ONE TRIBE AT A TIME

One Tribe At A Time

My Back Pages

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 30, 2009

[Some of the smartest and most interesting input we've received on this blog has come from the Comments section. Alas, such contributions often go unnoticed, buried as they are in the "back pages." In an attempt to rectify this, I'd like to present here on the front page a very insightful response to Maj. Jim Gant's paper, "One Tribe At A Time," from former infantry platoon leader and Brigade Intelligence Officer Jim Gourley--along with a reply-in-depth from Maj. Gant. This is long, but worth it. I've edited the piece lightly for acronyms and so forth.]

Dear Maj. Gant,

I’ve read your paper, “One Tribe At a Time.” I appreciate your viewpoint from the foxhole of a decorated warrior who’s been “out in the fecal matter” and slogged through some of the worst combat action possible with your tribal brothers. However, there are a few points I’d like to challenge you on from the viewpoint of a former Infantry PL turned Brigade Intel Officer. Please consider this as loyal opposition, and only until I’m convinced by your presentation, at such time I’ll be a loyal ally.

To begin, I will state a few of my preconceived notions.

1) We’ll never get the central government of Afghanistan to function such that it can reasonably provide for the common defense, insure domestic tranquility, or establish justice. There will never be a sheriff in Afghanistan. Our best bet is to make sure all the gunfighters and horse thieves maintain parity.

2) We can never overcome the Afghan perception that they will outlast us, because even our new strategies still maintain getting out as the ultimate goal.

3) As Al Qaeda continues to franchise itself across Southeast Asia and into Africa, the relative importance of Afghanistan diminishes, especially with regard to securing the United States against terrorist attacks.

With that said, I’ll begin. I immediately and whole-heartedly agree with you on the streamlining of the planning process, the need for “one call” philosophy of team support, and the change of Rules of Engagement. However, the consequence I envision of this is the creation of a relationship between the fielded teams and the supporting higher headquarters that will become immediately and irrevocably adversarial.

Teams would act virtually autonomously, be highly susceptible to suspicion of the headquarters and thus encouraged to be uncommunicative. Simultaneously, headquarters would lose information, have a poor field of vision on the battlefield, and be handicapped in its efforts to provide teams the instantaneous support that is needed. Meanwhile, the headquarters must maintain its own non-Tribal Engagement Team forces in order to accomplish other missions. How can a headquarters keep its battlespace coordinated when so many elements are “cut loose” from it? I understand that the tribes don’t come to OPORD briefings at Corps as it is, but I’ve been in more than one situation where Special Operations Forces refused to cooperate or share information with a battlespace owner, and there’s no denying that there have been SOF SNAFUs in the past which caused local socio-political fallout. It’s hard to blame the man with the stars on his collar for being nervous when he’s going to be the one left holding the bag. What’s the balance between autonomy and accountability?

I cannot disagree with you more on the risk-averse nature argument. Our armed forces will always go back for our fallen, we will never leave a man behind. For that very reason, a TET left flapping in a firefight will always take priority. That means an extraordinary investment of time, resources, and additional risk. If this aspect of the tactical situation is critical to your strategy, I can’t see it succeeding. Is it possible to work around this?

I draw a problematic connection between finding qualified officers and NCOs for the TETs, allowing the teams to “go tribal”, and the level of trust and power given to a team. Not without a little humor, I believe what you’re advocating is the creation of three new Special Forces Divisions. I think you’re asking for a group of men with a kind of stamina, quick thinking, patience and maturity found only in SOF and on a Space Shuttle. There haven’t been that many astronauts in our nation’s history, and the problems of the 18X program in “growing” more SF soldiers are well documented. You’ve been extremely successful in your endeavors. One could almost characterize you as “Lawrence of Arabia for the 21st Century”. Certainly it must be recognized that you’re a special individual. But if everyone had the same capabilities we wouldn’t think of you as special, and we’d probably have our TETs. My question is whether you believe there are enough individuals with your level of qualifications and potential out there, and whether we can entice enough of them to the TETs to make this work?

I will lastly posit this question to you. If the fundamental consideration of the tribes is how they will continue to secure their safety and prosperity for the long-term, how can the TET concept compete with the Taliban/Al Qaeda strategy of omnipresent threat? As Bin Laden said, “People follow a strong horse.” If even in the long term of our strategy we’re able to assist the Afghans in their security, how can we ever really overcome the temptation of joining the Taliban if the Afghan population, as they certainly realize they must, is on the lookout for their safety in the long-term? I wonder, in (correctly) asserting that we can’t totally eradicate the Taliban, do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? We can’t “kill ‘em all”, but is there a valuable Psyop/Civil Affairs message projected by killing enough of them? Do we prove ourselves to be the strong horse? I hardly doubt such a strategy would be MORE effective than TETs, but I wonder if you feel a parallel effort would be a force multiplier or even as effective.

Thanks for your time. Best of luck to you in your travels and to Mr. Pressfield in nurturing further discussion.

Regards,
Jim Gourley

Dear Jim,

Thank you very much for reading the blog and posting. You have more than earned the right to voice your opinion and disagree with me. I respect your viewpoint more than you know, and I bet when the dust clears we are closer to one another than either of us would like to admit. So … a “preface” before I address your points.

