Small Wars Journal

Blog Posts

SWJ Blog is a multi-author blog publishing news and commentary on the various goings on across the broad community of practice.  We gladly accept guest posts from serious voices in the community.

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 09/07/2009 - 4:16am | 0 comments
Should Obama Go 'All In' On Afghanistan? - Andrew J. Bacevich, Los Angeles Times opinion.

Back in January when he took office, Barack Obama had amassed a very considerable pile of chips. Events since then have appreciably reduced that stack. Should he wager what remains on Afghanistan? That's the issue the president now faces.

The first true foreign policy test of the Obama presidency has arrived, although not in the form of a crisis coming out of nowhere announced by a jangling telephone at 3 a.m. Instead, a steady drip-drip of accumulating evidence warns that Afghanistan is coming apart...

Obama's advisors - Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen and Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander on the ground in Afghanistan - have been quite candid in arguing that half-measures won't suffice. The war is going badly. The Taliban is gaining in strength. Seven-plus years of allied efforts in Afghanistan have accomplished very little.

Even if the military's recently rediscovered catechism of counterinsurgency provides the basis for a new strategy, turning things around will take a very long time - five to 10 years at least. Achieving success (however vaguely defined) will entail the expenditure of vast resources: treasure (no one will say how much) and, of course, blood (again, no one offers an estimate)...

More at The Los Angeles Times.

by Robert Haddick | Sun, 09/06/2009 - 2:45pm | 2 comments
Who better to ask than Ryan Crocker for advice on what to do about Afghanistan?

Crocker is a 37-year veteran of the Foreign Service and spent virtually his whole career in the Middle East and South Asia. He was U.S. Chief of Mission to six countries: Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. He is a Career Ambassador and was awarded the Medal of Freedom.

Does Crocker have the answer to Afghanistan? Well, no easy answer. In this essay for Newsweek, in which he recaps his career, Crocker says:

1) Don't expect what worked in Iraq to work in Afghanistan,

2) The Taliban and al Qaeda have strategic patience; the U.S. better get some, too.

3) The world, and the bad guys, won't allow the U.S. to walk away.

So no simple answer, even from Ryan Crocker. But his Newsweek essay is still worth reading.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/06/2009 - 10:37am | 0 comments
This just released by the Institute for the Study of War: Building Security Forces and Ministerial Capacity: Iraq as a Primer by LTG James M. Dubik (U.S. Army, Ret.). Full report here. Overview below:

This report discusses how U.S. commanders in Iraq vastly accelerated the growth of the Iraq Security Forces as part of a broader counterinsurgency strategy to supplement the Surge of U.S. forces into the region.

The author, Lieutenant General James Dubik (ret.), who served as the commander of Multi-National Security and Transition Command -- Iraq (MNSTC-I) from mid-2007 to mid-2008, oversaw a rapid growth in the quantity of Iraqi Security Forces, an improvement of their operational capability due to the partnership and training with the U.S., and a reformation of the Iraqi Ministries of Interior and Defense to help institutionalize the growth of these indigenous security forces. Despite the success in developing security forces during the Iraqi Surge, our current military doctrine does not reflect the lessons learned or best practices used in 2007 -- 2008.

Future conflicts will likely arise in failing states and will therefore involve the Army in counterinsurgency (COIN) or stability operations. The conventional forces of the United States Army will have an enduring requirement to build the security forces and security ministries of other countries. This requirement is consequently not an aberration, unique to Iraq and Afghanistan. Planning, training, doctrine, and acquisition must take account of this mission and support it.

And from the Conclusions:

In fragile, failing, or failed states, it may take a generation for an indigenous force to reach a level of self-sustainment, in which case the U.S. must prepare to engage in a long-term cooperative security arrangement with the host nation.

Nations that require security force assistance and security sector reform are likely also to require external funding for these tasks. Foreign contributions are necessary for success and can have a double benefit -- by contributing to the growth of state finances as well as security forces.

Organizations with responsibilities like MNSTC-I have to be staffed with leaders experienced in operating large, institutional organizations and staffed with members able to link their tactical, day-to-day actions to strategic effects. The Army must train its officers and its general officers better to meet these management requirements.

Building Security Forces and Ministerial Capacity: Iraq as a Primer.

by Dave Dilegge | Sun, 09/06/2009 - 5:43am | 7 comments
Last paragraph from Secretary of Defence Robert Gates' letter to Thomas Curley, President and Chief Executive Offer of The Associated Press, concerning the publication of a photograph of Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard, United States Marine Corps, as he lay fatally wounded in Afghanistan.

I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard's death has caused his family. Why your organization would purposefully defy the family's wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right - but judgment and common decency.

The Associated Press statement concerning this affair can be found here. A Small Wars Council discussion on this issue can be found here.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/06/2009 - 5:23am | 0 comments
The Afghanistan Abyss - Nicholas Kristof, New York Times opinion.

