Obama’s War

There’s a lot of controversy today about Afghanistan, Obama, and GEN McChrystal’s request for more troops. Basically, the issue is that GEN McChrystal wants to shift to a counter-insurgency strategy of having our troops live among the population full time. One reason we never tried this strategy before is that there was concern about being seen as an occupying army. The other part is, it takes a lot of troops to do counter-insurgency this way. In the 24 minute video below, you’ll see a young Marine asking where the people are that would normally be at a market. The local tells them they’ve gone to a different market. In a perfect counterinsurgency world, the Marines would have enough men to cover the other markets. But they don’t. That’s part of what the argument going on right now.

There’s concern, legitimate concern, about how effective this would be. There’s also concern that logistically supporting a force would be difficult. And of course, there’s a very good chance that by spending more time with the local population, and less time patrolling the Taliban’s infiltration routes, we might face more attacks similar to the one that killed 8 American’s this weekend. It’s a real risk.

But manning an outpost in the middle of nowhere that might, or might not, interdict Taliban infiltration doesn’t win the population over. Winning the population over generates intelligence, denies the Taliban the use of the population for shelter, money, and other support. It removes the sanctuary every insurgent force needs.

The nearest analogy I can think of is convoys in WWII. The U-Boats of Germany were sinking merchant ships at a frightful rate. The British Admiralty was loathe to have merchant shipping travel in convoys, as they saw them as a defensive measure, when the warships that would escort them should be used offensively.

But that turned reality on its head. In fact, the convoy was an offensive measure. Instead of having warships hunt willy nilly for U-Boats, by using a convoy, you created a group of merchant ships that U-Boats had to attack, and therefore brought them into range of the escorting warships.

Similarly, if you can provide full time security for a village in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, the Taliban will be forced to either come to you, on ground you are prepared to fight on, with all proper support, or they cede the battle.

Watch the video, make your own judgment, and let me know what you think.

H/T: chad at DPUD for the video.

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9 thoughts on “Obama’s War”

  1. I’m afraid all we’re doing is taking the Iraq COIN strategy and applying it to Afghanistan, while failing to acknowledge the differences between the two countries.

    Firstly, you can actually call Iraq a country. You cannot say that for Afghanistan. There is some expectation for a nation-state like polity in Iraq. There is none in Afghanistan. It’s been said that the only true Afghan is Hamid Karzai. The rest are Pashtuns, Tajiks, Turkmen, etc.

    Secondly, things turned around in Iraq when we started to work with the tribal leaders. However, the tribal leaders of Iraq are NOT the tribal leaders of Afghanistan. Humanizing ourselves worked with the Iraqis because they were, to some degree, at least somewhat cosmopolitan. The Afghans don’t see someone as truly human unless they belong to their tribe. In this, they are like the Native Americans, whose names for themselves were always “the people/humans” and the names for everyone else meant “the other/enemy.”

    I am, of course, making sweeping generalizations, but the generalizations prevail enough that any dissent makes little to no difference.

    Personally I think it was a mistake to attempt to establish any form of pan-tribal central government in Kabul in the first place. After 9/11, we should have formed an alliance with the Northern Alliance tribes to effect the destruction of all other Taliban-affiliated tribes. We also need to stop treating Pakistan like an ally.

    Pull the Marines out… then land them at Gwadar in force and drive a path north through Baluchistan (while helping the denizens break away from Pakistan). Then we’ll have our overland route into Afghanistan.

  2. Well, I think Patreaus and McChrystal are smart enough to know you can’t use the exact same plan that worked in Iraq, and just change the names. But it is pretty apparent that the interdiction model of sitting on hilltops in the east just isn’t working. And while there is the issue of not being in the proper tribe, remember, that applies to a great extent to the Taliban as well. They aren’t from the right tribes and clans either, most of the time.

    As for Pakistan, we have a bad choice there: treat them as an ally, whether they deserve it or not; or treat them as hostile, in which case you’ll end up with a radicalized Muslim nuclear power.

    I am of the opinion that what initially started as a punitive short term mission (degrade Al Queda, punish/overthrow the Taliban) was kind of backed into an occupation because of the need to pursue them into the hinterlands of the eastern mountains. If they hadn’t fled, but rather cooperated and died in place, the mission would have been over in months. But the political pressure to get Bin Laden required that troops continue to pursue Al Queda.

