April 10, 2008

"Time to Begin to... Focus on the Challenges Posed by Afghanistan"

Hatched by Dafydd

The wit and wisdom of Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, April 8th, 2008:

Without mentioning Senator McCain by name, Senator Clinton responded that supporters of the Bush administration's policy often talk about the cost of leaving Iraq, yet ignore the greater cost of continuing the same failed policy....

"I think it is time to begin an orderly process of withdrawing our troops, start rebuilding our military and focusing on the challenges posed by Afghanistan, global terrorist groups and other problems that confront America," she said.

I think it safe to say that if Democrats have one unifying theme to their national-security policy, it is that Iraq is nought but a "distraction" from the real war, which is against al-Qaeda... but only against the branch of al-Qaeda found along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. They insist we must immediately withdraw virtually all our forces from Iraq and plant at least a significant portion of them in Afghanistan, to fight the good fight there instead.

Let's not speculate (for this post) about the real motivation behind the call to withdraw from Iraq or even whether Democrats are actually sincere in saying they would vastly increase the forces in Afghanistan. Let's assume complete good faith on their part. (I know it's a stretch, but work with me here.)

My question is -- what more, exactly, do Democrats expect us to do in Afghanistan?

We currently have 31,000 troops in Afghanistan as our component of the NATO mission (the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF); we have already pledged an additional 3,000 Marines for fighting and training purposes (to improve the Afghan National Army). Our ISAF allies have collectively sent an additional 28,000 forces, some of whom fight, while others only participate in nation-building efforts, bringing the total current NATO commitment to 59,000 troops.

The former Chief of Naval Operations of the U.S. Navy, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, wants this overall figure to increase by 7,500 soldiers and 3,000 military trainers; outgoing ISAF commander Gen. Dan McNeill wants to increase by two combat brigades (3,000-8,000 soldiers or Marines) and one training brigade (1,500-4000 soldiers or Marines):

[U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates said the number of additional combat troops would depend on several things, including the extent of U.S. and NATO success on the battlefield this year, as well as the impact of a new senior U.S. commander taking over in coming months. Gen. David McKiernan is due to replace Gen. Dan McNeill this spring as the top overall commander in Afghanistan.

McNeill has said he believes he needs three more brigades - two for combat and one for training. That translates to roughly 7,500 to 10,000 additional troops. The Bush administration has no realistic hope of getting the NATO allies to send such large numbers.

McKiernan told Congress on Thursday that while he can't yet say how many more troops he would want there, he believes he needs additional combat and aviation forces, intelligence and surveillance capabilities, and training and mentoring teams.

Marines don't use brigades as a normal organizational force; they prefer the regiment. Gen. McNeill is Army, much of our ISAF committment are Marines... so I'm not sure exactly how many troops he calls for. Let's just split the difference between small brigades and big: 5,500 incoming combat troops and 2,750 incoming trainers.

This would mean that we expect our ISAF partners -- all of whom have pledged more troops (France alone will up their committment by at least 700) -- to pony up an additional 3,500 combat troops and 1,750 trainers... unless the next president plans to increase our own committment by more than President Bush has proposed. As noted above, it's unlikely that we can get the full complement from our allies, whose military budgets are woefully small compared to ours (as ours is woefully small, as percent of GDP, compared even to the average of the last 45 years).

However we reach the goal, that would bring the NATO forces in Afghanistan to a total of more than 67,000 combined combat forces and training forces. That, by the way, is all the force that the top commander of ISAF says he needs; he has not called for additional tens of thousands of men.

So what about the Afghan National Army? We have been training them just as we have trained the Iraqi army. As of December 2007, the Afghan army comprised 57,000 soldiers, or about as large as the current ISAF force level. Presumably they are still recruiting, so we can expect tha tnumber to rise along with the NATO forces. But even as they are now, that makes a total integrated army of 116,000 today, rising to about 125,000 over the next year.

(The Afghans are probably not as close to being a modern army in equipment, strategy, and attitude as are the Iraqis, but that is a very high standard; they're certainly far better than they were just a year ago. Fewer units can take the lead, but they generally fight very well when NATO leads.)

So the real question for the Democrats is this: What could we do with, say, 225,000 troops that we can't do with 125,000? If we funneled even just 100,000 of our current 150,000 Iraqi troops into Afghanistan instead, what exactly would the extra brigades be doing that we're not doing successfully now?

