Tags: Afghanistan, The Long War
In his twitter feed, our co-blogger here at USNIBlog and SHAPE, Admiral Stavridis, points to a link for a very nice story that really is worth your time to read, as it does represent the very best of our partnering with the ANSF – and what should have been the general condition of our relationship in 2012, vice just a specific instance;
1st Lt. Michael Molczyk had heard stories about “insider” attacks — and the Afghan soldiers and police officers who grew to see their partners as enemies. As a platoon commander, he couldn’t ignore those assaults on American troops, which during bad weeks were reported day after day.
But to him, he said, the stories sounded like news from a different planet. In Molczyk’s corner of eastern Afghanistan, uniformed Afghans had saved American lives time and again. They had developed a brotherhood with their U.S. partners that felt earned and unassailable. … no relationship mattered more to Molczyk than his partnership with Jalaluddin, the head of the Afghan police in Jaji district …
Sadly, that relationship between two specific individuals is not in line with the general trend in Afghanistan – and with each Green on Blue we need to look that fact square in the face. While there are always individual stories that can tell any side of an issue – it is the general trend that you need to keep an eye on.
The bottom line is this; we are well along the scheduled withdraw on a calendar-based vice conditions-based OPLAN. That is a polite way of describing a retreat under fire. Those we will leave behind, and those who will fill the vacuum after we leave are acting in a rational manner, and the second and third order effects of our decision to leave the field will continue to fill your news feed as the process takes its natural course. We have been here before.
As noted last month;
The last of the 33,000 American surge troops sent to Afghanistan two years ago have left the battlefields of Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said.
Actually, it was four years ago that the uplift of forces started – but let’s not quibble.
That little note from last month was one of the critical junctures following President Obama’s 2009 West Point Speech where he announced the end of conditions based planning for AFG. Gone was the “Shape-Clear-Hold-Build”, and in was the race to slap something together with bailing wire and duct-tape until our then 2011 (and now 2014 thankfully) drive to whatever will be our version of the Friendship Bridge.
Defeat, like decline, is more often than not a choice. In AFG, it is/was unquestionably a choice. We threw away a good chance for an acceptable outcome the minute we told our enemies, and more importantly our friends and those on the fence, that we lacked the strategic patience to follow through on our promises, creating in essence a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. They have seen this before.
As the cliche states, “Hope is not a plan.” In war, hope is a path to self-delusion and defeat. So it has always been, so it will always be.
In the executive summary from the International Crisis Group’s, Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition, they cut right to the chase;
Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014. That makes the political challenge of organising a credible presidential election and transfer of power from President Karzai to a successor that year all the more daunting. A repeat of previous elections’ chaos and chicanery would trigger a constitutional crisis, lessening chances the present political dispensation can survive the transition. In the current environment, prospects for clean elections and a smooth transition are slim. The electoral process is mired in bureaucratic confusion, institutional duplication and political machinations. Electoral officials indicate that security and financial concerns will force the 2013 provincial council polls to 2014. There are alarming signs Karzai hopes to stack the deck for a favoured proxy. Demonstrating at least will to ensure clean elections could forge a degree of national consensus and boost popular confidence, but steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out.
Yes, our timing is that bad.
Quiet planning should, nonetheless, begin now for the contingencies of postponed elections and/or imposition of a state of emergency in the run up to or during the presidential campaign season in 2014. The international community must work with the government to develop an action plan for the possibility that elections are significantly delayed or that polling results lead to prolonged disputes or a run-off. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) should likewise be prepared to organise additional support to Afghan forces as needed in the event of an election postponement or state of emergency; its leadership would also do well to assess its own force protection needs in such an event well in advance of the election.
Does anyone see a ISAF, post-USA withdraw, getting involved in AFG domestic police actions? Really?
No, they/we won’t. The Taliban also know we won’t. They know we have left the field for them, and they are patient. We no longer have the ability or will to break their back, and with only one more fighting season left until we are totally focused on withdraw – we can’t.
I am reminded of one of the heartbreaking scenes – for a military professional – from the 1984 movie, The Killing Fields.
In the background as Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg watch the fighting between Khmer National Armed Forces and the Khmer Rouge, we see Tom Bird’s US military adviser character do what he can to push his Cambodian forces on, to let them know that the USA was with them. Pointing to himself (in bold below);
00:27:00 What did he say?
