Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Decision Time

"Try harder...try again" - Brandon Lee in The Crow

The wait continues for the president's decision on General McChrystal's recommendation. The unfortunate aspect of all of this business is that the debate is taking place in the public eye. While having a public debate on the efficacy of sending more troops certainly satisfies the exigencies of American politics, it's most certainly not beneficial to the war effort as a whole. I say this because if the decision is made to not send more troops, or even not send as many as asked for the by the general, we will be perceived by the Afghan government, people, and security forces as abandoning them and losing our will to fight the insurgents. I can confirm that the ANA leaders I habitually talked with were always worried about our ability to stick things out and did not want to see us go anywhere until the country had progressed significantly.

Perception is an incredibly important part of any counter-insurgency, as winning the support of the people should ultimately lead to victory. I can confirm that many of the people of Afghanistan don't really care who wins this war, just so long as someone wins it, and they can live a semblance of a normal life...i.e. the people will support the side that appears to be on the path to victory.

For these reasons, any action leading to the perception of weakness or lack of commitment on our part needs to be scrupulously avoided. It would have been better to avoid all of this public debate on the issue...unless the request is granted of course, in which case we may take some small benefit from all of this publicizing of our intentions on the matter.


Anonymous said...

ny action leading to the perception of weakness or lack of commitment on our part needs to be scrupulously avoided. It would have been better to avoid all of this public debate on the issue

You know, if the WH had tackled this tactical issue, back in March/April, and conducted the review (consonant with the states strategy) around the same time--I wonder if, rather than a potential public perception of weakness, this review would have been heralded as timely.

It's not unclear that the President has a lot going on, and particularly does in his first year in office; but it kind of seems like any perceived weakness would have been avoided entirely if the questions had been asked when the strategy was issued.

My 2¢, anyway. Not that it really matters--we are where we are, and never where we'd like to be.

James Gundun said...

I disagree that a public debate isn't beneficial to the war as a whole. I think politics and military make a whole; without public debate President Obama would have even less support for escalation and the battlefield will feel the consequences regardless. You don’t have to worry about President Obama approving General McChrystal's strategy, he’s already chosen the 30,000-40,000 option. The waiting game Obama is playing isn't how to get out, but how to get in without losing his political base.

To your point, I’m not sure Obama can restore his image even when he does send more troops. His doubt has been exposed and Obama is portraying the war in America’s interests when it used to be about Afghans. They know he’s stuck and wants to leave but feels like he has to stay. Obama must explain his decision to Afghans as much as Americans or he’s getting nowhere with either. Since you’re talking perception, it is Propaganda Week in the Trench.

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/29/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Anand said...

K, did you notice much support on the ground for violent attacks against the ANA? Do most locals emotionally side with the ANA, Taliban, or neither when they hear about clashes between the two?

One suspicion many in the global peace movement have is that Afghans are lying to pollsters and secretly back attacks against the ANSF, which is the reason violent attacks against the ANSF have skyrocketed. Many want to cut off support for Afghanistan "BECAUSE" they see the ANSF as oppressive, harmful, corrupt and incompetent; possibly worse and more hated by Afghans than the Taliban.

In yesterday's public opinion poll:
The number of Afghans favorably viewing the following is:
-91% ANA
-84% ANP
-66% foreign NGOs
-61% Afghan NGOs
-37% local militias.

SA said...

I can't really speak to anything on the ANP, but I will say that the locals were much more receptive to the ANA than they were to US forces. Our interaction with locals was much much better as ETTs when we were the only Americans out there and not partnered with US Army units.

We received quite a few compliments from locals about being proud to see their Army about patrolling the streets alone, but for a couple of Americans. When given the chance I always referred to myself and the other ETTs out on patrol as purely communication and coordination assets, not even as trainers, though the ANA when asked would refer to me as a "helper".

We tended to be attacked less than the US units in the area when out on patrol, so I wouldn't say we ETTs and ANA were being targeted specifically or that anyone was helping us be targeted. The opposite appeared to be true in our case.

Anonymous said...

I am a Marine who will be deploying for an ETT soon we are starting our training cycle now. What advice or recs would you be willing to provide? Let me know if you would like to talk a through a diffrent means.


Anand said...

C, thank you for your service, both to America and to the ANSF.

I've got plenty of advice for ya ;-):
1) grow a beard
2) paint the beard and hair white
3) maybe top if off by adding some makeup to add some years to the face
4) Complete your PhD in Pashto grammar before going ;-)
5) Practice singing some Pashto folk songs. {Great entertainment for the ANSF watching an American accented rendition} :lol:
6) If you are the story telling type, memorize the names and stories of same great Afghan historic warriors (such as Baba Ahmad Shāh Durrānī.) Me thinks some ANSF might like hearing them stories.

More seriously, I commend you for reaching out to other advisors such as K. You might also ask some non US OMLTs for their advise.

I would also practice as much as possible to pronounce Pashtun and Dhari words with a local accent. It is very difficult to do; and you might not get close. But the mere fact that you are trying so hard to pronounce names and words correctly, will be a demonstration of respect to the Afghans.

James Gundun said...

In light of Dr. Abdullah's decision to boycott a runoff, do you buy President Obama's argument that he must allow the election cycle to complete itself before sending more troops? The advantage of patience is being negated by a deteriorating reality. It seems like a runoff or boycott is the reason to deploy, not delay, in order to counter further instability. Do you think sending troops into a fluid situation is reckless or necessary?

