Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Truth, Lies and Afghanistan

--President's Day, 2012

Garbage. All I've been thinking about

all week is garbage.

I mean, I just can't stop thinking about it

, Lies and Videotape (1989)

The Armed Forces Journal ran a piece earlier this month by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel L. Davis, "Truth, Lies and Afghanistan: How Military Leaders Have Let Us Down." After two year-long tours in the country, Davis decided to write about how the reality he saw did not mesh with the spin.

While it is commendable that LTC Davis spoke his truth, Ranger will fish out the problematic details.

In his first graph, Davis speaks of "the enemy", but of whose enemy is speaking?
Are the enemies of the Afghan government enemies of my country? Is the U.S. war fighting or doing counterinsurgency (COIN)? What is our mission? How did killing Taliban become a U.S. war policy?

Davis says he deployed hoping to find local governments and military "progressing toward self-sufficiency", but becoming self-sufficient is not an outcome of the application of military power;
to the contrary. A nation has military power because it is self-sufficient. Mirroring U.S. policy, LTC Davis puts the cart before the horse.

Writes Davis:

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

How does "pacification" relate to the U.S. effort? What is pacification, and is it a part of nation-building? Have there been any precedents for successful military pacification programs central to a U.S. mission in a theatre scenario? Surely it is not as simple as occupying key terrain and killing all opposition forces.

Is it possible that the insurgents, the Taliban and the Afghan people are not aligned with U.S. goals? Davis saw "little or no evidence" of a government capable of providing even basic needs, and "[s]ome of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government."

If true, then there is no government structure in Afghanistan -- only a poor simulacrum reliant totally on U.S. arms to subjugate the population. This is not a reason for the U.S. military to be killing people on a daily basis, and Davis suggests as much.

When speaking of the police, Davis asks a police captain if they send out harassing patrols, but harassing patrols and combat patrols are military functions, and should be separate from police authority. Police should not hunt people down for the purpose of killing them; they are law enforcement, not war fighters.

Of course, the police captain thought Cavalry LTC Davis's question nuts:

No! We don’t go after them,” he said. “That would be dangerous!”

The captain made a sane response. Sticking him and his officers out in the middle of a lawless nowhere is nuts. How does it benefit anything if another firefight happens or not? If their government is a chimera, why would anyone expect the police to die for a fantasy? Afghan policemen are not Cav troopers; the latter get to go home after their tours.

A non-sequitur occurs in the piece: After describing the failings of the Afghan National Police (ANP), Davis says most U.S. officers told Davis
"they had nothing but contempt for the Afghan troops in their area — and that was before the above incident occurred." Troops and police are different entities; while both are surely substandard, Davis only gives particulars on the ANP behavior.

He quotes a local official serving as a cultural adviser to a U.S. Commander who cites the example of a Taliban murder of an off-duty ANP member visiting family as showing that "[t]he people are not safe anywhere." However, the ANP member was a representative of the government and as such, he was a valid target for the opposition forces; that is how insurgents operate.

"Abysmal" is the word Davis uses to describe the "tactical" situation, but really, he is describing the social and political status quo, too. Perhaps since he is writing as a military man for a military journal, he was simply writing to his audience. But a change in tactics can only affect the military situation, leaving the other failures in place.

Davis sometimes gets bogged down in the how's, but addressing the why's will deliver a better truth. The war was based on lies and false assumptions, and truth can never flow from that font.

Davis concludes,

When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid — graphically, if necessary — in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be. U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.
Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose. That is the very essence of civilian control of the military. The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years. Simply telling the truth would be a good start.

This is no slam on a mid-level 0-5 who is putting it on the line, but shouldn't we have had this discussion 10 years ago rather than last week, and shouldn't it be led by someone with more horsepower than an 0-5?


  1. Can we just outsource this war already? Declare victory, call up Xe, offer $25B/year with the sole requirement "keep Afghanistan out of the news" and we just all move on.

  2. srv,
    are you suggesting that we can out source democracy??

  3. jim -

    Haven't we already outsourced our democracy? The Chalabis and Netanyahus of the world own us lock, stock, and barrel in this century just like Churchill owned us in the last century.

  4. mike,
    yep, we've outsourced our souls on more than 1 occasion,
    but democracy is doubtful.
    i hope you're suggesting that the us had no reason to fight in euro in ww2.
    that's my position.

  5. "i hope you're suggesting that the us had no reason to fight in euro in ww2."

    That is not my position Jim. We did have reason. As you know Germany, Italy, and three of their other allies (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria) declared war on us. We responded in kind after the fact. Are you suggesting we should have ignored that?

  6. mike-

    "The Chalabis and Netanyahus of the world own us lock, stock, and barrel in this century just like Churchill owned us in the last century."

    Amen brother . . .

