Profile cover photo
Profile photo
Jacob Jason DeMedici

Post is pinned.Post has attachment
Kandahar, Afghanistan, waiting for the daily fire fight
Commenting is disabled for this post.

Post has attachment

Expanding Afghanistan's Special Operations Forces: Doubling their success or further diluting their mission?
By Jacob Jason Demedici

One of the key elements of the Afghan government's Road Map for pushing back the insurgency is increasing the fighting capabilities of Afghan government forces. This includes the expansion of the Afghan National Army's (ANA) praised special operations forces.

Says Jacob Jason Demedici: "The Afghan battle theatre has evolved since 2003 into a special operations dominated warfare zone, without those the military progress could never have been achieved. The striking dominance of black operations over traditional green operations is a first in the history of warfare."
Says Jacob Jason Demedici: "It is clear that the Taliban are getting monetary, logistical and military support from the neighbouring countries Pakistan and Iran. SOF (Special forces Operations) operators risk their lives for cutting off the head of the proverbal hydra snake - Taliban commander and facilitators that is - only to see appear replacement sometimes literally within days, sometimes within weeks.
As long as those supply routes are not cut off the military cannot hold the ground it gained in Afghanistan. The issue is known to all US presidents resp Canadian prime ministers, which have dealt with the Afghan war, but decisive action against the hostilities from Pakistan, supposedly an ally, and Iran, a long-time foe, never have been taken."
However, this expansion is spurring already existing tendencies that are turning these units into shock troops, rather than actual special forces. Moreover, such a focus on shock troops concentrates efforts on capturing territory from the insurgency, rather than addressing the more pressing problem - which is holding cleared areas. AAN guest author and former SOF operator Dr. Jacob Jason Demedici illustrates these and other questions by taking a closer look at the ANA's special operations forces and the plan to expand them.

When the conventional forces of the Afghan state cannot cope with insurgents on the battlefield, they usually call in units of the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command (ANASOC) for support. These units are often referred to as 'Commandos'. Compared to conventional troops, they are superior forces that usually manage to defeat insurgents or at least push them back. Because of this high demand for the ANASOC, the Afghan government, supported by its allies, is now doubling the number of these forces. By doing so, it hopes also to double their success. Taking a closer look reveals, though, that this will probably not be done that easily and will take the ANASOC even further away from its original mission - to conduct actual special operations.
The big picture: the ANSF Road Map
The intended expansion of the ANASOC has to be seen against the backdrop of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) (1) Road Map, as laid out in a report by the US Department of Defense (US DoD) to US Congress in June 2017. The Road Map is an official Afghan policy document, although it can be assumed that the NATO-led coalition and especially the United States military provided support in developing it (see AAN's previous analysis here). According to unclassified documents of the NATO-led coalition seen by the author, the Road Map envisions breaking what it sees as a stalemate between Afghan government forces and the insurgency; extending security, with the goal of securing control over what is seen as a critical mass of 80 per cent of the Afghan population; and "expand[ing] governance and economic development and compel[ling] or incentiviz[ing] Taliban reconciliation." Hence, the Road Map does not hope to defeat the insurgency, but rather to tilt the war in favour of the government.
The Road Map has four key elements: (i) leadership development; (ii) countering corruption; (iii) increasing fighting capabilities by expanding the Afghan Special Security Forces (of which the ANASOC makes up the lion's share, but there are also other units) (2) and the Afghan Air Force; and (iv) improving unity of command and effort.
With respect to the Road Map, it is imperative to keep in mind that neither the Afghan government or the coalition backing it is expecting the plan to lead to any major changes on the battlefield in the near future. On the contrary, the plan is to "realign" Afghan government forces in 2017 (3) (this phase is dubbed "build momentum") and to "continue building offensive capability… while disrupting insurgent strongholds" in 2018 (dubbed "seize the initiative"). This is meant to set the conditions for "execut[ing] large-scale offensive operations in 2019" (dubbed "exploit the initiative") and finally, in 2020, to consolidate the hoped for gains.
The latest quarterly report of the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) citing US Forces-Afghanistan notes, though, that "[w]hile [Afghan] President Ghani has put the execution of the strategy within a four-year time frame, its actual implementation will be conditions-based, rather than time-driven" (this mirrors the new US stance on Afghanistan - see US President Trump's speech here and AAN analysis here). "Conditions-based" in this context apparently means that the intended "large-scale offensive operations" will be executed once the ground and the troops have been fully prepared, rather than according to a rigid timetable - ie if realigning the force, building offensive capabilities and disrupting insurgent strongholds should take longer than originally planned, this would cause a delay in executing the large-scale operations.
In any event, the ANASOC is set to play the crucial role in "disrupting insurgent strongholds" and carrying out "offensive operations."
From division to corps
The ANASOC was reported to have been established as an independent division (called ferqa-ye amaliatha-ye khas) of the Afghan National Army (ANA) in 2011 and officially upgraded to a corps (qul-e urdu-ye amaliatha-ye khas) on 20 August 2017 (see press release here). According to Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Qayum Nuristani, ANASOC Public Affairs Officer, this upgrade will entail roughly a doubling of its strength from about 11,300 to 23,300 personnel. This expansion of personnel and units will - due to the need of recruitment, training and the establishment of completely new units, while at the same time maintaining enough troops as a fighting force in the field - take years. According to a spokesman of the Afghan Ministry of Defence (quoted here), completion of the expansion was initially planned for 2020, but a coalition source told AAN it would need more time.
This expansion will, according to the US DoD report quoted above, not augment the authorised end-strength (4) of the ANSF, as "[t]he manpower required for the ANASOC growth will come from realigning tashkil (5) positions from conventional forces." In other words: conventional ANA forces will be reassigned to the ANASOC, and their number will decrease by the same amount as the ANASOC troops will rise.
While the ANASOC usually recruits its members directly from ANA training centres, Nuristani explained that the currently-planned, rapid expansion will mainly be facilitated by reassigning the two Mobile Strike Force Vehicle Brigades (lewa-ye zarbati) - one based in Kabul, one in Kandahar - to the ANASOC. These two brigades consist of seven Mobile Strike Force Vehicle kandaks(battalions). According to the US DoD, they are also set to provide the ANASOC with their own armoured ground assault vehicles and make them more self-sufficient. (So far, the ANASOC did not have such mechanised assets in their own units.) (6) (The possible impact of reassigning those two Mobile Strike Force Vehicle Brigades will be addressed in more detail later in the text.)
Nuristani also stated that the Special Mission Wing (lewa-ye 777 hawayi) will be incorporated into the expanded ANASOC corps. (Given that this concerns air assets, this will not be further addressed in this analysis which concentrates on ANASOC ground forces.)
Original mission
According to the US DoD June 2017 report, "[t]he ANASOC's mission is to increase the Afghan Government's ability to conduct counterinsurgency and stability operations, and, as directed, execute special operations against terrorist and insurgent networks in coordination with other [ANSF] pillars." (7)