As I said in the paper, I do not have all the answers. I have some good experience in Afghanistan working with a tribe, backed by some research and a good basic understanding of COIN and unconventional warfare (UW). I have a God-given gift of being able to “build relationships” with indigenous fighters–as do many, many others. I love both the Iraqi and the Afghan people and culture. I used that and incorporated what I had learned in Iraq as a combat advisor and my time spent out at Robin Sage (the unconventional warfare portion of Special Forces training) to try and verbalize and put together a model for success at the tactical level when dealing with a tribe in Afghanistan. (Note here: If one does not believe that the tribes play a key central role in Afghanistan, then the Tribal Engagement premise is not worth considering. However, I believe it is the critical factor and the one variable that we have to positively influence to succeed. Getting the tribes on our side will not ensure ‘success’ but not getting them on our side will ensure defeat).

Now, I also said that what works with one tribe, in one area, with one team, may not work with the next tribe or even the next team. What worked in ‘03 may not work in ‘09. Does that mean that I am backing off of my premise? Not at all. If anything, it has become even stronger over the last few weeks as the popularity of the blog and paper has forced me to answer some very tough, very good questions – like the ones you have asked. The tactical tribal engagement (TTE) that I wrote about through the use of tribal engagement teams (TETs) and the larger, overall tribal engagement strategy (TES) supports another aspect of what I believe to be true. We have to deal with the overall problems that we are facing in Afghanistan from the lowest level possible for further improvements along several different lines of operation, such as, security, infrastructure development, governance, etc. But what do we do for instance with “good governance?” The tribes have good governance within the tribe. Ask them. What do they gain by accepting a central government that can do little to help them? Do we all believe that the Afghan central government is corrupt? If we do, how does that make us look when we support that government and try to push it off onto the tribes? Does the central government need the tribes? Do the Taliban? Do the tribes need the Taliban? Do we need the tribes? Do the tribes need us?

One last point before I answer each question. I believe that when you say “Afghan people” what most people mean is “Afghan tribesmen.” Break it down further. When you say “Afghan tribesman,” you’re really saying “Pashtun tribesman”. Afghanistan will not be ruled/governed/lead by anyone other than a Pashtun. I believe that to be true. Does that mean we don’t deal with the Hazaras, the Uzbeks or the Tajiks? No, of course not. We just have to do it differently.

So, here we go:

1) I agree that the GIRoA will never look what we want it to look like. I agree that whatever model we use for “success” cannot be one that we develop or one that we can even completely envision right now. I do however, believe this: They have to have some type of system that allows them to have a “face” to the rest of the world. Someone who represents Afghanistan to the rest of the world and secondly, the tribes will play a major role in this hybrid form of government. What will the government of Afghanistan look like if the Taliban prevail? Will there be a “leader”? Will he be accepted by the rest of the Afghans? The rest of the world? Will there be another civil war? Will we support another Northern Alliance-type of resistance or insurgency? So, I agree with you. The current Afghan government is not our “horse” for establishing a western-style government. Looking back at historical boundaries of empires that spanned Afghanistan, before there was an Afghanistan, we have had successful confederations of tribes that allowed for governance and justice. Up until the Soviets, this trend continued. With the tribes functioning in Afghanistan, I think we would be surprised at what would come out in the form of security, justice, and governance.

2) I will take this a step further and say we will never outlast the Afghans because we can’t. We do not have the same type of make-up as individuals. Time is on their side and when I say that, I mean for both the Taliban and the Afghan people. They are in no hurry. They can and will endure hardships that we cannot even imagine. Just as importantly, they know we can’t outlast them. So again, I agree with you. However, TETs never leave so it has a different goal. The US, or any fully developed nation for that matter, never fully leaves an area that it has had a military presence. Operations continue and relationships are maintained long after major combat operations are over.

3) That is a very good point. However, I believe that right now and for the foreseeable future that the south and east portions of Afghanistan are of strategic importance to al-Qaeda because this area acts as a buffer for the FATA and NWFP regions of Pakistan. Why is this important? I believe that the FATA and the NWFP regions are currently the only locations on earth where al-Qaeda must maintain physical control of to be effective. Who provides al-Qaeda their safe-haven within these areas? Tribes. It is through building lasting, true relationships with the tribes in the southern and eastern portions of Afghanistan that we will be able to influence what is happening on the ground in Pakistan. Unless of course we are willing to say that we will, at some point, invade these regions with combat forces. Does Afghanistan lose strategic importance over time? Maybe. Does the “Pashtunistan” region? I don’t believe so. I believe other regions become more important, but that does not mean that this region becomes less important.

Now to your doubts and objections:

A. Your first major concern is not only valid, but has a much more important impact than just this war and this scenario. It goes to a deep-rooted paradigm that both Special Operations forces and general purpose forces must deal with better. Has it gotten better? I know that in my time on the ground in Afghanistan, I had no issues. However, at that time, SOF owned the ground, so of course it was easy – for me. I haven’t been to Afghanistan since the change in command and control, since there are battle space owners (BSO), etc…I do know this however: That battle space owner wants to win his part of the war. That TET team leader wants to win his part of the war. As a TET team leader, I would be just as concerned with establishing rapport with that BSO as I would be with the tribal chief. The TET could not, and would not be successful without the BSO not only knowing, but supporting what the TET was doing and vice versa. I would not as a TET leader run around half-cocked all the time, doing things that I knew were outside of the intent of what higher general command, the Battle Space Owner, was trying to accomplish.