President Obama has already dispatched an additional 21,000 American troops to Afghanistan and soon will decide whether to send thousands more. That would be a fateful decision for his presidency, and a group of former intelligence officials and other experts is now reluctantly going public to warn that more troops would be a historic mistake.

The group's concern - dead right, in my view - is that sending more American troops into ethnic Pashtun areas in the Afghan south may only galvanize local people to back the Taliban in repelling the infidels.

"Our policy makers do not understand that the very presence of our forces in the Pashtun areas is the problem," the group said in a statement to me. "The more troops we put in, the greater the opposition. We do not mitigate the opposition by increasing troop levels, but rather we increase the opposition and prove to the Pashtuns that the Taliban are correct. "The basic ignorance by our leadership is going to cause the deaths of many fine American troops with no positive outcome," the statement said...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/06/2009 - 5:12am | 0 comments
A Stable Pakistan Needs a Stable Afghanistan - Frederick W. Kagan, Wall Street Journal opinion.

Winning the war in Afghanistan - creating a stable and legitimate Afghan state that can control its territory - will be difficult. The insurgency has grown in the past few years while the government's legitimacy has declined. It remains unclear how the recent presidential elections will affect this situation.

Trying to win in Afghanistan is not a fool's errand, however. Where coalition forces have conducted properly resourced counterinsurgency operations in areas such as Khowst, Wardak, Lowgar, Konar and Nangarhar Provinces in the eastern part of the country, they have succeeded despite the legendary xenophobia of the Pashtuns.

Poorly designed operations in Helmand Province have not led to success. Badly under-resourced efforts in other southern and western provinces, most notably Kandahar, have also failed. Can well-designed and properly-resourced operations succeed? There are no guarantees in war, but there is good reason to think they can. Given the importance of this theater to the stability of a critical and restive region, that is reason enough to try...

More at The Wall Street Journal.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 09/06/2009 - 4:40am | 2 comments
In Afghanistan, Let's Keep It Simple - Ahmed Rashid, Washington Post opinion.

For much of the 20th century before the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan was a peaceful country living in harmony with its neighbors. There was a king and a real government, which I witnessed in the 1970s when I frequently traveled there. Afghanistan had what I'll call a minimalist state, compared with the vast governmental apparatuses that colonialists left behind in British India and Soviet Central Asia.

This bare-bones structure worked well for a poor country with a small population, few natural resources and a mix of ethnic groups and tribes that were poorly connected with one another because of the rugged terrain. The center was strong enough to maintain law and order, but it was never strong enough to undermine the autonomy of the tribes. Afghanistan was not aiming to be a modern country or a regional superpower. The economy was subsistence-level, but nobody starved. Everyone had a job, though farm labor was intermittent. There was a tiny urban middle class, but the gap between rich and poor was not that big. There was no such thing as Islamic extremism or a narco-state...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Sat, 09/05/2009 - 9:14am | 23 comments
Why We're Getting it Wrong in Afghanistan - Anthony King, Prospect.

Writing in this month's Prospect, Stephen Grey details the political and military mistakes that have been made in Helmand. Perhaps most importantly, he identifies the role of the institutional culture of Britain's armed forces: "cracking on"—the unshakeable determination of Britain's troops. Grey is right that the ethos of "cracking on" is the army's greatest quality; effective armies require fortitude and morale in order to endure the losses that they will inevitably suffer. Yet, as he notes, it may be the army's greatest weakness too...

A new Afghan strategy is essential—and the announcements from US General McChrystal and Gordon Brown at the end of August recognise this. However, their new strategy in Helmand also requires a reformation of Britain's armed forces themselves. The success of General Petraeus in Iraq rested finally on a common recognition by the US Army and Marine Corps that the way in which they trained, planned and conducted military operations required profound revision. In short, operational success demands institutional reform at home. While valuable at the tactical level, the culture of "cracking on" needs to be expunged from operational command. The armed forces, the ministry of defence and government need to develop more mature criteria on which to assess the performance of commanders—judging them by their political contribution to the campaign, not by the number of air assault operations they have conducted....

More at Prospect.

Cracking on in Helmand - Stephen Grey, Prospect.

... Even in chaos and dysfunction, the British army is good at preserving a belief in order and purpose. And when men die their officers steel them and move onwards with poetic speeches, just as Lieutenant Colonel Robert Thomson did on 10th July 2009, after a dreadful day near the town of Sangin in Helmand in which five of his men were killed. In his eulogy Thomson wrote about men saluting the fallen, and returning to the ramparts. "I sensed each rifleman tragically killed in action today standing behind us as we returned to our posts, and we all knew that each one of those riflemen would have wanted us to 'crack on'... And that is what we shall do."

