July 06, 2011

Name: Major Dan
Returned from: Afghanistan

 "There will be some battles, there will be suicide attacks, and bomb attacks. But we in the Afghan forces are prepared to replace the foreign forces and I'm confident the army has enough capacity and ability."
-- Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, on the coming transition period.

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Reuters, 6-29-2011: Smoke billows from the Intercontinental Hotel

Within one week of that statement by my dear colleague Gen. Azimi, Spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense, came the latest test of that resolve -- an assault on Kabul's iconic Intercontinental Hotel. The Los Angeles Times story linked below provides details, most troubling of which may be the accounts by witnesses of some police fleeing the scene rather than fighting the insurgents. As always, I caution those trying to understand the security situation there to separate army from police, a practice made all the more difficult by the insistence of the training command responsible for their collective development to lump them together into a vague "Afghan National Security Force" category. As we often pointed out in my office, we are not the "Armed Force" of the United States, and that doesn't even take into account law enforcement -- so why we foist a strange term on their makeup of security forces is beyond me.


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More significant than the most recent attack, though, is the drastic change in war -- er, counterterrorism -- policy just announced by our administration in the US. If the early speculation is correct, it amounts to a complete and total re-imagining of how we plan to combat our sworn enemies in the not-too-distant future. My initial reaction is that limiting our effort, at least in Afghanistan, to strikes of a "targeted, surgical" nature appeals to most of the American public (at least those aware that we are at war) who are weary of a long conflict and its costs and sacrifice, and to a largely risk-averse leadership anxious to see fewer Americans return in coffins. My concern, however, is that abandoning an approach of more carrot than stick will greatly fray the trust between coalition members and the Afghans -- the very trust desperately needed to obtain intelligence that will deliver "enemies of Afghanistan" to justice, rather than settle old feuds between families or tribes. The fewer boots we have on the ground (both military and civilian), the harder it is to tell when we are being played by one side or another.


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I'll say it a million times if I have to: Beyond a core group which mainly hides safely in Pakistan, the Taliban today is not one cohesive entity, as it's often thought of and may once have been. It's often a moniker of convenience, more akin to a collective term for an array of those who have an interest in bringing down the Afghan government or taking over regional control, whether it's fundamentalists in the South, arms dealers on the Pakistan border in the East, Uzbek separatists in the Northwest, or any other insurgent group. It takes a great deal of conversation on the ground by many participants, leading to long relationships built among the community's influencers, to sort out who is who and what the various agendas really are. While this report focuses on al Qaeda, its implementation in Afghanistan specifically may mean what many of us someday expected; a pullback from nation-building and a reborn reliance upon "light-footprint" death from above.

The big lurking question is, again, how ready are the Afghan military and police forces for vastly increased responsibility?  The answer, I'm afraid, is not very. As I observed back in 2006, it will take generations of effort to stand a chance of leaving a nation capable of fending off takeovers from within and from its often-nefarious neighbors. Abandoning that, while perhaps necessary from our national self-interest, will most likely have dire consequences for its survivability and the protection of its women and minorities -- and that should at least be acknowledged by those making the decisions.

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NCO graduation ceremony, Camp Ghazi: October 2010.

Another point worth mentioning is that Transition is so much more than just training forces to ably fight the enemy. It is everything imaginable, from introducing basic hygienic practices to the slaughterhouses which feed the army to teaching handyman maintenance to unskilled workers. It is rudimentary literacy training (as often detailed), not to mention administration, communication, logistics, etc. The list goes on. A recent story from NTM-A highlights how early in that process we still are:


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That must be the clearest day ever in dusty Kandahar.

On an entirely different subject, this week marks my younger brother's deployment to the Middle East as a 2nd Lt in the Army, and I couldn't be prouder of Steve. He's mature beyond his age, and he'll need it as a platoon leader taking on various training missions in a few different countries. It's a strange feeling being on the other end of a deployment in the family for the first time in many years. It's not me off to parts unknown, it's the kid who arrived when I was beginning high school! If he manages to blog on his experiences, I'll certainly link to it. He's in for an interesting adventure over the next year.

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January 2011 -- Year of transition for our family, too.

Last year at this time, I wrote of how I better be doing something special for the Summer Solstice, and visiting him during his last days before leaving Fort Lewis was exactly that. In fact, we caught the legendary Solstice Parade in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, and then ushered in the longest day of the year with in Olympia (WA) with my good friend from NTM-A, Chief Gordon. There are worse ways to greet the Summer than catching up with an outstanding leader over delicious craft brews and standout bluegrass music while wishing my brother a safe and successful deployment. As our dad is fond of saying, Vaya con Dios, hermano!

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Crusty major & fresh-faced lieutenant -- Seattle, June 2011.


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Good times in the Pacific NW with Chief Gordon.

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April 2011: Reuniting with my director Dave Beeksma in LA.
The highly inappropriate backdrop for two Afghan hands was my idea.

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Just because...


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