Thursday, June 24, 2010

Last Post on McChrystal and Rolling Stone (until the next one)

I was at a conference for much of this week of Canadian and American army folks while McChrystal's future was up for grabs.  The conference limited my time to blog about it, but I had plenty of time to think about it.  Many of the folks in the conference room had served in Afghanistan--none seemed to think that McC had much ground to stand on.

Neither did many folks in the US armed services, according to Tom Ricks (here and here).  And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (for whom I have developed significant respect, unlike his two predecessors) was also quite "sickened" by McC's command climate.

There is a lot packed into the piece, but I just want to highlight a few things.

First, as I was at a conference where the theme was security and governance, it was very clear to me that counter-insurgency only works when the civilians and the military can work closely together.  Petraeus was successful in Iraq precisely because he worked well with the American ambassador.  McChrystal deserved to lose his job, even if he had not been "contemptuous" of his civilian masters or tolerated such attitudes among his subordinates, because of his inability to work with Ambassador Eikenberry, the senior American civilian in Afghanistan. It may be the case that Eikenberry needs to be replaced as well (and perhaps Holbrooke, too).  But McC's credentials on COIN were badly damaged even before this week due to his inability to manage his relationship with Eikenberry.

Second, the article brings up some resentment by some troops about "courageous restraint."  The idea is that sometimes it is better not to use force rather than alienate the locals.  It does increase the risks faced by the ISAF troops, so these guys may not like it.  But war is about managing, not eliminating risk.  If you want to win a counter-insurgency campaign, it will mean exposing the troops to more risk than bombing folks back into the stone age or hanging out in big bases.  COIN requires more troops amongst the people in smaller, more vulnerable locales; holding back and waiting for another day to fire upon a bad guy; and so forth.  War requires sacrifice, and that may mean significant restraint.  Troops that don't get this do not get counter-insurgency. 

I did learn that something like 80% of the civilian casualties in Regional Command South (the sector run by the British/Canadians/Dutch but with Americans, Danes, Romanians and others also there) were caused by Special Forces types, the smallest hunk of troops there (and the most lethal, of course).  So, it seems that the SOF guys need the most courageous restraint since they have been doing a disproportionate share of the damage to the war effort.  Of course, McC ironically was a SOF guy pushing for such restraint but displayed little of his own.

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