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Fri Aug 13, 2021, 03:58 PM

 

What We Got Wrong in Afghanistan

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/08/how-america-failed-afghanistan/619740/

In 2005, I was an adviser to an Iraqi infantry battalion conducting counterinsurgency operations in and around Baghdad, one of the most violent parts of Iraq during one of the most violent periods in that conflict. It was difficult to have any hope at the time. I returned to Iraq in 2009, this time in Mosul, where my unit advised and supported two Iraqi-army divisions, one Iraqi-federal-police division, and thousands of local police officers. This time, I sensed more progress: Leaving Iraq in 2010, I felt we had done a great job, turning a corner and building a capable and competent security force. A year later, I found myself in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, recruiting and training Afghan police units and commandos. After nine months there, I again rotated home thinking we had done some good. I would be proved wrong on both counts. In 2014, by then stationed at the Pentagon, I watched in dismay as the Iraqi divisions I’d helped train collapsed in a matter of days when faced with the Islamic State. Today, as the Taliban seizes terrain across Afghanistan, including in what was my area of operations, I cannot help but stop and reflect on my role. What did my colleagues and I get wrong? Plenty.



snip


If those were things we did poorly or insufficiently, there were other things we should not have done at all—namely, train police. We generally accepted that our ultimate goal of combatting insurgents or terrorists was to turn the fight over to domestic law enforcement. In other words, get to the point where the police could handle threats without fielding the army. (I remember, in Iraq, 2006 was supposed to be the “Year of the Police.” It would be hilarious if not for the incredible cost in blood and treasure—that year was a terrible and deadly one for police across Iraq.) But the United States does not have a national police force, so police training became a task that largely fell to the Army. In Iraq, I oversaw thousands of police, and in Afghanistan, I led a task force that vetted, selected, and fielded nearly 3,000 local police while supporting the Afghan National Police with warrant-based targeting of insurgents. I should make clear that I have zero law-enforcement experience, nor does most of the U.S. military, aside from some National Guard or Reserve troops. (We do have Military Police units, but they serve a unique operational role unlike any of the security forces we tried to build up.) We attempted to bridge this gap by hiring a handful of brave retired police officers and having them serve as technical advisers and trainers alongside U.S. Army troops, but even they could only focus on tactical tasks; they lacked the professional and personal experience to build national institutions and systems. We never had a chance to make policing work. The U.S. military could not overcome our national and institutional lack of experience.

snip.

Over these past 20 years, there have been many failings. We checked the box when it came to saying that we had trained our partners, spun a rosy narrative of progress, and perhaps prioritized the safety and well-being of our troops over the mission of buttressing partner capacity. (When our Afghan partners shot at us, killing our comrades in the now infamous “green on blue” incidents, we tightened up our security procedures but didn’t address the hard questions of why they were shooting at us in the first place.) We didn’t send the right people, prepare them well, or reward them afterward. We rotated strangers on tours of up to a year and expected them to build relationships, then replaced them. We were overly optimistic and largely made things up as we went along. We didn’t like oversight or tough questions from Washington, and no one really bothered to hold us accountable anyway. We had no capacity or experience with some of our tasks, and we stumbled.

.

We invaded Afghanistan with righteous anger after 9/11, but then what? Why was the United States in Afghanistan for years afterward? What about our fraught relationship with Pakistan and its influence in Afghanistan? A coherent strategy to address these questions would have made my job easier on the ground. First and foremost, a clearly articulated end goal would have assured our Afghan partners and our allies from other nations (as well as our foes) of our determination. Instead of leaving the entire effort to the Department of Defense, a coordinated strategy with commensurate resources across government could have produced better results in multiple Afghan institutions. Further, 20 years ago, a commitment to law enforcement might have been very attractive to our allies, many of whom have their own national police force and a track record of success in performing such missions. Perhaps most crucial, a clear and forceful foreign policy regarding Pakistan, coupled with a commitment to supporting and employing a new Afghan army, would have provided much clarity and focus for our military. We didn’t fight a 20-year war in Afghanistan; we fought 20 incoherent wars, one year at a time, without a sense of direction. The U.S. military can and should be blamed for the collapse of security forces in Afghanistan—I hold us responsible. The current collapse keeps me up at night. In the military, the main effort gets the best resources and the best talent available. For more than 20 years, no matter what was reported, what we read in the headlines, efforts to build and train large-scale conventional security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have mostly been an aimless, ham-fisted acronym soup of trial and error that never became the true main effort, and we are to blame for that.

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So much more to read.



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Reply What We Got Wrong in Afghanistan (Original post)
Rustyeye77 Aug 2021 OP
mahatmakanejeeves Aug 2021 #1
Rustyeye77 Aug 2021 #3
Alice Kramden Aug 2021 #2
sdfernando Aug 2021 #4
onetexan Aug 2021 #6
zuul Aug 2021 #5
SamKnause Aug 2021 #7
MerryBlooms Aug 2021 #8

Response to Rustyeye77 (Original post)

Fri Aug 13, 2021, 04:39 PM

1. It is often the case at DU that the best threads are the ones that garner the fewest "DURecs." NT

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Reply #1)

Fri Aug 13, 2021, 04:51 PM

3. Well, I got 11 durecs.

 

Obviously mistakes were made training their army.

Don’t punish the Afghan people for that.

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Response to Rustyeye77 (Original post)

Fri Aug 13, 2021, 04:47 PM

2. Terrible on so many levels

At the time of the Bush invasion we were walking in protest after protest, roundly ignored by the media

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Response to Rustyeye77 (Original post)

Fri Aug 13, 2021, 04:55 PM

4. What we got wrong was going there in the 1st place.

There is a reason Afghanistan is called The Graveyard of Empires.

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Response to sdfernando (Reply #4)

Fri Aug 13, 2021, 05:11 PM

6. +1 -K&R

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Response to Rustyeye77 (Original post)

Fri Aug 13, 2021, 05:10 PM

5. Horrific. I feel bad for this guy and his comrades who feel responsible.

Bush and Cheney should be the ones to feel remorse and lose sleep, but of course, they don't and never will.

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Response to Rustyeye77 (Original post)

Fri Aug 13, 2021, 06:28 PM

7. Everything.

We never should have been there.

Same as Iraq.

We never should have been there.

The U.S. never admits or learns from its deadly mistakes.

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Response to Rustyeye77 (Original post)

Fri Aug 13, 2021, 06:44 PM

8. r&k Should have never been there in the first place, and our exit "plan" is a nightmare.

Why the hell is there anyone still at our Kabul embassy? Those folks should have been given orders to wrap up their mission weeks ago and been evacuated, along with All Afghani personnel- including cleaning staff, etc... who wanted to leave. Now we're sending back troops to help with the exit. Maddening!

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