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Thread: Why are we still leading missions, instead of supporting Afghans conduct them?

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    Default Why are we still leading missions, instead of supporting Afghans conduct them?

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kill-capture/j

    Frontline did a special on Kill-Capture missions addressing the pro's and con's, many of which we debated endlessly on SWJ. The arguments for most sides are valid, but what jumped out at me from the coverage was the discussion between the locals (the 101st hit the wrong target due to inaccurate intelligence) and Afghan security forces accompanying the 101st. Even though they realized it was the wrong target they went ahead and searched the tribal leader's house in a pretty rough fashion, and since they found some small arms ammo (imagine that in Afghanistan) they used that as justification to detain him (he was released a few hours later). These mistakes happen all the time, because as Bing West points out we don't understand their language or customs beyond a superficial level. The ASF were put out with the Americans and their arrogance and clumsiness in handling this situation, and the locals wanted to know why the ASF let the Americans do this.

    That is the million dollar question concerning Afghanistan. Why are we still leading missions, instead of supporting Afghans conduct them? They can do it their way, and their way will probably be better than ours. We are seen as occupiers and all the CMO and development in the world won't change that as long as we're conducting combat operations. I think it is long past time we take a step back and reassess. We don't need to be fighting their insurgency, we need to enable them to it their way. We may not like the results because the metrics won't be immediately observable, but over time we'll a change for the better if it is met to be.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default The key question

    Bill,

    Cannot view the PBS documentary here, but the key question is not the programme, but your question:
    Why are we still leading missions, instead of supporting Afghans conduct them?
    So I've adjusted the thread's title from 'Kill Capture Missions and Frontline' to your question.

    My initial thought is the ASF overall neither have the capability or will, as the threads on the ANA & ANP have referred to before. Secondly, would the ASF really want mission command if ISAF directions and strategy were being followed? (I'm not convinced the current strategy, let alone objectives are set in concert with the Afghan state).

    Now back to my armchair faraway.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    David:

    Too bad you can't get that Frontline episode. It was very good and covered several critical things.

    One of the things it covered was what was described as American intel's tendency to disregard the real world in deference what comes in from an antenna, whether that antenna catches a drone video feed or a cell phone intercept. The program suggests this can result in a view of the world at considerable odds with reality which can result in some very bad things. Maybe it is part of the same phenomenon Bing West observed and what Mr. Turcan meant when he said there should be more soldiers looking at people's eyes with their eyes rather than looking at computer screens.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Bill,

    An excellent question; and one we probably won't like the answer to.

    I don't remember a lot of details from my time as a Cadet in ROTC, but do remember with crystal clarity a conversation with our SF MSG at our detatchment. He had been an E-5 on an ODA in Vietnam and was telling us about a patrol he was on with a Vietnamese unit, and said something about putting them out front to lead the way to where they expected to make contact with the enemy. I asked why he didn't lead? (after all, we were there to learn about leadership) He looked me in the eye, with a look (and message)I will never forget, and said, "last time I checked, it was their war."

    This is one of my primary reasons for harping on what may seem like an unimportant nuance to many that what one does during an intervention to support the COIN efforts of some partner is not COIN, but is FID. If I think I'm doing the same mission as the Host Nation, it is a pretty easy transition to forgeting whose war it is and getting into inappropriate roles that may be more effective in the short term, but that are incredibly damaging to achieving the longer term effects of a legitimate, competent security force supporting a government dedicated to the service of its entire populace.

    Instead, we end up enabling poor governance, which makes the conditions of insurgency worse, and then in turn demands we poor in more and more resouces and units to deal with the growing insurgency.

    in FID, less is more. If you make it big, it will get big. COIN tactics derived from colonial efforts didn't much worry about this. Stripping off that colonial perspective and allowing the host nation to sink or swim is hard.

    Besides, sometimes the insurgent is right and the government is wrong; when we force a victory by the wrong side we may serve our interests in the near term, but the long term costs of such forced solutions selected, shaped, and executed by outsiders are coming at a growing cost in the current info tech environment.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    Besides, sometimes the insurgent is right and the government is wrong; when we force a victory by the wrong side we may serve our interests in the near term, but the long term costs of such forced solutions selected, shaped, and executed by outsiders are coming at a growing cost in the current info tech environment.
    Is this one of those times where the insurgent is right and the government wrong?
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default What Bill and Bob said...

    The answer to the 'why' is all too often simply a combination of ego and careerism.

