Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Afghan Charlie Foxtrot

I read things like this in the news and I wonder, I really do.

Let's table for a moment the questions of "What-the-hell-are-we-doing-in-central-Asia-and-why?" and just look at this issue of the formation of an Afghan National Army in the light of our most recent successful experience with army-building.

I'm talking about the work that was done in the highlands of Vietnam in the 1960's. According to Jim Dunnigan's "Dirty Little Secrets of the Vietnam War" the CIA first made contact with the ethnic tribes ("montagnards" or just "'yards") living in the western mountains of South Vietnam in October 1961.

"By the end of 1963..." Dunnigan says, "...some 674 Green Berets...were working with the Montagnards, of whom some 40,000-60,000 were under arms."

Got that? Two years after the first CIA mission, roughly a battalion's worth of SF teams had more than two division's worth of tribesmen in the field.

And these guys weren't the "never-fired-and-only-dropped-once" Marvin the ARVN types, either. The montagnards routinely cleaned the clocks of the NVA units they encountered in their home mountains. They were a fighting people, they liked the hard-assed Yankee snake-eaters leading them. And, as Dunnigan puts it; "These tall, mostly-pasty-faced flatlanders came with loot and were generous with it. And all they want us to do is kill Vietnamese? Hey, what a deal."

By the U.S. government's numbers, three years later (1966) the SF teams (less than a brigade's worth - 2,500 SF) had organized about 35,000 troops into local village defense teams (CIDG), another 28,000 more into "Regional Forces" capable of reinforcing these little villes, and a brigade-size (3,000-man) "Mike Force", in effect a professional infantry unit that would maneuver against enemy field force elements.

We're talking a total of 65,000 troops in under seven years - the same amount of time its taken us to cobble together the rat-pack 70K or so that we refer to as the "Afghan National Army".

And this is out of a Montagnard population of about one million - barely a quarter of the number of Afghans we're supposedly helping into the 21st Century.

And these are Afghans. Afghans! Among the most savage fighting peoples on earth! The people who massacred an entire British army in 1842!

The fact that we can't assemble a decent fighting army of Afghans in seven years should give us pause.

Why don't they want to fight?Or is it that they just don't want to fight for "us"?


Pluto said...

You already know the answer to your own question, Chief.

The Afghans traditionally rally to repel invaders (like us) and fall apart in all other times.

As for your comparison with the Montagnards, again, you point out that this is an unfair comparison.

The Montagnards liked every aspect of the job we were asking them to do:
1. Receive training and equipment to become better fighters
2. Protect their lands from intruders
3. Kill the costal Vietnamese whom they disliked.

Let's look at a comparable deal for the potential Afghan soldier:
1. Get weaponry that's less capable than what Uncle Omar probably bought to protect his opium crop.
2. Serve a non-Pashtun government in Kabul that pays poorly and is only surviving because of the efforts of the infidel invaders.
3. Get marked as a government supporter so you can get shot and/or beheaded later.

Wouldn't you say that this is a different deal?

We'd be far better off if we made deals with the individual tribes but would mean that we'd have to admit that Afghanistan is more-or-less permanently ungovernable. And, like South Vietnam, that cannot be acknowledged if you're trying to set up a permanent government.

sheerahkahn said...

I think you got the last part right chief, "they just don't want to fight for us."
I get it, you get it, Pluto gets it, the only ones who don't seem to get it are our gov types.

Pretty sad that we overstayed our self-invitation to their country, and wasn't this suppose to be a punative operation?
Go in, crush, maim, kill Al Qaeda, dust our hands off, and bug out?
Whatever happened to that initial action plan?

FDChief said...

Pluto: So my question would be; given that so much of Afghan history is dominated by one tribe fighting another, if we were able to abandon our fantasy of making the place into some sort of Vermont with opium co-ops, couldn't we use a tribe or tribes in the same way we did the 'yards? We couldn't rule the place any more than the mountain peoples let us run SVN. But we could use them to deny our ideological enemies the ability to set up stable sanctuaries, carry out punitive expeditions when needed and generally have a force-in-being to act where and when we needed?

ISTM that in the game of Grand Theft Auto: Black Mountain Hazara we're playing banking on controlling the police and the courts while we should be figuring out how to match our Crips against their Bloods. It doesn't look or sound as good but it makes more sense politically.

