Thursday, December 07, 2017


Based on changes starting at the end of the Obama administration and accelerated by Trump, the Taliban momentum in Afghanistan has been checked and reversed.

Coalition-backed Afghan forces have been able to go on the offensive this year:

So I did want to talk about this year or so. So we went into the year, again, with the lowest level of capability, highest level of risk. But the Afghans performed quite well, from my perspective as the commander.

Why do I say that? They went on the offensive in ways that they haven't done previously. We had offensive operations being conducted in all six of the corps simultaneously. We saw a decrease in casualties that occurred in September. So, even though there was some very tough fighting, the enemy was unable to accomplish any of their objectives this year.

As you -- as you saw last year, we had eight attacks on cities around the country. This year, we only experienced one, and whenever the enemy attempted to mass, he was subjected to U.S. airpower and suffered heavy, heavy casualties -- much higher than the Afghans.

This separate press conference by the same general reinforces the point:

It's been a tough fight. In the last year, we've seen offensive operations, kind of unprecedented over the last few years, by the Afghan security forces. At one point, we had all six corps conducting offensive operations simultaneously around the country. And this I would contrast with last year -- in 2017, when in October, we saw attacks on cities -- four cities simultaneously, at the same time, so big change from the past.

The special forces, the special police, the air force have all continued to grow in capability, and they're -- and they're all making great appearances on the battlefield. The commandos in particular have never lost a battle against the Taliban, and we are doubling the size of the commandos. So that is going to be a significant addition to the offensive arsenal of the Afghan security forces.

I did worry that efforts to pull Afghan forces back from exposed static outposts to gather forces would fail; and I worried that relying on expanding special forces would be insufficient.

It is working so far.

And note that the added air power is helping with the problem I noted that the Taliban could mass forces at will to hit the Afghan outposts and continue the attacks until victorious.

Air power is countering both of those problems, on top of gaining some measure of the initiative.

Note this too from another press conference:

So, as I said before, there's a regional dimension to the strategy, to limit interference and seek cooperation with Afghanistan's neighbors. We have to realign resources and to execute this strategy well across the whole of the U.S. government and, of course, the coalition, if we are to succeed.

I'd point out that the military effort is necessary but, by itself, not sufficient for success. We must work together with all of the parts of the U.S. government and the coalition in order to be successful.

It has been just under a hundred days since the announcement, and we can see the impacts already, especially in terms of our adversaries' reactions.

So we saw two changes to the enemy's strategy over the last year. As you know from 2016, they started off trying to seize provincial capitals. They suffered heavily when they did so, so they therefore shifted their strategy in 2017 from attempting to seize capitals to a district-focused strategy.

And then by August, with the losses that they suffered with that approach and the announcement of the U.S. policy in September, we saw another enemy shift to a guerrilla-style of warfare, with hit-and-run attacks, suicide attacks, et cetera. Each of these shifts represented to us a lowering of ambition by the enemy.

Air power and the initiative are pushing the enemy down the escalation ladder--from massing to attack provincial capitals, down to massing to attack district capitals, and down to more traditional insurgent and terror operations. That is the best thing that can happen to the ability of Afghan forces to hold their positions as anything I've seen in a while.

Note that part of the Afghan forces are the very necessary local defense forces--the Afghan Local Police:

The ALP unit in Achin is part of a project started in 2010 with American money and support from the U.S. Special Operations Forces. The idea was to create, train, and arm local units that could defend their own neighborhoods against the Taliban and other militant groups, particularly in areas where the government’s security presence was weak.

Not that these aren't a potential problem in the future when the lose their local defense role and can become warlords that threaten the peace rather than defend it.

And note that Pakistan is not yet playing ball in the new game we are trying to impose on the Afghanistan problem:

The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said on Tuesday that he had not seen a change in Pakistan's support for militants so far, despite President Donald Trump taking a tougher line against Islamabad.

U.S. officials have long been frustrated by what they see as Pakistan’s reluctance to act against groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network that they believe exploit safe haven on Pakistani soil to launch attacks on neighboring Afghanistan.

In August, Trump outlined a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, chastising Pakistan over its alleged support for Afghan militants.

That's from the most recent press conference.

The general noted the importance of changing leadership in Afghan forces, reflecting the idea that there's no such thing as bad troops--just bad leaders. So troops will fight better and more resolutely when they have more trust in their leaders' skills and relative honestly.

Adding to the effectiveness of leadership and fire support will be a newly trained and deployed American "advisor" brigade troops:

They are part of the Army's first security force assistance brigade.  The Army will produce six of these.  These brigades are made up of volunteers who are then specially trained in a range of skills to provide combat advising at the tactical level.  So they'll go down to the kandak level, the battalion level, which is really where we have operated successfully for the last couple of years with our special forces advisers.

So these advisers will operate in teams.  So you'll have a team that would go to the kandak.  We will move these teams to those units that are conducting offensive operations, and then those teams will be backed up by U.S. combat enablers, not only for the protection of our own force but for the support of the Afghans as well.

And so, this will enable us to help the Afghans with their offensive operations simultaneously in multiple corps.

I'll add that the general clearly accepts that Afghanistan is not a unified nation controlled from the center. If we understand that as our goal as I expressed at the beginning of the Obama administration, that's bonus good.

We really are recovering from the low point of our involvement in Afghanistan over the last several years as we drew down our support too far and too early.

UPDATE: Emphasis is being placed on smashing up the Taliban heroin money machine.