Tuesday, December 31, 2019

While You Get Ready to Celebrate ...

...the end of 2019, remember that Foreverwar is still going forward.

From today, these Marines in Kuwait are getting ready to reinforce our embassy in Baghdad.


A lot of these Marines were in diapers on 9/11/2001.

Monday, December 30, 2019

355: Have we Earned it?

When you ask for something, especially money, from another party so you can in return give them a benefit, you have to show them a few things:

1. That you bring value relative to other options available to them.
2. That you have a track record of performance – hopefully something well known to yourself an others.
3. That you will be a good steward of their investment.
4. That you will not over-promise and under-deliver.
5. That you won’t embarrass them for having invested in you.

As the Navy slouches in to the 2020’s, have we earned the investment, trust, and confidence of the American taxpayer and their elected representatives that navalists know will be needed to maintain our dominance at sea?

Our friend Robert Farley smells it too.

Nice summary:
…the Navy wishes to accelerate the decommissioning of four littoral combat ships, each of which had more than a decade of expected hull life. ... This would represent not so much the death knell of the LCS project as much as belated recognition of the failure of the promise of the program. ... The Navy has also proposed accelerating the retirement of the aging Ticonderoga class cruisers … the latest proposals include cuts to future Arleigh Burke destroyer construction … the Navy would slow acquisition in the FFG(X) program, and perhaps delay construction of a Virginia-class attack submarine. … ongoing difficulties with the Ford-class carriers.

This much is clear: The Navy has not won the necessary battles within the Department of Defense and with the American public to accomplish the goal of a 355-ship Navy. Winning both of these battles was necessary to expanding the fleet to the extent navalists have desired, and it does not appear that the Navy won either.
He doesn’t even address DDG-1000, CG(X) or a series of lesser known embarrassments so far the last decade. He doesn't have to.

Roll those into a few other items I’ll include in my year-end post – and no one should be surprised that our Navy is supine, off-foot, and ill-positioned to make its argument in the new decade.

We did this to ourselves, and those who have their own agendas and programs to feed, are going to take advantage of it if we don’t get better.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Fullbore Friday

Everyone likes to tease the Coast Guard ... until Mother Nature knocks at your door;
He swam at night through 80 knot winds, ripped through a roof without the aid of a chainsaw and was repeatedly hoisted more than 100 feet into the air while battling turbulence and dangerous power lines around him as he aided in the rescue of 59 others in Houston, Texas, as Hurricane Harvey battered the area in August 2017.

For his heroic feats during Harvey, Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Gantt, a Coast Guard aviation survival technician, or rescue swimmer, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross — the U.S. military’s oldest aviation award for heroism in flight — during a ceremony in December at the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama.

His exploits in the rescue of 59 were detailed in award citation the Coast Guard posted in a news release. Two others, Coast Guard Cmdr. Scott Sanborn and Lt. John Briggs also were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their heroism in response to Hurricane Harvey, a news release detailed.

Operating aboard a MH-65D Coast Guard helciopter, Gantt was deployed to Houston for rescue operations following flooding as a result of Hurricane Harvey.
Read it all.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

LCS Hulls 1-4; The Market Speaks

You can always signal what you value least by what you give away first.

Yes, LCS is back in the news. Details over at USNIBlog.

For those new here, click the LCS tag below. We've been on the topic for almost a decade and a half - first post from FEB 2010 - and it stands up well over time.

The Little Crappy Ship - a phrase coined on the Front Porch here; the gift that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas

...especially to all the Navy's Culinary Specialists and Mess Cranks who do there very best to give our Sailors just a bit nicer meal for the times when they really wish they were with their families.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Navalists are Getting Coal in their Stockings

It has been over three years since the flush of hope for navalists when candidate Trump supported a 350/55 ship navy … and words are still here;
The White House budget office is pressing the Navy to stick to a campaign pledge by Donald Trump to work toward fielding a fleet of more than 350…

Despite some soft-pedaling from Navy leadership on the 355-ship goal, Modly has made it clear that such an inventory is national policy and that he wants leadership to get behind it.

“[Three hundred and fifty-five ships] is stated as national policy,” Modly told an audience at the USNI Defense Forum on Dec. 5. “It was also the president’s goal during the election.
…but actions speak louder.
We have a goal of 355, we don’t have a plan for 355. We need to have a plan, and if it’s not 355, what’s it going to be and what’s it going to look like?”

In a memo released Thursday to the force, Modly said he wanted an actionable plan by the end of the 2020s.

In the memo, Modly called for the services to develop “an integrated plan to achieve … 355 ships (or more) unmanned underwater vehicles, and unmanned surface vehicles for greater naval power within 10 years.”

The Navy proposal called for a 287-ship fleet by fiscal year 2025 -- the last year of a potential second Trump administration, according to the budget office. But that level, which includes the decommissioning of 12 warships to save money, would be well below the long-term 308-ship target set by the Obama administration and even further from President Trump’s current goal of 355 ships.

The service currently has 293 deployable vessels. As initially proposed, the service’s budget plan would result in “a smaller force in 2025 than the Navy has at present,” according to the OMB document. Among the vessels to be retired under the Navy’s plan would be the first four, widely criticized, Littoral Combat Ships, which would be decommissioned in 2021, at least 12 years earlier than planned. The first of those ships deployed in 2013.

“The Navy proposes to buy 42 warships and requests $111.8 billion in shipbuilding funds” from fiscal 2021 to fiscal 2025 “that will result in 12 fewer battle force ships and reduce shipbuilding funding by $9.4 billion compared to the fiscal 2020” plan, OMB said.
That is from this month.

Who actually runs the DOD again?

For regulars here, you may have thought that we had found that low-probability bet that would show ‘ole Sal’s warning about the “Terrible 20s” would be wrong and you could neener, neener, neener me in to the end of the 4th Trump Administration in 2033 – but it looks like things are right on schedule for the 2030s.

We can play games on the margins all we want – calling unmanned, unarmed, undefendable, short endurance unmanned surface and subsurface ships part of the count, but that won’t change one simple fact; the shipbuilding budget.

The only way we can grow the fleet with the head wind of simultaneously recapitalizing the SSBN force would be to move that cost fully off budget, significantly grow the shipbuilding budget, significantly grow the budget to train, man, repair, and sustain the larger fleet, and find a way to keep present ships to serve in excess of planned service life.

None of that is happening.

You have to have support at the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch to start with. It has to be strong and consistent.

Inside the Executive, you need a SECDEF who is a navalist who is willing to move money from green to deep blue, and that is not happening and won’t happen.

If we don’t get the money – which is why this story is coming out in the time-tested swamp budget tactic – then we will build fewer DDG. We will retire more CG. Out fleet numbers will shrink.

I don’t blame Trump. I don’t blame Obama. I don’t blame Bush.

