Forecasting the Future of Afghanistan
By Colonel Donald C. Bolduc
Originally published in the October-December 2011 edition of Special Warfare
This is a critical time in Afghanistan for the United States, and we must maintain our focus and momentum by holding what we have secured and expanding and layering the Afghan local police, or ALP. Crucial to success will be our ability to hold and build, facilitated by the ALP, to prevent the insurgents from returning. We need to ensure that we are set for an insurgent surge and in a position to repel it without loss of the secured areas, or white space.
Our primary focus should be on the tactical plan that supports the operational direction and guidance of Brig. Gen. Austin Miller, commander of the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan, or CFSOCC-A. Successful implementation of that plan will set the conditions for coalition-forces gains and allow us to accomplish our tactical task of neutralizing the insurgents by the winter and spring of 2012.
We must ensure that Soldiers at all levels understand and put into practice Brig. Gen. Miller's intent that we effectively train our partners in the Afghan national-security forces, or ANSF, to operate unilaterally, neutralize the insurgency and mobilize the members of the populace to stand up for themselves. Our course is simple: Embed and establish village-stability platforms, or VSPs; grow the ALP to increase security; integrate with the battlespace owners, or BSOs; and expand and connect the white space.
To assist Soldiers in sustaining our momentum and setting conditions for the transition of incoming units, we have directives and operational priorities of the commanders of the CFSOCC-A and the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, or CJSOTF-A, established methodologies for the ALP Panel and villisage-stability operationsand published orders that clearly nest all lines of operation and articulate our operational and tactical direction.
At this time it's necessary to review where the CJSOTF-A was at the beginning of April 2010 and what we are currently doing. That needs to be framed in a larger context that incorporates the operational plans of the Regional Command, or RC; operational plan OP OMID 1390 of the International Security Assistance Force's, or ISAF's) Joint Command, or IJC; and the 2011 campaign plan of the ISAF commander. Then we should apply that context in looking at where the CJSOTF-A needs to be in the future. In the author's assessment, we have been in the strategic shaping phase since July 2009, and the time between now and next summer will be decisive. The summer of 2012 will see us move into the build-and-transition phase, when we should see significant gains in Afghan governance and the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces, or ANSF.
In July 2009, Gen. Stanley McChrystal assumed command and developed a strategy for a population-centric counterinsurgency, or COIN, that would change the strategic direction of operations in Afghanistan. He developed a number of directives to support the strategy; developed the IJC, a three-star command headquarters under Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez; and altered the prior authority of the RC, re-designating its headquarters as a division-level headquarters in command of all forces in the area of responsibility. That established the necessary authority for all RC commanders to synchronize, develop and coordinate an operational framework in support of the COIN strategy.
Gen. McChrystal also reorganized the way that special-operations forces, or SOF, layer and support each other in conducting COIN operations. In January 2009, CFSOCC-A was established under Brig. Gen. Ed Reeder, the commander the U.S. Special Forces Command, who began to organize the headquarters to support the commanders of ISAF and IJC and to nest into the COIN strategy and IJC's operational plan to provide the link for SOF support through the CJSOTF-A tactical headquarters and subordinate special-operations task forces, or SOTFs. What emerged were two primary lines of operations: CJSOTF-A tactical operations, which were initially called the community defense initiative, or CDI, then became the local defense initiative, or LDI, and in May 2010 became VSO; and a foreign internal defense, or FID, mission with partnered ANSF.
VSO became the CJSOTF-A's first tactical priority. The second would be the FID training mission at Camp Morehead and our partnerships with the Afghan National Army, or ANA, Commandos and ANA Special Forces, as well as our temporary partnerships with two ANA battalions, or kandaks, and one informal partnership with the Afghan National Civil Order Police. At the CJSOTF-A level, Col. Jim Kraft and Col. Gus Benton set in motion tactical plans to support the CFSOCC-A operational programs and directives. Brig. Gen. Miller assumed command of CFSOCC-A in March 2010 and continued Brig. Gen. Reeder's critical work, taking the command to the next level by working through Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Rodriguez in getting the VSO and ALP initiatives codified in a presidential decree signed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in September 2010.
Recognizing the critical need to link the district and provincial governance to critical national leaders and ministries, Brig. Gen. Miller established village-stability coordination centers, or VSCC, and district augmentation teams, or DAT. It was at this point that we recognized not only our role as knowledge brokers but also the importance of nesting our collective efforts through key leader engagements, or KLEs, at all levels to help us understand the political networks and human terrain. Brig. Gen. Miller also directed the transition from vertical communications to flat communications. That change was necessary to increase situational awareness, ensure investment in problem-solving at all levels, increase information flow and reduce the degrees of separation between a problem and its resolution. The new communications architecture proved essential to ensuring effective support, flexibility in decision-making and command and control in our distributive and decentralized force array.