Pluto said...

There are a few problems with your suggestion, Chief.

First, the 'Yards HATED the NVA and VC going through their turf but couldn't do anything about it until the Special Forces guys showed up. This made them very loyal to our cause.

The local warlords in Afghanistan ALWAYS deal from the bottom of the deck and play cute little games even if they expect them to bite them in the rear later. It's just the way the world works there.

Second, the 'yards were great for area denial but we were setting up a dandy civil war later regardless of who won. I've got a lot of Hmong and 'yard refugees living around me and while they like us a lot, the older guys would much rather still be living in their original homeland.

Imagine what happens if we start playing the local tribal chiefs and warlords the way they play each other. It would look like Abu Graib all over again in the long run and do more damage than good.

Third, who are our ideological enemies in the Afghanistan region? Seems to me like that would include pretty much everybody in the country. They all talk nice to us but that's only because they want us to bash the tribe next door.

What they REALLY want is for us to leave them alone so they can bash each other in privacy, like they have for at least the last 5,000 years.

P.S. - Saw "Frontline" last night on the Taliban taking over Pakistan. Pretty good show overall. Biggest surprise was when a Taliban commander arrived for an interview in a captured armored HumVee.

What a great status symbol but it really left me wanting to know more about whats going on in the region. I can't find anything resembling reliable news on the region and the US military isn't exactly being forthcoming on the situation.

I suspect you've got the right idea that feeding troops into the situation like Bush did in Iraq is a recipe for disaster unless you're going to find a local Pashtun leader who's willing to behave like the Sunni's did in Iraq.

Ael said...

Do like the British did.

Give a (large) chest of gold, every year, to the "King of Afghanistan" whoever he may be.

Then ignore them as they spend the rest of the year fighting amongst themselves to determine who will be king for next year's load of gold.

Also, if you really want to change Afghanistan, sponsor Quran quoting essays and mathematics contests for kids (especially the girls).

Be liberal with the money - both for competing and for winning (also make sure that the local headman / warlord / etc) get a share of the money, so they will encourage kids to compete. Make sure that the rewards are proportional to the numbers participating.

When these educated kids grow up, leave it to them to figure out what to do with Afghanistan.

FDChief said...

Pluto: Mmph. Well, that's depressing. You're right, of course, about the locals getting the shitty end of our stick. It always works that way for the locals, poor bastards. I was thinking coldbloodedly - since we're just sayin'. The real-world blowback might, and probably would, be pretty awful.

In terms of "ideological enemies", I'd opine that there is a small, hard core of guys who have truly global vision that includes the U.S. and the West as peer competitor and enemies. These guys are the bin Laden types, the truly megalomaniac Islamic fundamentalists. I don't think they have any real deep power base. They do have some goodies that they can distribute from the AQ warchest, and, of course, they can work to stir up the locals against the foreign invaders. I suspect that if the invaders disappeared the AQ guys might find their own necks ripe for the reaping - I'll bet they have their own tribal enemies' list after seven years of war.

Ael: I'm kinda sorta suggesting something like this, where we buy/bribe a local to be our proxy and provide lots of cash and nothing more than "mercenary" trainers for his army.

I think our problem right now is that the region has been so smashed that there isn't a single faction or group of factions powerful enough to provide a "king". Well, there is, but traditionally that faction has been the Pashtun, and a LOT of the people we're fighting are Pashtun tribes.

Sigh. What a goatfuck. WASF.

Lisa said...

The picture of the lone rifleman somewhat less than ramrod straight really is precious.

As a simple none-military person, I wonder, what is it we're fighting for? Do we care who is chief tribal lord this year or next? Al Qaeda was the goal, and that seems totally obscured and immixed with groups like "Taliban," etc.

I mean, why should we match our Crips vs. their Bloods? Our Army is not a gang of thugs, or shouldn't be, at least. Right?

Pluto said...

AEL: "When these educated kids grow up, leave it to them to figure out what to do with Afghanistan."

Sigh; been there, done that. The Brits and Paki's did education to sooth the savage beast before the Soviets put their foot in the dung heap. Mostly the kids got the hell out of Dodge.

Talked with one in Denver almost 20 years back, she really missed the mountains and said that the Rocky's were overgrown foothills compared to "back home." I've heard that Afghanistan is a beautiful place to visit in the rare moments when they aren't shooting at you.