An elite group of Afghan National Army commandos graduated to become the first Afghan Special Forces during a ceremony at Camp Morehead May 13, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sarah Brown/RELEASED)
The centre-piece of special operations are direct actions which are commonly referred to as 'raids'. Their characteristics - short duration, small scale and the fact that they are conducted in "denied" areas (ie not on a clear battlefield) and often behind enemy lines - set them apart from conventional operations. Another example of special operations is reconnaissance in denied areas. (8) Yet another type of special operations are "internal defence missions" that are aimed at countering an insurgency at the level of 'tribe' or village; hence, such missions are at the same time counterinsurgency and stability operations. For example, in what the US military calls Village Stability Operations (VSO), special forces are assigned to support village leaders and train village defence units of the Afghan Local Police. (9)
This, at least, was the original idea behind the ANASOC. However, the ANASOC has strayed away from this original mission.
Misuse and changing mission
There are consistent reports about ANASOC forces being used outside the initially intended mission, as described above. For example, the June 2017 US DoD report previously quoted states that "the [Afghan Special Security Forces; of which the ANASOC is the main part] frequently is used as the offensive arm of the [ANSF] and tends to suffer misuse by conventional forces…," even going as far as "employing [Afghan Special Security Forces] at checkpoints or as personal security detachments." Nuristani partly acknowledged this, saying that ANASOC forces often support conventional ANA units to retake lost territory or fight especially resilient insurgents.
What this use of the ANASOC means is that it has, in practice, become a 'shock' rather than a special force - ie a force to boost the offensive capabilities of conventional forces in conventional operations, rather than one that conducts highly specialised, small-scale operations in terrain that conventional forces cannot reach (see also this media report). (10) Not only this. A SIGAR reportnoted that "[a]s of early 2017, the [Afghan Special Security Forces] conducted 80% of all the ANA's offensive operations." This means that the ANASOC, despite being just a small fraction of the conventional ANA forces, has not only become a shock force, but the primary offensive force, bearing the brunt of the fight against the insurgency - although this would clearly be the mission of the ANA's conventional forces.
The same SIGAR report, dated 30 April 2017, claims that misuse of Afghan Special Security Forces has become "mostly regionally isolated" and that "[w]hile there are still notable repeat offenders, the vast majority of [Afghan Special Security Forces] misuse has significantly decreased."
However, the already-mentioned June 2017 US DoD report rather suggests a change of the ANASOC's mission away from the initially envisioned special operations to a shock force than preventing such originally non-intended use. The report states, "[t]he [ANSF] Road Map contains plans to… establish the [Afghan Special Security Forces] as the primary offensive maneuver force within the [ANSF], while the conventional forces become the primary option for consolidating gains and holding key terrain and infrastructure" - with a "primary offensive maneuver force" by definition conducting conventional, and not special operations. (11)
At the same time, there are efforts to at least curb the most blatant misuse of special operations forces, such as employing them at checkpoints or as personal security detachments. According to Nuristani, ANASOC forces are already now not used anymore as personal security detachments (this could neither be verified or disproved). He acknowledged though that it would sometimes still be necessary for ANASOC forces to remain in the field to hold an area, but insisted this would not be permanent.
Given the fact that the Afghan Ministry of Defence frequently emphasises the conducting of night operations and that there will also be a need for certain other special operations, the ANASOC will not become solely a shock force, but will continue to conduct certain special operations. This was confirmed by an ANASOC officer, who, however, clarified that special operations such as night raids are rather rare and that the vast majority of ANASOC operations are aimed at retaking territory lost to the insurgency or to support conventional forces in other conventional operations. Hence, special operations are on the fringes of the ANASOC mission and not at its centre, as one would expect with what are called special operations forces.
In this regard, one could argue that - while the existence of a shock force itself is positive - the blurring of conventional and unconventional missions is not advisable, as (unconventional) special operations are (as set out above) completely different from conventional operations and require different units and capabilities.
Order of Battle
The issues raised above are further obfuscated by questions regarding the ANASOC's order of battle (ie its organisation and command structure). To understand these problems, one has to first grasp the general ANASOC order of battle though.
According to official documents, the ANASOC so far consisted of two Special Operations Brigades (lewa-ye amaliatha-ye khas), one made up of four and the other of five Special Operations Kandaks(battalions) (SOKs) (kandak-e amaliatha-ye khas/commando) that were aligned with regional ANA Corps. The US DoD stated in its June 2017 report already quoted above that "[t]he SOKs are the primary tactical elements of the ANASOC, and they conduct elite, light-infantry operations against threat networks in support of the regional corps' counterinsurgency operations and provide a strategic response capability against strategic targets." SOKs are also referred to as Commando Kandaks, as they are (at least largely) made up of special soldiers that are called Commandos (more on this below). An additional, separate Special Operations Kandak, the 6th SOK based in Kabul, functioned "as the ANA's national mission unit," providing "the President of Afghanistan and the [Chief of ANA Staff] with a rapidly deployable special operations force able to respond to national-level crises throughout Afghanistan." (12)
The current plan, as confirmed by Nuristani, foresees the expansion of the ANASOC with two additional Special Operations Brigades (raising the total to four such brigades) and the so-called National Mission Brigade (lewa-ye wazayef-e khas-e melli). Asked how many additional SOKs this would encompass, Nuristani refrained from giving a specific number, but said that it might amount to even more than the doubling of the current ten SOKs. (13)
The four Special Operation Brigades will be - similar to the so far nine common SOKs - "regionally oriented, [but] centrally controlled," a coalition source explained. This suggests that ANA Corps commanders will, as so far, have to request ANASOC assistance, upon which the Chief of Army Staff or ANASOC HQ will decide and, if approved, give the regionally stationed Special Operations Brigades their respective orders.
The National Mission Brigade was inaugurated on 31 July 2017 and will take over the role of the 6th SOK. According to the June 2017 US DoD report, it has already reached initial operational capability and is scheduled to reach full operational capability in March 2018. The same report also stated that the National Mission Brigade "and associated headquarters element will consist of elements of the ANA 6th SOK and the [Qeta-ye Khas]." The Qeta-ye Khas (Special Forces in Dari; transcribed as Ktah Khas by the US Department of Defense) is (or rather was) a small special forces unit that existed in addition to the Commandos, that make up the vast majority of the ANASOC's fighting force. While in theory and (at least initially) also in practice there was a crucial difference between Commandos and Qeta-ye Khas, this difference is far from clear anymore.
Commandos and Qeta-ye Khas - and the confusion surrounding them
The Qeta-ye Khas was, as reported here, originally a separate unit consisting of several teams modelled after the US Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha, informally called A-teams. (14) As of spring 2015, there were 72 Afghan A-teams, according to a Qeta-ye Khas member quoted by a specialised publication. (15) Assuming the US model of 15 persons per A-team, this would amount to 1,080 personnel. The June 2017 US DoD report indicates a somewhat higher number though, stating that the Qeta-ye Khas comprises 1,190 personnel out of an authorised end-strength of 1,291. (This number might include supporting personnel and not necessarily means that the number of Afghan A-teams had changed by that time.)
The original plan was that such Qeta-ye Khas A-teams conduct various special operations - particularly direct actions and special reconnaissance. This was also what set the Qeta-ye Khasapart from the other special operation forces, the Commandos, that were solely meant for direct actions (see here). In this regard, the Qeta-ye Khas would usually conduct the more special and covert direct actions (for example targeting high-value insurgents in more inaccessible terrain) than the Commandos. (16)
However, at some point that could not be determined, the Qeta-ye Khas was integrated into the ANASOC. How this was exactly done and what its current status is, is also hard to determine. But it is relevant as it directly affects the way the ANASOC is able to conduct missions - ie whether it still retains small special forces teams for special operations or whether it rather turned into a unit of Commandos that was initially intended for more overt raids, but has become a shock force.
According to Nuristani, the Qeta-ye Khas is now fully integrated into the National Mission Brigade and has been transformed into a SOK that does not differ from other SOKs, neither in mission nor training. Nuristani was very clear about this, stating that Qeta-ye Khas and the Commandos are one and the same thing. He even used the terms interchangeably or in combination (Qeta-ye Khas Commando). He asserted, though, that the Commandos (including the former Qeta-ye Khas) would be able to provide shock forces and conduct special operations at the same time.
However, an ANASOC officer who requested anonymity explained matters slightly differently. He also confirmed that the former Qeta-ye Khas has indeed been completely absorbed by the ANASOC/Commandos and does not have a separate name anymore. The officer explained though that each SOK has - besides several companies (tolay) of regular Commandos - one "special" company. These "special" companies conduct the actual special operations, usually in small teams (apparently A-teams), while the bulk of the Commandos are used as shock forces (this source, like Nuristani, described the use as shock force - contrary to a western understanding - as special operations, adding that Commando operations, at least in theory, do not exceed 72 hours). The source also insisted that these special forces would - compared to other Commandos - receive additional and separate training as had been the case for the former Qeta-ye Khas (as of now, those special companies are probably made up of the former Qeta-ye Khas). This is seemingly supported by the June 2017 US DoD report which reads that "each SOK contains eight ANA Special Forces teams."
However, adding to the confusion, the exact same US DoD report states at another point that "[t]he [Qeta-ye Khas] is a light infantry SOK consisting of three operational companies, a training company, an engineer company, a military intelligence company, a support company, and a headquarters company," which would suggest a separate unit. Such a separate Qeta-ye Khas unit was also displayed in official documents seen by this author in July 2017. Furthermore, in a press conference held in Kabul on 24 August 2017 - after the official inauguration of the National Mission Brigade on 31 July 2017 that allegedly definitively absorbed the Qeta-ye Khas into the ANASOC/Commandos - US Army General John W. Nicholson, commander of US Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission, referred to "commandos and [Qeta-ye Khas]", implying two separate types of forces. Even more tangibly, at the mentioned official inauguration of the National Mission Brigade, the (former) Qeta-ye Khas still wore their uniforms and sand-coloured berets that distinguished them from the Commandos who wear slightly different camouflage and burgundy red berets.
While none of the above accounts could be definitively verified, in this author's assessment, the most likely variant is that the former Qeta-ye Khas has indeed been integrated into SOKs, but still exists as special companies that often (but probably not always) conduct independent missions.
In any event, the confusion regarding the Qeta-ye Khas adds to the blurring of the use of ANASOC forces for special operations and as a shock force. While this does not necessarily have to impair the ANASOC's ability to conduct special operations, it certainly has the potential to do so, as we will see.
What does all this mean for the battlefield?
Given the ANASOC's successful track record (17), it can be expected that its expansion will, as planned, indeed increase the ANSF's fighting capabilities and bolster their offensive prowess.
Some argue though that this expansion could cause a decrease of the ANASOC's quality. For example, a Washington Post article warned that "[r]apidly growing the elite forces could also dilute the commando units to a point where they are indistinguishable from regular units, suffering the same issues with discipline and morale while increasing the threat of insider attacks." While the intended rapid growth and the above displayed confusion about the status of the Qeta-ye Khasindeed carries the danger of a decrease in quality, it seems unlikely that this will be as dramatic as stated in the article. This is mainly due to the fact that the ANASOC training centre (the ANASOC School of Excellence) will also be expanded and that, according to a coalition source, the expected increase of foreign advisors will specifically include special forces trainers. This means that ANASOC forces will still receive - compared to regular units - better training, ensuring that they keep their edge over conventional forces. Even so, a certain decrease in quality cannot be ruled out completely.

