Monday, November 9, 2009
Today, the Australian Army hosted the Australian Army Symposium at their embassy in Washington. It was a pretty good program that included the Australian Chief of Army, Dave Kilcullen, Michael Evans, a commando battalion commander recently returned from Afghanistan, and some others. I'd like to talk more about Dr. K's bit, but for now I'll just throw out my notes from his talk. He talked about Afghanistan (no kidding), so this is it from his point of view with some editorial notes:
Afghanistan is not a traditional COIN fight, as outlined in FM 3-24, but is instead a stability operation. There are five phases to that drive the correlating instability:
1. Corruption in the Afghan government. Which drives...
2. Bad governance behaviors. Such as government officials seizing private property without eminent domain which alienates the population and drives...
3. Popular rage, discontent, and disillusionment with the government. Which of course in turn drives....
4. Creation of space for the Taliban to fill the political and military gaps. Which then...
5. Promotes poppy growth to fund Taliban activities. Oh, and since there's all this poppy money, that drives corruption of local government officials who want a piece of the pie....
And back to the beginning we go. I don't think anyone here will find that all terribly surprising. He next went into the Taliban strategy: Discredit, Exhaust, Inherit. This isn't a Maoist protracted war - but time is on their side. The longer the Afghan government remains illegitimate and bad, the harder it is for the West to justify their intervention, and then we leave the country to the Taliban.
Next up are Taliban tactics. Dr. K framed this discussion around Taliban organization, the elements of which are:
1. Main Force Column. 100-300 person force who are extremely mobile. They serve in Afghanistan for short durations (4-6 month tours) and are recruited and trained in Pakistan.
2. Local guerrillas. Local actors [maybe they're accidental??] who live in one valley and wait for the main force to conduct operations.
3. Village infrastructure. Local Taliban cells - could be military and/or political.
4. Support elements. Located in Pakistan and do finance, leadership, training, etc. [I guess even insurgents need the ash and trash that a uniformed army does.]
5. Terrorist cells. These guys run parallel, but not coordinated operations with the main force. [The description made them sound like the Taliban's version of SOF.]
Dr. K then said quite frankly, that we are losing. He laid out a number of reasons why and a couple ways to turn it around. Reason 1: "red-first" aid policy. We were doing reconstruction in areas with poor security instead of using the aid to solidify gains in "green" or pacified areas. The money quote for this one was from governor of a northern province: "Who do I have to shoot at to get some aid around here?" Awesome. Reason 2: a disengaged administration. He attributed this to the current and previous administration. He didn't seem a fan of the current and dithering debate going on currently.
So what's the fix? My distillation of his options are quite simple: go big or go home [my words, not his]. Go big would entail giving ISAF enough troops to control the environment and turn back the Taliban. Go home would be the threat (and if necessary, follow through) of withdrawl to leverage the Karzai government to start governing effectively. The Iraq Surge was a sort of combination of the two and worked somewhat successfully. What he did say that would guarantee failure would be some half-assed measure that provided some more troops but not enough to control the environment with the attitude of "let's see what happens." So go big or go home.
I can't say that I disagree with that option set. Apologies for the scatter-shot of notes, but they struck me as interesting and worth sharing. Comments, as always, are welcome.