Reason I ask is that I am getting a little itchy over those who are seeming shocked, SHOCKED, that things seem to be getting wobbly.
Along those lines, I guess this post is for me more than you. What is one of the cornerstones of this blog? When I started this blog 108-months ago, I threw out this bit at the end of SALAMANDER SERIAL 001;
Hey, if nothing else, it is cheap therapy.OK then, this is one of those posts. If you're not interested in my rambling on about AFG - then you may want to go somewhere else for awhile. I need to pound the keys a bit. Thanks for your indulgence.
Why is it time to come back to AFG? Well, Mark Mazzetti and Matthew Rosenberg's bit over at NYT set off the cascade;
Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai, President Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a “zero option” that would leave no American troops there after next year, according to American and European officials.Sound familiar? Of course it does.
Mr. Obama is committed to ending America’s military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and Obama administration officials have been negotiating with Afghan officials about leaving a small “residual force” behind. But his relationship with Mr. Karzai has been slowly unraveling, and reached a new low after an effort last month by the United States to begin peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.
The president's plan will pull out most of the 142,000 troops in Iraq by August 2010, or 19 months after his inauguration and 3 months longer than he promised on the campaign trail. Between 35,000 and 50,000 troops will remain until December 2011. While the Bush team once envisioned a long-term peacetime presence along the lines of Germany and South Korea, Obama's aides rejected that.I understand, elections have consequences - our nation voted twice for this Commander in Chief, and it was clear that this was the direction he wanted to go not just in Iraq, so no one should be shocked this trial balloon is going up about AFG as well.
"The path we're on here, the path is not toward any sort of Korea model," said a senior administration official, briefing reporters under ground rules requiring that he not be identified. "The path is toward reducing, in a fairly substantial way, U.S. forces in 2010 and then down to what's currently anticipated, down to zero, by the end of 2011."
The CINC and his fellow travelers are all big fans of "zero." The concept of zero is always attractive to utopians and absolutest who have complete confidence in their unfiltered vision of the truth and future. There is no risk mitigation, there is no hedging. No, for some things there can only be all or nothing; no center. They also lack institutional patience. They will - and do - regularly throw away decades of work today, as opposed to work one more year to finish the job. From the budget to foreign policy - they do not focus on the long term, that is something for others to fix - they focus on what needs to be done now to either win elections, score philosophical points, or justify agendas.
After we achieved our End States and Missing in Iraq, the argument could be made that the "zero option" was the right one. Heck, I could argue that point, but one could also argue the original plan of keeping a small force there - but given the fact that we are still in Germany and Japan, leaving at first opportunity was very well defendable. President Obama had that option only because we had already gained a victory.
As we were all told, AFG was the "good" war. Thanks to the correct vision at brought to the table by General McKiernan and his Staff after the mistaken outsourcing of AFG to NATO's promises and the fevered dreams of the Bonn Agreement; Shape-Clear-Hold-Build was a way, district by district to do it right - to give a conditions based process of giving AFG back to its people with full coordination by civilian, military, international, and non-governmental organizations via a conditions-base, incremental program.
Worked out in ernest in 2007 and early 2008, and enabled by the success of IRQ freeing up forces; the last two years of the Bush administration delivered a surge of forces (Shape and Clear) to create and hold security, to correct the failings of the training of the AFG forces so they could maintain those gains (Hold), and create the conditions for AFG having a chance - not a guarentee - of a civil society (Build). Then, district by district, province by province - we could go home.
While he got his team together, the plan was largely adopted with minor tweaking - but that all came crashing down in DEC 2009 with the President's West Point speech. It was all lost then.
There will be plenty of scholarly and literary works in the decades that come about how obvious the outcome should have been - and it is. As I said years ago - there is somewhere a young man or woman who will do their doctoral thesis that will become a book that will become a movie that will be somewhere between A Bright Shining Lie and Dereliction of Duty.