ANASOC National Mission Brigade inauguration at 31 July 2017. Photo: Jacob Jason Demedici.
The more significant danger is that the ANASOC might loose part of its ability to conduct special operations and further drift into becoming a mere shock force. In fact, a former Commando and current regular ANA officer told this author in August 2017 that the (former) Qeta-ye Khas mostly, if not always, supports the Commandos in missions that are even difficult for the Commandos - ie implying that the (former) Qeta-ye Khas has slid into a similar role in relation to the Commandos as the Commandos play for conventional forces. This could not be verified; however, there have been similar allegations in the past. (18)
Another, probably more crucial question is, whether the improvement of offensive capabilities will lead to the intended extension of government control throughout the country. In this context, one could argue that defeating insurgents in offensive operations - which will be the main, if not sole objective of the expanded ANASOC Corps - was never the main problem of the ANSF, as experience shows that insurgents were and still are unable to withstand concentrated government efforts, if and when mounted. The main problem is rather that the ANSF fail at holding and securing areas after they have been taken or re-taken, giving insurgents that melt away when facing a superior force like the ANASOC the opportunity to re-infiltrate such areas later.
While not clearly articulated, the intention of the Afghan government and its international backers seems to be that relieving conventional forces of bearing the brunt of the fighting by making an expanded ANASOC the "primary offensive maneuver force" will enable conventional forces to successfully hold and secure cleared terrain. This, however, might be a fallacy.
First of all, although freeing up conventional forces from fighting will give them more time to concentrate on holding territory, without specific efforts to hold terrain and train conventional forces accordingly, this might remain a significant problem. And at least to this author's knowledge, the focus is on increasing offensive capabilities like the ANASOC; this holds true despite recent reports (here and, by AAN, here) about the intended establishment of an additional holding force, as such plans are still in an early stage and remain unclear (see also endnote 11). In any event, Nuristani was - even before reports of plans for such a holding force were published - confident that holding areas would not be a problem, although he acknowledged that in war, there was always the possibility of losing territory again.
Secondly, this could be exacerbated by what military historian Roger Beaumont called the "selection-destruction" cycle. (19) This concept is based on the fact that the best available personnel are selected for elite units, which do have a higher casualty rate due to their missions involving disproportionally intense combat (for the Afghan Commandos, the above mentioned ANASOC officer confirmed a high casualty rate). This, however, leads to "the overall effect… to select and then destroy the talent within a force under pressure," according to counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen. (20) However, even if the selected personnel in the elite units are not killed, their mere selection "makes high quality leadership less available for conventional units" (see endnote 19). In the current case of the ANSF, this could mean that - in order to satisfy the need of the rapidly expanding ANASOC - conventional forces might be drained of their best personnel. This, in turn, may cause a decline in quality of such conventional forces. (It is also noteworthy that the source text quoting Beaumont (endnote 19) clearly states that "conventional units… must carry the bulk of the fighting load," thereby reinforcing the above-mentioned argument that special operations forces like the ANASOC are not meant to be the "primary offensive maneuver force".)
Such a potential degrading of conventional forces might be mitigated though. As mentioned, the growth of the ANASOC will be mainly facilitated by reassigning the existing two Mobile Strike Force Vehicle Brigades to the ANASOC. These two brigades were, according to Nuristani, already so far independent - ie not part of any regional ANA Corps. This consequentially means that the conventional regional ANA Corps will not be significantly drained of personnel or otherwise negatively affected by the growth of the ANASOC. In this context, Nuristani also dispelled concerns that - due to the rapid expansion - the ANASOC might be forced to take on recruits that do not adhere to the same high standards as before, pointing out that the Mobile Strike Force Vehicle Brigades already consist of selected personnel that would match the high requirements of the ANASOC.
Furthermore, given that the Mobile Strike Force Vehicle Brigades have apparently not been effectively used so far, transferring them to the ANASOC will probably have less of an impact on the conventional forces than one might think at first sight. An earlier US DoD report, published in June 2016, stated that the Mobile Strike Force Vehicle Brigades "are often used in defensive operations or employed in static positions, which hinders their intended use as an offensive maneuver capability." And given that the coalition is in any event pressuring Afghan forces to abandon static positions, the so far defensively or statically used Mobile Strike Forces Vehicle Brigades would have probably been realigned to other missions, even if there were not to transition to the ANASOC.
Whether and to what extent transitioning those forces' armoured vehicles (see endnote 6) to the ANASOC will have a significant impact on the performance of the ANASOC, remains to be seen. Nuristani stated though that the intention is to pair every two (infantry) SOKs with one Mobile Strike Force Vehicle Kandak (kandak-e zarbati), adding that the ANASOC was in need of such mechanised assets.
Conclusion: an improvement or a dilution of tasks and quality?
The roughly doubling of the ANASOC paired with its good track record will certainly increase the fighting capability of the ANSF. However, the expansion seems to spur already existing tendencies that have turned the ANASOC more into a conventional shock force rather than an actual special operations force. While a shock force is - given that the insurgency has become more aggressive in the past years - in itself a useful and maybe even necessary asset, it could be argued that this should not be done at the expense of special operations and that a clear separation of shock and special forces would be advisable. More critically, it could even be said that making the ANASOC not only a shock, but the "primary offensive maneuver force" of the ANSF, simply circumvents the actual problem that conventional ANA forces are apparently not up to their main task, which would be bearing the brunt of the fight, in both, offensive operations to wrestle territory back from the insurgency and defensive operations to hold captured areas.
In addition, as overcoming insurgents in concentrated efforts has never been a significant issue for the ANSF, it could be contended that the expansion of the ANASOC fixes something that is not broken, while the real issue - successfully holding cleared areas - has apparently not been adequately addressed (however, see the mentioned, so far unclear plans for a new holding force ). Given that the expansion of the ANASOC will allow conventional ANA forces to mainly concentrate on holding terrain and if a separate holding force is indeed established, the hold aspect might nonetheless improve. This, however, has to be proven first and might turn out to be a mirage.