    It needs to be forcefully halted and that has to come from the top. Good luck with that...

    Like Bob's guy said -- "...it's their war."

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    Ken:

    I believe what you referenced as "careerism" is actually a structural and organizational problem inherent in major deployments.

    One soldiers are on the line, and measurables are attached, on many levels, to the responsibilities to perform, accomplish, effect something, then the whole concept of "their war" goes out the window.

    That core question of "strategic patience" runs contra to short tours and management by objectives.

    Personally, I think it requires a huge amount of leadership skills (from the top) to avoid the inevitable---Bob has troops one the ground who are at risk, the risk continues until "X" is accomplished, Bob becomes "responsible" for "X."

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Default "right" and "wrong" is complicated

    Quote Originally Posted by carl View Post
    Is this one of those times where the insurgent is right and the government wrong?
    Carl,

    We can agree that neither of us want to live in a Taliban-governed Afghanistan; but if I were a Pashtun I sure as hell would not want to live in a Northern Alliance-governed Afghanistan either.

    We have, by our very presence and nature of our engagement, enabled Karzai and the Northern Alliance guys to be much more self-serving than if we had let them sort it out for themselves. There is no way they could have produced the current constitution with it's codified exclusion of anyone seen as contrary by Karzai is a deathknell for there ever being any kind of stability, as half of the populace not represented by the Northern Alliance has absolutely no alternative but to conduct illegal challenges to the current regime or live in powerless poverty.

    Karzai has made his bed though, and once we jump out of it to run home I suspect he will find it hard to get a good night's sleep in it. My concern is not for Karzai and his cronies though, it is for those much lower who we have convinced to put their faith in us. The big guys will take the money and run, but the little guys will suffer hard.

    Unless.

    The big unless is unless we stop backing one side to the exclusion of the other and instead take a more neutral role to oversee a negotiated settlement that leads to shared governance under a new constitution. What happens after that? Who knows, but at least we will have give those who trusted us at the local level a fighting chance to avoid a vengeful backlash.

    Sadly, collaborators rarely fare well from any history of any conflict I have ever read.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Historical parallel:

    Following WWI the US/Wilson went to Paris and fought for 14 points. The Brits and French thought all 14 were silly idealistic drivel. But they were not above using our naive idealism to their advantage.

    Point 5. "A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined."

    As the vultures loomed over the spoils of the destroyed Ottoman Empire, the Brits in particular argued that as big fans of Self-Determination it was essential for European powers to establish control over the Ottoman Empire in order to help them prepare for self-governance. They saw it as a guilt-free way to turn the region into colonies. Our well intended ideals were twisted and used for the selfish gains of our partners. We were suckers, and though offered our shared, declined as we did not want to commit to a large military presence in the region.

    In Afghanistan we made a big deal about war lords and the decentralized nature of the government that we saw as the root of the problem. Karzai jumped on that, and in the name of "centralized government" he got a constitution produced that made him a de facto King; and got us to commit to building an Army and Police under his direct control and dedicated to the suppression of that segment of the populace excluded by his plan. Evil genius knows few bounds. Apparently nether does our ability to fall again and again for having our ideals twisted by our partners into tools of oppression.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Wink You're correct, you caught my shorthand try...

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve the Planner View Post
    I believe what you referenced as "careerism" is actually a structural and organizational problem inherent in major deployments.
    While there's a degree of pure careerism in a few cases, more often it's as you say -- though I'd suggest it is not restricted to major deployments but is actually a bureaucratic imbed in the institutions that are the Armed Forces. In my observation, all four services and USSOCOM have the problem (so does most of the US government)...
    One soldiers are on the line, and measurables are attached, on many levels, to the responsibilities to perform, accomplish, effect something, then the whole concept of "their war" goes out the window.
    Also true and IMO the usual result is indicative of the fact that we significantly over emphasize the use of metrics and measurables. They have a place, no question but we constantly misuse the idea.
    That core question of "strategic patience" runs contra to short tours and management by objectives.
    Very true -- and an indictment of our archaic personnel policies, still geared to 1917 from whence they came...

    Those short tours are operationally deplorable and the far too brief time spent in specific assignments is a fatally flawed personnel management practice. Both lead to mediocre to poor performance all too often by too many units. The Services all owe a huge vote of thanks to the kids who make the flawed systems work better than could really be expected.
    Personally, I think it requires a huge amount of leadership skills (from the top) to avoid the inevitable---Bob has troops one the ground who are at risk, the risk continues until "X" is accomplished, Bob becomes "responsible" for "X."
    True. That leadership is IMO too often lacking. Most often due to institutional constraints and not personal failings.

