Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Afghanistan's plains

It now appears certain that the present Administration is going to commit something like 10-12 additional maneuver brigades (or the equivalent of 2.5 divisions in our presently effectively-divisionless Army) to the Umpteenth Afghan War.

Debate at this juncture seems meaningless. After all, it has been over a year since the Obama Administration took over, there have been endless debates on the subject, and at no point does anyone with any significant influence in Washington seem to have said "Well, sod this for a game of soldiers; let's just grab a hat."Fred Kaplan, one of the few writers at Slate with any pretense of having given this war any real thought, comes down tentatively, hesitantly, gingerly, what-ever-other-name-you-want-to-give-the-act-of-sitting-down-naked-on-a-bear-trap-ly on the side of continued engagement after reading off all the reasons that this foreign expedition will probably fail.

Fine, Fred. You've probably thought about this more than I have. But...here's the thing; to me, there's a hidden landmine, a real shot-to-the-heart, buried in the very last paragraph on the first page:
"Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that enlarging the Afghan army was the key to success (and to America's exit). In March, when Obama ordered another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, Gates assigned 4,000 of them—the 4th brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, a highly decorated combat unit—specifically to train Afghan soldiers."
Emphasis mine.

Now I come at this from a very specific frame of reference. To wit: I spent about 8 years as an airborne medic and medical NCO in airborne line units just like 4th BDE (which, from the division's website, looks like two battalions of the 508 PIR (airborne light infantry) and a battalion of the 73rd Cav, which is no longer the light tank outfit it was when I was there but some sort of bastard wheeled recon/security organization in HUMVEEs). Pretty much standard-issue paratroops. Good on 'em.


Here's the nitty: we didn't train people. Airborne troopers aren't trained to train people, especially foreign people. Check their METL. "Train Afghan troops"?

Not there.

They fight, and fight well. They include some truly outstanding NCOs who could teach eunuchs to fuck like mink. But "train Afghan soldiers"?

Nope. Sod THAT for a game of soldiers.

If this is what the "plan" is - to use some of our maneuver elements to straight-up fight the Talibs (a losing game in Afghanistan, where foreign troops can either be merciless conquerors or just passing through, but not really anything in-between, not successfully, not for long) and the rest to "train Afghan troops" - we're looking at a years-long arc of fail.

Training foreign maneuver forces is a hell of a tricky job, touchy as old explosives and calling for a very specific skill set that is usually developed over years if not decades. The British used to have a terrific knack for it; you had people like "Chinese" Gordon training the "Ever-Victorious Army" of mercenaries in 1860 and then the Khedive's Army in Egypt in the 1880s, Kitchener training those same Egyptians and Sudanese. Guys like Harry Maclean in Morocco training the hell out of the local bandits (that's him below, third from left with the lovely white whiskers)But these guys weren't doing something for freedom or democracy; they were working for the good of their own Empire. They were going to be there a looooong time, and knew it. They went native, and, largely because of that, were well outside their own regular Army, the very sorts of guys that today make up the 4th BDE, 82nd ABN and all the units like it.

Mind you, we used to have a bunch of folks like old Harry Maclean, whose specific job it was to do what he did. They were called "Special Forces" and their entire rationale was to sneak into Bad Places, train up local yobs into "Mike Forces", fight the Bad Guys and, if that didn't work, blow hell out of the place and split.

Mind you, this was before the SF was turned into Rangers with sexier hats.


But grabbing a bunch of guys off of Ardennes Street and expecting them to produce the 21st Century-equivalent-of-the-Indian-Army-of-the-Raj out of a bunch of illiterate Hazaras and starving Pashtuns?

That's the fucking "plan"?

Jesus wept.

That ain't gonna work."When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier ~of~ the Queen!"

(Endnote: after I published this I stopped and really LOOKED at the two pictures of the current GIs I had grabbed off the internet and my first thought was: what the FUCK are these goatscrews? A squad straggling through the desert like a bunch of Castro Street drag queens at the fucking Gay Pride Parade? Joe Snuffy going for his third attempt at a posthumous Purple Heart skylining on the knoll? Where the hell are their team leaders, squad leaders, and platoon sergeant?

Does anybody here know how to play this game?)


  1. Let's see how that "training" will actually looks like.
    It could mean much, including playing "Red" and being the effective part of mixed units or being advisors.

    But yes, as far as I understand it USSOCOM is a better address for foreign troops training.