Crack on. From Basra to Sangin, I've heard that phrase as regularly as Amen in church. Cracking on: the army's greatest quality, and perhaps its greatest weakness. I remember standing vigil on Sergeant Johnson's body at dusk on a hilltop, after he had died in the battle for the town of Musa Qala in December 2007. His fellow soldiers were silhouettes, drawn close to their commander. On the horizon muffled bombs flashed through the drizzle. Major Jake Little told his men to put their grief to one side, to deal with it later. After the battle.

Cracking on could also mean failing to challenge impossible orders, or unwillingness to expose a flawed strategy...

More at Prospect.

by Robert Haddick | Fri, 09/04/2009 - 7:30pm | 9 comments
Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1. Afghanistan and civil-military relations,

2. Communication breakdown.

by Dave Dilegge | Fri, 09/04/2009 - 7:11pm | 5 comments
From time to time we get asked about the image SWJ and SWC uses in the upper left hand corner of all the main pages... The image is called Tracking Bin Laden and was painted by U.S. Army Center of Military History, Museum Division's staff artist Sergeant First Class Elzie Ray Golden, US Army.

SFC Golden produced fourteen works of art as a member of the Soldier-Artist Team 25 in 1990 that documented ROTC training at Fort Lewis, Washington. He designed the May 1992 cover of Soldiers magazine featuring women in the Army during World War II, the 1991-1994 Army Aviation Association Commander's Conference posters, and the Armed Forces Day posters for 2001 and 2002. His works of art are featured in the Center of Military History books, Portrait of an Army and Soldiers Serving the Nation. The Army Historical Foundation also featured his work in the book The Army, published in 2001. SFC Golden has been the subject of articles and interviews for ArtForum and Der Spiegel magazines, German public television and public radio, and the Hartford Courant newspaper.

He won first place in 2000 in the fine art category of the first Military Graphic Artist of the Year (MILGRAPH) competition, and again in 2002.

SFC. Golden studied fine art at the School of Visual Arts in New York and the University of Arizona. He entered active military duty in October 1984. His assignments include the 13th Support Command, Fort Hood Texas; 2d Infantry Division, Camp Casey, South Korea; Training Support Activity, Eighth Army, East Korea, Yongsan, South Korea; and the 10th Aviation Brigade, Fort Rucker, Alabama.

Tracking Bin Laden won First Place - DINFOS MILGRAPH 2002, Military Graphic Competition, Fine Art category.

Continue on for several examples of SFC Golden's work...

by SWJ Editors | Fri, 09/04/2009 - 5:56am | 3 comments
Can the US Lead Afghans? - Mark Moyar, New York Times opinion.

The Afghanistan debate is increasingly focused on two words: troop numbers. Those numbers certainly deserve serious attention as President Obama decides whether to raise them even further this year. But in Afghanistan, as in past counterinsurgencies, it is important to remember that all troop numbers are not created equal. When it comes to indigenous forces, quality often matters more than quantity, and quality often declines when quantity increases.

Current recommendations of American and Afghan troop strengths are, for the most part, based on the size of the Afghan population. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, has produced figures using a ratio of 25 troops for every 1,000 Afghans. His methodology assumes that increasing American troop strength by, say, 20 percent will increase counterinsurgency capacity by roughly the same amount. That assumption is correct, because the quality of the additional American units will be broadly similar to that of the others. Where the methodology fails is in its assumption that doubling Afghan troop strength, as many now advocate, will double counterinsurgency capacity by roughly the same amount.

Where the methodology fails is in its assumption that doubling Afghan troop strength, as many now advocate, will double counterinsurgency capacity. In reality, such an increase is likely to cause quality to fall. With Afghan security forces already two-and-a-half times as large as the American forces, and America lacking the political will to reduce that ratio, the counterinsurgency cannot afford such a drop...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 09/03/2009 - 1:56pm | 4 comments
The Same Old Mistake - Kimberly Marten, New York Times opinion.

The US and Afghan governments have announced a new policy to pay tribal militias to provide security in Afghanistan. This began as a measure to deter Taliban attacks during recent elections but is set to become permanent.

Almost point for point, this plan repeats the terrible mistake that the British colonial army made in the Pashtun tribal areas in what would become Pakistan, in the late 19th century.

The British disrupted local Pashtun power balances by injecting outside money into tribal politics. British intelligence officers created charts of which sub-tribes and leaders (or maliks) had the most influence, and paid them extra money. The favored maliks in turn used these funds for patronage, paying off their supporters. Canny Pashtun factions second-guessed the British, creating security problems that they then "solved" to look more powerful. British payments to the new "official maliks" became hereditary. This system violated the tribal code of equality among all Pashtun men, but the official maliks accepted it with enthusiasm...

