Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hamid "Robert Frost" Karzai

Its been a full week out here so TT Carnahan apologizes for the extended dead air session since his last post. It seems inadvisable to post too often this early in the game, seeing as how a full training week can knock TT on his ass. Perhaps once a week is just right, neither too hot, nor too cold.

So who else caught Afghanistan's president quoting Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening? In an interview by the Washington Post's Lally Weymouth at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Mr. Karzai secured the vote of 10th grade literature teachers across the United States. While I'm pretty sure the poem is about a man delaying the sweet embrace of the grave, I still appreciate the shout out. Karzai has always been a man adept at reading his audience and tailoring the message, so we shouldn't be surprised at his ability to evoke images of horse drawn, Christmas sleighs when discussing the steaming mess that is Afghan politics. The bulk of the interview bore witness to Mr. Karzai's trademark wordsmithing and wishy-washy ultimatums. The ol' 'go after the terrorists in their sanctuaries, not the villages! (Unless of course those villages happen to be sanctuaries' argument had to split air time with my personal favorite 'I'm sure the Pakistanis are giving it the ol' college try. (but you and I both know how those Pakistanis can be.' Not going to comment on it tonight, but while we're on the topic of the Pakistanis, take a look at Afghanistan's Defense Minister's proposal for border security. It briefs well...

Karzai quoted Frost when asked about his the potential for a second 5 year term as pres. Well, is Karzai the man for the job? I'll happily let history decided that one, but I'm personally not ready for a "maverick" in that office and the devil(s) we don't know could make Karzai, warts and all, look the 4-way lovechild of Thomas Jefferson, FDR, JFK, and Reagan. Assuming the elections occur (which we'll save for forthcoming posts) at a time TBD in 2009, and Karzai wins a second term, what will characterize that term? What should? Most observing Afghanistan's factitious politics in even the most cursory glance will acknowledge that "The State" is a rumor and myth for most Afghans. One of Karzai's main second term challenges will be the establishment district and sub-district governance that displays the Afghan government's competence and potency. Much of that will have to do with his ability to delegate authority and move away from the Kabul-centric power structure. Easier said than done. Much more will have to do with the ironic necessity of having more foreign forces on Afghan soil to solidify their sovereignty. More below.

If the government is effectively sent forth into the boonies, what will it be? TT believes that the Army, the Police, Teachers, and Doctors, will continue to be the vanguard of governance, and in that order. To extend their writ, however, more security and something in the ballpark of a monopoly of the use of force is required. Which brings me to the surge.

There's been a flurry of thinking and writing of THE SURGE: PART DEUX in recent weeks (here, here, and most interestingly here). Candidly I support a doubling (at a minimum) of the US presence in Afghanistan. This is vital in TT's opinion if for nor other reason than to provide our currently too-shallow footprint of over-stretched troops the breathing room to actually do their jobs. Whatever breakdown the eventual force increase consists of though, the Advisor effort must be increased by at least 100%. This is increasingly self evident as the Afghan Army's target end state size is increased from ~70,000 to ~140,000.

Note for the taxpayers: For those of you that expect similar Iraq-like short term results from the Afghan surge (whatever it looks like), please take an appetite suppressant. The struggle there is complex beyond an Anderson Cooper 360 special and meaningful progress must be measured in generations, not months.

Additional forces would, for the first time, allow for the Clear, Hold, Build approach to counterinsurgency. The methods, and circumstances, that led to the success of Iraq's surge, are in many cases not present or possible in Afghanistan as a simple result of Her terrain and its ability to swallow up and separate everyone and everything. To do to Afghanistan what has been and is being done to Mesopotamia, we'd need more troops than could possibly be mustered. To conceptualize and enact a viable, long term Afghan policy, our next president will have some incredibly difficult decisions and he will need the very sharpest of military professionals and diplomats to advise him.

Before more troops are even added, some pressing command structure questions should be addressed. This post is growing a bit long and feels like its becoming a bore so I'll save most of this for the later date. Suffice to say, our new CENTCOM CDR, GEN David Petraeus, may want to look at allowing NATO to save face and retire from Afghanistan as we trade in our current Coalition of the Unwilling for one of active participants more akin to the Multi National Force- Iraq model which he last commanded. More on that next time.

On a final note, TT Carnahan had the honor of picking up a leg- casted crutch walker on post this evening who was trying to make his way to a rendezvous point where he would meet his wife after redeploying from a year on an Embedded Training Team in Southern Afghanistan. The reunion was what you'd expect and makes 90% of this worth while. (All the high-speed gear we're issued makes up for the other 10%- read: Gerber tools for everyday of the week!)

