Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Problem With Afghanistan: They Have No Petraeus

And, apparently, have not implemented the new counterinsurgency manual and tactics or can't because there are not enough forces.

From Matt Sanchez - Nate Fick on Afghanistan Counter-insurgency

The second pillar of the academy's curriculum relates to the first: The more you protect your forces, the less safe you may be. To be effective, troops, diplomats and civilian aid workers need to get out among the people. But nearly every American I saw in Kabul was hidden behind high walls or racing through the streets in armored convoys.

Afghanistan, however, isn't Iraq. Tourists travel through much of the country in relative safety, glass office towers are sprouting up in Kabul, and Coca-Cola recently opened a bottling plant. I drove through the capital in a dirty green Toyota, wearing civilian clothes and stopping to shop in bazaars, eat in restaurants and visit businesses. In two weeks, I saw more of Kabul than most military officers do in a year.[snip]

Of course, mingling with the population means exposing ourselves to attacks, and commanders have an obligation to safeguard their troops. But they have an even greater responsibility to accomplish their mission. When we retreat behind body armor and concrete barriers, it becomes impossible to understand the society we claim to defend. If we emphasize "force protection" above all else, we will never develop the cultural understanding, relationships and intelligence we need to win. Accepting the greater tactical risk of reaching out to Afghans reduces the strategic risk that the Taliban will return to power.

Read the rest: Nate Fick on Afghanistan Counter-insurgency

This is the only place that Fick loses me:

Winning that consent will require doing some difficult and uncomfortable things: de-escalating military force, boosting the capacities of the Karzai government, accelerating reconstruction, getting real with Pakistan. It won't be easy. But the alternative, which I glimpsed while staring down the barrel of that machine gun, is our nation going zero for two in its first wars of the new century.

No mention of Iran? Actually, my issue is the vague "getting real" with Pakistan. Some people believe that we should be striking deep into Pakistan in order to kill or disrupt the Taliban and AQ. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. It is not that the current government of Pakistan is feared to strike the US or any of our allies/forces in the region. The "real" issue here is Musharref's tenuous hold on the government and the huge percentage of Islamists (dare I say "fundamentalists") in the country that, under the right push could force a coup in Islamabad and leave the nuclear weapons in the hands of AQ's fellow travelers.

President Bush recently urged Musharref to hold democratic elections regardless of the situation. It is a principled stand that is much more difficult to follow when the consequences can be huge for Pakistan. Of course, many dictatorships have withheld elections for one "security" reason or another, but this is not a bogus condition in Pakistan. In fact, a change in leadership could place Pakistan firmly outside of our influence and lead to the third front in the war as some like Nate Flick believe is the right move.

From this perspective, there is no good outcome from such an event. Military forces are already operating at 150%. Our NATO allies would not support such an attack and it would certainly bring to fruition AQ's sought after World v. Islam War. It is the same reason that we do not attack Iran, but rather use economic and political pressure to change the regime.

Of course, this means that all groups continue to make war with us without suffering a righteous blow to deflect or destroy them. What we need to do is press forward in Iraq, stabilize it and then transfer our counterinsurgency efforts to Afghanistan. We can always deal with Iran and Pakistan through other means or at a later date. First we need to free up forces and not by arbitrarily leaving one battlefield, but leaving it with a "win" firmly established.
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Nate Fick wrote One Bullet Away and appeared in the book Generation Kill written by a reporter who was embedded with Fick's unit on the push to Baghdad in 2003.

My Comments here:

Thoughts on Generation Kill

Managing War

I always temper my conclusions on Fick's writings by recalling these two references. Fick left the military shortly after his tour in Iraq which ended shortly after the fall of Baghdad. One quote sticks in my mind:

..when the stark realization hits Lieutenant Fick that, to be a great Officer, you must be able to order the death of everything that you love.

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