March 30, 2009
VICTORY IN AFGHANISTAN
Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 3/30/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged
There’s been a lot in the news lately about what “victory” in Afghanistan looks like. I really don’t know, nor do I want to venture an opinion. People at much higher pay grades than mine can figure that one out. All I can speak for is the little piece of Afghanistan that I share with my ANA and the local populace of Bermel.
I’ll tell you this; it’s little things. Try to accomplish much more and you’ll begin a slow circling of the drain leading to frustration and self-induced psychosis. What I’m about to tell you about is this: 5 kilometers. That’s 3.1 miles, not very far. But it might as well be a light year.
When we arrived here the fighting season was drawing to a close. It typically runs from late March to early December.Then snow shuts down the rugged passes used by the Taliban to enter into the country. During the fighting season military operations focus on what’s termed kinetic, meaning fighting the enemy directly. As this time drew to a close we were somewhat at a loss about our next course of action.
We sat down and started brainstorming for a direction in which to proceed. As an ETT* in a remote area we have quite a bit of leeway in determining our strategies. We started with the central premise of counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare. Separate the insurgents from the local populace. How could we do this using the assets at our disposal?
I can’t claim sole responsibility for our course of action as it was developed by me and one of my CPTs here, CPT Brain. He’s an extremely intelligent, well-read and insightful individual who was called out of the Individual Ready Reserve to serve with us here in Afghanistan. He’s doing great things for his country.
We noticed that our contact with the enemy and their means of support ran along a north/south road -- what I’ll call the line of friction. This is the best description I can think of. It wasn’t open conflict all the time, thus "friction" seems better than "conflict." This line traced the western wall of the desolate valley in which we live. Along this line lay the main villages, and it served as the major travel corridor. Our hope was to push the line farther to the east.
Next we analyzed our assets. Obviously we had firepower, but that didn’t accomplish what we hoped to do. The best asset we had was humanitarian and medical assistance. Tons of food, clothing, cooking oil and blankets were here on the FOB. We also had a US aid station and an ANA aid station from which we could pull medics and medical supplies for use in the local area. We saw these as our conduit to engage with the locals on a frequent and more direct basis, allowing them to see the ANA as bringers of hope and not violence.
The timeframe to capitalize was limited. We only had between December and late March, while the ACM were out of the valley and couldn’t hinder our operations. Thus, we needed to be outside the wire at least three times a week. That doesn’t sound like much, but planning and staging a military operation takes time. It was a very high operational tempo to shoot for.
Our strategy consisted of two tasks in support of our overarching goal of population separation. One, demonstrate that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan could assist them materially and in conjunction with this conduct an information operations (IO) campaign. Two, try to gather intelligence on the local area and personalities in preparation for the upcoming fighting season. All of this was focused on the line of friction. We defined some criteria that would cause us to deviate from the line. I won’t elaborate on those but we stuck to them and didn’t lose our focus.
We also decided on criteria that would cause us to go into kinetic operations. Basically this was self defense only; we would not chase the enemy. We couldn’t allow the enemy to distract us from our task. That may sound strange, but insurgency warfare is theater in the round, and often their attacks are conducted just to provoke a response which detracts from the greater purpose.
The single theme of our IO campaign was this: “The government is here supporting you during the winter and the ACM is not." It was as simple as that. We didn’t deviate or elaborate, and as the politicians like to say we always stayed on message. Simple to the point and indisputable. The sub-governor, ANP, ANA and CF all communicated this message. If we heard about someone sending a different message we sat down with them and discussed why they’d strayed off the message. Everyone pounded this message into whoever we could, anytime we could.
Along with the IO, we brought all of the humanitarian assistance that we could find. In fact many of you reading this sent us stuff. We took anything that we could and at times used our own monies to buy firewood, food or cooking oil. We didn’t care where it came from or what it looked like. We took it out to the people.
Additionally we brought medics and medicine. The CF and ANA medics along with our interpreters would see anyone who came, no matter what the injury or sickness. We attempted to treat anyone; we even looked at some sick goats at one point. We’d treat all comers!
The ANA established an SOP* for putting these sites up. It was painful and in the beginning there were some near riots, but we worked through it and got the method down. The ANA also ensured that the materials were distributed directly to the people and not through the tribal elders. This ensured that the people knew that the government had provided the materials.
During these operations we’d talk to the locals and build relationships. We didn’t ask about ACM*, just about what was going on in the area, what their concerns were and how they thought the issues could best be addressed. We started mapping out the local tribes, their boundaries, learning their histories and any conflicts. Additionally, we took pictures of villages and the surrounding terrain. Nothing overt, we’d just take snapshots that could be used in the future if we ever had to come back there on a kinetic mission.
So what did all of this get us? It moved the main line of friction 5K to the east, closer to the Pakistani border into the foothills of the mountains. All of this for 5K. We’ve moved to the doorstep of the ACM and now we’ll start working on those villages. If the ACM stay in the mountains, so what? Nobody lives there.
We now have no IEDs along the previous line and if someone does plant one we hear about it. No rockets come from that area anymore. Taliban safe houses have been moved. Additionally, people stop by to talk to us when are out in the villages and even sometimes come to the FOB, which is invaluable. We know the local area and can discuss it in depth. It seems that we’ve accomplished most of our goals.
Did we come up with anything revolutionary? No. What we decided to do is written down in plenty of books and field manuals. We just took the leap and decided to conduct unsexy, unspectacular and at times very boring operations in support of the local populace. The temptation was there, to revert back to just killing the enemy, but we resisted. We’re not geniuses. We just made a choice, developed a plan and stuck to it.
So what does victory in Afghanistan look like? Like 5K of desert floor. It ain’t much to look at, but we got it back for the Afghan people!
ETT: Embedded Training Team
SOP: Standard Operating Procedure
ACM: Anti-Coalition Militia