  2. Sven: trust me, been there, done that. First of all, U.S. paratroops are NOT a good choice for playing the "red team" - we don't fight like the Talibs and aren't good at pretending we do. We had to invent two entire units - the OPFOR at our NTC and JRTC - because of the problems we encountered trying to take conventional line units and use them to play the bad guys.

    A combat unit is a touchy thing. It fights and trains as a unit, everyone learning exactly who is on their left or right, forward or rear. Throw a bunch of odds-and-sods Afghans into the mix and you don't have a "mixed" unit. You have a "mix-up" of two groups of people who are unfamiliar with each other and will, at best, simply get in each others' way. At worst, someone will blue-on-blue someone else and at that point you might as well stop, because the NEXT time out both sides will be looking at each other more than the enemy.

    And the VERY worst option of the three is shoving line doggies in units as "advisors". We should have learned the hard way that advisor is an extremely specialized job with an entire skill-set of unique tasks. A guy who is an outstanding line NCO mya make - in fact, probably will make - a terrible advisor, for the simple reason that what works for a bunch of American joes is unlikely to work for a bunch of Afghans.

    Prior to the GWOT the SF would have been the go-to guys. I am not sure, given the tasking the SF elements have at the moment and the recent enthusiasm for taking teams and turning them into highly paid door-kickers, whether SF is up to the job or even has enough uncommitted bodies.

    In short, I think that "training" will look like "shit".

  3. Part 1:


    "In short, I think that "training" will look like "shit"

    I hate to echo your comments, but I've seen it. As a member of an SF Group in Iraq, we were uber frustrated at then LTG Petraeus who ran the conventional forces training what was then the Iraqi National Guard. It was an absolute failure (this failure somehow LTG P escaped, much like fried egg slipping off a teflon pan). So painful to watch as these kids (mostly 18-15) who were trying to train Iraqis on basic skills, skills in which the soldiers had a decent grasp of. But the soldiers didn't have any training in the language, the culture or even how to set up a basic POI (period of instruction) let alone a full blown METL (mission essential task list) for a foreign military unit. There were no standards, one platoon was trained to one level, and one company in the next city was trained completely different. There was no overall guidance, no structure, nothing. We, as the "experts", tried to assist those who asked for help, but few did. Most were to busy feeling sorry for themselves for getting such a shit detail babysitting monkeys with AK-47s. In truth, most soldiers who were assigned these teams, were the rejects that the units didn't want on the roads with them.

    So, that was then, 2004. How much has changed, and how much we've learned, I can't say for sure, I've been separated from that world for a few years now. But I will say this. It can be done. I've seen batches of good units who figured it out. I learned a long time ago never to underestimate the resourcefulness and dedication of the American soldier. But, with any large undertaking, there has to be a solid plan in place. So, since it looks like this shit sandwich is about to be served, here are the things that I hope we are doing so that we can be successful:

  4. Part 2:

    1. There has to be a single, comprehensive "No Afghani solider left behind" plan. It needs to clearly define task organization from the Bde level and downwards, METL and tasks, conditions standards for everything from individual tasks to collective. It needs to be a clearly written, a TRADOC like effort. This can be accomplished. Good thing is, GEN P and GEN McCrystal are two people who understand this. GEN P learned his lessons doing this in Iraq, and Stan the Man, although heavy on Ranger side of SOCOM, understands it as well.

    2. Soldiers need culture and language training. Obviously, and I know this is being down to a small degree. It is MUCH better today than it was in 2004 (no one is going native, but it is better). Yes, some will argue not to the level of SF, but unfortunately, it is true. For many reasons I won't go into, SF isn't what it used to be. Still great soldiers, but they've lost their Group specific uniqueness and AOR (Area of responsibility) concentration. You will see 7th SFG Spanish speakers in Afghanistan and 1st Group Korean linguists in Mosul. And yes, FDC, you are very well informed as always, about half of the SF force wants to be door kickers instead of trainers.

    3. Units conducting training of conventional forces must receive TA-50 (equipment) in sufficient quantity. It is demoralizing for a unit being trained to have to use sticks for guns, water bottles for canteens and 550 cord to build a harness. The resources must be there (many times they were not in Iraq).