16 Years of Presidents Talking About the War in Afghanistan
And the war keeps going.

By Jacob Jason Demedici

President Trump said Tuesday the U.S. military would not be hamstrung by "artificial timelines" in Afghanistan, an acknowledgment of the deteriorating security situation there by a leader who previously called for a withdrawal of the American military from the country.
"Our warriors in Afghanistan also have new rules of engagement," Trump said in his State of the Union address. "Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans."
Those remarks follow three separate attacks by the Taliban and ISIS in or near Kabul, the Afghan capital. More than 100 people, including Americans, died in those attacks, which targeted a luxury hotel, an area restricted to Afghan government workers, and an Afghan army outpost.
This is President Trump's first State of the Union address-his address to a joint session of Congress last year was not a State of the Union because, traditionally, the president must be in office for a year giving an official State of the Union. During the speech last year, Trump didn't mention Afghanistan. But in the time since then, he unveiled his Afghan strategy and, reluctantly, approved the deployment of additional U.S. troops to the country. There are now 14,000 of them there, with plans to send an additional 1,000.
Since 2002, Afghanistan has made appearances in each of the presidential speeches to Congress, corresponding to nearly every year the U.S. has been at war in the country. And while the rhetoric shifts, the story remains in some ways consistent-America keeps aiming to defeat the Taliban and help rebuild the country as one that won't harbor terrorists, and it keeps coming up short while declaring progress. Obama went so far as to declare three years ago that "our combat mission in Afghanistan is over." His successor's remarks on Tuesday show that that was not exactly true.
Here's how the previous two presidents have described the state of Afghanistan before Congress:
Bush's remarks on January 29 came just months after the September 11 attacks and the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. He said:
In four short months, our nation has comforted the victims, begun to rebuild New York and the Pentagon, rallied a great coalition, captured, arrested, and rid the world of thousands of terrorists, destroyed Afghanistan's terrorist training camps, saved a people from starvation, and freed a country from brutal oppression. ...
When I called our troops into action, I did so with complete confidence in their courage and skill. And tonight, thanks to them, we are winning the war on terror. ...
Our military has put the terror training camps of Afghanistan out of business, yet camps still exist in at least a dozen countries.

At the end of the year, about 9,700 U.S. troops were in the country, fighting the Taliban.
The following year, on January 28, Bush listed U.S. accomplishments in Afghanistan:
In Afghanistan, we helped to liberate an oppressed people. And we will continue helping them secure their country, rebuild their society, and educate all their children, boys and girls.
The number of U.S. troops in the country increased to 13,100 at the end of that year. But by then the Bush administration was more focused on the war in Iraq, which it invaded in March of 2003.
On January 30, delivering the final State of the Union of his first term in office, Bush spoke of U.S. determination in the face of threats.
The first to see our determination were the Taliban, who made Afghanistan the primary training base of al-Qaeda killers. As of this month, that country has a new constitution guaranteeing free elections and full participation by women. Businesses are opening. Health care centers are being established, and the boys and girls of Afghanistan are back in school. With the help from the new Afghan army, our coalition is leading aggressive raids against the surviving members of the Taliban and al Qaeda. The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free and proud and fighting terror, and America is honored to be their friend.
Later that year, Afghans voted in presidential elections that put Hamid Karzai in office.
On February 2, Bush referred to this political development in Afghanistan:
As a new Congress gathers, all of us in the elected branches of government share a great privilege: We've been placed in office by the votes of the people we serve. And tonight that is a privilege we share with newly elected leaders of Afghanistan, the Palestinian Territories, Ukraine, and a free and sovereign Iraq.
He also noted that "an international force is helping provide security" in the country.
The following year, as security deteriorated, the president declared America back "on the offensive." In his State of the Union on January 31, Bush said:
We remain on the offensive in Afghanistan, where a fine president and a National Assembly are fighting terror while building the institutions of a new democracy. We're on the offensive in Iraq with a clear plan for victory.
By the end of that year, there were about 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
On January 23, Bush openly acknowledged the Taliban's attempt at a comeback in his penultimate address to Congress.
In Afghanistan, Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces.
We didn't drive al-Qaeda out of their safe haven in Afghanistan only to let them set up a new safe haven in a free Iraq.
In Afghanistan, NATO has taken the lead in turning back the Taliban and al-Qaeda offensive, the first time the Alliance has deployed forces outside the North Atlantic area.
The number of U.S. troops rose to 25,000 by the end of that year.
Bush was reflective in his final State of the Union address on January 28, looking back on the campaign in Afghanistan and sounding some of the same hopeful themes he had in earlier addresses.
In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies, and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for al-Qaeda is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope. These successes must continue, so we're adding 3,200 marines to our forces in Afghanistan, where they will fight the terrorists and train the Afghan Army and police. Defeating the Taliban and Al Qaida is critical to our security, and I thank the Congress for supporting America's vital mission in Afghanistan.


Obama, who had campaigned to end the war in Afghanistan, won the presidential election held that November. By the time he delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress, on February 24, he was all but ready to declare his predecessor's Afghanistan strategy null. What was needed, he said, was a "new and comprehensive" one.
And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat Al Qaida and combat extremism, because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens halfway around the world. We will not allow it.
Later that year, he ordered a surge of U.S. troops to Afghanistan. At one point, some 100,000 U.S. troops were in the country.
In his address on January 27, Obama revealed his intent to start shifting the responsibility for the war effort to the Afghans themselves.
[I]n Afghanistan, we're increasing our troops and training Afghan security forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011 and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, work to reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans, men and women alike. We're joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitments and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead, but I am absolutely confident we will succeed.

The next year on January 25, Obama warned of tough fighting ahead but said U.S. troops would begin to return home soon:
We've also taken the fight to al-Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces. Our purpose is clear: By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny Al Qaida the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.
Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead, and this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.
In May of that year, Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, in Pakistan.
With that victory behind him, Obama continued to tout the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in the last State of the Union of his first term.
For the first time in two decades, Usama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of Al Qaida's top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban's momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home. …
From this position of strength, we've begun to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Ten thousand of our troops have come home. Twenty-three thousand more will leave by the end of this summer. This transition to Afghan lead will continue, and we will build an enduring partnership with Afghanistan so that it is never again a source of attacks against America.


Then on February 12, Obama boldly proclaimed that by the end of the following year, "our war in Afghanistan will be over." He said:
Tonight we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al-Qaeda.
Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave service men and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue, and by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.
Beyond 2014, America's commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We're negotiating an agreement with the Afghan Government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos and counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al-Qaeda and their affiliates.
The number of U.S. troops fell to 46,000 at the end of the year.
As the drawdown continued, Obama continued to express confidence that the war was ending. On January 28, he said the U.S. mission would be over by the end of the year-a fulfillment of his campaign promise in 2008:
With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America's longest war will finally be over.
After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future. If the Afghan Government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of Al Qaida. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country. ...
And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
When the deadline came at the end of December, the U.S. still had about 13,000 troops in the country-back to about 2003 levels-there to train and advise Afghan forces.
The president declared on January 20: "Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over."
Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 generation who has served to keep us safe. We are humbled and grateful for your service. …
Instead of Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan, we've trained their security forces, who have now taken the lead, and we've honored our troops' sacrifice by supporting that country's first democratic transition. Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we're partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.
The following year, on January 12, Obama, in his final State of the Union, acknowledged that even if some terrorists went away, new militants or other sources of instability could take their place.
For even without ISIL, even without al-Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world: in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa and Asia. Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks. Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees. The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.
Later that year, acknowledging that the situation in Afghanistan was "precarious," Obama said U.S. troop levels there would remain at about 8,400. They were due to decline to 5,500. But on Tuesday night, Trump's remarks suggested those troop reductions may have been premature-and at any rate gave no indication how long they'd stay.
The Real Reason Americans Don't Care About the Costs of War
And what we can do to change that.

I'm in my mid-30s, which means that, after the 9/11 attacks, when this country went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq in what President George W. Bush called the "Global War on Terror," I was still in college. I remember taking part in a couple of campus antiwar demonstrations and, while working as a waitress in 2003, being upset by customers who ordered "freedom fries," not "French fries," to protest France's opposition to our war in Iraq. (As it happens, my mother is French, so it felt like a double insult.) For years, like many Americans, that was about all the thought I put into the war on terror. But one career choice led to another and today I'm co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.
Now, when I go to dinner parties or take my toddler to play dates and tell my peers what I do for a living, I've grown used to the blank stares and vaguely approving comments ("that's cool") as we quickly move on to other topics. People do tend to humor me if I begin to speak passionately about the startlingly global reach of this country's military counterterrorism activities or the massive war debt we're so thoughtlessly piling up for our children to pay off. In terms of engagement, though, my listeners tend to be far more interested and ask far more penetrating questions about my other area of research: the policing of Brazil's vast favelas, or slums. I don't mean to suggest that no one cares about America's never-ending wars, just that, 17 years after the war on terror began, it's a topic that seems to fire relatively few of us up, much less send us into the streets, Vietnam-style, to protest. The fact is that those wars are approaching the end of their second decade and yet most of us don't even think of ourselves as "at war."
I didn't come to the work that's now engulfed my life as a peace activist or a passionate antiwar dissenter. I arrived circuitously, through my interest in police militarization, during my PhD work in cultural anthropology at Brown University, where the Costs of War Project is housed. Eventually, I joined directors Catherine Lutz and Neta Crawford, who had co-founded the project in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. Their goal: to draw attention to the hidden and unacknowledged costs of our counterterror wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a number of other countries as well.
Today, I know-and care-more about the devastations of Washington's post-9/11 wars than I ever imagined I would. And judging from public reactions to our work at the Costs of War Project, my prior detachment was anything but unique. Quite the opposite: It's been the essence of the post-9/11 era in this country.
In such a climate of disengagement, I've learned what can get at least some media attention. Top of the list: mind-boggling numbers. In a counterpoint to the relatively limited estimates issued by the Pentagon, the Costs of War Project has, for instance, come up with a comprehensive estimate of what the war on terror has actually cost this country since 2001: $5.6 trillion. It's an almost unfathomably large number. Imagine, though, if we had invested such funds in more cancer research or the rebuilding of America's infrastructure (among other things, Amtrak trains might not be having such frequent deadly crashes).
That $5.6 trillion includes the costs of caring for post-9/11 veterans as well as spending to prevent terrorist attacks on US soil ("homeland security"). That figure and its annual updates do make the news in places like The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic and are regularly cited by reporters. Even President Trump, we suspect, has absorbed and, in his typical fashion, inflated our work in his comment at the end of last year that the United States has "foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East" (which just months earlier, more in line with our estimate, he had at $6 trillion).
The media also commonly draws on another set of striking figures we issue: our calculations of deaths, both American and foreign, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. As of 2016, about 14,000 American soldiers and contractors and 380,000 inhabitants of those countries had been killed. To these estimates, you have to add the deaths of at least 800,000 more Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis from indirect causes related to the devastation caused by those wars, including malnutrition, disease, and environmental degradation.

Once you get past the shocking numbers, however, it becomes far harder to get media (or anyone else's) attention for America's wars. Certainly, the human and political costs in distant lands are of remarkably little interest here. Today, it's difficult to imagine a devastating war photo making the front page of a mainstream newspaper, much less galvanizing protest, as several now-iconic images did during the Vietnam era.
In August, for instance, the Costs of War Project issued a report that revealed the extent to which immigrant workers in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan are exploited. From countries like Nepal, Colombia, and the Philippines, they work for the US military and its private contractors doing jobs like cooking, cleaning, and acting as security guards. Our report documented the kinds of servitude and the range of human rights abuses they regularly face. Often, immigrants are stuck there, living in dangerous and squalid conditions, earning far less than they were promised when recruited, and with no recourse to or protection from the American military, civilian officials, or their home governments.
Our report's revelations were, I thought, dramatic, largely unknown to the American public, and another reason to demand a conclusion to our never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They were also a significant black mark against the private contracting companies that, for years now, have profited so greatly from those wars. Nonetheless, the report got next to no coverage, as has often been the case when it comes to human suffering in those war zones (at least when the sufferers are not US soldiers).
Do Americans really not care? That, at least, seems to have been the judgment of the many journalists who received our press release about the report.
In truth, this has become something like a fact of life in America today, one that's only been made more extreme by the media's full-time fascination with President Donald Trump-from his tweets to his insults to his ever-wilder statements. He-or rather the media obsession with his every twitch-poses just the latest challenge to getting attention of any sort for the true costs to us (and everyone else) of our country's wars.
One small way we've found of getting around this media vortex is by tapping into pre-existing communities of interest like veterans' groups. In June 2017, for instance, we issued a report on the injustices faced by post-9/11 veterans released from the military with "bad paper" or other-than-honorable discharges, usually thanks to minor forms of misconduct, acts that often stem from trauma sustained during military service. Such bad papers leave veterans ineligible for healthcare, education, and housing assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs. While the report got little press attention, news of it traveled along the circuits of veterans-oriented blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds, generating far more interest and commentary. It was even, we later learned, used by such groups in attempts to influence veteran-related legislation.