More at The New York Times.

by SWJ Editors | Thu, 09/03/2009 - 4:40am | 1 comment
Washington's Afghan Brawl - Thomas Rid, Kings of War. (H/T Bernard Finel)

The debate on the pros and cons of Afghanistan is raging inside the Beltway. And it is a bit unsettling.

On the one side are those who say no, America has no national interests in Afghanistan — and yes, it's a war of choice: let's leave the hellhole and get out asap. On the other side are those who say yes, our security is on the line and al-Qaeda must be defeated in Afghanistan — and no, it's a war of necessity: let's do it seriously and pour in more troops and money. Until it's fixed, like Iraq.

You've seen it. Shrill and loud, some of the contributions. The other side is brandished as "foolish" and "not serious." Both sides make up straw-men and then mow them down. And don't look at the reader comments. All that is even more disturbing if you consider that people are dying in this business.

So what should we make of it? As often in verbal fistfights, both sides have a couple of valid points. Let's block out the shouting and try listening to some of the nuances. I would venture to say that most experts should be able to agree on ten assumptions — some of them are just statements of fact...

Much more at Kings of War.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 09/02/2009 - 4:43pm | 1 comment
The US Army / USMC Counterinsurgency Center is pleased to host Major Josh Wineera during a COIN Center Webcast Wednesday, 23 SEP 09 from 1000 to 1100 CST (1100 - 1200 EST). Major Wineera will explore the difficulty in capturing a greater understanding of the complex contemporary operational environment. To explore that difficulty, Wineera examines the role of the Human Terrain System teams and a developing New Zealand Army model to control what David Kilcullen has labeled the conflict ecosystem. As a lead-in to this webcast please see Wineera's The Colloquium article Inter-Bella: Understanding the Area of Operations Ecosystem.

Major Josh Wineera, New Zealand Army, has served in Iraq, East Timor, Bougainville, and Bosnia. He is a guest lecturer at the New Zealand Defence College and Massey University, and is a part-time Master's student at the Centre for Defence Studies, Massey University.

Those interested in attending may view the meeting on-line at this link and participate via Adobe Connect as a guest. Remote attendees will be able to ask questions and view the slides through the software.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 09/02/2009 - 6:09am | 3 comments
US to Boost Combat Force in Afghanistan - Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times.

US officials are planning to add as many as 14,000 combat troops to the American force in Afghanistan by sending home support units and replacing them with "trigger-pullers," Defense officials say. The move would beef up the combat force in the country without increasing the overall number of US troops, a contentious issue as public support for the war slips. But many of the noncombat jobs are likely be filled by private contractors, who have proved to be a source of controversy in Iraq and a growing issue in Afghanistan. The plan represents a key step in the Obama administration's drive to counter Taliban gains and demonstrate progress in the war nearly eight years after it began.

Forces that could be swapped out include units assigned to noncombat duty, such as guards or lookouts, or those on clerical and support squads. "It makes sense to get rid of the clerks and replace them with trigger-pullers," said one Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plans have not been announced. Officials have spoken in recent days about aspects of the plan...

More at The Los Angeles Times.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 09/02/2009 - 5:55am | 0 comments
A Middle Way On Afghanistan? - David Ignatius, Washington Post opinion.

It's the nature of Afghanistan that nothing there ever works out quite the way outsiders expect, and that certainly was the case with last month's presidential election. Rather than producing a mandate for good governance, as US officials once hoped, the balloting has instead brought allegations of fraud, political squabbling and delay, and a new set of headaches in the war against the Taliban...

To get the flavor of McChrystal's strategy (the actual document remains classified), I reviewed the counterinsurgency guidance he has prepared for his troops. The headline reads: "Protecting the people is the mission. The conflict will be won by persuading the population, not by destroying the enemy." ...

The counterinsurgency doctrine McChrystal is advocating has excited a new generation of military officers. I've seen it applied in outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it's impossible not to be impressed by the dedication and even the idealism of its proponents. But there is little hard evidence that it will work in a country as large and impoverished as Afghanistan. Even in Iraq, the successes attributed to counterinsurgency came as much from bribing tribal leaders and assassinating insurgents as from fostering development projects and building trust...

More at The Washington Post.

What's Right With Afghanistan - Michael O'Hanlon and Bruce Riedel, Wall Street Journal opinion.

The national mood on the Afghanistan war has soured fast, and it's not hard to see why. American combat deaths have exceeded 100 for the summer, the recent Afghan election was tainted by accusations of intimidation and fraud, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen says the security environment there is "deteriorating." Meanwhile, congressional leaders worry about the war's impact on the health-care debate and the Obama presidency more generally. Antiwar groups are starting to talk about "another Vietnam." Opposition is mounting to the current policy - to say nothing of possible requests for additional troops from the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

The questions and concerns being raised are legitimate. Clearly, the mission has not been going well. Problems with our basic strategy, especially on the economic and development side, still need immediate attention. Moreover, our Afghan friends have a crucial role to play in both security and development, and if they fail to do so the overall warfighting and state-building effort will not succeed.