    4. Training. The units who conduct this training needs training themselves. As FDC correctly points out, FID (foreign internal defense) is not on their METL. There is an organization called Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG) (please, let's not get into a discussion on the silly name). The AWG's concept is that it has a 50% mix of active duty and retired SF trainers who travel around the war zone acting as consultants. A two man team hangs out with a combat unit for a couple of weeks, captures lessons learned and then goes to another unit and shares the good ideas, or helps them learn from the bad. I personally saw this work and it was exceptional at a very, very low cost. AFG will need something like this, a group of FID experts that moves around the country almost as an "IG" (inspector general) ensuring all of the above is happening to standard and sharing TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) and very importantly, sharing cultural tips. This means that stubborn old school CSM's (command sergeant majors) MUST ALLOW SOLDIERS TO GROW BEARDS. I know, blasphemy, but this is a must in the Afghani culture. We must break our conventional mindset on this and many other issues to do FID well.

    5. The Army has come a long way to replace the stigma associated with being a "trainer" of foreign forces. In 2004-2006, in most cases, you sent the soldiers that you could live without to these units. There were some really good ones, but for the most part, it was a CF. Key developmental jobs for advancement did not include these FID jobs, but they do now. The Army now recognizes that there must be incentives for being a FID trainer, and they need to continue to reward those who do it well, therefore, the truly talented soldiers will seek out these FID positions.

    This is NOT mission impossible. But it will be if we don't do at least these basic things. I hope that Stan the Man's plan includes at least some form of each of the above to give our soldiers the best chance of being successful in this endeavor, be it fool hearty or not, it is their mission and their job to accomplish.

  5. The way I see it is that we just gave a major boost to the Taliban's funding.

    Much of the money fueling the Taliban comes from the USA and NATO, usually indirectly but sometimes directly. After all, I suspect very few of the incoming soldiers speak Pashto, but every one of them will need a constant supply of fuel, bullets and beans.

    Btw, how is that road from Peshawar doing these days?

  6. I would say that this whole thing of “training” Afghani’s to “stand-up” while we take the opportunity to “stand-down” is, at best, a pipe dream, at worse, and this is where it concerns me the most, that we are, once again, deceiving ourselves.
    Not that our military main line units are unable/incapable to train an effective Afghani force.
    Far from that, I am sure which I suppose puts me on the opposite side of Chief here, that our forces can train anyone to use a gun, tactics, et al to be better than what they were.
    However, that is not what concerns me, though.
    No, what has me concerned is the very nature of the populace of Afghanistan…the social structure, the attitudes of the players, the mentality of the people, the whole thing of South vs North, East vs West aspect that exists along side with the often shifting alliances and feuds of the people in Afghanistan is what I think will be the hobgoblin to our wishful thinking.
    In short, we’re dealing with a feudal society…and that is being generous.

    So with that, I will say that anybody can teach a fool to use a gun, but once left to his own devices the fool will revert to his previous state. And as much as I likes me some positive thinking the truth of the matter is that we are a transitory factor in the social development of Afghanistan.
    “Si senior, you are here today, but will you be here tomorrow?”
    Which Obama has answered, but the timetable has yet to be announced.

    Personally, I am fully convinced Afghanistan is a lost cause to us regardless of who, what, whom, whoever we prop up to be our defacto mouth piece because as soon as we’re gone, so is he.
    We, the United States dropped the ball five years ago, and now we’re holding a soiled paper bag of offal that is falling apart at the bottom, and we’re judging our future efforts there by the paper handles we’re holding on too. Sure, with enough attention to training, brow-beating, and political encouragement we’ll get the Afghani brute to stand up straight; but as soon as we’re gone the brute will slowly return to it’s posture, beat the bushes for prey, and howl at the moon in pleasure.
    There comes a time when a smart gambler realizes the game is lost, folds his hand, says good night, and leaves. A fool of a gambler thinks, “just one more hand and luck will flow my way.”

    As for the pictures…I like the top one most, the guys all clustered together, chatting up a storm, all getting to know one another is a beautiful thing…anywhere but where they are currently at.

  7. Trust me on this, Sheerah; training is an art and a craft. Two of the U.S. Army's toughest and most demanding schools are the Drill Sergeant School at Ft. Benning and the SFQC at Ft. Bragg. Both are designed to take guys whose primary focus up until then has been DOING their job and borescoping and pulling them over to the point where they can TEACH their job.

    Think about it - how many bosses have you had who were great workers and terrific managers but piss-poor teachers and trainers?

