Canadian officer: Yes to McChrystal, and here’s why
I’ve been reading an unusually candid report on the Afghan war a Canadian military intelligence officer delivered earlier this month in Ottawa. Capt. G.B. Rolston, who served in Kandahar from September 2008 to April of this year, offers several striking observations about the state of the war that go a long way toward explaining why ...
I’ve been reading an unusually candid report on the Afghan war a Canadian military intelligence officer delivered earlier this month in Ottawa. Capt. G.B. Rolston, who served in Kandahar from September 2008 to April of this year, offers several striking observations about the state of the war that go a long way toward explaining why the current approach has been so unproductive. They also speak to the crucial question of why Gen. McChrystal’s proposals are about much more than just adding more troops and in fact amount to a call for radical change in the conduct of the war.
- Welcome to an Afghan army brigade headquarters: “The table is [the brigade commander’s] CP. His cellphone is their primary comms link. The G2 is off somewhere playing chess with a source, the G3 is driving around the city by himself looking for troops to jack up and the G4 is taking a nap. Most of the rest of the headquarters are off playing cards or chess or watching Bollywood videos on a cellphone.”
- The Afghan treatment of detainees is so lax as to verge on bizarre. “The Afghans are, I am happy to report, exceedingly hospitable to detainees. You can see [in an accompanying photo] these men are neither restrained nor blindfolded. This picture was taken shortly after I suggested to the Canadian operations mentor, seated, that he remove the magazines from their weapons.”
- Detainee operations around Kandahar actually probably help the Taliban more than they do Afghan government forces. “[I]t’s fair to say that every high level insurgent in the province has been through the mill at least once. More problematic to me was the disposition of detainees while in custody, either left to sit around in the intelligence office, or sometimes next to the brigade commander as shown here for extended periods. It’s fair to say that any bona fide insurgent in ANA custody probably learned more from the experience than the other way around.”
- Afghan National Army military intelligence officers brought an interesting perspective to signals interception: “rather than passively listening [to enemy radio traffic], the ANA had a tendency to get into arguments with insurgents.”
- In one remote village, strong Afghan commanders worked hard to deny the area to the Taliban, and also gained a remarkable amount of intelligence. But then the outpost “was closed just after the end of our tour due to its sustainment difficulties, in all likelihood dooming many of the locals who had collaborated with us there.” This is the opposite of protecting the population — it is endangering them.
- He also takes a small whack at the Americans, saying that the safest police stations in southern Afghanistan were those where Canadian mentors lived and slept. “The American PMT approach, which involved teams driving out in the morning to visit, regrettably was far less effective in this regard.”
- After years of training and advising, “we were still very much at year zero.” (Are you listening, Senator Levin?) The Afghan forces he knew couldn’t control a district, he said. “And that’s a big problem, because the whole definition of victory in a counter-insurgency, as defined in FM 3-24 and elsewhere, is getting the battle to the point where indigenous forces can take over, and you can leave. … All [the enemy] has to do is deny you that indigenous force development, by making things so kinetic that you can’t focus on mentoring.”
- Under the way we currently operate, he says, most allied units think that dealing with Afghans is someone else’s job. “Mentors in effect become the excuse for Western soldiers to avoid contact with Afghan soldiers.”
- That last issue, the failure of mentoring, leads to his strong endorsement of Gen. McChrystal’s recommendations for a radical new approach to the war. The most significant aspect of the general’s plan, he says, is to have Americans and other foreign troops co-located with Afghan forces, living, eating and sleeping alongside them. He advocates giving up mentoring and going instead to this flat-out partnering.
His conclusion: “The key, the absolute key aspect in McChrystal’s words is co-location.”
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
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