The fault is our Navy. We don’t tell our story to the American people. We have no sense of cost control. We fall in love too easily with those who promise their pixie dust will do things other pixie dust failed to do. We promote the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

It is systemic. If the Navy wants to be larger it must fix itself. The Navy is its worst enemy. We have not hit that sweet-spot of price and capability since DDG-51 was laid down in the Reagan Administration.

How are you going to grow numbers when even your auxiliaries come with this price tag?
The White House Office of Management and Budget rejected the Navy's current efforts to develop a new multimission auxiliary vessel, citing the $1 billion price tag, and wants the service to focus resources on buying used sealift vessels instead.
Notice that? Another grabasstic, Tiffany, all eggs in one basket approach. We learned nothing from the era of Vern Clark and the Snake Oil Transformationalists that begat LCS, DDG-1000, fleet support infrastructure inadequate by any measure, manning constructs designed to burn out what few Sailors you have, and DDG bridges designed to not only be an ergonomic nightmare, but couldn’t survive a near hit without shattering in to uselessness.

We need to fix ourselves before we can ask the nation to give us $1.20 more than the Army’s $1.

We could get a navalists as SECDEF, but even if they pushed hard in sync with the right people in Congress, they would be frustrated at every turn by a joint acquisition system creaking with its self-focused priories and decades of accretions. Why else do we still not have a frigate? Why did CG(X) fail? Why do we still have a narrow gene-pool deck of strike fighters?

Goldwater-Nichols and the acquisition system that grew up with it need to be ripped up by the roots and our defense field replanted with something better, more modern, more resilient.

Want a fleet ready not just to meet China in WESTPAC in 2030, but to be so overmatching, that China or anyone else won’t even try to meet us?

Get rid of Goldwater Nichols.

Get a new acquisitions systems.

Hire a new mindset in OPNAV.

Until then? Maybe the present administration can tell its DOD leadership between SECNAV and the CINC to either get with the program, or “you’re fired.”

If they won’t do that, then, well, we’ve all been played for suckers.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Carrier Aviation: Personne n'est corrigé; personne n'a su ni rien oublier ni rien apprendre

Thoughts and emotions are all over the place while reading David Larter's weekend article, Amid a heated aircraft carrier debate, the US Navy sees funding slashed for a next-generation fighter.

Effective power projection is the key issue for our Navy. This is nothing new, this has been a standing requirement from its founding. 

You need a diverse tool box for power projection that includes subsurface, surface, and air platforms. The efficiency cult whose modern iteration can be traced back to what  William Perry begat a quarter century ago.  It gave us DDG and SSN without ASCM, a deck of short ranged strike fighters, no organic tanking, and an exquisite collection of Tiffany warships that will never deploy or a decade after Hull-1's commissioning, we still don't know what to do with.

We have an acquisition mindset with three decades of cascading failures - in no small part because of the need to feed the efficiency cult's Vaal on one end, and the nautical obsession with what next fancy buzzword is hiding behind the Bale-Bopp comet that will make all things new on the other.

The carrier debate has been one of the longest running and most frustrating kabuki-dance-meets-Groundhog-Day exercises we have. Their vulnerability is interlinked with their utility. Any student of the Guadalcanal Campaign can tell you how high-demand/low-density/high-utility/hi-vulnerability will drive decisions when it comes to carriers. 

At the dawn of 2020, many arguing this issue seem to have learned nothing of the last 30-years of efficiency and buzzword cults, and what they have done to our naval effectiveness. No one is being held accountable for actions everyone remembers, but no one wants to learn from.

If you assume, rightly, that in a peer conflict, any nearby airbase is just a nice static target, until you have something real and proven, if you want to project national will around the globe from the sea, the carrier is the way to do it. We seem to be hellbent to suboptimize and mitigate that ability, handing advantages to potential enemies without them having to fire a shot.

I think you would be hard pressed to degrade the American comparative advantage at sea any better than we are doing to ourselves through bot gross and petty mal-administration.

With the serial failures to replace deep strike VA capabilities, throwing away heavy fighters of the VF community, abandoning mid-range organic ASW/EW and tanking, we have an unnecessarily shrunk the  strike radius around our carriers. As such, we are long overdue for a new aircraft, and F/A-XX is supposed to be that platform.

It should be a mature design by now, but delay after delay is preventing it from making shadows on a ramp somewhere anytime soon.

At first glance in the article, it looks like Congress is trying to kill it in the cradle.
Congress has gutted funding for the U.S. Navy’s research effort into a next-generation fighter to replace the relatively limited range F/A-18 Super Hornet, an effort experts say could decide the continued relevance of the aircraft carrier in the 21st century.
That is, of course, until you read further.

Remember all the great advantages we would enjoy with delay and design all anchored to the advanced gun system for DDG-1000, the zippy-de-doo-da of LCS's engineering plant, or the all electronic systems on the Ford CGN?

How did that work out for us?

Does this smell familiar?
The Navy had planned to quadruple funding for research and development of the so-called F/A-XX, which was just $5 million in 2019, with most of the increase going toward research into a “Next Generation Advanced Engine effort,” according to the Navy’s budget submission.
OK, reading these tea leaves, I don't think Congress is the problem here. I think the problem is the Navy.

Could Congress be trying to force the Navy to abandon the pursuit of the perfect to embrace the good?

Again, we are fooling ourselves in to thinking if we just believe the industry promises enough and burn enough money a magical dragon will emerge from the stone eggs Santa put in our stocking?

Over and over again, we try to jump a generation but wind up falling on our face and then have to deal with upgrading the previous generation as best as we can.

Billions are spent without anything of tactical use displacing water or making shadows on ramps - putting our nation at strategic risk.

Are we talking big bucks? No.
The Navy’s budget request asked for $20.7 million but was ultimately appropriated just $7.1 million, a 66 percent cut. Congress sent the bill to the President on Thursday, who was expected to sign it.
Perhaps I'm wrong, but could Congress be right here. Are they saying, "No Navy. We don't believe you any more that we need to wait for your magical system to appear. Make something now that works now."

As paraphrased up-post,
Personne n'est corrigé; personne n'a su ni rien oublier ni rien apprendre. "Nobody has been corrected; no one has known to forget, nor yet to learn anything."
Does everyone need to be fired in order to get a change of mindset? Is there anyone not infected with the pathology of the fetid spawn of transformationalism coupling with the efficiency cult?
In May, Defense News reported that the effort to develop a system or “family of systems” to replace the shorter-range F/A-18 Super Hornet is a do-or-die effort that will determine if aircraft carriers remain relevant into the 21st century or will go the way of the chariot and battle elephant.
Ask the Army how their "family of systems" for Armored Systems Modernization program worked out. Hubris unalloyed by experience is a recipe for disaster.

Good people can be wrong here, and we have a lot of that. Case in point, Bob Work.

Correct diagnosis,
Bob Work, former Navy undersecretary and deputy Defense Secretary, told Defense News in May that the F/A-XX is the program the Navy needs to get range back onto the flight deck, which experts tend to agree is imperative. And if they’re going to do it right, they should look to unmanned, Work said.