On April 1, 2010, operational control, or OPCON, of CFSOCC-A was changed from Special Operations Command-Central to U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. The CJSOTF-A was still commanded by CFSOCC-A but worked in direct support of COMIJC, and the subordinate SOTFs directly supported the RCs. That arrangement makes it possible to accomplish two things: It provides a framework for CJSOTF-A as a special-operations force, or SOF, to be nested with the regional commanders' plans, and it retains a separate SOF chain of command that ensures proper command and control, resourcing and employment of SOF consistent with their capabilities and mission requirements.
In addition, CJSOTF-A synchronizes and coordinates with TF-535, TF 3-10 and ISAF SOF in order to layer, complement and synchronize SOF operations across the battlespace to achieve the desired effects against the insurgent networks and infrastructure. CJSOTF-A also conducts VSO to improve security with ALP, connect to governance and facilitate the delivery of goods, services and infrastructure development in order to conduct bottom-up COIN operations in support of the SOTFs' respective RCs.
Back to the Future
Also in April 2010, the CJSOTF-A reorganized to focus on VSO (our partnership with the populace) and FID (our partnership with the ANSF) as our primary missions. To accomplish that, the CJSOTF-A developed guidance and methodologies for VSO and its partnerships and conducted a series of commander's conferences to establish a CJSOTF-A tactical framework for supporting CFSOCC-A's operational priorities and nesting into the IJC operational plan and the ISAF campaign plan. SOTFs were directed to develop bottom-up tactical-support plans that were nested with the RCs' operational plans. The CJSOTF-A also streamlined the approval process for concepts of operations, or CONOPs, by decentralizing maximum authority to the SOTF level and below to allow units to operate effectively in support of the BSOs. Ninety-two percent of all CONOPs are now approved at the SOTF level or below. Only nighttime raids have to be approved at the CJSOTF-A level, with CFSOCC-A provided copies of the CONOP for situational awareness. The resulting "expanded operational boxes" allow SOF teams conducting VSO to move at the speed of the populace and the insurgents. That agility and flexibility are necessary to enhance force-protection in a village-stability site, or VSS, and to achieve positive effects with the populace against the insurgents.
As part of the CJSOTF-A tactical framework, the SOTF commanders were directed to conduct VSO in key rural areas throughout Afghanistan. The analysis that went into determining the key rural areas was conducted between August 2009 and February 2010. Numerous interviews were conducted with Afghan government officials, previous government officials from different provinces and members of academia. The informal study focused specifically on the work of author Seth Jones in Graveyard of Empires, particularly the chapter that focuses on how the Taliban took over Afghanistan from 1994-98.
Members of CJSOTF-A briefed the plan to Brig. Gen. Miller, and he approved it for implementation in May 2010. CJSOTF-A initially organized its forces to conduct VSO in the same areas the Taliban occupied. That would support the RCs and BSOs in the key rural areas and gaps and seams associated with the key and focused districts and would eventually connect both top-down and bottom-up COIN operations through the establishment of VSCC and DAT by CFSOCC-A. On Jan. 1, 2011, CJSOTF-A published OPORD Mustaquilana (meaning 'Afghans standing up for themselves'), which was designed to link CJSOTF-A's lines of operations to CFSOCC-A's operational priorities nested within COMIJC Operation OMID 1390.
Our contribution to the strategy revolves around U.S. SOF living among the people in rural villages (surrounded by the insurgents and the populace), building relationships and assisting the populace to stand up against insurgents. The strategy re-empowers their traditional local governance structures within the village through the shura, and it establishes ALP to create a local "security bubble" around the village. When local stability is achieved and expanded to other villages, the SOF element then arranges the delivery of goods and services to facilitate infrastructure development and connect the village leadership to the Afghan government. To date, that bottom-up approach has contributed to stabilizing rural areas that had served the insurgents as safe havens, transition points and command-and-control hubs for projecting violence into larger urban areas. Stability created by SF's actions is localized, fragile and reversible if not properly consolidated.
Additionally, when coordinated and nested into the BSOs' plans and woven together and amplified with a coherent information-operations plan (tactical to strategic), localized actions combine to assist in achieving strategic effects. VSPs will report local actions and accomplishments related to security, development, governance and reintegration across the RCs. Those actions will be amplified by the narrative of "Afghans standing up for themselves with a connection to the Afghan government" embodied in the CJSOTF-A OPORD Mustaquilana. Those tactical actions, coupled with strategic IO effects, have established VSO and ALP as an essential component in achieving both the IJC commander's operational objectives and the ISAF commander's strategic goals.