I would spend as much time as necessary prior to infil, planning and coordinating my efforts with his. If I can’t do that, then I can’t be successful. Period. A TET cannot go into an area where they are not wanted or needed by the BSO. This would go back to the initial planning stages. I would totally incorporate my plan into his. Now, would there have to be some type of give and take? Yes, of course. I would have an “OP Box” of some sort where I would have to be given notice of operations that were being conducted and of course I would inform the BSO if I ever left that “OP Box”. I would share all relevant information with him and help answer his PIR. I would support his mission accomplishment. I would facilitate his plan in my “OP Box”. To do anything less than that on both sides (the TET and the BSO) would be criminal. Will there be issues? Of course. Will there be TETs that will be difficult to work with? More than likely. Will there be BSO that don’t want to work with TETs no matter how much they could help them? Yes. So how do I answer that question? For this to work it has to be part of an over-all plan and strategy, where the relationship between the TET and the BSO is crucial and a synergistic effect is the outcome.

Another part of me says this: Tribal Engagement Teams have their own battlespace. They have no need and no desire for conventional forces in these TET zones. Tribes will tie-in as the situation dictates and develops. The tribal engagement strategy is an economy of force effort. Some staffs and commanders are systemically and conceptually unable to manage tribal engagement, so we will move them out of the areas and put them in places where we can generally play to their strengths. The TETs are specifically designed to work in this type of environment. Additionally, battlespace owners are not deconflicting battlespace in the current operational environment. There are multiple units of varying countries that are moving independent of “coordination.” TETs are easy. They own their own space and have accountability for what goes on within it. I would also argue that 2001-2003 was Afghanistan’s best years because of 1) decentralized action , 2) small footprint of US forces, 3) no major “occupier” type bases, and 4) no cumbersome chain of command to slow operations down.

B. Risk Aversion. When we put restrictions on ourselves that hurt our own ability to win a war, that is a bad thing. What makes it even worse is when these restrictions are put on units because higher command believes it is actually protecting its soldiers. In many but not all cases, these orders or mandates are counterproductive. One example: in Afghanistan an order came out that “all missions would be conducted in MICH helmet and body armor.” Well, I am sure that got put in there because someone, somewhere did a direct action mission without a helmet and got shot in the head, or something like that. What did that cause? My ODA and I were in the Konar Valley fighting and hunting a very smart and brutal enemy. Where did they hide. Deep in the mountains. To get to them was a monumental task, which would have been impossible with helmets and body armor. What do you do now as a small unit leader? Wearing that stuff in 105 degree weather, five kilometers into a nine kilometer movement that started at 2,300 feet and will end at 6,000 is suicide. You have three choices and all of them are bad. It puts me as a small unit leader in a situation where I have to decide if I am going to follow an order that is putting me and men at more risk and increases the chances of mission failure or to not follow an order.

To specifically address your concern, I was not implying that we leave anyone “out to dry”. However, and without sounding like an ass or antagonistic–war is risky business. If we aren’t going to take some risks, we should re-think how we are fighting. Which is worse, four guys dying hitting an IED on a road that they are forced to travel on daily because there is no other road, or four TET members being overrun by a 300-man Taliban element in some remote tribal area? I would turn the question around and ask, What happened at Wanat? My point is that these TETs would have to rely on other things for protection than guns and armor. Interpersonal skills, courage, detailed planning, relationship-building skills, intelligence nets. The bottom line would be that it would be the tribes who would be protecting them. Now, we would bring guns, training, medical supplies, access to CF units resources, PRTs, NGOs, etc…but the TETs would rely on the tribe for a vast majority of their security and protection. That turns this equation around quite a bit – don’t you agree?

Another point that I want to bring out, on a personal note is: I was a combat advisor in Iraq for the National Police Quick Reaction Force Commando battalion in ‘06-’07. Many lessons learned from that experience, but the point here is that every single CONOP [Concept of Operation] that I ever briefed had a section that said this: ”If we hear a net call that any US or Iraqi unit in Baghdad is involved in a troops in contact (TIC) we will immediately delay our mission and move to the area as quickly as possible to support…”

This happened dozens of times over the next 15 months. We bailed out many a US and Iraqi unit. That is what we do – all of us. Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine. Infantry, EOD, Combat Logistics Patrol, Special Forces, Navy Seals, Rangers, PRTs, whatever. We would all come to each other’s aid. Would I want your frequencies and call signs if I was located 40 kilometers from your firebase if I needed you? Of course. How about you guys out patrolling and you get hit right outside my tribal area? You call and one TET guy with 200 tribal security force members shows up in ten minutes with guns blazing, runs off the Taliban, takes your casualties back into their area, we begin treatment of the casualties in a secure village and call the MEDEVAC in there? Will that help? Will you guys now trust this tribe more? Will your battalion or brigade commander fly out the next day and thank these tribesmen for what they have done? Will he build on that relationship? Will the unit who was helped returned there and give the tribal leader a gift?

My point in saying that some TETs would die alone with no support is this: it will happen. Things can and will go wrong. But that happens with any strategy and mission, all the time. The type of person that I would ask to be on a TET with me would understand the dangers. It would be a “yeah, so what?” type of look if you asked them about it.

