From The Atlantic, Robert D. Kaplan has a must-read article. It is long - but spot on and worth your time.
You need to read the whole thing - those I find that resonate the most with me are bolded.
“Look, this isn’t easy,” he sighed. “Afghanistan for years got worse and worse, and the coalition sometimes lagged behind the reality of the situation.” Because the country is so decentralized, he explained, it is extraordinarily complex, with a different tribal and sectarian reality in each district. But then he ticked off ways the war could be won. “The insurgency is only fundamentally effective in the Pashtun belt. The critical part of the population is where the water and the roads are. People near water are more important economically: along the Helmand and Kabul rivers. You secure these areas, and you take the oxygen out of the insurgency.”
He continued, talking about developing a corps of Afghan-area experts within the United States military akin to the American “China hands” of the early and mid-20th century, and “British East India Company types” who went out for years and learned the local languages. His command sergeant major, Mike Hall of Avon Lake, Ohio, said that when McChrystal selected his team of generals and colonels to come with him to command the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in June 2009, he more or less told them to “get out of the deployment mentality—that they would be in-country for 18 months, two and a half years, for the duration, however long it took to win.”
Afghanistan: a country whose citizens have a life expectancy of 44 years and a literacy rate of 28 percent (far lower among women), and only a fifth of whose population has access to clean drinking water. Out of 182 countries, Afghanistan ranks next to last on the United Nations’ Human Development Index (just ahead of Niger). Iraq, on the eve of the U.S. invasion, was ranked 126th; its literacy rate hovered around 70 percent.
Afghanistan’s problems on a developmental level are not only more profound than Iraq’s, but vaster in scope, as Afghanistan encompasses 30 percent more land. Consider, also, that 77 percent of Iraqis live in urban areas (concentrated heavily in Baghdad), so reducing violence in Greater Baghdad had a calming effect on the entire country; in Afghanistan, urbanization stands at only 30 percent, and so counterinsurgency efforts in one village may have no effect on another.The below is the best open source explanation that isn't on a .mil address explaining how HQ ISAF works - critical in understanding how we got here and how we are moving forward.
“Afghanistan was a cakewalk in 2001 and 2002,” says Sarah Chayes, former special adviser to McChrystal’s headquarters. “We started out with a country that hated the Taliban and by 2009 were driving people back into the arms of the Taliban. That’s not fate. That’s poor policy.” We enabled an administration, led by Hamid Karzai, that is less a government than a protection racket, in which bribery is the basis of a whole chain of transactions, from small sums paid to criminals at roadblocks in the south of the country to tens of millions of dollars smuggled out of the Kabul airport by government ministers. The myth is that the absence of governance in Afghanistan creates a vacuum in which the Taliban thrive. But the truth, as Chayes explains, is the opposite. Karzai governs everywhere in the revenue belt, synonymous with Pashtunistan, in the south and east of the country: the Taliban succeed in these very places, not because of no governance but because of corrupt and abusive governance.
Overlying all of these divisions was a society atomized by three decades of warfare: indeed, because of Afghanistan’s short life expectancy, most people in Kolenda’s area of responsibility had known nothing but fighting all their lives. The landed aristocracy of elders that once functioned as the social glue had dissolved; in its place came a violent lower class of young men, disaggregated by clan and ethnicity, battling for a hazy idea of justice. The Taliban had been gone from power for seven years. The 17-year-old fighters here barely remembered their benighted rule, and now saw anti-government groups as the good guys against the foreign occupiers.
Finding the right elders and providing them with seed money that would help them regain control of their young men was painstaking labor. You couldn’t just build a school or dig a well: a new school in one valley could enrage people in the next. Money was often doled out only after violence by the locals stopped. “Then they built the school,” Kolenda said, repeating an Afghan proverb: “If you sweat for it, you’ll protect it.”
The coordination of more than a score of such battalions, not to mention 45 Army Special Forces A-teams, Marine special-ops units, and so on, all involved in some aspect of counterinsurgency, is less the job of McChrystal than that of Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez, like McChrystal and Kolenda a West Point graduate, who heads the ISAF Joint Command. If the military coalition in Afghanistan were a newspaper, think of McChrystal as the editor in chief and Rodriguez as the managing editor.
McChrystal, atop ISAF, is, as he said, focused “up and out,” dealing with big-think strategic planning, daily interactions with NATO and other members of the 44-country coalition in Afghanistan, the United Nations, the Afghan National Army and National Police, President Karzai, and the ministers of interior and defense, as well as with training indigenous forces and restructuring detainee procedures—that is, exploiting captured Taliban sources, while not mistreating them, and gradually getting America out of the detainee business altogether. Above all, McChrystal has the task of military coordination with Pakistan in the hunt for high-value targets in the borderlands.Here is where we are going.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, is focused “down and in,” on the day-to-day operations of ISAF, on the deputies of the relevant ministries, the district governors, provincial councils, border police, individual Afghan army units, and so on. Rodriguez, a six-foot-four-inch, gangly, gentle giant with a shock of short salt-and-pepper hair, is the real implementer of President Obama and McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy.
The shame is that Rodriguez’s three-star command didn’t even come into existence until late 2009: before that, previous commanders such as Generals David McKiernan and Dan McNeill had to combine the two jobs. As a result, neither job got done as well as it should have.
Now the American military is about to bear down hard on Greater Kandahar, where Taliban- and Karzai-affiliated warlords hold considerable sway. “We will get to about 33 percent of the Afghan landmass in the next 15 months or so, affecting 60 percent of the population,” Rodriguez assured me. Once again, we might be poised to overcome the vast, impersonal forces of fate, even as we contribute to our own troubled destiny as a great power.Watch - and have Strategic Patience.
Hat tip Yeoman in the 'Stan