    I've seen this from both sides - Army NCO and drill sergeant and civilian teacher. It's a hard, hard, thing. I'd say that probably 10% of the troops in these deploying units can actually do it and succeed with American joes.

    And you point out the other immense problem - these AREN'T American joes. They're largely illiterate tribesmen, many of whose "allegiance" to the current Kabul regime goes as deep as the thickness of the stack of Afghanis they get at the end of the month.

    Fail. Goddam it, EPIC fail.

  8. Sheer-

    I've been thinking about the Afghan situation in light of my previous comments about "occupying" a defeated nation. Since we really did not "seal the victory", but just let the misery linger on, I think we have reached, or actually reached a couple of years ago, the same state as a fish let out on the counter. We really have developed a foul odor to many of the people of Afghanistan. Sadly, anyone who is in bed with us is going to retain that odor when we leave. And what does one do with something that smells foul? I don't think they are just going to spray them with AirWick.

  9. Sheer, as I am sure you are perfectly aware, the Pashtun are neither fools nor brutes. Thinking of them that way is a mistake.

    Has our leadership ever heard about hubris? How about nemesis?

  10. Al: Reminds me of the time one of my old girlfriends complained about the aroma of the dirty clothes in the hamper (most of them were hers - I washed mine in the billets).

    "Ewwww, it smells like a sewer" she whined.

    "So wash 'em." I suggested

    She thought about that for a minute.

    "Nah." she chirped, jumped up, ran out to the car, came back with one of those little pine-tree air fresheners and propped it up on the windowsill. "How's that?"

    I leaned over and sniffed it.

    "Now it smells like a sewer with an Air-Wick in it."

  11. As a morning-after observation, I have to say that what I took away from The Speech is that is wasn't about A'stan. It was about us, all about us, and how good we is, and how we're gonna keep being good until the goodness rubs in.

    Somehow our magical goodness is going to make the Karzaites shiny, happy people who love fluffy puppies and goodness and not-getting-bribes-and-kickbacks? Why not a couple of magical fucking ponies while we're at it?

    Here's something we might want to think about.

    Got an e-mail today from a friend of mine who's still in, works at the schoolhouse at Sill. He's about ready to pull the pin but got back from an A'stan deployment about 18 months ago.

    His comment (other than his nasty observation "The brass got everything they want; this fucker is a salf-licking ice cream cone now...") was that what we're not thinking through is the effect the Afghan corruption is going to have on the Army.

    Al, Publius, you guys remember the Club Scandals, right? I was too little, but my first SGM still grieved over Bill Wooldridge who had been some kind of mentor when he was a junior sergeant or something and was caught running a scam skimming slots in Germany and bilking clubs in the RVN.

    One thing my friend said was something like "...you can't believe it, Doc; Afghanistan is like Vegas on crack. Dirty. Everybody's dirty, the ANA, the cops, the tribes, the contractors...they're all making fucking bank. Sooner or later some GIs are gonna start thinking "why them and not us?" and we're all gonna SO be reamed out..."

    ISTM that the Club Scandals didn't happen in a vacuum. The RVN was the one of the most corrupt armpits in SE Asia. After you spent enough time there making $190/month I'll bet you started wondering whether you could make a little on the side like your little brown brothers..?

    And let's not EVEN wonder about the CIA and running dope out of Asia...

    Remind me again...what's in this for us?

    Oh, yeah. Terrorists bad! Scary! Fear! Death! Kill!

    Almost forgot all that for a minute.

  12. This is not going to work. Everybody here knows it and everybody knows why. Bg, the insider, tells us 11Bs and 310s aren't supposed to be out there training foreign devils. Duh. Shit, I'm trained to do it, speak foreign languages, like foreign devils, have no problem with eating weird shit and sleeping in weird places, but you still don't want to see some of my results. Man, it's tough. That's why some speciality areas are rank and training heavy. Unfortunately for us, the Afghans and our nation, that doesn't include grunts.

    Chief, I don't even want to get started on Wooldridge and the NCO mafia. No, CIA and other intel services did not run dope out of SE Asia, but yes, too many military (and civilian, BTW) personnel went over to the dark side. War lends itself to corruption—anybody recall Milo in Catch 22?—but it seems these less-than-hot war efforts we now favor are especially fertile breeding grounds for corruption of the good guys.