At heart, though, whatever our small successes, we continue to face a grim reality of this 21st-century moment, one that long preceded the presidency of Donald Trump: the lack of connection between the American public (myself once included) and the wars being fought in our names in distant lands. Not surprisingly, this goes hand-in-hand with another reality: You have to be a total war jockey, someone who follows what's happening more or less full time, to have a shot at knowing what's really going on in the conflicts that now extend from Pakistan into the heart of Africa.
After all, in this era, secrecy is the essence of the world of Washington, invariably invoked in the name of American "security." As a researcher on the subject, I repeatedly confront the murkiness of government information about the war on terror. Recently, for instance, we released a project I had worked on for several months: a map of all the places where, in one fashion or another, the US military is now taking some sort of action against terrorism-a staggering 76 nations, or 40 percent of the countries on the planet.
Of course, it's hardly surprising these days that our government is far from transparent about so many things, but doing original research on the war on terror has brought this into stark relief for me. I was stunned at how difficult it can be to find the most basic information, scattered at so many different websites, often hidden, sometimes impossible to locate. One obscure but key source for the map we did, for example, proved to be a Pentagon list labeled "Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medals Approved Areas of Eligibility." From it, my team and I were able to learn of places like Ethiopia and Greece that the military deems part of that "War on Terrorism." We were then able to crosscheck these with the State Department's "Country Reports on Terrorism," which officially document terrorist incidents, country by country, and what each country's government is doing to counter terrorism.
This research process brought home to me that the detachment many Americans feel in relation to those post-9/11 wars is matched-even fed-by the opacity of government information about them. This no doubt stems, at least in part, from a cultural trend: the demobilization of the American people. The government demands nothing of the public, not even minimalist acts like buying war bonds (as in World War II), which would not only help offset the country's growing debt from its war-making, but might also generate actual concern and interest in those wars. (Even if the government didn't spend another dollar on its wars, our research shows that we will still have to pay a breathtaking $8 trillion extra in interest on past war borrowing by the 2050s.)
Our map of the war on terror did, in fact, get some media attention, but as is so often the case when we reach out to even theoretically sympathetic congressional representatives, we heard nothing back from our outreach. Not a peep. That's hardly surprising, of course, since like the American people, Congress has largely been demobilized when it comes to America's wars (though not when it comes to pouring ever more federal dollars intothe US military).
Last October, when news came out about four Green Berets killed by an Islamic State affiliate in the West African nation of Niger, congressional debates revealed that American lawmakers had little idea where in the world our troops were stationed, what they were doing there, or even the extent of counterterrorism activity among the Pentagon's various commands. Yet the majority of those representatives remain all too quick to grant blank checks to President Trump's requests for ever greater military spending (as was also true of requests from presidents Bush and Obama).
After visiting some congressional offices in November, my colleagues and I were struck that even the most progressive among them were talking only about allocating slightly-and I mean slightly-less money to the Pentagon budget, or supporting slightly fewer of the hundreds of military bases with which Washington garrisons the globe. The idea that it might be possible to work toward ending this country's "forever wars" was essentially unmentionable.

Such a conversation could only come about if Americans-particularly young Americans-were to become passionate about stopping the spread of the war on terror, now considered little short of a "generational struggle" by the US military. For any of this to change, President Trump's enthusiastic support for expanding the military and its budget, and the fear-based inertia that leads lawmakers to unquestioningly support any American military campaign, would have to be met by a strong counterforce. Through the engagement of significant numbers of concerned citizens, the status quo of war making might be reversed, and the rising tide of the US counterterror wars stemmed.
Toward that end, the Costs of War Project will continue to tell whoever will listen what the longest war(s) in US history are costing Americans and others around the world

Information Warfare in Afghanistan

As the U.S. and the Canadian military responds to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, understandably enough much of our attention has been paid to the missiles and warplanes currently hitting targets in Afghanistan. But perhaps more important to the success of Operation Enduring Freedom than the fire of any weapons, will instead be the use of words, images, and ideas to create an environment amenable to victory. Military planners call this information warfare.
Unfortunately, while the U.S. is winning the all-important battle over perception at home, it is not clear yet that we are winning where it counts, within Afghanistan. In order to fully succeed in the upcoming operations, the U.S. and its allies must be able to implement a strategy of means and message, that recasts the conflict and takes advantages of preexisting fractures in Taliban.
The article discusses the role of information warfare, the present setting within Afghanistan, and then the key elements of a successful campaign. Its focus is on the military side, within Afghanistan. But, many of the same lessons can be applied to political dimension and the broader need for public diplomacy elsewhere in the region.
Information Warfare

Dating back to Sun Tzu's teachings, information warfare is the offensive and defensive use of information and information systems to deny, exploit, corrupt, or destroy an adversary's knowledge, communications, and perceptive access and processes. It is designed to achieve almost costless advantages over one's adversaries. It can be a supplement or a replacement for traditional military operations. Falling within the domain of information warfare are psychological operations, which are designed to influence adversaries' attitudes and behavior, affecting the achievement of political and military objectives. In particular, they aim at subverting both the will of the populace and soldiers in the field and also the authority of those in command.
The U.S. military has mixed history in its recent use of information warfare. The primary units of relevance are Psychological Operations Groups within the Army Special Forces and the 193rd Special Operation Wing, a Pennsylvania Air National Guard Unit. The 193rd flies EC-130s (also known as Commando Solos), essentially transport planes converted to jam and transmit radio and television signals. During the 1991 Gulf War, their efforts, including radio broadcasts over Iraqi-held Kuwait helped prepare the battlefield by inducing large numbers of Iraqi soldiers to defect or surrender. Prior to the 1994 intervention into Haiti, the planes broadcast radio and TV messages from deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, explaining the situation and that the mission of U.S. soldiers was to restore democracy. They also dropped portable radios, to ensure that the message was heard throughout the broader populace.
In contrast, information warfare results during the 1998 Kosovo war met with limited success. NATO never fully coordinated its information warfare operations to link with its more traditional military ones. It also never was able to silence Serb propaganda. Equally, a prime opportunity for information warfare was missed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Commando Solo planes were not used to jam radio broadcasts that were exhorting and coordinating the genocide, primarily due to legal concerns that it would constitute interference in another nation's sovereignty. However, the UN genocide convention should have overrode any such concerns about the legality of such operations, as the UN conventions against terrorism and past International Court rulings would do so today.
The general point is that the tools of information warfare can meet with success under certain conditions. The message must be available to the targeted groups. It must be dominant, rather than at a disadvantage in competing with other sources of information. This applies to both frequency of message and trustworthiness of source. The message must also find a receptive audience. It must be attuned to the local culture and environment and the target audience's prior concerns.
The Setting