Chief: Once again, you're right. Our best chance is to get out of there is to fight the locals to a draw (good luck) and declare victory and leave before they catch their breath. As you've already noted, some warlord is likely to perceive AQ as an enemy resource and do what the Afghans do all too well, frag them.

Lisa: We really don't care who leads what where in Afghanistan.

The problem is that we're still hunting Osama and his buddies and the military has a long-standing tradition of shooting at people who shoot at them (generally a good idea when in wartime).

And the Afghans have a long-cherished tradition of shooting at anybody that they perceive to be an invader. When these traditions collide everybody starts shooting at everybody else until one side dies or runs out of ammunition.

Those mountains (and the miserable half-desert in the southern part of the country) isolate people and give them a chance to nourish grudges that can last a 1000 years and more. In spite of this, there are some beautiful mosques and other art treasures scattered throughout the country from the days when the locals were more fond of trading and technology transfer and less fond of shooting at everybody around them.

The last 30 years of continual warfare has reduced the Afghan vision of the future to what can be seen through rifle sights. It remains to be seen what will come of all this but I doubt the history books will have many positive things to say about our part in it.

FDChief said...

Pluto: I think that part of our blindness, too, is that most of us - and in particular our "leaders" - have lived our whole lives in the domesticated, plump, peaceful part of the world. We have little concept of how easy it is to knock places like Afghanistan from the early Agrarian Period back into the late Iron Age and how hard it is for them to crawl back.

Kinda reminds me of what Al Einstein said when asked what weapons he thought would be used to fight World War Three.

"I don't know," he replied, "...but World War Four will be fought with sticks and stones."

Lisa said...

Thank you for your distillation for this humble civilian, Pluto.

Ael said...

Actually, the whole point of the chest of gold is *not* to choose who the king is. Let them decide, in whatever fashion they desire.

Simply state that at such and such location, at such and such time, whoever presents themselves to our representative as the king of Afghanistan, gets the money.

For extra points, change the location around from year to year.

rangeragainstwar said...

The US type top pic/top right is Franklin Miller MOH winner/sog.

rangeragainstwar said...

The mercenary armies of RVN were generally loyal only to their US Army SF daddies, which is not conducive to nation building.
While they were fighting the NVA they had a underground independence movement active. FULRO was a open secret in 70/71 and we SF types facilitated their plans with excessive issues of arms and munitions which were cached for eventual use against the VN govt. We allowed them to keep captured weapons/ammo.
The Afgh fighters will not imho ever develop transference to the US forces of occupation.BTW throw in Nato to that equation.
Your question is well put-why do we always back the losers? In rvn we always said if you weren't red you were yellow.
Even arming militias in AFGH is questionable-what would that achieve? Why train more fighters in a country slap filled up with shooters?

Aviator47 said...

While I have not put a lot of reading into the subject beyond his writing, Canadian historian Pierre Burton gave some interesting insights into tribal cultures in his books about the War of 1812. He addressed Tecumseh's inability to convince the Native American tribes to confederate for survival. They wouldn't confederate and they didn't survive.

Perhaps there is a behavioral similarity between the tribes that Tecumseh couldn't motivate and the Afghans?


rangeragainstwar said...

The yards were not loyal to our cause- they were loyal to the SF. A big difference.

FDChief said...

Jim: Fuck nation building. If we're running around central Asia to build central Asian states we need to re-read our goddam Xenophon, in my opinion.

But the larger point is well taken re: the Afghans not bonding with our present-day SF.

(I hesitate to suggest that it also may have something to do with the difference between the hairy-assed types who populated the SF community in the 60's and the sleeker, altogether better shaved SF officers of today...but perhaps...)

But just as much, now that I think about it, is the difference between the 'yards of 1963 (versus the RVN) and the Hazaras and Waziris and Pashtuns of 2009 (versus the Talibs). The mountaineers of Vietnam a) were militarily in the Late Stone Age when we arrived. Of course they wanted a piece of our SF teams' action, and b) had a huge divide - military and political - between them and the flatlanders of Saigon.