“The focus should be on the F/A-XX. If you really want range, that has to be the platform you are shooting for,” Work said.
As we have been discussing for a decade and a half here, the Navy's retreat from range is an unforgivable case of self mutilation.

As steps were not made earlier then thing were only difficult, because we now find ourselves out of time, there is is a panic.

As is human nature, when panic steps in, you look for shortcuts, magic, or just blind luck.

A capability that has promise but is not even close to being ready for prime time, unmanned systems, are the latest thing we are grasping at.

For the problem at hand - what do we fight with in 2025 and 2030 - they are the wrong answer.
“Because with the Navy buying the F-35Cs, and the Marine [Corps] buying the F-35Bs, and the Navy buying the Block III Super Hornet, you are not going to be able to afford two or three programs. So, the F/A-XX is the one you need to focus on. And if the analysis shows you need range, that points to unmanned.”
Work is right about a lot of things - but like his stance on frigate's a decade ago, he is wrong here for what we need to do in 2020.

Bandwidth. Ability to takeoff, perform mission, and land in an non-EW or satellite access environment - these are just a few of the things that tell us that at this iteration, unmanned is not the basket we need to throw all our eggs in to. 

We need to take what we have and design from there. We are already a decade late in getting a replacement for the Super Hornet up and running.

We are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. While we get what we need up and running, we can work on developing what we want - or think we want. We can and must do both ... but trusting on hope backed by hubris will not bring victory in the Sino-American conflict of 2027.

If we are not careful, we will wind up with the aviation version of the kind of perfection seen in DDG-1000. 

Like building DDG-51 until the crack of doom ... we will transform ourselves in to having an open production line of Super Hornets in to the 4th decade of the 21st Century.

We have a lot of people advocating for the wrong direction. We seem to not just be rudderless, but the bridge is empty as we head in to the shipping lanes.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Fullbore Friday

Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO.

Just get on with it.

Another great job by Simon Whistler and BioGraphics.

None of us are worthy.

H/t Stuart.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

DDG-1000 - Worse Than Even I Predicted ... No, It's That Bad

Ten and a half years ago, I wrote this about DDG-1000;
Wait until all those new systems being thrown on that ship need to be validated, updated, adjusted, etc.

Yes, the costs of throwing all your revolution in one bucket will leave you gobsmacked. DDG-1000: the story that will keep on giving.
Change in DDG-1000 Mission Orientation

Another potential oversight issue for Congress for FY2019 concerns the Navy’s plan to shift the mission orientation of the DDG-1000s from an emphasis on NSFS to an emphasis on surface strike. Potential oversight questions for Congress include the following:
- What is the Navy’s analytical basis for shifting the ships’ mission orientation?
- What are the potential costs of implementing this shift? How much of these costs are in the Navy’s FY2019 budget submission?
- How cost-effective will it be to operate and support DDG-1000s as ships with an emphasis on surface strike?
- When does the Navy plan to decide on whether to procure a replacement munition for the ships’ AGSs, or instead pursue another option, such as removing the AGSs and their below-deck equipment and installing additional VLS tubes? What would be the cost of the latter option, and how many additional VLS tubes could be installed?
- If the ships will operate with their AGSs for the most part dormant, to what degree will that reduce the return on investment (ROI) involved in developing, procuring, operating, and sporting the DDG-1000s?
When I mention "technology risk" - what do I mean?
Technology Maturity and Design Stability 
The DDG 1000 program has fully matured most, but not all, of its nine current critical technologies and reports a stable design. According to the Navy, the fire suppression system, hull form, deckhouse, power system, and undersea warfare suite technologies are all mature. At the same time, the vertical launch system, infrared signature, multi-function radar, and total ship computing environment technologies each continue to approach maturity. The Navy expects to fully mature these systems as it completes ship construction, certification, and testing over the next 2 years.
The program originally had 12 critical technologies, but in the last several years, the Navy removed three, including two technologies associated with the advanced gun system—the projectile and the gun—because of the projectile’s high cost per round. The Navy planned to rely on these munitions for precision fires and offensive operations. Following an evaluation of five other munition options, the Navy determined that no viable replacement, guided or unguided, was feasible. As a result, the guns will remain inoperable on the ships for the foreseeable future. Lastly, the Navy will use a modified multi-function radar in place of a volume search radar, which the Navy removed from the class.

As we have previously reported, the Navy and its shipbuilders had not stabilized DDG 1000’s design by lead ship fabrication start in 2009—an approach inconsistent with best practices. This approach contributed to numerous design changes after the fabrication start and significant cost increases and schedule delays. Nearly 10 years later, development and shipboard testing of technologies continues, each of which could lead to discovery that could disrupt the design stability the Navy currently claims.
The Navy plans to complete software development for the class in September 2020—a delay of 24 months since our 2018 assessment. As a result, the Navy has had to delay some testing. Also that month, the program plans to complete its cyber security vulnerability evaluation along with the remainder of a 2-year regimen of certifications and several different tests. The Navy expects this regimen to demonstrate the full functionality of the ship’s systems.
Remember, we were going to build 3-dozen of these white elephants ... and yet, here they sit.

$13.2 billion for three ships.

Who has been held account for this disaster of a program, one many of us wanted killed for obvious reasons well over a decade ago? No one, of course. The guilty have actually been promoted and rewarded.

Such are the wages of unaccountable hubris in acquisition.

Read the entire report that came out the 17th.

H/t NavalAnalysis.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

China's Fleet Isn't Waiting

The Long Game is getting shorter every year.

There was a pic taken on 13 December that tells a story that most should know, but fewer that that real understand the implications.

Details over at USNIBlog.

Come on by and give it a read.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Smartest People in the Room Have a Thing for Those Who Aren't

Credentialism is a cancer.

People assume that certain schools and certain backgrounds will result in certain - and superior - results.

Those who are given that credentialist benefit know it, they often believe it, they bask in it, they act on it - and they began to look at lesser beings with contempt.

As they are the superior being, their ideas are best. Opposition isn't just a manifestation of stupidity - it is almost blasphemous. 

When we look at the record of the last few decades of what the "Smartest People in the Room™" did when they decided to play Risk writ large - we should take pause to think about the real value of where you went to school and what credentials actually mean. 

How dangerous is the assumption that papers and titles produce the best idea? Are we just looking for a shortcut to minimize intellect-risk so we value that technical ability, vice actual works and ideas regardless of source?

Credentialed technicians, brilliant in one specific area or another, often make decisions that only make sense on a spreadsheet or as a one-dimensional solution to a specific problem without considering what should be seen as obvious 2nd and 3rd order effects on a multi-dimensional challenge.

I was thinking of this while reading a recent post over at Claire Berlinski's place, McNamara's Morons, where she recounts a discussion with a friend of hers, Alan Potkin, about The Late Unpleasantness in SE Asia and a tie-in to today. He stated,
… It sure as hell doesn’t feel like that was fifty years ago. I think we could have pulled another South Korea out of that mess if the lefty bien pensants hadn’t cut the ARVNs off at the knees (my daughter-in-law is Vietnamese and her father was a political prisoner for nearly decade). The constituency for Pax Americana is gone, baby, gone.
Recounting the tragic loss of a C-123 and the lives 36 people in a fuel fire on the deck, he brought us back to a lesson no one should forget.