    Every old spook knows the truth and has the stories. The unfortunate reality is that our "clients" in these irregular adventures which we now favor are invariably pretty unsavory characters, so unsavory that it's hard to separate the good guys from the bad. The other reality is that the old expression, "lie down with dogs, and don't be surprised at coming up with fleas," is oh, so true.

    Prolonged time in these third world pest holes does nothing but corrupt our military and degrade its ability to defend the nation. I'm already seeing it. The Pentagon tells us, "best ever, blah, blah, blah." Today's ground forces are burned out. We're lucky there is no peer competitor on the horizon.

  13. I have to admit I found the speech underwhelming in terms of content and the testimony and interviews today with Gates, Clinton & McChrystal didn’t give me much confidence because they kept spinning and contradicting each other on what’s going to happen in July 2011.

    After mulling it over for a while I’ve come up with a theory that might not be so bad if true. Warning, the following is highly speculative:

    In short, my speculation on the President's intent is to try to strategically replicate what’s happened in Iraq (think really BIG picture Iraq) since 2007. Here’s my speculation in a little more detail:

    I think the President realizes that withdrawal at the present time isn’t politically possible. It’s certainly not domestically if he wants to get reelected and it would cause problems elsewhere if we were to withdrawal under the perception we are doing so out of comparative weakness. Like it or not, it would be perceived almost everywhere as a defeat which could have some pretty serious second and third-order effects down the road. This same basic condition existed in Iraq in 2007. Consider the political (domestic and international) consequences of an Iraq withdrawal in 2007, when things were at their worst, compared to the withdrawal that’s presently ongoing. I think the current conditions are preferable.

    While we all know the “surge" was a tactical victory that did not solve any of Iraq's underlying social and political problems, bit it did sort of do what was promised, which was provide strategic space. The Iraqi government didn’t use that space for “reconciliation,” but we put it to use by agreeing to a firm timetable for withdrawal. So instead of leaving Iraq running naked with our dicks on fire, AQI cheering in the background, we’ll at least be walking out and in underwear, which is comparatively better (nevermind that we went in wearing a tailored suit and carrying bags of money). The tactical success of the “surge” stymied any accusations from domestic political opposition or foreign enemies that the US withdrawal is the result of weakness, vacillation or "surrender." It also showed that timetables are poltically OK in the proper context – given from a position of perceived strength. Maybe President Obama is trying to copy that in Afghanistan – to create a perception of strength in order to enable an orderly, honorable and politically beneficial withdrawal.

    Once Obama got into office he probably discovered that the situation in Afghanistan was worse than he thought and worse than the options his campaign rhetoric would support. At the same time he likely realizes that pulling out now would be a political disaster for him personally as well as too sudden and serious a reversal internationally. So how does one make withdrawal politically palatable and possible? In this case send in more troops, regain the initiative, plus up your local allies a bit (maybe even rent some tribals), throw the enemy back and create some strategic space to declare victory and withdrawal with few political consequences. By the time the Afghan house of cards falls, we’ll be gone.
    (end highly speculative bit)

    What do you all think? Crazy? Stupid? Ignorant? All of the above?

  14. Andy: I can only hope that Obama has performed the maskirova you're describing. Otherwise I'm left with the depressing conclusion that our central Asian policy is being run by the fucking Kagans, the best part of whom ran down their mother's leg.

    I just can't get over this whole notion that we can bribe and bully the Afghans into being little Americans with those cool Chitrali caps. Has ANYone been paying attenting the past eight years?

  15. training? training?

    (you'll have to imagine me irish da's musical lilt as you say this)

    hoooly sayntid muthera swate swettin jayzus!

    where the president really riled me last night was when he used the tried and true strawman argument about how afghanistan wasn't going to be a new vietnam.

    well, fuck me tender, of course it's not. it's not anything like vietnam.

    it's afghanistan. that's the motherfucking problem yo. it's the same afghanistan that broke the persians, the macedonians, the mongols (under ghengis himself), the mughals, the british (3 fucking times) the russians (3 fucking times). what kind of goddamned hubris allows people to think that we are anything different?

    these people kicked ivan the terrible's ass. they kicked alexander's ass. they kick ghengis fucking khan. and they did it the same way they are doing it right now to us. they pack their ordinance on burros, pack it over mountains wearing shower shoes.

