This is an update to How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009.
Today we see more evidence that the White House and DoD did virtually ignored the key question of troop levels when devising their latest Afghanistan strategy — and (on a larger scale) that our national decision-making process is broken.
Excerpt from “Civilian, Military Officials at Odds Over Resources Needed for Afghan Mission“, Washington Post, 8 October 2009 (red emphasis added):
In early March, after weeks of debate across a conference table in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the participants in President Obama’s strategic review of the war in Afghanistan figured that the most contentious part of their discussions was behind them. Everyone, save Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, agreed that the United States needed to mount a comprehensive counterinsurgency mission to defeat the Taliban.
That conclusion, which was later endorsed by the president and members of his national security team, would become the first in a set of recommendations contained in an administration white paper outlining what Obama called “a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Preventing al-Qaeda’s return to Afghanistan, the document stated, would require “executing and resourcing an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy.”
To senior military commanders, the sentence was unambiguous: U.S. and NATO forces would have to change the way they operated in Afghanistan. Instead of focusing on hunting and killing insurgents, the troops would have to concentrate on protecting the good Afghans from the bad ones. And to carry out such a counterinsurgency effort the way its doctrine prescribes, the military would almost certainly need more boots on the ground.
To some civilians who participated in the strategic review, that conclusion was much less clear. Some took it as inevitable that more troops would be needed, but others thought the thrust of the new approach was to send over scores more diplomats and reconstruction experts. They figured a counterinsurgency mission could be accomplished with the forces already in the country, plus the 17,000 new troops Obama had authorized in February.
“It was easy to say, ‘Hey, I support COIN,’ because nobody had done the assessment of what it would really take, and nobody had thought through whether we want to do what it takes,” said one senior civilian administration official who participated in the review, using the shorthand for counterinsurgency.
The failure to reach a shared understanding of the resources required to execute the strategy has complicated the White House’s response to the grim assessment of the war by the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, forcing the president to decide, in effect, what his administration really meant when it endorsed a counterinsurgency plan. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s follow-up request for more forces, which presents a range of options but makes clear that the best chance of achieving the administration’s goals requires an additional 40,000 U.S. troops on top of the 68,000 who are already there, has given senior members of Obama’s national security team “a case of sticker shock,” the administration official said.
This well-sourced article describes a shocking level of incompetence — shocking to those unfamilar with the history of the US government’s war-making processes. Apparently that includes Prof Bernard Finel. See this from “A Broken Process and a Lack of Due Diligence“, at his blog on 8 October 2009:
This story is extremely depressing. It suggests a shockingly low level of debate. No one brought up the force-sizing requirements in 3-24? And it makes me wonder whether they even considered what “diplomats and reconstruction experts” could actually accomplish in one of the poorest countries in the world.
This was the product of “weeks” of discussion? A strategy signed off on with no sense of the forces required? A strategy bolstered by a hand-wave about “reconstruction experts”? am just speechless.
But I have to admit, if this story is correct, my initial assessment of the process was wrong. The policy process was not captured by a cabal of COINdinistas shutting out all skeptics — the policy process was instead mismanaged and the participants failed to do sufficient due diligence. Incompetence rather than conspiracy explained the outcome.
Prof Finel is a brilliant and knowledgeable expert in these things (as described here). Why does he find this surprising? Why didn’t most of our geopolitical experts expect this? It was clear from the stream of news leaks that force levels were not being realistically discussed.
This is more evidence that our national decision-making processes are broken. Other posts about this are listed below.
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Posts about America’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop):
- News from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!, 2 September 2007
- Another cycle down the Defense Death Spiral, 30 January 2008
- The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009
- The media – a broken component of America’s machinery to observe and understand the world, 2 June 2009
- We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information, 3 June 2009
- The decay of our government, visible for all to see, 3 June 2009
- A great, brief analysis of problem with America’s society – a model to follow when looking at other problems, 4 June 2009
- Does America have clear vision? Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds., 15 June 2009
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