointed out the FOB mentality that reigns in Afghanistan, that ISAF forces withdraw into large FOBs at night and cede control of the countryside to the ACM, primarily operating under the name of the Taliban.
An article recently published details the problems that came up with the attempt to expand FOB Wolverine in Zabul Province. CPT Paul Tanghe, an ETT advising the ANA operating in the area, warned of the backlash that the locals would have against interfering with their water supplies, which run through an underground channel called a "karez." No one listened to him, and by the time they figured out that there was a problem, they had already really ticked off the locals and unknowingly fed the living hell out of the Taliban IO. Good job, gentlemen.
Next time, listen to the advisor. He might just know something about what he is doing there. He also has closer contact with Afghans than most Americans (NO, a shura once in awhile doesn't count as having a lot of contact with Afghans.) Instead, as many of my advisor brothers can attest, we are (much) more often regarded with suspicion, as if we'd been photographed leaving a Communist Party meeting or something. More than once, I heard the words, "gone native." I'll tell you what; if more senior leaders would go a little native, we'd have a much better grip on what the hell we are doing there and what we need to do to succeed.
My second question about that article is; Why in the hell are we shoving all of these new capabilities into the same boxes? If it's going to be more commuting to work and a Green Beans Coffee shop, I'd recommend putting a few more FOBs, COPs, Firebases, or whatever you want to call them around the countryside. Hey, I've seen it done, and it makes a difference. They don't have to be really big. The first time I saw FOB Kutschbach, it was a rocky open area at the foot of a ridgeline that overlooked Tag Ab. It started out as a VPB and was grown into a full-fledged FOB from there. A lot of people put serious work into making it into that.
I wonder if the "Mosh Pit" is still there.
In any case, building accommodations to cram all these new troops into FOB Wolverine is just repeating the mistakes of what Tim Lynch calls the "Big Box FOB." By the way; if anyone wanted to see "change we can believe in" regarding the way we do business in Afghanistan, they'd be beating this guy's door down to hire him to manage something for us in Afghanistan. Careerists would hate him, those who like to see progress would love him, and Afghans would likely feel like they were being listened to. But what do I know?
Don't tell him I said that. I don't think government work is on his agenda. Oddly enough that's why I think that someone with half a brain would badger him to death to get him on board to change the way that we do business.
He's safe. That'll never happen.
Finally, we've got the issue of staffing the mentoring effort to do JOB #1; bring the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) like the ANA and ANP up to speed. We're now throwing Lieutenants and buck Sergeants at Kandak (Battalion)-level mentoring jobs, and a brigade of the 82nd augmented with a very few field grade (Major and above) officers attached to take over mentoring for a significant portion of the ANA. Time will tell, but the level of training that the 4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne is receiving to prepare them for mentoring doesn't appear to be a lot.
LTC(R) John Nagl once proposed an Advisor Corps. He concept received little serious consideration and is still thrown at him by his detractors. I'm not sure that such an organization is sustainable, but I can testify that mentoring ANSF requires certain attributes. Truly professional mentors are hard to come by. For an Army that doesn't even bother to train its NCO's in COIN, I think it's a pretty ballsy move to just toss a few paratroops at the problem and hope for the best. I think that we're going to get what we pay for out of it. Dr. Nagl recognized the importance of professional mentors to security force development in foreign countries. His proposal was a way to retain that critical skill as a set. He realized that what we were doing was hit-or-miss. It just got worse.
Hey, if you can't just toss a BCT at it, how are you supposed to solve the problem?
That's not to say that a tremendous amount of good can't be done, but we'll see.
1) Don't just expand the "Big Box FOBs" and stick all of these new assets into them. Spread it out and take control of area that have lacked control in the past. You have to BE THERE. You can't mail this shit in. Start pushing out; FOB Kutschbach can be replicated... over and over again.
2) Figure out how to train these BCT-A's to actually do the "A" part. Just sending in Americans isn't going to cut it, no matter how highly we think of our young soldiers. We have left them out of the revolution to this point by not training them in COIN. Now we're going to expect them to advise ANA and ANP in how to perform COIN? Not what I'd call a recipe for resounding success. You need a plan to train the junior leaders in COIN and in advising. Winging it is not a solution.