The self-appointed elite - in an effort to extend protections to their class - decided to throw the other end of the IQ Bell Curve at the most important national security problem of their day.

When you care enough to send your very least;
However, in just the last several years it has become more widely known that as result of decisions secretly taken by then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and US President Lyndon Johnson, more than 300,000 prospective draftees whose dismal scores on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test were far below the previous acceptable threshold for serving in the US military were enlisted or conscripted.
“This decision was entirely politically motivated, as the alternatives were to eliminate the 2-S student deferment or to mobilize, for overseas service, troops in National Guard and reserve units who were exempted, thereby from risking getting their heads blown off in what was an extremely unpopular war.
Defining adequacy down has real consequences. Standards exist for a reason and the professional resists efforts to dilute standards for reasons based simply on convenience to non-effectiveness related variables.

Some day there will be pressure again to take in lower IQ candidates. It was bad enough in the relatively low-tech Vietnam Era military - in our high tech military where each person is even more critical - the push-back needs to be fast, swift, and sure.

Hopefully enough people will remember what happened before, so when the good idea fairy brings it up again - and it will - it never sees the light of day.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Going Sideways in Afghanistan & Iraq, with Daniel P. Bolger

In the 5-years since the publication of his book, Why We Lost, each passing day more and more people are starting to look at what, 18-yrs on, we have brought in to being with our long running land wars in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Using his book as a starting point, this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern, our guest will be Daniel P. Bolger, Lieutenant General, US Army, (Ret.) to discuss these two conflicts and larger implications of our Long War.

Bolger served 35 years in the U.S. Army, retiring in 2013. He commanded troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. His military awards include five Bronze Stars (one for valor) and the Combat Action Badge. He earned a bachelor's degree at The Citadel and a master's degree and doctorate from the University of Chicago. The author of nine books and numerous articles, he teaches history at North Carolina State State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

You can listen to the show at this link or below, but remember, if you don't already, subscribe to the podcast at Spreaker or any of the other podcast aggregators.

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Fullbore Friday

We've posted on it before, but on its 80th Anniversary - we have to post again a great battle and a great story with many lessons on leadership, intelligence, and the realities and uncertainties of war..

Speed. Superior technology. Superior Sailors. Long-range, accurate weapons. Superior training.

From LCS to DDG-1000, we are all told that these are the key to victory at sea. They make up for inferior numbers. They are Transformational. War has changed. We own them.

All that came to mind when I thought of three ships, HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax, and HMNZS Achilles.

The Graf Spee was, well, the Graf Spee. With memories of the SMS Emden in mind, she was the terror of the seas.

To go after her you had three old, under armed, and relatively unarmored cruisers. On paper, there should be no contest. But the combined British and New Zealand Force had a plan. They had what you cannot put on paper or PowePoint - but that which wins almost all battles at sea; audacity.
13th. of December 1939.At 0520 ( 5.20 AM ) the squadron was in position 34 degrees 34 minutes South, 49 degrees 17 minutes West, on a course of 060 degrees, at a speed of 14 knots, cruising in line ahead Ajax, Achilles and Exeter. Smoke bearing 320 degrees, ie to the South West from the force, was sighted at 0610 ( 6.10 AM ) and Exeter was ordered to investigate, she soon replied:
"I think it is a pocket Battleship!"
It did not take long for Graf Spee to act, in only two minutes she opened fire with her 11 inch turrets, one firing at Exeter, and one at Ajax.
The first division altered course to 340 degrees to close the range to the enemy, whilst Captain Bell hauled out of the line, altering course to the west, so he might attack Graf Spee from a widely different angle. All ships increased speed, now it should be noted that the enemy armament had almost twice the power of the British
cruisers, both Ajax and Achilles were light cruisers mounting 6 inch guns in their turrets, whilst Exeter was the lone ship of her class, mounting 6 by 8 inch guns in three twin turrets, A and B turrets forward, and a single Y turret mounted aft.

