Men on Horseback

"The NSC's strategic guidance, a classified document that outlines the president's new approach, was described by the senior administration official as limiting military operations "in scale and scope to the minimum required to achieve two goals — to prevent al-Qaeda safe havens and to prevent the Taliban from toppling the government." The use of resource-intensive counterinsurgency tactics — employing U.S. forces to protect Afghan civilians from the Taliban — is supposed to be restricted to key cities and towns in southern and eastern parts of the country, the official said.

"The strategy has fundamentally changed. This is not a COIN strategy," Vice President Biden said on MSNBC last week, using the military's shorthand for counterinsurgency. "This is not 'go out and occupy the whole country.' " "  Washpost


It appears that the Afghan policy war is not over.  Chandrasekaran is a good reporter but not good enough to get this unaided.  Sooo, someone(s) at the NSC briefed him so that the message would be delivered to the "other team" that their behavior is being watched closely and that the NSC team is prepared to use the public media as a weapon if need be.

The reporter then went to the Defense Department where he was told their side of the story.  Secretary Gates appears to have become the leader of the pentagon faction

Petraeus is interestingly absent from this nearly open struggle.   He will wait to see what the outcome may be.

A major confrontation over policy and presidential authority is coming.  The policy review scheduled for July 2010 may well precipitate it.  pl

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11 Responses to Men on Horseback

  1. Mad Dogs says:

    From the WaPo article Pat links to:

    …At the White House, a senior administration official said, the National Security Council is discussing ways to increase monitoring of military and State Department activities in Afghanistan to prevent “overreaching”…

    Good luck with that!
    And further evidence that while the White House may think they’re driving this bus, “other” hands appear to be on the wheel.
    And it isn’t just the COINsters with their hands on the wheel.
    From a NYT article today – Elite U.S. Force Expanding Hunt in Afghanistan, the “unannounced” CT mission is likely to be a good deal more expansive perhaps than the civilian leadership desires as well:

    “…The increasing tempo of commando operations in Afghanistan has caused some strains with other American commanders. Many of the top Special Operations forces, as well as intelligence analysts and surveillance aircraft, are being moved to Afghanistan from Iraq, as the Iraq war begins to wind down…”

    As to who will prevail, “men with guns” generally have the odds in their favor.
    We will see, shan’t we?

  2. D White says:

    From the WAPO article “… we’ve connected the people to the government, and we’re helping them to rebuild their economy…”
    Now if we could just accomplish this here at home!

  3. Nicollo says:

    Like him or not, POTUS is both bright and smart. I think it’s his tune we hear being playedbeing played.

  4. Jackie says:

    Please don’t take any offense, as you are retired military, but is the NSC giving the military the rope to hang itself? I know you weren’t happy that the generals seemed to win the Afghanistan battle within the administration. Maybe there is something more at play here and they didn’t get all they wanted after all. Just a thought.

  5. Gautam Das says:

    Col. Lang and others,
    It’s intriguing to an outsider as to how the world’s most powerful military, and one with an expeditionary policy, finds itself in a policy bind regarding Afghanistan. The US has been there 8 years now, and has oodles of all kinds of information on the place + ample ground experience now. The whole thing gets curioser and curioser. In an efort to understand how the USA got itself into this dilemma, I have procured and am now reading/have read the following books:
    1. Andrew Bacevich, ‘The Limits of Power’
    2. Bob Woodward, ‘Bush at War’
    3. Tom Ricks, ‘Fiasco’
    4.Rick Atkinson, ‘In the Company of Soldiers’
    5. Evan Wright, ‘Generation Kill’
    This is a sort of a top-down approach to the subject, from the macro view to the leading troops, but mainly Iraq, though Afghanistan post 2001 is partly covered. I decided to skip (1) Ricks’s ‘Gamble: Gen Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq’ as not being fully relevant to understanding the AF-stan situation, and (2) David Feith, ‘War & Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism’, as the subject has been covered by Bacevich, Woodward and Ricks, and I felt Feith’s might be too self-exculpatory.
    Am I missing anything? Suggestions, comments, and general observations are all welcome.
    I think the US is making some fundamental mistakes which neither of the two approaches (ie, the Obama Plan or the military’s hope) can rectify. It is now Obama’s War, and I’m surprised that he seems unable to handle it. Or am I reading this totally wrong?
    Regards and best wishes for a happy new year to all,
    Gautam Das
    New Delhi, India

