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The Perils of Afghanistan

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Headlined to H3 10/29/09

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I recently read with great interest an analytical review of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's tactical plans for Afghanistan written by George Friedman and Reva Bhallafor Stratfor. Friedman is the editor-in-chief of Stratfor and its chief intelligence analyst. Despite the authors' straightforward analysis, or because of it, the reader comes away scared to death as to our future in this God-forsaken land, noting this war is heating up.

As a former educator turned columnist, I have been an amateur military historian for over four decades. During that span of time, I have read many tactical plans from the Civil War to the Vietnam War, and, of course, I have a working knowledge of the tactical planning involved withthe wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a former Marine intelligence officer I had an up close and personal look at the tactical planning involving the Vietnam War.Historically, all of these plans have one thing in common. They all presume success, or victory. The tactical planning simply involves the steps taken to assure that victory. This is not true of McChrystal tactical planning. He mournfully predicts defeat if this or that does or does not happen. Worse, his plans for victory, whatever that is in Afghanistan, is predicated on a vast number of ifs ... some of them huge ifs. A couple are even beyond the realm of reality. Perhaps, in his ownway, McChrystal is trying to tell us something.

Before continuing on with Friedman's and Bhalla's sterling analysis, it should be noted this war is now in its ninth year, and mattersappear worse now than in Jan. 2002 with the Taliban in control of much of Afghanistan. According to the Christian Science Monitor, "Long considered one of the most stable and peaceful parts of the country, the northern provinces have seen rising violence as heavy insurgent activity has spread to 80 percent of the country -- up from 54 percent two years ago." as we have seen recently not even Kabul is secure.

Recently, the New York Times Magazine had a cover story by Dexter Filkins, "Stanley McChrystal's Long War," which ended with Afghan War commander McChrystal's pledge to an Afghan governor that the U.S. military would stay in the country "until our Afghan partners are completely secure." "Even," he continued, "if that means years."

The article continued. Filkins quoted McChrystal's deputy, Michael Flynn, this way: "I believe that it's probably going to take us three years to really turn the insurgency to the point where it's waning instead of waxing... And then I think... we are looking at another two years when the government of Afghanistan and the security forces of Afghanistan begin to take a lot more personal responsibility [emphasis is mine]." Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch concludes, "... keep in mind -- nowhere in that quote is there the slightest indication that Flynn expects U.S. troops to be departing Afghanistan at the end of that five-year stretch when Afghan forces will just 'begin' to be taking more 'personal responsibility.'" I am still wondering if McChrystal is trying to tell us something.

With all that as a backdrop let the authors'review of McChrystal's planningbegin along with a bit of commentary from this writer for the purposes ofclarification and putting matters into perspective. The reader is forewarned, thishonestanalysis may cause some concern. Where used, emphasis is mine.


U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal's strategy in Afghanistan ultimately is built around the principle that the United States and its NATO allies are capable of protecting Afghans prepared to cooperate with Western forces. This explains why the heart of McChrystal's strategy involves putting U.S. troops as close to the Afghan people as possible. Doing so will entail closing many smaller bases in remote valleys -- like the isolated outpost recently attacked in Nuristan province -- and opening bases in more densely populated areas.

As it stands today, not many Afghanis are willing to cooperate with the West. First of all, there is a distinct culture shock in doing so. Picture Americans willing to embrace Islamic culture. More important, in our efforts to "free" Afghanis, we have killed for too many of them over the years . Afghanis may be a tad on the crude side, but they have long memories. Their sympathies lie with the nationalists, otherwise known as the Taliban, and the past two years have shown that.

McChrystal's strategy therefore has three basic phases. In phase one, his forces would fight their way into regions where a large portion of the population lives and where the Taliban currently operates, namely Kabul, Khost, Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The United States would assume a strategic defensive posture in these populated areas. Because these areas are essential to the Taliban, phase two would see a Taliban counterattack in a bid to drive McChrystal's forces out, or at least to demonstrate that the U.S. forces cannot provide security for the local population. Paralleling the first two phases, phase three would see McChrystal using his military successes to forge alliances with indigenous leaders and their followers.

