Academic journal article Military Review

Identifying the Center of Gravity of Afghan Mentoring

Academic journal article Military Review

Identifying the Center of Gravity of Afghan Mentoring

Article excerpt

WE FREQUENTLY HEAR American mentors speak of the "Afghan right." Many of these mentors would quote: "Better the Afghans do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them, (1) creatively quoting the famous axiom of Lawrence of Arabia. The problem is that these American mentors are using the famous quotation out of context. Some mentors use this phrase to state their chauvinistic belief that the Afghans will never achieve our standards, while others lean on this concept to cover up their inability or lack of desire to teach and mentor their Afghan counterparts. (2)

As explained by Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Bateman in the December 2008 issue of Armed Forces Journal, T.E. Lawrence was advising a band of guerrilla insurgents, not a regular army practicing counterinsurgency. (3) Furthermore, the quotation, which was number 19 in a list of 27 pieces of advice published in a local British army journal in Egypt called The Arab Bulletin, starts with a disclaimer by Lawrence of Arabia himself:

The following notes have been expressed in commandment form for greater clarity and to save words. They are, however, only my personal conclusions, arrived at gradually while I worked in the Hejaz and now put on paper as stalking horses for beginners in the Arab armies. They are meant to apply only to Bedu [Bedouin, the tribal nomads of the deserts]; townspeople or Syrians require totally different treatment. They are, of course, not suitable to any other person's need, or applicable unchanged in any particular situation. Handling Hejaz Arabs is an art, not a science, with exceptions and no obvious rules. [Emphasis LTC Bateman's.] (4)

Aside from the obvious fact that Pashtuns and Tajiks are in no way related to Hejaz Arabs, except in sharing a common religion, we must also remember that Lawrence of Arabia was training a group of insurgent rebels, fighting against a counterinsurgent regular army of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, nearly a century ago. Transplanted to Afghanistan of 2009, he would be a Chechen mujahedeen advisor to the Taliban, rather than a coalition force mentor, building a regular army. Many coalition force mentors use the Lawrence quote without adequately understanding its context, thus allowing an "Afghan wrong" to continue, believing that they are perpetuating an "Afghan right." (5)

Like it or not, the Afghan National Army (ANA) doctrine is a carbon copy of U.S. doctrine. We came in and set up its current army. U.S. military officers and contractors created the ANA's doctrine and table of organization and equipment. If we are to make it work, the mentors must fully embrace teaching American operational doctrine to the Afghans. Afghans can fight. (6) They need our assistance in building self-sustaining systems to establish a regular Army with full spectrum tactical and operational proficiency. We are not building a mujahedeen force to harass a Cold War foe anymore.

Most ANA units are highly centralized, top-down organizations, whose centers of gravity are their command and control systems, specifically corps and brigade S3 systems. The decisive point of mentoring is the transference of our command and control systems to these centers of gravity. If we teach command and control systems properly to the ANA, they will produce better operations orders and be more proficient. The result of this upward spiral in tactical and operational proficiency will be the successful completion of the coalition mentoring mission, allowing us to leave Afghanistan with success and honor.

Afghan Culture and Planning: "Afghan Right" or "Afghan Wrong?"

As a validator in the validation transition team within Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, I had the honor and the privilege of observing and assesing daily operations of 30 ANA units, including two brigade headquarters and 27 battalions belonging to all five ANA Corps, from late 2008 through late 2009. …

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