Permissible Arms

A Tin-Plated Anniversary

Posted in afghanistan, isaf, united states by Karaka on 21 October 2010

Another unpleasant, unplanned absence. Sigh. To everyone that I owe email: apologies for being out of contact. I’m trying to wade through everything now. Shoot me another one if you don’t hear from me by this weekend. Mea maxima culpa.

Say what you will about the ANA–and there’s a lot to be said–but there’s something compelling about this collection of photos of an ANA graduation. (From thruafghaneyes.)

Newly trained female officers of the Afghan National Army (ANA) attended their graduation ceremony at the National Army training center in Kabul on Thursday, 23 September 2010.

There are real problems with a transition from ISAF to ANSF in 2011. In the US, the President has a real political problem if he doesn’t stay the course of at least semi-withdrawal by that date. In Afghanistan, there are competency issues, numbers issues, readiness issues, and that whole pesky desertion/retention problem. Not that this is news to anyone who’s been paying attention for the last (gulp) ten years.

Petraeus, speaking from London, is trying his best to make hay from hash by citing progress in literacy and health programs. But who really thinks the ANSF will grow big enough in such little time–at the very least, not without cutting some corners in training, recruiting, and over all quality.

We’re coming close to the exact two choices that have been present since this plan for Afghanistan came out last year: either find a way to keep this 2011 deadline soft enough that ISAF can keep trying to make the ANSF work; or accept that after ten years ISAF only started the real work a year and a half ago, and the political time on this war has run out. Sucks to be in the Afghan Army or Police Force, here’s the keys to the car, try not to wreck it too badly.

Not to be too pessimistic or anything. I think I’m just going to go look at those pictures some more and think about the counter-factual world that might have been if real ANSF training had started in 2003.


Rather Late Monday Errata. (Still catching up.)

Posted in afghanistan, counterinsurgency, europe, isaf, islam, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 12 July 2010

A handful of links:

  • Paul McCleary has a good article on the Afghan NCOP and police forces: “And generally speaking,” [Ward] added, “when they’re partnered, we see the right kinds of behavior.” But the question is: what happens when they’re not partnered? Good question.
  • The NYT At War blog reviews reports on Afghan opinion polls. According to the findings, corruption remains the third-biggest concern to Afghans, following security and unemployment. One in seven adults experienced direct bribery in the past two years. The total of bribes paid by Afghans in 2009 added to roughly $1 billion, almost double the amount in 2007. The average bribe paid was $156. There are some nice charts, as well. How on earth does an average Afghan have $156 to burn on a bribe?
  • The Big Picture covers Afghanistan, June 2010. Quite frankly the best photojournalism column around. This gets my pick, though there are some truly awe-striking photos in this collection. There are at least three or four of Afghan girls and women, as well.

This June 4, 2010 picture shows the starry desert night over Camp Hansen at Marjah, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Hyunsoo Leo Kim)

  • MikeF (hi Mike!) started a robust discussion of David Kilcullen’s Counterinsurgency at Small Wars Council worth your time; he very kindly posted links to Starbuck’s review and my own. Now that I’m a bit removed from my initial reactions to the book, I do think it has merit, certainly as an introduction to counterinsurgency as a practical concept and as a handy portable version of the doctrine, such as it is. I’m doing a re-read of “The Accidental Guerilla” at the moment, and I do think it’s interesting to see how Kilcullen’s ideas have shifted over time, as he’s gained more insight and experience. Still, as a whole book I do think it has some structural flaws. Well worth the $15 (₤10).
  • And also, h/t Starbuck for Bing West’s review of Counterinsurgency at the National Interest. I particularly liked this line: Stack plays Thomas Hobbes to Kilcullen’s John Locke. Very well put.
  • If you were as baffled by this whole Dave Weigel-getting-fired business as I was, check out this Diavlog with the man in question. (H/t Ackerman.)
  • CHUP on the burqa ban and fear. Such policies and practices, regardless if it means banning the burqa or banning criticism of it, are ultimately unproductive because it further polarizes the debate rather than resolving any of its underlying issues. Good discussion in the comments.
  • As you all surely know, Mattis is for CENTCOM which is an excellent power shuffle around the board. One might think his pass over for Commandant was orchestrated to get him into CENTCOM, if one was a particularly twitchy conspiracy theorist. Which I am not. For more on Mattis, AFJ has excerpts from Tom Ricks’ “Fiasco” available for ungated reading.
  • Paul Staniland recently did a guest post series at the Monkey Cage on how counterinsurgencies end. I wish they were all linked together, but if you have the time its worth poking around for them all.
  • Embedistan, also on the At War blog.

