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Old 05-05-2013   #21
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The Cato Institute's Malou Innocent wrote a piece I read a short time ago, and its chidings form part of a lesson that undoubtedly ranks in my top ten. It falls in line with the idea that our views are rarely universal:

We had no business trying to transform women's rights in Afghanistan. We really, really screwed it up when we added do-goodery to what should have been a straightforward endeavour. Women's right are a morally noble idea to promote and protect, but there were already a ton of other things we couldn't do right. Our behavior in this regard actually aggravated tensions.

http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn....o-afghanistan/

The subject of the photo used for the piece will haunt my memory for quite some time.

I am actually fairly pissed off that for all of our cultural awareness training, and the snake oil salesmen who have somehow embedded themselves in our warfighting functions via contracts to provide cultural advice and education, we screwed it up with the women's rights angle. I think the FETs were a mistake (despite how hard we want to believe they had value), efforts to try and promote women's community councils/groups were a worse fantasy, and we should have known better. I know the goals were often more Killcullenish and aimed at getting at the young males through their mothers, but I believe it inflamed tensions more than it provided benefit.

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Old 05-05-2013   #22
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Default What did the PRTs teach us?

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Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
I never noticed a shift because I was prepping for my Afghan deploy in 2009 and into 2010 (having finished an Iraq deploy in April '09), and FM 3-24 remained a bible we were leaning on. The notion of the PRT somehow holding the key to the lock box of answers was rampant to the point of a farce by the time I saw the PRT's shoddy work.
Jon,

I am still working on my reflections from a faraway armchair, but this passage caught my attention.

My own reading on the PRT theme was in the earlier years and a couple of encounters with those who had been involved later on. Alongside more reading on the role of the Political Officer along the Durand Line, in the British Imperial era.

Was Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) a far more acceptable label and concept for the Afghans and those who were in the audience back home? At the start of our intervention, which was overwhelmingly coercive, Afghanistan had some limited governance at provincial level and almost none at the national level. The PRT's role was really to act as political officers, with a tiny non-military component, a small protective detail, some good comms and a bag full of cash.

It was clear by 2005 and certainly by 2006 that the level of violence within Afghanistan meant neither the political or reconstruction role was working. I recall one PRT rarely left its own base and relied on non-Afghans for security.

The British PRT which moved from the north (Mazar-i-Sharif IIRC) to Helmand, growing in size with larger civil staff (DFID, FCO, SOCA etc), then was reported to embark on projects that stretched credulity - a children's playground, with a ferris wheel comes to mind - and distributing ammonium nitrate fertiliser, in the chemical composition to make IEDs! Shoddy became dangerous.
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Old 05-05-2013   #23
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While I cannot speak for the Afghans of Helmand and what they think per se, I cannot imagine they cared what the label was. As you mentioned, the fistfuls of cash were what mattered, and the ever opportunistic Afghans played the PRT for every cent it cared to disburse.

When the tell-all books start coming out because the generals have time to write, one of the recurring themes is sure to be the degree of outright contempt that they held for the British PRT and the female (was she Irish?) leader.

If there was ever a case study for the civil-military divide, and why sometimes the two should simply not mix, Helmand will be held up as the example. It's a shame too, because we should have learned and retained the lessons from Somalia, where the disconnect between civ-mil and the gulf between respective operations became glaringly apparent and the Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC) first came into collective use.

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Old 05-05-2013   #24
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Default NPR piece on PRTs in Afghanistan.

There was an NPR piece on PRTs in Afghanistan last month [LINK].

From the transcript:

Quote:
Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin talks to Kael Weston about the closing of the first Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan. PRTs are humanitarian missions run by military troops and civilians that built roads and schools. Weston spent seven years as a diplomat for the State Department, and says the teams have a mixed legacy.
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Old 05-06-2013   #25
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Every "lesson learned" I have seen so far coming out of our involvement in this conflict has been extremely tactical in nature. "How do we do the wrong thing better."

The lessons not learned, however, are:

1. Punitive Expeditions work.

2. "King Making" has been obsolete for at least 100 years, it is time to retire that COA.

3. "Fixing" some foreign culture where one has no legitimacy to undertake such a program is hubris and folly. Particularly when the concept of what "fixed" looks like is based upon the history, culture and perspective of the fixer, rather than the fixee.

I could add more, but those are my top three.
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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)
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Old 05-06-2013   #26
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Default The Enemy Is Still A System.....Not A Country!

