[News] Why General McChrystal's Plan Will Fail
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 18 13:21:38 EST 2009
November 18, 2009
Why General McChrystal's Plan Will Fail
By CONN HALLINAN
Before the Obama Administration buys in to
General Stanley McChrystals escalation strategy,
it might spend some time examining the Aug. 12
battle of Dananeh, a scruffy little town of 2,000
perched at the entrance to the Naw Zad Valley in
Afghanistans southern Helmand province.
Dananeh is a textbook example of why
counterinsurgency wont work in that country, as
well as a study in military thinking straight out
of Lewis Carrolls Through the Looking Glass.
According to the U.S., the purpose of the attack
was to seize a strategic town, cut Taliban
supply lines, and secure the area for the
presidential elections. Taking Dananeh would also
outflank the insurgents, isolating them in
the surrounding mountains and forests.
What is wrong with this scenario?
One, the entire concept of a strategic town of
2,000 people in a vast country filled with tens
of thousands of villages like Dananeh is bizarre.
Two, the Taliban dont have flanks. They are a
fluid, irregular force, not an infantry company
dug into a set position. Flanking an enemy is
what you did to the Wehrmacht in World War II.
Three, Taliban supply lines are not highways
and rail intersections, theyre goat trails.
Four, isolate the Taliban in the surrounding
mountains and forests? Anyone in the Pentagon
ever read the story of Brer Rabbit? Please
dont throw me in the briar patch, Brer
Fox? Mountains and forests are where the Taliban move freely.
It also appears that the Taliban were not the
slightest bit surprised when the U.S. showed up.
When the Marines helicoptered in at night, all
was quiet. At dawnthe Taliban have no night
fighting equipmentthe insurgents opened up with
rockets, mortars, and machine guns. I am pretty
sure they knew of it [the attack] in advance,
Golf Company commander Captain Zachary Martin told the Associated Press.
Pinned down, the Marines brought in air power and
artillery and, after four days of fierce
fighting, took the town. But the Taliban had
decamped on the third night. The outcome? A
chewed up town and 12 dead insurgents, if you
accept that there is no difference between an
insurgent and a villager who didnt get out in
time, so that all the dead are automatically members of the Taliban.
Id say weve gained a foothold for now, and
its a substantial one that were not going to
let go, says Martin. I think this has the potential to be a watershed.
Only if hallucinations become the order of the day.
The battle of Dananeh was a classic example of
irregular warfare. The locals tip off the
guerrillas that the army is coming. The Taliban
set up an ambush, fight until the heavy firepower comes in, then slip away.
Taliban fighters and their commanders have
escaped the Marines big offensive into
Afghanistans Helmand province and moved into
areas to the west and north, prompting fears that
the U.S. effort has just moved the Taliban
problem elsewhere, writes Nancy Youssef of the McClatchy newspapers.
When the Taliban went north they attacked German and Italian troops.
In short, the insurgency is adjusting. To many
of the Americans, it appeared as if the
insurgents had attended something akin to the
U.S. Armys Ranger school, which teaches soldiers
how to fight in small groups in austere
environments, writes Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post.
Actually, the Afghans have been doing that for
some time, as Greeks, Mongols, British, and Russians discovered.
One Pentagon officer told the Post that the
Taliban has been using fighting in the Korengal
Valley that borders Pakistan as a training
ground. Its a perfect lab to vet fighters and
study U.S. tactics, he said, and to learn how to
gauge the response time for U.S. artillery, air
strikes, and helicopter assaults. They know
exactly how long it takes before
they have to break contact and pull back.
Just like they did at Dananeh.
General McChrystal has asked for 40,000 new
troops in order to hold the major cities and
secure the population from the Taliban. But even
by its own standards, the plan is deeply flawed.
According to the militarys Counterinsurgency
Field Manuel, one needs a ratio of 20 soldiers
for every 1,000 residents. Since Afghanistan is
slightly over 32 million, that would require a force of 660,000 soldiers.