00:27:01 He said he thought all American people left already.
00:27:05 Made in the USA.
00:27:10 Are we winning?
00:27:12 No, you’re not winning.
We have seen this before, and so have those who were our friends.
Much more will be written about our AFG experience over the next couple of decades. Somewhere there is a young man or woman who will be the next McMaster, who will cut their PhD teeth on how this all came apart. How a conscious decision was made to slide from a position of strength and progress to one of weakness, vacillation, insecurity, and decline. Why thousands of years of sound military experience was thrown away one evening in New York State, pretending that the lessons of history didn’t apply to us. We thought that because it was spoken, so it would be done; that hope and luck would beat the calender and patience. Through it all, the silence of “make it happen” marched forward in to the maw, again.
Rest assured, we won’t be leaving these problems behind in AFG. No, then enemy has a vote – and they too have seen this before.
“There is this narrative coming out of Washington for the last two years,” Logan said. It is driven in part by “Taliban apologists,” who claim “they are just the poor moderate, gentler, kinder Taliban,” she added sarcastically. “It’s such nonsense!”
She made a passionate case that our government is downplaying the strength of our enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as a rationale of getting us out of the longest war. We have been lulled into believing that the perils are in the past: “You’re not listening to what the people who are fighting you say about this fight. In your arrogance, you think you write the script.”
The Taliban and al Qaeda, she made clear, “want to destroy the West and us,” and we must fight fire with fire, She appeared to leave the assembled alternatively riveted and just a bit troubled by a critique with interventionist implications clearly drawn from her reporting.
When you have the person who just tried to kill you on the ground, with your knee on his chest and your knife at his throat, but then you get off and try to walk away without finishing the job – should you be shocked when he gets up and attacks you? Should you be shocked if he does not stop his attack simply because you stopped it? Will he stop if you cry uncle? If you bow, apologize, and plead?
So there we are; we have emphasized the meme of the weak horse, and the butcher’s bill will be dear because of it.
What is the solution? Frankly, I think it is too late to get back to where we were in late 2009. We are almost three years in to the signal of retreat that we sent. Those allied nations in ISAF who have not already left will soon. Those AFG on the fence have already made plans and associations with our enemies to protect the interests of their families, villages, and tribes in the expectation that we will abandon them. Smart move, if I were them I would do the same thing.
A precursor to the Soviet withdraw were their version of Green on Blue – the AFG remember that and are seeing it again. They have indications and warnings too.
Could the NOV USA election change anything? No. With the lack of top-level support and enthusiasm for the mission, the American people lost whatever will they had to aggressively sustain operations in AFG – and with much of the uplift gone and force levels back to late-’09/early-’10 levels and falling, that momentum is gone and even if the will was there – it would be difficult to get back.
We are at the point now where the die is cast. This version of the war in AFG for USA forces will soon be over regardless, by design. All that remains is to see if we drive across our version of the Friendship Bridge, or leave in a helo under fire; all the while doing our best to avoid Gandamak.
Until then, there are things that can be done on the margins, but one question remains; if we are not in this to win it – do we have the political will, rules of engagement, and operational plan to create the effects on the ground to further our national interests besides just “getting out?”
Is, “Do the best we can until the summer of 2014 and then wish them luck.” now by default our Mission Statement? Has the military leadership been realistic about what can be achieved inside the POLMIL guidance it has received? What Decisive Points have we achieved in our Lines of Operation? Are they in-line with expected time-line dates? What about our Effects Matrix?
District by District, Province by Province – is the Afghan government on, behind, or ahead of schedule to take over security responsibilities? Are the criteria used to determine that status tighter or looser than they were three years ago?
Yes, much of that is classified – but it won’t be forever. This story will be told, and people will be held to account. If history is any guide, that won’t mean much to the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions who will die because we did not finish what we started.
The last time we abandoned a nation like this, the losses were in the millions.
- The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 3: Viper and the Pitfalls of ‘Good Enough’
- Midrats 21 Sept 14 – Episode 246: “When the short snappy war goes long, with Chris Dougherty”
- The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 2: Are All Nuggets Created Equal?
- Back to Basics: Restoring the United States Merchant Marine
- On Midrats 14 Sep 14: Episode 245: “The Carrier as Capital Ship” with RADM Thomas Moore, USN, PEO CVN