Results 1 to 14 of 14

Thread: Strategy in Afghanistan: could the US have done better?

  1. #1
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    13,153

    Default Strategy in Afghanistan: could the US have done better?

    An article from the Journal Strategic Studies, which should be of interest for Afghan campaign veterans and watchers - full edition available on-line - and the actual title is 'Bureaucracy Does Its Thing: US Performance and the Institutional Dimension of Strategy in Afghanistan':http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/...Bjarb0.twitter

    It is not too soon to draw cautionary lessons from the inconclusive results of US performance during more than 11 years of Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan. As in Vietnam, fundamental difficulties persist in adapting enduring institutions to the requirements of strategy. At the heart of the matter is tension between the assumptions that underlie counter-insurgency as practiced in Afghanistan and organization of the US Armed Forces, State Department, and Agency for International Development. Knowledge of basic principles and necessary changes is available to answer the question, could the US have done better?
    The author is a retired DoS Pol-Mil Officer:
    Todd Greentree is a member of the Changing Character of War Programme at Oxford University. A former US Foreign Service Officer, his political-military experience in five conflicts began in El Salvador during the early 1980’s. Most recently, he served as Director of the Initiatives Group in Regional Command-South, Kandahar, Afghanistan during 2010-11.
    davidbfpo

  2. #2
    Registered User UKInfCoyComd's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
    Location
    Wales, United Kingdom.
    Posts
    1

    Default

    David, I can't get that URL to open - is the problem my end?

    Thanks.

  3. #3
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    13,153

    Default Ah, a snag

    It maybe, the link is working here; surely not the firewall of officialdom? I shall send a copy so PM sent. Welcome aboard.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 06-11-2013 at 09:11 PM.
    davidbfpo

  4. #4
    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Woodbridge, VA
    Posts
    1,117

    Default Wrong way

    This article reinforces my belief that the US military is about to make a mistake by returning to a total emphasis on high intensity conflict (HIC) with the misguided belief that a military trained for HIC can easily be retrained for COIN.

    Beyond the somewhat obvious fact that there is no near peer competitor that the US military needs to be prepared to fight, the reality is that small, intrastate wars with a decidedly political slant are more likely to be the type of fight the American civilian leadership will get us in - largely because internal fights that are believed to be (or can be packaged as) wars of democratic liberation and expansion of liberties are the kind of wars the American public will support. We hate dictators and we feel drawn to these fights - it is our duty as the world’s first modern democracy to support others who want to be free.

    So the problem is that at least some portion of our military is not organized, equipped, or trained to do this kind of work. We depend on civilians to do too much, particularly since civilians are not willing to join the fight. A military trained and equipped for HIC is not organized or trained to do COIN. Add to this that neither the military nor the civilians are trained to see the world through the eyes of the locals. They will consistently attempt to force American solutions to local problems. What is needed is an expeditionary force that is designed and resourced to conduct these operations. But that is a pipe dream. So I guess I will just wait till the next time we screw things up and attempt to argue that that future war was different from Afghanistan or Vietnam.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
    ---

  5. #5
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    155

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    This article reinforces my belief that the US military is about to make a mistake by returning to a total emphasis on high intensity conflict (HIC) with the misguided belief that a military trained for HIC can easily be retrained for COIN.

    Beyond the somewhat obvious fact that there is no near peer competitor that the US military needs to be prepared to fight, the reality is that small, intrastate wars with a decidedly political slant are more likely to be the type of fight the American civilian leadership will get us in - largely because internal fights that are believed to be (or can be packaged as) wars of democratic liberation and expansion of liberties are the kind of wars the American public will support. We hate dictators and we feel drawn to these fights - it is our duty as the world’s first modern democracy to support others who want to be free.

    So the problem is that at least some portion of our military is not organized, equipped, or trained to do this kind of work. We depend on civilians to do too much, particularly since civilians are not willing to join the fight. A military trained and equipped for HIC is not organized or trained to do COIN. Add to this that neither the military nor the civilians are trained to see the world through the eyes of the locals. They will consistently attempt to force American solutions to local problems. What is needed is an expeditionary force that is designed and resourced to conduct these operations. But that is a pipe dream. So I guess I will just wait till the next time we screw things up and attempt to argue that that future war was different from Afghanistan or Vietnam.
    I am flabbergasted at this statement. I am sure that armies trained to fight insurgencies need different skills than HIC but who says there is only one way to fight an insurgency and COIN as envisioned on paper by the American military in FM 3-24 is the only way to do it?