It didn't have to happen this way, and this isn't political. President Obama could have stayed the course - the right but difficult track. All it took was strategic patience but it all went off the track that day in late 2009 when in one speech the entire dynamic of the war changed and the momentum shifted - both on the ground and more importantly in the minds of the people in AFG - against us.
The press and the public - heck even some of our military leaders, may have thought that the summer of 2011 (later moved to 2014) we could have walked away in anything but ultimate dishonor. I have yet to see one of them give a historical reference to the success of such a Plan ... but people are free to be wrong. In this serious business though, a simple "my bad" won't do.
So, here we find ourselves. Let me re-quote something;
... new low after an effort last month by the United States to begin peace talks with the Taliban ...One does not begin peace talks in the middle of a retreat unless you are doing it simply to humiliate the force doing the retreating.
The Taliban are doing exactly what a rational, motivated, and educated force in their position would do; husband your forces, preserve your power, expand your base through soft persuasion based on inevidibility ... yet ... kick the departing force just enough to let everyone know that you were the one that forced their departure. It is called the Red Most Likely COA. Look it up.
Discussion of anything but a sub-optimal outcome is just wasted breath at this time. We are half-way through the last fighting season and ...
A deadly blast in the west of Kabul that left at least three people dead has marked the formal handover of nationwide security from the US-led NATO coalition to Afghan forces.What a complete waste this has all become. All that is left to do is what we have discussed often over the last few years; carry out your order and no more. Do all you can to protect your people and bring as many back in one piece as possible. The last fighting season is over and next year we will most likely be at zero ... but at best as good as zero - which is worse than actual zero.
The handover of responsibility on Tuesday is a significant milestone in the nearly 12-year war against Taliban and other armed groups and marks a turning point for American and NATO military forces, which will now move entirely into a supporting role.
It also opens the way for their full withdrawal in 18 months.
The ceremonial handover was, however, marred by an explosion that targeted the convoy of Mohammed Mohaqiq, a prominent ethnic Hazara lawmaker. Mohaqiq is said to have survived the blast.
General Mohammad Zahir, chief of the Kabul Criminal Investigation Division, said three people were killed by the bombing and another 30 were wounded - including six bodyguards.
"The roadside bomb targeted the Mohaqiq convoy, but he safely passed. One of his vehicles was damaged," Zahir said.
When you get home, and at the right time and in the right context - bear witness to what you saw, what you did, and what brought this nation to where it is. We were not forced off the field, our leaders quit.
Even the much maligned Elector of Bavaria put on a better show than we have since that day in late 2009.
So short sighted. This war will not end with out departure from AFG - no, in some ways it has only begun. We will not have saved the AFG people, we have condemned them. We have not defeated the Taliban, we have given them strength to rebuild.
What do we do from here? Simple - ignore the politics of the moment and instead think about the lessons to take away from this all. If you have - and are willing to accept that the next day you will perhaps disagree with them - in a moment where you are sober and in a dark spot, put down your top-5.
Though my mood has improved since the 16-yr old Salamander came in making snarky jokes bout The Walking Dead, here we go.
1. We do not nation-build unless we actually have a no-kidding declaration of war and we march in to their nation towards unconditional surrender where we are the unquestionable authority. Then we help them re-build on what ever good foundation they may have.
2. If anyone tells you "war is new" and it can be done on the cheap - go at them and go at them hard. In that light, many of us owe General Shinseki an apology.
3. When we do not have a declaration of war with the goal of unconditional surrender, then we need to be clear what our real options are; punitive expedition, targeted assassination (drones seem to do this well), consequence management, etc. Our operations should be nasty, brutish, and short. "No better friend, no worse enemy"; that works for me. If the locals can't take advantage of a chance to improve their lot; no our problem. Leave a calling card that if they irritate us again, the next time we hit harder.
4. Do not apologize for the nature of war.
5. Do not talk yourself - or let other talk you in - to believe that other nations will do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Accept other nations and international institutions for what they are; not what you wish they were.