17 April 2010

We Has Met the Enemy, and It is Us ...

This (next?) week's Time magazine cover story regards both tactical and practical factors in implementing counterinsurgency (COIN) practices. Writer Joe Klein tells the story of how a young U.S. Army officer struggles to get a school re-built in the southern Afghan town of Senjaray, Zhari District, Kandahar Province.

Here's the "nut" paragraph, upon which all other words turn:
The past four months in Senjaray have taught [Capt. Jeremiah Ellis, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division] how difficult it is to do COIN in an area that is, in effect, controlled by the enemy — and with a command structure that is tangled in bureaucracy and paralyzed by the incompetence and corruption of the local Afghan leadership. Indeed, as the struggle to open the school — or get anything of value at all done in Senjaray — progressed, the metaphor was transformed into a much bigger question: If the U.S. Army couldn't open a small school in a crucial town, how could it expect to succeed in Afghanistan?
The questions and challenges discussed in the story are likely to be faced by some of my Red Bull buddies when they deploy downrange, although my faith in the citizen-soldier alleviates some of my potential concerns about how we Midwesterners will perform. I've seen it before, and I'll see it again: National Guard soldiers often have more life-experience to draw upon than their younger active-duty counterparts. We're soldiers, but we're also farmers and city engineers and building superintendents. I don't think you'd ever hear one of our leaders saying that we were "just knuckle-draggers," a sentiment more-than-implied by the 1st/12th Infantry's executive officer (X.O.) here:
That task is more difficult because the 1/12 battalion hasn't exactly had a terrific rotation in Afghanistan. "We've been asked to do a lot of different things," says Major Korey Brown, the battalion's executive officer. "They detached us from our brigade, which is headquartered in eastern Afghanistan, and sent us out here to Zhari district to be storm troopers — that's what General Vance called us — and that's what we were trained for, that's what we like to do. To find, fix and finish the enemy." But the mission changed with the arrival of General Stanley McChrystal, as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in the summer of 2009. "It's not about how you engage the enemy so much now. It's how you engage your district governor," says Brown. "That's a huge change for guys like us — call us knuckle draggers or whatever, but we weren't trained to do COIN."
The article also addresses some of lack of an effective "civilian surge" currently demonstrated, a situation that my blogger buddy Jeff Courter and I exchanged thoughts and blogs on earlier this week. (See here, here, and here.) As Klein writes:
The 1/12's problems were compounded by a practically nonexistent local government, led by a district governor who insisted on keeping his office at the battalion's forward operating base, rather than among the people. "And then the Afghan army regiment we were supposed to partner with was diverted to Helmand province, for the battle in Marjah," says Brown. And the so-called civilian surge — the civil and economic development component of the offensive, led by the State Department — arrived late and weak. "So the 1/12's been out there, pretty much alone," a State Department official based in Kandahar told me. "No Afghan military partner, a lousy relationship with the local government and not enough help from us."
The bottom line? A well-reported story, with plenty of meaty examples, written at a scale and pace applicable for deploying Red Bull soldiers. Regardless of where we eventually land in Afghanistan, many of us are going to be walking in the 1st/12th Infantry's figurative bootsteps. Time to mount-up mentally:
[...] Zhari is strategically crucial, the gateway to Kandahar city from the west, the staging area for most Taliban activity in the region. It is a largely rural district straddling the Afghan Ring Road and the Arghandab River. It includes the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's hometown of Sangsar. The Taliban aren't outside agitators here; they are neighbors — not exactly beloved neighbors, given their propensity for violence and peremptory taxation, but more trustworthy than a deeply corrupt Afghan government and much more familiar than the foreign troops. Senjaray is the largest population center, a town of somewhere from 8,000 to 12,000 (there hasn't been a census), at the eastern end of the Zhari district. If Senjaray can't be won over, Kandahar won't be.

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