    So, instead of thinking of something new you want people to double down on what didn't work in Vietnam and Afghanistan?

    We misread the strategic environment in Afghanistan, thought FM 3-24 based on Vietnam and Iraq and colonial small wars and modernization theory would work when there are a million ways to go about countering an insurgency, had overly ambitious goals, got sent off to Iraq in the middle, had a weird relationship with NATO (who was really in charge?) and so on.

    What evidence is this based on?

    PS: The Army always has to be ready to fight a near peer competitor because that's part of your job too and if you don't think it is, we should just disband you. And, to be honest, I'm not sure even fighting a near peer competitor would out well for us at this point.

    Insurgency fighting via expeditionary COIN with the US in the lead has a dismal track record and last time around, the President asked for something else besides pop COIN to work in Afghanistan. He got three pop COIN solutions from the military. That is exactly the opposite of what you are saying. The military was asked for a variety of solutions to a policy and got only one way to do things instead of options.

    PPS: Er, am I misunderstanding your point? Why isn't the lesson that we should have tried to train up a security force more quickly and in a better way?
    Last edited by Madhu; 06-12-2013 at 02:44 PM. Reason: added PS; second PPS

  6. #6
    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Woodbridge, VA
    Posts
    1,117

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Madhu View Post
    I am flabbergasted at this statement. I am sure that armies trained to fight insurgencies need different skills than HIC but who says there is only one way to fight an insurgency and COIN as envisioned on paper by the American military in FM 3-24 is the only way to do it?

    So, instead of thinking of something new you want people to double down on what didn't work in Vietnam and Afghanistan?

    We misread the strategic environment in Afghanistan, thought FM 3-24 based on Vietnam and Iraq and colonial small wars and modernization theory would work when there are a million ways to go about countering an insurgency, had overly ambitious goals, got sent off to Iraq in the middle, had a weird relationship with NATO (who was really in charge?) and so on.

    What evidence is this based on?

    PS: The Army always has to be ready to fight a near peer competitor because that's part of your job too and if you don't think it is, we should just disband you. And, to be honest, I'm not sure even fighting a near peer competitor would out well for us at this point.

    Insurgency fighting via third party COIN via the US has a dismal track record and last time around, the President asked for something else besides pop COIN to work in Afghanistan. He got three pop COIN solutions from the military. That is exactly the opposite of what you are saying. The military was asked for a variety of solutions to a policy and got only one way to do things instead of options.

    PPS: Er, am I misunderstanding your point?
    The short answer is, yes you misunderstand my point. First, let me be clear that the military MUST be capable of conducting HIC. The fact that we are so good at it is part of the reason that there are no near peer competitors. No one sees any possible way to take us on head-to-head so we effectively deter aggression. I am not advancing the idea that we give that up and return to a world where any number of nations feel that using their military to get what they want is a viable option.

    No, I am not endorsing COIN as outlined in the FM 5-34. I believe it has some very serious flaws.

    What I am saying is that the world has changed. The change is the result of numerous factors from our superiority at HIC, which means that political confrontation now moves from direct conflict to proxy wars; to democracy becoming a more prevalent, if not dominant political system; to the fact that international trade has limited the need for wars of economic gain; to the ubiquity of free flowing commutations. The conflicts of the future will look more like the conflicts of the recent past (40 years) than like the conflicts of the more distant past (41+ years). The military has not cracked the code on this type of conflict with its significantly political nature. The problem is that we do not really want to try. The mistakes we have made in the past will be repeated in the future until we rethink how to organize for a completely different type of fight.

    In the not so distant past the US military created Special Forces to help conduct the type of fight I am talking about. What I am advocating is expanding on that concept and create an expanded capability with a specific mission of fighting wars amongst the people. I am not sure that exactly that would look like, but I am fairly certain it does not look like an heavy BCT.
    Last edited by TheCurmudgeon; 06-12-2013 at 03:05 PM.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
    ---

  7. #7
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    155

    Default I should have just not posted :)

    Half way through my comment I realized I probably misunderstood your point but stupidly posted anyway.

