"New" US Strategy in Afghanistan

Outside View: Afghanistan’s strategic company command posts

Published: Aug. 28, 2009 at 9:15 AM
By LAWRENCE SELLIN, UPI Outside View Commentator

WASHINGTON, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- According to numerous recent news reports, it is widely expected that U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, will recommend a shift in the operational culture to one requiring greater interaction with the Afghan civilian population.

Although such an approach, at least initially, carries an inherent risk of greater military casualties, it also provides a better way to understand the human terrain, the tribal leaders and the social networks, which could go far toward defeating the Taliban.

The enemy operates within and around non-combatant population centers and presents itself as a large number of dispersed, ever-changing threats to create insecurity and undermine governance efforts and development by local and national officials. The new strategy represents a move away from primarily tracking and attacking Taliban strongholds to one focused on increasing security in more highly populated civilian areas.

The change in focus, together with a significant increase in the number of trained Afghan soldiers and police, is expected to create a web of strong points meant to disrupt the natural lines of operation, supply and support of the Taliban insurgency.

Network Centric Warfare
has been one of the latest iterations in attempts by the Department of Defense to devise a coherent framework to transform its military forces and address present and future threats. Largely based on traditional conventional warfare scenarios, it has proved less well-suited to the distributed or diffuse nature of the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a counterinsurgency, the value of Network Centric Warfare resides more in an ability to respond quickly to enemy action with effective countermeasures than in providing a senior commander with better information faster as a decision-making tool.

In his 2002 analysis of special operations in Afghanistan, Air Force Col. John Jogerst has correctly noted that a battle against small, independent and mobile forces like the Taliban may change too rapidly to permit detailed central control at higher echelons. He concluded that, with clear mission orders and appropriate technology, each tactical element can become a command, control and execution node, greatly shortening reaction time while still allowing the passing of tactical information to higher levels for operational and strategic analysis.

The McChrystal plan as envisioned implies that conventional forces will establish small unit operations, often in conjunction with host country forces, thereby requiring infantry companies to assume duties previously only seen at the battalion level or higher. Individual and team insights and observations, derived from daily small unit operations, are vital ingredients of the capacity to protect the local population, defeat the enemy and establish rule of law, thereby permitting the creation of effective governmental institutions and economic development. As is the case for Special Operations units, there is a greater need to focus efforts on enhancing the command and control capabilities at the conventional company and platoon level.

The traditional military vertically integrated paradigm allows only the slow movement of information up and down the individual stovepipes but rarely between them. It tends to inhibit quick reaction to actionable intelligence or the ability to adapt easily to new conditions on the battlefield.

Although not yet sanctioned by military doctrine, the company command post concept represents the new center of gravity for the conventional Army's counterinsurgency efforts. These new "staffed" company command posts contain their own intelligence support teams sharing information horizontally at the lowest echelons as well as vertically via the normal chain of command. The aim is to leverage the power of information and reduce vertical stovepipes that slow or diminish the ability to share best practices rapidly. It is designed to provide timely knowledge to the soldier to save lives and defeat the Taliban by getting inside the enemy's own decision cycle.

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency has taken a big step in supporting the warfighter at the company level and below. Project manager Mari Maeda said the Tactical Ground Reporting system allows military personnel at the company level and below to collect and share information to improve situational awareness and to facilitate collaboration and information analysis among junior officers. In this regard, TIGR is particularly suited to counterinsurgency operations and enables collection and dissemination of fine-grained intelligence on people, places and insurgent activity.

Unfortunately, TIGR isn't fully interoperable with command-and-control systems at the battalion level and above. Nevertheless, it represents an effort to bring the capabilities and technological edge of Network Centric Warfare from its lofty heights down to where the battle is being waged.

(Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D., is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq.)

Sadly none of this addresses the fact that "the lesson of failed counter-insurgency wars everywhere is that they are lost not just for the insurgents' capacity for violence, but because of the government's incompetence, corruption and unpopularity." The Economist Aug 29 -Sep 4.