    the list of strategies that we've been going through are right in same order that alexander used. shock and awe first (if you were a sogdinian tribesman near what is today bagram, if you saw a macedonian phalanx, you were supposed to shit yourself and surrender at the sight of them). didn't work. try to draw them into a major engagement. nope, they don't play that. split your forces into smaller, more agile hunter/killer teams. bribe various tribes to quit killing you. hire the ones who refuse to take the straight up bribes as mercenaries. embark on the genocide run. (the problem with genocide is that some soft hearted grunt will always let a few nine or ten year olds get away. then you have to fight those fuckers by the time they're 14)

    the only thing we haven't tried is alexander's last tactic. settle the macedonian veterans down along the supply lines, marry them off to afghani women, then marry one yourself. of course, obama has that other marriage going. no problem. so did alexander.

    we won't fail there because of anything that we do or do not do.

    we will fail because we are who we are, and they are who they are.

  16. Andy-

    I think you are on the right track. One cannot conduct foreign policy separate from domestic policy, and the key element in domestic policy in modern America is winning elections. And, Tricky Dick Nixon laid the foundation for "withdrawal with honor" from a quagmire that was of our own making. Is that not, in effect, what we are doing in Iraq? Have we conducted a traditional "occupation" and guided the emergence of a stable government, civil calm and a promising economy? Hell, that's not even a goal, just getting out while violence is subdued seems to be the goal. A pretense of stability.

    So why not follow the same script? Do a "surge" and then begin to withdraw while the opponents recover and realize that a little patience with return the playing field to theirs alone. The critical objective is to get and keep the people on board during and after the process, and that worked pretty well for Nixon (other errors brought him down) and seems to be working in defusing Iraq. So why not Afghanistan?

  17. Andy,

    I would fully agree with your assessment except for one problem. We used to always say in Iraq, we will redefine success, and once that is done, we could claim victory and go home. That is what the Iraq surge did. We redefined success by stating our goal was to give the Iraqi government the initiative and the lead, and then we could leave. We never based our conditions of withdrawal on the destruction, dismantling or end of the Iraqi AQ threat.

    I believe Obama made that mistake. Yes, he did state that the plan is to provide time and space for the Afghanis to build their country up, but he also was very clear that part of his intent and goal was to destroy AQ. I don't recall the exact language he used, but it seems to me that he may have contradicted himself by setting a goal that was not achievable (something he says that he as a leader should never do).

    By trying to play all sides, trying to make too many people happy, he may have redefined success in a way that will make "mission accomplished" impossible.

  18. Bg,

    That's a good point. For me, the most striking thing about Obama's speach were the contradictions - I found it a very ambivalent speach, one that pretty much everyone can use to confirm or deny their own preexisting views. Maybe that was the point.

    I hope my guess is right too. Otherwise, I agree - there doesn't seem to be much of a policy.


    Thanks for that! After reading Dyer's bio I'm pretty embarrased to admit I've hadn't heard of him until now.

  19. Andy, bg: The really depressing thing is that the reason The Speech would have to be ambivalent and work both sides would be...because it's not about A'stan at all. It's about playing domestic politics and covering your ass so you can't get zinged in the fucking gotcha game that is our political discourse at this point.

    I know I didn't have any real expectations for "change" but this is ridiculous. I at least expected Obama to have the courage of his convictions. This tells me he's pretty much another spineless pol.


  20. To FD Chief,
    I repeat my mantra - there is absolutely no way to prove or disprove the assertion that building a AFGH Army will solve the problem. We can't even define what the problem of the day happens to be. Let alone lick it. BTW the ice cream cone concept is way too out there for me- let's call it a self smoking cigar.
    We built one heck of an Army and police force in RVN but that didn't add up to victory. It won't in AFGH either. You can mold a turd but it's still a turd. Sorry if this messes with your ice cream visions.
    We'll never be able to prove or disprove if the CIA ran drugs or not but they didn't do anything to stop the trade . Or did they? I personally know a retd AF COL who tells stories of moving heroin in large quantities for RVN leaders. All with official approval. So what to believe.? I personally believe the worst but that's b/c I'm beyond redemption.
    In closing -Armies do not determine success in insurgencies. They merely apply bandages to the wounds.
    jim at ranger

  21. Ranger

    "We built one heck of an Army and police force in RVN but that didn't add up to victory."

    It would have if the only task was to create a military dictatorship that faced no threat from outside the country. Hell after Tet and May 1968, the Viet Cong or any other serious internal threat ceased to exist. So there was more to RVN than that.

