Moar Travels

by Joshua Foust on 1/18/2011 · 5 comments

Paula is now talking about the ALP:

Since mid-November, the commander of Combined Task Force 1-320th, LTC David S. Flynn, has worked to develop rapport with the local malik, or de facto village leader, from Charqolba in the Arghandab River Valley, known as “Ibrahim.” Charqolba has been uninhabited since June, when the Taliban conducted an intimidation campaign and drove the villagers out. Nearly 50 percent of the village had been destroyed in the crossfire between the Taliban and U.S. forces. Like the others who fled, the Charqolba malik had moved his family to Kandahar City, but he was interested in reclaiming his home and his village…

Flynn had to contend with the MOI constraint that it had to certify a site before weapons could be issued to the ALP. Weapons procurement is a sticky issue because of the potential to facilitate local militias, which, some fear, could lead to a decent into chaos. On a late December visit to 1-320th, GEN Petraeus had discussed the urgency of the ALP initiative with Flynn and others, and he explicitly reiterated that conventional forces could not provide weapons to the ALP until the site was certified by the MOI. Incidentally, the only site currently “certified” by MOI in Arghandab is Nagahan. The district is authorized up to 300 ALP personnel and has filled roughly 25% of that number in Nagahan. Recruiting efforts in Nagahan, however, seemed to have reached a saturation point, so other ALP sites in Arghandab will need to provide the additional personnel to achieve the critical mass envisioned by COMISAF.

Flynn knew that spring was approaching and along with it a possible resurgence of Taliban. His feeling was that there was no time to waste if he and his fellow battlespace owners were going to attract over 200 volunteers. Operating under the assumption that the site would eventually be certified, Flynn made the command decision to allow the small ALP cabal to practice with Alpha company’s M4 rifles until he could resolve the procurement issue and find a permanent solution for them. Since there is no connection between conventional forces and the MOI, Flynn’s companies will eventually receive weapons from a SOTF, which typically coordinates with GIRoA for weapons acquisition and distribution. SOTF detachment captains in the AO will provide oversight to his nascent ALP initiatives, including Charqolba and three others in the valley…

LTC Flynn was optimistic but pragmatic, “I have a keen understanding of the many pitfalls that exist with our way ahead. This is not the book solution on ALP if there is such a thing.” Inherent challenges remained: vetting the volunteers, providing rule-of-law ethics training to a group of men who thought beating “bad guys” was acceptable for a police force, acquiring weapons and other training materials, and recruiting a larger force. “I know we need to train them well enough to defend themselves and their village. And we need to protect them from any Taliban retribution that might upend the legitimacy of the ALP program in [our AO]. I’m not overly concerned with any of this because I know that my NCOs are capable of making these ALP smarter and more capable fighters than the TB,” said Aebischer.

Bolded bits mine, to highlight, again, the grade-A crap. This time, she’s much more understanding of people fleeing their village in horror, and doesn’t seem to feel the same need to burn it to the ground to make rebuilding easier. Weird.

Anyway, phrasing this excerpt differently (read the whole thing, if you have a military translator around, as it has much more detail), LTC Flynn decided to give one elder in a district the power to build his own militia, which that elder liked. The men he chose for that militia could not be vetted by the Ministry of the Interior quickly enough, so the LTC decided to abandon General Petraeus’ orders and the legal restrictions on arming militias and give them weapons and training anyway. LTC Flynn’s trainers are having a hard time convincing these men not to beat people in the street, but are hopeful they can be “smarter than the TB.”

Thanks to the “VSO-ALP Backburn,” whatever the hell that means, we’re now expanding a policy of building unaccountable militias across southern Afghanistan, and hoping they won’t sell their weapons to the Taliban like they have every single other time we’ve tried to do this. (Even Andrew Exum thinks we need to be much more cautious about this program.) It’s like we kept all the bad aspects of the AP3 program in Wardak, and chose to forget all the lessons we learned from it. Like the accounts other COIN cheerleaders, it seems to represent a rejection of evidence and experience, rather than a considered embrace of it.

In 2008, the Arghandab was not like this. We made it this way. And our continued refusal to think beyond six months from now—starting with General Petraeus demanding unrealistic results by the summer and moving down the chain of command—is creating bad decisions, inspiring LTCs to break the law and use short cuts to try to eke out progress for a good OER, and, ultimately, ruining any chance of a long-term success in this area. We are doing this deliberately, though perhaps not knowingly. And the people like Paula Broadwell, who are bragging of the tactical genius of it all, don’t seem to realize this sort of thing is the foundation of our eventual, humiliating defeat.

Paula’s writing on the Arghandab is not analysis, or reporting. It is hagiography—a particularly ignorant kind of hagiography. How foul.

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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 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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b January 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I usually do not agree with your rather harsh taking apart of pieces but <ou are spot on on Paula Broadwell.

Also: Welcome back to the realist school after your gig with the military. You seem to have learned something as you now talk like I did before and during your gig while you were still on COIN kool-aid.

Andy January 20, 2011 at 2:17 pm


I’ve been reading your blog for years now – I’m not sure how long, but it’s been a long time. I really used to appreciate your expertise and especially criticism, but IMO you have really gone downhill in the last year. Accusing mid-ranking officers of engaging in criminal activity in order to get a good OER is a new low. Somewhere along the way you lost the ability to provide cogent, reasoned criticism and you’ve become little different than scores of bloviating bloggers who make ad hominem and the impugning of motive central to their writing. It’s a shame really. I hope you realize it’s only your own credibility that suffers when you use such rhetorical tactics.

matttbastard January 20, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Do you have a specific dispute with any of Joshua’s contentions with Blackwell’s coverage, ‘Andy’, or are you merely venting your spleen in lieu of a cogent counterargument (aka, indulging in, um, ad hominem)?

matttbastard January 20, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Broadwell, not ‘Blackwell’ — mea culpa.

Andy January 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm


Read the post. He saying the CoC is “inspiring” LTC’s to “break the law” for a “good OER.” This post is about one LTC in particular – it’s hard to miss the implication.

I think it’s proper to criticize Afghanistan tactics and strategy in general and this incident in particular. It crosses a pretty big line, in my book anyway, when one does so in a way that impugns motives in about the most negative way possible. Maybe this LTC’s actions deserve criticism (I think they probably do), but the insinuation that his actions were done for a “good OE”R is an insinuation that needs to be criticized. If you’re going to criticize, criticize actions, not motives.

As for the rest, it’s simply my opinion that Joshua’s criticism has changed over the past several years from reasoned, scholarly criticism to the kind seen here where he impugns the character of people he doesn’t know. I’m not trying to divine his motive or suggest he’s a bad person or doing so to sell a book or anything else. I don’t care why he’s doing it. I’m criticizing his actions – as in how he makes his arguments – not his motives for doing so.

Maybe you can explain how such rhetorical flourishes, or whatever they are, are at all legitimate or useful in furthering anyone’s understanding of Afghanistan.

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