After 17 years of fighting in Afghanistan, is a change coming?

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After 17 years of fighting in Afghanistan, is a change coming?

I saw a report the other day that I can't find now that discussed General Nicholson being replaced by General Miller in Afghanistan, I think it was on the Military Times, but the title of the article was basically "Nicholson joins long line of former Afghan war commanders to tout successes."  It was sad even reading it, because we've been fighting this war longer than the Revolutionary War and every other war, and we don't see a light at the end of the tunnel as far as I can tell.  Other articles are saying we are pinning our hopes on the Taliban coming to peace talks, which is great, but our strategy overall being "hope" is not a good sign.

Defense One has an article up giving them the benefit of the doubt in a piece titled  "Trump’s Afghanistan War Plan Is Working Despite Recent Attacks, Outgoing Commander Says."

Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson’s final press conference as the top U.S. general in Afghanistan sounded a lot like his first ones two years ago.

The commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission and U.S.Forces-Afghanistan defended the U.S. military’s basic reasons for being there. He proclaimed that the allied effort was making progress. And he added a few new elements: praise for President Trump’s year-old South Asia strategy, assurances that Afghan forces are denying military gains to some Taliban elements and bringing others closer to a negotiated peace. There is “an unprecedented opportunity for peace now,” he told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon.

But as Nicholson prepares to turn the 17-year-old war effort over to his successor, criticism of the American intervention is running high, fired this summer by U.S. casualties and the Taliban invasion of the city of Ghazni.

Reporters asked Nicholson how he could claim progress given the continued security troubles across the country. The general replied that the most important signal is that some factions of the Taliban appear to be open to negotiated peace talks. He noted that within six months of launching Trump’s war plan, there were two peace offerings on the table. Within 10 months, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered a three-day ceasefire that produced striking images of Taliban fighters taking selfies with Afghan civilians. More recently, the U.S. and the Taliban reportedly have opened a bilateral channel with the Ghani’s blessing.

Now obviously everyone hopes that this does happen, that the Taliban comes to the table and we hash something out that would bring peace to the country.  But since 1980 when the Russians went in there (actually since the country was first settled to be honest) the people have known war.  They basically live for it.  So, is this hope realistic?  I haven't been there for almost 8 years now, so I certainly don't know.

But Erik Prince, the former founder of Blackwater is back in the news with his plan to privatize the war there.  There's two videos I will have below, the first is Prince discussing his plan, and the other is SecDef Mattis essentially rejecting it outright.

But Prince did an interview with the Military Times yesterday that actually gives us some more info on his plan.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince thinks the time is right to try a new approach in Afghanistan, one that he says will reduce war spending to a sliver of its current levels, get most troops home and eliminate Pakistan’s influence on U.S. policy there: Let him run it.

In an exclusive interview with Military Times, Prince shared new details about his proposed force and why he believes a small footprint of private military contractors and even smaller footprint of U.S. special operators may be able to accomplish what hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and NATO forces over the last 17 years could not.

And, finally we get to see what some of those ideas are in some specificity.  Again, you should go read the whole Military Times article, but here are some of the items:

  • Swap out the people: There are 23,000 multinational forces in Afghanistan (including about 15,000 Americans and about 8,000 NATO-member country forces) and about 27,000 DoD-supporting contractors.  Prince wants to replace them with a smaller footprint of 6,000 contractors and 2,000 active-duty U.S. special operations forces. The 6,000 contractors would be made up of 60 percent former U.S. special operations forces and 40 percent former NATO special operations forces.  The NATO forces, Prince said, “would come as individuals not from a NATO unit, thus they would not be hampered by the myriad of national restrictions on each NATO country.” 
  • Command and control: The 2,000 U.S. special operations forces that would augment the 6,000 contractors “would remain the lead element and provide the U.S. unilateral direct-action capabilities and provide quality assurance over any contracted elements,” Prince said. 
  • No rotations: Those contractors would stay with their Afghan units, instead of moving in and out in a more typical military deployment cycle. Those contractors “would be retained for the long term, at least three years minimum,” Prince said. “Typical 90 days on, 30 off rotations going back to the same unit and same geography each time.”
  • A fraction of the cost: Prince said he can execute this mission on a budget of roughly $5.5 billion. Specifically, $3.5 billion for the contractors, aircraft, warehouses for logistics and the field hospitals; about $2 billion for the 2,000 U.S. special operations forces. 

Now two months ago he produced a really slick video that showcases his plan, and frankly, he makes a pretty compelling argument in places:

Secretary of Defense Mattis was asked about the plan last week in a Pentagon Briefing, and he gave the idea short shrift:  (Go to 25 minutes 8 seconds in.)

