Thursday, February 28, 2013

SF and Wardak Province News Update

Not a lot of news, unsurprisingly, has come out in the last day or so in reference to President Karzai ordering out all Special Forces from Wardak province. He ordered the SF teams removal based on allegations that the SF teams (or Afghan military and police units they were working with) are abusing the local population. Most certainly Karzai is attributing acts the Taliban or other nefarious groups are doing to the SF teams and their Afghan partners.

Karzai's true reasons for demanding the removal of the SF teams most likely involve his political posturing for 2014 - his probable intent is to get political groups in Wardak (to include moderate insurgents) aligned with him in a bid to further consolidate his political power. By diminishing the ability of coalition (and Afghan security forces) to weed out and neutralize segments of the insurgency - Karzai can build support with these moderate forces in a future power-sharing arrangement. A likely side effect of this latest attack on NATO by Karzai is to set conditions for the relationship with the new ISAF commander.

ISAF has been very quiet so far on this affair - no doubt recoiling from another unwarranted, unanticipated, and unfathomable attack from Karzai. Naturally ISAF will jump through hoops to keep Karzai happy with meetings (see "General Dunford and President Karzai meet to discuss security in Wardak", DVIDs, February 27, 2013); it will establish a joint commission with the Afghans to review the allegations and conduct an investigation (see "Joint Commission Reviews Wardak Province Allegations", American Forces Press Conference, February 26, 2013); and it will reject the accusations of abuse as false (see a video where "NATO Rejects Misconduct Claims", DVIDS, February 25, 2013).

While ISAF's news releases provide sparse statements with little info others are speculating on the Wardak situation. One report provides some background information on the happenings in the province - see "Did U.S. Special Forces Commit Atrocities in a Key Afghan Province?", Time, February 28, 2013.

There is certainly a lot of uncertainty as to how this latest drama with Karzai will resolve. A lot is at stake here - ISAF's relationship with Karzai, the outcome of the COIN fight in Wardak, and post-2014 involvement of SOF in Afghanistan.

Aid to Afghanistan Likely to Diminish with Withdrawal of U.S. Troops

The future of aid to Afghanistan is uncertain as U.S. troops continue their withdrawal. Without the protection that U.S. bases and troops provide to those administering (and checking on) aid projects the likelihood of aid money going to its intended purpose is slight. Corruption with the aid projects from Afghan government officials is horrible already. With the diminished ability of aid project managers to inspect progress of aid projects this Afghan corruption will only increase. It may be time to curtail some of these aid projects due to a lack of future oversight. Read more in "As Troops Leave, and Uncertain Future for U.S. Aid in Afghanistan", The New York Times, February 14, 2013.

Afghanistan: Year in Review (Video by NATO Channel TV)

The year 2012 has seen some ups and downs in Afghanistan. Corruption still is a huge problem, the Taliban have not gone away (and unfortunately neither has Karzai), and the population is still supporting the insurgency in many areas of the country. However, the Afghan security forces have become more competent, Afghan forces are in the lead for security in many areas of the country, and the U.S. forces have finally realized that the Afghans need to do the fighting rather than U.S. units in a counterinsurgency war. NATO has produced a video by NATO Channel TV that has been posted on that summarizes some of the progress made in Afghanistan in 2012. You can view the video "Afghanistan: 2012 Year in Review" at the link below.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Special Forces Kicked Out of Wardak by Karzai

Not a lot of news has developed in the past 24 hours about President Karzai accusing U.S. Special Forces of abuse and directing them to leave Wardak province within a couple of weeks. In fact, ISAF has been very quiet about the development. See "The Pentagon Remains Deadly Silent About Karzai Booting US Special Forces From Afghanistan", Business Insider, Feb 26, 2013.

Wardak province is one of the most kinetic provinces within RC East if not the entire country. As U.S. conventional forces (in Wardak that means the 173rd Airborne Brigade) have been closing down battalion and company sized combat outposts (COPs) the lead for security has been turned over to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Assisting the ANSF in taking the security lead are small detachments of U.S. Special Forces who are working the Village Stability Operations (VSO) and Afghan Local Police (ALP) programs and conducting operations with the Afghan National Army Special Forces (ANASF), Afghan National Army Commandos, and the Provincial Response Companies or PRCs. In addition to the Special Forces ODAs there are a number of Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams or SFAATs aligned with ANA and ANP units with the aim to advise and assist the ANSF as they take the security lead.

Many observers familiar with the current situation in Wardak believe that the directed departure of Special Forces in Wardak province is not related at all to beheadings and kidnappings by forces under the control or direction of SF. Any abuses that are taking place are most likely that of the Taliban and its shadow government. The Taliban have a powerful Information Operations capability that overmatches ISAF's futile attempts at "influence operations". No doubt this insurgent IO campaign is on the verge of winning another victory if it manages to oust Special Forces from Wardak. In addition, Karzai is doing a lot of political maneuvering to position himself for the inevitable - negotiating with the Taliban for a post-2014 government in Afghanistan. There are "moderate" insurgents in Wardak that Karzai may be playing to who are currently suffering from attacks by ANSF advised by Special Forces.

