Why the Time for Afghan Analysis is Over

Check out this so-called after action report on the situation in Afghanistan. The author is Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general, and he prepared this report, dated 5 December 2009, for Colonel Michael Meese, a professor at West Point.

McCaffrey’s report contains some useful information, but for the most part, it is merely rhetorical or descriptive of inputs, as opposed to being an analysis linking inputs to real world outputs. Put bluntly, it does not appear to be connected to reality — in that sense, it is a metaphor for the Afghan debate in Versailles on the Potomac. McCaffrey’s report appears to be based on a series of briefings presented to him by headquarters courtiers, affectionately referred to as REMFs by combat troops, as well as high level meetings with poohbahs in the State Department and the government of Afghanistan.

Note how McCaffrey’s conclusions are not derived from his background discussion, which apparently passes for an analysis of the factors bearing on his recommendations. For example, after making assertions about good progress in Afghanistan, McCaffrey says in the conclusion that a “civilian surge” will not work in next five years, because the countryside is too dangerous. This is no doubt a smokescreen for the continued militarization of what some mischaracterize as a political-military counterinsurgency strategy, with a big “P” and little “m.” The name of the game is to promote the Pentagon’s long war on terror — a strategic outcome that is crucial for pumping ever growing amounts on money into the MICC’s permanent war economy.

McCaffrey is no doubt correct about the dangers that preclude a civilian surge, but he did not discuss the civilian surge or any its safety limitations anywhere in the his appreciation of the situation in the main body of the report, which precedes and presumably leads to this conclusion. Nor did he say how this pessimistic conclusion squared with other optimistic claims of progress. This is a strange omission, to put it charitably, because the COIN dilletentes and sillyvillians in Obama’s pol-mil policy apparat are bragging to a compliant mainstream media that winning hearts and minds with a civilian surge is just as important, if not more important, than President Obama’s new military surge and “early” withdrawal strategy.

But from my point of view, the black hole in McCaffrey’s report is the same hole I described in McChrystal’s report — namely there is no analysis or appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of the Afghan National Army, yet our military and civilian leadership has told us repeatedly that the Afghan National Army is central to the success of our entire political-military strategy.

To be sure, McCaffrey pumps out some glowing rhetoric about how great the Afghan National Army is, and he provides some summary statistics about its size, but he makes no mention of its high desertion rate, the degree of infiltration of Taliban, the allegations of its weapons leaking to the Taliban, the disproportionately high number of Tajiks, particularly in leadership positions, or the effectiveness of the Army’s training program (we are short of translators and there have been reports of reductions in training time to increase thru put). Nor is there any analysis of the impact of how high illiteracy rates and low levels of education impact on our policy to transfer technology to the Afghan army by equipping it with relatively complex weapons — e.g., we are substituting American M-4 assault weapons (which are prone to jamming if not properly maintained) for the far simpler, more rugged Soviet-vintage AK-47s already used by Afghan Army which, by the way is a highly effective gun that almost all Afghans over twelve know how to use. This kind of technology insertion may be great for American defense contractors selling M-4s, but it does not necessarily benefit the illiterate soldiers forced to use this equipment. Moreover, if this kind of “technology insertion” is taking place with simple assault weapons, it begs the question of what is happening with respect to the other categories of equipment we are stuffing into the Afghan Army?

These kinds of problems have been widely discussed in the alternative press by astute observers like Patrick Cockburn and Gareth Porter, yet McCaffrey does not even acknowledge them much less analyze them or rebut them in his so-called after action report.

From what I have been able to learn, the level of corruption among private contractors in Afghanistan makes the smarmy high jinks in Vietnam look lilly-white clean in comparison, yet General McCaffrey simply blows off the contractor corruption issue with a bald assertion that the overwhelming majority of contractors are clean, and then he adds he is proud to be on the board of Dyn Corp … certainly one of the most questionable of the lot.

In short, I think McCaffrey’s report is the kind of rhetorical hype that illustrates the kind of disconnect from reality I became all too familiar with in over 30 years in the Department of Defense. Nowhere is this disconnect clearer that in McCaffrey’s concluding appeal that “the time for rhetoric and analysis is done,” a silly statement implying that there is no need to monitor progress, but probably true nevertheless, because Secretary Gates, abetted by Secretary Clinton, and Generals Petraeus and McChrystal colluded to steamroller a young and inexperienced President Obama into a precipitous decision, in what seems to me to have been the closest thing to Seven-Days-In-May scenario in my lifetime.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon. He currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean and can be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com






Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com