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ISR & AFGHANISTAN

Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Joe Mazzafro

Happy FY 12 New Year! 

First it is good that we are able to celebrate a continuing resolution (CR) for FY 12 vice dealing with a government shutdown as was almost the case as members of Congress postured and played “political chicken” over disaster relief funds for FEMA.  More pragmatically,  this CR will likely remain in place until at least the Congress votes up or down on December 23rd regarding the coming November 23rd recommendations of the Congressional “Super Committee” for reducing the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the coming decade.

Certainly the September 30th permanent silencing of Anwar Al Awlaki is worth celebrating because of the danger he posed and because it demonstrates that Al Qaeda is being successfully rolled up. My inner ACLU is not bothered by the lack of “due process” afforded this “American Citizen” because I view him as a fleeing suspect killed during a continuing “hot pursuit” by American forces. 

DIA also turned 50 years old with the start of the FY and celebrated with an elaborate gala for 600 plus in the Regan Building. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta extolled the contributions of DIA over the years, but particularly since 9/11, without making any news.  In the commemorative video “DIA at 50”, former DIA Director and current DNI Jim Clapper opined that DIA is now beginning to hit its stride and its best years are in its future.  I suspect the DNI is correct for several reasons, but the most pertinent being the military intelligence consolidations that will be driven by sizeable budget cuts starting in FY 12 and taking hold in FY 13 are likely to favor large umbrella organizations such as DIA.

All of the falderal associated with ringing in FY 12 with a CR keeping IC spending at or near FY 10 levels has diverted but not assuaged my concerns associated with the September 13th attack on the US Embassy and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan.

So far though I have noticed little interest from the media, the Congress, NATO leaders, the Pentagon, DIA or the CentCom J2 regarding what I would characterize as a gap if not a failure in theater level ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance).  Remembering that Secretary of Defense Gates forced the investment of billions of dollars over the past 24 months to improve the robustness and effectiveness of ISR in Afghanistan, I don’t see it as unreasonable for military commanders or the American people through their members of Congress asking how twenty or so operatives of the Taliban’s Haqqani Network could get within RPG (rocket propelled grenade) range of such strategic targets given the ISR posture in Afghanistan.  As a planner or intelligence officer at the unit the level in Afghanistan, the events of 13 September would shake my confidence in the ability of non-organic ISR to provide meaningful I&W (indications and warning) against the implanting of IED (improvised explosive devices) or the movement of ambush forces reacting to ISAF operations.  I have enough operational experience to understand the limits of externally provided ISR against low signature threats to confidently point out that more collection is not the fix here.   Instead, it is faster better fusion, correlation, and analysis of information using modern software applications to develop earlier awareness to threat development indicators.  Then there is the human experiential issue of being able to account for “negative intelligence”, i.e. what should be happening that is not being detected that information technology is not yet very good at doing.

By ripping the scab off of the badly bruised U.S. Pakistani relations, the Haqqani attack on the U.S. Embassy and ISAF Headquarters, however, reveals a far more important strategic issue than the relative effectiveness of operational or tactical ISR capabilities against the Taliban.  In Senate testimony a week after the 13 September attack, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen asserted that Pakistan is providing safe haven to the Haqqani Network and that the ISI, the intelligence arm of the Pakistani military, is providing them with operational support that is putting ISAF personnel at greater risk.  Responding to Admiral Mullen’s concerns,  White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said "It is critical that the government of Pakistan break any links they have and take strong and immediate action against this network so that they are no longer a threat to the United States or to the people of Pakistan, because this network is a threat to both."

Remembering that Pakistan was one of only three countries with diplomatic relations when Mullah Omar ruled Taliban Afghanistan and provided safe haven for Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to plan the 9/11 attacks, it would seem Pakistan’s military, if not its political leaders, are preparing to return to the ante bellum status quo prior to Operation Nobel Eagle so they can keep Afghanistan pacified once NATO forces leave in 2014.  If this is the case then one has to ask if the ten years of combat there have actually changed anything strategically.  Based on current telemetry, I can see events in Afghanistan pushing Pakistan out of its U.S. orbit to a more natural ant-India alliance with China and a narco/terrorist friendly Afghanistan as a Pakistani satellite.

That kind of strategic shift after a decade of investing blood and treasure (estimated at near a $1 trillion) trying to make Afghanistan into a functioning nation that would not foster nor protect terrorist makes my early concerns about the effectiveness of ISR bought to enable operations in Afghanistan seem trivial - - - -  unless you have Americans in harm’s way there!

That’s what I think; what do you think?

 

Comments

Joe,
Once again you are spot on with your assessment. The non-traditional networks that have been established over the past centuries are as foreign to our military today as the methods of fighting utilized by our founding father's two and a half centuries ago were to the British and French. We have a lot of smart people who have been providing us excellent leadership but there are a whole additonal set that need to get their heads out of the sand.

By Average American

While I share the concern for the lack of warning for the Kabul attacks, to say that, "non-traditional networks . . . are foreign to our military today" is to ignore the daily pounding these networks take daily from special forces. Let's constantly strive to improve--without ignoring the changes in doctrine, tactics, organization, and even ISR that have taken place against this enemy.

By Collin Agee

Collin you are making my point. We are pounding the adversary based on ISR improvements and a troop surge and yet the strategic landscape remains unchanged after 10 years. This sounds like Vietnam where we were winning right up until when we were not joemaz

By joemaz

Great post as always!

By Marty

Joe, your blog is always worth reading (time permitting, industry is a tough place these days). I am afraid your 10 year assessment of strategic outcome with Afghanistan is correct. Maybe the Biden remote strategy--drones, air strkies and SOF sorties--is the right long term approach to keep the lid on. We have tried to strike a balance but it may also be time to embrace a much closer relationship with India, the world's larget (and broadly, English speaking) democracy in the world.

By Greg

Greg thanks! Yes, I believe it is time to align more directly with India, though I suspect India appreciates the restraining effect the US has on Pakistan ----- but that presumes a functioning Pak government capable of keeping NGO's harboring there from bringing violence on India

By JoeMaz