Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why Your Allies Won't Have War With You

So Gates has been doing the rounds of EU capitals, looking for more troops (and money) for Afghanistan. He didn't get very far; although Germany did agree to find half a battalion of light infantry as a quick-reaction force for the northern zone, this just relieves a Norwegian force that is currently doing the job. A lot of people are vexed. Canada is threatening to leave unless other NATO states put in more men; the British Army is putting in a ton of resources in the next roulement, with the result that the 16th Air Assault Brigade in Helmand will be rather bigger than the Division in Iraq.

But there are very good reasons why most NATO members are not willing to put in more troops or more money. Looking at it as if it was a business, Gates has been passing the hat round his shareholders in NATO asking them to put up more capital; their decision to answer or not depends on their estimate of the risk of losing it and the possible returns from it. You would want to have some influence on his plans for the future; you certainly wouldn't sign any cheques without seeing the plan first.

That is precisely what Secretary Gates wants, though; I have yet to see any answers to these questions. What is NATO's strategy in Afghanistan - what are we trying to achieve? What is our operational plan - how are we trying to do it? How long will we keep trying? And who is in charge? Consider this; despite the expansion in ISAF's area of responsibility to all of Afghanistan, there is still an independent US command of division strength operating in the country, supposedly "fighting terrorists". Although they haven't caught one for years, they are manoeuvring, fighting, and killing people, in the middle of ISAF's battlefield.

Further, if (as seems to be the case) Afghanistan is considered a case of counter-insurgency, the first damn principle in the Big Book of Bandit Extermination is that you need an integrated civilian-military plan and an integrated command structure. We have; no plan or command structure for the international civilian effort, two command structures for the international military effort, an Afghan civilian command structure, and an Afghan military command structure. The British government doesn't seem to be sure whether it is faced with a question of foreign relations, of third-world development, or of war.

I'm not sure I want to buy it. Then you have to consider the Pakistan dimension; the road goes to Karachi, after all. This is just a great big unquantifiable risk. And there is good reason to think that you might end up another tragic victim of common sense; Jamie Kenny may think these guys were trying to set up a "third force" as in The Quiet American, but he's missing a much closer analogy. One of the best tricks in the Big Book of Bandits is recruiting from the other side - the analogy here is a firqat:
One step which had a major impact on the uprising was the announcement of an amnesty for surrendered fighters, and aid in defending their communities from rebels. The surrendered rebels formed Firqat irregular units, trained by teams from the British Special Air Service Regiment. Eighteen Firqat units, numbering about 100 each, were eventually formed. They usually gave themselves names with connections to Islam, such as the Firqat Salahadin. These irregular groups played a major part in denying local support to the rebels.

The first serious step in re-establishing the Sultan's authority on the Jebel took place in October 1971, when Operation Jaguar which involved five Firqat units and a Squadron of the SAS was mounted. After hard fighting, the SAS and Firqats secured an enclave on the eastern Jebel Samhan from which they could expand. In a major hearts and minds operation, recaptured areas of the Jebel received aid in the form of clinics, schools, roads and newly dug wells....

Sounds like a plan, as they say. However, this inevitably involves an acceptance that the rebels exist, which seems to be the problem. We therefore have, instead, a strategy based on trying to spread soldiers as thinly as possible and using masses of firepower to save them when it goes wrong; elsewhere, some national contingents are trying not to draw attention to themselves, and the US Ambassador wants to gas the country's main crop.

I think I'll buy that ostrich farm.


albedo404 said...

NATO was never designed to be an expeditionary military alliance. The idea was that the Belgians, Germans, Dutch et al would fight the Soviet Third Shock Army in their own front yards while Washington and the Kremlin talked to each other very quickly to try to prevent the tacnukes from flying willy-nilly (as I recall, in most realistic wargames it took about 48 hours from COH to the first mushroom cloud appearing over a battlegroup or staging area).

The only members of NATO truly capable of projecting military force outside their own geographical areas are the US (natch), ex-Imperial Britain and the French (or as the Republican Party calls them, cheese-eating surrender monkeys). The Germans are pretty much at full stretch with their current military deployment in Afghanistan.

The US is tapped out with Iraq as well as its other treaty obligations around the world (Korea, Japan, Taiwan etc.) The UK is at full-stretch too with Cyprus, the Balkans, Belize, the Falklands and the rump in Iraq. The French? Well unless Bush gets out the kneepads and mouthwash you can forget about asking them to increase their presence in Afghanistan. Even if they wanted to the French have obligations to UN peacekeeping as well as their interests in Afrique to worry about. Besides, they're only associate members of NATO, not full members.

Anonymous said...

I have something on these general lines on the Guardian blg as we speak, although I think the big sticking point for the people having the hat passed to them is the worry that they're dealing with a Robert Maxwell figure who's going to use their contributions to bail out his other interests - ie that contributing to Afghanistan is just going to be used to reduce the political cost of Iraq.

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