By 0623 ( 6.23 AM ) all ships had opened fire, and an enemy report was broadcast.Graf Spee straddled Exeter ( that means shells in a salvo fall both sides of the target ), one shell burst short, and killed the starboard torpedo tube crews, riddled the searchlights and the aircraft on the catapult, which was manhandled over the side, leaving the ship without any spotting capability from that source. The enemy ship seemed undecided about her gunnery policy, as she shifted targets several times before concentrating both turrets upon Exeter. The third salvo from
By 0624 ( 6.24 AM ) Exeter sent off 8 salvoes against the enemy, but on the incoming path, she received a direct hit from an 11 shell in the fore part of the B turret, putting it out of action, as splinters from this shell burst swept the bridge it killed or wounded all personnel there except for the Captain and two others. It also demolished the wheel house communications, leaving Captain Bell without any means of giving wheel orders to enable course changes, or orders to the engine room regarding speed changes. He decided to fight his ship from the after conning position, but the communication system here was also damaged from the shell burst earlier that effected the torpedo tube crews etc. A chain of messengers was set up to pass orders to the after steering position.
Now two further 11 inch shell hits registerd in the fore part of the cruiser, and Graf Spee shifted one 11 inch turret onto Ajax, who was straddled three times. The secondary armament of the German ship now took on Ajax and Achilles alternately, but to little effect.
During all of this intensive engagement, Ajax achieved a minor miracle by being able to catapult her aircraft for spotting purposes.
Exeter had fired off her torpedoes at 0632 ( 6.32 AM, ) but did not achieve any result, now at 0637 ( 6.37 AM ) Graf Spee altered course some 150 degrees, steering to the North West under cover of smoke.
0638 to 0650 ( 6.38 to 6.50 AM )At about 0638 ( 6.38 AM ) Exeter altered course to Straboard to allow the firing of her starboard torpedoes, then took off to the North East to close the First Division, at 0645 ( 6.45 AM ) she turned westerly to keep within range.
Two more 11 inch hits fell upon Exeter, one put A turret out of action, and another started a fierce fire in the Chief Petty Officer's flat amidships, the 4 inch magazine was flooded through a burst water main. All the compass repeaters were out of action, the Captain had to rely on a simple boat's compass to allow him to keep the ship pointed so that Y turret might keep up her firing at the enemy, locally controlled, with the Gunnery Officer taking control from the searchlight platform.
At 0640 ( 6.40. AM ) an 11 inch shell fell just short of Achilles in line with her bridge, it burst at the waterline, with splinters killing four sailors, stunning the Gunnery Officer, ( many unkind Officers might comment, But that is but the normal condition for most Gunnery Officers. ) and slightly wounding the Captain and his Chief Yeoman of Signals.
0650 to 0708. ( 6.50 to 7.08 AM )Achilles with her guns firing in local control could not find the right line with her gun fire, her salvoes falling short. The aircraft from Ajax, reporting that the salvoes were all falling short, but in Achilles, their gun control officer was unaware that Ajax was not still in concentrated firing, he therefore wrongly concluded it was his fall of shot being reported as short, and corrected accordingly, this had the effect of all his gunfire falling way over the enemy pocket battleship. A real mix up at a time when to achieve hits on the enemy was crucial. With all the smoke added to the general confusion, direct spotting was quite hard.
Graf Spee made frequent course alterations trying to throw off the British ship's gunfire, she also made skilful use of the smoke she generated.
Exeter valiently kept up firing her Y turret in local control, but she now had developed a 7 degree list to starboard, adding to the difficulties of keeping Y turret firing. She was still a target for fire from Graf Spee, but shots fell consistantly over.
0708 to 0728. ( 7.08 to 7.28 AM )Graf Spee was still 16,000 yards from theFirst Division, and they were ordered to close the enemy at speed, accepting they would lose the benefit of having their guns bear on the enemy whilst they steamed closer to the German ship.
At 0708 ( 7. 08 AM ) Graf Spee made a dramatic alteration of course to port under cover of her smoke, and at 0720 ( 7. 20 AM ) she turned back to the North West to bring her guns to bear, and Ajax was very quickly straddled three times from a range of 11,000 yards.
At the same time, the First Division turned to starboard to bring all their main armament bearing on Graf Spee, their fire appeared to most effective with Graf Spee on fire amidships. But at 0725 ( 7. 25 AM ) Ajax was hit by an 11 inch delayed action shell on the after superstructure, its passed through some cabins, wrecking them, then it went through X turret trunk, wrecking all the turret machinery below the gun house, a part of this shell base then struck Y turret barbette, close to the turret training rack, and jammed the turret. Thus one shell was responsible for putting both X and Y turrets out of action, for killing four, and wounding another six of X turret's crew.
It appeared that Graf Spee was neglecting Exeter, as she steered North West to close on the First Division, with Ajax assuming that the German ship would hold this course, she decided to fire off a broadside of her torpedoes. At 0724 ( 7. 24 A M ) she turned to starboard, and let go four torpedoes at a range of 9,000 yards, but without result.
Graf Spee must have seen them coming, and quickly took avoiding action by turning 130 degrees to port, and then returned to the North West after about three minutes.
Exeter was slowly dropping astern of the action, the forward damage taking it's toll. At 0740 ( 7. 40 A M ) Y turret still in local control stopped firing, this was due to a power failure caused by flooding. At 0740 ( 7. 40 A M ) Exeter was steering South East at a very slow speed, she needed to both make repairs and herself seaworthy again.
Now Ajax and Achilles altered course to 260 degrees so that the range to the enemy was reduced even more, then at 0721 ( 7.21 A M ) the spotting aircraft reported "Torpedoes approaching, they will pass ahead of you." The two cruisers decided to make sure they missed, and altered course to 180 degrees.
At 0732 ( 7.32 AM ) Graf Spee turned away to the West and started to zig zag, and Ajax seemed to be making good use of her three available guns, one of the hoists had failed in B turret, and both X and Y turrets were out of action.
Suddenly at 0736, ( 7.36 AM ) Graf Spee altered course to the South West to again bring all her armament to bear on the First Division, the range now down to 8,000 yards.
Ajax reported she had only 20% of her ammunition left.
The shooting by Graf Spee was accurate, and Commodore Harwood did not think she had suffered much damage from the salvoes from the British ships, so he decided to break off the action, at least till after dark. One of the last salvoes from the enemy had demolished Ajax's top mast, and with it all of her aerials, so jury aerials were rigged as quickly as possible. As the British ships turned away, Graf Spee did not follow them, but then altered course to 270 degrees, her speed 22 knots, this course would take her directly to the River Plate. The First Division, now turned to place themselves in shadowing positions on both quarters of the German ship, at a distance of about 15 miles.
British shipping in the area was alerted to Graf Spee's position, course and speed, this information was also sent off to the British Admiralty.
At 0912 ( 9.12 AM ) Ajax recovered her aircraft, then at 0916 ( 9.16 AM ) Harwood ordered Cumberland from the Falkland Islands to close the River Plate at full speed, he was in dire need of reinforcements to his force.
At 1104 ( 11.04 AM ) a merchant ship close to Graf Spee was stopped and blowing off clouds of steam, a signal from the pocket battleship read: "Please pick up lifeboats of English steamer." When coming up to the British ship, SS Shakespeare, all her boats were hoisted, and she reported that she was not in need of any assistance.
At 1105 ( 11.05 AM ) Exeter signalled that all her turrets were out of action, she was flooded up to No. 14 bulkhead, but could proceed at 18 knots, she was ordered to sail to the Falkland Islands at her best speed without placing strain on her bulkheads.
At 1342 ( 1.42 PM ) the British Naval Attache at Buenos Airies was informed that Graf Spee was making for the Plate. The shadowing of Graf Spee continued, and at 1915 ( 7.15 PM ) she suddenly fired off two salvoes at Ajax who turned away under smoke, the first salvo fell in line, the second in her wake as she turned, the range 26,000 yards.
It now seemed that Graf Spee intended to enter the Plate, and Achilles was told to follow her if she went West of Lobos, now Ajax was to proceed South of the English Bank, just in case the German doubled back that way.
Just after sunset, Graf Spee fired off three salvoes at Achilles, the third lobbed very close, in return, AchillesGraf Spee now proceeded North of the English Bank, and anchored in Montevideo roads at 0050. ( 00.50 AM ) fired 5 salvoes that seemed to straddle the enemy ship.
Harwood now reports that his main concern was how long Graf Spee intended to stay here.
At 2350 ( 11.50 PM ) Ajax and Achilles were ordered to withdraw from the Plate, Harwood did not want to risk them having to face Graf Spee silhouetted by the rising sun behind them. Achilles was to patrol the area from the Urugayan coast to a line 120 degrees from English Bank, whilst Ajax was to look after the Southern area. Both cruisers were to move back to the mouth of the Plate after the threat posed by the dawn had passed.

UPDATE: Reader Oyster sends along the radio report. Cool.

UPDATE II, Electric Boogaloo: Since the first posting, even more is available.

Did you know that HMS Achilles flew the New Zealand flag ... the first time that flag flew in battle? You can also find the Y-turret from HMS Achilles on display at Devonport Naval Base in Auckland. 

To understand the battle more, click the 80th anniversary link at the top, and this video is helpful.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

How did our Navy Reward Service in Afghanistan?

Over at WaPo, nice summary of who served in Afghanistan by service; How 775,000 U.S. troops fought in one war: Afghanistan military deployments by the numbers.

