Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sustainability

After reading this article I decided to reopen this blog and make a few comments...

Honaker was part of our AO, and now it's the only one of the seven bases we had that's still open.  Sad, but not surprising.  During the end of 2008 and most of 2009 Honaker was more or less considered a "vacation" spot for our ANA.  Our commanders saw being stationed there as a nice break from the Korengal.  I'm not saying it was not a dangerous area, but the threats we faced there were slight compared to what we were seeing elsewhere...at least at the base itself.  At Honaker we could always find a fight within easy walking distance (walk far enough up any valley in Kunar and things will get hairy quickly), but the base itself was not under constant attack as it appears to be now.

How did it end up this way?  Well, one could point to any number of factors.  The most obvious cause is the closure of the other bases in the area has made Honaker a focal point for attacks.  I guess the bigger question is why the whole venture in the Pech and Korengal failed.  I recall the public affairs people attempting to spin the Pech pullout as a good thing, as our presence in the area was only making the people "angry" and making the situation worse.  And furthermore that the ANA would be able to do the job.  Those words were laughable at the time and only more so now after seeing the success our forces are having in Helmand, which clearly demonstrates our presence, when done right, has positive results.  Any positive spin on pulling out under those circumstances was simply a matter of making excuses for failure and changing the standards and goals when we simply could not meet the objective.  If you can't do the mission...then the mission is not important.

The analysis of why the US forces in the area could not do the job is for someone else, but I'll sum it up by saying the will was not there, and all of us that were there bear some responsibility.  It's unfortunate that a lot of good men gave so much to see it turn out like that.  I do feel bad for that company commander out at Honaker now.  Although the enemy his company is up against is certainly no more difficult than what so many others have seen in that area, at least in earlier years the hope existed that the mission in the Pech and Korengal was for something.  Being on the tail end of a failed mission and seeing your guys get injured and killed has got to be tough. 

Anyway, I digress...I meant to write a piece on sustainability and not air my own grievances about how the larger fight was run out there.  The sustainability idea came to me when reading about the ANA commander complaining about not having fuel for his vehicles and generators.  His soldiers do not have air conditioning and are having a hard time.  It is warm at Honaker in June, but at 3000 feet above sea level, it's not that hot.  Certainly not Iraq hot.  And however hot it is, the notion that infantry are uncomfortable due to a bit of 100 degree heat and can't operate as a result is so farcical as to border the insane.  Again, not surprising though, as that is the kind of thing we have gotten them used to by buying them air conditioners.  However, our own comfort and logistical needs have undermined our ability to tell them they can't have those things.  Our ability to supply ourselves with every manner of comfort item, including AC, not only takes away from our own focus on the mission, but sets a poor example for the ANA.  And now we have ANA commanders complaining about being hot and not being able to work...I'm pretty sure Captain Maboob's home does not have an AC unit. 

Putting the ANA in uparmored vehicles and giving them our weapons were other examples of misguided and unsustainable decisions with the aim of turning the ANA into the US Army.  Why on earth would we want to put the ANA in humvees when the ANA will have no way of sustaining those vehicles?  Or give them weapons that require more maintenance and expertise to use effectively?  Our own Army apparently can't do the job, so why create a poorly funded and equipped little brother?  I'm not sure if it boils down to business interests or what, but giving the Afghans Western style amenities and equipment makes no sense when they'll never be able to maintain them over the long term, not to mention the mindset (predictability, laziness, defensive/reactive) having armored vehicles engenders.  The ANA should be on foot in the mountains seeking and destroying the enemy, not riding around in armored cars burning costly diesel fuel and distancing themselves from the populace, while also making easy targets of themselves and contributing to the decay of their fighting spirit. 

The short-sighted decision-making goes beyond the stricly military sphere into the development realm.  Even the buildings we're putting up are poorly designed for Afghanistan.  Cinder block and concrete buildings won't last, are poorly ventilated, and are hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  But that's what we build, rather than using traditional construction methods that result in temperate cave-like rock/mud structures that have stood for eons despite the harsh climate and earthquakes.  Central electric grid systems, street lighting, even paved roads...I'm not sure any of it can withstand the test of time unless the international community wants to keep pouring money into Afghanistan forever.  I'm not saying development efforts don't have their place, but I am suggesting the Western mind-set of painting a petroleum-product fueled society on a 12th century agrarian canvas might be a little far-fetched and ultimately wasteful.  A little more adaptation please?  We're 10 years in. 

In any case, the ANA will continue to ask for all manner of military technology, including aircraft and artillery to help them fight, and will use the lack thereof as an excuse for being unable to win.  Since giving them these things is unsustainable and costly (and would not matter anyway) the only solution is to train and motivate them to fight and defeat the insurgents using traditional simple infantry tactics and hard work.  To train them to do those things, we need to be doing those things.

3 comments:

therobbodash said...

Regarding sustainability I had a very similar thought when walking past an Afghan Humveethe other day. What are they going to do when it comes to service this equipment which is beyond the butchery of servicing they are used to? I could almost guarantee that it is down to business. Somewhere someone has a contract and is making a fortune. The real problem is that the cost is not coming from the Afghan pocket. Could they really afford such equipment? This equipment is coming directly from the pocket of the US tax payer.
Afghanistan is a political pawn and your comrades, as well as mine, have fallen for little more than a whim.
It breaks my heart.
All gave some, some gave all. Rest in peace brothers.

Pat and Marcus said...

Very interesting comments. In some ways, I'm reminded of our efforts in Vietnam in that we armed, equipped and trained the ARVN (according to what I've read) like our own Army, when they did not have the independent infrastructure to sustain that. This meant that their army could only be effective with our material, and air, support. When our will failed in the 1972-75 time frame, that operated against them, even though they'd been successfully building their army up in numbers from 68 to 75.

fredbenz said...

im off in less than a month to Lashkargar to advise. A bit scared. myself