    In that last paragraph, you synthesized what some in the Army refer to as "On the spot corrections" (one of the biggest leadership errors ever...) and of which others have said "I see a problem, I own it and must fix it." That gets carried forward to the old 'Pottery Barn rule' fallacy. The senior person who sees a problem where none exists or fixes a minor problem is not forcing or allowing the chain of command to work properly, is interfering with the development of subordinates and is providing a lot of entertainment for the Troops who know what is supposed to happen and see that it does not. All that usually due to the risk of being caught short (a far greater risk in the eyes of many than is combat risk...). That parenthetical was the driver for the 'careerism' tag...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    In that last paragraph, you synthesized what some in the Army refer to as "On the spot corrections" (one of the biggest leadership errors ever...) and of which others have said "I see a problem, I own it and must fix it." That gets carried forward to the old 'Pottery Barn rule' fallacy.
    Back during Shy Meyer's "Hollow Army" days we had a small pocket-sized handbook called something like the Commander's Guide for Maintenance. It had such useful indicators and tips as the following:

    -- "Are the tires flat?"

    -- "Does radiator coolant and oil leak out of the vehicle and make puddles on the pavement of the motor pool?"

    -- "Do flames and smoke come out of the engine compartment when the engine is running?"

    That's from the same U.S. Army that was 30 miles from Berlin on V-E Day in May 1945.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    The big unless is unless we stop backing one side to the exclusion of the other and instead take a more neutral role to oversee a negotiated settlement that leads to shared governance under a new constitution.
    Will they negotiate a settlement and share governance, or will they fight until someone wins, with the winner taking complete control and stomping the loser?

    Given recent history and the prevailing political culture, which is more likely?

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    How we got to the point of taking the lead in this fight is understandable, but the fact that this many years later we're still in the lead is a failure to face the reality that we can't force the Afghan people to play by our rules without using a degree of force/oppression that is not only illegal but unethical by our standards. Nor can we can't bribe the Afghan people by throwing money at them (nation building and CMO). While they may accept the money and even say thank you, their views of the world and the occupying forces will remain the same. You can buy sex, but you can't buy love.

    The only answer is to allow the Afghans to settle it their way, and unfortunately it will probably be ugly unless we can find an intelligent means to disengage from the lead in their internal affairs while still providing support to the right people (another million dollar question, who are the right people?). As Bob stated, less is more if we transition our effort to FID, but this FID mission (if it actually becomes one) will most likely differ from the norm. We can't blindly accept and reinforce the Karzai regime, so how do we transition to FID effectively? Is it is even possible?

    While it sounds counter intuitive we have more leverage when we have less troops on the ground fighting. When we shift to a supporting role (and that support can include limited combat operations when needed) the Afghan government and security forces are more dependent on us than they are now, and if they don't reform we can threaten to cut off the aid. We had to threaten to do this in El Salvador to compel the government there to clean up its act and respect the rule of law.

    However, since we're the ones fighting, I'm not convinced we have any leverage over the Afghans. They probably see it as our fight. While hotly debated (mainly for political gain) I think the President was right to set a dead line for starting the withdraw of troops, it actually compelled the Afghan government to take their responsibility more seriously. The status quo (U.S. in the lead) will only further alienate us from the Afghan people and continue to inhibit the growth of the needed Afghan institutions. The change in posture from us leading the COIN effort to FID will not be easy, and there will be some bloodshed (regardless if we do it now or later). In the long run though, I suspect the sooner we start the better it will be for the Afghan people.
    Last edited by Bill Moore; 05-14-2011 at 01:51 AM. Reason: clarity

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    The answer to this question reminds me of an anecdote from my tour.

    The ANA Platoon Commander I shared my AO and base with was a young Pashtun man named U. A Sergeant, he took command when the officer was killed in an insurgent ambush. U spoke Pashtun, Dari and fairly good English and was the son of a mid-to-high level bureaucrat in the Defence Ministry in Kabul. He may not have been a full elite, but the fact that he was smart, fluent and literate in the key languages and knew and worked within the Pashtun socio-political system meant locals respected and listed to him.

