Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Americans are Coming, The Americans Are Coming

I find it funny that just as I return to the German case for the book on NATO and Afghanistan that the NYT starts a series on a particular military unit (1st BTN, 87th Inf Regiment, 10th Mountain Division) that just so happens to be working in and near Kunduz, smack in the middle of Germany's sector.  The deployment of significant numbers of Americans into RC-N (Regional Command-N) is part of the larger surge, but has also been read as an explicit critique of the German effort.  While ISAF has been undermanned throughout Afghanistan for its entire existence, this was seen as much less of a problem for German troops in RC-N than Canadians in Kandahar. 
Even more striking in this article is that the focus of this unit and of the article is on the police mission, for which the Germans used to have the lead responsibility not just in RC-N but in the entire country.  But they are largely omitted except for this:
The Afghan security forces have their own trust issues with troops from NATO. In April, German soldiers fired on a truck carrying Afghan soldiers rushing to the aid of a German unit caught in an ambush in the Chahar Darreh district. Six soldiers died.
“We are not afraid of the enemy; we are afraid of the Germans,” the district police chief, Gulam Maideen, said.
To be fair, any country that is new to an area will be seen as perhaps a bit more trustworthy since the longer a country has been deployed to a spot of Afghanistan, the more likely it has killed the wrong people.  

The real difference between the US and German effort in Kunduz is this:
So building mutual trust was crucial, and commanders with the battalion said the best way to do that was to be with the police night and day: “Live, train and operate,” they called it.
Perhaps most troubling: "The Afghans spoke no English, the Americans spoke no Dari or Pashto, and there were only two translators, neither of them fully fluent in English."  This late into the game and we still are so short of people who can communicate.  This is a critical gap.

Of course, the outsiders may seem a bit smug to the locals who have been fighting for decades:
The police chief, Gulam Maideen, said what other Afghan police officers seemed to have on their minds. “I don’t want more training,” he said. “I want the Americans to fight with me.”
Of course, there is some truth to this, but yet again, the police will only be effective if they are disciplined and restrained.  So far in Afghanistan, they have not been so professional.  But I am not sure if these army units operating with the Afghan Police are focused on restraint or combat.  The article makes it sound like the latter.

Anyhow, this article is pretty striking for other timing as well: that the long anticipated departure of the Dutch from Uruzgan has just happened at the start of August to little fanfare, replaced by yet more Americans.  The question of who leads in Uruzgan after them seems to have been fudged--with a combined US/Aussie effort.  I guess I will have to wait for a new NATO update of its placemat to figure out who is supposedly running the show in that province.  The Aussies now seem responsible for the main base run by the Dutch, which would include the PRT, but it is not clear yet. 

There was a lot of chatter in the lead up to this withdrawal including the collapse of a Dutch government when coalition partners could not agree to renew the mission.  But now it seems like it was no big deal.  The same is probably going to be true for the Canadians.  They have already turned over command of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar City to the Americans.  This time, next year the Canadians will be moving out.

What was once an American war is becoming one again.

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