  7. jim-

    Thanks for this thread, Davis's report needs to be given more focus, other than what we have been seeing . . .


    To me the most important point, even more important than Afghanistan is the place of Information Operations as US domestic psy-ops which has taken hold since Rumsfeld was Sec of Defense. Davis writes:

    --It seems not to have occurred to the Colonel that the drop in American public support as conveyed in the Pew poll might have had something to do with the actual deteriorating battlefield conditions and not a "failure" on the part of PA to accurately "frame" the matter. More troubling is the author's contention that a valid role for Public Affairs is to "frame" information in order to "safeguard US national will." Since he has just demonstrated that he didn't consider the failing military situation on the ground to be a valid reason for American public opinion to be low, what's to say the implication isn't that we can "frame" only the positive information while suppressing the negative - or to manufacture positive information if none exists.
    Colonel Leap concludes his article by recommending several actions designed to strengthen "Military Information Operations." One of the most noteworthy: "It should specifically address all prior legislation beginning with the Smith-Mundt Act that is limiting the effectiveness of Information organizations in the GWOT environment. It should also specify acceptable activities that organizations may perform to protect a key friendly center of gravity, to wit US national will."


    The whole section starting on page 24 is worth reading.

    Also, consider that I made this comment on Phil Carter's WashPost blog almost four years ago . . .

    "Speaking from a strategic theory perspective I find it all fascinating, and I have been talking about this for some time. What happens when information becomes a weapon, when the military is turned against the people since they are seen as the main center of gravity in a war without end, one where the political purpose/interests involved dare not be made public? I suppose we'll find out."


    What more is there to say?

  8. Mike,
    i believe that every war the US has fought has been to our strategic detriment.
    including ww2.
    nice trick that -getting the euro bad guys to declare war on us.
    a real neat stratego trick fuck.
    the euros, and libyans,egyptians,syrians and every body can resolve their own problems, and that's my take.
    why is it bad to intervene in syrian, but it was right in 1940 to step into a world war? what's the bottom line difference?
    thanks to all of you for responding.

  9. jim, what are your thoughts on the possibility of the Nazis gaining nuclear power and weapons without the US in Europe for a second time?

    Without the pressure of US forces in play against them, Hitler could well have developed not only a bomb, but a delivery vehicle to go with it. My "mushroom cloud" arguement.

    And on our side, without the pressure of a war to prod us to develop and use nuclear weaponry, the US may not have felt the need to do so.


  10. bb,
    are you saying that hitler having and using a bomb would've been repugnant, but us frying little yellow people with the same type of bomb was some how more righteous?
    why don't we just keep our discussion reality based. he didn't have a bomb. he did have poison gases which he didn't employ on the battlefield. so why is he considered the devils spawn?
    i might throw in saddam in that question. he never employed chem/bio against us .
    why was US developing a nuc a good thing??
    god help us when we accept the legitimacy of us frying people and condemning others for wanting to do so.
    forget the m-f 'ing hitler-let's focus on us and the 11,000 hell fires that we've dropped from the sky since 03.we killed more folks than the syrians, and they weren't our citizens.
    what if's don't mean nothin'.

  11. seydlitz,
    we need to discuss propaganda v. info etc., esp in light of events like AN ACT OF VALOR which is simpleminded propaganda that surely APPEARS funded or supported by ADM. Mc Ravens greatest show on earth.
    my tax dollars are supporting movies that support mindless wars. i reckon this was just a small step for man kind.
    i'll think on introducing this discussion.

  12. As long as the illogical notion that wars are "won" is perpetuated, the battle of semantics will never end. No one "wins" a war. If a war is "settled", it is because one side lost less than the other. The first life or injury of a war is a loss for that side, and from there on, the losses simply keep piling up. The second, and more significant "loss" is the basic humanity within the belligerents as they justify the use of nukes and the like to pursue their ends. The firebombing of German and Japanese population centers cannot be made "moral" simply because they were "evil enemies". I might be willing to accept an admission of a "less than moral response to a highly immoral threat" (how's that for tortuous semantics?) but claiming any moral high ground or even neutrality in the matter of those firebombings, no less nukes, is indeed a tragic diminishing of humanity and human dignity. Hell, there are those who see urinating on the bodies of fallen "enemies" as righteous. Not just beer swilling gutter scum who think so, but high profile public figures and elected "leaders".

  13. jim inquires:

    are you saying that hitler having and using a bomb would've been repugnant, but us frying little yellow people with the same type of bomb was some how more righteous?

    No I'm not saying that. My question was in response to your statement:

    i believe that every war the US has fought has been to our strategic detriment.
    including ww2.

    I believe it's entirely conceivable that Hitler could have developed nuclear weaponry given the time and freedom to do so if the US hadn't gone to war against him. The Nazi regime had developed far enough along to produce significant quantities of heavy water, knowledge of which leads to nuclear energy and weapons.

