Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Baby Steps?

One of the least analyzed, least publicly reported aspects of the U.S. expeditions into foreign internal defense (FID) has been the interaction between the U.S. military and the host country militaries and the U.S. military and the host country governments.

There's probably some thesis-level work for a War College student here, but I will go right to the crux of the biscuit and throw out a generalization here; the more troop units the U.S. throws into a foreign nation, the heavier the U.S. footprint on the ground, and the more the foreign military is fitted into a U.S.-style box, the more difficult, expensive, and time-consuming is the mission, and the less likely the probability of success, in both the short- and long-term. And we're not even calculating the post-U.S.-withdrawal blowback.

Here's a brief summary of a mostly-non-story from Afghanistan; the notional "Preident" of the notionally-sovereign "state" of Afghanistan is pretty pissed off that his notional foreign "allies" seem to occasionally bomb the living piss out of his non-notional wimmen and kiddies and demands that they knock it off. The reaction appears to be something along the lines of "Ha! That whacky Karzai! What a kidder!"
His call was viewed as mainly symbolic. Western military officials cited existing cooperation with Afghan authorities and pledged to continue consultations, but said privately that Karzai's presidential authority does not include veto power over specific targeting decisions made in the heat of battle.
So here's the thing; I understand why the ISAF C&C doesn't want to halt CAS and night raids. They work, in a "whack-a-muj" sort of way. And the fact that the left side of the politico-military aisle doesn't always like to admit is that if you kill enough of the Bad Guys you win. It's a vile, nasty, Battle-of-Algiers ugly sort of win, but it works. Ask the Tamil Tigers. Or the Shining Path. Oh, wait - you can't; they're either dead or in prison.'s the other thing. Look at the places that this "make-a-wasteland-and-call-it-peace" style of making friends and influencing people has worked.

All of them - or so close to "all of them" as to make no never mind - have NOT featured the presence of major U.S. maneuver units. And all of them have been very visibly run by the locals. From Peru to El Salvador to Sri Lanka, the local government has always had the Mandate of Heaven to rain death and destruction down on its own people. It isn't always wise and it isn't always successful - you could call up Hosni Mubarak or the ghost of Anastasio Somozoa to tell you that - but its a hell of a lot more successful than bringing in foreigners to take the lead in killing your people.

And, what's more, it usually has a bad effect on the local government to be seen, or to actually be, the sock-puppet for the foreigners. One important aspect of governance is the understanding of and the fitting to the local conditions of the rulers. No matter how long the foreigner spends in native robes and developing a taste for goat, he will never be a native. We seem to think we can solve this by making the natives more like us.

It can be done - look at the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent - but it takes tens to hundreds of years, and an occupation and reconstruction far more invasive, more ruthless, and more intelligent than anything we have or can attempt in central Asia.

So the current situation seem to be that we don't care to let our supposed client state even pretend to be sovereign over our troop actions, which implies that they won't be, or not for a long, long, time. But we keep insisting that we're standing them up so we can stand down.

Doesn't make any sense to me; it's either one or the other - it can't be both. But perhaps because I'm not in Officer's Country I'm just not seeing the real Big Picture.


  1. 1) The Taliban have won. Karzai is positioning himself to survive in a post-occupation Afghanistan.

    2) The Tamil Tigers are not dead, merely resting and recuperating within the Tamil diaspora.

  2. Chief,
    ISTM that we are condemning MQ for the exact same thing that we do daily in AFGH. FID ??!!
    Same in the past tense for IRQ.

  3. Ael: I think that Karzai is smarter than our former clients like Somoza, Marcos, Noriega, etc. and realizes that when the last GI steps onto the freedom bird that he will STILL be there and so will his enemies...and his people. Being seen as letting foreigners go all kinetic on your own folks is only effective so long as the foreigners stay or you can develop the same kind of techniques. He "gets" that his comic opera of an "army" is likely to fold quicker than Najibullah's did, and is trying to hedge his bets to the degree he can...

    Lovely colors, though, the Tamil Blue, eh?

