Friday, September 25, 2009

This is a new one for me

Secretary Clinton on the subject of possible strategic re-assessment in Afghanistan, and the associated resource question:

But Clinton was not necessarily swayed by McChrystal’s assertion that the US must add more troops to accomplish this.

“I can only tell you there are other assessments from, you know, very expert military analysts who have worked in counterinsurgencies that are the exact opposite [of McChrystal’s],” she said. “So what our goal is, is to take all of this incoming data and sort it out.”

So, uh... who? Who are the "very expert military analysts" who think that we can wage an effective counterinsurgency campaign with the number of troops we've got?

There are a series of assumptions nested in the McChrystal approach:

1) The Afghan mission as set forth by the president is a necessary one, and the interests defended or advanced by such an effort are reasonably balanced with the necessary effort and resource expenditure

2) The most effective way to accomplish the stated objectives in Afghanistan is through a broad-based counterinsurgency effort

3) In order to effectively execute the counterinsurgency mission, more resources are required

Now all of these assertions are debatable, obviously. I'd contend that we're probably better off seeking more limited objectives with a smaller troop presence. And I think you can argue that there's a way to seek the same end-states through a different operational approach. But seriously, I have not heard a single person say "we need to do COIN to accomplish our objectives, and we have exactly the resources we need to do the job." I have not seen one person say "yeah, the status quo is cool, we just haven't gotten there yet." There have been a lot of vague noises to the effect that "we don't even have all the troops in place from the last 21,000 to go in, so let's be patient," and all that, but I'm not aware of anyone who's advocating for a broad-based, wide-ranging counterinsurgency effort and NOT asking for more troops.

There's plenty of legitimate skepticism about the first two assumptions, and debate is welcome and healthy. But on the third assumption, isn't this pretty much the specific purview or area of expertise of the military leadership, for one thing? And by appointing a guy as the senior military commander in theater, aren't you sort of saying that his "expert military analysis" is the one you want to go with?

I'm not saying that the political leadership should simply defer to generals on resource requests -- not at all. What I am saying is that once you've laid out objectives and given a mission to your military commander, it seems to me that you're going to trust his expert assessment of 1) how to best accomplish that mission, and 2) what resources are required to do so. If you want to change the mission, change the objectives, change our foreign policy, then fine. But that's not what Secretary Clinton is talking about here. She's saying that the policy, the mission, and the objectives remain the same, and that GEN McChrystal's opinion might not be the most important one when it comes to deciding how to get this done. So why is he your commander? If you decide he's wrong, is he going to be dismissed?

And who's the next guy? Who's the guy with the good idea? I mean, if there are all these competing visions (about how to do COIN with 100K ISAF troops), then... where are they? Any ideas?

16 comments:

  1. I thought President Obama voiced the same views as Secretary Clinton in his media blitz of last Sunday. I heard him say something to the effect that he was not gonna commit more troops and more resources to Afghanistan without knowing exactly what the strategy was!!! (You kidding me?)... This struck me as odd: I always thought Obama (and his military advisers) had come up with a new strategy for Afghanistan and that General McChrystal was out there to implement it... I think there is a dangerous political game being played here. The president seems to be buckling to the political pressure of his left who doesn't want this war, or any war for that matter... And the administration is trying to find a way for NOT OWNING this war!

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  2. Ok, listen, I'm not going to get into a big discussion of politics here, because I've seen what that does to blogs and I'm not interested in ours going that way. My post wasn't about politics so much as what seems like a misunderstanding of the roles of the various figures involved in this drama.

    The president's comments from last weekend were not the same as Secretary Clinton's. President Obama has suggested that it's time to assess whether or not COIN is the most appropriate means to satisfy our national objectives, and whether or not those objectives are still the right ones to achieve our desired endstates. He's well within his rights to examine this question.

    He's also within his rights to say "look, this is the resource allocation that you've got, now find a way to do it, McChrystal." This is inadvisable, obviously, but it's the president's prerogative.

    What I have a problem with is saying "here's the mission, and here's how I want you to accomplish the mission, and here are the resources you have available to you." That makes GEN McChrystal an action officer, not a commander.

    The president needs to determine what endstates he's interested in achieving in South Asia, and his national security team should establish a whole-of-government, joint/interagency/intergovernmental/multinational, political-military-economic strategy to effect those end-states. GEN McChrystal is responsible for assessing where we are now in Afghanistan and how ISAF can enable us getting to where the President wants us to be, which is to say he's responsible for operationalizing the strategy, coming up with an operational design and tactical guidance for the troops we have in theater. If he thinks his operational design requires more resources, then he's obviously entitled to ask for them. And if the president and the rest of the political leadership are not prepared to provide additional resources, then GEN McChrystal should be encouraged to revise his operational design.

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  3. Ah, Gulliver... you fed the troll. I got those emails too. "Clinton Gaffe?"

