Friday, December 10, 2010

How to Write a Trip Report

See here for Abu Muqawama's (a.k.a. Andrew Exum) trip report for his tour of Afghanistan.  Nice model of a trip report: puts the key findings up front, is clear about his strengths and limitations, etc.

There has been so much conflicting information coming out of Afghanistan that it is still hard to see where things stand. His key findings with my reactions:
  1. Exum says that tactical intel is greatly improved.  I heard the same at the Military Adaptation workshop in Germany/Switzerland that I attended earlier this week.  We know now the ground much better than we used to, especially the "human geography."
  2. The troops are doing COIN really well.  And the idea that the American soldier or marine is losing his/her fighting edge while doing soft COIN stuff does not understand how much "kinetic" activity there is under very difficult circumstances.
  3. Special Ops folks and conventional forces are now fighting the same fight: "The coordination between special operations forces and general purpose forces is the best I have ever seen it. This applies across the entire theater. I have been traveling with Col. (Ret.) Pete Mansoor, and I have been joking with Pete, who was a brigade commander in Iraq when I was a Ranger platoon leader there, how far we have come from the days when I used to make his life so miserable by conducting late-night raids and leaving him the mess to clean up. SOF and GPF are fighting one fight -- and they are together having a devastating effect on the leadership of the insurgency. Simply stunning."  I heard this as well from other folks who have toured the theater.
  4. The problems are still the same: Afghan governance, Pakistan sanctuaries.  Exum sees way more emphasis on killing Taliban than on governance.  This is problematic.  But, as the folks at my meeting this week argued, if we only have three years or so left, then it makes sense to erode the capacity of the Taliban as much as possible since really making progress on governance in such a short time frame is unlikely. 
Exum is going to produce more interesting stuff resulting from this trip.  Keep an eye out.

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