Unsurprisingly, President Obama has fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of our effort in Afghanistan, for remarks made in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
That’s unfortunate, but most people saw it as something that had to be done, given the importance of our Constitutional tradition of civilian control of the military. While a great general, his remarks couldn’t be allowed to stand without punishment.
That said, now what? Given the public remarks of McChrystal and his staff, it seems obvious to any fair observer that our Afghanistan strategy isn’t hitting on all cylinders and “team work” at the top is a buzz word, not a reality.
Maybe what would be easier to puzzle out is what shouldn’t happen now. McChrystal was the architect of the present strategy in Afghanistan. What shouldn’t happen, and would most likely spell final disaster there, is to again change strategies. All of the surge troops deployed to push that strategy forward won’t be in place until August. While McChrystal had asked for 40,000 troops, he only received 30,000. Regardless, the surge, in full, has yet to fully begin.
As we all know, the military piece is only a part of the solution, and, frankly, is a relatively minor one when talking about COIN and the peculiarities of the Afghan political landscape. A huge amount of work remains to be done on the civilian side of things there.
And, apparently, McChrystal is the only one who understands how important it is to form a personal relationship with the government and its leaders as a step toward reforming it and getting it to perform properly and competently with the goal of having it become a real national government:
McChrystal may hold the closest relationship of any American in what often has been a strained relationship with the Karzai government, says Jim Phillips, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. The Obama administration has been critical of Karzai’s efforts to fight corruption, although it has dialed back the rhetoric in recent weeks. “In Afghanistan, personal relations are critical,” Phillips says. “It’s difficult to build trust and working relationships. If McChrystal is suddenly replaced that would be a major blow to the Afghan and American military relationship and the Afghan and American governments’ relationship.”
The civilian team in place – Amb. Eikenberry, Holbrooke and others including the VP – have formed adversarial, even confrontational relationships with Afghanistan’s president and some government ministers. In an honor/shame society, that sort of a relationship is totally counter-productive. Unfortunately, with McChrystal gone, the only buffer to that sort of treatment has been removed as well as any reason for the Afghan government to cooperate.
Despite the remarks that sparked the relief, it apparent that the civilian side of the situation in Afghanistan has not been productive and may be staffed by the wrong people using the wrong approach. A full review of their actions and accomplishments (or lack thereof) to date is more than warranted given how little progress has been made in improving the governing ability of the Karzai government.
But back to the command options. It is critical that the Obama administration signal its intent to continue with the McCrystal/Obama strategy. It appears with the naming of Gen. Petraeus as the new commander, that is exactly the sort of a signal being sent. While it is a little of a step-down for Petraeus, politically and most likely tactically and strategically, it is an excellent choice. He is certainly familiar with the strategy and while he may tweak it, he’ll probably keep it mostly intact.
However, it will be interesting to see how Petraeus interacts with Eikenberry and Holbrooke. Remember the effectiveness of the Petraeus/Crocker relationship. No such dynamic has ever existed in Afghanistan. While the civilian side can probably skate on the McChrystal relationship, they’re going to have a much more difficult time doing the same thing with a more politically savvy David Petraeus, who most people consider to be a national hero.
Secondly, and just as importantly, the administration needs to make it clear that their June 2011 withdrawal date is “conditions based” instead of “firm”. A firm date is a signal to the bad guys that all they have to do is hunker down and wait it out. Making it conditions based makes the point that we’re not going to abandon Afghanistan. That, in and of itself, would go a long way to helping change the attitude in Kabul. If the “firm” commitment is kept, the Karzai government has no reason or incentive to make the effort to cooperate with the US strategy and may go out on its own to make a deal with the Taliban.
Keeping the “firm” withdrawal date can and will do more damage to the effort in Afghanistan than the Taliban could ever do.
Lastly, a caution – it is being reported by numerous sources that “the present strategy is falling out of favor” with many of Obama’s close advisors. Another change in strategy would also be fatal to the effort there.