The willingness to go after the fallen does not equate to risk-aversion. Having been a part of personnel recovery planning for a lost US soldier, believe me, we are still risk-averse when it comes to even that mission. We are risk-averse because we build large bases, bigger vehicles, add more armor and equipment to soldiers instead of living with and fighting alongside Afghan tribesman. FM 3-24 is a great manual. However, it is also the “Catch-22 of counterinsurgency,” in that the more you force-protect, the less safe you are. If we do not plan to accept risk up front, then we need to reconsider what we are doing and how we are doing it…from the tactical to the strategic level.

I just don’t see the issue here. Is it possible to “work around” this? No. Two to six guys with the tribe. That’s all - that is it. More than that can be a problem. But again, it depends on the situation. Depending on where the TET is sent there is indeed the possibility that more soldiers would need to be sent…”Never say never…”.

C. I love the “space shuttle” quote…you are right and that was funny! Yes, this is problematic. This type of strategy and these types of teams would take a complete and total paradigm shift at the highest levels of our military organizations, and then the ability to push these changes down to group/brigade and battalion commanders. I believe one of the biggest challenges would be, if and when this type of strategy were implemented, that the further down the food-chain it went, the more that commanders on the ground would be unable to let it work. This also includes a dramatic administrative shift in our ability to put the right person, with right passion, in the right place. That is hard for us to do. When I watched General McChrystal on “60 Minutes,” I saw him ask on a VTC why it was taking so long for him to get the people he was asking for over to Afghanistan. If it’s this hard for him, how hard is it going to be to re-vamp the entire system? If you and I spend the next three years working in Pakistan as military advisors, what happens to our careers? I know that there are many soldiers who don’t really care about promotions, schooling, OERs, NCOERs, etc…they just want a good mission with good people. We have to harness them and those passions and find an alternate way to reward them for their sacrifices.

I bet that if you became a TET team leader, got some language and cultural training, some time to work on your interpersonal skills that involved scenario-based training, got to hand-pick your team and filled it with guys you knew and trusted, then you got to fly in and spend 60 to 90 days on the ground with me and my TET watching, learning and training; that now you and your team go somewhere else with another tribe and be successful. Would it take time? Yes. Would it be hard? Yes. ould high level commanders and policy makers have to push to make this happen? Yes. Could we do it? Yes.

Another personal experience. When I was in Iraq I did not have other SF guys working with me. I was assigned a transition team. I went through two of them. Bottom line up front: one of the teams was phenomenal…six awards for valor, aggressive, smart, enthusiastic…I would have put them up against any small unit in the country at “Mounted Operations”. We trained and rehearsed and trained and rehearsed, we worked daily on individual and collective skills that we needed to fight…and we went out and fought all the time. The second team? They were given the same mission, we did the same training, I pushed, pulled, prodded, coaxed, threatened, praised, begged, you name it…they just would not come together as a team. I wanted to stay in Iraq but I just couldn’t work under those conditions anymore. My idea is to very carefully select the TET team leaders. Then let him select his team. He will not pick his buddies or friends, he will pick the guys he knows will fight and die right alongside him, that have good interpersonal skills, that are smart and dependable, that are loyal and want to be there. Then you will have a great TET in the making. Am I wrong? Tell me if I am. I may be overestimating what I think about the US soldier, but I don’t think so.

The number teams needed would not be very high. The overall plan would look something like this:

1. Determine which tribes to support (this is currently being done and analyzed, I am sure, by people who know a lot more about it than I do). While doing research and putting the paper together I did come up with criteria for this, there are many people who have understanding, knowledge and backgrounds that would be needed to ensure the right tribes were chosen.

2. Determine how many teams were needed.

3. Begin small. One, two, maybe three teams.

4. Then the flow of teams happens in a “step” process. Are the current TETs being successful? What were you training deficiencies? How did the criteria we used to pick the tribe work? Etc…

5. Infil follow-on teams with the TETs that are currently on the ground to continue their training, their cultural knowledge and skills, to improve their language skills, and to just “get their feet wet”…

6. Infil them with their tribes…

7. Continue the process.

We just do not need a lot of people. I keep saying that. We need less, not more. If we have five successful TETs with major power brokers/tribes, we will have accomplished a great deal with a very small amount of resources. That’s with thirty or forty guys on the ground (now this doesn’t include the support and combat service support personnel). I could pick out almost that many right now. We are not looking to mass produce TETs or create a new branch. We can easily select, train, and OJT evaluate replacements for sustainment. As more tribes become attracted to success, we don’t necessarily need more TETs,. One TET could service multiple tribes. In fact, that is what we want. We want tribal alliances. Makes the end game more simple.

D. To your last point: I am an advocate of killing. There are many, many folks out there who are just going to have to die if we want to achieve success. Period. One of my favorite articles is “In Praise of Attrition” by Ralph Peters. If anyone sees TETs as Peace Corps with guns, they are missing the point. There will be a lot of fighting. A lot. The fight will become extremely personal and close up. The good TETs will be fighting for THEIR families, THEIR best friends, THEIR brothers, THEIR sisters … THEIR tribe. Some will die doing so. But in doing so, “we” meld deeper and deeper into their world and are accepted more and more–beating the Taliban and al-Qaeda at their own game.