    U quickly impressed me with his abilities. Despite being conditioned to believe the ANA were like children that you had tagging along to legitimize your mission, the partnership between him and I was 50/50. We planned all our patrols together, I got the resources he needed for him and his men and he quickly developed a rapport with the locals to get us the intelligence needed to understand the environment we were operating in (and the enemy who was trying to kill us). We made much progress in a month. I called him the “godfather” because of the way he worked his cellphone and I called myself his consigliere.

    Unfortunately, U dissapeared for reasons I will not go into here. As a replacement, I received Sgt H. Sgt H was a Hazara. Also a veteran of many years of combat in the ANA, he despised the locals and said that all Kanadaharis were insurgents. He refused to make contact with the locals and would go on patrols only when prompted by myself. Although I got him into a busy and aggressive patrolling rhythm, he wouldn't provide any input at all – he only went along because his company commander (who was really good) ordered him to support the Canadians. At one point, Sgt H sent his subordinates to deal with a neighbouring farmer who he was having issues with; the soldiers started to beat the man with their rifles until one of my sentries intervened by firing a flare into the air. This is simply not something that would have happened with Sgt U.

    The good news was that at the end of my tour, U ended up back with us and I saw him one last time before I left the country. When I left him, he was leading his platoon on patrols in a dusty corner of Panjwayi district as he had for the previous few years. A true veteran, my "tour" was his "life".

    This experience convinced me that the line between success and failure is more U's and less H's. When I read Mark Moyar's A Question of Command I felt drawn to his incomplete, but (I believe), correct theory on COIN. We are still leading operations because we don't have enough Sgt U's.

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    Default Great story

    Infanteer, that is a great story and I am glad you shared it. I agree life will be easier if there are more Sgt U's and less Sgt H's, but I still argue that isn't the reason we are in the lead. I can't think of any country that I conducted FID where there weren't the equivalent of SGT U's and H's in their ranks. There are also SGT U's and SGT H's in our ranks. If the Sgt H's fail, and they will if we're not in the lead to protect them they'll disappear over time due to their failure or death. Sgt U's will perpetuate if the Afghan Gov is serious, if they're not then we're in a guagmire and staying longer (only talking COIN, not CT) will not solve the underlying issues. Right now we are the underlying the issue that is preventing self corrective actions. We need to step back and let the SGT U's and SGT H's determine the course of Afghanistan. Just because SGT H is corrupt and more doesn't mean we should lead the fight.

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Infanteer & Bill M.:

    As Bill said there are SGT Hs in our ranks. If instead of Infanteer having been there, a Canadian equivalent of SGT H had been there then it would not have made any difference if the Afghan SGT U was good. His proficiency would not have come to fore because the Canadian equivalent of SGT H would have vitiated it.

    Not only the Afghan gov has to be serious about developing SGT U's, our side has to be also. I have no idea what the social dynamics of the respective groups in the Frontline report were, but if the 101st contingent was led by a SGT H, the Afghans would have been repressed even if they had been led by SGT U.

    And so an obvious point is elaborated upon by me the civilian.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    Will they negotiate a settlement and share governance, or will they fight until someone wins, with the winner taking complete control and stomping the loser?

    Given recent history and the prevailing political culture, which is more likely?
    I don't know. I just know what will happen if we only support one side enough to create an unsustainable "decent interval" and then leave.

    Better to try what might not work but creates a chance at an enduring stability than to try what we know is unlikely to create an enduring stability but that might create a narrow window of "success" that we can withdraw through.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    They can do it their way, and their way will probably be better than ours.
    In my humble opinion, their way may have its own unique effect, but it is not better, when framed against our impatience, the context of national policy timelines, and our overall work ethic.

    To second a little bit on what I think Ken is saying, along the careerism vein, getting the ANSF out there in the lead requires substantial investments in utilizing the right leadership to get the job done. Sacrificing a rock star(s) to leave a command to do the job forces a commander to run the risk of his own command not performing as well during the deployment.

    You could attribute that to a commander simply wanting to complete the mission and do it well, but we are not even effectively accomplishing any mission over there right now, IMO. We are simply holding the various threads together until the next team can come in and take hold...and they then do the same until their rotation comes to a close. The metrics for success shift, morph, and change between unit rotations not so much from a calculated process of analyzing the problem set and establishing good measures of effectiveness and performance, but too often from pet peeves, parochialism, and our own cultural hang-ups. The larger problem anyway is that we have not established MOE/MOP for ANSF that make any sense, in the context of the policies of GIRoA or the MOD. Put another way, even if we are screwed up for not structuring our fight properly, it doesn't matter because the attention should not be on us, as has been brought up here.