    But of course, there are plenty of people who believe you can do "COIN" with fewer resources, just not "Population-Centric COIN." I am pretty sure if you asked Gian Gentile to develop a force generation model for enemy-centric COIN in Afghanistan, he would argue we could do more with less than the pop-centric guys claim is necessary. In short, I'd bet Clinton was is referring to any number of "take the fight to the enemy" analysts.

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  4. Ah, Gulliver... you fed the troll. I got those emails too. "Clinton Gaffe?"

    I'm actually not sure what you're talking about here, Bernard. What did I miss?

    But of course, there are plenty of people who believe you can do "COIN" with fewer resources, just not "Population-Centric COIN." I am pretty sure if you asked Gian Gentile to develop a force generation model for enemy-centric COIN in Afghanistan, he would argue we could do more with less than the pop-centric guys claim is necessary. In short, I'd bet Clinton was is referring to any number of "take the fight to the enemy" analysts.

    I think this "pop-centric" versus "enemy-centric" nonsense just serves to confuse a lot of people. COIN is pop-centric AND enemy-centric, but both versions require a hell of a lot of troops. Whatever "enemy-centric" COIN is, it either 1) needs a lot of boots on the ground or 2) doesn't work.

    So who are all these "take the fight to the enemy" analysts? Ralph Peters?

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  5. You could derive a smaller footprint COIN operational concept from the work of, yes, Peters... but as I suggested serious people like Gentile, Celeste Ward, Steve Metz and others would likely argue that you could do a COIN campaign focused largely on attacking insurgent forces directly with less than the canonical 20-30 per 1000 force sizing.

    And I disagree with you about the pop-centric vs. enemy-centric distinction being nonsense. As a matter of empirics, the distinction certainly captures a different set of approaches in developing operational concepts. And furthermore, I think history suggests that enemy-centric COIN is more effective, although we don't have the will to do it right now (which is a good thing on the whole).

    The "troll" issue is that after Clinton's comment, the pop-centric folks started an email campaign to push back on her argument. It was phrased in precisely the way you did it -- as if it was wholly impossible that any "respectable" analyst could have given such advise to Clinton. Well, yeah, if you insist that the only respectable analysts are Nagl, Exum, Biddle, Cordesman, and Kim Kagan... then yes. If you are willing to extend the label "analyst" to a wider range of people with similar credentials but less face time on MSNBC and at ISAF HQ, then no.

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  6. I still don't understand the concept of enemy-centric COIN: is that you have to provide security, first, before you can have development projects and move toward good governance?

    I guess everything I've read about COIN comes from the Abu M prism (well, I have a day job and I've got limited time to read outside the day job requirement!) so maybe that is a part of my confusion.

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  7. Some other time Madhu. Need to do something now.

    Means different things to different people. To some it means that defeating the enemy quickly is the best way to protect the people and all the good things that come from that.

    Gulliver or Lin or Tintin, maybe you could answer Madhu's question?

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  8. Aack, I think everyone is tired of answering my questions, so please don't, I know you are all very busy :)

    Seriously, am I ever the poindexter in the front of the class with the hand raised all the time! I hope those in the military who lurk are learning a little something about how you communicate with the general public by reading my comments. I can't be the only one who is completely lost, all the time!

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  9. Well, a lot of people, including me, are pretty confused about the policy and strategy. The policy objectives laid out by Pres. Obama earlier this year appeared rather limited and focused on AQ. COIN proponents, including McCrystal, it seems, have taken that ball and run with it by advocating a maximalist COIN approach. Perhaps what Clinton meant is that options other than a generational resource-intensive COIN strategy are being considered. I sure hope that is the case, because I don't buy the leap that denyig AQ sanctuary requires a huge COIN/nation building effort.

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  10. I still don't understand the concept of enemy-centric COIN: is that you have to provide security, first, before you can have development projects and move toward good governance?

    Just briefly: as I understand it, those who advocate for "enemy-centric COIN" as some kind of alternative to "pop-centric COIN" (rather than as a complement, or a component of a broader, integrated campaign that finds labels like "enemy-centric" and "pop-centric" to be useless or even harmful) really DO think that you can defeat an insurgency by just killing and/or locking up all the bad guys. Maybe this is a misrepresentation, but it's the way I understand their position.

    Killing and locking up bad guys is essential. Control over territory is essential. (Hell, it's really the sine qua non of counterinsurgency. If the bad guys don't control any territory -- and by "control," we're talking about something more broad than just holding ground, perhaps something as vague as the ability to credibly threaten governmental authority or otherwise contest the monopoly of violence in an area -- then they're really just terrorists more than they are an insurgency.