    I honestly don't know how some of you do it, keep trying to come up with something useful within a large bureaucracy. I'd go nuts.

    Our policy makers, misunderstanding everything, probably will think some time in the future that fighting one of these small will make us safer and you all will be stuck with another thankless task.

    It is time for FM 3–24 to be deconstructed and put back together in a similar way as the Army’s Active Defense Doctrine was between 1976 and 1982. That previous operational doctrine was thoroughly debated and discussed in open (not closed bureaucratic) forums, and the result of that debate was a better operational doctrine for the time commonly referred to as Airland Battle. In short, FM 3–24 today is the Active Defense Doctrine of 1976; it is incomplete, and the dysfunction of its underlying theory becomes clearer every day. The Army needs a better and more complete operational doctrine for counterinsurgency, one that is less ideological, less driven by think tanks and experts, less influenced by a few clever books and doctoral dissertations on COIN, and less shaped by an artificial history of counterinsurgency. When will the Army undertake a serious revision of this incomplete and misleading doctrine for counterinsurgency?
    http://ndupress.ndu.edu/deconstruction-3-24.html

    In general terms I would deconstruct the manual as it is now and break the singular link that it has with a certain theory of state building (known as population centric COIN). Once broken up I would then rewrite the doctrine from the ground up with three general parts: 1) would be a counterinsurgency approach centered on post-conflict reconstruction; 2) would be a counterinsurgency approach centered around military action to attack insurgent sources of military power (sometimes referred to as counter-terror or CT), but not linked to an endstate of a rebuilt or newly built nation state; 3) would be a counterinsurgency approach -- perhaps call it COIN light -- that would focus largely on Special Forces with some limited conventional army support conducting Foreign Internal Defense (FID).
    http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts...urgency_manual

    I get frustrated because so much of the conversation is about how to build things and there is so little understanding of strategic environments, to the point that the hoariest cliches are believed about regions so no matter what the military does, if it is based on an improper reading of the strategic environment, it will likely fail. This is different than understanding the local cultural customs.

    So, it seems that you and I are actually concerned about the same things. I too want more of the kind of discussion in the last link I provided.

    PS: The article David posted seemed of that variety of paper that says, "if we just try harder at these same things in the future, we will have a different result." Our system doesn't do certain things very well and it is designed that way. Understanding this and coming up with an operational strategy that recognizes this is important. Instead of focusing on perfection, we should try and focus on something doable.
    Last edited by Madhu; 06-12-2013 at 03:24 PM. Reason: Added last line and PS

  8. #8
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    155

    Default China might be trying to be a neer peer competitor

    I don't think they are close and a lot of the hype and scare mongering is just that, hype and scare mongering, but they are clearly trying to copy the US military in some conventional sense.

  9. #9
    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Woodbridge, VA
    Posts
    1,117

    Default China

    Quote Originally Posted by Madhu View Post
    I don't think they are close and a lot of the hype and scare mongering is just that, hype and scare mongering, but they are clearly trying to copy the US military in some conventional sense.
    Perhaps, but as you point out, geopolitical culture and history matter. What does China want? They want to be respected in their own back yard. They do not want to colonize the eastern Pacific. They are an economic powerhouse with a proud history. They just want to be respected and they see westerners as respecting military power. I don't see them using it unless forced to. The barrier islands and arguments with their regional nemesis Japan is probably the biggest threat to China, largely because it is an attack on their pride to have to give in to the same country that invaded them.

    We probably will cause more harm with our Pacific Shift than good. We keep analyzing problem by putting ourselves in the place of our potential enemy. We need to think like they think.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
    ---

  10. #10
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Posts
    3,169

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    Perhaps, but as you point out, geopolitical culture and history matter. What does China want? They want to be respected in their own back yard. They do not want to colonize the eastern Pacific. They are an economic powerhouse with a proud history. They just want to be respected and they see westerners as respecting military power. I don't see them using it unless forced to. The barrier islands and arguments with their regional nemesis Japan is probably the biggest threat to China, largely because it is an attack on their pride to have to give in to the same country that invaded them.