As it happens, and as mentioned, Petraeus is a good choice both politically and strategically. But our effort in Afghanistan is in more trouble than an intemperate general’s remarks, and if some more big changes aren’t made, mostly on the civilian side, it is going to fail.
Actually, Gen. McChrystal should have quit. The big news today will be about his and his staff’s insolent interview with Rolling Stone Magazine (pdf) wherein they lay waste to the current administration:
The top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has been summoned to the White House to explain biting and unflattering remarks he made to a freelance writer about President Barack Obama and others in the Obama administration.
The face-to-face comes as pundits are already calling for McChrystal to resign for insubordination.
McChrystal and his top aides appeared to let their guard down during a series of interviews and visits with Michael Hastings, a freelance writer for the magazine Rolling Stone.
The article, titled “The Runaway General,” appears in the magazine later this week. It contains a number of jabs by McChrystal and his staff aimed not only at the President but at Vice President Biden, special envoy Richard Holbrooke, Karl Eikenberry, the ambassador to Afghanistan, and others.
McChrystal described his first meeting with Obama as disappointing and said that Obama was unprepared for the meeting.
National Security Advisor Jim Jones is described by a McChrystal aide as a “clown” stuck in 1985.
Others aides joked about Biden’s last name as sounding like “Bite me” since Biden opposed the surge.
McChrystal issued an immediate apology for the profile, advance copies of which were sent to news organizations last night.
Frankly, there is probably much in McChrystal’s criticisms to agree with, but this just isn’t the way you do it, especially during a war. What’s especially disturbing is that his staff also appears to feel free to take potshots at the Commander in Chief (a violation of the UCMJ as I understand it), and one can only wonder how far down into the ranks that sort of behavior exists. When the highest officer in theater is openly dismissing the chain of command, things can not be good.
In fact, just two months ago, Michael Yon was reporting on the lack of trust in McChrystal to handle the job and how his orders were being ignored:
McChrystal’s actions have underlined what I was starting to tell officers and NCOs, who mostly agreed with me that McChrystal can’t handle this war. Experienced people have contacted me and asked me to keep the fire on McChrystal. (Menard is already dead in the water.) I can say with certainty that some of McChrystal’s orders are being disregarded. McChrystal controls embeds. Embeds and access are separate matters. McChrystal has zero control over access. My access is extreme and wide. And with that, it can be said that units in various provinces are disregarding McChrystal’s ROE and believe he is not acting in the best interest of our troops. Officers are disregarding orders from McChrystal. (I am not a journalist and will not provide evidence. Am not asking anyone to take it on faith. It is simply a fact and has been stated.)
Speculation: Weeks before the disembed, I told a person close to McChrystal (intelligence type) that McChrystal isn’t the man for this job. Was it related to that? Simply don’t know, but I do know that officers are disregarding some of McChrystal’s orders and this is happening in various places. McChrystal is not in full control of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
I really can’t comment on McChrystal’s ability to handle the war in Afghanistan, but his Rolling Stone comments would seem to underscore Yon’s reporting. If he’s so willing to disrespect his superiors, then it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the rank and file operate the same way.
Substantively, McChrystal has much to complain about. The Obama administration’s lack of interest in Afghanistan is rather apparent (despite making some laudable decisions), and we are definitely in danger of losing there altogether. Perhaps he thought that simply resigning and reporting his complaints to Congress (or the media) would not have the same effect in drawing attention to the problems he’s encountering. By sounding off loudly in Rolling Stone, McChrystal may be accomplishing what he thought he could not do if he had followed the correct course of action.
Even so, the general should still be fired. If his gambit works, and greater attention is given to actually winning in Afghanistan, then he will receive much deserved praise. Considering the fact that the big story right now is all about his insubordination, however, that’s not likely to happen.
Interesting that after the news breaks than the withdrawal timeframe for Afghanistan is "firm", al Qaeda pokes its head out of the cave and pretends like it winning this 9 year confrontation by dictating terms of "peace".