In 1994, the Taliban, in small elements, started in Kandahar City and moved clockwise around the country to key areas in the Helmand, Herat, Bahgdis, Faryab, Masar-e Sharif and Konduz provinces, then continued back around to the east in Konar, Paktiya, Nangahar, Parwan, Kabul, Khowst, Paktika, Wardak, Ghazni, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces. It took them four years to take over Afghanistan, pushing Ahmed Shah Masoud and his Northern Alliance into the northern portion of the country and isolating them to the northeast area of Konduz Province. During that time, the government of Afghanistan was ineffective and could not overcome the influences of the extremist version of Islam being enforced by the Taliban, whose members use murder and intimidation tactics to compel the people of Afghanistan to submit to their will and governance.
At the same time, the Taliban attempted to receive international recognition for its status as the sovereign government in Afghanistan. Never able to achieve that, the group ultimately aligned with Osama bin Laden, and their association culminated in the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban's refusal to turn over bin Laden resulted in the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 by SOF and other government agencies, initiating a conflict with the Taliban and other insurgent groups that has been continuous for the past 10 years.
It is important that readers understand that piece of history, so that they will be able to conceptualize how and why we are operating in Afghanistan to support the overall COIN strategy. We have been directed to operate in key rural areas, secure them, hold them, expand VSO and develop the ALP to facilitate the hold phase of the strategy so that we may progress into the build phase. That will further stabilize rural areas by mobilizing the populace to push out the insurgents, thereby improving security, bringing in development and connecting key rural areas to district governance. That will facilitate the connection of district government to provincial government, making a national connection that begins to set the conditions for reintegration and creation of an Afghan preference for nationalism over tribalism that legitimizes the Afghan government. Over time, that will result in the improvement of governance, including the building of the ANSF, who are able to neutralize and control the insurgency, allowing us to expand our areas of control and then set the conditions for transitioning those areas over to the Afghan state.
CJSOTF-A initiated the current tactical plan in May 2010, then set the conditions through the fall of that year in order to achieve the desired effects during the winter. The effects include securing key rural areas, holding them and expanding security in order to prevent the insurgent leadership, facilitators and supporters from returning the next spring and preparing to conduct their summer fight. If we can disrupt the insurgents' summer fight, they will be off-balance the rest of the year. More specifically, in the fall they will not be able to reconsolidate and reinitiate their fight after Eid al-Fitr, the three-day festival of fast-breaking at the end of Ramadan, prior to the winter lull. If we are successful, we can produce the kind of disruption that the insurgency has not experienced in many years, forcing them to react to us, rather than us reacting to them.
It is important to note that we are a key part of the COIN strategy that Gen. Petraeus put in place when he was commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, of Lt. Gen. Rodriguez's operational plan, of Brig. Gen. Miller's operational directives and of the RCs' plans. We nest our tactical plan within the plans of the designated BSO, which are nested within the plans of the RCs. We layer with other SOF units to effectively disable the insurgent infrastructure and support the populace. TF-310 and ISAF SOF work on the head (insurgent leadership), and we work on the body (denying time and space to the facilitators and supporters) of the insurgent infrastructure. That complementary combination and layering of tactical operations has proved effective against the insurgents.
To provide increased capability to CFSOCC-A VSO, in November 2010, Gen. Petraeus requested that the Secretary of Defense approve the deployment of an infantry battalion to be under the OPCON of CFSOCC-A. That request was approved, and the 1-16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, from Fort Riley, Kan., was designated to deploy in January to be under the tactical control, or TACON, of CJSOTF-A in support of VSO. In addition, Admiral Eric Olson initiated the staffing of a request for forces for 13 SOF teams and critical Civil Affairs and Military Information Support teams to further support CJSOTF-A VSO. In March, Gen. Petraeus again requested that the Secretary of Defense approve the deployment of a second infantry battalion to be OPCON to CFSOCC-A. The request was approved, and the 1-505th Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division, was designated to deploy in June to be under the TACON of CJSOTF-A in support of VSO.
The CJSOTF-A has expanded the number of VSO sites from five in April 2010 to 46 in March 2011 and increased personnel during the same period from 2,900 to 5,400. The additional force structure provides CJSOTF-A the ability to expand to support all RC commanders. The decentralized and distributed command and control creates challenges with logistical sustainment, but because of the expeditionary nature of SOF logistical units, the additional force structure and footprint are both operationally and logistically supportable by CJSOTF-A, with additional support by the 101st and 43rd sustainment brigades in accordance with USFOR-A Fragmentary Order 10-002.