    We probably will cause more harm with our Pacific Shift than good. We keep analyzing problem by putting ourselves in the place of our potential enemy. We need to think like they think.
    This seems in line with popular liberal rhetoric, but it doesn't nest with current reality. Today's China was born in 1947, so it isn't that old. It hard to make a claim they're a proud nation based upon their history from their internal conflicts, to the opium war, to the Japanese occupation, to Mao's mass slaughter of his people. One can even make an argument that they're a state that survives through criminal activity, much of their economic success is based upon intellectual property theft, and now they're using the threat of force in an attempt to secure territory in the South and East China seas using some illegitimate 9 line concept as justification. China's internal security/stability problems are well known, and drumming up a little nationalism as a means to hold the state together is not an unknown tactic throughout history. Unfortunately China's aggression is resulting in other states in the region becoming more nationalized, and nationalization can result in much more radical behavior than Islamist beliefs. Not unlike the past the U.S. continues to live in an era of uncertainty and our critical interests are probably best addressed by having a credible combat force (low end to high end). Stability operations and FID will continue to be military missions, but success in these endeavors which are not war will rarely be determined by the U.S. military but by the politicians. The military can only buy space.

    I to worry about concepts like the air-sea battle, not that isn't worth exploring, but that is a narrow comfort zone with limited utility. On the other hand I think our greatest effort must be maintaining our combat skills. No one else will fight the nation's battles other than the military. A lot of other organizations can provide aid, intelligence, conduct CT, etc.

  11. #11
    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Woodbridge, VA
    Posts
    1,117

    Default

    I think you and I will just have to agree to disagree on China. I don't make my assessment based on any liberal viewpoint. I make it based on their recent preference for making money rather than war.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    Unfortunately China's aggression is resulting in other states in the region becoming more nationalized, and nationalization can result in much more radical behavior than Islamist beliefs.
    I am not sure I would agree with this for a number of reasons but most of them because I don’t envision nationalism being a major force in the Pacific. I still see many parts of Asia splintered by ethnic divisions – more disunity based on ethnic identity than unity based on national identity. Even China has this issue. As I recall, Beijing had to use Mongolian forces from the north to quell the rioters in Tiananmen Square because the local commander refused (at least I think I remember reading that somewhere).

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    Not unlike the past the U.S. continues to live in an era of uncertainty and our critical interests are probably best addressed by having a credible combat force (low end to high end). Stability operations and FID will continue to be military missions, but success in these endeavors which are not war will rarely be determined by the U.S. military but by the politicians. The military can only buy space.
    I think you undersell what the military can do politically. For example the Theater Security Cooperation Program (TCSP) can do a lot to build bridges with other nations. Getting to know and working with mid level field grade officers today can mean that you are friends with the dictator of the country tomorrow ;-)
    All kidding aside, military to military programs are helpful. They build trust that helps maintain alliances.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    I to worry about concepts like the air-sea battle, not that isn't worth exploring, but that is a narrow comfort zone with limited utility. On the other hand I think our greatest effort must be maintaining our combat skills. No one else will fight the nation's battles other than the military. A lot of other organizations can provide aid, intelligence, conduct CT, etc.
    I agree that no one else is going to fight the nation’s battles. I just believe there is a space between all out war and tranquil peace that only the military is capable of entering with any hope of making a difference. A BCT is not the best fit for some parts of that space yet SF as it is now may not have the capacities required to finish the job. I guess I would like to see something in between. Not really sure what that is – just know we aren’t there yet.

    I also believe that America is filled with evangelical democrats. You want to get America’s blood boiling simply paint the side you want to attack as a dictator who abuses his people’s human rights and the side you want to support as democratic revolutionaries. It sells, but it is a message that can take on a life of its own to the point where American’s are demanding action in fights we are not currently designed to deal with. Happens every twenty years or so. It will happen again. I guess I would like to be ready for it.
    Last edited by TheCurmudgeon; 06-12-2013 at 07:15 PM.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
    ---

  12. #12
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Posts
    3,169

    Default

    Actually not too much disagreement, but we do have significant space between us on this point.