Now, are we going to stay there for the next hundred years? No. But can’t we maintain some type of air power, some type of QRF, some type of logistical support for a very, very small group of people who will stay and remain a part of the tribal society? The other answer is to completely abandon them, which would be a strategic mistake and morally wrong.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda are not supermen. Who has the strongest ideology? Who has the stronger character? Who cares more about the everyday Afghan? Who is willing to pay a higher price? I don’t know. But I would personally like to find out.

I and five other guys I know are willing to give basically the rest of our adult lives to find out.

To the Taliban and al-Qaeda I would say, “Come on down here and try to hurt anyone in this tribe. Just one of us. But you had better pack a lunch, because you are going to be here for a while.”

Jim, I enjoyed writing this in response to your excellent and very thoughtful questions. I have learned a very important lesson over the last few weeks. It is almost impossible to express yourself, your passion, your values, your ethos, your beliefs over an email, a blog, a post or a paper. Everything that is said sounds egotistical, all-knowing, or stand-offish. I hope I didn’t come off that way to you. I believe in what I am saying and I respect and thank you for writing.

STRENGTH AND HONOR

Maj. Jim Gant

Posted in Agora, One Tribe At A Time

8 Responses to “My Back Pages”

  1. Jim Gourley
    November 30, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    MAJ Gant,

    First, thanks to you and Mr. Pressfield for picking mine out of all the responses that you could have used for material for posting on here.

    You may claim that it is “almost impossible” to express yourself in this medium, but I think as you clarify on details you’re coming close to accomplishing it bit by bit. As we move toward what seems an inevitable troop surge, there is increased talk about the southern and eastern regions of the country and I think you, better than many, give a context that justifies it.

    Risk aversion… wow, you nailed it. I agree with you 100% on the philosophy you put forth. I spent most of 2003 rolling around Tal Afar in a Humvee with more canvas than armor and no back plate in my vest (LT’s sucked up the shortages back then) and then rolled off the FOB near Tikrit once in 2005 in a four-wheeled submarine. I felt safer in ‘03. You could get “face time” with the people even while driving. Today we’re watching UAV feeds, three radios, Onstar, everything but the football game while driving around. I think most troops agree that whether it’s charging a hill with Sitting Bull the tribal chief or rolling out with Jim Gourley the intel weenie, you’ve got the same shot at coming home alive. Might as well try to accomplish your objectives while you’re at it. As you discuss though, the problem is getting the idea through the levels of command.

    Part of the problem I discussed earlier revolves around the Army’s philosophy on “risk management”. I once wrote an e-mail to a friend regarding a particular aviation commander’s order to his Apache pilots not to fly lower than 1,000 feet above urban areas due to the risk of an anti-air missile. My comments were mistakenly forwarded to said aviation commander who proceeded to tell my commander that if I wanted to question his judgment, I might want to leave the safety of my cubicle first. I responded by asking how we justified sending soldiers into the cities if the threat to his pilots was too dangerous at 1,000 feet above them. You can imagine how well that went over.

    Personal anecdote aside, this is the bigger philosophical hurdle we face. I find your questioning of whether you’re overestimating the American Soldier, in the context of the comment of one of your other respondents, a LTC no less, that you “underestimate the capabilities of the Army” to thus be ironic. If the Army is so capable, why do we hold ourselves back? Why do Rangers and SF Soldiers execute fastrope infils while soldiers at the 101st Airborne can’t get out of a helicopter until the ride has come to a safe and complete stop? I believe it is because commanders are hamstrung by risk-averse politicians who are hamstrung by a casualty-averse public. I don’t think this can be changed. To borrow from Mr. Pressfield, the concept of “phobos” is foreign to Americans. To Afghan tribesmen, it’s very internal and very real.

    Ultimately, a big part of why you and yours can do the things you do without people fretting over injuries is that people don’t see it.

    In considering the “safety net” for TETs being “interpersonal skills, courage, detailed planning, relationship-building skills and intelligence nets”, I think you’re discussing a need for a lot of depth in a broad range of skill sets. You lay out how you’ve had great success in finding a group of individuals to succeed at this before. There are also snags, and I appreciate your candor in not omitting that incident to buoy your position. I wonder that a dedicated TET program and the leaders it produces wouldn’t also have the same mixed bag of results when it comes to identifying talent? SFAS and Robin Sage are successful models, but they take months and time is not on our side at this point. At the same time, I hearken back to the astronaut analogy. NASA has given us John Glenn, and God bless ‘em for that. They also gave us a woman who drove halfway across the US in a diaper to kidnap someone with a BB gun. No program is air tight, but how much more risk is incurred when you condense the syllabus to crank out the end product?

    When it comes to the BSO and the TET, we come from very different experiencs. You were a SOF BSO dealing with Conventional Force Visitors. I laugh just a little that you had no problems. I’m sure your higher headquarters were tearing their hair out as they tried to untangle the conventional guys who kept blundering into their way unannounced. On my side, things were pretty good for the guys outside the wire, but meanwhile the staff was tearing their hair out trying to figure out what the hell six black helicopters did in the middle of city X last night. Being a conventional guy, having watched conventional field grades discuss things on the conventional side of the wall, it is their convention to resent you, your funding, your beards, and you training. There may be an annual convention to grouse over these things.

