Thursday, July 23, 2009

Unity of Effort? Look In the Mirror First

The US has been quite critical of its allies in Afghanistan, and my current work implicitly/explicitly runs in the same direction--trying to understand why some countries are more flexible than others.

BUT the US itself has had huge problems coordinating its effort. Counter-insurgency requires flexibility and adaptability all the way down the chain of command, which makes it quite hard to keep everyone using the same playbook, forget about staying on the same page. Ricks posts on a draft report about a notable battle that took place last year in Wanat---Eastern Afghanistan. The report seems to make some very good distinctions between tactical successes and operational/strategic failures. That is, the guys on the ground did the best they could in the battle--more than one could hope to expect--but that the operation itself to clear, hold, build in this area was poorly designed, poorly led, and poorly implemented.

By 2008, the US army should have figured out a bit more consistently how to do COIN. Some units clearly did not get it. The blame here is focused on a Colonel and LT. Colonel. The next question is who were the folks above these guys and why/how did they not manage their officers well. It is clear that the junior officers and enlisted folks in this battle, while some displayed poor attitudes about COIN relationships, did what they could in a very, very difficult situation.

The trend in Afghanistan is that the war is an increasingly American one, which US folks think will lead to better coordination--unity of effort. But that will only be the case if the generals do a better job of educating and monitoring the Colonels.

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