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Thread: The Helmand Province (merged thread, not UK or USMC)

  1. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    I have long thought when the Afghan state decide on their national strategy, even their survival, keeping large numbers of ANSF in Helmand Province will evaporate within a short time. Before 2006 it was of marginal importance to them, one weak ANA unit in the provincial capital and little else (plus a US SOF unit and protective infantry).

    Yes there is an income from the heroin trade, but I'd wager most of the profits go south, as does most of the product. Ah, goes west to to Iran too.

    Now the terrain of the 'Green Zone' may account for a small part of the province, but it is where the people are. From my reading in the fighting season - when it is green - it is not a good place to fight in (when using ISAF ROE).

    There are more important places for GIRoA.
    Little America demonstrated quite convincingly that Helmand acquired outsized importance simply due to it being the terrain the USMC wanted. Then the extremely competent USMC propaganda machine went into overdrive, convincing many of the strategic importance of Helmand. I spent most of 2012 there, and could easily see that the gains made were not tenable. I certainly agree with you that the Afghan government realizes Helmand is not strategically significant, and has only committed troops in any number there to mollify the US and UK. ANSF will be quickly redeployed to more critical areas within the next year or 2.

    The Vice documentary "This is What Winning Looks Like" is an incredibly accurate portrayal of Helmand.

  2. #42
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Helmand: reality -v- spin

    Quote Originally Posted by JustJrEnlisted View Post
    Little America demonstrated quite convincingly that Helmand acquired outsized importance simply due to it being the terrain the USMC wanted. Then the extremely competent USMC propaganda machine went into overdrive, convincing many of the strategic importance of Helmand. I spent most of 2012 there, and could easily see that the gains made were not tenable. I certainly agree with you that the Afghan government realizes Helmand is not strategically significant, and has only committed troops in any number there to mollify the US and UK. ANSF will be quickly redeployed to more critical areas within the next year or 2.

    The Vice documentary "This is What Winning Looks Like" is an incredibly accurate portrayal of Helmand.
    JJE,

    I've not read 'Little America' and the cited film appears to be one I missed. It is by Ben Anderson, an intrepid sometime BBC reporter whose work and views have appeared on SWC before.

    This is a link to the documentary (90 mins) and accompanying text:http://www.vice.com/en_uk/vice-news/...ke-full-length

    Something to watch later when the football is on.
    davidbfpo

  3. #43
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Teams are based on Patronage, not being Pashtu

    Many Pashtu individuals, tribes and families did not have patronage under the Taliban that do under the current Northern Alliance-based government.

    Second; Pakistan will always see it to be an absolutely existential vital national interest to exercise influence into Afghanistan through their shared Pashto population. So it has been, so it will always be. Get over it. We are the interlopers from afar. Interlopers who worked with this "devil's spawn" during our first foray into this region when our interest in thwarting Soviet occupation of Afghanistan aligned with the Pakistan interest of having influence over that same space and populations.

    Now we work with the same Afghans we worked against during "Charlie Wilson's War"; and equally are at cross purposes with former and current Pakistan allies. We demand that Pakistan act against their vital national interests. Then we get pissed when they drag their heels in doing something that they knew would be horribly disruptive to their national stability; and then we blamed the instability that followed once they finally did what we coerced them into doing on their slowness and half-hearted efforts, rather than recognizing that it was because of what we asked them to do, not how they were going about doing it.

    None of this is about who is "right" or who is "wrong" - there are always winners and losers and in this patronage-based society it is very nearly a zero-sum game. Winners and losers have flipped several times over the past 40 years as a result of Western meddling, and it has created even more chaos and enmity than the traditional norm as so many have been on both the winning and the losing side, often more than once, in their lifetime. Very different than if one lives their life as seeing being on the outside as the norm. Their is far less acceptance of being squeezed out, particularly when one can reasonably rationalize that "but for" the help of some foreign power, one would still be on top.

    This is not about fact and American interests. This is about perception and the interests of the people, families, tribes and nations that actually live there. We've read this one wrong from the start, and then have overly focused on forcing our ill-conceived solution to work, rather than adjusting to a more realistic solution based on the place where we actually are and reality as it actually is - and then making that work.

    That is the real lesson of the Brits in Malaya. They went to Malaya to execute plan A, restore the colony; the Brits then succeeded once they gave up on plan A as infeasible and instead implemented plan B, enabling the creation of the common wealth nation of Malaysia that was much more inclusive of ethnic Indian and Chinese populations.

