[News] Why General McChrystal's Plan Will Fail

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Wed Nov 18 13:21:38 EST 2009


http://www.counterpunch.org/hallinan11182009.html

November 18, 2009


Why General McChrystal's Plan Will Fail


Strategic Towns

By CONN HALLINAN

Before the Obama Administration buys in to 
General Stanley McChrystal’s 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 
Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province.

Dananeh is a textbook example of why 
counterinsurgency won’t work in that country, as 
well as a study in military thinking straight out 
of Lewis Carroll’s “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 don’t 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, they’re goat trails.

Four, “isolate” the Taliban in the surrounding 
mountains and forests? Anyone in the Pentagon 
ever read the story of Brer Rabbit?  “Please 
don’t 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 didn’t get out in 
time, so that all the dead are automatically members of the Taliban.

“I’d say we’ve gained a foothold for now, and 
it’s a substantial one that we’re 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 
Afghanistan’s 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. Army’s 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. It’s “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 military’s “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 doesn’t 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 insurgent’s 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 
can’t 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 
Afghanistan’s central government, and
U.S. forces 
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 
Taliban’s leader, Mullah Omar, pledges that his 
organization will not interfere with 
Afghanistan’s 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




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