Here's a shot of the Navy's wedge:

I would love to see the regression analysis here showing, relative to the entire Navy ecosystem:

1. What percentage of these were USNR?

2. For the active duty officers, who were selected for command after their AFG service?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

REFORGER is Back; New Name - Same Awesomeness

It's been a quarter century ... but we're getting back in the game in support of our natural state; a maritime and aerospace power positioned to have global reach.

We can say it ... but to do it we have to practice it.

More over at USNIBlog.

Head on over and gloat with me.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Shaping the Blame in Afghanistan

It is one of my favorite photos of my last deployment before becoming a civilian less than a year later. It was taken almost exactly 11 yrs ago.

It was a beautiful mid-day afternoon to sit outside on a table at Destile Gardens right outside HQ ISAF in Kabul. It was one of our regular smoke breaks for our organized gossip group where the message went out to meet, and we wandered over from our various desks in the 3-Shop, 5-Shop, security, and the front office to enjoy a pipe or cigar ... but more importantly - catch up on the latest developments.

It was the usual Star Wars bar gathering like you'd see at HQ ISAF, but this one was slightly different - it was all Anglosphere. Only half of us were USA, from O3-O6, including a guy at the back of the table, the oldest US Army Major you have ever seen. Always quiet, but he knew everything. Retired since the late 1980s, he was brought back on active duty a few years ago because of his specialty; he did civil affairs as a JO in Vietnam.

It was 2008, and we knew we were running out of time.

Most of us at the table had been working for most of the year, and in my and another's case even longer, on the uplift of forces that started to come late that summer. There are things you can do with Five-Eyes nations that just make planning easier, thus the Anglosphere nature of our gathering.

We had no idea what exactly the election a month before would mean for what we were trying to do, but we knew what the plan was meant to do. We had one last meeting in Qatar run by the Joint Staff to suffer through, and then the last part of the surge would be fairly well understood.

We were at the point then only trying to find enough airfield matting and rhino snot for the Red Horse and Seabees to expand airfields in RC(S), so the hard stuff was done.

We were happy about our timing, all things considered. 2007 made it clear that the short experiment of NATO running AFG was a mistake. The failure of filling the Aviation Bridging Forces of RW aircraft in RC(S) combined with the earlier announcement that the maneuver forces of Canada in Kandahar and the Dutch in Uruzgan were going home for good told us all we needed to know.

US Army to the East, USMC to the South; Uncle Sam was taking the keys back from a spent NATO force as the drawdown of forces in Iraq made it easier to find ready to deploy units.

We knew none of the trends were going our way and that there was no easy fix. This was going to take a long time. The general consensus at the table: 10-years if we stuck with Shape-Clear-Hold-Build.

We all knew the district map - and district by district we would have to create the conditions so AFG could be stable on AFG terms and we could all go home.

The key to us going home, we told each other, were those 8-yr old kids in schools who would have a different mindset when they became 18 ... if we could help the adults build a better AFG for them while they grew up.

If we didn't have the patience to see it through. Well, it got quite. None of us saw a high probability of anything but a lot of killing with any other plan - and more importantly, any path to something resembling peace on AFG terms. My take at the moment was, darkly, if we can't stick it out - retreat to the airfields, get everyone home, take what we can, leave what the ANSF can use, blow the rest in place. Let them work it out.

Well, the rest is history, and 11 years later all we have is hope and killing. As what little is left of our national patience runs out, we seem to be moving on to the recrimination phase where the responsible try to place their portion of the blame on the innocent. 

Honest mistakes are twisted in to conspiracies, PAO optimism is seen as propaganda, and the truth gets lost in a miasma of incomplete stories, ignorance, and the inefficiencies of agendas and templates.

All that is to be done at this point is for those who were there and still give a damn to step up and tell their story - and critique the stories of others.

So, after about 4 different drafts and a good night's sleep, I'm going to wade in to it. Before that though, I know a lot of the regular readers here, the "Front Porch," have honored me by being here reading my prattle for a decade or more. They have heard most of this before, some as it was happening. For those new or newish here, go to the bottom of the post where the Afghanistan tag is. It's all there. Almost a decade and a half on Afghanistan as a USA tactical operator, staff weenie, and finally a NATO fonctionnaire.

I should just walk away, but I won't.

...and so it starts.

With Craig Whitlocks article out, many are selectively focused on what little they paid attention small attention to for so long - and I'm about to crawl out of my skin.

This will not stand. I will not let what happened to those who served in Vietnam be saddled to those of us who served in Afghanistan.

I will not let "the military lied and lost the war" smear start before we've even drafted the MOVEORD to the Friendship Bridge.

Did we cover ourselves with glory? No ... but what GOFO said or did not say was closely scoped by what D&G their civilian masters gave them ... and it is they - the folks in suits - who need to answer first before anyone else comes under the spotlight.

There are partial stories, wrong stories, selectively edited stories ... and a whole lot of ass-covering stories in the impressive Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) interviews behind the paywall.

There are some good things here, but as a body, it is incredibly incomplete. It is as if he is writing a restaurant review about a bad slice of apple pie he was served, but only discusses the type of apple in the pie and the fork it was served with. No discussion of the crust, filling, temperature … just little bits here and there.

Whitlock can only write about what he got from his FOIA, but the gaps here are mind boggling. Yes, it has been a long war - but some periods and institutions are more important than others. Some you simply cannot do without. At least my friendly acquaintance Sarah Chayes (read her 2007 book) got some mention and a chance to respond.

Like the old saw goes; victory has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan – but not when it comes to the blame game. People, institutions, and agendas will point fingers all over the place to avoid any blame being put on them. Oldest game in the book … and like we saw in Vietnam, the cheap and easy thing to do is blame “the generals” – specifically those at the Operational and Tactical levels.

Nope. Not here. Not today Satan; not today.

First some comments I made on twitter Monday that I will consolidate here.

I’ll start with what was most missing; General  McKiernan's tenure at the end of Bush43 and start of the Obama administration and what we saw as the only way to do what DC and Brussels was asking to be done; Shape-Clear-Hold-Build a better Afghanistan. The plan I helped write at CENTCOM in NATO? He knew, we knew - we had a plan.

No one was hiding anything from anyone when I worked with/for him.

From an article in The Guardian, of all places, in 2009, here is a summary that should show you why the absence of any discussion of McKiernan’s experience is such a hole in Whitlock’s article;
"We can win all the tactical battles but that doesn't mean we win. To win, we have to win the battle of ideas," he said. "We must define winning in Afghan terms: meaning improved security, reduced civilian casualties, trustworthy government, economic and social progress."
McKiernan spoke of the need to increase Afghan army forces, provide a better-respected police force, root out foreign jihadis and Taliban extremists, and seek regional solutions via a "bottom-up" approach. "Most Afghans don't want the re-emergence of the Taliban. But we need a greater commitment by the international community ... Afghanistan will not ultimately be a military outcome. Isaf will not run out of bad people to kill. It will be a political solution."
These approaches accurately reflect Obama's Afghan policy, except McKiernan was already pursuing it six months before Obama made it his own. So the question remains: why was he fired?
One answer seems to lie with General David Petraeus, the Centcom commander and hero of the Iraq surge. Petraeus was the baleful, missing figure in the room when Gates and Mullen wielded the knife. Subordinate to McKiernan in Iraq, he is now his superior. The two men are not said to be close.  
McKiernan had allegedly been slow to adopt Petraeus's favoured counter-insurgency tactics, such as co-opting local tribal groups (as in Iraq). McChrystal, in contrast, is a special operations expert with a reputation for hunting down "high value" enemy targets.
Petraeus, McChrystal, Mullen … yeah, those guys.