    I am not sure I would agree with this for a number of reasons but most of them because I don’t envision nationalism being a major force in the Pacific. I still see many parts of Asia splintered by ethnic divisions – more disunity based on ethnic identity than unity based on national identity. Even China has this issue. As I recall, Beijing had to use Mongolian forces from the north to quell the rioters in Tiananmen Square because the local commander refused (at least I think I remember reading that somewhere).
    There are other threads that discuss this at length, so I really don't see the issue of nationalism even being debatable. Both Japan and China (and others in the region) are seeing increasing nationalism, nationalism their governments' will find hard to control. The ethnic diversity in Asia isn't irrelevant (over 3,000 languages spoken), but Japan has historically been xenophobic and nationalistic, and China's Han (the true Chinese in their view) are a nationalistic group within a multiethnic China.

    I think you undersell what the military can do politically. For example the Theater Security Cooperation Program (TCSP) can do a lot to build bridges with other nations. Getting to know and working with mid level field grade officers today can mean that you are friends with the dictator of the country tomorrow ;-)
    All kidding aside, military to military programs are helpful. They build trust that helps maintain alliances.
    Actually no kidding, all your points are valid, but they are not relevant to my comments about FID and stability operations (occupying a nation). I agree that our TSCP is a very powerful tool, but that is a different issue and that effort doesn't appear to be at risk, though funding may get reduced.

    I guess I would like to see something in between. Not really sure what that is – just know we aren’t there yet.
    I agree, but we should probably have an idea of right looks like before we build it. Unfortunately too many think right looks like the Army in Afghanistan currently. In my opinion I think we have learned the wrong lessons, and have more concern we'll build the wrong force based on those lessons than if we just focus on our core mission. There are also economic realities, how much of a stability force can we sustain persistently? Should the bulk of it be in the reserves? There are pro's and con's to every decision, but ultimately decisions should be based on an informed risk assessment to our national interests, not just probability of an event. Small Wars will never go away (bold statement, but...), but how important are they? We have to put them in context.

    I also believe that America is filled with evangelical democrats. You want to get America’s blood boiling simply paint the side you want to attack as a dictator who abuses his people’s human rights and the side you want to support as democratic revolutionaries. It sells, but it is a message that can take on a life of its own to the point where American’s are demanding action in fights we are not currently designed to deal with. Happens every twenty years or so. It will happen again. I guess I would like to be ready for it.
    This is our own form of nationalism and I agree and already see it happening for Syria.

  13. #13
    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Woodbridge, VA
    Posts
    1,117

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    I agree, but we should probably have an idea of right looks like before we build it. Unfortunately too many think right looks like the Army in Afghanistan currently.
    Perhaps the scarest thing I have heard today ... and its scary because its true.

    Is there anyone out there looking at trying to determine what right looks like or are all these research papers going to sit on the shelf until we are looking back to figure out what went wrong in Syria, or Iran, or some other place?
    Last edited by TheCurmudgeon; 06-12-2013 at 09:08 PM.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
    ---

  14. #14
    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Woodbridge, VA
    Posts
    1,117

    Default Some thoughts on future interventions

    Perhaps another argument for having a force capable of independent action with a smaller footprint than a BCT.

    From the patterns evident in past campaigns lessons to inform the conduct of future missions can be derived. The United States should only intervene when doing so has a reasonable chance of success. When intervention becomes necessary, the White House should seek international approval and operate as part of a coalition or alliance with airpower being its primary contribution. If it must deploy ground troops, it should keep the American footprint small and withdraw forces as soon as possible.
    Avoiding the Slippery Slope: Conducting Effective Interventions

Similar Threads

  1. Defending Hamdan
    By jmm99 in forum Law Enforcement
    Replies: 35
    Last Post: 05-22-2011, 06:36 AM
  2. NATO's Afghanistan Challenge
    By Ray in forum OEF - Afghanistan
    Replies: 74
    Last Post: 05-13-2011, 04:11 AM
  3. Afghanistan: A Silk Road Strategy
    By gbramlet in forum Blog Watch
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 03-15-2011, 06:17 AM

Tags for this Thread

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •