The Caldwell Kerfluffle

by Joshua Foust on 2/24/2011 · 14 comments

Michael Hastings is in contention to be President of the “Generals Takedown” club, with a new piece in Rolling Stone alleging some very serious misconduct on the part of NTM-A chief General Caldwell.

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators…

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

There is more to this, and I highly suggest reading the 3-page article before coming back to this discussion.

The Pentagon appears to be taking the charges seriously—they have already opened an investigation into the incident Hastings describes (which involves a worrying account, from one side so keep that in mind, of an O5 being investigated for complaining about an improper tasking). The problem is, I’m not at all certain of which law he’s broken: if it’s true that officer in the article was being assigned to do things that are off-task, then that’s one thing. Similarly, it’s still an open question about how and if General Caldwell actually conducted a PSYOP or information operations campaign against Senators, Congressmen, and think tankers, as the article doesn’t actually describe much taking place after that officer was told to assemble briefing packages on them.

So I’m not at all sure of what happened here, and it’s important we not discount the role of a disgruntled officer (the LTC who gave Hastings the story) in all of this. He has an axe to grind. But there are aspects to this that remain deeply worrying about this story. Forget Congress: if anyone thinks CODELs aren’t ginormous dog-and-pony shows to impress dignitaries, they’re ignorant. I expect the military to try to put on a good show for them.

Congressmen Buck McKeon and Silvestre Reyes, of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, in Marjah, Helmand Province, last month.

What worries me is what this says about how the war is being managed, and the mention of think tankers. Regular readers here know I rail against the “ISAF adventure tours” across Afghanistan—whatever think tank they work for, there is a considered effort to support the “research trips” of pro-war think tankers looking to push the agenda of the military. To me, it is an absolutely poisonous dynamic of the intellectual discussion of the war, with an ideological foundation for controlling access to the war.

The details of this story, and General Caldwell’s role in it, will come out soon. Some things about it don’t make sense, like why General Caldwell would target the very pro-NTM-A Carl Levin for influence, or why anyone would think John McCain needs help being more pro-war. But, what I want is for them to name names. If Hastings has the names of think tankers who have been improperly lobbied for influence on war policy, I want those names out there. If the names come up during the investigations, I want to know who’s been funded, with what expectations from the military, and what they said in response.

Who knows, maybe this can prompt some more uncomfortable questions about how the war is being packaged and sold to the public. One can hope, at least.

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– 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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Grant February 25, 2011 at 10:27 am

There’s nothing illegal* about gathering data on an official’s voting records and opinions, but this is at least a poor choice in strategy.

*Probably, as this article mentions it isn’t clear exactly how this was used.

TJM February 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

Has anyone cited the provision of the US Code, or the Executive Order, or the DoD regulation, or some other authoritative reference that makes it impermissible to do whatever it is that LTC Holmes was allegedly ordered to do?

Joshua Foust February 26, 2011 at 11:06 am

No. That’s why I said I’m not at all certain what law has been broken. It could maybe be a Smith-Mundt violation, but the DOD has different rules for how it complies with that, and everything rests on the specific orders and intent given by Caldwell (which Hastings does not make clear). It was mostly likely a maybe unethical order Holmes took the wrong way, based on what I’m reading now.

But there are a whole host of issues to accompany this. One is why a guy who wasn’t even trained in PSYOP assigned to do PSYOP duties. That is how you get misunderstandings about the law, propriety, and what should be complained about and what should not. Another is how quickly Caldwell’s staff went after this guy, immediately focusing on him for going off base with a woman (something that is VERY common at Eggers).

Lastly, I stand by my big point above, which is that I’m less worried about Congress being spun than I am the friendly think tankers. This is a serious problem I’ve been railing on for years and I want to know who’s being targeted.

TJM February 26, 2011 at 11:40 am

Yeah, I’m not challenging anything you wrote. I’m just a bit perplexed that as much discussion as has occurred on this issue, nobody (so far as I know) has cited the legal authority that makes this alleged act illegal (if it’s in Smith-Mundt, somebody please point it out – I browsed it and saw nothing). Minor details, I guess. But I don’t understand how there can be so much debate about the legality of this issue if nobody can even point to the relevant legal authority.

I do agree that there is a problem with the more prominent public role that military officers are taking in policymaking, versus consultation behind closed doors, and the relationship that has sprung up between think tanks and military officers.

Grant February 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Nobody’s cited the law that makes it illegal because it might not be illegal. If true then it’s improper but impropriety does not equal illegality. It might fall afoul of some law, but at the moment we honestly don’t know.

TJM February 26, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Follow up:
There was a comment on an Army war college blog that comes close to answering the question:

“… my understanding is that Pentagon lawyers interpreted Smith-Mundt as pertaining to DoD at least the spirit of the law. You are correct, though…the letter of the law specifically refers to the Department of State. To read more about Smith-Mundt see where Matt Armstrong has a tab on the law and its implications.”

Don Anderson February 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Caldwell’s little games go way back. He was the Military Aide to Wolfowitz, who helped get us into these mistakes in series.

I talked to him once, all nose and ears that don’t work. I felt I should have brought a mirror so he could look at himself more as he checked his reflection out in the window. He had one decoration out of place and never even noticed it, because he was too busy admiring himself.

Caldwell used the Wolfowitz nexus to climb and now he is worried that he will be the last one left holding the bag. He knows the music is ending and Petraeus has the best inside position to get to the chair first.

The bunker is emptying out and no one wants to be “it” at the end.

Thus the sheer desperation to get some good quality influential precious life giving face time with the VIP gang when he gets them into his lair. In his eyes, this is the most important mission, the process of making himself look good. Psyops serves the commander is his logic.

No matter what happens good or bad he is going to get stuck in the history books potentially as the guy that trained the ANSF to fail. Not a good place to be, but could not have happened to a nicer guy.

I once saw a graffitti message on a wall in Bogota that reminds me of the current situation at my beloved ISAF. I will just leave it in Spanish and let the multilingual folks see the logic. Simply put…

“Perro Si Come Perro.”

anan February 27, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Don Anderson,

Who cares if Caldwell once worked with Wolfowitz?

Wolfowitz actually has some friends in Indonesia because of his role in encouraging freedom in Indonesia. Do you? Wolfowitz urged Reagan to dump Marcos and support freedom in Phillipines. Similarly Wolfowitz was part of the freedom crowd supporting democracy in Taiwan and South Korea.

Wolfowitz is a long time supporter of economic grants to poor countries and did a decent job at the world bank.

He also was one of those who wanted to support freedom throughout the Arab world and Pakistan.

Many attacked Wolfowitz for his Iraqi Shiite girlfriend, causing him to step down from the World Bank; and provoking allegations that his Iraq views were influenced of his girlfriend.

Personally I don’t think America should have involved itself so greatly in the great Iraqi civil war [1980-2008], but still don’t get why you hate Wolfowitz so much.

On Caldwell: “Caldwell’s little games go way back . . . I talked to him once, all nose and ears that don’t work. I felt I should have brought a mirror so he could look at himself more as he checked his reflection out in the window. He had one decoration out of place and never even noticed it, because he was too busy admiring himself. . . . Thus the sheer desperation to get some good quality influential precious life giving face time with the VIP gang when he gets them into his lair. In his eyes, this is the most important mission, the process of making himself look good. Psyops serves the commander is his logic. . . . but could not have happened to a nicer guy.”

Are we still in Kindergarten? What is with all the school yard below the belt personal insults? OK, you met him once. Your personalities clashed. You hated him. He probably didn’t like you either. Mostly for personal reasons on both sides. Got that. Grow up.

anan February 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm

It isn’t Caldwell’s fault that there was little to no coordination and standardization in the efforts of the international community to surge ANSF capacity pre November, 2009. Nor is it his fault that America was missing in action when it came to surging ANSF capacity pre November, 2009.

Since Caldwell arrived in November, 2009, there has been a massive improvement in MG Pattang’s ANP Training Command and MG Karim’s ANA Training Command. There has been a massive surge in the capacity of the ANSF. Caldwell has finally managed to convince the international community and different stake holders in Afghanistan to train the ANSF to a single doctrine and standard. Before Caldwell arrived most ANP training by the international community was done by a series of bilateral and ad hoc arrangements. By contrast, today 33 countries directly operate under Caldwell’s command and about 20 other countries coordinate their bilateral ANSF building efforts through Caldwell. This is compared to almost none before he arrived.

Some of the credit for the surge in Turkey’s contribution to ANSF capacity belongs to Caldwell . . . who has personally traveled to and smoozed with the Turks many times. Caldwell smoothed the bureaucratic obstacles preventing the training of thousands of ANP officers at the Sivas training center inside Turkey. Similarly, Caldwell deserves credit for expanding the Turkish run Ghazi Military Training Center in Wardak . . . which is planned to train 1400 ANA mid grade NCOs at any given time for 14-18 weeks . . . out of the total 4 K ANA NCO training seats planned at end state which train ANA NCOs for more than 4 weeks at a time. If the Turks take over one of the 4 training centers for the Afghan Border Police, again much of the credit will belong to Caldwell. Even better, now all of Turkey’s training efforts are coordinated through Caldwell.

Similarly Caldwell deserves credit for coordinating UAE and Jordanian training of the ANSF, including outside Afghanistan. Ditto for his role in coordinating Egyptian training.

An even greater achievement was getting all the EU assets [including EUPOL], European national assets, European Gendarmerie Force assets, and NATO assets to coordinate through NTM-A.

Plus the Japanese aren’t a piece of cake to work with either. Their $1 billion in annual grants [Japan pays the salaries of the Minister Mohammadi’s MoI and their ANP . . . and recently committed to giving Afghanistan another $5 billion in grants] are critical. Add coordinating the Japanese trainers.

This is before the jumbled inter-agency messes that are the United States government and the GIRoA.

Do you have any concept about how hard this is? Do you have any idea how hard it is in the current global environment to convince various countries to contribute long term funding and combat enablers for the ANSF?

Caldwell is actually on Afghanistan’s side. He is one of the best advocates the Afghans have for increasing Afghan capacity. Which benefits everyone except for who exactly?

Which foreign establishment has done more to block ANSF capacity than any other?

What do the ANA you work with think about you trying to block long term funding and combat enablers for the ANA?

Steve Magribi February 27, 2011 at 9:57 pm

I am sitting here with Don, Anan. He asked me to respond.

Once again he made himself clear. If you are Wolfowitz Devotee, go for it. Light incense and circle to the right. Wait till Indonesia explodes later.

For many of us here, he is a big part of the problem. Sorry to burst your Bubble. This whole show has become about him and not about Afghanistan and from the Afghan perspective same story. They roll their eyes when he comes around-all talk and no functional ears and eyes to the mirror. I second the motion.

I have met with him many times. Same same impression. He came in to make himself look good. Never listens.

Don’t believe everything that comes out the PAO or is the Psyops office, Buddy. If he is trying to influence the Senator’s viewpoints, he is doing the same to you too.

Enough said. Enjoy the Disney Channel on your cable box.

anan February 27, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Steve, I like your comments and learn a lot from them.

Indonesia is doing okay. Yes Al Qaeda linked Takfiris tried to murder Pres Susilo Bambang Yudhoyon and declare an islamic state. They failed.

Pres Yudhoyon is facilitating private sector economic development in Indonesia and doing a better job on economic policy than the United States or Europe. If only Afghanistan had a president as good as Yudhoyon. sigh.

Attacking Caldwell for once working with Wolfowitz is a low blow.

“Wolfowitz Devotee” . . . not exactly. Wolfowitz was never that influential in any US administration. Blaming him for all the world’s problems is a little strange. If you want to blame someone . . . maybe a former Vice President might be a better target.

To Caldwell, there are all kinds of reactions to him from all types of people. Much of the problem relates to political restraints imposed on him from higher ups. He is as powerful an advocate for international support for the ANSF as the Obama administration permits him to be. We could discuss this offline.

Remember that there was very strong opposition to expanding ANSF capacity, quality, training, advising, equipping and funding before November, 2009. You know some of the reasons for why.

Don Anderson could preface his comments by thanking LTG Caldwell for his role in increasing international support for the ANSF and then offer NTM-A constructive feedback.

LTG Caldwell’s viewpoint is that the ANSF need a lot more long term international grants and international combat enablers. Not in an adhoc unpredictable fashion, but in a reliable carefully planned way.

If this what you mean when you write: “the PAO or is the Psyops office, Buddy. If he is trying to influence the Senator’s viewpoints, he is doing the same to you too”?

Would it be better if ANA Chief of Staff Karimi and ANATC commanding MG Karim could publicly make this case for the ANA; and if MoI Minister Mohammedi and ANPTC commanding MG Pattang could directly make their case to the international community on behalf of the ANSF? Sure it would. And suspect this is what NTM-A and ISAF would prefer. But Pres Karzai for his own reasons feels otherwise. This forces LTG Caldwell to make their case for them in public as best as he can.

And now Michael Hastings is trying to get him fired for doing precisely that.

If month after month one commentator on this blog attacks the ANSF and seems to be doing his best to convince the international community to cut off funding, enablers and advisors for the ANSF . . . then expect push back. Even if that commentator deserves our thanks for working with the ANA. At the very least he is unintentionally allowing himself to be used in a PR campaign against the ANSF by part of the deep state.

anan February 28, 2011 at 1:02 am

Steve, Don makes perceptive comments, including his last one, in addition to his over the top comments. What are “over the top” comments?

Remember the way Don attacked Baba Tim Lynch? Tim said that 201 ANA Corps [with their Marine advisors gone] and the Nangarhar ANP had serious challenges and that security in Nangarhar was deteriorating. He also said that parts of 215th ANA Corps were as good as any ANA he had seen, and that the Helmand AUP was getting better. Tim further said that security in most of Helmand outside the wire was getting better. Why did Don go after Tim for those comments?

If Don has a gripe with 3-215 ANA brigade and Sharin Shah, then he should politely state it; and cool the theatrics.

Sure if you ask elders, you will hear a lot of crap talk about various ANSF units and commanders. Who do they not talk crap about? Is the foreign PR campaign against the ANSF starting to affect Afghan public opinion against the ANSF? To some degree yes. That doesn’t mean that the PR propagandists are completely right.

Why continually imply the ANSF as a whole are losing to the Taliban?
Why not more accurately say that 201 ANA Corps is losing to the Taliban [not QST but more international Taliban] in the North East. But the Taliban [again not Mullah Omar centric QST] is losing in Khost to 203 Corps [and Khost AUP and ABP and ISAF], and losing in Helmand and Kandahar.

Even the QST doesn’t think it is winning as much as many of Don’s comments imply. [They see themselves as being squeezed by other Taliban groups in the East and North, while they have yet to put up a serious challenge in the West. QST is getting smashed in Helmand. Momentum in Kandahar is against them, however they remain more potent in Kandahar than they are even in North Helmand. The QST are doing okay in Zabul even as Siraj increases his influence over Zabul at Mullah Omar’s expense.]

Steve Magribi February 28, 2011 at 6:07 am


Thanks for all the comments. We are glad you are so mentally challenged and stimulated by our observations. Have not been in “stable” Djarkarta in a while. Must be ‘stable” like Cairo was a couple of weeks ago? Oh, my mistake, I forgot about the golden touch of Wolfowitz, the hidden expert of all things and admirer and sponsor of LTC Caldwell.

Things are much more complicated than you seem to see them looking from the US. Things are getting more complicated by the day.

For myself, I am just glad that I missed the mines on the road to Khogyiani today. One blew before I got there and another after I left, so one of those days.

And I stand by all of my comments and Don’s, between us we have 40 years of experience here and will still be here when guys like Caldwell, P4, and Tim-the walking Marine Recruitment poster, are long gone.

This current phase of the war is soon ending and we and the Afghan tribal leaders whom you dismiss will be discussing what to do in each and every province that we can get to this year. Here friendship means friendship for generations and does not stop when one country leaves or another enters.

Guys like those we met in Kunar last week will determine how long this Government lasts and not ISAF or the ANSF. That is one of the biggest problems in the last ten years, we never figured out who we should work with and who we should avoid. We made many mistakes and now it is much more dangerous.

Just glad I missed the mines, Khogyiani will be the end of me if I don’t watch out.

I saw one of the police who was injured today, and he was loosing buckets of blood. That is what is going on here now, lots of injured and maimed, and killed. This is not a study or a research project or a development program, it is people’s lives now.

anan February 28, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Your loyalty to your friend is touching and reflects well on Don. And yes, I could have expressed myself to Don more politely.

Yes Jakarta is doing well. And good things are on the march in the Arab world and I share your joy that both are true.

“Things are getting more complicated by the day.” completely true.

Glad the mine missed you in Nangarhar. Thank you for your service to the Afghan people.

Yes the “Taliban” have momentum in Nuristan, Kunar, Nangarhar and Logar and are killing a lot of good people. As you said: “I saw one of the police who was injured today, and he was loosing buckets of blood. That is what is going on here now, lots of injured and maimed, and killed. This is not a study or a research project or a development program, it is people’s lives now.”

Casualties on the part of the ANSF are at a post 2001 high. They have a very tough, very painful, and probably very long fight ahead of them.

“Tim-the walking Marine Recruitment poster” Tim isn’t a “Marine Recruitment poster” and he loves Afghans much like you do. You can ask your friends in Nangarhar what they think of Tim.

“This current phase of the war is soon ending” . . . the way I would put it is that the region continues to move and change at a breakneck change. Afghanistan today bears little resemblance to Afghanistan in 2008. And Afghanistan in 2014 will likely bear little resemblance to Afghanistan in 2011.

Didn’t diss the Afghan tribal leaders. Respect them. And respect the large diversity and pluralism among Afghan tribal leaders. Yes, many want the ANSF, GIRoA, and internationals to fight the Taliban through them.

The ANSF will play a decisive role in what happens in Afghanistan in the near future, as will the Afghan tribal leaders. This isn’t either, or.

Karzai’s and Gen Karimi’s plan is to use the ANA Special Forces and MoI to organize and coordinate “local groups” that protect their communities from the Taliban.

ANA Chief of Staff Karimi is no fool. He knows that “Here friendship means friendship for generations and does not stop when one country leaves or another enters. ”

“one of the biggest problems in the last ten years, we never figured out who we should work with and who we should avoid. We made many mistakes and now it is much more dangerous.” Yes we have made mistakes. The biggest mistake of all would be to exaggerate our role and influence in this conflict. This region and its war against extremism is far bigger than Europeans and Americans.

There is a reason why there is a waiting list of Afghans who want to join the ANA and fight the Taliban. And it is mostly unrelated to Westerners.

Steve, I am glad you are meeting tribal elders and listening to them. There needs to be much more of that. There needs to be far better communication, mutual understanding, and mutual cooperation between ANSF leaders and tribal elders.

There are powerful voices in NATO, Russia, India, Iran and Turkey that are considering betting on tribal leaders like you met instead of the nonsectarian, nonpartisan, nationalist ANA.

Unless we are all very careful, we risk the factionalization of Afghanistan into multiple armed militia.

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