A New Kind of War 3 – Richard Sale

Lack of intelligence, resources plague Obama Afghan strategy

9_jungle_team As President Barack Obama seeks to militarize his Afghan policy, some administration officials and foreign policy experts question whether the United States has the intelligence, an adequate knowledge of the Afghan tribal structure and enough men for the new policy to be effective.

     Based on interviews with administration officials, congressional sources and South Asia experts, the following picture has emerged.

    The U.S. forces lack anything approaching adequate intelligence on about the region including tribes and sub-tribes:  “The needed intelligence structures are undeveloped,” said Brookings Institution analyst, Mike O’Hanlon.

     According to Alexander Thier, South Asia expert on the U.S. Institute for Peace, “That’s why the focus is on training the Afghan — we aren’t going to have local language fluency and hope to use them for that.’

     Yet according to counterinsurgency  experts like Andrew Krepinevich, Stephen Boyd, and Kilcullen, counterinsurgency requires being able to create an organization chart of the Taliban in each district or sub-district, based on extensive interviewing of the inhabitants of villages situation in the valleys or in sectors surrounding a major urban area,.

    Inhabitants of villages and towns must participate in their own defense, say these experts.

     Yet Teresita Schaffer said: “We are weak in the knowledge of the tribes, we lack linguists, and we lack knowledge of the culture.”Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has written that when the United States first deployed forces to

Afghanistan in 2002, U.S. forces possessed hardly specialists who spoke Pashtu or Dari, the two major languages, and they knew so little about the region they had to resort to reading the Encyclopedia Britannica to gain knowledge of the area.

      A former senior CIA official said it reminded him of Bosnia where there were so few speakers of Serb-Croat among U.S. intelligence, “We couldn’t even read the Serb newspapers to get intelligence.”

    The tribal structures are especially complex. Former Carter NSC Middle East advisor, Gary Sick said, “There are 100 tribes in Afghanistan, and there is no unanimity, no coherence between them It’s like trying to govern 100 different countries.”

   Said Schaffer, “The tribes are a moving target.  Anyone who claims they know a lot about them clearly doesn’t.”

   Felba-Brown agreed: “We don’t understand the fabric of local coalitions and tribes and sub-tribes,” and yet any counterinsurgency success depends upon constant contact between U.S. forces and the tribes acting in partnership, with American forces providing security for them in their villages, she said.

  Yet U.S. forces plan to rely on local Afghans, especially police, to act as interpreters for U.S. forces, Thier said.

   There are also pressing questions of the adequacy of U.S. manpower. The current police reform programs are being done by U.S. National Guard Units and Dyncorp employees, the latter a private security firm, yet a Pentagon official said there was a shortage of professional U.S. trainers and mentors for the program, and according to public statements by Col. Lewis Irwin, who served in Kabul, the local Afghan police are organized into 400 police districts outside that city, not including dozens of districts within the city itself. Plus the police forces consist of seven different public safety and security organizations with its own distinct agendas, he said.

  He added that Afghan police are unable to deploy to those areas where they are needed most.

     “Constraints of resources are taking us down really bad roads,” said Felba-Brown. “We are arguing over means and options all the time.”

     Said Irwin: “We have not gotten our planning and operating mechanisms just right yet.”

      South Asia experts said that lack of resources meant the US counterinsurgency efforts would concentrate on towns rather than villages. The original counterinsurgency mission, the plan to secure villages, ensure a permanent U.S. presence in them, create a security perimeter, and mount night patrols and stage ambushes to keep the Taliban out might be too big a task.

      “Our focus should not be heading out to remote villages,” said Thier who added that establishing a widespread U.S. presence “isn’t feasible.”

     “Even if we get up to 60,000 men deployed, it’s too few. It’s about half the presence you need  in troubled areas,” he said.

     A Pentagon official said that at the moment, U.S. forces lack officers with the temperament experience and credibility to be able to act successfully with local leaders.  “We are very far from being at that level,” one said.

     There is also the question of unity of command. Afghanistan is a state lacking a proper government, with limited infrastructure, no legitimate economy, no functioning justice system and unable to deliver basic public services. Its  government is riddled with cronyism, and corrupt officials hold high positions in the Ministry of Interior. Host nation politics play as great part, and as a result, there is no central decision-making group, and approaches to making decisions vary from department to department with the result that attempts to forge effective policy are fragmented, disjointed, and incoherent, according to several experts.

   The host nation must fight war lords, drug lords, terrorists,  foreign fighters, and inter-tribal feuds, yet U.S. confidence in current persident Hamid Karzai is at an all-time low. John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, ini a recent interview rated Karzai’s competence as a “2" on a rating scale of 1-10/

      Last December-January, the United States “tried to pull plug on Karzai,” according to Felba-Brown and confirmed by congressional and other sources.  “We wanted to by-pass Karzai and go to local leaders but the result was not what we expected.”

