Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Man with the Plan for Bananastan

The Bananastans, the banana republic-style tar pits in Central Asia that we’ve stumbled into, have rapidly become a bigger cluster bomb than Iraq ever was.

At his Senate confirmation hearing, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the “measure of effectiveness” in Afghanistan “will not be enemy killed. It will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence.”

Shortly after his confirmation, the New York Times reported that McChrystal had been given “carte blanche to handpick a dream team of subordinates” as he carries out “an ambitious new strategy” of “stepped-up attacks on Taliban fighters and narcotics networks.”

McChrystal then re-reversed himself and announced that he would restrict the use of airstrikes in Afghanistan in order to avoid civilian casualties. He said that if an airstrike was intended “just to defeat the enemy, then we are not going to do it.” Throughout my decades as and air operations planner and in all my studies of air power history, I never heard of such a thing as an airstrike that wasn’t intended to defeat the enemy.

Days after his announcement, an airstrike in Kandahar killed four civilians. Since then, airstrikes have killed and wounded civilians time and time and time and time again. Over in Pakistan, U.S. officials think a drone airstrike “probably” killed Baitullah Mehsud, a senior Taliban leader. That’s according to the best intelligence the U.S. officials have, which in that part of the world amounts bribing or beating people into telling us what we want to hear or believing the lies that Pakistani intelligence tells us.

Even if it’s true that Mehsud is dead, so what? We’ve killed senior evildoers before and evil still exists and the global war on it continues. For every senior evildoer we kill ten junior evil doers scramble to take his place and twenty new evildoers rise up to revenge the deaths of their mothers and sisters and brothers that we caused in the course of killing the senior evildoer.

Soon after assuming command, McChrystal ordered the Marines to conduct a major offensive to clear Taliban havens in south Afghanistan. The Marines met less resistance than expected, but the Taliban executed effective strikes in other parts of the country. McChrystal said he was surprised by that turn of events.

The signature warfare style of guerilla insurgents is to refuse battle with superior forces and to strike weaker forces unexpectedly. During his confirmation period, the Pentagon hyped McChrystal as a “counterinsurgency expert.” It’s funny how a counterinsurgency expert could be surprised when the insurgents he’s fighting behave the way they’re supposed to.

Why am I finding it easier and easier to believe that McChrystal just eats one meal a day and only sleeps a few hours a night?

The latest member of the dream team McChrystal has been given carte blanche to hand pick is counterinsurgency guru David Kilcullen, a former adviser to Gen. David Petraeus who is now head of U.S. Central Command and McChrystal’s boss. In a recent appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Kilcullen predicted that the U.S. will see about two more years of heavy fighting then either turn things over to Afghan forces or "lose and go home." He outlined a "best-case scenario" for a decade of further U.S. and NATO entanglement in Afghanistan. These counterinsurgency wonks have an odd sense of time. Maybe that’s why counterinsurgencies go on forever. The people in charge of them start having so much fun that they lose track.

Kilcullen also has an odd sense of why Afghanistan is worth a ten-year commitment. We have “compelling reasons” to continue the fight, he says, but counterterrorism isn’t “at the top of my list.” To the casual observer, it would seem that counterterrorism is the only reason to be in Afghanistan, but Kilcullen is a cut above “casual.”

One of his main reasons for staying the course in Afghanistan is that it may be the only way to preserve the NATO alliance. See, NATO was formed to fight a different kind of war than the one in Afghanistan against a different kind of enemy than the Taliban or al Qaeda, but that war and that enemy doesn’t exist any more. NATO needs a new kind of war and enemy to fight, and if Afghanistan and the Taliban aren’t it, then there’s no reason for NATO to exist any more. If maintaining NATO’s meaningless existence isn’t enough to justify a war, we revert to our double-secret fallback position, which is that the U.S. Army needs a phony baloney job to justify its existence.

In March 2009, the Washington Post said that Kilcullen’s, “theories are revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West.” Yeah. He’s revolutionizing military thinking the way the Hindenburg revolutionized the dirigible.

McChrystal is putting together what aids describe as a “blunt summing up” of the situation in the Bananastans. The report is due out in a couple of weeks and will probably ask for yet another troop escalation.

Associated Press reports that in anticipation of the assessment, the Pentagon has set up a new command center in an “ultra-secure war room” where people from different services and disciplines can “sit together.”