The IO message
It is important to discuss our information operations, or IO, efforts, which are embedded in everything we do. Our VSS put us in key rural areas to compete with the insurgents' messaging and propaganda. We followed three lines of messaging: inoculation (communicating to the populace the intentions of the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban), fortitude (Afghans standing up for themselves) and empowerment (Afghans doing it themselves). By embedding in the villages, we place ourselves into the community in such a way that it prevents the insurgents from effectively using word-of-mouth dissemination of propaganda against the Afghan state and conventional forces. We further compete against and control that propaganda by establishing a tactical radio-broadcast system consisting of radio in a box, or RIAB, to increase our contact with the populace, complementing our own word-of-mouth messaging. Those two forms of communication with the populace have proven to be most effective in rural Afghanistan. We currently have multiple RIABs in Afghanistan that cover more than 95,000 square kilometers of key rural areas to complement VSO.
Our narrative is more effective than the insurgents'. Ours is one of hope, while the insurgency's is one that leads to despair. We counter by using the Afghan government's messaging to compete with the insurgent message. Without imposing a democratic government, we bring democratic principles that appeal to Afghan culture in the rural areas. The principles reflect traditional Afghan and Islamic values associated with prosperity for their families. We bring those principles to them on behalf of the Afghan government in the form of improved security, enhanced infrastructure development and a connection to governance. The insurgent message tells the populace that if they fail to cooperate with the insurgency, they face the prospect of murder, subjugation of their women, little or no education for their children, oppression, an extremist version of Islam, no opportunity for development and no connection to a legitimate government.
What works against our narrative is that the emerging Afghan government is not capable of securing and governing itself, creating instability and an opportunity for the insurgents to influence the populace. The root cause of the insurgency is an ineffective Afghan government; however, there are proximate causes that empower the insurgency, disenfranchise the populace and contribute to an ineffective government.
The first of these proximate causes is corruption, manifesting itself in corrupt Afghan officials, ANSF members, and power brokers who operate at the expense of the population. The patronage network is inherently Afghan, but it has reached criminal and counterproductive proportions. It is our job to confront corruption and mitigate it to the extent that corrupt officials change their behavior toward favoring the populace (51 percent on behalf of the populace and 49 percent in self-interest). We are not there to rid Afghanistan of corruption, but rather to get things "just about right," which in appearances looks like an Afghan official who supports the Afghan state and does more for the people than for himself.
The second proximate cause is the government's inability to deliver goods and services. We are there to improve security in order to facilitate a connection with the government and to introduce goods and services to the populace, thus improving infrastructure development.
The third proximate cause is the Afghan state's inability to provide security and safety to the populace. We are there to facilitate that by developing a capable ANSF, layering that force with ALP to protect the Afghan people from the insurgents.
The fourth proximate cause is the inability of the government to provide stable economic conditions. By conducting VSO with bottom-up COIN operations that connect to top-down COIN operations, improving security that opens roads, connecting to governance to bring in job opportunities and improving infrastructure development to improve quality of life; we should see stabilization in the economic conditions that will allow some measure of prosperity in the rural communities of Afghanistan.
That stability will set the conditions for transition. The transition and ultimate Afghan state victory will be community-based by connecting key rural areas and neutralizing and controlling insurgent activity to prevent resurgence. By that time, the security situation will not be localized, fragile or easily reversible. There will be no significant strategic event that leads to the capitulation of the insurgent groups; instead, it will be an anticlimactic, gradual and steady transition of districts and provinces to Afghan government control, based on the ANSF being able to stabilize the security situation and the populace being mobilized and supportive of the Afghan state.
To recap, we must maintain our focus and momentum. VSO/ALP and our partnerships with ANSF play to the strength of the CJSOTF-A organization, and, at this time, nested within the ISAF campaign plan, are the most effective use of CJSOTF-A force structure. VSO sets the condition for the ALP. The ALP will allow us to increase security, expand our security bubbles and create the opportunity for a connection to governance that will eventually facilitate development, thus leading to the stabilization of villages within key rural areas. That will allow us to achieve the desired effect in support of the populace and against the insurgency.
Colonel Donald C. Bolduc is assigned to J37 on the Joint Staff. He was formerly commander of CJSOTF-A. His other special-operations assignments include senior SOF adviser to the commander of RC South in Afghanistan; deputy G8, U.S. Army Special Operations Command; commander, 1st Battalion, 3rd SF Group; company commander and battalion S3, 2nd Battalion, 5th SF Group; detachment commander, assistant S3 and HHC commander, 3rd Battalion, 5th SF Group; and assistant S3, 3rd Battalion, 10th SF Group. He has served in combat in Grenada as a squad leader with the 82nd Airborne Division, in the Persian Gulf War and in Afghanistan. Colonel Bolduc holds an associate of science in criminal justice from Dean College, a bachelor's in sociology from Salem State College, a master's in business technology from Webster University and a master's in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.