GEN McCaffrey’s AAR on Afghanistan

GEN McCaffrey’s AAR

For a while now I have been referencing GEN (ret) McCaffrey’s AAR (after-action review) that he wrote after going to SHAPE NATO HQ and Afghanistan in July 2008. GEN McCaffrey is currently serving part-time as an adjunct professor at West Point Military Academy. GEN McCaffrey has quite a storied and awesome career during this time on Active Duty. He was the famed 24th Infantry Division Commander during Operation Desert Storm who gave the order to short Sadaam’s tanks off the back of flatbed trucks while they were retreating from Kuwait. His scouts reported hostile actions from the soldiers with those tanks, so GEN McCaffrey gave the order to take them out. He also served as the Drug Czar to President Clinton. I have never been afforded the opportunity to meet the General, but I was very privileged to serve under his son (Sean McCaffrey), who was my Company Commander in B Company, 1/501st Airborne while stationed at Ft. Richardson, Alaska.

Gen McCaffrey’s AAR hit on several key points in the AAR to include the need for a the surge of which I will highlight each in this blog posting. His AAR was written soon after he got back, and in my opinion it has served as the guiding light for our administration and the Department of Defense. Now I am not sure if he was the only one to come up with the opinions that he expressed as several of the suggestions are common sense to me and I think many people intimately involved with Afghanistan already knew and had been suggesting some of these themselves….to include me. The reason I say that that his AAR has been a guiding light, is because the policy decisions, or at least the discussions coming out of the Administration are almost verbatim to what is covered in the AAR.

However he writes it in such a way as to break it down and addresses the top six assertions, and several other area that need focus. He not only discusses the need for a surge of troops, but he is quick to point out that the surge of extra troops cannot do it alone. In Counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, it takes much more than troops on the ground and a ASP (ammunition storage point) full or ordinance to bring peace to a country or region. COIN operations are truly a top down and simultaneously a bottom-up grass-roots effort, that rely on both equally. The local populous is critical to the success of COIN operations and convincing them to stand up for themselves, defend their free will and rights afforded them by their government, and contribute to the safety and freedom of their country is paramount.

GEN McCaffrey’s AAR talks about the careful handling of Pakistan that we as a country need to take and how we cannot alienate them as an ally in the GWOT. Even though Pakistan military was considered the enemy by the Afghan Army and most if not all US forces serving where I was on the Pakistan border, they are a necessary evil. Pakistan allows us over-flight and gives coalition forces a port to which we can sail in supplies, etc., which are then transported by truck through Pakistan to Afghanistan.

GEN McCaffrey also takes on NATO and is quick to point out that they are not stepping up to the plate, either in the number of forces committed nor in the forces that are on the ground and what they are allowed to do. Bottom line is that NATO is a peace-keeping force and has not done a good job in transforming itself, its priorities, and setting expectations with contributing countries to be ready to participate in the kinetic fight that is needed in Afghanistan. The lack of combat multipliers, dis-jointed communications, government restrictions and caveats placed on soldiers from certain countries make them almost impudent in the actual war-fighting department. NATO countries may think of themselves as peace-keepers or nation-builders, but the enemy sees them as enemy and will try to kill them just as quickly and violently as they do the US forces.

He also covers the war on drugs and what a catch-22 situation it is to decide if Coalition forces are going to eradicate the opium or allow it to grow. The reality is that during Taliban rule, there was little to no opium growth happening in Afghanistan because the Taliban hated drugs. During that time the farmers grew others things. However once we liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban rule, many farmers started growing it again. The reality is that is where the money is and poverty is such a common way of life that these farmers are going to grow whatever pays. For quite a few years now US forces have mostly ignored the growing of opium as to not alienate the farmers and drive them to side with the enemy. The British and Canadians have done a lot of opium eradication in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces and they have suffered greatly for it. The money from the sale of opium has fueled the Taliban and the insurgency. I think the saying is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and that is how the drug lords and the Taliban have come to team up. The Taliban has the fighters and the spirit to fight; the drug lords have the money. They both hate the Coalition, so therefore they now have a common enemy….us.

As already mentioned the AAR covers the surge of forces and how that is needed, but as I said earlier it is not the only answer. The reality is that Afghanistan is very desolate and remote country with villages within miles of each other but with people that have never been to the other villages or even know they are there. When I was there, I was in villages that had never seen US forces before, and even had never seen Afghan Army forces. Many people in these villages have only seen very corrupt and unprofessional police forces and to them the police are the government. They are the only view of the government that the local populous has ever had and when then police are beating people and stealing from them, it is safe to assume that the local villagers are not fans of the government.

Lastly he covers the building of Afghan security forces and how critical this task is. As I and everyone I served with in Afghanistan has said since January 2007 when MG Durbin told us that we had to take on the training and mentoring of Afghan Police….WE NEED ANOTHER 2000-3000 SOLDIERS. Task Force Phoenix is built and staffed for the training of the Afghan Army. When they told the Task Force that it had to also train the Afghan police forces (which are much, much more spread out and remote) with the same number of people in the Task Force, we knew we were screwed. As was often said in my team “you can’t do more with less, you can only do less with less”. Afghan Army units that were making progress were left completely uncovered by US trainers or with a bare minimum of embedded trainers so we could also focus on training police. GEN McCaffrey’s assessment is that another 2300 trainers are needed specifically with the Afghan Police forces. To quote him directly, “This is the central effort to win the war in Afghanistan”.

When I came back from Afghanistan I, along with several of my teammates were interviewed by the Buffalo News, and at that time I stated that I felt we would be in Afghanistan another 10 years at least. However based on what has happened over the last 18 months I must say that I agree with GEN McCaffrey’s assessment that we will probably have forces in country for another 25 years. I know that sounds bad, but if you look at the fact that we are still in Korea and Germany then it does not sound that far-fetched.

I really do not want to re-write the whole AAR here, but instead I wanted to cover the main topics and points of interest. Please do yourself a favor and educate yourself by clicking here; http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/mccaffreyafghanistanaarjuly2008.pdf and downloading a .pdf copy of the report to read yourself.

2 thoughts on “GEN McCaffrey’s AAR on Afghanistan”

  1. Top, excellent point bringing up GEN McCaffrey’s excellent AAR again, especially so soon after the PBS Frontline program that would lead people to other conclusions entirely. GEN McCaffrey pegged it with his AAR.

    It’s funny how people will cast gloom and doom about, building Afghanistan into an impossible situation that it isn’t. GEN McCaffrey points out the problems and presents some excellent suggestions for changing how we do things and who we do them with.

    Timely post, Top.

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