    Seriously, though, the Sri Lankans suppressed the Tigers pretty thoroughly, the Tigers didn't happen because a couple of Tamils felt their oatmeal had been pissed in. While I have no doubt that this will put the kibosh on Tamil thoughts of armed resistance for a generation, if the Sinhalese don't want to have to spend the next FOUR generations with a Norman-like boot on the Tamil neck they will need to figure out some way to accomodate the Tamil minority. Some sort of local power devolution, akin to what Spain has done with its Basques and Britain with its Scots and (to a lesser extent) the Welsh, might work. Dunno. But the alternative is to ethnic-cleanse the Tamils the way the Normans did the Saxons. That might be too old-school to work, nowadays...

    jim: Or that we did in Vietnam, or in the PI back in the day...nobody ever said we were logically consistent. Look at the number of people in the U.S. who would label, say, the execution of a captured G.I. as a war crime and demand the execution of the killer if we captured him...and yet, when we have court-martial convictions of G.I.s who have murdered foreign civilians, either captured muj or even skinny ol' gomers they caught out walking around (and let's not even bring up the guys who raped and murdered Abeer Qasim Hamza back in '06)...where's the outrage? Where's the cry for blood?

    Let's face it; Americans are people and foreigners, especially dusky, Islam-type foreigners are...not really people.

    We can deplore that, but for most people in most countries in the world, that's their default setting.

  4. Sorry but I don't think we've finished initiating foreign wars. The mutterings about going into Syria are getting louder and Yemen is a powder keg doing a slow-motion explosion.

    The human rights people (probably egged on by the Israelis) ARE going to ask the UN to intervene. Hopefully the UN will have learned from the Libyan mess and will sit this one out. If they don't we may well be watching joint US-Israeli airstrikes in Syria.

    But Yemen has me more concerned. The place is totally messed up, next to Saudi Arabia, and has a large young angry population that has at least the rudiments of infantry combat under its belt. If they get their act together the Saudis will be begging us to do SOMETHING. And we all know how well that is likely to turn out...

  5. Chief,
    The fortress massacre at el masri never even gets a mumble asking for war crimes indictments.
    The J W Lindh scenario was war/crimes against humanity. All those prisoners were executed like fish in a barrel.
    It reminded me of the Bataan death march as we had absolutely no plan or apparatus n place to handle the influx of pow's. We did exactly what the Japs did without the march.
    But wtf they asked for it.

  6. Pluto: I think the critical factor here is the "bad-guy-capability" thing. Gaddafi had no real capability to resist Western attacks; the result of killing Libyans to keep Libyans from killing Libyans (??) was highly unlikely to blowback on the Western countries involved, at least in the immediate future, and that's about all the Western democracies can think in terms of.

    (BTW, you'll note the semi-dire warnings emerging now about how "AQIM", the local islamist franchise, is going to be profiting from the present heavily-armed chaos in Libya. Can I say how shocked, shocked I am? How can that be? (Somalia...cough) We were PROMISED that everything was under control, and that intensifying a war in an unstable Muslim country (cough...Afghanistan...cough) could never, NEVER (cough...Lebanon...Palestinian territories...cough, cough) EVER cause wider problems for the West. Could it be that our precious pundits and "experts"...were WRONG? Naah...not possible.)

    Anyway, Assad has a LOT more capabilities of making trouble for the West, so I consider it unlikely that there will be a similar intervention.

    Yemen, though...there's a real possible rat's nest. You're right - I can picture that as the next nasty little Middle Eastern proxy war...

    jim; like I said - they're not really "people", so when they ask for it we have to kill them. That's the only language those animals understand. It's not like they are Americans and love life and their families and stuff.

    Default setting; that's how the Hun raider can smash the brains out of the Polish infant against it's family's burning doorframe and then ride home to the yurt and cuddle his little girl. We've been like that since the Paleolithic, and I don't see many signs of change.

  7. Here's Rob Farley over at World Politics Review sorta discussing the same issue;

    I think he doesn't really shed much light on the question, not going much further than highlighting some case studies of "the locals want our guns but not our governance". But I think the problem is as much domestic as in the overseas locales. We've spent forty years bulking up the Pentagon at the expense of State, so now we end up with uniformed officers acting as de-facto "national security advisers" to foreign satraps. A lot of these guys are damn smart, but the bottom line is that a lot of them are still holding the hammer so every problem ends up looking like a nail.