The big question here is will ISAF fold and pull the SF teams out of Wardak or will they stand up to Karzai and keep one of the most productive units in the war fully engaged in one of the most important and at risk provinces in RC East?

Report - Afghanistan: Key Oversight Issues (Feb 13)

The GAO has released a report entitled "Afghanistan: Key Oversight Issues" dated February 2013. The report to Congress provides updates on Afghanistan's security environment, the transition of lead security to Afghan security forces, future cost and sustainability of Afghan security forces, DoD planning for the draw down of equipment in Afghanistan, Afghanistan's donor dependence, oversight of accountability of U.S. funds to support Afghanistan, and more.

Afghan Hands Program Receive Months of Language and Specialized Training

The Afghan Hands program has proven itself to be one of the most successful endeavors in Afghanistan. Selected members of the U.S. military forces are entered into an intensive language and cultural training program in the U.S. and then deploy to Afghanistan for one-year to work with Afghan counterparts. View a recent video (Feb 13) about the Afghan Hands who are selected to work with the Special Operations Joint Task Force - Afghanistan (SOJTF-A) at the link below:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seabees Assist CSOTF-10 With New JOC Construction

The war in Afghanistan has a lot of different military units supporting each other. This requires much planning and coordination. As the U.S and NATO forces draw down there is constant movement of units to different and new locations. Some of these moves require new construction. One example of this new construction is the Seabees support to Special Operations Forces. CSOTF-10, a SOF unit working with the Afghan Special Police Units (SPUs) and the Provincial Response Company elements, is establishing a new Joint Operations Center or JOC in the Kabul area and the Seabees are instrumental in helping with this construction. Read more in "Navy Seabees provide critical support to Special Operations Task Force", DVIDS, February 25, 2013.

Special Forces in Wardak Told to Leave by Karzai

The story about Karzai telling the MoD to order U.S. Special Forces out of Wardak province continues to evolve. There are now reports that the eviction also includes the adjacent Logar province. Both provinces have experienced an uptick in fighting and an increased insurgent presence. Reports of abuses by special operations forces continue to be cited as the reason for the eviction (see "Afghan officials say NATO ignored complaints of abuses by U.S. Special Operations forces", The Washington Post, February 25, 2013). Coalition spokesmen have adopted their very predictable "conciliatory tone" (New York Times, 26 Feb 13) with Karzai and say that they will cooperate in an investigation. Karzai continues to assert his authority and power but in ways that diminish the coalitions ability to shape events to ensure a successful transition of Afghan security forces taking the lead for security within the entire country.

U.S. Police Advisory Team (PAT) Members Talk About Training AUP

Police mentors from Task Force Centurion have developed strong mentor-mentee relationships while working on a Police Advisory Team or PAT. While the Soldiers were training for their Afghan deployment in the states the 'green-on-blue' incidents were hitting their peak; so there was a little apprehension about their mission. Their job is to advise the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) Quick Reaction Force in Kabul. Read more on their mission in "Police mentors share their thoughts of Afghanistan deployment", DVIDS, February 24, 2013.

Logistical Nightmare: Removing Excess Gear and Equipment from Afghanistan before 2014

A huge task that lies ahead of the U.S. military and other ISAF troop contributing nations as well is the removal of vast amounts of military equipment that has accumulated in Afghanistan over the last decade. According to some reports that equipment is valued at over $28 billion. There are thousands of armored and heavy vehicles in Afghanistan that need moving back to the states. The cheapest way to move them is via the land-route through Pakistan to some seaports but this route is subject to heavy tariffs, stolen equipment, Afghan corruption, labor disputes, and the political whims of a Pakistan bureaucracy and government.

An alternative land route is termed the "Northern Distribution Net" - which runs along part of the Old Silk Road. However, this land route is longer, traverses several countries, is subject to restrictions on shipping lethal weapons, and has different railway gauges. In addition, the route goes through northern Afghanistan which has the infamous Salang Tunnel and where the U.S. presence on the ground is minimal. In fact, the ISAF bases in the north are collapsing into one or two enduring bases so the security on the ground will be deteriorating soon.

Some equipment may just be left behind. The UK is leaving over 45% of their equipment behind and it will be signed over to the Afghans. Some equipment we need to leave behind or sign over to the Afghans as it is useless to us sitting in a metal container on some Army post in the states where it will rust away (the RIABs, for instance). The logisticians certainly have their work cut out for them.  Good luck with that!

Afghan Economy Looks Okay Says USAID Advisor

A Senior Economic Advisor who works for the USAID Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs stated in a recent online article in the Huffington Post (Feb 24, 2013) that the Afghan economy will survive the departure of the international presence (with its deep pockets). She believes that Afghans will find a way to make the economy survive as we edge towards 2014. Read more in "Economic Resilience in Afghanistan".