Al Qaeda’s American-born spokesman has repeated the terror group’s conditions for peace with America in a video released Sunday.
Adam Gadahn called on President Barack Obama to withdraw his troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, end support for Israel, stop intervening in the affairs of Muslims, and free Muslim prisoners.
Many would argue the “conditions” Gadahn sets are, in fact, the Obama agenda. He’s just been unable to execute it to his or their satisfaction yet. The announcement of this past week about the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan being firm, however, certainly fits those parameters.
Another interesting point from Gadahn’s 24 minute video:
In white robes and turban, Gadahn told Mr. Obama: “You’re no longer the popular man you once were, a year ago or so.”
When al Qaeda is aware of that, perhaps the spinmeisters here ought to get a clue and quit spinning so hard. The cold wave of reality has indeed washed over their puny efforts to say it ain’t so.
For those of you who understand and can appreciate this – two phenomenal sniper shots (from the same guy at the same target) from a British sniper in Afghanistan:
A BRITISH Army sniper has set a new sharpshooting distance record by killing two Taliban machinegunners in Afghanistan from more than 1 miles away.
Craig Harrison, a member of the Household Cavalry, killed the insurgents with consecutive shots — even though they were 3,000ft beyond the most effective range of his rifle.
“The first round hit a machinegunner in the stomach and killed him outright,” said Harrison, a Corporal of Horse. “He went straight down and didn’t move.
“The second insurgent grabbed the weapon and turned as my second shot hit him in the side. He went down, too. They were both dead.”
The shooting — which took place while Harrison’s colleagues came under attack — was at such extreme range that the 8.59mm bullets took almost three seconds to reach their target after leaving the barrel of the rifle at almost three times the speed of sound.
The distance to Harrison’s two targets was measured by a GPS system at 8,120ft, or 1.54 miles. The previous record for a sniper kill is 7,972ft, set by a Canadian soldier who shot dead an Al-Qaeda gunman in March 2002.
Now I don’t care how good a shot you think you are, that’s incredible. As someone said, with the drop at that distance, those bullets must have almost been at a 45 degree angle. And I can only assume “Kentucky windage” as his method since these shots are so off the charts.
The president who decided to again change strategies in Afghanistan after announcing his “new” and “comprehensive” strategy soon after taking office and then dithered for months before making a decision on the “surge” is now concerned that the troops he’s committed aren’t magically going to be there and ready when he wants them there.
Remember the “let me be clear, this decision has delayed nothing” rhetoric”? Well, let me be clear – his inexperience apparently has left him with the false impression that troop deployments are an overnight thing. And now the usual finger pointing from the White House has begun.
As you might imagine, it really has nothing to do with the troops per se. They can be loaded up quite quickly and flown into Afghanistan. But, as the old saying goes, “amateurs discuss tactics, professionals discuss logistics”. And the amateurs in the White House apparently don’t understand the impact the addition of 30,000 more troops in theater have on an already strained logistics system:
Last month in Kabul, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the deputy commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, did not back away from that schedule, but he told reporters of the difficulties he faced even in getting all the forces in by fall. He said that bad weather, limited capacity to send supplies by air and attacks on ground convoys carrying equipment for troops from Pakistan and other countries presented substantial hurdles.
“There’s a lot of risks in here, but we’re going to try to get them in as fast as we can,” he said at the time. “There’s a lot of things that have to line up perfectly.”
On a visit to Afghanistan last month, Admiral Mullen pressed military logisticians on how they would be able to meet the schedule. But even Admiral Mullen, who said he was “reasonably confident” that the logistics would work out, acknowledged the tall order before the military, saying, “I want a plan B because life doesn’t always work out.”
So why wasn’t the logistics system already prepared to take the surge? Well, until the decision was made, no one in the logistics channel knew there was actually going to be a surge, or how large it would be if there was one. Unlike the claim made by the president, every day he delayed that decision was another day the logistics piece remained unplanned and unresourced. And that’s on top of the problems that LTG Rodriguez has pointed out.