That leads to the second largest gap in the article – and something missing from the majority of reporting from American media; the role of NATO.

Again, you can find more detail over the years at the Afghanistan tab below, but let me summarize.

The first stage of the war was invasion and set up, mostly ‘01-03. From ’03 to ’05 the initial inertia started to slow, but we did not fully see that the Western experience in Afghanistan in the 21st Century was going to be like it was in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Our NATO allies were joining – in a fashion – and by ‘05 things were set up to by early ’06 to hand things over to NATO.

Yes, the General in charge of NATO at HQ ISAF in Kabul was an American, but the Americans only had significant forces in Regional Command-East (RC-(E)). The Anglo-Canadian-Dutch-Australians had RC-(S). Spain-Italy RC-(W). The Germans and Scandinavians RC-(N). RC-(C) was, nominally, the dominion of the Turks (that is a long story in to itself).

That construct held until the Summer of 2007 when another attempt to fill the never filled Combined Joint Statement of Requirements (CJSOR) failed. When the promised Aviation Bridging Force NATO nations promised did not appear, as we do, the USA cobbled together a fix at the last minute. That is when the USA realized that NATO would never be able to do what it promised. When NATO couldn’t even scrape enough cargo and support rotary wing – not to mention the never filled maneuver forces in the CJSOR – the USA knew NATO cumulated.

Canada and The Netherlands announcing they were withdrawing their maneuver forces that year was just icing on the cake.

Farcical national caveats that limited utility of most partner nations gave a false view of actual usable forces. (Best example, German Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) trains and mentors an ANA Kandak that has to move to another province to reinforce another Kandak … and the Germans refuse to cross a provincial boundary, leaving the Kandak to go forward with either no mentors, or as was the case, American mentors from an American Embedded Training Team (ETT) working with another Kandak have to come in and make it happen. 

Second best was the Belgian security at the airport. If my convoy was 200 meters from the gate and was under attack, they could not support us. They couldn’t leave the airport.

As I’ll quote from Whitlock’s article later, another thing that grabbed me was the hand wringing from those clueless staffers at USAID.

They were exceptionally difficult to work with in AFG regardless of how hard we tried to integrate efforts with them. They are in no position to throw shade on anyone.

The ones who told me they were building 1,800km of gravel road regardless of which areas were controlled by the enemy or not ...and had no clue about what kind of culverts were needed for IED mitigation? Never came to the follow-on meetings as asked?

Those guys? Sit. Down (at least those who were their before 2010).

Also in the article, the dates are not quite in line with what actually happened. The surge was dead in 2009 after the strategic sea-change on the ground after Obama's DEC09 West Point speech. Again, read what I said at the time.

So, are we going to play the blame game are we? 

We are going to selectively focus on certain time periods and turn a blind eye to the more complicated experience that was/is Afghanistan?

Well, bollocks to that. We all knew this was losable from junior staffers to the 4-star level in '05 on. 

Why do you think McKiernan came in with SCHB a few years later? 

We briefed the Obama advance team before the inauguration about the surge and SCHB that was already underway and the importance of momentum ... and they pissed it all ways in DEC09. 

The article has some great information, but I am left screaming in to the void with the complete lack of emphasis on the Bonn Accords, McKiernan, lead nation construct early on, and more.  There is a lot of self-serving people quoted making excuses for their own self interest - accuracy for history be damned as far as they're concerned.

You do have to give WaPo credit allowing people mentioned to respond behind the paywall - and there are a lot of valid critiques to be found that, sure, I will admit are not wildly known ... but we are 19 years in to this conflict.

The happy talk? That part of the critique is ligit. A lot of that has to do with the PAOisms that people feel the need to form up behind. The constant "just around the corner" stuff does, after awhile, grind down credibility. 

Part of the problem is the sound bite world we live in. It is hard to explain to people in 5-seconds nuance and branches - must less effects and military planning. We've all been there when the primary goes in front of the press and makes his hostage tape, only to come back looking deflated. 

That is a tough row to hoe, but that is part of the job. A hard job with many masters. Your #1 master? The civilian leadership at the POLMIL level.

What are in-theater operational commanders supposed to do when on high orders state that, "Under no circumstances are you to discuss the impact of partner nation national caveats or issues with IO/NGO/GO."

The press has a lot to blame on itself.

Again,  "we" knew this had the potential to go south 15 yrs ago, but that odds were it would go south on AFG time. The press knew too. They were all in our HQ and in the field. They ate, drank, smoked, traveled and deployed with us. 

People love yelling at "the generals" but the suits in DC and Brussels and those in Bonn in the first year are the ones who need to be held to account first.

The shortcomings I have with the summary article sitting on top of the big FOIA dump should not be seen as shade thrown at the author. Whitlock has done a great job here with what he had on hand and should be commended for it. 

That being said, there are significant problems with what is there – or not there – and that is where the danger is for those that are just now starting to think about Afghanistan. The problem is the source material. There are huge gaps in both time and personality.

I was both a US and a NATO guy at different times in AFG, all during the first decade of the conflict, and have watched from the sidelines for the second decade. That is where I noticed the first glaring gap, as I’ve seen it before; the data is too USA centric.

I’ll put my biases right out there, my sympathies are more on the NATO view of the conflict vice the USA view of the conflict. Even for USA officers in the first decade of the war who were working the NATO side, what the USA was doing in RC-(E) was another war. 

RC-(E) never communicated well with the rest of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), even to the USA components working under the NATO umbrella. It was dysfunctional, but not isolated to RC-(E) alone. 

None of the RC’s mid/late decade worked well together. People like to talk about Afghans’ tribal issues, but ISAF had its own tribal problem; the stubborn German tribe to the north; the haughty Anglo-Dutch tribe to the South, the sedate Mediterranean tribe out West, and the reclusive yet violent American tribe in the East. There was also the strange case of the Turkish tribe in Kabul with their secret agreements with the shadows no one would speak of.

All my sympathies aside about the NATO vice USA view of AFG, NATO was a mess and mostly hapless. When I stepped back in for my last tour, the Canadians and Dutch were already heading out the door and the Brits were maxed out. We had lots of other nations, but they were slathered with an amazingly complex matrix of national caveats that made them mostly useless for much of the spectrum of tasks. 