    We need a plan B if we want to "succeed" as well. Sometimes winning is folding a losing hand and drawing new cards. We just keep throwing more money into the pot and blaming the other players with better cards for not folding. That doesn't make our cards any better.
    Last edited by Bob's World; 07-09-2014 at 12:52 PM.
    Robert C. Jones
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    "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)

  4. #44
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    Sir,

    I sat kneecap to kneecap with a Pakistani general officer earlier this year in Islamabad, and the topic of Pakistan's interests relative to India and Afghanistan came up at his prodding.

    Your point about perceptions and interests of the people on the ground and directly involved in the matter is spot on.

    He conceded that the US lost several thousand killed during the 9/11 attacks, then asked the rhetorical if I knew how many had died or been wounded in Pakistan during the aftermath and last 13 years.

    Being stuck on Plan A is an accurate, and tragic, analogy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    Bill,

    This is the challenge of the current strategic environment. The problems the military is being sent out to "fix" or "defeat" are by and large NOT MILITARY PROBLEMS.

    We are at a point in our strategic analysis where most communities, civilian and military alike, will admit that the strategic environment has fundamentally changed and continues to change at a nearly exponential rate. Then, in nearly the same breath, espouse some version of "therefore, business as usual - but I need more stuff if you want success."

    We need to get to the point where we recognize that we must fundamentally change as well; and that we cannot simply use the military as some sort of "little Dutch Boy" to go stick our proverbial fingers into any number of proverbial dikes that are crumbling around us. It appears that the military can not only buy time and space for civilian leadership to succeed. We can buy time and space to allow it to fail as well. Did not the Roman Legions conduct a delaying action as the Barbarians made their way to Rome?

    What we do today is not much different; and likely will end in similar fashion if we fail to shift from comfortably studying and applauding our tactics, and do not begin spending a great deal more time getting uncomfortable as we confront the realities of our policies and strategies.

    I actually see a glimmer of hope in what I suspect is happening in Syria and Iraq. But then I may be assuming things that are not there, and giving credit where none is due - but I remain an optimist.

    As to taking shots from civilians who feel like some individuals or aspects of the military are imposing on intellectual turf they arrogantly believe is uniquely theirs, I have two words. Moral Courage. We need more of it.
    Bob,

    Interesting thoughts as always. I can't recall who wrote this, but I read a book a while back that two things are likely to prevent change. One is legalistic (policy, regulations, laws, etc.), and the other is tactical success. I think we're impacted by both, and would add to that the impact of our culture and our bureaucracy, which by definition is resistant to change.

    The impact of the current security related challenges related to Syria, Iraq, Israel, the election crisis in Afghanistan, the mass migration of Latin American children to the U.S., Russia's activities in the Ukraine, the disputed territorial claims in East Asia, and the many challenges throughout Africa seem to indicate that what we once perceived as the norm for the world order no longer applies. We're in the midst of change, and as the world's only superpower we desire to shape it (much better us than China or Russia in my opinion), but so far have been largely ineffective, which in itself should be a cause for deep self-reflection on why.

    Unlike you I'm not optimistic, but I do see opportunity for U.S. leadership, which is lacking at the moment. It isn't about supporting the doves or hawks, but developing an entirely new approach for the ways we pursue our ends, and re-examining what those ends should be. Some ends will employ the full spectrum of DIMEFIL to pursue because they're critical to us, other ends are what we would like to see, and those are the ones we need to stop relying on the military to pursue.

    When will the new National Security Strategy be published?

  6. #46
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    There's a couple of things going on here, some with counter-vailing impacts on the others.

    First, structurally, the United States is committed to maintaining its hegemony in the short-term. This is represented in its fiscal priorities: defense expenditures represent approximately half of all discretionary spending; this number increases with the addition of the expenditures for the VA and Homeland Security (and other security or intelligence functions). Investments in infrastructure, innovation, education, and health are relatively minor. The largest social spending programs (Social Security and Medicare) are dedicated to improving the living conditions of the elderly. Of the already meager international aid budget, 25% goes to the top four recipients: Israel, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The U.S. also leads in global arms sales, making this a primary source of revenue as well as a linkage to other governments. This means that institutionally the United States is geared towards maintaining its position in a specific strategic environment: one that requires the exercise of military force and wide-ranging security programs to sustain superpower status. The decline in U.S. military purchasing power also means that a greater amount of fiscal resources will be required to sustain a diminishing return on security effects. Without change, this means that the U.S. will eventually retreat from previous strategic priorities since it will not be able to sustain its security committments and will suffer from the consequent loss in credibility.

