I’ve not had time to blog in the last couple of weeks because of travel but thought I’d offer my thoughts on the crises with Afghanistan and Iraq. Starting first with Afghanistan, like many I was horrified by the massacre of 16 Afghans, to include 9 children, allegedly by an Army Sergeant. This is a multi layered issue. When I learned that the suspected culprit was on his forth deployment I wondered if he had just snapped under the strain?
That is certainly no excuse for the situation but the stress of multiple combat deployments is unimaginable to those who have not experienced it. I have friends married to Vietnam veterans and they say even after all of this time they never touch their husbands to wake them up. One lady said she forgot one time, shook her husband to wake him and he grabbed her by the neck and started choking her. Thankfully he calmed down and stopped before he killed her but you get my point.
I know the military now has programs in place to treat the stress of combat. Was the alleged individual someone who slipped through the cracks? How many times should individuals be deployed into combat zones? These are questions I don’t have an answer to but I know for a fact from interviews I’ve done over the last couple of years one the military is working hard to solve.
What was the mission of US soldiers in the village? The best article I’ve seen was one written by Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press yesterday. The soldier was part of an outreach program called Village Stability Operations (VSO). According to the article:
“Established in early 2010, the VSO program sends small units of Green Berets or Navy SEALs to remote villages to help provide security, as well as to learn the local culture and tribal structure. Once security is established, special operators then train local men to act as a sort of government-sanctioned, armed neighborhood watch, called the Afghan Local Police force. The program is designed to reach villages far from urban areas, and outside the security zone that NATO and Afghan troops provide around heavily populated areas.”
Dozier go on to write in the article:
“These areas are the Taliban’s traditional ground for recruiting fighters and resupplying by taxing local residents, or simply confiscating their livestock.
The program has been deemed so successful at deterring the Taliban that the list of waiting villages keeps growing, far outpacing the number of special operations forces available to help locals keep the peace. So far, there are 58 VSO sites complete, with a total of 100 planned, and some 12,400 trained Afghan Local Police, and nearly 18,000 more waiting to be trained, according to figures provided by NATO.
That growing demand is the reason a conventional Army staff sergeant ended up assigned to the elite unit. It was part of a pilot program U.S. commanders came up with more than a year ago — to stretch their special operations forces to more sites by mixing in roughly two battalions of conventional troops with the special operations teams.”
There have been many articles in the media saying this incident combined with the furor over the Koran burning have damaged our relations with the Afghans beyond repair. Only time will tell if this assessment is correct. There have been some things that in my opinion have been underreported in the media. For instance in the midst of the riots over the Koran burning I heard one news report state that a number of Afghan security force personnel had been killed while protecting ISAF (NATO) installations.
One might say there were reportedly over 40 people killed and many others wounded what is the so what factor? To me it was an indicator that the Afghan security forces trained by NATO were doing their job. There were interviews with several who indicated disgust and dismay over the perceived disrespect to their religion but there were no reports that I saw that indicated that in the midst of the rioting that some or all of the security forces switched sides. Since there have been many questions about the capability and loyalty of these forces, this is pretty significant to me.
Since I couldn’t find anything in the media about the Afghan security forces and their actions during the Koran burning, I reached out to the Institute for the Study of War. Here’s their mission statement from their web site:
“The Institute for the Study of War advances an informed understanding of military affairs through reliable research, trusted analysis, and innovative education. We are committed to improving the nation’s ability to execute military operations and respond to emerging threats in order to achieve U.S. strategic objectives. ISW is a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organization.”
They’ve been doing some great research on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here’s their response to me from their senior research analyst Paraag Shukla:
“The size and response by Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) varied not only from province to province, but also at each protest. The ANSF, especially the Afghan National Police (ANP), were out in force at most demonstrations. As you might imagine, the situation when protests were violent was very confused. Reporting we’ve seen indicates that Afghan forces were present both in uniform and plainclothes. If protests were peaceful, they served just as a loose “wall” between the demonstrators and any ISAF/Afghan government installations. However, the police response in areas where the crowds were throwing stones, Molotov cocktails or brandishing weapons was very different. There are multiple reports of police firing rounds into the air to disperse crowds, but unfortunately there were instances of raging mobs being fired upon. As far as we’ve seen, there were a couple of instances of Afghan policemen being killed in the protests. There are a greater number of reports mentioning police injured/wounded.”
There are multiple reports in the press today that because of this latest incident the US and its NATO allies might be considering speeding up the departure of the their troops. I probably sound like a broken record but I think this decision should be based on recommendations by the military commanders on the ground. One could say Bin Laden is dead, al Qaeda is severely damaged and the Taliban momentum has been stopped.
One concern I have about the Taliban is from all reports they don’t think they’ve been beaten. One of the basic principles of warfare is the enemy has got to believe they’ve lost or they’ll keep coming at you. The Taliban expects they will be able to regain momentum after the NATO troops leave. Unless the Afghan government and NATO can succeed in their negotiations with the Taliban I don’t have a warm and fuzzy about the situation. If we don’t end it right we risk having to go back in at some future date.
I think the comments of former Secretary of State Colin Powell on the decision to go to war in Iraq and reported in the October 2007 issue of Atlantic magazine have a relevance here:
“I tried to avoid this war. I went to the president in August of 2002, after coming back from a trip and seeing all the planning that was under way, and we had a long meeting upstairs in the residence … For the better part of two and a half [hours], I took him through not only the military planning that was being done in the Pentagon but … through the consequences of going into an Arab country and becoming the occupiers.
It is said that I used the “Pottery Barn rule.” I never did it; [Thomas] Friedman did it … But what I did say … [is that] once you break it, you are going to own it, and we’re going to be responsible for 26 million people standing there looking at us. And it’s going to suck up a good 40 to 50 percent of the Army for years. And it’s going to take all the oxygen out of the political environment…”
I believe we owe it to the people of Afghanistan to leave them as prepared as possible to prevent them from being taken over again by the Taliban. We’ve been over there 10 years but they have experienced 30 years of war. A negotiated settlement is of course one solution, I worry about what happens to the fragile gains made by women among other things…but that’s another blog. The Taliban have said they will revenge the killings and will no doubt continue to use the recent incidents to their advantage.
Think I’ll end here. I’ll get to my thoughts on Iran tomorrow. As always, my views are my own.