And there's where you nit the snag: Afghanistan is even less a force-on-force war than Iraq. When we shifted from the failed "attrition" strategy of Gen. George Casey to the successful counterinsurgency strategy (COIN) of Gen. David Petraeus, we added only 30,000 extra soldiers, an increase of 23%. In Afghanistan, that would mean an increase of only 13,500 NATO troops -- which is only 3,500 more than we're already increasing them.

Is that all the Democrats envision, an additional 3,500 troops? Or are they thinking of something vastly bigger? I have the bizarre image in my head of a Democratic army of 200,000 extra soldiers, all linking hands and walking the length of the border to "find Osama bin Laden!" When (of course) they fail to find him, they'll declare that he, too, was invented by Bush, just like the WMD; there never was a 9/11 attack; and we can go back to Clintonian somnambulism again.

Back to real life. The main point of the so-called "surge" in Iraq was not the increase in troops but the change in strategy; the strategy -- specifically crafted for the Iraq situation -- happened to require 160,000 soldiers, and we only had 130,000 at the time; thus we increased our force structure by the difference.

There's been no such crafting of a COIN strategy in Afghanistan that I know of, because the situation there is not the same as it was in Iraq. But if we eventually do switch to COIN, we will have to evaluate the military needs from scratch... and we might end up increasing forces, but we might end up leaving them the same or even reducing them. The strategy must drive the troop levels, not the other way round. We won't increase troop levels just to increase troop levels, but only as part of a new strategy that demands more soldiers: The strategy comes first; setting force levels is a byproduct of the strategy.

Needless to say, no Democrat -- and no general advising a Democrat -- has crafted such a strategy or reasonably could, since it could only be done by a COIN specialist like Gen. Petraeus who had spent years in Afghanistan and was intimately familiar with the progress of the war and the nature of the enemy right there. So what the heck do candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and other Democratic elected officials, mean by saying we should be "focusing on the challenges posed by Afghanistan, global terrorist groups and other problems that confront America?" What does "focus" mean in this case?

They advocate pulling troops out of Iraq and putting them into Afghanistan. But doing what? Deployed how? Do they mean for combat or training? What mix of Special Forces, air forces, grunts, and administrative/logistics?

How do they want them organized? What strategy should they follow? What would be their rules of engagement? Can ground forces cross into Pakistan in hot pursuit? How about initiating cross-border contact?

Al-Qaeda's presence is mostly in the tribal areas that span the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan -- Balochistan, which also includes a piece of north-eastern Iran; South and North Waziristan in Pakistan; and several other provinces on both sides of the border; the heaviest fighting is currently in southern Afghanistan, which touches both Iran and Pakistan. According to Bill Roggio, attacks are heavy in Kunar in the eastern region, Khost in the southeast, and Helmand and especially Khandahar in the southern region:

According to NATO statistics, “More than 75% of [Afghanistan] experienced less than 1 security incident per quarter per 10,000 people, supporting the assessment that the insurgency is not expanding across [Afghanistan]. 70% of the events occurred in 10% of the districts. The population of these districts is less than 6% of the population of [Afghanistan].” NATO attributes the increase in violence to increased operations by NATO forces.

The problem is that the tribes there do not recognize the border; and there are many trails that cross the Tora Bora mountains or the Hindu Kush, along which al-Qaeda can retreat into Pakistan when we attack (or into Afghanistan when the Pakistani troops attack).

What we really need is a coordinated operation attacking from both sides simultaneously; but we could never get President Musharraf to go along with it... and I suspect we're even less likely to ally with his successor, who will almost certainly be a member either of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) (the "N" is for Nawaz Sharif) or the Pakistan People's Party of the late Benazir Bhutto, both of which are more Islamist and less America-friendly than is Musharraf.

Sad to say, I don't think that a single Democrat has even so much as thought about these questions, let alone come up with any answers. The Democratic slogan "Withdraw troops from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan!" has every bit as much semantic content as their other slogan -- "Free Tibet!"... none at all.

At some point, we may well change strategy in Afghanistan to COIN... or we may change to some other strategy. We may decide to launch a pre-emptive attack on Balochistan and Waziristan; or we may end up cutting a deal with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani or caliph-maker Nawaz Sharif, after Pervez Musharraf is voted out.

