Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Flashman Option

Nonbarking dog of the year, 2007 was the fact that the increasingly heavyweight NATO force in Afghanistan's logistics are dependent on the road from Kandahar-Quetta-Karachi, that is to say through Taliban and Baluch rebel country to Pakistan's most politically unstable and violent city. As you'll see at the link, someone finally attacked trucks on it in Pakistan; watch this closely.

At the same time, the Afghan government decided it could rub along well enough without any LibDems, thank you very much, because their press wouldn't stand for it; so Paddy Ashdown's candidacy as a putative civilian leader for the international community's various organisations there is officially kiboshed.

What is interesting, however, is that the Afghans apparently express an interest in bringing back General John McColl, currently the NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. McColl was the first commander of ISAF in 2002, and later the senior British officer in Iraq in early 2004; his specialisation is in peacekeeping and the like. You may remember him as the guy who kept Peter McPherson from starting a little famine in Iraq; he became unpopular for advising against the assault of Fallujah.

McColl would have the considerable advantage that, if this is a NATO job, he could be both the high representative/whatever and also the military commander; someone could be appointed as a civilian deputy for those functions. It is, after all, Rule One in the Big Boys Book of Unconventional Warfare that you need an integrated civilian-military effort.

Further, Rory "As I dined with the robber sheikh's beautiful daughter, his cutthroat crew of Ghazi riders manned the perimeter around the Mi-24 full of cash..." Stewart argued that the boost in NATO forces in Afghanistan since 2006 has been useless at best, counterproductive more likely. Increasing the foreign military presence has simply pissed people off, and drawn the Taliban out to fight, which sounds like a good idea but actually (as the numbers of infantry deployed in 2006 were pretty thin) led to the heavy use of various airborne supporting fires, with heavy casualties to the civil population.

Stewart describes roughly what might be described as a population-security strategy; building up local forces, government services, and economic development in the places where there is a reasonable degree of stability, and not seeking big fights.

Meanwhile, the US Secretary of Defense Gates made an arse of himself; complaining that NATO armies were unsuited to counterinsurgency and spend too much time training to defend the Fulda Gap. Perhaps he shouldn't have repeatedly opposed the idea of recruiting tribal allies? Perhaps he could say, enough with the bombing weddings already? As Dan Hardie says, the only strategy that looks sustainable is something on the lines of the firqat in Oman + Stewart. And Gates has repeatedly opposed it.

The bizarre thing is that out of the NATO armies committed to Afghanistan, the heaviest commitment is the British Army. The French are providing a considerable number of OMLTs (Operational Monitoring and Liaison Teams - small groups of advisors); but the army in Europe that sounds most like Gates' stereotype is the one that actually does own the Fulda Gap, the Bundeswehr. They are hardly in the fight at all; but you have to agree that their patch looks a lot less like hell on earth than Helmand.

It's clear that a) current levels of forces are not enough to dominate, b) they may not be logistically and politically sustainable any higher, and there is a strong case that c) they may be too high already. The Danes may be mad keen on really big tanks, but this is a country where wrecked Soviet armour is littered everywhere.


ejh said...

Has Rory Stewart's reputation - which seemed to me to be largely based on his own account of himself - survived the revelation that on their departure from Basra, only 2% of the locals wanted the Brits to stay? You'd have thought they'd have been more popular after Sir Rory did such a splendid job and all.

Anonymous said...

Interesting stats out of Afghanistan when comparing year on year monthly coalition deaths for January (3 days still left):

Jan 08 14
Jan 07 2
Jan 06 1
Jan 05 2

Doesn't bode well for 2008, will it be an election issue in November?

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