Yesterday, your faithful bloggers had a chance to get a good update on how things were going in Afghanistan these days. The talk was officially "off the record," so we're not at liberty to give too many details, but we do have some general impressions.
- First, according to AM, your blogging team, "brought down the average age by about 20 years and doubled the irreverence." Charlie's response: "We are the irreverence."
- Relatedly, only in Washington could we be considered snappy dressers (Charlie's shoe collection, notwithstanding). One guy's suit was so ugly, she thought he was in Army greens until he turned around.
- This was an different audience than either of us were used to. Mostly civilian (Charlie saw 3 uniforms, 2 of which were foreign). Mostly interested in increasing the profile (and, ergo, resource allocation) of Afghanistan vice Iraq. And not at all interested in military operations. We waited nearly 90 minutes before anyone mentioned "airstrikes" or "civilian casualties," which readers of this blog will know have dominated debates about Afghanistan as of late. (No one asked about Marine redeployments.)
On Afghanistan in particular:
- On the one hand, things are getting better. Roads getting paved. Troops getting trained. ISAF starting to get its act together, etc.
- On the other, we have no where near the number of troops on the ground necessary to secure a country with as many people and as much territory as Afghanistan. We're lucky to be keeping our head above water, and despite the "perfect and getting better" viewpoint, things are starting to slip through our fingers.
Both of your faithful bloggers were pretty sanguine through the first half of the talk. But then they started to get worried. The worst came in response to the aforementioned airstrike question (this was after the speaker ducked Charlie's COIN academy query, so her patience was getting thin). Asked if the US relied on airstrikes because the we have too few troops, the speaker bobbed and weaved before saying "No, we don't use airstrikes because we don't have enough troops. We use airstrikes because they're in our repertoire."
Are you f*cking kidding me? Apparently not. Because we were then treated to video of a "successful" precision strike. Looked damned cool; AM thought he might be able to see Slim Pickens. But it was like a 3rd grader's show-and-tell. (This is not to say airpower isn't needed in Afghanistan. The terrain demands airlift for logistics, medevacs, and troop movements. But it's clear that the Taliban have been genius at exploiting the civilian casualties from our airstrikes, no matter how long lawyers and commanders agonize over the targets.) "In our repertoire." To quote AM, Jesus nuts.
The Sovs couldn't win that war from the air, and neither will we. But if we could send some senior leaders over there who not only had read FM 3-24 but actually understood it, well, that would be a good start.