In a separate effort, the Obama administration is developing new measures of success in the Bananastans, something it promised Congress months ago. It’s bad enough that we sent additional troops over there without telling them what they needed to do to be successful. What’s worse is that in order to have accurate measures of success you need to have coherent objectives, and we have nothing of the sort. The “realistic and achievable” objectives baked up by the White House strategy team in March are certifiable. We’ll never create stable governments in the Bananastans or train reliable Afghan and Pakistani security forces, and according to Kilcullen, the only reason to have “international community” involvement is to resurrect an extinct military alliance. Disrupting terror networks in the Bananastans won’t “degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.” With handheld access to the information highway, terrorists can conduct business from the gallery of the Knesset chamber if they feel like it.

Ah! So that’s why Kilcullen doesn’t think counterterrorism is an important reason to be in the Bananastans.

It all makes sense now. For a minute there I thought we were just spinning our wheels like a battalion of Chinese fire trucks.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. Commander,

    If you think "it all makes sense" -- please elaborate.

    None of it makes sense to me at all.

    But then.... I don't have the No. 1 pre-requisite to making sense of never ending war.

    I'm non-military. I'm just one of those unfortunates who has to live with these idiotic "military" decisions.

    I think Frank Rich (in his NY Times column today) is right.

    We've been "punked", by this administration, on a lot of things.

  2. Afternoon, Jeff.

    Is McChrystal using Petraeus' (relatively) new counterinsurgency manual? It was put together by a committee in a very short time. One of the many anthropologists who objected to their science being used in warfare had a look through the section and found that huge chunks had been lifted, with the occasional slight change in wording, from the texts of other anthropologists, without consultation or attribution. I believe the horror-novel-named Montgomery McFate, who is BFF with Petraeus, was the editor of that section.

    I'll find the reference.

    Meanwhile, the powers-that-be have claimed, or maybe not, that the #1 Taliban guy has been blasted with a remote control weapon of some kind. The Taliban disagree.

    For years we were hearing that the #2 guy in al Qaeda had been dispensed with. I lost count of the number of #2's (no pun intended) who were sent to their reward. I began to conclude that it was the most dangerous job in the world. Far better to be a #3 which then went on to the top job.

    Now, with a subtle shift, the Taliban are the new al Qaeda, and their various #1's and 2's must be vapourized to ensure liberty and democracy.

    I think you're right, Jeff. These guys are having too much fun and really wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they weren't fighting wars somewhere.

    An aside: have you noticed that the term soldier morphed into a troop (is there such a thing as a single man troop?) and then into a warfighter?

    Words have power, no doubt about it.

  3. Here's the reference to the Manual. Didn't somebody once say that a camel is a horse designed by a committee?

    Pilfered Scholarship Devastates General Petraeus's Counterinsurgency Manual

  4. El,

    Nice to hear from you. It only makes sense if you're crazy.


    The part of the manual Petraeus wrote was his signature on the endorsing letter.

    Thanks for the link.


  5. Commander,

    I have never denied being a little bit "crazy". It's like "selective hearing"--- an absolue perogative of old age.

    Reading Walter Pincus today, in the Washington Post, makes me a little more crazy.

    Who are these so-called "experts"? And -- who ELECTED them to advise our military?

    Longer than the Iraq war??? Billions per week???

    Are these the same "experts" that all the networks had on-air, to analyze how well the war in Iraq was going. You know --- the ones who were also on the Boards of military contractors??

    If you aren't already..... it will all make you more than a little nuts.

  6. "The signature warfare style of guerrilla insurgents is to refuse battle with superior forces and to strike weaker forces unexpectedly." JFC! Doesn't anyone read Sun Tzu any more, except insurgents?


    Here is the link to the Post story.

    I keep forgetting to do this.

  8. Anonymous7:58 PM


    "Who are these so-called "experts"? And -- who ELECTED them to advise our military?"

    Cronies who retired and don't have the ranks and connections to get cushy retainers and seats on the board of large defense firms (welfare recipients).

    Gotts keep their incomes high so they can afford the green fees they are used to.

    No sense bringing in a bunch of kids back from the front to be experts.


    If the congress read Sun Tzu, and did not get the PAC money the military industrial welfare state would be one half of one percent of the US GDP (5% currently).

    Cdr Huber,

    The first thing you do with an incredulous general is fire him.

    A general's job, particulaly one sitting on a few trillion in assets, is to surpirse the other guy, not get surprised.

    The US is served by such dolts.

    And Obama seems to have his versions of Mc Namara using measures to see how the cluster stomp is degenerating and setting up strategic hamlets to seem like the US is protecting the helpless, terrorist supporters, from themselves..........

    It is 1963 all over again.


  9. Anonymous11:20 PM

    Remember what happens when the troops are tired of the never-ending BS? When they have had all of the vague butt-covering orders sent down from on high they ever care to see or hear about? Yeah, "...1963 all over again..."!

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