  6. Cold War Zoomie says:

    I could only read the first page and half before being compelled to comment.
    Uh, who do these generals think they work for? Themselves?
    Time to fire some of these people and remind them who is in charge.
    I see absolutely no problem with military leadership telling the president their view of the pro’s and cons of a particular policy. In fact I would *hope* they do that! And they should fight for their view until the decision is made.
    But once the President decides on HIS POLICY, it’s time for them to give an honest assessment about IMPLEMENTING it, not to go back to their offices and find ways to undermine it.
    So the City of Rome had its “SPQR” signature. What should our’s be?

  7. Cold War Zoomie! All actions US relating to Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy should be labeled “SRKS”! This stands for the Senate and Representatives of K St. There is a reason that policy making in US government circules is so convoluted. First level is whose Ox is gored? Second level:Can we make sure it is not OUR ox that is gored? Third level: Whatever Ox is gored the only one that cannot fight back except at the voting booth is the average citizen. Muffle discussion of issues and policies in MSM and make sure that spin is always applied to mask who the real beneficiaries are of US policy decisions. Don’t look at the various Embassy crowds to determine influence [although some more important than others} look instead and who the various countries have retained and what they are doing if you can find out. Yes, Washington is the most important city in the world because by mistake it can end the existence of a people or a nation-state. Seldom would this be a policy choice but since money, ego, and hubris rule it (DC) is a very dangerous jungle whether your beliefs are innocent [rarely} or otherwise. Why are most of the DC cab drivers Nigerian by the way?

  8. KHarbaugh says:

    There is something I’ve not seen in this whole AfPak debate,
    which has been going on pretty much since Obama’s inauguration:
    What is the assessment of the IC (remember them?)
    as to the odds of success of the various strategies being considered,
    and what the most likely responses
    of the societies we are attempting to manage/control
    will be to our intervention?
    Ray McGovern has claimed there is no NIE for Afg.
    Is he right?
    And what about DIA and Army MI?
    How do they rate the chances of success for the McChrystal plan?
    We hear so much about what beltway bandits (i.e. think-tankers,
    e.g., Kagan, Kagan, and Kagan) think,
    but seemingly nothing about what the intelligence professionals think.
    Why is that?
    Have they gone silent,
    or is the media suppressing their views
    (as they have in the past for Scheuer, Walt, and Mearsheimer)?

  9. Brett J says:

    If this volley speaks to a continuing Afghan policy battle, perhaps it is a reason for hope- if these sort of messages are being telegraphed.

  10. Gautam,
    Speaking for myself, I very much welcome your perspective. It’s rather rare that a U.S. discussion of the dynamics of Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially trying to explain Pakistani policy, considers Indo-Pakistani relations.

  11. DE Teodoru says:

    An excusite account of our Bush-it phase of the Afghan War brom a very able SF turned scholar, Hy Rothstein:
    Imagine you are seen by a surgeon who deems you need an operation and totally botches it up. Somehow you survive; is it then the surgeon’s right to insist that he must have a5t you again to try and do the operation right and he can’t be denied that right because his reputation as a surgeon os at stake?
    America must realize that going from bad to worse in fakes and frauds in command leads to the point where the Afghans say: you’ve had your way with us over and over again for almost a decade and somehow we’ve survived you. Now you have no right to salvage your unearned reputation on our families, homes, bodies, and nation anymore. All our alQaeda notions do not over-ride our bloody incoompetence!

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