However, it is important to remember our assets, and not just our liabilities, in the coming debate over Afghanistan policy this fall. Democracies sometimes talk themselves out of keeping up the faith in tough situations, and we should avoid any such tendency towards defeatism, especially so early in the execution of the Obama administration's new military/civilian/economic strategy, which combines stronger and more widespread counterinsurgency measures with increased nation-building efforts. Indeed, the US, our NATO allies, and the future Afghan government - be it another Hamid Karzai presidency, or a new administration - have a number of major strengths in this mission...

More at The Wall Street Journal.

by SWJ Editors | Wed, 09/02/2009 - 4:58am | 4 comments
Taliban Surprising US Forces With Improved Tactics - Karen DeYoung, Washington Post.

The Taliban has become a much more potent adversary in Afghanistan by improving its own tactics and finding gaps in the US military playbook, according to senior American military officials who acknowledged that the enemy's resurgence this year has taken them by surprise.

US rules of engagement restricting the use of air power and aggressive action against civilians have also opened new space for the insurgents, officials said. Western development projects, such as new roads, schools and police stations, have provided fresh targets for Taliban roadside bombs and suicide attacks. The inability of rising numbers of American troops to protect Afghan citizens has increased resentment of the Western presence and the corrupt Afghan government that cooperates with it, the officials said.

As President Obama faces crucial decisions on his war strategy and declining public support at home, administration and defense officials are studying the reasons why the Taliban appears, for the moment at least, to be winning...

More at The Washington Post.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 09/01/2009 - 8:13pm | 0 comments
The U.S. Army War College just announced the launch of its Information as Power blog:

"Information is an element of national power along with diplomatic, military and economic power. The current information environment challenges the United States as never before. It has leveled the playing field for not only nation states, but non-state actors, multinational corporations and even individuals to affect strategic outcomes with minimal information infrastructure and little capital expenditure. The Information as Power web site is an online resource that provides an electronic library of current and historical articles and documents. Its purpose is to facilitate an understanding of the information element of power in this new and difficult environment in order to better address the national security issues we currently face. Unlike sites focused on one aspect of the information element this site attempts to broadly consider all the dimensions of the information environment: physical, informational and cognitive."

Visit Information as Power.

by Robert Haddick | Tue, 09/01/2009 - 11:23am | 11 comments
The Stimson Center has published an essay I wrote for it on the future of security force assistance.

Theme: In the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, U.S. policymakers will look for new approaches to implement U.S. national security strategy. Security force assistance will attract a lot of attention and is likely to be a "growth business." But security force assistance is no panacea. Top U.S. policymakers will have to give their attention to some significant reforms if security forces assistance is to achieve its promise and avoid some of its perils.

Read the whole essay here.

by Dave Dilegge | Tue, 09/01/2009 - 3:23am | 0 comments

See Cartoons by Cartoon by John Cole - Courtesy of - Email this Cartoon

A Catalogue of Errors that Shames the UK - David Cameron, The Times opinion.

Twelve days ago, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi was released by the Scottish government. His freedom came two decades after a bomb, which was smuggled on to Pan Am Flight 103, exploded over Lockerbie, killing 11 people on the ground and 259 people on the plane. The only man convicted of the crime, al-Megrahi spent just eight years in prison - less than a fortnight for each victim - and was welcomed back to Tripoli as a returning hero.

Decisions concerning the fate of criminals, not least those responsible for mass murder, often provoke widespread public anger. But the outrage at this one has crossed continents and damaged our relationship with our closest ally, America. It has been a fiasco.

At its heart lies a series of failure of judgment. The first failure was the decision by Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, to release al-Megrahi on "compassionate grounds". Due process found al-Megrahi guilty, a verdict upheld on appeal. The Libyan Government accepted responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the Lockerbie families. Any doubts about the safety of al-Megrahi's conviction should have been tested by the second appeal, which he instead withdrew. That is why I said that compassionate release was completely inappropriate. We are dealing here with someone convicted of one of the biggest mass murders in British history. Al-Megrahi's victims were not allowed the luxury of "dying at home". What on earth was Mr MacAskill thinking of when he made this utterly bizarre decision?

The second misjudgment was Gordon Brown's failure to speak up clearly and promptly. On a matter fraught with such emotion, and with the potential to damage Britain's reputation abroad, a decisive lead from the Prime Minister was required. Mr Brown should have condemned the decision to release al-Megrahi. At the very least, he should have expressed an opinion. But all we got, day after day, was a wall of silence, finally broken after a long week when Mr Brown declared that he was "angry" and "repulsed" at scenes in Tripoli. We all were...