The Anglosphere nations, Dutch, Danes, Estonians and a couple others were of mostly full use, but the others only a fraction once you took their national caveats in to account. As a result, what I considered the superior view of the conflict coming from the NATO side of the house simply never had enough useful force to garner much credibility. At the end of the day, everyone knew the USA would have to do the heavy lifting.

He who does the heavy lifting wins the argument.

Oh, the USA. Beyond that strange and violent tribe in RC-(E), there was the strangely distant and blinkered view coming from CENTCOM in Tampa and the Joint Staff in DC. 

I’d spent some time in Tampa, and knew their angle, but the Joint Staff seemed to be running their own war. We’d come out of a VTC with the JS and wonder, “Where are they getting this stuff?” We’d show up in Qatar for a big confab, and often it seemed that the JS never read anything that came out of Kabul - and they sure weren't sharing their stuff ahead of time. 

The only thing more disconnected were the Department of State delegations and the Obama advance team.

Everything seemed like a blank slate with them. Not that they were too lazy to do their homework – they just didn’t think years of work, observations, and lessons from others were of any value. They were talking to someone and reading something, but not from the staff in-country. That was the impression at least. They were good, passionate people (especially Holbrooke who was right about a lot and stood out), but there wasn’t a curious attitude from most of those at the staff level – more imperious. 

Well, that’s my rambling intro … so here we go.

Craig Whitlock's, The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War.

I want you to read it all and I free-formed enough in the intro, so let me just pull a couple of things;

First, know the context of what you are reading;
With a bluntness rarely expressed in public, the interviews lay bare pent-up complaints, frustrations and confessions, along with second-guessing and backbiting.
People are people;
Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.
Not while I was involved from 05-09, and unquestionably when I was in Kabul in '08-09. Nope. Not once while I was there, in the CUB, publishing reports, briefing various people, did anyone at any time distort statistics. Never, not once. I didn't see it in Tampa while I was there either. I can't speak to what happened at the Joint Staff; but in Brussels, Kabul and Tampa - no one screwed with numbers.

Name names.
“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”
'13-14? That was General Dunford, USMC's tenure has COMISAF. He ended up as CJCS, retiring at the end of September this year.

... SIGAR has published seven Lessons Learned reports since 2016 that highlight problems in Afghanistan and recommend changes to stabilize the country.
But the reports, written in dense bureaucratic prose and focused on an alphabet soup of government initiatives, left out the harshest and most frank criticisms from the interviews.
“We found the stabilization strategy and the programs used to achieve it were not properly tailored to the Afghan context, and successes in stabilizing Afghan districts rarely lasted longer than the physical presence of coalition troops and civilians,” read the introduction to one report released in May 2018.
Of course. It is because we abandoned SCHB in DEC09 and only played not to lose since.
Sopko, the inspector general, told The Post that he did not suppress the blistering criticisms and doubts about the war that officials raised in the Lessons Learned interviews. He said it took his office three years to release the records because he has a small staff and because other federal agencies had to review the documents to prevent government secrets from being disclosed.
3 years? We fought and won WWII in under 4 years.
“We didn’t sit on it,” he said. “We’re firm believers in openness and transparency, but we’ve got to follow the law. . . . I think of any inspector general, I’ve probably been the most forthcoming on information.”
No, you slow rolled it or are an inefficient blob. Remember what I have been saying for years about how broke our governmental IG systems are? There's another data point.
“We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich,” James Dobbins, a former senior U.S. diplomat who served as a special envoy to Afghanistan under Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. “We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. We invade violent countries to make them peaceful and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.”
I wish that were true, but I don't think James has read much about what was said in the first 24-months of the war. I don't think he has read the Bonn Agreement. I think I have heard enough from James.
“I may be impatient. In fact I know I’m a bit impatient,” Rumsfeld wrote in one memo to several generals and senior aides. “We are never going to get the U.S. military out of Afghanistan unless we take care to see that there is something going on that will provide the stability that will be necessary for us to leave.”
“Help!” he wrote.
The memo was dated April 17, 2002 — six months after the war started.
It took 6-years to get SCHB off the ground. We dithered and trusted NATO's untested optimism too much. 
Some of the interviews are inexplicably short. The interview record with John Allen, the Marine general who commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, consists of five paragraphs.
LOL! Of course. Allen has gone uber-political. What did you expect?
In contrast, other influential figures, including former U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker, sat for two interviews that yielded 95 transcribed pages.
I always found Crocker a good man trying to do his best. 95 pages is what I would expect from him.
Yet the interviews show that as the war dragged on, the goals and mission kept changing and a lack of faith in the U.S. strategy took root inside the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department.
To be fair, as we say this at the time, even though for most of the first decade of the war the US only "ran" one of the four RC's, DC always acted as if AFG were a US only operation. Also, there was little continuity in the Staffs and Commanders - and there was constant churn and little sustained knowledge. That had a lot to do with the inertia; once people understood their job, they were rotated out and their expertise lost in a personnel system CONUS that did not realize we were at war.
Dec. 1, 2009
“The days of providing a blank check are over. . . . It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.”
— President Barack Obama, in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Read what I said at the time. This was the pivot point. On this day, the Taliban knew they just needed to wait us out, that we lacked the will to win. They did, we didn't.
U.S. officials tried to create — from scratch — a democratic government in Kabul modeled after their own in Washington. It was a foreign concept to the Afghans, who were accustomed to tribalism, monarchism, communism and Islamic law.
The below ... I'm sorry ... but that was the mindset from the beginning!
During the peak of the fighting, from 2009 to 2012, U.S. lawmakers and military commanders believed the more they spent on schools, bridges, canals and other civil-works projects, the faster security would improve. Aid workers told government interviewers it was a colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive.
Amazing amnesia. 
One unnamed executive with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), guessed that 90 percent of what they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.”
That is your fault USAID. Like I mentioned earlier, at least when I was there, you were impossible to work with. Heal thyself.
Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three U.S. generals in charge of the war, said that the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006 — and that U.S. officials failed to recognize the lethal threat it posed to their strategy.
True. It was his entire family. Huge impact on things great and small. For a significant time period if you needed gravel there was only one person you could get it from - Karzai's brother. He had the corner on rock crushers, it seems.

This too was not the fault of "the generals."
In the Lessons Learned interviews, however, U.S. military trainers described the Afghan security forces as incompetent, unmotivated and rife with deserters. They also accused Afghan commanders of pocketing salaries — paid by U.S. taxpayers — for tens of thousands of “ghost soldiers.”
Another long running problem that was nothing but graft driven. Leaders stole their people's paychecks. That simple ... and we let them.
One unidentified U.S. soldier said Special Forces teams “hated” the Afghan police whom they trained and worked with, calling them “awful — the bottom of the barrel in the country that is already at the bottom of the barrel.”
You get what you pay for - and we paid a lot. What do we have for it?

Well ... it isn't worse than it was on 10 SEP 01.

That is enough from the article, I'll let you pick through the rest. 

Is there anything "new" here? Perhaps ... but only for those who were content to let others fight for the better part of two decades, but were too distracted to make the effort to find out what was going on.