Small Wars Journal

CAC CG Response to SWJ Blog Post "Afghanistan, What Lessons to Apply from Iraq"

Commanding General, Combined Arms Center, Response to Small Wars Journal Blog Post, "Afghanistan, What Lessons to Apply from Iraq"

The discussion unfolding here and on the COIN Center's blog is an important one, since the situation in Iraq continues to improve while in Afghanistan it deteriorates. As ideas of an Afghan "surge," similar to the course of action adopted in Iraq, circulate among decision makers, the nuances of the Afghanistan situation remain particularly relevant. GEN Petraeus recently noted in a New York Times interview, "The first lesson, the first caution really, is that every situation like this is truly and absolutely unique, and has its own context and specifics and its own texture." In light of these remarks, what are the peculiarities and strategic nuances inherent in the Afghanistan situation?

The Army Field Manual, FM 3-07, "Stability Operations," states, "Understanding is fundamental to planning. Without understanding, commanders cannot establish the situation's context." Adopting a "Comprehensive Approach" that includes understanding regional dynamics is central to crafting any kind of successful Afghan strategy. Pakistan, seeking strategic depth, has systematically sought influence within Afghanistan for decades. If the Kashmir conflict was resolved and tensions reduced between India and Pakistan, the latter would no longer need to pursue the strategic depth Afghanistan could provide. Reconciling regional conflicts should be a part of any Afghan strategy.

Afghanistan does not have a tradition of a strong central government. The kind of government NATO helps Afghanistan build is of paramount importance. Perhaps a federal system with much more power vested in regional and even local entities would allow tribal structures the autonomy they have historically enjoyed. As COL Roper noted, the bottom up method of building security was one of the keys to success in Iraq. That being said, building governmental capacity is also important. Afghanistan throughout its governing structures needs the kind of mentoring PRTs can provide. The Vietnam-era CORDS program is an example of the kind of interagency cooperation and unity of effort required to build governmental capacity down to sub-district levels.

GEN Petraeus has also noted that reconciliation must become a key line of effort. The Army's new Stability Operations doctrine emphasizes the roles that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration play in security sector reform. Again, the diverse capabilities inherent in PRTs could assist training and reforming Afghan security forces, while legal assistance might strengthen the Afghan judiciary. Long term stability will emerge only when Afghan police forces protect Afghan citizens and enforce the rule of law through a functioning Afghan court system.

Finally, developing Afghanistan's infrastructure must remain a priority. More money is spent each month in Iraq than has been spent on Afghanistan infrastructure since 2001. The judicious use of CERP funds is a start. However, as some commentators noted in the COIN Center blog, training Afghanis in various trades is a necessary part of building Afghan capacity and enhancing employment opportunities. Human resource development is one of the main elements of capacity building, as emphasized in the Stability Operations doctrine.

Frontier 6 is Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV, Commanding General of the Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, the command that oversees the Command and General Staff College and 17 other schools, centers, and training programs located throughout the United States. The Combined Arms Center is also responsible for: development of the Army's doctrinal manuals, training of the Army's commissioned and noncommissioned officers, oversight of major collective training exercises, integration of battle command systems and concepts, and supervision of the Army's Center for the collection and dissemination of lessons learned.

Comments

Gian P Gentile

Thu, 11/27/2008 - 1:55pm

The point I made previously on the SWJ title post, "Afghanistan, What Lessons to Apply from Iraq," is that parts of the American Army are mired in dogma--a dogma created by its seduction with counterinsurgency doctrine from FM 3-24 and that manuals derivative operational manuals, FMs 3-0, and 3-07. It is a dogma essentially built around a principle that has become an immutable rule that must, MUST, be followed: Population security. The immutable rule of population security permeates the thinking of much of the American Army officer corps on problems of instability throughout the world. It also demands a very specific and prescribed tactical and operational method to carry it out: large numbers of American combat forces presence on the ground, dispersed out into the population to secure them and win their hearts and minds, and from there build a new, or from-scratch, nation.

The original SWJ post, "Afghanistan, What Lessons to Apply from Iraq," contained a fascinating, and indicative, contradiction. In the post General David Petraeus, when reflecting on how to think about Afghanistan in terms of the lessons from Iraq, stated:

"The first lesson, the first caution really, is that every situation like this is truly and absolutely unique, and has its own context and specifics and its own texture,"

Yet in that SWJ post right behind General Petraeuss is another quote which was a summarized point from feedback from the field concerning lessons from Iraq that are "applicable" to Afghnistan. That summarized point states:

"Basic COIN principles of protecting the population, connecting the government with the people and permanently isolating insurgents from the population apply in either conflict but must be adapted for local conditions."

So here we have the same old problem. On the one hand a call for creativity in thinking by General Petraeus with regard to the situation in Afghanistan. Yet on the other hand a summarized point of input from the field that betrays a deeply held, dogmatic view of Army operations: the principle-turned immutable rule of population security. That immutable rule of population security then in turn demands a related immutable rule of linking local people to their government: hence, a precise recipe for nation building.

So if we are really to follow General Petraeuss guidance, should we not as an Army be able to think about problems of insecurity and instability throughout the world in ways other than nation building?

Frontier 6s explanation of the problem in Afghanistan is at its most basic level a clear statement of the need to build a new Afghani nation in order to defeat the insurgency there. Perhaps this is the right approach. Frontier 6s post is, however, essentially an articulation of the new American Armys Way of Coin in--what he referred to in a recent Military Review article--a "Brave New World."

But as retired four star General and former American Army Chief of Staff, General John A. Wickham recently noted, it may be time for the United States Army to rethink its approach to counterinsurgency.

If we dont truly embrace General Petraeuss guidance on creative thinking and at least consider what those like General (ret) Wickham have to say then our way ahead is prescribed for us; dogma, pure and simple.

I do appreciate Frontier 6s recent call for open and professional debate on these matters.

gentile