    Whether it’s sour grapes from guys who didn’t make it through SFAS, staff officers running low on sleep, out of dip, and on their last nerve, or a combination of other factors really doesn’t matter. There is another half to the equation for a butting of heads. I only ever met one SOF guy that acted like a real jerk in the middle of a planning session at a battalion headquarters. It was a minor operation, but that green beanie burned brighter than a star cluster. You know the result: SOF was shut down in that battalion’s battle space ever after. I wonder if astronauts have to go around affirming to people that no, they weren’t the one who wore the diaper.

    I have a point to all of this. There was a time when SOF was working with the tribes, kicking tail and taking names. We were engaging directly and building relationships. T/AQ was on the run. Conventional forces did their vital job as the blunt instrument and conducted patrols, maintained presence, provided fire support and acted as the larger follow-on force to make sure SOF and their tribal forces didn’t miss anything as they continued to close distance and kill the enemy. That was in 2001-2002. So why can’t we go back to that?

    Why take the time to resource and organize a TET program? Why produce these teams when they already exist? Why not put 6-man SOF teams, who already have the requisite skills, in with the necessary tribes, establish battalion-minus elements as the kinetic backup for the SOF TETs, and get down to business? A great deal of discussion today goes toward Obama’s troop surge versus Obama’s strategy, and how they have to match. I don’t believe you’re reinventing the wheel, but you are trying to repair a wheel that’s already turning and can’t be stopped. Would your “patch” be easier applied if the concept of what an SF team is capable of is already has traction with the ground commander?

    And by the way, you made an ally out of me. Thanks.

    • Anonymous
      November 30, 2009 at 7:40 pm

      I have a point to all of this. There was a time when SOF was working with the tribes, kicking tail and taking names. We were engaging directly and building relationships. T/AQ was on the run. Conventional forces did their vital job as the blunt instrument and conducted patrols, maintained presence, provided fire support and acted as the larger follow-on force to make sure SOF and their tribal forces didn’t miss anything as they continued to close distance and kill the enemy. That was in 2001-2002. So why can’t we go back to that?

      –Why…because big army couldn’t and can’t stand to take the back seat and let CJSOTF continue on it’s way to mission success.

      –Why…Because big army’s mission has become executing the plan, rather than fulfilling the commander’s intent.

  2. Anonymous
    November 30, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Gentlemen,

    MAJ Gourley’s comments struck a nerve today, so I thought I would share my thoughts with you. .

    –I see your paper MAJ Gant as highlighting a mindset and ideology more than a new tactic, and I think a lot of people are missing this fact. We as a military (everyone, not just SOF) need to open our minds up to new ways of interacting with the Afghans. Our biggest challenge in Afghanistan is that we see success as the way we do things here in the USA with three branches of government, a military with the NCOs as the backbone, etc. etc. etc., anything other than doing things the way we do them is a failure. This is a crippling mindset. What is success in Afghanistan, helping the Afghans to recover from the Soviet, Taliban and Al-Qaeda invasions so they can return to the “for the most part” peaceful and progressive life of pre-1979. But because most people have no clue as to the history of Afghanistan they can and never will get this. And lastly, MAJ Gant’s ideas really are not all that new, just phrased in a way that big army and politicians might be able to understand…has anyone reviewed the 12 SOF Imperatives lately….???
    12 SOF Imperatives
    1. Understand the operational environment
    2. Recognize political implications
    3. Facilitate interagency activities
    4. Engage the threat discriminately
    5. Consider long-term effects
    6. Ensure legitimacy and credibility of Special Operations
    7. Anticipate and control psychological effects
    8. Apply capabilities indirectly
    9. Develop multiple options
    10. Ensure long-term sustainment
    11. Provide sufficient intelligence
    12. Balance security and synchronization

    Response 1:

    How can a headquarters keep its battlespace coordinated when so many elements are “cut loose” from it? I understand that the tribes don’t come to OPORD briefings at Corps as it is, but I’ve been in more than one situation where Special Operations Forces refused to cooperate or share information with a battlespace owner, and there’s no denying that there have been SOF SNAFUs in the past which caused local socio-political fallout. It’s hard to blame the man with the stars on his collar for being nervous when he’s going to be the one left holding the bag. What’s the balance between autonomy and accountability?

