Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Desperately Seeking Phase 4: AFG Quandary Again

I guess it is time, again, as I have done every few years for the last decade+, to review how we got to where we are in AFG.

To understand why we are here, you have to know how we got here. 

It isn’t an easy story, but it should not be a surprise. Click the AFG tab if you want to see what I’ve written in the past on the topic, but I’ll summarize a bit here.

It can be best described in seven acts.

Act 1: Original Sin – Take the institutional arrogance of United Nations bureaucrats, business-class flying NGO leadership, Davos world view, and imbue it with a slight whiff of residual colonial parochialism, and you have the immediate post-911 Bonn Agreement. 

It was finalized when many of our Special Forces still had not washed the horse sweat from their DCUs. It set up a structure for the future Afghanistan before the power centers there could weigh in. Afghan solutions to Afghan problems and all that was simply not transformational enough. 

There were good people there who meant well, but it was asking too much, too soon, with too little appreciation for the realities of Afghanistan. This isn’t 20/20 hindsight either. We argued it at the time along the lines of, “Are they really committed to this for the long haul?”

This ran for roughly the first 2-3 years. Two recommendations for the later portions of this period that don’t get the attention they deserve: First, Sarah Chayes’s book, The Punishment of Virtue, and the documentary by Sedika Mojadidi, Motherland Afghanistan.

Act 2: Allied Hope – NATO decided to prove that it was more than just an exercise club and more than Euro-centric. As with a rather small footprint the USA seemed to have AFG under control, NATO believed it could take charge. From 2005-2006 it was decided while the USA remained in control of Regional Command East (RC-E), the Brits, Canadians, and Dutch would take RC-S, the Spanish and Italians would take RC-W, the Germans RC-N, and the Turks would take RC-C in Kabul.

It looked OK for a while, but the security situation started to spiral out of control. The exercise club also took some of its bad habits with it to war, and it stumbled. 

First, the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements out of Mons just never got filled. Some of the contributing nations who did throw their hat in the ring only did so with so many national caveats and ROE restrictions that they could never leave base, or if they did, couldn’t do much. They didn’t bring the right kit, or for some newer NATO nations, had no idea how to deploy. The assumption was Uncle Sam would, as always, pick up the slack.

Act 3: Buyer’s Remorse – By late 2006, the NATO-sceptics critique started to break above the happy-talk. AFG was more serious than NATO and the USA were saying, and most of the alliance member were not up to the challenge, and if they were – their staying power was brittle at best. 

If you had to draw the line somewhere, it would have been the summer of 2007 when NATO failed to fill the rotary-wing aviation bridging force. At the last minute, a combination of US military and civilian contractors filled the gap. After that goat rope, it was clear that NATO culminated. It was clear to the Americans in NATO and at the USA Joint Staff. 

Planning began to, in unkind terms, take back the keys … as long as the surge in Iraq worked. Some of the larger minimal-caveat maneuver forces, the Dutch and the Canadians, had already signaled they had enough and were going home. We needed to not only replace them over time, but increase the national presence overall.

Bit by bit, RC by RC, we took the keys back.

Act 4: Classic COIN’s Stillbirth – There is a little overlap between Act 3 and 4, as they transitioned slowly in parallel. A new Scots-Irish General came to lead the US forces in AFG and ISAF, General McKiernan, USA. He brought with him “Shape, Clear, Hold, Build” – a plan to combine civilian, governmental, and military efforts district by district to enable government of Afghanistan control. 

Shape and Clear required additional forces. Through late 2007 and 2008 the planning for the uplift of forces (surge) was made. The Iraqi surge’s success happened just in time, and forces were able to begin coming in by the summer of 2008.

Then we had an election. The new administration came in to Kabul to look over the surge plans, and with minimal changes, allowed it to continue. It was clear that there were new ideas with Holbrook and his fellow travelers, but that it would take a year for them to get those ideas ready for President Obama to issue derived D&G.

With SCHB and the uplift, we thought at the time this was a decade long effort if we stuck with it. In Destile Gardens we would darky speak that if we ditched this conditioned based plan and went to a calendar based plan, we might as well just retreat to the nearest airhead and go home.

It took less than a year.

Act 5: Retreat – President Obama’s December 2009 West Point speech where he announced a calendar based plan that signaled retreat, it seemed everything else was just commentary on the inevitable drive to The Friendship Bridge … if we were lucky.

In a story yet to be told well by anyone … over the course of the next year, someone competent and knowledgeable about military matters got the ear of President Obama and we never fully left in the summer of 2011 as he outlined. We hedged, and we got lucky.

Act 6: The Great Dithering – Obama moved the decision point to the right, to the next President. We treaded water in quiet, drone filled dreams of hoping that Afghanistan would just go away. From the end of his first administration through his second, we dithered. We mowed the grass and relied on hope. He hoped a disaster didn’t happen on his watch, we hoped for something we could call a win.

Act 7: Acceptance and Salvage – Here we are in Act 7. As with the change from Bush to Obama, the first year of Trump will mostly be the conditions created by the prior administration. As with McMaster and Mattis having better first hand knowledge of the area, it appears that we may see changes faster.

This week, we have heard that President Trump has a plan to look at;
The Washington Post this week reported that senior administration officials are pushing President Donald Trump to effectively return to the combat mission against the Taliban, adding thousands of troops to the fight.

Sources told the paper the new plan would also authorize the Pentagon to set its own troop numbers for Afghanistan, instead of following White House recommendations. Pentagon officials would also review the rules of engagement for troops operating there, following a Trump campaign trail promise to give military leaders more autonomy.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said no decisions on troop levels in Afghanistan have been finalized yet, but he reiterated Trump’s promises to keep America safe and root out terrorist threats across the globe.

“One of the things he has asked our national security team to think through is to think through the strategy,” he said. “How do we win? How do we eliminate the threat?”
We should wait and see – and serious national security people need to give Mattis and his team the benefit of the doubt and a chance.

We can’t rewind back to 2009. The window long ago closed for SCHB and helping district by district drag Afghanistan to where we would like them to be.

Perhaps in Act 7 we can salvage something from Act 6. We keep enough forces in place to help build capacity of the ANSF (#evergreen) and to have the ability to kill AQ and ISIS where they pop their head up, as it pleases us. We accept that Afghanistan will have to come to peace on Afghan terms as best it can with its always restive Pashtun plurality. As long as trans-national terrorists can’t use it as a base, then that should be OK.

That should be good enough, and perhaps where we should have kept it before Act 1 set everyone off this long, sordid task almost a generation ago.

No comments: