Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Will to Leave - And Live

The Canadian Armed Forces have taken on a Herculean chore in Afghanistan. Maybe that's because we - and the handful of participating NATO nations - are stuck in peacekeeping mode.

I have nothing against peacekeeping. I believe that's what Canadian forces do best, where they make the greatest contribution. That said, Afghanistan isn't about peacekeeping. It's counterinsurgency warfare. Yet we're still approaching it as though it was something else and that's why, six years down the road, we still sit around with our thumbs up our backsides sending our soldiers out trolling for IEDs.

We're told the biggest task is to train an Afghan army of somewhere between 40,000 to 70,000 soldiers to ensure the security of the country and the central government in Kabul. What have we accomplished? 15, maybe 20,000 tops and a lot of them either deserting or about to every day. Six years for this?

In six years we ought to have been able to recruit, equip and train an army of 100,000 from Quaker colonies alone! But the Afghan people aren't pacifists, they're steeped in martial history although it's generally been on a tribal level but still. So what gives? Damn little, and that's the problem.

The answer lies in Canada's mission to Kandahar but you can find the same message in the Dutch, the German and the French contingents also. We're over there on peacekeeping mode.

In warfighting mode, the relative positions of civilian and military leaders shift somewhat. The civilian leadership remains in overall command and tells the military what it wants. The military then tells the civilian leadership what it needs to do the job. The civilian leadership then comes up with what the military needs or at least it does its best to fit the bill. Then the military goes out and achieves what it's been told to accomplish or dies trying.

The military measures its needs according to the job it's been given. If it has to fight an army of 20,000, it needs enough force to do that job. If it has to fight an army of 100,000, it needs considerably more. What the military needs is defined by the challenge. If the government wants to run convoys it needs to churn out corvettes and frigates. If it wants to fight an air war it needs bombers and fighters.

We're at war in Afghanistan but we're not acting like it. At the risk of droning on about this again, when we picked up the Kandahar mission, General Rick Hillier prescribed a force of about 2,500 soldiers for the job. That would give him 1,500 inside the wire to do all the support jobs necessary to let him maintain a combat force of 1,000 soldiers outside the wire. Why only 1,000? Well, at the outset, Hillier told the fawning flock of reporters that we were only facing a "few dozen ...scumbags." Even though Kandahar at 52,000 sq. kms. is a good amount of territory, 1,000 soldiers ought to have been enough to handle a few dozen bad guys.

But that few dozen quickly turned into a few hundred and now into the thousands with several thousand more waiting their turn just across the line in Pakistan and what are we deploying to meet that threat? Why a force of 2,500; 1,500 inside the wire and 1,000 troops outside, just like we had at the outset.

We were supposed to have the bad guys handily outnumbered but we don't anymore. Their numbers have grown, by an order of magnitude, while ours remain static or, perhaps, stagnant. We remain, even at this late date, with a force measured to conventional warfighting, not counterinsurgency.

Guerrilla war isn't fought with tanks and artillery and air strikes. Heavy firepower ought to play a relatively minor role. Counterinsurgency is a war of soldiers, lots of soldiers. It requires the government side to occupy ground, denying that territory and the civilians and villages within it to the enemy. You keep them out by being there yourself.

The Romans mastered counterinsurgency warfare and just about every power since then has had a go at it. Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba, Afghanistan are all examples where the guerrillas won. There are others. Let's see - where did they lose? I'll have to get back to you on that. Sure there was Malaya but there the Brits weren't dealing with a nationalist force but an insurgency spawned by an ethnic minority (Chinese) that the Malays wouldn't support.

Notice I said "nationalist"? That's because guerrilla movements are nationalist. They come from within and seek to implant their vision on their country. It's their country. It's where they and their families and their tribes live. They don't want to destroy the country, they want to reshape it. That's why their war is a political war. Only by achieving their political goals - foremost among them the collapse of popular support for the central government - do they win.

You don't get very far trying to force a guerrilla opponent to fight a military war. By the simple fact that they don't have tanks or artillery or helicopter gunships or mobility or high tech communications, there's no way they can win a military war. But they don't have to win a military war, they don't have to fight a military war. Our senior officers just make themselves look idiotic when they mock the Taliban for not coming out to "fight like men." That's the mentality of leadership that's committed to fighting the wrong war, the military war.

The low manpower/high firepower military war plays into the hands of the insurgents. We've become addicted to massively superior firepower as a "force multiplier" a way to avoid having to actually multiply the force itself. It's just super, as long as you can get your enemy to mass into a convenient formation in a suitable battlefield. That's military war. Those same, massive firepower weapons lose political wars. Because you rely on weaponry you don't have soldiers on the ground in the villages to keep the insurgents out. Then, when the guerrillas provoke you into firing on them, your powerful weaponry almost inevitably wipes out civilians in the mix.

Now, you may kill ten guerrillas and only two civilians but in the village down the road the locals are going to get told you killed twelve civilians and they're going to believe it. There, you just took another loss in the political war. They're going to believe it because they know these insurgents freely come into their villages also and that means they could be the next in line for your "death from above." They lay the blame for the dead civilians at your feet because they know that when their turn comes it'll be a Western bomb that kills their family. And all that heavy firepower they associate with that guy Karzai in Kabul. Eventually they may see the guerrillas as their only hope of getting to live in peace again.

So, what's the answer? Surely it must begin in taking the decision to either leave or wage a counterinsurgency war. We either fight the insurgents in their political war or we leave. How do we fight a counterinsurgency war? You do what it takes and that means your political leaders decide to provide their military leaders with what they need for this type of warfare - massive numbers of soldiers.

Those leaders, Harper included, need to take a couple of hours to read America's new Counterinsurgency Field Manual, FM 3-24. If you want to read it and know more about the problem than your own prime minister and his defence minister and, perhaps, even our top general, follow this link:

The lead author of fm3-24 was America's guerrilla warfare wunderkind, David Petraeus. It came about because the American military realized after 9/11 that it knew almost nothing about counterinsurgency warfare. They also realized there was a treasure trove of invaluable information at their fingertips from all those guerrilla wars over the last two millenia and they began by absorbing and digesting that wisdom.

So, what's the miracle truism of fm3-24? Rule Numero Uno is that counterinsurgency warfare is the most labour-intensive warfare we can undertake. You need people on the ground occupying territory. You need them living in and securing the villages and the fields and the installations. You need them scouring the territory ambushing and hunting down the insurgents. You need scads of soldiers so that you maintain the initiative, not the guerrillas. You win by keeping them on the defensive, unable to access their essential civilian support system. If you don't, you lose. Which leads to Rule Numeros Dos - Go Big or Go Home.

Harper, loudmouthed braggart that he is, proclaims the government is going to do "what's right" in Afghanistan, not what it learns from polls. Fair enough. Want to know "what's right?" Go to fm 3-24 and other recent strategic studies. What's right is a combat force that falls between one rifle for every twenty five to fifty civilians in the territory to be protected. What's right means a force of 15-25,000 soldiers in Kandahar, combat soldiers. That's "what's right", and that's what Harper has absolutely no intention of doing.

What's right is not leaving our understrength force over there to run through territory it doesn't control, trolling for IEDs. What's right is having the courage, the decency to honour the sacrifice of these soldiers by admitting we're not going to bear the burden of fielding the force they need to win. What's right is to muster up the integrity to admit it's time to leave.


The Grumpy Voter said...

You truly don't have a clue about the combat arms component of the Canadian Forces do you? I am taking off my political junkie hat and putting back on my chevrons so you might understand a few things about a tactical theater of operations.

First off, Canadian combat arms troops (Infantry, Artillery, Tanks, Engineers) are not trained for peacekeeping as their primary role. The primary role of every soldier to "close with and destroy the enemy". Period. That's it, that's all. That's why soldiers are taught to march. That's why they're taught to fire a weapon. In the Canadian infantry's case, they're taught in basic infantry training to master everything from a 5.56 mm C7 rifle to a 60 mm mortar to hand grenades to an 84 mm shoulder fired anti-tank weapon.

There is no 100% protection against improvised explosive devices. There never will be. Just as there is no protection against land mines... do you know how long it takes to clear a suspected minefield? It takes forever because guys are on their bellies probing the ground with their bayonets!

Look, I've been reading your blog for quite a while... I get that you don't like the fact that Canada is in Afghanistan. Groovy. But we were sent there by a Liberal government as a face saving measure for not going to Iraq and the Liberals didn't know what they were getting us into. We're there now under a Tory government and they don't know how the heck to get us out.

Canadian soldiers can effectively take the fight to insurgents. We've been proving that. Our casualties of late have not been combat related deaths... they've all be roadside bombs. The people on the ground in Afghanistan know the risk and they want to be there. They believe in what they're doing while people like you back home don't.

It's one thing to take issue with the government and state they don't have a clue how to manage the war, I get that. But the troops are professional soldiers who are trained to fight and kill the enemy... they are not trained for peacekeeping. Peacekeeping is one thing soldiers do, but it is NOT their primary role and it never ever ever will be in a thousand years. Get your head out of your ass and talk to a soldier sometime... you might bloody well learn something about why they volunteer to fight.

The Grumpy Voter said...

One last thing:

You wrote:
>>Counterinsurgency is a war of soldiers, lots of soldiers<<

Counterinsurgency is a war of good recce. If you don't know what recce is, it means "intelligence". It's also a political war because you've got to politicize locals so they're on your side and not the other guy's. It takes resources, money, dirty tricks, oh, and it even takes ruthlessness from time to time. A counterinsurgency can be won, but it takes years and it requires developing a mobile force of well armed partisans fighting on behalf of their country. So when the Taliban sets up a roadside bomb, partisans should be setting up some of their own to take out the Taliban. This war isn't going to be won using traditional combat team tactics or advance to contact battle drill. (There's a time and place for that tactic.) This requires that locals be enlisted to go out dressed like the locals and destroy the enemy based on what intelligence has given them about the enemy's position, strength and support. Canadian soldiers can train them to do that. Canadian solders can gather intelligence by conducting good recce activities. What's missing is a NATO wide strategy to win the war. That ain't Harper's fault or that of his predecessor either. That's NATO's. Finally, we need to remain in Afghanistan not to finish the job, but to protect Canadians back home. Afghanistan is, was and will remain ground zero for Al Qaeda. We live in a new era where this kind of warfare may become the norm because of international terrorism. We have to ask ourselves as a nation... do we truly understand the treat against us and if so, are we prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to protect ourselves.

War without end? Maybe. Then again, mankind has been at war since our species learned how to throw rocks. We always will be. Welcome to a dangerous new world. We've only scratched the surface of how bad things might possibly get.

The Mound of Sound said...

Grump, put your chevrons down for a minute and read that manual. Read what the French learned in Algeria and Indochina. Read what T.E. Lawrence discovered and recorded in the Great War.

Of course there's never going to be complete protection from IEDs but I didn't suggest there was so why are you ranting on that? What I said was that, when you don't deny the insurgent effective access to territory, it's vastly easier for them to plant IEDs and our people are much more vulnerable to them. Now put your chevrons back on and chew on that little reality.

Canadian soldiers can "effectively take the fight to the enemy", absolutely, but only if there's enough of them and there's not, not even close. That's why the bad guys are resurgent. That's why they're moving to close on Kabul and are cutting off the ring road.

Show me one example where the garrison/outpost/patrol tactics we use has defeated an insurgency. Just one. Put those chevrons on and show me the successful example we're following.

Please, Grump, enlighten me.

The Mound of Sound said...

Here's something else for you to dwell on Grump. It's from Reuters and it is an account of a successful American operation in Afghanistan without all the macho nonsense of taking the fight to the enemy:

"Afghan army troops, backed by U.S. forces, are in the middle of an operation in the district, until only a few months ago a Taliban stronghold.

"But the object of the operation is not to kill Taliban rebels who have fed off discontent with the slow pace of development to relaunch their fight to topple the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign troops.

"Hurting people is not the purpose," said Colonel David Woods, the U.S. commander in Paktia. There has been no fighting and no casualties so far in the operation. "If we kill someone out here is sets us back. If no one gets hurt in this entire operation, and I mean on both sides, that's an awesome success."

"The new U.S. counter-insurgency doctrine, published at the end of 2006, is now beginning to be felt on the ground and may be paying off. Between August and the end of October last year, there were 60 improvised explosive devices in the Zormat district of Paktia. Since November, there have been none."

Gee Grump, ain't that remarkable? They've read their own manual and it's working.

The Grumpy Voter said...

>>"The new U.S. counter-insurgency doctrine, published at the end of 2006, is now beginning to be felt on the ground and may be paying off. Between August and the end of October last year, there were 60 improvised explosive devices in the Zormat district of Paktia. Since November, there have been none."<<

The enemy in French Indo-China was a far different enemy insurgency than what is faced by Canadian troops in Afghanistan because that insurgency fought for political reasons and were indoctrinated in communist philosophy. The enemy Canadian soldiers face are fighting a religious war and that raises the stakes far higher. The point I am making is that Canadians need to get used to this scary new world because we are (like it or not) involved in a religious war led by fanatics of the highest order. In French Indo China, they wanted to liberate their countries (Vietnam specifically) of capitalist invaders and set up your basic communist industrial state. In Afghanistan, this is something far different and much more difficult for the west to get it's head around. That's why we need to prepare to be in that country or fighting wars of this nature simply to reduce the likelihood of terrorist attacks at home.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm not sure that it really makes that much difference whether insurgents are politically indoctrinated or relgiously indoctrinated, so long as their organization remains nationalistic. I'm also really skeptical about this idea of fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them at home.

First of all, the Taliban aren't coming to Mississauga anytime soon. As Islamists go, they're homeboys.

As for al-Qaeda, they've morphed throughout the Muslim world, Europe and even North America. We're fighting them in Iraq or at least the Sunni resistance is, for the moment. We're not fighting them in Afghanistan because they're leaving the fighting there to the Taliban.

al-Qaeda are terrorists, not insurgents. Today's al-Qaeda, like today's Taliban aren't what they were just six years ago. They've got new blood and new vision.

The Americans figured out how to drive a wedge between the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Iraq and that's something we need to emulate.

No one - not the Brits, not the US, not Karzai - thinks we're going to defeat the Taliban even if we're there for a century. We need to find a way to separate them from the terrorists and bring them into some sort of accord in their homeland.

The good and bad news is that there probably won't be a spring offensive from the Taliban coming out of Pakistan this year. The latest word is that both of them plan to focus their efforts on Pakistan in 2008.

The Grumpy Voter said...

>>First of all, the Taliban aren't coming to Mississauga anytime soon. As Islamists go, they're homeboys. <<

Afghanistan under the Taliban allowed for Al Qaeda to flourish and use Adghanistan as their home base for terrorist training, completely untouched by outside forces to destroy them. This is an established fact.

>>I'm not sure that it really makes that much difference whether insurgents are politically indoctrinated or relgiously indoctrinated, so long as their organization remains nationalistic. I'm also really skeptical about this idea of fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them at home.<<

Pretty sure the Viet Minh didn't strap explosives to themselves and use themselves as suicide bombers with a promise of unlimited debauchery and a harem of virgins in the afterlife because on their deaths they'd be martyrs.

It's a religious war - make no mistake. The Taliban is a religion based power structure. Sorry that you're skeptical about fighting them over there so we don't have to back here in comfy ol' Canada. Perhaps you might remember a couple of planes crashing into buildings on September 11th 2001. Why not Canada? Seriously, why not Canada?

Believe me, it's just a matter of time until it happens here. I recommend that you chuck out your books on pre-9-11 warfare. This is a new kind of enemy and we live in a far more dangerous world than most of us are prepared to admit.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sorry Grump, but we don't see this the same way.

Do you really think there weren't suicide bombings in Vietnam? Really? There was no shortage of those guys willing to sacrifice themselves in suicide attacks including sappers in the N. Vietnamese main force.

Very few of the insurgents in Viet Nam had religious motivations. Most were politically driven, some wanted to overthrow a corrupt central government, others wanted foreigners out. There was quite a basket of motivations although religion wasn't a major factor. Now, the question becomes - so what?

Not all Taliban fighters are religious nut cases, we know that. Some join because we've killed their relatives. For some there are tribal motivations. Some are reacting to corrupt government predations. Some do it because we've trashed their poppy fields. Some do it because it pays twice as well as the Afghan army. I'm sure that some do it for the same reasons you and I once joined up - for adventure.

If you approach this as a religious war, you've lost sight of what's going on. We just stepped in to a civil war that quite abruptly turned bad for one side. They retreated to regroup, reform and return and they've done that. Nothing new to that.

In many respects, this is an unresolved civil war. The "northern alliance" warlords know that and that's why they've been rebuilding and rearming their ethnic militias the past two years.

The surest way to screw this up is to ignore the greater realities and treat this as some black-and-white religious struggle. Leave that garbage to Rush Limbaugh.

By the way, I'm not so addled that I can't "remember a couple of planes crashing into buildings on September 11th 2001." As I recall it, there wasn't a single Afghan, much less a Talibe, in the crowd. Perhaps you might remember that they were almost all Saudis. What does that tell you? What does that tell you about the Taliban?

We've had the run of that country for six years and yet haven't come up with a single shred of evidence that the Taliban had anything to do with 9/11. SFA. And yet that's the sort of premise your argument depends on.

The Taliban aren't very nice, that's a given. But look at the guys they were up against, the gang that's still there. The Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and Turkmen warlords. You're not going to find any nice guys there either. Have you noticed that Islamic fundamentalism and repression is alive and well and spreading - without the Taliban? Ever wonder what that means?

By the way, you write "Afghanistan under the Taliban allowed for al Qaeda to flourish and use Afghanistan as their home base for terrorist training, completely untouched by outside forces to destroy them."

The Taliban at that time were mired in a civil war with the country's other tribes. Both sides were so exhausted that they had fallen into trench warfare, reduced to lobbing a few artillery rounds at each other every day.

The Taliban were in no position to aid al Qaeda nor did they have the means to drive them out. Remember how al Qaeda got established in Afghanistan in the first place. Who funded them, who trained them, who equipped them? It sure as hell wasn't the Taliban now was it?

There was no active, meaningful alliance between the Taliban and al Qaeda before 9/11 but there is one now - and that didn't have to be. al Qaeda functions quite happily in Pakistan now and in countries from Indonesia to the Middle East to West Africa to Europe and, yes, even to North America.

Beyond a few suicide bombers, al Qaeda isn't even fighting us in Kandahar. We're swatting away at the Taliban, not hitting the guys who genuinely threaten us.

You ought to read Gwynne Dyer's book "The Mess They Made." He has an interesting analysis on the situation we've created (it's taken decades) in the Middle East and how we get out of the threat posed by Islamists.

Dyer, in case you don't know, has served as an officer with Canada, the Brits and the US, holds a doctorate in war studies and has been a lecturer at Sandhurst. His analyses are excellent and thought provoking. I think you would enjoy it.