Monday, June 01, 2009

The change in AFG

This started out as a much longer post - but I have decided to just boil this down to the basics without a bunch of the usual commentary.

I have been saying, rightly, that all the things happening in AFG right now are not "new" - that they are the results of what has been in the work for well over a year. That is true. That is no longer going to the the case though.

Gen. McKiernan's firing should signal one thing to all - the USA (and because it has not choice, NATO) is going to change radically what it does in AFG sooner more than later. You won't see the changes on the ground for at least 6 months, but they are coming.

The ground truth for the why and how Gen. McKiernan was fired will come out at some time, I don't want to add to the speculation about it. That is looking backwards, I want to talk about forward.

I want you to focus on two open source reports that I believe will shine some light on where we are going. First for Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff;
Mullen said additional forces and new tactics can help the United States turn a discouraging tide in Afghanistan. He said he was hopeful that "in the next 12- to 24 months, that we can stem the trends which have been going very badly in Afghanistan the last three years."
There may be a bit of circular reporting on this, but the 24-month mark is starting to creep more and more into the picture.

Second, is this little window into McKiernan's firing;
Unidentified Pentagon officials and fellow officers were quoted today saying McKiernan was too conventional in his thinking, that he had tried (and failed) to force out the allegedly corrupt Afghan president Hamid Karzai, and that as Nato commander he was too chummy with the mostly flaky European allies. In this latter respect, this week's developments mark another stage in the "re-Americanisation" of the Afghan war.

The problem is, the charges against McKiernan don't stick. In a media briefing last autumn, shortly after taking command, McKiernan set out a clear, thought-through, and politically subtle strategy. More troops were needed, especially in the south, after years of neglect due to Iraq. But reinforcements alone were not the answer.

"We can win all the tactical battles but that doesn't mean we win. To win, we have to win the battle of ideas," he said. "We must define winning in Afghan terms: meaning improved security, reduced civilian casualties, trustworthy government, economic and social progress."
Bingo. Those familiar with the plan in AFG know that there was little conventional or excessively kinetic about the plan. It was about as comprehensive and integrated as you can get.

What we may want to look at here is a bit of strategic impatience. NATO is slow. Working with the international community is slow. If you driven by a calendar-based plan instead of a conditions-based plan, then you do not have time to talk with your Global Partners; you just do what you want and let a "Coalition of the Willing" catch up to you when they can.

In a great irony, it looks like the Obama Administration if totally repudiating not the Bush Doctrine, but he Kerry Doctrine. Sound like they want out soon, not out right. A valid opinion, but one that will not likely be a success in the long run. If they sacked McKiernan because he was too interested in working with our Allies and the international community than was the new Administration's taste - then all those on the foreign policy Left need to take a powder - you just became a charactiture of the Bush protest puppets you built in mid-decade.

Allies and friends be damned. We are doing it our way. Is that the new line in Afghanistan? Funny, but there it is.

The one hope we have is that LTG McChrystal and Rodriguez can convince the new Administration to go condition-based vice calendar based. If we are going to be calendar based, then to be blunt, we might as well leave this year before the passes freeze over. AFG cannot be fixed or won in 24 months. This is at least a 10 year project - as it will take 10 years to build momentum towards a more literate society with the 8 year old whose behind is in his school seat.

Let's hope this change isn't towards the calendar based approach. If it is, we'll be back.

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