Much more at The Times. David Cameron is the leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition in the United Kingdom. He has occupied both positions since December 2005.

by SWJ Editors | Tue, 09/01/2009 - 1:56am | 2 comments
Time to Get Out of Afghanistan - George Will, Washington Post opinion.

... US strategy - protecting the population - is increasingly troop-intensive while Americans are increasingly impatient about "deteriorating" (says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) conditions. The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined US involvements in two world wars, and NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible.

The US strategy is "clear, hold and build." Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that US forces will forever be too few to hold gains. Hence nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try: The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state.

Military historian Max Hastings says Kabul controls only about a third of the country - "control" is an elastic concept - and " 'our' Afghans may prove no more viable than were 'our' Vietnamese, the Saigon regime." ...

Is the War in Afghanistan Worth Fighting? - Washington Post opinions.

On Monday the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan called for a new strategy to fight the Taliban. The Post asked experts whether the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting. Below are contributions from John Nagl, Andrew J. Bacevich, Erin M. Simpson, Thomas H. Johnson and Danielle Pletka.
by SWJ Editors | Mon, 08/31/2009 - 6:13pm | 0 comments
McChrystal Delivers Afghan Assessment to US, NATO Leaders - Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service. The commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan has completed his assessment of the situation there and has forwarded it to NATO and US leaders, Defense Department officials said today. Speaking to reporters during a visit to a Lockheed-Martin F-35 plant in Fort Worth, Texas, today, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he has not yet seen Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's assessment, but expects to read it in the next day or two. The secretary said he believes the assessment will point to the challenges before foreign and Afghan troops. "I think it will also point to areas where we can do better and can make improvements in our strategy and tactics," he said. "There is no question that we have a tough fight ahead of us in Afghanistan, and a lot of challenges." McChrystal also forwarded the assessment to NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen. "While there is a lot of gloom and doom going around, I think General McChrystal's assessment will be a realistic one and set forth the challenges we have in front of us," Gates said. "At the same time, we have some assets in place and some developments that hold promise." The number of US and European troops in Afghanistan has increased, with 62,000 American servicemembers and 39,000 from NATO and NATO-partner nations serving there, he said. With more troops, more areas can be accessed and cleared of the Taliban, al-Qaida and other terror groups. "This means our casualties will be higher," Gates acknowledged. "I am concerned about getting assets into Afghanistan to help us deal with the improvised explosive device problem."

Afghanistan Commander's Report Submitted, But Secret - Al Pessin, Voice of America. The US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has delivered his eagerly-awaited assessment to his bosses in Washington and Brussels, but the document is being kept secret. Pentagon officials say it will be followed by international consultations and possibly requests for more US and international forces. According to a NATO release, General McChrystal writes that "the situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable." The general is quoted as saying success will require "a revised implementation strategy," as well as commitment, resolve, and increased unity of effort. But that is all that has been made public. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he has not yet seen the assessment, but told reporters what he expects it to contain. "I think that his assessment, without having read it, I suspect is going to point to the challenges that remain before us in Afghanistan. I think it will also point to areas where we can do better and can make improvements in our strategy and tactics," he said. Some civilian advisers invited to Afghanistan to help General McChrystal prepare his assessment have said he needs more troops to put down a resurgent Taliban and establish security at least in Afghan population centers. Some analyses of the current situation have been fairly dire, including one by the top US military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, who has said security in Afghanistan is "serious and deteriorating." But Secretary Gates says he expects a balanced assessment from General McChrystal.

Gen. McChrystal Calls for New Strategy in Afghan War - Yochi J. Dreazen and Peter Spiegel, Wall Street Journal. The US and its allies need to change course in Afghanistan to salvage the faltering war effort and prevent the Taliban from extending their recent gains, the top American commander in Afghanistan warned in a highly anticipated strategic assessment. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said that conditions on the ground were "serious," but expressed confidence that the war could still be won if the US and NATO better coordinated their efforts and focused more heavily on protecting the Afghan populace from Taliban attack. The report, which wasn't released publicly, concluded that the Taliban had survived a series of recent US military strikes and were pushing deeper into once-stable parts of northern and western Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with its contents. The report argued that the US and its allies needed to devote more troops to vulnerable Afghan population centers in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar Province and eastern Afghanistan's Khost Province, the officials said. It also emphasized the importance of limiting corruption in Kabul and building stronger local and provincial governments across the country, the officials said. The report didn't call for any additional US forces. Gen. McChrystal will instead detail any request for more troops in a second document next month, according to US officials familiar with the matter. The commander is considering asking for up to eight additional brigades, or roughly 40,000 troops, but the officials said no decisions had yet been made.