    The Obama administration wanted to go directly to tribal leaders, but Karzai has great skill in “fracturing domestic political opposition, and because we did not understand the “tribal and local coaltions” Karzai came out on top. she said. Karzai countered U.S. hostility by oozhinig up to Russia, she said.

     The current U.S. plan is to install a strong U.S. envoy who will oversee the Afghan president. “U.S. efforts to shrink Karzai’s powers are failing,” said Felba-Brown.

  At the moment, Karzai seems certain to win upcoming August elections.


Richard Sale, Middle East Times Intelligence Correspondent




It appears that it is once again 1963.   The counterinsurgency fad of that time had all the same problems and eventually overcame most of them.  That took about ten years.  In the end it mattered not.  The American people through their Congress said – ENOUGH! and we went home.   Pat Lang

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12 Responses to A New Kind of War 3 – Richard Sale

  1. par4 says:

    Agree,this country does not want extended military conflicts.If WWII had drug on and on there probably would have been a different ending than unconditional surrender.

  2. Cloned Poster says:

    Given the millions of investment in Gitmo, surely they missed that opportunity

  3. FB Ali says:

    Richard Sale’s gloomy assessment does not surprise me at all. This is generals marching to the edge of the cliff, eyes wide shut. They may well take Obama over with them, just as they took Lyndon Johnson the last time. (Of course, they don’t go over the edge; it’s those below them, especially the lower ranks. For generals the reward of folly is extra stars!).
    Obama (or someone around him) should read Tuchman’s “The March of Folly”. Soon!

  4. srv says:

    “It appears that it is once again 1963.”
    I’m sure McChrystal has read the relevant York Harding.

  5. arbogast says:

    On the assumption that there is a “Domino Theory II“, could someone explain to me what it is?
    Or, more generally, explain why we are at war in Afghanistan? Is it Afghanistan’s relentless quest for nuclear weapons? Is it to seek Osama bin Laden?
    I don’t understand.

  6. Nightsticker says:

    Colonel Lang,
    Interesting picture. Is the man on the left carrying a K
    gun? SOG? PRU? Is there a story?
    USMC 65-72
    FBI 72-96

  7. Yet Teresita Schaffer said: “We are weak in the knowledge of the tribes, we lack linguists, and we lack knowledge of the culture.”Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has written that when the United States first deployed forces to Afghanistan in 2002, U.S. forces possessed hardly specialists who spoke Pashtu or Dari, the two major languages,
    Given the high-tech orientation of the US military, perhaps it should seek to develop the universal translators that we see on Star Trek.
    This would be particularly useful consider that – given the ten year lead time Col. Lang is suggesting – things are at to be hopping in West Africa, where there are all sorts of other nifty languages, once this Afghan thing gets wrapped up.
    That is, assuming that our Chinese creditor will continue to be willing/able to fund our various foreign adventures.

  8. Patrick Lang says:

    SOG recon team. The guys in the front rank are montagnards. pl

  9. cb says:

    If fifty billion dollars a year won’t buy basic information about Afghanistan’s languages or cultures, what is it paying for?
    “…they knew so little about the region they had to resort to reading the Encyclopedia Britannica to gain knowledge of the area.”
    I’ll do that for thirty billion a year, and save the country some money.

  10. Fred says:

    This is a complete indictment of the already discredited idea that Republicans are better at national defense than Democrats. Eight years of conservative republican leadership and the US still does not have adequate language capabilities in its armed forces that are currently engaged in combat, for the eighth straight year, against an enemy still not defeated. I’m sure we’ll hear the bloating herd of pundits blaming Obama and the liberals until the next Republican is elected.
    “U.S. confidence in current president Hamid Karzai is at an all-time low” This is rather beside the point when the Afghan confidence in Hamid Karzai is non existent.

  11. Watcher says:

    As for the nifty star trek translators, they’re called iphones and ipods. Yes, the Army has figured out how to use these as the next generation of translators:
    While I won’t disagree about the need for cultural awareness, what this article glosses over is the lack of support for training not the Afghan National Army but the Police at all levels. Police that are well PAID, trained, equipped and manned. Until we get that part straight, every soldier we send to Afghanistan could be a chai drinking Dari/Pashto speaker but will be of little use. The locals need to feel confident that the local police are not corrupt and are more than capable of protecting them. The point of COIN, in the Galula sense, is to both physically separate the population from the insurgent (local police/security) and then beat the insurgent politically by either making his argument worthless or convinving him it’s time to put down the weapons and come join the rest of society.

  12. Somewhere between 600 and 900 language blocks in Sub-Saharan Africa—Time for Rosetta Stone?

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