We are pleased to offer our readers this report on Afghanistan by retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, based on his visit there in late July. He finds the situation difficult and likely to get worse, with 2009 shaping up as “the year of decision.” He identifies critical problems, including dysfunctional and corrupt local government, lack of unity of command, insufficient international support, limited Pakistani control of its frontier region, burgeoning narcotics production, and “crippling political restrictions” on the employment of many non-U.S. NATO forces. The “central effort to win the war,” he believes, must focus on strengthening the Afghan security forces. – Ed.
July 30, 2008
MEMORANDUM FOR: Colonel Michael Meese
CC: Colonel Cindy Jebb
SUBJECT: After Action Report – General Barry R McCaffrey USA (Ret)
1.) One-on-one multi-hour session, General John Craddock, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR).
2.) NATO Strategic Overview Briefing. SHAPE Headquarters – Mons, Belgium. MG Rudy Wright, USAF, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations:
3.) Working Lunch. General Karl-Heinz Lather (German Army), Chief of Staff; SACEUR:
4.) Working Dinner – Château Gendebien. SACEUR; General Karl-Heinz Lather; other senior military and civilian officials:
5.) Discussion, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, C-17 en route and return from Afghanistan.
6.) One-on-one discussions, POLAD, Ambassador Larry Butler.
1.) Private Briefing. MG Dutch Remkes, USAF and COL Mark Kelly, USAF.
2.) Opium and Heroin – The Afghanistan Challenge – Vincent M. Balbo, DEA Country Attaché.
3.) The Military Situation Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, USA, Commander, International Security Assistance Force; senior staff:
4.) Private strategic update – General McKiernan; LTG Riley (UK); SACEUR.
5.) Afghanistan Minister of Defense, General Abdul Rahim Wardak; senior staff. Update on the Afghan National Security Situation.
6.) The Afghan Economic Situation. Meeting with World Bank President and CEO, Robert B. Zoellick; SACEUR.
7.) The Economics, Politics, and Culture of Afghanistan. ISAF Headquarters.
8.) Khyber Pass. Border Coordination Element. Khyber Border Coordination Center. Update briefings:
9.) Working Dinner – The Economics, Politics, and Culture of Afghanistan. Hotel Serena – Kabul, Afghanistan.
10.) Kandahar Air Field. Operations and Intelligence Briefing. COL Peter Petronzio, 24th MEU Commanding Officer; LTC Trollinger, S3 24th MEU. Headquarters, 24th MEU.
11.) Visit 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. Field Location FOB Dwyer. LTC Anthony Henderson, Commander, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines.
12.) One-on-one session, MG Robert W. Cone, Commanding General, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.
It was an honor to learn about the current challenges in Afghanistan while traveling with John Craddock. He was one of the most courageous and effective battalion commanders I have ever observed in action. (Awarded one of the only two Silver Stars in 24th INF Division during Desert Storm…. in heavy combat…. his command tank hit twice by heavy recoilless AT rounds…Craddock shooting enemy infantry off his tank at close range with a pistol.)
General Craddock has gone on to gain enormous experience through distinguished service as a Balkans peacekeeping commander, as the senior military trainer for US forces in Europe, as the senior military assistant to the US Secretary of Defense, and then as the Joint Combatant Commander in Southern Command (the Latin-American theater). There are few senior military leaders in this generation who have his talent, lack of ego, and sophisticated grasp of the international political and military environment. He is highly respected by the NATO community as pragmatic and mission-oriented.
This report is also based on continuous personal research, unclassified data provided in-country during this trip, and firsthand observations gained during my many field visits to both Pakistan and Afghanistan during the period 2003 forward to the current situation.
The conclusions are solely my own as an Adjunct Professor of International Affairs at West Point and should be viewed as an academic contribution to the national security debate. No one in NATO-SHAPE or the ISAF Command in Afghanistan has vetted this report.
4. THE BOTTOM LINE: SIX ASSERTIONS
5. THE BOW WAVE OF THE US PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN:
This is a struggle for the hearts of the people, and good governance, and the creation of Afghan security forces. The war theater is principally for the Afghan-Pakistan frontier regions and the control of the four approaches to Kabul (although 29 of 34 provinces had clashes and bombings.) The combatants are tribes, religious groups, criminals, drug lords, and among ethnic groups (Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Turkmen). This is an attempt to create a state, not a battle to save one. This is clearly not a war between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is more a war of extremists against a population desperate for peace.
The battle will be won in Afghanistan when there is an operational Afghan police presence in the nation’s 34 provinces and 398 Districts. The battle will be won when the current Afghan National Army expands from 80,000 troops to 200,000 troops with appropriate equipment, training, and leadership and embedded NATO LNO teams. (Afghanistan is 50% larger than Iraq and has a larger population.) The battle will be won when we deploy a five battalion US Army engineer brigade with attached Stryker security elements to lead a five year road building effort employing Afghan contractors and training and mentoring Afghan engineers. The war will be won when we fix the Afghan agricultural system which employs 82% of the population. The war will be won when the international community demands the eradication of the opium and cannabis crops and robustly supports the development of alternative economic activity.
NATO has 70,000 soldiers on three continents with eleven standing NATO military headquarters. The NATO-Russia Council, the NATO-Ukrainian Council, the 24 member nations of the NATO Partnership for Peace, the Mediterranean Dialog, and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative – are all examples of the enormously effective integrative political and military role of NATO.
Current non-US NATO forces deployed in Afghanistan are in many cases woefully inadequate for the task they face. They have serious restrictive caveats to their military employment. They are casualty adverse in a very dangerous and brutal environment. They are in many cases lacking the force enablers that are a prerequisite to effective COIN operations. (Helicopter and UAV support, intelligence, logistics, engineers, civil affairs and special operations units, precision artillery munitions, trauma medical support, cash for nation-building economic activity, etc.) Some are badly trained and equipped. The Germans as an example have an enormously professional military with superb officers but make a marginal contribution in Afghanistan because of the crippling political restrictions on their employment.
