Thoughts on Afghanistan

One of the things that makes me a lousy blogger is that I don’t like to post my thoughts immediately on issues of the day. I didn’t post my opinions within 5 minutes of the President’s address last night because I wanted to digest them a bit. I also wanted to see what others thought, as that almost always gives me a deeper insight into what I truly think, rather than my first emotional reaction.

Oddly, two of my favorite blogosphere sources are from retired Naval officers, CDR Salamander, and Neptunus Lex.  And of course, Drew M. at Ace’s has some thoughts that illuminate. Why take the Navy guys take on what is primarily an Army operation? Well, CDR Salamander is dialed in on the operational and strategic implications of policy changes in Afghanistan (traditionally, I think the Navy has trained its officers to think at that level better than any other service). And Nep Lex has a wonderful clarity of thinking and such a terrific ability to write that you can hardly afford to not read him.  As for Drew? Look, I read Ace’s all day every day.

My own thoughts…

1. Good on Obama for adding an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. There is clearly a need for more troops if we are to shift to a counterinsurgency approach there. I think that is the proper approach, vice a counterterrorism approach. And COIN warfare is inherently a manpower intensive approach.

2. Bad on Obama for only adding 30,000 additional troops. GEN McChrystal requested 40,000 troops. You can be sure he didn’t just pull that number out of a hat. He had a reason for requesting the number he did, tempered by what he believes can be logistically supported in theater, and by what the Army staff tells him can be generated for deployment.  I’m certain he didn’t just request a number of troops, but rather a particular force structure that happened to add up to 40,000.  The President has authorized only 30,000. Which troops and what units did he think that McChrystal didn’t need? Why did he think that? What justification has he given for not including those forces? Does he think the additional 10,000 troops will be forthcoming from our NATO allies (fat chance!)?

3. Other than an arbitrarily imposed timeline that will enable the President to show a troop drawdown, why impose a 2011 timeline? Is this in there solely so Obama can show this drawdown during a presidential election cycle? One of the concerns I had about the surge in Iraq was that it was a “one-shot” deal. It simply had to work, because there was no way the Army could double down, and the ability to maintain that level of effort was time limited. They could surge additional troops, but only for about one deployment cycle, before real issues developed in maintaining readiness. That is potentially a problem here in Afghanistan, but it isn’t nearly the problem that the Army faced in 2007 in Iraq. But when President Bush announced the surge in Iraq, he did not announce that the surge was a limited time offer. In fact, the open ended nature of the commitment was a key component of its success. Those Iraqi factions that were beginning to consider aligning with us were convinced that we would still “respect them in the morning” and weren’t going to leave them hanging. In contrast, President Obama’s speech last night pretty explicitly told the Afghani people, “I’m love you, but I’m not in love with you.” If you were a tribal leader, and had to choose to align yourself and your tribe with either the US or the Taliban, who would you choose? That kind of undoes the whole point of a counterinsurgency strategy. The anti-coalition forces are pretty good at information operations. You can bet that this will be a major bullet point on their presentation.

4. The money thing. Look, no commander gets everything he wants. There are never unlimited resources. The Army understands that. But this sudden pennypinching impulse in an era of massive government expenditures for bailing out banks, and the Porkulus Stimulus spending that magically seems to fund every Democrat pet project of the last 20 years costs a heck of a lot more than funding the fight in Afghanistan. And you may rest assured that spending a ton of money to win a war is a lot cheaper than losing a war by trying to save money.

5. Dithering and deployments… What did the President say last night that justified the three months that it took for him to reach a decision? Nothing. So why did it take so long? And this three month delay is on top of the fact that back in March, the President announced his own new approach to the war and appointed his own commander for Afghanistan.  Are we going to see quarterly revisions to strategy all the way through this administration? I understand that circumstances change, and that you have to adapt. But there has been no clear communication of our goals and how we intend to fulfill those goals by this administration (and this isn’t a problem exclusive to this administration. The Bush administration did a poor job in this respect as well).

The President has attempted to make up for his three month delay in reaching his decision by expediting the deployment schedule for those brigades that will be going. I was asked about this at The Hostages last night, and here was my response:

Comment by xbradtc on December 1, 2009 8:42 pm

Brad, I’m thinking moving 2+ Divisions into inland and mountainous regions without ports and decent roads is going to take just a bit longer than the first few months of 2010.

Your thoughts?

