“The casual arrogance with which the U.S. military has approached the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan has a direct relation to the difficulty with which we have fought each war.”

I finished Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War this weekend […] and a few things struck me:

a. The successful Roman counterinsurgency campaign in Gaul took eight years.

b. The enemies against which Rome fought were not a unitary actor, and neither were Rome’s allies.

c. Rome’s allies one summer were often Rome’s enemies by winter. And visa versa.

But the two things that made the biggest impression on me were the following:

d. Caesar was the commander for eight full years, and he enjoyed similar continuity among his subordinate commanders.

e. Caesar very rarely sent green units into the offensive. By the fourth and fifth year of the campaign, he is still making those legions which were the last to be raised in Italy responsible for guarding the freaking baggage. He relies over and over again on those legions — most especially the Tenth — that have proven themselves in combat in Gaul.

With Caesar’s commentaries in mind, I read Doug Ollivant’s lament about Gen. Joe Dunford. Gen. Dunford will be the fifteenth commander of NATO-ISAF in eleven years of combat in Afghanistan and the ninth U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Each of his subordinate commanders have rotated on an annual basis. Gen. Dunford — who is, by all accounts, an excellent officer and highly respected by his peers — has never served in Afghanistan.

The cultures, politics, tribes and peoples of Afghanistan are at least as complex as those of ancient Gaul, yet we Americans are so arrogant to think that we can send officers there with no experience and, owing to our superior knowledge of combat operations, watch them succeed. We will then send units which have never deployed to Afghanistan to partner with Afghan forces and wonder why they do not get along.

This is madness. The casual arrogance with which the U.S. military has approached the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan has a direct relation to the difficulty with which we have fought each war. That we think we can send a commander to Afghanistan with no prior knowledge of Afghanistan and watch him be successful in the eleventh year of the conflict shows that after eleven years of conflict, we really don’t know too much about Afghanistan. And we might not know too much about conflict either.

Andrew Exum, writing at CNAS.

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