Monday, February 25, 2013

Drone Strikes Increased in Afghanistan in 2012

The use of drone strikes by aircraft such as the armed Predator and Reaper rose by 72% last year in Afghanistan. The remotely-controlled unmanned aircraft launched 506 strikes in 2012 according to U.S. military data. Targets are identified on the ground by a host of intelligence assets to include live video feed from the attack drones and other supporting unmanned aerial vehicles. Read more on this topic in "U.S. drone strikes up sharply in Afghanistan", LA Times, February 21, 2013.

U.S. Support of Afghan Railroads to Cut Russia's Influence

The United States is sinking a lot of money to build up Afghanistan's railroad system. The going is slow but progress is being made. This railway system will help increase trade and provide a transportation network for the export of the vast minerals that are found in Afghanistan. The railroads will tie into the New Silk Road that has the backing of the United States and other countries. However, Russia is an unhappy player in all of this as it feels that it is being marginalized in favor of Iran, India, China, and the 'stans. Read more in "US, Chinese Plans for Rail Links with Central Asia Triggering 'Railroad War' and Reducing Russia's Influence", by Paul Goble, The Jamestown Foundation, February 19, 2013.

Official Karzai Statement on Ordered Departure of Special Forces from Wardak Province

The text below in quotes is from the website of the "Office of the President". It was posted on February 24, 2013 and is primarily about the order of Karzai for U.S. Special Forces to depart Wardak province.

"February 24, 2013 - The meeting of the National Security Council chaired by President Hamid Karzai on Sunday discussed as per agenda the security situation in the provinces of Logar and Maidan Wardak, the presence of the international forces beyond 2014 and the issue of land seizures in Afghanistan.

The meeting began by hearing briefings by the Minister of Interior, Director General for the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), chairman of the Transition Commission, Chief of Army Staff and the respective governors on the security situation as well as on the findings by a delegation that had been assigned to investigate the causes of insecurity in the two provinces.

After a thorough discussion, it became clear that armed individuals named as US special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people. A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force and in a separate incident a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge. However, Americans reject having conducted any such operation and any involvement of their special force.

The meeting strongly noted that such actions have caused local public resentment and hatred.

In view of the above situation, the meeting made the following decisions:

1. The Ministry of Defense was assigned to make sure all US special forces are out of the province within two weeks;

2. All the Afghan national security forces are duty bound to protect the life and property of people in Maidan Wardak province by effectively stopping and bringing to justice any groups that enter peoples’ homes in the name of special force and who engage in annoying, harassing and murdering innocent people; and

3. Effective from February 24, 2013 onward, the ISAF has to stop all its special force operations in Maidan Wardak province;

The Meeting also called on the local people to cooperate with the governor and security forces in identifying such groups and inform local authorities. The Wardak governor was also tasked to form community councils to engage people in preventing such destructive actions by irresponsible armed groups.

The meeting then heard and endorsed a security operational plan presented by Logar governor for the province.

Also on agenda for the meeting was the issue of land seizure in various provinces in Afghanistan. The meeting directed the Ministry of Interior, the Attorney General Office as well as the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) to develop an orderly plan to handle the issue of the land seizure and restitute the lands illegally grabbed by powerful individuals by misuse of authority and official position.

The meeting also held an in-depth discussion on the military presence some countries are seeking beyond 2014 in Afghanistan. The meeting decided that any military presence any country may be seeking to retain under the international coalition after 2014 may be allowed only after Afghan government’s formal agreement and discretion, to be achieved bilaterally.

The meeting underlined that the number, location, scope and the nature of operations of such troops, if agreed, would be determined through direct negotiations with Afghan government."

ANASF Integrates Women Into Force

The Afghan National Army Special Forces or ANASF is integrating women into its force. One of the greatest benefits of having ANASF women members is having a female who can segregate and question Afghan women during night rights by the special operations forces. Night raids conducted by Afghan and ISAF forces are generally disliked by the Afghan population. More important, it is culturally insensitive for Afghan men to talk with or question Afghan women. So the addition of women to the ANASF to help out during these night raids is a big plus.  Read more in "Afghan army trains women as special forces soldiers to fill vacuum when foreign troops leave", Fox News, February 14, 2013.

