Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Afganistan:Looking at the Surge

Now that President Obama has make His decision to surge* in Afganistan, it is a good time to look at what we can expect. Our forces and those of are allies are streched thin with little in country reserves. It seems there will be a major Taliban offensive come spring, if they don't launch one we will. The surge should provide the troops to deal with it, and counter attack. Personally I think 30,000 (four maybe five regimental/brigade combat teams with support troops) is to few but that is as much as will be available to move by spring. More will certainly need to follow especially to take advantage of what develops by summer. The enemy has no way to develop his actions to Mao Zetung’s mobile phase where they could win a purely military victory. Without doing that they will lose unless the we get tired or lose patience and withdraw. They will try to deny us access to the civilian population and ware down our will to fight and hope they can cause enough hurt that the President will cut his losses in August 2011. The fighting will be in Afghanistan the real war will be in for the hearts and minds of the American political establishment.
[* I do not really like using the word "surge" here. The surge in Iraq was in response to a specific operational situation, Afganistan is a very different and less tractable opertional situation. THis could produce false expectations.]

Some good articles on what to expect.

From General Crystal’s assessment supporting the request for 40,000 additional troops.

The situation in Afghanistan is serious; neither success nor failure can be taken for granted. Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating. We face not only a resilient and growing insurgency; there is also a crisis of confidence among Afghans -- in both their government and the international community - that undermines our credibility and emboldens the insurgents. Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.
Success is achievable, but it will not be attained simply by trying harder or "doubling down" on the previous strategy. Additional resources are required, but focusing on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely. The key take away from this assessment is the urgent need for a significant change to our strategy and the way that we think and operate.


This is a different kind of fight. We must conduct classic counterinsurgency operations in an environment that is uniquely complex. Three regional insurgencies have intersected with a dynamic blend of local power struggles in a country damaged by 30 years of conflict. This makes for a situation that defies simple solutions or quick fixes. Success demands a comprehensive counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign.
Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population. In the struggle to gain the support ofthe people, every action we take must enable this effort. The population also represents a powerful actor that can and must be leveraged in this complex system. Gaining their support will require a better understanding of the people's choices and needs. However, progress is hindered by the dual threat of a resilient insurgency and a crisis of confidence in the government and the international coalition. To win their support, we must protect the people from both of these threats.

Strategy Page is gives it’s description of the plan approved by President Obama.

American commanders believe the 30,000 additional U.S. troops, plus increases in Afghan and NATO forces, will enable the Taliban to be crushed within a year. But after that, Afghanistan will require economic and military assistance for at least twenty years, to bring sustained peace to the country. The plan is to turn over security to the central government within five years. Initially, through the middle of next year, there will be more violence. The Taliban and drug gangs will not go gently into the night. They will resist energetically, many choosing to fight to the death.

It continues with a background and assessment.

Michael Yon describes what he thinks will be one of the critical battles around Kandahar. I think this is good assessment of the opertaional problems, what will happen and what needs to be made to happen.

People are confused about the war. The situation is difficult to resolve even for those who are here. For most of us, the conflict remains out of focus, lacking reference of almost any sort.

Thus he begins an overview of the strategic/operational situation in Afghanistan. I doubt you will find a better analysis.

The most we can do is pay attention, study hard, and try to bring something into focus that is always rolling, yawing, and seemingly changing course randomly, in more dimensions than even astronauts must consider. All while gauging dozens of factors, such as Afghan Opinion, Coalition Will, Enemy Will and Capacity, Resources, Regional Actors (and, of course, the Thoroughly Unexpected). Nobody will ever understand all these dynamic factors and track them at once and through time. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that a tiger doesn’t need to completely understand the jungle to survive, navigate, and then dominate. It is not necessary to know every anthropological and historical nuance of the people here. If that were the case, our Coalition of over forty nations would not exist. More important is to realize that they are humans like us. They get hungry, happy, sad, and angry; they make friends and enemies (to the Nth degree); they are neither supermen nor vermin. They’re just people.


President Obama and NATO will plan to send tens of thousands more troops. The big fight shaping up will likely unfold in the south, in places like Helmand, Kandahar, and to a much lesser extent, Zabul, and also in other eastern provinces. We could use far more troops, and so other places will be left to fester, but the surge and change of course might be enough to turn the war around. We will find out.

Russians say we repeat their mistakes but they are wrong. The Soviets employed true scorched-earth tactics—the same tactics that many armchair commanders at home would like to employ. Every time the Soviets whacked the Afghan hive, more hornets raged out. Soviets bullied their way around places like Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and were fantastically brutal in Afghanistan, using all the fire they could breathe. Their “Rules of Engagement,” if any, were probably more concerned with conserving ammunition. They tortured.

Soviet abuses enflamed the population and combat ranged from north to south—with much occurring in Kandahar Province, the capital of which is Kandahar City. The Soviets fought in places like Bamian, where today Americans can literally go on vacation. The Lithuanian Ambassador to Afghanistan told me he took some holidays in Bamian and loved it. Last year, I drove about a thousand miles from Jalalabad to Kabul to Mazar-i-Sharif and back, and other places, with no problems and no soldiers. Most of the country is not at war. Much of this is a result of our strict “Rules of Engagement” (ROE) which seems to be driving people crazy at home (and many soldiers, too). Many soldiers hate these new ROE, and there is little doubt that we will lose troops due to restrictive ROE. My own thoughts are of little relevance.

He describes the Green zone, the river valleys that have vegetation compared to the vast surrounding desert. This is where the people live and is what must be controlled.

The Green Zone to the right [in his Earth Google shot] is caused by the Arghandab River, just next to Kandahar. The Taliban want Kandahar and are in a good position to get it. The year 2010 likely will mark a true Battle for Kandahar, though it probably will not be punctuated by the sort of pitched battles we saw in places like Mosul and Baghdad. This remains unknown.

Armies from at least three countries have ventured into the Arghandab River Valley: British, followed by Soviets, and more recently Canadians; all were unsuccessful.


Since the 2001 invasion, U.S. soldiers have come and gone from the Arghandab, but we’ve never had enough soldiers to sit still. More recently, the Canadians made jabs at Arghandab but did not get far. Some people believe the Canadians have been militarily defeated in their battlespace. No US officer has told me that the Canadians have been defeated, and none have denied it. There is no doubt that Canadian troops earned much respect, and that more than 130 paid the ultimate price.

On current course, Canada will have fully retreated by 2011. This is crucial: the enemy realizes that our greatest weakness is Coalition cohesion and they have defeated what was an important partner.

Now it’s mostly down to the U.S. and Afghan forces to saddle Arghandab, or lose Kandahar
and if Kandahar probably the war.

A sobering analysis. On the positive side with enough troops and time a positive engagement strategy winning is possible. On the negative side lack of resources, impatience, or allowing frustration and anger to develop into excessive force, can bring defeat.

Read the whole article. I think it will provide a good filter to to view news reports of military action over the next year or so.
HT: Instapundit

For a lower level look at what the battle will be like see his report on embedding with the 2d Battalion of the British Rifle Regiment which seems to be too small of a unit for it’s mission.

Another key part of the battle will be carrying the war to the enemy which will mostly be Special Operations action. The London Telegraph gives a sanitized summary of what will happen.

It will be a tough year.

See also

Maothought or Who is Winning

Obama Says Bomb ’em
Les Solidat Americain dan Afganistan
East Meets West - President Obama in the Middle East
Mr President - Make a Decision
It's Now Obama's War

All my Afganistan posts.

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