One thing you obviously don’t want to do is field soldiers you can’t support and sustain. The surest way to ensure you get your tail kicked is to watch tactical operations falter because of the beans and bullets piece can’t support the plan.
As usual, the military will try to make up for the amateur screwup and meet the unrealistic timetable. Whether or not they’re successful remains to be seen – but bear in mind that problem that the military faces in successfully meeting that goal of full deployment by this summer isn’t one of their making, but a product of delays in the decision making process at the highest level.
I’m troubled by the unfortunate killing of 7 members of the CIA in Khost province, Afghanistan. How in the world did a suicide bomber manage to get to that many CIA employees in a remote FOB?
Well it appears it was mostly a matter of bad tradecraft – a breakdown in procedures designed to ensure situations like that don’t develop.
First, this was an asset that the CIA had been using to get next to al Qaeda number two Zawahiri. He’d been to the FOB before and, apparently, was promising some information that enticed a number of CIA members to the FOB. That was a major mistake:
Said Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer, “It is sort of a grim calculation but normally when you meet an asset like this you have one, maybe two people. So I think people are going to point out inside the agency that they shouldn’t have 13 people there.”
“Why the officers would show a source all their faces, that alone was a terrible decision,” said one former senior CIA paramilitary operative who served in Afghanistan and requested anonymity when discussing sensitive and classified matters. “This is a sad, sad event, but it was a complete security breakdown.”
Why they felt it was necessary to flaunt security and tradecraft conventions remains a mystery, but frankly, that bit of stupidity didn’t have to be fatal. This bit of stupidity, however, almost ensured it:
Al-Balawi had been to Chapman previously and because of the information he was promising, CIA officers told Afghan guards to allow him past the first of three checkpoints without searching him. The bomber was actually escorted around the checkpoints, and the officers also told the guards to vacate the area, sources told ABC News.
So this combination of flaunting the rules of their tradecraft and security procedures cost them 7 CIA employees and 3 or 4 others associated with them.
In the line of business these people are engaged, complacency kills. Short cuts kill. There’s a reason for the existence of certain procedures, however time consuming and onerous they may seem. The fact that their tradecraft was so blatantly and obviously disregarded is disturbing. And, as you might imagine, the consequences, while devastating, aren’t unexpected.
When you’re dealing in life and death situations where anything is possible, you cannot assume anything. Your “asset” could be just what this guy was – a double agent. The poor assumptions made to put this guy in front of 13 CIA employees are mind boggling. And they make you wonder, given the situation, how well trained these people were in the tradecraft which should have prevented this from occurring, or at least minimized its effect.
Regardless, what you now have to hope is a new emphasis will be made on the tradecraft that should have prevented this situation from developing. But these deaths and why they occurred do not at all reflect well on the CIA – an organization which is supposed to be our finest and most proficient asset for gathering foreign intelligence.
It remains a mystery, to me at least, why closing Gitmo is such a priority to this president. In fact, it seems like it is the only campaign promise he actually plans on keeping, although to this point he’s been spectacularly unsuccessful.
But seriously, other than location, what does closing Gitmo and moving these “detainees” to a prison in Illinois accomplish? Does Obama and the left actually believe that doing so will kill jihadi propaganda about the prison in Cuba which they claim is used as a recruiting tool?
“Make no mistake,” he said. “We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al-Qaeda.”
Realistically, all the jihadis will do is change the name to the new prison and it will be recruiting propaganda as usual. Do you think they really care where their fellow terrorists are held? Of course not – the propaganda value isn’t in the place, its in the fact that they’re “suffering under the power of the infidel”. Whether that “suffering” takes place in Cuba or Illinois is absolutely irrelevant to them.