Here is a link to "Top Secret America" a PBS report that covers everything not just A'stan. But it is worth watching the first 15 or 20 minutes to see how clearly the CIA understood we were fighting a Terrorist System not a Country and what to do about it. In large part the American military did not get it and still doesn't! Which is why we could have a carbon copy of the USA in A'stan and it would still not stop Terrorist attacks as we found out recently in Boston. I think that is the real lesson that needs to be learned and we can either learn it and adapt or not learn it and keep on getting attacked all the while wasting unbelievable amounts of money!
Here is the link:http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontl...secretamerica/
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Old 05-06-2013   #27
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Slap,

More accurately, I believe "the enemy" is a symptom, much more than "a system."

There is much friction to the US approach to propping up and sustaining systems of governance and specific individuals and families in power when and where we believe doing so is the best way to secure our interests in some particular place. When the people who live in those places and suffer under those governments grow frustrated with how that manner of US support appears to be either enabling such governments to continue on with some status quo of governance, or particularly when the US is actively contributing to the suppression of popular revolt, we make ourselves a target for acts of international terrorism.

A certain level of such violence is normal. The cost of doing business for a powerful country such as the US. But when this violence grows and and becomes connected between many diverse parties arising out of many equally diverse populaces, it is much more than a cost of business, it becomes a metric. The clear message we should have taken from the events of 9/11, and the subsequent flow of foreign fighters to Iraq, and from the subsequent Arab Spring, etc, etc, is that our approach to foreign policy designed for the Cold War is out of touch with the realities of the world we live in today.

Credit for President Obama for attempting to break from many of those outdated habits, but it is not clear that the current administration has a clear grasp on a new way forward. So we are abandoning the past without a plan for the future. I picture a circus trapeze act where one turns loose of one bar without planning for a new one to be present to grab onto. In real life, there is no net to land on.

But this in not something done to us by some "enemy," system or otherwise. This is a self-inflicted failure to anticipate and adapt to the world around us, and clinging too long to comfortable practices that were clearly in need of major overhauls long ago. The Clinton Administration largely ignored these changes and was reactive rather than proactive. The Bush Administration interpreted these changes through an obsolete lens, and saw beating up on Afghanistan and Iraq as solutions for a problem clearly centered in Saudi Arabia. The Obama administation saw doubling down on Afghanistan as key and was "surprised" by Arab Spring.

None of this is either surprising or unpredictable. The world is telling us we need a new strategy. We should listen. It will be cheaper to implement than our current approach and should cause far less friction. But giving up control is hard...
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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)
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Old 05-06-2013   #28
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Quote:
But when this violence grows and and becomes connected between many diverse parties arising out of many equally diverse populaces, it is much more than a cost of business, it becomes a metric.
Some folks would also call it a clue.
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Old 05-07-2013   #29
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Yes.
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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)
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Old 05-07-2013   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
Slap,

More accurately, I believe "the enemy" is a symptom, much more than "a system."

There is much friction to the US approach to propping up and sustaining systems of governance and specific individuals and families in power when and where we believe doing so is the best way to secure our interests in some particular place. When the people who live in those places and suffer under those governments grow frustrated with how that manner of US support appears to be either enabling such governments to continue on with some status quo of governance, or particularly when the US is actively contributing to the suppression of popular revolt, we make ourselves a target for acts of international terrorism.
Oh it is a System alright, make no mistake about it. I agree with the fact that our actions are a "symptom" of our inability to understand and adapt to the System and the new Larger Environment that we are operating in.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob'sWorld
But when this violence grows and and becomes connected between many diverse parties arising out of many equally diverse populaces, it is much more than a cost of business, it becomes a metric.
That is my point, that is the very definition of a a System!!!!! Diverse elements with a common purpose.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob
The clear message we should have taken from the events of 9/11, and the subsequent flow of foreign fighters to Iraq, and from the subsequent Arab Spring, etc, etc, is that our approach to foreign policy designed for the Cold War is out of touch with the realities of the world we live in today.
Again I don't disagree. As JCustis says it's a clue but more importantly it is a System metric(not a target metric) and it is showing that our actions are increasing the Energy of the System has not decreasing it! Very bad!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob
Credit for President Obama for attempting to break from many of those outdated habits, but it is not clear that the current administration has a clear grasp on a new way forward. So we are abandoning the past without a plan for the future. I picture a circus trapeze act where one turns loose of one bar without planning for a new one to be present to grab onto. In real life, there is no net to land on.
Did you ever say a mouthful with that statement! And I agree 100% that is what concerns me most we quiting our current Process but we do not have a replacement Process, so we look very,very weak and the Opposing System understands this.....so we get attacked and will continue to get attacked. We are weaker in many ways now than we were after Vietnam.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob
But this in not something done to us by some "enemy," system or otherwise. This is a self-inflicted failure to anticipate and adapt to the world around us, and clinging too long to comfortable practices that were clearly in need of major overhauls long ago.
Partially true their are most definitely certain portions of the System that are our Enemies.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob
The Clinton Administration largely ignored these changes and was reactive rather than proactive.
Clinton is a disciple of Quigley a dangerous Globalist and we are paying many prices today for that strange theory. Independence NOT Dependence is what any System needs!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob
The Bush Administration interpreted these changes through an obsolete lens, and saw beating up on Afghanistan and Iraq as solutions for a problem clearly centered in Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration saw doubling down on Afghanistan as key and was "surprised" by Arab Spring.
Again I agree 100%