    Second, absolute power is not as important as relative power. U.S. absolute power remains two to three fold ahead of the next competitor in military capabilities (Russia). However, there is a perception that (1) U.S. military capabilities are slowing in development relative to competitors and (2) U.S. military capabilities are either insufficient or inappropriate in their application. This explains the crisis in foreign policy debates about U.S. decline. But it also is empowering to elites in Moscow and Beijing; reference dependency is important. Moscow has two: the Soviet era and the Yeltsin administration, so current conditions (Russia has lost 1 war in 10 since 1991) give Russia confidence. The steady growth of China's capabilities is not revolutionary but methodical; but in the context of changings in U.S. relative power, that suddenly becomes a threat. This is similar to the situation prior to World War I when German and Austrian elites felt severely insecure about the long-term threat of Russia, even though Russia was decades behind in military development. It was the rapid growth of military and economic capabilities relative to Germany and Austria that produced the fear, not the absolute power.

    Third, Russia is clearly dissatisfied with its position in the international community, while China's view is less clear (in my opinion). Russia will continue to openly challenge the U.S. while it appears that Russia's power is on the ascent relative to American power. In this situation, the declining power has no good options: as its strength declines, time works against it in restoring the status quo (and note, the status quo is always referenced as the apex of power, not the actual current conditions). Because potential losses are always more weighted than potential gains in measuring risk taking in policy decisions, there is an inherent incentive to preserve the remaining capabilities and not risk a hegemonic war, even though continued trends means that the prospect of a favorable outcome actually declines over time.

    So, the U.S. is stuck in this paradigm that defines the parameters of its strategy options, even as its options become increasingly irrelevant and/or ineffective over time because the paradigm itself is changing. The U.S. needs to recapitalize on the generators of power itself (i.e. development, innovation, health), not the materialization of that power (i.e. military capabilities).
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

  7. #47
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Snatching defeat from victory

    A long detailed report on the mistakes made in Helmand, that predated the current fighting around Sangin, from the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), the full title is:
    Snatching defeat from victory: How ISAF infighting helped doom Sangin to its ongoing violence
    Link:https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org...oing-violence/

    Everyone gets a mention, IMHO it dissects much of what SWC have discussed about this 'small war'. Indeed in places you can get lost at the pace of themes and places: Marjah, 'government in a box', the UK PRT, civilian advice if not direction, human terrain, negoitation with the Taliban etc.

    Hitting a potentially defecting local Taliban leaders meeting with 500 pound bomb(s) I expect prompts the article's title.
    davidbfpo

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    Not quite David,

    Most od the discussion on Helmand around here (SWC) comprised criticism by a few and blind loyalty - to failing strategy and tactics - by the majority.

    I guess this quote from the article sums it all up pretty well:

    “The whole sorry recent history of Sangin encapsulates so well our failings in Helmand, and Afghanistan in general,” said a former British diplomat, “each branch of ISAF with its own agenda, its own imperatives and, more than anything else, its own egos.”
    History will judge this Afghan adventure harshly - as has already begun - and the respective militaries - specifically the officers who commanded there - will not be spared.

    I would go so far as to state that this has been the final humiliation for the British military. The fish has finally rotted from the head down.

    Remember this conversation between German generals Erich Ludendorff and Max Hoffmann:

    Ludendorff: The English soldiers fight like lions.
    Hoffmann: True. But don't we know that they are lions led by donkeys.
    But before that in Crimea a Russian officer had said that British soldiers were ‘lions commanded by asses'.

    Scottish independence - should it occur - will provide the mercy killing for this once great military. A desperately sad situation.

    PS: Lind has warned that the same "rotting from the head down" is taking its toll on the US military.



    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    A long detailed report on the mistakes made in Helmand, that predated the current fighting around Sangin, from the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), the full title is:

    Link:https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org...oing-violence/

    Everyone gets a mention, IMHO it dissects much of what SWC have discussed about this 'small war'. Indeed in places you can get lost at the pace of themes and places: Marjah, 'government in a box', the UK PRT, civilian advice if not direction, human terrain, negoitation with the Taliban etc.

    Hitting a potentially defecting local Taliban leaders meeting with 500 pound bomb(s) I expect prompts the article's title.
    Last edited by JMA; 07-26-2014 at 06:46 AM.

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