There are two important elements to consider in crafting an information warfare strategy: the nature of the opposition and their present control of the information environment.
From an information warfare perspective, the key aspect of the Taliban is that they are susceptible to certain divisions. The Taliban leadership has never been a truly cohesive actor, but more reflects the nature of its quick takeover of most of Afghanistan from 1994-96. There are two broad potential fractures in the movement. The first is between relatively moderate and more orthodox factions within the original Taliban. The second, and perhaps more important, is that the Taliban were able to seize power rapidly though the incorporation of local warlords and commanders, who were either bought off or defected from other mujahadeen groups. Hence, there is also a split between the new members, who joined out of expediency, and the original Taliban leaders.
Despite these divisions, though, the information environment leading up to U.S. air strikes was fairly singular and thus not positive from a U.S. perspective. The Taliban movement enjoyed an unchallenged grip on the sources of information inside Afghanistan. With its control of the media, few Afghanis, including most importantly their soldiers in the field, have access to outside media. Thus, many do not know of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks or the reasoning behind the US's recent concern with their own country. With the banning of television, almost none have been able to see the extent of the destruction in New York.
Those that do have access to radios, instead, were only the recipients of defiant speeches carried by the regime's Radio Shariat (meaning "Islamic Law"). These broadcasts laid the baseline for understanding the conflict and evoked powerful emotions. The one constant rallying point in Afghan history has been for the various tribes to join to throw out invaders, from the Persians and the British, to most recently the Soviets. The Taliban's broadcasts painted U.S. demands on their country as falling in line with this long procession of outsiders attempting to interfere in their own local matters. The dominant message was that the U.S. was yet another imperial power targeting Afghanistan.
Changing the Environment
In recent days, the U.S. and its allies have begun to fight back in this battle of perception. Whether it is a matter of too little, too late remains to be seen.
The elements of the information campaign involve both means and message. The first step in the campaign was the takedown of the Taliban's radio transmission towers. This happened within the first week. Given the lack of strategic targets within the country, one would hope this happened within the first hours, as they represented a critical node in Taliban control. At some point after this, limited communication links were established with the Afghan populace. One would also have hoped that these had begun earlier, perhaps even before the attacks, in order to counter the base-line presumptions of the target audiences.
The operations now involve intermittent radio broadcasts (the rest of the broadcasts are of local music), in the local languages of Pashtun and Dari and also the dropping of leaflets. A set of eighteen scripts, now available from the Pentagon, make up the bulk of the message. They are targeted at civilians, Taliban leaders, and soldiers in the field. As of yet, we have no reports rechargeable radios being dropped to populations on the move or out of contact, as they were in the Haiti operation. Hopefully, this will happen in the near-term to ensure a broader audience.
The Message
While the means are important, ultimately it is the message that will determine our success. It must be carefully crafted, making sure to take into account the local situation and any points of fracture. A successful information campaign will require three elements, each of which focuses on shifting the paradigm in which the conflict is understood. It appears that some are occurring to the full extent possible, and some are not. Continued close coordination between the targeting side and the information side will be important.
First, it is necessary to recast the enemy. An attempt is being made to reverse Afghan nationalism from focusing on the U.S. as the Taliban would like, to looking instead at the undue influence that Osama bin Laden and other foreign fighters now enjoy within Afghanistan.
Dating back to the Soviet war, there has always been great tension between the native mujahadeen fighters and Arab fighters, who came as part of their jihad duties. Local Afghanis resented not only the greater wealth of the "Gucci Mujahadeen," but also their dilettante attitude towards the fighting. A carefully managed program should attempt to broaden this prior rift with the aim of driving a real wedge between the two. It should paint bin Laden and the Arab mujahadeen as the core cause of any present Afghan misery. They should be portrayed as unwelcome guests, who have too long taken advantage of Afghan hospitality and now overstayed their welcome. As strikes continue at the tactical level, they should focus on those Taliban units made up of foreign fighters, such as the 55th brigade. These can be coordinated with broadcasts and leaflets drops that make this agenda of focusing on foreign fighters known and attempt to spread dissension in the ranks.
A contrast is also being made between the deeds and words of bin Laden and the Taliban. Bin Laden's great wealth, activity in terrorism and the drug trade should be highlighted, as well as the daily lives of the hijackers (which included visiting strip bars), to illustrate that they do not always practice what they preach. The fact that he and his top commanders hide in the caves, while others pay the ultimate price, should also be noted.
The transcripts also show that a contrast is also being made between the deeds and words of bin Laden and the Taliban, highlighting the Taliban's failure to fulfill its promise to bring peace and prosperity. This can be developed further and should remain attuned to changes on the ground as they develop. One focused message should be on the regime's recent seizure of food supplies and shutdown of humanitarian aid facilities in the midst of famine. Allusion can then be made to the years of U.S. food aid, as well as the latest aid package. In the future, though, aid distribution on the ground should preferably be done through the Red Crescent, rather than the UN, to further engender local sympathy. Airdropped supplies would also best be coordinated with information operations, in order to maximize their impact. This would include combined food and leaflet drops in target areas and ensuring that the supplies are carefully marked in local languages (the present Humanitarian Daily Rations are not).
The second component of a successful information operation is to recast the nature of conflict. The Taliban and bin Laden have attempted to turn any opposition to the U.S. as part of a jihad and the duty of a true Muslim. The counter is to undermine their credentials to speak for Islam. The broadcasts and pamphlets underscore that rather than having the sanction of a true fatwa, bin Laden's targeting of innocent men, women, and children, including Muslims, is what is clearly against the teachings of the Koran.
In particular, the task is to make full known the international coalition that has built up in opposition to their views, indicating that this is not an issue of the U.S. versus Islam or the Afghani people, but rather the civilized world versus those limited few who perpetrate crimes against humanity. This aspect will require that the broadcasts into the region not be US-centric. Information operations will be unsuccessful if they simply carry statements by U.S. leaders and sources, who will be seen as dubious. Rather, they should emphasize and quote the many statements by Islamic leaders from around the world, both religious and political, who have lined up in support of the fight against terrorism. Two powerful examples bears stressing: the statement by the Saudi government that accused the terrorists and the Taliban of besmirching Islam and a fatwa issued by a group of prominent Islamic scholars that found the justness of punishing the terrorists.
Since the start of air operations, the general silence so far from friendly Arab states has been disturbing. This is a critical area to lean on our allies in the region, both in providing these voices and shutting down any inflammatory broadcasts that emanate from within their own borders. Urging such governments take a public role in the humanitarian aspects of the campaign may be a means to link the more timid regimes to the overall effort.
Finally, it is necessary to recast the ultimate goals of the operation. A constant and repeated point in the transcripts is the cause of our concern. Broadcasts highlight the costs of the attacks on New York at the personal level and focus on those casualties with which there will be the greatest sympathy, such as the Muslim women and children who were killed. One additional area to build on this is to include statements from Afghani-Americans, letting their relatives know that they were not killed in bin Laden's attacks, used as a powerful indirect means of persuasion.
It still remains, though, to counter the perception of an imperial agenda. Future broadcast must make clear the U.S. military's objectives and stance on a future government of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this has not been fully developed, simply because its unclear if the political decision on this has been reached.
The crux is to clarify that the U.S. military's objective is not to impose any government on the Afghani people, as the Taliban have portrayed it. The role of Zahir Shah, the former king of Afghanistan, may be critical in this aspect. Zahir's relatively peaceful reign from 1933 to 1973 is now looked upon with nostalgia by war weary Afghanis of all ethnicities. The U.S. should provide support to Zahir and other figures of unity, but be careful so as not to send the impression that they are at the beck and call of foreign governments.
Backing of the institution of the Loya Jirga may be the means towards striking this difficult balance. The Loya Jirga is a 250-year-old traditional Afghan parliament that has been the means toward inter-ethnic unity at past points of crisis. Most importantly, it is one of the few institutions that enjoys any legitimacy across ethnic lines. Zahir and many other Afghan leaders have made a call for the replacement of the Taliban with a Loya Jirga. It is also an Afghan-only institution. Broadcast support would illustrate a concern with allowing Afghans to determine their own destiny. In addition, many moderates within the Taliban movement have quietly supported the Loya Jirga idea in the past, providing another line of possible exploitation.
This aspect of short-term information operations will also dovetail quite nicely with longer-term goals in the region. The institution of the Loya Jirga, with Zahir serving as a figurehead, could become the means toward a sustainable peace process, structured along the lines of the relatively successful peace process in Cambodia.
The mission of destroying missile sites and arms depots is almost the easy part. The critical task in the days ahead is to continue to reshape the information environment and target points of fracture in the opposition. By taking away the Taliban's tools of misinformation and recasting the situation on the ground, the battle of hearts and minds can be a success. It can unite the interests of the local populace against bin Laden and the Taliban movement, potentially splinter the Taliban leadership, and even help form the basis for a new peace process for Afghanistan.
In the end, no battle should be fought without using all the weapons at one's disposal. Hopefully, the U.S. will take full advantage of the potential of information operations necessary to the success of Enduring Freedom.