Assessing McChrystal's "three basic phases," it appears he needs to go back to the drawing board. What he is describing is urban warfare, and he admits that is where the "Taliban currently operates." The term, "Strategic defensive posture," does not apply to urban warfare unless an enemyforcehas beencompletelyeradicated from the city, and said city is now defended with blockades and a defensive perimeter, which, by definition, requires a huge force. Assuming the Taliban has been routed from every major urban area in Afghanistan, an almost incomprehensible assumption by the way, it would take a million-plus soldiers to establish such perimeters. Strategic defensive positions generallyapply to a ridge line, perhaps a prominent high ground or along a river where the enemy needs to cross bridges or traverse the river to attack . It is a term used in conventional warfare, not in an insurgency and certainly not involving urban warfare. As to phase two, the Taliban will certainly counterattack within the defensive perimeter of a given cityfrom homes, buildings, and rooftops. Eliminating the enemy from every urban area in Afghanistan is more than likely impossible under the conditions.More will be said about urban warfare later in this discourse.

To "forge alliances" with Taliban tribal leaders (read warlords) appears to be incredibly naive for a multiplicity of reasons. Since the time of Alexander, the Great, Afghanis have fought fiercely and successfully for their independence from foreign power overseers. Taliban and Al-Qa'ida leaders have worked closely with one another for thirty years. Since 2005 the reward for Osama bin Laden's head has been $50M. Prior to that, it was $25M. And yet, not one "indigenous leader" has stepped forward to claim that reward in return fordisclosing bin Laden's location or by some other means.Finally, there has been over eight years of warfare between these "indigenous leaders" and the U.S. Why in the world would they now embrace Americans with whom they havevirtually nothing in common. Besides, "military successes"are a far-reaching assumption (see below). McChrystal's three phases are going to overcome this past? By nowone is, perhaps,thinking matterscannot possiblyget any worse.Sure enough, matters getworse.

The authors continued their relentless analysis. It should be noted that while McChrystal's traditional counterinsurgency strategy would be employed in populated areas, U.S. forces would also rely on traditional counterterrorism tactics in more remote areas where the Taliban have a heavy presence and can be pursued through drone strikes. Noting that counterterrorism involves winning the hearts and minds of the populace or forging "alliances with indigenous leaders and their followers," counterterrorism and drone warfare are a conflict of terms. Drones areof a completely different kind. Re-enter Tom Engelhardt, stage left. "If you happen to be an Afghan villager in some underpopulated part of that country where the U.S. has set up small bases -- two of which were almost overrun recently -- they will be gone and 'America' will instead be soaring overhead. We're talking about planes without human beings in them tirelessly scanning the ground with their cameras for up to 22 hours at a stretch. Launched from Afghanistan but flown by pilots thousands of miles away in the American West, they are armed with two to four Hellfire missiles or the equivalent in 500-pound bombs. To see Earth from the heavens, that's the classic viewpoint of the superior being or god with the ultimate power of life and death. Seen on screens, they are, to us, distant, grainy figures, hardly larger than ants. This is what implacable means."

In its conflict with the Taliban, the coalition's main advantage is firepower, both in terms of artillery and airpower. The Taliban must concentrate its forces to attack the coalition; to counter such attacks, the weapons of choice are airstrikes and artillery. The problem with both of these weapons is first, a certain degree of inaccuracy is built into their use, and second, the attackers will be moving through population centers (the area held by both sides is important precisely because it has population). This means that air- and ground-fire missions, both important in a defensive strategy, run counter to the doctrine of protecting population.

McChrystal is fully aware of this dilemma, and he has therefore changed the rules of engagement to sharply curtail airstrikes in areas of concentrated population, even in areas where U.S. troops are in danger of being overrun. As McChrystal said in a recent interview, these rules of engagement will hold "Even if it means we are going to step away from a firefight and fight them another day." The reader will pardon me. As a Marine, I am experiencing a temporary loss of words.

One of his efforts at a solution has been to ask for more troops. [They are] to provide infantry forces not only to hold larger areas, but to serve as reinforcements during Taliban attacks so the use of airpower can be avoided. Putting the onus of this counterinsurgency on the infantry, and having the infantry operate without airpower, is a radical departure from U.S. fighting doctrine since World War II. Put a different way McChrystal is asking his troops to fight the most brutal form of urban warfare. He is asking his tired infantry that has fought in Afghanistan for over eight years and in Iraq for over 6 1/2 years to fight in a house-to-house, building-to-building, environment without the benefit of air support, America's greatest strength in combat.

The authors recognize this perfidy as they now offer their observations under the heading:

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I am the author of two novels, "The Bode Testament" and "Impeachment." I am also a columnist who keeps a wary eye on other columnists and the failures of the MSM (mainstream media). I was born in Minnesota, and, to this day, I love the Vikings (more...)
 
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But when you say--"Afghanis may be a tad on the cr... by Allan Wayne on Friday, Oct 30, 2009 at 1:12:48 AM

 

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