    But how do you kill enough bad guys (with a limited troop presence) to quash an insurgency? Patrol and hope you run into them? Level villages that don't submit to governmental authority? I don't want to be COL Gentile's generalized COINdinista who views all alternatives to 3-24, "pop-centric COIN" as requiring indiscriminate violence, scorched earth, Roman model, etc etc... but what IS this "enemy-centric" model that we're talking about, and how does it work? Gentile would tell you Callwell, Algeria, Madagascar, Malaya, etc etc, but I'd like to see some discussion of what this means at a tactical level and operational level. Forced relocations? Ok. What else?

    I'd like to get into this in greater depth later, and also to address Andy's concerns in a broader post. Having said that, every time I said "I'm planning a post on that for later," I fail to write anything. Work is nuts today and the Cowboys are on MNF tonight, so this may not happen on any sort of expedited timeline...

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  11. There is no such think as a pure operational concept in COIN. So, inevitably, you are looking at a mix of approaches. There are a lot of ways to do both pop-centric and enemic-centric COIN... and this is a major frustration for me in the sense that while it is true that some pop-centric approaches have worked in the past, they have never looked like 3-24. Instead, in the past pop-centric has been about population control, not population security. But be that as it may... A scorched earth, indiscriminant violence, force relocation approach is a heavy hand approach to Pop-centric COIN, not inherently enemy-centric. Remember, COIN can be categorized on at least two axes -- population vs. enemy centric, and heavy vs. soft hand.

    In terms of enemy-centric, part of it is to kill and capture insurgents. Part of it is disrupting their activities by raiding any staging areas they have. Part of it is informational, focusing on delegitimizing them rather then legitimizing the host government. Part of it falls under the broader rubric of targeting the enemy's strategy -- follow Sun Tzu. It is in short, more of an orientation than a generalizable operational concept. Think Sun Tzu rather than Jomini for inspiration.

    To do enemy-centric COIN you begin with a thorough assessment of your adversary. What are his strengths and weakness? What is he trying to accomplish? How can you leverage your strengths against his vulnerabilities. It is a contingent approach, but one that is clearly focused on a specific enemy in a specific time and place.

    Population-centric COIN -- at least the ahistorical 3-24 version -- is a simpleminded formula: protect the population from harm and good things will happen.

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  12. "I'm not aware of anyone who's advocating for a broad-based, wide-ranging counterinsurgency effort and NOT asking for more troops."

    Bacevich, Krulak, and Biden all call for focused COIN in support of the Afghani govt while conducting CT in Pakistan, which could be done using current troop levels. Yes, if you want to do wide-scale COIN throughout AF with the starter that you get no support from the Afghani Army, of course you need more troops - like 400,000 more, not 40,000 more. That's why McChrystal's proposal fails, it's deliberately incremental without having a chance of succeeding. So why would any sensible person support such a failing option? (rhetorical question)

    "Expert military analysis" is always a good thing but if our military leaders refuse to take a regional perspective or to consider developing a strategy that matches available resources, then they fail. I think you assume that this administration is continuing with the Bush administration's "strategy," such that it was. The reason why Obama and Clinton refuse to endorse McChrystal's request is because it doesn't match their political objectives for the Middle East. It's just that the Obama administration hasn't told the rest of us what those are.

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  13. "Expert military analysis" is always a good thing but if our military leaders refuse to take a regional perspective or to consider developing a strategy that matches available resources, then they fail. I think you assume that this administration is continuing with the Bush administration's "strategy," such that it was. The reason why Obama and Clinton refuse to endorse McChrystal's request is because it doesn't match their political objectives for the Middle East. It's just that the Obama administration hasn't told the rest of us what those are.

    Jason -- It should be obvious from what I've written above that I understand the roles of civilian and military leaders when it comes to the formulation of foreign and security policy. I've already said that the president is well within his rights to tell GEN McChrystal to develop a strategy that works to attain his regional and global security goals/desired endstates. This has allegedly already been done. The president hasn't revised his desired endstates, and is now talking about entertaining competing strategies and operational approaches to attain the same goals. In this case, why do you have a theater commander at all?

    My point is much narrower than what you're talking about. I recognize that different people have different ideas about how to accomplish the mission in Afghanistan, about what the mission should be, about the relationship of that mission to our national security interests, and so on. I am one of those people with different ideas.

    Having said that, there is no one "advocating for a broad-based, wide-ranging counterinsurgency effort and NOT asking for more troops." This is what I wrote in the original post, and this is not in dispute.

    Bacevich, Krulak, and Biden are calling for very, very different things than what we generally define as "COIN." They're certainly not "advocating for a broad-based, wide-ranging counterinsurgency effort and simply differing with GEN McChrystal on troop numbers.

    So again, we're back to what Secretary Clinton said. Who are the "expert military analysts" who agree with the mission, agree with the operational approach, but disagree about the resources?