And the Obama administration can run the best prison in the world, but the propaganda they seem so worried about will still characterize it as a infidel hell hole and torture chamber. The depth of naivete necessary to believe that closing Gitmo will solve some sort of perception problem throughout the world and hurt jihadi recruiting is rather disturbing when you consider who it is that supposedly believes it. In fact, the only thing I see this closure of Gitmo bringing is the expenditure of more money we don’t have for no apparent gain – not that government isn’t quite good at that anyway.
Today we learn that 20% of those poor goat herders who were innocently swept up in Iraq and Afghanistan have engaged in terrorist activities after their release. And we’ve supposedly kept the really bad one’s. Wasn’t the fact that they were terrorists the reason we stuck them in Gitmo to begin with? So, if we now stick them in Thompson Correctional Center and keep them “indefinitely” without trial if it determined that is necessary (as promised by President Obama) how does TCC become any different in the eyes of jihadi’s (or, for that matter, the rest of the world) than Gitmo?
The short and simple answer is, it doesn’t. All of that is a smoke screen. In fact what the move does accomplish is to transfer the terrorists from military control and custody to civilian control and custody and, by the way, into the US legal system – the real reason, I believe, behind the desire to close the Cuban facility.
Something that’s been bouncing around inside my head the past couple of days is that it really seems like al Qaeda (and terrorists in general) have gotten inside our OODA Loop.
For those who don’t know, you can find a really good description of the OODA Loop here and a good summary here. Briefly it’s the decision cycle (“observe, orient, decide, act”) of those engaged in some sort of struggle or competition. The faster and more accurate one’s decision cycle, the more quickly he can disorient and defeat his opponent. By forcing your opponent into a defensive posture, where your moves are not readily or easily discerned, you can outmaneuver and even control what your opponent does — hence, you are inside his OODA Loop. So when I say that the terrorists have gotten inside our OODA Loop, I mean that we are fighting them from predictable, even enemy-dictated stances that make it easier for them to survive and continue fighting.
To some extent, of course, that’s almost entirely what terrorism is designed to do: i.e. affect our decision-making process in such a way as to turn the populace against the government. The terrorists attack soft targets, and the government responds by restraining the freedom of its own citizens, maybe even going overboard. In fact, in countries where a considerable amount of freedom is the norm, most if not all such government restrictions will seem like they are going overboard, because only the terrorists really know how and when they are going to attack next (recall the famous IRA admonishment to Margaret Thatcher: you have to be lucky every day; we just have to be lucky once). The people eventually get tired of the restraints and overbearing policies of the government and either demand a stop to the war against the terrorists or join the terrorists’ cause. Indeed, the whole concept behind Petraeus’ counterinsurgency was an attempt to reorganize our OODA Loop in a way that was not affected by the terrorists’ actions. The idea was to win over the populace to the coalition side by taking the fight to the terrorists and protecting the citizens. When it comes to fighting terrorism on as a nation, however, we don’t seem to have any similar strategy, and that appears to be helping al Qaeda, et al.
That’s not to say that the terrorists will ever truly defeat America and the West, because that’s not ever going to be possible. Militarily, whether speaking in terms of strategy, tactics, policy or just sheer power, they are simply no match for us on any level. Even so, they have become somewhat adept at pushing our buttons in a way that makes us turn on one another, thus weakening our resolve. Keep in mind too that they don’t have to “win” in this struggle, they just have to tie. If we leave Iraq and/or Afghanistan before those nations are able to effectively capable of governing themselves in a peaceful manner, including the ability to keep terrorists at bay, then they will count that as a victory and we will face an emboldened enemy. If we react in predictably defensive ways to every terrorist act, and let them dictate how our government rules her citizens, then we hand them all the controls they need to thrive. And when we do that coupled with a near-pathological fear of offending a protected class of persons, even when we have some really well-founded reasons for distrusting a certain, easily identifiable class of persons, we practically write a script for the terrorists to help us implode.
Just consider how we treat foreign nationals who wish to come to America. On the one hand we keep productive, job-producing citizens out, while allowing watch-listed BVD-bombers easy access:
The question on the visa is critical. No one has a right to a visa to the US. If we have credible information that someone constitutes a threat — and a father’s testimony should be considered at least credible enough to hoist a red flag or two — then the visa should be canceled until more investigation can take place. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we’re kicking out Anatolie Vartosu for being too successful in America while keeping Adbulmutallab’s visa in place because we’re just not sure he’s a radical jihadi. It’s as ridiculous as doing strip-searches on Grandma while allowing a Nigerian on a watch list to pass through two sets of security without a patdown.
The whole point the watch-list and no-fly lists, not to mention the ridiculously random and complicated TSA security measures in general, was to prevent another 9-11 from happening. Yet the only people whom seem to be at all hampered by these government restrictions are those who have no intention of blowing up airplanes.
So in response to the attempted terror attack over Christmas, TSA will apparently adopt a new policy prohibiting passengers from moving during the last hour of a flight. Also, no pillows or blankets during that last hour.
In addition to keeping with its usually [sic] tradition of making policy on a reactionary [sic] basis, this one wouldn’t even have done anything to prevent the attempt over the weekend. The guy was in his seat when he tried to light the explosive device. And the passenger who confronted him got out of his seat to do it.
TSA … equates hassle with safety. For all the crap they put us through, this guy still got some sort of explosive material on the plane from Amsterdam. He was stopped by law-abiding passengers. So TSA responds to all of this by . . . announcing plans to hassle law-abiding U.S. passengers even more.
If you’re really cynical, you could make a good argument that they’re really only interested in the appearance of safety. They’ve simply concluded that the more difficult they make your flight, the safer you’ll feel. Never mind if any of the theatrics actually work.
That’s one way of explaining how the cycle of terrorist act/government restriction/citizen agitation works. Or, you could say that al Qaeda is inside our OODA Loop. And we can’t seem to find an effective way to remove them.
Well, that’s not entirely correct. The best way we’ve found of dealing with terrorists is by taking the fight to them, and forcing them to fight for their own ground. When we did that, we severely disrupted their ability to form and execute new plans, and made it increasingly difficult for state-supporters to remain hidden or passive. Of course, our government still took the ridiculous, theatrical approach to safety at home anyway, so the system isn’t fool-proof. Essentially it’s Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy writ large in a place that’s not sanguine about a military presence, but where plenty of us will whine and moan if the theater doesn’t put the show on anyway (while remembering to annoying everyone equally, even if our business cards declare us to be soldiers for Allah). We put them on the defensive, and that’s right w.here they belong now.
Victor David Hanson predicts that we will see the Obama administration start heading that way in the near term, and perhaps it already has. I hope that’s right. Because taking our foot off the gas is not getting the job done. It just lets the enemy get back to steering our bus in the direction they want. Back inside our OODA Loop.
Except it really doesn’t. In fact, among those 7,000 “additional” troops promised are 1,500 which are already in country and the 500 the British had already promised. So it’s 5,000 additional troops in reality. Nothing to sneeze at but certainly not the 10,000 desired. As expected many will come from former Eastern bloc nations:
1,000 from Poland; 600 from Italy, plus more Carabinieri to work with Afghan police (something which worked well in Iraq – ed.). Slovakia is sending a small deployment …
Non NATO nations are sending detachments as well – South Korea is sending a small one and a surprisingly large one of about 1,000 is coming from Georgia.
An undisclosed number of the new troops will steer clear of the fighting because they are barred by their countries from combat operations. And two allies, the Netherlands and Canada, still plan to withdraw nearly 5,000 troops in the next two years, offsetting the infusion.
But it sounds great on paper, doesn’t it?
It comes from Nile Gardiner at the Telegraph:
As Commander in Chief President Obama has to project leadership, strength and determination before his country and his foes, as well as offer reassurance to Washington’s international allies. All were in short supply in front of the assembled cadets .The speech was less a rallying cry for victory over barbarism, than a dull professorial-style lecture that sought to justify his confused approach to the US mission in a cold and clinical fashion that simply failed to convince or inspire.