According to CNN, in reaction to recent attacks by Afghan security forces, the Nato Commander, U.S. Marine General John R. Allen has ordered all 90,000 troops at NATO headquarters and all bases across Afghanistan to carry “loaded” weapons. Nothing in the chamber, but they can carry a magazine in their gun now.
General Allen recently testified before the House Armed Services Committee.
General Allen said, “There is no part of our strategy that intends to stay in Afghanistan forever…I wish I could tell you that this war was simple and that progress could easily be measured, but that’s not the way of counterinsurgencies. They are fraught with success and setbacks, which can exist in the same space and time, but each must be seen in the larger context of the overall campaign. And I believe that the campaign in on track.”
The current plan seems timed around the U.S. Presidential elections. First, a drawdown of 23,000 American troops by the end of September (before elections in November) followed by a complete withdrawal by December 2014, when Afghan forces step up. The Afghan government forces have shown little real progress over the last five years. It is doubtful anything will change by 2014.
It is claimed that Afghan security forces have expanded from 276,000 to 330,000 in the last year. Some of these men only exist on paper so their wages can be pocketed by commanders. The men actually there are poorly paid and lead. They will not fight and cannot possibly defeat the forces of regional war lords. The only option is to persuade the war lords not to disrupt the government
General Allen also said 60 coalition troops from six countries have been killed since January. Thirteen of these soldiers were killed by “what appears to have been Afghan security forces.”
If you haven’t been deployed, it may surprised you to know that, on base, guns were empty with no magazines. There was an elaborate system of clearing barrels. Troops were required to carry weapons all the time but they are not allowed to put a magazine in. We were more afraid of accidents than the enemy.
I don’t have details about the shootings, but it seems most of them have happened on bases. I believe this policy has generated a vulnerability the enemy has exploited. Now, soldiers can put a magazine in, but they are still not allowed to chamber a round.
The good news: troops can now shoot an attacker within a few seconds by putting a round in the chamber. The bad news: every thirteen year old boy in rural Afghanistan carries an AK with a round in the chamber.
Every police officer in America is authorized, if not required, to carry a loaded gun all the time. There are very few problems with this and occasionally, they save a life with their preparedness. Our Soldiers should get the same vote of confidence.
In the initial seizure of Afghanistan about 300 Green Berets and paramilitary branch guys from another government agency swept the Taliban from power. They all had loaded guns and didn’t trust any one they met. They trained, equipped and led Afghan irregular forces. The Army response was to send a three star headquarters bring a military sense of order to the war. They stopped paying the irregular forces and lost influence over them.
The US Army has something no other army in the world does. Army Special Forces Command is a division sized force specifically designed to train and employ indigenous forces in combat. Led by a two star Green Beret, they are the perfect tool for counter insurgency. In El Salvador in the 80’s, they won a war without a single infantry unit, 55 guys at a time.
Afghanistan is a primitive and complicated place. It is a fractured and isolated area which lacks any national identity. Ninety percent of the population can’t read or do simple math. The current NATO theory is that we can make Afghanistan a modern nation-state with functional national security institutions in one generation.
The experts would tell you that the only thing that works in Afghanistan is the ethnic clan organization. The national government is not recognized in much of the country and recruits to the army and police have a higher loyalty to their clan. These clan leaders control the fate of the national government.
The Department of Defense would never send a sailor to run a ground campaign. They would never send a pilot to run a naval blockade. For over a decade, they sent a series of infantry generals to run a counter insurgency. As in Vietnam, the results speak for them selves. What we need is a strategy of training locals to fight their own battles.
Corporate Army has two core competencies. When they don’t know what else to do, they built bases and increase conventional force structure. The need for bases and supplies created vast movements of building supplies, equipment, food and water. All this stuff comes to a sea port in Pakistan and is trucked across Afghanistan. The Taliban “taxes” the movement of these goods and that is now the largest source of their income. Bigger than Opium.
If you ask an Army general how to solve a problem, the answer is always a number of infantry brigades. This is the product of their training and culture. If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. When things weren’t working in Afghanistan, they didn’t re-evaluate strategy, they sent more troops. If your house is on fire, and there are two police cars there, it won’t help to send more police cars. Send the specialists.
I support the President’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. I wish it was moving at a more rapid pace. Almost immediately after initial victory, there was a deliberate decision to stop Green Berets from working with indigenous forces in Afghanistan and replace them with conventional soldiers. The results are readily visible in the casualty figures.
Conventional troops don’t have the training, language skills or mindset to work in this environment. There have been a series of seemingly minor cultural incidents which have been brilliantly exploited by our enemies. Combine this with leadership which doesn’t trust soldiers with loaded guns and you have big problems.
At the beginning of the war, most of our generals had no combat experience. Some had been to the former Yugoslavia where they learned to patrol in light vehicles and wear body armor with unloaded weapons. In worked there, but not in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We need to put the right guys in the right jobs and pull conventional troops out of Afghanistan. They can do little good, but they make great targets.