The Pashtuns are fairly even-up, man-for-man and gun-for-gun with their Talib tribal rivals, if they have any. All we could bring them would be the sexy high-speed Western stuff like fast movers, which would leave when we leave. The advantage they would get would be minor and transitory, the downside - from being associated with the hated Western occupiers - would be large and lingering.

FDChief said...

Jim: thanx for the ID - looked him up. Miller was a stud; his MOH citation is incredible.

Fasteddiez said...

Chief, It's hard to find ethnic background info on this goatfuck of an ANA. I guess the US leaders thereabouts consider it politically incorrect to wonder about such, since we are all Bananastanis, or Georgians?

I will send a bunch of posts (MSR like), in succession on stuff I found on Armydotmil of all places.

In 2006, retired General Barry McCaffrey highlighted the plight of the army: "The Afghan Army is miserably under resourced. This is now a major morale
factor for their soldiers. . . Army field commanders told me that they try to seize weapons from the Taliban who they believe are much better armed.
Many soldiers and police have little ammunition and few magazines, no body armor or blast glasses, no Kevlar helmets, no up-armored Humvees, or light
armor tracked vehicles."McCaffrey estimated that for the army to truly become a "well equipped, disciplined, multi-ethnic, literate and trained . . .
first-line counterinsurgency force," and for America to be fully out of Afghanistan by the year 2020, it would cost about $1.2 billion annually for
10 years.

Shot, over!

Fasteddiez said...

Speaking of Body counts....this does not bode well, if these are true.

Despite $822 million worth of donations from 46 coalition partners and another $194 million pending approval, the Afghan army nonetheless "suffers from insufficient fire power, the lack of indigenous combat air support and the absence of a self-sustaining operational budget."

"Insufficient firepower and inadequate protection have resulted in increasing casualty rates among Afghan troops as the army takes on more responsibility.
Some estimates claim that 40 to 60 Afghan soldiers perish for every coalition soldier killed in action. The army's reliance on foreign military support
for the foreseeable future is apparent on the ground.

The commander of 205th Corps says, "I confess we can't do it ourselves. We are a poor country."

Fasteddiez said...

Chief, You remember that video (Hashish) with the Marine Instructors, not the funny British ANA Hash video. Anyways the resigned looking ANA lieutenant says his boys are the dregs of society and were largely run out of their respective villages. BWAHAAHAAAHAAA.

At first, Afghan army officials were alarmed by the high disqualification rate among recruits during the initial screening process, attributing it to miscommunications over pay and training, bogus promises, and recruits being "forced to join under quotas imposed by local militia commanders.

"During the inaugural recruitment drive for the army's first kandak, "more than 500 showed up, but nearly half of them dropped out due to misunderstandings,
among which were the pay rate and the belief that trainees would be taken to the U.S. and taught to speak English and to read and write.

Some of the recruits were under 18 years of age and most were illiterate. Recruits who only spoke Pashto had difficulties because instructions were
given through interpreters who spoke Dari."Even OCS was not spared. "We began on day one at 0730 with 189 students, and by 1000 hours we were down to 111,
give or take a few.

The army decided that some of these university graduates were not up to the required education standard," said British Army Captain Danny O'Connor, a former OCS instructor. Another trainer added that "connecting with the Afghans is not always easy, although they are cooperative."

Fasteddiez said...

By late 2005, newly minted units still lacked both the quality and quantity of equipment required, and in early 2008 only 82 of the 132 122mm D-30 howitzers utilized by artillery batteries were functional.

Even higher echelons had inferior equipment. An Afghan brigade commander said he spent
$250 of his $400 monthly salary on phone cards because his personal cell phone was his only reliable means of communicating with his commanders.

Yep, and the AQ and Taliban have Thuraya Satcom phones, at the very least.

Fasteddiez said...

The officer-NCO divide is due to "cultural and societal problems," remarked Command Sergeant Major Daniel R. Wood."

Typically, NCOs didn't get a lot of respect under the old regime. Lieutenants and captains made all the decisions at the unit level,
and they had captains or majors doing what we would consider NCO work at higher levels."

Yep the old Soviet model at work.

Fasteddiez said...

Recently, the Taliban have stepped up their recruiting efforts by offering almost three times the daily pay for a soldier: up to $300 a month versus the $70 a month earned by a first-year ANA private.

An Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the "basic pay of $70 a month was a lot of money in 2003, but it is harder to recruit people to fight in a bitter insurgency now."

