Thursday, June 24, 2010

Petraeus already making his presence felt?

At NRO's Corner, Daniel Foster notes a subtle change in how the President describes the events that may or may not commence next July.

"We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. We said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility," he said.

That part isn't so much news. But immediately after, Obama also said that at the end of this year his administration will undertake a second comprehensive review of its Afghanistan strategy. That point was also hit today by SecDef Gates and CJCS Adm. Mullen. Gates said that the administration would be looking to see if "by December we have enough evidence to demonstrate, if you will, the proof of concept" of the strategy.

By connecting the deadline talk with the strategic review talk, Obama and his national security principals are begging us to add the missing premise: if the review doesn't show things proceeding smoothly in Afghanistan, the deadline could be pushed off, indefinitely. Of course, nobody in the administration wants to say that outright. But the hopes seems to be that it will be reassuring enough to signal it.

Another possible reading of the "proof of concept" talk is that, should evidence indicate that the strategy is not working, it would be abandoned. Now, would that entail withdrawal or staying and switching to some non-COIN strategy, perhaps the counter terror strategy advocated by the VP? Neither would leave a good taste in Afghan mouths, and the tapping of Petraeus would seem to indicate they are not being seriously considered. He may already think that the overcautious version of COIN that troops seem to be unhappy with amounted to the CT approach and was in fact failing. If that were the case, he certainly would not resort to the same approach.

What to look for going forward? A possible shake up re the other principles in Afghanistan, the ambassador, and the special envoy. It will be interesting to see if they have a 'come to Jesus' meeting with Petraeus, or are outright replaced. Actually, it seems that Hollbrook's presence is otiose, he could be removed with no significant negative effect. Would Crocker be interested in an Iraq redux?

And, of course, Karzai could use a 'come to Jesus' with the general, after his recent antics. Petraeus has to decide whether the man retains enough legitimacy with his people to serve as partner in the implementation of his plan. Look for Petraeus to "say all the right things" but conduct a tour of the country with that end in mind. He will listen very closely to the locals everywhere he goes.

Gratuitious Jaws Reference or The Quotable Quint

Aussie Rules Counterinsurgency

A very interesting post at Small Wars Journal by Jason Thomas, who recently returned from Afghanistan, working with "a USAID Implementing Partner in Afghanistan."

If I Had 5 Minutes with General Petraeus - An Australian Perspective on Afghanistan

Sanka freeze dried version:

1. Relax the COIN ROE. Regular Afghan respect use of force, and think the present level of restriction actually does not protect the populace.

2. Clear and hold, even, and especially over the winter, using special ops units. Winter with the locals.

3. Create special ops engineering savvy units that protect locals who contract with USAID and etc.. They must live locally.

4. Go Giulliani on the presence of Taliban at village level. Zero tolerance. They should go the way of the squeegee men.

5. Do what worked in Iraq vis the Anbar awakening. Hire away any local militia, now on the Taliban crime family payroll, make it worth their while to work for the Afghan government and ISAF.

6. Afghanistan, no more than Iraq was, is not a candidate for being the Pashtun Virginia Commonwealth. Don't expect that. The bar should be lower, but not as low as the cynical realist would have it.

The prime takeaway in the piece seems to be that there should be increased presence, all year round, at as many villages as possible, before we can hope to proceed with the project. That will probably take more troops, and more time. But, these are no doubt things that Petraeus has well in mind, and what is more, he oversaw the first iteration of such operations in Iraq.

McChrystal News roundup

From various blogs I read:

Wings over Iraq: Remember: Not all journalists are unprincipled, but beware, for even those that are will publish off the record stuff if it is "REALLY REALLY GOOD"

VDH: He had to go, for creating an unacceptable command climate, and bad precedent.

USNI: Vanity brings Nemesis

Exit with a short take on Petraeus pick, not original, but from the for what it's worth department:

He's the obvious man for the job, and I think he has more leverage over
the administration than anyone else would have. He oozes credibility, and has an obvious track record of success, and staying clear of politics.

Now, CENTCOM must go to Mattis. Say it with me MATTIS. He may have
caused a bit of a stir saying he enjoyed killing the enemy, but the man is as well read as P, creative, and thoroughly invested in COIN.

These guys embody the values based state building projects that were started by Bush, and will fight the drift toward realism that beset the second Bush term, and seems to be, somewhat paradoxically mind you, the mindset of at least some the Obama admin.

Overall, the move improves the situation. Excellent choice. Gotta give the President credit where it's due. I'm feeling considerably better about Afghanistan now. But, first order of business should to publically, and in no uncertain terms, rescind the deadline of next July. That is strategically inapt.