  22. Jim: You're right. No government, army or police force can be confident of putting down a rebellion. I'm sure the British felt confident that there was no way some raggedy-ass collection of farmers and merchants could hold off the might of the Royal Army and Navy. But we did.

    But I don't frankly care who sits on the gaddi in Kabul. If the Karzaites can do it, fine. If not, also fine. All I'm saying is that if our plan is to help the Karzaites win, sending a bunch of yay-hoo Eleven Bullets to walk around in Oakleys and flak vests "showing the Afghans how to fight" ain't cutting it.

    ISTM that if you can't get Afghans to fight for you - and Afghans are some of the fightingest peoples on Earth - then your problem goes deeper than tactics or techniques.

  23. Jim, Al: ISTM that the problem with the ARVN was that we built it as a little copy of ourselves, complete with the dependence on tac air. When we left we took our air assets with us. We brought them back in '72 and helped Marvin stay upright. When we didn't in '75 he got his ass waxed.

    What proof do we have that we won't do the same in A'stan? So far what I see in both Iraq and A'stan is locals dressed up in their best imitation of the GIs who trained them, complete with sunglasses, vests and full battle rattle. If they look like us presumably they'll fight the way we do, or try, and that seems like the very worst answer we could provide.

  24. And, Chief, my point was that if the problem had been purely internal, tacair would have been unnecessary.

  25. But bombing people we don't like is SO American. What's the fun of having a war - even a civil war - if you can't blow shit up from the sky?

  26. Andy posted:

    "That's a good point. For me, the most striking thing about Obama's speach were the contradictions - I found it a very ambivalent speach, one that pretty much everyone can use to confirm or deny their own preexisting views. Maybe that was the point."

    Yea, that's part of it imo.

    President Obama wasn't going to take any big chances. He could have made a radical change in national policy, but chose not to.

    He's keeping his options open, as he always does. He talks a lot about limits, which is good, and about putting people back to work. He's essentially an imperialist, as in Empire Party, but he doesn't really believe in it. He reinforced all the old myths and thus talked way over our heads to his real constituency. That would explain the ambiguity. He's not really addressing the citizens of this country - at West Point - if you follow me, but the various political economic interests that put him where he is today and have a stake in this war, both originally and in what it has become.

    The only bone thrown to the American people were the deadlines. Those deadlines the Reps are yelling about . . . as they would. What about those deadlines the president mentioned?

    Obama's team has already caved on Gitmo, and right after the Iraq deadline declaration their press secretary was describing the Iraq deadline as "aspirational" . . .



    Someone explain to me why we don't have Cheney's "balls" nailed to a fencepost at this point? I mean in terms of executive incompetence, corruption, criminality . . . Why exactly doesn't that work? The president described the "wrenching debate over Iraq" that "is well-known and need not be repeated here"? And buries it.

    As I have argued before this is just another postponement, allowing the government the ability to adjust to new situations/conditions. They have to keep military forces in the area for power projection. Once they leave, it isn't so easy geo-politically to return. From a military-minded, as opposed to strategically-minded? (if there still is such a thing), commander the option of remaining in both Afghanistan and Iraq must be a no brainer. Of course stay.

    But what if the wrong road had been taken way back in 2001?

    The speech Obama should have made. . .


  27. Seydlitz,
    But the point is- why are we even in the AO?
    I know you are not advocating but rather only commenting. I just wanted to add my little 2 cents.
    To all,
    I couldn't listen to the speech, it was as onerous as anything sputtering from GWB's sorry mouth. I saw it as a continuation and validation of W's policies. What is the difference betw. Bush and Obama? At this point absolutely nothing. Wow, what a change!
    Aviator and FDChief,
    We're on the same page.
    Of course there was a difference in the threats facing SVN , but they both came from the same place and that was the invalidity of the statehood of SVN. The same could be said about NVN since both were the impositions of western diplomats. A state cannot be imposed from external sources, either the populace has the need or they don't. SVN and the US NEVER had the same goals and this is just as true in AFGH.
    By all sound military logic the SVN should have been able to fight the NVN on a conventional level. The SVN had one hell of a military machine, the problem imo was the lack of will to fight. I'm not criticising the SVN but they just ran out of ass somewhere north , west and east of Saigon and that was something that we couldn't airdrop on them.