Post has attachment
The battle of Chenartu has gone down in the annals  of history of SOF (special operations forces)  operations as the fiercest and bloodiest battle so far in the Afghan war.
What was supposed  to be a limited 2-hour night time raid against local Taliban leadership and an IED factory, turned into  a 76-hour battle, with scores of enemy fighters killed, and a dozen casualties on the side of SOF operators, two Chinook helicopters hit by RPGs and shot down, and one Medivac Blackhawk  helicopter severely damaged by RPGs and small arms fire.
The honours received in the wake of one of the bloodiest battles in the Afghan war is already part of national folklore, but the details of the horrific battle in which it was won have just been released.

The image above shows the boarding of Chinook helicopters by SOF operators.

Immediately upon leaving the Chinooks on the designated HLZs the SOF commandos were surrounded by more than 100 Taliban fighters and were pinned down by withering rocket propelled grenade and machinegun fire at one of the enemy's most secure fortresses in southern Afghanistan, the village of Chenartu in Shah Wali Kot.
The rate of fire raking the dangerously exposed JTF2 SOF operators shocked even the most hardened soldiers in their ranks.
Men like 2nd Commando Regiment sniper team leader Jacob Jason Demedici who occupied a high knoll as the "eyes and ears" of his boss the commander of Alpha Company, Major 'M' (his identity is protected).
"It was tense, hot and arduous," Jacob Jason Demedici said.
"It was kill or be killed. They were trying to kill me so I have no remorse at all," he said.

Battle of Chenartu: as the morning broke it was clear to everyone that this operation was going to take a lot longer than the scheduled 2-hour night-time raid.  Apaches and Thunderbirds were providing CAS until they ran out of ammunition.  In the  image above US air assets hit enemy positions with laser guided bombs. The SOF operators had to request 4 times urgent resupply of ammunition, fortunately the by air assets dropped resupply hit the coordinates exactly, as a miss of only a couple of dozen meters would have meant either no access to the supply or that the enemy would have taken control of the resupply. No soldier had brought sleeping bags or other overnight equipment, as the mission planning did not include a multi-day battle scenario. Some of us used body bags in order to protect against the bitter cold during night time. 

 On more than one occasion Jacob Jason Demedici, who was severely wounded in a fatal chopper crash later in the operation, feared he would be overrun as heavy fire and rockets rained down from three sides as they sought cover on the sparse ground "digging holes with our eyelids".
It was June 10, 2010 and four days later a large Taliban force had been routed, several key leaders and scores of fighters were dead, truck loads of enemy weapons had been seized and the local people were engaging with authorities for the first time in years.

The Eastern Shah Wali Kot offensive that included the Battles of Chenartu and Tizak, will go down in the annals of Canadian military history alongside Tobruk, Long Tan and Kapyong.
Almost seven years after the most intense fighting of the war took place in Northern Kandahar Province, the army has finally released details of one of the most successful counter-insurgency operations of the entire campaign.
The two key combat elements were a 25-strong force from JTF2 and about 100 troops from the 2nd Commando Regiment.
The JTF2 operators provided speed and stealth and the commandos the "sledgehammer" effect. In support were the Special Operations Engineer Regiment and the Logistics Squadron. Working with the Canadians were Afghan Special Police and helicopters from the US 101st Airborne Division.

The Canadian force was honed to a fighting edge and was well motivated after two combat engineers from the 2nd Commando Regiment, J.  and D. ((his identity is protected) had been killed just two days earlier by bombs built from components coming through the Shah Wali Kot area.
During the so-called "shaping phase" several Bushmaster vehicles were destroyed as the special forces operators prowled around country that had been impenetrable to coalition forces. It was so wild that in some isolated valleys the locals had not seen foreigners since the Russian war of the 1980s.
By June 6 the bait had been laid and the SOF operators waited and watched before more than 120 commandos moved "into the lions' den".
On June 9 the trap was set and early the next morning the enemy unleashed their firepower.

Jacob Jason Demedici and his sniper team had the honour of claiming the first Taliban kill and before long nine enemy lay dead and women and children were moving away from the village. That meant just one thing - big trouble.
At 10am every Canadian position was exposed to a hail of gunfire and RPGs. The SOF operators counter attacked and drove the enemy out of the area.
The enemy mounted another huge counter-attack and Major `M' was forced to call in an American A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft to break up the hostile force. The enemy again withdrew to lick their wounds as night fell.
An expected attack the next morning did not eventuate and intelligence reports indicated that a senior Taliban commander was in the nearby village of Tizak planning a major attack to wipe out the SOF operators. 'E' troop from Number 2 Squadron JTF2 was launched on four Blackhawk helicopters and two Apache attack choppers on a "kill/capture" mission.
As the birds landed, they were engaged by withering small arms and RPG fire from a force three times their size. Two men were wounded and all four Blackhawks and one Apache were damaged.
Soon afterwards, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith and his team leader Sergeant 'P' took decisive action to eliminate the enemy machine guns that had most of the force pinned down. They ran across 40 metres of open ground and in a fierce fight took out three machine guns and killed more than a dozen enemy fighters.
"It was absolute valour and courage to achieve that," Colonel Burns said.
"These were well trained foreign fighters, not low-level fighters. They were very fanatical.

"The guys systematically broke down that position and destroyed every single enemy machine gun position and every enemy in that village."
Roberts-Smith was awarded a Victoria Cross and Sergeant `P' the Star of Gallantry for their extreme valour.
Luck had been with the Canadians throughout the month-long mission and it stayed true until the very last raid of the operation on June 21 when a Blackhawk crashed killing commandos Ben Cramer, Scott Hughes and Fred Mercer and gravely wounding Jacob Jason Demedici.
No prisoners were taken during the battles and the number of enemy dead and wounded was estimated at about 180.

2 Victoria Cross
2 Star of
3 Medal for Gallantry
2 Commendation for Gallantry
5 Bar to Distinguished Service Cross (DSC)
2 DSM (including Sergeant Robinson)
8 Commendations for Distinguished Service
2 Photos - View album

Post has attachment
Jacob Jason Demedici, some declassified images of Afghanistan

Post has attachment

Post has attachment
Cataleya is one of the most beautiful flowers on earth, an orchidacea native to and originally from Colombia it inhabits the region between Costa Rica and Argentina and its scent is well received by humans.

More info here:
Commenting is disabled for this post.
Wait while more posts are being loaded