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October 3, 2008
A Surge by any other nameBy Greyhawk
Yesterday the Senate confirmed General David D. McKiernan as Commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. General McKiernan was already serving as Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there. In what some might view as needless complexity, there are some U.S. forces in Afghanistan independent of the international (NATO) coalition that also includes U.S. forces. McKiernan's new position reflects an effort to reduce that complexity, solidify and clarify the command structure and improve coordination of efforts, as explained in this brief White House statement:
For Immediate ReleaseThe General was in D.C. for confirmation and meetings with the President, and gave a press conference while in town in which he stressed - among other things - the need for additional U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan. That led to headlines like this one from the L.A. Times: "More U.S. troops needed in Afghanistan 'quickly,' general says", and stories like this one from the AP:
General: Urgent need for troops in Afghanistan nowThe International Herald Tribune chose to use "the 'S' word" in their coverage:
U.S. general urges troop surge in Afghanistan...but the Washington Post reported McKiernan would rather not use that term - "The word I don't use for Afghanistan is 'surge' ".
Some less charitable observers might question that semantic argument (old school reporters would have hammered the General for that), but I can't pretend to know why the general wants to avoid the exact word. Immediately after the announcement of the Iraq "surge" congressional Democrats began debates in which they exclusively used the term "escalation" for the president's proposal (a term that harkened back to the Vietnam-era but didn't catch on in this century), so one could infer the mere choice of simple terms - usually agreed to as expediant for expressing an idea - is now politicized to the point the general isn't comfortable using one that could potentially lead to accusations of political bias. On the other hand (and more likely) the General could be trying to avoid giving the impression that fixing Afghanistan is simple - we just do exactly what we did in Iraq over the past year and a half. No one is making that argument, but likewise the general consensus is that we do need more troops in Afghanistan, and their primary mission will initially be (as in Iraq) counterinsurgency.
Which brings us to the Vice Presidential debate - an event that occurred within hours of McKiernan's Senate confirmation and press conference.
PALIN: OK, I'd like to just really quickly mention there, too, that when you look back and you say that the Bush administration's policy on Afghanistan perhaps would be the same as McCain, and that's not accurate.McKiernan wants an increase in troops, but doesn't want it called a "surge". Since neither campaign is arguing against additional troops in Afghanistan, the argument apparently comes down to what exactly they will be doing there - or what exactly a "surge principle" is. Palin's explanation is "not the exact strategy but the surge principles that have worked in Iraq". Biden offered no additional clarification. A debate moderator could have pressed both for details, but that opportunity slipped away last night. One thing is certain - now that the issue is "politicized" we're not likely to hear General McKiernan explain which candidate is correct.
But we do have the transcript of McKiernan's press briefing. Here are his comments regarding how the additional troops would be used and additional strategies that may be adopted:
It's not just additional boots on the ground. It's enablers to go with them. But at the same time, I would tell you that it's not just a question about more soldiers. It's a question about more governance, about more economic aid, about more political assistance for the government of Afghanistan, as well as military capabilities.Those "principles" - securing the population first, developing the indigenous security forces to take over, and "reconciliation" issues, all of which are the needed first step to enable the Afghan government to become fully functional (because the solution isn't 100% militay) - are exactly the playbook used for "the surge" in Iraq. Specific application to Afghanistan will vary, but these are the fundamentals of counterinsurgency operations.
So where does the General's conops for Afghanistan diverge from the Iraq lessons of the past two years? He's actually clear on that point in the briefing:
Q Thank you, sir. I'm wondering if any thought was being given to migrating the lessons of the Iraq Awakening to Afghanistan to get some of these tribal leaders to have their fighting forces work with you, either because it's the right thing or just for the money, or is the situation so different that that's not applicable?So there you have it. But while the awakening movement was critical to progress in Iraq, it wasn't a planned component of the "surge" -related strategy. It was an independent development begun by shieks but facilitated by U.S. forces in Anbar in late 2006, then adopted by the additional troops deployed in other areas as a result of the surge.
In fact, Democrats have been arguing that the Awakening Movement is the only reason for reduced violence in Iraq. Biden's argument ("the priciples won't work") in the debate might be based on his Party's interpretation of the cause of our success in Iraq, though he might be a bit confused as to what that has to do with the surge (Party line: nothing whatsoever).
Update: Facts is facts ...but these are opinions, passed off as "fact checks" in mainstream media reviews of the VP debate.
Sarah Palin on AfghanistanCNN:
The Statement:So, McKiernan says he wants three additional brigades, associated aviation (including UAV's) and suport assets in Afghanistan ASAP - but doesn't want to call it a "surge". Biden claims the General said the surge principle wouldn't work in Afghanistan, and CNN and the Washington Post declare those two statements mean the same thing.
Not only is that wrong, but in his D.C. press conference that day McKiernan very carefully spelled out how the principles of the surge would be applied in Afghanistan, too - though the specific applications would vary to meet the unique requirements of that country. Not only that, but he also carefully explained (three times) why one of the Democrats' favorite talking points on the "real" reason for success in Iraq would not work there. Admittedly you've got to be sharp enough to spot a "principle of the surge" when you see (or hear) one, but In short - pretty much exactly what Governor Palin described.
Posted by Greyhawk / October 3, 2008 10:49 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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