    –Here was how things worked in 2003 in SE Afghanistan (Lowgar, Paktia, Paktika, Khowst Provinces) and this applied to all operators and support personnel, there were no double standards. In 2003 Afghanistan was divided up into CJSOAs (Combined Joint Special Operation Areas). Each CJSOA was assigned to an ODB/ODA and that ODB/ODA was basically what we call today the “Battlespace Commander” and they were located in their CJSOA, not back in the rear in Kabul, Bagram or Khandahar. Every time anyone rolled out of the firebase a CONOP had to be filed. If it was within a certain distance of the Firebase we only had to file a 5 line GOTWA/5 W report, which were simply filed on a daily basis before rolling out. If a mission was outside a certain distance a full 5-paragraph CONOP report had to be filed. For regular day to day (planned in advanced operations) CONOPs were filed 96 hours out, however, understanding the nature of the operational environment, if we received corroborated info on a bad guy outside the GOTWA distance, we were allowed to file an on the spot CONOP, deconfliction and notifications were given and we rolled out immediately as needed. When outside the wire we had to call and check in at each check-point you passed or every 30 minutes if you were stationary; if travelling out of your CJSOA into another you had to contact the ODB/ODA of the CJSOA you were travelling into/through and coordinate. There was no running amuck or being “cut loose”, all of our daily operations were planned, coordinated and executed with extreme detail. However, we did all of this within our CJSOA or between CJSOAs NOT through Bagram, Kabul or Khandahar. Everyone knew where the primary Firebase was for each CJSOA and who the ODB/ODA was and how to contact them for each CJSOA, so there were no issues; it was basic military planning and execution. We were always accountable and never autonomous, it was just that we were not micro-managed by staff personnel in Bagram, Khandahar or Kabul. We had to file daily sitreps, if we were out and unable to send up a written sitrep we had to and did always at least file a verbal sitrep; our opfund monies were accounted for via electronic means rather than requiring us to have to travel to Bagram or Khandahar in person, but we were held accountable and had to account for every penny. We were also accountable for all of our actions. Every mission had a debrief and reports submitted to Bagram outlining the mission’s results. We were held accountable, we just didn’t have to coordinate our every move with an entity “half a world away” in Bagram or Khandahar, the coordination took place locally. Mind you we had a LTC and several MAJs at our location, so it was not like Private Joe Snuffy was overseeing our activities…we had oversight. And if you did step on your crank…don’t worry you would get yanked back to reality and corrected. So this idea of running amuck in order to implement MAJ Gant’s “mindsets” and “strategies” is very perplexing to me. Why was it easier for us as well….there weren’t as many troops in country!!!!!!

    Response 2:

    I cannot disagree with you more on the risk-averse nature argument. Our armed forces will always go back for our fallen, we will never leave a man behind. For that very reason, a TET left flapping in a firefight will always take priority. That means an extraordinary investment of time, resources, and additional risk. If this aspect of the tactical situation is critical to your strategy, I can’t see it succeeding. Is it possible to work around this

    –Here is my issue with this, we always planned and made sure we didn’t head into any situations in which we knew we were in over our head. We also never underestimated the might and fight of our enemy/adversary as well. If we were headed into a sticky situation we made certain we had the air support coordinated ahead of time, we always knew what the CAS and ECAS schedules were and planned accordingly; each and every team (CA, Intel, Psyop, ODA, etc. etc) had at least one person who had gone through training and was certified on ECAS. We had a mortar platoon at our location or if we didn’t have a mortar platoon the 18Bs still had mortars set up and the rest of us were trained on how to assist them when needed. When we travelled into hairier areas we took more firepower as needed…again I think our biggest thing was that everything was always planned and we never underestimated the bad guys. Because of that we were never flapping, everything was well thought out and planned, so when shit did hit the fan we were able to respond and make it through. It was never a fly by night kind of thing.

    Response 3:

    My question is whether you believe there are enough individuals with your level of qualifications and potential out there, and whether we can entice enough of them to the TETs to make this work?

    –Again I see your paper MAJ Gant as much as a mindset more than a new tactic. Yes, there are plenty of us out there who have and can again implement your strategy and it can and HAS worked and most of us implementing your ideas in 2003 in Gardez were NOT operators we were CA, Psyops, Intel and an Infantry Platoon under the coordination and guidance of an ODB/ODA. My take on things is that we don’t have to reorganize or re-invent the wheel, we just need to change our mindset and how we interact with the Afghan people. The people on the ground now could in theory execute your strategy if they would just open up their minds!! Heaven forbid if we ponder the idea for a moment that not everything has to be done like we do things here in the USA.

    Response 4:

    I will lastly posit this question to you. If the fundamental consideration of the tribes is how they will continue to secure their safety and prosperity for the long-term, how can the TET concept compete with the Taliban/Al Qaeda strategy of omnipresent threat? As Bin Laden said, “People follow a strong horse.” If even in the long term of our strategy we’re able to assist the Afghans in their security, how can we ever really overcome the temptation of joining the Taliban if the Afghan population, as they certainly realize they must, is on the lookout for their safety in the long-term? I wonder, in (correctly) asserting that we can’t totally eradicate the Taliban, do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? We can’t “kill ‘em all”, but is there a valuable Psyop/Civil Affairs message projected by killing enough of them? Do we prove ourselves to be the strong horse? I hardly doubt such a strategy would be MORE effective than TETs, but I wonder if you feel a parallel effort would be a force multiplier or even as effective

    –If the tribes/people of Afghanistan can get a moment of respite from fighting off “bad guys” they would be able to fend them off and not have to succumb to them in order to survive. Again it is a lack of understanding of the history of Afghanistan which leads to such questions above. Most Americans have no idea how the Russian invasion devastated Afghanistan and left it vulnerable and open to the Taliban and then Al-Qaeda. No you can’t and don’t need to kill them all you just need to help them get on their feet and not need the Taliban or Al-Qaeda to survive.