Women Still Lacking in Basic Rights in Afghanistan

Women experience a life of hardship in Afghanistan. They are faced with strife in the home, sent off in arranged marriages at a young age, barred from going to schools, denied proper medical treatment, and faced with discriminatory practices throughout Afghan society. With the fall of the Taliban the plight of women in Afghanistan improved significantly; however, with the withdrawal of NATO forces and diminished influence of Western nations there is a fear that the success of women in Afghanistan will quickly backslide. Read more in "The plight of the Afghan woman" by Nelofar Farhang on dated February 25, 2013.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Afghan President Karzai Orders U.S. Special Forces out of Wardak Province

ALP training in Kajran district, Daykundi
province. (photo PO Matthew Leistikow)
The Long War Journal is reporting that President Karzai has given the order to the Ministry of Defense to order all U.S. Special Forces out of Wardak province, Afghanistan. The SF teams (sometimes referred to as Green Berets) are currently deployed in several areas of Wardak working with the Afghan Local Police (ALP) as part of the Village Stability Operations (VSO) program. If this development is true then it is very bad news. As the conventional forces of the United States and other troop contributing nations pull out of Afghanistan SOF will remain to work with ANA, ANP, and especially with the ALP. SOF will be one of the few organizations left in the country to influence the ANSF toward a more professional and competent force once we hit the December 2014 mark.

Karzai has always been reluctant to give the ALP his full support because they are usually less corrupt than other ANSF entities due to the oversight and influence of the SOF teams that live and train with the ALP; thus he cannot include them in his nefarious activities as much as he can other ANSF elements. With the departure of General Allen and the arrival of a new ISAF commander Karzai may be feeling his oats - first he orders his ANSF not to call in ISAF air strikes to support their operations and now he is seeking the removal of SF teams from one of the most successful programs in the country. One could think that he is setting the framework for his relationship with the new ISAF commander and prepping for when he has to sit down with the Taliban for a power-sharing arrangement post-2014. The Taliban have a great fear of the ALP and are pressing hard to have them neutralized. Read more in "Afghan president orders US Special Forces to leave Wardak province", The Long War Journal, February 24, 2013.

Task Force Iron Ranger and VSO in Afghanistan

In 2010 1st Battalion 16th Infantry was assigned the mission of deploying to Afghanistan to augment the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A) and assist in the Village Stability Operations (VSO) program. The battalion deployed in January 2011 and very quickly sent out platoon and squad-sized elements across Afghanistan to work with Special Forces ODAs, Navy SEAL elements, and MARSOC teams who were training the Afghan Local Police (ALP) and establishing Village Stability Platforms (VSPs). This augmentation by conventional troops allowed the special operations forces to further expand its VSO / ALP program to additional locations in Afghanistan.

The twelve man Special Forces ODAs (and other special operations teams) were split into two 6-man elements and augmented with squads from the 1/16 Infantry. They were then assigned to multiple locations throughout Afghanistan. It soon became apparent that the division of SF teams into two elements and then pairing with conventional infantry units was a workable solution to expanding the VSO program. A second infantry battalion was soon deployed to Afghanistan to continue the program. 1-505 Parachute Infantry from Fort Bragg soon followed 1-16 Infantry into Afghanistan for further augmentation of the CJSOTF-A.

The command and staff of Task Force Iron Ranger (1-16th) was widely dispersed. The battalion commander became the Director of the Village Stability Coordination Center (VSCC) North - which provided oversight of Provincial and District Augmentation Teams (PATs and DATs) fielded by the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command - Afghanistan (CFSOCC-A) and in coordination with the Village Stability National Coordination Center (VSNCC) located on the ISAF HQs compound in Kabul. The PATs and DATs, assigned to provincial and district centers provided the conduit from the VSPs to the various Afghan government officials and other actors to provide governance and development to the local areas. Staff members of Task Force Iron Ranger were used as PATs, DATs, in the VSCC-North, or in augmentation roles for the CJSOTF-A.

An article recently posted on the Small Wars Journal goes into great depth describing the integration of Task Force Iron Ranger into the CJSOTF-A to augment special operations teams conducting VSO and ALP training. Read "Innovation in Integration: Task Force Iron Ranger and Village Stability Operations in Afghanistan 2010-11" by Craig Whiteside, Small Wars Journal, February 7, 2013.

White House Releases Updated Fact Sheet on Afghanistan

The White House Office of the Press Secretary has updated it's "Fact Sheet: Afghanistan" page to reflect recent decisions by President Obama and a look at the future involvement of the United States in Afghanistan. Topics explained include Afghans in the Lead, Planning for post-2014, the Security Transition Process, Supporting Political Transition, and The U.S. Role after 2014. The fact sheet was updated on February 12, 2013.  You can view it at the link below:

Saturday, February 23, 2013

ALP "Part of the Solution; Not the Problem"

In a recent online report, Luke Coffey - a writer on defense and security matters - offers recommendations for supporting the ANSF over the next few years. He says that the U.S. should ensure the ANSF remains at a force level of 352,000 for the foreseeable future, international partners need to provide their fair share of the load (that would be money), that the ANSF remains capable in areas of importance to include C-IED and aviation, and that the Afghan Local Police continue to exist and expand. Read more in "U.S. Should Back a Robust Afghan National Security Force", Heritage Foundation, February 22, 2013.