It sounds like someone has been reading Colonel Hackworth, but hasn't quite got the point.
(I recommend his books as well)
There's nothing inherently wrong with getting to know the people, but this sounds like setting up a lot of the 'platoon houses' that we tried a few years ago, but with a lot more transport resources. There's a risk of creating lots and lots of little Alamos.

It doesn't address the point that the population don't feel any love or loyalty for the government that we are apparently allied to and supporting.
This campaign isn't failing on the battlefield. Its failing on the 'What's in it for me' front. The locals see no benefit in choosing us over the Taliban.

Quite frankly, we could spend our money better by employing every single spare Afghan male with an AK 47 in Helmand, by offering them stupendous wages to join British Raj-style regiments.
HectortheInspector said:
There's a risk of creating lots and lots of little Alamos.


I share that concern but I suppose it is better than having fewer but larger Dien Bien Phus and Khe Sanhs. No easy answers for sure.
Bearing in mind OPSEC I am curious about the smallest size unit which can operate on the ground in AF. Is it safe to patrol at platoon strength? Or less. ?
duffdike said:
Bearing in mind OPSEC I am curious about the smallest size unit which can operate on the ground in AF. Is it safe to patrol at platoon strength? Or less. ?
I suppose that may depend on distance to the "cavalry."
Col Sellin was rude about the efficacy of interminable briefings in Powerpoint, sacrilege, he's lucky they didn't take him out and shoot him.
Yeah the americans new operation in afganistan is called : 'Bomb The C*ap Outta Them!.'
I was reading those pieces and was filled with a sense of euphoria in discovering that I'm not alone in having similar views. There is a stunning reliance on powerpoint, both in ISAF and in Iraq. I've watched teams of analyst work until the small hours on a slide, which will be one of almost 100 in a brief, and see them nearly come to blows over the wording. The slide is on screen for about 20 seconds, and usually represents many hours of work. The irony is of course that the text is usually too small to be seen on the big screen ;-)

I worked out recently that the amount of prep time and staff effort involved in some oppos preparing for a single 25 minute brief for a senior officer was the equivalent of one persons entire operational tour. On the plus side, it does mean that the team in question are that bit closer to winning their '10,000 hour powerpoint badge' (on sale in all good local ISAF bazaars)...

Personally I think the ISAF powerpoint slide is asymetric warfare writ large - the enemy brings IEDs and things that go bang, we bring a powerpoint slide to bore them to death...


Jim - that is an intersting viewpoint. Could you put a slide together to cover the pros and cons of your position and maybe a balanced scorecard as well? Some idea of anticipiated deliverables would be useful.

Can you get that onto one slide? Do not worry about font, four point is fine.
Aren't we just going round in circles?

Platoon houses (which were more like Coy+ compounds) were a total disaster initially, I'm about 18mnths out of the loop now but It doesn't look like they are a raging success these days either.

Sangin DC , MQ and Now Zad were placed amongst the population but they only succeeded in turning the civpop against us for bringing the Taliban fighters and total destruction to their homes. Placing ISAF units in amongst civpop just causes them to hate us, because every stray round, off line shell, bit of frag that tears up their homes and families is attributed (quite rightly) to our presence there. You can guarentee that Terry are just as pleased with a near miss with one of their mortar rounds because they know that when it misses the FOB but crashes through the roof of a nearby family compound that it's the ISAF forces that will have to deal with the mess and bend over to take the blame.

Im not so sure that the "tactically placed" FOBs fared any better, FOB Gib being the finest example. 3 in 1 Casulty rate for C- Coy 2 PARA and a lot of pissed of civpop being the end result before it was finally closed.

On hearing that the Yanks were planning to close a few Brit FOB's in the Sangin area I had hoped they had some sort of new approach and fresh ideas to bring to the party but by the sounds of this then they are in for the same rough treatment.

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