Sep 12, 2009

Why Afghanistan needs to be left to professionals

Tales Of Our Times: How Not To Enter A Valley In Afghanistan

By Thomas E. Ricks
September 11, 2009

Here is a smart guest report from Mac Mccallister, freshly returned from a long tour of duty in Afghanistan. "FID" is foreign internal defense, or training the locals to provide security. "CT" is "counterterror." "Close air" is of course helicopters or airplanes that fire in support of troops on the ground. And "COIN" is counterinsurgency. But you knew that:

Navy Commander and platoon of Marine artillery men converted into infantry seek to enter valley to do some nation-building. Local police chief strongly advises against plan for there be bad men in the valley who had not invited the good guys for tea. Navy commander disagrees and enters the valley anyway for he fears no one. A little while later his command is hammered... The artillery men fight well and disengage with small loses. Doesn't matter though for the word spreads quickly that a band of local fighters has defeated a great invading force. More young men rally to the cause.

Our Navy commander feels betrayed and tells the district police chief that the local police chief betrayed him and his men. How else would the bad men know that they were coming? The local and district police explain to the Navy commander that EVERYONE knew that he was coming and that EVERYONE knew what would be the result. EVERYONE k new except the Navy Commander. Both the local police chief and the district chief state that they tried to explain to the Navy Commander what would happen... They speak from experience.

The district police chief offers a solution. He explains that he knows people who could take care of the problem. These people for a price could enter the valley and kill two men which would solve the problem for a while. The Navy Commander is taken aback. He refuses to provide the funds to hire the assassins and states that WE DON'T MURDER. A couple of days later another patrol is ambushed. Close Air is called and 17 civilians are killed.

Arithmetic on the frontier. Why kill 2 men? Maybe the 2 men were the leaders of this band of troublemakers? Makes sense to kill the leadership. How long does it take for a leader to emerge from within a potential band of fighters? The potential leader must prove himself and be recognized by others. He must execute a number of confidence targets so that others may begin to trust and follow. How long- 2 weeks -2 months - maybe less - a window of opportunity for the Navy Commander to enter the valley and do some of the voodoo we do so well.


Type A personalities may not be the right type to conduct irregular warfare, COIN, FID or CT... especially when we refuse to stop, listen and learn from the locals.

This feels to me like a modern version of a Kipling short story -- say, my favorite, which also takes place in this part of the world -- The Head of the District.

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