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  14. In terms of enemy-centric, part of it is to kill and capture insurgents. Part of it is disrupting their activities by raiding any staging areas they have. Part of it is informational, focusing on delegitimizing them rather then legitimizing the host government. Part of it falls under the broader rubric of targeting the enemy's strategy -- follow Sun Tzu. It is in short, more of an orientation than a generalizable operational concept. Think Sun Tzu rather than Jomini for inspiration.

    What you're talking about, rather than an orientation or an operational concept, strikes me as a Sisyphean effort to kill bad guys and demonstrate to undecideds that 1) being a bad guy gets you killed and 2) being a bad guy isn't that cool anyway.

    Capturing and killing insurgents, raiding staging areas, disrupting enemy planning, and so on... these are all temporary, reactive measures, defined in response to the enemy. Truly effective counterinsurgency is more than just countering insurgency in a semantically narrow sense -- it's shaping operations that make the environment inhospitable to challengers to government authority. In this sense, we could probably confuse things even further and start talking about Foreign Internal Defense instead of COIN (especially since it's third-party), but I'm not sure that's going to help clarify anything.

    The point I'm making is that real, lasting change to the battlespace is the only way for an anti-insurgency effort to stick. Even if you kill all the bad guys, the insurgency only ends when there's no one else waiting to take up the banner, or when resistance seems futile, silly, or pathetic. This takes more than killing insurgents and doing good IO.

    To do enemy-centric COIN you begin with a thorough assessment of your adversary. What are his strengths and weakness? What is he trying to accomplish? How can you leverage your strengths against his vulnerabilities. It is a contingent approach, but one that is clearly focused on a specific enemy in a specific time and place.

    Bernard, I think you know that all COIN is focused on a specific enemy in a specific time and place. Just because doctrine is broad doesn't mean that application is. Doctrine is doctrine. I've never found the "template" criticism particularly compelling simply because THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT DOCTRINE IS SUPPOSED TO BE: a template that gets modified according to the specific operational circumstances. 3-24 was never envisioned by its authors or anyone else as a magic faery dust that could be sprinkled on any conflict environment to square things away.

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  15. Population-centric COIN -- at least the ahistorical 3-24 version -- is a simpleminded formula: protect the population from harm and good things will happen.

    I would agree that anyone who interprets the doctrine that way is indeed simple-minded. I'll even concede that a formulaic approach has taken hold in the commentariat, in the way that people talk about COIN in vague platitudes. It wears me out.

    That said, serious people know that there's no ABC to this. Serious people know that war doesn't have "if A, then B" scenarios, and that there is uncertainty and assumption inherent in all operational planning. This is why COL Gentile's criticism strikes me as so simplistic and hypocritical: OF COURSE "pop-centric" counterinsurgency accepts certain assumptions about what happens when you do certain things, at least as a baseline. So does every other approach to warfighting in the history of mankind. Excessively kinetic approaches have always been based on the idea that killing enough of the enemy and holding enough ground will result in victory, and it's pretty plain that that's not always true either.

    Gentile likes to compare COINdinistas to "airpower zealots," with their belief in the early days of strategic bombing that we could target a society's will to continue resistance, that we could cut the legs out from under an army by demoralizing the people. I think the comparison is a fair one. Here's the difference: the airpower zealots were wrong.

    Counterinsurgency works. It's been done. It may not always have been done like 3-24. (Hell, it may not EVER have been done like 3-24.) But it works, and as sure as there are best practices for fire and maneuver, for infantry squad tactics, for coordinated AirLand Battle, there are best practices for COIN. There is documented historical evidence of what works and what doesn't work in counterinsurgency (Kalyvas is extremely helpful here).

    Those who refuse to accept this generally do so because they think that fighting COIN wars is a bad idea. I have a lot of sympathy for this argument; I happen to think that fighting THIS COIN war in Afghanistan is a pretty bad idea. But can't we at least be intellectually honest and say "this is a bad idea," or even "this won't work here," and here's why: _______, instead of saying "this has never worked, and the guys who support it are full of shit"?!

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  16. Gulliver - not questioning your knowledge or background, I think perhaps there's confusion in understanding what you're trying to say. Pat Lang also agrees that COIN works - if you're willing to put in the years and the billions of dollars. I suggest that McChrystal developed a strategy proposal based on the previous administration's point of view and did not in fact get clear guidance/redirection from the Obama administration. More like "here's what I need to settle down Afghanistan." This ought not preclude the possibility that McChrystal is now getting word to relook/reassess his report in light of new guidance (if I can interpret the papers).

    I tend to think that the COINdanistas are too idealistic and too separated from the importance of linking military strategy to resources and political objectives. At the same time, you're right to say that the critics have not written well-researched academic articles showing why COIN failed/is failing in AFGH - yet. I'll bet they are coming. In the meantime, all you got is us bloggers going "Bleggh. Do Not Like." and the Bacevich/Lang/Gentile criticisms, of course.

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