The latest White House leaks reported President Donald Trump has serious concerns about the effectiveness of his commander in Afganistan, General John Nicholson. In this article, the leaks point to an unclear message that is flowing throughout the Trump administration. Retired Army LtCol Allen West outlines what the Commander-in-Chief must do to clarify the mission and what “winning” is defined to be. This is how the military plans, conducts, and completes a mission. Pleas pay attention, Mr. President.
As Written By Allen B. West:
One of the things I really didn’t like about my time in the military, and tried to avoid, were indecisive commanders. You can ask anyone who’s served what happens when they hear these words: “I don’t really know what I want, just draw up some plan and let me see it.”
This is like shooting in the dark at an indoor target range, then turning on the lights to see if you hit anything. You end up expending more ammunition because you never really know where the target is. That’s why the military has something called “commander’s intent.” This is where a good commander issues guidance laying out what they see as the purpose of the operation/mission, the key tasks and method necessary to meet the purpose, and their desired end state, final goal or objective. This is planning guidance and its ‘necessary for a competent staff to begin crafting a comprehensive plan…not go shooting in the dark.
And so yes, I am concerned about having a national strategy for Afghanistan, a place where I spent two-and-a-half years. A place where we just lost two of our finest to a Taliban attack. And it appears where those leak problems continue for the Trump administration.
As reported by NBC News, “President Donald Trump has become increasingly frustrated with his advisers tasked with crafting a new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and recently suggested firing the war’s top military commander during a tense meeting at the White House, according to senior administration officials.
During the July 19 meeting, Trump repeatedly suggested that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford replace Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, because he is not winning the war, the officials said.
Trump has not met Nicholson, and the Pentagon has been considering extending his time in Afghanistan. Over nearly two hours in the situation room, according to the officials, Trump complained about NATO allies, inquired about the United States getting a piece of Afghan’s mineral wealth and repeatedly said the top U.S. general there should be fired. He also startled the room with a story that seemed to compare their advice to that of a paid consultant who cost a tony New York restaurateur profits by offering bad advice.
Trump is the third president to grapple with the war in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, two American troops were killed in Afghanistan when a convoy they were in came under attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Trump’s national security team has been trying for months to come up with a new strategy he can approve. Those advisers are set to meet again to discuss the issue on Thursday at the White House. The president is not currently scheduled to attend the meeting, though one official said that could change.”
Let me offer some advice and assessments, if I may. First of all, “winning” is not a strategy, but an end state, and as such it needs to be defined. This is where commander’s Intent is vital. If staff planners know what the commander wants they’re better equipped to meet that intent with a concise strategy and plan. The fact that General Nicholson only has 8,400 troops must be analyzed to assess if those resources are adequate for “winning.” President Trump has already said he would defer the decision on additional troops to Afghanistan to the Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis. General Mattis has claimed that an additional 4,000 troops are required in Afghanistan.
Here is the battlefield calculus: For every one combat troop deployed — and I mean a trigger-puller who goes out to engage and destroy the enemy — there are 4-5 logistical support troops. It’s critical that the president decides, what “winning” means? Does it mean we trai’rening the Afghanistan armed forces? Or does winning mean we beat back the Taliban, ISIS affiliate, and the Haqqani network? And to what levels, how many provinces and districts do we want to see cleared of Islamic terrorist influence?
Furthermore, what are we to do about the Islamist sanctuaries that cross the border into Pakistan? How do we put more pressure on Pakistan diplomatically and economically? The key isn’t to look just at Afghanistan, what we call the area of operations (AO), but also the area of influence (AI). Historically, we failed to do so in Vietnam and allowed the enemy to have defined sanctuary located in Laos and Cambodia.
Also, when it comes to battlefield calculus, the decision must be made on whether we’re going on offense, enemy orientation, or we’re going to be terrain-oriented and on defense? If “winning” means we’re going on offense, then a successful operation requires a 3:1 ratio over the enemy, with overwhelming combat force. And that would include combat multipliers such as artillery, attack aviation, and close air support — and don’t forget the logistical footprint.
It’s what we call in the military “troop to task,” and before determining the troop level, you need to define the tasks…which is part of the commander’s…..
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