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob
None of this is either surprising or unpredictable. The world is telling us we need a new strategy. We should listen. It will be cheaper to implement than our current approach and should cause far less friction. But giving up control is hard...
We are essentially leaderless in a dangerous world where we want to impose some kind of progressive, gay, lesbian ,transgender,tax cuts for the rich,save the banks at all cost, universal rights theory and make the world safe for bunnies,puppies and unicorns. We are floundering for our National survival. Not all of the post war cold war theories were or are wrong. The Soviet Union is gone but Marxist/Lennonism is alive and growing stronger in some cases(its called China with a lot of money and they blood RED Commies at heart) now combine that with radical jihad and well...............gonna be real interesting for a while.
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Old 05-07-2013   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
Every "lesson learned" I have seen so far coming out of our involvement in this conflict has been extremely tactical in nature. "How do we do the wrong thing better."

The lessons not learned, however, are:

1. Punitive Expeditions work.

2. "King Making" has been obsolete for at least 100 years, it is time to retire that COA.

3. "Fixing" some foreign culture where one has no legitimacy to undertake such a program is hubris and folly. Particularly when the concept of what "fixed" looks like is based upon the history, culture and perspective of the fixer, rather than the fixee.

I could add more, but those are my top three.
No issue with any of these, and it seems to me that if we would have embraced these 3 lessons as principles to guide our foreign policy we would seen very few or no failures with our interventions. Time for our leaders to stop selling the COIN snake oil.
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Old 05-07-2013   #32
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I'm not an expert on Afghanistan (I'm from faraway Africa), but I think the most important lesson, which the West should heed is this:

A nation is a working social contract and US Military might and aid dollars cannot create a working social contract from scratch. You can create the apparatus of a state quite easily, but you cannot create its essence - that is left for the citizenry.

Another thing Americans don't understand is that so many states in Africa and Asia are legacies of colonial rule, they lack working social contracts - and Western aid money, "counter-insurgency efforts" and military intervention CANNOT create working social contracts.

The biggest delusion of the Western foreign policy elite is that "democracy can create a working social contract" - it cannot, classical example is Mali - elections in Mali will do that State no good, it is a nation more in theory than in fact.

The World's many artificial states will have to work out their own "Peace of Westphalia" - and there is absolutely nothing the US can do about it, except try to truncate the process via "intervention".
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Old 05-07-2013   #33
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KingJaja - Good points all.
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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)
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Old 05-07-2013   #34
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What will our Afghanistan expedition teach us:
- Hopefully, it will teach us to have a strategy for winning, or at the very least, a clear goal (as many on SWJ have commented about)
- That sometimes a smaller force (SOF-oriented) is better than a huge force (GPF-oriented). Perhaps following the Central America force-cap of 55 is a better model to follow in the future
- That being more senior in rank doesn't necessarily equate to being more experienced or more knowledgeable
- That if hell-bent on executing COIN, then understanding the language and culture are pretty fraking important (I know JCustis will disagree)
- That micromanagement from multiple levels of bureaucracy does more harm than good
- That if all else fails, wearing a yellow safety belt seems to fix everything (seriously!!)

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Old 05-07-2013   #35
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First we must redefine "winning" for internal conflicts. For me it is simply this: "Not preserving some regime; not defeating some threat; but rather winning is increasing the percentage of the popolation who perceive themselves to be included in the overall solution."

In Afghanistan we merely flipped the table and expected the ousted 50% to lay down. Afghans don't lay down.
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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)
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Old 05-08-2013   #36
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Quote:
- That if hell-bent on executing COIN, then understanding the language and culture are pretty fraking important (I know JCustis will disagree)
I'm typically more dramatic about that topic than I probably should be. I should probably temper my distate for the snake oil sales pitch over culture and language by saying that I'd take a sharp, motivated linguist every time, over a lengthy spin-up package delivered by the culture pimps based at the mission rehearsal sites, or Quantico.

The culture pimps are a fleeting nuisance for commanders who are forced to endure the mandatory training before deployment, at a time when their schedules are already crushed.