    Mission success, put another way, is just so arbitrary that it's hard to lay a bulk of blame on careerism. I think the larger culprit is our collective impatience. I don't think it's wrong to be impatient, and although the MOEs/MOPs tend to be shewed and not reflect any sensible way forward, we as Americans expect to see results...something...anything. The ANSF move at a decidedly different pace that even drove me up the wall at times

    This sort of impatient rears its ugly head when you sit back and take a look at the cycle of new programs and initiatives that are paraded out by the RCs. It can be dizzying at times to try to keep up with it, and lays bare the fact that unless there is a cohesive plan at the highest levels, small unit commanders who own the battlespace and do the row hoeing waste a ton of time trying to grasp what the next greatest idea is to come down the chute (and one that often doesn't reflect their tactical reality).

    Internal to the ANSF, nepotism, graft, and corruption are rampant, at least according to the context that I viewed it. Some may say, well, that is THEIR way, and I agree that it is important to be able to step back and look at it all with bit of patience, cultural understanding, etc., but when you have a private in a platoon of Afghan Border Police who (by virtue of his family connections) effectively runs the platoon over the sergeant who is already there (because the officer is not there, BTW) and directs the post-standing rotation to where his tribe mates rarely leave the COP while other soldiers spend all the time down at the TCP, there's a problem. It's their way, but that way grinds and tears at any fabric of military efficiency that is to be had. Add in a dose of angst over lack of pay, or the graft that comes along with it when the commander takes his cut of the food stipend, and we get the understandable desertion rates and ghost solider problems that we face. Someone still has to get outside the wire tomorrow and patrol, and our boys are there anyway, so they saddle up and get 'er done.

    We haven't been at this for all that long, in terms of ANSF development. Granted, we have been mentoring and employing militias for a long time, wearing shemaghs and long beards, and have worked our SOF elements into the mix with a variety efforts, but we have not been at the business of establishing cohesive armed formations, capable of employing C2, that can be integrated into the large coalition effort, as long as we had by the time the OIF surge took hold. The ISF had a military tradition and framework that was light years ahead of Afghanistan, so I only put the Iraqis out there because I think it is too easy to measure our success there and get easily frustrated when it doesn't work in OEF.

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    Default To FID or not to FID?

    I'm currently working as an S2 mentor for an ANA Commando battalion. I see this problem starkly with the SpecOps unit currently assigned as their FID partners. Their OPSEC measures are so restrictive, that the Commando leadership has very little input on operations and planning - much less know where they're going when they get on the helo. Dislosure is limited to the ground tactical plan. They get to see imagery of the target village, but are never told where the village is located or the HVT names.

    I understand their concerns due to the rash of FID partners turning on their trainers. They even had an incident of their own recently, but they must take that leap of faith and allow them to plan and run their own missions and be given the information and resources to do it.

    The problem extends into equipment employment as well. For example, the Commandos have a slew of Etrex GPSs sitting in their arms room as part of their Tashkil (MTOE). As far as I've been able to assess, the Commandos have received no training on this equipment (as well as simple map and compass) and their US FID partners do not allow it for fear they will plot their coordinates on the objective and discover their location. This is not how to do FID, folks.

    My team did it plenty in Iraq and we never had OPSEC issues. Our FID partners were thankful to us that they were finally given a measure of trust to be equal participants in operations.

    I found it interesting the day after the news broke about us killing bin Laden, several of the Commandos stated "the next you invade Pakistan, we want to go with you!" They were serious. They KNOW who the real enemy is here.

    v/r

    DF

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    I too was unable to watch the documentary, might have to find an illicit way of downloading it. I did however read an article linked on the SWJ main site, as someone has posted above, the rejection of local/human intel is quite alarming. Not to mention that human geography seems to be almost ignored, not exactly big news as everything I seem to be reading is pointing to the U.S trying to apply a fairly rigid COIN strategy throughout the country with little consideration for the situation on the ground. Evens in Nuristan (Pech valley) and Kunar (Korengal) have shown this, I wonder if people have been aware that the populations in these area (or anywhere across this part of the border with Pakistan) have rejected any form of central government for centuries if they'd even have bothered. Not that i'm saying that trying to conduct state building in these areas in a fulorn hope, i'm saying that going about the way the U.S/ISAF have hasn't worked and only result in a withdrawal (from the areas noted above, or at least as far as I'm aware).

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