Now I first went to Afghanistan in 2004 to Ghazni, the city that was recently overrun and then retaken.  And even for years before that I had had a fascination with the country, the people, the society.  They are just fighters, and have been since the time of Alexander the Great.  It always perplexed me that some early man, or group of hunter/gatherers was walking across central Asia and came to Afghanistan and must have said "this appears to be a good place to put down roots."  I can't for the life of me imagine who would think that.  It's a rough existence there, the mountains are ridiculous, the weather extremes are horrid and it's completely landlocked.

But I want success there, not just for my country, but for all the kids I met over there.  The people who weren't shooting at us seemed genuinely like people everywhere else, albeit these people are stuck in abject poverty and also saddled with generations of warfare not just with outside forces but with rival tribes.

I have no real thoughts on whether Prince's idea is a good one.  As almost every other infantryman I ever met, I revere and love Mattis, who is everything we always wanted in a warrior.  But at the same time, I've worked with contractors (DynCorps mostly) and found them to be all very professional and patriotic and wanting the same things.  Especially given that about 95 percent of the contractors I worked with were veterans themselves.

So I don't have any specific draw to either side.  I'm not huge on "hope" as a strategy, I'm not huge on using private military firms to distance ourselves from an issue politically, and I'm not big on leaving a country when it has no functioning government outside the Capitol.

So, what do you guys think?  What is our best route to success, or is it time to cut bait and leave?

Posted in the burner | 23 comments
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Finally under the dotard's regime the mercenary class finds a way to monetize Afghanistan's misery. These people have no loyalty to anyone but money, kind of like our current president.
Let's cultivate legions (pun intended) of for-hire mercenaries to fight wars for the highest bidder. Then all we have to do is make sure we're willing to pay them the most. And be responsible for whatever combat tactics these mercenaries happen to use.
As to the author having "no real thoghts [sic]", I agree. My only question is how he took so many words to express this lack of "thoght."

Get our troops out of these God forsaken countries and build the Wall, ASAP!!

What does the wall have to do with Afghanistan?

How can we as a nation of supposedly high values stoop so low as to hire mercenaries?

Raymond Hagberg

I agree! The very thought is vulgar and I'm glad SECDEF is against it! The "contractors" priority is profit. If we believe we need to maintain a presence AND have an achievable end goal then our military is more than capable. We do not need and should never contract out military action. Jurisdiction for misdeeds would be a nightmare too.

This war is exactly like the Vietnam war, in which I flew as a Navy carrier fighter pilot until our ignominious defeat at the fall of Saigon. It breaks my heart each time I read of another American death there. When will we learn that these people hate us, and their leadership only tolerates our occupation because of the huge amount of money we pour into their country and their leaders’ Swiss bank accounts. The French learned it in Vietnam, we should have learned it in Vietnam, and the Russians learned it 40 years ago in Afghanistan. Get the hell out of there!

We left Somalia quickly enough so I'm thinking the politicians have had some reasons for staying in Afghanistan. We have given the Afghanis a chance for a better life and lessened the Taliban threat to the US. It's time to come up with a reasonable exit strategy (political and governmental strategies) and then get out and leave it to the locals to work it out.

Bless all those who have done their best to give the people of Afghanistan a chance at a better and peaceful life at the cost of their own lives or quality of life.

Rome hired mercenaries 2000 years ago ☹️!

Waging war is a matter of national interest and not something that belongs in a free market environment. So, privatizing the war does not make sense.

The answer to the question of why we're there has morphed over time. It's worth asking again. The supply of Taliban/ Al-Queda operatives shows no signs of diminishing. The cost to us and Coalition Allies continues to mount in blood and national treasure.

It would appear that Afghanistan's greatest value to the U.S. is its potential large quantity of unharnessed special minerals used in an array of everyday products (mainly electronic). Staying there gives us some assurance of access to those minerals so that we are not beholden to China which also has most of the world's market. If mineral access is our end game, let's state it.

There are two realities about government and wars. The first is that war is often a military solution to a complex political problem. The second is that it's no secret that previous Afghan governments have been corrupt and their impact is barely felt outside of Kabul. In addition, we have tried our best to instill a democratic tradition there and it hasn't taken - largely because elected leaders haven't been able to provide effective governance.

In recent years the justification of being there has been something like "well, we've been here and we'll stay here until the war is done." It's time to reexamine this essential question. Too many American (and Coalition Force) lives have been either terminated or severely disrupted to justify continued participation without examining what our strategic interests are and how we can assist on a political solution. It's worth noting that President Putin has already reached out to Taliban forces to participate in peace talks. Let's not find ourselves outflanked on that solution if it is in our interests and those of the Afghans if that is a feasible way out.