    In all honesty, I'm not sure how, short of a massive and fundamental change in the "Washington Rules" (and who is going to make that change, the governing class in D.C. having become so incestuous...), you rejigger things to put the striped-pants guys back in charge...

  8. Jim,

    Just like the bataan death march? The POW's in Bataan didn't have hidden weapons which they used to kill the guards and gain access to an armory with even more weapons in order to stage an armed revolt. The guys in the Afghan prison, including Lindh, became combatants the moment they grabbed those guns and rejoined the fight. Did that happen at Bataan? No. The comparison is completely without merit.

  9. Andy: It was not the equivalent of Bataan, but it was far from our finest hour in Afghanistan. In every aspect, from the initial breaking of the NA promise to release the prisoners, to the failure to properly execute the 5S rules, to the piss-poor choice of holding areas, to the ridiculous and amateur-hour "interrogations", to the final bloody battle, our people and our NA proxies managed to look anywhere between mendacious to incompetent and stupid to brutal.

    They shouldn't have been there in the first place. They shouldn't have been able to be there with concealed weapons. They shouldn't have been in a "prison" that had been one of their facilities just days previously, with only a handful of "guards" and a hell of a big arms room.

    So the comparison is without merit, yes.

    But the actual facts surrounding the so-called "Battle of Qala-i-Jangi" are, in their way, almost as bad. The Japanese killed thousands because they were callous about prisoners and their logistical services were piss-poor even about supplying their own troops. We and our Afghan pals killed hundred because we were impatient, careless, and foolish. I guess you could call that better than callous and incompetent. But it's not a hell of a long throw from one to the other...

  10. Chief,

    Yes, the NA and Us were sloppy when it came to handling the prisoners which allowed them to take up arms again. That's not a war crime, nor is killing former prisoners who have rejoined the fight. Do you think the "prisoners" are blameless for their deaths? They chose to fight.

  11. We have no real way of knowing what the fuck happened.

    All we know about this incident is that through some sort of fucked up POW procedures some of these Taliban guys returned to the fight. How many, we have no idea. How many were armed, we have no idea. How they died, we have no idea, other than it was a monster ratfuck, included tacair and armor, and when it was over a whopping total of about 80 of the Talibs were still vertical.

    We have no idea even how many they started with - anywhere from 300 to 600. But the casualties on the US/Northern Alliance side were about 70ish. Even with tacair that's not many KIA for a light-infantry-versus-light-infantry battle.'s the other thing - how many POW riots require 80% KIA to subdue? Doesn't that make you even wonder a little?

    The entire conduct of these misadventures in Asia has been marked by misdirection, misinformation, DISinformation, error, confusion, deliberate ignorance, and gross miscalculation. While I have no doubt that a lot of these fuckers went down fighting, the sheer incompetence of the lead-up, and the ridiculous overkill in the fight, makes ME suspicious. How many got the old-fashioned "Too late, chum" bullet in the back of the head?

    We will never know. But we'd be foolish not to at least suspect...

  12. So I guess my bottom line is I don't really care whether they were "blameless" or not. If we'd let the NA do what they said they were going to do - turn 'em loose - they'd never have died at all.

    And, in the larger picture, I guess I'm finding myself more sympathetic to jim's suspicion than your acceptance. We've had all the acceptance we need, and look where it's got us.

    It would be nice to see more of us get pissed off and suspicious about both the overall and the specific fucked-up-ness that has characterized almost the entire way we've done business in a hell of a lot of the Middle East and central Asia, including the Qala-i-Jangi mess.

  13. Andy,
    I must clarify my death march comment, as i was unclear.
    Sorry, i was not saying that El Masri was anything like the death march EXCEPT THAT we like the Nippons were not prepared to handle large quantities of EPW. Poor performance follows poor planning.
    We like them were derelict, but what can you expect of a shoestring non Corps scenario?
    Catch is as catch can.