February 19, 2008

You've Been Selected for an ETT

[One of the best parts about Charlie's job is the hilariously cynical email she occasionally receives from the field.]

Dear Army Soldier:

Congratulations! You have been selected as a member of an Afghan Embedded Training Team (ETT) or Police Mentor Team (PMT). This is a job that requires tactical competence, fierce independence, cultural awareness, and your ability to act as both diplomat and warrior. You have a pulse and have not been selected for command. Congratulations on your assignment!

You are now a proud part of the Army’s “number one priority.” You will get all surplus personnel and equipment left over from the maneuver units. The Command hopes it can get you armored vehicles, automatic weapons, ammunition, and interpreters who speak the right language prior to the end of your tour. Regardless, based on your identified respiratory capacity, the Command knows you’ll make do.

You will now be sent to the plains of Fort Riley to train as teams for deployment to the mountains of Afghanistan. We will accomplish this by training you to function in Iraq.

The Command understands that you will have many questions about your pending deployment and your new areas of operation. However, it will make no effort to answer them. This is because the Command has discovered that use of the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) is difficult and time consuming and has decided to replace it with a different system called, “the draft.” In this new system, the Command pretends to know where you are going prior to your arrival, but in reality the Command doesn’t really know who is in theater at any time, when new people are arriving, and what teams are or are not functioning. When you get here, Task Force Phoenix will rip apart your team and send you to a region based on a complex formula involving several National Guard colonels’ votes and a game of No-Limits Texas Hold ‘Em.

The Command does want you to know that it recognizes there are some challenges ahead. In response to impending difficulties, the Command has adopted its next strategic plan called “Operation Ostrich.” It recognizes some inscrutable facts about counterinsurgency (COIN) in Afghanistan and responds to them in the most effective way for an Alliance—ignoring them.

I wish now to clear up some confusion on COIN practice that may have evolved by an erroneous reading of the US Army and Marine Corps COIN Field Manual.

You may have read that a strong tie can exist between criminal and insurgent elements. In Afghanistan, it is best to ignore this. Your interpreter’s brother is kidnapped for ransom—don’t call higher headquarters. We’re talking criminal here, not insurgent. Opium an issue in your AO? The Alliance doesn’t do opium—too difficult. What’s that, your governor is involved in the drug trade? The government and Command are happy to deal with it by sending the governor to a different province. Ask yourself first, however, do you really want to impose him on your fellow soldiers?

You may believe after reading the manual that controlling the border is vital for a COIN effort. The Command recognizes the importance of the border and so has developed Afghan Border Police mentor teams and empowered them to train the Afghan border police so long as the team can make do without any logistical support. The command recognizes that not-too-interested Pakistani tribesmen now man check-points on the Afghan side of the border. This has been ignored by the Command in order to allow Pakistan-based fighters to flow more easily into Afghanistan and allow us to kill more of them.

The new field manual indicates that information operations should be pushed to the lowest possible level. The Coalition strongly believes in this, and in accordance with COIN principles has pushed information operations decisions down all the way to a one-star, so long as he completes a 48-hour approval process before releasing anything.

You may have read in the manual about Unity of Effort. Unity of Effort means blaming NATO Allies and the State Department whenever things don’t go according to plan (we’ll talk about “planning” later). It is how the Command explains its failings to do things like planning or providing you with a mission. You will be briefed on Unity of Effort upon arrival in theater by the Command who will inform you of the failings of the Germans, British, and especially the State Department. Know that you are empowered to act as a representative of the Department of Defense (DOD) whenever another government agency wishes to advise you that you are doing something that may hurt the war effort. This is called reciprocity as it allows them to blame the US DOD for their failings.5 Also, Unity of Effort allows us to keep badge companies in business by ensuring that every base in Afghanistan has a unique security badge required for entry.

You should know by now that intelligence drives effective operations in a COIN environment and that intelligence should be driven from the bottom. In order to facilitate self-sufficiency, the Command has determined that mentors are best served by being provided with no intelligence from higher nor access to classified networks. This will allow intelligence to be developed locally. By the end of the decade, the Command hopes to have a plan on how to gather and analyze this intelligence.

Some important advice: make sure to visit large FOBs regularly. This is where you can expect to find your commanders and parts for your vehicles. How can the commanders be expected to know what you’re up to unless you come back and visit—after all, there is no intent to provide you with connectivity beyond messages on the FBCB2.

In this country, FOB life is serious business, and you can’t be much of a team player if you’re out in the hills all of the time. Living, sleeping, and eating with your Afghan unit would be stupid. The food sucks as do the living conditions, and you might be in danger. In fact, being out with the people is why we lost Vietnam in the first place. Remember! By, with, and through, your Afghan counterparts so long as they’re doing it our way.

Now I know that the Army has told you that this assignment won’t hurt your career, and so long as you’re not too interested in an OER or an end-of-tour equivalent to what you would have got in a maneuver unit, you have been told the truth.

Congratulations again on having a heart beat in a time of war. You’re going to excel!