NO, Please NO. Mercenaries will do as mercenaries do, not unlike the actions of the Gestapo in WWII, unanswerable to anyone. NO, do not go there.

since these Muslum/Arab/Whatever cuitists are determined to kill off anyone and everyone that is of a different cult/tribe/belief/whatever everyone should leave; U.S,A. and allies! let them continue killing each other like they have been doing since the crusades at least! Get your drugs and OIL somewhere else !!

After all this time and no solutions in sight, its time to pull our troops out. Let them sort out their own problems. As for America? BUILD THE WALL. A healthy dose of isolationism is a good thing. The region will all ways be in a state of war. Its all they know. We do not have the resources to be the "police force" of the world. A privatized fighting force? I do not think that's the answer. We will never win this war because this war is a proxy war, like others in the region. We should give the purported peach talks a chance but we should also place a time limit for those talks to come to fruition.

It took the Russians 10 years to figure out it was not worth the effort and their deaths. So why are we still there when we are not wanted any more than the Russians were not wanted ? Let the religious nuts kill themselves off and stop our deaths and wasted $$.-EJV

Do we actually have a strategic or political goal that has any relation to "American Foreign Policy" or are we immersed in this conflict while we try to figure out what we really want. There has never been real peace in the area for well over a thousand years. How can we be so irrational as to think what we believe in means anything to the locals? Afghanistan is not our country any more than was Vietnam. Get our troops home and forget using Blackwater. There may be patriots there but their interest is still private. And what happens privately is still the moral responsibility of "we the people."

Who gives these mercenaries the right to decide who to kill in some other country, for profit? Can we possibly stoop any lower?

I believe that we should pull all troops out and them and let them fight it out among themselves. We could then use all that budget money at home fixing our roadways and bridges. I;m sad for all the troops we have lost for this endless war.

Trouble is only the bad guys have the weapons, if we leave.

I spent two tours in Viet Nam and lost several close friends there. I felt that the self imposed rules that restricted our effectiveness caused us to lose a lot of American lives and our departure resulted in the execution of 2.4 million people who were depending on us. I don't have personal knowledge of the issues in Afganistan. If someone doesn't come up with a better plan, then a similar result will happen there. The difference I see is that the North Vietnamese did not continue a war on the USA after we left, but our enemy in Afganistan will probably bring the war front to the USA if we don't fight them there.

Britain had a similar experience fighting communists in Malaysia in the mid 20th century; they fought for 12 years then handed off to the Malaysian government who spent another 29 years fighting before ending this conflict. I don't think an Afghan government would last for 29 years without US support.

On another note: It's interesting to note that since passage of the National Security Act of 1947, creating the JCS and CIA and giving more direct control of the military to Politicians, the US hasn't emerged the clear victor in any conflict we've engaged in outside of some very small contingencies such as Grenada and Panama.

I would rather we pull out entirely before turning this conflict over to paid mercenaries! We’ve turned over too many parts of our military efforts worldwide to contractors! Let’s train our enlisted personnel to take back those tasks as well!

What a godawful idea; American Armed Forces are expected to stand for the forces of good in this world; since the days of Rome, mercenaries have represented ruthless despotic rule. And let us not forget that the Supreme Court has ruled that private enterprise may tailor its policies to conform to the owner's religious beliefs. Finally, Blackwater's missteps in the Middle East have led to many unnecessary casualties of US Forces and have exacerbated resentment of our efforts to stabilize the region.

A. History shows mercenaries fail and often commit atrocities.
B. When the enemy is allowed to have safehavens (aka Pakistan) for command & control, logistics, etc. few Armies have succeeded. Why do we keep re-learning this?
C. As we all know, nsurgencies require sophisticated tactics and strategy including the development of governance and infrastructure by the US State Department, US Agency for International Development and United Nations, etc. These agencies have failed, have not been held accountable, are rarely mentioned in Afghanistan discussions and coverage, and by not fulfilling their commitments, have set us up for failure.
D. What does winning in Afghanistan mean when we do not know our objectives. Time for President Trump to declare our objective(s) and task his administration to achieve them. Then, (new) GEN Scottie Miller and the United States might have a chance of winning.
Suggestion: Read the new book Directorate S (and the earlier Ghost Wars) to appreciate why we are having this discussion.
E. Time to AAR Afghanistan and update FM3-24, Counterinsurgency.

Afganistan may not be a nation in our lifetime. It is tribal by history and religious beliefs. Don't even try to help with US or other aids to 3rd nations. It s not, and could not disperse our aid fairly. If organizations or other countries want to try - OK --but not US. And NO WE should not get entangled in a combination of contracted and part US operated warfare. Not even an all contracted militia, since US would bear blame. Yes, We should now move out without an announced schedule but gradually, within18 months.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.