January 20, 2011

If you only read one thing today ...

... read this guest post by David Flynn on Tom's blog. Josh Foust is one of the best and most provocative Afghanistan analysts I know, but Flynn affirms, in his post, why I beg off from passing judgment on operations taking place in Afghanistan from Washington, DC: absent context as well as the ability to ask questions of the actors involved, you're vulnerable to being contradicted by the man in the arena. For all I know, Foust may well be correct in his analysis and criticism. But Flynn's credibility derives from his 20 months spent in the Arghandab over two seperate deployments, and between his testimony and Josh's criticisms, whose are you going to trust? 

Bloggers and other researchers based in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere should most definitely be criticizing strategy and asking hard questions about operations, tactics and the assumptions that inform both. But there is a darn good reason why to abstain from judging operations from afar without the requisite amount of documentary evidence or ability to observe operations yourself.

I look forward, though, to what I am sure will be a fun response from Josh.

Update: One question for the readers, though: Did Flynn actually address the central questions posed by Josh's critique? I don't think he did. He's not required to do so, of course, but if he is going to take the time to pen a response for Tom's blog, it would have been interesting to read a response exploring his tactical decision, how he dealt with the trade-offs involved, etc. A serving battalion commander dealing honestly with the hard moral and tactical choices of combat would have been enlightening. Instead, it falls to Kabul-based human rights researcher (and alumna of the St. Tammany Parish schools system) Erica Gaston to do just that:

On the one hand, it’s horrifying to see this level of property destruction, but on the other hand, from a civilian protection standpoint, it’s not great to leave these booby-trapped towns in the state that the Taliban left them. Given the way in which the IEDs and other explosives have been planted (often wired into the walls of houses), defusing them by other means would likely be incredibly risky and not feasible for a very long time. There’s no easy answer.”