I was not a big fan of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book on Iraq, as I think he was a bit blinkered and his view lacked nuance, and I think he may make the same mistake in his upcoming book on AFG, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan.
He is getting only part of the story - and letting a bit of an agenda float in what could otherwise be a solid job - just like his previous book.
In an exert in WaPo, he starts on something I actually have first hand knowledge of;
The problem was partly rooted in a 2005 decision by President George W. Bush to reduce American forces in Afghanistan and deploy them in Iraq. As the Taliban was gathering strength and violence was flaring across southern Afghanistan, his administration asked NATO to take up the task of stabilizing that region. The Canadians got Kandahar, and Helmand fell to the British.Not everything is Bush's fault and that Beltway tic is getting very old. Only someone looking for a cheap and easy mark would make that statement about where we are in AFG right now. Let me take you back to the middle part of the last decade.
By 2009, the British had 9,000 troops in Helmand because London kept adding more to confront expanding Taliban ranks. Although Kandahar was home to far more people, Canada had deployed only 2,830 soldiers to the province. Most of them were assigned to headquarters and support roles; fewer than 600 went on patrol.
When Exum returned to Kabul, he asked U.S. Maj. Gen. Michael Tucker, the soon-to-depart director of operations for all NATO troops, why more Canadians had not been sent into the city. Tucker said he did not want to dictate to the Canadians where to place their forces. “It is wrong,” he said, “to tell a commander, from this level, to put troops in Kandahar city.”
Exum was sitting next to Tucker. When he did not want others to see what he was recording in the Moleskine notebook he took everywhere, he scribbled in Greek. “This guy is a jackass,” he wrote. “Kandahar — not Helmand — is the single point of failure in Afghanistan.”
The decision to send the Marines to Helmand instead of Kandahar had been made by McKiernan, but he had been urged to do so by his subordinates in Kandahar, including a then-one-star U.S. Army general, John “Mick” Nicholson. When Nicholson met with Exum and his teammates to explain his reasoning, he emphasized that the Kandahar mission was Canada’s largest overseas deployment since the Korean War. Military leaders in Ottawa were reluctant to ask for more help — some were convinced that security in Kandahar was improving, others didn’t want to risk the embarrassment — and McKiernan didn’t want to upset the Canadians by forcing them to cede additional territory. To Exum and others on the team, however, it seemed that U.S. commanders thought that managing the NATO alliance was more important than winning the war.
NATO's ISAF expanded their control out of Regional Command Capital from 2003-2006, after getting the nod from the United Nations to take Operational Control. In a strange fashion that only makes sense from Brussels, a German 4-star in The Netherlands technically runs the Operational Level Headquarters between the "In theater Operational Commander" COMISAF in Kabul, under a US General, and another American 4-Star as Strategic Level commander in Mons, Belgium in the person of SACEUR.
If you want to understand what happened between the middle of the decade and the surge where the US started to take the keys back in 2008 - that is where you start.
Back in late last decade, we went through it in detail (see Afghanistan and/or NATO tag if needed) - but let me remind everyone with an executive summary.
As any survivor of the 2004 election will remind you, "our allies" "international partners" and all that jazz was the big push. As AFG was relatively benign and we had such confidence in our soft-power and soft-covers ideas, the fevered concepts of the Bonn Conference have yet to implode, and people still believed that the Germans/EU could train ANP, Italy could fix the judiciary, Japan could disarm illegally armed groups, etc, etc. - of we went thinking war and COIN was new.
The whole operational plan by NATO was to go soft as possible, and they couldn't even do that. After a couple of cycles, it was evident that they couldn't even fill the very small Combined Joint Statement of Requirements. NATO wouldn't involve itself in Counter Terrorist activities, saddled its forces with caveats, and as usual over-promised and under-delivered based on best-case scenarios and .... hope.
There were really two wars being run - the American war in the East with Counter Terrorist forces here and there throughout the country - and NATO's war everywhere else. German traing teams wouldn't leave the North with the AFG Kandaks they trained, and Italian and Spanish forces would rarely leave their cantonments - much less the road. That only changed in late '08 and through '09 as the surge started to change the ground with more American caveat-free forces - even as CAN, NLD, and other forces ran for the door.
The final card in NATO's hand came out when NATO failed in the summer of 2007 to fill the aviation bridging force, and again in early 2008 requiring the usual response; Uncle Sam would do it. It became clear even to the last hold-outs that the USA needed to take back the keys and that NATO's plan would not work.
At that time, the USA had almost all its forces in the East. The Brits, Canadians, Dutch, Australians and a few others were in the South. The Germans and Nordic countries in the North. The Italians and Spaniards in the West. NATO was as tribal as the AFG.
We could not, would not, and should not have bully-boy'd our way in to the South any faster than we did.
AFG was not, especially in 2007-2009, and American fight in the South. Even if we wanted to - it would have been madness to have played the role of ugly American and have hip-checked our allies out of Command in the South in a rash manner. That is not how an alliance at war works.
The Canadians are not impressed either;
Canada's military effort in Kandahar has been heavily criticized and seriously misrepresented in a new book by a reporter and associate editor from the Washington Post ... Chandrasekaran reveals a misunderstanding of the history of the Canadian and American deployments in Kandahar and is apparently unaware of the many attempts that the overmatched Canadian task force there and political leaders in Ottawa made to get the U.S. and other NATO allies to join them in the fight.The story of NATO's internal tribalism, our excessive hope in internationalism, and the international pettiness of IO/GO/NGO is really the subject for a book yet written, and it doesn't look like Rajiv's book will be it.
From what I am reading so far - this is all focused on the Obama Drama part of the AFG war, and perhaps that is my frustration. I find the years before the Obama more interesting - the grand illusion of NATO's AFG - much more fertile - but that probably wouldn't sell that many books in an election year.
The staff squabbles in the Obama Administration about what was the best way to lose the war after they were given a path to non-defeat just doesn't interest me all that much. The argument that we lost a chance to win (or not lose) in AFG because we did not negotiate with the Taliban is a non starter. Holbrookeism and Bidenism was never a path to anything but failure. The Taliban do not negotiate in the Western sense. They negotiate in the Muslim sense, and if I have to explain this to you then I can't help you. Read up on what Mohammed had to say about negotiating with your enemies and then come back.
The simple fact is that AFG was lost - or at least prevented from having a good chance for a "non-loss" - when President Obama made his announcement of his calendar based retreat/withdraw in the West Point speech in 2009. Full stop. That is the story of the Obama war effort.
Rajiv is looking at AFG from a too American centric point of view and it shows. That will be the critical failing of his book.
It is also worth noting that the author mentioned in the book, Sarah Chayes, whose book I recommended back in 2008, was not magically discovered by Andrew Exum and General McChrystal's group. She had been known to US & NATOs planners since the middle of the '00s.
I wonder if they will make a totally disconnected movie out of this too.