24 October 2009


“This report does not claim that to follow the Go Big plan would unquestionably result in disaster” The reason I put that quote from LTC Davis upfront is that I don’t want anyone reading this to believe I am trying to prove his assumptions wrong since he is not discounting a fully resourced COIN option. There are a few points that I see differently.

“There is presently no successful “Sons of Iraq”-type operation that would remove large numbers of enemy fighters from the streets, valleys and mountains.”

“Second, due to the history and geography of Afghanistan, there is little prospect that an “SOI” program in Afghanistan can be formed to replicate the success enjoyed in Iraq.”

I don’t think we need an Afghani “SOI” to be successful. The conditions in northern Iraq were not conducive to an awakening movement, yet the local populous still reported on insurgent activity even when the Iraqi Army was predominately Kurdish. The question is not if Afghanistan will have a similar movement to the “Sons of Iraq”, rather are the Taliban so brutal to the local populous that it will foster disenfranchised locals willing to provide intel to the Counter Insurgents? Max Boot provides some insight into the possible effectiveness of a population centric policy in his NY Times article published Oct 21, 2009… Today, Nawa is flourishing. Seventy stores are open, according to the colonel, and the streets are full of trucks and pedestrians. Security is so good we were able to walk around without body armor — unthinkable in most of Helmand, the country’s most dangerous province. The Marines are spending much of their time not in firefights but in clearing canals and building bridges and schools. On those rare occasions when the Taliban try to sneak back in to plant roadside bombs, the locals notify the Marines.

“The potential for the population to view the introduction of tens of thousands of additional troops as foreign “invaders” or “occupation forces”…

This is another abundant misnomer in the media and academia. There is a lot of contention about ensuring that we don’t make the same mistake the Soviets did in the 80’s. I believe we incorrectly look at the troop levels as the main catalyst for the Soviets being viewed as invaders when in fact it was the Soviets indiscriminate indirect fire and close air support missions resulting in massive loss of civilian life that awarded them the title of invader. Gen McCrystal is aggressively attempting to ensure we do not earn a similar title by restricting our use of artillery and airpower. Will the locals in Paktia Province know that there are more counterinsurgents in the Helmand river valley? If President Obama added 40,000 more police officers to Texas, would the residents of Grapevine or El Paso know it was 40,000 or would they only see an extra hundred or so? I think Gen McCrystal chose 40,000 as his conservative bare minimum number he needs to get the job done.

LTC Davis incorrectly views the under resourced out posts in Wanat and Nuristan as the reason 40,000 additional troops couldn’t possibly be enough to secure Afghanistan. This fact is true, however; these tiny outposts in remote valleys are no longer the focus of our efforts. Gen McCrystal’s plan is to practice economy of force by placing the counter insurgents in the populated areas. Gen McCrystal will assume operational risk by ceding the vast swaths of lightly inhabited valleys.

I believe everything else LTC Davis states in his Go Big report is dead on. I especially agree with his assessments about the logistics, self imposed timelines, and Afghani corruption. LTC Davis also brings up some great points on the difficulty of building a credible Afghani military and police force.

“…as an analysis of pre-9/11 efforts reveals that parts of our efforts were in fact remarkably successful. It was political decisions, in some key situations, that resulted in lost opportunities.”

I could not agree more with this statement. The difficulty conducting CT operations is, 10 years from now when the 9-11 attacks are two decades old, will the President pull the trigger on a seemingly random AQAM member who doesn’t have history of spectacular attacks but the intel community believes he has the means to commit. My belief is the further we get away from 9-11 the less likely our civilian leadership will be willing to drop a bomb.

“Counterintuitively, our efforts are currently complicated by the number of conventional troops we have on the ground, as in many cases our mere presence fuels the insurgency by playing directly into the insurgent propaganda efforts painting the United States as a “foreign occupation.”

This is the statement that I disagree with the most. This quote is in the context that our ground presence is actually hurting our ability to target the extremists because our presence simply generates more fighters than our ability to target. As I have said before, I believe it is how we act not how many counterinsurgents are present that is actually the determining factor to fueling the insurgency. The problem with LTC Davis’ statement and my counterargument is there is no true metric for anyone to positively know what the truth actually is. This argument raged on about our involvement in Iraq but I have yet to see any analysis conducted on this topic.

“As I demonstrated in an Armed Forces Journal article in April of this year, an examination of attack trends and troop levels over the next several years showed that as we sent more US fighting troops to Afghanistan, the Taliban was able to recruit more fighters and inflict more damage.”

I don’t have the full picture and I can’t actively do my own research on this but, is it possible to draw incorrect conclusions from our analysis. This is the difficulty with analyzing intelligence; we all bring our own biases to the analysis. A better analysis would include attack trends, troop levels, and how ISAF conducted operations. It is no surprise that SIGACTs increased in relation to increased troop levels, however; just looking at raw SIGACT numbers can mislead us. We as a military largely conducted operations that were counterproductive until 2007. I believe it is fair to say that the counterinsurgents in Afghanistan were also largely counterproductive providing the Taliban the space to thrive.

After thoroughly reading LTC Davis’ work I believe he is actually advocating for a COIN approach without the focus of protecting the populous. He talks in length about targeting the extremists, building up Afghani security forces, coupled with economic aid and political mentoring. LTC Davis has put forth the best CT proposal in that it doesn’t strictly rely on simply targeting the extremists. My belief is that Gen McCrystal’s plan does not carry the significant risks that LTC Davis predicts. 40,000 additional troops focused on the population centers, implementing a population centric COIN approach will allow us to gain the initiative against the Taliban. I don’t think we can effectively run a purely assist and advise task organization (AAB) in Afghanistan right now. If we adopted this model before 2007 in Iraq our forces would have incurred high casualties because of being spread too thin. It is only well after the benefits from the Surge that we can implement this strategy in Iraq. I know that we are currently implementing an AAB format in Afghanistan but we must realize that this is only one of the Brigades in Afghanistan, the rest are focused on providing security. If we opt for LTC Davis’ Go Deep option our advisement of Afghani security forces will be less effective because our ground units will be too small to accompany their host units out in sector. Basically we could see a Wanat or Nuristan mismatch anywhere in the theater. The more I study to topic the more I believe a COIN approach is the correct one. LTC Davis points out that we still have many important unanswered questions ie: corruption, logistics of increased troop requirements, and building a credible ANSF force.


1 comment:

  1. JD, thanks for the awesome point-by-point analysis. I completely agree on your main point: it's not so much the number of Soldiers we send, it's what they are doing and how they are interacting with the local populace. This is the part we MUST get right - whether we send additional troops or not.

    The more I examine the various alternatives being examined, I also continue to lean towards the GO BIG, COIN-surge approach as well. I see this as the only chance to show some level of concrete improvement that would be necessary to achieve both political momentum in the US (which is critical to success for ISAF) as well as the support of local Afghans.