Taliban Fighters Freed by Pakistan Return to Battlefield

In 2012 the High Peace Council of Afghanistan requested that Pakistan free 24 Afghan Taliban prisoners in an attempt to get the Quetta Shura Taliban to engage in peace talks with the government of Afghanistan. Unfortunately it appears that many of these released prisoners have simply returned to the battlefield to continue the fight against the ISAF coalition and the Afghan government. Currently about 100 Afghan Taliban remain in Pakistan custody. Read more in "Freed Afghan Taliban fighters return to insurgency", Google News AP, February 22, 2013.

Afghan Civilians Killed by Drone Attacks Rise

A United Nations report says that the number of civilians killed in drone attacks in the Afghan war rose in 2012. Read more in "More Afghan civilians killed by drones in 2012, U.N. says", CBS News, February 19, 2013.

Recommendations for Long Term Afghan Strategy

Michael O'Hanlon, a researcher and writer of foreign policy, has provided President Obama (and others) with four recommendations for long-term strategy in Afghanistan.

1. Force levels should remain at 65,000 through the 2013 fighting season.
2. Post December 2014 force levels should be closer to 20,000 rather than 10,000.
3. Improve Afghanistan's governance by concentrating less on the President and more on other Afghan political and government institutions.
4. Reinvigorate the reconciliation process with the Taliban - and including Pakistan in the process.

Read his recommendations in "The Strategy for Afghanistan", Brookings Institute, February 11, 2013.

Friday, February 22, 2013

SFAATs from 1AD Return from Deployment to Afghanistan

A number of Security Force Assistance Advisor Teams or SFAATs from 1st Armor Division have returned home to the United States after a nine-month long deployment to Afghanistan. Watch a video of their return to their families.

Factors to Consider for Peace in Afghanistan

A recent news article wrote by Edward Girardet for The Christian Science Monitor entitled "5 factors for peace in Afghanistan" provides us with some insight on how to conduct a successful reconciliation with the Taliban. The five factors include:

1. All Afghans must be represented
2. Peace talks must be Afghan-led and US-backed
3. Talks must be transparent
4. Talks should be overseen by a neutral, non-NATO country
5. The West cannot abandon Afghanistan

Torture Widespread in Afghan Prisons

An Afghan government panel investigating claims of a United Nations report detailing widespread torture in Afghanistan prisons has determined that there are rampant abuses occurring. Many of the abuses are perpetrated by the Afghan National Police (ANP). Read more in "Government Panel in Afghanistan Confirms Widespread Torture of Detainees", The New York Times, February 11, 2013.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Troop Levels in Afghanistan to Steadily Decrease

Reportedly there is now a "schedule" for the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan over the next 20 months. According to one recent news report ("Decision on Afghan Troop Levels Calculates Political and Military Interests"), The New York Times, February 13, 2013) only 34,000 troops will be in Afghanistan at the beginning of 2014.

As of February 2013 there are 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Many of these troops will remain in-country through the 2013 fighting season (April-October). In November (the start of the so-called "non-fighting season") we would start to see a big movement of troops out of country to get to the desired February 2014 level. The timeline below may be the troop levels over the couple of years.

Projected Troop Level Timeline

66,000 - February 2013
60,500 - May 2013
52,000 - November 2013
32,000 - February 2014
 9,000 - December 2014

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Afghan Democratic Policing Project (ADPP)

The Afghan Democratic Policing Project (ADPP) is being implemented by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) with US $4.5 million funding provided by the Government of Netherlands. The 3-year project will support Afghanistan's Police-e-Mardumi (also known as community police) and the UNDP's Women Police Mentoring Programme.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Afghan Middle Class in Kabul Worries about Future

The influx of billions of dollars into Afghanistan by donor nations has created wealth for a small segment of Afghan society. The capital of Afghanistan - Kabul - has grown to 5 million people, many who moved to Kabul to try and get a piece of the economic pie. Some Kabul residents have done well but that comfortable life may very well fall apart in the next few years. Read more in "Fears of the Future Haunt a Budding Generation of Afghan Strivers", The New York Times, February 11, 2013.

Monday, February 18, 2013

2014 Afghan Elections

The Afghan presidential elections are just over one year away - to take place on April 5, 2014. The good news is that Karzai goes away. The bad news is Karzai is doing some strong maneuvering to get one of his loyal cronies elected so he can continue to benefit from the corruption that is running rampart in Afghanistan. Presidential elections were held in 2009 and were considered by many to be full of fraud. Many feel that Karzai would not have won the election without stuffing ballot boxes. Read more about the Afghan elections in "Official Stresses Importance of 2014 Afghan Elections", American Forces Press Service, February 11, 2013.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Kam Air to be Investigated by Afghan Attorney General - One Corrupt Agency Looking at Another

