Wednesday, June 30, 2010

DEF Hosts BCT Commander for Afghanistan War Assessment

On June 25, DEF initiated a new relationship with the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) by hosting a program at the Minuteman Memorial Building. The program was kicked off by DEF Director Bob Feidler and the first speaker was Dr. Kimberly Kagan, the President of ISW and a frequent visitor to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has served as an advisor to CENTCOM and also participated on the Joint Campaign Plan Assessment Team for the Multi-National Force-Iraq and also for the Civilian Advisory Team for the CENTCOM strategic review in 2009. She provided an overview of the Afghanistan campaign with a focus on the recent surge and events in Southern Afghanistan. She was joined by two senior advisors at the ISW who discussed issues specifically related to Helmand province and Kandahar.

The second portion of the program featured Colonel Randy George, Commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division (Task Force Mountain Warrior). His comments were off the record but focused on governance issues in
Eastern Afghanistan and the myriad factors that had to be considered by the USG team of military and civilians that were engaged in that area.

A key point made during the first discussion was that General McChrystal had conceptualized and reorganized the fight in the south that he had inherited from his predecessor. The Helmand River Valley was not necessarily a critical terrain, but both sides had reinforced it to such a degree that they did not wish to withdraw. The goal for the International Security Force (ISF) was to create a security zone from Helmand to Kandahar. Kandahar is a large city and the home of the Karzai family and is strategically significant. The local government there functions as a broad group of alliances that include criminal elements. One of the greatest challenges for the ISF is to overcome the perception (and probable reality) by the citizenry that that local governments are corrupt oligarchies. The average citizen will give his loyalty to a government that he feels a part of and that does not prey upon him.

There is no consensus on exactly how the locals want to be governed but there is agreement that a grand consensus must be achieved through negotiation between local governments and the national government in Kabul to create stability. A key difference between the war in Iraq and that in Afghanistan has been that power was centralized in Iraq under Hussein and people were accustomed to receiving direction from the central, national government. It is the opposite in Afghanistan, which is a loose affiliation of ethnic groups and tribes speak several major languages and are used to local governance through consensus. The people of Afghanistan were frustrated by the central government and hence have often given their support to insurgent entities such as the Taliban.

ISAF serves as a mediator between Karzai and the locals. We need to be perceived as a neutral party. There is nothing like the “awakening” that occurred in Iraq where locals in 2006 and 2007 allied themselves with the United States and the international force in Iraq to defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Afghanis have been described as living in the 18th century – with cell phones. Critical to success in Afghanistan is finding the key local influencers/leaders and engaging them to connect in some way to the national government.

Local Afghanis have listed the following as enemies to progress:
1. Corrupt and ineffectual government
2. Criminal networks and graft
3. Lack of inclusiveness of respected leaders at the local level, and
4. The existence of a Taliban/Al Qaeda/militants “syndicate” that represses progress.

To address the problem ISAF is engaging in:
1. Reform at the local and national levels to enhance transparency
2. Supporting effective community leaders
3. Delivering absorbable development
4 Enhancing the human terrain networking/mapping and establishing civic training programs
5. Enhanced information operations and other techniques that focus on values, transparency, and fully understanding the problem.

DEF expects to continue to offer programs with ISW throughout the year that will feature candid, fresh comments from civilian and military leaders who are directly participating in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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