Linguists can (and usually do) form powerful bonds that are a better return on investment. That's where the cultural immersion and language should come from.
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Old 05-08-2013   #37
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Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
I should probably temper my distate for the snake oil sales pitch over culture and language by saying that I'd take a sharp, motivated linguist every time, over a lengthy spin-up package delivered by the culture pimps based at the mission rehearsal sites, or Quantico.

The culture pimps are a fleeting nuisance for commanders who are forced to endure the mandatory training before deployment, at a time when their schedules are already crushed.
JCustis, I am going to heartily, and respectfully, disagree with you. Returning to the macro level I am not sure the (US) military, as currently configured and run, has any business getting involved in these types of operations. They can effect regime change, that is easy. They cannot effect the social engineering, modernization, and nation creating necessary in a place like Afghanistan. It is well beyond their training and certainly beyond their temperament. I have heard more than one commander assess his unit's capability based on their historic body count. You are not going to change that attitude with some cultural awareness training.

I agree with KingJaja. What we are attempting to achieve, a democratic Afghanistan, is not something we can accomplish. It is something the Afghans have to do for themselves on their own timeline (if ever). It is the ultimate in Imperial Hubris to believe we can do this.

That does not mean we never get involved. That means that we are more realistic about what military force can accomplish and what it can't.

The military will remain the default organization to go to when things go to #### in a far away country. We, as members of the military, need to stop thinking "here is my chance to kick some ass" and start thinking "maybe this is something that we do not have the capability to do" -- and then have the balls to tell our civilian leadership that. It will be easier for the next decade or so but as those who have never been to war start to get in positions of power their is the inevitable erg to push the limits.
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Old 05-09-2013   #38
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I completely agree, and I think we are more in line with common views than you realize. Yes, the military has little business trying to do what it does sometimes, and from that I think much of the money we have spent on cultural training, products (which tend to conflict each other) and immersion, is a waste of time. The proficiency has been superficial, and the guys who "get it" will always go their own way to study and prep for the mission on a path they feel they need to.

Buried somewhere here is a comment I made during my Afghan deploy. I let my bearing slip while I asserted it was time for Afgans in my valley to get off their knees and shoot some knuckleheads in the face. The answer has always rested with the Afghans, but they are incapable of unlocking it. I concur with you on that account as well.

As a case in point, a former Kabul elite can only tell me so much about pashtunwali, cultural idiocracies, and the like. The rest is just having the commonsense to be patient, tread softly, and not act like an ogre amongst the locals. I don't need a professor to teach me that stuff.

My units have always received better info from the linguists, compared to the cultural specialists back at homestation training venues. The linguists have some skin in the game. The guy pontificating about cultural norms from an office in Quantico? Not so much.

Perhaps the aim of the training has value, but we've merely failed with the delivery when trying to cram it into an already overflowing five pound bag.

Here's a brief side story and then I'll stop drifting off thread. It was Iraq, circa late 2008. I was having dinner with a civil affairs soldier attached to a SOF detachment operating in our battlespace. We got onto the subject of the local power player who they were conducting a lot of engagement with, and in turn getting a lot of intel from. He giggled when he said that this sheik would typically spend the majority of the visit talking about blondes, big tatas, and watching porn, while sitting around drinking chai and smoking cigarettes. You're never going to get that gouge from a culture pimp, so we need to rethink our priority and where we want to apply the resources.

The formal, stiff stuff can be saved for the diplomats, who are always optimized to live it and nurture it.

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Old 05-09-2013   #39
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Let me add a few words.

Is it possible that the Taliban offered Afghans a more compelling narrative than the US? Think about it - if you are poor, uneducated and religiously conservative would a US propped Karzai (corrupt, insensitive & incompetent) be vastly preferable to the simplicity & piety of the Taliban (or other religious conservatives).

America holds great promise to the World's educated middle classes, but of what relevance is it to the World's poor? This is something that strikes me when I walk around the streets of Lagos.

The last great narrative, Socialism was very attractive to the poor (I feel the US thinks it won the Cold War, so it has never seen the need to reflect on "lessons learned").

Today, the most attractive narratives to the World's poor are religion and/or ethnic nationalism. Pentecostal Christianity & Fundamentalist Islam are the two most dynamic narratives among the poor. Thankfully, the first isn't anti-US, but the second is.

Does the United States of America have a narrative it can sell to the World's poor?

US diplomats, policy makers & politicians should ponder over that question, because it will contribute to the success of future "nation building" exercises.
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Old 05-09-2013   #40
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Question Girl Green Berets As A Lesson To Be Learned

I don't know if this is a lesson to be learned or not but here is a link to how valuable female soldiers are in A'stan and they are clearly designated as special forces both by the commentator and their shoulder patches.



http://videos.komando.com/watch/3231...-screen-shot-b
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