The U.S. will shortly have 68,000 troops in
Afghanistan, plus a stealth surge of 13,000
support troops. If 40,000 additional troops are
sent, that will bring U.S. forces to 121,000.
Added to that are 35,000 NATO troops, though most
alliance members are under increasing domestic
pressure to withdraw their soldiers. McChrystal
wants to expand the Afghan army to 240,000, and
there is talk of trying to reach 340,000.
One does not need a calculator to conclude that
the counterinsurgency formulaeven with the
larger Afghan armyis 150,000 soldiers short.
And can you really count on the Afghan army? It
may indeed reach 340,000although it doesnt have
the officers and sergeants to command those
numbers but the counterinsurgency formula calls
for trained troops, not just armed boots on the
ground. And according to a recent review, up to
25 percent of recruits quit each year, and the
number of trained units has actually declined over the past six months.
On top of which, it is not a national army. If
Pashtun soldiers are deployed in the
Tajik-speaking north, they will be seen as
occupiers, and vice-versa for Tajiks in Pashtun
areas. If both groups are deployed in their home
territories, the pressures of kinship will almost
certainly overwhelm any allegiance to a national
government, particularly one as corrupt and
unpopular as the current Karzai regime.
And by defending the cities, exactly whom will
U.S. troops be protecting? When it comes to
Afghanistan, major population centers are
almost a contradiction in terms. There are
essentially five cities in the country, Kabul
(2.5 million), Kandahar (331,000), Mazar-e-Sharif
(200,000), Herat (272,000), and Jalalabad
(20,000). Those five cities make up a little more
than 10 percent of the population, over half of
which is centered in Kabul. The rest of the
population is rural, living in towns of 1500 or
fewer, smaller even than Dananeh.
But spreading the troops into small firebases
makes them extremely vulnerable, as the U.S.
found out in early September when eight soldiers
were killed in an attack on a small unit in the
Kamdesh district of Nuristan province. The base
was abandoned a week later and, according to the
Asia Times, is now controlled by the Taliban.
While McChrystal says he wants to get the troops
out of armored vehicles and into the streets
with the people, the U.S. will have to use
patrols to maintain a presence outside of the
cities. On occasion, that can get almost comedic.
Take the convoy of Stryker light tanks that set
out Oct. 12 from Forward Operating Base Spin
Boldak in Khandar province for what was
described as a high-risk mission into uncharted territory.
The convoy was led by the new Mine Resistant
Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles designed to
resist the insurgents weapon-of-choice in
Afghanistan, roadside bombs. But the MRAP was
designed for Iraq, which has lots of good roads.
Since Afghanistan has virtually no roads, the
MRAPs broke down. Without the MRAPs the Strykers
could not move. The high-risk mission ending up
hunkering down in the desert for the night and
slogging home in the morning. They never saw an insurgent.
Afterwards, Sergeant John Belajac remarked, I
cant imagine what it is going to be like when it starts raining.
If you are looking for an Afghanistan War
metaphor, the Spin Boldak convoy may be it.
McChrystal argues that the current situation is
critical, and that an escalation will be
decisive. But as former Defense Intelligence
Agency analyst A.J. Rossmiller says, the war is a
stalemate. The insurgency does not have the
capability to defeat U.S. forces or depose
Afghanistans central government, and
do not the ability to vanquish the insurgency.
While the purported goal of the war is denying
Al-Qaeda a sanctuary, according to U.S.
intelligence the organization has fewer than 100
fighters in the country. And further, the
Talibans leader, Mullah Omar, pledges that his
organization will not interfere with
Afghanistans neighbors or the West, which
suggests that the insurgents have been learning about diplomacy as well.
The Afghanistan War can only be solved by sitting
all the parties down and working out a political
settlement. Since the Taliban have already made a
seven-point peace proposal, that hardly seems an insurmountable task.
Anything else is a dangerous illusion.
Conn Hallinan can be reached at:
<mailto:ringoanne at sbcglobal.net>ringoanne at sbcglobal.net
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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