Sunday, February 21, 2016

When in a Hole, Stop Digging

Even though I recently wrote that Afghan forces can't hold all their exposed outposts while they lack the ability to reinforce them and while the enemy is not atomized to the point that enemy attacks are too small to overrun those checkpoints before reinforcements arrive, I was nonetheless a little shocked to read this news of pulling back:

Afghan forces have pulled out of bases in Musa Qala, a strategic district of the southern province of Helmand, after months of heavy fighting with Taliban insurgents, officials said on Saturday. ...

The commander of the Afghan army's 215th corps, Mohammad Moeen Faqir, said troops had been ordered to pull back from Roshan Tower, their main base in Musa Qala, as well as other checkpoints to reinforce Gereshk, straddling the main Highway One which links Kabul with the south and west.

It takes decent troops to fall back in good order. Can the Afghans do that? But the alternative of holding everything is bad, too. The government has to fall back to what it can hold and then hammer the enemy in the areas it doesn't control while preparing to expand the area of control into the enemy-held areas.

So I felt better to read this pre-news description by our military of what is going on (as I was clearing up a backlog of unread emails):

The second point is [that Afghan security forces have] got to reduce checkpoints. The Afghan security forces, particularly in the army, are short about 25,000. They've got a total authorization of 352,000, but in the army they're short about 25,000. They've got too many of their soldiers on checkpoints, and they've got to reduce some of those checkpoints. Some of those checkpoints are lightly armed and in some cases, it has been fairly easy for the Taliban to take advantage of those checkpoints that are vulnerable.

So, what they need to do is get soldiers off checkpoints, they need to consolidate, they can't get rid of all of them, but they need to create strong points that they can defend and from which they can maneuver and deal with security issues as they arise.

So it is a plan to stop the erosion of the Afghan security forces and not just a retreat. But it is a retreat because to control the country you have to have a government presence with checkpoints. Eventually the checkpoints will have to return.

As long as the Afghan troops feel the impact of Western support to win, they will transition to this new strategy and eventually win.

UPDATE: More consolidation in Helmand:

Army and government officials said security forces had left Nawzad district, which borders Musa Qala, and would concentrate their strength on defending the area around the provincial capital Lashkar Gah and the main highway between Kabul and the western city of Herat.

The next step must be do use the freed of troops to go on the offensive, and then to reestablish the abandoned positions with expanded troop strength and adequate air and ground reaction forces to help them hold.