Moving up the chain of command, the monthly salary in 2006 was $180 for the top enlisted man, $160 for a second lieutenant, and $850 for a general. By 2008, each was only $30 a month higher.

In many instances, general officers have not been paid in months, but still continue to serve.

Fasteddiez said...

The Taliban often entice tribesmen and farmers with a variety of offers on a "seasonal" basis in different provinces, including "piece-rates of $10 to $20
a day for joining a given attack on Western forces," $15 to launch a single mortar round into nearby coalition military bases, and $1,000 for the head of a
government worker or a foreigner.

A 205th Corps officer believes the Taliban's cash comes from Pakistan and the flourishing drug trade. In addition, Afghan officials believe that certain Arab countries are also funding the insurgency.

Beyond the lure of cash, Lieutenant Colonel David Hammond of the British Parachute Regiment highlighted the intangible benefits the insurgents offered:
"If you were a lad in the hills and you were offered $12 to stay local, or you could take $4 and fight (with the fightin' ANA) miles away from home, which would you do?

Lastly, the Taliban often field better and larger caliber weapons as compared to the Afghan army, including heavy machine guns, mortars, and sometimes even recoilless rifles.

In the meantime, army units that have not received improved weapons continue to operate with "recycled" weapons taken from militias, with some rifles lacking even the basic aiming sights.

You do not need sights to spray and pray!

Ael said...

I am confused.

I understood that the Taleban were a political movement within the Pashtun ethnic community.

As such, it makes no sense to talk about Pashtuns vs Talebs.

If that is correct, then the current war in Afghanistan / Pakistan would be better described as a Pashtun rebellion?

Is this correct, or am I missing something?

Fasteddiez said...

In addition to the above mentioned pay issues, there are a multitude of other reasons why army soldiers desert their posts and go absent without leave (AWOL).

Often, "a reluctance to fight alongside foreigners against countrymen and a need to bring money to families in remote villages or help at harvest time,"
is exacerbated by "poor conditions and fierce resistance from the Taliban [and] the absence of a banking system [that] prevents them from sending money
to their families."

Besides the "monthly AWOL tendencies," two seasonal events cause the mass exodus of soldiers to their hometowns.

The first is the holy month of Ramadan, especially the week following Eid-il-Fitr (the end of Ramadan), when families gather for celebration and feasts marking the end to the fasting period.

The other is winter, when the cold, inadequate supplies, and poor living conditions make living in the field intolerable.

Did not the Russkies tell them that to be a Red Army soldier, you must sleep on the frozen ground with only your Great Coat (so you can show that you can hack it).

None of this stuff is even hinted at by those star wearing clowns in the "Stan." The COIN experts, also Pooh Pooh this stuff, so we can spend an eternity there, with self defeating ROE's, to prove them right and turn them into the next RAND.

I hope everybody enjoyed these comical, yet aged goodies. These are The US Government/Dod's Marvins. Take a good look at em' and hug like you would any wayward Tar Baby. Like Ole' Clint says: "We all have it coming, Kid."

FDChief said...

Fasteddiez: Thanx for the update(s). Seems like we learn nothing from our pathetic adventures in foreign army building.

Ael: My understanding is that the Taliban are largely Pashtun but the Pashtun are not the Taliban.

My brief researches suggest that the organization led by Mullah Omar is mostly made up of the Durrani tribe or group of tribes of the Pashtun. There seems to be some disagreement about what even constitutes a "Pashtun", but it seems to have something to do with ancestry, something to do with language and something to do with locality.

But there does appear to be agreement that the Pashtun are a pretty big group, spread out all across southern and eastern Afghanistan, western Pakistan and parts of northern Iran. And that many Pashtun tribes are either not aligned with the Talibs, or actively hostile towards them.

So I did f-up in using the term "Pashtun" in contrast to "the Taliban" - I should have said "Gilzais" or "Afridi" or "Yusufzai". My bad.

FDChief said...

Ael: But I think to describe the current fighting as an attempt to put down a Pashtun or mostly-Pashtun rebellion would not be inaccurate. And the problem inherant in that is that one or another of the Pashtun tribes, or a coalation of the same, have typically been the big dog in Afghan politics. So to be on the OTHER side from one of the biggest Pashtun tribes? Not such a good thing...