  3. I just can’t help but think this is another Vietnam in the making. Through no fault of the military, at any level, but purely through the various kinds of obfuscation coming from the political (lack of) “leadership.”

  4. I don’t think you can hold the military blameless in either conflict. Certainly not in the case of Vietnam. Westmoreland chose a strategy of attrition (well, had one forced on him, really) and the military squandered an awful lot of goodwill. Read Hackworth’s “About Face”. I’d take a lot of it with a grain of salt, but the underlying themes sure ring true.

    Having said that, sure, the politics are a major problem. There’s the joke that goes “I’d rather have the Taliban in front of me, than a Democrat behind me”.

    That certainly doesn’t mean that the Bush admin is free from criticism. But the Obama admin never got any real pressure from the left regarding A-stan, and yet is already willing to cave to that non-existent pressure.

    It sure seems to me that all the negativity about A-stan in popular opinion is largely a result of the admin saying that popular opinion is swaying against the war. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.

  5. I keep hearing that a COIN strategy won’t work because Afghaniostan has never been a country. Now I don ‘t know if it will work or not but Afghanistan has been a functional country in the past starting with the Durahasi (?) empire back in the 1700’s through the Kingdom of Afghanistan which was finally displaced in the 70’s there has been a central government. There have also been strong tribes but that is true in much of the middle east / middle asia. Don’t forget that even the Taliban was able to bring 95% of the country under control. They probably would have achieved alsot 100% if 911 hadn’t come along and we decided to help the Northern Alliance.

  6. I’ve said before this is one big tar baby. As long as there are adj. safe areas for the Taliban to retreat to and rest, regroup, and re-equip when under pressure, it’s a never-ending process. And PK doesn’t look like it’s going to be stable soon enough to put the necessary pressure on the Taliban from their end soon enough either. A long grind that the American public will not put up with forever no matter which party is in charge and how good the leadership at the top. There is a guy named Mourad who posts over at “Balkinization” (that far left wing legal blog run by Yale Law Prof Jack Balkin) who has a good multi-part series tutorial on the border areas’ history in an extended comments debate we are having now that’s worth a gander. His proscription for success is in once sense typical lefty, as he pitches the multi-lateral approach. But he does make one unique pitch. He thinks an Algerian General whose had success in much the same terrain in suppressing Jhadists in Algeria would be the ideal guy to run it as a Muslim. And that there is a long history of US-Algerian cooperation. Ought to visit the site and read his comments. An interesting take.

  7. I’ll give it a look, VX. But the Taliban isn’t the NVA. They get tacit support from P-Stan, which is a far cry from the Pak army running across the border, and being supplied endlessly by surrogate states.

    If our forces can secure a population center for the medium term, two things can happen: 1. A-Stan forces have a chance to become somewhat proficient; and 2. the Taliban forces wither on the vine. They can’t stay in P-stan indefinitely, or they lose, and they can’t draw support from A-stan villages that have thrown in their lot with our folks.

    And yes, the clock is ticking. McChrystal knows this. Patreaus knows this. We all know this. On the other hand, the clock isn’t going as fast as we might think. Less than 1000 US troops have been KIA in 8 years. If the President acts like he wants to win, I think a good portion of the population will support him for a while. Casualties will go up, but if the administration maintains a strong front, there won’t be overwhelming pressure to cut and run. The Dems know they are the “cut and run” party, and got slammed for it in elections for 40 years. They aren’t in a huge rush to repeat that. Well, some are, but not everyone wants to revert to minority party status.

  8. My God, this is crazy. No air support, choppers, nothing but pure flesh on the ground. All of you know this is the wrong leadership from the white house. I must say, the strategy to mingle with the locals to win some sore of support is ridiculous. Hell, I would not even think of helping American Troops unless I could see a heavy assault with significant reduction of the “Tal”! Something needs to change and I’m afraid he does not have the “Cajones” to make the right decision and completely change the rules of engagement. Pull our kids out if not.
    That’s my opinion, Whats yours!

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