Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Airpower in Afghanistan

Wired has this post summarizing thoughts from USAF Col. Gary Crowder about how we don't make the best use of air assets and air power in Afghanistan. He begins by discussing his views on this, explaining that we have failed to deploy the right things, do not do a good job using what we do deploy and have bad rules for how to use such assets. He also argues that we've failed to develop the Afghan Air Corps quickly enough and that doing so would have legitimized our use of air power.

On the Afghan Air Corps development my first reaction was to question the necessity of making that a priority, particularly given how difficult it is to recruit, train, and field the ANA. On the rest, I wanted to ask what all of you thought since I'm not sure that developing an Afghan Air Corps would have the kind of legitimizing effect he argues it will.

The post concludes with:

Finally, it is my fervent belief that we simply have a flawed model of counterinsurgency. This should not be seen as a critique of operations in Afghanistan or in Iraq, but of our current national approach to the counterinsurgency problem. Our counterinsurgency strategies focus far too much on U.S. forces doing the fighting. This is a lose-lose proposition. We may be able to gut through the current fights — an increasingly likely proposition with the quality of leadership now in place. But, at present, we are in the worst of all possible situations (just as we were in Iraq in 2006 and Vietnam in 1965): we ousted the government; failed in the occupation to impose capacity and sufficient power and authority in local government; and allowed an insurgency to develop.

We now are in a position where the large-scale introduction of conventional forces is essential to stabilize the situation. Yet the mere presences of those forces simultaneously undermines the credibility of Afghanistan’s indigenous forces and government. Again, this is not to discount the success of the surge in Iraq or what I see as the likely success of the surge in Afghanistan. The Army and Marine Corps’ counterinsurgency field manual was specifically written to deal with this kind of fight. However, as Ralph Peters has stated clearly, our failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan was directly attributable to a lack of “occupation” doctrine, not a lack of counterinsurgency doctrine. The broader question we seem to have never asked is: Why is it that we are fighting counterinsurgency (”COIN”) this way and if we must support another nation facing an insurgency in the future, is this the way to do it? A far more appropriate and likely more effective model for the U.S. in counterinsurgency operations is Air Force Lt. Col. Edward Lansdale and the Huk rebellion in the Philippines (1946-1952), compared to the current COIN hero, French Army Lt. Col. David Galula in Algeria (1954-1962).

So what do you all think?


  1. I tend to stop reading as soon as someone approvingly cites Ralph Peters, but I fought through it when I first came across this piece.

    I actually agree with Crowder's assessment that a FID-oriented model will often be more effective than a third-party COIN campaign. I think most people that would be considered COINdinistas would also agree.

    Here's the problem: how do you imagine this was going to take place in either Iraq or Afghanistan? There was no war in Iraq until we got there, so which local actor were you going to empower, exactly? And in Afghanistan, this is precisely what we did in the early stages of OEF. The problem is that the militarily victorious Northern Alliance wasn't really capable of governance in its conteporary form, and we didn't do what was necessary to help transition either a) the circumstances or b) their capabilities. All of which gave space to the insurgency, and that's how we got to where we are now.

    Would it be better if we got into future efforts to re-establish governmental authority as a supporting partner rather than a lead actor? Yes, absolutely. (You even saw people arguing for that, essentially, in the recent strategy review on AF.) But conditions have to be right at the outset for this to even be possible.

    It's funny that you linked to this today, as I was just getting ready to post something related (on the subject of Pakistan). Guess I will anyway and the two can dovetail.

  2. Links for Lil:

    (Massively off-topic and related to the "what are we reading post", below)

    Diane Johnson (used to write for the Washington Post, I think) writes these sort of fun and topical novels that are something nice to read when you don't want to read the heavy stuff, but don't want stupid beach reading. A book from her Americans in France series - Le Divorce - turned up as an Ivory-Merchant film a couple years ago and the book linked (LUN) is kind of funny given the topics around here.

  3. Oh, BTW, the linked book isn't her best work, imho. The Franco-American books are much better.

    - Madhu

  4. Yeah, I'm a bit skeptical on the idea of "pick someone to promote as leaders and then pay them to fight." It assumes a level of anthropological and sociological subtlety that is really difficult to enact in reality. Otherwise, you're just picking a fight in a civil war, which is tough to end well.

    The Colonel is basically arguing for more use of the Air Force in Afghanistan, it seems to me. Which, well, he would.

  5. Madhu--thanks for the reading tips...I've read Le Divorce, it was fun (as are as you say, the rest of the Franco-American series, some of the stories are straight out of my parents' marriage). Your link didn't work though:) Perhaps you can send over email.

    AJK--agreed and the we need more Air Force in Afghanistan. That was one of my reactions as well. I found it a bit self-serving.

    Gulliver, always happy to dovetail.