Friday, September 14, 2012

The Offensive That Did Not Bark

From last winter to this summer, I've asked whether we were going to complete our phased offensive plan by shifting to the offensive in Regional Command East after our initial main effort in Regional Command South in 2010 and 2011. I worried that we weren't going through with it and were giving up the campaign to simply ease out of the war. I'd read interviews or stories that would reassure me. Then read something that got me worried again. Yet I've still seen nothing to indicate an offensive in RCE. What gives?

Whatever we have done, it isn't a US-led offensive, as our General Allen describes the war:

So the recovery of the surge, the reposturing of the battle space, the insertion of the Security Force Assistance Teams, the ANSF moving more into the lead, fighting the insurgency, the beginning of the base closure....

All of that has been going on this summer.... On the whole, the campaign is on track.

What I have been asked in the past is, "When are you shifting the main effort from the south to the east?" And I respond with, "That's not the question." I'm weighting the fight in the east because they need the resources, 'cause that, that insurgent fight is different than the insurgent fight everywhere else in the battle space. But I'm shifting the main effort right now, and the main effort is shifting in that we, ISAF, will become the supporting effort. The ANSF will become the main effort....

What you see I have in the battle space now is a combination of advisors and main-force units. The advisors are inside the Afghan units. The main-force units are partnered with them or are conducting independent ops, and there are really very few independent ISAF operations anymore. It is very, very substantially partnered, and in many cases they are actually ANSF-led.

Now I just came back from [Regional Command-East], where I spent a good bit of time earlier this week with both of the ANSF corps commanders. We're seeing the ANSF routinely conduct operations now from squad level to corps level. I mean, they're running the entire spectrum of operations. Do they need help? The answer is yes. They need a lot of help still, because we still haven't recruited the whole force. ...

[Local uprisings against the Taliban are] really an important moment, actually. And I had the conversation with [President Hamid Karzai] this morning. Each, each one is an organic movement. And they're popping up in a lot of different places. We're going to start to plot them on a map -- we've actually done it already -- but we're going to do some analysis as to, is it tribal? Is it ethnic? What was the particular cause? What is the potential solution?

[Andar district in Ghazni province] is the most conspicuous right now, but there's another really substantial one that's growing in Kamdesh in southern Nuristan. There's one growing in Wardak. There's one growing in Ghor. We've heard of one in Faryab.

And so what we have to do is, as I said to [Karzai] this morning, it's not just about supporting Andar in Ghazni. This is a really important moment for this campaign because the brutality of the Taliban and the desire for local communities to have security has become so, so prominent -- as it was in Anbar -- that they're willing to take the situation into their own hands to do this.

So we appear to be on a different sort of offensive than the one I anticipated. Casualties in Afghanistan are neither high enough to make it clear we are leading an offensive nor low enough to make it seem like we are avoiding combat.

Rather than taking the lead to knock back the Taliban, we are pushing the Afghans forward while we are still there. We're the training wheels, it seems, to give the Afghans confidence that when they take the lead after 2014 they can stand with our logistics help, intelligence help, and advice.

While Allen goes to pains to emphasize the organic nature of the uprisings, I'd be shocked if these aren't the fruits of a lot of special forces efforts while RCE was the shaping phase while the main effort in the south played out.

This doesn't make the local efforts less real. But shame on us if we are just happily surprised at the events.

We can win or lose this war. I don't see why we should be defeatists given what we've accomplished and what we face.

I hate to repeat myself so much, but work he problems. Don't give up in the face of them.