October 29, 2009

Ghosts of Campaigns Past

Earlier this week I read and commented upon Special Forces Major Jim Gant's proposal for winning the Afghan war, One Tribe At a Time (PDF). Gan't proposla was based upon his highly successful engagement as the leader of a Special Forces A-team that won the confidence of and became regarded as part of a Pushtun tribe.

Gant's approach suggests using smaller teams of highly-trained and highly-supported soldiers and have them assimilate into Afghanistan's Pashtun tribes to combat the Taliban with minimal but immediate assistance, both monetary and military, as needed.

David Adams and Ann Marlowe reach a similar conclusion in the Wall Street Journal today, noting that more troops applied improperly actually seems to make attempts at providing security counterproductive:

We saw how this could work in the Tani district of Khost starting in 2007. By assisting an ANA companyŚwith a platoon of American paratroopers, a civil affairs team from the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team, the local Afghan National Police, and a determined Afghan subgovernor named Badi Zaman SabariŚwe secured the district despite its long border with Pakistan.

Raids by the paratroopers under the leadership of Lt. Col. Scott Custer were extremely rare because the team had such good relations with the tribes that they would generally turn over any suspect. These good tribal relations were strengthened further by meeting the communities' demands for a new paved road, five schools, and a spring water system that supplies 12,000 villagers.

Yet security has deteriorated in Khost, despite increases of U.S. troops in mid-2008. American strategy began to focus more on chasing the insurgents in the mountains instead of securing the towns and villages where most Khostis live.

The insurgents didn't stick around to get shot when they saw the American helicopters coming. But the villagers noticed when the roads weren't built on time and the commanders never visited.

It doesn't take much more more than a scan of the current headlines to know that the application of the current strategy is not working. We also have multiple sources with boots-on-the-ground experience suggesting what certainly sounds like the same approach to a much more intimate, smaller-scale engagement, with real-world results supporting their positions.

No doubt General McCrystal has his reasons for wanting 40,000 troops, just as Joe Biden has his own (quite daft) reasons for wanting to fight a drone war.

But generals and politicians have historically had problems correctly fighting the war in front of them, haunted by ghosts of campaigns past.

Let's hope our current commanders are capable of avoiding that trap.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at October 29, 2009 11:16 AM

from a very old vet.screw all the strategy and tactics.kill all the poppies,and keep on killing them till nothing grows ,the offer food .no guns weapons or money.

Posted by: billie wagner at October 29, 2009 03:51 PM