US General Calls for New Strategy Against Taliban - William Branigin, Washington Post. The commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan called Monday for a revised strategy and increased unity in efforts to defeat radical Islamist insurgents in the country, saying that the situation is "serious" but that success can still be achieved. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal delivered the assessment as he sent a long-awaited strategic review to the Pentagon by way of the US Central Command. The review was also being sent to NATO headquarters. McChrystal stopped short of requesting more troops for Afghanistan in the review, but news agencies quoted NATO officials as saying he was expected to do so in a separate recommendation. The strategic review comes as Afghanistan's radical Taliban movement inflicts increasing casualties on US and NATO forces in an insurgency against the government of President Hamid Karzai, who is locked in a slow-moving reelection battle against former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Groundwork Is Laid for New Troops in Afghanistan - Dexter Filkens, New York Times. The top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, said Monday that conditions on the ground were "serious" but that the war here is still winnable, part of a long-awaited assessment of the American-led war. Officials in Washington say that while the general's classified report did not request additional American troops, it effectively lays the groundwork for such a request in coming weeks. The change in strategy envisioned by General McChrystal would invest the United States more extensively in Afghanistan than it has been since toppling the Taliban government in 2001, Washington officials said. For President Obama, who already ordered another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan this year, the prospect of an even more extensive commitment of American troops would test his political commitment to the war at a time when he is already trying to tamp down discontent in his liberal base. In recent weeks, senior American officers here have said that they do not have enough troops to succeed. The American commanders and officials in Kabul were ordered to neither reveal the details of the assessment nor talk about them.

Gen. McChrystal Calls for Overhaul of Afghanistan War Strategy - Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times. The top commander in Afghanistan has submitted his initial assessment of the war in Afghanistan, calling today for a full overhaul of the military's war strategy, NATO officials said today. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the newly appointed head of US and NATO forces, wants to intensify development of Afghan security forces, improve the country's government and refocus economic development initiatives, according to a description of the assessment released by NATO officials. The assessment is meant to be a more "philosophical" look at the current situation and does not contain any explicit requests for more troops or other resources. "The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort," McChrystal said in the assessment, according to NATO officials. The assessment reflects McChrystal's belief that the military needs to follow an overhauled counter-insurgency strategy that focuses on making Afghan citizens feel safer, military officials said. The report was forwarded today to NATO and to Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of US Central Command, which controls forces in the Mideast.

US Commander General Stanley McChrystal: Afghanistan Strategy is Failing - Matt Spence and Deborah Haynes, The Times. The campaign in Afghanistan is failing and the strategies in place must be revised, the commander of US and NATO forces said today. General Stanley McChrystal described the situation in the country as "serious", but said success could be achieved there with a new approach. Gen McChrystal today delivered the results of his 60-day strategic assessment to US and NATO commanders in a long-awaited review of strategy ordered by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. He said: "The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort." Gen McChrystal has been working on the review since President Obama put him in charge of the war on June 15. His review, sent to the US military's Central Command (CentCom), responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to NATO headquarters in Brussels, is not expected to make firm recommendations about future troop levels. That recommendation is due out in another report later in the year. However, military officials say it will form the basis for a decision about force size which could be taken within weeks.

Obama Aides See Need for More Troops in Afghanistan - Adam Entous and Arshad Mohammed, Reuters. Many of President Barack Obama's top advisers on Afghanistan agree with military commanders that more troops are needed to reverse Taliban gains in the country's east and south, US officials said on Monday. But there is wariness within the White House to another large-scale increase at a time when public support for the eight-year-old war against a resurgent Taliban is eroding, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Military commanders and administration and congressional leaders have held preliminary discussions about future troop options, including sending a second 5,000-member Marine Regimental Combat Team to southern Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold, participants said. This would boost the number of Marines in the country to 15,000-18,000 from just over 10,000. The debate is expected to intensify after Monday's long-awaited assessment of the war by US Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal called for the United States and its allies to change strategy, laying the ground for a likely request for more troops later, officials said. McChrystal has about 103,000 troops under his command, including 63,000 Americans, half of whom arrived this year as part of an escalation strategy started by former President George W. Bush and ramped up under Obama. The force is set to rise to 110,000, including 68,000 Americans, by year's end, stretching the US military to its limits, military officials said.

Marine Commander Sees Progress in Afghanistan - Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times. The general in charge of US Marines in Afghanistan said Monday that progress is being made in wresting a key southern province from Taliban control but cautioned that process will be slow and difficult to measure. Marine Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland also said the Marine Corps was ready to send more troops to Afghanistan if asked by top US officials. "Everything we're doing is preparing to put more forces in theater," Helland said. The Marines' goal is to train the Afghan security forces to carry the fight to the Taliban. The training is going slowly, Helland said. "They don't understand leadership, they don't understand noncommissioned officers," he said. "To use a Marine term, they're a herd. But once trained, they're warriors." Helland is set to retire Friday after 41 years of military service, beginning as an Army enlisted man with the Special Forces in Vietnam. For the last two years he has been the commanding general of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Force Central Command, with authority over Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Marines have 12,000 troops in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, where Taliban fighters are entrenched and opium poppy fields provide an illegal cash crop that funds the insurgency against the US-backed central government in Kabul, the capital.