    Here's an article discussing that history:


    To a certain extent, especially due to the brain drain from early 1900s Germany, other nations were at the point of developing the same technology, but the Nazis were also developing delivery systems, the V rockets and the buzz bombs.

    If the Nazis had won the nuclear weapons race, it's within possibility neither of us would be here discussing this.

    what if's don't mean nothin'.

    Possibly, but still, Napoleon's hemorrhoids could have been much more a deciding factor in world history than some might think. Maybe we can get Chief to write about hemorrhoids.



  14. Coincidentally, one of my favorite authors, Harry Turtledove, will be bringing out a new alternative history of WW 2, "The War That Came Early", based on the hypothetical, what if WW 2 had started in Czechoslavakia a year earlier that it actually did.


    Turtledove has been making a good living writing alternative histories, but I gave up on reading him halfway through his version of WW 2 about lizard aliens invading during WW 2 and causing the Allies and Axis to unite to deal with them. I'm more of a fan of his fantasy series.

    His stories on WW 2 and other famous conflicts seem plausible to me. But then I'm not like you guys who've studied, done or seen the real thing.

    And Chief, just kidding about the hemorrhoids.

    Unless you think such a subject is worth your while.


  15. we need to discuss propaganda v. info etc., esp in light of events like AN ACT OF VALOR which is simpleminded propaganda that surely APPEARS funded or supported by ADM. Mc Ravens greatest show on earth.

    Good idea, but as propaganda goes, it's working very well.



  16. oops


    By Graham Bowley and Alissa J. Rubin

    New York Times

    Posted: 02/25/2012 06:06:19 PM PST
    February 26, 2012 3:6 AM GMT Updated: 02/25/2012 07:06:12 PM PST

    KABUL, Afghanistan -- Two U.S. officers were shot dead inside the Interior Ministry building on Saturday, and NATO responded by immediately pulling all its advisers out of Afghan ministries in Kabul, in a deepening of the crisis over the U.S. military's burning of Qurans at a NATO military base.

    The order by the NATO commander, Gen. John Allen, came on the fifth day of virulent anti-American demonstrations across the country, and it was a clear sign of concern that the fury had reached deeply into even the Afghan security forces and ministries working most closely with the coalition.
    "I condemn today's attack at the Afghan Ministry of Interior that killed two of our coalition officers," Allen stated. The military had not yet found the person who carried out the shooting, he said, adding: "The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered. We are committed to our partnership with the government of Afghanistan to reach our common goal of a peaceful, stable and secure Afghanistan in the near future."
    Among the recent events that have heightened tensions are an Afghan soldier's killing of French troops that led the French to move up their withdrawal date, and outrage over a video that showed four Marines urinating on bodies that were said to be those of Taliban fighters.

    The Quran burning, however, has taken the animosity to a new level, eroding further the weakened trust between the Afghans and Americans. On Thursday, two U.S. soldiers were shot to death by a member of the Afghan Army at a base in eastern Afghanistan, as protests about the Quran burning raged outside.

    "We've got this happening at the highest level of the ministry and at the boots-on-the-ground level," said John Nagl, a fellow at the U.S. Naval Academy and a former Army officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. "The American strategy is to hand over responsibility as rapidly as we can to the Afghans, and this is going to require enormous trust between the Afghans and the Americans. And that's now been violated on both sides, and we did it first."

    I recall the time we supplied the weapons to Afghans when the Soviets occupied the country, watched the Olympics going political, & cheered the brave mujahadeen heroes as they threw themselves against the mighty Commie War Machine.

    Now, they're cowards.

    I think it's time to go rent a DVD, "Charlie Wilson's War" to see Tom Hanks climb out of a hot tub packed full of nude nubile American girls, hook up with Julia Roberts and set American Foreign Policy aright.

    Foreign Policy and Strategic Planning the way it should be done.



  17. Al,
    i'm at Benning this morning and i saw a COMBAT VETS ASSOCt shirt and leather jacket that shows a skull with an ace of spades superimposed.
    would these guys piss on a courpse?
    i'd bet yes.

  18. I watched a movie on TCM last night, "The Man Who Would Be King".

    Some quotes

    Daniel Dravot: Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men.

    Daniel Dravot: In any place where they fight, a man who knows how to drill men can always be a King. We shall go to those parts and say to any King we find - "D'you want to vanquish your foes?' and we will show him how to drill men; for that we know better than anything else. Then we will subvert that King and seize his Throne and establish a Dynasty.

    Daniel Dravot: You are going to become soldiers. A soldier does not think. He only obeys. Do you really think that if a soldier thought twice he'd give his life for queen and country? Not bloody likely.



  19. BB,
    note that the emphasis was on soldiering and not warrior hood.