Dead Man Laughing
Oxblog points to a Washington Post article by Peter Baker, who has been covering Afghanistan since the US ousted the Taliban. Sometime back he met a Hakim Taniwal, an Afghan who had formerly been a sociology professor in Australia, seemingly bent on a suicide mission. Taniwal had a commission in his pocket from President Karzai appointing him governor of a province. Unfortunately the governor's mansion was occupied by a warlord whose retainers were armed to the teeth. Taniwal was nevertheless determined to take possession and Baker never expected to see him alive again. "Dead man walking". It didn't quite turn out that way.
When I saw him again here two weeks ago, he was sitting in the provincial governor's office and the warlord was somewhere in the countryside, out of power, his militia largely disbanded. I reminded Taniwal of our first meeting, when he could not even get into the governor's house because it was occupied by the warlord's family and dozens of his thuggish guerrillas, bristling with Kalashnikovs and grenade launchers. Taniwal looked at me and smiled. "Things have changed," he said with satisfaction.
Baker's story highlights the power of individual effort. Big ticket entities like armies and national policies may set the stage, but much of the real execution relies on individual or small group initiative. Pundita describes a point made by Robert Kaplan (author of Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground) during a John Batchelor radio interview. According to Pundita, Kaplan argues that:
... the State Department and the CIA and their paranoid Cold War scheming are no longer in charge of presenting America's face to the world. And neither is the Pentagon in charge. ("The Pentagon just moves the money around now," explained Kaplan.)
So who's in charge? Small military units working under the direction of theater-level, unified combatant command units or "Coms" built on the CENTCOM concept, which was originally conceived as a rapid deployment force. ... Of course, US soldiers are still trained to kill people and break things, but historically neither activity has been very successful at gathering actionable intelligence and inspiring cooperation. So the Coms favor specially trained units -- sometimes as small as 4 by typically 12 in number -- which are tasked with risking their lives to do an honest day's labor in places you never even heard of.
Even in the Wall Street Journal as early as 2004 Kaplan was maintaining that smaller was better.
In months of travels with the American military, I have learned that the smaller the American footprint and the less notice it draws from the international media, the more effective is the operation. One good soldier-diplomat in a place like Mongolia can accomplish miracles. A few hundred Green Berets in Colombia and the Philippines can be adequate force multipliers. Ten thousand troops, as in Afghanistan, can tread water. And 130,000, as in Iraq, constitutes a mess that nobody wants to repeat--regardless of one's position on the war.
In Indian Country, the smaller the tactical unit, the more forward deployed it is, and the more autonomy it enjoys from the chain of command, the more that can be accomplished. It simply isn't enough for units to be out all day in Iraqi towns and villages engaged in presence patrols and civil-affairs projects: A successful forward operating base is a nearly empty one, in which most units are living beyond the base perimeters among the indigenous population for days or weeks at a time.
Smaller is not always possible. Detached units and individuals can only survive in an environment cleared of main enemy forces. Hakim Taniwal's enterprise succeeded because the Taliban had first been driven from their strongholds by JDAMs and infantry action. Yet once the major enemy forces are gone a lone ex-sociology professor with a mission might succeed where a gigantic World Bank type development project would fail. Returning to the Washington Post article, Baker found many positive changes for which the US was only indirectly responsible. Afghanistan was being rebuilt not by a few units of tens of thousands, but by ten thousand units of a few.
The hardscrabble town of Gardez, located near the site of Operation Anaconda, the largest battle of the U.S. war ... Yet just outside of town, the Americans have helped build a new Afghan army base and a police training facility with modular buildings. ... And dozens of new two- and three-story buildings are being put up by Afghan businessmen north of town, a cluster being called New Gardez.
A day spent driving around Kabul ... teeming with millions of Afghans who have returned home from abroad ... jammed with traffic all day long. A city that once offered little more to eat than lamb kebabs, rice pilau and mantu dumplings now boasts Chinese, Thai, Italian, Indian and French restaurants. Construction litters the landscape. ... Just two weeks before I returned to Kabul last month, the nine-story-tall Safi Landmark Hotel and Suites opened its sliding glass doors; it features every modern convenience, including a health club, satellite television and minibars.
Attached to the hotel is a snazzy new shopping mall ... I watched as a woman in a burqa figuring out the concept of an escalator ...
Perhaps one day historians will discover that the phrase 'War on Terror' was a misnomer after all; that in retrospect September 11 was not an insurrectionary act, as the Left often pretends it is, but the last attempt of a fading aristocracy to preserve its prerogatives. Then Ground Zero will look to Statue of Liberty with a matching message of its own.
Arise you tired,
you huddled masses
and breathe free.