December 17, 2007

Traveling ... and Afghanistan

Abu Muqawama is traveling, again, so posting could be light until he's able to sit down properly by a computer on Tuesday or so. You are in Charlie's capable hands until then.

Yesterday, though, Abu Muqawama got an email from a friend and mentor -- a noted counterinsurgency expert whose emails demand responses -- asking why Abu Muqawama did not tack on any analysis to yesterday's post on Afghanistan. He forwarded along this op-ed column from the Philadelphia Inquirer and specifically asked why we have developed a coherent counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq but not yet Afghanistan.

Well, if everyone suddenly considers this blog's opinion worth something, here it is: in COIN, the senior leadership matters. If the senior leadership -- specifically, the senior commander on the ground -- understands counterinsurgency, units on the ground stand a much better chance of executing a coherent COIN strategy. The reason the U.S. military has been able to develop an effective COIN strategy in Iraq -- regardless of whether or not that strategy ends up being successful (it all depends on how the domestic Iraqi political process plays out) -- is simply because Petraeus "gets" it. In David Petraeus, George Bush has found the first capable field marshal of the War on Terror. And in Odierno, Petraeus has a subordinate commander who may not "get" it in the way he does but has faithfully and forcefully executed the will of the commander nonetheless.*

In Afghanistan ... well, Abu Muqawama is very reluctant to armchair general in these cases, but it pains him to say that it does not appear as if the senior leadership on the ground in Afghanistan really understands counterinsurgency. It would be one thing if "Bomber" was Abu Muqawama's pet nickname for the NATO commander there on account of his love for air power. We could all laugh at that. But "Bomber" is what the allies call him.

George Bush has discovered -- the hard way -- that not all generals are created alike. One four-star may or may not be the equal of another four-star. And as part of NATO's top-to-bottom review of operations in Afghanistan, policy-makers might want to spend a good deal of time on the "top" part of the spectrum. Yes, we have suffered in Afghanistan due to a lack of resources. We badly need the troops in Afghanistan who are busy in Iraq. But Iraq has also sucked up the intellectual and leadership resources of the U.S. military -- and not just its infantry battalions. Do we have a senior leadership team in Afghanistan that truly understands COIN, we have to ask? Or is it time to make a call to the bullpen?

With that question asked, Abu Muqawama is off to Gatwick.

*Abu Muqawama is slowly changing his opinion of Odierno -- an opinion which developed based on his personal experiences in Iraq, watching the 4th ID in action, and after reading Tom Ricks's devastating portrait of Odierno in Fiasco. Odierno may never be the second coming of David Galula, but he is certainly imposing his will on the way business is getting done in Iraq and forcefully executing the vision of Petraeus. Give credit where credit is due, we say.