When getting high just isn't "cool"

Word on the street is that Obama will send 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan. He really stared McChrystal down, eh? It’s expected that he’ll make a public announcement on Tuesday; i’m sure it will be a fine speech. He’ll talk about freedom and how important it is to defend it. He’ll have tough words for Hamid Karzai and corruption in Afghanistan. He’ll tell us that this is all necessary so that the terrorist bogeymen don’t come back and kill us all at the mall. And most importantly, he’ll tell us that this “surge” is temporary; it will facilitate the development of the Afghan National Army and provide security until that body can take on the job of defeating the Taliban.

That is, Mr. Obama will produce grand words that will, hopefully, mask the taste of bullshit. There’s a video going around the internet that you should watch so that you have the right visual for the moment our President tells you about developing the Afghan Army.

I don’t know about you, but i laughed and laughed. The attitude towards all that spliff smoking by the US servicemen was the funniest bit. Close to thirty years ago, the Americans almost certainly would have been happy to smoke with the Afghans. Of course, the US lost that time didn’t we? We’ll lose this one too, so as those soldiers might have said, “It don’t mean a fuckin’ thing.” I’d also imagine that plenty of Vietnam vets might say that they could dispatch their soldierly duties just fine while blazed. The problem probably isn’t the hash.

The problem might be what the Afghan commander hinted at, the Afghan army is getting the bottom of the barrel…which happens to be filled with high-on’s.

The young Afghans who want to be a warrior have plenty of other opportunities, opportunities that don’t require being screamed at by some cracker. There are private armies, with the possibility of making some money on the side in all the activities that private armies do for funding. These guys are bringing down $120 per month for doing America’s dirty work.

We’ve heard about the $10 a day Taliban, by my math that works out to around $300 per month. If everyone is shooting at pretty much everyone else, which outfit would you join? Who do you think is going to be around the longest? These guys have joined the lowest paid militia in the country; don’t be surprised that they’d rather be getting high.

I see another problem. While i understand that Afghanistan’s multi-ethnic character means multiple languages, there’s no reason that the American trainers couldn’t give simple commands in at least one of them…after eight years. Not only is the ANA expected to defeat the Taliban on half Taliban pay, but they get to do it while taking EFL classes.

We’re spending billions to “win” in Afghanistan and rebuild it like some shining city on a South Asian hill but we don’t bother teaching the trainers to speak any of the Afghan languages? Ya wanna know why we’ll never achieve our stated goals in Afghanistan? Because learning Pashto, Urdu or Dari (even Arabic) is not required of every US soldier deployed to Afghanistan.

There are finer examples — at least a few prepared for public consumption — of cooperation between US forces and the ANA. Relations between the two appear to be much better, but the American interviewee’s also seem like they’re trying to remember their lines. We can safely assume that there are units, officers and soldiers in the ANA who know what they’re doing and do it well. There are not, however, 90,000 of them. There will not be 260,000 of them any time soon.

Besides Someone cooked the books documenting Afghan National Army strength. and, high turnover continues to climb. There is very little chance that the ANA will be ready to take over the role of thrashing the Taliban and keeping al Qaeda on the other side of the mountains. 34,000 more US troops are unlikely to change the prognosis much…especially if they have to teach 28,000,000 people English first.

I really hope that i’m wrong. I really hope that Mr. Obama will not give the speech he’s hinting at, but… Don’t be surprised by, “So that the Afghan army can step up, and we can stand down.” Don’t be surprised when the Afghan army doesn’t step up. Feign shock when the generals keep coming back for more troops, right up until the day we scurry off with our tail between our legs. Unless the President comes through with a shocker (or he has yet another strategy review), we’re in this goat rodeo for the long haul.

4 replies »

  1. Up Front Diclaimer: I just returned from a six month tour in Helmand Province. While there, I worked a good bit with the ANA so my views are tainted by actual experience. I also recognize a bit of tunnell vision, as I only worked with one ANA unit, whose command was largely considered a model of success.

    The ANA is by no means a perfec organization, there are pockets of hope, however. The first sign of success is when the leadership of the ANA gets on board with the program. There are units that have done so, and there are untis that have not. As long as units have poor leaership, they will continue to retain poor soldiers. Good Afghan leadership raise expectations and results to much higher degree.

    I saw the ANA Commanding Officer brief (in very good English BTW) Gen. McChrystal, Senator Levin and Senator Kerry. Each time he pulled no punches and admitted the probems they faced, but was generally optimistic about future success.

    The mentorship is a key part of or success there. A video showing snipits of an ETT chastising them is funny and in many cases accurate. But this shows me that we need more mentors. They need to learn how to have an Army for it to be successful. This will not happen quickly.

    Where they have been they have seen success. Your video clip was posted to youtube in March of 2009, so it is fairly recent, but still it was fimed before any of Obama’s committments to the region had arrived on the ground. What you saw was the frustration of an ETT asked to do job with very littel big picture support.

  2. Bob,

    Thanks for commenting. I would have replied sooner, but i spent the holiday where it took 15 minutes of driving to get cell reception so internet was pretty out of the picture.

    I didn’t concentrate many words on it, but i don’t think that this clip is indicative of the whole ANA. This is clearly the worst possible example, but building an army is never easy and i’ve seen a lot of clips made by servicemen suggesting that this isn’t an outlier in describing the relationship between the US soldiers and their Afghan counterparts.

    Does Obama seem to have the right idea? IMO, yes…generally…excepting that COIN as described in the new manuals is A. very difficult, B. wholly dependent on the situation to which it’s applied and C. not what the US military has been trained or equipped to do. But it’s eight years too late and not a big enough commitment to turn the situation around in the time frame that domestic politics will demand.

    I don’t doubt that ANA commanders give excellent briefings in near-flawless English. That doesn’t change the fact that if we hope to run the COIN doctrine successfully then our commanders should be able to give briefings in near-flawless Pashto, Dari, etc. (This is, of course, dependent on whether we actually want to implement a counter insurgency doctrine or call colonial occupation “counter insurgency” so that we don’t have to call it colonial occupation.)

    Like i’ve said, i hope that i’m wrong in my analysis…but that doesn’t change it.

  3. Lex,
    Very solid points you make, particularly the points about COIN. I agree with the fact that COIN is difficult and must be situationally dependant, however, I think it is a mistake to say that military is not trained for these operations. We are trained; the trick is the subtle shift from Iraq COIN to Afghan COIN. Heck, even Afghan COIN is regionally dependent. General McChrystal is definitely setting a new tone and his direction is making it down to the troop on the ground level very quickly.

    Language is a huge issue. You have the ANA that is largely from the north and speaking Dari or Farsi working in Helmand where the people speak Pashto. Our troops are learning some Pashto, but they will never be fluent in it. Good interpreters are gold out there.

    Growing the Afhan National Police is the long term solution to many of the regional problem, as they generally come from the local communities. But, if you think the ANA is corrupt, you should see the ANP (with the Afghan Border Police falling waaaay back on the trust scale). But the answer is in growing these groups, collectively known as the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The question of political will and national patience is a legitimate one after 8 plus years in there, no question about that.

    Success will be slow, but I think it will come about in this manner: First the ANSF organizations will have to survive and accept their mission. This will likely happen with corruption as the lubrication for accomplishment. This is not much different than the “old boy network” in the States. Secondly, once they begin to see success, then they will be able to fight corruption from within the organization.

    This is very do-able. The debate is at what cost in lives, time, and money. We lost a lot of ground in the past few years and it will take some time to make up for it. I, for one, am optimistic.