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Helmand “grunt” war still ongoing, Afghan Army contribution not ideal, strategy lacking…Bing West on Afghanistan

October 14, 2012

Strategy meets tactics

No significant comment from me needed here.  This is a very interesting article from Bing West, who has the impressive spread of a CV that takes him from US Marine right up to Assistant Secretary of Defense.  He routinely sends missives from the front, ie the Helmand front, where he still appears to feel more comfortable.  It is worth reading in full, if only to remind you that, at a time when the seemingly irreversible process of down-sizing ISAF force levels is ongoing, some serious fighting is still taking place.  West highlights this vividly and concludes with the key message – there is a crucial absence of strategy here which is not for the troops on the ground to solve.

The commander of 1/7, Lieutenant Colonel David Bradney, had no illusions about permanent progress. The Taliban kept coming back, and the war went on.

“You could say I’m brushing back water,” he said

The key points I take away from this:

  • Good tactics, but where is the strategy?
  • These tactics – small patrols, get hit by occasional ambushes, get hit by occasional IEDs, return to base to report seem to be the flavour for the last five years or more – not much progress?
  • In an insurgency, a military report that claims that, in the course of a year, half as many soldiers are needed to control an area twice as big sounds very much like progress.
  • This news would have been welcome in 2006 and 2008 (and even 2010?). But now it smacks of impressive tactical gains at great cost to life that look to lead nowhere…
  • …particularly because, on the rare occasion when the Afghan National Army do feature in this report, it does not get a favourable review – the gap in trust caused by “Green on Blue” has done much to exacerbate the problem.

The goal was for the Afghans to gain skills, confidence, and independence by following our example in operations. That process has ceased, with no known replacement program. Now, without American firepower, reinforcements, and medical evacuation, Afghan forces are even more reluctant to patrol. The Taliban have gained freedom of movement and a psychological edge.


Further Reading: With the Warriors, March 2011

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 14, 2012 12:53 pm

    Tim, It seems well within the realm of possibility that Mitt Romney will be the US President, starting January. Here is a Wikipedia account of his position on the “War in Afghanistan”:

    Romney supported the War in Afghanistan. In 2011 he stated regarding Afghanistan:
    I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals … But I also think we have learned that our troops should not go off and try to fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghans can win Afghanistan’s independence from the Taliban.
    In 2012, when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta outlined a plan to withdraw U.S. combat troops by 2013 if possible, Romney criticized the announcement, saying, “Why in the world do you go to the people that you’re fighting with and tell them the date you’re pulling out your troops?” Romney’s 2012 presidential election campaign website similarly criticized the Obama Administration for announcing a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and reiterated his position that in a Romney presidency, decisions about when to withdraw troops would be made based on the advice of commanders in the field, not electoral politics.
    In July 2012, Romney said that he would maintain troop numbers through 2013, then would withdraw them in 2014, as currently scheduled, with the possibility of maintaining troop levels for a longer period if needed. (End Excerpt from

    Assuming Romney is President, and that he sticks with whatever these statements imply, how do you see things changing?

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