The U.S. has backed off its threat to deny Kam Air, an Afghan airlines, lucrative transport contracts because of allegations of shipping opium out of Afghanistan. Once again, the U.S. caved in to corrupt Afghan government leaders (that would be President Karzai and his cronies). Instead, the U.S. has said that they will let the Afghan attorney general investigate the allegations of widespread opium smuggling. Sure, . . . except that . . . the Afghan attorney general's office is less than useless and is very much involved in covering up and hiding cases of high-level Afghan corruption. Read more in this in "So, this is the office that will investigate Afghanistan's Kam Air?", The Christian Science Monitor, February 6, 2013.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Afghan Artillery Becoming More Important

U.S. Army photo by SFC Pinnington
With the stepping back of U.S. forces from combat operations in Afghanistan the Afghan security forces are conducting more and more combat operations on its own. U.S. forces used to "partner" with the Afghan National Army (ANA) in the past - conducting joint operations and relying primarily on U.S. UAV, ISR, MEDEVAC, CAS, and fires support. Now that the Afghans are in the lead much of this support is fading away - fast. With the withdrawal of U.S. air assets and artillery units from Afghanistan the ANA will find itself relying more and more on it's own artillery assets - primarily the ANA 122-mm D-30 howitzer found at brigade level in its Combat Support kandak.

There is much concern about the reliance of the ANA on its own artillery units. Many of the ANA brigades still have not been fielded their D-30s (even though we have been building up the ANA since 2002). Those units that do have the D-30s are in the very beginning of their training program and still rely heavily on ISAF advisor assistance for fires deconfliction and targeting processes.

A recent new article on Danger Room of by Spencer Ackerman captures the concerns of the newly minted Afghan artillery units in "Coming This Year to Afghanistan: Way More Artillery Strikes", January 23, 2013.

ISAF Spokeman Talks about Drawdown of Forces

Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz, an ISAF spokesman, provides an interview (15 Feb 2013) about the draw down process of ISAF forces, concerns about the draw down, problems associated with moving equipment out of Afghanistan, and how ISAF will support the ANSF during the upcoming fighting season. BG Katz says "it will be a seamless transition". He states that the redeployment process is already in progress and that it is gradual in nature. He states that the insurgents are now relegated to more remote areas of Afghanistan and no longer threaten the Afghan cities. However he also admits there is much work to be done especially in Afghan IED efforts and the establishment of the Afghan Air Force.

View the video here:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Gen Dempsey and His Thoughts on the Afghan Mission

General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently provided his views on how Afghanistan will look in 2014. He stated that the mission will dictate how many troops are in Afghanistan over the next few years.

Well, . . . okay. I sorta think that the number of troops that Obama determines will be in Afghanistan will dictate the mission. In other words he says "You can have no more than 10,000 troops in country by December 2014 and I want to see a steady decline getting to that number over the next 20 months". So I would bet that the ISAF planners have developed plans for 6,000, 8,000, and 10,000 U.S. forces in country - and once they get the word from Obama they launch into fine-tuning that respective plan. They are going to form the mission around the number of troops. That's just how it works.

Currently there are 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan (as of Jan 2013) with several more thousand from other Troop Contributing Nations (TCN). The missions of these troops over the next year or more are to keep the pressure on al-Qaida, train up the Afghan Army and police, and withdraw ISAF forces. The withdrawal of ISAF forces includes that equipment that will be returning to the respective ISAF countries - an immense amount considering it has been building up for the last decade.

Other than the special ops guys going after select targets and SOJTF-A working its ANASF, commando, and VSO programs there will be a significant decrease in U.S. military forces conducting combat operations. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are slowly taking the lead in more and more areas of the country. In fact, many of the U.S. brigade combat teams (BCTs), called Security Force Assistance Brigades or SFABs, now deploying into country don't have the operational forces available to do more than provide Quick Reaction Forces (QRF), logistics, force protection, and combat enablers (fires, CAS, MEDEVAC, intel support, etc.) to their SFAATs.

1-89th Cavalry Regiment Now in Afghanistan

1-89th Cav, part of 2nd Brigade 10th Mountain Division, is now deployed to FOB Sharana, Paktika province, Afghanistan. The unit will be supporting Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams (SFAATs) that are providing advice, assistance, and enablers to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The 1-89th Cav has two deployments to Iraq as well.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Afghan Govt called "cesspool of corruption"

The Afghan government has managed to squander billions of foreign aid through corruption that was meant to build up security forces, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure.  Read more in "Afghan corruption imperils future success", USA Today, February 10, 2013.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

General Officer Assignments for Afghanistan

The DoD has announced several general officer assignments. A couple of them affect billets in Afghanistan.

MG Richard Longo, currently the director of Task Force 2010 and Commander of the Combined Joint Inter-Agency Task Force - Afghanistan, will be heading to U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army. MG Longo's bio can be read here on the ISAF website. Task Force 2010 and CJIATF-A have attempted to curb the rampart corruption that takes place in almost all aspects of Afghan life; to include the persistent covering up of corruption within the government by President Karzai. A thankless endeavor to be sure as little progress has been made on that front.

