Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ahhhh ... the logistics of retreat

Judging by traffic, comments and links, I know that the national security consumer has long moved on from Afghanistan.

Well, I haven't and I will continue to post on it just so no one here is "shocked" about where this is all heading.

I'm quite proud of the front porch; you are a rough and tumble but well read group. We manage to keep each other honest and even a history geek like myself learns something new every day from the good folks who comment, email, tweet and play on FB. As a result, I know I don't need to go in to all that much detail with the regulars. You've been reading my stuff on AFG for almost a decade - and you know my line well since President Obama's DEC 09 West Point speech.

Call it what you will, but when we announced to the world that we were leaving Conditions-Based planning for Calendar-Based planning, we signaled retreat. If you're new, click the Afghanistan tag at the bottom of the post an read up. It's all there.

The Taliban are following exactly the Red Most Likely COA; they are husbanding their forces. Attack enough to ensure that you can claim that you kicked the Infidels out - but don't attack so much you lose the forces you will need for the civil war to follow. Take ground when it is surrendered, but only do so kinetically when absolutely necessary. It is better to simply explain to tribal leaders the ground truth, "They are leaving, we are staying. Who do you think you should be working with?"

The signal of retreat is having 2nd and 3rd order effects all over the place. One of the major ones is simply the lack of respect one gets in that part of the world by losing face. A few cases in point:

Via Craig Whitlock in WaPo:
Military logisticians would like to send home 60 percent of their equipment and vehicles by trucking them into Pakistan and then loading them onto ships — the least expensive method by far. But cargo is flowing out on that route at only one-third the planned rate, the officials said.
Officials declined to elaborate on the reasons for their heavy reliance on the more expensive methods of transport. They said, however, that Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and other Pentagon officials are scheduled to arrive Friday in Kabul to meet with senior Afghan officials on the issue.

Carter will also meet with U.S. troops before touring other countries in the region.

The government of Afghanistan closed the border this summer after a dispute over whether the Pentagon and its contractors should have to pay $70 million in customs “fines” for taking the military gear out of the country. The Pentagon has refused to pay, calling the penalties a thinly veiled attempt at a shakedown.
The United States has 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, but that number will dwindle to 34,000 by February. The U.S. and NATO combat mission is scheduled to end by December 2014. The Obama administration and Afghan leaders are still negotiating whether any U.S. troops will stay after that to help train Afghan security forces.
They've seen this movie before, they know what comes next.

I remember a dark moment in Destille Garden outside HQ ISAF in a late Thursday chatfest with the gaggle in early '09. Playing "what if" where I offered for the first time - repeated since a few times here - that if we were not in it to win it, that we should just withdrawal to the airheads. Fly everyone that we can out of there. Kill anyone who approaches too close to the base perimeter. What we can't fly out, destroy - as it would be immoral to ask one more American family to ask one of their children to die for something we have no intention of seeing through.

Of course, that was an extreme and ill-advised COA spoken in the false bravado a few days with little sleep will give you, but something we all kind of nodded our head at. We are doing a slower version of that right now in any event. Following the CINC's D&G of late '09, we have to give credit to those who got him to delay the full retreat signal from '11 to '14. That gave us a few more years to help create the effects we wanted on the ground to hopefully give the Afghan people a better chance, but we know what history is telling us.

Jacob Siegel is about on the right sheet of music over at TheDailyBeast,
For 12 years the United States has waged war in Afghanistan, pursuing a shifting set of objectives as public interest came and went. Now, facing the full withdrawal of military forces by the end of 2014, time is running out to make what we can of the country we’ve occupied for more than a decade.
It’s hard to achieve a recognizable victory in a war whose aims keep being redefined, but perhaps this, too, is Afghan good enough. We have achieved considerable success at prosecuting central al Qaeda and denying it sanctuary in Afghanistan, an effort that culminated in the public view with the raid on Osama bin Laden.

But the Taliban, once in decline, has been resurgent in recent years and now effectively controls large parts of the Pashtun south.

The Afghan military forces, which have been the focus of American training and funding, have displayed a mixed record at best. Desertion and corruption are both rampant. The logistical system is incapable of providing necessary supplies on time, and in many cases the willingness of units to fight is questionable.

The Afghan forces, unsurprisingly, take the long view. They know we are leaving soon, and where they see themselves outnumbered many seek accommodation with the Taliban as a means of self-preservation. The upshot has been that some areas once rid of Taliban forces have been ceded back to them after the Afghan Army took over responsibility.
It didn't have to end this way, but it is. We lost our patience. We are serving a half-cooked loaf of bread simply because we couldn't be patient enough to follow the recipe.

Has much changed in the year since Carmen Gentil's report?
A former resistance fighter during the Soviet occupation of his country, Afghan Col. Turab Adil knows that Afghans can put up a good fight.

He recalls how in the 1980s the mujahedin, as they were known, slipped through the hills and valleys to drive out the Communist superpower and its attack helicopters, tanks and fully armed troops.

Today's Afghan army will fight just as ferociously against Taliban fighters, but Adil and others say it can't defeat them under the current U.S. military strategy that calls for the withdrawal of all combat forces by the end of 2014.
"Over the last few years there has been tremendous progress in the Afghan National Security Forces," he says. "But when it comes to logistics (supplies and support for Afghan troops), intelligence gathering and decision-making, they still need help."
On the margins, perhaps - from the INFOPS and PSYOPS of the Taliban are way ahead of our efforts.

It is almost moot at this point. The last fighting season is done. Our poor planners don't even have the D&G to know what they are to do and with how many forces next year. Hard to do troops-to-task when you don't even have your tasks yet.

Well, that is what you have Branch Plans for ... or we can go the Wesley Clark method and make it up as we go along.

This might turn out OK, that that isn't where the smart money is.  
I wish the Tajik, Uzbek, and especially Hazara the best of luck from here on out. As for the Pashtun - well - never cared much from them from Karzai on down.

Unlike that dark talk in Destille Gardens, I think we will get home fairly intact. We'll be allowed to leave not unlike the Soviets over the Friendship Bridge.

Could be worse.

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