But there is no way to know at this point what we're going to end up doing, because everything is in flux. Thus it's not not irresponsible, it's imbecilic to announce in early 2008 your military plan for Afghanistan in 2009. It's like a financial manager saying, "in 2009, we're going to sell the following stocks and invest in these others here." How can you possibly know today whether that will be a good decision a year from now?

So even giving the Democrats all benefit of the doubt on sincerity and motive, just taking their pronouncements at face value, I can only conclude, in strict social-science terms, that the Democrats are behaving like poorly trained baboons. Their long-war rhetoric is just empty jingoism, whose only purpose is to make them look tough in advance of elections.

They have no specific plan; they have no grand strategy; they're not even aware that such things are required (or exist). They've never read any books that would explain this to them. They don't even know enough to know that they don't know enough; to borrow a wonderful phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, to the Democrats, military strategy is an "unknown unknown."

I recommend we not put one in la Casablanca. I'm not even comfortable with them sitting on the national-security committees; alas, there's nothing we can do about that.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 10, 2008, at the time of 6:16 PM

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Comments

The following hissed in response by: rambler

A couple of minor points about an otherwise excellent post: Admiral Mike Mullen was the Chief of Naval Operations, not the Chief Naval Officer. He is no longer CNO; he is now the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The current CNO is Admiral Gary Roughead.

The above hissed in response by: rambler [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 10, 2008 7:26 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dishman

According to al Qaeda, Iraq is a distraction from Afghanistan.

This is not an accident.

Afghanistan is historically the worst place in the world to wage war.

Worse yet, we would be hard pressed to support 100,000 or more troops in Afghanistan. We simply don't have the logistical paths to do so reliably. Instead, we fight in Iraq where our supply lines are fat.

It has been working.

The above hissed in response by: Dishman [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 10, 2008 7:35 PM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles

Dafydd,

These Democrats speak with forked tongue (and not in the genial lizardly way ;) ). To hijack a D saying, it takes a willing suspension of disbelief to take anything these Dhimmicrats say seriously or as truthful. These Know-Nothing Copperheads need to be destroyed politically.

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 10, 2008 8:09 PM

The following hissed in response by: MarkJM

Silly Lizard, Democrats have only one enemy and only one goal. The enemy is George W Bush and conservatives in general. The goal is to control all of our lives. Nothing else matters. You are wasting your time trying to 'figure' what they are 'planning'.

The above hissed in response by: MarkJM [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 11, 2008 4:45 AM

The following hissed in response by: LarryD

Since very few Democrats have any military experience, they get all they know from movies.

Which are mostly about WWII.

But their goal is to relive their glory days of Vietnam. They want the US to lose.

The above hissed in response by: LarryD [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 11, 2008 6:22 AM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

"COIN specialist like Gen. Petraeus who had spent years in Afghanistan." I think you mean Iraq.

Larry D has in on the nut - most Democrats war knowledge comes from movies, most of which were made by Hollywood liberals.

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 11, 2008 9:26 AM

The following hissed in response by: Doc-obiwan

Pretty good article, pretty good comments.

But actually, the preferred Marine organization is the "MAGTF", pronounced "mag-taff", the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. They boast they can tailor it, size-and-support-wise, for whatever the assignment is.

They do not like to split the air support off from the Marine ground forces because 1) "only a Marine pilot knows how best to support a Marine on the ground" and 2) "without Marine Air Support, a Marine unit on the ground isn't much different from an army unit." Both these are direct quotes from Marine officers, from during the two years I was "playing" with them. The second, of course, goes straight to the Marines' ongoing battle to justify their existence...there have been too many attempts (their view and mine) to eliminate them, and they're paranoid about it.

Nor do they like to have Marines under the command of non-Marines. One of about three reasons (and the least valid) the Marines chose NOT to be a part of US Special Operations Command, when it was formed. They do have the "MEU(SOC)", the Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). "What does that mean?" I used to harass them. "You COULD do Special Ops, you just don't feel like it today?" (By Law, ALL US Special Operations Forces come under the command of USSOCOM, and since they're not under USSOCOM, they're not Special Operations Forces. It does bug 'em at times, especially if you twist the knife just the right way!

Oh, the stories I could tell! But they're very good at what they do; and a tremendous asset to this country. We need them.

Doc

(ret. SF officer) (and to be clear, since there's sometimes a misunderstanding--the "Doc" does NOT refer to any medical ability. I was a combat enlisted, before I was a combat officer.)

The above hissed in response by: Doc-obiwan [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 11, 2008 11:25 AM

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