Happy Eid!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On team building and ass sniffing

Fort Riley’s floodplains have been an historic gathering point for two things: tornadoes and hastily assembled American soldiers. These days, FT Riley acts as gathering point for the Army, Navy, and Air Force Advisors (euphemistically known as Transition Teams) that will embed with and "coach, teach, and mentor" the Afghan and Iraqi Security Forces- police, army, and border police. TT Carnahan is one of these Advisors. You can read more about the Fort Riley Training Mission here, here, and here.

The Transition Team training is conducted on a FT Riley cantonment known as Camp Funston. The camp's namesake, Major General "Fightin" Fred Funston, was an early American counterinsurgency hero in the Philippines who captured the Filipino equivalent of Mullah Mohammed Omar. Your favorite satirist, Samuel Clemens, wrote about ol' Fightin' Fred in this essay.

The Camp's infamous history includes its distinction as the incubation site of the Spanish Flu which our doughboys took with them to Europe in WWI thereby bringing the Old World to its knees with our New World diseases. The next chapter in Funston's history included its service as a transition point for the US Army's Correctional Brigade which prepared convicts for the shock of civilian life. That sense of purpose seems to drive many of today’s training policies (read: parking) as it more closely resembles a minimum security prison than anything else. If you find yourself wandering too far from the days training area, be prepared to tie a section of twine to a bush and call out, "still shakin' it boss [sarn't], still shakin it!"

Rather than rehashing what has already been stated about the Advisor mission and its import, I’ll instead refer you to an important speech by Big Bobby Gates and an important proposal by LTC (ret) John Nagl, the godfather of that solidarity symbol you see at the bottom of this blog.

I'll write plenty on the art, intricacy, frustrations, and proud crucible of Advisors but today I'd like to muse on the craft of team building. You meet your team on the very military "DAY ZERO." It’s remarkably similar to sizing up your 3rd grade red rover team that was just randomly assembled by a few impressive looking 4th grade team captains. So, as a team minion you're faced with an important question as you survey the men that you will spend the next year depending on for life, limb, and eyesight: who the f**k are these guys? You start sniffing around your new best friends, hoping that you’ll like the aroma. It starts out innocent enough; you toss out the peacetime version of CHALLENGE/PASSWORD with movie quotes. It could be line from Hot Fuzz, or the always popular Family Guy reference. You sing a bar from Kim Jong Il's, "I'm so ronrey." You wait a few breathless moments for someone to take the bait and from the gaggle you hear a "Goddamn you Arec Bardwin!" Ahhh, this tour might not be so bad after all. 30 seconds later you're in Aggieville trying your hardest to pretend you’re seven years younger as you wear the college scene camouflage of hair gel and sideburns. College girls love high and tights! A couple of pitchers later, you know who's divorced, who's deep, who's loud, who's funny, and who's gotta chip on their shoulder. You're all best friends. Team building complete.

Of course, you’ll quickly realize that while common entertainment tastes are important and team dynamics a possible deal breaker, you can't spend all your time at those sticky-floored saloons. Soon you've migrated back to the real world of training and sober preparation. TT Carnahan, and anyone else who can form a complete sentence, knows that the US endeavor in Afghanistan hangs on a razor's edge. We've lost the war a little more every day since Tora Bora. Now 7 years on, it appears to be spiraling out of control. I'd say, flushed down the toilet, but there is no such thing as a flush loo for the vast majority of Pashtunistan's residents. This handy fact of life preserves the opportunity for us to fish a viable Afghan state out of the slit trench of Talibanization.

Our current sharpening focus may not be too little- too late, but it is certainly a dramatic 4th quarter drive. The precariousness of the situation has not translated to despair. Through his long and very personal familiarity with the Afghan Advisor Mission, TT Carnahan has noted an affinity and muted optimism for our Afghan counterparts and their promise through nearly every former Advisor. Surely the crippling corruption and deficit of nationalism, in all its forms, provides "challenges," but as Fletch and many others have reminded me, "this was the best job I've ever, or will ever have."

Ta-daa! Kip, here it is, off and running.

Crossing [blog] LD, time now

Many months have passed since activating this blog, and they have passed silently. Like many American soldiers in the intervening time between deployments, I simply had better things to do. The Long War is a constant, looming presence over our military and serves as a constant reminder that a man's time is short. If you've ever wanted to see someone attempt to live a lifetime in a minute, take note of the way a service member passes their time at home. Your world become micro and time spent with loved ones is sacred. As such using your "dwell time" for anything other than building, repairing, and constantly strengthening the bonds of family is sacrilege.

I am now entering the final stages of deployment preparation as a geo bachelor and am able to focus on the tour rather than the blissful comforts of family.

I'll make no promises to readers other than my commitment to OPSEC (operational security, i.e. non-specificity). This forum is not a sounding board for some ill conceived and premature memoir, nor is it a mound from which I would beat my chest and advertise inflated accomplishments. Instead this is a place where family, friends, and the casual internet surfer can check in on life as an Advisor of Afghans.