The US has until recently sadly neglected to adequately nurture, shape, and sustain the capabilities of NATO to deal with the new realities of the post-Cold War security environment. This is a challenge to the NATO political leadership of all 26 nations. NATO is a political alliance not a military headquarters.
A major US intervention across the Pakistan border to conduct spoiling attacks on Pashtun and criminal syndicate base areas would be a political disaster. We will imperil the Pakistani government’s ability to support our campaign. They may well stop our air and ground logistics access across Pakistan and place our entire NATO presence in severe jeopardy.
This is a 25 year campaign. We must be patient in our expectations. We must do no harm dealing with Pakistan. We clearly can strike directly and covertly across the border in self-defense. We must never publicly put the Pakistani military in political peril with their own people.
8. AFGHANISTAN: A NARCO-STATE.
Production of both opium and cannabis has surged throughout the country. (Opium up from 198,000 acres in 2003 to 476,900 by 2007.) This criminal enterprise employs 3.3 million workers, addicts the population (perhaps 900,000 drug users), distorts the economy, and corrupts justice and government.
The international community to include the United States has provided small sums to develop alternative economic livelihood aid. ($111 million in 2007 and only $655 million since 2002). The US has a handful of courageous DEA agents in Afghanistan joining a symbolic and largely ineffective international counter-drug program.
The international community has been fearful of confronting this issue. Unless we deal head-on with this enormous cancer, we should have little expectation that our efforts in Afghanistan will not eventually come to ruin.
9. BUILDING THE AFGHAN SECURITY FORCES:
The Afghan National Security Forces now have twice the ground combat power of the ISAF forces. There are 63,000 effective soldiers and 79,000 poorly equipped and trained police. The planned force structure is completely inadequate if our goal is US and NATO withdrawal in the coming decade. The ANA is a splendid instrument of national unity with ethnically mixed units and extremely motivated fighters. Of all friendly forces killed-in-action from January 2007 thru July 2008: 59% are ANP, 21% are ANA, and 20% are Coalition.
The ANA has led over 68% of the operations they have participated in from May thru July. All five planned Corps Headquarters are now fielded and 12 of 14 planned brigade headquarters. All ANA and ANP personnel are rapidly being identified thru biometric data and will be paid thru electronic funds transfer to Afghan banks to attempt to minimize corruption and extortion of the troops.
The creation of the Afghan Security Forces is still poorly supported by NATO. Most of this is a US effort. Second-hand donated military equipment sits in Europe because NATO cannot find $7 million to pay for transportation. Many allied trainers are forbidden by national caveat from accompanying their Afghan units in the field as liaison elements.
The US is going to have to step up to this challenge. We must create the Afghan air power, logistics, medical, engineering and administrative infra-structure to allow eventual US military downsizing in the coming five years. The ANA needs 3000+ light armored vehicles to include air transportable artillery. The current Afghan Army Air Corps is 26 Soviet era helicopters and 6 fixed wing aircraft. We are off by an order of magnitude. They should build an air arm of a dozen C-130’s, a dozen AC-130’s, 50 attack helicopters, and 150 US Chinook and Black Hawk lift helicopters. (These are invented numbers to get the debate at the right order of magnitude.) It is immeasurably cheaper to start now to build and equip a realistic Afghan Security Force than to continue a $2.3 billion per month US DOD effort.
10. THE US ARMED FORCES:
We have never fielded more experienced and aggressive air and ground tactical units. As an example, the superb Marine 24th MEU in Helmand Province has killed 400+ Taliban fighters while losing 4 US killed and 9 wounded. This air-ground task force was in continuous battle for 35 days and DID NOT KILL OR INJURE ONE AFGHAN CIVILIAN. (Note there has not been one Afghan Army or Police unit with the Marines at any time during their battle in the south.)
The elite Army parachute infantry units from the 101st Airborne Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade operating in the north-eastern provinces (RC-East) have done magnificent work at nation-building while fighting aggressive, well-armed and trained foreign fighters and Taliban conducting cross-border attacks out of Pakistan. In June there were 39 Troops-in-Contact battles in Iraq: there were 419 Troops-in-Contact engagements in Afghanistan. This is dangerous work against a cunning and ruthless enemy.
As an example, on 13 July a small, isolated US Army-Afghan platoon sized unit in Konar Province was attacked by surprise at dawn by 200+ Taliban employing massive fires from RPG’s, recoilless rifles, and automatic weapons from eight different positions. US losses were 9 killed-in-action and 15 wounded. The position would have been over run and annihilated were it not for the determined leadership of the US infantry company commander – and the initiative of a paratroop squad that counter-attacked under heavy fire at the point of most vulnerability. US air power rapidly decimated the attacking force.
Many of these troops and their leaders through general officer level are on their 4th or more combat deployments since “9/11.” We have suffered 36,000 US killed and wounded. Their families are getting tired. The country is not at war. The Armed Forces and the CIA are at war. We are at the point of breaking faith with our troops.
Much of our ground and air equipment is falling apart. The anemic US Air Force and Naval modernization programs will place us in great risk in the Pacific in the coming decades. The Armed Forces are under-resourced and inadequately sized for the national security strategy we have pursued.
There is a serious mismatch between ends and means. We are going to wreck the US Armed Forces unless Congress and the next Administration address this situation of great strategic peril.
NATO is central to achieving our purpose.
This is a generational war to build an Afghan state and prevent the creation of a lawless, extremist region which will host and sustain enduring threats to the vital national security interests of the United States and our key allies.
Published with permission of the author.