  28. Seydlitz,
    But the point is- why are we even in the AO?
    I know you are not advocating but rather only commenting. I just wanted to add my little 2 cents.
    To all,
    I couldn't listen to the speech, it was as onerous as anything sputtering from GWB's sorry mouth. I saw it as a continuation and validation of W's policies. What is the difference betw. Bush and Obama? At this point absolutely nothing. Wow, what a change!
    Aviator and FDChief,
    We're on the same page.
    Of course there was a difference in the threats facing SVN , but they both came from the same place and that was the invalidity of the statehood of SVN. The same could be said about NVN since both were the impositions of western diplomats. A state cannot be imposed from external sources, either the populace has the need or they don't. SVN and the US NEVER had the same goals and this is just as true in AFGH.
    By all sound military logic the SVN should have been able to fight the NVN on a conventional level. The SVN had one hell of a military machine, the problem imo was the lack of will to fight. I'm not criticising the SVN but they just ran out of ass somewhere north , west and east of Saigon and that was something that we couldn't airdrop on them.

  29. Interesting:


  30. jim-

    The reason we are in the AO has to do with political decisions made by the Bush Administration right after 9/11. We discussed this in detail in the comments connected with my last post.

    Obama could have made a significate policy change with his West Point speech. He could have redefined policy in line with the view represented here . . .


    He would have three years to make this new policy a success and I think it could be, - providing he could find the right implementors. And this not only in positive results but in terms of de-escalation/de-militarizaton of policy which would bring additional benefits.

    Of course he did not, he essentially signed off on Stan the man's plan, which is the latest version of the military-heavy war on terror. The GOP will of course savage him in any case and he looks weak to people like me who voted for him, but the actual political interests behind the war are satisified.

    At the least Obama should hold various Bush administration officials accountable for their actions. Investigations of possible criminal actions by high officials - to me an open and shut case for many - are not an option but a necessity. Let Cheney and Addington give their interviews wearing orange jumpsuits from behind prison bars. Let any neocon "studier of war" still at large be laughed off the stage should they even attempt to speak. We need "closure" or a barrier between then and now, what is allowed and what is intolerable in regards to actions done in our name during 2001-8 imo.

    Back home a farmer will hang a coyote's tail from a fence to deter other coyotes, the scent of death combined with a barrier. Doing that ruins the pelt, but might save the livestock which is more than worth the loss of the bounty.

    If in three years time we are arguing whether Bush/Cheney "meant well" by their actions, if the "war on terror" is still being waged without question as to those who originated it, their motivations and actions, that is we are still avoiding "a disagreeable debate", then we are lost.

  31. Thought you guys might like this. Here's a taste:

    When I ask him about al-Qa'ida's objectives, he tells me it lacks strategic vision and instead relies on "shiny slogans" around which to rally its troops. He also thinks it is an authoritarian organisation, telling me bin Laden runs al-Qa'ida with "absolute individual leadership". This makes it "the first private sector jihad organisation in Muslim history".

    It's a great article. I've been reading her blog for about a month now and working my way through the archives. It's excellent.

  32. Chief, I know it is slightly outside of the usual ranges of discussions, but with the Copenhagen conference coming up this week, I would love to hear some views on the upcoming climate change conference, and about the recently exposed emails that were hacked showing climate change advocates censoring the skeptics. If anyone is educated on this entire topic (beyond seeing the Gore film), I would be very interested in reading about it.

  33. seydlitz,
    I reckon we're saying the same thing in different words.
    My point is that words cannot change the fact that these are illegal wars.
    I feel that you slander coyotes by equating Cheny etc.. with their kind. I won't shoot a coyote b/c they are doing only what nature designed them to do. They fulfill a function.

  34. Jim,

    can you please expand on what you mean by "illegal wars." I am not aware of the difference between a legal war and an illegal one. Thanks.

  35. A war endorsed by the UN is legal (not necessarily legitimate) because the UN represents almost all nations and a consensus inside the UN defines international law. There was a consensus to allow an internal UN(SC) majority to legalise warfare.
    The UN can therefore make a war legal in regard to international law.

    There are of course about 170 different rule sets about national legality of warfare. the U.S. one does afaik require a declaration of war.

    Oh, and lest I forget to repeat myself: The invasion of Iraq in 203 was a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and of the North Atlantic Treaty. That was a treaty violation by the U.S., UK and Poland.

    (I do usually point at this severe violation of the NATO treaty by the U.S. and UK when someone mentions Article 5 to assert that continentals should provide more auxiliary troops for the Afghan cabinet war adventure.)

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