Numbers, numbers, numbers.

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 25 January 2010

As I’m wading backwards through the last several weeks of posts, articles, papers, and other items, I’ll be revisiting things that have probably been put to bed already. Apologies if the ongoing conversation has moved elsewhere, but I find virtue in dealing with the things I read as I read them.

From Nightwatch circa 2010-01-20:

The Afghan government announced its goals for expanding its security forces in the next three to five years. The plan calls for security force levels to reach 400,000, including 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 national police, the Associated Press reported today.

At present Afghanistan claims to have 94,000 police officers and 97,000 soldiers. A British Colonel who is a member of the planning team for the security forces said that the team would be asked to approve a goal of 134,000 soldiers and 109,000 police by the end of this year. That would increase to 172,000 soldiers and 134,000 police by the end of next year.

The numbers are mainly on paper. The purpose of this entry is to update readers about the official numbers.

The literacy rate and level of familiarity with technology are so low that the goal of adding 40,000 soldiers this year is not credible and can only be a paper drill. In the past 8 years, the annual average increase has been just over 11,700 soldiers and more than half desert. What would make anyone think an increase of 40,000 soldiers, regardless of their lack of capability, was achievable this year? Moreover, while Afghanistan needs more police, it urgently needs paramilitary police.

“Not credible” is the polite way of saying “this is bullshit.” I’ve always been wary of giving credence to the development targets for a professional Afghan security force, and this does nothing to assuage that wariness. It seems that it must constantly be reiterated that Afghanistan is not Iraq; hell, you can’t do justice by comparing it to Pakistan either, which has had enough stability to maintain the ISI and other security operations for far longer than Afghanistan has had the Taliban pried from its capitol. At a basic level, to manage as large numbers of professional (somewhat Westernized) security forces as is targeted in Afghanistan, there has to be enough literacy amongst a managerial corps to handle those forces. And it simply doesn’t exist.

Not to be facile, but it takes time to build basic education into an illiterate society, and it won’t be accomplished by any exit deadline set by the West. This is a ridiculous inflation of the capability of Afghan infrastructure and Western efficacy in this field.

The exponential increase the “British colonel” is describing just makes me heave a sigh. I bet Rory Stewart is doing the same thing.

It’s not like Journalism is Fight Club.

Posted in american media by Karaka on 16 September 2009

I’m kind of running on Doctor Who-time here, but I thought this article/critique of Tom Ricks in the Columbia Journalism Review was, well, rather odd.

The charge seems to be that Ricks ceased to be an objective journalist and has instead become an opinionated advocate for counterinsurgency strategy. Well…yes. And I’m not sure Ricks would disagree. There is a reason he works for CNAS instead of the Washington Post. There’s a reason he produced two books and maintains a blog, rather than doing file copy for a newspaper. It’s because he…ceased to be an objective journalist when he became an opinionated advocate for counterinsurgency strategy.

The article apparently disapproves of that move, because every other paragraph from halfway through is a quote from someone in the Beltway ragging on Ricks’ insatiable appetite for this topic. The author looks to criticize Ricks for no longer retaining the journalist’s virtue of objectivity, but the account of Ricks’ career clearly gives rationale for that: Ricks’ perspective from the embeds he did in the early part of this century gave him the basis to present his own accounting of those events. His books weren’t reporting; they were analyses. His blog isn’t reporting; it is commentary. And he has not somehow lost something by shifting into this other role. He has made a career change in line with his own personal changes.

I don’t really get the point of the article. Was it to deliver a hit to Tom Ricks for leaving the journalists’ club? Was it to claim that he has drunk the counterinsurgency kool-aid? Because it seems rather petty to criticize a dude who no longer claims journalistic objectivity for not retaining that journalistic objectivity.

Speaking of Ricks, he exercised his opinionated, non-newsprint-affiliated voice on Wednesday to criticize the spin put on illiteracy rates among ANSF troops by AP:

The Afghan army is “hard to train.” Why? Because the soldiers are illiterate. Pop quiz: How many of the Spartans at Thermopalye were literate? One reason armies have had officers is to ensure that for every 100 or so soldiers, there is someone who can decipher a map and read orders.

I kind of prefer this feisty, no-bullshit Ricks to WP-affiliated reporter Ricks, I must say.

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