New Strategy, Not Troops, Needed for Afghanistan - Joshua Foust, Registan. General Stanley McChrystal has finally come out and said what the rest of us have known for years: there needs to be some fundamentally new thinking in Afghanistan. While the various news stories talk about McChrystal's desire for a new strategy, all they seem to focus on is the (informed) assumption that he will request new troops in a separate, perhaps followup assessment. It seems, then, that Gen. McChrystal is taking his cues from Anthony Cordesman, who is out in the Washington Post saying that what we really need is more troops. Like many commentators on McChrystal's review team, Cordesman comes from a deep background in military studies but knows comparatively little about the vital civil side of the equation - therefore, all the problems he sees are problems of security and not necessarily other things. What is needed, however, is not necessarily more troops. As I wrote back in January, adding more troops to the mix would only make sense if they were going to serve a new strategy, one fundamentally different from the current, failing, strategy in the country. The biggest sin Gen. McChrystal has committed so far, at least in my view, is that there is actually very little "new" about his command so far, fawning media coverage notwithstanding. So if the reports of General McChrystal's report are right, then he is making the right decision to craft a new strategy for the country. The trouble is, to really know how to move forward, simply having an intimate understanding of the Army and military operations will only get you so far. You also have to have an intimate understanding of Afghanistan as well, and that kind of understanding simply wasn't on the McChrystal review team (nor is it on the many think tank panels that purport to discuss Afghanistan but just rehash vague generalities)

by SWJ Editors | Mon, 08/31/2009 - 5:20am | 5 comments
How to Lose in Afghanistan - Anthony H. Cordesman, Washington Post opinion.

The United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan in the next three months - any form of even limited victory will take years of further effort. It can, however, easily lose the war. I did not see any simple paths to victory while serving on the assessment group that advised the new US commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, on strategy, but I did see all too clearly why the war is being lost.

The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade. Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the US Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources...

More at The Washington Post.

Also see The Afghan War: A Survey of "Metrics" by Anthony H. Cordesman and Nicholas B. Greenough at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Afghan-Pakistan conflict is a complex conflict that covers two countries and has ideological, political, governance, economic, military, and security dimensions that are extremely difficult to measure and portray in summary form. NATO/ISAF, the United Nations, the US Department of Defense, and various polls and nongovernmental organizations have, however, gradually developed summary metrics and maps of the conflict. Whilke these data have serious gaps, and often attempt to "spin" the war in political directions, they stil provide a useful overview of developments in the conflict and are beginning to go beyond the military dimension to the political and economic dimensions and to show how Afghans and Pakistanis perceive the conflict...

Full Reports and Subreports at CSIS.

by SWJ Editors | Sun, 08/30/2009 - 6:46pm | 0 comments
H/T Ex at Abu Muqawama (see the link for Ex's commentary) - Heritage Foundation: Panel Discussion on the Presidential Election in Afghanistan by C-SPAN.

Watch C-SPAN's coverage of a discussion on the Presidential election in Afghanistan. With just ten-percent of the votes counted, President Hamid Karzai has a small lead over his nearest rival Abdullah Abdullah. The final results won't be announced until mid-September. The Heritage Foundation in Washington hosted this event. (1 hr. 30 min. broadcast)
by SWJ Editors | Sun, 08/30/2009 - 4:55pm | 2 comments
SWJ friend Joe Galloway reports on former Army LT William Calley's apology for the My Lai massacre in his McClatchy commentary regrets for My Lai massacre decades late.

Former Lt. Rusty Calley has finally spoken about the My Lai Massacre in terms of his remorse for the deaths of between 300 and 400 unarmed Vietnamese villagers who were slaughtered on one terrible day in March, 1968, 41 years ago, and his remorse for the ruined lives of American soldiers he and others ordered to do the killing...

After decades of refusing all requests for interviews, Calley this month accepted an invitation to speak to a Kiwanis Club in Columbus, Ohio, and there confessed to daily feeling "remorse" over his actions and their consequences...

In this case I am afraid that a "sorry" near the end of a comfortable life just doesn't cut it, Lt. Calley. I doubt it will buy much leeway on Judgment Day either.

Meanwhile, Michael Sullivan of National Public Radio reports that in Vietnam, Calley's My Lai apology barely registers.

Ten days ago, the only man convicted for the My Lai massacre publicly expressed remorse for what happened there in March 1968. The publicity-shy William Calley told a Kiwanis club lunch there was "not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened. I am very sorry." After his apology, Voice of America expressed interest in having Calley apologize on the air in Vietnam, but few seem interested in hearing it.