Anand said...

What would really be helpful is handing out some nice Turkish cuisine in the villages. Talk about combat multiplier! :-)

Imagine every patrol carrying 100 pounds of Turkish food, and a Turkish cook!


Sorry to be flip. Good folks are dying. Thanks to all of them and their families.

SA said...

Given how long it will take to spin up the troops and get them sent in, I think the decision on whether to send troops now should be made independently of what's going on today with the election. And while there's is more insecurity now than before, it's not a situation where US bases are going to get overrun, especially now that we've withdrawn from the more vulnerable ones. We're basically still in a stalemate.

Whether we should escalate at all is the question...and my position is that we should give it a good push for a year or two with more troops, though I certainly have doubts about what we can achieve.

Vietnam era Veteran said...

We've done 8 years so we should at least do 2 more (trying harder). Maybe, but then at 10 years we'll say the Russians did 10 and so we should try 12. Then at 12 years we'll say we've spent $200 billion fighting and rebuilding and the jobs not 1/2 done. Then at 14 years____
We could have been in Vietnam an additional 10 years, if we hadn't left when we did, and the "victory" wouldn't have been a great deal different.
Are we stubborn, or is it our ego?

Anand said...

Vietnam era Veteran, why do you think the ANSF cannot win this war, albeit with significant international financing, training, support and mentorship?

Whether you realize it or not, if the Afghans are defeated, it would be a disaster for the whole world, including for you. {The fall of Afghanistan would increase the odds of the Takfiri extremists taking over most of Pakistan and parts of the Pakistani military arsenal.} Regardless of whether you think American blood and treasure should be used to support the GIRoA and ANSF, you should still root for the GIRoA and ANSF to win.

Regarding Vietnam, didn't the ARVN defeat the NVA in 1972? I think the South Vietnamese could have held out indefinitely if the US Congress had given them money.

Vietnam era Veteran said...

Back then we had the fear of communism taking over the whole free world, and our government said we had to win. Did we?
Communism self-destructed in it's own arrogance and ideals.
Great people skills (like Reagans and others) contributed greatly.
We need leaders that can "arouse in the other person an eagar want". The only way to influence people is to talk in terms of what the other person wants. What does Karzai want, or how can we make him feel he's getting what HE wants? "He who can do this has the whole world with him" (Lincoln and Carnegie).

Anand said...

Vietnam era Veteran, Isn't President Obama doing precisely what you want him to do?

We know what President Karzai wants, he wants to defeat the Takfiri extremists and the Taliban. One reason that negotiations between Karzai and the Taliban have gone nowhere is that Karzai deep down wants to defeat the Taliban.

Virtually all of the 60% of Afghans that are not Pashtu want to defeat the Taliban. So do a majority of Afghan Pashtun. The problem is their capacity to defeat the Taliban.

The question we need to ask ourselves is if ISAF (and the international community) can increase Afghan capacity sufficiently so that Afghans can defeat the extremists. If the answer is no, then this war isn't worth fighting. This is why the question of whether the Afghans can win is crucial.

Vietnam era Veteran, remember that as much as the extremists dislike us--and boy do they dislike us--they dislike "moderate muslims" more. You don't have to worry about incentivizing moderate muslims to fight the extremists.

Vietnam era Veteran said...

I agree with your assessment that if the international community can not increase the Afghan's will and capacity sufficiently (to defeat the extremists), then "this war isn't worth fighting". can we arouse in Karzai and the ANA (and the Afghan's in general) an "eager desire and want" to defeat the Taliban and extremists (NOW). That is the key.
It is the only way to make a win or semi-win last (I believe).
I'll look for your reply however this is my last response.

Anand said...

My understanding is that Karzai chose not to make deals with the Taliban years ago. Was this because Karzai really wanted to defeat the Taliban militarily? Or was it because the Afghan public was so anti Taliban that a deal meant Karzai couldn't get reelected?

As best as I can ascertain, Karzai seems to want to fight the Taliban.

The ANA is strongly anti Taliban. Their biggest challenge seems to be incompetent mid grade officers. In some cases, even senior officers such as battalion commanders are crap.

What Afghans need help with is translating their desire to fight and defeat the Taliban with execution on the ground.

This reminds me of an entrepreneur who really wanted his start up to succeed. The issue was translating that desire into specific tangible actions, such as getting up early in the morning, watching fewer movies, preparing before meetings, researching competitor products, testing a solution before delivering it to a customer, attention to detail, etc.

He had a lot of charisma and passion, but that is not nearly enough.

The ANA seems to be similar; it has a lot of excitement, energy and desire, but lacks professionalism, preparation, planning, practice, and the ability to execute their desires into facts on the ground. Many ANA don't understand how valuable the disciplines and skills it lacks are. Perhaps one analogy is a 10 year old who passionately wants to drop out from school and design cars, and not understanding why learning calculus, programing, chemistry and physics will help him design cars.

The issue with the ANA is more "capacity" than "will."

I know that K disagrees with me on "will;" and on the surface he seems right. Many ANA come from villages or small towns. This reminds me of South Asian less educated small towns people who seem to lack "will" and appear "lazy." My sense is that it isn't "will" as much as a failure to understand how discipline, education, and a different way of doing things will help them achieve what they want to achieve.