Dave, the Army has a plan to move them (and more, don’t forget that McChrystal offered options of 80k, 40k, and 20k to Obama). It won’t be easy but it will be doable. The problem is that Obama is gonna “push” the deployment and get them in theatre faster than the original plan.

That will pose logistical problems, I’m sure, but the real assfuck will come in training. Brigades that see their deployment date moved up will have less time to integrate new troops, develop their training plans, implement individual, squad, platoon and company training, less time for cultural and language training, less time for Bn and Bde leadership to do leaders recons on the ground in A-stan and develop their campaign plan.

It’s impossible to quantify, but some troops will die because of these training deficiencies.

6. GEN McChrystal seems to be onboard with the President’s decision. He really has only two choices. Either say “Yes, Sir!” and try to do the best he can, or hand in his resignation. Given that the President has voiced support for his strategy and resourced most of it, GEN McChrystal really had no choice to but accept the challenge. If the President had instead provided only token increases, or none at all, he would have been sorely tempted to call it a day, I’m sure. Still, we as a nation have civilian control of our military, and at the end of the day, expect our officers to do what they are ordered to do by the President. For a theater commander to resign, he better have a damn good reason. And every commander that faces that choice also has to struggle with the issue that he could be abandoning his troops on the battlefield. That goes against the grain of every moral fiber in a soldier.

7. Delivery. For a guy that has a wonderful reputation for oratory, it sure seemed like he was just phoning it in. Of course, I’ve yet to be impressed by his public speaking. I’m biased, of course. I didn’t vote for him, and tend to have an immediate distaste for whatever he’s pitching the moment he opens his mouth. But it seems to me that his best speaking comes when he is making campaign speeches, and his worst comes when he discusses policy.  And, to me, he seemed to lack any enthusiasm for what he was selling last night. His handlers like to stage manage this sort of thing, putting him in front of the Corps of Cadets at the US Military Academy. That struck me as being a bit too smart for themselves. While the Commander-in-Chief is guaranteed to have a polite audience there, Barack Obama was unlikely to have an enthusiastic audience there. I still clearly remember when President George H.W. Bush announced the doubling of troop deployments for Operation Desert Shied/Desert Storm in November of 1990. He gave that speech from the Oval Office. It seemed presidential and had the proper gravitas. I didn’t get that impression last night.

Overall, I’m somewhat disappointed and less than fully optimistic for the campaign in Afghanistan. But I’ve not given up hope. I have a near boundless faith in the ability of the American Soldier (and Marine, Sailor and Airman) to persevere in the face of daunting challenge and to overcome. Time will tell the result of the President’s approach to his leadership in what he himself called a war of necessity.

Your thoughts?

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14 thoughts on “Thoughts on Afghanistan”

  1. I was doing some errands and caught the Fred Thompson Show on the radio. A caller who said he was a Vietnam vet called this shot as far as I am concerned. The gist is:
    The increase is enough to shut up the moderate right.
    The increase is not enough for force protection and victory, leaving the generals holding the bag.
    The timeline is to make sure victory is not available. If the generals go out for a win, they take huge casualties, drive the popularity of the war down, which ends in time for the election.
    If they stay bunkered up, then every single casualty can be seen for a big waste of US blood and treasure, and the popularity of the war is driven down, and the army gets out in time for the election.

    It is a win-win. Win the election, make the US look bad, and the generals and the political right get the most blame.

  2. I don’t think I’m quite that pessimistic. But Obama’s address last night didn’t strike me as a new chapter in “Profiles in Courage.”

  3. First off, thanks for taking time to think about what was said. Better than some of the knee jerk responses I have seen.

    That being said, I really get the feeling that Obama does not get it. He seems stuck in permanent campaign mode. Now that worked for Bill Clinton, but Obama is not the same. Obama ran on promising change, not on band-aids. I was never an Obama supporter (but then again I’m not what you would call a conservative either). I feel like some parts of the speech were really just CYA stuff, as if he were still in the run up to an election, especially the part about needing to take the time to think about what needed to be done.

    Really? He needed more time? Its not like this is a new problem. It’s not like the McChrystal’s report came as any surprise.

    Also, it angers me that he wasted those cadets time by showing up to give the speech there. It seems like this administration favors style over substance. There was no reason to do it there. I don’t even think that the speech was necessary in the first place. Other than saying the number troops and the 2011 deadline, I’m not sure that anything was actually accomplished other than some campaigning to try and make himself look like he has Commander in Chief credentials.

