Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Secondary Front

This article worries that our Afghanistan effort won't emphasize local centers of power to base security on:

Since 2001, U.S. Special Operations Forces (USSOF) have routinely employed irregular security forces to wage unconventional warfare (UW) and conduct counterinsurgency operations (COIN) in Afghanistan. During this time, an extraordinarily high level of operational insight has been gained about the proper design, development, and employment of tribal and ethnically linked forces. “Hands on” experience slowly revealed the benefits, risks, and costs associated with irregular force operational constructs. These lessons learned—along with support from academics, innovative USSOF leadership, and geopolitical conditions—coalesced during 2010-2013 to enable the successful development and application of Village Stability Operations (VSO) and supporting Afghan Local Police (ALP) programs. ... VSO is a “bottom up and top down” supported balanced counterinsurgency approach, with the objective of connecting traditional tribal governance at the village level to the central government at the district and provincial levels. The key to this objective was empowering rural populations to govern and defend themselves on a day-to-day basis, while stabilizing and improving the basic functions of district governance.

It is dense, but that's the basic point.

Of course, talking about how we have blown the unprecedented security gains of 2010 to 2013 glosses over the fact that those years were the years of maximum American and allied troop presence and effort. We simply could not have maintained that level--and shouldn't.

I'm just relieved my worst fear of a Stalingrad in the landlocked mountains reliant on less than fully friendly lines of supply didn't happen.

My ability to comment is limited because I don't follow Afghanistan closely, which may seem odd.

I only really followed it closely, handicapped--in contrast to the situation in Iraq despite poor media interpretation of the massive flow--by the poor flow of information by the press, which always prevented me from getting a "feel" for the fight--during our surge years.

The reason I didn't follow it closely at a lower level of American commitment is because after destroying the Taliban regime with our counter-attack that began in 2001, I always viewed Afghanistan as a secondary theater compared to Iraq (and more broadly, to Saudi Arabia which is the source of so much of the destructive ideology we face). I viewed Afghanistan as a potential distraction--because of the pull of 9/11 to hammer the enemy in Afghanistan--to dealing with Iraq (much as Japan in World War II was a potential distraction to dealing with Germany, despite Pearl Harbor pulling us to the Pacific).

That worry about being distracted by Afghanistan remains true despite being the major area of combat post-Islamic State.

But the call for a local emphasis resonates, as I called for in early 2009 before our surges in Afghanistan took place:

The end result in Afghanistan, if all goes well, will be a nominal national government that controls the capital region and reigns but does not rule local tribes and which actually helps the locals a bit rather than sucking resources from the locals, who in turn do not make trouble for the central government or allow their areas to be used by jihadis to plan attacks on the West. We press for reasonable economic opportunities, with bribes all around (I mean, foreign aid), to keep a fragile peace.

And we stick around this time, unlike after the Soviets left Afghanistan when we ignored the place, for a generation or two to see if we can move Afghanistan into the 19th century (hey, let's not get ahead of ourselves).

Hopefully our military surge recedes by the end of 2011 and we can get down to a single combat brigade plus air power that function as a fire brigade and a hammer for the central government should a local difficulty exceed Afghan military capabilities.

Sadly, we walked away too much by 2014, requiring a restoration of our power in Afghanistan to prevent the place from being a sanctuary for jihadis.

But we do need to focus on local security forces rather than prop up a weak national government that has no nation to govern.

And Afghans need to gain the initiative against the various insurgents and drug gang gunmen. It seemed like we were starting to see that at the end of December.

But are we? The results don't seem to indicate more than some limited momentum that may have checked the expansion of enemy efforts. Perhaps the progress will be made this year.

All I know is that I don't want to sacrifice much in Afghanistan, but we do need to avoid losing Afghanistan.

UPDATE: I suspect this is Iran replying to America's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal:

Taliban fighters with heavy weapons and night-vision equipment fought their way close to the center of the western city of Farah on Tuesday, as Afghan forces with U.S. air support battled to force them back, officials and residents said.

Apparently the attack has failed but it is early.

I don't think it is a coincident that the city is close to Iran.

UPDATE: The Taliban assault was brief but flashy. Friendly forces repelled the attack; meanwhile in the east, more Taliban attacks are underway.