What Are the Lessons Learned from Afghanistan?

by Joshua Foust on 1/5/2009 · 2 comments

In September of 2007, during the heady days of the Surge in Iraq, a Lieutenant Colonel Michael Eisenstadt wrote an analysis in Military Review of “lessons learned” about tribal engagement from Iraq (article here, PDF). It is interesting reading, as you can see in it the foundations for how the Army was able to coopt the Sons of Iraq movement into an at least temporarily stable solution to the main insurgency.

What’s weirdly missing from both Military Review and, frankly, most military-focused journals is a similar attempt to look at what’s worked and what hasn’t about Afghanistan… at least, after 2002. You can find the Navy hyping carrier-launched airpower in Operation Enduring Freedom in Proceedings in 2002, the Secretary of the Air Force talking (again) about Lessons Learned in OEF in December of 2002, and so on. There are a few reviews of individual components of OEF, most especially PRTs, and more recently advisors in the interim. And there probably is something on the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) site, even if CALL is locked out to the general public and to non-Army researchers and even some Army contractors.

But to the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been a major push to collect a comprehensive listing of lessons learned for all of Afghanistan—going back to 2001, what has worked and what has not and why. There were some attempts a good four years ago (like this S2’s take) that I would argue actually offer lessons for what not to do when getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. But 88 months into the occupation of Afghanistan, there is very little systematic work at which divisions had successful stints as commanders of OEF, and what about those stints made them successful.

There might be some center, buried behind a dozen AKO/DKO logins, where this stuff is tracked. But when you’re dealing with an environment that not only has a lot of non-military experts, but where exclusively military expertise has thus far proven inadequate, would that make much sense? One thing I’m going to be looking at the next several months is whether and how I could start collecting this sort of data—who to talk to, where to try to find information, and so on. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear ’em.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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TCHe January 5, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Speaking from the German perspective here.

Literature concerning PRTs is hard to come by – at least non-classified one though from the few insights I was able to gain I doubt that there’s so much more official.
When I did research on it, there was one paper by the SWP (which is the “German Institute for International and Security Affairs”). Basically an explanation of the German concept.
Another paper was by the Swiss ETHZ and the most useful evaluation I’ve seen so far was written by an author for the Austrian Ministry of Defense.

All these papers are in German, I’m afraid, so probably of little use to you. The Small Wars Journal (I know, you don’t necessarily like them) lined to a paper by an American or British officer once, too (somewhere in the depths of my hard drive it can be found).

If need be, I can e-mail the papers and try to dig out some links.

Alex Strick van Linschoten January 5, 2009 at 11:46 pm

What about that huge oral history project they did a few years ago, the Afghanistan Experience Project. It may not be what you mean, but it’s def worth checking out.

http://www.usip.org/library/oh/index.html and scroll down to the bottom.

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