    For better or worse, he is the Commander in Chief. It does not make his speech better by delivering it to a TV audience while standing in front of the Corps of Cadets. You want to go meet the troops, I think then the CinC should do that, not use them as a backdrop to a speech.

  4. I think one of the goals of the speech should have been to explain not just what he was going to do, but why he was taking the steps he was. He clearly didn’t do that.

    As for what took him so long, I think part of that is the lack of clearly defined principles. He is a leftist, sure, but that’s an ideology, not a set of principles. When you have principles and know them, decision making becomes much easier. You won’t always make the right one, but principles give you a framework in which to view possible courses of action, and greatly expedites the decision making process. Without them, you have to weigh factors such as popularity, political cost, and calculations of which factions of your party you’ll have to pay off.

  5. Unfortunately my opinions are too far right to matter. I believe that what you stated here, “When you have principles and know them, decision making becomes much easier.” is true. I personally think that his decision has been made for quite awhile. He had decided to pull out, win or lose, but it took this long as was previously posed, to appease both sides politically. I also believe as stated earlier that He is in campaign mode, but not accidentally. He will remain in campaign mode simply because this is his politics and is the way things will be run from here on.

  6. I think he stays in campaign mode because he doesn’t know anything else. Have we seen him do the hard work of governing at any time in any sphere?

  7. I agree with most of the criticism about Obama’s decision and his speech but I have talked to a couple people who have some knowledge about this and fortunately it appears the military hasn’t been sitting on their hands waiting.

    The information I have is that units that were likely to deploy were alerted as far back as last summer and so most of the predeployment work has continued. Also I have been told that the reason for the big push to start getting troops in place by Jan. is so that the unit integration training and acclimitization training can be conducted in country.

    Personally as a former E-4 my biggest concern would be the logistics pipeline. That is going to be incredibly vulnerable both to attack and to just ordinary wear and tear on the prime movers.

  8. I’m certain that you are right, that the units aren’t just sitting around doing nothing. But any change to deployment schedules really does have an impact on training. There’s only so many training sites available, and compressing the schedule does screw things up. The Army will do its best to mitigate that, but mitigation is not the same as optimization.

    I’m concerned about the logistical pipeline as well, but will defer to the judgment of the theater commander. In fact, I’m pretty sure the pipeline had a fair impact on determining how many troops to ask for. Historically, the composition of forces fielded by the Army (from WWII on) has been based as much on what can be supported as much as on the enemy order of battle.

  9. Its about logistics.

    The 30,000 is about how many can be supported over the long lines of communications. Don’t forget, another 30,000 were added a few months ago. We had the luxury of building large infrastructure bases in Iraq because we had a seaport in Kuwait and a reasonably secure LOC up into Iraq. We do not have the same for Afghanistan.

    And the President did not make this decision on his own. Has anyone heard what the theater commander, GEN Petreus, the Joint Staff or the CJCS, ADM Mullins thought about the size of the force needed?

    GEN Schwarzkopf got the forces he asked for in late 1990 after the numbers were deliberated within the Joint Staff. This is not a new occurence.

  10. AR, I’m concerned about the logistics, but I’m pretty convinced that the McChrystal (and the JCS) thinks the pipeline can handle 40k. Otherwise, why would we ask NATO to add troops? They add an even greater burden than US troops, because they have completely different line items, and less organic logistical capability, which the US would have to provide.

  11. We already are providing the support to all of NATO…that is in the staffing agreement signed in 2002.

    And we are providing the support to the ANA and ANP as well.

    My point is, and the J4 staff has said the physical real estate under control can not handle additional supply activities without a massive expansion of additional log bases on the scale of FOB Anaconda….something which would be unsustainable. Bulding up the additional log infrastructure (and I ain’t talking PXs, Starbucks, etc) would slow down the arrival of combat forces.

    This is what I do for a living.

  12. I can’t find the link right now, but there’s a $220 million expansion contract in place upgrading Bagram, and I suspect is isn’t all for a new Burger King.

  13. In my opinion, everyone needs to stop thinking of Obama as an asset of any kind. He is at the very least a liability, at worst an outright enemy. He will always obstruct this nation’s best interests, because said interests act against the interests of his ideology and the current leadership of the Democrat Party.

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