COL James Kraft has been selected for BG and will be assigned as Deputy Commander of Special Operations Joint Task Force - Afghanistan (SOJTF-A). The SOJTF-A was formed up in 2012 and is headed by a two-star general officer. You can read more about SOJTF-A in a news article published August 19, 2012 in USA Today entitled "U.S., Afghan elite forces merge".  SOJTF-A oversees many different types of special operations to include the Village Stability Operations (VSO), Afghan Local Police (ALP), training of Afghan Commandos and Afghan Special Forces, conduct of kinetic operations, and advising many of the Afghan National Police Provincial Response Companys (PRC) and special police units.

You can view the press release here.

SFAAT Team Leaders and Company Commanders in the SFA Mission

A recent magazine article in Army Magazine published in the February 2013 issue entitled "SFAA: Creating New Challenges & Opportunities for Army Units" has captured the ongoing dilemma of fielding SFAAT teams to Afghanistan from standing Brigade Combat Teams or BCTs. The Security Force Assistance Advisor Teams or SFAATs are taken out of a brigade using commanders and staff. For instance, a team leader of an SFAAT advising an ANA kandak (battalion) is supposed to be a major (0-4). Frequently, the 0-4 position is filled with a captain. This captain is usually a company commander. The captain most times hand-picks the remaining 11 members of his SFAAT from within his company. If his team deploys to Afghanistan and his company stays home (Fort Hood, Fort Campbell, or wherever) he is most likely turning his company command and platoon leadership to junior officers and NCOs. If the SFAAT deploys to Afghanistan with the brigade (the bde deploys as an SFAB) then his company is likely to deploy to another location (COP or FOB) than where his SFAAT goes.  Just think of the C2 and support problems either scenario poses (brigade deploys or stays in U.S.). You can read more about the challenges facing company commanders who are assigned as SFAAT team leaders in the magazine article at the link below.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Will China Be the "Ultimate Winner" of Afghan War?

China's policy towards Afghanistan is calculated and shrewd. It has taken a "hands-off" stand in regards to the internal politics and the conflict in Afghanistan. At the same time it has fostered strong diplomatic relationships with the government of Afghanistan. In addition, it has positioned itself to benefit economically with investments in mineral and oil exploitation within Afghanistan. Read more on this topic in "China Could Prove Ultimate Winner in Afghanistan", National Public Radio, January 16, 2013. Learn more about China's role in Afghanistan.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gen Dunford Now ISAF Commander

General Joseph Dunford took command of ISAF from General John Allen on February 10, 2013. He will likely be the last ISAF commander (COMISAF). He will oversee the draw down from 100,000 ISAF members to less than 10,000 over the year or more. Read more in "With New Control, General to Focus on Withdrawal in Afghanistan", The New York Times, February 10, 2013.

Bribes Out of Control in Afghanistan

According to a United Nations report corruption and bribery in Afghanistan is out of control. Over half of Afghans had to pay a bribe to obtain a public service. The bribes paid in 2012 is almost double the Afghan domestic revenue. Read a news article on this topic in "Corruption Costing Afghanistan Almost $4 Billion: UN Report", International Business Times, February 8, 2013.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

South Carolina Agricultural Team Redeploying from Afghanistan

An Army National Guard agriculture team from South Carolina will soon be returning from it's tour in Afghanistan. While in Afghanistan the team has built teaching centers and aided more than 300 farmers in its Afghan agricultural development mission through the help provided to Afghan farmers to improve their crops and livestock methods. Read more in "SC Guard unit wrapping up Afghan agriculture help", ABC News 4, February 9, 2013.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Solar Food Dryers Help Villagers Store Food for Long Term Use

The introduction of solar food dryers to Afghan women in Kapisa province has ensured the villages can store food over the long term. Afghan men in the area learned how to build the solar food dryers (assisted by an Agricultural Development Team - ADT). Solar power (Afghanistan has plenty of sun) is an energy source that is relatively inexpensive to tap into when the right low-tech tools are used. View a video entitled In Afghanistan Solar Dryers Make Big Impact by DVIDS dated 8 Feb 13.

Friday, February 8, 2013

China's Long-Term Strategy for Afghanistan

China is a country that has always taken a long view of the world and its destiny. Its relationship with Afghanistan is no exception. China has time on its side and they are using it. They have avoided becoming involved in the internal politics of Afghanistan. They have not to any large degree supported the Western powers in their military occupation of Afghanistan (through military assistance, troops in the ground, and participating in the Northern Distribution Network NDN). China has been engaged with Afghanistan in other areas - especially in the economic sector. China sees a stable Afghanistan as a source for raw materials (Afghanistan has a large amount of raw minerals) and as a market for China's export of finished goods. Many observers note that the Western powers are doing the heavy lifting in the fight against the Taliban and one of the countries that will benefit the most from a successful conclusion of the conflict will be China. You can read more about the China-Afghanistan relationship in a paper wrote by Serafettin Yilmaz - a doctoral candidate in Asia-Pacific Studies (IDAS) at National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taiwan.

