Observing the relationship between the American and Afghan soldiers is rough, ugly, and beautiful all at the same time.
Both American and Afghan men deploy into combat zones. Collectively, they spend weeks at a time without showers, yet they continue to fight. Thus far, the Americans have performed courageously. Many have gone on 3 and 4 deployments suffering from endless injuries. Countless reports indicate the American warriors are suffering from too much war and not enough warriors. Thus far, this syndrome has made the Pentagons plan for counterinsurgency almost impossible.
As I walked throughout the ISAF training facility and the countryside of Afghan villages, it became ever clear to me that the US soldiers were doing all that they can. However, Afghanistan's problem is not the Americans Soldiers. Leaving Afghanistan to itself is the glaring nightmare.
Recall the McChrystal/Petraeus pro-Afghan surge strategy:
To train and equip the Afghanistan Army, and then hand over leadership so American's can leave
An unnamed Senior Colonel from the public engagement/communications department at ISAF headquarters made his opinion clear about exiting Afghanistan and COIN:
In 22 years of military service, I have never seen the current level of large-scale stupidity, this is a world-class clusterf--k
[The Afghan army] goes through an 8 week training course, they are issued M16's during their training and when they complete the course, ISAF sends them to the combat field with AK-47's without previous training. The US is providing the Afghan Army with pickup trucks, yet most Afghans cannot drive.... they have never driven a day in their lives. Think for second, how many accidents do American PFC's get into??? LOTS!!!! DOZENS!!!! I know two NCO's that got into wrecks this morning!!! Young American PFCs join the army, and they already have years of driving experience. Afghans have donkeys and motorcycles. In some cases, an American 18-year-old boy scout is more capable than the Afghans, and 30 percent of the Afghan recruits do not pass or quit once they reach their unit in the combat zone
Understanding the Colonel's flamboyant remarks might seem preposterous, seditious, or benign, but if one recalls General McChrystal bombastic remarks in Rolling Stone, the narrative is somewhat familiar. I interviewed a number of ranking people from the low-level to the high level and the story has many parallels.
A Junior Sergeant who specialized in the training of vehicle operations, commented:
Sir, they just do not work like us. You can't understand it unless you're here. [Afghans].... They.... They... just don't function how we want them too. In the time it takes to train one Afghan, I could teach a hundred high school kids.
Another senior colonel in charge of the Afghan Army Training curriculum admitted,
there is an obscene amount of problems with the training operations, and there is no way the Afghans will be able to take over combat operations in July 2011. We are here building the psychology of the Afghanistan Nation a few hundred thousand troops cannot do that task.
Even though our own troops have a plethora of stresses, they are performing reasonably well considering all the issues, but again, we are building National capacity for Afghanistan.
The senior NCO's and officers explained the complex reality:
Afghans get 8 weeks of training, and then they are sent to the front lines of some really nasty conflict. A U.S. soldier gets an entire year of training, and then the 20-year-old boy finds placement in a unit of many seasoned warriors. The young 20-year-old Marine is conditioned for an entire year and then joins his unit for battle. Afghans have no one to look up to, they are in the Afghan Army for money, and they are looking to American soldiers as parents. If we leave, the Afghan confidence flies out the window.
Even if the dozens of soldiers I interviewed are wrong, then one should assume an alternative consensus among the Afghan Government. In my trip to Afghanistan, I traveled to several parts inside of the country and I interviewed a variety of political leaders. I met with US diplomats, US Military commanders, former Taliban leaders, and Afghan Parliamentary figures.
Unanimously, they were in agreement: "Afghans cannot take over in July of 2011."
The Heritage Foundation has argued it will be a 10 year operation, Gen Barry Mccafrey acknowledged the US is in 10 -15 years, and General Petraeus senior adviser David Kilcullen indicated to the US Congress: "We need to stop talking about 2011, and begin to think about 2014."
Further extending the problems and complicating the Pentagon's COIN strategy, Afghan development projects are ending.
Today, President Obama is in the middle of a glaring question: What are you going to do with the 2011 withdrawal?
If the current policy is kept in place, the US will spend an estimated 300 billion dollars next year on the war in Afghanistan, more soldiers will stay deployed, and Afghanistan will still be in shambles.
After the mid-term election, President Obama and the newly elected congress will have two choices is left:
Either continue the current McChrystal/Petraeus policy, pushing an extended presence in Afghanistan, or rethink Afghanistan.
The only real policy brought forward thus far is from State Dept. official Mathew Hoh, Dr. Robert Pape, Dr. Stephen Walt, Dr. Paul Pillar,and the entire Afghan Study Group. Their policy continues the long effort of poverty eradication, enacted the plan will save 60-100 billion dollars, and allow the Afghan Army continued training to prevent an al-Qaeda return. The Afghan study group has an unbelievable list of experts, and it appears to have some heavy traction in Washington, but only time will tell.
Regardless, among the McChrystal firing, the countless stories from American soldiers, and the current economic crisis, President Obama is in a mid-term Afghanistan nightmare. Afghans cannot take control in 2011.