A battalion commander responds to a blogger on how to operate in Afghanistan
Paula Broadwell asked Lt. Col. David Flynn, star of a guest column earlier this week, to respond to Registani Josh Foust. (And here is an XM/Foust discussion of Paula’s files.) Ms. Broadwell corresponds, "I thought I’d ask LTC David Flynn, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force 1-320th in Kandahar Provence, Afghanistan to clarify the Afghan Local ...
Ms. Broadwell corresponds, "I thought I’d ask LTC David Flynn, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force 1-320th in Kandahar Provence, Afghanistan to clarify the Afghan Local Police initiative skepticism and punditry on one blogger’s mind. Here’s what Flynn had to say in response to Joshua Foust’s blog.":
Tom comment: No matter where you come down on this, I am impressed to see Lt. Col. Flynn respond in real time — very unusual for an Army that still likes to move 2.5 MPH in media engagements.
So, duck and cover, and here goes:
Flynn: It has been with great pleasure that I’ve had the opportunity to read the orator Joshua Faust report from his desk in the U.S. via Registan.net. It seems, unfortunately, Mr. Faust lacks the context to editorialize in a way that enables his readers to ascertain an objective view. My name is LTC David Flynn and have been operating in the Arghandab District since June 2010. This is my second deployment to Kandahar and have over 20 months of experience in the Arghandab. Allow me to explain the nascent ALP in one of 4 villages that we have stood up in my Area of Operations in response to Foust’s punditry.
Foust: LTC Flynn decided to give one elder in a district the power to build his own militia, which that elder liked. The men he chose for that militia could not be vetted by the Ministry of the Interior quickly enough, so the LTC decided to abandon General Petraeus’ orders and the legal restrictions on arming militias and give them weapons and training anyway. LTC Flynn’s trainers are having a hard time convincing these men not to beat people in the street, but are hopeful they can be "smarter than the TB."
Flynn: The men chosen for this particular ALP were vetted by senior Afghan Police Officials, who are subordinate to the MOI, and vectored my way to begin a training process that is led by some of my finest infantry NCOs and mentored by an ODA Team operating in my AO. The ALP members have been approved also by the village Shura and are led to training by their Malik. We will issue them weapons to operate on their own after they have completed background checks, biometric screening, medical checks, District Chief of Police and District Governor vetting and final approval by the MOI. I expect this process to take a few more weeks before we are ready to issue weapons. The weapons are issued by MOI officials and at that time the District government will issue identification cards with the serial numbers matching the weapon issued.
Foust: Thanks to the "VSO-ALP Backburn," whatever the hell that means, we’re now expanding a policy of building unaccountable militias across southern Afghanistan, and hoping they won’t sell their weapons to the Taliban like they have every single other time we’ve tried to do this. (Even Andrew Exum thinks we need to be much more cautious about this program.) It’s like we kept all the bad aspects of the AP3 program in Wardak, and chose to forget all the lessons we learned from it. Like the accounts other COIN cheerleaders, it seems to represent a rejection of evidence and experience, rather than a considered embrace of it.
Flynn: We have U.S. Forces and ANA forces co-located in a combat outpost INSIDE the village where this ALP will operate. The ALP is accountable to the District Chief of Police who is extremely effective and aggressive in his duties. The long term objective is for the ALP to assume responsibility for the security of their own village but will be supervised by ANA and U.S. Soldiers in the interim.
Foust: In 2008, the Arghandab was not like this. We made it this way. And our continued refusal to think beyond six months from now — starting with General Petraeus demanding unrealistic results by the summer and moving down the chain of command — is creating bad decisions, inspiring LTCs to break the law and use short cuts to try to eke out progress for a good OER, and, ultimately, ruining any chance of a long-term success in this area. We are doing this deliberately, though perhaps not knowingly. And the people like Paula Broadwell, who are bragging of the tactical genius of it all, don’t seem to realize this sort of thing is the foundation of our eventual, humiliating defeat.
Paula’s writing on the Arghandab is not analysis, or reporting. It is hagiography — a particularly ignorant kind of hagiography. How foul.
Flynn: The Charqolba ALP has been directed by the Afghan Government thru the local police; again, an MOI institution. We are executing this program in concert with our Afghan partners. It’s not possible to do this in every one of the 38 villages in my AO. We are very selective about how we raise this program. All four of my ALPs exist in villages that we maintain a permanent presence — it’s a pre-condition for effective mentorship. There are certainly risks associated with such a venture but the status quo alternative does not bear the potential high reward.
We have made significant gains in the District in the time we have been here. The vast majority of Taliban fighters were defeated and forced to leave the district before the change in foliage and onset of winter as is normally the case here. We now live with our ANA brothers in the sanctuaries occupied by the Taliban this past summer. The people of these villages, once terrorized by the Taliban, are beginning to return to their lands with cautious optimism of the future. The ALP is part of our overall strategy to prevent the re-emergence of the Taliban in the District in the upcoming Spring. We too are cautiously optimistic that this District will return to the favorable conditions not of 2008 but of 2007 prior to the untimely death of the Alikozai tribal elder whose loss created the power vacuum for the Taliban to wreak havoc for the local population for the past 3 years.
Thomas E. Ricks is a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tomricks1
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