"Afghanistan: China's New Frontier?", December 19, 2012.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Gen Allen Prepares to Depart Afghanistan

General Allen, COMISAF
photo by SGT K. Summerhill
After serving almost 19 months as COMISAF, General Allen is leaving Afghanistan. He has accomplished a lot during this tenure and put out a lot of fires while ensuring that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are in the lead in the fight against the Taliban. 

Many of his achievements include cutting the size of the ISAF (and U.S.) force, transitioning from ISAF fighting on the battlefield to the Afghans in the lead for combat operations, instituting the Security Force Assistance (SFA) concept with the fielding of Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams or SFAATs.

Along the way he had to constantly develop and repair relationships with the Afghans every time something bad happened that would set back our mission (burning of Korans, Marines urinating on Taliban corpses, a Soldier killing 16 civilians in the Panjwai massacre, etc.). Other challenges he faced was keeping the coalition focused and committed to the effort - a difficult task in the face of events like the Insider Threat problem.

His biggest failure, perhaps, may be the lack of resolve when dealing with Karzai on the issue of Afghan corruption and the failure of ISAF to help establish a more legitimate government that is respected by the Afghan population. But perhaps we are playing a waiting game until the Afghan election to see if they step up and elect a less corrupt and more competent president.

General Allen deserves our thanks for his service and fine job. Read more about his tenure as ISAF commander in a recent news article entitled "For U.S. Leader in Afghan War, Much Time Making Peace", The New York Times, February 6, 2013.

SFAAT Provides Assistance to OCC-R for OCC Foundation Course in Laghman Province (RC East)

Graduates of the OCC Foundation Course
hold the completion certificates.
(Photo Spc. Philip Steiner)
The Security Force Assistance Advisory Team or SFAAT advising the Operation Command Center - Region or OCC-R in Laghman province has successfully assisted the OCC-R in the conduct of a Operation Command Center Foundation Course.  This 21-day course is designed to teach Afghan ANP and ANA students topics such as map reading, computer work, and intelligence fusion. The OCC-R SFAAT is based on FOB Gamberi and works along side the OCC-R Afghan staff on a daily basis.  The foundation course will go a long way to ensure that the Afghan members of the OCC-R (and OCC-Ps) will be able to function independently of U.S. military advisers (SFAATs) at some point in the near future.

You can read more about the OCC-R and the OCCP Foundation Course in "Afghans leading the way in Laghman province", DVIDS, February 6, 2013 at the link below.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Kam Air - U.S. Caves to Karzai . . . Again

One of Afghanistan's airlines, Kam Air, was recently blacklisted for smuggling opium within and outside of Afghanistan by the U.S. military. This meant that Kam Air could not bid on the very lucrative contracts for transporting personnel and equipment that are offered by the U.S. military. Naturally Karzai (the corrupt King of Kabul) objected and the U.S. caved. Read more in a recent news article that investigates this case.

"Afghan corruption, opium, and the strange case of Kam Air", The Christian Science Monitor, February 5, 2013.

Kabul, Cars, Police, Inefficiency, . . . . and, of course, Corruption

A recent story in The New York Times provides insight into the corrupt police of Kabul, Afghanistan and the inefficiencies found in a society and government that just recently has emerged from the 13th century. Kabul is a city designed for less than one million residents and 30,000 automobiles but dealing with 5 million residents and almost 650,000 vehicles. So traffic at best is problematic. Pile on top of that an inept and corrupt city police and you face a host of problems if you are driving a vehicle in Kabul. Read more in "In Kabul's 'Car Guantanamo', Autos Languish and Trust Dies" published on February 17, 2013.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A to Z Guide to Afghanistan Assistance (AREU)

The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) has released the 11th Edition (2013) of the A to Z Guide to Afghanistan Assistance. Contained within the publication is a glossary of assistance terms, extensive listing of assistance organizations, an overview of the Afghanistan system of government, and information about the provinces and districts of Afghanistan. If you are in the business of security, governance, development, counterinsurgency, or Security Force Assistance (SFA) this book will be invaluable to you.

 You can order hard copies of the 2013 edition or download the 2012 edition off the AREU website. The hardcopies cost about $20 USD or Afs 1000 with limited editions available. The electronic copy (2012) can be downloaded for free.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Return to Blogging on Afghanistan

My tour in Afghanistan is now complete and I have returned to the states. While posted in Afghanistan I was not able to blog; however, now that I am back. . . .

I will slowly get back into blogging about the conflict in Afghanistan - hopefully bringing new insights, views, and knowledge about the struggle to build up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the need to continue the efforts to strengthen governance, rule of law, the police, development, and the never-ending but failing endeavor to diminish the disastrous effects of Afghan governmental corruption found at all levels.