    Last Thoughts:

    One last thought, here is an example of how I think we are failing because we aren’t altering our mindset. A melting pot of a military will never be successful in Afghanistan because of the tribal society of Afghanistan throughout ALL of Afghanistan. Therefore, the Afghan military would likely be more successful if it were organized like our National Guard, where as each Province had a unit, and it was comprised of members from that province which is basically people from the local tribes securing their local area. So in each province you would have a commander which reported to a central commander in Kabul…again, just like our National Guard. But see, we expect everyone to have a National Army like ours…and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way in order to still be successful. So I am not suggesting we totally scrap what we are or have done, just tweak it a bit, adjust the way in which we interact with the Afghans. To me this idea of organizing the army by provinces is such a simple and straight forward idea, but instead we will continue to force the square peg into the round hole instead…uggghhhh!!!!

  3. Rob
    December 1, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Maj. Jim Gant,

    This post was the most fantastic thing I read today. “You had better pack a lunch.” You are a warrior poet, sir, and this fight needs more of those. Earlier this morning I read the latest piece of Michael Moore bullshit at the Huffington Post, it was more small-balled than I expected, but the whine left a taint. (Politics is fucking lame.) But your post put me back on my feet. I hope you will keep writing on this blog. Daily, these ideas are continuing to gather force. With enough momentum, success becomes inevitable.

    And, Mr. Pressfield, cheers to you, sir, for continuing to use the force of your brand, to advance the debate.

  4. DE Teodoru
    December 3, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Major Gant’s essay was most touching but one can only wonder if that’s what policy is all about. Each “warrior” generation seems to relearn the lessons of the last; each paying dearly for that education. And yet, it’s all stumble bumble learning, is it not? How much of Pashtun-SF relations are the essence of policy? Can we ever match the control that Taliban have over the rugged countryside? The Vietnam lesson tells us that we never did and maybe never will; our success to a “better war” was never rural in character. Our “better war” resulted not from our SF being “in” with the locals, going native, but from South Vietnam turning in a few years from 85% rural to 75% urban. Per the Viet Communist Party, therein lay the demise of the Viet Cong for once the guerrilla “fish” were left high and dry by the peasant “sea” that moved to the cities to, in the words of Radio Hanoi “become petit bourgeois,” The VCI desiccated as it had to infrastructure in the urban areas and Hanoi had to resort to the Tet Offensive directed at the urban centers. That failed and from then on the war was against invading North Vietnamese regulars whose accent, demeanor and attitude were quite distinct and vicious. One wonders then in going native with the Pashtun is not a romantic boyish notion rather than a solution. For the ties that Maj. Gant speaks of with rightful pride are tenuous at best and, obviously from evolving events, no match for the Pashtun ties of the Taliban and even alQaeda. Everyone is there, in the words on Mama-san, “short-time,” and the long term is what the Muslim brotherhood worked on. Let’s admit we’re no match. But Saudi Arabia is proof that Western ways have tamed the violent resistance with urbanization and education. The former we must do, the latter we must leave to the national government. Let us not have illusions that we “Crusaders” can win-em-over as that only wasted heroic moms and dads whose primary mission is defending the home front and raising upright well educated future Americans, not develop one-year-long tribal ties. These don’t last and sap our nations bleeding human and material assets as we, again, lose strategically because we only think tactically, in the end depending on airpower and firepower instead of tribal ties. I saw the Russians achieving such relations. It was only when their reforms led to violent revolt that they got frustrated and shot at everyone. They couldn’t afford the cost of “nation building” so they resorted to annihilatory class struggle instead. Can we afford to try and do what our hubris tells us we can do as we create lots of orphans and widows back home?

  5. Terry
    December 5, 2009 at 6:19 am

    DE,

    One wonders then in going native with the Pashtun is not a romantic boyish notion rather than a solution.

    Trust me, the fighting and realtionship building that took place in the Konar in 03 and is currently taking place in many places in Afghanistan is a lot of things. But a romantic boyish notion?

    You chose your words poorly.

    When you say things like that, it makes taking the rest of what you say (which are important points) seriousely.

    I guess training the ANA and ANP are also “romantic boyish notions” as well as sending in a couple hundred SOF/Agency guys to topple a 50, 000 man Taliban…that must qualify as “boyish romantacism” as well. Maybe the COP out at Wanat where nine Americans were killed can qualify? Just say you don’t agree with the policy. What is your plan? What would would you do? At any level of war – tactical, operational, or strategic? Who is your “horse” in the race?

    Terry

  6. Jake
    December 5, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    D.E.,

    If I may… a). “Let us not have illusions that we “Crusaders” can win-em-over as that only wasted heroic moms and dads whose primary mission is defending the home front and raising upright well educated future Americans, not develop one-year-long tribal ties.” If you read “A Tale of Two Captains,” you will see that Major Gant and his ODAs efforts in their “one-year-long tribal ties” paid huge dividends for a regular Army Infantry Officer 4 years after those “tribal ties.” And we’re not crusaders. We’re not trying to convert anyone into christianity.

    b). “These don’t last and sap our nations bleeding human and material assets as we, again, lose strategically because we only think tactically, in the end depending on airpower and firepower instead of tribal ties.” Actually Sir, I would argue that everything has gone awry because we’ve thought strategically instead of tactically. Influence starts from the ground up; one man at a time. Whether it’s at the marketplace in downtown Kabul or in the middle of nowhere with a village. It’s no different than a commander thinking he’s influencing his company solely by passing information through his platoon leaders. When he doesn’t take the time to get to know each individual soldier he’s influenced no one, to include his Platoon Leaders.